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I have seen land-locked and idle ; the intellect of others exhausted upon rustic inventions; the wit of others upon winter-evening tales; beauty blushing unseen, modesty uncared for ; and royal virtues held in no repute : all which their ill-assorted lots did cost the people dear, and begat most indigestible and irritating humours. The mind seemed as in a cage of confining conditions, within whose narrow bounds it spent an unprofitable strength, it pined like a proud man in prison, or raged like a strong man in fetters. By and bye these towering faculties, which in youth made such efforts to rise into their proper element, growing weary of the vain endeavour, have fallen into despair, and become content to think and feel and speak and act like the multitude around ; or else they have become deadly and revengeful, sour and sullen towards the forms of life which did impede their progress, holding a constant argument and living in a constant warfare against the good institutions of men, and endeavouring their little ability to overthrow them., Thus a noble and ethereal spirit, which God lighted with heavenly fire to enlighten others, hath been quenched by the noxious vapours which exhaled from its neighbourhood, or hath turned into a firebrand lo set the earth in a blaze. This is a great evil under the sun, and the most constant source of internal trouble to a state ; it is a gangrene, which, being wide spread, corrupts the whole constitution.
And it has also been my lot to see it so spread, to live and move amongst a whole people infected with this malady of their condition, and not knowing how to be delivered from it. They were restless, and found no peace in the bosom of their homes. They went unrefreshed by the rest of night to their hated labours, and they retired from them only to murmur aloud; they looked hard upon your better raiment; their words lost the soft tones of kindness and respect, and you felt as in an enemy's country, or amongst the people of a house which hated the house of
fathers. These inquietudes of the soul of man, and of the ranks of society, with their several allotments in the field of human life, are to a reflecting mind almost as distressing as the sluggish, brute-like contentment with the food and raiment which we treated of above ; and in time produce those awful convulsions and insurrections, those hot and fiery contests, which society makes when, unmoored from their settlements, her ranks justle and crash like stately vessels in a storm.
And if we turn to see how society fares at the other extreme ; if there be a better assortment of the mind to its
place, more contentment of the ranks with their several stations, and if what contentment there is do rest upon nobler gratifications than those which we deplored in humble life ; then, from all we can see and learn in that quarter, things are not mended much. There is still unrest and dispeace in the bosom of youth, which they seek to allay in the dissipations of elevated life. They compete for the eye of woman; they compete for the pink of fashion; they even strive for the distinction of being vulgar and coarse ; they compete for places in the senate-house ; they range the world over for sights and shows: thus by the farness and wildness of their fights, through the amplitude of their range, display-' ing that same restlessness in their present estate, which the humbler youth does by his flutterings around his narrow confines. And when this misdirected energy of soul becomes exhausted, they sink down into a repose often as unintellectual and unspiritual as that we lamented among the labourers of life. For I reckon the vanity-fair of a Sabbath in the Park, or the entertainment of a route, or the triumph of an election, or the morality of a fox-chase or a horse-race, to be grounds of contentment, to an intellectual immortal being, as disgraceful and pitiful as the glory of an ale-house, or the enjoyment of a fair, or the grand entertainment of a human fight.
Now if I settle myself between these two extremes of humanity, and take an observation of the middle orders of men, then this I often find that the souls of many have died a natural death among the common-places and every day en. gagements of the world—they rise and eat, and labour and go to sleep, and rise again to the same unintellectual round; and so they see the bustling faces of friends, prate of news, and now and then enjoy some social cheer--they care and know for little besides. This also I find, that others are restless after gain, and vexed from morning to night with endeavours to obtain it and to keep it ; and, having succeeded, grow mighty and wax ambitious, seeking titles and honours; which, having got, they become insufferably important; while I find many youths sweating and sweltering in the midst of labour, and for entertainment to their souls, seeking mirth and jollity, and other dangerous levities.
This dissatisfaction of the mind with its surrounding conditions, and these wretched refuges of contentment into which it settles down at length, are, it seems to me, the chief causes of society's troubles ; which are not to be effectually removed, unless you can find employment for this excessive
activity, which is wasted in restless schemes, and solace for this bitterness of the soul which these unsuccessful schemes engender. This I shall discover at large out of those divine 'revelations, whose excellence we endeavour to disclose.
The example of our Saviour, born in meanest estate, and showing the glory of the father through weeds of poverty and in scenes of contempt, must take off from all his disciples the edge and bitterness of envy, and teach them that the capacities of the most highly endowed mind have room and verge enough within the most mechanical callings; while the same example exhibits and enforces the true way to dignify the callings and the characters of men, and enable them to sit down with a high and noble contentment, which every thing may invade, but nothing shall prevail against.
In order to know how little station is necessary to dignity and usefulness, Christians have only to remark the words which the angel of the Lord's birth spake to the shepherds who kept the night-watch over their flocks—" To you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” He to whom prophets had been painting since the fall of man as the great hope of all the earth ; whom, in the sore distresses that threatened all the interests of righteousness and piety, the seers had descried afar off, and called upon the hopeless people to take heart and be glad, for a light was coming to enlighten the Gentiles and glorify the people of Israel--hath at length arrived, and the messenger of the Lord descends to announce it to the earth, and guide these peasantry to the place of his birth. “In Bethlehem, the city of David, ye shall find him ; and by this sign ye shall recognize him-ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddlingclothes lying in a manger.” It was sufficient to denote him that he was surely the worst accommodated babe that night in Bethlehem-I might say in the civilized world :-“ The meanest, that is he."
Why was the Saviour of the world born and reared so meanly? He whose endowments were uncommunicated and incommunicable, his work most honourable and pure; why was he born amongst the common herd of men the vile and vulgar mob, as they are termed and treated ? The counsellor who had within him that boundless ocean of wisdom, whereof all that hath inhered in man is but the bountiful overflowings—why was He not in high seats of learning to train the youth, or in seats of awful justice to rule with equity the people? The great and mighty Lord, who had within him that almighty power and strength, whereof the pillars of the universe are but a temporary scaffolding reared by a word of his mouth, and by a word of his mouth to be overturned again—Why was he not placed in the seat of universal empire, to do his sovereign will among the sons of men, and reduce them to happiness and good order? These questions may well be asked upon beholding him swathed up amongst the cribs and provender of cattle ; hedged in, his life long, with mean and mechanical conditions, possessed of no power, and honoured by no office, pinched in liberty of speech and action, the few years he was allowed to live. Yet it pleased the Lord that in him should all fulness dwell. Such was the being and such was the condition into which the Being was born, whom all Christians call their Master, and to whom all subjects of the divine constitution endeavour to conform their sentiments and life.
Now, if Christ, having such poor instruments to work his work withal, so little power and rank and wealth, did yet bear with meekness the imprisonment of his faculties, and look without envy upon the towering height of mean and despicable men-finding within his bosom a resting-place of peace, in the world a constant field of active well-doing, in the bosom of God a constant welcome, and in the prospects after his heavy office was well discharged an everlasting feast of hope, -may not we mortal, erring men, be glad to fulfil the will of God in whatever condition he may please to place us, and win to ourselves out of the saddest aspects and in the humblest allotments of human life, not only endurance and contentment, but the high engagements of a most useful life? Can poverty or bonds imprison the faculties of the religious soul-can ruin seize the conditions which Christ's most precious blood hath purchased for his people can adversity benight the reconciled countenance of God? Cannot devotion soar as free from dungeons as from gorgeous temples ? and will not the mite of misery be as welcome as the costly offerings of grandeur? Nay, verily, but the very humility and poverty of his people are their commendation to God, their necessities are their passport, their groans are their petitions, and their afflictions are their arguments.
When, therefore, there are found, in abject poverty, spirits of passing excellence struggling with their depression, and unable to extricate their genius or their enterprise from petty embarrassments, from which they think a little more of wealth or a little more of station would have set them free without a struggle, let them turn into that vocation to which Christ invoketh men, and apply their faculties to those uses to which Christ applied his ; then shall their soul be as tranquil, though overflowed with many waters, as was his, and their end as triumphant over this paltry world, and their spirit as liberally enlarged into glorious liberty. And though there be on every side of us grovelling spirits sleeping in the bosom of every advantage, disregarding the fairest occasions of honour and of good, and when they do intermeddle in affairs, spoiling every thing they undertake with the stain of their own meanness; what is there in this to stir our envy ? in the eye of reason they are degraded and disgraceful, however prominent in the eye of silly people ; in the eye of God they are condemned for profligate squanderers of his good and gracious gifts ; and they are ripening their blossoms for such a wintry blast as shall sear and waste and desolate them for ever. Poor men! their case is pitiful, passing pitiful. Be gracious to them, be full of prayer for them ; for they pass like the flower of the grass, which flourisheth in the morning and in the evening is cut down, and the place which now knows them shall soon know them no more. Oh! it chaseth away
! for ever all ' repinings from the Christian's soul, to behold the discrepancy between the Saviour's divine capacities and the Saviour's humble lot; and it teacheth him resignation to his fortunes, and contentment in the midst of them, not out of a slothful and indolent spirit, but out of the conviction that from the worst fortune a life of the greatest activity and gainfulness may be made to arise. The sun never ariseth so glorious as when he divideth the thick douds of the morning, and looketh forth from his pavilion of thick waters round about him ; nor does man ever bespeak so much his spiritual strength, or show so like to God, as when he rejoiceth with a serene joy over darkness and trouble, and gathers sweet refreshment to his glory from the clouds which overcast him.
It is not sluggish contentment I advocate ; I would rather see a man wrestle against his lot than miserably succumb, rise rampant and shake from him the thongs and whips that scourge him, take arms and perish like a man, than whine and weep under inglorious bonds. It is victory and triumph, no pitiable debasement, I contend for ; and while I shut out material tools to express your mind and will before the beholding world, I hand you spiritual tools to express it with, before all-beholding God, your own conscious soul, and the innumerable host of heaven. If you have a capacious mind, but no books nor school to train it in, nor theatre of high debate to display it before, then be it between you and God, and those whom he hath placed about you. Be the book of