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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.
Fifthly, 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 for ever; 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 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 consolation. 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 bears fruits, not only good for food and pleasant to the eye, but fraught with the principle and the hopes of immortality.
Å 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 everywhere 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, pre-eminent 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 the 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 time at least, irresistibly engaged; and, if he is not inclined to serious and useful reflections, his heart disposed to force the subject away from its contemplation, because it is painful. No theme of reflection has been oftener adopted, or in a greater variety of forms, by moralists and others; no subject has perhaps been more frequently pronounced trite and dull, or more frequently ridiculed as unfit to engage the understanding, the imagination, or the heart. Observations on it are styled see-saw morality, and discourses about it are spoken of as mere thrumming. Yet, in defiance of this and all other opposition, it still finds a way to the heart. We cannot be told, that we must die, and that we may die to-morrow, without at the least a momentary check to pleasure, sense, and sin. We cannot be told of the death of a neighbour without, at the least, a transient solemnity; a little twinge; an involuntary apprehension concerning the approach of our own end.
This truth is strikingly manifested in the conversation of men concerning places and seasons in which mortal diseases exist. Few men willingly acknowledge the place in which they live to be unhealthy, and most regard the bare mention of such a fact with resentment. In times of sickness, when inquiries are made concerning this subject, we are told that it is indeed a sickly season; but it is confined chiefly to infants, or to children. When the yellow fever rages, we are told, that only some poor people have fallen victims to the pestilence. In this phraseology it is intended to intimate, that adults in the one case, and the rich in the other are hitherto safe. Yet nothing will be alleged as a reason why both were not exposed in such a case, except the insidiousness of the fear which persuades us to put far away the evil day.
In this manner we. testify, among other things, the alarm excited in our minds by the mortality around us, and the industry with which we impose on ourselves the persuasion that we are safe, and thus