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THERE are certain subjects which, though common, are never trite. They do not cease to interest us, for they never lose their importance. Repetition wears off the edge of novelty, but the impression, though less keen, is even more abiding; for what is lost in novelty is more than redeemed in depth and power. Of this description are those reflections which force themselves on every serious mind at the opening of another year. Few are so young as not already to have become in some degree familiar with them, and none so advanced in life as to regard them without emotion. Indeed, their importance grows as years pass on. A thoughtfulness of mind is suited to such a season; and if we might select a passage of scripture as the groundwork of meditation, we would quote St. Paul, and listen to him exclaiming, "This one thing I do; forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. iii. 13.) For here the apostle seems to propose himself as our example, He seems to say, I have now been long in the field; I have been exercised in the christian warfare; you regard me as a veteran in the service of my Lord, Now this is the mature judgment that I form of my own position; I have not yet attained the mark; I am not perfect in holiness; but I am not discouraged; far otherwise, indeed; for I give my whole soul to this one pursuit; I mind nothing else; this one thing I do, I strive incessantly, and I know that I shall win the prize; for it is offered freely by God himself, and secured to every believer in Christ Jesus.
Let us follow his example, and take a retrospect of the past;
Vol. 59,-No. 265,
and this we are to do in a sense consistent with the caution to forget the things which are behind. The admonition is addressed to a company of believers, to a church eminent in holiness, to those who are in some sense perfect; for he says, "Let us, as many as are perfect, be thus minded:" perfect, not in holiness, for then the exhortation would be needless: but perfect in the simplicity of an honest and good heart; perfect as David was towards his God, when his "heart was fixed," and when his resolution was, "I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people, I will sing to thee among the nations." His heart was fully set in him to glorify the God of Israel to the exclusion of all other gods. And this was true, though mournful imperfections still lurked within.
Taking, then, a retrospect of the year past, the Christian will not fail to call to mind his past successes. In some respects they should never be forgotten; they should be present to our minds as Israel's mercies were present to the mind of Samuel when he set up his altar, and called it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us. Our mercies must never be forgotten and of all of them the chief is that of which St. Paul speaks when he describes himself as having "found mercy of the Lord to be faithful." We should dwell upon our mercies to excite a spirit of praise and thankfulness, and of confidence in our heavenly Guide, the Captain of our salvation. We should often remember all the way by which the Lord our God hath led us, that we may set up our way-marks, that we may gather lessons of wisdom, prudence, and caution from the past. For it is in the spiritual life as in ordinary affairs. The prudent man, the man taught of God, grows wiser by experience; but the simple pass on and are punished. They learn nothing from the past; they fall again into the same snare; they are overtaken again in the old transgression. Pride, and a trifling spirit, and the neglect of warnings, are the symptoms of a reprobate mind.
But even spiritual successes may be overvalued. It is possible to recur to them with a feeling of exultation. It is possible to fall back upon them as evidences that we are in a state of grace, when religion is growing cold, and the candle of the Lord is almost put out. Carried to its extreme, no delusion can be more dangerous, and yet none is more readily embraced. It falls in with the slothfulness of a corrupt nature; it flatters human. pride; it silences remorse and stifles conscience.
If the year past has borne witness to that great change wherein we have passed from death unto life, and become new creatures in Christ Jesus, let us beware of the danger that arises, either from dwelling exclusively upon the wonders which God by his holy Spirit hath wrought within us, so as to be elated by them; or from the want of that spiritual elation which not unfrequently attends the season of conversion. In both respects, Forgetting the things which are behind, must be our motto. Conversion is
only the beginning of spiritual life, and we are to go on unto perfection. The joy of the young convert is often like that of Israel by the waters of Babylon, when the decree of Cyrus went forth and their captivity was ended. "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing." But this does not always last. And we are not to be discouraged if deserts must be crossed, and we are obliged to encamp sometimes in dry places where no water is, on our way to the land of promise. As good soldiers, we must endure hardness. Our past triumphs are to be recalled to mind as proofs of the gracious purposes of our God concerning us; but we are not to dwell upon them so as to persuade ourselves that the toils and perils of our warfare are accomplished. We are not so to think of our mercies as to become pharisaic and self-satisfied; for even this is not impossible. We are not to relax in watchfulness, not to give way to sloth, because God has blessed us hitherto.
In a review of the past, many discomfitures and failures will painfully recur to our mind. And these should leave behind them, no doubt, a meek and chastened spirit, a deep consciousness of infirmity, and much lively sorrow for sin. But they must not be allowed to prey upon the soul, and produce despondency. If you are a true believer, you have already taken them, one and all, to the Saviour of sinners. By an act of faith you have plunged into that fountain which has been opened for sin and for uncleanness. You have gone with your leprosy to the Great High Priest, and you have been sprinkled with the blood of atonement. You may, now, therefore rejoice in the deliverance you have obtained from the pollution of sin; you may listen to the voice which says, I, even I, am he who blotteth out thy transgressions. Thus, in the recollection even of past infirmities, a chastened joy becomes you. A joy such as the mariner feels who was in perils by the deep from his own incompetence or neglect, but has just been delivered from so great a death. He blames himself, but he does not forsake his calling in despair. He gathers a lesson of caution from the past; he feels that he is even fitter for the sea, and for encountering its dangers, by the experience he has gained. Hezekiah, after his one act of presumptuous folly, went softly all his days. Peter, from the date of his great transgression, was ever afterwards a chastened man. How different the author of the two epistles which bear his name, from the impetuous disciple whom the Lord sternly rebuked with "Get thee behind me, Satan." Yet Hezekiah was a holier, and Peter was a happier man than before his fall. You may not dwell on your past sins to the ruin of your peace. This is unbelief. This is to doubt the sufficiency or to question the love of Christ. It is to add to the burden of one sin by accumulating others upon it; and so to sink yourself under aggravated horrors.
There may be others, in circumstances slightly different, to whom the same exhortation still applies. Perhaps you have been deterred, through the past year, from making an open profession of religion, grievously wounding your conscience and ruining your own peace of mind. You know that the gospel, received into the soul, can alone bring peace and security; but yet you hesitate, kept back by the remembrance of your past failures, and of sins committed after many resolutions made. Now we venture to encourage you to forget those things which are behind. Forget these distressing failures, and try once more. Forget the despondency which they have occasioned, and set out anew. If the truth were but sifted, your failures ought rather to inspire hope than despair. Just as the sick person, like her in the gospel who had spent all her living on physicians and was nothing better, but rather grew worse,-just as such an one is encouraged when he has applied at last to the one physician who discovers his malady, and shews at once, by his different treatment, that he has begun to grapple with the disease in its inmost seat. So you, too, must renew the struggle with fresh heart and hope; set out anew, and on better principles.
Let this opening year bear witness to another humble and resolute profession of the gospel of Christ. Begin, where all holy resolutions must begin, at the cross of Christ; let your weakness be made strong in Him who died for you. He is able, he is willing, to save you to the uttermost.
The review of the past year may perhaps awaken in some minds the distressing remembrance of sufferings on behalf of Christ. Of these most of us know but little; for the lines have fallen to us in pleasant places. Yet such things are, even in a Christian land. There is the wearing tyranny of domestic life; there is the studied unkindness and the heartless indifference of those who are stangers to religion. Many a dutiful child pines beneath it, and many a loving wife. And even the hardier manhood of the head of the family is not always proof against that constant opposition to spiritual things which, like the continual dropping of water, wears away the rock itself.
Such conflicts embitter life, and they cannot be overlooked in a retrospect of the past. They have been, no doubt, a needful discipline; sent perhaps to humble our pride, to quench our vain-glorious spirit; or, if not, then to cultivate the graces of gentleness, long-suffering, meekness, and to draw forth earnest intercessions for those around us, our kinsmen according to the flesh. But opposition, from whatever quarter it may have arisen, must neither be allowed to vex and sour, nor to dishearten the servant of God. When passed, let it be forgotten. Strive to rise above it with fresh vigour in the service of the Lord. Remember the special blessings which are connected with suffering for the sake of Christ. The time will come when it will be regarded as
our highest honour that we have been amongst the number of those who have suffered shame for His name's sake. If the closing year has conducted us through such scenes of trial, great is our reward in heaven. If we have been spared them, let us not forget the gratitude we owe to our gracious Father, who has given us to pass through so large a portion of human life in peace, and has not suffered us to be tempted above that which He knew we were able to bear.
And so we turn from the past to the future. A future all uncertainty to us, but clearly defined and mapped out before the eye of Him whose we are and whom we serve. At such a season the supreme importance of the soul must surely impress even the unreflecting. Its care is the one thing needful, the one pursuit to be supremely followed, the one great interest to be effectually secured. "This one thing I do," says the apostle; and the expression, simple as it is, implies that religion stands alone; alone in its solemn majesty and unspeakable importance. This one thing I do, though nothing else be done: I press forward to the mark; for if I loiter, destruction may overtake me in the plain. This one thing I do, for the prize is glorious and eternal; but the fashion of this world passeth away. This one thing I do, though I sacrifice everything besides. For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?
Solemn thoughts become an opening year; a year which, in all probability, will, to some of those who now read these pages, prove their last, the last of conflict, may we hope, and the first of glory and of everlasting life. Where is the Christian who does not, at such a moment, resolve, by the grace of God, to reach forth unto those things which are before, to lay aside every weight, to run the remainder of his course with more alacrity, and to glorify his heavenly Master by a more consistent life and heavenly conversation? And there are certain points the necessity of which will impress him more strongly as he asks himself the important question, How shall this my purpose be most effectually accomplished? He will note, in the first place,
The importance of soundness in the faith. For in the Christian race, no man is crowned unless he strive lawfully. Let him see to it that he is in doctrine incorrupt.
And this is certainly a caution of great importance at the present time. In our fathers' days the boundaries of truth were sharply defined, as well, for the most part, as the outlines of false doctrine. But this is so no longer. Evangelical doctrine seems to melt away softly into easy generalities; it falls off gently into sentimentalism on the one hand, or speculative theology on the other. Popery itself in England, not to speak of its counterfeit Tractarianism, is generally disguised under a thin veil of something resembling evangelical truth. It is no uncommon thing to hear the remark, that the sermons even of the chief leaders of error display a