O SEASO S OF SCARCITY BY ARCHIBALD ALISO , LL. B.

Psalm xc. 3. "Thou turnest man to destruction: Again Tliou sayest, Come again, ye children of men." In this psalm, composed evidently in some season of national affliction and despondence, the Psalmist expresses the great truth of the dominion of the Almighty over nature, and the continual dependence of man upon the God " that made '' him." It is not only as an individual, but as the representative of his people, that he here prostrates himself before the throne of Heaven ; and, feeling that He whom he addressed, " was God ^^ from everlasting," he acknowledges, at the same time, that it was His power alone which " tunied " nations to destruction ;" and which again could say, — "come again, ye children of men." In this deep and awful sentiment, every one who hath lived to the age of understanding mnsi agree with the Psalmist. Life, we all know, is no * Preached after the severe season of 1800. 10

74 O SEASO S OF SCARCITY. scene of security ; it is a broken and uncertain scene, in which both individuals and nations are mutually subjected to the apparent rule of time and chance. Amid the opening promises of pros-

perous times, some unwelcome blast often comes to wither the hopes we had formed ; and, even when prosperous times return, we tremble to think, that the adversities we have suffered may again be renewed. It is thus now, therefore, as in the days of the Psalmist, that the Governour of ature displays his power, by, at one season, seemingly " turning man to destruction ;'' and at another, saying, ^^come again, ye 'children of "men." It is probable, my brethren, that the seasons of adversity and of want which we have witnessed, may have brought this reflection to all our minds, and that the highest as well as the lowest of us must have felt his dependence upon him " who ** inhabiteth eternity." With all this, however, it is possible for us to entertain very erroneous and very ungrateful views upon the subject. — We may forget the beneficence of God amid our considerations of his power ; and, while we meet adversity with superstitious terrour, we may meet prosperity with an unbecoming joy. Suffer me, therefore, in the present discourse, to consider the purpose or end of this apparent uncertainty and instability in the government of nature ; and to shew you the important effects it has upon the

O SEASO S OF SCARCITY. 7S improvement and happiness of human nature. On so important a subject, 1 can offer you only a few very imperfect reflections : — Yet, 1 trust, that to those who pursue them, they will afford a happiness, and awaken a devotion of no common kind. 1. I must observe, then, in the first place, tliat there is no other system than this of variableness and uncertainty, which could be fitted to the cha-

racter of such a being as man. In the human mind, as wc all know, there are capacities and virtues of very different kinds, and which respect very different situations of human condition. — There are powers of understanding which are adapted to prosperity, and others to adversity ; there are the virtues of patience, of resignation, of magnanimity, in scenes of distress, — as well as those of gratitude, of generosity, or of beneficence, in scenes of enjoyment. The perfection, however, of human nature, and, Avhat is far more, the voice of conscience within us, demands, that both of these should be brought into exercise ; and the character of man ever remains mutilated and imperfect, while it is the virtues or the capacities of one condition alone which he possesses or displays. To such a being, — to a state of existence intended to call all those various powers and virtues into action, — no conceivable character of nature around him could be adapted, but that of variableness and uncertainty. Were it in a scene of perpetual prosperity he was placed, all the

76 O SEASO S OF SCARCITY. nobler capacities of his nature would be lost iu indolence and enjoyment. — Were it in a scene of perpetual hardship, on the contrary, whatever is amiable or generous in his character, would equally be extinguished, and uniform selfishness and ferocity would mark his imperfect mind. It is in these vicissitudes of plenty and want, of prosperity and hardship, that all the latent powers of humanity can alone be brought into exercise, — that the understanding can employ all its capacities, and the heart display all its virtues ; — and that thus, according to the expression of the Apostle, ^^ the man, or the creature of God, may be

^^ completely furnished unto all good works." 2. If this very obvious consideration, my brethren, shews us the wisdom with which the constitution of nature is adapted to that of man ; there is another, equally obvious, which shews us the benevolence which reigns, even in the administration of the seasons of hardship and suffering. When we reflect how dependent the generations of men are upon the laws of nature ; when we consider, too, our ignorance with regard to tlie causes that influence them, either as to duration or extent, we cannot but be astonished at the limits which they are made to preserve, and at those unknown laws which govern every element of life around us. The winds, for aught that we see, might have been made to blow with a violence, Avhich no labours of man could resist ; — the ocean might have heaved with

O SEASO S OF SCARCITY. 77 waves, which, in the liouis of its fury, might have overwhelmed all the dwellings of men ; — the seasons of rain, or of drought, in the same manner, might have been of an intensity or continuance Avhich would liave anniliilated both seedtime and harvest, and sM^ept, in a short time, the race of man from the face of creation. Powerful, however, as these ministers are, in the hands of the Almighty, they are yet governed in their power. There is some unknown limit wliich they are not suffered to pass ; and, although we dare not say that all these were made only for the sake of man, it is impossible not to see, tliat, in the structure of the universe, there is yet an accommodation to his weakness, as well as to his powers, — that these visitations come to awe men, not to destroy, — that they are under the government of

Him, "who knoweth whereof we are made; who ^* remembereth that we arc but dust.'' The circumstances which I have now mentioned, — the suitableness of uncertainty in the government of nature to a being such as man, and, at the same time, the limit which is imposed to its occasional severities, — are suflicient to convince us, that we are not under tlie dominion of Time or Chance ; that the irregularities, as well as the regularity of nature, are equally in the design of the same All-wise and Beneficent Creator, and that some great purpose is uniformly pursued amid the wants^ as well as amid the prosperity of man.

7S O SEASO S OF SCARCITY* To lead your minds, my brethren, to this great and important truth, sufl'er me to present to you some of the beneficent purposes which visitations, such as we have lately experienced, serve, both with regard to nations and individuals. They are, in the first view, the great causes, in every country, of national improvement ; of improvement in that first and fundamental art, the cultivation of the earth, upon which all others ultimately depend. If seasons were uniformly prosperous, — if the harvest every year returned whatever was necessary for man and for beast, — every motive to human industry, and even to human thought, would be taken away. — ^ ature herself would do the whole ; man would be left only to enjoy ; and, freed from the necessity of thought, would soon sink into animal indulgence, and all the powers of his mind stagnate in stationary corruption. The visitations of scarcity serve greater

ends, and call nobler powers into action. By a wholesome but limited severity, they awaken all the force and ingenuity of his mind, to correct or to mitigate the severity of nature. Invention is exercised iu new methods of improvement ; observation is extended to other soils, and more perfect systems of cultivation ; the laws of nature are more carefully studied, and the fruits of other countries are introduced to aid the poverty, or to increase the production of our own.

O SEASO S OF SCARCITY. 79 Siich are the acquisitions which are gained to national knowledge and science, by these temporary severities of the seasons. But tliere is one additional reflection, very deserving of our notice, that they are not lost with the cause that produced them. TJie years of scarcity pass ; but the knowledge which has been acquired, the discoveries which have been made, remain to every future generation ; they remain to swell the sum of human science, — to multiply, in happier years, the productions of nature and the number of the people, — to constitute, by these means, new sources of national wealth, — and to form new foundations of national splendour. I hasten, however, from this wide and comprehensive subject, and from other reflections which it suggests, to state to you the effects which such severities of nature are fitted to have upon the character of the Individual, and to shew you, that here, as every where, we may discern the marks of that Paternal Hand, " who ruleth in the Heav^^ ens," and yet dwelleth "^ among the children of " men.*'

1. The first effect of such visitations, is to awaken and exalt our sentiments of devotion. If the feelings of religion are necessary, as God knows they are, to the happiness of human nature ; — if they are necessary, as we all know, to the final happiness of his Being, — no other constitution but that which we see, could be suited to this sub-

80 O SEASO S OF SCARCITY. lime purpose. If life were always prosperous, — if every season sliowered clown its plenty, and the years of men were passed in secure enjoyment, — e\ery thing teaches us to think, that the great truths of religion would soon pass from his mind, — that futurity would be forgot ; — and that this uniformity of beneficence would be referred, not to the will of Supreme Design, but to the unthanked direction of Fate or Destiny. If, on the other hand, it were only to an uniformity of hardship that men were born, consequences not less fatal would ensue. The benevolence of the Almighty would be unknown ; the dark character of imagination would form only deities of vengeance and of power; and the miserable worshipper would have recourse to every base and sanguinary rite by which he could appease the tyrants that seemed to oppress him. It is to provide against these mutual dangers ; to retain at once our sense of the greatness or of the goodness of the Almighty ; to keep alive in our hearts those hopes of religion, Avhich are the noblest prerogative of our being, — that this instability in nature takes place. It is to direct our eyes constantly to some greater being ; — at one time, to shew us how feeble are all the powers of man ; — at another, to open to us all the beneficence of Heaven ; and thus, amid those varying appearances, to lead our minds continually

to Him "in whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning," and to that future state,

O SEASO S OF SCARCITY, 81 '^ where there is final rest for the people of God." Such are the views of religion ; and such also, as we may all see, amid the severities as well as amid the bounty of nature, are the great ends which He that made us is pursuing, and by which he wishes to make perfect the immortal soul. 2. The next effect, my brethren, which visitations of scarcity have, is upon the moral conduct of men. History and experience tell us all, what have been the fatal consequences of continued prosperity, both with respect to nations and individuals ; — our own experience also, and the least knowledge of the history of nations, may tell us, on the other hand, what haveT)een the important effects of temporary suffering. In the present hour, no former examples are necessary. We have all, I trust, wherever we have been, seen many instances of the improvement of human character, both of the poor and the rich, both of the low and the high, by the visitation we bav« lately suffered. 1st. It has confirmed, if not created, many virtues among the poor. From the prosperity of former years, which then, alas ! had too often been wasted in intemperance and profligacy, it has produced sobriety and recollection. The

father has been brought back to his family, — the wife to her children. The domestick virtues, far more important to human happiness than all others, have been cultivated and understood ; and 11

8^ O SEASO S OF SCARCITY. many an unfortunate being, who was advancing in the road of guilt and infamy, has returned to the sense of virtue, and the consciousness of its rewards. The value of industry and economy have been known, and by many that knowledge and those habits have been acquired, which may provide for the prosperity of future days. But, above all, my brethren, by these means " their hearts *' have been turned unto righteousness ;" and, I doubt not, that there are many, who, when they come to the bed of death, will acknowledge, that it is to these severities they have owed their conversion; and th«t, had seasons of prosperity continued, they woul^ have died as well as '^ lived, ^^ without the sense of God in the world." 2dly. If such have been the consequences to the poor, I am glad to think, that such also have been the effects upon the opulent and the great. However much we may declaim against the weakness or sinfulness of human nature, it is pleasing to reflect, that, in the hours of distress, we have seen the actual proofs of Christian charity. In no age, surely, that has elapsed in the Christian kalendar, — in no country which boasts the name of Christian, — have such exertions of charity been made, as in this island, during the preceding years. —

While it is pleasing to remember this truly Christian fact, it is pleasing also to remember the words of the wise man, ^'that the merciful man doeth " good unto his own soul.'' I doubt not but there

O SEASO S OF SCARCITY. 83 are many who can justify this fine observation. I doubt not, but tliere are many among the great and the opulent, whom the past seasons have led to more than ordinary thought ; who have been raised l)y the wants around them, from tlie cheerless pursuit of selfish pleasure, to the genial experience of benevolence ; and who, having once known the true happiness of their nature, will never again depart from it. I doubt not, still further, but that in that awful hour, when high as well as low must submit to the dominion of death, many will tell, that these seasons have been also the seasons of fAe?r conversion; — that they gave them a juster notion of human nature, and human wants ; and that the dark hours in which the benevolence of God seemed to be eclipsed, were those in which, while they felt themselves called to the relief of suffering nature, they were called also to the best enjoyments, and the best hopes of their nature. The observation which I particularly wish to leave upon your mmds, from seasons such as the past, is their importance to morality. And no view that we can take of the benevolence or wisdom of God is more striking. In such seasons, the poor man acquires the habits of thought, of frugality, of temperance, with all the donestick virtues ever connected with tliese. The rich or great man, on the other hand, acquires the habits of attention, of Immanityj and of charity ; — and the

B4 O SEASO S OF SCARCITY. wish, not only to relieve distress, but, far more^ to prevent it. The season of distress passes, — but these habits remain. They remain to bless the possessors, and to benefit humanity. But, what is far more, they remain, in eaeli rank, if they are preserved, to the age of immortality, and to cover equally tlie dignified and the undignified head with the crown of eternal glory. — To each the hour will come, when these " light afflictions," which are indeed but " for a moment," will meet their full reward ; and when, in looking back upon the varying scenes of their trial, they will bless those hours of suffering, when they learnt the knowledge of God, and the comforts of performing their duty. Such, my bretliren, are the sentiments which seem to me to befit the present season. The thoughtlessness of vulgar men meets adversity with despondence, and prosperity with levity. It is the character of religion to teach us nobler sentiments : — to teach us that all events, whether fortunate or unfortunate, are equally under the Government of the Almighty ; and that this varying and uncertain scene of being is most wisely accommodated to the nature of that mind which is formed for immortality, and can only " be made perfect by '^suffering." Even in these hours, therefore, my brethren, when our minds are scarcely recovered from the memory of former hardships, I cannot pray that

O SEASO S OF SCARCITY. 85 such seasons may never return, — I pray? on tlie contrary, that the will of God " may be done iti ^^ earth, as it is in Heaven ;" — that our fears and our hopes may be equally prostrated in holy submission before the Throne of Omniscience; — and that whatever be the seasons which his Providence may send, tlie Spirit that is from on High may lead us to know His laws, and dispose us to obey His will.

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