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4. It so soon hurries us away from earthly scenes, and that too, in the full vigor and activity of all our powers and facul ties. To moral beings, every temporary state is of course probationary to something beyond itself-to something for which it is designed to prepare them; and the speed of life is continually rereminding us that here we are to stay but a little while. But not only in thus showing the temporary nature of our stay on earthnot only in hurrying us from plan after plan, and object after object, and by keeping us constantly in effort, and by gathering thick upon us the changes and admonitions of providence, does the speed of life speak loudly of probation, but it often brings us to the end of our course in the full vigor of all our faculties; tearing us from our work just as we are best able to do it, and from our possessions just as we are ready to enjoy them. How often is the statesman cast down in the full maturity of his talents and influence; and the man of business, just as he is qualified, by long practice and success, to enter on the largest plans; and the christian student, or minister, when, by the thorough discipline of years, he is just giving promise of being able, with polished intellect and ripened piety, richly to serve his generation by the will of God! The votaries of honor, the servants of usefulness, the idols of affection are cast down, and those who stand as pillars of the state totter and fall in their full strength. Each seems but just ready, by long experience and the full training of his powers, to lay hold on some long sought prize, when he is summoned to the narrow house, and to all that is beyond it!
Now if the reverse of all this were true-if our powers were exhausted before, or with our work, the case would be widely different. But so far is this from being the fact, that often does the flight of time bring us to the end of life, just as we have learned how to begin to live; when our experience is such that we feel that now, were we to live life over again, we should know how to live to some purpose: or when our faculties are matured, and our powers disciplined; or when, as the result of a life time of labor, we are just ready to say to ourselves, "Soul, thou hast much goods, laid up for many years-take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry"-little dreaming that the next sound that greets the ear may be, "This night thy soul shall be required!" Thus it is, that the speed of time cuts us off from life just as we are prepared for its scenes-just as earth's discipline has done its work upon us-just as we are ready for its enjoyments, and matured and fitted for its struggles, its activities, and its conflicts. And thus we are pointed to another state, where all these faculties shall find their appropriate sphere and objects, and where all this discipline shall tell on endless duties and results in the paradise of God above.
Such are some of the thoughts suggested by our text: that our life is fast speeding away, and that the swiftness of its flight
deeply and solemnly impresses the reality and design of our probation; that by breaking in upon our plans, and tearing us away from one after another, before we complete them; that by keeping us always in effort; by gathering about us the changes, and trials, and admonitions of providence; and by hurrying us away from present scenes just as we are best prepared for all that they demand of us, and pressing us on to, and over the verge of eternity, just as we are best disciplined for the struggles and conflicts of time-that by all these things, it continually admonishes of our probation, and that here we are every day weaving, thread by thread, and line by line, the garments of our immortality-the white robe in which, through grace, we are to stand without fault before the throne of God, or the fire-sheet of wo that is to wrap our lost spirits in perdition forever!
In all our argument, thus far, we have alluded to retribution only as blessed. With, if possible, deeper, as well as with darker truth, would the thought of the text stand out before us, were we to dwell on the retribution of despair, where the seed of sin shall have brought forth its harvest of wrath, and the mis-spent probation of time shall have sunk the undying spirit to those depths of perdition where "their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched," and "the wrath of God is poured out without mixture," and "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever!" But leaving the subject to your serious reflections, I close with a few remarks which it suggests. And
1. If the speed of life is always admonishing of probation, then it should also admonish us of our coming retribution. Every day that passes-every rising morn, and beaming noon, and closing night every beating pulse, and heaving breath, and striking hour, and ticking moment, should be speaking to us of eternal things of those endless states of joy or wo on which so soon we must enter. And so with every unfinished plan, and toiling effort, and passing change of life: there is not one of them that should not remind us of the future scenes to which they are bearing, and for which they are moulding us. Every one of them, as the commissioned messenger of God, should speak to us of eternity and its results; and should make us thoughtful and serious, leading us, at every hour, to live as though it might be the crisis of our existence-as though on it were hanging the destinies of endless ages. Yes-it is true-and the speed of life should ever be impressing it, that, as we are in probation, so we are passing to retribution, and that here we are forming ourselves, as moral beings, for what we must be hereafter, and shaping for ourselves our own endless prospects. Every one of us, on earth, is doing an amazing work; and its final results in eternity, will be of our own procuring. In all that work, indeed, God shows us our position, and surrounds us with motives, and offers us his
truth, and his sympathy, and the aids of his Holy Spirit. But there he leaves us! The work is ours; and he will not perform it. The warfare is ours; and only we can fight it. The seed we now sow, we are sure to reap; and to ourselves he is leaving it, whether it shall be a harvest of glory, or of death-whether we will work out our salvation or perdition. And when we shall have done our probationary work, and thus been thoroughly and fairly tried-when virtue and vice, right and wrong, heaven and hell have been before us, and again, and again, and through all probation, we have been choosing, and repeating our choice of the one or the other, then it is right that God shall say to us in eternity, "You have formed your own character, and now wear it forever you have chosen your own destiny and now abide it forever!" And this is just what he will do at the judgment, and we shall feel that it is just; and the wide universe, in view of the decision, shall cry out, "Amen!" And if by that decision, we are condemned as having wasted probation, our mouths will be forever stopped! And as the speed of life reminds us of our coming retribution, so,
2. It should lead each one of us seriously and habitually to prepare for it. As retribution is the necessary result of probation, and takes its character entirely from it, we should improve the whole of the latter in diligently preparing for the former. We are far too prone to think and speak of preparation for death, as a distinct and separate business, entirely apart from the common course of life, and proper to be undertaken when death is supposed to be close at hand, just as we often speak of prepararation for a journey, as not only easily made, but best and most properly made just as we are about to commence it. It is true, indeed, that in some cases, as in that of the dying thief, for example, one may, through grace, be prepared for death, even in a dying hour. But such cases are exceptions, and not the rule ' either of our safety or duty: a single one being given in the entire history of the gospel, that none may despair; and but one, that none may presume.
But the great principle of God's word is, that the whole of probation is the season of preparation for retribution; and that what is to follow death, will depend, not on the act of dying, but on the life we have lived before we came to it. The bed of death may indeed be, and is the most proper time to prepare for the act of dying for closing up our worldly business; and taking leave of friends; and, like the departing Stephen, commending our souls to a faithful Redeemer. But it is not the time-the divinely appointed time to be resolving to forsake the sins and vanities of the world, just as they are forsaking us; for setting about to amend the future life, when there is no future to amend-for beginning to sow the seed, just as the harvest is to be reaped; for determining to work out salvation, when to multitudes it is
too late to be saved!* The only truly wise or safe preparation for death, is, to be always living a faithful christian life-the only sure preparation for retribution, to be glorifying God in every part of probation, and improving it all in loving and serving him. And the flight of time admonishes us to be always diligent in doing this, for we know not when the Son of Man may come! In view of our subject, again,
3. It is no wonder that this world does not satisfy the soul. Every thing in our moral nature, and in the structure of our earthly state, proclaims that we were made for immortality; and we cannot be fully satisfied with any thing short of it. The world cannot feed us, any more than the husks could the prodigal. If we fail to grasp it-if our plans are blighted and our schemes overthrown by the swiftness of time's flight, then we are dissatisfied through the want and disappointment; or, if, on the other hand, we grasp to the full, all we have desired, then we are like the Macedonian, weeping for other worlds to conquer feeling that the utmost we have, does not satisfy and feed the soul; does not meet the cravings of our immortality, which like an undying hunger or thirst are ever upon us.
Such being your nature, if you have never sought your portion in God and his service, it is no wonder that in your thoughtful hours, you are often sad, and feel within you a void that the world can never fill. And forever you will feel it-for it is the instinct of your immortality-forever you will feel it till in God's favor you find that bread of heaven that shall satisfy your hunger, and that water of life that shall quench your thirst. Yes-my immortal hearer, away from Christ and holiness, you must, from the very structure of your nature, be wretched, like one forever dying of famine, but never dead-like one tormented by an ever increasing thirst, and yet without one drop of water to quench it. Here, in this world, I grant that you may partially, and for a season, meet these wants. You may keep from utter starvation by feeding on the husks of time and sense; or in part slake your thirst at the impure fountains of sin, though it will be like drinking from the poisoned cup, which satisfies for the moment, to destroy in the end. But when you pass to eternity, and there find even these streams cut off, and these husks torn from you, then will you not hunger forever, with no bread to feed you, and thirst forever, without one drop of water to cool your tongue? Will not these desires, ever gathering strength, and never-never satisfied, be the unquenchable flame, and the undying worm to you? Finally,
4. If time is so fast flying, and life so fast speeding away, then your probation will soon be ended, and your retribution soon begun. Now you have sabbaths, and sermons, and communion
See Whately's Future State, Lecture xii.
seasons, and all the means of grace, each, by the love of Christ, appealing to you, and each waiting, like some commissioned angel of mercy, to bear you to the skies. Every one of them God has given for your salvation. By them, through his grace in Christ Jesus, you may live; and in them all, find the life of your spirit. But soon they will be over; and soon out of them, by your improvement or misimprovement, you will have made life or death eternal for yourself. Soon will all these means be gone. The flight of time will have borne them away as on the wings of the wind. And then results-results-RESULTS, will be all that remains to you forever! Now means are yours, and possibilities yours, either for life or death-for heaven or hell. But soon unchanging certainties shall come-results which must be the atmosphere of your endless existence the robing of your spirit forever! See to it-O see to it, through the offered grace of Jesus, that they are such, that in them you shall rejoice, and not mourn to endless ages!
BY REV. GEO. DUFFIELD, JR.,
PASTOR OF THE COATES ST. PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, PHILADELPHIA, PENN.
"And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hands, and all the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem."-GENESIS XXXV. 4.
THE Patriarch was now on his way to Bethel. More than twenty years had elapsed, and these the most important of his life since he bade it farewell. Of all places in the world, this to him was the dearest. Neither the valley of Gerar, nor Beer-Sheba, nor Padan Aram itself, had equal power to awaken in his heart such profound and grateful recollections. There he had been made to feel that the great Jehovah was not only willing to be the "Sun," and "Shield," and "exceeding great reward" of Abraham, and of Isaac, but of JACOB also. He himself had given to the place the name of "Bethel," and well did he remember the heavenly dream and apparition-the ladder stretching from earth to heaven-the angels ascending and descending upon it-that made to him this highly favored spot "none other than the house of God," and "the gate of heaven."