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should consider the present; and with what dispositions look forward to the future: In order that such a question may always leave some serious impression behind it; and may dispose us so to number the years of our life, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
ON THE DUTIES BELONGING TO MIDDLE AGE.
1 CORINTHIANS, xiii. 11.
When I became a man, I put away childish things.
To every thing, says the wise man, there is a season; and a time to every purpose under heaven. As there are duties which belong to particular situations of fortune, so there are duties also which result from particular periods of human life. In every period of it, indeed, that comprehensive rule takes place, Fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. + Piety to God, and charity to men, are incumbent upon persons of every age, as soon as they can think and act Yet these virtues, in different stages of life, assume different forms; and when they appear in
Eccles. iii. 1.
+ Eccles, xii. 13.
that form which is most suited to our age, they appear with peculiar gracefulness; they give propriety to conduct and add dignity to character. In former discourses, I have treated of the virtues which adorn youth, and of the duties which especially belong to old age. The circle of those duties which respect middle age is indeed much larger. As that is the busy period in the life of man, it includes in effect the whole compass of religion, and therefore cannot have its peculiar character so definitely marked and ascertained. At the same time, during those years wherein one is sensible that he has advanced beyond the confines of youth, but has not yet passed into the region of old age, there are several things which reflection on that portion of human life suggests, or at least ought to suggest, to the mind. Inconsiderate must he be, who, in his gradual progress throughout middle age, pauses not, at times, to think how far he is now receding from youth; how near he draws to the borders of declining age; what part it is now incumbent on him to act; what duties both God and the world have a title to expect from him. To these I am at present to call your attention, as what materially concern the greatest part of those who are now my hearers.
*See Vol. I. Sermons 11 and 12.
I. I begin with observing, that the first duty of those who are become men is, as the text expresses it, to put away childish things. The season of youthful levities, follies, and passions, is now over. These have had their reign; a reign perhaps too long; and to which a termination is certainly proper at last. Much indulgence is due to youth. Many things admit of excuse then, which afterwards become unpardonable. Some things may even be graceful in youth, which, if not criminal, are at least ridiculous, in persons of maturer years. It is a great trial of wisdom, to make our retreat from youth with propriety; to assume the character of manhood, without exposing ourselves to reproach, by an unseasonable remainder of juvenility on the one hand, or by precise and disgusting formality on the other. Nature has placed certain boundaries, by which she discriminates the pleasures, actions, and employments that are suited to the different stages of human life. It becomes us neither to overleap those boundaries by a transition too hasty and violent; nor to hover too long on one side of the limit, when Nature calls us to pass over to the other.
There are particularly two things in
which middle age should preserve its distinction and separation from youth; these are, levities of behaviour, and intemperate indulgence of pleasure. The gay spirits of the young often prompt an inconsiderate degree of levity, sometimes amusing, sometimes offensive; but for which, though betraying them occasionally into serious dangers, their want of experience may plead excuse. A more composed and manly behaviour is expected in riper years. The affectation of youthful vanities degrades the dignity of manhood; even renders its manners less agreeable; and by awkward attempts to please, produces contempt.Cheerfulness is becoming in every age. But the proper cheerfulness of a man is as different from the levity of the boy, as the flight of the eagle is from the fluttering of a sparrow in the air.
As all unseasonable returns of the levity of youth ought to be laid aside,—an admonition which equally belongs to both the sexes, still more are we to guard against those intemperate indulgencies of pleasure, to which the young are unhappily prone. From these we cannot too soon retreat. They open the path to ruin, in every period of our days. As long, As long, however, as these