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In the 12th chapter of Ecclesiastes, the preacher admonishes us to dedicate our youthful days to the service of our Creator, considering the evil days which are coming upon us, when all the faculties of our minds and bodies shall fail us under the infirmities of age. For then, as the preacher beautifully
represents it to us, as in a glass or mirror, the sun, and the moon, and the stars are darkened; the superior powers which rule in the body of man, as the heavenly luminaries do in the world-the understanding and reason, the imagination and the memory, are obscured as when the clouds interpose between us and the lights of the firmament. In the earlier season of life, the clouds of affliction having poured down their rain, they pass away, and sun-shine succeeds; but now the clouds return after the rain; old age itself is a continual sorrow, and there is no longer any hope of fair weather. The keepers of the house, the arms and hands which are made to guard and defend the body, begin to shake and tremble; and the strong men, the shoulders, where the strength of the body is placed, and which were once able to bear every weight, begin to stoop and bow themselves; and the grinders, the teeth, begin to fall away and cease to do their work, because they are few. Also those that look out of the windows are darkened; the eyes, those windows of the body, through which we look at all things abroad as we look out from the windows of a house, become dim; and he that uses them is as one who looketh out of a window in the night. Then the doors are shut in the streets; difficulties and obstructions attend all the passages of the body, and digestion becomes weak when the grinding is low. The youthful and healthy sleep sound, and are apt to transgress by taking too much rest; but the aged sleep with difficulty, and rise up at the voice of the bird; they are ready to leave their disturbed rest at the crowing of the cock. The daughters of music are brought low; the voice fails and becomes hoarse; the hearing is dull; and the spirits, now less active than they used to be, are less affected by the powers of harmony; and so sit in heaviness, hanging down their heads, as virgins drooping under the sorrow of captivity. Old age, being inactive and helpless, becomes afraid of that which is high; it is fearful of climbing, because it is in danger of falling; and being unfit to endure the hardness of fatigue, and the shocks of a rough journey, the fears which are in the way discourage it from setting out. Then the almond tree flourishes; the hair of the head becomes white, as the early almond blossoms in the hard weather of the winter, before the snows have left us. And even the grasshopper becomes a burden; the legs once light and nimble
to leap, as the legs of that insect, and which used with ease to bear the weight of the whole body, are now become a bur den, and can scarcely carry themselves; and when the faculties thus fail, the desire fails along with them, for nothing is desirable, when nothing can be enjoyed.
Such are the evil days, which come upon us when our youth is past, and prepare the way for that last and greatest evil of our death, when man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets lamenting his departure. Then the silver cord, the nerves whose coat is white and shining as a cord of silver, is loosed and no longer does its office. The circulation of the blood stops at the heart, the fountain of life,—as when a pitcher, which draws water, is broken at the well, or the watering wheel, circulating with its buckets, which it both fills and empties at the same time, is broken at the cistern. Thus do the vital motions all cease at death; and the dust returns to the earth, to become such as it was before man was made out of it; and his immortal spirit returns unto God, the fountain of immortality, from whom it proceeded.
Let then the light of my understanding, while I have it, be employed in the search of truth, and let my memory be a treasury of all useful knowledge; let my hands labour while their strength lasts, and my shoulders be ready and patient under every necessary burden; let my mind be ever looking
out through the windows of my body, to see and learn, while the day-light is with me. Let the daughters of music be employed in the praises of God, before they are brought low; let my youthful ambition and activity be occupied in pursu ing the elevated, difficult, and laborious path of Christian duty; and let me so spend my early years, so use my bodily strength and all my faculties, as that my hoary head, being found in the way of righteousness, may be a crown of glory; that when I depart I may be affectionately remembered by the wise and the good; and that when this body ceases to breathe, and is mixed with its kindred clay, my soul may go into the presence of a reconciled God, and enter on the enjoyment of that eternal happiness which my Saviour purchased for me, and for which his grace and Spirit have been preparing me in the course of my earthly pilgrimage.
1, Who is the author of Ecclesiastes ? 2. To whose service should we dedicate our youthful days!
3. Wherefore should we do so? 4. What are represented under the figure of sun, moon, and stars?
5. Name the superior powers of the soul !
6. What are meant by "clouds," and what by "the clouds returning after the rain"?
7. What are meant by the keepers of the house, the strong men, the grinders? 8. What are the eyes called? 9. Explain "the doors are shut in the
10. How do young persons sleep, and how old?
11. At the voice of what bird do the old rise!
12. What do you understand by the daughters of music being brought low?
13. Of what is old age afraid, and for what unfit ?
14. At what season does the almond tree flourish ?
15. To what is the hair becoming white likened ?
16. For what bodily power is the grasshopper remarkable?
17. What is the grave here called? 18. Why are the nerves called the silver cord?
19. To what is the stoppage of the blood at the heart compared?
20. When inan dies where does the immortal spirit go?
21. How, then, should we use our powers of mind and body!
22. Can the unpardoned soul go to glory?
23. Are we not all sinners in God's sight! 24. How can a sinner find acceptance with God?
II. THE FIRST STAGES OF THE SCHOOLBOY'S PILGRIMAGE TO THE TEMPLE OF LEARNING.
NOTHING could be more easy and agreeable than my condition when I was first summoned to set out on the road to learning, and it was not without letting fall a few ominous tears that I took the first step. Several companions of my own age accompanied me in the outset, and we travelled pleasantly together a good part of the way.
We had no sooner entered upon our path than we were accosted by three diminutive strangers. These we presently discovered to be the advanced guard of a Lilliputian army, which was seen advancing towards us in battle-array. Their
forms were singularly grotesque; some were striding across the path, others standing with their arms a-kimbo, some hanging down their heads, others quite erect, some standing on one leg, others on two, and one, strange to say, on three ; another had his arms crossed, and one was remarkably crooked; some were very slender, and others as broad as they were long. But, notwithstanding this diversity of figure, when they were all marshalled in line of battle, they had a very orderly and regular appearance. Feeling disconcerted by their numbers, we were presently for sounding a retreat; but, being urged forward by our guide, we soon mastered the three who led the van, and this gave us spirit to encounter the main army, who were conquered to a man before we left the field. We had scarcely taken breath after this victory, when, to our no small dismay, we descried a strong reinforcement of the enemy stationed on the opposite side. These were exactly equal in number to the former army, but vastly superior in size and station; they were, in fact, a race of giants, though of the same species with the others, and were capitally accoutred for the onset. Their appearance discouraged us greatly at first, but we found their strength was not proportioned to their size; and having acquired much skill and courage by the late engagement, we soon succeeded in subduing them, and passed off the field in triumph. After this we were perpetually engaged with small bands of the enemy, no longer extended in line of battle, but in small detachments of two, three, and four in company. We had some tough work here, and now and then they were too many for us. Having annoyed us thus for a time, they began to form themselves into close columns, six or eight abreast; but we had now attained so much address that we no longer found them formidable.
After continuing this route for a considerable way, the face of the country suddenly changed, and we began to enter upon a vast succession of snowy plains, where we were each furnished with a certain light weapon, peculiar to the country, which we flourished continually, and with which we made many light strokes, and some desperate ones. The waters hereabouts were dark and brackish, and the snowy surface of the plain was often defaced by them. Probably we were now on the borders of the Black Sea. These plains we traversed across and across for many a day.