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The bioscope, or dial of life, explained : to which is added, a translation of St. Paulinus's Epistle to Celantia, on the rule of Christian life, and an elementary view of general chronology online

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Online LibraryGranville PennThe bioscope, or dial of life, explained : to which is added, a translation of St. Paulinus's Epistle to Celantia, on the rule of Christian life, and an elementary view of general chronology → online text (page 1 of 14)
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Psalm xe. 10,

H0W OLD ART THOU ? GeB. xhii, 8*


Eph. v. 15, 16.



Go DIAL! measure of our years,
Measure of earthly hopes and fears ;
And, in Thy friendly purpose bold,
Thy plain and artless tale unfold.
In Thee no subtlety we see ;
Clear is the truth that speaks in Thee j
Truth, such as may at once impart
Conviction to the guileless heart.
To each, Thy various office lend :
Let p0s experience serve, to guide
The jpmejtf moments as they glide ;
And point them to that future goal,
Where Heaven may take the passing soul.


Though plain and simple be Thy guise,
Let none Thy simpleness despise ;
But bid them know, if us'd aright,
That simpleness is match'd with might.
For Thine the power, to redeem
Time vanished as the vanish'd dream ;
Thine is the blessed pow'r, to close
In endless bliss a life of woes ;
And Thine the pow'r, when life's deceit
Too far hath urged her fatal cheat,
To snatch from ruin on the brink,



How Old art THOU?", was a question
addressed by a great king to an ancient
patriarch ; and it drew forth that memorable
judgment upon a long life, which is known
to every one who is acquainted with his

Although this question would be esteem-
ed a very uncourtly one, in modern times,
for one person to ask another, it is neverthe-
less one of the most momentous, for every
individual to address frequently and seriously
to himself; because, unless we frequently
ask ourselves this question, so as to live under
a continual sense of the fact which must sup-
ply the answer, it will be hardly possible for
us always to maintain that correspondence


Between our minds and our years, which the
laws of our moral being require, and sup-
pose; and which depends altogether, upon
the degree of attention we habitually pay, to
vur progress in time.

If we fairly consult our experience of
human nature, either in ourselves or others,
we shall presently perceive; that although
the progress of life is rendered, by God's
ordinance, most regular and uniform, yet
the concern which the mind takes in that
progress, is most irregular and contradic-
tory. For, the propensity to inquire " How
old am IT', which we all discover with so
much alacrity in the outset of life, com-
monly slackens as life advances ; and when
it is declining towards its end, we would
willingly abstain from the inquiry alto-
gether: just as if the circumstance which
gave to life its importance, stood somewhere
in Jke middle of its course ; which being
< passed, our interest in the progress of life
passed .also. Whereas it is most certain,
that the circumstance which alone gives real
importance to life, stands always at the end


of its career; so that, until we shall have
reached that circumstance, the question "How
old am IT' ought to engage our concern
more and more every year, and not cease to
engage it, until years and bodily existence
have passed away together.

In the first ascent of life, we are apt to
ask ourselves " How old am /?", with so
much overweening eagerness, that we sel-
dom take time for making a sound reflec-
tion upon the answer. In the descent of
life, we do not care to ask ourselves the
question at all, and consequently, we have
no answer to reflect upon. In the ascent,
we press forward upon time ; and prema-
turely assume the consequence and fruits
of years. In the descent, we hang backward
from the current of the stream ; and would
fain persuade ourselves, that we still retain
the privileges, if not the ornaments, of youth.
In both cases, the gradual and orderly pro-
cess of our nature is violently opposed by
the irregularity of our minds; our thoughts
become dissociated from our years; and
hence arise, so frequently, those two un-
B 2


seemly characters in human life, presumptu-
ous youth, and trifling old age.

But, the difference is great between the
two ; for, presumptuous youth may, by the
indulgence of time and the intervention of
reflection, correct its failing, and terminate
in a venerable old age ; whereas, trifling and
worldly old age has very little prospect of a
change from the counsels of reflection, and
still less from the indulgence of time.

Nothing can be more prejudicial to our
mental interest, or more derogatory to our
moral dignity, than the discordance which
is thus produced between our minds and our
years. It was this that called forth that
severe, yet not ill-founded, sarcasm of the
poet :

All mankind mistake their time of day.
Though grey our heads, our thoughts and aims are


Like damaged clocks, whose hand and bell dissent,
Folly sings six, while Nature points to twelve.

This, surely, is one strong motive for en-
deavouring always to preserve a just pro-


portion, and balance, between the tenor of
our thoughts, and the number of our years.

But another, and a far more weighty, ar-
gument for that practice, arises from a due
consideration of the average quantify of
human life.

The average measure of human life, is set
at SEVENTY YEARS. In evidence of this
important fact, we have the testimony of
Moses, in the ancient church of God ; of
Solon, and Hippocrates, in the ancient
heathen world ; and it is confirmed to us,
by the universal experience and suffrage of
all the succeeding generations of mankind.

Now, it is natural for us to inquire two
things : first, Who fixed that average ? se-
condly, Why that average was fixed ?

To the first question, the answer is ob-
vious and immediate : it was fixed by HIM,
who gave the life.

Again, if w r e ask, Why HE fixed that
average; Why, out of all the possible mea-
sures of time, HE should have determined
the average allowance of human life to


seventy years, the answer is equally obvious:
because HE deemed it sufficient.

But, sufficient is a relative quality ; relative
to some end or purpose to which it suffices.
What, then, was the end or purpose, for
which the Giver of life deemed seventy years
of life/more or less, to be a sufficient measure
for man?

To answer this question, we must ascend
to the contemplation of those purposes of
God in creation, which are rendered cog-
nizable to our capacities. The design of
GOD, in producing this created universe by
His power, His wisdom, and His goodness,
constitutes what we denominate the WILL of
GOD. In this visible part of that great work,
the will of the Creator is accomplished by
two different kinds of agents, formed by Him
for their several and distinct uses : the one,
necessary agents ; the other, moral agents.

Necessary agents perform the will of their
Creator, necessarily, by an exercise of His
own power operating in them; and con-
tinuing uniform and equal, as they were at


first put into action by Him. It is thus
that planets revolve in their orbits; light is
transmitted from the sun; winds impel the
clouds ; rains descend to the earth ; dews
rise into the air; seeds unfold their plants ;
birds, bees, and all animals, fulfil their func-
tions, and display their various admirable
.instincts. In these, and all other cases,
where the agent is not a moral agent, the
action is determined necessarily by the attri-
butes of the Creator himself; and, conse-
quently, the action in all those agencies is
perfect, being the act of the Creator; and
is as perfect at the first, as it is at any sub-
sequent period. The planets moved as ex-
actly, the rains fell as truly, the seeds pro-
duced as completely, the birds, bees, and all
animals, exercised their instincts as excel-
leutly, on the first day of their creation, as in
this late period of the world: no previous trial,
no exercising or apprenticing, was requisite
to make them execute, with certainty and pre-
cision, the purposes for which their Creator
had brought them into being.


But, with respect to moral agents, the
case was far otherwise ; the nature of the
agency for which they were designed, was
essentially different. Moral agents, were
formed to accomplish THE WILL or purpose
of their Creator, not by any exercise of His
pozver acting in them in the way of impulse,
but by their own free, spontaneous, and affec-
tionate co-operation in His designs. The Crea-
tor intended, that His moral agents should
give effect to His wise and gracious pur-
poses, by the concurring action of their own
wills, acting in concert and harmony with
His. For that end, they were gifted by HIM
with a separate moral will, or principle of
free-agency, capable of determining their
own actions ; they were made acquainted
with the rule of His SUPREME WILL, by
which he designed that their wills should be
regulated and determined ; they were fur-
nished with powers of understanding and
reflection, with sentiments of hope and fear,
to influence the determination ; and, in that
exalted and blessed alliance, he had pre-


pared for these agents, the greatest perfec-
tion of happiness to which it was possible
their natures could attain.

But here was a lamentable difference be-
tween the aptitude of the two kinds of
agents, for accomplishing the purposes for
which they were respectively formed. The
necessary agents, acting only by the perfect
attributes of their Creator, necessarily and
always accomplished His purposes, at first
as well as at last, because there was in them
a secure and perfect operation ; that of His
own will. But the moral agents, who were
required to act immediately from themselves,
conforming their wills to the rule prescribed
by His will; but who, at the same time,
were free in power to depart from that rule,
by inclining in other directions ; contained
within themselves a principle of insecurity,
which was not in the former : as every man
must recognise in his own nature. Though
rightly directed at their first formation, and
endowed with a capacity to preserve that
right tendency, they did not possess in them-
selves a determined and uniform inclination
B 5


to the rule of the supreme will ; of which
they were destined to be, not necessary and
mechanical, but moral and self-determining
agents. The consequence was, that their
agency failed. Not casually, or of necessity,
but by an unfaithful and criminal desertion
of the powers by which it might have been
fulfilled. Their rcills therefore became ad-

must govern. That failure introduced disor-
der into the creation ; a result, necessarily
offensive to the Creator, because counter-
active of his purpose : and the offending
agent became, thenceforth, liable to all the
possible effects of His infinite and tremen-
dous power.

But His infinite goodness, foreknowing the
evil, had, from the first, provided a remedy
against it, that He might " display His
mercy upon AH." That practical evidence
of the innate insecurity of these moral agents,
having demonstrated their imperfection, and
humbled their pretensions, so " that no indi-
vidual could boast himself;" God contrived a
dispensation of the most stupendous and


-comprehensive benignity, (that of THEIR
REDEMPTION through His Son, our Lord
JESUS CHRIST,) for reinstating them in their
original condition, and restoring to them all
the privileges which they had forfeited by
the failure of their agency. He gave them
a more distinct, enlarged, and authoritative
rule for determining their wills; (first, in
His LAW, and afterwards more particularly
in His GOSPEL.) He administered to them
an increase of powers, peculiarly adapted to
ihe nature of free-wills, (by means of the co-
operating succours of His HOLY SPIRIT,) for
enabling them to reduce their wills into a
conformity with His sovereign will. He con-
descended to reveal to them the common in-
terest, which they shared with HIM, their
Creator, in fulfilling His ultimate scheme in
the creation. He urged them above all
things, to acquire, and to establish in them-
selves, by means of the new powers which
He had supplied, an habitual disposition of
conforming to His supreme and eternal
laws ; as being indispensably necessary > for
rendering sure and complete the agency which


will be required from them in that ultimate
scheme: (which will consist, in the final appli-
cation and employment of the several moral
agents, after their mils shall have once acquired
a sufficiently fixed and settled bias towards HIS
will.) And He assigned them an average
measure of life, limited to SEVENTY YEARS,
more or less ; as a measure of time, amply
sufficient for acquiring that disposition of con-

If therefore the will, instructed by the rea-
son, guided by the judgment, and admo-
nished by the conscience, acquired no such
habitual disposition, in any sufficient degree,
within the allotted time ; it is well known to
the omniscient Creator, that the moral agent
would never answer the gracious purposes
for which He had finally intended him, and
that his remaining any longer here, was
wholly unnecessary: he having exhausted
and wasted the powers, assigned him for pro-
secuting his moral perfection. If, on the
other hand, the disposition was, in a cer-
tain degree known to the Creator, established
and confirmed, his end was answered ; it


was needless that he should be left any
longer here, since God himself would finish
and complete what remained to be done, in
another stage of existence.

The SEVENTY YEARS of life, are therefore
assigned to man as an allowance of time,
sufficient for establishing in his will an habit,
of conforming itself to the MANIFESTED
WILL OF THE CREATOR; which habit being
once acquired, he will be able hereafter to
execute, a perfect agency, when that great
stage or period of the creation shall be ar-
rived, for which he is here upon trial, and
in training. The perfection for which he is
designed, can only be acquired by degrees;
and by a continuance in the same course of
action, for a definite term of time. Exercise
and practice, are indispensably necessary for
creating habit ; and habit is all that the
Creator looks for from His moral agents, in
this their present period of imperfection and
preparation, By a fundamental law of this
part of His universe, a continuance for a
certain time in any one course or direction,
poduces a facility or fixed tendency; which


fixed tendency is called habit: either to-
wards the rule of action, or in opposition to
it. And, by the same law, habits once con-
tracted may be overruled and subdued, by
contrary habits resolutely superinduced
upon them. If a conforming habit is once
established in a sufficient degree, the agent
is removed ; and is u made perfect*" by some
unknown act of divine confirmation subse-
quent to his removal.

As, therefore, such moral agents as man y
require indispensably a preliminary state of
exercise, before they can become sure agents
for God to introduce and employ in a state
of perfect existence and society ; we plainly
discern these four things. First, that the
first state of such an agent, under a govern-
ment ofzvisdom, must be a state of probation
and training. Secondly, that he must be

O * 7

placed apart from perfected agents, so long
as he is under trial; that his imperfections
may not communicate iheir evils to the per-
fect parts of the creation. Thirdly, that suck

* Heb. xii, 23.


a separated state must, of necessity, abound
with a great intermixture of good and evil;
and with a very general appearance of co?i-
fusion, resulting from the various and con-
flicting conduct of the various moral agents
who are under trial. And, lastly, that such
a state can only be an introductory and inci-
pient state ; conducing to another, which is
the principal and final one for which the
agents were originally designed. Now, if
we add to these considerations the momen-
tousfact, that WE OURSELVES are now living
in such an introductory and incipient state,
conducing to a principal and perfect state ;
that an average measure of SEVENTY YEARS,
more or less, is allotted to us to qualify our*
selves for that state ; and that OUR final par-
ticipation in it, or exclusion from it, depends,
really and absolutely, upon the use WE shall
have made of that preliminary allotment of
time; it will need no great sagacity to dis-
cern the importance, above all other things,
of applying that measure, precarious at the
best, to THE END/or which it zvas allotted.
We cannot, therefore, exercise ourselves


with too much diligence and activity, in con-
templating that average measure of time,
and in considering its parts and nature.
Such a practice, will tend to keep us always
well instructed in their true value: it will
prevent us, on the one hand, from under-
rating the parts with respect to the whole
measure ; and on the other, from over-rating
that whole measure, with respect to the infi-
nite measure of existence which is to suc-
ceed. For, since SEVENTY YEARS, though
amply sufficient for the end designed, sup-
plies nothing for intentional and deliberate
waste, we must economize, and wisely hus-
band, the particles of time which compose
them. We must discreetly watch over those
smaller parts of life; not as being of import-
ance in themselves, but because they con-
stitute the whole of the term, assigned us for
fixing the quality of the life which shall
follow. Again, since those SEVENTY YEARS
conduct us immediately into another stage of
existence, which has no change or termina-
tion ; we must be careful not to attach to
the former, an opinion of importance which


belongs only to the latter. For, " the oldest
" men," says the experience of the late
Archdeacon Paley, " when they look back
" on their past life, see it in a very narrow
" compass. It appears no more than a
" small interval cut out of eternal duration,
" both before and after it : when compared
" with that duration, as nothing*."

We are not however to imagine, that
seventy years is a quantity of time neces-
sarily requisite, for a moral agent to acquire
a secure tendency towards his perfection,
supposing the inclination of his will to be
originally, and always, right and sure ; for
then a shorter period might have sufficed:
but it is a measure, largely and liberally al-
lotted by God to the moral agent Man; with
allowance for much delay and aberration,
provided the tendency of his will be at
length, decidedly and steadily, determined
tozcards the rule of his perfection.

This being the case, it becomes our
highest and most manifest interest, to
know and to observe well, our actual station

* Sermon xxxi. p. 463.


within the average measure of life; to con-
template the true relation, which our actual
station bears to the averaged end; to im-
press our minds with a profound conviction,
of the uncertainty of our ever reaching that
end ; and, to ascertain the degree of habit
which we have already acquired, of con-
forming our wills to the Governing Will :
which is the sole end for which we are placed
in this part of the universe, and indeed, the
only reason why we were created at all.

Awakened to such a contemplation as
this, the mind at once views TIME under
all its relations; by the united action of its
reflection, its memory, and its forethought. By
these it dwells, upon the consideration of
time present, time past, and time future. It
sees them in all their bearings ; it compares
the present with the past, and applies the
rule of the comparison to the future; and it
at length becomes practically sensible, of
the extreme value of those fleeting particles
which we constantly denominate now, and
which pass away continually, like the sands
i the hour-glass, until all are exhausted.


These are, doubtless, great and awful
truths; and the mind, once brought to re-
cognise them; cannot fail to draw all the
inferences, the principal of which have been
here sketched out. But it is a fact not to
be disputed, humiliating as the acknowledg-
ment of it may be; (the author, for one,
has often experienced it in himself;) that
the noblest practical truths, and the most
powerful demonstrations in morals and reli-
gion, however laboriously and triumphantly
established, lie too commonly neglected, ajid
unapplied, upon the page which gave them
light: the inertness of our common nature,
like the indolence of a relaxed or vitiated
stomach, requiring to be roused, from time
to time, by some pungency of novelty; and
refusing to take the benefit of the most
nutritious aliment, unless excited by some-
thing new and artificial in the vehicle or
savour. Thus it is, that parable and alle-
gory have, in all ages, been found capable
of stirring the mind, even -when the pow r ers
of eloquence and demonstration have failed
of all their effects.


It is not that we stand in need of any
instruction, to teach us the value of time,
and the importance of balancing our minds
and our years; of that, we have an ample
store, both in the writings of wise and
ingenuous heathens, and in those of faith-
ful and enlightened Christians. The two
little tracts, by two heathen philosophers ;
that upon Old Age., by Cicero, and that on
the Shortness of Life, by Seneca ; abound with
truths both of statement and argument,
upon that subject, which are sufficient to
make most Christians blush. And number-
less treatises of our own Christian philoso-
phers, hold out to us at every page truths
of authority and power, sufficient to startle
every Christian upon the same momentous
article, viz. the CORRESPONDENCE which
ought to be invariably maintained, between
our THOUGHTS and our YEARS, in our pro-
gress through life.

But, although we are in no want of in-
struction for that end, we are plainly in want
of something to excite and encourage us
to me that instruction ; something, which may


constantly remind us of the perpetual lapse
of time, and of the important change which
that perpetual lapse is perpetually produ-
cing in the circumstances of our present
being; something, which, instead of leaving
us to the mercy of our own reflection, whose
indolence and infidelity are but too well
demonstrated, may seize upon and fix our
attention, by some powerful and sensible

To supply an auxiliary of this nature;
simple in its construction ; convenient in its
form ; intelligible in its design ; easy in its
use; clear in its indications; sure and im-
mediate in its effect; by means of which,
the due correspondence between our minds
and our years may, at any moment, be
ascertained, confirmed, or restored ; and, by
that means, any failure in the exercise of
our agency be presently redressed ; the
scheme of THE BIOSCOPE was first ima-
gined : and it is now offered, after an expe-
riment of some years, to the closets and the
studies of the serious and the wise. It pre-
tends not, to add any thing new to the store


of moral instruction, which has been so
richly poured out upon us by the labours of
those, whom God has raised up, in different
ages, for lights to guide our course ; it only
pretends to contribute a means, and to furnish
an occasion, for applying that instruction;
and, as a GENERAL REGULATOR, to render
it easy for the mind to keep always an eten
and measured pact 'with the years of life, so
that it may always find itself at its natural
post in time, whenever its agency shall be
called for. In order that, " when its Lordx
" cometh, He may find it watching. For/
" blessed are those servants, whom their
** Lord when He cometh shall find so doing :
" and if He shall come in the second watch,
" or come in the third watch, and find them


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Online LibraryGranville PennThe bioscope, or dial of life, explained : to which is added, a translation of St. Paulinus's Epistle to Celantia, on the rule of Christian life, and an elementary view of general chronology → online text (page 1 of 14)