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earth viewing the occurrences there, lifting up the SERM. XLVI. other to heaven, there seeing God's all-governing hand, thence seeking his gracious favour 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 upon 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 acknowledgments to God, and humble prayers. This was his practice among the greatest encumbrances 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 upon.
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 Ps. xxxix. 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 Job xiv. 5. number of his months are with thee, thou hast ap
SERM. pointed his bounds, that he cannot pass;) we might, XLVI. 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 knowledge 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 savours 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, upon which it may appear, that necessarily our life cannot be long, (not, according to the account mentioned in this Psalm, the same with that of Solon in Herodotus, above 70 or 80 years, especially as to purposes of health, strength, content;) will probably, by reason of various accidents, to which it is exposed, be much shorter, (7 or 10 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 SERM. speculation no man can be ignorant of human life's_XLVI. brevity and uncertainty; but most men are so negligent and stupid, as not to regard it sufficiently, not to employ this knowledge 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 upon 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 knowledge of its punctual or definite measure; or more than it, upon 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 upon 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 re- De Fin. ii. fertur, the sum or whole of philosophy refers to
* Οὐ γάρ ἐστι φρένας ἔχοντος ἀνθρώπου ἀγνοεῖν ὅτι ἄνθρωπος ζῶόν ἐστι θνητὸν, οὐδ ̓ ὅτι γέγονεν εἰς τὸ ἀποθανεῖν. Quis est tam stultus, quamvis sit .se vel ad vesperum esse victurum ?
Plut. ad Apoll. p. 202. adolescens, cui sit exploratum Cic. de Sen.
SERM. living happily; so all divine wisdom doth respect good practice. The word also comprehends all the Natura de- consequences and adjuncts of such wisdom; (for so vitæ, tau- commonly such words are wont by way of metonymy nis, nulla to denote, together with the things primarily signipræstituta fied, 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 upon 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 upon the divine prophet's opinion: he apprehended such a knowledge or consideration
to be a profitable means of inducing his heart to SERM. wisdom; wherefore he prays God to grant it him 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 endeavour to shew by some following reasons.
I. The serious consideration of our lives' frailty 1 Johni. 17. and shortness will confer to our right valuation
(or the world;
well world pass
esteem) of things, and consequently to our placing, and our duly moderating our cares, affec- and the detions, and endeavours about them. For as we value sire thereof. things, so are we used to affect them, to spend our thought upon 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, (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, (ékάOTW ἀποδιδοναι τὴν ἀξίαν, 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
b Primum est, ut quanti quidque sit judices; secundum, ut impetum ad illa capias ordinatum temperatumque; tertium, ut inter impetum tuum, actionemque conveniat, ut in omnibus istis tibi ipsi consentias. Sen. Ep. 89.