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On the Shortnefs of Human Life.
PSAL. XXXIX. 5.
Behold, thou haft made my days as an handbreadth, and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is, altogether vanity.
MIDST all the chearfulnefs, which SER M." our prefent enjoyments are found fometimes, and are expected always to infpire, there is a reflection, which to a confiderate man will occur often, and will have its weight as often as it occurs; namely, that life, to say the best of it, is short, and that the joys and purposes of it are terminated by a boundary at a very little distance indeed. The difpofition of things in this manner by providence, the Pfalmift expreffes in the words of the text, Thou haft made my days as an hand-breadth, and mine age is as nothing before thee; verily every man at his beft fate is altogether vanity. C 4
That life is fhort, has been the general complaint of men in all ages. The longest period of it is but a very few years. days of our years, fays David, and general obfervation confirm it, are but threescore years and ten, and if by reafon of uncommon ftrength they be fourfcore years, yet is our firength labour and forrow, while it lafts; and it is foon cut off and we flie away.
fhort time indeed to make fuch a noife in the world, as men commonly do. When we come to the utmost extremity of it, how like a dream does it appear. We have not time to look about us, and to confider the nature and properties of things that furound us. They appear and disappear in an inftant, and we pass on from one scene to another, till the drama is finished. As the author of the book of Wisdom expreffeth it, our life paffeth away like a fhadow, and as a poft that hafteth by. And as a fhip that passeth over the waves of the water, which when it is gone by the trace thereof cannot be found, fo we in like manner as foon as we were born began to draw to our end.
How fhort and tranfitory does life pear, when we confider the many fucceffions of men that have been before us,
and even the multitudes whom ourfelves SER M. have feen and known, who have finished their course, and are no more. Even in our time the earth has been, as it were, emptied and replenished with new inhabitants, till the very few, whom providence has indulged with an added year or two, may conceive themselves in a new world, and in the midst of another generation.
But farther, the utmost period of life is not only short in its nature, but it is alfo often abridged by numberless accidents, which it is impoffible to foresee. The bulk of men do not live to the half of that period. A very great part are taken off in their infancy; many in the vigour and gaiety of their youth, and fome in advanced life, while, perhaps, they are bufied in pursuing the schemes of ambition and interest. Some that have begun life happily, and made a good appearance, drop at once, like flowers, which, before they arrive at their perfection, wither and decay. Why God fhould thus abbreviate the short life of fo many of his creatures, and especially of the most innocent of them, I mean children, is not eafily to be accounted for; there are un
SER M. doubtedly good reasons for it, which our
ignorance cannot comprehend. For his ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts.
Again, we may obferve, that though this space of time allowed to man be fo very short, yet it is long enough for the great business which he has to do. The great end of our being is to acquire the knowledge of God and our duty, and to get the habits of virtue and goodness established in us. Now our life is fufficiently long for these important purposes. For by diligence and induftry, we may know as much of God and our duty, from nature and revelation in a few years, as human nature is capable of; and the habits of virtue may at the fame time be acquired fo far, that we cannot be more perfect in this state of things. And as for other advantages, though they may be great and useful ornaments to us in life, yet are they of little confequence to our everlasting happiness. It is only religion and virtue that can be effentially useful, by promoting our interest hereafter. If the knowledge and practice of these therefore, can be had in a few years, the great bufinefs of life is done, and we
are fit and ready to be translated to ano- S ER M. ther state of existence. But instead of improving time to this purpose, how is it generally mifpent and abused! Some pass it in vain and trifling pursuits, others in voluptuoufnefs, fome in the purposes of ambition, others in amaffing riches, which are of fo little avail toward their happiness, and others, which is worst of all, in debauchery, or in disturbing the happiness of their brethren. So that generally, a very little of this short life is spent in the proper purposes of it; and it feems indeed, rather too long, than too fhort, for the bulk of mankind, when we confider how it is applied.
We fee the ante-diluvian Patriarchs who lived to a very great age in comparison of ours, how wretchedly they employed it; how they abandoned themselves to wickedness, and, as it were, constrained God to destroy them, and for ever after to fhorten the period of human life, as we read in the scriptures. The great ages of men in the beginning of the world, may seem perhaps, improbable to fome men now; but I think befides the autho rity of the scriptures, there may be reafons given that will fupport it, and make