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Beyond this, we are in the midst of the mourning family, and by tender sympathy share in all their sorrows, while they are fresh and powerful. We cannot fail here to "weep with those who weep; and to mourn and be in bitterness" with such, as have lost perhaps "an only son, and are in bitterness for a first born."
Thus we see here the end of all men in the clearest light; and are in the most advantageous situation to lay it usefully to heart. But if this be the case with mere visiters; with friends, neighbours, or even strangers; how much more advantageous must be the situation of the mourners themselves! To them the end of all men is brought far nearer; and their tenderness of mind is far greater, and prepares them much more effectually to lay it to heart. Their minds are more affected, more solemn, and better prepared for religious impressions, than those of any other persons; and more than they themselves are in any other circum
But to lay to heart the end of all men is one of our most important duties, and highest interests. It is the way to be prepared for that end; to become religious; to be fitted for heaven.
Thus, then, the afflicted, especially mourners, enjoy the best opportunity, commonly afforded by the Providence of God for securing the end of their being; the salvation of their souls. This opportunity is rendered profitable chiefly, or only, by wise consideration. Of course our highest interest demands this duty at our hands. He, therefore, who does not perform it, is most unwise, and lost alike to his duty, and to his supreme interest.
3dly. As afflictions are sent to bring us to consideration, GOD, if he designs good for us, must be expected to go on in his course of chastisement, until the end of them, viz. our reformation, is produced.
The purposes of God will all be accomplished. My Counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." "I work; and who shall let it?" Hence we ought rationally to expect affliction to be added to affliction, until the rebellious heart is broken, and the spirit of obstinacy and impenitence subdued. If the first afflic
tions accomplish the design of GOD in sending them; he will not make use of others. If not; there is always reason to fear, that he will continue his chastisements, until he has brought us to submission and repentance. The smart of one stroke naturally leads us to dread another; and therefore common prudence should prompt us to a faithful performance of this duty.
4thly. GOD may, on the contrary, and often does, give up those, who are unreformed by afflictions, to hardness of heart.
This of all evils, on this side of the grave, is undoubtedly the greatest. It is no other than an anticipation of the final sentence of the wicked. Yet this is, unquestionably, often pronounced in the present world; although we ourselves are not warranted to apply it to individuals. In conformity to this doctrine, GoD said to the ancient Jews, "Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more:" and, still more dreadfully of Ephraim, "Ephraim is joined unto idols, let him alone." "The earth, which," in this sense, "drinketh in the rain, which cometh oft upon it, and" still "beareth thorns and briers, is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing. The miry places and marshes," which thus prove that they "cannot be healed, are given to salt." If repeated afflictions are to be dreaded by those, who are now suffering; how much more this rejection, this final desertion of God.
In this way we lose the best, and, as the case is supposed, the only, time of repentance and salvation. As our hearts are now more fitted to receive divine impressions, than in any ordinary circumstances; so, since we do not receive and feel them during this happy period, there is no reason to expect that we shall feel at all.
5thly. By the performance of this duty the afflicted will obtain incalculable good now, as well as hereafter.
"Afflictions," of course, if wisely improved, and sanctified by GOD, "yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness." If wisely improved by us, there is good reason to hope, that they will be thus sanctified. Great multitudes of mankind are hopefully "brought out of darkness into marvellous light," during seasons of severe
affliction. Then the first views begin, the first affections are cherished, the first resolutions are formed, which introduce all the succeeding happy train of conduct and character of the sanctified man. Eternal life is very often to be dated from the dying bed of our friends. Religion there sits kindly and constantly, to persuade us to admit her as a future friend, a future and eternal inmate of our bosoms. Christ there solemnly and affectingly calls on us, as we dread death, to dread sin, the cause of death; and to be alarmed with the thought of dying forever; to be reconciled to God, then waiting to receive us to his arms; and to believe in himself "the resurrection and the life," that he "may raise us up at the last day." Salvation here dawns, like the day-star, rising out of a night of gloom and tempest, and anticipating a perfect and glorious day. The soul, here under a load of hopeless sorrow, finding no other earthly friend or comforter, able and willing to relieve its distresses, bows before its divine Redeemer, and turns to the Spirit of Grace for heavenly and immortal consolations. Here it seeks, so as to find, them all.
A new disposition now commences in the soul; a lively confidence in Christ; a humble sorrow for sin; a willing submission to GOD. With these, are found "peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost;" delightful companions; born in the heavens, and springing from a Parent infinite and divine! The mind under their mild and sweet influence becomes at peace with itself; at peace with its fellow creatures; at peace with its Maker. "The North wind awakes" in it; "the South wind blows" upon it; its blossoms all expand; "its spices flow out" in all their fragrance. The spirit of truth finds a residence, in which he is pleased to dwell. Thenceforth all its fruits are pleasant and abundant, acceptable to GoD, useful and delightful to mankind. No more a desolate wilderness, overgrown with briers and thorns, the soul has become "a well watered garden, a fruitful field, which the Lord hath planted." Like Eden it blooms, not with beauty only, but with life: and bear fruits, not only "good for food, and pleasant to the eye," but fraught with the principles and the hopes of immortality.
SERMON ON THE OLD YEAR.
PSALM XC. 9.
We spend our years, as a tale that is told.
THIS Psalm is composed of a series of just, forcible, and melancholy reflections on the shortness and vanity of life; and of a fervent and most interesting prayer for such blessings, as are especially suited to beings, possessed of such a life. It is styled "A prayer of Moses, the man of GOD;" and is strongly marked with the energetic and sublime spirit, every where visible in the writings of this singular man. The occasion, on which it is supposed to have been written, was the termination of that gradual change in human life, which began immediately after the flood, and reduced the period from a thousand to seventy years. This termination seems to have been accomplished at the time, when the rebellious Israelites, of the generation which went out of Egypt, were condemned to perish in the wilderness. Both of these subjects appear to have been strongly realized by the writer, and directly alluded to in his reflections; and were therefore, I think, certainly in his mind, when he began to write.
The Psalm is a poem strictly of the elegiac kind; and is, for its length, excelled by no similar human composition, in the propriety and beauty of thought and description. The Lamentations of Jeremiah are not more perfect; the images are remarkably strong and happy; and the thoughts are in several instances preeminent specimens of philosophical sublimity.
The great change in human life, from the antediluvian length to its present date, was in the most affecting manner exhibited in
the destruction of this generation of the Israelites. From two to three millions of people accompanied Moses from Egypt into the wilderness of Sin. All these, except Caleb and Joshua, and such as were under twenty years of age, when they passed through the Red Sea, were miserably cut off in the wilderness, and not permitted to enter the promised land. This dreadful dispensation was the punishment of their incorrigible hardness of heart, and their numerous rebellions against GOD. A more melancholy scene could not, therefore, easily be presented to the human eye. To Moses it must have been singularly affecting. He, commissioned by GoD himself, had in a most wonderful manner rescued his nation from the iron bondage of Egypt; conducted them with a series of miracles through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness; published to them the law of GOD; and unfolded to them a long train of glorious and divine promises. In this dignified employment he had presided over all their national concerns, both civil and military; had spent forty years of his life in the most painful labours; indulged the most delightful hopes; offered up unceasingly the most fervent prayers; patiently suffered a train of severe distresses; and wished even to part with his own life for the sake of his people. As these labours and sufferings were drawing near to a close; he beheld those, for whom he had laboured and suffered, cut off in the divine anger, and his own hopes of their present and future happiness shrouded in perpetual darkness. To such a man, in such circumstances, how painful must have been this scene!
Among the reflections, contained in this Psalm a very interesting one is presented to us in the text. The shortness and vanity of life is a subject, in which every man will, in spite of himself, ever find a deep concern. He will not indeed, like Moses, feel that strong interest in it, forced upon the mind by the sight of the continual and regular diminution of a nation, or by the contrast between the existing date of human life, and a known, preceding longevity. Still, however frequently the subject is mentioned to him, in whatever form of expression it is rehearsed, he will always find his mind solemnly arrested; his attention, for a little VOL. II.