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of having stood prepared, at all times, and for all events, in such habits of repentance, faith, and charity, as would have rendered our passage hence welcome and prosperous? If not, should we delay for a moment to make such preparation, and to stand in such habits?—Suppose any person were actually assured, that he should die upon the last day of the year, into which he is now entered; we should all agree upon the manner in which such person ought to spend the year. There would not be one dissentient voice. Yet, upon the supposition here made, this person has before him a whole year certain. Is not the obligation then still stronger upon every one of us? For that man must be out of his senses, who can bring himself to imagine that he has a whole year certain, or a month, or a day, or an hour.
5. When we say, that we have lost a friend, we can mean only, that we have lost him for a time. He is not finally perished, we shall see him again; and, therefore, it behoves us to consider, what our sensations will be at the sight of him, which must always depend on our usage of him during his life. We shall see him with joy, or grief, as we have formerly used him well, or otherwise; and all that we have ever said or done relative to him, will then be known. We are too apt to forget this circumstance; and seem to think, that when they are dead with whom we have been concerned, no further account will be taken of our behaviour towards them. Otherwise the consideration could not but have a great effect in the regulation of our conduct.
The case is exactly the same respecting the old year now departed. It is, indeed, numbered among the dead; but, like the dead, it will, in one sense, arise and appear to us again; and we shall be made to recollect the usage it received at our hands, while we were in possession of it upon earth. Memory will, in that hour, be quickened and perfected. Like a mirror holden before our eyes, it will represent faithfully to our minds the various transactions of the year, in which we bore a part; and we shall be forced to recognize and acknowledge the thoughts, the words, and the actions, which passed during its continuance with us. May we find pleasure in reviewing them !—But review them we must—and so must He, who is to be our judge, at the day of his second manifestation. That day draws on apace. For not only friends die, and years expire, and we ourselves shall do the same, but the world itself approaches to its end. It likewise must die. Once already has it suffered a watery death: it is to be destroyed a second time by fire; and all sublunary nature shall be overwhelmed and sunk in a molten deluge. Thus 'Old things will pass away;' but out of their ashes a new creation shall spring forth. According to the divine promise, which cannot fail, 'we look for new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwell righteousness," joy, and life; and from which, consequently, sin, sorrow, and death, are for ever excluded. We wait, in faith and patience, for the time, when we ourselves shall be restored with the world, and 'all things shall become new.' To prepare for this glorious and long-expected time, let us be first 'renewed in the spirit of our minds; let us put off the old man, corrupt with the deceitful lusts; and put on the new man, which of God is created in righteousness and true holiness;' addressing ourselves, for the necessary strength and power, to him that sitteth on the throne, who saith from thence, 'Behold, I make all things new.' This done, we shall descend undismayed to the grave; and our flesh shall rest there in hope, like a grain of corn in its furrow, to appear, in another and better form, at the appointed season, to begin an everlasting spring, and be for ever young. And when can we enter, with so great propriety, upon the blessed work, as now, when a new year affords us opportunity to repair the miscarriages of the old one i—Let me leave in your cars, and upon your minds, the charming words of that kind and affectionate invitation made, in one of the sacred books, by the Redeemer to his Church, who, you know, throughout the Scriptures, is considered in the relation of his spouse—
'Lo, the winter will soon be past: the rain will be over and gone; the flowers will appear on the earth; the time of the ringing of birds will come; and the voice of the turtle will be heard in our land. The fig-tree will put forth her green figs, and the vines, with the tender grape, give a good smell.— Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead; and Christ shall give thee light.'
SECOND SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS.
OUR LIVES ARE IN THE HAND OF GOD.
Psalm xxxi. 15.—My times are in thy hand.
[Preached at the beginning of a New Year.]
The sun that rolls over our heads, the food that we receive, the rest we enjoy, daily admonish us of a superior power, on whom the inhabitants of the earth depend for light, life, and subsistence. But as long as all things proceed in their ordinary course; when day returns after day with perfect similarity; when our life seems stationary, and nothing occurs to warn us of any approaching change; the religious sentiments of dependence are apt to be forgotten. The great revolutions of time, when they come round in their stated order, have a tendency to force some impressions of piety even on the most unthinking minds. They both mark our existence on earth to be advancing towards its close, and exhibit our condition as continually changing; while each returning year brings along with it new events, and, at the same time, carries us forwards to the conclusion of all. Then naturally arises the ejaculation of the text, ' My times, O God, are in thy hand:" 'My fate depends on thee. The duration of my life, and all the events which in future days are to fill it, are entirely at thy disposal.'— Let us now, when we have just seen one year close, and another begin, meditate seriously on this sentiment. Let us consider, I., What is implied in ' our times being in the hand of God;' and, II., To what improvement this meditation leads.
I. Our times are in the hand of God, as a Supreme Disposer of events. 2. They are in the hand of God, as a Guardian and a Father.
I. 1. ' Our times are in the hand of God' as a supreme irresistible Ruler. All that is to happen to us in this and the succeeding years of our life,—if any succeeding years we shall be allowed to see,—has been foreknown and arranged by God. The first view under which human affairs present themselves to us, is that of confused and irregular succession; like the billows of the sea, tumbling and tossing over each other, without rule or order. All that is apparent to us, is the fluctuation of human caprice, and the operation of human passions. We see the strife of ambition, and the efforts of stratagem, labouring to accomplish their several purposes among the societies of men. But it is no more than the surface, the outside of things, that we behold. If we believe in God at all, as the Governor of the universe, we must believe that, without his providence, nothing happens on earth. He over-rules, at his pleasure, the passions of men. He bends all their designs into subserviency to his decree. He ' makes the wrath of man to praise him;' and 'restrains,' in what measure he thinks fit, ' the remainder of wrath.' [Psalm Ixxvi. 10.] He brings forth in their course all the generations of men. When the time is come for their entering into light, they appear on the stage; and when the time, fixed for their dismission, arrives, he ' changes their countenance,' and sends them away. The time of our appearing is now come, after our ancestors had left their place, and gone down to the dust. We are, at present, permitted to act our part freely and without constraint. But assuredly there is not a day of our life, nor an event in that day, but was foreseen by God. That succession of occurrences, which to us is full of obscurity and darkness, is all light and order in his view. He sees from the beginning to the end; and brings forward every thing that happens, in its due time and place.
'Our times are' altogether ' in his hand.' Let us take notice, that they are not in the hands either of our enemies, or of our friends. It is not in the power of man to shorten or to prolong our life, more or less than God has decreed. Enemies may employ craft or violence in their attacks; friends may employ skill and vigilance for the preservation of our health and safety; but both the one and the other can have effect only as far as God permits. They work in subserviency to his purpose. By him, they are held in invisible bonds. To the exertions of all human agents he says, ' Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther.'
I. 2. We are to observe next, that ' our times are m the hand of God,' not only as an Almighty Disposer, but as a merciful Guardian and Father. We are by no means to imagine, that from race to race, and from year to year, God sports with the lives of succeeding generations of men; or, in the mere wantonncss of arbitrary power, brings them forth, and sends them away. No: if we have any confidence in what either the light of nature suggests to all men, or what the revelation of the Gospel has confirmed to Christians, we have full ground to believe, that the administration of human affairs is conducted with infinite wisdom and goodness. The counsels of the Almighty are, indeed, too deep for our limited understandings to trace. 'His path' may, often, as to us, be ' in the sea, and his footsteps in the mighty waters;' while, nevertheless,' all his paths are mercy and truth.' He who, from the benignity of his nature, erected this world for the abode of men; He who furnished it so richly for our accommodation, and stored it with so much beauty for our entertainment; He who, since first we entered into life, hath followed us with such a variety of mercies, surely can have no pleasure in our disappointment and distress. 'He knows our frame; He remembers we are dust;' and looks to frail man, we are assured, with ' such pity as a father beareth to his children.' [Psalm ciii. 13,14.] To him we may safely commit ourselves, and all our concerns, as to one who is best qualified, both to direct the incidents proper to happen to us in this world, and to judge of the time when it is fit for us to be removed from it.
Even that iguorance of our future destiny in life, of which we sometimes complain, is a signal proof of his goodness. He hides from us the view of futurity; because the view would be dangerous and overpowering. It would either dispirit us with visions of terror, or intoxicate us by the disclosure of success. The veil which covers from our sight the events of this and of succeeding years, is a veil woven by the hand of mercy. Our 'times are in his hand;' and we have reason to be glad, that in his hand they are kept, shut out from our view. Submit to his pleasure as an Almighty Ruler we must; because we cannot resist him. Equal reason there is for trusting in him as a Guardian, under whose disposal we are safe.
Such is the import of the text, that * our times are in the hand of God.' They are in the hands of God as a Governor and Ruler; in the hands of God as a Guardian and Father. These separate views of the text require, on our part, separate improvements.
II. 1. Seeing our times are not in our own hand, seeing futurity is unknown to us, let us, first, check the vain curiosity of