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1. Let it ever be joined with reading the Scriptures.
2. Let it be constant.
3. Attend with a full decision of mind, with the utmost seriousness.
4. Seek the aid of the Spirit.
REFLECTIONS ON THE INEVITABLE LOT OF
ECCLES. xi. 8.-If a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many.
THERE is nothing better established by universal observation, than that the condition of man upon earth is, less or more, an afflicted condition: "Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward." As the sparks ascend by an immutable law in nature, so the sorrows to which we are exposed spring from necessity, from causes whose operation is unavoidable and universal. Look through all the generations of man, throughout all times and places, and see if you can discover a single individual who has not, at one period or another, been exposed to the arrows of adversity. The roll or record of human destiny is written " within and without, with lamentation, and mourning, and woe."+
We are naturally extremely and immoderately attached to worldly enjoyments and to temporal † Ezek. ii. 10.
* Job v. 7.
prospects. Our souls cleave to them with an eagerness extremely disproportioned to their real value, which is one of the maledictions incurred by the fall. The curse denounced upon the earth for man's sake has contracted the sum of earthly good within a narrow compass, and blasted it with much vanity; but has not had the effect of dispelling the charm by which it engages our affections. It is a part of the misery of man, in his fallen state, that he has become more attached than ever to the world, now that it has lost its value. Having swerved from God, and lost his true centre, he has fallen into an idolatry of the world, and makes it the exclusive object of his attachment, even at the very time that its beauty is marred and its satisfactions impaired.
"It is a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold the sun. While the sun of earthly prospects shines, we are apt to feel the day of evil at a distance from our minds; we are reluctant to admit the possibility of a change of scene; we shut out the thought of calamity and distress as an unwelcome intruder.
The young revel in the enjoyment of health, and exult in the gay hopes and enchanting gratifications suited to that delightful [season], as though they were never to know a period. Amused and transported with [their] situation and [their] prospects, it is with extreme difficulty they admit the conviction that the days are fast approaching when they shall confess they have no pleasure in them.
* Eccles. xi. 7.
"Let us enjoy the good things that are present." "Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments, and let no flower of the spring pass by us." "Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they be withered."*
Experience, in most cases, soon alters their sentiments, and events arise which impress an indelible conviction, of the short duration of earthly good. The bloom of health is blasted by disease; the seeds of some incurable malady begin to shoot up, and make their appearance; or the agony of disappointed passions is impressed; or cares and anxieties begin to corrode the mind; or the hand of death [inflicts] some fatal stroke, by which the object of the tenderest affection is snatched
If a long course of prosperity has been enjoyed, during which almost every thing has succeeded to the wish, (which sometimes, though very rarely, occurs,) the confidence in worldly hopes and prospects is mightily increased; the mind is more softened and enervated by an uninterrupted series of prosperity, and is the more unfitted to [go through] those scenes of distress which inevi tably await him. He who is in this situation is tempted to say, "I shall surely die in my nest :"† or, in the language of the rich man in the gospel, "Soul, eat, drink, and be merry; thou hast goods laid up for many years."‡
Wisdom of Solomon ii. 8.
Luke xii. 19.
Job xxix. 18.
The whole system of worldly amusement is adapted to make us forget the real condition of human life, to disguise every object, and to invest the present state with a sort of theatrical glow. It is contrived, in every part of it, to banish reflection, to hide the future from the view, and to make us overlook the evils of life, and the realities of eternity. But still, as the nature of things remains the same, as the course of human events can no more be arrested than the tide, the only effect of this voluntary infatuation is, to render the stroke of calamity, when it does fall, doubly heavy, by leaving the soul without preparation and without resources. "Their fear cometh as desolation, and their destruction as a whirlwind."* The lot of mankind is, sooner or later, a state of suffering, from which no past successes, no seeming stability in our station, can possibly secure.
Though a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity."+
It is wisdom, then, to form a just estimate of human life; to correct the illusions of our passions; and to regulate our expectations respecting the good and evil of the present, by the result of universal observation and experience. It is Solomon, that model of a great and prosperous prince, whose [mental] attainments, exalted station, and extraordinary prosperity, combined to confer upon him, † Eccles. xi. 8.
* Prov. i. 27.
as far as possible, an exemption from suffering, who, under the dictate of the Holy Spirit, penned these words," If a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many."
Let us proceed briefly to consider what improvement should be made of this view of human life, of this universal exposure to affliction.
I. The first lesson it should teach us is, that we are not in the situation in which man was first formed. The original destination of man was not a state of suffering. When God first formed the world, on surveying all that he had created, he pronounced it to be "very good."* If it now be very evil, there must be a change in the state and condition of mankind, since the Supreme Being is immutable. It would be utterly repugnant to his perfections to doom an innocent creature to so much suffering; and the Word of God expressly declares he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men."+ Hence, calamities are styled chastisements throughout the Scriptures, and are invariably spoken of as expressions of the divine anger. Under the administration of a wise and holy Being, had there been no sin, there would have been no suffering. Tyrants may delight in displaying their power over their vassals, by inflicting upon them unmerited punishments; but, far be it from us to suspect such conduct in "the