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score years and ten." Ask him how life looks in review?" As a tale that is told; as a dream when one awaketh." Ask him how it passed away?—" As a flood-swifter than a weaver's shuttle." Ask him where now are the companions of his youth? How many will he reckon up, who have gone down to the grave, and have seen corruption! and how few remain to be the associates of his hoary hairs! "Behold, thou hast made my days as an hand's breadth, and my age is as nothing before thee; verily, every man at his best estate is altogether vanity.'
And how often does a leaf fade, sooner than it falls! And is it not so with man! If spared, how soon does he begin to discover infirmities! "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if, by reason of strength, they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow;" labour in the preserving, and sorrow in the possessing. The body decays; the head bows down; the beauty consumes away; the hands cannot perform their enterprise; "the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened."-The powers of the mind partake also of the declension. Sir Isaac Newton, before his death, could not comprehend one of his own axioms! The memory drops its treasures. The vigour of fancy fails. Judgment is dethroned. Man at his best estate is altogether vanity."
Such is the representation of human nature. For this extends to all; whether old or young, poor or rich, despised or honourable, foolish or wise, yea wicked or righteous
Let it moderate your attachments and de
we ALL do fade as a leaf." And who is not ready to say with David, "Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?" But to enable us to judge properly in this case, and to vindicate the Divine perfections and providence-pendence. Make what use you can of a leaf, Let us remember, but do not lean upon it for support; do not hold your estate by it. Regard your present possessions and comforts as vain and vanishing; and detach your affections from things below. "Wilt thou set thy heart on that which is not?" Parents! view your chil dren as uncertain delights. Husbands! remember how easily the desires of your eyes may be removed from you.-To-day we have friends and relations, to-morrow we are alone like a sparrow upon the house-top.
And oh! bring it home to yourselves—you are going as well as your comforts. Reflect upon your frailty-not only at a funeral, or under sickness, or in old age-but habitually -and immediately. To what purpose is it to put the evil day far off in apprehension, when it is so near in reality? "Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Go to now, ye that say, to-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain; whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is
First, That this state of frailty and vanity was not the original state of man; but the consequence of transgression. God made man upright and immortal; but "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death hath passed upon all men, because all have sinned."
And, Secondly, That it is not his only state. There is another life to which the present is introductory, and in connexion with which it should always be considered. The one is the way; the other is the end. The one is the seed time; the other is the harvest. The one is a state of probation; the other of retribution.
Thirdly, The vanity and brevity of the present life, if wisely improved, is advantageous with regard to the future.
It urges us towards it, and helps to prepare us for it. Since it is only a troublesome voyage, who would desire its longer continuance? Since all is vanity and vexation of spirit here, are we not even compelled to seek a better, a heavenly country? Since the world is our grand enemy, is it not well to find it rendered so unlovely and unseducing? Now you have only a few days to live; you have no time to trifle, but must attend to the things which belong to your peace, before they are hid from your eyes.
This frail life too, in the Fourth place, is continually guarded by a wise and tender Providence. All our times are in his hand. He careth for us. "A sparrow falleth not to the ground without our Heavenly Father: and the very hairs of our head are all numbered."
Let us add two additional reflections and conclude. And First, if life be like a fading leaf, let us regard it accordingly
Let it prevent despair. If life be short, thy troubles cannot, O Christian, be long!
Let us also repress fear. It is little the most powerful can do, and before they strike they may fall. "I, even I am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and the son of man that shall be made as grass?"
Let it check envy. "Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased: for when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him. Fret not thyself hecause of evil doers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity, for they shall soon be cut down as the grass, and wither as the green herb."
It furnishes us with no inconsiderable proof of a world to come. Every thing in such a state as this being unanswerable to our faculties, our wants, and our desires; we are con
strained to look out for another.
your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth | gods; and played the harlot with many for a little time and then vanisheth away." lovers." Hence the calamities which befell Let me then ask you, How do matters them. But while these calamities were the stand with regard to another world? Are effects of sin, they were also the means of you born again? Have you a title to heaven bringing them to a proper state of mind. or a meetness for it? The grand question is They are therefore considered eventually as -not "what shall I eat, or what shall I mercies; and are spoken of not in a way of drink, or wherewithal shall I be clothed ?"— threatening, but promise: Therefore, bebut "what must I do to be saved?" You hold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, should be principally concerned-not for to- and make a wall, that she shall not find her morrow-but for eternity. To-morrow may paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, never come; eternity will. May the Lord but she shall not overtake them; and she shall prepare us for it!" So teach us to number seek them, but shall not find them: then our days that we may apply our hearts unto shall she say, I will go and return to my first wisdom." husband; for then was it better with me than now."
Let us remember, Secondly, that all is not fading. “All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof fadeth away; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever: and this is the word which, by the Gospel, is preached unto you."-By means of this everlasting word, you are informed of a SAVIOUR, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever-of durable riches-of bags which wax not old-of a crown of life-of "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that FADETH NOT AWAY."
"Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it."
THE DESIGN OF AFFLICTION.
Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow af ter her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it
better with me than now.-Hosea ii. 6, 7.
But what is all this to us? Much every way. "Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning; that we, through patience and comfort of the Scripture, might have hope." God has a people for his name in all ages. And Christians stand in the same relation to him now as the Jews did of old. And are we better than they? In no wise. And were not God's dealings with them designed to be typical of his dealings with us? They were: and in reading their history, we may peruse our own.
Nothing is more common in the prophecies than to express the relation between God and the Jews of old by the alliance of marriage. He was considered as their husband. Hence they were laid under peculiar obligations to him; and hence their sins had the character of violating the marriage contract.
They were commanded to worship the Lord alone; and Him only were they to serve. But, alas! "they often declined from his ways, and hardened their heart from his fear;" or, to use the language of the metaphor: "They went a whoring after other
Let us then endeavour to explain and improve the words as applicable to ourselves.
They do not indeed require much explanation. For when God says "I will hedge up thy way with thorns," it is obvious that he means I will perplex them, embarrass them; pierce them through with many sorrows. There is another hedge which God raises for his people, and of which we read in the Scripture-it is the hedge of PROTECTION. Thus, speaking of Israel as a vineyard, says God, "I will take away the hedge thereof;" thereby laying it open to the intrusion of beasts and travellers. And thus, when Satar surveyed the condition of Job, he saw that he could not touch him without Divine permission-"Hast not thou made an hedge about
THE language of Scripture is very figura-him, and about his house, and about all that tive. And herein lies much of its excellency he hath, on every side? and utility. For since we derive our knowledge through the medium of the senses, in no other way could spiritual truths so easily and forcibly lay hold of the mind.
But the hedge here spoken of is the hedge of affliction, composed of some of those thorns and briers which sin has so plentifully produced in this wilderness world. And the metaphor is taken from a husbandman, who, to keep his cattle in the pasture, and prevent their going astray, fences them in; and the sharper the hedge the better. Thus God resolves to make our rovings difficult. If we will go astray, we must smart for it. "Now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river? Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast for
saken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts."
But he adds "I will make a wall, that she shall not find her paths." This is another image to convey the same truth, only with this addition-that if lighter afflictions fail of their end, God will employ heavier. They may be foolhardy enough to break through the thorns, and may go on though wounded and bleeding-but they shall not get over the wall-I have stones as well as brambles-I will present insuperable difficulties. Yes, God can deprive us of liberty; he can reduce our means; he can deprive us of health and property; he can take away the desires of our eyes with a stroke; and easily and effectually stop us in all the ardour of our schemes and enterprises.
It shows us what a variety of troubles God has to dispose of; afflictions of all kinds and of all degrees; suited to our natural disposition and our moral perverseness. It shows us also our obstinacy; that God is compelled to deal with us as with brutes, who are not to be governed by reason and ingenuous motives, but require blows and restraints. So foolish are we and ignorant, so much are we like a beast before him, that we must be hedged in with thorns, and confined in with a wall.
At length, wearied to find their paths, and unable to overtake their lovers, they are convinced of their folly, take shame to themselves, and resolve to go back. To this they are excited not only by present distress, but by former pleasure. They remember the happiness they once enjoyed in the service of God-and say, "What have I any more to do with idols? I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now."
Thus it was with the prodigal. He had destroyed his reputation, and wasted his substance among harlots and in riotous living; he had reduced himself to the most abject condition, and lived on the husks which the swine did eat, and no man gave unto him. One day-a thought of home struck him-he instantly formed a comparison between his present and his former circumstances-he recollected the honour that attended him before his wanderings; the plenty that crowned his father's board; how much was always taken away from the table, yea, how much even the servants left;-and sighed and said "How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare-and I perish with hunger!-I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants" "Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow af
ter her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now."
From the passage thus briefly explained, let us glance at four things. The First reminds us of OUR DEPRAVITY. The Second, of THE DIVINE GOODNESS AND CARE. The Third, of THE BENEFIT OF AFFLICTION. And the Fourth, OF THE DIFFERENCE THERE IS BETWEEN OUR ADHERING to God, and our DEPARTING FROM HIM.
I. We are reminded of OUR DEPRAVITY. It appears in our proneness to go astray. There is in us an "evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." We trans fer to the creature those regards which are due only to the Creator. We fear other things more than God; we love other things more than God. We make friends, and fame, and fortune, our dependence; and withdraw our hope and confidence from Him who is the only portion of his people. Thus they become our idols.
And these are our lovers, who profess to give us "our bread and our water, our wool and our flax, our oil and our drink." These are the rivals of the Supreme Being; and, alas! they are too often successful, and draw away our hearts from God. Our backslidings are many. For let us not deceive ourselves. Let us not judge of our declensions only by gross acts, but by the state of our minds. It is indeed a mercy if we have been preserved from those scandalous falls which would disgrace our profession. But where none of these vices have appeared in the life, there have been many deviations from God in our thoughts, and affections, and pursuits. By this therefore we should try ourselves. For in proportion as we "love the world, the love of the Father is not in us." And in the same degree that we "make flesh our arm, our heart will always depart from the Lord."
II. But our depravity is not more observable than THE DIVINE GOODNESS AND CARE. For while we are thus perpetually roving from him-what does he? Does he destroy us? No. Does he abandon us to ourselves, saying, They are joined to idols; let them alone? No-but he employs means, various means to hinder and to reclaim us. "I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths; and she shall follow after her lovers, and shall not overtake them: and she shall seek them, but shall not find them."
And why does he make use of all these various expedients! Is it because he stands in need of us?-no-but because we stand in need of him, and can do nothing without his counsels and his comforts-because he is very pitiful and of tender mercy--because he is concerned for our everlasting welfare
because he would not have us deceived, en-cessive messages of the word "Go," says snared, destroyed-because he would not God to some fiery trial, "go and consume have us take up with this world as our por- such an enjoyment-and he will soon be with tion, but keep our eye upon a better, even a me; soon be upon his knees, saying, 'Do not heavenly country, and confess ourselves to be condemn me; show me wherefore thou constrangers and pilgrims in the earth. tendest with me. Why am I thus? Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
And when the believer comes to himself, and considers these dealings of God with him, he exclaims, "Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou shouldest visit him! What am I, to engross the attention of the Almighty! Am I worthy of all these pains? Can I ever bring forth fruit to reward this expense of cultivation? "What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? And that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him; and that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?"
III. This brings us to remark THE BENEFIT OF AFFLICTION. This benefit might be exemplified several ways.
Afflictions are designed to be trials. They evidence the reality and the degree of our religion both to ourselves and others. When a person is surrounded with worldly possessions and enjoyments, it is not easy for him to determine whether he is leaning on these or on God. But let them be removed, and his reliance will quickly appear. If he is placing his dependence on these, he will sink when they are removed. But if while he uses them, and is thankful for them, he still makes God "the strength of his heart, and his portion for ever," he will not faint in the day of adversity; but be able to say with former sufferers, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed: we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flocks shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation."
But here we particularly see that afflictions are intended to be spiritual preventions-they are " to keep man from his purpose." The people of God are not always aware of this at first, and therefore, when they meet with these obstructions, they sometimes fret, and think they do well to be angry even unto death: they think he is their enemy, while he is proving himself to be their friend; and that he is opposing their progress, when he is only hindering their wanderings. Disappointments in favourite wishes are trying, and we are not always wise enough to recollectthat disappointments in time are often the means of preventing disappointments in eternity. Our murmurings and repinings arise from our ignorances: we see not the precipice and the pit on the other side of the hedge or of the wall.
I wish you therefore, above all things, to remember, that it is a most singular mercy for God to render the pursuit of sin difficult. If we are going astray-is it not better to have the road filled with thorns than strewed with flowers? Is it not better to have it rough and uninviting, than smooth and alluring?! If there are certain things in us, the destruction of which is equally necessary and difficult-is it a blessing to have them fed, or to have them starved? There are some who are now rejoicing because their plans succeed, and every thing favours their wishes, who, if they knew all, would see awful reason to weep and mourn--And there are others, who, if they knew all, would no longer be sorrowful because they cannot advance, but are checked in every path they tread. They would see that they are chastened of the Lord, that they may not be condemned with the world. They would see that the loss of creatures is to lead them to ask more ear
Afflictions are excitements. They quicken
to the exercise of grace, and to the perform-nestly for "God their maker, who giveth ance of duty. When Absalom wished to songs in the night." They would see that see Joab, he sent him a messenger, but he the sickness of the body is designed to be the would not come he sent a second time, but cure of the soul. They would see that earth he still refused. Well, what was he to do is imbittered, that heaven may be endeared. now? Says Absalom to his servants, "See, Joab's field is near mine, and he hath barley there-go and set it on fire;" and he will soon come to know the reason. And so it fell out: "Then Joab arose and came to Absalom, unto his house, and said unto him, Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire?" Why, says Absalom, Not because I wished to do thee an injury, but wanted an interview, and could obtain it in no other way. Thus, when we become indifferent to communion with God, and disregard the suc
Such a discovery of the design and consequences of these exercises would change the whole face of the dispensation, and lead them not only to submit but to give thanks.
But how awful is it when afflictions are useless; and even medicine is administered in vain! And there are those, who, like Ahaz in distress, sín more and more against God. When He arms himself to withstand them in their mad career, they "rush upon the thick bosses of his buckler." If they cannot pierce the hedge or the wall by which
obstinacy and sin "as they can"-to use the words of the prophet, rather than yield. "Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction; they have made their faces harder than a rockthey have refused to return."
But this shall not be the case with the people of God. The grace which employs the means will render them effectual. They shall not only feel-but reflect—and resolve. "Then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband, for then was it better with me than now!"
he opposes them, they will lie down in sullen | lieving, I entered into rest. Under every accusation, he was near that justified me. In every duty, and in every trial, he encouraged me by saying, My grace is sufficient for thee: I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.' Now I only see my sins and my enemiesbut where is the Saviour and the helper?'then was it better with me than now!' Once I experienced the gracious influences of his Holy Spirit. By these I was enlivened, refreshed, and enlightened. I saw clearly the path of duty. I could harmonize providences and promises. I claimed the privilege of a child and an heir of God. But now the Comforter, who should relieve my soul, is far from me. I have grieved the Holy Spirit of God, by which I was sealed unto the day of redemption-Then was it better with me than now!' O what enlargements of soul had I in his ordinances! How often did I find the sanctuary to be no less than the house of God, and the gate of heaven! How sweet was his word to my taste, yea sweeter than honey to my lips! What a feast did I enjoy at his table! His flesh was meet indeed, and his blood was drink indeed!Then was it better with me than now! And oh! with what cheerfulness I carried my cross! I could even glory in tribulation also; for as the sufferings abounded, the consolations did also much more abound. The storm without raged in vain-for all was peace within-but now conscience knaws me like a worm-and the promises which should be my support, are neither within reach nor within sight― Then was it better with me than now!' There was a time that I could see him not only in ordinances, but also in providences; not only in his word, but also in his works. I could enjoy him in my creature comforts. I relished his love in my daily food; I saw his goodness in all my connexions: but now I know not whether any thing I possess is sent in wrath or mercy; 1 can find him in nothing: Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him!?
IV. We observe THE DIFFERENCE THERE IS BETWEEN OUR adhering to GOD, AND OUR FORSAKING HIM. Behold the declining Christian seduced by the world. When he was beginning to deviate-many a Samuel cried, "Turn ye not aside for then shall ye go after vain things, which cannot profit or deliver;--for they are vain." But he disregarded the friendly counsel. Others had been drawn into this unhappy course; and they had all told him the confusion and regret with which it had been attended.-But he would also try for himself—and, says God, Let him try that he may know my service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries." By-and-by he heard a voice saying "O that they had hearkened to my commandments! then had their peace been as a river, and their righteousness as the waves of the sea!-Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? A land of darkness? Wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?"
And now he bethinks himself, and begins to compare the present with the past. "How different the scorching sands, the briers, and serpents of this desert, from the green pastures in which I once fed, and the still waters by which I once refreshed my weary soul! O that it was with me as in months past.' Once I walked with God. I could behold his face with confidence. The glory of the Lord was risen upon me, and I walked all the day long in the light of his countenanceThen was it better with me than now!' Once I had free access to the throne of grace. I approached it with humble and holy boldness; and there are many places that can witness to the tears of joy and sorrow with which I poured out my soul before God. But now the recollection fills me with dismay. I have now little heart to pray. Conscience indeed drags me along to the duty, but I enter the presence of my God with a slavish fear or a chilling indifference Then was it better with me than now! Once I had sweet communion with the Saviour of sinners. When oppressed with a sense of guilt, I saw the all-sufficiency of his sacrifice, and the perfection of his righteousness, and by be
"I cannot fully describe my case. All I know is-and this I feel by an experience too bitter to be expressed-that it is not with me as it—once was!"
Some of these feelings, in a lower degree, are common to an apostate professor, who has left off to be wise and to do good. But the experience of such a man differs exceedingly from the feelings of a backsliding believer; for the judgment of the believer was never drawn over from the Lord's side, though it was not suffered for a time to be heard; and he has enjoyments to look back upon which a stranger never intermeddled with. He can remember not only the dread