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he had when a child ; let him remark how much these notions are altered, and improved, and corrected since ; how vain, and wild, and simple, and short of the truth they then were, and, how sensible soever such a person must be of the feebleness of his early understanding, of the errors and extravagance of his childish conceits, equally sensible shall we, in another life, become of the imperfection, and weakness, and fallaciousness of our present judgment and our present apprehension of many subjects. This is what St Paul says of himself; and whatever he confessed of his own understanding in these matters, surely we need not be loth to acknowledge of ours. But to do St Paul's observation justice, it will be fitting to point out disstinctly, and more at length, every particular in which his comparison holds; for I think the more we turn it in our minds, the more truth, impressiveness, and good sense we shall discover in it.
First, then, it must strike every one who will please to review the ideas and imaginations of his youth, of what was then his notion of many things which he now looks at and has long looked at as so many vain and foolish baubles, how eager he was in the pursuit of them, how impatient of being disappointed. He is at a loss now to conceive where or in what the value or pleasure of them could consist, so much to engage his affections, to agitate his passions, to give him such anxiety in the pursuit, and pain in the loss. Now something very like this will probably take place in the judgment we shall hereafter form of many of the articles which at present compose the objects of our care and solicitude. When we come, in the new state of our existence, to look back upon riches, and honors, and fortune, and preeminence, and prosperity, how like the play and pursuits of children, their little strifes, and contests, and disturbances, will these things appear? When the curtain is drawn aside, and the great scene of our future existence let in upon our view, how shall we regard the most serious of our present engagements and successes, as the toys and trifles of our childhood, the sport and pastime of this infancy of our existence !
A second particular, in which we cannot but remark the fault of our youthful minds, and how we have been gradually amending and altering as we grow up, is the impetuosity with which we seized upon every pleasure that was at hand, whatever it cost us afterwards, and how unconcerned and unaffected we were by what lay at any distance. The amusement of the next hour, the sport of the next day, was all we thought of. What I say,
was to become of us, how we were to be provided for, or what was to be our destiny when we grew up, or even the next year, never interested our attention, or entered our thoughts. we find this earnestness, as we advance in years and experience, by degrees wear off. We have learned to a certain distance to look before us, to forego a small advantage in hand for the sake of a greater in reversion, to deny ourselves, in some cases, a present pleasure, rather than incur a future pain, or lose a more important satisfaction which we have in view; but still the infirmity is but worn away in part, much of it yet remains. We have learned to look before us, but it may be indistinctly; and the imperfection, which still cleaves to us in this respect, we shall hereafter be as sensible of, as we seem now to be of the same imperfection in the thoughts and passions of our early years. Thus we are able to part with a present supply for a treasure in prospect, in order to secure to ourselves, and for ourselves, the means of acquiring a good estate some time hence; and this is getting a great way beyond the hasty thoughts and improvidence of children, of many who continue children all their lives; but can we reconcile ourselves to the sacrifice of a substantial interest, of any part of our profit or fortune, 'of considerable advantage or advancement in the world, for the sake of securing, or at least making more sure of, our reward in heaven? We are not accustomed to look so far. The business of the world we manage with prudence, because we prefer the greater advantage at a distance to the less advantage near at hand; but the world closes in our prospect, terminates our management.
Again, it may be, that when we find particular indulgences hurt our health, and lay the foundation for painful distempers, and find also that we shall hereafter, though not now, suffer for our pleasures, we can be content to abstain from them; and this is more than many can do, and is certainly a great advance in the exercise of our judgment when it is so. But do we apply the same way of thinking to our immortal interests ? When we find reason to believe that such and such indulgences or ways of living are likely to prove fatal to our happiness in the next world, do we give them up? Do we resign our darling habits and gratifications? Do we quit the broad and smooth road of our sins or follies, when we find whither it leads ? Now I say, though we can blame the impatience of a child, which will not wait a few short days, a few hours; or the folly of a headstrong youth, who is so occupied with some favorite delight, that he can scarcely see beyond it, though certain misery follow close behind ; though we can blame them, yet there are few of us who are sensible at present of what we shall all be made sensible of when we arrive at our future country, that we have been and are equally perverse, headstrong, and impatient in the conduct of our greatest concerns, that the time which we thought too long to wait for reward was but a moment, that the misery we have brought upon ourselves did, in truth, come close behind our crimes, though it appeared removed to a great distance; for such will be the judgment we shall form of this little portion of our existence, which we shall hereafter look back upon, compared with the immortality that lies before us.
Thirdly, we can seldom review what passed in our minds when we were children, without being surprised with the odd and extravagant notions which we took up and entertained, how wildly we accounted for some things and what strange forms we assigned to many other things, what improbable resemblances we supposed, what unlikely effects we expected, what consequences we feared. I can easily believe that many of the opinions and notions we now erroneously entertain, especially concerning the place, condition, nature, occupation, and happiness of departed saints, may hereafter appear to us as wild, as odd, as unlikely and ill founded, as our childish fancies appear to us now. Like the child, we take our ideas from what we see, and transfer them to what we do not see. Like him, we look upon, and judge of things above our understanding, by comparing them with things which we do understand; and they bear afterwards as little resemblance, as little foundation for comparison, as the most chimerical and fantastic visions of a childish imagination. And this I judge to be what St Paul had particularly in his thoughts when he wrote the words of the text. * Now we know in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away,' even as when I was a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child ; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. Our apprehensions of futurity may, it is true, be in many respects childish ; but still they may be innocent, so long as we are not over anxious nor over positive to insist upon others receiving them, and too much inclined to make difficulties, or start at those which we meet with, from an opinion that we are able to guess and find out the whole of such subjects.
Fourthly, a child meets with perpetual difficulties, which appear to its then comprehension unconquerable, which yet,
when it becomes a man, clear up, and vanish of themselves. It cannot be made to understand the reason or the meaning of half the things which its parents and its masters make it do or suffer. Why so much restraint and confinement? Wherefore these grievous tasks, that difficult lesson, these strict rules ? It is made to feel pain and uneasiness, of which it sees neither end nor use. • How is this to be reconciled,' a child will naturally ask, with that kindness, and love, and goodness which it is told to expect from its parents?' Now as the child advances in reason and observation, all these difficulties solve themselves. He remembers with gratitude what he suffered with complaint. He sees care and love, when at the time he could only perceive arbitrary severity and churlish cruelty. He discovers the end aimed at, the importance of that end, how the means made use of conduced to it, how requisite they were, how beneficial they have turned out. Now all this bears, in my mind, a considerable analogy to the difficulties we labor under, as to the dispensations of divine Providence. Look to the whole of our existence, and the wisest and oldest of us are but yet in our infancy; as much strangers to the exigences and condition of our future state as a child is to that of a man. Can it be wondered at that we should meet with embarrassments, and inconsistency, and seeming disorder and confusion? and yet it may in truth be all a regular plan, answering a good end by wise means. We know in part; a certain portion of our nature, existence, and destiny we do see ; but it is a portion bounded by narrow limits, a term out of eternity.
Now all such partial knowledge must be encumbered with many difficulties. It is like viewing the map of a district or small tract of territory by itself, and separated from the adjacent country; we see rivers marked out without any source to flow from, and running where there is nothing to receive them. In like manner, we observe events in the world, of which we trace not either cause or origin, and tending to no design or purpose that we can discover. If the child have patience to wait, many of these its difficulties will in due time be explained. And this is our case. It was not necessary to the child's happiness and well being, that it should have from the first the understanding of a man; nor is it to ours, that we should possess the faculties of angels, or those which are in reversion for us in a higher and more advanced state of existence. The child is in the hands of its parent, and so are we. The wisdom of the parent will supply the ignorance of the child, his prudence guide its folly, his strength protect its weakness, his care conduct it to happiness. How much does this representation agree with what we believe and hope of our Almighty and Universal Father! We are the works of the creation, and produced by his great kindness, and, while we study to please and obey him, the objects of his love, safe under his wings, secure under his protection, assisted by his succors, directed by his holy influence, enlightened by his word and spirit
, relying upon his love, and finally conducted by his care from perfection to perfection, from our present degree of happiness to a better world, we attain the fulness of joy in the presence of God, and the pleasures at his right hand for evermore.
THE ADVANTAGES OF OLD AGE.
JOB XXXII. 7.
I said, days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom.
EVERY age of life has its advantages and disadvantages, not only in respect of strength, activity, and pleasure on one side, of judgment, experience, and wisdom on the other, and as these qualities relate to the success or the happiness of our present existence, but there is in the different periods of life a system also of advantages and disadvantages respecting religion itself. The work of salvation is before us at all ages.
Youth can bring to the task sensibility, usefulness, innocency, activity; a mind yet unoccupied, and yet unenslaved by vicious habits, a strength capable of doing much good, a conscience quick and sensible, a heart warm and susceptible of benevolent affections; a vigor of principle, and a glow of devotion, which no other season of life can pretend to. God grant that the young may use and exert these faculties and these advantages as they ought to do! But what are the advantages, or are there any, which the coldness and weakness of age can set against these? What is there applicable to religious improvement, which the natural condition of advanced years brings with it? Those it is my purpose to set forth, as well for consolation as instruction; because if any one can feel that he is capable of making him