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THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR 1776.
1. OUR highest acknowledgments are due to him, whose mercy endureth for ever. To him who crowns each revolving year with the blessings of his goodness, who holds our souls in life, and suffers not our feet to be moved. He alone is worthy to receive the love of our hearts, the tribute of our lips, and the obedience of our hands, even to him be praise and dominion for ever. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things.
2. If we ought to kindle into gratitude, under the sense of his increasing mercies; it is no less our duty, and our desire, to acknowledge, and deplore, the accumulating sinfulness, which augments with every moment that swells our aggregate of time, who can tell, how oft he offendeth.
3. But if we are great debtors, we have also a still greater pay-master. His infinite atonement has discharged the whole. While therefore we remember, and feel our unworthiness, let it answer every purpose of humiliation, but not cherish the poisonous root of unbelief. Be the free grace of the Father, the redeeming merit of Jesus, and the sanctifying omnipotence of the Holy Ghost, our sovereign preservatives from distrust, the subjects of our song, and the strength of our joy, all through the allotted paths of our earthly pilgrimage.
4. Through the good hand of God upon us, another year dawns on the present generation. Time is now 5779 years old; and hastens to that grand period, when, like a drop that has been severed from the
ocean, it shall again be absorbed in that eternity, out of which it was taken. Amidst the omnium rerum vicissitudines, or the incessant changes, incident to men and things, previous to the final death of time; we rejoice, that the Saviour of sinners and the blessings of his cross, continue immutably the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. Not less than 800 years before his incarnation, he thus addressed his believing people, by the mouth of his sublimest prophet, Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath! For the heavens shall vanish away, like smoke; and the earth shall wax old, like a garment; and they that dwell therein, shall die in like manner, but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished, Isa. li. 6. A sheet anchor, in every possible
5. What numbers were transmitted to their eternal homes in the course of the year now closed!
"How many sleep, who kept the world awake With lustre and with noise! Has death proclaim'd A truce, and hung his sated lance on high? 'Tis brandish'd still, nor shall the present year Be more tenacious of her human leaves, Or spread of feeble life a thinner fall."
Many a lofty head will be laid low before the expiration of 1776. The sad ravages of civil war will, too probably, people the regions of the grave with additional thousands, over and above the myriads, who never fail to swell the ordinary bills of mortality. But providence, unerring providence, governs all events, Dan. iv. 35. And grace, unchangeable grace, is faithful to its purpose, Rom. viii. 28. May we live by faith on both.
THE ASSURANCE OF FAITH.
THE deep things, which relate to personal experience of the holy Spirit's dealing with the soul, ought to be matters of prayer, not of disputation.
It has long been a settled point with me, that the scriptures make a wide distinction, between faith, the assurance of faith, and the full assurance of faith.
1. Faith is the hand, by which we embrace, or touch, or reach toward, the garment of Christ's righteousness, for our own justification.-Such a soul is, undoubtedly, safe.
2. Assurance I consider as the ring, which God puts upon faith's finger.-Such a soul is not only safe, but also comfortable, and happy.
Nevertheless, as a finger may exist, without wearing a ring; so faith may be real, without the superadded gift of assurance. We must either admit this, or set down the late excellent Mr. Hervey (among a multitude of others) for an unbeliever. No man perhaps ever contended more earnestly, for the doctrine of assurance, than he; and yet, I find him expressly declaring as follows: "What I wrote concerning a firm faith in God's most precious promises, and an humble trust that we are the objects of his tender love; is what I desire to feel, rather than what I actually experience." The truth is, as another good man expresses it, "A weak hand may tie the marriage
knot and a feeble faith may lay hold on a strong Christ.
Moreover: assurance, after it has been vouchsafed to the soul, may be lost. Peter, no doubt, lost his assurance, and sinned it away, when he denied Christ. He did not, however, lose the principle of faith; for Christ had beforehand, prayed, concerning him, that his faith itself might not fail: and Christ could not possibly pray in vain.-A wife may lose her weddingring. But that does not dissolve her marriage relation. She continues a lawful wife still. And yet, she is not easy, until she find her ring again.
3. Full assurance I consider as the brilliant, or cluster of brilliants, which adorns the ring, and renders it incomparably more beautiful and valuable. Where the diamond of full assurance is thus set in the gold of faith, it diffuses its rays of love, joy, peace, and holiness, with a lustre which leaves no room for doubt or darkness.-While these high and unclouded consolations remain, the believer's felicity is only inferior to that of angels, or of saints made perfect above.
4. After all, I apprehend that the very essence of assurance lies in communion with God. While we feel the sweetness of his inward presence, we cannot doubt of our interest in his tender mercies. So long as the Lord speaks comfortably to our hearts, our affections are on fire, our views are clear, and our faces shine. It is when we come down from the mount, and when we mix with the world again, that we are in danger of losing that precious sense of his love, which is the strength of saints militant, and the joy of souls triumphant.
But let not trembling believers forget, that faith, strictly so called, is neither more nor less than a receiving of Christ, for ourselves in particular, as our only possible propitiation, righteousness, and Saviour, John i. 12.-Hast thou so received Christ? Thou
art a believer, to all the purposes of safety.-And it deserves special notice, that our Lord calls the centurion's faith, "great faith;" though it rose no higher than to make him say, "Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." Mat. viii. 8. 10.
The case likewise, of the Canaanitish woman is full to the present point. Her cry was, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David!" And, a little after, "Lord, help me!" Jesus, at first, gave her a seeming repulse: but her importunity continued; and she requested only the privilege of a dog, viz. to eat of the crumbs which fell from the master's table. What were our Saviour's answer, and our Saviour's remark? An answer and a remark, which ought to make every broken sinner take down his harp from the willows:"Owo
man, great is thy faith." Matt. x. 22-28.
5. The graces, which the blessed Spirit implants in our hearts (and the grace of faith, among the rest), resemble a sun-dial; which is of little service, except when the sun shines upon it. The Holy Ghost must shine upon the graces he has given, or they will leave us at a loss (in point of spiritual comfort), and be unable to tell us whereabouts we are. May he, day by day, rise upon our souls, with healing in his beams! Then shall we be filled with all joy and peace in believing, and abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. Rom. xv.
6. Are there any weak in faith, who come under the denomination of bruised reeds, and smoking flax? Let them know, that God will take care of them. The former will not be broken the latter shall not be quenched. Bless God, for any degree of faith; even though it be as the smallest of all seeds, sooner or later, it will surely expand into a large and fruitful tree. However, stop not here; but,