posted by Phil Johnson
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following article was first published in the January 1868 issue of The Sword and the Trowel.
OUTHEY, in his "Solemn Thoughts for New Year's-day," bids the melancholy moraliser gather a dark and wintry wreath to engarland the sepulchre of time, "for" saith he,
"I pour the dirge of the departed days—
For well the funeral song
Befits this solemn hour."
His muse is, however, interrupted in its sombre meditations by the delightful peals which hail "the consecrated day," and the poet exclaims—
"But hark! even now the merry bells ring round
With clamorous joy to welcome in this day."
The interruption was most opportune: "the dark-stoled maid of melancholy, with stern and frowning front," may very fitly be dismissed until a more convenient season, for there is much that is cheery and exhilarating in the advent of "that blithe morn which ushers in the year." Hope, earth's one abiding angel, whispers of happiness now arriving, and makes our sluggish blood leap in our veins at the thought of the good new year. We feel like sailors who have finished one voyage and are commencing another amidst hurrahs and joyous shoutings: we are full of anticipation of the future, and are relieved by the departure of the past. The kindly salutation, "I wish you a happy new year," rings sweetly with lingering chimes of Christmas, and harmonises well with the merry peals which bid adieu to the departed, and welcome the coming Son of Time. The vision of thought in which we see "the skirts of the departing year," is viewed with sober cheerfulness, and the foresight of better days to come fills the house with social glee.
Human nature is so fascinated with the bare idea of novelty, that although time runs on like a river in whose current there is an unbroken monotony, yet the arbitrary landmarks which man has erected upon the shore, exercise a bewitching power over the imagination, and make us dream that on a New Year's morning the waves of time roll onward with a fresher force, and flash with a brighter sheen. There is no real difference between the first of January and any other day in the calendar—the first of May is lovelier far—and yet because of its association with a new period, it is a day of days, the day of the year, first among three hundred and more of comrades.
Evermore let it be so. If it be a foible to observe the season, then long live the weakness. We prize the pensive song in its season, but we are not among those "to whom all sounds of mirth are dissonant." The steaming flagon which our ancestors loved so well to drain, the lambs' wool, and the wassail bowl are as well forgotten, and other of their ancient New Year's customs are more honoured in the breach than in the observance; but not so the cheerful greetings and warm good wishes so suitable to the hour. We feel jubilant at the prospect of the coming day, and are half inclined to sing a verse or two of the old wassail ballad, and pass our hat round for our Orphan House.
"God bless the master of this house,
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go.
Good master and mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of those poor children
Who are wandering in the mire."
English life has too little of cheerful observance and festive anniversary to relieve its dulness; there are but two real breaks in the form of holidays in the whole twelve months of toil; birth-days and new-year's-days are at least semi-festivals, let them be kept up by all means, and celebrated by every family. Strew the path of labour with at least a few roses, for thorns are plentiful enough. Never may we cease to hail with pleasure the first day of the first month, which is the beginning of months unto us. Let not old Time turn over another page of eternity and truth, and find his children indifferent to the solemnity, or ungrateful for the longsuffering which permits them to enjoy their little span of life.
If others decline to unite with us, we are, nevertheless, not ashamed to confess that we adhere to the cheerful custom, and find it not inconsistent with the spirit of the church of God. We meet together at the last hour of the year, and prayerfully await the stroke of midnight, that we may consecrate the first moment of the new year with notes of holy song; then, having dropped each one of us his offering into the treasury of the Lord, we return to our homes in the clear frosty air, blessing the Preserver of men that we have shared in the devotions of one more watchnight, and have witnessed the birth of another year of grace.
If we do not hasten to the houses of our friends with presents and congratulations, as our lively French neighbours are wont to do, yet, with many an honest grip of the hand and cordial greeting, we utter our good wishes and renew our friendships; and then in our private devotions we "breathe low the secret prayer, that God would shed his blessing on the head of all."
Nor does the influence of our midnight worship end with the motion of our minds towards friendly well-wishing, for the devout are quickened in the way of godly meditation, and led to prepare for that day of days for which all other days were made. Returning from the solemn meeting we have felt as he did who wrote—
"The middle watch is past! Another year
Dawns on the human race with hope and fear:
The last has gone with mingled sigh and song,
To join for ever its ancestral throng;
And time reveals
As past it steals,
The potent hand of God, the Everlasting,
Guiding the sun, with all his blazing peers,
And filling up the measure of our years,
Until Messiah, Prince, to judgment hasting,
Shall roll the darkness from this world of sin,
And bid a bright eternity begin."
Wisdom is not content with sentiment and compliment, but would fain gather solid instruction: she admires the flowers, but she garners the wheat, and therefore she proposes the enquiry, "What is the message of the New Year to the watchers who listen so silently for the bell which strikes the twelfth hour of the night?"
O thou newly-sent prophet, hearken to the question of the wise, and tell us what is the burden of thy prophecy! We are all waiting; teach us, and we will learn! We discern not thy form as thou passest before our faces, but there is silence, and we hear thy voice, saying, "Mortals, before ye grow weary of me, and call me old and long, as ye did the year which has passed, I will deliver to you my tidings. As a new year, I bring with me the promise of new mercies, like a golden casket stored with jewels.
God will not forget you. The rock of your salvation changes not; your Father who is in heaven will still be gracious to you. Think not because the present is wintry, that the sun will never shine, for I have in store for you both the lovely flowers of spring and the ripe fruits of summer, while autumn's golden sheaves shall follow in their season. The black wing of the raven shall vanish, and the voice of the turtle shall be heard in your land. Providence has prepared surprises of gladness for the sorrowful; unexpected boons will it cast into the lap of the needy; therefore let hope, like a dove, bear to the mourner the olive branch of peace, for the waters of grief shall be assuaged.
Fresh springs shall bubble up amid the wastes, and new-lit stars shall cheer the gloom; the angel of Jehovah's presence goes before you, and makes the desert blossom as the rose. He who makes all things new will send his mercies new every morning, and fresh every evening, for great is his faithfulness.
Yet boast not yourselves of to-morrow, nor even make sure of to-day, for I forewarn you of new trials and novel difficulties. In the unknown future, the days of darkness shall be many; rains will descend, floods will arise, and winds will blow, and blessed shall he be whose house is built upon a rock. Crosses will be laid upon you for every hour, and cares will molest every day. Pilgrims of earth, ye must hold yourselves ready to traverse thorny ways, which your feet have not trodden heretofore; have your loins well girt about you, lest the trials of the wilderness should come upon you unawares. Your road leads o'er the barren mountain's storm-vex'd height, and anon it dives into the swampy sunless valleys, and along it all you must bear more or less of affliction's heavy load; arm yourselves with patience and faith, for you will need them every step of the march to "Jerusalem the Golden." So surely as "the wintry wind moans deep and hollow o'er the leafless grove," tribulation will await you frequently, for man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Adversity is an estate entailed upon the sons of Adam. Learn this before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass, ye may not be surprised with any amazement.
Be not, O children of God, dismayed at my message, neither let your harps be hung upon the willows, for I bring you tidings of new grace, proportionate to all your needs. Great is the strength which your covenant God will give you in the hour of your weakness, so great indeed that if all the afflictions of all mankind should meet upon the head of any one of you, he should yet be more than a conqueror through the mighty Lord who hath loved him. Onward, soldiers of the cross, where Jesus has led the way. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath you are the everlasting arms. You are not called upon to go a warfare at your own charges, neither are you left alone in the battle: the banner which waves over you bears the soul-assuring motto, 'Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide.'
Labourer in the vineyard of the Lord Jesus, I bring to thee new opportunities for usefulness; I introduce thee to fresh fields of service. Many great and effectual doors shall be opened during the twelve months of my sojourn, and they who are wise to win souls shall have grace to enter. The moments as they fly, if taken upon the wing, shall yield a wealth of sacred opportunity: the frivolous shall ruin himself by suffering them to pass unheeded, while the watchful shall earn unto himself a good degree, by regarding the signs of the times and improving every occasion for promoting his Master's glory.
Therefore, with earnest tones, I warn you that I bring new responsibilities, from which none of you can escape. For every golden moment you will be held responsible. O stewards of the manifold gifts of God, waste not your strength upon trifles, cast not away your priceless opportunities, fritter not away your precious hours: by the remembrance of eternity, I charge you live with an ardour of industry which will be worthy of remembrance in another world. O child of time, lay not up for thyself misery in the remembrance of misspent years, but live as in the presence of the all-seeing God. Believer in Jesus, gather jewels for his crown, and irradiate his name with glowing honours, so, as I pass away, thy record shall be on high, and thy reward in heaven. FAREWELL."