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THE HOUSE OF PEASTING AND
OF MOURNING DESCRIBED.
ECCLES. VII. 2, 3.
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house
That I deny ;-but let us hear the wise man's reasoning upon it," for that is the end of all men, « and the living will lay it to his heart : sorrow is “ better than laughter :"-for a crack-brain'd order of Carthusian monks, I grant, but not for men of the world. For what purpose, do you imagine, has God made us ? for the social sweets of the well-watered vallies, where he has planted us, or for the dry and dismal desert of a Sierra Morena ? Are the sad accidents of life, and the uncheery hours which perpetually overtake us, are they not enough, but we must sally forth in quest of them--belie our own hearts, and say, as your text would have us, that they are better than those of joy? Did the best of Beings send us into the world for this end,
to go weeping through it;-to vex and shorten a life short and vexatious enough already? Do you think, my good preacher, that he who is infinitely happy, can envy us our enjoyments ? or that a Being so infinitely kind, would grudge a mournful traveller the short rest and refreshments necessary to support his spir. its through the stages of a weary pilgrimage? or
that he would call him to a severe reckoning, because in his way he had hastily snatched at*some little fugacious pleasures, merely to sweeten this uneasy journey of life, and reconcile him to the ruggedness of the road, and the many hard jostlings he is sure to meet with ? Consider, I beseech you, what provision and accommodation the Author of our being has prepared for us, that we might not go on our way sorrowing:
:how many caravanseras of rest!-what powers and faculties he has given us for taking it - what apt objects he has placed in our way to entertain us !--some of which he has made so fair, so exquisitely fitted for this end, that they have power over us, for a time, to charm away, the sense of pain, to cheer up the dejected heart under poverty and sickness, and make it go and remember its miseries no more.
I will not contend, at present, against this rhetorick; I would choose rather for a moment to go on with the allegory, and say we are travellers, and, in the most affecting sense of that idea, that, like travellers, though upon business of the last and nearest concern to us, we may surely be allowed to amuse ourselves with the natural or artificial beauties of the country we are passing through, without reproach of forgetting the main errand we are sent upon; and if we can so order it, as not to be led out of the way, by the variety of prospects, edifices, and ruins which solicit us, it would be a nonsensical piece of saint-errantry to shut our eyes.
But let us not lose sight of the argument in pursuit of the simile.
Let us reinember, various as our excursions are, that we have still set our faces towards Jerusa
lem that we have a place of rest and happiness, towards which we hasten; and that the way to get there is not so much to please our hearts, as to improve them in virtue :that mirth and feasting are usually ng friends to achievements of this kind, but that a season of affliction is, in some sort, a season of piety, not only because our sufferings are apt to put us in mind of our sins, but that by the check and interruption which they give to our pursuits, they allow us what the hurry and bustle of the world too often deny us; and that is, a little time for reflection, which is all that most of us want, to make us wiser and better men :--that at certain times it is so necessary a man's mind should be turned towards itself, that rather than want occasions, he had better purchase them at the expense of his present happiness.-He had better, as the text expresses it, “ go to the house of mourning," where he will meet with something to subdue his passions, than to the house of feasting, where the joy and gaiety of the place is likely to excite them. That whereas the entertainments and caresses of the one place expose his heart and lay it open to temptations ;-the sorrows of the other defend it, and as naturally shut them from it. So strange and unaccountable a creature is man! he is so framed, that he cannot but pursue happiness ;-and yet, unless he is made sometimes miserable, how apt is he to mistake the way which can only lead him to the accomplishment of his own wishes!
This is the full force of the wise man's declaration.-But to do farther justice to his words, I will endeavour to bring the subject still nearer.- For which purpose, it will be necessary to stop here,
and take a transient view of the two places here referred to the house of mourning, and the house of feasting. Give me leave, therefore, I beseech you, to recall both of them for a moment to your imaginations, that from thence I may appeal to your hearts how faithfully, and upon what good grounds, the effects and natural operations of each upon our minds are intimated in the text.
And, first, let us look into the house of feasting,
And here, to be as fair and candid as possible in the description of this, we will not take it from the worst originals, such as are opened merely for the sale of virtue, and so calculated for the end, that the disguise each is under, not only gives power safely to drive on the bargain, but safely to carry it into execution too.
This we will not suppose to be the case ;-nor let us even imagine the house of feasting to be such a scene of intemperance and excess as the house of feasting does often exhibit ;-but let us take it from one, as little exceptionable as we can, where there is, or at least appears, nothing really criminal,-but where every thing seems to be kept within the visible bounds of moderation and sobriety.
Imagine then such a house of feasting, where, either by consent or invitation, a number of each sex is drawn together, for no other purpose but the enjoyment and mutual entertainment of each other; which, we will suppose, shall arise from no other pleasures but what custom authorizes, and religion does not absolutely forbid.
Before we enter, let us examine, what must be the sentiments of each individual previous to his arrival, and we shall find, that however they may dif
fer from one another in tempers and opinions, that every one seems to agree in this :-that as he is go. ing to a house dedicated to joy and mirth, it was fit he should divest himself of whatever was likely to contradict that intention, or be inconsistent with it. That for this purpose, he had left his cares-his serious thoughts,--and his moral reflections behind him, and was come forth from home with only such dispositions and gaiety of heart as suited the occasion, and promoted the intended mirth and jollity of the place. With this preparation of mind, which is as little as can be supposed, since it will amount to no more than a desire in each to render himself an acceptable guest, let us conceive them entering into the house of feasting with hearts set loose from grave restraints, and open to the expectations of receiving pleasure. It is not necessary, as I premised, to bring intemperance into this scene,-or to suppose such an excess in the gratification of the appetites as shall ferment the blood and set the desires in a flame.--Let us admit no more of it, there. fore, than will gently stir them, and fit them for the impressions which so benevolent a commerce will naturally excite. In this disposition, thus wrought upon beforehand, and already improved to this purpose,-take notice how mechanically the thoughts and spirits rise,-how soon and insensibly they are got above the pitch and first bounds which cooler hours would have marked.
When the gay and smiling aspect of things has begun to leave the passages to a man's heart thus thoughtlessly unguarded ;-when kind and caressing looks of every object without, that can flatter his senses, have conspired with the enemy within,