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exercise his virtue, and will be rewarded with glory.
His life ceases to be mysterious; it is a state of probation, a time. of trial, a period given him to make choice of an eternity of happiness, or an eternity of misery.
His death is no longer a mystery, and it is impossible that either his life or his death should be enigmas, for the one unfolds the other: the life of man is not an enigma, because it tends to death, and death verifies, proves, and demonstrates the idea we have given of life.
We conclude, then, that the destination of man is one great barrier against imaginary schemes of happiness. Change the face of society, subvert the order of the world, put despotical government in the place of a democracy, peace in the place of war, plenty in the place of scarcity, and you will alter nothing but the surface of human things, the substance will always continue the same. The thing that hath been, is that which shall be; and that which is done, is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.'
2. The school of the world opens to us a second source of demonstrations. Enter this school, and you will renounce all vain schemes of felicity.
There you will learn, that the greatest part of the pleasures of the world, of which you entertain such fine notions, are only phantoms, which seem indeed at a distance to have some solidity and consistence, but which vanish the moment you approach and try to enjoy them.
There you will learn, that the extensive views, the great designs, the plans of immortality and glory, which revolve in the mind of an ambitious man, keep him continually upon the rack, trouble his repose, deprive him of sleep, and render him insensible to all the pleasures of life.
There you will understand, that the friends who attach themselves to us when we have favours to bestow, are venal souls, who put up their esteem at auction, and sell it to the highest bidder blood-suckers, who live upon the substance of those round whom they twist and twine; that the sacred names of friendship, tenderness, zeal, and devotedness, are nothing in their mouths but empty sounds, to which they affix no ideas.
There you will find that those passions, which men of high rank have the power of fully gratifying, are sources of trouble and remorse, and that all the pleasure of gratification is nothing in comparison of the pain of one regret caused by the remembrance of it.
There you will learn, that the husbandman, who all day follows the plough or the cart, and who finds at home in the evening a family of love, where innocent and affectionate children surround a table furnished with plain and simple diet, is incomparably more happy, than the favourite of victory and fortune, who rides in a superb carriage attended by a splendid retinue, who sits at a table where art and nature seem to vie with each other in lavishing out
their treasures, who is surrounded with courtiers watching their fate in the cast of his eye, or the signal of his hand.
In a word, you will there understand, that what may seem the most fortunate events in your favour, will contribute very little to your happiness.
3. But if the school of the world is capable of teaching us to renounce our fanciful projects of felicity, Solomon is the man in the world the most learned in this school, and the most able so give us intelligence. Accordingly, we have made his declaration the third source of our demonstrations.
When your preachers declaim against the vanity of human things, you secretly say to yourselves, their judgment merits very little regard. You think that they, generally educated in silence and retirement, having breathed only the dusty air of schools and libraries, are unacquainted with that world against which they declaim. I will not now examine this reproach. People of our order, I grant, are very apt to form false ideas of the world. But take our word for one truth, for which we could allege a thousand proofs, that is, that if they magnify worldly objects, it is because they are strangers to the world. A hermit who has spent all his days in dens and deserts; a nun sequestered from society in her childhood, and buried in the cells and solitary walks of a convent; a man who has grown gray over his books; people of this kind generally ima gine that the world is full of pleasure, and that the demon of voluptuousness has strewed all the paths with flowers and perfumes in fa vour of such as travel them. I know no one more proper to teach us a good course of mo rality than an old reformed courtier, who chooses to retire after he has spent the prime of his life in dissipation.
On this principle, what an impression ought the declaration of Solomon to make on our minds? But what an idea does he give us of all the good things of which he had made an experiment? and this also,' says he of each particular, in the catalogue of the whole, and this also is vanity.' This word seems to me very remarkable, THIS also, and this also is vanity.'
Few men are so fascinated with the world as not to know that some things in it are vain and vexatious. Most men say of some particular object, this is vanity; but very few are so rational as to comprehend all the good things of this life in the same class, and to say of each, as Solomon did, this also is vanity.' A poor peasant, whose ruinous cottage does not keep out the weather, will readily say, My cottage is vanity but he imagines there is a great deal of solidity in the happiness of him who sleeps in a superb palace. A man who is admitted only into a small circle of company, hardly known in society, will say without hesitation, my circle is vanity; but he fancies there is a great deal of solidity in the happiness of those who are admitted into circles; or, shall I ruther say, into that chaos, where Jews and Greeks, Barbarians and Scythians, people of all nations, and of every religion, seem to
contribute to a general disorder and confusion?
Solomon knew all these conditions of life, and it was because he knew them all, that he declaimed against them; and had you, like him, known them all by experience, you would form such an idea as he did of the whole. See what a list he makes, and observe, he says that of each, which he said of the whole, this also is vanity.' What! Is it vain to possess great riches? Yes. He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; this is also vanity.' What! Is it vain to become a celebrated author, a model of erudition? Yes, says he, of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. This also is vanity. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity.'
4. To reflections on the experience of Solomon add your own, and to this purpose recollect the history of your life. Remember the time when sighing and wishing for the condition in which Providence has since placed you, you considered it as the centre of felicity, and verily thought, could you obtain that state you should wish for nothing more. You have obtained it. Do you think now as you did then?
You, who formerly had hardly enough to subsist on, now possess enough for your subsistence, and almost enough for your wishes, have you less inclination now to augment your superfluities than you had then to acquire a maintenance?
You, who have been raised from the meanest and most obscure employment in society to one of the most conspicuous and brilliant offices, do you feel yourself less disposed to have no equal, than you did formerly to have few masters?
You, who are now come to manhood through a sickly youth, in which you did not expect to live half your days, have you less desire to arrive at a hoary old age, than you had formerly to advance to manhood?
Realize all the fanciful schemes of happiness that revolve in your minds, and you will find, that the good things you acquire will leave you as hungry, and as void, as these do which you actually possess; and that the more you enter into the spirit of this supposition, the more will you be astonished at the exact conformities there are between conditions which at first sight appear to you so extremely different.
III. From all these reflections what consequences shall we draw? That all conditions are absolutely equal? That as they who actually enjoy the most desirable advantages of life, ought to consider them with sovereign contempt, so people who are deprived of them, ought not to take any pains to acquire them, and to better their condition? No, my brethren, God forbid we should preach a morality so austere, and so likely to disgrace religion.
On the one hand, they to whom God has granted the good things of this life ought to know the value of them, and to observe with gratitude the difference which Providence has made between them and others. Worldly prosperity, I grant, is not the most substantial good; however, it is not an imaginary advan
tage it is not indeed that permanent good which will continue ours after death; but it is, however, capable of rendering the present state more agreeable.
Do you enjoy liberty? Liberty is a great good feel the pleasure of liberty. Behold the man who is enclosed in lofty and impenetrable walls; who breathes only an infectious and unwholesome air; who lies on straw in a dungeon, and who, with the utmost attention and pains, can hardly perceive a ray of light, and bless God that you are not in the condition of that man.
Are you rich? Wealth is a great good: enjoy the pleasure of being rich. Behold the man loaded with debts, destitute of friends, pursued by inexorable creditors; having indeed just enough to keep himself alive to-day, but not knowing how he shall support life tomorrow, and bless God you are not in the condition of that man.
Do you enjoy your health? Health is a great good relish the pleasure of being well. Observe the man lying on a sick bed, unable to bear up a body loaded with infirmities, not able to move himself without excruciating sensa. tions of pain, crawling towards the grave by the horrible road of the gout or the stone.
Nothing but a fund of stupidity or ingratitude can render us insensible to temporal blessings, when it pleases God to bestow them on What! Did you, as soon as you opened your eyes, see yourself crowned with a thousand advantages; did God seem to take pleasure in making your condition a composition of honour, wealth, and pleasure; did you find yourself, without contributing to it the least labour or attention, abundantly supplied with every thing that can render life easy and delicious; and because, carry human felicity to what pitch you will, there is nothing perfect in it, do you give up yourself to grief and melancholy, does a dark and gloomy temper within you triumph over all the motives that ought to inspire you with gratitude and joy?
As they, to whom Providence has granted the comforts of life, ought to know the value of them, and to enjoy them with gratitude, so it is allowable, yea it is the duty of such as are deprived of them to endeavour to acquire them, to meliorate their condition, and to procure in future a condition more happy than that to which they have hitherto been condemned, and which has caused them so many difficulties and tears. Self-love is the most natural and lawful of all our passions. We ought not to neglect to acquire any good, except the possession of it would be incompatible with that of a greater good, and we ought not to consent to suffer any ills, except enduring them would prevent greater ills. But, other things being equal, every one ought to endeavour to procure himself an agreeble condition of life in this world.
Besides the love of our neighbour, the duty so much enforced by our great Lawgiver, the love which our Master requires us to extend as far to our neighbour as to ourselves, this duty engages us to avail ourselves of all the innocent means which are offered to us to ac
quire the good things of this life. The more riches you have, the more able will you be to assist the indigent. The higher you are elevated in society, the more will you have it in your power to succour the oppressed. The more learning, and knowledge, and accuracy you have, the more will it be in your power to press home the duties of religion, to defend the truth, and to display the beauty and advantage of virtue.
Our design, in restraining your projects, is to engage you patiently to bear the inconveniences of your present condition, when you cannot remedy them; because whatever difference there may seem to be between the most happy and the most miserable mortal in this world, there is much less, all things considered, than our misguided passions imagine.
Our design, in checking the immoderate inclination we have to contrive fanciful schemes of happiness, is to make you enjoy with tranquillity such blessings as you have. Most men render themselves insensible to their present advantages by an extravagant passion for future acquisitions. The avidity, with which they wish to acquire more riches, prevents their enjoying what they actually possess; the avidity with which they desire to obtain a station more elevated in society, prevents their tasting the pleasure of that in which Providence has placed them. In a word, our design is to engage you to proportion the pains you take to obtain worldly advantages to the true value of them.
former days, if thou must pass through the same vicissitudes, suffer the same maladies, be witness to the same injustice, see the same infidelity, and the same perfidy?
But if all mankind ought to preserve themselves from the disorder of fanciful schemes of future pleasure, they above all are bound to do so, who are arrived at old age, when years accumulated bring us near the infirmities of declining life, or a dying bed. Such a man ought to say to himself, What can I henceforth expect in this world? Should an unheard-of revolution happen in my favour, should the face of the universe be changed, should all the advantages of the world unite, and present themselves to me, what benefit could I derive from them?
Above all, the design, the chief design we have in denouncing a vain and unsatisfactory being in this world, is to engage you to seek after a happy futurity in the presence of God; to engage you to expect from the blessings of a future state what you cannot promise yourself in this. And what, my soul, canst thou expect during the short period of this life, if the remainder will resemble the past, if in future years thy condition will resemble that of the
What advantage could I derive from a wellfurnished table? I, whose palate has lost the faculty of tasting and relishing food? What advantage could I derive from a numerous levee? I, to whom company is become a burden, and who am in a manner a burden to myself? What advantage could I derive from elegant apartments, and extensive landscapes; I, whose eyes are incapable of discerning objects, whose body, almost motionless, is confined to an easy chair, or a sick bed? In one word, what benefit can I reap from a concurrence of all the advantages of life, I, who am within a few steps of the gates of death? Happy! when my life comes to an end, to be able to incorporate my existence with that of the immortal God! Happy! when I feel this earthly tabernacle sink, to be able to exercise that faith, which is an evidence of things not seen! Happy to ascend to that city, which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God! Heb. xi. 1. 10.
May we all, my dear brethren, live, grow old, and die in these sentiments! God grant us the grace. To him be honour and glory for Amen.
DISGUST WITH LIFE.
ECCLESIASTES ii. 17.
I hated life, because the work that is wrought vnder the sun is grievous unto me.
WERE we to estimate life by the idea which Solomon gives of it in the words of the text, it should seem there was very little wisdom in our congratulating one another, this morning, on beginning a new year. There should seem better reasons for deploring our fate, because we are alive, than for congratulating one another on the happiness of seeing
* Preached on the first day of the year 1728.
another new year's day. Ye desolate families, in which death has made such cruel breaches! I think, while this day naturally brings to your remembrance those dear parts of yourselves, you ought rather to shed tears of joy than sorrow! And you, 'Rachel, weeping for your children,' you ought rather to be comforted for the children' that are, than for those that are not.' It should seem that the benedictions of the servant of God, who preceded us
this morning in this pulpft, and to which we are going to join ours, were very unsuitable to the tender affection we owe you, and to which this solemnity adds a new degree of activity and force.
Long may you live, said we this morning to one another; may God bless you, your fellowcitizens, your relations, your friends, and your children, long may they live! Enjoy the blessings of peace, prosperity in commerce, stability in freedom, riches and plenty in abundance! Attain, and, if it be possible, go beyond the usual limits of the life of man, and may every day of that life be distinguished by some new prosperity. These were the benedictions and prayers which our friends uttered to us and we to them. And yet the Wise Man tell us, that riches and plenty, that the best-established liberty and the most prosperous trade, that the blessings of peace and all the advantages of this life, are nothing but vanity. He does more, after he had experienced all the pomp of worldly grandeur, and immensity of wealth, the utmost refinement of pleasure, and the most extensive reputation, after he had been the happiest mortal that ever lived upon earth, he tells us in the words of the text, I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me.'
What then, must we revoke the congratulations of this morning? Do we come to pray to God to send out his destroying angels to return us that mortality which has been ravaging our towns and provinces? Are we come to collect all our prayers into this one of Jonah, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live,' chap. iv. 3; or, in this of Elijah, 'It is enough, now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers!' 1 Kings xix. 4.
It is this contrast of ideas that we will endeavour to reconcile, for in this point of light we are going to consider the words of the text, and to treat of disgust with the world and contempt of life. Happy! if we be able by any observations of ours to abate the asperity of your minds in regard to the hateful things of life, and to engage you to make a holy use of every thing agreeable in it. Happy! if, by turning your attention to the amiable side of life, we may inspire you with gratitude to God for preserving it, in spite of the many perils to which it is exposed; and if, by showing you the other side, we may incline you to quit it with joy, whenever it shall please God to require it. This is the substance of all our acclamations and prayers in your favour to-day. Almighty and most merciful God, condescend to ratify in heaven what we are sincerely endeavouring to effect on earth! Amen.
I suppose it is Solomon himself who speaks the words of my text, and not any one of the interlocutors, whom he introduces in his book. I suppose that he expresses in the words his own sentiments, and not those of any other person; and that he tells us not what he thought while his reason was wandering, and he was pursuing the vanities of the world, but what he thought after his recovery, and when he was under the direction of divine wisdom.
This observation is absolutely necessary for the understanding of the text. The great difficulty of the Book of Ecclesiastes is owing to the great variety of persons who are introduced there, each of whom proposes maxims conformable to his own principles. Is it the same man, who says in one place, Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart. Live joyfully all the days of thy vanity, for that is thy portion in this life, and God now accepteth thy works,' chap. ix. 7. 9. and in another place, Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee to judgment?' chap. xi. 9. Is it the same man, who says in one place, I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry,' chap. viii. 15; and in another place, 'I said of laughter, it is mad; and of mirth, what doth it?' chap. ii. 2. Is it the same man, who says in one place, The dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it,' chap. xii. 7; and in another place, The dead have no more a reward, for the memory of them is forgotten to him that is joined to all the living there is hope, but the dead know not any thing, for a living dog is better than a dead lion?' chap. ix. 4, &c.
Expositors of this book, perhaps, have not always paid a sufficient attention to this variety. Which of us has not, for example, quoted against the doctrine of invocation of saints these words, The living know that they shall die, but the dead know not any thing; their love, and their hatred is now perished, neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun?' chap. ix. 5, 6. Yet I think we have sufficient reasons to presume, that the Wise Man puts these words into the mouth of a libertine, so that though they contain a truth, yet they cannot be proposed in proof of a doctrine. I suppose we must entertain the same idea of another passage, which seems to establish one of the finest maxims of morality, Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest,' chap. ix. 10. But if you consider, that this is a consequence drawn from the irony just before,' Go, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart,' ver. 7, you will suppose, as we do, that it contains a pernicious maxim, like that mentioned by the prophet, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die,' Isa. xxii. 13..
There are other inspired books, as well as this of Ecclesiastes, subject to the same misinterpretation. Under pretence that the Scripture is divinely inspired, people quote texts indiscriminately. Certainly it is divinely inspired, and for this reason we should always reject such maxims as would tend to defeat the design of it. Without this precaution you may prove by Scripture things the most opposite to the design of Scripture; you may prove that God has violated his promises, because it is said in Scripture, where is the promise of his
coming?" Or you may prove that atheism is preferable to religion, because the Scripture says, there is no God;' and so by a hundred other passages you may prove a hundred simi
But the connexion of our text with preceding and following verses, and its perfect harmony with the design of the Wise Man, which was to decry the world and its pleasures, and by his own experience to undeceive such as made idols of them, confirm, in my opinion, the judgment we have formed of them; the whole authorizes us to consider the words as proceeding from the mouth of Solomon himself, expressive of his own sentiments and not those of others, and what he thought after his reconversion, and not what his opinion was during his dissipation.
I. On this principle, we will first rid the text of several false meanings, which it may seem at first sight to countenance; for as there is a disgust with the world, and a contempt of life, which wisdom inspires, so there is a hatred of the world that arises from evil dispositions. We may be disgusted with life from a principle of melancholy-from a principle of misanthropy-from a principle of discontent-and, which is still more singular, we may be disgusted with the world through an excessive esteem for the world, and hate life through a too violent attachment to it.
1. We may hate life because we are melancholy. Only he, whose ideas are disconcerted by a dark and gloomy temper, can say fully and without qualification, I hate life.' To attribute such a disposition to the Wise Man is to insult the Holy Spirit who animated him. All the advantages of life, I grant, cannot procure us perfect happiness, yet every one may procure us some satisfaction, transient but real, provided we enjoy each with such moderation as wisdom prescribes. Instead of exclaiming in melancholy mood against society, 'What friends! What friendships! Enjoy the innocent pleasures of society, and you will find that they can contribute to suspend your pain, to dissipate your anxieties, and to relieve your wearisome attention to your misfortunes. Instead of exclaiming against fortune, and saying, Riches and honours, what are they good for?" Enjoy, as far as justice and benevolence will allow, the advantages of fortune, and you will experience that they may procure you some agreeable accommodations, which you are permitted, yea commanded to relish. Instead of exclaiming against reputation, and saying, • What doth it signify to be known and esteemed among mankind? Enjoy the advantages of reputation, and you will experience some satisfaction in being respected by intelligent persons in society. Though, in general, the world is unjust in estimating ability and virtue, yet there are many rational members of society, who know how to distinguish gold from tinsel, and real ability from parade.
2. Some are disgusted with life from a principle of misanthropy. What is a misanthrope, or a hater of mankind? He is a man, who avoids society only to free himself from the
trouble of being useful to it. He is a man, who considers his neighbours only on the side of their defects, not knowing the art of combining their virtues with their vices, and of rendering the imperfections of other people tolerable by reflecting on his own. He is a man more employed in finding out and inflicting punishments on the guilty than in devising means to reform them. He is a man, who talks of nothing but banishing and executing, and who, because he thinks his talents are not sufficiently valued and employed by his fellow-citizens, or rather, because they know his foible, and do not choose to be subject to his caprice, talks of quitting cities, towns, and societies, and of living in dens or in deserts. Intercourse with mankind is disagreeable, you say. Very well, I grant it. But do you know what would make it infinitely more disagreeable? I will tell you. It would be, if all the members of society were animated with your spirit. What a society would that be, which should be composed of people without charity, without patience, without condescension!
My text does not inculcate such sentiments as these. The Wise Man had met with a great many disagreeable events in society which had given him a great deal of pain, but, far from being driven out of it, he continued to reside in the world, and to amend and improve it by his wise counsel and good example. Read the Book of Proverbs, and this of Ecclesiastes, and observe how he endeavours to preserve society from damage by exposing the snares into which he himself had fallen. Behold, being converted himself, he endeavours to strengthen his brethren, and to teach transgressors the ways of God!' How accurately does he describe all conditions of life! With what charity does he condescend, if I may venture to speak so, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop upon the wall,' so that there is no profession so mean, nor any man so obscure in his profession, that he does not either direct or improve. Disgust with the world should never prevent our assisting the inhabitants of it, and our contempt of life should always be accompanied with charity for the living.
3. Sometimes a spirit of discontent produces disgust with the world, and contempt of life. To hear the people I mean, one would think it was impossible that this world should be governed by a wise Being, because, forsooth, they are doomed with the rest of mankind to live in a valley of trouble. But who art thou, thou miserable man, to conceive ideas so false, and to form opinions so rash! Learn to know thyself, and to do thyself justice! If thou shouldst be required by the rigorous judgment of God to expiate thy crimes, it would not be in the vanity of this world, it would be in the flames of hell! It would not be in the society of men, faithless in trade, inconstant in friendship, insipid in conversation, troublesome in application, perfidious in contracts, it would be in the society of the devil and his angels! It would not be in the narrow compass of this life, the brevity of which may be justly compared to a vapour lost in the air, a flower fading in