« ZurückWeiter »
their own acquisition. We cannot justly be reproached, that in this magnifying and extolling nature, we do too much ueglect and undervalue the influence of God's grace; nature is as much the creation of God as grace is; and it is his bounty that he created uature in that integrity, and hath since restored it to that innocence, or annexed that innocence to it, if it be not maliciously ravished, or let loose, from it. All the particulars mentioned before may properly be called the operation of nature, because they have been often found in those who have had no light of grace, and may be still thought to be the supply of nature in those who seem not to walk by that light ; nor is the pricē of grace at all advanced, or the way to attain it made more clear and easy, by such an affected contempt of nature, which makes us only capable of the other.
Jersey, 1647. " So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom,” was the ejaculation of Moses, when he was in full contemplation of the providence and power of God, and of the frailty and brevity of the life of man: And though, from the consideration of our own time, the days allotted for our life, we cannot make any proportionable prospect toward the providence and power of God, no more than we can make an estimate of the largeness and extent of the heavens by the view of the .smallest cottage or molehill upon the earth; yet there cannot be a better expedient, at the least an easier, a thing we believe we can more easily practise, to bring ourselves to a due reverence of that providence, to a due apprehension of that power, and thereupon to a useful 'disposition of our time in this world, how frail and short soever it is, than by applying ourselves to this advice of Moses, to “ learn to number our days." There is not a man that reads, or hears this read, but thinks the lesson may be learned with little pains; nay, that he hath it so perfect, that he needs not learn it : and yet if the best of us would but fix our minds upon it, sadly “ number our days,” the days which we have or shall have in this world, we could not but, out of that one single notion, make ourselves much the fitter for the next; and if the worst of us would but exercise ourselves in it, but “ number our days, we should even in spite of the worst cozen ourselves into some amendment of life, into some improvement of knowledge, into some reformation of understanding : it would not be in our power, nor in His who is ready to assist us in any evil, to continue so weak, so wilful, so wicked as we are; but we should insensibly find such an alteration, as, how much soever we contemn now, we shall thank ourselves for obtaining.
They who understand the original, tell us, that the Hebrew verb, which our interpreters translate into number, hath a very large signification, (as that language which is contracted into fewest words extends many words to a marvellous latitude of sense), and that as well as to number, it signifies to weigh, and to ponder, and, thirdly, to order, and appoint; so that to number, or any other single word, 1 believe, in any other tongue, is far from
expressing to the full the sense of that Hebrew verb; except we could find a word that might signify to reckon, to examine, and consider the nature and the use of every unit in that reckoning, and then to order and appoint it accordingly. And no doubt it was such a numbering, with that circumstance of deliberation, and the other of direction and determination, which Moses here prescribed ;. and so the duty may seem larger, and at first more full of difficulty, than it did ; and that we are not to rest merely in the arithmetical sense of it. But as the setting out is oftentimes more troublesome than the whole journey, and the first disposal of the mind to sobriety and virtue, is more difficult than any progress after in it; so if we but really and severely execute this injunction in the usual and vulgar acceptation of the word, no more but "number our days,” by the rules of arithmetic, we should make a progress in the other acceptances too; and we should find evident comfort and benefit from the fruit we should gather from each of those branches.
Without diminishing or lessening the value of a long life, with the meditation that a thousand years are but as yesterday in His sight who made the years and the days; or that not only the longest life that ever any man hath lived, but even the life that the world hath lived since the creation, is but a moment in comparison of that eternity which must be either the reward or punishment of the actions of our life, how short soever it is : if we did but so“ number our days” as to consider that we experimentally find the shortness of them; if we did but number the days we have lived, and by
that pregnant evidence of our memory, how soon they are gone, and how insensibly, conclude how very soon so much more time, which possibly would bring us to the utmost of Moses's account of eighty years, will likewise pass away; we could not think the most sure and infallible purchase of twenty or thirty years of life, and the unquestionable fruition of the most heightened pleasures the appetite or fancy can imagine during that term, without any abatement by the interposition of the infirmities and weakness of nature, or the interruption of accidents, so near worth the consenting to any thing that may impair the conscience, or disturb the peace or quiet of the mind, that it were a valuable consideration for the interruption of a night's rest, for the parting with six hours of our sleep; which, though any man could spare, is so much time of our least faultiness : I say, it were not possible seriously to make this estimate in our thoughts, to revolve the uncertainty and brevity of our life, but we should also take an account of ourselves, weigh and ponder the expense of every article of this short precious time, for which we must make so large and exact an account to Him that hath trusted us with it; we should not but (which is no more than the original verb for which we read number signifies) do, what one who we are not willing to believe as good a Christian as ourselves long since advised us,“ pretium tempori ponere, diem æstimare,” consider that every hour is worth at least a good thought, a good wish, a good endeavour; that it is the talent we are trusted with to use, employ, and to improve: if we hide this talent in the dark, that the world cannot see any fruit of it, or such fruit as we ourselves are afraid to see; if we bury it in the earth, spend it in worldly and sensual designs and attempts; we are those ungrateful and unthrifty stewards, who must expiate this breach of trust in endless torments. And if we were. gotten thus far, we could not but, in spite of the most deprayed faculty of our understanding, of the most perverse inclination of our appetite, or act of our will, order and dispose of this time righť ;. which is the full extent of the word. So that in truth, if we do not weigh and consider to what end this life is given to us, and thereupon order and dispose it right, pretend what we will to the arithmetic, we do not, we cannot so much as number our days in the narrowest and most limited signification. It is a sharp meditation and animadversion of one, whose writings are an honour to our nation, that the incessant and sabbathless pursuit of a man's fortune and interest (although therein we could refrain from doing injuries or using evil arts) leaves not the tribute of our time which we owe to God, who demandeth we see a tenth of our substance, and a seventh (which is more strict) of our time; and (says he) it is to small purpose to have an erected face toward Heaven, and a grovelling spirit upon earth. If they who please themselves with believing that they spend their time the least amiss; who have so far the negative practice of conscience, that they abstain from acts of inhumanity and injustice, and avoid doing harm to any body; nay, if they make such a progress into the active part of conscience, as to delight in the civil acts of humanity, and the diffusive acts of charity: I