« السابقةمتابعة »
pated by frivolous pursuits ; none but the most giddy and insensible can be destitute of these sentiments. But this is not the trial, or the proof. It is in the chambers of sickness; under the stroke of affliction l; amidst the pinchings of want, the groans of pain, the pressures of infirmity; in grief, in misfortune; through gloom and horror ; that it will be seen, whether we hold fast our hope, our confidence, our trust in God; whether this hope and confidence be able to produce in us resignation, acquiescence, and submission.And as those dispositions, which perhaps form the comparative perfection of our moral nature, could not have been exercised in a world of unmixed gratification, so neither would they have found their proper office or object in a state of strict and evident retribution; that is, in which we had no sufferings to submit to, but what were evidently and manifestly the punishment of our sins. . A mere submission to punishment, evidently and plainly such, would not have constituted, at least would very imperfectly have constituted, the disposition which we speak of, the true resignation of a Christian.
It seems therefore to be argued with very great probability, from the general economy of things around us, that our present state was meant for a state of probation ; because positively it contains that admixture of good and evil, which ought to be found in such a state to make it answer its purpose, the production, exercise, and improvement of virtue : and because negatively it could not be intended either for a state of absolute happiness, or a state of absolute misery, neither of which it is.
We may now also observe in what manner many of the evils of life are adjusted to this particular end, and how also they are contrived to soften and alleviate themselves and one another. It will be enough,
at present, if I can point out how far this is the case in the two instances, which, of all others, the most nearly and seriously affect us, death and disease. The events of life and death are so disposed as to beget in all reflecting minds a constant watchfulness.
« What I say unto you,
I say unto all, watch.” Hold yourselves in a constant state of preparation. “Be ready, for ye
known not when your Lord cometh.” Had there been assigned to our lives a certain age or period to which all, or almost all, were sure of arriving: in the younger part, that is to say, in nine-tenths of the whole of mankind, there would have been such an absolute security as would have produced, it is much to be feared, the utmost neglect of duty, of religion, of God, of themselves ; whilst the remaining part would have been too much overcome with the certainty of their fate; would have too much resembled the condition of those who have before their eyes a fixed and appointed day of execution. The same consequence would have ensued if death had followed any known rule whatever. It would have produced security in one part of the species and despair in another. The first would have been in the highest degree dangerous to the character ; the second insupportable to the spirits. The same observation we are entitled to repeat concerning the two cases of sudden death, and of death brought on by long disease. If sudden deaths never occurred, those who found them. selves free from disease would be in perfect safety; they would regard themselves as out of the reach of danger. With all apprehensions they would lose all seriousness and all restraint: and those persons who the most want to be checked, and to be awakened to a sense of the consequences of virtue and vice, the strong, the healthy, and the active, would be without the greatest of all checks, that which arises from the
constant liability of being called to judgment. If there were no sudden deaths, the most awful warning which mortals can receive would be lost: that consideration which carries the mind the most forcibly to religion, which convinces us that it is indeed our proper concern, namely, the precariousness of our present condition, would be done away. On the other hand, if sudden deaths were too frequent, human life might become too perilous : there would not be stability and dependance either upon our own lives, or the lives of those with whom we were connected, sufficient to carry on the regular offices of human society. In this respect therefore we see much wisdom. Supposing death to be appointed as the mode (and some mode there must be) of passing from one state of existence to another, the manner in which it is made to happen conduces to the purposes of warning and admonition, without overthrowing the conduct of human affairs.
Of sickness, the moral and religious use will be acknowledged, and in fact is acknowledged, by all who have experienced it: and they who have not experienced it, own it to be a fit state for the meditations, the offices of religion. The fault, I fear, is that we refer ourselves too much to that state. We think of these things too little in health, because we shall necessarily have to think of them when we come to die. This is a great fault: but then it confesses, what is undoubtedly true, that the sick-bed and the death-bed shall inevitably force these reflections upon us. In that it is right, though it be wrong in waiting till the season of actual virtue and actual reformation be past, and when consequently the sick-bed and the deathbed can bring nothing but uncertainty, horror, and despair. But my present subject leads me to consider sickness, not so much as a preparation for death,
as the trial of our virtue : of virtues the most severe, the most arduous, perhaps the best pleasing to Almighty God : namely, trust and confidence in him, under circumstances of discouragement and perplexity. To lift up the feeble hands and the languid eye; to draw and turn with holy hope to our Creator, when every comfort forsakes us, and every help fails : to feel and find in him, in his mercies, his promises, in the works of his providence, and still more in his word, and in the revelation of his designs by Jesus Christ, such rest and consolation to the soul, as to stifle our complaints and pacify our murmurs; to beget in our hearts tranquillity and confidence, in the place of terror and consternation, and this with simplicity and sincerity, without having, or wishing to have, one human witness to observe or know it; is such a test and trial of faith and hope, of patience and devotion, as cannot fail of being in a very high degree well pleasing to the Author of our natures, the guardian, the inspector, and the rewarder of our virtues. It is true in this instance, as it is true in all, that whatever tries our virtue strengthens and improves it. Virtue comes out of the fire purer and brighter than it went into it. Many virtues are not only proved but produced by trials; they have properly no existence without them. “We glory,” saith Saint Paul, “in tribulation also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope.”
But of sickness we may likewise remark, how wonderfully it reconciles us to the thoughts, the expectation, and the approach of death, and how this becomes, in the hand of Providence, an example of one evil being made to correct another. Without question the difference is wide between the sensations of a person who is condemned to die by violence, and of one who is brought gradually to his end by the progress of disease ; and this difference sickness produces. To the Christian, whose mind is not harrowed up by the memory of unrepented guilt, the calm and gentle approach of his dissolution has nothing in it terrible. In that sacred custody, in which they that sleep in Christ will be preserved, he sees a rest from pain and weariness, from trouble and distress : gradually withdrawn from the cares and interests of the world; more and more weaned from the pleasures of the body, and feeling the weight and press of its infirmities, he may be brought almost to desire, with Saint Paul, to be no longer absent from Christ; knowing, as he did, and as he assures us, that, “ if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”