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There is nothing of which we are apt to be so lavish as of time, and about which we ought to be more solicitous; since without it we can do nothing in this world. Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst; and for which God will certainly most strictly reckon with us, when time shall be no more.
It is of that moment to us in reference to both worlds, that I can hardly wish any man better, than that he would seriously consider what he does with his time: how, and to what ends, he employs it; and what returns he makes to God, his neighbour, and himself for it. Will he never have a ledger for this? This, the greatest wisdom and work of life.
To come but once into the world, and trifle away our true enjoyment of it, and of ourselves in it, is lamentable indeed. This one reflection would yield a thinking person great instruction. And since nothing below man can so think; man, in being thoughtless, must needs fall below himself. And that, to be sure, such do, as are unconcerned in the use of their most precious time.
This is but too evident, if we will allow ourselves to consider, that there is hardly any thing we take by the right end, or improve to its just advantage.
We understand little of the works of God, either in nature or grace. We pursue false knowledge, and mistake education extremely. We are violent in our affections, confused and immethodical in our whole life; making that a burden, which was given for a blessing; and so of little comfort to ourselves or others: misapprehending the true notion of happiness, and so missing of the right use of life, and way of happy living,
And until we are persuaded to stop, and step a little aside, out of the noisy crowd, and incumbering hurry of the world, and calmly take a prospect of things, it will be impossible we should be able to make a right judgment of ourselves, or know our own misery. But after we have made the just reckonings which retirement will help us to, we shall begin to think the world in great measure mad, and that we have been in a sort of bedlam all this while.
Reader, whether young or old, think it not too soon, or too late, to turn over the leaves of thy past life and be sure to fold down where any passage of it may affect thee: and bestow thy remainder of time, to correct those faults in thy future conduct: be it in relation to this or the next life. What thou wouldest do, if what thou hast done were to do again, be sure to do as long as thou livest, upon the like occasions.
Our resolutions seem to be vigorous, as often as we reflect upon our past errors: but, alas! they are apt to flag again upon fresh temptations to the same things.
The author does not pretend to deliver thee an exact piece; his business not being ostentation, but charity. It is miscellaneous in the matter of it, and by no means artificial in the composure. But it contains hints, that may serve thee for texts to preach to thyself upon, and which comprehend much of the course of human life: since, whether thou art parent or child, prince or subject, master or servant, single or married, public or private, mean or honourable, rich or poor, prosperous or improsperous, in peace or controversy, in business or solitude; whatever be thy inclination or aversion, practice or duty, thou wilt find something not unsuitably said for thy direction and advantage. Accept and improve what deserves thy notice; the rest excuse, and place to account of good-will to thee, and the whole creation of God.
REFLECTIONS AND MAXIMS.
1. It is admirable to consider how many millions of people come into, and go out of the world, ignorant of themselves, and of the world they have lived in.
2. If one went to see Windsor-castle, or Hampton-court, it would be strange not to observe and remember the situation, the building, the gardens, fountains, &c. that make up the beauty and pleasure of such a seat: and yet few people know themselves: no, not their own bodies, the houses of their minds, the most curious structure of the world; a living, walking tabernacle: nor the world, of which it was made, and out of which it is fed; which would be so much our benefit, as well as our pleasure, to know. We cannot doubt of this, when we are told that the "invisible things of God are brought to light by the things that are seen ;" and consequently we read our duty in them, as often as we look upon them, to Him that is the great and wise Author of them, if we look as we should do.
3. The world is certainly a great and stately volume of VOL. III.
natural things; and may be not improperly styled the hieroglyphics of a better: but, alas! how very few leaves of it do we seriously turn over! This ought to be the subject of the education of our youth: who, at twenty, when they should be fit for business, know little or nothing of it.
4. We are in pain to make them scholars, but not men! To talk, rather than to know; which is true canting.
5. The first thing obvious to children, is what is sensible; and that we make no part of their rudiments.
6. We press their memory too soon, and puzzle, strain and load them with words and rules; to know grammar and rhetoric, and a strange tongue or two, that it is ten to one may never be useful to them; leaving their natural genius to mechanical and physical, or natural knowledge uncultivated and neglected; which would be of exceeding use and pleasure to them through the whole course of their life.
7. To be sure, languages are not to be despised or neglected. But things are still to be preferred.
8. Children had rather be making of tools, and instruments of play; shaping, drawing, framing, and building, &c. than getting some rules of propriety of speech by heart: and those, also, would follow with more judgment, and less trouble and time.
9. It were happy if we studied nature more in natural things; and acted according to nature; whose rules are few, plain, and most reasonable.
10. Let us begin where she begins, go her pace, and close always where she ends, and we cannot miss of being good naturalists.
11. The creation would not be longer a riddle to us: the heavens, earth, and waters, with their respective, various, and numerous inhabitants; their productions, natures, seasons, sympathies and antipathies; their use, benefit, and pleasure, would be better understood by us: and an eternal wisdom, power, majesty, and goodness, very conspicuous to us, through those sensible and passing forms: the world wearing the mark of its Maker, whose stamp is every where visible, and the characters very legible to the children of
12. And it would go a great way to caution and direct people in their use of the world, that they were better studied and knowing in the creation of it.
13. For how could men find the conscience to abuse it, while they should see the great Creator look them in the face, in all and every part thereof?
14. Therefore ignorance makes them insensible; and to that insensibility may be ascribed their hard usage of several parts of this noble creation, that has the stamp and voice of a DEITY every where, and in every thing, to the observing.
15. It is pity, therefore, that books have not been composed for youth, by some curious and careful naturalists, and also mechanics, in the Latin tongue, to be used in schools, that they might learn things with words: things obvious and familiar to them, and which would make the tongue easier to be attained by them.
16. Many able gardeners and husbandmen are yet ignorant of the reason of their calling; as most artificers are of the reason of their own rules that govern their excellent workmanship. But a naturalist and mechanic of this sort, is master of the reason of both, and might be of the practice too, if his industry kept pace with his speculation: which were very commendable; and without which, he cannot be said to be a complete naturalist or mechanic.
17. Finally, if man be the index or epitome of the world, as philosophers tell us, we have only to read ourselves well, to be learned in it. But because there is nothing we less regard, than the characters of the power that made us, which are so clearly written upon us, and the world he has given us, and can best tell us what we are and should be, we are even strangers to our own genius: the glass in which we should see that true, instructing, and agreeable variety, which is to be observed in nature, to the admiration of that wisdom, and adoration of that power, which made us all.
18. And yet, we are very apt to be full of ourselves, instead of him that made what we so much value; and but for whom, we can have no reason to value ourselves. For we have nothing that we can call our own; no, not ourselves: for we are all but tenants, and at will too, of the great Lord of ourselves, and the rest of this great farm, the world that we live upon.
19. But, methinks, we cannot answer it to ourselves, as well as our Maker, that we should live and die ignorant of ourselves; and thereby of him, and the obligations we are under to him for ourselves.
20. If the worth of a gift sets the obligation, and directs the return of the party that receives it; he that is ignorant of it, will be at a loss to value it, and the giver for it.
21. Here is man, in his ignorance of himself. He knows not how to estimate his Creator, because he knows not how to value his creation. If we consider his make, and lovely
compositure; the several stories of his wonderful structure; his divers members, their order, function, and dependency; the instruments of food, the vessels of digestion, the several transmutations it passes; and how nourishment is carried and diffused throughout the whole body, by most intricate and imperceptible passages: how the animal spirit is thereby refreshed, and with an unspeakable dexterity and motion. sets all parts at work to feed themselves and, last of all, how the rational soul is seated in the animal, as its proper house, as is the animal in the body: I say, if this rare fabric alone were but considered by us, with all the rest by which it is fed and comforted, surely man would have a more reve rent sense of the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, and of that duty he owes to him for it. But if he would be acquainted with his own soul, its noble faculties, its union with the body, its nature and end, and the providences by which the whole frame of humanity is preserved, he would admire and adore his good and great God. But man is become a strange contradiction to himself; but it is of himself; not being by constitution, but corruption, such.
22. He would have others to obey him, even his own kind; but he will not obey God, that is so much above him, and who made him.
23. He will lose none of his authority; no, not bate an ace of it: he is humourous to his wife, he beats his children, is angry with his servants, strict with his neighbours, revenges all affronts to extremity; but, alas! forgets all the while, that he is the man; and is more in arrear to God, that is so very patient with him, than they are to him, with whom he is so strict and impatient.
24. He is curious to wash, dress, and perfume his body, but careless of his soul. The one shall have many hours, the other not so many minutes. This shall have three or four new suits in a year, but that must wear its old clothes still.
25. If he be to receive or see a great man, how nice and anxious is he that all things be in order? And with what respect and address does he approach and make his court? But to God, how dry, and formal, and constrained in his devotion?
26. In his prayers he says, "Thy will be done;" but means his own: at least acts so.
27. It is too frequent to begin with God, and end with the world. But he is the good man's beginning and end; his alpha and omega.