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On New Year's Day I preached to my flock from Rev. ii. 3:-"Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent." We are apt to begin the year with some special Scriptural consideration, and this was mine. I began by noticing the importance of pausing in life, in order to remember the past, and I could not help observing that half the world is ruined for want of consideration; not for want of knowledge, not for want of opportunities and means of grace, or want of warning, or even of good resolutions, but for want of serious, adequate consideration. “Thus saith the Lord, Consider thy ways. It is not that man by the fall has lost the capacity; no, he can fully accredit the principle and act upon it in matters that really interest him. The tradesman and the merchant know well the policy and the necessity of pausing in their career of business, in order to make up their accounts, post their books, and see how matters stand. The common consent of men of business would condemn the man who should go heedlessly and recklessly forward in the neglect of this.
Amidst our indisposedness, then, to pause and “remember" the past, how thankful we should be for all the helps which the observances of our Church, and also the revolutions of the seasons, are calculated to afford. And now, at the commencement of a new year, how seriously we should remember the days that are gone by never more to return, but with their awful reckoning in the last judgment; and specially remember them in connexion with the grand object for which time is given to man, viz., his hearing and receiving the overtures of peace
from heaven, and, touching the sceptre of God's love, live a pardoned and accepted child, and die an heir of glory. I dwelt
the difference between hearing and receiving; and it was impossible not to urge the precept, "hold fast,” under all the pressing and peculiar danger existing in the present day, to let go our hold in practice, in principle, in profession.
But the part of the text which chiefly impressed my own mind, was the last portion,—"and repent.” I could not help feeling deeply affected when contemplating the frequency with which this command is given to the poor provoking Asiatic Churches, and the overflowings of Divine grace and mercy, which such a precept exhibits. For where we might think the measure of iniquity to be filled up, here is opened a door of hope. Where we might well be inclined to say, “I have loved idols, and after them I must go”- there is no hope”-here is the angel of mercy laying hold of us, and bringing us out of our Sodom, and taking us to the city of safety, the Lord being merciful to us!" And then however hard our hearts and inveterate and unmanageable our sins, to think that the command to repent is given by him who tells us that he has exalted his Son on purpose to give repentance as well as “forgiveness of sins.” Was there ever such condescension and long-suffering mercy!
But I suggested the thought, that if repentance was most reasonable in remembering the past, not only our past sins, but all our unprofitable hearing and receiving of God's word, so it is the best and most becoming
influence to take with us into the New Year : not the feeling of satisfaction and self-complacency as if we had attained anything, but the sad and smitten feeling of unprofitable servants, useless cumberers of the ground, who have all as yet to learn and to do. I told my dear flock that I most heartily wished them a happy New Year; but I told them also, that THE SUNSHINE OF A HAPPY NEW YEAR WOULD BURST FORTH THE BRIGHTEST OUT OF THE MIST AND RAIN OF THEIR PENITENTIAL TEARS.
"They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
And I did not utter thoughts which I did not feel to be all-important, or which I could wish to be evanescent. The truth still clings to me, and the thought never fails to occur, that the cry of Repent, Repent, best befits the Church of the faithful in her present position; and that the sound
may well linger with us from the beginning of the year even to the end of it. For are not God's judgments signally abroad amongst us ? And is not the candlestick of the Gospel already tottering in the midst of us, and already emitting a shadowy and feeble light? And is it not the Church's sins and unfaithfulness which are provoking her Lord to jealousy, and hiding his face from us! It cannot but be that our jarrings, and strifes, and divisions, and want of brotherly love, are grieving his Holy Spirit, and frightening away the Dove of Peace from our distracted Church. Well, then,“repent,” “repent,” must be the watchword of this year 1845. We might well have a day of national humiliation appointed by authority. And we may well let our family devotions carry this complexion. And our closets may well be steeped with our tears, while we daily confess our Church's sins and our nation's iniquities, and our own individual misdoings and short-comings. Oh! if the true spirit of repentance were but going through the midst of us at this time, then would the Lord be jealous for his land, and pity his people.
My dear readers, let me urge you to avail yourselves of the appointment of our Church on Ash Wednesday, for this special purpose. Let the critical and humiliating position of our Church be duly borne in mind. Let it put life and meaning and importunity into your penitential exercises. We will not quarrel with the appointments of our Church because of the abuses of them which prevail in the present day. I would rather that
my tongue were cut out of my mouth, than be capable of saying to you, as I heard a clergyman in St. Margaret's Chapel, London, last Lent, say in his sermon, that penance would expiate guilt;—but still,
repent” is the reiterated cry, and the gracious cry of the God of Love; and we may well be thankful for every help that our sluggish souls can have for its exercise.
Let Ash Wednesday, then, be a day of special penitence and godly contrition for the sins of the Church collectively, and ourselves individually; and who knows, but that God will return, and repent, and leave a blessing behind him.
We subjoin a paper which may form a useful sequel to what we have already written.
THE CHURCH'S PENITENCE.
PENITENCE is the religion of a sinner; a fallen creature cannot be in his right mind, or in his right place, but as he is habitually prostrate in penitence
before his Father in heaven. The Church cannot be prepared for any service, except as this heavenly temper prevails. Her eye cannot rightly glance on the condition of the world, without a deep conviction of her sin. For eighteen centuries she has received the command to bestow the Gospel on all nations, and the promise of the Spirit in seeking to fulfil it; and for eighteen centuries she has too much neglected her plain duty, and despised her high vocation. Meantime, her fault has nourished the world in infidelity to the truth, and opposition to the Saviour ; and age after age, year after year, millions of the children of men have perished in their sins. Blood is on her—the blood of souls--the blood centuries !
How shall she recover from this state of fearful guilt, and spiritual indolence ? Not by high resolve, but by profound repentance. If she would do her first works, she must repent. If she would commence a new life, she must repent. She must see distinctly her state of sin and unfitness; she must mourn, mourn over it, as a mother over her first-born; she must sink down abased in conscious nothingness at the feet of her Saviour, and find in him hope and renovation. It must be not so much an act, as a habit rooted in the mind—a penitence so full, so abiding, as to keep the soul under a living persuasion of utter unworthiness and unpreparedness.
To the mind of the world, this would be disqualification; to the mind of the Spirit, there is no qualification without it. By the law of the kingdom which we serve, it is ordained, that the sense of weakness is strength, the sense of folly wisdom, the sense of unworthiness and guilt, preparedness, “the things that are not, are to bring to nought the things that are. Where this penitential abasement becomes a predominant temper, there is an end to pride, querulousness, carnal confidence, and criminal dissension; and there are the elements of peace, power, union and devotedness. Show me a Church-not boastful of her numbers, reposing on her means, anxious for her resources, or even rejoicing in her success—show me a Church awakened to an apprehension of the Infinite Glory, mourning in unutterable abasement before His presence, and conscious of its utter unfitness for every work by which the Saviour may be glorified—and I will show you a Church filled with the Spirit, and in the highest state of preparation to rebuild the waste places, and to repair the desolations of many generations.”
The presence of the Holy Spirit in human agency would be discovered by the spirit of piety. Piety' is right sentiment towards God. We refer to it now not merely as present, but as exercised in elevated forms. The piety which sees God, which adopts his interests as its own, and which is zealously affected to his glory; the piety which has deep fellowship with the truth, which lives in the light of heaven, and in oblivion of the world's best pleasures; the piety which not only submits to self-denial and self-sacrifice, but finds pleasure in them while they may please and serve the Redeemer; the piety which parts with all and has all, which loses itself, and is possessed of Deity ; is the piety which we are contemplating. Such piety is the highest preparation for service; it is the richest fruit of the Spirit; it amounts to an entire consecration: where it is, there is the temple of the Holy Ghost, in which he dwells, is worshipped, and glorified.
This piety is necessary to the renovation of the world. Were it possessed in such measure, we should not then question its existence in ourselves; nor would it be that poor, feeble thing, scarcely deserving and scarcely bearing exportation to a foreign land. We should not then languish for want of means and for want of men-and the men would all be heroes. Christians would not then labour to increase their wealth, that they might increase their establishment; but that they might have the noble satisfaction of advancing the kingdom of heaven. Missionaries would not then be asking for the post of ease, of honour, or of safety, but for that of assault and hazard; nor would they be failing under discouragement in the midst of life, for a living piety would be to them the elixir of life, and they should prolong their days
in the land which the Lord their God giveth them.
(NEVER BEFORE PUBLISHED.)
FROM THE AUTHOR OF “CHRISTIAN RETIREMENT.”
MY DEAR FRIEND:
Accept my very best thanks for your kind letter, written, I am sure, at the expense of much bodily pain, from the poor account you give me of yourself; therefore the greater mark of your affection towards me. Since you left Leeds, I have had a return of my pain at the breast; which renders speaking so very painful, that I am compelled to be very silent, and to avoid every violent exertion. I see a mercy in the dispensation ; for it has a tendency to make me think more; to hold more spiritual conversation; and to watch more narrowly those wayward thoughts, which, with me, require much control. Affliction tends to soften the heart, when sanctified by divine grace. Every thing in us and around us, speaks with forcible language, “this is not your rest;” happy indeed that it is not; for the Lord hath said, “It is polluted.” But “there remaineth a rest.” Yes! an eternal rest! but for whom? “ for the people of God”—for the friends of Jesus! Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory.” It behoves us, then, my dear friend, seriously to examine ourselves, and to see whether the sweet image of our adorable Emanuel has been drawn in lines of grace upon our souls; whether we are now like him in his meekness, humility, heavenly-mindedness; in his submission to his Father's will; in his contempt of the world; in his love to man. Do
traces of these celestial virtues ? Let us never forget the fountain from whence they flow. Jesus is the storehouse of uncreated excellence. In Him is treasured up every thing that is needful for his people's good: "who is made unto us of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” All we have, and all we hope for, flows to us from the merit of his blood. Have we obtained pardon and forgiveness? It is “through his blood.” (Col. i. 14.) Are we, who were afar off, brought nigh unto God? It is “ by his blood.”
(Eph. ii. 13.) Have we peace with God? It is "through the blood of the Cross." (Col. i. 20.) Are we justified? “ It is by his blood.” (Rom. v. 9.) Thus the Scriptures of truth, like John the Baptist, point to that bleeding Lamb which taketh away the sins of the world; of whom the Pascal Lamb was an eminent type, as St. Paul affirms, where he says, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.”
How should we bless God, who, through the riches of his grace, enables us to behold the “ glory of the Cross;" which is at this very day to the Jews a stumbling-block, and, to thousands of proud reasoners, foolishness: but it still is, as it ever has been, the wisdom of God, and the power of God, to every one that believeth. Here, and here alone, mercy and truth meet together; righteousness and peace embrace each other! Here, and no where else, the sinner loses his burden, and obtains, like Christian, a new, robe, and a shining evidence of salyaţion.
I trust our friendship is formed at the foot of the Cross—may we have grace to love one another with a pure heart, fervently! May Christ be our bond of union; and oh! that we and ours, without exception, may join that blest assemblage of saints and angels, whose sweetest, loudest note will be, “ Worthy is the Lamb!” I need not say how happy I shall always be to hear of you
and from you; and especially to hear of your better health. May the Lord, in his good time, restore it! You will be sorry to hear that Mr. Hey is confined with an inflamed leg; I hope it will not be of serious consequence. Mr. Atkinson desires his best love to you and family. I hope you will be able to establish a Bible Society at Kendal. We have many precious promises of assistance in serving the Lord, of which the following one is not the least: “Be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” Adieu! and believe me to remain, in the best of bonds, Your truly sincere and affectionate Friend,
THOS. S. B. READE. Leeds, 2nd January, 1810.
MY DEAR FRIEND:
I cannot forbear sending you a few lines by Mr. Waller, to assure you how much my dear wife and I sympathize with you on the recent loss of your dear sister, Agnes ; lost, indeed, as to time, but gained as to eternity! Blessed be God for his mercy in bringing life and immortality to light by the gospel! She is a bright angel now; a little cherub in the realms of bliss! In that bright world we have two dear offsprings! Oh! my dear friend, may we all meet around the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Did we think more upon the glories of the heavenly world, how quickly would this vale of tears lose its deceitful charms! Your account of dear little Agnes is truly interesting. It was a kind providence which conducted your father and mother to Natland. How comfortable are such visible demonstrations of the divine goodness. They tend greatly to increase our faith and confidence in God. David was in a sweet and happy frame when he penned the 23rd Psalm, The Lord is my Shepherd. With such an opening as this, it is no wonder he closes his Psalm with this delightful assurance: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
I need not write any thing to you of a consoling nature, who are drinking daily at the Fountain of all consolation; but, as a friend, I would mingle my tears with yours. These painful separations, no doubt, are sent in love. Why does the gardener prune the vines, but that they may be more fruitful? And when the divine Husbandman prunes his vineyard, is it not to produce the same effect? Oh! then, that we may have grace to “hear the rod, and Him who hath appointed it.” For every rod of affliction has a voice; and often speaks most powerfully to the hearts of sinners. God, as good Burkitt expresses it, would rather see his people bleed than burn. But he who kills, does also make alive.