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The proprietor of the vineyard said, "Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none." Observe this. You see God distinctly notices how many seasons of unprofitableness people have passed through. And if he thought of cutting down this tree because in a favourable situation it had yielded nothing for three years only, what can he resolve but the immediate destruction of those individuals who have been fruitless under the means of grace for ten, twenty, perhaps forty or sixty years! Surely the vme-dresser himself cannot implore for such, one year, one month, one week more!" He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
II. He Requires A Review or Past MebVies. When humble and attentive minds look back, their mercies appear so many that it is impossible to enumerate them. And hence divines have taught Christians to serve their mercies as botanists do flowers—to class them: or as astronomers deal with the stars —to form them into constellations. They tell them, in looking back, to think of mercies temporal and spiritual; mercies public and private; mercies personal and relative. They tell them to think of continued mercies, restored mercies; and of preventing and delivering mercies. They would have them also fix their minds on particular instances— for instances affect much more powerfully than things in a mass. They teach them also not to overlook the circumstances which enhance their blessings; such as are derived from their seasonableness, their utility. Take their advice, and pursue this plan.
How many times has he lulled you to sleep in his arms; fed you at his table; clothed you from his wardrobe! How often has he supplied your wants, and wiped away tears from your eyes! When brought low, has he not helped you! When in jeopardy, has he not defended you? When sickness has alarmed your fears, has he not led you back from the gates of the gravel When accidents have been ready to destroy, have not "all your bones said, who is a God like unto thee!" In how many cases has he given us favour in the eyes of our fellow-creatures; and blessed us with the advantages and pleasures of friendship! From what low and obscure beginnings has he raised some of us in the course of his ^s wonder-working providence t and how well does it become us to compare the former— when with our staves we passed over Jordan, with the present, when we are become two bands, and have all things richly to enjoy!
There are few persons who iu looking back are not able to perceive some very striking displays of Divine goodness. We do not wish people to be forward to publish these to the world—many of them would not be, and could not be striking to others; but they ought to
observe these remarkable interpositions themselves, and to say with David, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." Nothing can impress or influence our minds when it is forgotten. We should therefore recall our mercies, and place them full before us, that we may feel whether we have rendered according to the benefit done us. How much of our insensibility and ingratitude springs from inattention and a bad memory! and how well may it be said of thousands, as it was of Israel, "Of the rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee!"
As it is so necessary to keep things in the mind, and as our memories are so treacherous, it would be well for us, in every possible way, to aid our recollection, and to endeavour to preserve and perpetuate those good feelings, which our mercies produce when we receive them. Thus "Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." And thus Joseph, by the very names of his children, would recall the wonders which the Lord had shown him: "Joseph called the name of the first-born Manasseh: for God, saith he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house. And the name of the second called he Ephraim: for God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." And hence the command given to Ephraim; "Set thee up way-marks, make thee high heaps; set thine heart toward the highway, even the way which thou wentest: turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities."
If we had indulged a person year after year all through life, should we not require him to think of it; to be sensible of our kindness, and to behave towards us in a manner becoming his obligations! There is nothing perhaps we feel more painfully than the ungrateful reception of the favours we bestow: and a very few instances of unthankfulness are sufficient to induce us to discontinue oar benefits. What then does God think of us? Not only are the expressions of his goodness infinitely more numerous than any favour* we can show our fellow-creatures, but they are all undeserved. Our fellow-creatures have claims upon us, and we are bound, as we have opportunity, to do good unto all men. But God is under no obligation to us. All his bounty is grace; and therefore, if he is continually domg us good, and filling our hearts with joy and gladness, surely he expects that the language of our lips, and of our lives, should be, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me!— He requireth that which is past" And he demands,
ID. A REVIEW OF OLE PAST SORROWS AND
Distresses. With all our supplies and indiligences, you have had your hours of trouble; and have found this world to be n vale of tears. Can you forget those seasons in which your worldly comforts fled, your refreshing gourds withered, your beloved friends and relations were removed by death .'—Oh! never—" the wormwood and the gall" of such —and such an affliction—" my soul hath it still in remembrance, and is humbled within me." And be not afraid to think of it "By the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better;" it is made more serious, and more soft; and thus the soil is improved for wisdom, and truth, and devotion to flourish in. Do not derive your morals from the school of the world. Their maxims are imperfect opposition "to the Spirit which is of God." They endeavour to banish from their minds every thing that has a tendency to do them good. Hence when troubles befall them, the design of which is to bring them to reflection, they do every thing in their power to escape a sense of them, and to prevent the remembrance of them. And thus the kind and salutary purposes of Heaven, in afflicting them, are disregarded, and they go on thoughtlessly, till the " evil day" comes upon them with all its horrors and surprise.
As our troubles are designed to do us good, not only in experience, but also in review, we should labour after a practical remembrance of them. They have been lost upon us, unless they have made us wiser, more sober-minded, and less disposed to expect a rest below the skies. We should judge of the future by the past, and conclude that life will be what it has been, a chequered scene; and that no condition, no connexion, will aflord us unmixed happiness. Surely, after the experience of years of vanity, we should begm to gird up the loins of our minds, and to declare plainly that we seek a better country. Surely these disappointments and regrets urge us to say, with David, "And now, Lord, what wait I fori my hope is in thee;" or with Micah, "Therefore will I look unto the I/jrd, and will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me!" We cannot now plead ignorance: our dreams have been disturbed: we are awake—and it is high time to arise. It is high time that the trifler should become a man, and the man a Christian.
It is an awful thing to come out of trouble: for it always leaves us better or worse thnn it finds us. We should therefore ask, with peculiar concern—" What benefit have I derived from such a visitation of Divine Providence! The rod spoke—did I hear its message 1 The physician has been employed—is my distemper even beyond the reach of medicine? I have lost the life of my friend—and have I lost his death too i My relation has entered the joy of his Lord—I have one reason for loving earth less, and do I love it
more? one reason for loving heaven more, and do I love it less?"
Past afflictions should also teach us not to be too much dejected or dismayed in prospect of future ones. For how has it been with us? We feared as we entered the cloud, but the cloud was big with mercy, and poured down blessings. What terrified us m imagination, we bore with cheerfulness. When the day of trial came, we had grace to help in time of need; and it was found sufficient for us. And our God is the same, and has promised that he will never leave us nor forsake us.
And, oh! happy is he who, in reviewing his griefs, can say, "Well, so many of my troubles are gone for ever. So many steps of my wearisome journey I have taken—and the hour is not far off that shall end the toilsome pilgrimage."—
"Omnit delightful hour, by mia
"Worlds should not bribe me back to tread
"My home henceforth is in the skies—
IV. God Requires Us To Review Our Past Sins. Many of these have grown out of our privileges, our mercies, and our trials. They have been attended with singular aggravations. They are more in number than the hairs of our head. In many things we offend all.
It is well, if upon a review of the year, we can exculpate ourselves from sins committed against man—but what are these compared with the offences which we have committed against God! Indeed all sin is really committed against God. There is not a duty which we owe our fellow-creatures, but he has enjoined the observance of. He has commanded us to love our neighbour as ourselves, and therefore every deviation from this rule is a transgression of his law, and a provocation of his anger. But when we judge ourselves more immediately in relation to him, when we consider what he has righteously required of us, and reflect upon our omissions of duty, and our actual departures from him, in thought, word, and deed, we are compelled to exclaim—"Who can understand his errors?" The review is painful— but it is useful, it is necessary.
It will lend us to admire'the longsuffering of God, in bearing with us year after year. Though we have proved such cumberers of the ground, he has still spared us. Though we have so often provoked him, he has not destroyed us. We may look upon each other this evening with astonishment, and say, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not"
It will be a call to repentance. This always commences in a conviction of sin, and is daily brought into exercise by fresh discoveries of its remaining existence. "They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them."
It will humble us. And we need every check to pride, for we are prone to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. But what are we? Have we lived a day without being fools, loiterers, undutiful servants, unfaithful stewards! And what reason can we have to be proud!
It will promote charity. We shall be tender towards others, in proportion as we deal honestly and severely with ourselves. The most effectual way to take us off from beholding the mote in our brother's eye, is to employ ourselves in extracting the beam from our own. We have all our infirmities, though they may not be precisely of the same kind with those which lead us so rigorously to condemn othera We are all "in the body, and should consider ourselves, lest we also be tempted."
It will be a spur to diligence. Do you ask, in what are we to use diligence? This depends, in some respects, upon the condition you are in. Perhaps to this hour some of you have been anxious about every thing, except the pardon of your sins. Whde these remain unforgiven, the wrath of God abideth on you, and you are every moment in danger of sinking into the lowest hell. It is obviously therefore your duty, immediately and earnestly to seek after an interest in Christ, by whom alone you can be justified freely from all things.
But diligence equally becomes those of you who hope that you are already partakers of this blessing. You can never do enough for him who has saved you by his grace. You have much lost time to redeem: and much lost ground to recover. When you ought to have been running, you have been standing still—perhaps drawing back. Some who began the divine life long after you, are now far before you on the heavenly road. You are surrounded with dangers which require incessant vigilance and prayer. You have a thousand mistakes to rectify, and numberless excellences to acquire. What is the life of a good man? What is it that distinguishes him from others—but a faithful investigation of his faults; an attention to moral unprovement; an endeavour to make each day a practical criticism on the past? He observes how he was hindered: and remarks where he fell, or was likely to fall. And thus he levies a contribution of profit even upon his losses; and derives wisdom from his ignorance, strength from his weakness, and zeal from his indifference.
To urge you to this four-fold review, Remember the intimation we gave you at the beginning of this address, and which is so fully expressed in the words of the Apostle— "So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." Therefore, judge yourselves, that you may not be condemned with the wicked. This account will be personal, public, and impartial. "He will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil?' And whence will he bring them! From tie book of his remembrance: there he has recorded all your means and mercies, troubles and sins. From the book of your own memory: there also they are secured. For there is a difference between remembrance and memory; the former often fails, but what is inscribed upon the latter abides indelibly, and only requires something to shine upon the letters to render it legible. Have you not observed that what seemed dead in the mind, only required circumstances to revive it? With what freshness and force have things long forgotten sprung up in the memory when recalled by occurrences! Thus all the history of man will hereafter be re-traced—retraced m order to be tried—and tried in order to be approved or condemned. "Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless."
With this solemn thought, let us close the period of our time that is now going to be numbered with the years before the Flood. It has seen many carried down to their graves, and has brought us so much nearer our own. "The fathers—where are they? And the prophets, do they live for ever?" "Man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets." And when a few years are come, we shall go the way whence we shall not return. We are accomplishing, as an hireling, our days; and our neighbours, our friends, our relations will soon seek us— but—we shall not be. Let us sing:
•' Lord, what a feeble piece
"Alan, the brittle clay,
That built our body flrsl!
"Our moments fly apace,
Nur will our minutes stay;
"Well, if our days must fly.
We'll keep their end in sight;
"They'll waft us sooner o'er
OUR IGNORANCE OF FUTURITY.
m (NEW YEAR'S DAY.)
So toon at I shall tee how it -mill go with me.
I Hate the pleasure to address you on the first day of another year. The day is only distinguished from others by human institution; but this has given it various advantages and characters, natural and civ il, intellectual and moral. It is often a season of peculiar transactions; in which persons balance their accounts, commence business, form connexions. It is a period marked by humanity and benevolence. Children beseech time mercifully to spare the guides of their youth. The father and mother hope to see their dear oflspring long coming around them. The husband congratulates the desire of his eyes, and the wife hails the companion of her journey. Friendship renews every lively desire; and all, however indifferent at other times, yield to custom, and wish your returns of this day to be many and happy.
It is a season of thankfulness and joy. We praise the Preserver of men, who has held our souls in life, and carried us through the unnumbered dangers of another year—while our feelings are tempered to solemnity by the reflection that many have finished their course, and that we look for some of our own relations or acquaintances in vain.
For it is a period of seriousness and recollection. It reminds us of the instability of the world, and the rapidity of time. Of this indeed, every day and every hour should remind us; but the changes made, and the losses occasioned by these variations, are too common and inconsiderable to awaken reflection. But the termination of a year rouses even the careless, impresses even the insensible. And if we do not allow the subject to operate on the mind, who does not feel for the moment the sentiment of Job, " When a few years are come, I shall go the way whence I shall not return?"
But there is another relation in which we may consider this day. When we begin a new division of time, we naturally look forward, and endeavour to penetrate our future condition. The prospect is intimately connected with many of our duties, and will become injurious or profitable, according to the manner in which it is indulged. Let us then confine our attention to this view of the subject And consider, I. Our Inability To Determine Our Future Circumstances. Ii. Show What Use We Should Make Of Our Igngrance. Iii. Search For Something To Satisfy And Comfort Us, Under All Our Suspension And Uncertainty.
I. Though the endowments which digtin
guish the apostles we'
And will this not apply more fully to our circumstances?
When we look into futurity, all that meets the eye is a dark unknown. Even in those cases in which God has announced things to come, the prophecy is wrapped up in so much obscurity, that the fulfilment and the explanation generally arrive together. We can previously ascertain nothing. And how often has this been exemplified in the calculations of wise men—and some not very wise—with regard to those predictions which remain to be accomplished! Not only have they been drawn off from more useful duties, but they have frequently survived their laborious schemes, and been ashamed of the confidence with which they have published them. After gazing from the tower of their folly, they found that God had gone by in another road than that which they appointed him, and had used other instruments than those which they had put into his hands. They did not consider that the advantage of prophecy is to be derived from the completion; and that so far is a previous knowledge of it from being necessary, that it would in many instances prove hurtful, and often prevent the accomplishment It is not for us to know the times and the seasons which the Father hath put into his own power.
In the course of a few years only, how have all our conjectures been disappointed! More than once we had imagined that we had seized the clew, and the skein of Providence seemed likely to be unravelled; but suddenly we found it more entangled than before. And would any one now undertake to determine what will be the state of the nations of the earth a few months hence?
Sometimes a cloud no bigger than a man's hand has overspread the heavens; and from apparently inadequate causes events have arisen the most astonishing: while, on the other hand, the best-concerted plans and the most powerful resources have failed. Some are offended at the word chance; but the Scripture employs it, and it is no improper term. If indeed we apply it to God, it is profane—for " known unto God are all his is of thrt'rom the beginning; his counsel shall sumeA and he will do all his pleasure." But Itit counsel is to him, chance is to us. We wpiow nothing before it arrives. The consequences of things would be known if these , things themselves moved on in one even re
fular course, and always terminated uniirmly in the same manner—but when we see them often turning up contrary to their natural tendency—when we see that "the race is not to the swifts nor the battle to the strong, nor yet bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill"—our anticipations must be always liable to uncertainty. "Time and chance happeneth to them all."
What says your own history? He has led you, but it has been by "a way which you knew not;" and perhaps you hardly know it now. How wonderful have been the removals of your habitation, and the connexions which you have formed! How strange and unlooked-for have been both your friends and your enemies! Some have acquired wealth, and others filled offices towards which they could not have formerly aspired. Had these changes a few years before been foretold, they would have appeared incredible; and the subjects of them would have said, "If the Lord should make windows in heaven, might this thing be!"
So little have we been capable of judging aright, that we have in a thousand instances mistaken our real welfare: we have desired enjoyments which would have been a snare; and have been afraid of trials which have proved to be some of our chief mercies. When he was approaching to "empty us from vessel to vessel"—to keep us from "settling upon our lees;" when he came to prune away our suckers—that we "might bring forth more fruit;" we mistook the friend for an enemy; and said, "All these things are against me," when they were "all working together for our good!"
Nor have you any information that can enable you to see how things will go with you for a single year. You know not how it will go with your health this year—what seeds of disorder may spring up in your frame; what accidents may befall your persons. You know not how it will go with your circumstances this year—what Tosses or successes you may experience; what new scenes of enjoyment may be opened, or what old ones may be dried up. You know not how it will go with your relations this year—whether you will be indulged with their continuance or stripped of their company. Perhaps the eye of Providence now sees the hearse standing before your door; and you trying to go in to take a last view of your happmess, before it be committed to "the bouse appointed for all living." The Lord preserve this family! but in what different circumstances may the members of
it assemble together on the return of this day! The wife may be seen in widowed weeds! The children may appear orphans! The sister may say, "Alas! my brother!"
Let us, II. Show What Use We Shoild
MAKE OF THIS IGNORANCE.
Let us learn from it our littleness; let us confess that we are nothing, and that God is all in all. "Vain man would be wise;" and there is nothing of which he is so proud as his knowledge—but there is nothmg that should make him more humble. For what can we know?" Who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? For who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?" Can he distinguish between appearances and reality? Can he see the combination, the dependences, and the effects of things! Does he "boast himself of tomorrow," when he "knoweth not what a day may bring forth?" "The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Are we then qualified to be our own guides, or to manage our own aflairs! "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. "He shall choose our inheritance for us." "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do ] exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child."
Secondly. Since we cannot sec how things will go with us, we should beware of presumption. "Go to now, ye that say, to-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and' sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow." The Apostle here gives us the scheme of an unsanctified tradesman. He resolves to go without delay to some place where he can carry on business to advantage. His aim is not fraud, but fair gain in the lawful way of buying and selling. And where is the harm of all this? Is not diligence laudable t Are we not commanded to provide for our own house' Wherein then does this man appear blameable? Perhaps he was actuated by avarice; and was seeking not a subsistence, but a splendid independence. Perhaps he was influenced by imprudence, and was not aware of the bad effects of roving abroad, or of changing his scene of action: for "as a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place:" and "a rolling stone gathers no moss." This may be true—but what this man is here condemned for is this—God is not in all his thoughts. These words, "Iwill," are too big tor him. Regardless of God, he engages to live a year, and all the year to be successful. He seems