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ON NUMBERING OUR DAYS.
PSALM Xc. 12.
So teach us to number our Days, that we may apply our hearts unto
E have seen to what a measure human life
is reduced. To be made sensible of this is a very high attainment in knowledge; but it is of still higher importance, thence to deduce conclusions, which have a tendency to regulate the workings of your mind, the emotions of your heart, the conduct of your life : and to assist you in this, is,
II. The second object which we proposed to ourselves in this discourse. This is what the prophet asks of God in the text : this we would earnestly implore in your behalf, and this prayer we wish you to adopt for yourselves : Lord, so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
1. The first conclusion, deducible from the representation given, is this: the vanity of the life which now is, affords the clearest proof of the life to come. This proof is sensible, and it possesses two advantages over all those which philosoplay supplies, toward demonstrating the im nortality of the soul. The proof of our iminortality, taken from the spirituality of the soul, has, perhaps, a great deal of solidity; but it is neither so sensible, nor so incontestable. I am lost when I attempt to carry my metaphysical speculations into the interior of substances. I do not well know what to reply to an opponent who presses me with such questions as these: “ Do you know every thing that a substance is capable of? Are your intellectual powers such as to qualify you to pronounce this decision : Such a substance is capable only of this, and such another only of that.” This difficulty, at least, always recurs, namely, that a soul, spiritual and im nortal of its own nature, may be deprived of immortality, should it please that God who called it into existence, to reduce it to a state of annihilation.
But the proof which we have alleged is sensible, it is incontestable. I can make the force of it to be felt by a peasant, by an artisan, by the dullest of human beings. And I am bold enough to bid defiance to the acutest genius, to the most dexterous sophist, to advance any thing that deserves the name of reasoning in contradiction to it. How! is it possible that this soul capable of reflecting, of reasoning, of laying down principles, of deducing consequences, of knowing its Creator, and of serving him, should have been created for the purpose merely of acting the poor part which man fills on the earth? How! the souls of those myriads of infants, who die before they are born, to be annihilated, after having animated, for a few months,
an embryo, a mass of unfinished organs, which nature did not deign to carry on to perfection! How! The Abrahams, the Moseses, the Davids, and the multitudes of those other holy men, to whom God made so many and such gracious promises, shall they cease to be, after having been strangers and pilgrims upon the earth ? How ! that cloud of witnesses, who, rather than deny the truth, submitted to be stoned, to be sawn asunder, to be tempted, to be slain with the sword, who wandered about in sheep-skins, and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, Heb. xi. 13, 37 ? How ! that cloud of witnesses evaporate into smoke, and the souls of martyrs pass into annihilation amidst the torture inflicted by an executioner! Ye confessors of Jesus Christ, who have borne his reproach for thirty years together, who have yielded up your back to the rod of a tormentor, who have lived a life more painful than death in its most horrid form! You to have no other reward of all your labors and sufferings, except those poor gratuities which man bestows after you have finished your career? How ! those noble faculties of soul bestowed on man, merely to sit, for a few years upon a tribunal, for a few years to dip into arts and sciences ? .... What brain could digest the thought ! What subtility of metaphysical research, what ingeniousness of sophistry, can enfeeble the proof derived from such appearances as these? Obrevity of the present economy! O vanity of human life ! O miseries upon miseries, with which my days are depressed, distracted, empoisoned, I will complain of you no longer ! I behold light the most cheering, the most transporting, ready to burst forth from the bosom of that gloomy night into which you have plunged me! you conduct me to the grand, the animating doctrine of immortality! The vanity of the present life, is the proof of the life which is to come. This is our first conclusion.
2. The second conclusion we deduce is this: neither the good things, nor the evil, of a lise which passes away with so much rapidity, ought to make a very deep impression on a soul whose duration is eternal. Do not tax me of extravagance. I have no intention to preach a hyperbolical morality. I do not mean to maintain such a wild position as this, “ That there is no reality in either the enjoyments or the distresses of life: that there is a mixture in every human condition, which reduces all to equality: that the man who sits at a plentiful table is not a whit happier than the man who begs his bread.” This is not our gospel. Temporal evils are unquestionably real. Were this life of very long duration, I would deem the condition of the rich man incomparably preferable to that of the poor; that of the man who commands, to that of him who obeys; that of one who enjoys perfect health, to that of one who is stretched on a bed of languishing. But however real the enjoyments and the distresses of life may be in themselves, their transient duration invalidates that reality, You, who have passed. thirty years in affliction ! there, are thirty years of painful existence vanished away. You, whose woes have been lengthened out to forty years ! There, are forty years of a life of sorrow vanished away. And you who, for these thirty, forty, fifty years past, have been living at ease, and drowned in pleasure ! What is become of those years? The time which both the one and the other has yet to live, is scarcely worth the reckoning, and is flying away with the same rapidity. If the brevity of life does not render all conditions equal, it fills up, at least, the greatest part of that abyss which cupidity had placed between them. Let us reform our ideas : let us correct our style: do not let us call a man happy because he is in health: do not let us call a' sick man miserable : let us not call that absolute felicity, which is only borrowed, transitory, ready to flee away with life itself. Immortal beings ought to make immortality the standard by which to regulate their ideas of happiness and misery. Neither the good things, nor the evil, of a life so transient, ought to make a very deep impression on a soul whose duration is eternal. This was our second conclusion.
3. But if I be immortal, what have I to do among the dying? If I be destined to a never ending duration, wherefore am I doomed to drag out a miserable life upon the earth ? If the blessings and the miseries of this life are so disproportionate to my natural greatness, wherefore have they been given to me? Wherefore does the Creator take a kind of pleasure in laying snares for my innocence, in presenting to me delights which may become the source of everlasting misery ; and by conducting me to eternal felicity, through the sacrifice of every present comfort? This difficulty, my brethren, this pressing difficulty, leads us to,
A third conclusion: this life is a season of probation, assigned to us for the purpose of making our choice between everlasting happiness or misery. This life, considered as it is in itself, is an object of contempt. We may say of it, with the sacred writers,t hat it is a shadow that passeth away; a vanity, which has nothing real or solid; a flower which fadeth ; grass which withereth and is cut down; a vapor which dissolves into air; a dream which leaves no trace after the sleep is gone; a