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how it is likely to be affected by succeeding occurrences in life. If you bring one whom you are rearing up into a situation where all the surrounding circumstances shall cherish and mature this fatal principle in his nature, you become, in a great measure, answerable for the consequences that follow. In vain
you trust to his abilities and powers. Vice and corruption, when they have tainted the heart, are sufficient to overset the greatest abilities. Nay, too frequently they turn them against the possessor ; and render them the instruments of his more speedy. ruin.
In the third place, We learn from the history which has been illustrated never to judge of true happiness, merely from the degree of men's advancement in the world. Always betrayed by appearances, the multitude are caught by nothing so much as by the show and pomp of life. They think every one blest, who is raised far above others in rank. From their earliest years they are taught to fix their views upon worldly elevation, as the ultimate object of their aims; and of all the sources of error in conduct, this is the most general. – Hazael, on the throne of Syria, would, doubtless, be "more envied, and esteemed by the multitude a far happier man, than when, yet a subject, he was employed by Benhadad to carry his message to Elisha.
to Elisha. Yet, O Hazael ! how much better had it been for thee never to have known the name or honour of a king, than to have purchased it at the expence of so much guilt ; forfeiting thy first and best character; rushing into crimes which were once thine abhorrence; and becoming a traitor to the native sentiments and dictates of thy heart! How fatal to thy repose proved that coveted purple, which was drenched by thee in so much innocent blood ! How much more cheerful were thy days, and how much calmer thy nights, in the former periods of thy life, than when, placed on a throne, thy ears were invaded by day with the cries of the miserable whom thou hadst ruined; and thy slumbers broken by night with the shocking remembrance of thy cruelties and crimes ? Never let us judge by the outside of things; nor conclude a man to be happy, solely because he is encompassed with wealth or grandeur. Much misery often lurks where it is little suspected by the world. The material enquiries respecting felicity are, not what a man's external condition is, but with what disposition of mind he bears it; whether he be corrupted or improved by it; whether he conducts himself so as to be acceptable to God, and approved of by good men. For these are the circumstances which make the real and important distinctions among the conditions of men. The effects of these are to last for ever, when all worldly distinctions shall be forgotten.
In the fourth place, From all that has been said, we should learn never to be immoderately anxious about our external situation, but to submit our lot with cheerfulness to the disposal of Heaven. To make the best and most prudent arrangements which we can, respecting our condition in life, is matter of high duty. But let us remember that all the plans which we form are precarious and uncertain. After the utmost precautions taken by human wisdom, no man can foresee the hidden dangers which may await him in that path of life on which
he has pitched. Providence chooses for us much more wisely than we can choose for ourselves; and, from circumstances that appeared at first most unpromising and adverse, often brings forth in the issue both temporal and spiritual felicity. Who knoweth what is good for a man in this life, all the days of his vain life, which he spendeth as a shadow ? When we consider the darkness of our present state, the imbecility of human nature, and the doubtful and ambiguous value of all that we call prosperity, the exhortation of the Psalmist comes home with great force on every reflecting mind, Commit thy way unto the Lord. * Form thy measures with prudence; but divest thyself of anxiety about the issue. Instead of seeking to order thine own lot, acquiesce in the appointment of Heaven, and follow without hesitation the call of Providence, and of duty. In whatever situation of life God shall place thee, look up devoutly to Him for grace and assistance; and study to act the part assigned thee with a faithful and upright heart. Thus shalt thou have peace within thyself, while thy course is going on; and when it draws towards a close, with satisfaction thou shalt review thy conduct. For, after all the toils and labours of life, and all the vain struggles which we maintain for pre-eminence and distinction, we shall find at the conclusion of the whole scene, that to fear God and keep his commandments is the whole duty of man.
* Psalm xxxvii. 5.
On the BENEFITS to be derived from the House of
ECCLESIASTES, vii. 2, 3, 4.
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to
the house of feasting ; for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter! for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning ; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
MANY of the maxims contained in this book of
Ecclesiastes will appear strange sayings to the men of the world. But when they reflect on the character of him who delivers them, they cannot but admit that his tenets deserve a serious and attentive examination. For, they are not the doctrines of a pedant, who, from an obscure retirement, declaims against pleasures which he never knew. They are not the invectives of a disappointed man, who takes revenge upon the world, by satirising those enjoyments which he sought in vain to obtain. They are the conclusions of a great and prosperous prince, who had once given full scope to his desires; who was thoroughly acquainted with life in its most flat
tering scenes ; and who now, reviewing all that he had enjoyed, delivers to us the result of long experience and tried wisdom. None of his principles seem, at first view, more dubious and exceptionable than those which the text presents. To assert that sorrow is preferable to mirth, and the house of mourn. ing to the house of feasting ;; to advise men to choose mortification and sadness when it is in their power to indulge in joy, may appear harsh and unreasonable doctrines. They may, perhaps, be accounted enemies to the innocent enjoyment of life who give countenance' to so severe a system, and thereby increase the gloom which already sits sufficiently heavy on the condition of man. But let this censure be suspended, until we examine with care into the spirit and meaning of the sentiments here delivered.
It is evident that the wise man does not prefer sorrow, upon its own account, to mirth; or represent sadness as a state more eligible than joy. He considers it in the light of discipline only. He views it with reference to an end. He compares it with certain improvements which he supposes it to produce ; when the heart is made better by the sadness of the countenance, and the living to lay to heart what is the end of all men. Now, if great and lasting benefits are found to result from occasional sadness, these, sure, may be capable of giving it the preference to some fleeting sensations of joy. The means which he recommends in order to our obtaining those benefits, are to be explained according to the principles of sound reason; and to be understood with those limitations which the eastern style, in delivering moral precepts, frequently requires. He bids us go to the house of mourning ; but he does not command