« PreviousContinue »
penetrating into what is to come. The most common propensity of mankind, is, to store futurity with whatever is agreeable to them; especially in those periods of life, when imagination is lively, and hope is ardent. Looking forward to the year now beginning, they are ready to promise themselves much from the foundations of prosperity which they have laid; from the friendships and connexions which they have secured; from the plans of conduct which they have formed. Alas! how deceitful do all these dreams of happiness often prove! While many are saying in secret to their hearts, To-morrow shall be as this day, and more abundantly,' we are obliged in return to say to them, Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.' I do not mean that, in the unknown prospect which lies before us, we should forebode to ourselves nothing but misfortunes.-May it be the pleasure of Heaven, that this year run on in a placid and tranquil tenour to us all!-But this I say, that in such foresight of futurity as we are allowed to take, we may reckon upon it as certain, that this year shall prove to us, as many past have proved, a checquered scene of some comforts and some troubles. In what proportion one or other of these shall prevail in it; whether, when it ends, it shall leave with us the memory of joys or of sorrows, is to be determined by Him, in whose hands our times are.' Our wisdom is, to be prepared for whatever the year is to bring; prepared to receive comforts with thankfulness, troubles with fortitude; and to improve both for the great purposes of virtue and eternal life.
2. Another important instruction, which naturally arises from our times not being in our own hands, is, that we ought no longer to trifle with what is not in our power to prolong: but that we should make haste to live as wise men; not delaying till to-morrow what may be done to-day; doing now with all our might, whatever our hand findeth to do:' before that night cometh, wherein no man can work.'
Amidst the uncertainty of the events which are before us, there is one thing we have too much reason to believe, namely, that of us who are now assembled in this congregation, and who have seen the year begin, there are some who shall not survive to see it close. Whether it shall be you, or you, or I, who shall be gathered to our fathers before the revolving year has finished its round, God alone knows. "Our times are in his VOL. I.
hand!'-But to our place, it is more than probable that some of us shall have gone. Could we foretell the month, or the day, on which our change was to happen, how diligent would we be in setting our house in order, and preparing ourselves to appear before our Maker! Surely, that ought to be prepared for with most care, concerning which we are ignorant how soon it is to take place. Let us therefore walk circumspectly, and redeem the time. Let us dismiss those trivial and superfluous cares which burden or corrupt life, in order to attend to what is of highest importance to us as men and Christians. The beginning of each year should carry to us all a solemn admonition of our folly, in neglecting to improve suitably the years that are past. It should call up mis-spent time into our view; and be like the hand coming forth upon the wall, in the days of Belshazzar, and writing in legible characters over-against us, O man! thy days are numbered; thou art weighed in the balance, and found wanting; take care, lest thy kingdom be on the point of departing from thee.'
3. When we consider, in the next place, that our times, as I before illustrated, are in the hand of God as a sovereign Disposer, it is an obvious inference from this truth, that we should prepare ourselves to submit patiently to his pleasure, both as to the events which are to fill up our days, and as to the time of our continuing in this world. To enjoy long life, and see many days, is the universal wish; and, as the wish is prompted by nature, it cannot be in itself unlawful. At the same time, several circumstances concur to temper the eagerness of this wish; and to show us that it should always be formed under due submission to the wiser judgement of Heaven. Who among us can tell whether, in wishing for the continuance of many years on earth, we may not be wishing only for a prolongation of distress and misery?-You might live, my friends, till you had undergone lingering rounds of severe pain, from which death would have proved a seasonable deliverance. You might live till your breasts were pierced with many a wound from public calamities or private sorrows. You might live till you beheld the death of all whom you had loved; till you survived all those who love you; till you were left as desolate strangers on the earth in the midst of a new race, who neither knew you nor cared for you, but who wished you off the stage. Of a nature so ambiguous are all the prospects which
life sets before us, that in every wish we form relating to them, much reason we have to be satisfied, that our times are in the hands of God, rather than our own.
4. This consideration is greatly strengthened, when, in the last place, we think of God acting, not as a Sovereign only, but as a Guardian, in the disposal of our times. This is our great consolation in looking forward to futurity. To God as a wise Ruler calm submission is due: but it is more than submission that belongs to him as a merciful father; it is the spirit of cordial and affectionate consent to his will. Unknown to us as the times to come are, it should be sufficient to our full repose that they are known to God. The day and the hour which are fixed in his counsels for our dismission from life, we ought to be persuaded are fixed for the best; and that any longer we should not wish to remain.
When we see that last hour drawing nigh, though our spirits may be composed on our own account, yet to be parted from our friends and families is, at any rate, a bitter thought; but to the bitterness of this, is over and above added the apprehension of their suffering much by our death. We leave many a relation, perhaps may leave young children, and a helpless family, behind us, to be exposed to various dangers, and thrown forth on an unfriendly world.-My brethren, look up to that God, in whose hand the times of your fathers were; in whose hand the times of your posterity shall be. When were the righteous utterly forsaken by God, in times past? Why should they be forsaken by him, in times to come?— Well did he govern the world, before you had a being in it : well shall he continue to govern it, after you are no more. Commit your cares to a Father in heaven. Surrender your life, your friends, and your family, to that God who hath said, "The children of his servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before him.' [Psalm cii. 28.] Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in me.' [Jeremiah xlix. 11.]
Thankful, therefore, that our times are in the hand of a Sovereign, who is both wise and gracious, let us prepare ourselves to meet the approaching events of life with becoming resignation, and, at the same time, with manly constancy and firm trust in God. As long as it shall please him to continue our abode in the world, let us remain faithful to our duty; and when it
shall please him to give the command for our removal hence, let us utter only this voice: In thy hand, O my God, my times are. Thou art calling me away. Here I am ready to obey thy call, and, at thy signal, to go forth. I thank thee, that I have been admitted to partake so long of the comforts of life, and to be a spectator of the wisdom and goodness displayed in thy works. I thank thee, that thou hast borne so long with my infirmities and provocations; hast allowed me to look up to thy promises in the Gospel, and to hear the words of eternal life uttered by my great Redeemer. With gratitude, faith, and hope, I commit my soul to thee; 'Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.'-Such are the sentiments, with which every pious and good man should conclude his life. Such indeed are the sentiments, which he ought to carry through every part of life. With these may we begin, and with these conclude, every succeeding year, which God shall think fit to add to our earthly existence.
[DR. HUGH BLAIR.]
SECOND SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS.
CHRIST A SAVIOUR.
[LUKE ii. 21.—His name was called Jesus.]
[Text taken from the Gospel for the Day.]
THE name, which is here assigned to the infant Christ, implies Saviour. Let us consider, what great blessings are comprised in the salvation which he was born to confer upon us, and the many encouragements we have given us, to endeavour to obtain it.
The salvation which Christ purchased, and the gospel tenders to every creature, is a comprehension of the greatest blessings God can bestow; a deliverance from the most dreadful evils that mankind can suffer. It contains all that can make the nature of man perfect, or his life happy; and secures him from whatever can render his condition miserable. The bless
ings of it are inexpressible, and beyond imagination. 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.' For, to be saved, as Christ came to save the world, is to have all our innumerable sins and transgressions forgiven and blotted out; all those heavy loads of guilt, which oppressed our souls, perfectly removed from our minds. It is to be reconciled to God, and restored to his favour; so that he will be no longer an angry, terrible, and revengeful God; but a most kind, compassionate, and tender-hearted father. It is to be at peace with him, and with our consciences; to have a title to his peculiar love, care, and protection, all our days; to be rescued from the bondage and dominion of sin, and the tyranny of Satan. It is to be translated from the power of darkness, into the kingdom of our dear Lord; so that sin shall reign no longer in our mortal bodies, but we shall serve God in newness of spirit. It is to be placed in a state of true freedom and liberty, to be no longer under the control of blind passions, and hurried on by our impetuous lusts, to do what our reason condemns. It is to have a new principle of life infused into our souls, whereby we shall be enabled to live up to the perfection of our nature, and, in some degree, partake of the divine. It is to have the Holy Spirit lodged in our hearts, whose comfortable influence will ever cheer and refresh us; and by whose wise counsels we shall be always advised, directed, and governed. It is to be transformed into the image of God; to be like him in wisdom, righteousness, and all other perfections, of which man's nature is capable.
Again; to be saved as Christ came to save mankind, is to be delivered from that dreadful vengeance, which shall be one day inflicted on the whole world; when the heaven shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be burnt up with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up. When the Lord shall descend from heaven with a mighty shout, with ten thousand of his angels, to take vengeance in flaming fire, upon all ungodly men, for all their ungodly deeds that they have committed ;' when all men, both small and great, dead and living, shall be summoned to appear before his dreadful and impartial tribunal, to give an account of all their actions. When the