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PSALM xciv. 19.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts
delight my soul.
The old translation renders it thus:
In the multitude of the forrows that I had in my heart, thy
comforts have refresbed my soul. THESE verfions, as they both very well express the sense of the original, so they give light to each other. The multitude of forrows, 'mentioned in one translation, must be the forrows, in some fort, peculiar to the men of thought and reflection ; fince in the other they are called, the multitude of thoughts. That there are such sorrows, we learn from one who was himself a man of great thought: In much wisdom, says the Preacher, is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth forrow. If we follow the train of thought which he has marked out, and view the life of man under all the various circumstances incident to it, every step we take will yield a proof of his propofition, every difcovery will bring its torment, when we find, that
all the days of man are forrows, and his travel grief; yea,
his heart taketh not rest in the night, But there is no end of such inquiries; and indeed own experience will bring this knowledge horne to
, and us, without giving us the trouble of looking abroad into the world to find it. Cares and anxieties will make their way to us, though our doors are guarded within and without. We need only have common understanding to see the evil that is in the world ; and we must want common sense, if we feel no share of it ourselves.
The diftemper then is plain; but who is he that can cure it? Who can administer a remedy fufficient to the evil, and give ease to an heart oppressed with sorrows, and weighed down with a multitude of tormenting thoughts? To find a cure for the evils of life has employed the thoughts of the wiseft men in all ages; and the employment was worthy of all their care : but yet the world is where it was, nothing happier for their inquiries; still complaining, still calling out for help, and finding none. Some bid us lay hold of the good things of the world, and open our hearts to the pleasures of life. Wholesome advice! but where are the good things to be purchased, the use of which they prescribe ? What merchant can furnish, us with sincere pleafures, and ease of mind which knows no grief? Others bid us, be above pain and sorrow, and call strongly upon our reason to reject these phantoms of the imagination, which can have no effect upon a wife man.
An hard leffon! for, though the master may forget common sense whilst he is
teaching, yet the scholar will find it hard to forget it when it comes to feeling. What must we do then ? Muft we give ourselves up to despair, and as a prey to the calamities of life? No: one remedy there ftill is, unknown to the wisdom of Greece, unfought for by the men of this world, capable of adminiftering pleasure and delight to our minds, amidft all the uncertainties and vexations that surround us. What this is, you may learn from the words of the text, Thy comforts have refreshed my foul.
The plain meaning of this is, that religion, or a just sense of our relation to God, is the only real and solid support againft the many evils of life : this is our sheet-anchor ; with this, no ftate of life is insupportable ; without it, no condition is tolerable.
Give me leave to examine before you the truth of this affertion.
Some evils there are which are natural, which are born with us, and from which no circumstances or condition of life can ever deliver us. Such is the fear of death: it is a fear common to young and old, to master and servant, king and subject : it arises with the first dawnings of reason, and continues with us to its last decay: it lives with us when we are poor, and forsakes us not when we are rich: it embitters the misery of the oppreffed, and corrupts the pleasures of the mighty. We bring with us into the world such an aversion to the going out of it, that, to speak in the language of Scripture, through fear of death we are all our life-time subject to bondage.
Now take religion out of the case, and divest a man of all hopes and confidence in God, and what has he to mitigate or lessen this evil? You will ask perhaps, What has he to fear from death, if God be out of the question, and there be no expectation of a judgment to come ? Is it then so easy a thing to reconcile ourselves to the prospect of being nothing? Is it an adequate cure for the fear of death, to be certain that we shall die without hope, and be .no more for ever? Nature, we are sure, abhors this prospect; and if there be in it any pleasure, it must arise from some very unnatural cause ; and so it always does. It is fin that makes men afraid of judgment, and the fear of judgment makes them willing to compound to be nothing. But this is not curing the fear of death, but it is choosing death out of dread of a much greater evil: it is flying for protection to death to avoid the terrors of judgment, as men leap out of window when the house is on fire; which is not despising the fall, but dreading the flame. It is not a remedy which reason would choose, but which it cannot tell how to avoid. When we prefer a less evil to a greater, the nature of things is not altered by our choice; the evil we choose continues to be an evil, not eligible in itself, but only in respect of a greater evil to be avoided. The man who submits to have a leg cut off to save his life, does not think the losing of a limb to be a desirable thing, though he may be willing to part with a limb to save his life. By the same reason, death does not cease to be a natural evil, nor does the natural fear of it vanish, when men hope to die for ever, rather than come to judgment. It shews,
indeed, that they fear damnation more than death; but it never can shrew, that they have not the same natural aversion to death which others have. This comfort, therefore, this only comfort, which irreligion affords, is indeed no support at all against the natural fear of death : if any thing, it is a support against the fear of guilt, but no support against the fear of death. For, suppose the man who believes nothing of the being of God, to be however a man of moral virtue, and clear of all guilt which may create a fear of future judgment, what comfort have you to give such an one against the natural aversion to death : Death will deliver him from nothing, and therefore he can have no hope in it: it will rob him of himfelf, of every thing; and unless he be so unnatural as to have no regard for himself, or any thing else, the prospect of it must be a constant uneasiness to him. Will you bid him steel his mind against these apprehensions, and resolutely cast all thoughts of death behind him? What is this but exhorting him not to exercise his reason upon a subject which, of all others, most nearly concerns him? And is this a proper instruction to a reasonable creature? It is bidding men not see what is before them; as if blindness were a security against danger, and want of thought a cure for the natural evils of human life: which, if it be indeed the case, plainly shews, that we must cease to be men, and to exercise the faculties of men, before we can lose the sense of these evils. Such, therefore, as reason in this manner, confess themselves unable to cure the evils of life; since they are forced to destroy the man to get rid of the distemper; a practice which must prove