While the coming year you greet, with many a merry chime, I sing a solemn dirge tonight, a dirge for the by-gone time-- Yes, from the soul within me, most bitterly I mourn, For the many wasted moments which never can return; For the many lost occasions for working something good, For the promptings of a better will--most willfully withstood-- For the many mercies unobserved, and thanklessly received, For the many chastenings sent in love, at which my spirit grieved, For the many restless longings against God's sovereign will, For the countless Christian duties I strove not to fulfill, For the many gentle words of truth, I might--but did not speak, Which might have soothed the broken heart, and strengthened the weak; For these and for a thousand sins, and failings of the past-- Upon Your mercy, oh my God! my trembling soul I cast! And, kneeling at the 'Throne of Grace,' with earnest faith draw near, To pray for strength to walk with You, throughout the coming year."
My dear parishioners,
At this season, so long as the state of my health permitted me to address you from the pulpit, it was my custom to direct your thoughts to a consideration of God's goodness in the past, and to the duty of more humble trust and confiding reliance on Him for the future. Standing, as it were, on the border-line of two years, I endeavored to point backward to the path along which you had traveled; and, from the countless tokens of God's watchful care--His gracious condescension, faithfulness, and love, I sought to lead you--while erecting another Ebenezer--not only to inscribe on it the words, "Hitherto the Lord has helped me!" but, with a firmer trust and deeper love, to say, "This God is our God forever and ever! He will be our Guide even unto death!"
It has pleased our heavenly Father, to withhold from me the privilege of addressing you, this year, from my accustomed place, yet do I feel most grateful, that He gives me strength of mind and body, even from the sick-room, to discharge a duty so solemn and important, and thus, to hold communion with those, whom, from my inmost heart, I love so truly. It may be also, that the words I now address, will not be less welcome or impressive, coming, as they do, from one who has been lately snatched from the very gates of death, and who has experienced, more deeply than language can describe--the goodness, the mercy, and the love of God. By His blessing, these pages may be instrumental in awakening in some heart, a livelier sense of the divine faithfulness, and a more ardent longing for union and fellowship, with our unseen, but ever-present Savior. Assuredly, I have no wish so near to my heart--none which so entirely occupies my thoughts and prayers--as that all of us may be united, not only as pastor and people, but, as "heirs together of the grace of life," "partakers of Christ," and "children of God by faith in Him." For all of you, my heart's desire and prayer is, that "Christ Jesus may be formed in you, the hope of glory," and that, by divine grace, you may be enabled to "Walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love."
Both as pastor and friend, eleven years of fellowship have united me more and more closely to you in the bonds of affection; and, looking back on my past ministry, I can say, that in every home I met a cordial welcome--from every parishioner I received kindness and sympathy, and that no discord or division has ever weakened my hands or discouraged me in my labors. It were strange, indeed, if, with such a retrospect, I could feel otherwise than deeply interested in your present and eternal welfare--if any desire could be stronger than that all of you should be "followers of Christ" and "heirs of everlasting glory."
Allow me, then, dear friends--while the year is closing in around us, and making way for the opening of another--to address to you a few words of faithful, earnest, and loving counsel--and may the Spirit of all grace sanctify and impress them on all our hearts!
In reviewing the PAST, the feeling which, at such a time as this, should be uppermost in every heart, is that of fervent gratitude to God for His unmerited goodness and mercy. There are none of us, who have not experienced, during the bygone year, that "the Lord our God is gracious." We may have failed to realize and acknowledge it, but it is not the less true--that every step of our pilgrim-path--every hour of prolonged existence--every return of daily comforts and blessings, have been so many tokens of God's goodness--so many evidences that His "tender mercies are over all His works." In the house, and by the way--He has watched over and protected us, and in the midst of a multitude of dangers--which our eye could not see, nor our arm avert--He has guided and upheld us, so that we may well "stir up our souls, and all that is within us--to praise and magnify His holy name!"
Some of us can look back on seasons of SPECIAL HELP and deliverance. We can remember how, when the world, with its temptations and snares, had been gaining an undue ascendancy over us--when faith was wavering, and hope was declining, and love waxing cold, within us--when doubt and fear were taking possession of our souls, and we were driven, in the very extremity of our peril, to cry, "Lord, save me, or I perish!" Even then, an Almighty arm was held out to rescue and uphold us, and a gentle voice whispered, "I am still with you!"--and receiving fresh grace and strength, we bent humbly before the cross, and had our faith invigorated--our love increased--our hope brightened. Oh, surely with such a retrospect, our language may this day be, "Whom have I, O God, in heaven but You, and in all the earth there is none whom I desire besides You!"
Some whom I address may be looking back to times of sad and painful BEREAVEMENT. The desire of your eye has been removed with a stroke--death has plucked from its stem, the loveliest and fairest flower of your heart--and you have felt stunned, bewildered, desolate! But, even then, when your heart's sorrow was greatest, and your anguish most intense--there came One to your side, whose presence soothed and comforted your downcast spirit--One who encircled you in His everlasting arms, and whispered words of sweetest consolation, "Lo, I am with you always!" "I will never leave you nor forsake you!" "I will restore comforts unto you!" "I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction."
Oh, when such words as these have come to you, in the sad and dreary hour of trial--when you have been enabled to feel, that, instead of being left forsaken, desolate and bereft--Christ was never nearer to you than then--never more tender and sympathizing--never more intent upon advancing your best interests, and securing your spiritual peace and comfort--than at the moment when His dear hand laid your loved one low! You must, on looking back this day to that momentous period in your history, feel and acknowledge, "He has done all things well!" Yes, He robbed me of that cherished jewel--that I might find, Himself, "the pearl of great price." He plucked that lovely and cherished flower, that I might clasp more tenderly to my heart--Himself, "the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley."
When I deemed myself forsaken and friendless--He came to offer me a heart touched with my grief--throbbing with a love far deeper and intenser than I could find on earth. He enabled me, by His grace and Spirit, to bow in meek and humble submission to my Father's will--to say, without one repining word, or one murmuring thought, "The Lord gave--and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!" Now I can bear my testimony to the truth, "He has done all things well!" Now I feel, in my inmost heart, that "in faithfulness, He has afflicted me!"
"Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, Savior, to Your cross I cling; You have every blow directed, You alone can healing bring.
"Try me til no dross remains; And whatever the trial be, While Your gentle arm sustains, Closer will I cling to Thee.
"Cheerfully the stern rod kissing, I will hush each murmuring cry; Every doubt and fear dismissing, Passive in Your arms, will lie.
"And when through deep seas of sorrow I have gained the heavenly shore, Bliss from every wave I'll borrow, And for each will love You more." --Mrs. E. C. Judson.
Some of you can look back to a time of SICKNESS, when you experienced divine help and consolation--when first you were summoned to retire from the busy throng--and from the scenes in which you delighted. All seemed dark and mysterious. The consciousness that health had departed--that disease was progressing--and pain and weariness confining you, as a prisoner, to the bed of suffering. All this pressed hard upon your spirit, and filled your soul with despondency and gloom. The trying dispensation, instead of appearing what it eventually proved--a precious blessing--seemed a dire and heavy calamity!
But He, who works His purposes of mercy and love towards His children, in a way often contrary to their expectations and plans--left you not to linger in darkness and despair. He came to you in the night watches--He made all your bed in your sickness--He brought promise upon promise to cheer your drooping spirit! He taught you that your sickness and suffering, were needed to refine, elevate, and sanctify you! He taught you that God designed, thereby--to draw you nearer to Himself--to wean your affections from the world, and bring your will into sweeter and more perfect harmony with His own!
Oh! surely, you have good reason, this day--to bless God for that bed of suffering, that couch of weakness, and those wearisome days, and long sleepless nights--if, thereby, you have been enabled to realize more fully--that God is your all, your portion, your Father--if you have been brought into closer relation, and more endeared intimacy, and fellowship with Jesus--the sympathizing Brother--the tender loving Friend--if you have become more deeply sensible of the Holy Spirit's work within you--of His power to comfort, support, and sanctify you.
Looking back upon that eventful period, your feeling now is, "Thank God for my trial-time of sickness--for calling me away from the busy throng, that I might be alone with Him! Thank God for teaching me my own weakness--and His strength; my own emptiness--and His fullness; my own sinfulness--and His pardoning love; my own utter helplessness--and His upholding, comforting, and sustaining grace! Thank God that the anguish of that season of pain, distress, and suffering--was so often solaced by His love; that its loneliness was so often dispelled by His gracious presence; that its gloom was so often brightened with His smile; and that its calamity was so often sanctified by His grace! Thank God that I can now sit loosely to the world, and feel, that I am only a stranger and a pilgrim in it, journeying to my heavenly home! Thank God that I can rest in the assurance, of having One ever near, to whom I can reveal every doubt, and care, and perplexity--on whose arm I can confidingly lean in "coming up from the wilderness;" from whose infinite fullness I can at all times obtain strength for duty, patience for suffering, support under weakness, and comfort in the midst of sorrow! His grace is "sufficient" to bear me up, amid all earthly trials and sorrows, temptations and infirmities--and His strength can guide and uphold me in duty, service, and suffering, until that blessed hour, when--the conflict ended, and the victory won--He shall conduct me safely to my eternal home!"
Come health or sickness--come joy or sorrow, as I travel onwards, I can now say--
"I leave it all with Jesus, Then, wherefore should I fear? I leave it all with Jesus, And He is ever near!
I leave it all with Jesus, Trust Him for what must be. I leave it all with Jesus, Who ever thinks for me!
"I bring it all to Jesus, In calm, believing prayer! I bring it all to Jesus, And I love to leave it there!
Each tear, each sigh, each trouble, Each disappointment--all I love to give to Jesus, Who loves to take them all!
"Then, why should drooping spirits Or sinking fears be known! Why should I bear a burden Which JESUS calls His own?
Ah, no! though dark and heavy, Oft-times my way appears, One look--one word from Jesus, Of holy comfort--cheers!
"In love He has afflicted-- In mercy used the rod! But it has made me humble, And brought me nearer God!
And soon another token, Of His kindness will be given, And the happy prospect gladdens, Of either health--or heaven!"
But, there is yet another class, who are, at this season, solemnly called upon to remember with gratitude--the goodness and the mercy of God. They are such as have been exempt from painful sickness and sad bereavement--whose paths have been unmarked by trial--and whose homes have been unvisited by the fell destroyer. They have rejoiced in the bright sunshine of PROSPERITY, and the bygone year has been, to them--unchequered, serene, and tranquil. Business has prospered, health has continued unbroken, their family circle has been undiminished, and everything has gone well with their earthly plans and prospects. Oh, friends, see to it, that, with grateful hearts, you recognize, in your prosperity--the good hand of God! It is His love which has so brightened your pathway! It is His love that has filled your cup of blessing! It is His love that has exempted you from trial, and sickness, and sorrow! It is His love that has crowned the year to you with goodness, and shielded your homes from calamity, disease, and death! Let that love flow into your hearts--and excite love and gratitude in return!
Pray for grace to bear your prosperity with a humble, thankful spirit--to use it for God's glory and for the good of others; and let not the bright sunshine which now gladdens your pathway, render you forgetful of the solemn truth--that, in a moment, the darkness may gather--the storm and tempest beat--and the present calm and serenity--be changed for the fierce winds of adversity! Regard every earthly blessing--as only lent to you only for a season! And, should it please God to remove it, oh, strive to feel and to acknowledge that He only takes from you, but what He first gave to you! Remember that He alone, can abundantly supply all your needs, relieve all your wants, compensate for every loss--and help you in every emergency.
Above all, see that temporal prosperity is not rendering you less diligent in "working out your salvation with fear and trembling,"--less anxious to make progress in the divine life--less careful in the discharge of pious duties--and less watchful against the onsets of temptation! There is danger in prosperity--there is peril when the world is smiling upon you--peril from its customs, its business, its pleasures, its friendships; and you can only be safe, so long as you continue watchful and prayerful--so long as you are "walking with Jesus" amid daily duties, enjoyments, and pleasures! By His side, the world cannot harm you! In His presence, its temptations and bribes cannot deceive you! Relying on His grace, prosperity will not ensnare you, nor will worldly success unduly elate you!
Oh! pray then, that you may be enabled to "live unto the Lord,"--to live truly, usefully, and acceptably to Him whose you are, and whom you are bound by every tie of love and gratitude to serve! Pray that you may have grace to travel onward through life--with Christ acknowledged in every step--entwined with every affection--as the source of each joy, and the sharer of each sorrow, of your personal history. Let your walk be one of firm, unshaken faith in your Savior-God! Go to His inexhaustible fullness with every need! Go to to His tender sympathy with every sorrow! Go to to His prevailing grace with every infirmity! Go to to His precious blood with every sin! Draw all your strength and grace from Christ--and seek earnestly the aid and anointing of the Holy Spirit, and--whether in prosperity or in adversity--you will be able to accomplish that which will bring glory to God, happiness to those around you, and peace and comfort and serenity to your own soul!
Let the language of your heart ever be-- "Lord, it belongs not to my care Whether I die or live; To love and serve You is my share, And this Your grace must give!
"If life be long, I will be glad That I may long obey; If short, yet why should I be sad-- To soar to endless day!
"Christ leads me through no darker rooms Than He went through before; He who into Christ's kingdom comes, Must enter by that door!
"Come, Lord, when grace has made me meet. Your blessed face to see; For if Your work on earth be sweet, What will Your glory be!
"Then shall I end my sad complaints, And weary, sinful days, And join with the triumphant saints Who sing Jehovah's praise!
"My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim; But 'tis enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with Him!" --Baxter.
In reviewing the past, the goodness of God will be all the more conspicuous, if we reflect on our individual demerits and sinfulness. Instead of loading us with benefits, and watching over us with parental care, sustaining and comforting us amid our daily trials and vicissitudes--He might justly have withdrawn His favor from us, and left us to reap the fruit of our doings! How often have we shared in the bounties of His providence, without acknowledging the hand which bestowed them! How little have we done to show our gratitude, either by the praises of our lips, or the devotion of our lives to His service! Where has been the exercise of a living faith? Where has been the exercise of an ardent love? Where has been the exercise of a holy zeal? What progress have we made in our homeward path? What advancement have we made in holiness and purity? Have we loved God's Word more? Have we been more fervent and persevering in prayer? Have we been more faithful as the soldiers of the Cross? Have we been more animated by the humble spirit of Him whom we profess to serve and obey? Has Christ been more precious to us, and have we been living in close and daily communion with Him--betaking ourselves to Him with every care, and doubt, and perplexity--ever traveling to the fountain of His precious, atoning blood--for the pardon of our many sins, and pleading earnestly for more of His sanctifying, sustaining, enlightening, and comforting grace?
Alas! who among us is not filled with sorrow and self-reproach, as we turn the eye backwards, and think of our ingratitude--our unbelief--our waywardness and rebellion--our weak faith--our cold love--our flagging and inconstant zeal? Truly we may say, "He has not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities!"
Such has been the marvelous love of God toward us, that though we have questioned and wounded it again and again--it has borne with us, and continued unchilled and unchanged! It has tracked our wandering, devious way! It has hovered around us--and shielded us from danger! It has guided us in perplexity! It has comforted us in sorrow! It has sustained us amid hourly trials, temptations, and afflictions!
Ah! What love has been manifested by our blessed Savior! Love to the sinful, and guilty, and undeserving! Not only did He shed for us His precious blood, and pour out His soul unto death upon the Cross--but, having risen as the conqueror of sin and death and hell, He entered for us within the veil--appeared as our Mediator and Advocate with God the Father, and ever lives to plead our cause, and to pour out upon us the riches of His grace! Freely has He offered, to the very chief of sinners, His precious, guilt-atoning blood--His soul-satisfying righteousness--and His sin-subduing grace. He has done all, suffered all, paid all--and left us nothing to do, but "believe and be saved."
And oh! what gracious, reviving promises has He given to His people! Promises of peace and comfort and hope! Promises of guidance through life, support in death, and bliss throughout eternity! He has assured us of the Spirit's help in carrying on the work of faith and holiness within us--in renewing our natures--purifying our affections--and forming within us, His own mind and likeness. He has pledged His word--that He will never leave nor forsake us--that our union with Him shall never be dissolved--that He will abide with us, and in us--that we shall be "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,"--that grace begun shall assuredly terminate in glory--and that "neither death, nor life, things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us" from His love! Oh, brethren, let us seek to realize more than we have ever done--how much we are indebted to our Savior-God! Let us strive, by the help of the Holy Spirit--to know more of that "love which passes knowledge!"
And, as we look forward to the FUTURE--to that year on which we are now entering--let us humbly and earnestly resolve, that, by Divine grace, we shall "live, not unto ourselves, but to Him who died for us, and rose again,"--that our life shall be a life of faith--a life "hidden with Christ in God." We do not know what the future may bring of joy or sorrow--of weal or woe--but if we have made "Christ our portion, our All in All," then we need "fear no evil." He will make His "grace sufficient for us, and perfect His strength in our weakness." He will support us under every trial, guide us through every perilous path, and carry us over every difficulty and danger--until He brings us in safety home--to our eternal rest!
Only let us cling confidingly to Him as we travel onwards--let our communion be close and uninterrupted--let the eye of faith follow His guiding hand, and the ear of faith listen to His loving voice, and the hand of faith grasp Him with a clinging confidence--and all will be well! Trials may come--He will comfort us! Dangers may arise--He will protect us! Enemies may oppose us--He will overcome them! No weapon formed against us shall ever prosper!
The coming year will be one of spiritual progress. Faith will win its victories, and love secure its triumphs, and hope increase its soarings. We will be able to "rejoice in the Lord," and "rejoice in the God of our salvation." We commit our interests, for time and eternity--to Him who will make "all things work together for our good." We "cast all our cares upon Him, knowing that He cares for us." And in so doing--whatever our troubles and trials may be--we will have, within us, "the peace which passes understanding," and, a measure of that joy "which is unspeakable, and full of glory."
Assured, that "all the ways of our God, are mercy and truth to those who love Him," we will trust His heart--even when we cannot trace His hand! We will receive meekly, humbly, and gratefully--whatever He is pleased to send us--waiting patiently for the time, when He will solve His own deep and mysterious providences, and we will be able to trace, with grateful hearts, in the light of eternity--how much of infinite love, and wisdom, and faithfulness, and goodness--were enfolded in all the events of our earthly history!
Beloved brethren, be it yours to enter on the coming year, with the resolution that, "whatever others do, as for you and your house--you will serve the Lord." See to it, that you erect the family altar, and, with your children, seek daily pardon--for daily sins; and daily grace--for daily necessities. Let the Word of God be to you a precious treasure--a storehouse, from which you daily draw food and nourishment to your soul. Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, for the worship of your God and Savior. Go to the sanctuary with humble and teachable spirits--sit at the feet of Jesus and "learn of Him;" that you may the better meet the trials and temptations of life, and the better discharge those duties which devolve upon you from day to day.
Be earnest and persevering in prayer. Remember, that the throne of grace is ever near at hand, and that the ear of the Eternal God is ever open to your cry! For you--the gate of mercy is ever open--the Savior is ever pleading--the Spirit is ever "ready to help your infirmities." Go to that throne, assured that, in Christ Jesus, there is treasured up an infinite, inexhaustible, mediatorial fullness of grace--and that, out of that fullness, you are invited to partake! "Go to it in emptiness--and you will return filled! Go to it in sorrow--and you will return comforted! Go to it with guilt--and you will return pardoned! Go to it with sin, backsliding, and infirmity--and you will return healed, restored, and supported!"
Do not be ashamed to confess Christ in your daily life. Oh, how many are so--afraid to be deemed pious--afraid to be thought of as enthusiasts--afraid lest men should "take knowledge of them--that they have been with Jesus." They will strive, and struggle, and toil, to acquire earthly riches--give their whole heart's devotion to the world--and waste the energies of mind and body, in the effort to outstrip others in the race for wealth. They are not ashamed to be known as worldlings, but they are ashamed to be deemed pious! They can be cold, unimpressed, and indifferent, when a pious subject is brought before them; but warm, interested, and engrossed, when the conversation is of this world--its business, schemes, and projects. Brethren, let it not be thus with you! Carry your piety along with you--not indeed for ostentatious display, or as the subject for mere idle, empty talk--but as that which rules and regulates your words and actions--as that which renders you gentle, kind, generous, and forgiving in your daily fellowship with those around you--as that which opens your heart to the call of the needy, and excites your sympathy to the afflicted and sorrowful--as that which renders applicable to your name and character, the words of Scripture, "All who heard of me praised me. All who saw me spoke well of me. For I helped the poor in their need and the orphans who had no one to help them. I helped those who had lost hope, and they blessed me. And I caused the widows' hearts to sing for joy. All I did was just and honest." Job 29:11-14.
Thus, with Christ in the heart, and Christ's spirit in the life, be it yours to meet the coming year, and, whether your influence is great or small--your sphere of action extensive or limited--do what you can, to glorify your God and Savior, and to "let your light so shine before men, that they, seeing your good works, may also glorify your Father who is in heaven!" In the family and in the world, at home and abroad, in your disposition, in your business, in your worldly interactions--be it your desire, your aim, and prayer--to "live unto the Lord," and to serve Him faithfully with your time, your talents, your influence, and your wealth! Let your prayer be, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" And seek earnestly, humbly, and faithfully, to "do the will of your Father, who is in heaven." So occupy as a steward, until Christ comes, and He will then say, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful over a few things--I will make you ruler over many things! Enter you into the joy of your Lord!"
Blessed is that servant, who is found so "doing the will of God."
"'Tis not for man to trifle; life is brief, And sin is here. Our time is but the falling of a leaf, A dropping tear. We have no time, to sport away the hours; All must be earnest, in a world like ours.
"Not many lives, but only one have we; One--only one-- How sacred should that one life ever be-- That narrow span! Day after day filled up with blessed toil, Hour after hour still bringing in new spoil."
And now, brethren, "I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace--which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." I pray that the choicest blessing of Almighty God may rest upon you--upon your families--your friends--your homes--your occupations--your duties. May you receive grace according to your need! Grace for doing--and for suffering; grace for health--and for sickness; grace for prosperity--and for adversity; grace for life--and for death! Grace for time--and glory in eternity! May you enjoy, in every step of life's pilgrimage, the cheering, sustaining, and animating presence of your God and Savior! And, may that presence be, to you--so precious, so needful, so gladdening--that it shall prove the pledge of heaven, the foretaste of celestial bliss, and the first-fruits of the golden harvest of eternity!
May the language of your heart ever be-- "Father, I know that all my life Is portioned out for me; And the changes that will surely come I do not fear to see; But I ask You for a patient mind, Intent on pleasing Thee.
"I ask You for a thoughtful love, Through constant watching wise, To meet the glad with joyful smiles, And to wipe the weeping eyes; And a heart at leisure from itself To soothe and sympathize.
"I would not have the restless way That hurries to and fro, Seeking for some great thing to do, Or secret thing to know; I would be treated as a child, And guided where I go.
"Wherever in the world I am, And in whatever estate, I have a fellowship with hearts To keep and cultivate, And a work of lowly love to do, For the Lord, on whom I wait.
"So I ask You for the daily strength, That none who ask are denied, And a mind to blend with outward life While keeping at Your side-- Content to fill a little space, If You be glorified.
"And if some things I do not ask In my cup of blessing be, I would have my spirit filled the more With grateful love to You, And careful--less to serve You much, Than to please You perfectly.
"There are briars besetting every path, Which call for patient care; There is a cross in every lot, And a need for daily prayer; But a lowly heart that leans on You, Is happy everywhere.
"In a service which Your love appoints There are no bonds for me, For my secret heart is taught 'the truth' That makes Your children 'free;' That a life of self-renouncing love Is a life of liberty."
With sincere affection, I remain, your loving pastor and brother in Christ,