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get what they, of all the world, have the least occasion for, and the least excuse for being solicitous about; and instead of that ease and repose, which their time of day calls for, unnaturally force themselves to labour and fatigue of body and mind, when they can ill support either; till, in the midst of this preposterous vehemence and bustle, they are swept on a sudden into another state, with heads and hearts full of nothing but this. But though the absurdity of such immoderate attachments is most palpable, when persons are upon the verge of life; yet, in every part of it, the imprudence of forming distant expectations and designs, and having no reasonable prospect of their accomplishment, or at least of benefit from them, is both very real and too frequent. We have all a great deal to do in amending our ways, and rectifying our tempers, on which our happiness even here depends, and we scarce ever think of it: whereas we need but a very small share of temporal advantages to carry us on comfortably to our journey's end, and yet we set our minds almost wholly on increasing it; many by injustice, others by hard-hearted penuriousness, or sinfully anxious care; the former unmindful of the prophet's warning, He that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them, perhaps in the middle of his days: and whenever he leaves them, at his end shall be a fool*: the latter, equally regardless of the Psalmist's beautiful reflection: Behold thou hast made my days as it were a span long, and mine age is even as nothing before thee: and verily every man living is altogether vanity. Man walketh in a vain show, and disquieteth himself in vain: he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather themt. Reasonable industry, to procure what is re† Ps. xxxix. 5, 6.
* Jer xvii. 11.
quisite for us in our station, and for those with whom we are entrusted, far from being blamable, is a duty. But, when they who have no families, are as earnest in hoarding, as if they had ever so large ones, only to dispose of their wealth they hardly know or care to whom, and sometimes have not the heart to dispose of it at all: or when they who have families, make it their business to scrape together for them what will probably do them no real service, but only be a temptation and a snare to them; when they grudge to relieve the necessitous and miserable, can think of nothing with pleasure, but accumulating still more, and are unable to say themselves, how much they would have: such a temper and behaviour is utterly unfit for so short-lived and frail a being as man. Having therefore food and raiment, that is, a competent provision of necessaries for ourselves and ours, let us be therewith content: for we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out t.
5. A fifth use of numbering our days is, to check and compose all strong emotions of mind about worldly concerns: for in so transitory a state there can be nothing to deserve them. Why should we be elated with hope of future good, when both our own lives, and theirs on whom our expectations may depend, are subject to such innumerable chances; and the higher we raise ourselves in imagination, the more afflicting will be our fall? Put not your trust, saith the Psalmist, in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth: in that very day his thoughts perish. Cease ye from man, saith the prophet, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of §? Why again * 1 Tim. vi. 9. † 1 Tim. vi. 7, 8. Ps. cxlvi. 3, 4. § Is. ii. 22.
should we be dejected with fear of future evils, when a thousand accidents, which none of us can guess at beforehand, may prevent their coming; or if they do come, our head may be laid low enough before that time, and far enough out of the way of feeling them; or even if they should light upon us, a short life hath no room in it for long sufferings? If we are visited with tormenting or wearisome diseases, the harder they press us, the more speedily for the most part they will work our deliverance, and bring us to that place, where there shall be no sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain *. If we lose our best friends, it was at most but a very few years that we could have enjoyed them. If we suffer vexations from our enemies, crosses in our affairs, all will soon be over, and we shall be securely situated, where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary be at rest †. If others obtain the honours, the profits, the gratifications, we wished for, there is little cause to envy them so perishable a distinction. If we obtain them ourselves, there is as little cause for exultation or pride while we have them, or indignation or surprise, when he, who gave for a time, takes away, or permits any one else to take away, what death is hourly hastening towards us to carry off irrecoverably. The various passions belonging to our nature were interwoven in it, to set us on pursuing good and avoiding evil, where it would prove to any purpose; for which end a moderate exercise of them serves best and the spirit of contented resignation (of which there is plainly a principle in man, if he would but use it,) was appointed for our relief, and a great one we should find it, where we can relieve ourselves no other way. In so uncertain a state, † Job iii. 17.
Rev. xxi. 4.
vehemence of temper is sure misery, and in patience alone can we possess our souls*. A quiet and meek submission therefore to whatever may happen, without indulging hope or fear, joy or sorrow, anger or dissatisfaction, is evidently the frame of mind, which our mortality requires. Or to express it in the words of St. Paul: This I say, brethren, the time is short. It remaineth that they that weep be as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as though they used it not for the fashion of this world passeth away †.
It is true, calming our agitations by the prospect of death, may be thought by some to be curing a less evil by introducing a greater, which is left without cure. But indeed viewing it often and steadily will diminish its terrors, (which, unless we look beyond it, are chiefly imaginary,) as it doth those of every thing else in this world. Viewing it as the will of God, will oblige us in duty to submit to it contentedly, remembering them that have been before us, and that come after for this is the sentence of the Lord upon all flesh; and why are we against the pleasure of the Most High‡? Then viewing it also as a relief, though not of the most desirable kind, must contribute to reconcile many to it something farther, and on the whole pretty well. For though bitter is the remembrance of death to a man that liveth at rest, and hath prosperity in all things, yet justly acceptable is it to the needy, and to him whose strength faileth, and that is vexed with all things §. Yet still, it must be owned, this consolation is but a melancholy one. And therefore, God be thanked, though numbers of + 1 Cor. vii. 29, 30, 31. § Ecclus. xli. 1, 2,
*Luke xxi. 19.
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