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PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL PULPIT.
SERMON BY THE RIGIIT REV. WILLIAM WHITE, D. D.
Ps. xxiii. 44" Though I walk through the valley of the shadoro of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
It is a saying of the wise king of Israel — "The light is sweet,
, and a pleasant thing it is to behold the sun : but if a man live many years and rejoice in them all, yet, let him remember the days of darkness.” The advice is in harmony with what we know of nature and of providence; so that, however contradictory to some may seem the connexion thus made, between all things attractive of desire, and the darkness which will overwhelm them; the recollection of the one is necessary to the highest enjoyment of the other.
Brethren ; We have this day entered on a new year: an occasion which has commonly the effect of determining the mind to new objects, and of elevating it with new hopes. The civilities with which we are accustomed to meet one another at such a time, are evidence that the prospect of another year is a reasonable subject of congratulation. It is not the design to suggest what shall be in contrariety to the innocent satisfactions of the season. Far from it, in the spirit as well of the season as of the passage quoted, there is cherished the wish in favor of all present, that “they may live many years, and rejoice in them all.” But for the accomplishing of this, and, much more with a view to higher interests, there will be use in having an eye to
the other part of the passage, — the remembering of that darkness, by which the brightest prospects may be soon clouded, and in which all human affairs will at last end.
Under the impression of this sentiment, the text shall be considered,
I. As referring to the sure end of human life:
III. As directing the application of the remedy, for the cure or for the moderating of the evil.
I. First, the text is to be considered as referring to the sure end of human life.
This is suggested by the first clause of the sentence “ though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” The words seem to have been intended in the strictest sense, as descriptive of the dissolution of our bodies. In the beginning of the psalm, the author of it had described the divine mercies in his possession, under the picturesque representation of being “fed” by his Almighty Shepherd "in green pastures,” and of being "led by him beside the waters of comfort.” Then he seems to have recollected, that, as in the rural scene presented, the sheep, while they crop the springing grass, may wander from their shepherd, in like manner the dependents on the divine bounty may forget the Providence that sustains them, and wander in the paths of sin. On this account, he goes on in a grateful acknowledgment of the admonitions and the persuasions by which, if submitted to on their part, the heavenly Shepherd reclaims his children from the errors into which, through frailty, they had fallen. Having thus given the liveliest exhibitions of providence and of grace, he remembered that the picture has its shade; and that beside the rivulets and the lawns, there is a dark vale which terminates the whole view.
This is the vale of death : and there is the ground of the metaphor in the description of Jerusalem and of the country around it. In all nations, the phrases of their respective languages are, in some measure, dictated by local circumstances. The city of Jerusalem was on an eminence; and one of the approaches to it was by a valley, which bore the name of Baca,
that is, of weeping. The heavenly Zion, the blessed abode of the deceased righteous, occurred to the mind of the sacred poet, under the metaphor of a hill, lifting its head above the sorrows of this transitory life: and then, the vale of weeping naturally suggested the other metaphor, of “the valley of the shadow of death ;" which earthly pilgrims must pass over, in their way to the new Jerusalem.
Although this seems to be the strict meaning of the expression, as used by the Psalmist, there will be no impropriety, and it will fall in with the present design, if we contemplate the metaphor in a greater latitude, as extending to those ills of life, which partake of the properties of the awful idea stated: to pain and sickness; to poverty; to the weaknesses of old age; and to the dangers into which we may fall, at any period of life. The associating of these with that last end to which they point, is natural to the human mind : so that if the latter may be called “the valley of the shadow of death,” the others are so many entrances into that dark vale. If some return from them for a little while, to "the green pastures and the waters of comfort;" yet of the whole race of mankind, who at last descend into the recess, there are few who have not, in some of the ways referred to, anticipated its gloom.
Not only the sorrows of life, but life itself, may be called the valley of the shadow of death; because of the many dangers which we carry within us, and of those by which we are continually surrounded. How nice, and how liable to injury is the human frame! Solomon calls the essential principle which keeps its powers in action, “a silver cord;" which, it is intimated, may soon “be broken." There are innumerable dangers to which this slender cord is liable, from the least passing of the bounds of temperance; from various other species of indiscretion; and at all events, from old age ; by which, if attained to, it will be at last weakened and destroyed. If, from dangers inherent to our constitution, we pass to those which are without us, we perceive the earth, the waters, and the very air, to abound with engines of our destruction. Beside all this, the injurious passions of mankind are continually at work, to add to