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On the proper EsTIMATE of Human Life.
ECCLESIASTES, xii. 8.
vanity. SERMON NYO serious maxim has been more gene
W rally adopted, than that of the text. In every age, the vanity of human life has been the theme of declamation, and the subject of complaint. It is a conclusion in which men of all characters and ranks, the high and the low, the young and the old, the religious and the worldly, have more frequently concurred, than in any other. But how just soever the conclusion may be, the premises which lead to it are often false. For it is prompted by various motives, and derived from very different views of things.
Sometimes the language of the text is as- SERMON sumed by a sceptic, who cavils at Providence, w e and censures the constitution of the world. Sometimes it is the complaint of a peevish man, who is discontented with his station, and ruffled by the disappointment of unreasonable hopes. Sometimes it is the style of the licentious, when groaning under miseries in which their vices have involved them. Invectives against the vanity of the world which come from any of these quarters deserve no regard; as they are the dictates of impiety, cf spleen, or of folly. The only ease in which the sentiment of the text claims our attention is, when uttered, not as an aspersion on Providence, or a reflection on human affairs in general; not as the language of private discontent, or the result of guilty sufferings; but as the sober conclusion of a wise and good man, concerning the imperfection of that happiness which rests solely on worldly pleasures. These, in their fairest form, are not what they seem to be. They never bestow that coinplete satisfaction which they promise ; and therefore he who looks to nothing beyond them, shall have frequent cause to deplore their vanity.
Nothing is of higher importance to us, as men and as Christians, than to form a proper estimate of human life, without either loading it with imaginary evils, or expecting from it greater advantages than it is able to yield. It shall be my business, therefore, in this Discourse, to distinguish a just and religious sense of the vanity of the world, from the unreasonable complaints of it which we often hear, I shall endeavour, I. To show in what sense it is true that all earthly pleasures are vanity. II. Ta inquirę, how this vanity of the world can be reconciled with the perfections of its great Author, III, To examine, whether there are not some real and solid enjoyments in human life, which fall not under this general charge of vanity. And, IV, To point out the proper improvement to be made of such a state as the life of man shall appear on the whole to be
I. I AM to show, in what sense it is true, that all human pleasures are vanity. This is a topic which might be embellished with the pomp of much description. But I shall studiously avoid exaggeration, and only
point out a threefold vanity in human life, SERMON which every impartial observer cannot but admit; disappointment in pursuit, dissatis, faction in enjoyment, uncertainty in possession,
First, Disappointment in pursuit. When we look around us on the world, we every where behold a busy multitude, intent on the prosecution of various designs which their wants or desires have suggested. We behold them employing every method which ingenuity can devise, some the patience of industry, some the boldnesss of enterprise, others the dexterity of stratagem, in order to compass their ends. Of this incessant stir and activity, what is the fruit? In comparison of the crowd who have toiled in vain, how small is the number of the successful? Or rather, where is the man who will declare, that in every point he has completed his plan, and attained his utmost wish? No extent of human abilities has been able to discover a path, which, in any line of life, leads unerringly to success. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, por riches to men of understanding. We may form our plans with the most profound
SERMON sagacity, and with the most vigilant caution
may guard against dangers on every side. But some unforeseen occurrence comes across, which baffles our wisdom, and lays our labours in the dust.
Were such disappointments confined to those who aspire at engrossing the higher. departments of life, the misfortune would be less. The humiliation of the mighty, and the fall of ambition from its towering height, little concern the bulk of mankind. These are objects on which, as on distant meteors, they gaze from afar, without drawing personal instruction from events so much above them. But, alas ! when we descend into the regions of private life, we find disappointment and blasted hope equally prevalent there. Neither the moderation of our views, nor the justice of our pretensions, can ensure success. But time and chance happen to all. Against the stream of events, both the worthy and the undeserving are obliged to struggle ; and both are frequently overborne alike by the current.
Besides disappointment in pursuit, dissatisfaction in enjoyment is a farther vanity