« AnteriorContinuar »
fest himself to those who loved Him, and that, if any would do his will, they should know of the doctrine whether it be from God. And, resting on this most important declaration, he will endeavour to arrive, by the road of practical obedience, at a fuller measure of faith. He will thank and bless God that, here at least, there is no obscurity, and that few or none of the doubts which perplex the religious enquirer are practical ones. There may be room for question in matters of speculation : but few can pretend that there is in matters of duty. The will of God is clear, though his doctrine may in some points be obscure. Do not therefore imagine that the want of more light will justify you in not acting up to that which you have. Do the will of God, and trust that his word will open before you. But in doing the will of God, and in striving for belief, still remember that the Lord alone is almighty to knead and temper the clay of the human heart; and to control and direct the tide of the passions and feelings of the soul of man.
Endeavour after faith : but remember that faith is the gift of God, and to be sought of Him in prayer. Strive diligently, and pray earnestly. Adopt the language of the disciples, and say, “Lord, increase our faith," and do not disdain to join in the yet humbler prayer of the father in my text, crying out with him, “ Lord, I believe : help thou mine unbelief.”
THE WORLDLY LIFE, VANITY, AND
VEXATION OF SPIRIT.
EccLEs. i. 2.
VANITY OF VANITIES, SAITH THE PREACHER, VANITY OF VANITIES ;
ALL IS VANITY.
Such is the declaration, with which the wise King of Israel opens this, the book of his experience and advice-a declaration full of melancholy meaning, which but too probably may touch a responsive chord in some bosoms, witnessing more plainly to its truth than any language ; while others, especially those who are conversant with profane literature, will readily remember many passages which express a like sentiment.
It cannot indeed have escaped the notice of any persons, who are acquainted with the writings of classic antiquity, that the views of life, there exhibited, are tinged with a prevailing sadness. Nor is this the case only with professed moralists, who might be suspected of having assumed a tone of seriousness as befitting their subjects, and of having fallen into melancholy sentiments, when they meant only to be grave.
But the reflections which are scat
tered at random through the pages of the poets, and which are the more to be relied upon, as being either casual indications of the tone of feeling pervading their own minds, or such, as they conceived would excite ready sympathy in the minds of others, are almost universally of this cast. The Epic and dramatic poets would readily supply illustrations of this observation. But it is more obviously confirmed by the numberless lighter works of fancy-by those epigrams, which, from their curious felicity of expression, are apt to dwell in our memory—and which turn most commonly on the miseries of sickness, poverty, old age; disappointed love, faithless friendship, and the other sadder features of human life.
Even the poets, known among their contemporaries as the ministers of pleasure—the jovial priests of revelry, have by some strange fatality, with few exceptions, been preserved to us only in fragments of the most sad and gloomy character. The plaintive melancholy of Mimnermus, Simonides, and Moschus, seldom fails to strike even the unreflecting mind of boyhood. Few probably have read, without feelings of sympathy, the pathetic lines, in which the latter poet compares vegetable life, bursting into fresh existence with each returning spring, with the cheerless doom of man, the "mighty, the brave, and the wise, who when death once comes upon us,"
ανάκοοι έν χθονί κοίλα “Ευδομες, ευ μάλα μακρόν, ατέρμονα, νήγρετον ύπνον.
We can hardly be wrong in considering the prevalence of this language as a proof of a discontented feeling, which extended itself over all the region of thought-followed the dance-crept into the banquet-disturbed with uneasy anticipations the gay vivacity of youth ; and heightened the cheerless gloom of what the tragic poet calls, “ hateful, unsocial, friendless old age ?."
Nor shall we probably err in conceiving, that the deficiencies of their religious system had much to do with these melancholy views of life, and foreboding anticipations of death. Human existence, bounded by the narrow limits of earth, presented little to satisfy an immortal spirit. The dark and dismal future overshadowed present existence with a reflected gloom; and they, who looked forward without hope, looked backward with regret, and around with dissatisfaction.
Not that it would follow from this, that this sadness was necessarily every where visible in the general aspect of society; or that the minds, even of those who used this language of melancholy foreboding, were in all cases themselves seriously affected by it. The great mass of mankind probably then were, as indeed they ever have been,
· Mosch. Idyll. iii. 110.
Soph. @d. Col. 1300.
thoughtless of these things; and toiled on in the business, or fluttered about in the pleasures of life, without extending their thoughts beyond the more immediate objects of fear or hope. But though the multitude is thoughtless, language is the expression of thought; and its tone is derived from the sentiments of those, who do think. And as now, when reflecting men are cheered by the glorious hope of immortality, the expression of such sentiments passes far more widely than the sentiments themselves; and language is christianized, even in the mouths of those who are not Christians; so may we conceive, that in former ages, when those who thought, thought sadly, the tone of their meditations passed current into the conventional language of society, and was reflected back in varied and multiplied images in the writings of authors, on whose minds perhaps it made no more permanent impression, than passing objects do on the mirror or the lake.
Whether indeed the belief of all the most enlightened heathens was so utterly defective on this point, as, with one exception, the learned Warburton maintains it to have been, may perhaps admit of question. It is not necessary for me now to decide, whether none of the schools of ancient philosophy held the doctrine of the immortality of
3 See Div. Legat. of Moses, Book iii.