Sidor som bilder

number*. When he threatens, The Lord shall scatter you amongst the nations, and ye shall be left few in number, it is again, only men of number t. And when Belshazzar is told, that God hath numbered his kingdom, the meaning is, that its conclusion was near at hand. Yet we cannot say, that life is too short for us to enjoy the proper happiness of it. For in our present fallen condition, all things considered, we have much reason to be contented, nay, thankful, that the duration of man upon earth is no longer; and should have sufficient cause to be weary of it, if it were. For surely threescore years and ten is full space enough to be spectators of, and sharers in, the follies, the sins, the sufferings, of such a world as this. And both they who are so strong, that they come to fourscore years, experience a peculiar degree of labour and sorrow §; and that they, after walking with God, are taken by him || ever so early, ought to be considered as taken away in mercy from evil ¶ of one kind or another. Nor is life too short for the business we have to do in it. For God requires, in this and all respects, only in proportion to what he gives. And we should every one of us easily do the whole that is needful here, would we but reflect what it is, and set about it in earnest: which they that will not, when the hours allotted them are so few, would be less likely still if they had more to trifle away. But there yet remains a sense, in which we all feel and own the shortness of life, when it is too late, if not before: that is, we find it waste much quicker than we imagined: not only because we seldom attain to live near so many years as we flatter ourselves; but because the utmost extent to which we can live, doth not allow such a multitude of

Numb. ix. 20.
Ps. xc. 10.

+ Deut. iv. 27.
|| Gen. v. 24.

Dan. v. 26. ¶ Is. lvii. 1.

[ocr errors]

things to be done in it, as some fancy and imprudently attempt, nor afford room for such waste and negligence, or such a series of errors and wrong steps, as others adventure upon. And this being so evident and interesting a truth; the serious and frequent consideration of what it forbids, and what it calls for, must powerfully contribute to produce both a temper and a conduct of true wisdom.

But to this end we should place before our eyes two distinct views of our existence here: as it regards the present world, and as it is also a state of preparation for a future. At present I shall dwell chiefly on the former view: which, though it be a very confined and imperfect one, yet was of so great use to the good and virtuous under the Old Testament, when the world to come was less clearly revealed, that it ought not to be slighted now. And it visibly hath this advantage, that whatever is rightly inferred from it must be universally confessed: because, let men bring themselves to think ever so little, or doubt ever so much, concerning the next life, they cannot doubt but that which now is, will soon, and they know not how soon, come to its conclusion: from which truth alone, if they reflect on it duly, they will not fail to learn important lessons of moral, and even pious, (which will thus appear to be wise) behaviour. As of the green leaves on a thick tree, saith the son of Sirach, some fall and some grow, so is the generation of flesh and blood: one cometh to an end, and another is born. Every work rotteth and consumeth away, and the worker thereof shall go withal. Blessed is the man that doth meditate good things in wisdom, and that reasoneth of holy things by his understanding*.

*Ecclus. xiv. 18, 19, 20.

1. First then, as all virtues in general, both by their own proper influence, and the blessing of God, which reason leads us to expect, and Scripture expressly assures us of, conduce to prolong our days, the consideration of their natural brevity may well direct us to a virtuous conduct: particularly to sobriety, temperance, and chastity; to a prudent moderation of anger and to whatever duties have especially the promise or the prospect of long life annexed to them. For nothing can be more absurd, than to contract into a yet narrower compass what is so far from needing it: unless it be, complaining against Providence, that human life is of so small continuance, when ours might be of so much greater, if we would: nay, when perhaps, at the very moment of our complaint, we are taking all the pains we can, not to live out one half of the few days that are appointed to man upon earth; and, in those we do live, to make ourselves miserable and fit for nothing; hastening old age before its season, and loading it with diseases, by an idle, luxurious and libertine youth.

2. Since we have but a small time to stay here, it is our wisdom to make it as easy and agreeable to ourselves and all with whom we have any intercourse, as we are able and to imitate persons of prudence, who occasionally go journies together: bearing with each other's temper and behaviour, giving mutual comfort and assistance under the misfortunes and inconveniences of the way, and continually endeavouring to preserve or restore the good humour and cheerfulness of the company. By this method, we might live much more in a few years, that is, have a greater feeling of the blessings of life, than, by being reciprocally troublesome and vexatious, we can in ever so many. And surely it is very strange, that

having so scanty a share of being allotted us here, and this exposed by nature to such multitudes of unavoidable troubles and sufferings, we should contrive to pour additional bitterness into our common cup, by needless injuries and provocations. At best we have no happiness to spare and therefore should rather study to increase our portion, by friendliness and kind offices, which will of course invite a return of them, than lessen it by selfishness, haughtiness, resentment, perverseness, unseasonable intermeddling; qualities, most of them uneasy in themselves, and all of them productive of numberless uneasinesses with every body around us. Or how little soever we may regard our own tranquillity, or how well soever we may hope to maintain it, in the midst of disputes and contentions: yet, as most persons are differently affected by such things, surely the condition of humanity in general ought to move compassion in us, and we should permit the little, which our poor fellow-creatures enjoy of good, to be enjoyed, while it lasts, in peace. We might image to ourselves, methinks, those who suffer by us, complaining and pleading, in language like that of Job: Man, that is born of a woman, is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not. And dost thou open thine eyes upon such an one, and bringest me into judgment with thee ?-Seeing his days are determined his bounds appointed, that he cannot pass; turn from him, that he may rest, till he shall accomplish, as an hireling, his day*. Are not my days few? Cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little, before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness, and the shadow of death.

*Job xiv. 1, 2, 3. 5, 6.

+ Job x. 20, 21.

3. The shortness of life should teach us to be speedy and diligent in doing all such things, as we ought to do. What these are, indeed, it doth not alone sufficiently show. But they are most of them so plain, and the rest so constantly taught us, that almost every one designs to practise them sooner or later, and become extremely good before he dies. But then they perpetually defer and postpone the time of beginning this reformation, on frivolous pretences; and never consider to any effect, how their life is passing away, and gliding from under them, in a course of actions, which they own is faulty, and will at last lament in vain. They think, they may throw away a great deal of it; and have plenty left, to act as they judge proper afterwards. Now were it to last ever so long, yet spending any part of it amiss, either wilfully or thoughtlessly, would be very unwise. But considering how short both others, and we ourselves, as far as our experience reaches, have always found it; to squander what with our best management is but enough, and what possibly may not hold out another day, is folly beyond expression. Therefore the son of Sirach, concerning one part of our duty, acts of kindness, advises thus: Remember, that death will not be long in coming: and that the covenant of the grave is not showed unto thee. Do good unto thy friend before thou die, and according to thy ability stretch out thy hand, and give him*. But long before that, Solomon had established the same rule, on the same foundation, concerning all other parts: Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest t. If then we are guilty of any sin, or liable to any smaller † Eccl. ix. 10.

Ecclus. xiv, 12, 13.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »