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THE CONSIDERATION OF OUR LATTER END.
PSALM XC. 12.
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our
hearts unto wisdom. SERM. THIS Pfalm is upon several peculiar accounts very reXLVI. markable; for its antiquity, in which it perhaps doth not
yield to any parcel of Scripture; for the eminency of its author, Moses, the man of God, the greatest of the ancient Prophets, (most in favour, and, as it were, most intimate with God :) it is also remarkable for the form and matter thereof, both affording much useful instruction. In it we have a great prince, the governor of a numerous people, sequestering his mind from the management of public affairs to private meditations; froin beholding the prefent outward appearances, to considering the real nature and secret causes of things; in the midst of all the splendor and pomp, of all the stir and tumult about him, he observes the frailty of human condition, he discerns the providence of God justly ordering all; this he does not only in way of wise consideration, but of serious devotion, moulding his observations into pious acknowledgments and earnest prayers to God: thus while he casts one eye upon earth viewing the occurrences there, lifting up the other to heaven, there seeing God's all-governing hand, thence seeking his gracious favour and mercy. Thus doth here that great and good man teach us all (more particularly men of high estate and much business) to find opportuni- SERM. ties of withdrawing their thoughts from those things,
XLVI. which commonly amuse them, (the cares, the glories, the pleasures of this world,) and fixing them upon matters more improveable to devotion; the transitoriness of their condition, and their subjection to God's just providence ; joining also to these meditations suitable acts of religion, due acknowledgments to God, and humble prayers. This was his practice among the greatest incumbrances that any man could have; and it should also be ours. Of those his devotions, addressed to God, the words are part, which I have chosen for the subject of my meditation and present discourse; concerning the meaning of which I thall first touch somewhat; then propound that observable in them, which I design to infist upon.
The Prophet David hath in the 39th Psalm a prayer very near in words, and of kin, it seems, in sense to this here; Lord, prays he, make me to know my end, and the pr. xxxir, measure of my days, what it is, that I may know how frail 4. I am : concerning the drift of which place, as well as of this here, it were obvious to conceive that both these Prophets do request of God, that he would discover to them the definite term of their life, (which by his decree he had fixed, or however by his universal prescience he did discern; concerning which we have these words in Job, See- Job xiv. s. ing man's days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou has appointed his bounds, that he cannot pass ;) we might, I say, at first hearing, be apt to imagine, that their prayer unto God is, (for the comfort of their mind burdened with afflictions, or for their better direction in the management of their remaining time of life, that God would reveal unto them the determinate length of their life. But this fenfe, which the words seem so naturally to hold forth, is by many of the Fathers rejected, for that the knowledge of our lives' determinate measure is not a fit matter of prayer to God; that being a secret reserved by God to himself, which to inquire into favours of presumptuous curiosity: the universal validity of which reason I will not debate; but thall defer so much
SERM. to their judgment, as to suppose that the numbering of XLVI.
our days (according to their sense) doth here only imply a confused indefinite computation of our days' number, or the length of our life ; such as, upon which it may appear, that necessarily our life cannot be long, (not, according to the account mentioned in this Psalm, the same with that of Solon in Herodotus, above 70 or 80 years, especially as to purposes of health, strength, content;) will probably, by reason of various accidents, to which it is exposed, be much shorter, (7 or 10 years, according to a moderate esteem ;) may possibly, from surprises undiscoverable, be very near to its period; by few inftants removed from death, (a year, a month, a day, it may be somewhat less.) This I shall allow to be the arithmetic that Moses here desires to learn; whence it will follow, that teaching (or making to know, so it is in the Hebrew) doth import here (as it doth otherwhere frequently in Scripture,) God's affording the grace to know practically, or with serious regard to consider this state and measure of our life, (for in speculation no man can be ignorant of human life's brevity and uncertainty; but most men are so negligent and stupid, as not to regard it sufficiently, not to employ this knowledge to any good purposea.) This interpretation I choose, being in itself plausible enough, and countenanced by so good authority; yet the former might well enough (by good consequence, if not so immediately) serve my design; or be a ground able to support the discourse I intend to build upon the words; the subject whereof briefly will be this, that the consideration of our lives' certain and necessary brevity and frailty, is a mean proper and apt to dispose us toward the wise conduct of our remaining life; to which purpose such a confideration seems alike available, as the knowledge of its punctual or definite measure; or more than it, upon the same, or greater reasons.
* Ου γάρ έσι Φρίνας έχοντας ανθρώπε αγνοείν ότι άνθρωπος ζώον έσι θνητόν, και Öto giyevsy sis Tò đTodaviv. Plut. ad Apoll. p. 202.
Quis eft tam ftultus, quanivis fit adolescens, cui fit exploratum fe vel ad vefperum effe vi&uruin? Cic. de Sen.
As for the latter clause, that we may apply our hearts to SERM. wisdom; it is according to the Hebrew, and we shall bring
XLVI. the heart to wisdom; implying, the application of our hearts to wisdom to be consequent upon the skill and practice (bestowed by God) of thus computing our days. As for wisdom, that may denote either fapience, a habit of knowing what is true; or prudence, a disposition of choosing what is good: we may here understand both, especially the latter; for, as Tully faith of philosophy, Omnis fumma philofophiæ ad beate vivendum refertur, the De Fin. ii. sum or whole of philosophy refers to living happily; so P- 95. all divine wisdom doth respect good practice. The word also comprehends all the consequences and adjuncts of such wisdom; (for so commonly such words are wont by Natura de way of metonymy to denote, together with the things vitæ, tanprimarily signified, all that naturally flows from, or that quam peusually are conjoined with them :) in brief, (to cease from la præftitumore explaining that which is in itself conspicuous enough,) ta die. Tule.
i I so understand the text, as if the Prophet had thus ex- 326. pressed himself : Since, O Lord, all things are in thy hand and fovereign disposal; since it appears that man's life is so short and frail, so vexatious and miserable, so exposed to the just effects of thy displeasure; we humbly beseech thee, so to inftruét us by thy wisdom, so to difpose us by thy grace, that we may effectually know, that we may seriously consider the brevity and uncertainty of our lives' durance; whence we may be induced to understand, regard, and choose those things which good reason di&tates best for us; which, according to true wisdom, it most concerns us to know and perform. From which fense of the words we might infer many useful documents, and draw matter of much wholesome discourse; but paffing over all the rest, I shall only infist upon that one point, which I before intimated, viz. that the serious confideration of the shortness and frailty of our life is a proper instrument conducible to the bringing our hearts to wisdom, to the making us to discern, attend unto, embrace, and prosecute such things as are truly best for us ; that it is available to the prudent conduct and management of our
SERM. life; the truth of which proposition is grounded upon the XLVI. divine Prophet's opinion: he apprehended such a know
ledge or consideration to be a profitable means of inducing his heart to wisdom; wherefore he prays God to grant it him in order to that end, supposing that effect would proceed from this cause. And that it is so in way of reafonable influence, I shall endeavour to thew by some fol
lowing reasons. 1 John i. 1. The serious confideration of our lives' frailty and Love not
shortness will confer to our right valuation (or esteem) of the world; things, and consequently to our well placing, and our world pafl- duly moderating our cares, affections, and endeavours eth away; about them. For as we value things, so are we used to fre thereof, affect them, to spend our thought upon them, to be
earnest in pursuance or avoiding of them. There be two forts of things we converse about, good and bad; the former, according to the degree of their appearance so to us, (that is, according to our estimation of them,) we naturally love, delight in, dcfire, and pursue; the other likewise, in proportion to our opinion concerning them, we do more or less loathe and thun. Our actions therefore being all thus directed and grounded, to esteem things aright both in kind and degree, (εκάςω αποδιδοναι την αξίαν, to affign every thing its due price, as Epictetus speaks; quanti quidque fit judicare, to judge what each thing is worth, as Seneca,) is in order the first, in degree a main part of wildom; and as so is frequently by wife men commended. Now among qualities that commend or vilify things unto us, duration and certainty have a chief place; they often alone fuffice to render things valuable or contemptible. Why is gold more precious than glass or crystal? Why prefer we a ruby before a rose, or a gilliflower? It is not because those are more serviceable, more beautiful, more grateful to our senses, than these, it is plainly otherwise;) but because there are brittle and fading, those folid and
Primum eft, ut quanti quidque fit judices; secundum, u: impetum ad ila capias ordinatum temperatumque; tertium, ue inter impetum tuum, actionemque conveniat, ut in omnibus iftis tibi ipfi confestas. Sco, E?.