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A Survey of the Brevity and Vanity of Human
Life: With the Consolation administered by the Christian System against both.
HE mortality of man is no where de
scribed with so much propriety and elegance of expression, as in that passage of the book of Job, which the Church hath adopted as a part of her burial-service; placing it in the front of those short and solemn sentences, which are repeated at the side of a Grave, and in which all the powers of language are summoned together, to strike the minds of the hearers with commiseration, devotion, and self-abasement.--Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble ! He cometh forth as a flower, and is cut down : he fleeth as a shadow, and continueth not. Job xiv. 1, 2.
It is generally easier to understand any thing in its image than in itself, provided the image is well adapted. This method presents a subject to us under a compendium, which, if loosely considered, would be too large for the mind to comprehend; and might also be weakened by being extended. In its effect it certainly exceeds all others; on which account, Orators, Poets, and Mythologists, who have been skilful in their several ways, have never failed to apply themselves to the human mind through the interposition of sensible objects.
The relation between the visible world and the intellectual being very extensive, the most striking figures of speech must occur to us in that book, wherein the intellectual world is best understood and explained.
The vanity of human life is a wide subject : but it is here represented to us in a short compass, under the two images of a flower and a shadow.
Man cometh forth as a flower. The flowers of the field rise out of the earth; and man is also made of the dust.
As the flower grows up, it is exposed to all the varieties of the weather ; to rough blasts and clouded skies: it is driven to and fro with the wind, and
receives upon its tender head impetuous rain and storm from above. Man, in like manner, is frail and weak in his constitution, as the grass of the field; and from his infancy is exercised with trouble.-Labour of body and carefulness of mind he is sure to inherit: to which are frequently added the loss of health and strength which easily depart from him, and are not to be renewed, without the utmost difficulty and uncertainty. His temporal affairs are perplexed with unexpected disappointments: nay, the very comforts of his life are the sources of new trouble. If his possessions, his friends, or relations are dear to him, it is so uncertain whether they are to abide with him, or he with them, that he is exposed to perpetual fears and dejections of mind upon their account; and may really suffer as much, or more, from his nearest friends as from his greatest enemies. And if his comforts and blessings can yield him trouble, his life can then be no other than a scene which is full of trouble.
Thus exercised with the weakness of childhood, the passions of youth, the cares and afflictions of riper years, man is at length cut down by death. He cometh forth like a flower, and comes to the same end: he
with a certain prospect of dying; as the flower groweth among the grass, only to fall before the hand of the mower; that is, to be cut down, dried up, and withered. His beauty, if he had any, changes into a paleness shocking to the sight. If he had wealth, honour, and power, he sinks to the same level with that vulgar croud, which is daily swept away to people the regions of Death: as the finest flower, when once it is cut down, loses all its colours, and is no longer distinguished from the common grass in the field.
There is something so apt and natural in this iinage, that we find it applied in many other places of the Scripture.
The royal Psalmist in particular thus expresseth himself: As for man, his days are as grass; as the flower of the field so he flourisheth. For as soon as the wind goeth over it, it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. The Prophet Isaiah hath spoken to the same purpose; and his words are followed by the apostles St. James and St. Peter. All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.