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“And Pharaoh'said unto Jacob, How old art thou ?”—Genesis, 47: 8.
Another year has passed away! Its days, its hours have been all swallowed in the vast abyss of the infinite Past. Its transac tions belong now to the province of history. Memory may recall them, and by her magic power cause their pictured resemblances to rise before us; but never again can they be living events: just as the portrait of a beloved friend may make that friend vividly present to the eye of the mind, while the sweet voice is silent, and he beauty of form and the grace of motion have been hidden in the tomb. We have a power over the Past, which we have not over the Future : and the past sways us as the future cannot sway. We may, in fancy, live over again our past existence; while the utmost stretch of fancy cannot reach into the secret lurking-places of “coming events." We have the faculty of memory by which we may recall; but no faculty with which man is endowed will, of itself, enable him to foresee. The Past has a strong hold upon us. It is acquainted with our ways, with all our secret thoughts. It holds the record of our doings, good or bad. It can touch the springs of conscience, and kindle the fires of remorse. It is fraught with a testimony that affects our character and peace. The Future can affect us only when faith enlightens our vision, and when in its light the voice of the Past speaks cheeringly, or with bitter reproach and condemnation. The Past can teach us. In order to be instructed by the Future we need the light of revelation. The Past, though gone from us, is, in a certain sense, ours. We have lived in it; our lives have taken a coloring from it; in it
we have exerted an influence on the world; our weal or woe is linked with it. But the Future is not ours; it is altogether beyond our reach. Yet in that future we must live. That too in its turn must become our Past. And so we go on,-on, for
ever; each moment casting behind us a portion of time, yet having still before us an infinite future; each moment diminishing that portion of time which is bounded by the grave, and has been allotted by an all-wise Creator as a period of preparation for that existence which is beyond the grave, and has no limit.
And now another grand division of time has disappeared ; not a moment, merely; not a day, but a whole Year-a large portion of our little period of probation. Not one Sabbath only; but fiftytwo of those sacred days have passed away, with all their holy influences and precious privileges. And we stand at the commencement of a New Year; we enter to-day on a new cycle of Sabbaths. We penetrate still farther into the future. Our earthly journey is not yet finished. A new stage is reached.
With seemingly accelerated speed we press on to its termination.
Do no reflections peculiar to such a period press upon our minds? Does not the rolling year speak to us? Is it not fitting that we should now give heed to the voice of the past year, and learn what preparation we have made, for the toils and temptations, the joys and griefs, the prosperity and the adversity, aye, and the struggle with death which may await us in this new year upon which we have just entered?
That year has gone-gone with its sighs and tears, its pleasures and delights, its deeds of wickedness and of folly, its acts of benevolence and love, its prayers, and praises, and lowly confessions, and sacrifices of broken and contrite hearts. We look back upon it and what do we behold ? Shall I pause to speak of the shaking and overturning of thrones and dominions, of the exile of monarchs, of the births and deaths of princes, of the triumphs of liberty, of national prosperity and renown, or national adversity and disgrace? Do our hearts shudder, or do they swell, and the blood grow warm in our veins, at sight of deeds of cruelty and oppression, of diplomatic fraud, of wholesale butchery, of the downtreading of the poor by a cold-hearted aristocracy or a gain-loving caste, and of the out-breaking of riotous passions, and the disregard of law? Do we weep as we behold the fires of bigotry, of sectarianism, and of persecution ? Or do we rejoice as our vision is greeted by the banner of the cross waving on the hill-tops of Syria, and the plains of India, and our ear catches the song of thanksgiving and praise that rises from the Isles of the ocean? Do we count with joy the converts who flee to the ark of safety? Or do we mourn as the desolations of Zion force theraselves upon our view?
The past year, my brethren, is full of such sights and sounds. It has circled the earth, and on the tablet which represents its journey, are mingled all these strokes of light and shade. It is a picture whose study may well awaken saddened emotions, while yet joy attempers grief.
But why study thus the woRLD's past year? We have enough for meditation if we bound our vision by our own circle. Brethren, think of these things. What blessings have you received at God's hand ? Count up your fireside comforts and joys. Remember your deliverances from danger, your days of health, your comfort in sickness, your prosperity in business. Remember your spiritual joys—God's presence with you at the house of prayer, the refreshing of your soul in the place of social worship, the consolation and strength which He has vouchsafed unto you. Remember your errors, and deficiencies, and offences—your yielding to temptation, and then again your successful resistance of it. Those of you who are yet impenitent, can recall the many opportunities that have been granted you, for securing your salvation : the words of divine truth addressed to you, the warnings of God's providence, the strivings of the Holy Spirit, the anxiety which has been awakened in your souls, your convictions of guilt and danger, and the serious impressions which you have found it so difficult to throw off. And what trials have we had—what sickness—what experience of affliction? How many graves have we seen opened, and whom have we laid therein ? Death has been around us and among us in the past year. The old, and the young, and the midde-aged, has he claimed as his victims. Scarcely an individual who hears me bas escaped the sundering of some link of connection, either close or distant, by the hand of death, since the last year commenced its progress. Hardly any present have failed to witness funeral rites during that progress. All can remember eyes which twelve months since looked upon them, and which are now sealed in the tomb; voices which then greeted them, which shall be heard no more until the resurrection. And we are yet alive! some with tottering limbs and whitened locks, some just turning to old age, some in the full vigor of existence, some in the rosy morning of life. We are yet alive! and round about us are the mercies of our God. We are yet alive! and we walk among the graves of our fathers and our friends, and we gaze on the fresh turf and the newly-carred monument, or at the sunken grave, and the time-marked stone, the living in the city of the dead. We are yet alive! and to-day are gathered in the house of God, to hear the voice of warning, to drink in the hallowed influence of prayer and praise, to fill our lamps with oil, and trim them for the bridegroom's coming. We are yet alive! and the voice of the past speaks to us its lessons of wisdom, stirring the foun-tains of gratitude, moving the throb of contrition, awakening hope or fear. We are yet alive! But ah! rny hearers, when this year
too has fled, and another cycle commences, how many of our forms will have disappeared-how many new graves will be counted ? Who of us will be missed from the solemn assembly that shall then be gathered here? Shall it be the old man who has already reached his threescore-and-ten-or the aged mother--or the blooming youth-or the sportive child? Or shall he who now addresses you be then among the dead? We are yet alive! But the dead of this rolling year—who shall they be?
I have said, we are constantly going onward. And it is well to have some marks by which to estimate our progress. And the great Creator of the world was not unmindful of his creatures wants in this respect, when he said (Gen. 1: 14), “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.” He hath established such way-marks on the face of His creation; and these, though silent, speak to our hearts. Each year comes and
with an appeal to us. As the earth finishes its annual circuit around the sun, and then starts anew upon its course, a voice whispers to us of the flight of time, and of that limitless ocean upon whose shores we shall soon stand. And as year after
year is added to the past, we count up the number that have fled, and reckon our age, and speculate about the number that yet shall come.
“ How old art thou ?'' asks the fleeting year; and, unwilling though we be, we are forced to give an answer.
“ How old art thou ?” In our text, these words form the inquiry of a proud and powerful monarch, addressed to an aged man. Jacob had come to Egypt to live and die with his long lost, but lately found, and dearly loved Joseph. “And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh : and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou ? And Jacob said unto Pharaoh : The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years : few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers, in the days of their pilgrimage. His days had indeed been few when compared with those of his ancestors, whose existence extended through several centuries. And sorrowful had been his pilgrimage; for his domestic peace had been often invaded, and his dearest objects had been snatched from him. The duration of human life, as we thus perceive, had already, even in Jacob's time, greatly diminished; and since that time it has become still less. And though the Psalmist, in his day, spoke of seventy years as man's allotted period, and though occasionally some outlive that period, yet few, comparatively, at present attain unto it, and a little more than thirty years sweeps away a generation of our race. Death has all seasons" for his own; from earliest infancy to extreme old age, he is constantly bearing off his victims; and it is the utterance of humanity, “few are the days of our pilgrimage.”
Now there is occasion for serious reflection in the fact, that the average duration of human existence is so short. Great numbers never reach its limit. The numbers of those who pass by the limit must be diminishing as they recede from it. After reaching a certain distance from it the probability of a further continuance becomes slight. So that, independently of the consideration of the uncertainty of life, of our liability to death at any moment, the shortness of human existence, even upon the most favorable calculation, gives great force, and pertinence, and solemnity to the inquiry,
« How old art thou ? There is cause for solicitude as we ask, how large a proportion of our allotted period of existence has passed away, how much yet remains. Each .year gone, has advanced us so much nearer to the end of our pilgrimage ; and whether viewed simply with reference to this life, or, more philosophically and religiously, with reference to the future, it is a matter of no small concern to behold the space upon which we may reasonably calculate, so sensibly and rapidly diminishing. And especially, when the light of the gospel shines upon us, and causes us to regard our earthly existence as a period of probation, of preparation for an ever-during, unalterable state of being ; when we are assured that all which can be done to secure eternal happiness must be done on this side of the grave—that Repentance is an inhabitant of earth, and Faith has here her appointed sphere of action—that unless we be reconciled to God by faith in Jesus Christ, before we leave this world, we must for ever remain at enmity with Him, and, consequently, be for ever miserable :-when we thus regard life, we may well take note of our fleeting years, and be warned by the voice of Time, as he hurries past us. Time performs to us a kind office in propounding the inquiry, “ How old art thou ?" Subtract the past from the whole allotted period, putting each at the most favorable point-compare the past with the probable future, and have we any leisure for loitering? Is not each moment too precious to be wasted? Thirty, twenty, ten years, seem long to us, when in the outset of life we look forward to them; but how quickly do they pass ! The old tell us that time seems not to them as in the days of their youth. Jacob at the end of a hundred and thirty years, regarded his days as “ few." The school-boy counts the weeks that must intervene before his enjoyment of a release from study, and they seem to him almost interminably long. The aged pilgrim, nearly done with the cares of life, looks back upon his pilgrimage, and it appears to him as but yesterday that he was the school-boy, chiding the slowly-moving wheels of time.
How old then art thou, my hearer ? Count thy years; and be they few or many, in childhood, youth, maturity, old age,-se.