THE GREAT RENEWAL.
And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.
Revelation xxi. 5.
Second Sunday after Christmas, 1875.
Another year has passed away, another year with its joys, its sorrows, its successes, its failures, with its delightful associations and its dark memories, with its toils, its trivialities, its regrets, with its partial achievements, its phantom hopes, its unrealised possibilities.
Another year has passed away. What does this mean? There has been no jar, no dislocation, in the course of nature. All things continue as they were from the beginning. The sun and the moon and the stars appear and disappear as hitherto. The earth revolves in her orbit undisturbed. The thirtyfirst of December passes into the first of January as noiselessly, as imperceptibly, as any one day succeeds any other. We ourselves emphasize the transition; we ring out the old and ring in the new; we celebrate the epoch with friendly welcomes and merry gatherings; we compensate for the silence of nature by stir and noise of our own. But, after all, the distinction of old and new year is only an arbitrary distinction; after all the transition is one of our own making. And yet it appeals to us, as few other occasions appeal. It touches our whole being, kindling the affections, quickening the memory, stimulating the conscience, strengthening the resolves. It does this, because, though conventional itself, it is the echo of an eternal voice, the shadow of a divine reality. It tells us that all things are moving forward with ceaseless flow; it reminds us that we ourselves are drawing near and ever nearer to the inevitable goal; it warns us that the day is far spent and the night is at hand, the night when no man can work. It takes up the Apostle's warning, and bids us remember that old things are passed and passing away; it bids us remember that the great change cometh, .and even now is; it is the very herald of Him, Who sitteth on the throne, announcing to us the proclamation of our King; 'Behold, I make all things new.'
S. P. S. 20
'Behold, I make all things new.' The last chapters of the last book in our Bible are not, as wc might have expected, a summary of the past, but an anticipation of the future. They are a magnificent prophecy of things to come; they tell of a great renewal, when everything which mars the happiness or sullies the life of man here shall be removed; there shall be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more sin, no more death. Yes, God shall make His tabernacle with men, shall be seen of men, shall be known of men. And where God is, there no evil can coexist. Hope, not regret, is the watchword of the Christian. Forward, not backward, is the keynote of the Bible.
It was not so with the old pagan religions. The world with them was not going forward, but backward. Their ideal was not in the future, but in the past. Their prevailing religious sentiment was 'a wistful, regretful wail of despair over a happy state of mankind, which had passed away, never to return. All things were going from bad to worse. Justice had once dwelt upon the earth; she had taken wings and was never more seen. An age of gold had been succeeded by an age of silver; an age of silver had given place to an age of iron. The burden of paganism was not' I make all things new,' but 'I make all things old.' The world was wearing out, it was hastening to decrepitude, to decay, to ruin, to hopeless, irretrievable ruin.
Sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, you whom the Father has adopted into His family, you whom the Redeemer has purchased with His blood, not such is the lesson which the Bible teaches to you, not such is the thought which the season will suggest to you. You have been educated in a nobler school. You have been taught to look forward. The past year has had its sorrows, its disappointments, its sufferings. It has brought its bereavements. Old faces have passed out of sight. The cheerful voice will be no more heard; the pleasant smile will be no more seen. The wise counsels and the tender sympathies are missing. The associations of half a lifetime have been suddenly snapped asunder. Aye, you cannot hide it from yourself. This last year has made a terrible blank in your life. What then? Will you say that a light has been for ever quenched; or will you not rather believe that a torch has been removed hence, to burn more brightly elsewhere, to gladden you— yes, you—with a clearer flame hereafter? Or you have had trials and annoyances of another kind during the past twelvemonth. Your business has gone wrong; your character has been attacked; your confidence has been betrayed; your affections have been spurned and blighted. An unhealed sore is festering in your heart. It has been a dark year for you. Again I say; turn your back upon the past; set your face courageously and stedfastly towards the future. What encouragements, what consolations, what hopes, what bright visions of usefulness, what glorious anticipations of bliss, may you not find there—you whom Christ has ransomed, you to whom all things are possible, you to whom nothing is denied, if you will only look forward in hope to God Who cannot fail, instead of looking backward in fond regret to a world of which you have already had little experience, which has mocked and deceived and robbed you, leaving you a prey to vain disappointment and cruel self-tortures. Or is it worse still with you? Is it some new sin which has fastened upon you? Is it some old evil habit, against which you have struggled, but not struggled manfully enough; which still retains its hold upon you; which seems still to poison the springs of your higher life; which fills you still with a sense of feebleness, of dissatisfaction, of self-loathing. Again I say; turn your back upon the past. The past will give you no strength; the past will only tempt you to indifference or to despair. But look in front of you; for there is the secret of strength, there is the promise of victory, there is the assurance of recovery, there is the clean heart and the right spirit, there is the vision of glory, there is the very presence of God Himself, 'Behold, I make all things new.'
'Behold, I make all things new.' This is the voice, which speaks to us at the opening of another year. It teaches us through the parable of the seasons. The earth is hard and barren now; it was frost-bound yesterday and it may be so to-morrow; the days are short and the nights long. But every hour which passes brings us nearer to renewal and life. Already the light is gaining on the darkness. A few weeks hence the iron hand of winter will be relaxed. The earth will once more be set free. With the spring showers and the genial sunshine, the trees will burst into leaf, and the blade will spring up from the ground. All will be freshness, will be joy, will be life, the earnest of summer flowers and the promise of autumn fruits.
'Behold, I make all things new.' This same lesson is written indelibly with a pen of iron on the very strata of the earth. The hieroglyphs, which cover these tablets of rock and which modern geology has deciphered, bear witness to this one great principle extending through countless ages. They are a long, continuous record of successive renewals, progressive quickenings, new creations, fresh types of vegetable and animal life, each higher than the preceding. From the earliest dawn of its history, when the inert mass of. the earth began to heave and seethe with the first, rude, formless forms of awakening life, till last in time man himself was planted on the earth—man endowed with speech and reason and conscience, man created in God's own image, man charged with the sovereignty over earth and all earth's creatures—these rock inscriptions still yield the same lesson. It is the republication in diverse forms of the Eternal King's one great edict. It is the announcement of re-creation, of renewal, of requickened and heightened life.
'Behold, I make all things new.' This lesson is not only engraved on the successive strata of the earth; it is written also in the successive pages of human history. Epoch has followed on epoch, race has outstripped race in the struggle for power. Populous nations have come and gone; great empires have risen and fallen. But the one law, which we trace throughout, the one principle which God has stamped on the history of mankind as the expression of His Holy will, is renewal, is progress. There may have been seasons of apparent retrogression, but they were only apparent; they have ever proved the starting points of a newer, a more vigorous, a higher life. The wild nomad peoples retired before the barbaric empires of the East; these empires yielded to the superior culture of Greece and Rome; Greece and Rome in turn disappeared to make way for the more healthy, more enduring, because more moral, influences of Christian civilisation. And Christian civilisation itself has advanced from one conquest to another.
Yes, there has been renewal, there has been re-creation throughout all the ages before man and after man: but these progressive changes, however striking in themselves, are after all only faint shadows, blurred types, imperfect, very imperfect, analogies of the great and ultimate renewal of which the text speaks. They may serve to lead our thoughts onwards; but they can never satisfy; nay, they can only increase our dissatisfaction, because, while they heighten our ideal, while they stimulate our cravings, they leave us as far as ever from the realisation. What is all this progress to me or to you, if our brief mundane life is all, if this tangible, material world has nothing beyond and above it? We have been encouraged, we have been compelled, to look out more and more into the future; and then in cruel mockery we are told that the future is nothing, absolutely nothing to us. This we cannot believe; we cannot help forecasting a time, when our great ideal shall be realised, when perfect justice shall be vindicated, when sorrow and pain and death shall cease, when the righteous shall live in the presence of God. Our own hearts, our own consciences, confirm the inviolability of the promise, ' Behold, I make all things new.'
Brethren, we cannot disguise it from ourselves. A great conflict is raging in the world now, in which we, all of us, great or humble, ignorant or learned alike, are called to take a side—an internecine conflict, a conflict between two directly antagonistic, irreconcilable views of human life and human destiny. It is vain that we try to take an intermediate position. It is vain that we would halt between two opinions. There is no standing ground between the two—only a yawning, fathomless gulf which cannot be bridged. Let me place them side by side; and then judge for yourselves which is the truer, the nobler, the more ennobling.
The materialist's view of life is this. I am the plaything of an inevitable necessity, which mocks me with an appearance of liberty; I am a mere straw, floating helplessly down the stream of time; an atom amidst a world of atoms, driven hither and thither like the rest by incontrollable forces. My thoughts, my words, my actions, are all decided for me. My conscience, my affections, my moral sense, are only the resultants of physical laws. My freewill is a mere delusion. I have no more power of choosing between good and evil, than a stone has power to choose whether it will rise or fall. I am therefore no more blameable for committing a robbery or telling a falsehood, than I am for being stricken with a fever. Justice, honesty, purity, are only social fictions—conventional arrangements, necessary for the well-being of society, but having no other force or value. I myself am here to play my little part as an actor on this narrow stage—nay, not as an actor (this would imply some power of selfdetermination), but as a puppet moved hither and thither by wires—with all the show of initiative power, but none of the reality. The wires will be snapped, the puppet will be broken up; and there is an end of all. Will, conscience, consciousness, all shall vanish and be no more.
In direct and irreconcilable opposition to this stands the Christian's view. I am placed here under certain conditions of life, God's natural laws. I am bound by many restrictions, am surrounded by many temptations. But I have a power given to me, which it rests with myself to use or misuse. I have a heaven-sent capacity, which I am bound to educate, and which, if duly educated, is an instrument of incalculable moral force. My conscience is a witness of God's eternal will. My consciousness is a witness of my own immortality. There is a great battle raging within and about me—a deadly conflict between good and evil. The good shall prevail in the end. It cannot do otherwise, because it is good. I am called to take my side in this struggle. The alternative is not a mock alternative. The power of choice is a real power. Can I hesitate? Shall I not frankly accept the challenge, and range myself as a fellow-worker with God? Shall I not fight manfully under the Captain of my Salvation, Who will lead me to certain victory. The course is long, but the prize is great. The struggle is hard, but the triumph is assured. There are manifold trials now, temptations, misgivings, doubts, persecutions, failures, incapacities, sinful cravings, sinful deeds. But it shall not be so hereafter. Have I not assurance of this in the magnificent vision of the future which floats ever before my eyes—a vision of infinite joy and strength and hope ?' Behold, I make all things new:'—'new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.'