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free-will offering," because no other can conduce to the salvation of
Joshua aids them as much as possible in their determination by saying—“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord;" thus teaching them by his own declaration whom he would serve ; and it might well be supposed that in this respect they would follow the determination of their aged deliverer, who had, under the Lord's command and providence, saved them from so many dangers and troubles, and who was about to die, as we read in the subsequent verses of the chapter. The people accordingly said—“God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods.” The gods whom their fathers had served beyond the flood, and in Egypt, were mere idols, which could not deliver them, but only debase them, and which in themselves regarded, were nothing but the evils and falses of their natural states. One of these idols their fathers had acknowledged to be the god which brought them forth out of Egypt. This idol, or false god, was the golden calf, (Exodus xxxii.) which, in a bad sense, corresponds to sensual pleasure, around which many who profess to be led by the Lord are constantly dancing, as the Jews did around the golden calf; and also Baalpeor was another god which their fathers had served, instead of the Lord, and for which idolatry the people were so severely punished. All these idols signified some lust or cupidity of the unregenerate natural man, which he serves, and by which he is held captive, so long as he does not serve the true God, or the Lord Himself.
This subject, when properly and spiritually considered, is well adapted for our meditation and instruction at the commencement of a new year. For at this period the thoughtful mind is naturally led to review and examine its states, both as to what it has experienced during the past year, and what may be its prospects for the future. In this respect a Christianaman may be compared to a merchant who takes an account of his business during the year which has gone, and draws up a balance sheet, in order that he may know what he has lost and what he has gained. There are heavenly treasures as well as earthly, (Matt. vi. 20.) and the former are infinitely more important than the latter. It is consequently of immense importance to examine and balance our states as to the heavenly treasures we are commanded to acquire, as well às in respect to the earthly treasures, which serve us only for a short time during our sojourn in this life. We all know how exact and particular the natural man is in examining the circumstances as to his business in this world, and that he generally appoints the commencement of the New Year for that purpose ; and he is wise in so doing, for otherwise his affairs would fall into confusion, and ruin would be his
OR, THE FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR.
fate. Now the affairs of the spiritual life require, with a much stronger reason, the examination which is so necessary for our spiritual good, without which examination our spiritual states would be so endangered as to cause us to suffer spiritual ruin and destruction. There is a profit and loss account in respect to our spiritual states, or to heavenly things, as well as in respect to our natural states and as to earthly things. To this the Lord alludes when he says—“If a man gain the whole world and lose his own soul, by what is he profited ?” Here, indeed, is a gain and a loss of infinite moment, and which cannot be too closely laid to heart. Let us, then, imitate the natural man in his worldly prudence, and thoroughly, at the commencement of this New Year, examine our spiritual states in relation to heaven and eternal things. We have every persuasive inducement to enter upon this most vital question of spiritual profit and loss, especially when we consider that since the commencement of the year that is now gone, many of us have seen some of our dearest friends pass off into eternity, who have consequently left this world and its concerns, and are called to give an account of themselves before God. The balance sheet with them has already been struck, and the great question of profit and loss has, with some, been already determined.
The covenant between the Lord and man we often find renewed in the Scriptures. A covenant signifies conjunction; and as all religion is for this purpose, we should also frequently renew our covenant with the Lord. The conditions of the covenant the Lord never fails, on His part, to fulfil; it is only on the part of man that the conditions remain, in many cases, unperformed, and in most only partially, and, at the best, only imperfectly fulfilled. One reason why this is the case is because we do not renew the covenant with the Lord, and examine whether we have faithfully performed its holy conditions or not. These conditions are the keeping of His divine commandments, and, in general, the acquisition of truths from the Word, and the love of them with a pure and zealous affection. In order that the people of Israel might perform the duties of this covenant, they were commanded “to put away the strange gods from among them;" for these “strange gods” signify everything false and evil which prevails in the natural state when the conditions of the Lord's covenant are not kept. This same injunction, therefore, has an especial relation to us; for whatever affection of selfish or worldly love which has not been brought into subjection to the Lord's Word, is a strange god, which must be put away, if the covenant of peace and of conjunction with Him is to be established.
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There are certain periods and epochs in human life which especially serve for the renewal of this covenant. The beginning of a new year is well adapted for this purpose. There are certain halts and interruptions in the general tenor of our life's course which are calculated to awaken the mind to a right and vivid perception of its present and actual position in regard to spiritual as well as to natural things. A severe sickness, a reverse of fortune, a death in the family circle, a new period of time, &c., are all events which affect the minds, even of the most thoughtless, and cause them to reflect upon their actual states and their future prospects. At these periods the mind generally becomes more susceptible of vivid impressions, and the voice of religion is more distinctly 'heard,
Let us, then, endeavour to see what we have gained and what we have lost, in respect to spiritual things, during the year that is past. Are we less selfish and sinful in our dispositions and tempers ? Are our consciences more tender? Do we perceive the approach of evil thoughts, indicating the approach of evil spirits, more keenly, and do we feel a deeper dread and a greater horror when evil influences from hell thus approach and assail our minds ? Have we, during the year, deepened our convictions as to the all-importance of spiritual realities, in comparison with earthly and transitory things? In sho nearer to heaven? Have we cultivated the privileges of spiritual intelligence which the writings of the New Church unfold to our minds ? If we do not become intelligent in spiritual things, the fault will rest solely upon ourselves, as the means of acquiring this intelligence are now, of the Lord's mercy, abundantly supplied. There is one work which ought, by all means, to be frequently read; this work is the Doctrine of Life. Brief, and soon perused, yet it is all-sufficient for every purpose of life. It is the divine precepts of the Word, brought out in their full power and glory, and applied to the motives and actions of our daily life. No man who has not read, with deep interest and concern, this little work, can properly consider himself to be a member of the New Church; for it explains the Christian covenant of life and peace between man and the Lord.
Have we, during the year, felt a growing affection for the discernment of the spiritual sense of the Word ? If we do not feel that our affection for the truths of the Word, rationally and spiritually discerned, has increased, it is a proof that we have lost and not gained during the year. The balance is against us. For the test by which we can judge of ourselves as to spiritual progress, is the delight which we feel in a clearer understanding of the Word. If our minds are indifferent as to
OR, THE FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR.
this great question, it is a sign that the world has still too strong a hold on our affections, “which are not fixed on the things which are above,” but which still cling to the world with an obstinate tenacity, and prevent us from becoming “spiritually minded, which is life and peace.” Let us remember that the life of man is his love, and especially his governing love. The quality of our life is especially manifest by our delights and our pleasures. If our delights consist in mere worldly gratifications, our life will be worldly and selfish; but if our delights are in things spiritual, or heavenly, our life’s love will also be heavenly, and we shall have “our citizenship in heaven." (Phil. iii. 20.) “Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desire of thine heart.” (Psalm xxxvii. 4.)
There are fifty-two Sabbaths in the year. More than one hundred sermons and lectures have been preached during that period in each of our churches. Much prayerful study has been devoted to the preparation of these sermons. The Word has been the only source of instruction, and from this divine fountain the waters of life have been drawn. The Lord identifies Himself with His Word, and what comes pure from this source comes from Himself. You have thus, through these ministrations, had an immense treasure of Truth presented to your acceptance, and pressed upon your hearts. Have you appreciated these blessings, and opened your hearts in gratitude to the Lord for their reception? Or bave they fallen like dead weights to the ground, or do they lie stagnant in your memories, whilst your hearts remain selfish and sensual ? For like the waters of earth, the waters of Truth cannot remain motionless without becoming stagnant and putrid. Better never to have known the Truth, than that such should be its perversion and its fate. Our final condemnation will only be the more severe and embittered.
Whilst on this subject, we may inquire how the privileges and blessings of the public worship of the Lord have been appreciated and employed on the fifty-two Sabbaths of the year. Have the doors of the sanctuary been thrown open twice every Sabbath for your reception, and have you only on certain occasions" come into the courts of the Lord, and paid your vows unto Him in the presence of all His people "? Remember that a vow is a most solemn thing. For a vow is a promise that we make to God when we take upon ourselves the profession of religion, and call ourselves Christians, thus bearing the holy name of Him “who alone is holy.” (Rev. xvi. 4.) When we make a promise to men, either to pay them at a certain time, or to perform some duty towards them in which they are deeply interested, and the violation of
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which would involve them in loss and difficulty, do we not feel that we have incurred upon ourselves a great responsibility for our neighbour's good ? for if the promise is violated, he may be a ruined man, but if it is kept, he may be blessed with comfort and peace. But to violate a vow made to God is a matter of much greater moment, since it breaks the covenant made between Him and us, and causes inevitable destruction to come upon our heads. It is indeed true that we cannot violate a promise to man without violating a vow to God, for how can we love God whom we do not see, and love not our brother whom we do see? If the Jew violated his vows, and ceased to perform the ordinances and statutes of his church, he well knew that some dreadful calamities would speedily come over him. It is true, we are not now living under an external typical dispensation like that of the Jews; nevertheless, we have our vows, by which we are bound to keep the Lord's commandments, and to perform our duties of love and of worship to Him ; and if these duties are neglected, we shall incur upon our spiritual states calamities such as were represented by those which came literally over the Jews, when they violated their vows of obedience to the Lord.
There is an internal comfort and sweetness arising from the sincere worship of the Lord in company with others on the Sabbath-day, which cannot be received and enjoyed, in so great a degree, on any other occasion. This comfort and sweetness in heaven, where all, at stated times, assemble for the open worship of the Lord, must be inexpressibly delightful. No one there absents himself from public worship; it is his especial delight to be there. And the same would, in its degree, be the case upon earth, especially where, as in the New Jerusalem, the Lord in His divine Humanity is the Object of love and of worship, if we were properly alive to our great privileges and blessings. We should, at the same time, receive an internal strength, by which the battles of life, against the sins that so easily beset us, or against the powers of darkness, would be more easily fought and won.
Have we gained or lost in the spirit of prayer? Do we feel that this blessed spirit has grown and strengthened within us during the year that is gone? If so, we may put it down in the ledger of our life as a great gain; if, however, we find that this is not the case, but the contrary, we must put it down as a great loss. We may know our spiritual strength by the readiness and vigour with which we can practise the great Christian duty of self-denial. When any evil cupidities beset us, and endeavour to fascinate us with their sinful pleasures, if we promptly deny ourselves the carnal gratification, and fight against the cupidity until it
* See H. H., 221–223.