THE FIRST SABBATH in the NEW YEAR
     Rev. Richard Watson
THE FIRST SABBATH in the NEW YEAR
Rev. Richard Watson (1781-1833).
VOL. 3 NO. 5 JANUARY 2001

"Thou crownest the year with thy goodness," Psalm 65:11.

The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous, and if our domestic retirement be thus suitable employed in these hallowed exercises, much more ought we to declare His praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion, and in the great congregation to sing of Him who is the author of all our blessings.

This heavenly employment forms at all times a part of the public services of the Church of Christ. Praise waiteth for God in Zion. Every other exercise connects itself with this. Praise ought to ascend along with the sighs of penitence, and to be mingled with the fervour of our prayers; for, whatever our wants may be, great are the blessings which we have already received, and the very depth of our humiliation proclaims the height of the Divine mercy.

But the present is a season specially adapted to this exercise. The first Sabbath of the new year shines upon us. We have more than completed the circle of the past year, and are now just entering upon another of those revolutions which are so rapidly measuring out our earthly existence. We have remembered, I trust, the sins of the past year, and have humbled ourselves before God:(At the watch-night.-Edit.) Let us now review its mercies. The one has excited our penitence; the other may excite our gratitude, and prepare us to render to God more cheerfully the offering of ourselves in that solemn service which we are accustomed, at this season, annually to observe; (The renewing of the covenant.-Edit.) and thus may we feel ourselves bound to these vows, not only by the obligations of duty, but also by the affections of a thankful spirit.

Of the year that is past, then, we may say, "Thou crownest the year with thy goodness." And in calling to mind the many instances of this which will rush on the memory of the attentive spirit, let us take a view sufficiently large and ample, that so, "in the multitude of our thoughts within us, his comforts may delight our souls;" and let us, though it be generally and rapidly, mark that goodness which has crowned the year,

I. As to our country.
II. As to our families.
III. As to our personal experience. And
IV. As to the universal Church.

I. As to our country.

I have no respect for that piety which insulates itself from the country which fosters it, or delights chiefly in dwelling upon dark and humiliating scenes, however real, in the spirit of impatience, and the bitterness of censure. I love, rather, the pious patriotism of the ancient Jews, whose hearts hovered over Zion, even in her desolations, and pronounced their blessing upon all the lovers of Jerusalem. Nor does justice, less than piety, demand this recognition of our national mercies, since there is not one of them which is not, in some of its results, a blessing to ourselves; like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even upon Aaron's beard, and went down to the very skirts of his garments.

With a loftier, because a much more hallowed and grateful, feeling than that which led the ancient to sum up every thing in the declaration, "I am a Roman," may any one of us say, "I am a Briton." Ours is a country far from being generally grateful for its mercies. It is still chargeable with a mighty amount of guilt, and often stained with crimes which ought to cover us with mourning. But still it is a country to which God has given one of the mightiest empires ever swayed by man; and has so divided it into different paths of the earth as to connect it with his plans for the enlightening and salvation of the world; a country where, amidst much of darkness, a brighter light of evangelical truth is shining; where, in the midst of awful vice, there is a higher degree of public and private virtue than in any other; a country whose civil and religious institutions are, at once, the light and the admiration of a great part of the world; and, to imitate which, many other nations are making sometimes even convulsive efforts. Justice, here, is a terror to evil doers; here equal law spreads its protection over the roof of the cottage, as well as over the prouder dome; here conscience is set free from fetters; the various associations of Christians keep their solemn assemblies; the Sabbaths of the land are marked by worshipping multitudes, and cheered by the songs of praise; the Churches have rest, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Ghost, are multiplied.

My brethren, that such a state of things has been continued, by the good providence of God, through another year, is matter of devout thanksgiving; we have not deserved such mercy; and yet so it is. And to this we may add another year of peace, and a year, if not of great commercial prosperity, yet of general employment for the poor; a year, too, when, in the moment that the full-charged clouds of heaven threatened almost wholly to destroy the harvest, God was entreated for the land, and spared the remainder; a year in which we have had no epidemic diseases, as in some other countries, but in which the pestilence that walketh in darkness has been turned aside to waste and wither in less favoured lands. Let us gratefully sum up all these mercies, and say, as to our land, "Thou crownest the year with thy goodness."

II. As to our families.

I love to mark the blessed effects of Christianity upon those smaller and interesting societies which we call families, connected by blood, and, as it were, identified in the same joys, and sorrows, and interests among its powerful and noiseless triumphs, on these the eye and the heart will often rest with almost unmingled satisfaction. When religious wisdom and character give influence to the head; when man is at once a king and a priest in his own household; when love is the bond of union, and the law of love the great rule of conduct; when natural instincts are sanctified and refined by Christian affection; when purity is the guardian of peace, and the infirmities of natural corruption are controlled in every bosom by the strength of rallying principle, and the returning flow of the tide of kindness; when God is acknowledged and honoured, the morning and evening sacrifice offered on the altar that sanctifieth the gift, and the daily repasts eaten with thankfulness, and sanctified by the word of God and prayer; when we see such a family, what see we but an inclosure that is as a field which the Lord hath blessed, and in which, therefore, some of the flowers and fruits of Eden are permitted to grow? Such was the family at Bethany which Jesus loved; and many such are found, I trust, among you.

It is seasonable for you, my friends, to remember your family mercies. I know that the year has been, as to some of you, marked by special afflictions, and I shall give a word to the afflicted by and by; but as to most of you, how exempt have you been from any but those ordinary cares and transient visitations to which all are subject! And ought not this to be remembered by you this day with the deepest gratitude? What has happened in many families might have taken place in yours. But you, fathers, are in life and health, the guides and protectors of your households; you, mothers, are spared to watch with a tender anxiety which none but mothers can feel over your rising charge; you, children, are not left orphans, but are still permitted to see before you the guides of your youth. No great change of circumstances has plunged you into difficulty or ruin; no stain has fallen on your good names; no outward pressure has produced among you long and distant separations into foreign lands and deadly climates. The circle of your family hearth is unbroken, and all its members meet together this day in the house of your God to offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving; the language of your lips, (O may it be pronounced with all the emphasis of a deeply affected heart!) will be that of the text, "Thou crownest the year with thy goodness."

III. The year has been crowned with the Divine goodness as to our own personal experience.

And here I lose sight of your preservations from bodily danger, and death; and of the health you have enjoyed, so as to have been able to attend with comfort to the allotted duties of life: subjects, these, not to be forgotten by you, and never to be remembered without grateful devotion. But I merge them now in the higher considerations suggested by the spiritual blessings which have been granted to you. And when we speak of spiritual blessings, let us not forget how strikingly they mark the Divine benevolence; how emphatically, under all the circumstances of our case, that may be called "goodness" which imparts them.

When considering spiritual blessings as the portion of any man, we cannot but mount up to that boundless, that mysterious goodness which humbled the eternal Word to humanity, and spared him not from the sorrows of the cross, in order, so to speak, to free itself from the restraints of Divine justice, that it might recover and bless mankind. Justice must be honoured; but let it be honoured upon Him, and at that price I will cause all my goodness to pass before the world, and will proclaim myself the Lord God, long suffering and gracious, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. What affecting instances of goodness spring from this! What patience under our oft-repeated provocations! What waiting for seasons of reflection to mix with our thoughts, and rightly to direct them! What arrangements of our circumstances, to subdue us by kindness, or to correct and move us by fear! What quickening influences have been imparted! What kind arousings from our sloth! What readiness to receive our prayers! What bounteousness in the supply of our wants! What balancing our strength with our trials! In a word, what a picture do the dealings of God with man present, of condescending, patient, anxious, watchful, and communicative goodness! And does not the past year present numerous should I not rather say, innumerable instances of this goodness as to ourselves?

I am addressing some who, during the past year, have been, for the first time, made, in truth, the subjects of the renewing grace of God; on you I call, this day, for special acknowledgment. From what a depth of misery and danger have you been plucked! You were as sheep going astray; but you are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. You have experienced the most extraordinary change of which the nature of man is capable; for you have passed from death unto life. At the commencement of the year you were in the world; at its close you were in the Church. You might have been, at this day, wandering in the way of error and wretchedness; your foot is now in the path of truth and peace. Your eye might still have fallen, in your more reflecting moments, upon the gloom of eternal darkness, the sad bound and limit of those intermediate engagements and pleasures which occupy the life of a worldly man; now you hear the voice, "Behold, I have set before thee an open door, which no man can shut." And although the contest is as yet only begun, yet it is said to you, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." (continued in next column)

I claim it for my Lord, that you forget not all his benefits; that you muse upon them till the fire kindles, and you feel how sweet and suitable are the words of one in the same circumstances: "I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me and heard my cry; he brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings; and he hat put a new song into my mouth, even praise unto our God." That song of praise you ought ever to sing; but it can never sound with sweeter accents, never thrill with a fresher delight, than at this moment, while you reflect that thus has God crowned the year with his goodness. I address others of you who have longer known this grace in truth, and to whom the experience of the past year has been comforting and advancing. And this you owe to the special goodness of God. Nothing which has marked your experience as religious has been the growth of your own nature, the produce of your own virtue, but has been opposed and contrary to it. How powerful a proof is this of the presence and working of a superior power in you! And that power is the Lord's alone. But if it be indeed so; if, independently of him, this state could not for a moment have been maintained, how affecting a proof of his goodness is thus furnished you! "Will God in very deed dwell with man?" Yet such is the fact. Your light is light from him; your strength, strength from him. You say with the apostle, "By the grace of God I am what I am." You have been brought low, and he has helped you; you have been in danger and he has guarded you; you have been in the furnace, and why were you not harmed there, but because there was one with you whose form was like unto the Son of God? The wind has been boisterous; your very faith seemed failing through fear; and, like Peter, ready to sink, you cried, "Lord, save, or I perish;" and you have felt the same hand of preserving Omnipotence, and heard the same kind reproof for your want of confidence: "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" Brethren, I need only turn your thoughts to the past year, and its full-charged circle of mercies, new every morning, will revolve before you and you will say, in the fulness of grateful recollection, "Thou crownest the year with thy goodness."

But ah! in turning your attention to the spiritual blessings of this year, do I strike a chord in any heart which responds only in tones of mourning? Do I awaken in any heart the painful remembrance of religious barrenness and declension? Do I hear a sigh from one which, if rightly interpreted, says, "I have restrained prayer before God?" From another, "I have received the seed the word among thorns, and the thorns have sprung up, and the care of the world, or the deceitfulness of riches, has choked the good seed; and I have been unfruitful?" From a third, "I have grieved the Holy Spirit by trifling and neglect?" From a fourth, "I have been unfaithful to his covenant, and now appear before him guilty and miserable?" My brethren, I would not stifle these emotions; they befit you, they are salutary; the only hope for you is in deep humility and penitence. But there is at least one view in which even you may adopt the language of the text, and say, "Thou crownest the year with thy goodness." You have been spared; God has not dealt with you according to your unfaithful dealings with him; the Intercessor has pleaded for you, and you see another year. Let this recollection of the goodness of God come to you, giving greater tenderness to your sorrows, strength to your desires, and new life to your hopes. Account the long suffering of God, as to yourselves, to be salvation. Had he intended to destroy you, he would not have shown you these things which now you see,this day, this book of promise, this throne of grace, this Advocate with the Father, this merciful God, now bending down with ineffable compassion, and saying, "Return, ye backsliding children;" "I will heal their backslidings, I will love them freely." Upon this very day he is ready to show the crown of his goodness, by restoring to you the joy of his salvation. Respond to his merciful invitation, and say, "Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God."

IV. The year has been crowned with goodness as to the universal Church.

As true piety always connects us in spirit and sympathy with our country, so does it more especially identify us, so to speak, with the universal Church. The communion of saints is not confined to the narrow circle of our religious acquaintance; they who truly experience it, love all that love our Lord Jesus in sincerity; and their mind often hovers, in affectionate thought, even over those waste places of Sion which, alas! the visible Church still, in too many places, presents to our view, but which, we trust, shall all be repaired and restored.

The Church has a mighty mission to the world, a glorious destiny to accomplish. She has to be as the day-spring from on high, to visit them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide their feet into the way of peace; she has to banish the grim forms of the idols of pagan superstition, and to unveil the God of truth before the nations; she has to abolish the rites of cruelty and death, and to turn the hope of man to the sacrifice whose great character is love; she has to erect pure altars, and to call man to them to worship the living God which made heaven and earth. Her task is to unchain the human intellect, to soften and subdue the savage, to fill the earth with arts and useful science, to comfort them that mourn, to banish vice, to teach men to live and to die, and, by leading them to the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, to render them to God and heaven cleansed from every stain. If we are a part of this Church, how gladdened should be our hearts if she has been, through the grace of God, faithful to her high calling, and has prospered in her work! In former times she has been unfaithful; she once lay with scarcely any sign of life; and even now, in too many parts, this is still the case. In the room of light, we behold darkness; instead of a true worship, superstition; and instead of zeal, lukewarmness. But in these last days God has revived his work; and if we can look back upon the year, and see continued proof of this gracious visitation, or any proof of special interposition, then may we, as to the Church at large, as well as with respect to ourselves, gratefully acknowledge, "Thou crownest the year with thy goodness."

Thank God, the past year calls for this acknowledgment. Religious liberty has been more strongly guaranteed to our Protestant brethren in France. Advocates of the inspiration and supremacy of Scripture, and of the Godhead and atonement of Christ, have risen up with renewed activity among the fallen Churches of Germany. Great and special revivals of religion have taken place in America. The work of God is spreading even in heathen lands. And at home, our missionary, Bible, tract, and other similar societies, have not diminished in activity; while, amidst much abounding wickedness, faithful ministers and faithful people have increased. Nor ought we to overlook the liberation of Greece. Is not this a pledge of the final rescue of the Asiatic Churches from the yoke of Mohammedan imposture? All these are circumstances which call on us to say, as to the Church at large, that the past year has been crowned with the goodness of God.

I conclude this review of the mercies of the past year,
1. By addressing those to whom it has been a year of special affliction.

My dear friends, to you a dark line of trouble has run through the year, or through a large portion of it; and yet I call even upon you to join in this work of thanksgiving. You have had afflictions, but you have likewise had mercies. Nor has God visited you with all the suffering that you have deserved, and which, therefore, he might have inflicted. And what have been many of your troubles but blessings in disguise; which, now that you see their real character, you would not have been without? You have learned more of your own weakness, and more of the strength of God. You see more clearly the vanity of earthly things, and the value and desirableness of spiritual and eternal good. The chastening was not joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, it has yielded to you the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Think of these things, O thou afflicted and tossed with tempest; and while thou bowest meekly to the rod, hast thou no song of praise? Canst thou number no mercies among the events of the past year? O yes, a thousand now crowd in on thy recollection. Thank God, then, and take courage.

2. I beseech, you, brethren, by all these mercies, that you present yourselves a living sacrifice unto God.

You are his, and he deals very bountifully with you. Thankfully acknowledge that "He is thy praise and he is thy God." Renounce every other authority, and submit to him. Gratitude is not found in sentiment only, but in practice too: "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." Say, then, "God is the Lord, which hath showed us light. Bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar." "For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living." Every renewed mercy increases our obligations to love and serve him; and happy is that man, who, under the full power of joyous and grateful feeling, so surrenders himself to God, as to live for no other purpose than that of glorifying him.


QUOTE UNQUOTE

And God's time is always the best time.
-- Rev. John Wesley (1703-1791)
Beware of foolish desire! Beware of inordinate affections! Beware of worldly cares! But, above all, I think you should beware of wasting time in what is called innocent trifling.
--Rev. John Wesley (1703-1791)


The editor, while agreeing with the content presented in this newsletter, does not necessarily endorse all of a writer's works, doctrines, etc. The editor is solely responsible for all mistakes.


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