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Note, secondly, that not a soul can tell when his turn will come, whether in the first year, or the first ten years, or the last ten of the fifty, or whether he shall be numbered among the seventy-eight who survive all the rest. Millions die when they least expect it, sometimes without a moment's warning, and always without any capacity to foresee the time of the event. Death comes upon them like a thief in the night, and steals away their breath.
Observe, thirdly, that while the aggregate number is constantly decreasing, all that are living, are as constantly approaching the period when they will cease to live. They start on a journey that is to last fifty years; and by the time they have traveled twenty years, more than half of them are dead, and in thirty years more, all of them are gone with the exception of the surviving seventy-eight. Where are the companions of these survivors ? They are left bebind, having fallen, each coming up to the point where he was to fall, and where he did fall, touched by an unseen hand.
Consider, fourthly, the impressions as to life made on each, when the closing hour came. The lad of ten years had been think ing of his manhood; lengih of days was the vision that charmed his spirit; perhaps he communed'in thought with the scenes of his college-life, and in hope drew a sketch of his professional career; but alas! alas ! how amazed was he, when he saw death standing between him and all that he had fancied in the future. How brief the period of his sojourn! How short his life! It fled like a dream when one awaketh.
The youth of more years was not less buoyant and hopeful; he too had made his map and drawn his plan; life's bounding current, its elastic step, and playful smile assured him of a long and delightful tour; he believed the flattering tale; yet a voice from heaven wbispered in his ear, and he went to the realms of the dead, utterly overwhelmed and disappointed by the brevity of his days. He bad bardly begun to live when he ceased to breathe. How short life seemed to him! What a transient scene!
Farther along you see one in the full maturity of manhood, busily engaged with the practical duties of time, neither young nor old — the merchant, the farmer, or the scholar, so occupied with his calling as scarcely to notice the years as they roll by him; but at length the victor stands across his path, extending the fatal scepter as he approaches. Disease is now upon him, and death at bis door. His bour has come. The forty or fifty years of his pilgrimage now seem to him like a inere shadow. Say to him, We spend our years as a tale that is told;" and he will understand you.
Yonder I see the frosts of ninety winters gathered on that wrinkled, time-worn brow. Bending under the weight of ninety years, standing on the very verge of the grave with death watching his words, the veteran thus muses with himself: "I have been a boy, a youth, a man, and now I am old. When I was but a child, my manhood seemed far in the distance; and when I became a man, my childhood seemed but a step behind me. And now old age spans the whole space, as if it were one fleeting and mysterious moment. My life, long as it has been in comparison with that of others, seems like a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." And thus all these classes, the lad, the youth, the mature mån, and the aged, come at last to the same conclusion. The weeks, the months, the years, alike of the longest and the shortest life, are fled ere one is aware of it.
I have thus endeavored to impress upon your thoughts the theme of man as mortal and transient. On this subject we need less to be reasoned with than to reflect upon what is undeniably true. Every one consents to the statement: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Every one knows, that after the lapse of a few years at the longest, his earthly career must come to an end. Such a truth ought to engage our reflections, if not always, yet sometimes, and that too with sufficient frequency to impress our hearts. There is sound sense in the inspired prayer: “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.” “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
Who, moreover, can think of this life under the two aspects now presented, without extending his meditations into the future?
Man dieth, and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he ?” “If a man die, shall he live again ?"
Is this all ? These few and fleeting days — this rapid transit amid the scenes of time — this hurried and changing bustle between the day of one's birth and the day of his death — these transient joys and sorrows that flutter within the confines of a moment : is this all that reason has to affirm, or faith to receive, in regard to the destiny of man? The splendid and prophetic mechanism of a spiritual nature the marvelous endowments of the human soul, as remarkable in kind as they are exalted in degree - this faculty of reason, this power of conscience, this gem of hope, this capacity to suffer or enjoy, this wonderful law of progress, these deep-seated moral instincts, as irresistible as they are universal; was all this made to be demolished in an hour ? Who can believe it? The suggestions of immortality most forcibly salute the eye, when most we think of death. They glitter with intensest ray upon the horizon of life as it sinks into darkness, giving us a sense of the after-scene as prophetic as it is real. This short hour can not be the entire sum of our conscious being. The greatest of all absurdities, the most revolting, least accordant with reason and reason's God, is that which discredits the future being of the soul. Thought rising from the lowest depths of our moral natures when touched by the inspiration of death, uniformly repels the idea. That which
is darkest to the eye of mere sense, is most certain to gather those rays which only reason can see, and faith appreciate. Do yourselves the justice to think, so to think of this life that your reflec tions will be most likely to fasten upon the next.
How eloquent, too, the plea of religion to one whose spirit has gained this select, this hallowed mount of vision! Hearing his own death-groan, sitting upon his own grave, reading the epitaph on his marble, looking into the coffin where his ashes lie, and musing upon the past, the present, and the future, does he need to be told, that this life is too short and uncertain to be made the exclusive object of all his pursuits? Shall we warn him, that death is approaching, and that when it comes, nothing except that which is future, will have any value to bim? Can he not see, that the great interests of human existence are of necessity in the future, and that the chief importance of this life arises from its relation to the next? Is it not evident to him, that what he means to do, he must do quickly? Does he not understand, that the Gospel as a provision for eternal life, is, and must be of supreme value? These practical lessons will occur to him without the preacher's aid. They are as obvious as they are solemn, and gracious as they are urgent. There are but few men in death, perhaps none, who would not welcome the Christian hope. As few would there be in life, were all as reflective as they might be. This would rebuke every moment's delay, and hurry every sinner to the Son of God for the salvation of his soul. As men, as Christians, as patriots and lovers of a country whose institutions are in peril, as probationers for another life, as mortal and immortal, we have a work to do quite sufficient to task all our powers. Appreciating the nature, relations, and ends of our existence, let each then at once endeavor to do whatsoever his “hand findeth to do," remembering that "there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave," whither we are all hastening. May God create this holy purpose in every heart!
ALMOST every created thing seems to have within it the principle of growth. The tree grows from a seed. The bird, the fish, the beast of the field, all come to maturity by growth. The human body grows from feeblest infancy into the strength of manbood. The earth, in its present form and order, is a sort of growth; and even the universe itself appears, according to the Bible and the highest deductions of science, to have come forth in a regular process of development, under laws instituted by the Creator.
But mind grows as well as matter. The reasoning faculty, the imagination, the memory, expand and strengthen. So too the moral and spiritual affections of the soul. Hence religion, which consists of love to God and love to man, this
may grow also. In a word, every thing but God seems to have a time for growth.
Piety, therefore, is not perfect in the beginning of the Christian life. Conversion is the planting of the seed, not the maturity of the tree; it is the beginning of the battle, not the victory; it is the starting out on the race, not the touching of the goal.
However fervent and zealous and decided one's piety may be, at the time of conversion, there will still be abundant room for growth. However bright a Christian's first experience may be, he is no more a matured Christian than a child is a man as soon as it is born. Some, indeed, are much more healthful in their first religious life than others, and they may grow faster, and sooner reach maturity; but with all there is room for growth.
So taught our Saviour: "The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard-seed." It "is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and bid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” So taught Paul: “Not as though I had already attained—either were already perfect; but I press toward the mark for the prize." So taught the Psalmist: the righteous “shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that bringeth forth his fruit in his season.” So the wise man: "The path of the just is as the shining light-shining more and more unto the perfect day.” So Peter's exhortation :
“Grow in grace."
I. Grace, in its strict sense, is the free favor of God to the unworthy. This grace of God toward men produces piety in men; grace is the cause, piety the effect. The word grace is applied to both cause and effect. In the text grace stands for the effect; it stands for piety. To grow in grace is to grow in virtue-in Christian excellence. To grow in grace is to grow in love to God and love to man. To grow in grace is to grow in faith, in meekness, in gentleness, in patience, in a spirit of forgiveness, in usefulness.
To grow in grace is to grow not only in one grace but in all graces. It is the harmonious development of an entire Christian character; as in the healthful growth of a tree, there will be not only growth of roots, but of stock, branches, leaves, and fruit. In the first chapter of this epistle Peter gives bis view of Christian growth: “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance, (self-control, moderation;) and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
In this growth of all right principles, there will be going on at the same time in the soul, the weakening and decay of all wrong principles. While love and faith and meekness and justice strengthen in the soul, the opposite principles of selfishness and pride, resentment and falsehood will be cast off. The folds of the creeping worm will be sloughed away by the growth of the brightwinged insect beneath. As the outward man perishes, the inward man will be renewed day by day.
II. We may overlook too much the importance of religious growth. While awake to the necessity of conversion, we may quite overlook the great work of sanctification. We may be in danger of feeling, and of acting upon the feeling, that when one is introduced into the kingdom by conversion and the joining of the Church, the great work is done. Not so our Saviour. How much he labored to train his disciples. He left often the multitude, to be alone with them, that he might impart such special instruction as their spiritual wants required. So too in the labors and writings of the Apostles, bow much was done, apart from labors for the conversion of men, simply and wholly, for the spiritual progress of the discipleship. All the epistles were written for this end.
There is the painful necessity of looking, at times, upon those who have been in the Church of God for a score of years, and who yet give no evidence of any progress in the graces of the Gospel; who have made no advancement, but, on the other hand, appear more worldly, more passionate, more unforgiving, more