Story type: Essay
Si fractus illabatur orbis,
Impavidum ferient ruinae.
–HOR., Car. iii. 3, 7.
Should the whole frame of nature round him break,
In ruin and confusion hurled,
He, unconcerned, would hear the mighty crack,
And stand secure amidst a falling world.
Man, considered in himself, is a very helpless and a very wretched being. He is subject every moment to the greatest calamities and misfortunes. He is beset with dangers on all sides, and may become unhappy by numberless casualties which he could not foresee, nor have prevented had he foreseen them.
It is our comfort, while we are obnoxious to so many accidents, that we are under the care of One who directs contingencies, and has in His hands the management of everything that is capable of annoying or offending us; who knows the assistance we stand in need of, and is always ready to bestow it on those who ask it of Him.
The natural homage which such a creature bears to so infinitely wise and good a Being is a firm reliance on Him for the blessings and conveniences of life, and an habitual trust in Him for deliverance out of all such dangers and difficulties as may befall us.
The man who always lives in this disposition of mind has not the same dark and melancholy views of human nature as he who considers himself abstractedly from this relation to the Supreme Being. At the same time that he reflects upon his own weakness and imperfection he comforts himself with the contemplation of those Divine attributes which are employed for his safety and his welfare. He finds his want of foresight made up by the Omniscience of Him who is his support. He is not sensible of his own want of strengths when he knows that his helper is almighty. In short, the person who has a firm trust on the Supreme Being is powerful in His power, wise by His wisdom, happy by His happiness. He reaps the benefit of every Divine attribute, and loses his own insufficiency in the fulness of infinite perfection.
To make our lives more easy to us, we are commanded to put our trust in Him, who is thus able to relieve and succour us; the Divine goodness having made such reliance a duty, notwithstanding we should have been miserable had it been forbidden us.
Among several motives which might be made use of to recommend this duty to us, I shall only take notice of these that follow.
The first and strongest is, that we are promised He will not fail those who put their trust in Him.
But without considering the supernatural blessing which accompanies this duty, we may observe that it has a natural tendency to its own reward, or, in other words, that this firm trust and confidence in the great Disposer of all things contributes very much to the getting clear of any affliction, or to the bearing it manfully. A person who believes he has his succour at hand, and that he acts in the sight of his friend, often exerts himself beyond his abilities, and does wonders that are not to be matched by one who is not animated with such a confidence of success. I could produce instances from history of generals who, out of a belief that they were under the protection of some invisible assistant, did not only encourage their soldiers to do their utmost, but have acted themselves beyond what they would have done had they not been inspired by such a belief. I might in the same manner show how such a trust in the assistance of an Almighty Being naturally produces patience, hope, cheerfulness, and all other dispositions of the mind that alleviate those calamities which we are not able to remove.
The practice of this virtue administers great comfort to the mind of man in times of poverty and affliction, but most of all in the hour of death. When the soul is hovering in the last moments of its separation, when it is just entering on another state of existence, to converse with scenes, and objects, and companions, that are altogether new–what can support her under such tremblings of thought, such fear, such anxiety, such apprehensions, but the casting of all her cares upon Him who first gave her being, who has conducted her through one stage of it, and will be always with her, to guide and comfort her in her progress through eternity?
David has very beautifully represented this steady reliance on God Almighty in his twenty-third Psalm, which is a kind of pastoral hymn, and filled with those allusions which are usual in that kind of writing. As the poetry is very exquisite, I shall present my reader with the following translation of it:
The Lord my pasture shall prepare,
And feed me with a shepherd’s care;
His presence shall my wants supply,
And guard me with a watchful eye;
My noonday walks He shall attend,
And all my midnight hours defend.
When in the sultry glebe I faint,
Or on the thirsty mountain pant;
To fertile vales and dewy meads
My weary, wand’ring steps He leads;
Where peaceful rivers, soft and slow,
Amid the verdant landscape flow.
Though in the paths of death I tread,
With gloomy horrors overspread,
My steadfast heart shall fear no ill,
For thou, O Lord, art with me still;
Thy friendly crook shall give me aid,
And guide me through the dreadful shade.
Though in a bare and rugged way,
Through devious, lonely wilds I stray,
Thy bounty shall my pains beguile:
The barren wilderness shall smile
With sudden greens and herbage crowned,
And streams shall murmur all around.