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pious men in ancient days had probably no very clear knowledge of any other, yet he hath enabled us chiefly indeed by revelation, yet partly by reason itself, to see distinctly what they did not. And accordingly I must add,
Sixthly, and lastly, that the most important lesson, taught us by the shortness and uncertainty of our present life, considered in itself, is, that we may reasonably expect, and should therefore continually look forward to, another. The longest term at which we can arrive here, and the utmost use we can make of it, is so very a trifle and nothing, compared with the capacity for improvement, both intellectual and moral, which we experience ourselves to have; that, according to the most probable judgment we are capable of forming, there must be somewhat farther, and unspeakably better, designed and reserved for us by our wise and bountiful Creator: some other scene of existence opened, when this is closed, in which we shall grow up to our maturity; and manifest and rejoice in those perfections of our nature, which are hid and buried at present, in all to a great degree, in some almost entirely. That a being, qualified for so much, should have space allowed it for so little, would appear an evident impropriety and disproportion which cannot be justly charged upon any part of the works of God. And the more we consider, what numbers are cut off prematurely in their tender youth, or just when their faculties are beginning to ripen; but especially, with what strange inequality, and unsuitableness to the behaviour of men, both prosperity and adversity are distributed amongst them by the confessedly unerring hand of Providence; the stronger the argument grows, that this cannot be all: that the view of life, which we have been taking
hitherto is a poor and narrow one indeed: that another of infinitely greater moment is to follow it, in which every thing wanting here shall be supplied, and every thing wrong set right. But, convincing and interesting as these deductions of reason are, nothing is able to bring life and immortality into full light, much less to assure impenitent sinners of everlasting punishment, and penitent believers of eternal rewards, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ*. This therefore must be always the principal object of our attention: and this, through God's grace, to be obtained by its means, will teach us, what else we cannot learn effectually and practically, to think of this our mortal state, as a short and precious opportunity given us to prepare for another and an endless one; the happiness or misery of which is to depend on the affections cultivated, and the deeds done by us, while in the body. Were the life which we now live, imagined to be the whole, multitudes would argue, plausibly though unjustly, that it could be no great matter, how they spent it; whether they acted virtuously or viciously, discreetly or indiscreetly: since one event happeneth to all; and the wise man dieth as the fool t. But our share in the recompenses of that, which is to come, cannot possibly be regarded as a slight thing. If then we are to be blessed or wretched for ever, accordingly as we behave well or ill in the meanwhile, this makes our conduct a serious point beyond expression; and draws most affecting consequences after it; such as the weakest person must see, and the most artful can raise no objection against that the pleasures and profits of sin are never to allure us, nor the difficulties and affections of virtue to deter us in the least, but both in com† Eccl. ii. 14. 16.
2 Tim. i. 10.
parison to be looked on, as if they were not: that the enjoyments of the present state are to be used with cautious moderation, and the burthens of it to be borne with cheerful hope: in short, that we are to walk by faith, not by sight*: applying indeed to worldly business, as far as our stations require; and partaking of worldly comforts, as far as will excite our thankfulness to God for them, and answer the purposes intended by them; yet still setting our affections principally, not on the attainment of transitory accommodations or amusements, during our journey; but on securing, by a diligent performance of the work, for which we were sent upon it, a joyful entrance into our continuing city†: which God of his infinite mercy grant us, through, &c.
2 Cor. v. 7.
+ Heb. xiii. 14.
PSALM XC. 12.
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
FROM these words I have proposed to treat of the wisdom, the instruction in piety and virtue, which may be learned from the shortness and uncertain duration of human life; considered,
I. With respect to the present scene of things only: II. To that eternal one, which is to follow. Even the former of these views, though extremely and essentially imperfect, yet affords, as I have shewn you, many important lessons and directions: that by sobriety, temperance, chastity, and due government of all our passions, we should endeavour to prolong the space allotted us here; that we should use every proper method of making it as easy and comfortable to one another as we can; that we should be diligent to improve our little time to the best purposes, and do quickly what we would not leave undone; that we should proportion our desires of riches and honours and power, and every worldly good, to the scanty term which we have for the acquisition and enjoyment of them; that we should moderate our emotions of joy and grief, of hope and fear and anger; vehemence in any of them being plainly unsuitable to a condition so transitory; and lastly, that
from the low attainments of our earthly state, and the short continuance and unequal distribution of its blessings, we should be raised to the belief and earnest expectations of a better.
Very different conclusions, I am sensible, and very bad ones, have been often drawn from the small number of our days: of which, besides many instances in the looser heathen writers, we have so distinct and beautiful an account in the second chapter of the Book of Wisdom, that I shall repeat it, and make some remarks on it, before I go further.
The ungodly said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright, Our life is short and tedious: and in the death of man there is no remedy, neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave. For we are born at all adventures, and we shall be hereafter, as though we had never been—our time is a very shadow, that passeth away and after our end there is no returning. Come on therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present; and speedily use the creatures like as in youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of the spring pass by us: let us crown ourselves with rose-buds, before they be withered. Let none of us go without his part of our voluptuousness: let us leave tokens of our joyfulness in every place: for this is our portion, and our lot is this. Let us oppress the poor righteous man: let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the ancient grey hairs of the aged. Let our strength be the law of justice : for that which is feeble, is found to be nothing worth *.
Now it is certainly to be expected, that if this life were to be our all, we should each make the best advantage of it, that we could. But then the way to do so is a very different one from that, which the
* Wisd. ii. 1—12.