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and threw down the table that stood before them: ‘Every one,'
'has his calamity, and he is a happy man that has no
than this.' We find an instance to the same purpose in greater the life of Dr. Hammond, written by Bishop Fell. As this good mann was troubled with a complication of distempers, when he had the gout upon him, he used to thank God that it was not the stone; and when he had the stone, that he had not both these distemper's on him at the same time.
I cannot conclude this essay without observing, that there was 10 never any system besides that of Christianity, which could effectu
ally produce in the mind of man the virtue I have hitherto been speaking of. In order to make us content with our present condition many of the antient philosophers tell us, that our discontent only hurts ourselves, without being able to make any alteration in our circumstances; others, that whatever evil befals us is derived by fatal necessity, to which the gods themselves are subject; while others very gravely tell the man who is miserable, that it is necessary
he should be so to keep up the harmony of the universe, and that the scheme of Providence would be troubled and 20 perverted were he otherwise. These, and the like considerations,
rather silence than satisfy a man. They may shew him that his discontent is unreasonable, but are by no means sufficient to relieve it. They rather give despair than consolation. In a word, a man might reply to one of these comforters, as Augustus did to his friend, who advised him not to grieve for the death of a person whom he loved, because his grief could not fetch him again: * It is for that very reason,' said the emperor, “that I grieve.'
On the contrary, religion bears a more tender regard to human nature. It prescribes to every miserable man the means of bet30 tering his condition; nay, it shows him that the bearing of his
afflictions as he ought to do will naturally end in the removal of them; it makes him easy here, because it can make him happy hereafter. Upon the whole, a contented mind is the greatest blessing a
enjoy in this world; and if in the present life his happiness arises from the subduing of his desires, it will arise in the next from the
gratification of them.
No. 575. On the Present and the Future Life; inconsiderate behaviour, in view of immortality, of the majority of mankind.
Nec morti esse locum.–VIRG. Georg. iv. 226. A lewd young fellow seeing an aged hermit go by him barefoot, 'Father,' says he, you are in a very miserable condition if there is not another world.' 'True, son,' said the hermit; 'but what is thy condition if there is ?' Man is a creature designed for two different states of being, or rather for two different lives. His first life is short and transient; his second permanent and lasting. The question we are all concerned in is this, in which of these two lives it is our chief interest to make ourselves happy? or, in other
words, whether we should endeavour to secure to ourselves the 10 pleasures and gratifications of a life which is uncertain and pre
carious, and at its utmost length of a very inconsiderable duration, or to secure to ourselves the pleasures of a life which is fixed and settled, and will never end? Every man, upon the first hearing of this question, knows very well which side of it he ought to close with. But however right we are in theory, it is plain that in practice we adhere to the wrong side of the question. We make provisions for this life as though it were never to have an end, and for the other life as though it were never to have a beginning.
Should a spirit of superior rank, who is a stranger to human nature, accidentally alight upon the earth, and take a survey of its inhabitants, what would his notions of us be? Would not he think that we are a species of beings made for quite different ends and purposes than what we really are ? Must not he imagine that we were placed in this world to get riches and honours ? Would not he think that it was our duty to toil after wealth, and station, and title ? Nay, would not he believe we were forbidden poverty by threats of eternal punishment, and enjoined to pursue
our pleasures under pain of damnation? He would certainly zo imagine that we were influenced by a scheme of duties quite opposite to those which are indeed prescribed to us.
And truly, according to such an imagination, he must conclude that we are a species of the most obedient creatures in the universe ; that we are constant to our duty; and that we keep a steady eye on the end for which we were sent hither.
But how great would be his astonishment, when he learned that we were beings not designed to exist in this world above threescore and ten years; and that the greatest part of this busy species fall short even of that age? How would he be lost, in horror and admiration, when he should know that this set of creatures, who lay out all their endeavours for this life, which scarce deserves the name of existence,—when, I say, he should know that this set of creatures are to exist to all eternity in
another life, for which they make no preparations ? Nothing can 10 be a greater disgrace to reason, than that men, who are persuaded
of these two different states of being, should be perpetually employed in providing for a life of threescore and ten years, and neglecting to make provision for that, which after many myriads of years will be still new, and still beginning; especially when we consider that our endeavours for making ourselves great, or rich, or honourable, or whatever else we place our happiness in, may after all prove unsuccessful; whereas, if we constantly and sincerely endeavour to make ourselves happy in the other life,
we are sure that our endeavours will succeed, and that we shall 20 not be disappointed of our hope.
The n following question is started by one of the schoolmen. Supposing the whole body of the earth were a great ball or mass of the finest sand, and that a single grain or particle of this sand should be annihilated every thousand years. Supposing then that you had it in your choice to be happy all the while this prodigious mass of sand was consuming by this slow method, till there was not a grain of it left, on condition you were to be miserable for ever after; or supposing that you might be happy for ever
after, on condition you would be miserable till the whole mass of 30 sand was thus annihilated at the rate of one sand in a thousand years: which of these two cases would you make your choice ?
It must be confessed in this case, so many thousands of years are to the imagination as a kind of eternity, though in reality they do not bear so great a proportion to that duration which is to follow them, as an unit does to the greatest number which you can put together in figures, or as one of those sands to the supposed heap. Reason therefore tells us, without any manner of hesitation, which would be the better part in this choice.
However, as I have before intimated, our reason might in such a 40 case be so overset by the imagination, as to dispose some persons
TIME AND ETERNITY.
to sink under the consideration of the great length of the first part of this duration, and of the great distance of that second duration, which is to succeed it. The mind, I say, might give itself up to that happiness which is at hand, considering that it is so very near, and that it would last so very long. But when the choice we actually have before us is this, whether we will choose to be happy for the space of only threescore and ten, nay, perhaps of only twenty or ten years, I might say of only a day or an
hour, and miserable to all eternity: or, on the contrary, miser10 able for this short term of years, and happy for a whole eternity;
what words are sufficient to express that folly and want of consideration which in such a case makes a wrong choice ?
I here put the case even at the worst, by supposing (what seldom happens) that a course of virtue makes us miserable in this life: but if we suppose (as it generally happens) that virtue would make us more happy even in this life than a contrary course of vice, how can we sufficiently admire the stupidity or madness of those persons who are capable of making so absurd a choice ?
Every wise man therefore will consider this life only as it may 20 conduce to the happiness of the other, and chearfully sacrifice the
pleasures of a few years to those of an eternity.
No. 590. The Eternity of past, and that of future time, considered;
arguments derived from this consideration for the being of a Creator ; testimony of Revelation.
Assiduo labuntur tempora motu
Ovid, Met. xv. 179.
Still moving, ever new; for former things
DRYDEN. We consider infinite space as an expansion without a circumference: we consider eternity, or infinite duration, as a line that has neither a beginning nor an end. In our speculations of infinite space, we consider that particular place in which we exist, as a kind of centre to the whole expansion. In our speculations of eternity, we consider the time which is present to us as the middle, which divides the whole line into two equal parts. For this reason many witty authors compare the present time to
an isthmus, or narrow neck of land, that rises in the midst of an 10 ocean, immeasurably diffused on either side of it. Philosophy, and indeed
common sense, naturally throws eternity under two divisions; which we may call in English, that eternity which is past, and that eternity which is to come. The learned terms of æternitas a parte ante, and æternitas a parte post, may be more amusing to the reader, but can have no other idea affixed to them than what is conveyed to us by those words, an eternity that is past, and an eternity that is to come. Each of these eternities is bounded at the one extreme; or, in other words, the former has an end, and the latter a beginning.
Let us first of all consider that eternity which is past, reserving that which is to come for the subject of another paper. The nature of this eternity is utterly inconceivable by the mind of man: our reason demonstrates to us that it has been, but at the same time can frame no idea of it, but what is big with absurdity and contradiction. We can have no other conception of any duration which is past, than that all of it was once present; and whatever was once present, is at some certain distance from us, and whatever is at any certain distance from us, be the distance
never so remote, cannot be eternity. The very notion of any 30 duration's being past, implies that it was once present; for the
idea of being once present, is actually included in the idea of being past. This therefore is a depth not to be sounded by human understanding. We are sure that there has been an eternity, and yet contradict ourselves when we measure this eternity by any notion which we can frame of it.
If we go to the bottom of this matter, we shall find that the