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dregs of life, and to behold a wider compass of human misery.
Man walketh in a vain show. His fears are often as vain as his wishes. As what Aattered him in expectation, frequently wounds him in possession ; so the event to which he looked forward with an anxious and fearful eye, has often, when it arrived, laid its terrors aside ; nay, has brought in its train unexpected blessings. Both good and evil are beheld at a distance, through a perspective which deceives. The colours of objects, when nigh, are entirely different from what they appeared when they were viewed in futurity.
The fact, then, being undoubtedly certain, that it is common for men to be deceived in their prospects of happiness, let us next inquire into the causes of that deception. Let. us attend to those peculiar circumstances in our state, which render us such incompetent judges of future good or evil in this life.
First, We are not sufficiently acquainted with ourselves to foresee our future feelings. We judge by the sensations of the present moment; and, in the fervour of desire, pronounce confidently concerning the desired object. But we reflect not, that our minds, like our bodies, undergo great alteration, from the situations into which they are thrown, and the not, as I am afraid too many do, that because your passions have not hurried you into atrocious deeds, they have therefore wrought no mischief, and have left no sting behind them. By a continued series of loose, though apparently trivial gratifications, the heart is often as thoroughly corrupted, as by the commission of any one of those enormous crimes which spring from great ambition, or great revenge. Habit gives the passions strength, while the absence of glaring guilt seemingly justifies them; and, unawakened by remorse, the sinner proceeds in his course, till he wax bold in guilt, and become ripe for ruin. For, by gradual and latent steps, the destruction of our virtue advances. Did the evil unveil itself at the beginning; did the storm which is to overthrow our peace, discover, as it rose, all its horrors, precautions would more frequently be taken against it. But we are imperceptibly betrayed ; and from one licentious attachment, one criminal passion, 'are, by a train of consequences, drawn on to another, till the government of our minds is irrecoverably lost. The enticing and the odious passions are, in this respect, similar in their process; and though by different roads, conduct at last to the same issue. David, when he first beheld Bathsheba, did not plan the death
of Uriah. Haman was not delivered
all at once to the madness of revenge. His
passions rose with the rising tide of prosperity ; and pride completed what prosperity began. What was originally no more than displeasure at Mordecai's disrespect, increased with every
invitation he received to the banquet of the Queen; till it impelled him to devise the slaughter of a whole nation, and ended in a degree of
which confounded his reason, and hurried him to ruin. In this manner, every criminal passion, in its progress, swells and blackens; and what was at first a small cloud, such as the prophet's servant saw, no bigger than a man's hand rising from the sea, is soon found to carry the tempest in its womb.
i Kings, xviii. 44.
ON OUR IGNORANCE OF GOOD AND EVIL IN THIS LIFE.
ECCLES. vi. 12.
Who knioweth what is good for man in this life,
all the days of his vain life, which he spend eth as a shadow ?
The measure according to which knowledge is dispensed to man, affords conspicuous proofs of divine wisdom. In many instances we clearly perceive, that either more or less would have proved detrimental to his state ; that entire ignorance would have deprived him of proper motives to action; and that complete discovery would have raised him to a sphere too high for his present powers. He is, therefore, permitted to know only in part; and to see through a glass, darkly. He is left in that state of conjecture, and partial information, which, though it may occasionally subject him to distress, yet, on the whole, conduces most to his improvement; which affords him knowledge sufficient for the purposes of virtue, and of active life, without disturbing the operations of his mind, by a light too bright and dazzling. This evidently holds with respect to that degree of obscurity which now covers the great laws of Nature, the decrees of the Supreme Being, the state of the invisible world, the future events of our own life, and the thoughts and designs which pass within the breasts of others. *
But there is an ignorance of another kind, with respect to which the application of this remark may appear more dubious ; the ignorance under which men labour concerning their happiness in the present life, and the means of obtaining it. If there be foundation for Solomon's complaint in the text, who knoweth what is good for man in this life ? this consequence may be thought inevitably to follow, that the days of his life must be vain in every sense ; not only because they are fleeting, but because they are empty too, like the shadow.
* Vide Serm. IV.