Sermon VIII. Mercy and Judgment. [A Sermon for New-Year.] Psalm ci. 1. My song shall be of mercy and judgment. Prayer Book Translation.
OF God's mercy, my brethren, we are all this day the living monuments. To us it has been permitted to witness the termination of a year., which to many others has been the termination of their lives. From the time when we assembled to hail its beginning, not a day has passed that has not carried many of our fellow mortals to their dread account. Of every day, indeed of every hour, it might be said, Behold! "the mourners go about the streets, and man goeth to his long home." We still are spared. Probationers for eternity, and the best among us unprepared for its awful scenes, we are permitted to review our repentance, to examine the manifold deficiencies in our obedience, our faith, and our love; and to [106/107] form those resolutions of leading a new and holy life, which, persevered in by God's grace, and practised in his strength, will make us continually to 'be more conformed to the image of his Son, and more "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." For this continuance of life, then, even the most watchful and the most diligent have reason to say, "My song shall be of mercy; unto thee, O Lord, will I sing." But if there be among us, my brethren, any by whom the work of preparation for an eternal state of being has never yet been commenced; if during years of disobedience of God, and neglect of sacred things, their lives have been continued; if in times of riotous extravagance, of profane mirth, of irreligious conversation, of vicious indulgence, and of contempt of the expostulations of conscience, and of the reclaiming influences of the Holy Spirit; if in times like these, when God might justly have cut them off in the midst of their guilt, and consigned them to misery and despair; he has "not dealt with them according to their sins, nor rewarded them according to their iniquities," but still has spared them, and is even now giving them time for repentance and amendment; then most particularly are they bound to lift up their voice in thanksgiving, and to say, "My song, O Lord, shall be of mercy." And if, my brethren, with this continuance of [107/108] life, and of opportunity for his service, God has given us also health and strength; if he has prospered us in all our plans of temporal advantage; if he has given us competency and a contented mind, and has preserved unimpaired our good name among men; especially, if he has shielded our families from the visitation of death, and has permitted us, on the morning of this day, to receive and to return the gratulations of a household, un-diminished in number, and unsaddened by the tears of grief; if father and mother, brother and sister, wife and child, still bless our eyes; if God, in infinite kindness, has thus "continued to us all our usual comforts and enjoyments," oh! where is manly gratitude, and honourable sensibility, if our hearts do not rise up to him in thanksgiving; and a sense of his goodness cause us to say, "My song, O Lord, shall be of mercy."
May God long give you such cause of thankfulness, my beloved brethren! May he long preserve to you unbroken the circle of your domestic joys! May he give and continue in your families peace, and happiness, and mutual love! And may you taste, in cheerfulness and moderation, the blessings of constant prosperity! But may you never, never, cease to remember, that "the goodness of God leadeth you to repentance!" "Beware lest ye forget the Lord your God; but fear him, and worship him, and serve him, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth. [108/109] It is he that strengthened! the bars of thy gates, "and blesseth thy children within thee. Wherefore let your song be of him, and praise him; and let your talking be of all his wondrous works."
But in a world full of "changes and chances," and where so many are made to "eat the bread of adversity, and to drink the waters of affliction," it is needful that we turn to other themes. Uninterrupted and perfect prosperity is the lot of few. Disappointment and suffering are the ordinary heritage of all. Affliction is the discipline of our heavenly Father, intent upon promoting our greatest good; and even the severe "judgments of God are sent abroad in the earth, only that the inhabitants thereof may learn righteousness." Have we, my brethren, been made to experience these? Has sickness invaded our families, or visited ourselves? Has the brightness of our prosperity been overcast, and have poverty, anxiety, or care, weighed down our spirits? Or has some melancholy bereavement lessened our joys? And when we explore in vain the diminished circle where some beloved one is no longer seen, do our thoughts turn away to linger around the solitary graves, where one after another of our kindred have been laid to sleep in dust? Is the light of every morning made sad by an overwhelming sense of deprivation, and the Darkness of our midnight hour increased by dreary [109/110] recollections of the dead? If in any of these particulars we have been visited by the hand of God, then well does it become us to reflect, what lessons of wisdom he is reading to us in these dispensations; how he sounds in our ears the declaration, that perfect happiness, or long continued enjoyment, dwells not on earth; that in heaven alone is uninterrupted joy; that here we are strangers and pilgrims, and have no continuing city, and therefore that we should seek one to come. And if with this lesson so strongly addressed to our affections, so indelibly written on our memory, and so continually present to our thoughts, we have learned to look for that city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God; if we have raised our expectations and our views of happiness from the things which are seen and are temporal, to the things that are not seen, which are eternal; then afflictions themselves have been mercies, for which we have reason to be thankful; and connecting our sorrows with our joys, we shall give praise to God for both, and say, "My song shall be not only of mercy, but of judgment." My brethren, there are few of us, perhaps, who have not reason to speak of both; few who have not had mercies showered upon our path, and afflictions sent upon us for our good.
What use have we made of them? And how have we improved them? Do we recollect the [110/111] grateful feelings which prosperity infused into our hearts? Can we recall the sense of obligation which we experienced, and the vow of duty which we then promised to perform? And can we this day look back, and free from an accusing conscience, reflect that we have faithfully kept our vow, and worthily endeavoured to glorify him "who is the giver of every good and perfect gift?" Rescued from danger, delivered from trouble, and uplifted with joy, has God been remembered? And have we shown forth our love to him by obedience to his laws, by love and kindness to our brethren, and by an universal desire to please our Almighty Benefactor and Friend? And when in sickness, in affliction, or in fear of some impending evil, we have been compelled to humble ourselves before the Father of mercies, and have obtained relief; when acknowledging the duty and the wisdom of serving him, we have promised "to live a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking henceforth in his holy ways;" how have we fulfilled these just resolutions, or how requited him who interposed in our behalf! Have we ungratefully forgotten him, when his judgments were withdrawn, and our danger averted? And has neither a sense of gratitude for his mercy, nor a just apprehension of his wrath, been able to excite us to fulfil our bounden duty and reasonable service, heightened by our voluntary engagement, [111/112] and made more binding by our solemn vow? Whatever has been our past conduct, my brethren, let us enter upon this year with a deep sense of God's mercies, and with such a dread of his judgments, as maybe effectual in inclining our hearts to seek and to secure his favour. Whatever have been "our sins, negligences, and ignorances," let us now "with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him for pardon," and let us supplicate him "to endue us with the grace of his Holy Spirit, to amend our lives according to his holy word." For the knowledge of our duty let that "holy word," diligently studied, be "a light to our feet, and a lamp to our paths." For guidance and direction in the ways of holiness, let prayer, humble, ardent, unaffected prayer, be duly addressed to the mercy-seat of our Redeemer; and for continual strength and ability to keep God's holy law, let all the appointed means of grace be faithfully resorted to, and perseveringly employed.
The uncertainty of our mortal life, my brethren, should furnish a powerful motive to such an improvement of our time. Who can tell what changes await us in the year which is now begun? How many among us may be called away from the privileges of these earthly courts, to account for the use which we have made of them; or to be condemned for their continued and fatal neglect? Some of you who are now before me, may be required to answer how you have heard. [112/113] He who unworthily address you, may be called to answer whether he has cautioned, whether he has admonished, whether he has persuaded, you to attend to your salvation, and to "make your calling and election sure;" and whether preaching to you Jesus Christ in simplicity and godly sincerity, and "warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom," he has endeavoured to "present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." Let us all, my brethren, so conscientiously regard our duty and our accountability, that whenever we are permitted "to assemble and meet together," for the time to come, it may be for the better and not for the worse. Recollecting the great interest we have in fulfilling what God requires, let us hear with candour, weigh with seriousness, and perform with diligence. In the midst of all our pursuits, and of all our enjoyments, let us remember that "the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil, is understanding." Making the favour of God the chief object of our desire, let us, from this day, devote ourselves more entirely to his service, imploring his Holy Spirit, "that the rest of our life hereafter, may be pure and holy; so that at the last," when earthly opportunities of serving him are gone, when the days, and months, and years, of revolving time are for ever fled, "we may come to his eternal joy, through Jesus Christ our Lord."