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Job v. 7.
MAN IS BORN TO TROUBLE, AS THE SPARKS FLY UPWARD.”
There are few of us to whom, at one period or another, the truth of these words has not been brought home by melancholy experience. One of the first things which strikes the observing mind, in comparing the condition of the human species with that of the other animals, is, the singular degree in which we are placed in each other's power, and our respective happiness or misery made to depend on our mutual conduct. And we cannot seriously dwell upon this peculiarity, in the character and circumstances of our race, without discovering that the wise and gracious Lord has so ordered it, for the wisest and most gracious purposes. Is this world man's abiding place ?
Does his destiny reach no higher than a sovereignty over this earth, upon which we tread ? Go
what appears to be true, such belief may go but a very short way in determining us to du what appears to be reasonable. And hence, the variance between profession and practice. between principle and conduct, which appears in the world. And hence, the necessity for some more pressing and operatire motives than those of mere abstract reason and conviction, to compel such an attention to the truths of our divine religion, as may make its efficacy savingly felt, and give us experimental knowledge that the law of the Lord is pure, converting the soul, as well as that the testimony of the Lord is sure, and giveth wisdom unto the simple.
Our Christian duty may be briefly comprehended in these two commandments, to love God above all things, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. The first is at variance with every thing impure; the second, with every thing selfish. And if this world were so ordered, as that we could secure to ourselves uninterrupted happiness, by the gratification of our impure propensities, and the indulgence of our selfish affections, the simple consideration of our duty to God would have little practical effect upon our lives. But it is ordered otherwise. Man does not find uninterrupted happiness in those pursuits, which
would lure him from the straight and onward course of religion. He soon finds disgust and weariness, disappointment and misery, vanity and vexation of spirit, in every thing which would lead him from his God. Want, and disease, and affliction, are the ministers by which his worldly-mindedness is corrected and chastised. As the stars appear when the sun goes down, so the mild and unobtrusive truths of our divine religion begin to dawn upon his mind, when the glare of this world's attractions has been darkened by the shadow of calamity. He begins to feel that he has an immortal soul. Knowing what it is to be a sufferer himself, he learns to sympathise with the sufferings of others. He recognises in the discipline to which he has been subjected, the hand of him who chastens whom he loves, even as a father the child of his love, and feels a constraining mercifulness in even the severest of his dispensations. And he thus learns to adore the wisdom of Providence, in furnishing him with motives and inducements to enter upon and persevere in a course of holiness, which the mere consideration of duty alone could never have sufficiently recommended to his adoption. He feels that it was good for him to have been afflicted, because he has thus been led to the knowledge
and ask of the enlightened heathens, who were left to the light of reason, and they will tell you, almost in the words of the Apostle, that if the hopes and aspirings of the human soul are to be bounded by the grave, we are of all creatures the most miserable. But what reason could merely conjecture, revelation has ascertained. And we are now assured, by the unerring oracle, that this world really is what it seems to be, a passing stage for the discipline and improvement of beings destined for another existence. Upon this supposition, every thing is harmonious and complete ; suitable to the nature of man, and not unworthy the wisdom of the Most High, Upon any other supposition, limiting our hopes or repressing our aspirings, we may search in vain for any principle which will reconcile us to the common lot of humanity, or vindicate the ways of God to man.
But it is one thing to theorise soberly and rationally upon this wondrous plan of Providence, and another, to apply the truth which is thus recognised, practically to ourselves. It is one thing to have a general conviction that all the pains and pleasures which are our lot here below, are intended for our moral discipline; and another, to make such a use of this knowledge as may really conduce to our
moral improvement. How many are there who believe in a righteous and retributive Providence, who yet remain satisfied with this cold homage of the understanding to the great God, and suffer themselves to be as completely engrossed by the little interests of this life, as if they were never to be called to another, in which, according to the deeds done in the flesh, they will receive their recompense either of honour or condemnation ? How many are there whose heads are convinced, while their hearts are unconverted; whose clear and unclouded reason would revolt from the monstrous notion, that death is an eternal sleep; but yet whose views, to all practical purposes, seem narrowed and circumscribed within the limits of the present existence ? And this, my friends, because, to judge aright of any proposition depends not upon the will; the mind must necessarily be determined by the evidence as it appears before it. But, to cultivate in ourselves those dispositions and affections which lead to righteousness and true holiness—this is purely a voluntary exercise. And, in this consists our moral responsibility, that we are at liberty to act or not to act upon the suggestions of our reason and conscience. It therefore happens, that while we cannot help believing