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XXIV. THE CLOSING YEAR CONTEMPLATED AND IMPROVED.
BY REV. HENRY T. CHEEVER,
“Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.”—Psalm xxxix. 4.
This must be the prayer of every reflective mind, as we approach the close of this jubilee-year of the nineteenth century. It is a season when almost every one pauses in the whirl of being, to look thoughtfully backward and forward. There are probably few members of a religious congregation, be they young or old, that do not have a time for thinking and resolving at the going out of the old year, and the coming in of a new. None that have been rightly trained will let such an anniversary go by without reviewing the past, and endeavor. ing to make ready for the future, by girding up the loins of their minds, and committing themselves earnestly to the Divine care and guidance.
It is but the mark of a man with the capacity of looking before and after, to improve such stopping-places and eras of time, for self-ex. amination, calm inquiry into one's life and habits, recapitulation of mercies, repentance for sins, resolutions of amendment, well-doing, and renewed devotion to God. Not so to use these new points of embarkation upon the great sea of probationary existence, is in the highest degree unwise; and it is evidence of a frivolous worldling's mind, and of an unreflecting habit, that ill becomes a being of reason, of memory, and improvement, as man is, and an heir of immortality. At its close, if at no other stage of the year, it becomes us all, looking out upon the great future, to
“Walk silent, thoughtful, on the solemn shore
Of that vast ocean we shall sail so soon." There is nothing more trite, or oftener upon the lips of men, than remarks concerning the swiftness of time, the brevity of life, the uncer. tainty and transitory nature of all things human—what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue. But the very commonness of these observations makes the truth contained in them so much the less impressive, for they are often in the mouths of persons that have little sense of them in their hearts. It is easy to say, how short life is, like a vapor that appeareth for a little while, and then vanisheth away; how we spend our years as a tale that is told; how man, at his best estate, is altogether vanity. And it were easy to multiply illustrations from nature of human frailty, and life's transitoriness, by the morning dew, the fading flower, and the tints of eve.
But it is not easy to keep up a practical sense of the shortness and the uncertainty of life my life; the importance and solemnity of my probation; the necessity of my living so as to be ready at any time to die. David felt the need of calling upon God to teach and impress this upon him, for he could not realize it otherwise : "Lord, make me to know mine end; and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.” It is the Lord only that can form in us, by his Spirit, a just appreciation of our latter end. David was a man of action, of business; all his life, except those few quiet pastoral years of his youth, that laid the foundation of his after greatness, he was busy in self-defence, counterworking and baffling his enemies, or struggling for the throne; or else immersed in the cares and burden of the kingdom and crown. In such a state he felt, as every man of business and care must, that God only could make him know his end; that he only could keep his mind impressed with a just view of the nearness of life's close, and what was its proper end. It does not mean, what the face of the passage would seem to bear, Lord, make me to know the time I am to die, the number of years I am to live : but make me wisely to consider my latter end, that it is surely coming, and to realize it as near at hand, and to live habitually with reference to it. So teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom.
That I MAY KNOW HOW FRAIL I AM. It is always a view of the nearness of our end that makes us feel our frailty. It is when we see death looking us in the face, that we learn how frail we are; and it is a sense of this maintained in the soul that enables us to live in a readiness to die. It is thus that we attain the double end urged in the say. ing of the ancient, “ Live as though you were to die to-morrow_live as though you were to live forever.”
The text and the season naturally suggest as the theme of discourse, THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR KEEPING IN MIND THE WINTRY SEASON OF DEATH. This I shall urge by three considerations :
J. That we may be prepared for death.
III. That we may be stimulated to make the most of life for doing good.
I. It is important to keep in mind, that we must soon die, in order that we may be prepared to die. Of all the motives that induce men to seek God, and prepare for eternity, the strongest undoubtedly is, the inevitable certainty that they must soon pass, by death, into another world, in which every man's destiny will be fixed, forever, according to the character he has formed in this. Take away this motive, and the number of persons would be small indeed that would be seriously making ready for the world of spirits. And just in proportion as the terms of man's life here should be lengthened, and his liability to accident and disease be diminished, would be his indisposition and delay in preparing for the world to come. It is easy to imagine how fearfully the tide of depravity, in the world before the flood, must have been swollen, by the long course its waves had to run before breaking upon the reefs of eternity-by the lengthened career of sinning individual sinners had, before being brought up by death. The comparative distance of the end of life, the foreseen probability of a long line of years wherein to enjoy the pleasures of this mortal state, joined with the primitive soundness and vigor of the human consti. tution, brought in such a flood of wickedness upon the old world, that God was compelled to overwhelm it with the flood of water. And when the earth began to be peopled again, the limit of human life was wisely contracted, in order that man might not have so long a period to calculate upon for enjoying the pleasures of sin, and becoming confirmed in habits of alienation from God, and thoughtlessness of eternity.
This was probably one reason in the Divine Mind for limiting our term here to three score and ten. It would not be safe to trust us with a longer lease. The foreseen probability, that we might live here in vigor, one, two, and three centuries, or more, so far from making us live better, and with a wiser reference to the world to come, would undoubtedly be disastrous to our eternal interests, by allowing us to settle down inveterately in habits of worldliness; till, when death at length came, it would find us less ready for the summons than we should have been had that summons been earlier, and our years of probation many less.
Now, the fact being, that our time here is short, that very few of us, if any, are likely to reach even three score and ten, that accident and sickness in a thousand forms stand ready to cut us down in the midst of our days, it is certainly the part, and one would think it would be the habit of reasonable men, to be seriously preparing for death. The practical effect of a deep conviction of our frailty, and that we can not but soon die, must be to induce us to be getting ready. And when we see men not getting ready, making no preparation for the event that is absolutely certain, and beyond all comparison the most momentous in the history of our being, the conclusion is irresistible, that such men forget that they are soon to die, do not believe that Death is ready to strike them. “Man knoweth not his time : as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.” The delusion is almost universal, which the poet of the Night Thoughts has described so accurately:
“ All men think all men mortal but themselves;
Themselves, when some alarming shock of Fate
So dies in human hearts the thought of death.” This common delusion must be prevented by a constant view of death as near at hand, ourselves liable, nay, likely, at any time, to become his prey, if we would realize the vanity of the things of earth, and be preparing every day to quit them. All the means, therefore, we can use to this end, in the improvement of events, times, and seasons, it is wise to avail ourselves of.
II. It is important to keep in mind, that we must individually soon die, and die each alone, in order that we may live right for ourselves and for God. I have put these two together, living right for ourselves and for God, because they are in fact inseparable. We cannot do the one without securing the other, for they are, to every practical intent, the same as identical. • Living most singly for the glory of God, is promoting most certainly the truest and highest interests of the man. He that serves best his Maker, does in reality best serve himself also. And he will be likely to do both most effectually, that lives with an habitual reference to death, keeping it always in mind, that his time here is short, and that he may on the very morrow be summoned away.
In every age of the Church those Christians who have served God most faithfully, and who have given all diligence to make their own