« PreviousContinue »
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XXVI.
PSALM XCIV.-VERSE 19.
It is shown that the two versions of the text give light to each other, as well as that each expresses the sense of the original. The multitude of sorrows mentioned in one translation must be peculiar to men of reflexion, since they are called in the other the multitude of thoughts. We learn that there are such sorrows from the words of the Preacher, Eccl. i. 18. If we follow his train of thought, and view the life of man under all its circumstances, every step we take will yield a proof of his proposition, &c. But there is no end to such inquiries, nor much reason for them. Those who possess common understanding and common sense, must see and feel the evils that are in the world. The distem per then is plain; but who can cure it? The wisest men in all ages have endeavored without success to find a remedy: but yet the world is not the happier for their inquiries. The futility of their suggestions shown, who advise us to lay hold on the pleasures of life, or to rise above pain and sorrow, as though they were but phantoms of the imagination. We are not however to despair ; there is still one remedy for us, unknown to philosophers, and unsought by sensualists : and this we learn from the words of the text. The plain meaning of this is, that religion is our only real support against all human evils: with this no state of life is insupportable, and without it no condition is tolerable. The truth of this assertion examined. There are some natural evils from which no circumstances of life can deliver us: such is the fear of death, which is common to all, and never forsakes us.
Divest a man of all the hopes of religion, and of confidence in God, and what has he to mitigate or lessen this evil? If there be any pleasure in the idea of annihilation, it must arise from some very unnatural cause. This cause is sin, which by making men afraid of judgment, makes them willing to compound to be nothing: this is not curing the fear of death ; but is choosing death from dread of a much greater evil. Death does not çease to be a natural evil; nor does the fear of it vanish, when men hope to die for ever rather than come to judgment. Irreligion therefore is a support against the fear of guilt, but none against the fear of death. Supposing the unbeliever to be clear of all guilt which may create a fear of future judgment, what comfort has he against the natural fear of death? Exhorting him to cast away all thoughts of death, is but bidding him not to see what is before him; and if blindness and want of thought are securities against the natural evils of life, we must cease to be men, and to exercise our faculties, before we can lose the sense of these evils. When persons reason thus, they confess that they must destroy the man to cure the distemper ; and thus they prove either the physician a fool, or the evil incurable. Which of the two is the true case will appear when we consider whether religion affords a proper remedy against this evil or no. Since death is inevitable, this world can afford no cure for the apprehension of it: the fear of it can be allayed by nothing but the hope of living again ; and this is the very hope which religion holds out to us. The man who believes in God and his attributes, cannot suppose that a Being so excellent sent him into the world merely to pass a few years in misery, or merely to live in perpetual fear of going out of it again. Though mortality is common to all creatures, the fear of death is peculiar to man; and this fear, if it serves no purpose beyond this world, would render our condition worse than that of the brutes which perish; and would lead us to suppose that man alone was created for misery. The creatures made for this world have such fears only as are necessary for their preservation in it; but man, ordained to eternal life, has such desires of life and fears of death, as are necessary to preserve to him that immortality for which he was created, and to lead him to wean himself from the world, and look out for a more certain abiding place. This is the language of God, speaking to us by the fears and hopes of nature : these the comforts that refresh the soul in the multitude of thoughts which distract it. But does not this hope bring with it a great increase of fear? for though the unbeliever may sometimes shrink at the thoughts of death, the believer has the terror of damnation and the consciousness of sin for ever in his sight. This allowed, which is the happier man? Though there is no comparison between the fear of temporal and of eternal death, we are to consider that men cannot prevent this fear of a judgment to come. The irreligious man, though he may lose all hopes of futurity by his irreligion, cannot thereby get rid of the terrors and apprehensions of it; whilst the fear of the religious man, though he may often have reason to fear, is yet a symptom of health ; for it leads him to repentance, and to put his trust in God. The religious man, if he fears, must blame himself, and not his religion. The fear of death arises from nature, is common to all, and admits of no cure but through religion. The condition of human life considered, it is shown that we must look beyond this world for solid happiness, and that the only true remedy against the ills of life is a sense of religion, and of the power and goodness of God : possessing which, we shall look with calmness on the calamities of the world, and with pleasure into the scenes of futurity. These are the comforts which, in the multitude of surrounding sorrows, will refresh the soul. As the comforts arising from true religion are our only true support, so the loss of them frequently occasions despair, which is of two kinds : the one has God for its object, but considers him as
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XXVI.
an all-powerful revengeful being, devoid of mercy; or thinks of itself as a vessel of wrath doomed to destruction : the other, judging hastily from the disorders and afflictions of the world, concludes that there is no God, or that he regards none of these things. The extreme wretchedness of these conditions shown and compared; compared also with the comforts arising from a trust and confidence in God. Two conclusions drawn from what has been said : first, as the evils of life force us to resort to the comforts of religion, they are proofs of God's goodness to us, and agreeable to the wise ends of his Providence; warning us not to set up our rest here, but to remember God, and keep a steadfast eye on the things he has prepared for those who love him : secondly, since the evils of life cannot be avoided, and can only be cured by the help of religion, what a sad choice we make when we throw from us its comforts. If we add to the terrors of death by renouncing the hopes of futurity, our condition even in this world will be deplorable. The comforts of religion can alone give a relish to the pleasures of this life, and enable us to bear manfully its afflictions. As in the multitude of our thoughts we shall find a multitude of sorrows, let us therefore keep God our friend, whose comforts will refresh our souls:
PSALM XCIV.-VERSE 19.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight
The old translation renders it thus :
In the multitude of the sorrows that I had in my heart, thy com
forts have refreshed my soul.
THESE versions, as they both very
the sense of the original, so they give light to each other. The multitude of sorrows,' mentioned in one translation, must be the sorrows, in some sort, peculiar to the men of thought and reflexion; since in the other they are called, the multitude of thoughts.' That there are such sorrows, we learn from one who was himself a man of great thought: 'In much wisdom,' says the Preacher, is much grief; and he that increaseth knowlege, increaseth sorrow.' If we follow the train of thought which he has marked out, and view the life of man under all the various circumstances incident to it, every step we take will yield a proof of his proposition, every discovery will bring its torment, when we find, that all the days of man are sorrows, and his travel grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night.'
But there is no end of such inquiries; and indeed not much reason for them: we may sit still, and our own experience will bring this knowlege home to us, without giving us the trouble of looking abroad into the world to find it. Cares and anxieties