"Thou turnest man to destruction: Again Thou sayest, Come again, ye children of men."

In this psalm, composed evidently in some season of national affliction and despondence, the Psalmist expresses the great truth of the dominion of the Almighty over nature, and the continual dependence of man upon the God that made "him." It is not only as an individual, but as the representative of his people, that he here prostrates himself before the throne of Heaven; and, feeling that He whom he addressed, "was God "from everlasting," he acknowledges, at the same time, that it was His power alone which "turned "nations to destruction ;" and which again could say, "come again, ye children of men."

In this deep and awful sentiment, every one who hath lived to the age of understanding must agree with the Psalmist. Life, we all know, is no

Preached after the severe season of 1800.

scene of security; it is a broken and uncertain scene, in which both individuals and nations are mutually subjected to the apparent rule of time and chance. Amid the opening promises of prosperous times, some unwelcome blast often comes to wither the hopes we had formed; and, even when prosperous times return, we tremble to think, that the adversities we have suffered may again be renewed. It is thus now, therefore, as in the days of the Psalmist, that the Governour of Nature displays his power, by, at one season, seemingly "turning man to destruction ;" and at another, saying, "come again, ye children of "men."

It is probable, my brethren, that the seasons of adversity and of want which we have witnessed, may have brought this reflection to all our minds, and that the highest as well as the lowest of us must have felt his dependence upon him "who ❝inhabiteth eternity." With all this, however, it is possible for us to entertain very erroneous and very ungrateful views upon the subject.-We may forget the beneficence of God amid our considerations of his power; and, while we meet adversity with superstitious terrour, we may meet prosperity with an unbecoming joy. Suffer me, therefore, in the present discourse, to consider the purpose or end of this apparent uncertainty and instability in the government of nature; and to shew you the important effects it has upon the

improvement and happiness of human nature. On so important a subject, I can offer you only a few very imperfect reflections :-Yet, I trust, that to those who pursue them, they will afford a happiness, and awaken a devotion of no common kind.

1. I must observe, then, in the first place, that there is no other system than this of variableness and uncertainty, which could be fitted to the character of such a being as man. In the human mind, as we all know, there are capacities and virtues of very different kinds, and which respect very different situations of human condition.-There are powers of understanding which are adapted to prosperity, and others to adversity; there are the virtues of patience, of resignation, of magnanimity, in scenes of distress,-as well as those of gratitude, of generosity, or of beneficence, in scenes of enjoyment. The perfection, however, of human nature, and, what is far more, the voice of conscience within us, demands, that both of these should be brought into exercise; and the character of man ever remains mutilated and imperfect, while it is the virtues or the capacities of one condition alone which he possesses or displays. To such a being,—to a state of existence intended to call all those various powers and virtues into action, no conceivable character of nature around him could be adapted, but that of variableness and uncertainty. Were it in a scene of perpetual prosperity he was placed, all the

nobler capacities of his nature would be lost in indolence and enjoyment.-Were it in a scene of perpetual hardship, on the contrary, whatever is amiable or generous in his character, would equally be extinguished, and uniform selfishness and ferocity would mark his imperfect mind. It is in these vicissitudes of plenty and want, of prosperity and hardship, that all the latent powers of humanity can alone be brought into exercise,that the understanding can employ all its capacities, and the heart display all its virtues ;-and that thus, according to the expression of the Apostle, “the man, or the creature of God, may be "completely furnished unto all good works."

2. If this very obvious consideration, my brethren, shews us the wisdom with which the constitution of nature is adapted to that of man; there is another, equally obvious, which shews us the benevolence which reigns, even in the administration of the seasons of hardship and suffering. When we reflect how dependent the generations of men are upon the laws of nature; when we consider, too, our ignorance with regard to the causes that influence them, either as to duration or extent, we cannot but be astonished at the limits which they are made to preserve, and at those unknown laws which govern every element of life around us. The winds, for aught that we see, might have been made to blow with a violence, which no labours of man could resist ;-the ocean might have heaved with

waves, which, in the hours of its fury, might have overwhelmed all the dwellings of men ;-the seasons of rain, or of drought, in the same manner, might have been of an intensity or continuance which would have annihilated both seedtime and harvest, and swept, in a short time, the race of man from the face of creation. Powerful, however, as these ministers are, in the hands of the Almighty, they are yet governed in their power. There is some unknown limit which they are not suffered to pass; and, although we dare not say that all these were made only for the sake of man, it is impossible not to see, that, in the structure of the universe, there is yet an accommodation to his weakness, as well as to his powers,that these visitations come to awe men, not to destroy, that they are under the government of Him, "who knoweth whereof we are made; who "remembereth that we are but dust."

The circumstances which I have now mentioned, the suitableness of uncertainty in the government of nature to a being such as man, and, at the same time, the limit which is imposed to its occasional severities, are sufficient to convince us, that we are not under the dominion of Time or Chance; that the irregularities, as well as the regularity of nature, are equally in the design of the same All-wise and Beneficent Creator, and that some great purpose is uniformly pursued amid the wants, as well as amid the prosperity of


« VorigeDoorgaan »