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future gains. Carry always along with you a modest and a temperate mind. Let not your expectations from the years that are to come risetoo high; and your disappointments will be fewer, and more easily supported.
Farther; this may be reckoned upon as certain, that, in every future situation of life, a good con. science, a well ordered mind, and a humble trust in the favour of Heaven, will prove the essential ingredients of your happiness. In reflecting upon tbe past, you have found this to hold. Assure yourselves that in future the case will be the same. The principal correctives of human vanity and distress must be sought for in religion and virtue. Entering on paths which to you are new and unknown, place yourselves. under the conduct of a divine guide. Follow the great Shepherd of Israel, who, amidst the turmoil of this world, leads his flock into green pastures, and by the still waters. As you advance in life, study to improve both in good principles and in good practice. You will be enabled to look to futurity without fear, if, whatever it brings, it shall find you regularly employed in doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with the Lord your God.
Lastly, Whatever other things may be dubious in futurity, two great events are undoubtedly certain, death and judgment. These, we all know, are to terminate the whole course of time, and we know them to be not only certain, but to be approaching nearer to us, in consequence of every day that passes over our heads. To these, therefore, let us look for. ward, not with the dread of children, but with that manly seriousness which belongs to men and Chris. tians. Let us not avert our view from them, as if
we could place them at some greater distance by excluding them from our thoughts. This indeed is the refuge of too many; but it is the refuge of fools, who aggravate thereby the terrors they must encounter. For he that cometh, shall come, and will not tarry. To his coming, let us look with a steady eye;
and as life advances through its progressive stages, prepare for its close, and for appearing before Him who made us.
Thus I have endeavoured to point out the reflections proper to be made, when the question is put to any of us, How old art thou? I have shown with what eye we should review the past years of our life.; in what light we should consider the present ; and with what dispositions look forward to the future: In order that such a question may always leave some serious impression behind it; and may dispose us so to number the years of our life, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
On the Duties belonging to MIDDLE AGE.
1 CORINTHIANS, xiii. 11.
When I became a man, I put away childish things. To every thing, says the wise man, there is a season ; "
and a time to every purpose under heaven. As there are duties which belong to particular situations of fortune, so there are duties also which result from particular periods of human life. In every period of it, indeed, that comprehensive rule takes place, Fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. t Piety to God, and charity to men, are incumbent upon persons of every age, as soon as they can think and act. Yet these virtues, in dif. ferent stages of life, assume different forms; and when they appear in that form which is most suited to our age, they appear with peculiar gracefulness; they give propriety to conduct, and add dignity to character. In former discourses I have treated of the virtues which adorn youth, and of the duties which especially belong to old age. The circle of those duties which respect middle age is indeed much larger. As that is the busy period in the life of man, it includes in effect the whole compass of religion,
* Eccles. ti. 1.
+ Eccles. xii. 13 | See vol. i. Sermons 11. and 12.
and therefore cannot have its peculiar character so definitely marked and ascertained. At the same time, during those years wherein one is sensible that he has advanced beyond the confines of youth, but has not yet passed into the region of old age, there are several things which reflection on that portion of human life suggests, or at least ought to suggest, to the mind. Inconsiderate must he be, who, in his gradual progress throughout middle age, pauses not, at times, to think how far he is now receding from youth; how near he draws to the borders of declining age; what part it is now incumbent on him to act; what duties both God and the world have a title to expect from him. To these I am at present to call your attention; as what materially concern the greatest part of those who are now my hearers.
1. I BEGIN with observing, that the first duty of those who are' become men is, as the text expresses it, to put away childish things. The season of youthful levities, follies, and passions, is now over.
These have had their reign; a reign perhaps too long; and to which a termination is certainly proper at last. Much indulgence is due to youth. Many things admit of excuse then, which afterwards become unpardonable. Some things may even be graceful in youth, which, if not criminal, are at least ridiculous in persons of maturer years. It is a great trial of wisdom, to make our retreat from youth with propriety; to assume the character of manhood, without exposing ourselves to reproach, by an unseasonable remainder of juvenility on the one hand, or by precise and disgusting formality on the other. Nature has placed certain boundaries, by which she discriminates the
pleasures, actions, and employments that are suited to the different stages of human life. It becomes us neither to overleap those boundaries by a transition too hasty and violent; nor to hover too long on one side of the limit, when nature calls us to pass over to the other.
There are particularly two things in which middle age should preserve its distinction and separation from youth; these are levities of behaviour and intemperate indulgence of pleasure. The gay spirits of the young often prompt an inconsiderate degree of levity, sometimes amusing, sometimes offensive; but for which, though betraying them occasionally into serious dangers, their want of experience may plead excuse. A more composed and manly behaviour is expected in riper years. The affectation of youthful vanities degrades the dignity of manhood; even renders its manners less agreeable; and by awkward attempts to please, produces contempt. Cheerfulness is becoming in every age. But the proper cheerfulness of a man is as different from the levity of the boy, as the flight of the eagle is from the fluttering of a sparrow in the air.
As all unseasonable returns to the levity of youth ought to be laid aside, -- an admonition which equally belongs to both the sexes, --- still more are we to guard against those intemperate indulgences of pleasure, to which the young are unhappily prone. From those we cannot too soon retreat. They open the path to ruin, in every period of our days. As long, however, as these excesses are confined to the first stage of life, hope is left, that when this fever of the spirits shall abate, sobriety may gain the ascendant, and wiser counsels have power to influence conduct.