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JEREMIAH Xv. 9.
She hath given up the ghost: her sun is gone down while it was yet day.
It has been the approved practice of the most enlightened teachers of religion to watch for favourable occasions to impress the mind with Ilie lessons of wisdom and piety; with a view to which they have been wont to advert to recent events of an interesting order, that, by striking in with a train of reflection already commenced, they might the more easily and forcibly insinuate the instruction it was their wish to convey. A sound discretion, it must be acknowledged, is requisite to make the selection. To descend to the details and occurrences of private life would seldom consist with the dignified decorum suited to religious assemblies: the events to which the attention is directed on such occasions should be of a nature somewhat extraordinary, and calculated to produce a deep and permanent impression. Admonition, imparted under such circumstances; is styled in Scripture a word in season, or, as it is emphatically expressed in the original, a word on the wheels, denoting the peculiar facility with which it makes its way to the heart.
In such a situation, the greatest difficulty a speaker has to surmount is already obviated; attention is awake, an interest is excited, and all that remains is to lead the mind, already sufficiently susceptible, to objects of permanent utility. He originates nothing; it is not so much he that speaks as the events which speak for themselves; he only presumes to interpret their language, and to guide the confused emotions of a sorrowful and swollen heart into the channels of piety.
You are aware, 'my brethren, how strongly these observations apply to that most affecting occurrence which has recently spread such consternation through this great empire; an event which combines so many circumstances adapted to excite eommiseration and concern, that not to survey it with attention, not to permit it to settle on the heart, would betray the utmost insensibility.
Devout attention to the dealings of Providence is equally consonant to the dictates of reason and of Scripture. He who believes in the superintendence of an eternal Mind over the affairs of the universe is equally irrational and indevout in neglecting to make the course of events the subject of frequent meditation; since the knowledge of God
is incomparably more important than the most intimate acquaintance with our fellow-creatures, and as the latter is chiefly acquired by an attentive observation of their conduct, so must the former be obtained in the same way. The operations of Providence are marked with a character as expressive of their great Author as the produetions of human agency; and the same Being who speaks like himself in his word, acts like himself in the moral economy of the universe.,
However inferior in precision and extent the knowledge, derived from the last of these sources, compared to the copious and satisfactory information afforded by the Scriptures, it will appear too important to be neglected, when it is considered that it is antecedent, and that supposing it is not sufficient of itself to evince the existence of a Deity, it is impossible for revelation to supply that defect. "The word of God assumes the certainty of his being and attributes as a truth already sufficiently ascertained by the light of nature, while it proceeds to inform us on a multitude of subjects which elude ihe researches of finite reason. To us who have access to both these sources of information they serve to illustrate each other: the obscurities of Providence are elucidated by Scripture;. the declarations of Scripture are verified by Providence. One unfolds, as far as it is suitable to our state, the character and designs of the mysterious agent; the other displays his works; and the admirable harmony which is found to subsist between them strengthens and invigorates our confidence in both.
Hence a disregard to the operations of the Deity in his providential dispensations is frequently “stigmatized in Scripture as an unequivocal symptom of impiety. Wo unto them, says Isaiah, that rise up early in the morning that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night till wine inflame them! and the harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe, and wine are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands. Therefore my people are gone into captivity because they have no knowoledge."
The striking analogy which the course of nature and Providence bears to the peculiar discoveries of revelation has been traced by an eminent prelate with a depth and precision which reflect honour on human nature. It is not my intention to enter on this topic: let me only be permitted to remark that the analogy extends, not only to the discoveries themselves, but to the manner in which they are conveyed. In both a constant appeal is made to facts. A large portion of the Bible is devoted to history, where the grand truths which are taught are intimately incorporated with the narrative, and mingled with the character and transactions of living agents; by which they are rendered far more impressive than if they had remained in an abstract and didactic form.
How languid the impression produced by a bare statement of the doctrine of a particular Providence, for example, compared to that which we derive from the history of Abraham, whom we see conducted
* Isaiah, v. 11--3.
| Bishop Butler
from kingdom to kingdom by a divine hand, and instructed where to pitch his tent, and where to erect his altars. The wonderful evolutions in the story of Joseph also illustrate the conduct of him whose ways are in the deep, and his paths past finding out, in a manner far more powerful than the clearest instruction conveyed in general propositions.
When the Almighty was pleased to introduce, by the advent of the Messiah, a more perfect and permanent economy of religion, he founded it entirely on facts, attested by the most unexceptionable evidence, and the most splendid miracles. The apostles were witnesses, who by the signs and wonders they wrought made that appeal to the senses of men which had been previously made to their own.; and the doctrines which they taught in their writings were little more than natural consequences resulting from the undoubted truth of their testimony. If they wish to inculcate the doctrine of a resurrection and future judgment, they deem it sufficient to appeal to the fact of Christ's resurrection and session at the right hand of God; they present no evidence of a future state except what ultimately terminates in the person of the Saviour as the first-begotten from the dead; and most anxiously warn us against resting our hope of salvation on any other basis than that of a sensible sacrifice, the offering of the body of Christ once for all. Thus, whatever is sublime and consolatory in the Christian religion originates in facts and events which appealed to the senses, and passed in this visible theatre'; though their ultimate result is commensurate with eternity. In order to rescue us from the idolatry of the creature and the dominion of the senses, He who is intimately acquainted with our frame makes use of sensible appearances, and causes his Son to become flesh and to pitch his tent among us, that by faith in his crucified humanity we may ascend, as by a mystic ladder, to the abode of the Eternal.
Providence, it has already been remarked, conveys its most impressive lessons in the same shape; and by clothing the abstractions of religion in the realities of life, renders them in a manner palpable While they remain in the form of general truths, and are the objects of speculation, they affect us but little ;, they preserve us from the shallow sophistry of impiety, and conduct us to just conclusions on subjects of the last moment, but their control over the heart and conduct is scarcely felt. In order to be deeply impressed we require some object to be presented more in unison with the sensitive part of our nature--something more precise and limited--something which the mind may more distinctly realize, and the imagination more firmly grasp. The process of feeling widely differs in this respect from that of reasoning, and is regulated by opposite laws. In reasoning we recede as far as possible from sensible impressions; and the more general and comprehensive our conclusions and the larger our abstractions, provided they are sustained by sufficient evidence, the more knowledge is extended and the intellect improved. Sensibility is excited, the affections are awakened, on the contrary, on those occasions in which we tread back our steps, and, descending from gene
ralities, direct the attention to individual objects and particular events. We all acknowledge, for example, our constant exposure to death; but it is seldom we experience the practical impression of that weighty truth, except when we witness the stroke of mortality aetually inflicted. We universally acknowledge the uncertainty of human prospects, and the instability of earthly distinctions ; but it is when we behold them signally destroyed and confounded that we feel our presumption checked, and our hearts appalled.
For this reason, He who spakę as never man spake was wont' to convey his instructions by sensible images and in familiar apologues, that, by concentrating the attention within the sphere of particular occurrences and individual objects, the impressions of his lessons might become more vivid and more profound.
: It is thus that Providence is addressing us at the present moment: and if we are wise we shall convert the melaneħoly event before us, not to the purposes of political speculation, fruitless conjecture, or anxious foreboding, but what is infinitely better) to a profound consideration of the hand of God; and then, though we may be at a loss to explore the reason of his conduct, we shall be at none how to improve it.
Criminal as it is always not to mark the footsteps of Deity, the guilt of such neglect is greatly aggravated when he comes forth from his place to execute his judgments, and display his wrath ; when he is pleased, as at present, to extinguish in an instant the hopes of a nation, to clothe the throne in sackcloth, and, involve a kingdom in mourning. The greatness, the suddenness of this calamity, accompanied with circumstances of the most, tender and affecting interest, speaks to the heart in accents which nothing but the utmost obduration can resist; so that were it the sole intention of Him who has inflicted it to awaken the careless and alarm the secure, among the higher orders especially, we are at a loss to perceive what could have been done more than has been accomplished. Whatever imagination can combine in an example of the uncertainty of life, the frailty of youth, the evanescence of beauty, and the nothingness of worldly greatness, in its highest state of elevation, is exhibited in this awful event in its full dimensions.
The first particular which strikes the attention in this solemn visitation is the rank of the illustrious personage, who appears to have been placed on the pinnacle of society for the express purpose of rendering her fall the more conspicuous, and of convincing as many as are susceptible of conviction that man at his best estate is altogether vanity. The Deity himself adorned the victim with his own hands, accumulating upon her all the decorations and ornaments best adapted to render her the object of universal admiration. He permitted her to touch whatever this sublunary scene presents that is most attractive and alluring, but to grasp nothing; and after conducting her to an eminence whence she could survey all the glories of empire as her destined possession, closed her eyes in death.
That such an event should affect us in a manner very superior to similar calamities which occur in private life is agreeable to the order of nature and the will of God; nor is the profound sensation it has produced to be considered as the symbol of courtly adulation. The catastrophe itself, it is true, apart from its peculiar circumstances, is not a rare occurrence. Mothers often expire in the ineffectual effort to give birth to their offspring ; both are consigned to the same tomb, and the survivor, after witnessing the wreck of so many hopes and joys, is left to mourn alone, refusing to be comforted because they are not. There is no sorrow which imagination can picture, no sign of anguish which nature agonized and oppressed can exhibit, no accent of wo but what is already familiar to the ear of fallen, afflicted humanity; and the roll which Ezekiel beheld flying through the heavens, inscribed within and without with sorrow, lamentation, and wo, enters sooner or later into every house, and discharges its contents in every bosom. But in the private departments of life the distressing incidents which occur are confined to a narrow circle. The hope of an, individual is crushed, the happiness of a family is destroyed; but the social system is unimpaired, and its movements experience. no impediment and sustain no sensible injury. The arrow passes through the air, which soon closes upon it, and all is tranquil. But when the great lights and ornaments of the world, placed aloft to conduct its inferior movements, are extinguished, such an event resembles the Apocalyptic vial poured into that element which changes its whole temperature, and is the presage of fearful commotions, of thunders, lightnings, and tempests.
Independently of the political consequences that may result from an event which, by changing the order of succession, involves the prospects of the nation in obscurity, we are formed to be peculiarly affected by the spectacle of prostrate majesty and fallen greatness. We are naturally prone to associate with the contemplation of exalted rank the idea of superior felicity. We perceive in persons of that station a command over the sources of enjoyment, a power of gratifying their inclinations in a multitude of forms from which others are precluded : and as they appear to possess the means of supplying every want, of obviating every inconvenience, and of alleviating to a considerable extent every sorrow incident to humanity, it is not to be wondered at that we regard them as the darlings of nature and the favourites of fortune. The share they possess of the bounties and indulgenees of Providence is so much beyond the ordinary measure of allotment, and so , large a portion of human 'art and industry is exerted in smoothing their passage and strewing flowers in their path, that we almost necessarily associate ideas of superior enjoyment with a deseription of persons for whose gratification the inferior classes seem born to toil.
We are so constituted also, that the sight of felicity, when it is not mixed with envy, is always connected with pleasing emotions, whether it is considered as possessed by ourselves or by others; not excepting even the animal creation. For who can behold their harmless pleasures, the wild gambols of their young, rioting in the superabundance