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THE NEW YEAR.
JOHN ix. 4.
I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work.
The commencement of a new year calls for our serious meditation on a subject of infinite importance-the value of time. For what purpose were we sent into the world? How far have we endeavoured to answer that purpose ? What prospect have we in that awful eternity whose gates will soon be unbarred to us by death? Are we working the works of Him who sent us, in this our brief and uncertain day of life? Are we dispatching our business with anxious haste, lest the night in which no man can work overtake us before it be accomplished? Or are we indo
lently slumbering in the season appointed for wakefulness and activity, or amusing ourselves with idle pleasures, or distracting ourselves with unprofitable pursuits, in the period designed for occupations of the most serious and momentous nature? These are questions of inexpressible interest to us all, for life is fleeting away; the sand which measures our hours, even while yet I speak, is rapidly sinking in the glass; we know not how much may remain, how soon the last grain may steal away and leave it empty; and yet a chain of everlasting consequences hangs on the feeble thread of this momentary existence. If, therefore, my brethren, human life is a condition to which any important duties are attached, if it is a period, of the employment of which any account is to be taken hereafter, if it is to us, not a mere insulated portion of time, lopped off from eternity, complete in itself, and unconnected with the endless duration of succeeding ages, but on the contrary the infancy of an existence, the place and manner of which are soon to be changed, but the continuance never perhaps even to be suspended, if in short men are not mere “ Bubbles of a fantastic deity, blown
up in sport, rising and breaking, millions in an hour,"* but immortal beings, sent into this school
of the world, for the purpose of a short probation, and after they shall have been sufficiently tried, to be adjudged to everlasting happiness or misery according to the characters and tempers which they shall have acquired in this state of discipline; if this be the true intent and explanation of this extraordinary life, of what supreme concernment is it to us to enquire how far we are complying with the merciful purpose of the great author of our being, and whether it is with hope or fear that we can reasonably anticipate that decisive day of judgment which will wind up our accounts for ever, and assign us to an unchangeable futurity! Let us consider then, the serious subjects which I have proposed, and may God of his
mercy dispose us to consider them with that reverence and solemnity which are due to their vast importance, so that we may diligently “apply our hearts unto wisdom,” and through his assistance reduce to practice, in our future lives, the grand truths on which we are this day called to meditate.
“For what purposes were we sent into the world?” Leave out the sublime doctrine of immortality which our religion teaches us, and this is a question for which neither you nor I can find any probable answer. If we were to confine our views to this life, and entertained no hope of any
thing beyond it, I should be utterly at a loss to imagine the object of our existence; unless indeed it were that we might be a “gazing-stock," and a sport to superior and invisible beings, who might be amused with our strange vagaries, our ridiculous errors, our contemptible self-importance, our abortive efforts at greatness, our eager pursuits of visions and shadows of happiness, our vain affectation of wisdom, our sage discourses about virtue and vice, (both of which would be equally insignificant,) our schemes for perpetuating an empty name, the absurd effects of our irregular passions, and all the other numberless follies which our trifling labours, and cares, and interests would exhibit to their view. Add to all these follies the miseries and pains which men endure, the diseases, the sorrows, the disappointments, the fears, that disturb and ruin the little happiness of which we are capable, and a malicious being, (for there must be some malevolence in the mind which could enjoy so sad a scene) a malicious being, I say, might take a cruel pleasure in contemplating this at once laughable and woeful farce of human life, played on a temporary stage, from which the actors, puffed up with imaginary self-importance for a moment, are perpetually retiring, never to appear again; though even to such a being, I should suppose that the constant succession of similar characters, and similar circumstances, must have rendered the exhibition long since tedious and insipid. I cannot express to you the humiliating sentiments which I entertain, concerning the vanity and emptiness of human life, when viewed without any belief in, or reference to, an eternal existence beyond this present scene: it seems such a medley and patchwork of inconsistencies, as leaves the mind at a loss to discover any connection or harmony in the whole picture, such a mazy labyrinth of errors as no clue can help us to unravel.
But, my brethren, the merciful revelation of God has furnished us with the key which can alone unlock this mystery; the revelation of God has rendered all these intricacies clear and intelligible to us; now all is plain and simple, since our Saviour, Christ, came upon the earth, and brought with him the “glad tidings” of “life and immortality” in another world. And if
you “what is the purpose of our existence?” it is a question to which I can return a ready and an easy answer.
It is, that by approving ourselves sincere worshippers and faithful servants of God, according to the rules of his revealed will, we may hereafter be translated to an everlasting inheritance of happiness and glory.
ask me now,