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SEEING our times are not in our own hand, seeing futurity is unknown to us, let us, first, check the vain curiosity of penetrating into what is to come. Conjecture about futurity we often must; but upon all conjectures of what this year is to produce, let us lay a proper restraint. Let us wait till God shall bring forward events in their proper course, without wishing to discover what he has concealed; lest, if the discovery were granted, we should see many things which we would wish not to have
The most common propensity of mankind is to store futurity with whatever is agreeable to them; especially in those periods of life when imagination is lively, and hope is ardent. Looking forward to the year now beginning, they are ready to promise themselves much from the foundations of prosperity which they have laid; from the friendships and connections which they have secured; from the plans of conduct which they have formed. Alas! how deceitful do all these dreams of happiness often prove! While many are saying in secret to their hearts, To-morrow shall be as this day and more abundantly, we are obliged in return to say to them, Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. I do not mean that in the unknown prospect which lies before us, we should forebode to ourselves nothing but misfortunes.-May it be the pleasure of Heaven that this year run on in a placid and tranquil tenor to us all!-But this I say, that in such foresight of futurity as we are allowed to take, we may reckon upon it as certain, that this year shall prove to us, as many past have proved, a chequered scene of some comforts and some troubles. In what proportion one or other of these shall prevail in it; whether, when it ends, it shall leave with us the memory of joys or of sorrows, is to be determined by him in whose hands our times are. Our wisdom is to be prepared for whatever the year is to bring; prepared to receive comforts with thankfulness, troubles with fortitude; and to improve both for the great purposes of virtue and eternal life.
ANOTHER important instruction which naturally arises from our times not being in our own hands is, that we ought no longer to trifle with what it is not in our power to prolong: but that we should make haste to live as wise men; not delaying till tomorrow what may be done to-day; doing now with all our might whatever our hand findeth to do; before that night cometh wherein no man can work.
Amidst the uncertainty of the events which are before us, there is one thing we have too much reason to believe, namely, that of us who are now assembled in this congregation, and who have seen the year begin, there are some who shall not survive
to see it close. Whether it shall be you, or you, or I, who shall be gathered to our fathers before the revolving year has finished its round, God alone knows. Our times are in his hand! But to our place, it more than probable that some of us shall have gone. Could we foretel the month, or the day, on which our change was to happen, how dilligent would we be in setting our house in order, and preparing ourselves to appear before our Maker! Surely, that ought to be prepared for with most care, concerning which we are ignorant how soon it is to take place. Let us therefore walk circumspectly, and redeem the time. Let us dismiss those trival and superfluous cares which burden or corrupt our life, in order to attend to what is of highest importance to us as men and Christians. The beginning of each year should carry to us all a solemn admonition of our folly in neglecting to improve suitably the years that are past. It should call up misspent time into our view; and be like the hand coming forth upon the wall, in the days of Belshazzar, and writing in legible characrers over against us" "O man! thy days are num"bered; thou art weighed in the balance, and found wanting; "take care lest thy kingdom be on the point of departing from "thee."
WHEN We consider, in the next place, that our times, as I before illustrated, are in the hand of God as a Sovereign Disposer, it is an obvious inferrence from this truth, that we should prepare ourselves to submit patiently to his pleasure, both as to the events which are to fill up our days, and as to the time of our continuing in this world. To contend with him we know to be fruitless. The word that is gone out of his mouth must stand. In the path which he has marked out for us, whether it be short or long, rugged or smooth, we must walk. Is it not then the dictate of wisdom that we should previously reconcile ourselves to this sovereign ordination, and bring our minds to harmonize with what is appointed to be our destiny? Let us mortify this temper, by recalling that reflection of the wise man; who knoweth what is good for man in this life; all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow ?*
To enjoy long life, and see many days, is the universal wish; and, as the wish is prompted by nature,. it cannot be in itself unlawful. At the same time, several circumstances concur to temper the eagerness of this wish; and to shew us that it should always be formed under due submission to the wiser judgment of Heaven. Who among us can tell whether, in wishing for the continuance of many years on earth, we may not be only wishing for a prolongation of distress and misery ?-You might live, my friends, till you had undergone lingering rounds of severe
Eccles. vi. 12.
pain from which death would have proved a seasonable deliverance. You might live till your breasts were pierced with many a wound from public calamities or private sorrows. You might live till you beheld the death of all whom you had loved; till you survived all those who love you; till you were left as desolate strangers on earth in the midst of a new race, who neither knew you, nor cared for you, but who wished you off the stage.
Of a nature so ambiguous are all the prospects which life sets before us, that in every wish we form relating to them, much reason we have to be satisfied that our times are in the hands of God, rather than our own.
THIS consideration is greatly strengthened, when, in the last place, we think of God acting, not as a sovereign only, but as a guardian, in the disposal of our times. This is our great consolation in looking forward to futurity. To God as a wise Ruler, calm submission is due; but it is more than submission that belongs to him as a merciful Father; it is the spirit of cordial and affectionate consent to his will. Unknown to us as the times to come are, it should be sufficient to our full repose that they are known to God. The day and the hour which are fixed in his counsels for our dismission from life, we ought to be persuaded are fixed for the best; and that any longer we should not wish to remain.
When we see that last hour drawing nigh, though our spirits may be composed on our own account, yet, on account of our friends and families, no little anxiety and sorrow may be sometimes apt to take possession of the mind. Long we have enjoyed the comfort of their society, and been accustomed to consider them as parts of ourselves. To be parted from them forever is, at any rate, a bitter thought; but to the bitterness of this is over and above added the apprehension of their suffering much by our death. We leave many a relation, perhaps may leave young children, and a helpless family, behind us, to be exposed to various dangers, and thrown forth on an unfriendly world. Such virtuous anxieties often oppress the tender and feeling heart at the closing periods of life.-My brethren, look up to that God, in whose hand the times of your fathers were; in whose hand the times of your posterity shall be. Recollect for your comfort, the experience of ages. When were the righteous utterly forsaken by God in times past? Why should they be forsaken by him in times to come? Well did he govern the world before you had a being in it: Well shall he continue to govern it after you are no more. No cause have vou, therefore, to oppress your minds with the load of unknown futurity. Commit your cares to a Father in Heaven. Surrender your life, your friends, and your family, to that God who hath said, The children of his ser
vants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before him. Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive ; and let thy widows trust in me.†
I HAVE thus shewn what the import is, and what the improvement should be, of the doctrine of the text, that our times are in the hand of God. It asserts a fact, the truth of which can be called in question by none; a fact which, whether persons have any sentiments of religion or not, is calculated to make a serious impression on every mind; especially at seasons when the revolution of years gives us warning that our duration on earth is measured, and advances toward its period. To persons who are religiously disposed, who study to improve life to its proper purposes, to do their duty towards God and man, and through the merits of their Redeemer to obtain grace and favor from Heaven, the doctrine of the text is still more important. Among them it tends to awaken impressions which are not only serious, but, as I have shewn, salutary and comforting to the heart.Thankful that our times are in the hand of a sovereign, who is both wise and gracious, let us prepare ourselves to meet the approaching events of life with becoming resignation, and at the same time with manly constancy and firm trust in God. As long as it shall please him to continue our abode in the world, let us remain faithful to our duty; and when it shall please him to give the command for our removal hence, let us utter only this voice: "In thy hand, "O my God, my times are. Thou art calling me away. Here "I am ready to obey thy call, and at thy signal to go forth. I "thank thee that I have been admitted to partake so long of the "comforts of life, and to be a spectator of the wisdom and good"ness displayed in thy works. I thank thee that thou hast borne "so long with my infirmities and provocations; hast allowed me "to look up to thy promises in the Gospel, and to hear the words "of eternal life uttered by my great Redeemer. With gratitude, faith, and hope, I commit my soul to thee, Lord, now lettest thou "thy servant depart in peace; for mine eyes have seen thy sal"vation."Such are the sentiments with which every pious and good man should conclude his life. Such indeed are the sentiments which he ought to carry through every part of life. With these may we begin, and with these conclude, every succeeding year which God shall think fit to add to our earthly existence.
Psalm cii. 23.
† Jeremiah, xlix. 11.
ON THE MIXTURE OF BAD MEN WITH THE GOOD IN HUMAN
Let both grow together until the harvest.-MATTHEW, Xiii. 30.
THE parable of which these words are a part, contains a prophetical description of the state of the church. Our Lord predicts that the societies of Christians were to be infected with persons of loose principles and bad dispositions, whom he likens to tares springing up among wheat. He intimates that there should arise some whose officious zeal would prompt the desire of exterminating immediately all such evil men; but that this were contrary to the designs of Providence, and to the spirit of Christianity; that a complete separation was indeed to be made at last between the good and the bad; but that this separation was to be delayed till the end of the world, when, in the style of the parable, the tares should be entirely gathered out from among the wheat. Let both grow together until the harvest.
When we look around us, nothing is more conspicuous in the state of the world than that broad mixture of the religious and the impious, the virtuous and the wicked, which we find taking place in every society. Strong objections seem hence to arise against either the wisdom or goodness of Divine Providence; especially when we behold bad men not only tolerated in the world, but occasionally exalted in their circumstances, to the depression of the just. Why, it will be said, if a Supreme Being exist, and if his justice rule the universe, does he allow such infamous persons as the records of history often present, to have a place, and even to make a figure in his world? Why sleeps the thunder idle in his hand, when it could so easily blast them? What shall we think of one who, having the power of exterminating them always at his command, permits them to proceed