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account mentioned in this psalm, the same with that of Solon in Herodotus, above seventy or eighty years, especially as to purposes of health, strength, content;) will probably, by reason of various accidents, to which it is exposed, be much shorter, (seven or ten years, according to a moderate esteem ;) may possibly, from surprises undiscoverable, be very near to its period; by few instants removed from death, (a year, a month, a day, it may be somewhat less.) This I shall allow to be the arithmetic that Moses here desires to learn; whence it will follow that teaching (or making to know, so it is in the Hebrew) doth import here (as it doth otherwhere frequently in Scripture) God's affording the grace to know practically, or with serious regard to consider this state and measure of our life, (for in speculation no man can be ignorant of human life's brevity and uncertainty; but most men are so negligent and stupid, as not to regard it sufficiently, not to employ this knowlege to any good purpose.) This interpretation I choose, being in itself plausible enough, and countenanced by so good authority; yet the former might well enough (by good consequence, if not so immediately) serve my design; or be a ground able to support the discourse I intend to build on the words; the subject whereof briefly will be this, that the consideration of our lives' certain and necessary brevity and frailty, is a mean proper and apt to dispose us toward the wise conduct of our remaining life; to which purpose such a consideration seems alike available, as the knowlege of its punctual or definite measure; or more than it, on the same, or greater reasons.
As for 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 to wisdom to be consequent on the skill and practice (bestowed by God) of thus computing our days. As for wisdom, that may denote either sapience, a habit of knowing what is true ; or prudence, a disposition of choosing what is good : we may here understand both, especially the latter; for, as Tully saith of philosophy, Omnis summa philosophiæ ad beate vivendum refertur, the sum or whole of philosophy refers to living happily; so all divine wisdom doth respect good practice. The word also comprehends all the consequences and adjuncts of such wisdom; (for so commonly such words are wont by way of metonymy to denote, together with the things primarily signified, all that naturally flows from, or that usually are conjoined with them :) in brief, (to cease from more explaining that which is in itself conspicuous enough,) I so understand the text, as if the prophet had thus expressed himself : Since, O Lord, all things are in thy hand and sovereign disposal ; since it appears that man's life is so short and frail, so vexatious and miserable, so exposed to the just effects of thy displeasure ; we humbly beseech thee so to instruct us by thy wisdom, so to dispose us by thy grace, that we may effectually know, that we may seriously consider the brevity and uncertainty of our lives' durance; whence we may be induced to understand, regard, and choose those things which good reason dictates best for us ; which, according to true wisdom, it most concerns us to know and perform. From which sense of the words we might infer many useful documents, and draw matter of much wholesome discourse ; but passing over all the rest, I shall only insist on that one point, which I before intimated, viz. that the serious consideration of the shortness and frailty of our life is a proper instrument conducible to the bringing our hearts to wisdom, to the making us to discern, attend unto, embrace, and prosecute such things as are truly best for us ; that it is available to the prudent conduct and management of our life; the truth of which proposition is grounded on the divine prophet's opinion : he apprehended such a knowlege or consideration to be a profitable means of inducing his heart to wisdom ; wherefore he prays God to grant it bim in order to that end, supposing that effect would proceed from this cause.
And that it is so in way of reasonable influence, I shall endeavor to show by some following reasons.
I. The serious consideration of our lives' frailty and shortness will confer to our right valuation (or esteem) of things, and consequently to our well placing, and our duly moderating our cares, affections, and endeavors about them. For as we value things, so are we used to affect them, to spend our thought on them, to be earnest in pursuance or avoiding of them. There be two sorts of things we converse about, good and bad; the former, according to the degree of their appearance so to us, VOL. II.
(that is, according to our estimation of them.) we naturally love, delight in, desire, and pursue; the other likewise, in proportion to our opinion concerning them, we do more or less loathe and shun. Our actions therefore being all thus directed and grounded, to esteem things aright both in kind and degree, (èxáory ůrodidoval tiiv åžiav, to assign every thing its due price, as Epictetus speaks; quanti quidque sit judicare, to judge what each thing is worth, as Seneca,) is in order the first, in degree a main part of wisdom; and as so is frequently by wise men commended. Now among qualities that commend or vilify things unto us, duration and certainty have a chief place; they often alone suffice to render things valuable or contemptible. Why is gold more precious than glass or crystal ? Why prefer we a ruby befor a rose, or a gilliflower? It is not because those are more serviceable, more beautiful, more grateful to our senses, than these, (it is plainly otherwise :) but because these are brittle and fading, those solid and permanent: these we cannot hope to retain the use or pleasure of long; those we may promise ourselves to enjoy so long as we please. Whence on the other side is it, that we little fear or shun any thing, how painful, how offensive soever, being assured of its soon passing over, the biting of a flea, or the prick in letting blood ? The reason is evident; and that in general nothing can on either hand be considerable (either to value or disesteem) which is of a short continuance. On this ground, therefore, let us tax the things concerning us, whether good or bad, relating to this life, or to our future state ; and first the good things relating to this life; thence we shall be disposed to judge truly concerning them, what their just price is, how much of affection, care, and endeavor they deserve to have expended on them. In general, and in the lump concerning them all, St. Paul tells us that tò oxiua roŮ kóguov toútov napáyer, the shape or fashion (all that is apparent or sensible) in this present world doth fit, and soon gives us the go-by: we gaze awhile on these things, as in transitu or intra conspectum, as they pass by us, and keep awhile in sight; but they are presently gone from us, or we from them. They are but like objects represented in a glass; which having viewed awhile, we must shortly turn our backs, or shut our eyes on them, then all vanishes, and disappears unto us.
Whence he well infers an indifferency of affection toward them; a slackness in the enjoyment of them to be required of us; a ‘using this world, as if we used it not;'a' buying, as if we were not to possess;' a ' weeping, as if we wept not ;' and a rejoicing, as if we rejoiced not;' a kind of negligence and unconcernedness about these things. The world,' saith St. John, passeth away, and the desire thereof;' whatever seemeth most lovely and desirable in the world is very flitting; however our desire and our enjoyment thereof must suddenly cease. Imagine a man therefore possessed of all worldly goods, armed with power, flourishing in credit, flowing with plenty, swimming in all delight, (such as were sometime Priamus, Polycrates, Cræsus, Pompey ;) yet since he is withal supposed a man and mortal, subject both to fortune and death, none of those things can he reasonably confide or much satisfy himself in ; they may be violently divorced from him by fortune, they must naturally be loosed from him by death; the closest union here cannot last longer than till death us depart: wherefore no man on such account can truly call or (if he consider well) heartily esteem himself happy; a man cannot hence (as the most able judge and trusty voucher of the commodities doth pronounce) receive profit or content from any labor he taketh (on these transitory things) under the sun. Why then, let me inquire, do we so cumber our heads with care, so rack our hearts with passion, so waste our spirits with incessant toil about these transitory things? Why do we so highly value, so ardently desire, so eagerly pursue, so fondly delight in, so impatiently want, or lose, so passionately contend for and emulate one another in regard to these bubbles ; forfeiting and foregoing our homebred most precious goods, tranquillity and repose, either of mind or body, for them? Why erect we such mighty fabrics of expectation and confidence on such unsteady sands? Why dress we up these our inns, as if they were our homes, and are as careful about a few nights' lodging here, as if we designed an everlasting abode ? (we that are but sojourners and pilgrims here, and have no fixed habitation on earth; who come forth like a flower, and are soon cut down; flee like a shadow, and continue not; are winds passing away, and coming not again; who fade all like a leaf; whose life is a vapor appearing for a little time,
and then vanishing away; whose days are a hand-breadth, and age is nothing; whose days are consumed like smoke, and years are spent as a tale; who wither like the grass on which we feed, and crumble as the dust, of which we are compacted ; for thus the Scripture by apposite comparisons represents our condition ;) yet we build, like the men of Agrigentum, as if we were to dwell here for ever; and hoard up, as if we were to enjoy after many ages; and inquire, as if we would never have done knowing. The citizens of Croton, a town in Italy, had a manner, it is said, of inviting to feasts a year before the time, that the guests in appetite and garb might come well prepared to them. Do we not usually resemble them in this ridiculous solicitude and curiosity; spes inchoando longas, commencing designs, driving on projects, which a longer time than our life would not suffice to accomplish? How deeply do we concern ourselves in all that is said or done; when the morrow all will be done away and forgotten ; when (excepting what our to God and charity towards men requires of us, and that which concerns our future eternal state) what is done in the world, who gets or loses, which of the spokes in fortune's wheel is up, and which down, is of very little consequence to us! But the more to abstract our minds from, and temper our affections about these secular matters, let us examine particularly by this standard, whether the most valued things in this world deserve that estimate which they bear in the common market, or which popular opivion assigps them.
1. To begin then with that which takes chief place, which the world most dotes on, which seems most great and eminent among men; secular state and grandeur, might and prowess, honor and reputation, favor and applause of men, all the objects of human pride and ambition : of this kind, St. Peter thus pronounces, tāoa dóža áv pánov, ' All the glory of men is as the flower of the grass; the grass is dried up, and the flower thereof doth fall off ;' it is as the flower of the
specious soever, yet the most fading and failing part thereof; the grass itself will soon wither, and the flower doth commonly fall off before that. We cannot hold this flower of worldly glory beyond our short time of life; and we may easily much sooner be deprived of it: many tempests of fortune may beat it down,