Now this marvellous variety in the physical world, is not simply a monument of the inexhaustible fulness of Divine resources ; but also a prophecy and a symbol of the multitudinous aspects of man's own life. Whether you contemplate that life in its outward allotments or its inner experiences, how dissimilar are the incidents which crowd themselves into the brief span of mortal existence! The distance between affluence and poverty, honour and shame, bounding hope and care-worn misery, is but a single step ; and full often these opposite circumstances confront us turn by turn, like warrior-chiefs leading their hosts to battle. The proverbial fickleness of earthly things has pointed many a needed moral, and adorned in solemn drapery many a sad and sorrowful tale. An unspoken history belongs more or less to each of us; and if that unspoken history were rendered vocal, or written down in a book, its startling vicissitudes, its ups and downs, its failures and its triumphs, would read like a romance or a fairy tale, and add one proof the more to the doctrine that truth is stranger far than fiction. The web of life is not woven all of black, nor yet all of purple ; it is “a coat of many colours," and for that very reason is frequently the badge and pledge of a father's fondest love. The decree is fixed from of old, that in labour and sorrow shall man eat all the days of his life, and that thorns and thistles shall grow up side by side with the herbs and flowers of the field ; and that decree remains unchangeable till the curse of sin be wiped out from human doings and from human hearts. In the meantime, we “sow in tears and reap in joy;" and there come to all of us, alternately, now “the winter of our discontent,” when the night is starless, and the earth a silent desolation; and now the “ glorious summer” of rejoicing, when the sun is shining in his strength, and floral life is bursting into beauty and fragrance, and the songsters of the grove are voiceful with melody and thanksgiving. It is only angel-hearts that know the fulness of a pure and perfect bliss; it is only the spirits of the lost that feel the pangs of an absolute and unutterable woe: man, placed midway between heaven and hell, and influenced by the redeeming grace of one and the corrupting leaven of the other; man, standing on his great trial, under an economy of preparatory training, and with the dread peradventures of the final award still before him,-man knows neither pleasure nor grief, neither hope nor fear, neither rest nor unrest, excepting as these emotions mingle with each other, like the rainbow-hues, spanning with their mighty arc the horizon of his life, from the cradle to the grave.

6. This fate is the common fate of all;

Into each life some rain must fall;

Some days must be dark and dreary.” Looking down upon these chequered scenes of our earthly lot, and recognising and controlling the antagonistic elements of our earthly experience, the Almighty's voice is heard, loud above the Babel-din of human passions and of human tumults, speaking these words of faithful promise to His troubled heritage, “I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I

will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

The subject, then, suggested for meditation by these words, is, “ PHASES OF HUMANLIFE.” Follow me for a brief while in the exposition of these words, and let us see what sort of lesson they teach us respecting the subject announced. We learn from this text,

1.—THE PATHWAY OF HUMAN LIFE Every parent gifted with ordinary prudence, and anxious to discharge his sacred obligations, not only studies his child's natural capabilities, but also marks out for it a career in life to which these capabilities are adapted, and to the best of his power furnishes the means and secures the circumstantial surroundings necessary to make that career a suc. cessful realization. The child may contravene the plan laid down for him, and run a race of his own choosing, in which case he must take the consequences of disobedience; but none the less surely the plan is there, or ought to be there, else parental love is a fancy and not a fact. Now this is precisely what God has done for his human offspring, from the least of us even to the greatest of us : only in the much fuller sense, that He likewise apportions our natural endowments, and distributes our surrounding circumstances, with a sovereignty of power absolutely and exclusively His own. This idea is fundamental to the whole text: for it is distinctly asserted that He has fixed upon " a way” by which to bring us ; and mapped out “paths” through which He purposes we should be led in the pilgrimage of life ;-terms these, inexplicable in their meaning, apart from such construction. Their moral significance is, that, according to the scheme of the Infinite Mind, man should live in holiness and righteousness all his days, should avoid the devious by-roads of transgression, and should aim at the culture and development of a character, which in its finished outcome shall be God-like in its beautiful pattern, and God-ward in its blissful destination. To fix upon an end, however, without due regard to its intermediate links, would be the folly of the man who began to build a tower without having first counted the cost. God's scheme is chargeable with no such oversight: for, whilst setting before us “the mark of the prize of our high calling," it also ordains the means by which the goal is to be reached : in other words, it determines our personal aptitudes; arranges our social conditions ; appoints our religious privileges ; disposes our providential visitations; and governs the entire system of influences, whose combined play is intended to shape us into His image and fit us for His eternal fellowship. Why are some men rich and others poor : some wise and others foolish: some buffeted by misfortunes and others nursed in the lap of luxury? Why are princes brought to the dunghill and beggars raised to the throne; one climbing up the social ladder and another toppled down? Why are some born to the “silver slipper" and others to the "wooden spoon;" some to a legacy of disease, and others to an inheritance of health ; some made to rule and others made to serve ? Human agency is no doubt concerned in all this : but back of all human agency, and supreme above all merr

secondary causes, there works an Invisible Intelligence, that “predestinates all things according the purpose of His own will." That same Hand which prescribes the spheres their circuit, which gives the sea its impassable limits, which sends the winds on their appointed course, and which holds all the forces of the universe in its iron grasp, has also “ fixed the bounds of our habitation," and girded us with strength for the accomplishment of life's great work. That ever watchful providence which paints the lily in its glory, which clothes the field in its verdure, and which feeds the sparrow with its daily crumb, "numbers" also the very "hairs of our head," and cares about the minutest events of our troubled history. And that God who gave the prophets their “burden," and the apostles their task, has also a "mission” for us, and a helpful dowry answerable to the enterprise whereunto we are called. Our sins we may not charge upon the Holy One, nor foist our wasted life upon His eternal purposes, since these moral failures come of inverting the Divine plan, instead of conforming to it; but sure I am no view of life can be sound or happy that does not recognise the sovereign presence of Jehovah in all human affairs. We come into the world, not like so many apples on the ground shaken by some unweening accident from the parent-stem : we are placed here, not as mere wisps of straw to be blown about at random by every sportive wind ; we are here because God has willed it so: our duty and our destiny are both before us, for God has clearly marked them so; and in every advancing footstep of life's journey there rises fresh evidence of the fact, that

“ Theres a divinity which shapes our ends,

Rough hew them how we will." We learn from this text.-

II.-THE MYSTERY OF HUMAN LIFE. It speaks of men as being “blind ;” and as “ not knowing,” therefore, the pathway which they have got to tread : and to one blind in vision and ignorant in judgment, the untrodden labyrinths of life must needs be veiled in awful and mysterious gloom. How truthfully such language photographs one of the most distinctive phases of our present state, be ye the witnesses. To God, of course, there is no mystery, can be none : “Known unto Him are all His works from the beginning of the world ;” dwelling in celestial light, “ all things are naked before Him," and He sends forth the wakefulness of His omniscient glance to the uttermost verge and skirt of the wide universe. But to us the mystery is palpable and widely spread. In our rarest moments of illumination and of spiritual insight, when from some Pisgah-top we catch a glimpse of the far-off land, or our mount of vision, like Tabor's summit, is bathed for a while in a glory not of earth: even then we are but children of the mist, creatures of many guesses, trying with painful toil to spell out the meaning of " the hieroglyphics of the life of man." The wisdom of the wise, the dim blaze of genius and of science, merged even with the brighter flame of inspiration, can avail us little

towards unravelling fully the tangled skein of existence, and solving satisfactorily many of those grave problems that still remain to us a hopeless puzzle. The way of an eagle in the air, of a dolphin in the sea, of a vane on the housetop, of a strange woman in the city, -is not more bewildering than are many things done in heaven and earth, undreamt of in our philosophy, or but vaguely traceable in our conjectural reasoning. Who can comprehend the mystery of the Godhead, or sound with his miserable line the infinite depths of the Divine Essence and purpose ? How did sin first enter into a sinless realm, and why does eternal goodness still suffer it to work its dreadful work? Wherefore do the ungodly prosper in the world, riding upon the high places of the earth, and possessing the golden horn of plenty, while virtue sits in rags, plagued all the day long, and chastened every morning? Why should the bramble reign over the cedars of Lebanon, and insensate tyranny wield in its blood-red hand the scourge of a million hearts and a million hopes ? What will the coming years bring to each of us in their revolving course, wealth or indigence, health or sickness, home or exile, life or death, a continuance of our present comforts, or a complete reversal of our brightest omens ? We ask these questions, and our answer is an echo: for Time locks his secrets in an iron chest and refuses to yield them up at our bidding or our prayers. We know not what a day shall bring forth; we think our mountain shall stand fast and never be moved, when, lo! already it crumbles and perishes beneath our feet; we say, “ To-morrow we will buy and sell and get gain," and the morrow finds us in our grave" at our feet a green grass turf, and at our head a stone.” The monuments of life are written with strange cabalistic characters, as difficult to decipher as the inscriptions of an Egyptian obelisk or Assyrian slab. We may read the stars--count their numbers and call their names--but we may not read the records of our future, excepting as we turn over its closed leaves page by page, and when the last leaf is turned there comes an end of life, and then, perchance, an end of mystery too. How to account for all this uncertainty I presume not to tell: but this I know, it is not here by haphazard ; it forms a part of God's stupendous scheme; and "wheel within wheel" shall in the issue work out harmoniously the design of God and the welfare of man. In any case, explain it as you may, the fact remains undeniable, that, whilst there is light sufficient for our moral guidance and safety, in other respects “ we now see through a glass darkly," and, like Abram, we must often go forth “not knowing whither we go.” The ladder of life has its foot upon the earth, but its top in the empyrian heights; and if our eyes were opened, and our ears unstopped, we should see the angels of God--the chariots of fire and the horses of fire-ascending and descending thereon, and hear the Lord of life saying to us, “ Behold I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest : and will not leave thee until I have done that which I have promised thee.” For though “ clouds and darkness are round about Him : righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne." We learn from this text, —

III.-THE DISCIPLINE OF HUMAN LIFE. You will observe, that "dark" days and “ crooked" things are here represented as falling within the sphere of human experience. Darkness is a common scriptural emblem for the expression of suffering and sorrow; and crookedness manifestly designates those adverse occurrences of life which we can neither evade nor control; which, like the gnarled and twisted oak, obstinately refuse to bend or break to suit our convenience. The painful episodes hinted at by such metaphors come too surely home to our own businesses and bosoms to require proof of their stern reality; come to us in a thousand sombre forms of affliction, bereavement, and adversity. We have all some crook in the lot; some thorn in the flesh; some fly in the pot of ointment; some secret cankerworm, that withers our gourd of pleasure, and leaves us fainting with grief from the keen breath of God's east wind. “ The way to heaven is by Weeping-cross," and through many tribulations; and our onward march must often be performed with torn and bleeding feet. And should we escape the lighter cares which mar the music of life, “ death is a black camel which kneels at every man's door;” and as he bears away his precious burden from our sight, he leaves our hearts and homes like a deserted shrine, sorrowfully moaning “ for the touch of a vanished hand, for the sound of a voice that is still." Now it is not difficult to understand the wherefore of such providences; nor is it of small importance that we should learn the object for which they are sent. Their design is disciplinary ; they are meant to chasten and ennoble us; not for His own gratification does God institute this ministry of trouble, but for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. In case we be Christian men, it is an utterly mistaken view to look upon these events as punitive inflictions, or as signs of God's anger against us because of sin. On the contrary, they are the badge of our sonship, the rough but salutary tokens of parental love; and the absence of them would bespeak us outcasts from restraining rule, a sort of Ishmaels thrust forth to wander in the desert, whither, no one cares. God does not pardon our offences, and then punish them; imprint the kiss of forgiveness, and then follow it by the blow of expiation. All these earthly sufferings are corrective merely, not judicial: chastisements, painful no doubt in themselves, but unspeakably precious in their final issues. The vine must be pruned, and the garden weeded, and the corn-sheaves threshed with the flail and ground in the mill, or they become a useless waste. The restive steed must be held with bit and bridle ; and the sick man must drink many a nauseous draught, or death may supervene. God chooses His people in the furnace of affliction, and He tries them as silver is tried, and purges them as gold is purged. The sandal-tree yields its sweetest odours beneath the woodman's axe; and we need, like Moab, to be shaken and poured from vessel to vessel, lest we should settle down upon the lees of worldliness and carnal-security. Without this discipline of trial we may become waxen figures ; but men, great, noble, saintly men, we never can become. Heroes, like the eagle, are reared amid wintry tempests, amid desolate

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