« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Glancing back on the list of topics discussed in our pages during the last twelve months, we see not a few which we like to regard in connection with the character and mission of our church. In a series of papers, the duties involved in church membership have been expounded and enforced, in a manner which cannot fail to arrest and stimulate earnest readers. . Attention has been called to the mutual relations of employer and employed--a subject which is causing, at this moment, much anxious thought to hundreds of thousands in the most populous industrial districts of our empire, and which, ere long, will press irresistibly on the practical consideration of all thinking men,-specially of all Christian employers. Popery and infidelity, in some of the newest of their ever shifting aspects, have been made to pass under review-to the advancement, we hope, of the discussion they have been receiving throughout the country in general. Among the various public questions which have been canvassed in the Magazine during the year, the abolition of University Tests deserves to be remembered by our readers, as having, within the last few months, yielded a triumph to the cause of religious liberty; and we trust also it will not be forgotten as an encouragement to the efforts demanded of the friends of the same cause, in the approaching session of Parliament, to liberate education in our parish schools from the sectarian control to which it has so long been subjected.
The year closes on us amidst suspense and well-grounded solicitude, in regard to interests of vast moment to our country and to the world. The dark cloud of pestilence is hanging over our land. Hitherto we have been mercifully preserved from its full outburst; but here and there it has let fall a shower of death, and mortal man cannot tell whether it shall pour out its fury upon us ere the winter is over, or be speedily directed away from our shores. In the east of Europe it would seem the “ northern bail” of apocalyptic prophecy has begun to descend, in the shape of war and its attendant horrors; but whether the storm is to sweep over Europe at large, as well as over Western Asia, or is to calm down before it have spread further than the district in which it arose, it would scarcely yet be safe to affirm. With no less eager concern, Christians are awaiting the issue of the revolution now going forward within the huge and overgrown empire of China,
-the most extensive revolution probably ever known in the history of mankind,—the result of which may determine whether the word of God shall be recognised as a standard of faith and practice by the leaders of an empire comprehending three hundred millions of immortal beings-or whether these myriads shall continue to be sunk in a most degrading idolatry. Only the great Disposer knows how and when these mighty problems shall be solved. Meantime, it is for His people to watch and work and pray—and to pray not simply when the watching and working are over, but before them also, and while they are going on ; for God himself has made the observance of this three-fold duty a condition of the blessing with which, in His own time, He is waiting to bless the earth.
EDINBURGH, November 25, 1853.
UNITED PRESBYTERIAN MAGAZINE,
FOR JANUARY, 1853.
A NEW YEAR'S DAY EXERCISE.
HERE we are again, Christian reader, entering on a new stage of the journey of life. The occasion is one for careful and solemn reflection. As pilgrims going up through the wilderness, we cannot always be turning round to observe the course we have been pursuing. When toiling along the rugged and arduous path, our habitual attitude must be that of looking onward and upward—forgetting the things that are behind, and pressing forward to those which are before. But sometimes, as we advance, we attain an eminence favourable for an extensive view of the country round about; and then the observant eye seeks to trace the road which, with weary footsteps, and in more or less uncertainty, we have been pursuing,—to judge of its bearings on the end at which we aim, and to search out, if possible, the most advantageous route for the ensuing stage. Such a point of observation seems to be furnished to the Christian wayfarer at the commencement of a new year. Even the men of the world own this first day of the sun's annual circle as one which calls a halt on the march of the world's business. The bustle of ordinary industry ceases for a time, and too generally the season is devoted to frivolity and sin. Let Christians take advantage of their cessation from worldly pursuits, to survey the course they are pursuing as spiritual beings, for at such a time the call comes forth with peculiar force
66 Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways.”
What have our ways been in regard to their external circumstances ? For some of us the path of life during the last yearly stage may have been smooth and beautiful, strewed with flowers, and redolent with fragrance; for others it has been rough and hard, fenced with thorns which have galled us at every devious step, and yet winding through the intricacies of some deep valley where we have stumbled on in darkness. For one, the road has emerged from amidst ruggedness and obscurity, into regions of pleasure and delight; for another, it has had its beginning amidst bowers of wealth and luxury, and then proceeded downward into scenes of penury and gloom. While, with not a few, it has alternated from one side to the other, now in sunshine and then in shade; at one time in comfort and prosperity, at another in sorrow
VOL. VII. NO. I.
and affliction. God, who has determined for all men the bounds of their habitation, has appointed a way for each of us, and each of us for his
way ; and whether prosperous or adverse, He would have us to consider it.
The journey of life is, at the best, but a journey through a desert; but if, in its progress, we have been brought by bright and sunny spots, green pastures, and still waters, we have need to ponder well the goodness of our heavenly Guide. His mercies demand consideration as to their multitude, their indispensable necessity, the constancy with which they have been supplied, the source whence they spring, the channel through which they flow to us, the grand purpose for which they are bestowed. It is a repetition of the enjoyment experienced on their first reception, when we declare and speak of them afterwards, in grateful meditation dwelling on their various aspects—"mentioning the loving kindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord according to all that he hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies and according to the multitude of bis loving kindnesses.” Our country has enjoyed singular favour at the hand of God during the
year that is past. By a succession of plentiful harvests at home, and by legislative arrangements admitting our participation in the superabundant supplies of other lands, God has maintained general prosperity amongst us, and specially “has prepared of his goodness for the poor.” Peace and order, security and freedom, have continued to abide with us as in their chosen home, while in most other countries of Europe tyranny and confusion have prevailed. One distinguished favour we have received, which there is reason to fear is but little considered—a deadly pestilence, well remembered in this country by thousands of families whose ranks were thinned in its devastating march a few years ago, seemed again on its way to our shores; but long-suffering mercy prevailed, and ere it reached us, the command was issued
“ Hitherto shalt thou come and no farther.” The opening of the year at which we have now arrived is a time of feasting and gladness with multitudes whom bereavement and worldly loss compelled to walk softly at the same festive period some years before. Alas ! for them, if the great Giver is lost sight of in the multitude of his gifts—if “ the harp and the viol and wine are in their feasts, and they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hand." But there are others to whom the retrospect of the
recalls chiefly scenes of trial and distress, and these have need to consider well lest they be found despising the chastening of the Lord. For what purpose hath He spoken to them in the voice of the rod? Was it not because they failed to hear the voice of his mercies ? because they turned away “from Him who speaketh from heaven,” in his word ? because in every way short of punishment and reproof, He had called, and they refused, He had stretched out his hand, and they did not regard it? In the day of adversity let them consider, and humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. ,That storm which swept their path was sent out by Him to make them seek a refuge in himself; but if, instead of doing this, they wrap themselves up in a cloak of fancied security, or betake themselves to some shelter of their own erecting, He can increase the storm into a tempest of more tremendous wrath-—" Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.” (Isaiah xxviii. 17.)
What have our ways been, in regard to the direction in which they lead ? The outward circumstances do not determine this direction. If “the way of
transgressors is hard,”—“ many” also “are the afflictions of the righteous.” If, in general, “ wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness ;" yet sometimes it is true that “the wicked live, become old, yea, are increased in power ! their seed is established in the earth, and their offspring before their eyes; their houses are safe from harm, neither is the rod of God upon them.” We need, therefore, some other standard than that of external comfort or adversity, to decide whether a man's ways please God and are leading to heaven. But we are not left without a more satisfactory test. We can judge of them by the divine chart in which the path of life is laid down, and whence also proceed light and truth to guide us therein. 66 Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way?” the Psalmist asks; and the answer applies equally to young and old, male and female : “ By taking heed thereto according to thy word.” The Christian's “consideration,” therefore, will lead him to ask, “ Have I sought to follow this infallible guide ? Has it been the man of my counsel; the light of my feet; the lamp of my path? Has it always been enough to decide my judgment and my will respecting any course of action, that “thus it was written ?" And have I never sought, like Jonah, to shun the Divine mandate, and choose a path of my own in an opposite direction ?” If we can answer these questions, we need not hesitate as to whether our way is tending heavenward, or is one of those whose steps lead down to hell.
But even where there is great deficiency in the knowledge a man possesses of the Divine word, he is not wholly in darkness in regard to the direction of the ways he is pursuing. The heathens themselves “ show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts accusing, or else excusing one another.” Blinded by ignorance, and blunted by prejudice, though it be, conscience retains much of its authority as God's vicegerent within the breast; and when enlightened by the knowledge of the word, its decisions are to be held as paramount. How, then, in choosing our ways have we dealt with this adviser? Have we sought to drown its loudest tones ; or have we listened to its gentlest whisper? Have we closed our eye against its strongest light, as an unpleasant glare upon our path ; or have we collected every ray of truth, however faint, which emanated from it? Have we stifled convictions, or cherished and followed them? These are questions which each must settle for himself, as none can answer them for his neighbour. But on their answer much depends. . If our heart condemn us, how much more must we not stand condemned before Him who is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things?
It will serve to make the dictates of the word more distinct to the view of conscience, if we consider them in the light of eternity. How differently a man's way through life appears according to the position from which he contemplates it! In the hey-day of health and vigour, when the heart beats high, and the lungs play freely, and the tide of life flows fast and strong within him, it is hard for him to believe that a road so broad and pleasant should terminate in regions of despair. It is in other circumstances he is likely to judge most correctly. The sailor, when far out at sea, has sometimes to wait till night-fall before he can make the observation by which to determine his course ; and, similarly, the shadow of death clears our mental vision in surveying the course of our past life. Let us attempt, therefore, to consider our ways as with the death-bed or the judgment-seat, for our point of observation, remembering that we must soon bid adieu to those scenes and pursuits which are so apt to engross our hearts here in
this living world ; that these bodies, about which so much care is spent, shall ere long be a mass of cold clay, in which the loathsomest worm of earth shall hold revelry undisturbed ; that the earth also, and they that are therein, shall be burnt up; and that the possessions and pleasures enjoyed in this world, form no part of a man's happiness when that great catastrophe has arrived. Such considerations will greatly calm and elevate our judgment of things seen and temporal, and will help to an accurate appreciation of the path in which we tread.
There is still another aspect in which it becomes us, at this season, to be considering our ways. What progress have we made in them?
It is a solemn fact that there is no standing still in our spiritual relation toward God. Either we are advancing Zionward, or, having turned our backs on heaven, are going down that path which leadeth to destruction. Not a year, not a month, not a day that passes over our heads, leaves us as it found us.
We are every moment the subjects of a moral discipline which is taking effect upon us, for better or for worse. We are walking amidst the sunshine of providence and of grace; and every ray which falls upon us has its own influence in softening us as the wax, or ardening us as the clay. What, then, has been the rate of our progression ? Supposing our feet have been found in the ways of righteousness, how far have we advanced toward heavenly purity? To what extent have sinful desires been subdued, and holy graces promoted? Whatever our progress in the right direction may have been, there is none of us, surely, but will see cause to lament that it has been so small, in comparison of his advantages. Here, then, is something to consider : that in the course of reflection we may learn our own ignorance, and seek light; our own folly, and seek wisdom ; our own helplessness and fallibility, and more earnestly cast our dependence upon Him. Thus shall the new stage of life on which we enter be a stage of new obedience and new vigour, new effort and new success.
And if, with any of our readers, the progress has been in the opposite direction, they have not the less need to consider. Their deceitful heart would conceal from them the successive shades of difference between lesser and greater transgressions. Is not this a little one? they ask, as Lot did concerning Zoar; and because there is no marked contrast between some sin, new at the time, and some other with which they had become familiar, they slide from one to another by an imperceptible transition, till it come to pass that they cease to be alarmed at the greatest enormity. How then do we stand, in our feelings toward God, and holiness, and duty, as compared with what they were when the year now terminated had just begun ? Every day in which we continue in the way of transgression, we wander farther from God and heaven, and become more unwilling to return. If human nature were a piece of mechanism on which one could put a governor, by the operation of which an excess of speed would necessarily correct itself, there might, in one respect at least, be less cause for alarm at the thought of continuing a little longer in sin. But man, whose authority is acknowledged by the whole inferior creation, has no such power of governing himself. That adjustment of the machine by which complete control was secured, has now been destroyed, and every revolution of the wheel beyond that for which it was originally adapted-every ebullition of passion, every cup of indulgence, every hour's continuance in a forbidden course,-is not only an evil in itself, but, by placing the power of self-control at an increased distance, is the direct occasion of many other evils. The downward tendency of sin has been well compared to that of the stone rolled from the