« PreviousContinue »
their account.Patience, in this exercise of it, cannot be too much studied by all who wish their life to flow in a smooth stream. It is the reason of a man, in opposi. tion to the passion of a child. It is the enjoyment of peace, in opposition to uproar and confusion.
Moderation in our wishes recommended.
The active mind of man seldom or never rests satisfied with its present condition, how prosperous Originally formed for a wider range of objects, for a higher sphere of enjoyments, it finds itself, in every situation of førtune, straitened and confined. Sensible of deficiency in its state, it is ever sending forth the fond desire, the aspiring wish, after something beyond what is enjoyed at present. Hence, that restlessness which prevails so generally among mankind. Hence, that disgust of pleasures which they have tried; that passion for novelty; that ambition of rising to some degree of eminence or felicity, of which they have formed to themselves an indistinct idea. All which may be considered as indications of a certain native, original greatness in the human soul, swelling beyond the limits of its present condition; and pointing, to the higher objects for which it was made. Happy, if these latent remains of our primitive state, served to direct our wishes towards their proper destination, and to lead us into the path of true bliss.
But in this dark and bewildered state, the aspiring tendency of our nature unfortunately takes an opposite direction, and feeds a very misplaced ambition. The flattering appearances which here present themselves to sense ; the distinctions which fortune confers; the advantages and pleasure which we imagine the world to be capable of bestowing, fill up the ultimate
wish of most men. These are the objects which engross their solitary musings, and stimulate their active labours ; which warm the breasts of the young, animate the industry of the middle aged, and often keep alive the passions of the old, until the very close of life.
Assuredly, there is nothing unlawful in our wishing to be freed from whatever is disagreeable, and to obtain a fuller enjoyment of the comforts of life. But when these wishes are not tempered by reason, they are in danger of precipitating us into much extravagance and folly. Desires and wishes are the first springs of action. When they become exorbitant, the whole character is likely to be tainted. If we suffer our fancy to create to itself worlds of ideal happiness, we shall discompose the peace and order of our minds, and foment many hurtful passions. Here, then, let moderation begin its reign ; by bringing within reasonable bounds the wishes that we form.
As soon as they become extravagant, let us check them, by proper reflections on the fallacious nature of those objects, which the world hangs out to allure desire.
You have straved, my friends, from the road which conducts to felicity; you have dishonoured the native dignity of your souls, in allowing your wishes to terminate on nothing higher than worldly ideas of greatness or happiness. Your imagination roves in a land of shadowv3. Unreal forms deceive you. It is no more than a phantom, an illusion of happiness, which attracts your fond admiration ; nay, an illusion of happiness, which often conceals much real misery.
Do you imagine that all are happy, who liave attined to those summits of distinction, towards whic): your wishes aspire ? Alas! how frequently has experi.. ence shown, that where roses were supposed to bloom, nothing but briers and thorns grew? Reputation, beauty, riches, grandeur, nay, royalty itselt, would, many a time, have been gladly exchanged by the possessors, for that more quiet and humble station, with
which you are now dissatisfied. With all that is splendid and shining in the world, it is decreed that there should mix many deep shades of wo. On the elevated situations of fortune, the great calamities of life chiefly fall. There, the storm spends its violence, and there the thunder breaks ; while, safe and unhurt, the inhabitants of the vale remain below;--Retreat, then, from those vain and pernicious excursions of extravagant desire. Satisfy yourselves with what is rational and attainable. Train your minds to moderate views of human life, and human happiness. Remember, and admire, the wisdom of Agur's petition : “ Remove far from me vanity and lies. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with food convenient for me : lest I be full and deny thee ; and say, who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal ; and take the name of my God in vain."
9mniscience and omnipresence of the Deity, the source
of consolation to good men.
I was yesterday, about sun set, walking in the open fields, till the night insensibly fell upon me. I at first amused myself with all the richness and variety of colours, which appeared in the western parts of heaven. In proportion as they faded away and went out, several stars and planets appeared one after another, till the whole firmament was in a glow. The blueness of the ether was exceedingly heightened and enlivened, by the season of the year, and the rays of all those line minaries that passed through it. The galaxy appeared in its most beautiful white. To complete the scene, the full-moon rose, at length, in that clouded majesty, which Milton takes notice of; and opened to the eye a new picture of nature, which was more finely shadedy and disposed among softer lights than that which the sun had before discovered to us.
As I was surveying the moon walking in her brightness, and taking her progress among the constellations, a thought arose in mne, which I believe very often perplexes and disturbs men of serious and contemplative patures. David himself fell into it, in that reflection ; " when I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers; the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained ; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou regardest him!”
In the same manner, when I considered that infinite host of stars, or to speak more philosophically, of suns, which were then shining upon me ; with those innumerable sets of planets or worlds, which were moving round their respective suns; when I still enlarged the idea, and supposed another heaven of suns and worlds, rising still above this which we discovered ; and these still enlightened by a superior firmament of luminaries, which are planted at so great a distance, that they may appear to the inhabitants of the former, as the stars do to us ; in short, while I pursued this thought, I could not but reflect on that little insignificant figure which I myself bore amidst the immensity of God's works.
Were the sun, which enlightens this part of the creation, with all the host of planetary worlds that move above him utterly extinguished and annihilated, they would noi be missed, more than a grain of sand upon the sea-shore. The space they possess is so exceedingly little in comparison of the whole, it would scarcely make a blank in the creation. The chasm would be imperceptible to an eye, that could take in the whole compass of nature, and
from one end of the creation to the other; as it is possible there may be such a sense in ourselves hereafter, or in creatures which are at present more exalted than ourselves.
By the help of glasses, we see many stars, which we do not discover with our naked eyes; and the finer our telescopes are, the more still are our discoveries.-Huygenius carries this thought so far, that he does not think it impossible there may be stars, whose light has not yet travelled down to us, since their first creation. There is no question that the universe has certain bounds set to it : but when we consider that it is the work of Infinite Power, prompted by Infinite Goodness, with an infioite space to exert itself in, how can our imagi, nation set any bounds to it ?
To return, therefore, to my first thought, I could not but look upon myself with secret horror, as a being that was not worth the smallest regard of one who had so great a work under his care and superintendence. I was afraid of being overlooked amidst the immensity of nature ; and lost among that infinite variety of creatures, which, in all probability, swarm through all these immeasurable regions of matter.
In order to recover myself from this mortifying thought, I considered that it took its rise froin those narrow conceptions, which we are apt to entertain of the Divine Nature. We ourselves cannot attend to many different objects at the same time. If we are careful to inspect some things, we must of course neglect others. This imperfection which we observe in ourselves, is an imperfection that cleaves, in some de. gree, to creatures of the highest capacities, as they are creatures, that is, beings of finite and limited natures. The
presence of every created being is confined to a certain measure of space ; and consequently his observation is stinted to a certain number of objects. The sphere in which we move, and act, and understand, is of a wider circumference to one creature, than another, according as we rise one above another in the scale of existence. But the widest of these our spheres has its circumference. When, therefore, we reflect on the Divine Nature, we are so used and accustomed to this imperfection in ourselves, that we cannot forbear, in some measure, ascribing it to him, in whom there is no