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But though past time be gone, we are not to consider it as irredeemably lost. To a very profitable purpose it may yet be applied, if we lay hold of it while it remains in remembrance, and oblige it to contribute to future improvement. If you have gained nothing more by the years that are past, you have at least gained experience; and experience is the mother of wisdom. You have seen the weak parts of your character; and may have discovered the chief sources of
misconduct. To these let your attention be directed; on these, let the proper guards be set. If you have trifled long, resolve to trifle no more.
If your passions have often betrayed and degraded you, study how they may be kept, in future, under better discipline. Learn, at the same time, never to trust presumptuously in your own wisdom. Humbly apply to the Author of your being, and beseech his grace to guide you safely through those slippery and dangerous paths, in which experience has shown that you are so ready to err, and to fall.
In reviewing past life, it cannot but occur that many things now appear of inconsiderable importance, which once occupied and attached us, in the highest degree. Where are those keen competitions, those mortifying disappointments, those violent enmities, those eager pursuits, which we once thought were to last for ever, and on which we considered our whole happiness or misery as suspended ? We look back upon them now, as upon a dream which has passed away. None of those mighty consequences have followed which we had predicted. The airy fabric has vanished, and left no trace behind it. We smile at our former violence; and wonder how such things could have ever appeared so significant and great. We may rest assured, that what hath been shall again be. When time shall once have laid his lenient hand on the passions and pursuits of the present moment, they too shall lose that imaginary value which heated fancy now bestows upon them. Hence, let them already begin to subside to their proper level. Let wisdom infuse a tincture of moderation into the eagerness of contest, by anticipating that period of coolness, which the lapse of time will, of itself, certainly bring.--When we look back on years that are past, how swiftly do they appear to have fleeted away? How insensibly has one period of life stolen upon us after another, like the successive incidents in a tale that is told? Before we were aware, childhood had grown up into youth ; youth had passed into manhood; and manhood now, perhaps, begins to assume the
gray hair, and to decline into old age. When we are carrying our views forward, months and years to come seem to stretch through a long and extensive space. But when the time shall arrive of our looking back, they shall appear contracted within narrow bounds. Time, when yet before us, seems to advance with slow and tárdy steps; no sooner is it past, than we discern its wings.
It is a remarkable peculiarity in the retrospect of former life, that it is commonly attended with some measure of heaviness of heart. Even to the most prosperous, the memory of joys that are past is accompanied with secret sorrow. In the days of
former years, many objects arise to view, which make the most unthinking grave; and render the serious sad. The pleasurable scenes of youth, the objects on which our affections had been early placed, the companions and friends with whom we had spent many happy days, even the places and the occupations to which we had been long accustomed, but to which we have now bid farewell, can hardly ever be recalled, without softening, nor, sometimes, without piercing the heart. Such sensations, to which few, if are wholly strangers, I now mention, as affording a strong proof of that vanity of the human state, which is so often represented in the sacred writings : and vain indeed must that state be, where shades of grief tinge the recollection of its brightest scenes. But, at the same time, though it be very proper that such meditations should sometimes enter the mind, yet on them I advise not the gentle and tender heart to dwell too long. They are apt to produce a fruitless melancholy; to deject, without bringing much improvement; to
thicken the gloom which already hangs over human life, without furnishing proportionable assistance to virtue.
Let me advise you, rather to recall to view such parts of former conduct, if any such there be, as afford in the remembrance a rational satisfaction. And what parts of conduct are these? Are they the pursuits of sensual pleasure, the riots of jollity, or the displays of show and vanity ? No; I appeal to your hearts, my friends, if what you recollect with most pleasure be not the innocent, the virtuous, the honourable parts of your past life; when you were employed in cultivating your minds, and improving them with useful knowledge ; when, by regular application and persevering labour, you were laying the foundation of future reputation and advancement; when you were occupied in discharging with fidelity the duties of your station, and acquiring the esteem of the worthy and the good; when, in some trying situation you were enabled to act your part with firmness and honour; or had seized the happy opportunity of assisting the deserving, of relieving the distressed, and