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III. NOT only our connections with all things around us change, but our own life, through all its stages and conditions, is ever passing away. How just, and how affecting is that image, employed in the sacred writings to describe the state of man, we spend our years as a tale that is told!* It is not to any thing great or lasting that human life is compared; not to a monument that is built, or to an inscription that is engraved; not even to a book that is written, or to a history that is recorded, but to a tale, which is listened to for a little; where the words are fugitive and passing, and where one incident succeeds and hangs on another, till, by insensible transitions, we are brought to the close; a tale, which in some passages may be amusing, in others, tedious; but whether it amuses or fatigues, is soon told and soon forgotten. Thus year steals upon us after year. Life is never standing still for a moment; but continually, though insensibly, sliding into a new form. Infancy rises up fast to childhood; childhood to youth; youth passes quickly into manhood; and the grey hair, and the faded look, are not long of admonishing us, that old age is at hand. In this course all generations run. The world is made up of unceasing rounds of transitory. existence. Some generations are coming forward into being, and others hastening to leave it. The stream which carries us all along, is ever flowing with a quick current, though with a still and noiseless course. The dwelling-place of man is continually emptying, and by a fresh succession of inhabitants, continually filling anew. The memory of man passeth away like
*Psalm xc. 9.
the remembrance of a guest who hath tarried but one night.
As the life of man, considered in its duration, thus fleets and passes away, so, during the time it lasts, its condition is perpetually changing. It affords us nothing on which we can set up our rest; no enjoyment or possession which we can properly call our own. When we have begun to be placed in such circumstances as we desired, and wish our lives to proceed in the same agreeable tenor, how often comes some unexpected event across to disconcert all our schemes of happiness? Our health declines; our friends die; our families are scattered; something or other is not long of occurring, to show us that the wheel must turn round; the fashion of the world must pass away. Is there any man who dares to look to futurity with an eye of confident hope; and to say, that against a year hence, he can promise being in the same condition of health or fortune as he is at present? The seeds of change are every where sown in our state; and the very causes that seemed to promise us security, are often secretly undermining it. Great fame provokes the attacks of envy and reproach. High health gives occasion to intemperance and disease. The elevation of the mighty never fails to render their condition tottering; and that obscurity which shelters the mean, exposes them, at the same time, to become the prey of oppression. So completely is the fashion of this world made by Providence for change, and prepared for passing away. In the midst of this instability, it were some comfort, did human prosperity decay as slowly as it rises. By slow degrees, and by many
intervening steps, it rises. But one day is sufficient to scatter and bring it to nought. I might add,
IV. THAT the world itself in which we dwell, the basis of all our present enjoyments, is itself contrived for change, and designed to pass away. While the generations of men come forth in their turns, like troops of succeeding pilgrims, to act their part on this globe, the globe on which they act is tottering under their feet. It was once overflowed by a deluge. It is shaken by earthquakes; it is undermined by subterraneous fires; it carries many a mark of having suffered violent convulsions, and of tending to dissolution. Revelation informs us that there is a day approaching, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise; the elements shall melt with fervent heat; and the earth and the works therein shall be burnt up. When this destined hour arrives, the fashion of the world shall have finally past away. Immortal spirits shall then look back upon this world, as we do at present on cities and empires, which were once mighty and flourishing, but now are swept from existence, and their place is no more to be found.
I SHALL insist no longer on this representation of things. Enough has been said, to show that the fashion of the world, in every sense, passes away. Opinions and manners, public affairs and private concerns, the life of man, the conditions of fortune, and the earth itself on which we dwell, are all changing around us.-Is every thing, then, with which we are connected, passing and transitory? Is the whole state of man no more than a dream or fleeting vision? Is he brought forth to be only the child of a
day? Are we thrown into a river where all flows, and nothing stays; where we have no means of resisting the current; nor can reach any firm ground on which to rest our foot? No, my brethren; man was not doomed to be so unhappy; nor made by his Creator so much in vain. There are three fixed and permanent objects to which I must now call your attention, as the great supports of human constancy amidst this fugitive state. Though this world changes and passes away, virtue and goodness never change; God never changes; heaven and immortality pass not away.
First, VIRTUE and goodness never change. Let opinions and manners, conditions and situations, in public and in private life, alter as they will, virtue is ever the same. It rests on the immoveable basis of Eternal Truth. Among all the revolutions of human things, it maintains its ground; ever possessing the veneration and esteem of mankind, and conferring on the heart, which enjoys it, satisfaction and peace. Consult the most remote antiquity. Look to the most savage nations of the earth. How wild and how fluctuating soever the ideas of men may have been, this opinion you will find to have always prevailed, that probity, truth, and beneficence form the honour and the excellency of man. In this, the philosopher and the savage, the warrior and the hermit, join. At this altar all have worshipped. Their offerings may have been unseemly. Their notions of virtue may have been rude, and occasionally tainted by ignorance and superstition; but the fundamental ideas of moral worth have ever remained the same.
Here then is one point of stability, affected by no vicissitudes of time and life, on which we may rest. Our fortunes may change, and our friends may die; but virtue may still be our own; and as long as this remains, we are never miserable. Till I die I will not remove my integrity from Me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go. My heart shall not reproach me so long as I live.* He who, with the holy man of old, can hold this language, may with undisturbed mind survey time flying away, life decaying, and the whole fashion of the world changing around him. He hath within himself, a source of consolation and hope, independent of all earthly objects. Every terrestrial glory sparkles only for a little, with transient brightness. But virtue shines with eternal and unalterable splendour. It derives its origin from heaven; and partakes both of the lustre, and the stability, of celestial objects. It is the brightness of the everlasting light; the unspotted mirror of God, and the image of his goodness.
In the second place, God never changes. Amidst the unceasing vicissitudes of earthly things, there remains at the head of the universe an Eternal Protector of virtue, whose throne is established for ever. With him, there is no variableness, neither any shadow of turning; no inconstancy of purpose, and no decay of wisdom or of power. We know that he loved righteousness from the beginning of days, and that he will continue to love it unalterably to the last. Foreseen by him was every revolution which the course of ages has produced. All the changes which
* Job, xxvii. 5, 6.