Page images

his life can then be no other than a scene which is full of trouble.

Thus exercised with the weakness of childhood, the passions of youth, the cares and afflictions of riper years, man is at length cut down by death. He cometh forth like a flower, and comes to the same end: he grows up with a certain prospect of dying; as the flower groweth among the grass, only to fall before the hand of the mower; that is, to be cut down, dried up, and withered. His beauty, if he had any, changes into a paleness shocking to the sight. If he had wealth, honour, and power, he sinks to the same tevel with that vulgar croud, which is daily swept away to people the regions of Death: as the finest flower, when once it is cut down, loses all its colours, and is no longer distinguished from the common grass in the field.

There is something so apt and natural in this image, that we find it applied in many other places of the Scripture. The royal Psalmist in particular thus expresseth himself: As for man, his days are as grass ; as the flower of the field so he flourisheth. For as soon as the wind goeth over it, it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. The Prophet Isaiah hath spoken to the same purpose; and his words are followed by the apostles St. James and St. Peter. All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of tke field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it : surely the people is grass.

But the life of man is also compared to a shadow. ---He fleeth as a shadow, and continueth not. In the morning, when the sun rises, shadows are born. At first they are weak and faint; but as the sun increases in height, near the noon-day, they grow strong and distinct: in the evening, as the sun goes down, the shadows are stretched out, and increase swiftly in their length; the moment the sun sets, they vanish, and darkness succeeds.

There is not a moment in the day, in which a sha dow is at rest. The sun from his first rising is hast. ing forward to his setting; and the shadows move with a motion contrary to that of 'the sun. As soon as they appear in the morning they begin this progress, and never rest till they vanish into darkness. Here again we have another exact image of man's life; which, like a shadow, is empty and unsubstantial: it bears the forın and figure of something, but will deceive those who mistake it for an enduring substance. As the shadow tends toward darkness throughout the whole day, man's life is nothing but a progress toward death.

Every hour and moment of the day bring the shadow nearer to the night; and every step a man takes brings him nearer to his grave. Such is his life in its most regular course : but how frequently does it happen, that the sun is hid from us, and the heaven overcast with clouds in the middle of the day? In such a case, the shadow vanishes before its time: and man, in like manner, as frequently departs, before his progress

is half finished. If the sun shine's never so bright, we cannot be sure but that a cloud may soon arise from some quarter of the heavens, which by obscuring the sun shall cause the shadow to depart; and there are then no more traces of it to be found than if it had never been. Thus in the strongest man, in whom there is every outward appearance of health, and a fair prospect of long life, some unexpected disease may arise, which in a very short time shall change his countenance, and send him away. Many changes

happen in the day between the rising and the setting of the sun; yet the existence of a shadow depends altogether on this uncertainty in the face of the sky. And man's life is as mutable; it depends upon the state of a perishable body, in which some cloyd may be arising, while he expects nothing but a continuance of the sun-shine till the day hath fulfilled its regular


The condition of mortality is therefore represented under no disadvantages, but such as are real and patural to it, in this description-He cometh forth as a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth as a shadow, and conţinueth not; or, as it is more plainly expressed in the priginal-he fleeth as a shadow, and standeth not stillhis life is not stationary at any period of it: byt, ļike the shadow upon a sun-dial, is always moving forward to the hours of darkness.

In all this nothing has been declared but what is commonly known: for no man can be ignorant of that, which by the experience of every day appears to be the comnion lot of all men.

Yet this is very wonderful, though it is very common. And let us now enquire into the reasons of it.

· Man was the last and most perfect of the works of God. The Sun, Moon, and Stars, glorious as they are, were placed in the heavens at the bare word or command of God. Trees and plants were made to grow upon the earth, and the various sorts of animals were endued with life by the same word.

But when man was to be created, there was a formal consultation in heaven; and this creature came forth from the hands of his Maker, adorned with the image and likeness of God himself. A Spirit of life was breathed into him, from the divine nature; he was made but little lower than the angels of light, and all things were put in subjection under his feet. How does it happen then, that the Sun and Moon, which are far inferior in dignity, retain their places and their glory, while man is changed, and sent away, and the place he possessed knoweth him no more? The oak, and many other trees, endure for several hundred years. Men were born when they were planted; yet the trees thrive and flourish; while those men are turned into dust beneath their roots * The Lord of all the creation, invested with power and dominion, is a flower that fadeth: the image of the eternal and unchangeable God is a fleeting shadow. How can these things be? With this question the Philosopher is confounded; and all the wisdom of the world must faulter in the resolution of it. It is the Christian only, who receives his wisdom from the word of God, that can reconcile these seeming contradictions. The holy Job, who was by no means unacquainted with the history of man, derives the cause of his miseries

• The longevity of Trees, compared with the Mortality of the Planters, yields a contrast so obvious as well as mortifying, that it could not well escape the observation of the poets.

--Neque harum, quas colis, arborum
Ulla BREVEM dominum sequetur. Hor.

[ocr errors]

Esculus in primis, quæ, quantum vertice ad auras
Ætherias, tantum radice in Tartara tendit.
Ergo non hiemes illam, non flabra, neque imbres
Convellunt: immotu manet, multosque per annos
Multa cirúm volvens durando sæcula vincit.

Georg. II. 291.

Virgil is happy in his choice of the Beech: for I was lately informed that a Grove of Beeches, which, according to an authentic Record, were cut down in the year 1666, to furnish timber for the rebuilding of London after the fire, and then replanted, are not yet, in the space of 104 years, arrived to their full growth.

from the manner of his birth-Man that is born of a woman--for by a woman sin entered into the world; and sin is the parent both of the sorrows and the shortness of human life.

The Psalmist, speaking of himself as a natural man, saith— I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me. Thus is sin interwoven with the nature of man, and makes a part of his constitution from his very birth. The wages of sin is death. And by these means the course of things hath been changed: which also seems to be alluded to, where we read, that man is of few days ; for the original saith, he is cut short in his days; his life is not of such an extent as God originally designed it to be. There is a doctrine which seems highly agreeable to the Scripture, and hath been well maintained by some carly writers in the Church, that, if man had retained his innocence, his life would have lasted for a thousand

years, and ended, not in death (as it does now) but as that of Enoch did, in a translation to the presence of God as it is manifested to the angels. . But this privilege was forfeited by the entrance of sin. And it is worth remarking, that the lives of men before the flood were always short of a thousand years. Some there were who came very near to that period; but not one that ever attained it perfectly. Death never failed to call them away, before they had attained the life of Paradise.

Their lives, however, were so much longer than the lives of men are now (the difference being very great between seventy years and seven or eight hundred) that it is certain, man doth not die so early by any original necessity of nature. No tree planted by the hand of God in Paradise had out-lived him, if he had not transgressed the divine command.


« PreviousContinue »