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The effort is greater, but the necessity is greater.
It is their last hope, and their last trial. I put the case of a man grown old in sin. If the warnings of old age bring him round to religion, happy is that man in his old
age, above any thing he was in any other part of his life. But if these warnings do not affect him, there is nothing left in this world which will. We are not to set limits to God's grace, operating according to his good pleasure; but we say there is nothing in this world; there is nothing in the course of nature, and the order of human affairs, which will affect him, if the feelings of
do not. I put the case of a man grown old in sin, and, though old, continuing the practice of sin : that, it is said, in the full latitude of the expression, describes a worse case than is commonly met with. Would to God that the case was more rare than it is! But allowing it to be unusual in the utmost extent of the terms; in a certain considerable degree the description applies to many old persons. Many feel in their hearts, that the words“ grown old in sin,” belong to them in some sense which is very formidable. They feel some dross and defilement to be yet purged away; some deep corruption to be yet eradicated, some virtue or other to be yet even learnt, yet acquired, or yet, however, to be brought nearer to what it ought to be, than it has hitherto been brought. Now, if the warnings of age taught us nothing else, they might teach us this : that if these things are to be done, they must be done soon ; they must be set about forthwith, in good earnest, and with strong resolution. The work is most momentous; the time is short. The day is far spent : the evening is come on: the night is at hand.
Lastly ; I conceive that this discourse points out the true and only way of making old age comfortable ; and
that is, by making it the means of religious improvement. Let a man be beset by ever so many bodily complaints, bowed down by ever so many infirmities; if he find his soul grown and growing better, his seriousness increased, his obedience more regular and more exact, his inward principles and dispositions improved from what they were formerly, and continuing to improve; that man hath a fountain of comfort and consolation springing up within him. Infirmities, which have this effect, are infinitely better than strength and health themselves : though these, considered independently of their consequences, be justly esteemed the greatest of all blessings, and of all gifts. The old age of a virtuous man admits of a different and of a most consoling description.
It is this property of old age, namely, that its proper and most rational comfort consists in the consciousness of spiritual amendment. A very pious writer gives the following representation of this stage of human life, when employed and occupied as it ought to be, and when life has been drawn to its close by a course of virtue and religion : “ To the intelligent and virtuous,” says our author, “old age presents a scene of tranquil enjoyments, of obedient appetites, of well regulated affections, of maturity in knowledge, and of calm preparation for immortality. In this serene and dignified state, placed, as it were, on the confines of two worlds, the mind of a good man reviews what is passed with the complacency of an approving conscience, and looks forward with humble confidence in the mercy of God, and with devout aspirations towards his eternal and ever increasing favour.”
THIS LIFE A STATE OF PROBATION.
Psalm CXIX. 71.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I
might learn thy statutes.
Of the various views under which human life has been considered, no one seems so reasonable as that which regards it as a state of probation; meaning, by a state of probation, a state calculated for trying us, and calculated for improving us. A state of complete enjoyment and happiness it certainly is not. The hopes, the spirits, and the inexperience of young men and women are apt, and very willing, to see it in this light. To them life is full of entertainment: their velish is high, their expectations unbounded. For a Very few
years it is possible, and I think barely possiHoi that they may go on without check or interruption ; but they will be cured of this delusion. Pain and sorlum, clisease and infirmity, accident and disappointment, River and distress, will soon meet them in their acquaintance, their families, or their persons. The hardhis for their own, the tender for others' woe, will il find and feel, enough at least to convince them, What phex world was not made for a scene of perpetual weten 4 minterrupted enjoyment.
Will lovite me believe that it was made for a place of my?)much otherwise, that misery is in no instance the end or object of contrivance.
We are surrounded by contrivance and design. A human body is a cluster of contrivances. So is the body of every animal ; so is the structure of every plant; so is even the vilest weed that grows upon the road side. Contrivances, therefore, infinite in number, infinite also in variety, are all directed to beneficial purposes, and, in a vast plurality of instances, execute their
In our own bodies only reflect how many thousand things must go right for us to be an hour at ease. Yet at all times multitudes are so; and are so without being sensible how great a thing it is. Too much, or too little of sensibility, or of action, in any one of the almost numberless organs, or of any part of the numberless organs, by which life is sustained, may be productive of extreme anguish, or of lasting infirmity. A particle, smaller than an atom in a sunbeam, may, in a wrong place, be the occasion of the loss of limbs, of senses, or of life. Yet under all this continual jeopardy, this momentary liability to danger and disorder, we are preserved. It is not possible, therefore, that this state could be designed as a state of misery, because the great tendency of the designs which we see in the universe, is to counteract, to prevent, to guard against it. We know enough of nature to be assured, that misery universal, irremediable, inexhaustible misery, was in the Creator's power, if he had willed it. Forasmuch therefore as the result is so much otherwise, we are certain that no such purpose dwelt in the divine mind.
But since, amidst much happiness, and amidst contrivances for happiness, so far as we can judge (and of many we can judge), misery, and very considerable portions of it do exist, it becomes a natural inquiry, to what end this mixture of good and evil is properly
adapted. And I think the Scriptures place before us, not only the true (for, if we believe the Scriptures, we must believe it to be that), but the most rational and satisfactory answer which can be given to the inquiry; namely, that it is intended for a state of trial and
probation. For it appears to me capable of proof, both that no state but one, which contained in it an admixture of good and evil, would be suited to this purpose ; and also that our present state, as well in its general plan as in its particular properties, serves this purpose with peculiar propriety.
A state, totally incapable of misery, could not be a state of probation. It would not be a state in which virtue or vice could even be exercised at all; I mean that large class of virtues and vices, which we comprehend under the name of social qualities. The existence of these depends upon the existence of misery, as well as of happiness in the world, and of different degrees of both : because their very nature and difference consists in promoting or preventing, in augmenting or diminishing, in causing, aggravating, or relieving the wants, sufferings, and distresses of our fellow-creatures. Compassion, charity, humanity, benevolence, nor even justice, could have any place in the world, if there were not human conditions to excite them ; objects and sufferings upon which they might operate; misery, as well as happiness, which might be affected by them.
Nor would, in my opinion, the purposes of trial be sufficiently provided for, by a state in which happiness and misery regularly followed virtue and vice : I mean, in which there was no happiness but what was merited by virtue, no misery but what was brought on by vice. Such a state would be a state of retribution, not a state of probation. It may be our state hereafter; it may