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On the Benefits to be derived from the
House of MOURNING.
ECCLESIASTES, vii. 2, 3, 4.
than to go to the house of feasting ; for that.
M ANY of the maxims contained in SERMON
W this book of Ecclesiastes will appear XIII. strange sayings to the men of the world. But when they reflect on the character of him who delivers them, they cannot but admit that his tenets deserve a serious and
SERMON attentive examination. For, they are not X:II. the doctrines of a pedant, who, from an
obscure retirement, declaims against pleasures which he never knew. They are not the invectives of a disappointed man, who takes revenge upon the world, by satirising those enjoyments which he sought in vain to obtain. They are the conclusions of a great and prosperous prince, who had once given full scope to his desires; who was thoroughly acquainted with life in its most flattering scenes; and who now, reviewing all that he had enjoyed, delivers to us the result of long experience, and tried wisdom. None of his principles seem, at first view, more dubious and exceptionable than those which the text presents. To assert that sorrow is preferable to mirth, and the house of mourning to the house of feasting ; to advise men to choose mortification and sadness when it is in their power to indulge in joy, may appear harsh and unreasonable doctrines, They may, perhaps, be accounted enemies to the innocent enjoyinent of life who give
countenance to so severe a system, and • thereby increase the gloom which already șits sufficiently heavy on the condition of
man. But let this censure be suspended, SERMON
XIII. until we examine with care into the spirit a and meaning of the sentiments here delivered.
It is evident that the wise man does not prefer sorrow, upon its own account, to, mirth; or represent sadness as a state more eligible than joy. He considers it in the light of discipline only. He views it with reference to an end. He compares it with certain improvements which he supposes it to produce; when the heart is made better by the sadness of the countenance, and the living to lay to heart what is the end of all men. Now, if great and lasting benefits are found to result from occasional sadness, these, sure, may be capable of giving it the preference to some fleeting sensations of joy. The means which he recommends in order to our obtaining those benefits, are to be explained according to the principles of sound reason; and to be understood with those limitations which the eastern style, in delivering moral precepts, frequently requires. He bids us go to the house of mourning ; but he does not command us to dwell there. When he prefers sorrow to laughter, he is 2 4
SERMON not to be understood as prohibiting all mirth; XIII.
as requiring us to wear a perpetual cloud on our brow, and to sequestrate ourselves from every cheerful entertainment of social life. Such an interpretation would be inconsistent with many other exhortations in his own writings, which recommend temperate and innocent joy. It would not suit with the proper discharge of the duties which belong to us as members of society; and would be most opposite to the goodness and benignity of our Creator. The true scope of his doctrine in this passage is, that there is a certain temper and state of heart, which is of far greater consequence to real happiness, than the habitual indulgence of giddy and thoughtless mirth; that for the attainment and cultivation of this temper, frequent returns of grave reflection are necessary; that, upon this account, it is profitable to give admission to those views of human distress which tend to awaken such reflection in the mind; and that thus, from the vicissitudes of sorrow, which we either experience in our own lot, or sympathise with in the lot of others, much wisdom and improvement may be derived. These are the
sentiments which I purpose at present to SERMON justify and recommend, as most suitable to xul. the character of men and of Christians; and not in the least inconsistent with pleasure, rightly understood.
Among the variety of dispositions which are to be found in the world, some indeed require less of this discipline than others. There are persons whose tender and delicate sensibility, either derived from nature, or brought on by repeated affictions, renders them too deeply susceptible of every mournful impression; whose spirits stand more in need of being supported and cheered, than of being saddened by the dark views of human life. In such cases we are commanded to lift up the hands which hang down, and to confirm the feeble knees *. But this is far from being the common disposition of men. Their minds are in general inclined to levity, much more than to thoughtful melancholy; and their hearts more apt to be contracted and liardened, than to relent with too much facility. I shall therefore endeavour to shew them, what bad inclinations their compliance with Solomon's ad*. Ifaiah, xxxv. 3. Heb. xii. 12.