網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

place, more contentment of the ranks with their several stations, and if what contentment there is do rest upon nobler gratifications than those which we deplored in humble life; then, from all we can see and learn in that quarter, things are not mended much. There is still unrest and dispeace in the bosom of youth, which they seek to allay in the dissipations of elevated life. They compete for the eye of woman; they compete for the pink of fashion; they even strive for the distinction of being vulgar and coarse; they compete for places in the senate-house; they range the world over for sights and shows: thus by the farness and wildness of their flights, through the amplitude of their range, displaying that same restlessness in their present estate, which the humbler youth does by his flutterings around his narrow confines. And when this misdirected energy of soul becomes exhausted, they sink down into a repose often as unintellectual and unspiritual as that we lamented among the labourers of life. For I reckon the vanity-fair of a Sabbath in the Park, or the entertainment of a route, or the triumph of an election, or the morality of a fox-chase or a horse-race, to be grounds of contentment, to an intellectual immortal being, as disgraceful and pitiful as the glory of an ale-house, or the enjoyment of a fair, or the grand entertainment of a human fight.

Now if I settle myself between these two extremes of humanity, and take an observation of the middle orders of men, then this I often find-that the souls of many have died a natural death among the common-places and every day engagements of the world-they rise and eat, and labour and go to sleep, and rise again to the same unintellectual round; and so they see the bustling faces of friends, prate of news, and now and then enjoy some social cheer-they care and know for little besides. This also I find, that others are restless after gain, and vexed from morning to night with endeavours to obtain it and to keep it; and, having succeeded, grow mighty and wax ambitious, seeking titles and honours; which, having got, they become insufferably important; while I find many youths sweating and sweltering in the midst of labour, and for entertainment to their souls, seeking mirth and jollity, and other dangerous levities.

This dissatisfaction of the mind with its surrounding conditions, and these wretched refuges of contentment into which it settles down at length, are, it seems to me, the chief causes of society's troubles; which are not to be effectually removed, unless you can find employment for this excessive

activity, which is wasted in restless schemes, and solace for this bitterness of the soul which these unsuccessful schemes engender. This I shall discover at large out of those divine revelations, whose excellence we endeavour to disclose.

The example of our Saviour, born in meanest estate, and showing the glory of the father through weeds of poverty and in scenes of contempt, must take off from all his disciples the edge and bitterness of envy, and teach them that the capacities of the most highly endowed mind have room and verge enough within the most mechanical callings; while the same example exhibits and enforces the true way to dignify the callings and the characters of men, and enable them to sit down with a high and noble contentment, which every thing may invade, but nothing shall prevail against.

In order to know how little station is necessary to dignity and usefulness, Christians have only to remark the words which the angel of the Lord's birth spake to the shepherds who kept the night-watch over their flocks-" To you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." He to whom prophets had been pointing since the fall of man as the great hope of all the earth; whom, in the sore distresses that threatened all the interests of righteousness and piety, the seers had descried afar off, and called upon the hopeless people to take heart and be glad, for a light was coming to enlighten the Gentiles and glorify the people of Israel-hath at length arrived, and the messenger of the Lord descends to announce it to the earth, and guide these peasantry to the place of his birth. "In Bethlehem, the city of David, ye shall find him; and by this sign ye shall recognize him-ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddlingclothes lying in a manger." It was sufficient to denote him that he was surely the worst accommodated babe that night in Bethlehem-I might say in the civilized world :-" The meanest, that is he.' Why was the Saviour of the world born and reared so meanly? He whose endowments were uncommunicated and incommunicable, his work most honourable and pure; why was he born amongst the common herd of men the vile and vulgar mob, as they are termed and treated? The counsellor who had within him that boundless ocean of wisdom, whereof all that hath inhered in man is but the bountiful overflowings--why was He not in high seats of learning to train the youth, or in seats of awful justice to rule with equity the people? The great and mighty Lord, who had within him that almighty power and strength, whereof the pillars of the universe are but a temporary scaffolding

""

reared by a word of his mouth, and by a word of his mouth to be overturned again-Why was he not placed in the seat of universal empire, to do his sovereign will among the sons of men, and reduce them to happiness and good order? These questions may well be asked upon beholding him swathed up amongst the cribs and provender of cattle; hedged in, his life long, with mean and mechanical conditions, possessed of no power, and honoured by no office, pinched in liberty of speech and action, the few years he was allowed to live. Yet it pleased the Lord that in him should all fulness dwell. Such was the being and such was the condition into which the Being was born, whom all Christians call their Master, and to whom all subjects of the divine. constitution endeavour to conform their sentiments and life.

Now, Christ, having such poor instruments to work his work withal, so little power and rank and wealth, did yet bear with meekness the imprisonment of his faculties, and look without envy upon the towering height of mean and despicable men-finding within his bosom a resting-place of peace, in the world a constant field of active well-doing, in the bosom of God a constant welcome, and in the prospects after his heavy office was well discharged an everlasting feast of hope, may not we mortal, erring men, be glad to fulfil the will of God in whatever condition he may please to place us, and win to ourselves out of the saddest aspects and in the humblest allotments of human life, not only endurance and contentment, but the high engagements of a most useful life? Can poverty or bonds imprison the faculties of the religious soul-can ruin seize the conditions which Christ's most precious blood hath purchased for his people-can adversity benight the reconciled countenance of God? Cannot devotion soar as free from dungeons as from gorgeous temples? and will not the mite of misery be as welcome as the costly offerings of grandeur? Nay, verily, but the very humility and poverty of his people are their commendation to God, their necessities are their passport, their groans are their petitions, and their afflictions are their arguments.

When, therefore, there are found, in abject poverty, spirits of passing excellence struggling with their depression, and unable to extricate their genius or their enterprise from petty embarrassments, from which they think a little more of wealth or a little more of station would have set them free without a struggle, let them turn into that vocation to which Christ invoketh men, and apply their faculties to those uses to which Christ applied his; then shall their

soul be as tranquil, though overflowed with many waters, as was his, and their end as triumphant over this paltry world, and their spirit as liberally enlarged into glorious liberty. And though there be on every side of us grovelling spirits sleeping in the bosom of every advantage, disregarding the fairest occasions of honour and of good, and when they do intermeddle in affairs, spoiling every thing they undertake with the stain of their own meanness; what is there in this to stir our envy? in the eye of reason they are degraded and disgraceful, however prominent in the eye of silly people; in the eye of God they are condemned for profligate squanderers of his good and gracious gifts; and they are ripening their blossoms for such a wintry blast as shall sear and waste and desolate them for ever. Poor men! their case is pitiful, passing pitiful. Be gracious to them, be full of prayer for them; for they pass like the flower of the grass, which flourisheth in the morning and in the evening is cut down, and the place which now knows them shall soon know them no more. Oh! it chaseth away for ever all repinings from the Christian's soul, to behold the discrepancy between the Saviour's divine capacities and the Saviour's humble lot; and it teacheth him resignation to his fortunes, and contentment in the midst of them, not out of a slothful and indolent spirit, but out of the conviction that from the worst fortune a life of the greatest activity and gainfulness may be made to arise. The sun never ariseth so glorious as when he divideth the thick clouds of the morning, and looketh forth from his pavilion of thick waters round about him; nor does man ever bespeak so much his spiritual strength, or show so like to God, as when he rejoiceth with a serene joy over darkness and trouble, and gathers sweet refreshment to his glory from the clouds which overcast him.

It is not sluggish contentment I advocate; I would rather see a man wrestle against his lot than miserably succumb, rise rampant and shake from him the thongs and whips that scourge him, take arms and perish like a man, than whine and weep under inglorious bonds. It is victory and triumph, no pitiable debasement, I contend for; and while I shut out material tools to express your mind and will before the beholding world, I hand you spiritual tools to express it with, before all-beholding God, your own conscious soul, and the innumerable host of heaven. If you have a capacious mind, but no books nor school to train it in, nor theatre of high debate to display it before, then be it between you and God, and those whom he hath placed about you. Be the book of

God your hand-book, and the universe of God your eyebook, and the providence of God your book of problems to be resolved; and be your own soul, your family, your friends, every ear which listens-the theatre before which to demonstrate your knowledge; this is amplitude enough. Is your heart generous and pitiful, but forced by niggard fortune to confine itself within narrow bounds of well-doing? then there is the generosity of feeling and of utterance; there is a kind word and a good counsel, which the wretched need as much, but seldomer receive, than an alms. Feel no envy; that is generous: indulge no malice; that is gracious: study no revenge ; that is bountiful: it was thus that Christ testified that passing generosity of spirit which hath made him the boast of manhood. I suppose he gave less, because he had less to give, than many amongst ourselves; but he gave a volume of wise counsel, and bequeathed a treasure of good feeling which is now esteemed the most precious jewel this world contains within its orb. Do you say your noble ambitions are landlocked and idle by reason of hopelessnessis there no field for ambition in being a wise, good, and glorious creature, after God's own image renewed? is there no hope of conquering sin, misfortune, death, and the grave, of rising to honour, glory, and immortality? till there be midnight darkness in these avenues and outlets of the soul, tell me not of hopelessness, of landlocked and idle ambition. Doth your wit rust like a sword hanging in its sheath? then, though I have no outlet for that species of wit which they call droll and comical, and which finds its feast in farces and caricatures, in obscuring and distorting truth-yet for that true wit which lies in exposing affectation and vice, and unveiling the subterfuges of self-deceived nature, and holding the true mirror up to man that he may know himself, and knowing himself be ashamed-that wit which lies in dressing truth and excellency in proper images, and brings God into view through clouds and darkness, that we may flee to his mercy and forgiveness, and love his image-for such wit there is abundant outlet; for that is the very highest office which a Christian, can perform for himself or his friend. And for that higher vein of genius which seeks its way in poetry and song-there are to be exhibited all the attributes of God and life of christian virtue, and peace and joy in believing, and everlasting freedom from thraldom and impediment.

These, these are the proper excursions for the faculties of man into the provinces of God's holy nature and righteous

« 上一頁繼續 »