Whither goest thou? and whence comest thou?
1. The former of these questions, if generally considered, might be answered by remembering that we have no reason to vaunt of our origin, since that is but of yesterday, and of the earth. "Why is dust and ashes proud?" If a recollection of our lowly origin might thus subdue the imperious, and liberalise the selfish, a sense of our sinful extraction ought in no less measure to abase the self-dependent. "Whence come we?" Some among us have come from the suffering of affliction. Have we been purified in that furnace? Has the storm, pelting on the wayfaring man, accelerated his homeward pace? Others have come from experiencing remarkable instances of the Divine mercy. They have come from some of the smooth plots of greensward, the isles of palm-trees in the waste. How have they profited by the blessing? Have they thanklessly attributed their success to good fortune, or boldly to their own arm, instead of acknowledging the hand of the Father of lights? Have they tithed the bounty to poverty and distress?
2. It has been said (though the remark is a quaint conceit) that the heathen deity Janus, from whom the first month in our year derives its name, was described in the ancient mythology as having two faces, the one looking on the past, and the other on the future. But there hardly needs so fanciful an allusion as this to advance our contemplations from the irrevocable past to the solemn future. On that future let us next direct our forethought, turning our attention from our origin to our destination, "Whither goest thou?" We are travelling in a circle. We are hastening back to the earth, from whence we proceeded. Dust we are, and unto dust we shall return.
3. Place now these two questions together; view the line of life from its commencement to its termination; consider the past with reference to the future, and the future as a continuation of the past. If there be any who have arrived at the present season from a year, or a life, which they can review only with shame and sorrow — who, to the question, "Whence comest thou? " can only reply, like Satan to Jehovah, "We come from going to and fro in the earth, and from wandering up and down in it"— let them think of the end of those hitherto squandered days, to which they are ever speeding, and know not how near they are come, that they may, if possible, redeem the time that is past, and improve that which is passing.
(J. Grant, M. A.)
Let all thy wants be upon me1. This old man's practice commends to us a double duty: the one that we should be ready to remove grief from our brethren, and to quiet their troubled minds as we may. For grief and heaviness do much hinder the mind from doing any duty; especially they being deeply seated in the heart, and turbulent passions of themselves, and therefore the easing it of them is a setting of it at liberty.
2. The second duty we learn is more particularly the duty of hospitality; which as far as need required he did unto this Levite. The like kindness is to be showed by us to strangers sad in heart, being known to be brethren, that they be used of us kindly and in all courtesy, but in no wise to grieve them, being already heavy-hearted.
Consider of it, take advice, and speak your mindsI. THERE ARE SOME ACTIONS SO SHOCKING THAT ALL MEN DO, upon the first hearing of them, without taking time to consider, without asking the opinion of others, UNANIMOUSLY AGREE TO CONDEMN THEM. Now, amongst those truths which do thus gain our assent upon the first view I think we may justly reckon those judgments which we form concerning the essential differences of moral good and evil. For our sight is not more quick in discerning the variety of figures and colours, nor more taken with the beauty of some, or displeased with the deformity of others; the nicest ear hath not a more distinct perception of the harmony or discord of sounds; nor doth the most delicate palate more accurately distinguish tastes than our intellectual faculties do apprehend the plain distinction between right and wrong, honest and dishonest, good and evil, and find an agreeableness and satisfaction in the one, a disagreeableness and dissatisfaction in the other. And it is for very wise and good reasons that God hath so formed our faculties that concerning such actions as are extraordinary in either kind, such as are extremely good or extremely wicked, all men should be able to judge thus readily and thus truly. For, in human life, it often happens that an occasion is given us of doing some great good, or a temptation laid before us to commit some great evil, when there is no leisure allowed us of entering into a long deliberation, in which cases it is necessary that we should act according to our present light; and therefore by Providence wisely ordered that we should enjoy such open daylight that there should be no danger of our stumbling. By this method God hath made the same wholesome provision for the security of our souls as He hath done for preserving the health of our bodies. To such meats as might prove noxious to us, and being once taken down, digested, and mingled with the mass of our blood might quickly destroy our lives, we have often so strong an antipathy that we refrain from them merely on account of this natural aversion, without considering the mischievous consequences that might arise from our indulging ourselves in them; and in the like manner, those sins which carry with them the greatest malignity, and which are most perilous to the souls of men, do create in our minds an utter abhorrence.
II. Although such actions do at the first view appear very odious, yet in order to confirm or rectify our first judgments IT IS PROPER TO CONSIDER THEM FARTHER, AND TO TAKE IN THE ADVICE OF OTHERS, When a thing appears crooked to the eye upon the first view, we cannot but pay so much deference to the testimony of our senses as to presume it such; but because this appearance may sometimes proceed from a defect in the organ, and not from any real crookedness in the object, for our better satisfaction we measure it by a rule, and then pronounce with more certainty concerning it. And the same method we ought to observe in judging of moral actions; if they, at the first sight, appear notoriously wicked, we cannot but entertain a violent suspicion of their being such; but because this appearance may arise from some corruption of our judgment, when there is no obliquity in the actions themselves, the best way to prevent all possibility of error will be to examine them by the only infallible test, the law of God. But this sentence will carry still more weight if we do not depend too much upon our own judgments, but call in the advice of others. Men are so apt to differ in their opinions, and take so great a delight in contradicting each other, that those truths must carry with them a more than ordinary degree of evidence in which all or most men do agree. He who considers what a wide difference there is in the ways of men's thinking and judging, from the difference of their complexions, tempers, education, character, profession, age, religion, and other innumerable specialities by which they are distinguished one from another, and disposed to form very different judgments concerning the same persons or things, will not be surprised to find that several men do seldom concur in the verdict which they pass upon those actions that fall within their observation. Some speculative truths there are in which the interests of men being not at all concerned all may unanimously agree; some rules of life there may be, though these much fewer than the other, which most men may join in the approbation of; some virtues and vices which, considered abstractedly and without regard to persons, they may agree to praise or to condemn, but when they come to judge of actions, not as they are in idea and theory, but as they are in reality and fact, nor as they are in books, but as they are performed by such and such men, here several things will offer themselves to influence and bias their judgments. When, therefore, notwithstanding there are so many and strong obstacles to hinder men from concurring in their opinions, any actions are condemned by a general consent, this unanimity of judgment is, though not a demonstrative proof, yet a very strong presumption, that such actions are notoriously wicked, and in reality such as they do universally appear.
III. When any actions do, both at the first view and also upon farther inquiry, appear very flagitious, we should then, without any reserve, OPENLY AND FREELY SPEAK OUR MINDS CONCERNING THEM. A mark of infamy hath, by the universal consent of all civilised nations, been set upon some actions, tending either to the great disparagement of human nature, or to the great disturbance of civil societies, that a sense of shame and fear of disgrace might be powerful curbs to restrain men from doing such vile things as would be sure to stain their reputations, and to fix an indelible blot of ignominy upon their memories. The greatest mischief that can possibly be done to the souls of men is to discourage them from doing their duty by speaking evil of what God hath commanded, and to encourage them in the commission of sin by speaking well of what God hath condemned, and therefore a woe is justly denounced by the prophet Isaiah against those who call good evil and evil good. But the interests of virtue and piety are also very much endamaged by those who, though they do not go so far as to call evil good, do yet, by a criminal silence, forbear to call it evil; and therefore those priests are accused by God of violating His laws and profaning His holy things who put no difference between the holy and profane, neither show the difference between the clean and the unclean.