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ON NEW YEAR'S DAY.
ON NEW YEAR'S DAY.
“O PRAISE the Lord in his holiness, praise him in the firmament of his power, praise him in his noble acts, praise him according to his excellent greatness! Let every thing that hath breath, praise the Lord. Amen!” To take a higher point of ground than is usual, in order to obtain a wider prospect, and especially to survey our earthly life in its totality, we never feel ourselves more forcibly incited, my hearers, than on the morning of a new year. He who has just passed through a large period of time, and sees before him one equally large, can scarcely refrain from raising himself from particular to more general objects, and contemplating every thing more in the aggregate. For shall he not look backwards, in order to enquire what he has done in the past time, what progress he has made in it, what he may consider as finished, as acquired, as the clear profit of his exertions? Shall he not also eagerly direct his view forwards into futurity, in 82order to consider, how much time may yet be granted to him; to determine what he has to do, to form a plan for the future, and to regulate his whole conduct? Lastly, the quick change of our years, their never-ceasing stream-like course, their almost inconceivable rapidity of flight, when is this more perceptible to us, than on the morning of a new year? But is not at the same time the representation of our whole earthly existence pressed upon us? Must we not be sensible, how short is its period, how lost it is in the abyss of centuries, how it vanishes into nothing, when we compare it with the existence of Him, who continues for ever as He is, and whose years have no end! Thus disposed to stand on higher ground, to extend on all sides your sphere of view, usually confined to daily concerns, and to elevate yourselves to the conception of what is great, general, and comprehensive, have you now assembled here; this I may assume with a degree of certainty. And how do I congratulate you on this frame of mind! Would you enter on the new year with meditations, with feelings, with resolutions, worthy of reasonable creatures and of true Christians, then must your minds burst the limits which ordinarily confine them, they must with thought unrestrained ponder over years and centuries, they must be conscious of a destiny and a dignity, which lifts them above all earthly things, they must adopt measures suitable to this 83destiny and dignity, they must, in short, observe the true position which is allotted them in the immeasurable kingdom of God, and according to that direct and order their whole conduct. Our position in the immeasurable kingdom of God! What a consideration, my brethren! That we live in an universe, which stretches itself on all sides without bounds; that this universe is the work, the sphere of action, and the imperishable empire of the Infinite; that the place which we occupy in it is not the result of accident, but of the wisdom of Him who disposes and governs all things; that we are thereby brought into contact with the whole, into connexion with all that it contains, and into manifold relations with the same; that from these relations arise duties which we acknowledge and which we must fulfil, if we would answer the purposes of God, if we would not disgrace ourselves, if we would not offer a contradiction to the whole system, and plunge ourselves into misery: all this must be evident to us, this must employ all our meditations, this must determine all our resolutions and designs, if we wish to enter on the new year with reasonable prudence, and to pass through it with benefit to ourselves and others.
Raise then your view, beloved brethren; look well at your situation, and consider, on what theatre of his glory, in what part of his stupendous creation, in what station in his kingdom, God has 84placed you. How will your breast heave and expand at this survey! how important will that period, which we this day commence, thus become to you; and with what confidence, with what resolutions, with what hopes, will you advance into it! We fall down then in adoration before thee, O thou Infinite, who “coverest thyself with light as a garment, thou who spreadest out the heavens like a curtain, thou who hast laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.” Make us understand and feel, with joy and elevation of mind, to what thou hast destined us, and let this hour be the commencement of thy blessings for this year! We supplicate thee in silent devotion.
As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone and the place thereof shall know it no more, &c. &c.
How wonderfully is the creation of God displayed to us in these words, my hearers, how immense is it represented to us! “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting,” as the sacred Bard. exclaims. Thus the creation of God is immeasurable in duration, and will never cease to be the happy scene of his grace and his love which blesseth all things. And who can comprehend its extent? 85“The Lord hath prepared his throne in heaven,” continues the Psalmist, “and his kingdom ruleth over all.” Wide as the dominion of the true God extends, (and is not this dominion boundless, and do not suns and worlds fill remotest space?) far as this dominion extends, so far reaches the power of the Eternal; to him all things therein are subject. What numbers of creatures, what various beings endowed with feeling, what hosts of mighty and exalted spirits live and act in this immeasurable world! “Bless the Lord, ye his angels,” says the sacred Poet in continuation, “ye that excel in strength, that do his commandments; praise the Lord, all ye his hosts; praise the Lord, all his works.” And what sensations does the Psalmist himself experience at this view into immensity, at this song of praise of all creatures, at this all-embracing sovereignty of the Almighty? It is true, the feeling of his transitory nature, of his nothingness, first strikes him; alas! he appears as a flower which soon decays; as grass which suddenly fadeth away. But a glance at the mercy of the Lord, which “is from everlasting to everlasting,” re-invigorates him; consoled he looks around him in the infinite kingdom of the All-gracious, he feels himself elevated as a citizen thereof, and at last cheerfully joins in the universal song of praise; with joy he cries out, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”
What a point of view is here opened to us, my 86brethren! Where could we more appropriately celebrate the morning of the new year, than on a spot, which affords us prospects into the boundless creation of God, which every where displays to us the sovereignty of the Eternal, which reveals to us the wonders of everlasting goodness, where we hear on all sides the hymn of praise of God’s happy creatures, and where we must observe in what relation we ourselves stand to the universe? Here then let us stay; here let us submit our meditations to the guidance of the sacred writer. Fruitful reflection on our situation in the immeasurable kingdom of God shall employ our thoughts. The author of our text describes this in all its bearings and relations; and we need only apply what he teaches us, in order to find it full of instruction and encouragement at the beginning of the new year. Our situation in the immeasurable kingdom of God is, according to our text, in its present state a most uncertain and transient condition; this should make us serious and humble at the opening of the new year. But it is a place within the sphere of everlasting Goodness; this should cheer and comfort us at the opening of the new year. It is a station in the dominion of supreme Righteousness; this should excite in us the most conscientious and ardent desire of improvement at the opening of the new year. It is a rank in the gradations of the noblest and most exalted creatures; this creates an obligation 87of the most generally useful activity at the commencement of the new year: lastly, it is a place, where we are surrounded by the songs of praise of all the creatures of God; and this should animate us, as we enter on the new year, to the most joyful worship of God.
Let us take a closer view of each of these relations. Our situation in the immeasurable kingdom of God is at present a most uncertain and transitory state, which the author of our text could ill conceal from himself, as it is the first thing which attracts his notice. “The days of man,” he cries, “are as grass; he flourisheth as a flower of the field; when the wind goeth over it, it is gone, and the place thereof knoweth it no more.” What appears to us more unimportant, my brethren, what do we tread upon with such indifference, as the grass which grows beneath our feet? But such is man in the immense creation, of such little moment is his life to the universe; thousands may die; millions may disappear; the lowly grass is dried up, and is not missed in the vast universe. What is more perishable than a flower? How quickly it fades away, when the scorching breath of summer blows upon it! But such is man and his vital power; so little may he expect a long duration; every trifle, every breath of calamity may destroy him: and how many families, tribes, and nations, have been so entirely swept away from the earth, that the 88place thereof is no longer known! What shall we say, my brethren? Can we on looking at the immense creation of God deny, that our condition is highly uncertain and transient? Do we not daily see, how the tenderest plants of our species wither around us, how the fairest buds fall off while yet unopened, how the fullest blossoms fade, before they bear fruit? And we ourselves; doth not the killing blast blow on every side? Do not destroying powers every where surround us? Are we not every where subject to the dangerous hazard of dreadful accidents? Are we sure of our life for the next day, nay, for the next hour? And of what consequence will it be if we disappear? Will the vase universe undergo any change, will the order of things be disturbed, will the earth mourn over us? Are we not sensible, that scarcely in the nearest country, scarcely in the nearest town, scarcely even in the nearest houses, will it be perceived that we are no more, and our place will soon be no longer known? What a state, my brethren, what a position in the immeasurable, the everlasting kingdom of God! So many nations, so many races of men, so many generations has the heaven, which spreads its arch above us, beheld arise and pass away! What is the individual in this perpetual decay of all things? What is the moment of our life in the boundless duration of the world? Shall this not make us serious and humble on entering 89the new year? Let no one however complain, that he is led to so dispiriting a contemplation on a morning, which one is wont to greet with joy. Ye, who know how shameful every deception is, how little is gained by concealment of the truth, ye wiser and better portion of my brethren, O shun not this contemplation; you it alarms not, that our condition on earth is so uncertain and transitory. Only so much the more seriously do we begin the new year; only so much the less indulge in idle dreams; so much the more reasonably contract our wishes; so much the more humbly do we acknowledge for what God has made us, and esteem ourselves no higher than becomes us. And now let the new year produce what it will, it will not surprise us, it will not disappoint our plans; we are prepared for all. But ye, who begin the new year with a high opinion of your importance, with arrogance and pride, shall I not tell you, “the days of man are as grass,” which is trodden under foot with contempt, and that may speedily be your fate? Ye, who reckon on a long life, and pass your time in thoughtless security, shall I not tell you, “man is as a flower of the field, when the wind passeth over it, it is gone;” and may not this withering blast at any moment overtake you? Ye, who are absorbed in your schemes and your business, and are dreaming of the brilliant success you will achieve, shall I not cry to you, Yet a little while, and ye will be 90no more; when one looketh to your place, ye are gone, and then all your projects are frustrated? Ye, lastly, who commence the new year with all your vices, with all your impetuous desires, with all your wild passions, and think to continue your excesses undisturbed, shall I not tell you, “all flesh is grass, and all its excellence is as a flower of the field;” shall I not remind you, in what jeopardy ye stand, and what haste ye must make to save your souls; shall I not exhort and conjure you, “To-day, if ye will hear the voice of God, harden not your hearts?”
A most uncertain and transient state is our present situation in the kingdom of God; this is the first impression we receive from the subject. So much the more gratifying must it be to us, that it is at the same time a place within the sphere of an everlasting Goodness, for this must fill us with comfort and cheerfulness on entering the new year.
How soon the sacred Poet in our text is exhilarated, my brethren! How soon does he moderate the painful feeling of his short-lived nature by representations of another kind! How he strengthens himself by a view of the grace and compassion of Him, who “hath prepared his throne in heaven!” “The mercy of the Lord,” he cries, “is from everlasting to everlasting.” The world then is to him the great theatre, the happy dominion of the all-embracing, all-preserving, all-blessing mercy of God; the theatre of a mercy which is “over all his works,” 91which neglects none of his creatures, and which is glorified in the lowest as well as in the highest: the theatre of a mercy, which is never weary of doing good, by which this immeasurable universe is continued from century to century, and the influence of which is infinite and boundless as eternity. And is he not right, my brethren? Is not this view of the world confirmed by all we see in it? The wise order which combines all things; the fullness of life which every where abounds; the variety of creatures which fills all nature; the different ranks of beings gifted with higher and higher endowments, till they rise even to the throne of God; the immense abundance of good things diffused on all sides, the numberless kinds of enjoyment, by which every thing that feels and lives, is refreshed; the unutterable charm, the heavenly beauty spread over all things; is not all this the manifest operation, the speaking testimony, the everlasting glory of a mercy which knows no limits, and which has no other aim than the welfare of its creatures?
What a sphere of extraordinary grace has our globe, moreover, become through Christ! No, since the Son of God appeared on earth, it is not to be for a moment doubted that we stand under the inspection of paternal love which takes care of us, which ordains our whole lot, which tolerates our faults with forbearance, which seeks the enlightening, the improvement, and the moral cultivation of our mind, 92which will ever preserve and guide us. We are placed, my brethren, within the sphere of action of everlasting Goodness, and we are surrounded by its all-prospering activity. But if this is our position in the infinitely vast kingdom of God, how comforted, how cheerful may we pass into that period of time, which this day commences! Although it may be wrapt in darkness, although it will ever be uncertain what may lie concealed in its womb; it is sufficient that we are not the sport of chance, no blind fate hurries us along; a Mercy, which is from everlasting to everlasting, encircles us; we live in its dominion; can any thing then befal us, but what tends to our benefit? Are you happy and contented in your situation? enter the new year with comfort; a Mercy presides over you which will maintain your happiness, as long as is good for you. Are you unfortunate in your circumstances and desirous of a change? enter the new year with comfort; a Mercy presides over you, which will better your condition, as soon as is expedient for you. Do you pine in want and poverty, and are the questions, “What shall we eat, what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed,” to-day revived in you? enter the new year with comfort; a Mercy rules over you, which has compassion on all its works, which will open its liberal hand, and satisfy you also with good things. Are you troubled by a sense of your transgressions, and feel the reproaches of an awakened 93conscience? enter the new year with comfort; a Mercy rules over you, which does not “deal with us after our sins, nor reward us according to our iniquities,” which will pardon you for Christ’s sake, as soon as you manifest a real change. Are you in a state of great weakness, and groan under the burden of a suffering frame? enter the new year with comfort; a Mercy reigns over you, which can be mighty even in weakness, and “will not let you be tempted above that ye are able to bear.” Do you see death before you, and does every thing announce that your end is at hand? enter even ye into the new year with comfort, though it be your last; still a Mercy reigns over you, which “is from everlasting to everlasting,” which will preserve you even in death, and carry you to a higher scene of its wonders and its blessings. How happy is our situation, my brethren! Within the sphere of everlasting Goodness, and surrounded by its beneficent acts and dispensations, will it be possible that we shall be in want of any good thing?
Only forget not, that our position in the measureless kingdom of God is also a station in the dominion of supreme Righteousness, for this should excite in us at the opening of the new year a zealous desire of real improvement. We are not placed in the sphere of a blind, or weak, or partial goodness, a goodness which arbitrarily distributes its favours and lavishes them on the unworthy. Hear the declaration of the Psalmist, “The mercy 94of the Lord,” he cries, “is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children, to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.” The gifts, therefore, of that Mercy which rules over us are attached to conditions; the sphere in which this Mercy operates is also the dominion of a Righteousness, in which the commandments of a holy covenant are in force; a Righteousness, which administers its laws with the greatest strictness, which estimates the conduct of men with the most precise exactness, which sooner or later rewards every man according to his works. And we feel it, my brethren; our conscience speaks to us with a power which we cannot elude, “In such a station do we stand; there are certain laws which we are bound to observe:” it is by no means of little consequence, whether we fear or scorn the Lord, whether we keep his covenant or transgress it; in the first case only do we act as reasonable beings, in the last we disgrace ourselves and load ourselves with guilt.
How perfectly holy is the new covenant established through Christ, under whose laws we, as Christians, live! In that it is an indispensable condition, “He that nameth the name of Christ, let him depart from iniquity;” in that it is an essential doctrine, “Ye shall be holy and perfect as your Father who is in heaven;” in that it is an 95irrevocable declaration, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” And does not experience daily demonstrate, that we are subject to the influence of a strict, incorruptible Justice? But if you forget what obligations your station lays upon you, and transgress the laws of God, what disorders will not arise, into what perplexities will you not fall, what wretchedness will you not incur, with what consternation will you not discover that no wickedness remains unpunished! in the dominion of supreme Righteousness every one receives his deserts! How serious, yet how gratifying; how alarming, yet how encouraging to us, my brethren, as we enter the new year, must be this government of supreme Justice! There is then but one way of converting the year now begun into a year of blessing, namely, real amendment. We must fear God, we must keep his covenant, we must be mindful of his commandments to do them, if we would prosper. Expect, therefore, nothing from the grace of God in the new year, if you arm his justice against you; he will, perhaps, spare you yet awhile, and give you time for your mind to become changed. But woe unto you, if his goodness, patience, and long-suffering, do not lead you to repentance; what wrath will you heap upon yourselves “in the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God!” Flatter yourselves not with the hope of being able to bribe the 96justice of God, by an idle faith in Christ, by an empty affectation of piety, or by a reputable course of life in the eyes of the world. Have you not to do with Him, “who trieth the hearts and reins, who judgeth righteously, and with whom is no respect of persons?” It is well for you on the contrary, who are sensible of the duties, which belong to a station in the dominion of supreme Righteousness. To cleanse yourselves more and more from all sin, to put on more and more that mind which the covenant of God requires of you, and to fulfil his sacred will with greater alacrity, with joyful gratitude, and with heartfelt love, will be your care and your continual endeavour through the new year. And what success will you not have, what progress will you not make! In the empire of supreme Justice no good affection of your heart, no generous purpose of your will, no exertion of your powers in the performance of your duty, no honest endeavour, is unrewarded and without effect. The more faithful you are in small things, so much the more will be entrusted to you; and if you strive in the new year to “seek, first, the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all other things shall be added unto you.” And what can better become you, my brethren, than this zeal to perform your duty? Is not our station in the measureless kingdom of God, also a rank in the gradations of the noblest and most exalted creatures; and shall not 97this oblige us to the most widely useful activity, as we advance into the new year? How is the mind of the author of our text elevated, my brethren! What an alliance appears to him to exist between heaven and earth; in what a connexion does he behold himself with creatures of all kinds; what a series, what degrees of celestial beings and powers reveal themselves before his eyes! “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens,” he exclaims, “and his kingdom ruleth over all. Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments; bless the Lord, ye his hosts, ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.” Thus we live, my brethren, in a world, where all is in activity, where incalculable powers are in operation, where life and sense are every where in motion, where infinitely more exists than is perceptible to our outward vision, where there is an invisible city of God, where there are countless hosts of free and rational spirits, where there are those that excel in strength, mighty ministers of God, powerful celestial beings, soaring far above us. And yet we hold a rank in this holy, immeasurable city of God. For nothing is foreign to us in the whole universe, however great, sublime, and mighty it may be. We may turn to you with confidence, we may boast of a communion with you, ye angels of God, that excel in strength, exalted powers of the invisible world! Ye are spirit, 98and so are we. Your reason raises you on high; in us also the divine spark glimmers. Ye are free, and we also are capable of guiding ourselves. It is your employment to execute the commands of God, and to do his will; this is likewise our calling. Ye are immortal, and cease not to praise the Lord; we too are immortal, and we hope, we hope one day to be admitted into your choirs. Although, my brethren, we are allied by our body to the dust of the earth, yet the spirit which animates the body is a member of a superior order, a citizen of heaven; we are not, therefore, unimportant and of no value in the vast kingdom of God; our position, even now, is a rank which associates us with the noblest and most exalted creatures of God.
But what an encouragement, what an obligation, to be active and generally useful, on beginning the new year! What! shall we do nothing in a world where all is active? In a world where all things are of service to each other, should we become injurious to our fellow-creatures? In a world where all things fulfil the will of God, should we act in opposition to it? In a world where we have our appointed rank, where we are of some import, where expectations are placed in each of us, as well as in the highest angel, and in the wonder-working powers of heaven, in such a world should we either be wholly idle, or rather, perhaps, do evil? Lay it, Oh lay it to heart, all of you, who this day commence 99a new year! You are of some consequence in God’s creation, for he has not endowed you with faculties to no purpose. You are reckoned on in the order of things, for God has not in vain placed you in a condition in which you may and ought to work. You have the means of conducing to the importance of the world; for if you are what you ought to be, if you but perform the duties of your vocation with zeal and fidelity, if you but make yourselves as useful as possible in your circumstances, and become the benefactors of all those, whom you have the power to serve; how much will be effected by your means! how will your utility increase with every day! what blessings will you diffuse in the year now commencing!
And should not the view of our connexion with the higher world, of our alliance with the angels of God, with them of surpassing strength who execute his commands, should not this animate us, my brethren? Should we not feel, how great and noble it is to act in concert with such beings, and to promote the same ends? Should we not joyfully strive to emulate them, that the will of God may be done by us on earth, as it is by them in heaven? Happy year, that begins to-day, if such sentiments inspire us How much shall we accomplish in its course, what support shall we give to each other, how much will every where be achieved, how will all the burdens 100of life be lightened, and what cause shall we have, together with every thing in existence, to praise the goodness of Him, whose mercy is over all his works!
For it is evident, my brethren, it is evident, that our position in the wide empire of God, is, lastly, a place, where the song of praise of all the creatures of God encircles us; and that should incite us to the most joyful worship of God at the beginning of the new year. “Bless the Lord,” thus the Poet in our text concludes his sacred song, “bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion.” And does not in fact this praise of the Lord resound on all sides? Do we not in every place perceive the ebullitions of delight and of veneration, with which all creatures do homage to him? How happy is our situation in this respect also, my brethren! Are we not surrounded on earth by creatures, which owe every thing to the Father who is in heaven? Do we not see with our eyes that he clothes the flowers of the field, and nourishes the birds of the air? Do we not daily experience, that he openeth his bountiful hand, “and fills all things living with plenteousness?” Is the beauty in which all nature shines arounds us, is the expression of well-being manifested by all creatures, are the voices of pleasure and of joy every where loudly uttered by beings endued with feeling, any thing else than a hymn of praise to the Almighty? And 101what a prospect, my brethren, what a prospect into the rest of the creation. does our place in this globe afford us! What suns and worlds occupy all space in heaven! What regulations and arrangements do we every where observe for the purpose of diffusing life and happiness! Is it not manifest, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy work. One day telleth another, and one night certifieth. another; there is neither speech nor language, but their voices are heard among them99 Psalm xix. 1, 2..” And. shall we not join in this homage of all creatures of God, in this hymn of praise of all Nature? Shall we not cry at the beginning of the new year, “Bless the Lord, O my soul?” Yes, my brethren, a calm, untroubled, and cheerful adoration of God becomes true Christians. The Creator and Lord of the world is their Father; with filial trust may they apply to him, and may expect from him whatever is good, great, and blessed, for Christ’s sake. And should they not have confidence, should they not rejoice in the Lord, and “be careful for nothing, but in all things by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let their requests be made known unto God1010 Phil. iv. 6.?”
What ground, moreover, have we in this new year for the joyful worship of God! We commence it in 102peace, and silenced is the noise of arms which surrounded us in the preceding year; the terrors of war, which we also were compelled to feel, have vanished; order is again restored, and fresh blessings will return with it into our families. And the preserver of order in our native country, the man, who protects it by the holy strength of his virtue, the father and benefactor of his thankful people, our sovereign, is he not once more in the midst of us? Is not the high esteem, which is, the fruit of his wisdom, his tranquil greatness, and his piety, the pledge of our preservation? May we not be confident and look for new blessings, so long as he is at our head Let us then, my brethren, begin the new year with lively expectations, and with sensations of joyful gratitude; let us now at the very outset unite our entreaties, that God may bless the king and his house with all good, that He may still continue to protect and prosper the whole country of our fathers, that peace may dwell in our houses and safety in our walls; that He may dry up your tears, ye that are afflicted; soothe your griefs, ye that mourn; and alleviate your departure, all ye that in the course of this year will leave us, and be removed into His kingdom above. And let us not cease to exclaim together, “O give thanks unto the Lord, and call upon his name, tell the people what things he hath done. O, let your songs be of 103him, and praise him, and let your talking be of all his wondrous works. Rejoice in his holy name; let the heart of them rejoice, that seek the Lord1111 Psalm cv. 1, 2, 3..” Amen.104105
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