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Brevities for the New Year.
HERE is a custom in Burmah of casting water one on another at the commencement of a New Year, arising out of a superstition about thus cleansing away old sins. Desire for purification is thus shown, while the mistake
and inefficacy of all human endeavours is equally conspicuous. Who does not long to be cleansed from sins that trouble memory, harass conscience, and darken the prospect of the future? Some would give anything to be delivered from last year's transgressions. Yet how vain merely to forgive one another-to grasp hands and wish well! With our best sentiments we fail to touch the relationship between man and God. How blessed to read of the possibility of being freed from an "evil conscience and washed as with pure water" through the peace-speaking blood of Christ! A divine voice bids us welcome, and promises that, believing, we shall live.
The beginning of another year is a good time to reflect, Have we vowed and not paid? An old Puritan writer tells a suggestive story. A rich merchant, in a great storm at sea, vowed to Jupiter if he would save him and his vessel he would give him a hecatomb. The storm ceased, and he bethought himself that a hecatomb was unreasonable: he resolves on seven oxen. Another tempest comes, and now he vows again the seven at least. Delivered then also, he thought that seven
were too many, and one ox would serve the turn. Yet another peril comes, and now he solemnly vows to fall no lower: if he might be rescued, an ox Jupiter shall have. Again freed, anew he grudges, and would fain draw his devotion to a lower rate. A sheep was sufficient. But at last, being set ashore, he thought a sheep too much, and proposed to carry to the altar only a few dates. But by the way he eats up the dates and lays on the altar only the stones. Is it not thus in spirit too often with many? Strong feelings lose their force when peril is past, and the most meagre return is offered for help deemed invaluable in the moment of calamity. An old attendant at a sea-bathing place once told how he had saved a gentleman's life, and yet was only offered a shilling by the rescued man when afterwards he had come to himself. At such a value did he appraise his life-perhaps it was not worth any more. Remember vows to pay them. Let not delay blunt the edge of feeling, nor continued procrastination lead to the question, Is there any need for this? "Doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it, and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it; and shall He not render to every man according to his works?"
How constantly, in view of this and for all the ends of spiritual life, do we need fresh supplies of grace? Humboldt says of the electric eel in the lagoons of South America, that the shock at first felt is enough to stagger a horse; but when again and again touched it loses its force, and may be handled with impunity. Is it not thus with our best feelings and spiritual life as a whole? Does not the world by its touches draw out strength and vigour; and unless replenished, do we not become languid, weak, and helpless? Live much in prayer, that so the inner springs of being may be supplied and renewed. Christ can never fail. If it were possible for every member of the human race to touch at one moment a chain connected with an electrical machine, and a shock were turned on, I suppose all would simultaneously feel a thrill. How surely, then, the grace of Christ can be given to every one, if needed, at the same time, if we only touch Him by faith. So is He unexhausted and inexhaustible. When Queen Elizabeth came to Kenilworth in 1575, she was met near the castle by a fictitious sibyl who promised peace and prosperity to the country during her reign. It would be pleasant at the opening of the year to have such assurance extended over its months. But if we trust ourselves to the best guidance, and rest in the faithfulness
and love that cannot fail, while as Christians we walk worthy of our vocation, why should we doubt? In any case, with such a spirit, we shall be led to say, " He doeth all things well."
Mrs. Brassey, in her narrative of a voyage in The Sunbeam, writes : "Thursday, Jan. 11th, had no existence for us, as in the process of crossing the 180th meridian we have lost a day." If, indeed, the actual time had been taken out of life-if, with any of us, twenty-four hours were forcibly extracted, and we were told it, probably we should think ourselves much deprived. The feeling would arise that an injury had been done. One day! Yet how much might it be worth? Take life, with its powers, enjoyments, relationships, thoughts, feelings, hopes, possibilities; how much does only a day mean! Yet, are there not those who often squander whole days, and never seem conscious of their loss? Wasted time, perhaps, may be estimated by months during past years, yet they never reflect seriously on the fact. One might almost wish to wrest violently a day from them, that they might be led more profitably to esteem and employ what remained. If doing good also were the test, it would be well for us, in the spirit of that king who used sometimes to cry, "I have lost a day," to inquire how many we have found.
Humboldt speaks of a palm-tree (Mauritia Flexuosa, the sago tree of South America), that it preserves its beautiful verdure in periods of greatest drought. The mere sight of it gives an agreeable sensation of coolness. Water is constantly found at its foot when one has dug to a certain depth. What an interesting emblem of the Christian who maintains a holy character amid the world's temptations; and who bears affliction well, deriving refreshment and strength from the waters of life. He gives to others an impressive sense of his trust in God. He is supported by unseen supplies, and maintains a dignified serenity. He shows, like the fir-tree to which Scripture compares him, how he requires little of earth, and can grow up straight towards heaven.
"For ills of every shape and every name,
Transformed to blessings, miss their cruel aim ;
And every moment's calm that soothes the breast
A tradition records that a robber coming into Westminster Abbey by moonlight, was so startled by Roubilliac's figure of Death,
that he fled in dismay. This just suggests how many think of the last event; yet we are told the Chinese seldom mention death, except to say of a man that he "became immortal." Would it not be more becoming in those who have had "life and immortality brought to light through the Gospel," to look forward with calmer and more settled views to the necessary end of the present, which is but the glorious commencement of the future?
The monks of La Trappe live with great severity. They never eat meat, and only once a week speak together. They live shut up in their cells the rest of the time, and if from any accident they meet, they stop an instant, and, instead of all other salutations, one says:"Brother, we must die;" to which the only answer is, "Brother, I know it;" after which they cross and part. Surely it was never intended that piety should be thus clothed with melancholy, and express itself in sighs. How much nobler a summons to earnestness and deligence would be, "Brother, we must live "-live to fulfil our course, to serve our age, to glorify God, to aid the progress and increase the happiness of the world? Alas! that some people should be gloomy on principle, like Leopold, son of Ferdinand II., who was fond of rearing beautiful plants, but refrained from smelling them, that he might inure himself to mortification.
Sins of the tongue may receive reproof from what is related concerning large spaces of grass found, dried by the sun, in Australia. It is stated that whole breadths have been set on fire by rays of heat acting through the bottoms of broken bottles, carelessly thrown away, which served effectively as burning glasses. None ever thought of the conflagration and danger that might arise, but still it came about. Do not many fail to reflect how hasty, casual words, thrown recklessly out, may produce results far more serious than they could have imagined? They may injure the characters of others, or affect the welfare of a Church. They may burst into a flame, spread far and wide, and none can control their disastrous effect. Ponder the Apostle's words :-"The tongue is a fire. It setteth on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire of hell."
Beware of so-called "little sins." A bridge over the Allegheny, near Pittsburg, was recently burnt down. Nobody could understand for a time how the catastrophe came about, until it was discovered that thousands of sparrows had built their nests in the wooden structure underneath, and a spark from one of the steamers passing