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By Rev. D. L. CARROLL.
THE WISE RECKONING OF TIME. A NEW.YEAR'S SERMON.
Psalm xc, 12. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts
unto wisdom. The course of time has ever been the subject of sublime and melancholy musing. The sacred writer, in the context, introduces this topic by some of the most tender and beautiful imagery. Whether the lapse and vicissitudes of time would bring upon an unfallen spirit that impression of poetic sadness which we feel, it is not easy to determine. Did the mighty current of years roll on over a sinless world, it would probably associate to the minds of the inhabit. ants nothing but images and anticipations of brightness and glory. But upon apostate man, time, in its flight, casts a deep shadow from its wings, and awakens emotions of strange and undefinable sadness. The great changes that have been effected, the decay and ruin of the proudest monuments of human power, the wreck of generations gone by, and the unrevealed myste. ries of the future, fill the mind with associations mournfully sublime. How little and impotent does man appear, as he views himself, borne along on the tide of years, as the leaf on the bosom of the mighty river, without any power to arrest or direct its course. We might, my hearers, to day yield ourselves up to mere sombre musings on this subject; but the psalmist has shown us “a more excellent way” of improving the swiftly passing moments. “ So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." What a suitable prayer in view of our hurrying existence here, and of its infinite and enduring issues hereafter. If life is so brief, so fleeting, Oh teach us, thou Author of our being, so to estimate what remains, as to make of every moment the best possible use.
Brethren, on this first Sabbath in the new year, may not we, with great propriety, make this prayer of the psalmist our own. 66 So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” As Chris. tians, then, how shall we make a wise computation of time? Sich a compu. tation will require us to have some reference to the present circumstances of society, and to the prospects opening on the world.
I. I remark, then, first, that we ought, as Christians, to appreciate the opportunities presented, of making great progress in knowledge-in intellectual improvement. Inspiration has decided, that " for the soul to be without know. ledge is not good.” There have been periods, however, when knowledge and intellectual culture were not so manifestly demanded of Christians as at present. In those periods the enemies of religion had no means of being in advance of believers as to general intelligence. On the other hand, they were indeed, for the most part, their inferiors. Knowledge then was looked upon very much as the monopoly of the church, and the little that did exist was to be found principally in her monasteries and her schools, such as they were. Most opinions, instead of being judiciously weighed, were inculcated and received on mere authority. But time in its progress has brought a very different state of public sentiment. The intellectual elements of the civilized world seem to be stirred with an unwonted commotion. The flood of ages has swept away a multitude of barriers that once limited the range of mind. And the improvements in the arts and sciences furnish facilities now for extended and intense intellectual action, such as the world has not witnessed. Such an action has really commenced. The claims of every system of doctrine--the claims of every form of government-of every insti. tution, social, political, or religious, are now subjected to the investigation and scrutiny of a mass of minds unawed by authority. Public opinion is now becoming the great arbiter in all questions. Every thing is tending to show, that the human race will soon be under no other government but that of mind: that, whatever may be the instruments which it shall usc, intelligence will be the arm that will rule the world. And every form of ecclesiastical, political, or social order, which cannot be supported by reason and obvious truth, is destined to be subverted and remodeled by the omnipotence of mind. Men of the world
are aware of this, and are numbering their days with reference to it. They are ceasing to glory in war, and in inere animal prowess, and are striving to possess themselves of disciplined and vigorous in. tellect. They see that the future battles, which are to distinguish our world's history, are to be the mighty conflicts of mind-marshalling its forces, and meeting in the shock of a gigantic strife on the great line that divides truth and reason from error and absurdity. The mighty struggles of antagonist principles--principles, anchored in the depths of capacious and richly stored minds, are to constitute the materials for the future historian in his book of the wars of men. Now what is the duty of Christians amid circumstances and prospects like these ? Ought they not to cherish ardent desires after knowledge and intellectual improvement ? Ought they not to redeem more time for this object? How will religion maintain her supremacy at such a period, if its professors are inferior in knowledge to the mass around them? Nay, how will they long retain the territory already enclosed within the limits of the church, if they are indolent while the hosts without are “ running to and fro," and increasing in knowledge ? Those hosts may come and “take away their place and nation.” And why is it that worldly men can be such untiring devotees in the pursuit of knowledge? Is the love of intellectual power or of literary fame a motive to exertion stronger than those which the gospel presents to Christians ? By no higher ends than earth can afford, a multitude of unsanctified minds have been stimulated even to death in the career of mental improvement. Time, health, riches, life, have been sacrificed in the overreachings of their souls after knowledge. But every Chris. tian has infinitely higher motives to impel him to make acquisitions of true science. If he be asked why he is laboring to obtain stores of knowledge, he can answer, because “ the Lord hath need of them.” He knows that he can bring every acquisition, and lay it down, an acceptable offering, at the feet of Jesus. He knows that min is the great instrument through which the Redeemer is to effect those eternal purposes “ that pertain to his king. dom and glory.” He knows that every capability developed, every item of strength gained, is giving power to this instrument, and fitting it to be wielded with greater effect by the hand of the master. Who that thinks of the great ends which the infinite God accomplished by Moses, and the part which his mind, “ learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," performed in the stu. pendous drama of the world; or, who that has looked upon a Paul going from the feet of Gamaliel with all his intellectual treasures to the cross, and from the cross travelling in the greatness of his mental strength to the ends of the civilized earth, a chosen vessel bearing infinite blessings to millions, can help feeling the irrepressible risings of a holy emulation to grow in know. ledge, and grasp every intellectual attainment within the reach of mortals ?
Would that Christians now, with far brighter prospects, might so number their days as to apply their hearts unto wisdom! Let it not be said that such great attainments are reserved for the favored few that appear at distant in. tervals. This need no longer be the case; and would no longer be the case, were not the church culpably ignorant or negligent of her high privileges. There is no necessity that the great mass of Christians should remain com. paratively unintelligent. Every church might now be organized into classes for mutual instruction. Adult Bible classes might be everywhere established. Why not as extensively as the Sunday School system, if the church felt as she ought, that knowledge was power? And I see not, in view of the signs of these times, why all the more intelligent members of the body of Christ do not owe a solemn duty in this respect to their less informed brethren. Every Christian family, and every Christian church, ought to be organized on the plan of imparting the greatest possible amount of instruction, and of raising to its greatest elevation the intellectual standard of the members. I am persuaded that the most happy results would follow the organization of churches into classes for mutual instruction and improvement, where those of all ranks in society should mingle together. It would destroy invidi. ous distinctions—would prevent the jealousy of the poor toward the rich, and impart a very important kind of information to the rich themselves: it would make them acquainted with the habitudes of thought and feeling amongst their humbler brethren, and exhibit to them the peculiar forms which piety wears in the common walks of life. Some of the first statesmen in the world are directing their efforts to the diffusion of knowledge amongst all classes. The late Lord Chancellor of England, it is said, projected the plan of the Penny Magazine, which has now a circulation of some hundreds of thousands weekly. An example worthy of our richest and ablest citizens. But how long shall “ the children of this world be wiser than the children of light ?"
The great facilities for communicating knowledge to all ranks at the present day, point out, as with the finger of God, the duty of the church to be up and doing. The religious periodicals, tracts, and varied forms of useful intelligence which mark our day, put intellectual improvement within the reach of all. And the ease with which a livelihood may be gained in this country, and the labor-saving improvements in machinery, afford more or less time to all to be devoted to this purpose. And let it be remarked, that the humblest and most obscure Christian in the church knows not what progress he may make in knowledge, if he will only prize it more than money, and number his days wisely with reference to its attainment. In illustration of this, permit me to give you the history of a case that occurred in the place of my own nativity. A lad of fourteen years was, by the providence of God, left an orphan, without any one sufficiently interested in him to offer him a home or employment. After the burial of his mother, he went to a neighboring town and hired himself to an innkeeper as a hostler. He had, as may be supposed, but a partial English education. He, however, found some Latin books, and redeemed moments to attempt their perusal. He was not afforded even a candle, but he used to gather shavings during the day, and burn them on the kitchen hearth at night to pursue his studies. Yet such was the progress he made, that when it was first discovered that he had turned his attention to Latin, he was able to read Horace, one of the principal Roman authors, with ease and accuracy. He was then taken by a benevolent gentleman and fitted for college-no hard task. He entered the college at Princeton, and graduated with the first honors. He then studied theology, afterwards became the president of a college in Pennsylvania, and at the age of thirty was called from earth, as we trust, to a sphere of far more elevated usefulness and glory.
Let not, then, the humblest individual here to.day, despair of great attainments in knowledge; they are within reach. God made your mind for know. ledge, as much as he did your eye for light. And the “day-star” of intelli. gence hath emphatically visited us. Set your aim high this year, and follow where it leads, and your " path may be as that of the morning light.”
II. In numbering our days wisely, we ought to count upon the opportuni. ties presented for forming an elevated religious character.
Mere knowledge, valuable as it is when connected with holiness, when severed from this, is but the strength of Samson deprived of his eyes. We shall have numbered our days to little purpose, if we do not make broad cal. culations of growing in grace as well as in knowledge. And, my hearers, the signs of the times in reference to this object deserve very serious con. sideration. No period, perhaps, has ever furnished such elements for forming a high order of moral character as the present. It is admitted that those truths of God that have remained the same in every age, are the basis of religious character. The Bible and the Holy Spirit are God's instrument and agent in the sanctification of a revolted world. But it is equally true, that circumstances may greatly facilitate their operations in transforming the cha. racter of man. Let it be remembered that the agency of the Holy Spirit, and the nature of God's truth, are such that they can and do lay hold of all the great and complicated events of time as auxiliaries in their work. The effect of imposing and exciting events, in developing talent and forming worldly character, is so universally acknowledged, that it has given rise to the adage, “that man is the creature of circumstances.” Now it cannot be supposed, that the great moral events that crowd into a particular period will have less influence in forming religious character, when coupled with the combined agency of the Spirit and truth of God. There have been periods when the current of years flowed on without any striking incidents adapted to effect remarkable changes in human character-dark ages, when a shadowy stillness seemed to hang over the stream of time, beneath which the mind of generation after generation slept away its being, unagitated by any of those strong excitements which give new lineaments to the heart of man. But such, it will be admitted, are not the days we are now numbering. This appears to be the seed-time of a new and higher order of religious character in the church of God,—the time that has prospective reference to the millen. nial harvest. This we might infer from the very condition of the world around us. If the future historian gives this portion of the nineteenth century its appropriate name, he will call it " the age of INTENSITY" in every department of enterprise and activity. There seems to be an amazing waking up of the powers of human nature, preparatory to some great changes in the condition of man. The mechanic and the merchant feel themselves to be under some new and undefinable impulse, that is driving them onward in an enterprise and speculation of which they once had scarcely a conception. Statesmen are grasping the subject of politics with almost the energy of des. peration. The walks of literature are becoming crowded with a jostling and breathless throng of aspirants. And even vice and atheism themselves are assuming something of that boldness and intensity which characterize them in hell. Now piety, if it exist and be in exercise at all, living in the midst of such unwonted excitement, ought itself, by the very force of circum. stances, to become more intense. Yes, it may and ought to assume a loftier and more decided character, from the spirit of the times.
But there are other events at present more peculiarly adapted to form a high order of moral character, One of these is the awakened attention and increased facilities for studying the Bible. The disastrous eclipse which had obscured some of the great truths of revelation for ages, has now passed off, and they are coming out on the vision of the church in unveiled splendor. At no time since revelation was completed, have there been such means and opportunities of a wide spread and intimate knowledge of the oracles of God. Now, if the truths of these oracles, more dimly seen, formed such characters as Luther and Calvin, Baxter and Flavel, and others of like exalted attri. butes, what transformations may not their unclouded lustre now effect, under the influence of the Holy Ghost?
As another event in these times, adapted to form religious character, we may notice in some respects a sabutary change in the ministry of the gospel. It is now freed from many of the incumbrances of former ages, that destroyed its power on the conscience and the heart. The ministry has become, in
some measure, what God always designed it to be, a great organ of deep and practical impression on the human mind. It has become a lucid expositor of the claims of God on the immediate services and affections of men-hold. ing up his unchangeable law, exhibiting in a clear manner the true grounds of the sinner's guilt, and condemnation, and dependance--holding out a full, free, sincere offer of pardon and eternal life to all without exception-putting the responsibility of the sinner's choice of life or death just where God puts it, and where it properly belongs, on himself; and charging him with the guilt of rebellion against God for every hour that he delays repentance and cordial obedience to the gospel. The ministry now, instead of exhausting its powers to engage professing Christians in an unholy war for mere rites and forms, brings the precepts of Christ, that respect the practical, everyday graces and duties of life, directly upon the conscience and the heart of the church, and labors to form Christians to habits of untiring and holy activity. It is active, rather than mere contemplative piety, that is now inculcatedbenevolence wide as the world, rather than the love of a sect—the luxury of blessing a sinking race, rather than the mere enjoyment of insulated and solitary religion. Now it is easy to see, what an influence such a ministry is adapted to exert in forming a high order of religious character.
Another fact bearing on this point is, that the days which we are number. ing, are days in which the glorious ministration of the Spirit,” in that form which it took after the ascension of Jesus, has become more pervading and effec. tive than it has been since the day of Pentecost. It is now, indeed, “search. ing all things, yea, the deep things of God;" it is proving a “discerner of the thoughts and intents” of many hearts; it is making an extended application of its regenerating and sanctifying power to multitudes of minds in Christendom, and sealing the blessings of redemption on a scale more commensurate with the tremendous exigencies of a dying world. Under such an administration of this great author of the Christian graces—this transformer of the human mind, the Spirit of God, increasing in manifestations of power and efficiency as we approach “ the last times,' the moral character of the church may and ought to assume a new intensity and glory.
In addition to all these, we must not overlook the obvious influence on Christian character that may be exerted by the vast system of benevolent enterprises which have been originated in our day. What an influence have great political schemes exerted on individual and national character. Does not all analogy, then, lead us to suppose that the great moral plans of this age may exert a moulding power upon religious character ? Both the intel. lect and the heart of the church are beginning already to be dilated with the lofty conceptions, and the overwhelming emotions, associated with the work of filling the world with Bibles; of flooding it with religious tracts; of train. ing, for all its perishing millions, an adequate ministry; and sending into its deepest recesses of darkness, the missionaries of light and love, of peace and salvation. This state of things in the church is too recent to exhibit, as yet, those great results in the formation of religious character which it is adapted to effect. But who does not see that it furnishes the elements of an order of moral character amongst Christians, such as the church has not witnessed since her apostolic days ?
In view, then, of all the circumstances mentioned, does it not become us, in wisely numbering our days, to make a new and mighty reach after greater attainments in holiness ? What is to prevent us from taking a far higher rank in the scale of moral character than the generations that have preceded us? What shall hinder us from rising above the mists of past centuries, and shining in all “the beauty of the Lord our God ?" What shall hinder young Christians in our day from mounting, as on wings of eagles, and soaring nearer and nearer, with more than the eagle's strength of vision, to the Sun of righteousness,—bathing themselves in the living light of his beams, and