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SUMMARY OF SERMON XLVI.
PSALM XC-VERSE 12,
This Psalm is on several accounts remarkable: for its antiquity; for the eminence of its author, Moses; for its form and matter, affording so much useful instruction : this point enlarged on. The prophet David has in the 39th Psalm a prayer very near in words and sense to this: Lord, let me know my end, &c. In both we might naturally at first conceive that the drift of the prayer was, that God, for this comfort under afflictions, would reveal to them the determinate length of their lives. But this sense is by many of the Fathers rejected, as being matter unfit for prayer to the Almighty. Their opinion is so far conceded to, that the teaching desired by Moses is considered to be, God's affording us grace to know practically, or with serious regard to consider this state and measure of our life, which most men are so stupid and negligent as to misapply. The subject therefore of the present discourse will briefly be this, that the consideration of our life's certain brevity and frailty is proper and apt to dispose us towards the wise conduct of our remaining time.
As to the latter clause, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom; it is according to the Hebrew, and we shall bring the heart to wisdom; implying the application of our hearts unto wisdom to be consequent on the skill and practice (bestowed by God) of thus computing our days. As for wisdom, it may denote either a habit of knowing what is true, or a disposition of choosing what is good : we may here understand both, and especially the latter : the word also comprehends all the consequences and adjuncts of such wisdom. Paraphrase of the text, after this explanation of its terms. Reasons stated why a serious consideration of the frailty of life is a proper inducement to bring our hearts to wisdom, &c.
I. It will conduce to our right valuation or esteem of things, and consequently to our well placing and duly moderating our cares, affections, and endeavors about them General reflexions on the vanity of worldly objects, and of our eager desires after them. Lessons drawn from the example of the citizens of Agrigentum and Crotona. Examination in particular of the most valued things in this world, whether they deserve the estimate which popular opinion assigns to them.
1. To begin with that which seems most great and eminent among men, secular state and grandeur, might, honor, and applause. Concerning this kind St. Peter pronounces, All the glory of men is as the flower of the grass, &c. It is as the flower of the grass, the most fading and failing part thereof: we cannot hold this flower beyond the short term of our life, and we may easily be much sooner deprived of it. Examples of the great whose lustre has been in a moment extinguished, and reflexions thereon.
2. Riches may perhaps seem more real and substantial; that idol which hath a temple almost in every house, an altar in almost every heart. But our present consideration will easily discover to us, that even this, as all idols, is nothing in the world; nothing true or solid ; and will justify the wise man's assertion; Labor not for riches; vilt thou set thy heart on that which is not? Copious extracts from holy Scripture illustrating the transitory and frail tenure of riches, and the folly of setting our hearts on them.
3. In the next place, for pleasure; that great enchantress which so ensnares the world, and by her mischievous baits so draws mankind into sin and misery. The nature of sensual pleasure is more transitory than the shortest life, for it dies in the very enjoyment. Some persons, ignorant or incredulous of a future state, have on the very score of our life's shortness and uncertainty, encouraged the free enjoyment of pleasure: let us eat and drink, they have said, for to-morrow we shall die: their folly considered. But by us who are better instructed both as to our future state and the nature of sensuality, the enjoyment of sinful pleasure for a season must be despised and abhorred.
4. Concerning secular wisdom and knowledge, which men seek after with such earnestness and ambition, as the most specious ornament of the mind. The vanity of this also exposed, when we go to that country where none of our languages are spoken, none of our experience will suit, &c. Opinions of Solomon on this point discussed.
As this consideration does in the first place dispose us rightly to value temporal goods, and to moderate our affection for them, so it doth, 2. conduce to the right estimation of temporal evils, and to the production of patience and contentment in our minds : 3. it may help us to value and excite us to regard those things, good or evil, which relate to our future state : 4. it will engage us to husband carefully and well employ this short period of our present life: 5. it will be apt to produce and preserve sincerity in our thoughts, words, and actions, causing us to decline all oblique designs on present mean interests, or base regard to the opinions and affections of other men, &c. considering that in a very short time the secrets of our hearts and the actions of our lives will be all disclosed, &c. Conclusion.
THE CONSIDERATION OF OUR LATTER END.
PSALM XC-VERSE 12.
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts
This psalm is on several peculiar accounts very remarkable; for its antiquity, in which it perhaps doth not yield to any parcel of Scripture; for the eminency of its author, Moses, the man of God, the greatest of the ancient Prophets, (most in favor, and, as it were, most intimate with God :) it is also remarkable for the form and matter thereof, both affording much useful instruction. In it we have a great prince, the governor of a numerous people, sequestering his mind from the management of public affairs to private meditations; from beholding the present outward appearances, to considering the real nature and secret causes of things; in the midst of all the splendor and pomp, of all the stir and tumult about him, he observes the frailty of human condition, he discerns the providence of God justly ordering all; this he does not only in way of wise consideration, but of serious devotion, moulding his observations into pious acknowlegements and earnest prayers to God : thus while he casts one eye on earth viewing the occurrences there, lifting up the other to heaven, there seeing God's all-governing hand, thence seeking his gracious favor and mercy. Thus doth here that great and good man teach us all (more particularly men of high estate and much business) to find opportunities of withdrawing their thoughts from those things, which commonly amuse them, (the cares, the glories, the pleasures of this world,) and fixing them on matters more improveable to devotion; the transitoriness of their condition, and their subjection to God's just providence ; joining also to these meditations suitable acts of religion, due acknowlegements to God, and humble prayers. This was his practice among the greatest incumbrances that any man could have; and it should also be ours. Of those his devotions, addressed to God, the words are part, which I have chosen for the subject of my meditation and present discourse; concerning the meaning of which I shall first touch somewhat; then propound that observable in them, which I design to insist on.
The prophet David hath in the 39th Psalm a prayer very near in words, and of kin, it seems, in sense to this here ; • Lord,' prays he, make me to know my end, and the measure of my days, what it is, that I may know how frail I am :' concerning the drift of which place, as well as of this here, it were obvious to conceive that both these Prophets do request of God, that he would discover to them the definite term of their life, (which by his decree he had fixed, or however by his universal prescience he did discern; concerning which we have these words in Job, “Seeing man's days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds, that he cannot pass ;") we might, I say, at first hearing, be apt to imagine that their prayer unto God is, (for the comfort of their mind burdened with afflictions, or for their better direction in the management of their remaining time of life,) that God would reveal unto them the determinate length of their life. But this sense, which the words seem so naturally to hold forth, is by many of the Fathers rejected, for that the knowlege of our lives' determinate measure is not a fit matter of prayer to God; that being a secret reserved by God to himself, which to inquire into savors of presumptuous curiosity: the universal validity of which reason I will not debate ; but shall defer so much to their judgment, as to suppose that the numbering of our days (according to their sense) doth here only imply a confused indefinite computation of our days' number, or the length of our life; such as, on which it may appear, that necessarily our life cannot be long, (not, according to the