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to rest upon-a mere vague and general hope of better things to come, which rises up in the mind, which is, perhaps, generally disposed to ask, “ Who will shew us any good?" or else generally confident in vain anticipations that the “next day shall be as this, and much more abundant."
But such as the feeling is of pleasure at the coming of a new period of our lives, it may be used for good by those who are disposed to turn it to account for their own benefit or that of others. On looking back at past years, ought we only to regard the evils which we have gone through and escaped from, the dull and gloomy days which we rejoice to think are gone for ever, or, on the other side, the happy times which are also buried and lost to us, never to return ? Should we not much more consider our own ways, which, during the same time, have been full of causes of present regret, and shame, and reflection ; which have brought us no good fruit, but much pain and loss, punishment which we feel now, and shall feel, perhaps, for many years to come; consequences which follow us and weigh heavy on our minds, cloud our prospects and damage our hopes, more or less, in spite of all we now can do? Perhaps it is on this account that careless men rejoice when the old year is at an end, because it is full of unpleasing reflections, as they look back upon time misspent, and a course of life which, when its pleasure has passed away, has no more light to shine upon it. It lies covered with gloom and shame before the eye of their memory. A delusive thought arises that the next may not be quite the same ; at all events, it is yet unstained, and therefore looks more pleasing than the former one.
The truth is, that not only to such a person as that, but to every one, the principle of repentance ought to be that uppermost in our thoughts on New-year's day. We ought to have taken already a careful review of the time past, and from those thoughts we ought to rise to the
prospect of that which is future. And what will be the impression on every mind which has duly gone through this exercise? Surely, the devout wish and hope that the new year and a new life may go on together; that
new things may arise, not only in our earthly prospects of comfort and happiness, but new things towards God, different views of duty and of sin, a different manner of prayer and study of his word, and an altogether changed life in all its outward fruits. The prospect would then reasonably be pleasant and happy. It would not be a vain expectation of better times to come, but a sure and blessed anticipation of pleasantness and peace in those ways in which alone such flowers of paradise can be found. With a change begun in the fear of God, and in reliance on the grace of Christ our Saviour, who alone can work it, and carried on throughout the year, the new one would, indeed, be better than the old, and every one before would look more sad and gloomy when compared with it. Moreover, when it shall come to an end in its own turn, there would cease to be so great a desire to bury its remembrances in forgetfulness. The memory of God's mercy and grace, which followed us through its many days, in all its trying seasons, would shed a holy and happy light over it. Although we should still grieve over ourselves, seeing no good and only evil there, we should feel that mercy overspread and overpowered the evil, covering our transgressions with the Saviour's merits, and making us more humble and lowly in our minds. Let the young man ” who“ rejoices in his youth,” and whose "heart cheers” him at the season now present, seek grace from heaven to sanctify his joy and make it sure, to cause his cheerfulness to be real and not imaginary, to make it spiritual and not merely natural. Let repentance close the old year and faith usher in the new, and there will be greater true rejoicing at this season, without the unhappy certainty that "vanity” will be written upon its joys when they are gone, and their taste be embittered by the mere earthliness of their character.
Let the comfortable thought of a resolute change commenced be our greatest solace, and accompany all other motives for pleasure. This will not expire with the season, but make the whole year happy.
There is no one, not the most advanced Christian, who may not make some change, and begin some kind of new and better habit, with the commencing year. There may be a change such as this, a further time given to meditation and prayer, a more exact performance of some relative or other duty, the breaking off some unwise or unpunctual custom, the determination to do directly whatever conscience says must be done, or any other change which a careful self-examination will point out. Let the new year see some improvement, or the holy lessons of the season will be lost.
GODLINESS PROFITABLE FOR ALL THINGS. The other day I met with the following passage in a book : “We are too apt to say to ourselves, our earthly comforts here have nothing to do with godliness or God. God must save our souls, but our bodies we must save ourselves. God gives us spiritual blessings, but earthly blessings, the good things of this life, for them we must scramble and drudge ourselves, and get as much of them as we can without offending God.' As if God grudged us our comforts! as if godliness had not the promise of this life as well as the life to come! If we would but believe that God knows our necessities before we ask, that He gives us daily more than we can ever get by working for it; if we would but first seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all other things would be added to us; and we should find that he who loses his life should save it. And this way of looking at God and earth would not make us idle; it would not tempt us to sit with folded hands for God's blessings to drop into our mouths. No! I believe it would make men far more industrious than ever mere self-interest can make them. They would say, God is our Father, He gave us his only Son, He gives us all things freely ; we owe Him not slavish service, but a boundless debt of cheerful gratitude. Therefore we must do his will, and we are sure his will must be our happiness and comfort; therefore we must do his will, and his will is that we should work, and therefore we must work. He has bidden us labour on this earth. He has bidden us dress it and keep it, conquer it and fill it for Him. We are his stewards here on earth, and, therefore, it is a glory and
an honour to be allowed to work here in God's own land, in our loving Father's own garden. We do not know why He wishes us to labour and till the ground, for He could have fed us with manna from heaven if He liked, as He fed the Jews of old, without our working at all. But his will is that we should work; and work we will, not for our own sakes merely, but for his sake, because we know He likes it, and for the sake of our brothers, our countrymen, for whom Christ died.”
Is there not truth in these words, my friends? Are we not too apt, indeed, to think of God as a hard taskmaster, rather than a tender Father? as the cause of all our troubles and of all our privations, rather than the source of all our blessings and of all our comforts ? Perhaps we shall understand this matter more clearly if we examine a little more carefully into those troubles, and those privations. We shall, I think, be all ready to acknowledge, in the first place, that to have to labour for our livelihood is not in itself any great calamity, but that an idle man, -I mean one who has no regular occupation,-is far less happy than one who is obliged to go to his daily work. And now, in the second place, is there any situation, any trade, any employment, in which we do not find some men so engaged and yet cheerful and contented, nay, perhaps, preferring that particular occupation to any other? At the same time, we find many of their fellow labourers unhappy, and discontented, and murmuring against God who has so placed them. In such a case, we must clearly see that it is not the work which is the real cause of offence. Moreover, if we look into a higher class, and among those whom we are accustomed to call independent, by which we mean that they are not obliged to work for their subsistence, shall we not find the same difference—some happy and contented, some miserable and discontented ?
If this is the case, we have no just reason to murmur against God for the state of life in which He has placed us, nor for the employment which belongs to that state of life. What, then, is it which makes us unhappy, for many of us are so? It is in every single instance, my friends, some evil passion of our own, or of those connected with us. We can usually see this very clearly in the case of our neighbour, but we will not see it in our own. It is so much easier to talk of hard times and unreasonable masters, and the hardship of having always to work and toil—to complain of some infirmity of our bodies, or of the inclemency of the weather-than to confess that it is some secret sin, some evil habit of our own, which is the real cause of our poverty or of our sickness; and that while God has given us much richly to enjoy, it is our own sin which prevents our enjoying it. I know of no better instance that I can give, than the pleasures or pains of married life. God made Eve as an helpmeet for Adam, and God intends that every wife should be an helpmeet for her husband. He knows the trials and temptations which man is subject to on earth, and He has mercifully ordained marriage as a support under the one, and a safeguard against the other. And is not the wisdom and mercy of God most strikingly shown when we find a husband and wife mutually fulfilling their duties one to the other? And yet how often does this brief sacred tie of marriage become the source of wretchedness to one or other of the parties! Whose fault is this, my friends ? Certainly it does not spring naturally from the wise dispensations of our heavenly Father. But it does spring, most surely, and, alas ! most naturally, from our own evil tempers, our own want of godliness. Again, we will take the instance of children.
We are told “they are the gift and heritage of the Lord.” And although there is not now among us the same reason for wishing to have children that there was among the Jewish people, yet they are still a blessing to all who have them. The parents delight in them when young, they have even pleasure in labouring for them, and when they grow up they can in turn labour for their parents. They are a blessing, and so they are considered ; and though single persons may say a great deal about the misery of large families, and so on, yet I have never met with any married persons, whether in high or low life, who had no children, who did not bitterly regret it, and wish for this source of trouble. And they are right, in one sense ;