Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

The first day of the first year, of the eighth decade, of the eighteenth century, may well suggest a few seasonable reflections to all who are toiling in the labour, fighting in the battle, and journeying in the pilgrimage of life. Even if the purpose of existence were only selfish, it would be well for us to avail ourselves of set times for pausing in our career, to cast a comprehensive glance backwards, in order to see for how much we have reason to regret; and to forecast the future, to see in how many matters we have reason to amend. Even to a worldly man, past follies may preach present repentance and future amendment. Errors may teach discretion, and remorse may goad to wisdom. But if the purpose of life be something far higher than selfish gain or worldly advancement, the breathing-time of pause becomes all the more necessary, and all the more advantageous. The casting up of our year's accounts, the settling of our ledgers, and the taking of stock, so as to see how we stand with the world, and to enable us to determine on the expenditure which it will be honest for us to indulge in, may thus prompt us to a more thorough self-examination, and inspire us with more salutary resolutions. The higher our conception of the dignity and

purpose of our existence, the more highly shall we value such processes of self-interrogation, and the more cheerfully shall we make use of opportunities for practising them.

Each human being has a life-ledger, and its contents may be scheduled in three great accounts :"I, in account current with myself;" "I,

A

in account current with mankind;" “I, in account with the Lord.” The last of the three is the summary of the other two. Our relation to the Lord is determined by our actual relation to man, and our actual relation to ourselves. Our actual relation to ourselves includes all the details of our inner life of thought, feeling, purpose, motive ; compacting themselves into spiritual and mental states; incorporating themselves in our individual character; manifesting themselves in part here, in our outer life of action and speech, and preparing for an effectual and an abiding manifestation in the other world. Our actual relation to mankind includes all the words spoken and deeds done, which are audible, or visible, to others, or the effects of which can in any way act upon others. Life in its outward manifestations, by look, by gesture, by tones, by the impress of personal character influencing others, as well as by words and deeds in the family, in the social circle, in business, in public matters, in the Church is comprehended in the true statement of account between ourselves and our neighbour. Whether we will or no, these accounts are truly kept. Our responsibility for indebtedness is being every moment sealed in the very

character which we acquire, and which our outer life still more and more confirms as our own. Nor can we fail to receive all that is really due to us. Ingratitude cannot deprive us of the joy of well-doing : dishonesty cannot defraud us of the moral recompense of duties properly discharged; self-complacency cannot avail to deliver us from the effect of our sins. In spiritual life there are no outstanding debts or credits. We pay and receive as we go. The balance against us we have already paid in the deterioration of our individual character. The balance in our favour has already been realized in the development of our own souls. Into our very natures sinks down the reward or the penalty which attends every cherished affection, uttered thought, wish, and deed. Hence the pre-eminent importance of availing ourselves of what may be called life's starting-points, so as to turn about, and seek to discern where we are, and whither we are tending.

There are many such “starting-points,” stages in our life's journey, ports at which we touch in life's voyage, halting-places in life's pilgrimages. Some of them will at once occur to the mind. All reckon their age by the natural cycle marked by the round of the seasons : they are so many years advanced from life's first starting-point, their birth. Infancy, childhood, youth, manhood, or womanhood, each insensibly growing into the stage above it, mark the more general starting points of their life.

So again, marriage is the beginning of a new mode and manner of life. Hence it is natural that married people should “number their days” by means of this new starting-point. The practice is as graceful as it is natural. When marriage comes to be regarded in true light, and to be estimated at its proper value, the importance of this new epoch in individual history will be far more fully recognised than is now generally the case. The wedding-day will stand as the symbol of a solemn event, the sacred sign of a glorious thing. Adam and Eve, supposing these to be the names of the first parents of all mankind, must indeed have grown necessary to each other in the other world, after all the millenniums of tender association, and ever-increasing oneness of feeling and thought through which they have passed. Even as we think of the one the thought of the other comes into the mind; their joint names have become inseparable in our thoughts : how much more inseparable must they themselves have become by this time ! The oldest married couple which this earth has given to eternity cannot, even yet, have quite forgotten the inward joy and blessedness of that new life which they together began, when neither of them was any longer “alone.” Their wedding-day was to them a new startingpoint in existence; its memories must lie deep among the ever-enduring treasures of deep and holy feelings and thoughts, which heavenly existence preserves and increases, not destroys. Every other two of their children whom the Divine Father has caused to be no longer twain but one, by giving to both of them the tender love which they bear to each other, and the deep yearning they feel to comfort and bless each other, may and should in like manner welcome the recurrence of the anniversary of the beginning of their new and more perfect mode of life.

Another starting-point, the register of which is so well and truly kept by fond mothers, begins, when God has sanctified marriage with a visible blessing, and crowned the young lovers with the royalty of fatherhood and motherhood. The birth of the first-born “mother's miracle" forms indeed a new era for the pair so richly endowed. A new and ever-enduring existence began, a new flame kindled that can never, never be extinguished, a new duty pressing upon its parents, new motives given them for work and waiting, new incentives supplied to them to strive after purity, self-control, and self-development, new causes come to them for gratitude to the Lord, and new provocatives of mutual love, parents may well count up the years of their children's

ence.

lives, and almost wonder whether the joy of the angels is perfect, seeing that no babes are born there.

In like manner, groups of families have some such common startingpoint. The Israelitish tribes could thus count up the years from the call of Abraham, and the date be the beginning of their national exist

The idea of God was in their thoughts invested with a new tenderness, and the idea of their progenitors was glorified with a new dignity by reason of the association of the ideas,that He was the Lord God of their fathers ; of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Far higher and nobler was this adjustment of their era by the Israelites than was dating the events of history from the beginning of a national festival, counting by Olympiads ; or than a chronology dating from the death of a victorious king, Alexander; or than the era began by the building of a city, dating the annals of a self-glorious people from the time of the founding of Rome. Even these three epochs, which have been so significantly commemorated, are more human, they appeal more effectually to human sympathies as matters immediately pertaining to human life, and interwoven with multiplied human interests, than the coldly scientific, and far removed Julian period, calculated to embrace 7980 years, and which is said to have begun some 4709, or 4713 years before the advent of the Lord. Astronomical cycles may serve the rigid necessities of scientific calculation, but they must ever fail to touch the hearts of the people. Far less scientific, but, it seems to me, far more suggestive, is the idea of counting up centuries from the last avatar of Vishnu; for it links the idea of time with the conception of God, and does not banish, with the secret scorn of scientific politeness, the presence of God from the thoughts of men. There seems an Eastern harmony between the two eras, the call of Abraham, and the fabled avatar of Vishnu; for both refer the time-mark to some divine operaation. Prophecy misread as history explains the error of the fable : its perpetuation proves the veneration, the religiousness, of its pre

servers.

But the genius of Judaism was essentially narrow, and the call of Abraham has to be translated into a more universal language before it can cease to be both partial and exclusive. Hence the literal circumstance was necessarily inadequate to become the beginning of a universal epoch. To find such an epoch we must ascend to that grander circumstance of which the call of Abraham was, at once, the type and the prophecy. This grander circumstance is likewise the same that is predicted in the promised avatar of Vishnu, which tradition forgot was a prophecy, and construed into an historic fact. This event, so doubly indicated, furnishes all men with a time-mark which is adequate and abiding ; it is the advent of the one only true God into the world as “the man Christ Jesus.” Here, in fact, was the real new startingpoint in the history, not of a family, or a nation, or a race alone, but of all mankind. We of the nineteenth century owe some slight gratefulness to that old Roman abbot, Dionysius Exiguus, who, in the year 527, succeeded in fixing the year of the Lord's advent as having taken place at the end of the 4713th year of the Julian period, and thereby rendered it possible for Christendom to adopt “Anno Domini” as the epoch which was never to be superseded. This mode of reckoning, apparently, was first begun, some five years later by another abbot, Denis the Little. We need not pay much heed to the long, learned, and fierce debates about the accuracy of the calculations, which have made noise enough, and bred bad blood enough in their times. Astronomers and chronologers have done their best to be exact, and we may content ourselves with their relative correctness. The great fact, as we estimate it, has been accomplished, viz. that of counting the centuries from the central event in the history of mankind. That epoch was the “fulness of the times” which preceded it; the commencement of the ages which should follow. Just as a man's life is as a bridge placed midway in eternity, the endless expanse of non-being from which the living being emerges at the one end of the bridge, and at the other the endless ages through which he shall continue to exist ; so the Lord's sojourn upon the earth bridged the gulf between the end of the old and the beginning of the new order of things. Up to that point all previous history pointed its prophetic finger; down from that point all subsequent history must properly date.

Mahomet, in many respects a sagacious and far-seeing man, either plagiarized the idea, in his day likely enough to be known to some of the Christians with whom he may have met in his travels in early life, or invented it; for he, too, introduced a time-mark, which should, at one and the same time, embody the idea of the providence of “Allah” and of the history of “his prophet.” So the Hegira, since July 16th, 622, or thereabouts, has been the epoch which Moslems have done their uttermost to force into the customs of mankind. Perhaps a greater number of persons count the years by the Hegira than even by Anno Domini. If majorities mean everything that is valuable, and everything which should be potent in the world, the 400,000,000 of Mahometans may prove a trouble to modern thinkers. Yet it needs

« PreviousContinue »