James Flint.

A present from a pastor to his young parishioners: in ten discourses; urging ... online

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country, in which we are only strangers
and sojourners for a season, God sees it
necessary oftentimes to disappoint and
afflict us, — to take away the desire of our
heart, and the delight of our eyes with a
stroke, in order to set us right, to loosen
our attachment to what is frail and per-
ishable, and. to fix our affections upon
the things unseen and eternal, the things
above, where Christ, as our forerunner,
23



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266 A PRESENT

hath set down at the right hand of God.
For this exalted and gracious end eyery
affliction, which we do not by our own
sins and follies bring upon ourselves, is
sent by God. And even those distresses
which we bring upon ourselves by our
sins and follies, take place by the benev-
olent appointment of God, i. e. are con-
sequences which he has ordained should
ensue, in order to wean us from folly and
sin. Are we visited with sickness ? It
is to teach us not to set too high a value
upon pleasures, which depend upon our
animal nature, and which we can enjoy
only in these frail and perishable bodies.
Do we eagerly covet some desired ob-
ject, which we imagine would content us
if obtained, — and is it denied us ? Or, if
obtained, does it disappoint us ;— or is it
taken from us ? All this is but the disci-
pline of our wise and gracious Father in
heaven, to teach us that our chief good,
the true end of our being, is not to be



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FROM A PASTOR. 267

found in outward possessions, in the
world, or the world's pleasures. Are we
bereaved of the objects most dear to us,
the children of our love, in whom our
heart was bound up, — or the friend that
was as our own soul ? Perhaps no other
event could so effectually set home upon
our mind and heart the divine admonition.
Trust not in man that must die^ nor in the
son of man^ whose breath is in his nostrils;
who is as grass^ and all his glory as the-
flower of grass. The grass withereth^ and
the flower thereof falleth away. And wilt
thou set thy heart, says the prophet, upon
thai which is not 7 Make the everlasting
God thy trust, and hope continually in
him, in whose favor is life, and whose
loving kindness is better than life.

Are you a mourner, my hearer ; and do
you say with the prophet, " Is there sor-*
TOW like unto my sorrow ? I have seen the
ruin of my dearest earthly hopes. The
child of my affections, on which my fond-



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268 • A PRE&£NT

est expectations resjed, is taken away,
the prop, oh which I had hoped to have
leah'ed in niy age, is removed forever/'
But there is a voice which says to you,
as to the widow of Nain, and to Jairus,
who were bereaved of their children,
Weep not, for thy child is fiot dead, but
sleepeth. And it sleeps only to you, — to
us in the body ; for it is awake and lives
to God, as all the departed are alive to
him, — are, i. e. living conscious spirits in
a spiritual world. For he is not, says our
Loi*d, a' God. of the dead, but of the living;
for all live unto' him.

And who,if he knew his true interest,
would repine, that at the heaviest ex-
|>ense, and with a stroke ever so severe,
God should strike away those props,
which tempt us to lean exclusively upon
the frail foundations of this world? Who
would wish to be encouraged to build his
house tipon a . basis of sand ? Be in-
structed therefore, by the instability and



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FROM A PASTOR. 269

uncertain duration of all earthly possess-
ions, to seek a surer basis on which to
rear the structure of your hopes. Build
it on the Rock of ages, — on the truth,
the love, the promise of the everlasting
God ; and though the winds and the
rain, and the floods of earthly calamity
and sorrow assail it, yet shall it stand,
even when to you the earth is no more,
and you shall dwell securely in it during
the interminably ages of eternity. ^

God is the unfailing friend of all those
who offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
and put their trust in him. And who are
strong, — who are safe, — who are tran-
quil in all vicissitudes, — but they who
have thus chosen and secured for their
patron and protector the Almighty, and
ever present God ? Acquaint thyself,
therefore, with God ; and in the day of
trouble be at peace. Trust in him, and
he shall cause thee to know that it is
with a father's love, a father's solicitude
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270 A PRESENT FROM A PASTOR.

for the moral, spiritual, immortal welfare
of his children, that he afflicts, — that it is
in mercy he destroys the hope of man.






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271
DISCOURS]^ IX.

THE VOICE OF NATURE IN AUTUMN.*

Psalm 49 : 14. — And their beauty shall
consume in the grave.

It is in unison with the voice of the
season and the event of ^he last week,
deplored by us all, to call to our remem-
brance the most serious and affecting of all
subjects, thefrailty of man, his transient
continuance here and the certainty of his
destination to the grave. It is especially in
harmony with the fading aspect of nature
and the mournful images of decay, which
meet our eyes on every side when we
look abroad upon the autumnal land-
' scape, and which seem to call upon man
to reflect, soberly to meditate upon the
event, which is the end of all flesh ; — to



« * Preached the Sabbath after the sudden death of a young
woman of great beauty and accomplishments.



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272 A PRESENT

behold in the dying year an emblem of
that change, which is to divest each one
of us of the body, to convert " this sen-
sible warm motion into a kneaded clod/'
and to dismiss the undying spirit to God
who gave it.

Were we not all deeply and equally
interested in this subject, a frequent re-
currence to it, merely to produce eflfect,
and, as the aim sometimes seems to be,
only to show the power of the preacher
to impress his hearers with awe and so-
lemnity by holding up to their contem-
plation this dark, mysterious and inscru-
table change, were, to say the least, a
useless, if not a cruel trifling with their
feelings ; and to do this often, even with
the intrinsic interest, with which the sub-
ject of human frailty and mortality must
soon or late, come home to every mind
that thinks and every heart that feels,
could not fail, by rendering it trite and
familiar, to weaken its impression and
impair its effect, when presented.



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FROM A PASTOR. 273

.. As death is an event certain and in-
evitable, and may be near to some that
are young, as well as to the aged, who
knovtr that they have not long to live ; as
it is a theme fitted to awaken a religious
awe in the most presumptuous and dar-
ing, to inspire the most gay and fi-ivolous
with seriousness, and the most thought-
less with consideration ; as it is impossi-
ble not to wish and intend to live well,
while under the solemn impression that
we must die and go to give accoimt of
ourselves to God ; and as the deep .
and abiding remembrance of this can
hardly fail to exert a powerful and salu-
tary influence upon the views, the pur-
poses and conduct, in life, wisdom has
been defined by certain philosophers to
be " meditation upon death/'*

There is a well known order of monks,
celebrated for the extreme rigor of
their vows, who, dressed in sackcloth,



* See Degerando on Self-Education, p. 422. American
translation.



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274 A PRESENT

dig their own graves which are never a
day out of their sight ; who perform all
their labors in silence, in short, all the
offices of life ; or, if they speak, when
they meet, all they say to each other is,
** Brother, we must die/* This is cer-
tainly a departure from the path, which
Providence has marked out for man.
For although life is designed to be a con-
stant progressive preparation for death
and a retributive eternity, still it is to be
life, while it lasts, and not an anticipated
and continual death. To have death al-«
ways before us, always in our thoughts,
would destroy or impair some of the
most useful and necessary feelings and
affections of our nature, — and unfit us
for the ordinary and indispensable occu-
pations of life, which are among the es-
sential duties and virtues of our present
state. It would render us indifferent to
the claims, which society has upon us,
and would dissolve the charm of those
tender ties and dear affinities of na-



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PROM A PASTOR. 275

tore, " which make it life to live/'
Therefore it is, that God has concealed
from all the precise moment or day of
their death, while he has surrounded us
with innumerable memorials and warn-
ings of the coming of this certain event
at last. While, then, in [truer accord-
ance, as we think, with the design of
Providence, we adopt the motto of a
more rational philosophy, ** The wise
man, looking forward to death, makes the
best use of life,'' let us, with this view,
adjusting the tone of our feelings to the
farewell song of the birds, to the falling
of the yellow leaf, to the solemn prelude
to the requiem of the departed year, —
let us devote a few moments, this even-
ing, to reflections upon our last end, —
upon the certainty that we must all go
the way whence there is no return ; that
we must put off these houses of clay,
and appear naked, disembodied spirits,
stripped of all outward distinctions, of



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276 A PRESENT

every disguise, in our true character be-
fore God.

Almost the first lesson, which nature
teaches us, is, that man, whose breath
is in his nostrils, is born to die. If
we look upon the open volume, spread
out before us in the visible creation, we
see the sentence of decay and dissolu-
tion inscribed upon all its productions.
One while we see the earth clothed with
the young and smiling verdure, — with
innumerable tribes of flowers and blos-
soms breathing odors, — with life and
beauty in ten thousand forms. After a
few months the whole perishes, and the
face of nature is overspread with the fad-
ing and sallow hues of decay and death.
The trees, which, not long since, we be-
held waving their green foliage and ex-
panding blossoms to the vernal breeze,
have dropped their matured fruits, and
are beginning to be stripped of their fad-
ed honors, and to stand naked and leaf-
less, like bereaved parents, mourning



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FROM A PASTOR. 277

over their fallen and perished offspring.
The flower, still more frail, that opened
its beauty to the morning sun, and exhal-
ed its fragrance to the gentle winds, has
long since lost its form and comeliness,
withered and died, like the infant in
the prime " and beauty of its innocent
age cut off.'*

Not only the productions of nature,
but the labors of man, the monuments
of art and the artizan himself grow
old, and in a little time are no more.
The hand, that planted the tree,
that is now decaying, and that rear-
ed the building that is now falling to
ruins, has long since mouldered into
common dust. The man has rested from
his labors, and his works are following
him. Thus we can scarcely look upon
any object, — upon the smallest space in
nature, without encountering the silent,
but impressive and solemn admonition,
that man and his works are destined to
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278 A PRESENT

certain and speedy decay and dissolution.
The same lesson, as I have said, is re-
peated to us alike by the productions of
nature and those of art ; and our funeral
knell is tolled in our ears by all the
countless memorials of the past, — by all
the once moving forms of life, that have
vanished, — by all the once breathing
creatures, that have died, — by all things
v^rought into shape by human hands, that
have been resolved again into their orig-
inal elements.

In the old world, where once were
cities crowded with an immense popula-
tion, — rich in splendor and magnificence,
whose towers and battlements proudly
defied the assaults of armies, — nothing
now remains but desolation and ruins.
We read in holy scripture the names,
but cannot now ascertain even the sites,
of Babylon, Ninevah, Tyre, and other
once flourishing capitals of vast and for-
midable empires. We read, in the same
book, of nations, once powerful and eel-



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FROM A PASTOR. 279

ebrated, who have left no other trace of
their existence than the brief notice pre-
served in these ancient records. They,
too, had, no doubt, their cities, like the
rest, that rung with the din of industry,
and with the notes of gayety and joy, and
whose superb dwellings were endeared
to their happy tenants by the same do-
mestic aflfections and pleasures, which
make home so delightful to you, who
hear me. Ages, in slow and solemn
procession, have passed away since these
nations, their cities, and palaces and
their tenants have been involved in one
common ruin and oblivion. Where once
the hearts of millions beat high with
joy,— where, grouped in smiling families,
the busy generation exulted in the sweet
consciousness of existence,-buoyant with
hope, — calculating upon many years to
come, — seeking after wealth, pleasure,
honor and a name to live after them, —
there the solitary owl now tunes her



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280 A PRESENT

nocturnal notes to the melancholy ca-
dence of the winds. The whole scene
is a solitude and a desolation. But in
the ear of reflection the solemn admo-
nition issues from these ruins, " Soon, O
man, wherever, or whoever thou art,
shall the places that have known thee,
know thee no more forever!'' — Thus
every work of man passeth away, and
man himself is more frail, more perish-
able and transient than even many of
the productions of his own hands. —
While in books we trace the records of
history, the thoughts and dee^s of men,
we are taught the same lesson. We
read of kings and their reigns, of heroes
and their exploits, — of statesmen and
their intrigues,— of wars and conquests,
— of revolutions and splended achieve-
ments of nations. Interested, and borne
along with the narrative by the princi-
ple of sympathy in our nature, we see,
while we read, the actors and the events



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FROM A PASTOR. 281

almost passing before our eyes. But
when we close the book, and inquire,
where are they now 1 they are all gone,
amd given place to new actors, or to va-
cancy. . They, who once figured and
made a noise upon the stage of life, and
acted such distinguished parts, are all
numbered with the things that were, but
are not. Wherever there has been life,
there also has been death. Whatever
has been, or shall be reared from the bo-
som of earth, our common mother, has
been or will be returned to her bosom
again.

Our fathers, the friends we have
known and loved, — where are they ? If
we look around in the circle of those,
whose faces and the tones of whose
voice were once familiar and dear to us,
how many do we miss 1 One after
another has dropped almost impercepti-
bly into the grave. We scarcely thought
how many, and how fast they were going,
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282 A PRESENT

as they successively departed ; but when
we pause to reckon up the number, and
count the places of those, that are gone,
we are struck with the ravages, that
death has made, and wonder how we
could be so little impressed by the
events, as they passed, so momentous to
the departed, — so admonitory to the liv-
ing.

What, at best, is human life, — this
bounded and variously measured period
of our being, — in which, those, who at-
tain to manhood, are so full of schemes
and projects, hopes and fears, — so aspir-
ing, and so disquieted, if they cannot
compass the objects of their aspirings, —
if they cannot be rich, distinguished or
admired, during the few uncertain and
vanishing years allotted them ? The
longest life is but threescore years and
ten, — or in a privileged few (if indeed it
be a privilege) eked out by extraordina-
ry vigor to a score or more beyond.
The happiest life is but a succession of



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FROM A PASTOR. 283

labors and transient joys, of ardent
hopes, often blasted, and when possessed,
seldom fulfilling half their promise, — its
best days marred with trouble and anx-
iety, and ending in infirmity and pain.
Few comparatively reach the goal of
three score years and ten. A much
greater number seem born only to make
their appearance for a day, like the flow-
er, that blooms with the dawn, — looks up-
on the light, and dies. It is astonishing
what multitudes close their career, al-
most as soon as begun. The advancing
ranks grow thinner, a3 they approach the
limits of human existence. A very few
attain to what s6ems to be the natural
wish of almost every human heart. They
live to old age. In other words, they
outlive their friends and associates, who
began the journey of life with them.
They outlive the manners, those modes
of thinking, of speech and action, which
are alone pleasing to them. They out-
live most of their senses, and often their



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284 A PRESENT

reason and memory, and, with a few fa-
vored exceptions, with little to enjoy or
hope, more than to see with dim eyes,
the sun rise and set a few times more.
In view of all the ills and infirmities,
which so often render even the strength
of the aged, in the affecting language of
scripture, labor and sorrow^ we are ready
to adopt the sentiment of the father of
history, " whom the Gods love die
young/'

Yet, in an existence such as is al-
lotted us here, so short at the best, so un-
certain, that we can none of us be sure
of to-morrow, and sent here, as we are,
for the great and momentous purpose of
forming a character, that shall fit us for
another, spiritual and eternal world, how
many, nevertheless, who survive the pe-
riod of childhood, find time to sin, to
taint the soul with corrupting pleasures,
to forget, or to trifle with the high and
solemn trust committed to them, that of
securing with a diligent and virtuous use



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FROM A PASTOR. 285

of their time and opportunities, not only
their present peace and welfare, but
the final approbation of their Maker,
who placed them here, and,has assur-
ed every one, that as he sows here,
so also shall he reap in eternity.
The consideration therefore of our frail-
ty, — the certainty that we must die and
it may be soqn and suddenly, ought surely
to make and keep us sober, thoughtful,
humble and assiduous in doing the work
God has given us to do, while the day of
life and strength is continued to us, mind-
ful that the night of death may be near,
when no man can work. It ought to
reduce in us all vain and useless aspirings
of pride and vanity — to humble our lofty
aims and hopes, — or rather to exalt them
from earth to heaven.

To that class of my hearers, upon
whom the infection of vanity, of a
proud and presumptuous confidence in
life, is most apt to fasten, the text
speaks with a prophetic and monitory



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286 A PRESENT

voice, which has been verified in every
passing age, in every circling year, in
every village and neighborhood by the
death of the hale, the young and the
beautiful. To this class, who are buoy-
ant with hope,— dreaming bright dreams
of the future, — beguiling themselves with
a thousand flattering visions of many and
happy years to come, the text utters its
warning voice. These "gay dreamers
of gay dreams" have not yet learned
what life is ; — they have yet felt no ebb-
ings in the full and warm tide of existence
to remind them of their frailty ; — and the
instances, they may have witnessed, of
their companions and equals in years cut
down in life's green spring, and their pale
cold forms in their faded beauty borne
away to wither and consume in the grave,
have been few and far between, and have
soon ceased to impress and admonish
them. It is the young, therefore, that
most need to have the admonition repeat-



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FROM A PASTOR. 287

ed to them, from the lips of friendly mon-
itors and from the word of God, that has
appropriate counsels for all, — the admo-
nition to remember their frailty, and that
they too may be called away in an hour,
when they think not, and their body in
its freshness and beauty be made a prey
to death to consume in the grave.

There is one source of vanity in youth,
of which sickness and death seem some-
times to be sent in mockery, as if to in-
struct survivors how precarious and tran-
sient a possession they are proud of, —
as if to bring derision upon one of the
most flattering, most coveted, and often,
God knows, most fatal gifts conferred
upon youth, that of personal beauty.
Here, if we may credit the poet of
** Paradise Lost," was the weak part, the
assailable point of our common mother.
Her daughters, with few exceptions, and
some of her sons of almost questionable
sex, have inherited this infirmity. Hence



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288 A PRESENT

that solicitude about dress, so dispropor-
tioned to their concern^ about better
things ; — that absorbing attention to the
outward adorning of the person, for which
the apostle exhorts the women of his time
to substitute the imperishable ornaments
of the mind and heart, — the improvement
of their rational nature, — the interior
graces of a meek and quiet spirit, which in
the sight of God are of great price. It is
this solicitude to make the most of those
outward attractions, which nature has
given, that employs so much of the time
and thoughts of the young in studying to
embellish a form and structure, which the
Creator has made beautiful, but which
fashion not seldom changes to deformity,
which the flight of years will certainly
rob of its charms,— which casualty or
disease may suddenly reduce to undistin-
guishable dust. There are few traits in
human nature, that furnish more humil-
iating proof of its vanity and weakness



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FROM A PASTOR, 289

than the discovery how much this regard
to external appearance occupies the at-
tention of every age and sex. You shall
often find this regard to have gained such
powerful ascendency over the mind, that
you would give far less offence by charg-
ing the individual with immorality, than
by intimating that you thought the
person, the exterior figure and ap-
pearance unpleasing, or wanting in at-
traction and grace. So wrong-headed
and perverse are we in our estimate of
things, that we can bear to hear our dis-
positions, our morals even, taxed with
obliquities and defects, while we resent
the slightest hint of deficiency in our un-
derstanding or person. Yet what can
be more absurd ? For, is not the under-
standing and person of every one fash-
ioned and dealt to each, as God has been
pleased ? Whereas, the dispositions, the
moral character and conduct are of every
one's own making and fashioning. We
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290 A PRESENT

are mortified and repine at defects,
which we could neither prevent nor rem-
edy, and are content, nay elated, with
qualities of our own creating, of which
we have cause to be ashamed before God
and man.

To those, who think more of those
outward adornings, which add nothing
to the intrinsic worth of the subject,
than of those imperishable graces of the
mind and heart, which look fair to heav-
en, which make the soul dear to God, —
no reflection, one would think, could be
more salutary, than that their beauty must
at last, and may soon be consigned to
dyst and consume in the g^rave. Its lan-
guage is, '^ make not an idol of the form
and comeliness, which thy Creator has
given thee ; — let not its outward
adornings engross the time and atten-
tion, that should be given to the cul-
ture and improvement of the undying
spirit that animates it, to the duties
and employments, that mijst prepare



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FKOM A PASTOR. 291

it for meeting its Maker and Judge in
peace. Sickness and decay will ere
long lay their withering hand upon thy
frame and thy beauty shall consume in
the grave.''

Although to a certain extent, attention
to personal appearance is innocent and
proper, nay, a duty in all, which, how-
ever, must be determined by the circum-
stances of rank, wealth, or occupation of
each individual ; yet when it takes off
the mimd from more important pursuits,
— diverts the thoughts from those moral


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Online LibraryJames FlintA present from a pastor to his young parishioners: in ten discourses; urging ... → online text (page 11 of 13)