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New Years Day.
"Thus saith the Lord, Consider your ways."—Hag. i. 5.
OTRANGE, passing strange! God's people— ^ nay, His children, divine beings—will not consider. And yet, strange though it is, it is true. Instead of acting according to the dictates of reason, we act for the most part on impulse, especially the impulse of custom. We are creatures of habit. We go on day after day, week after week, year after year, feeling, thinking, living, as we have been accustomed to do, without stopping to reflect whether our thoughts are wise or foolish, whether our feelings are good or bad, whether our life is ideal or commonplace. We do not consider our ways. Our power of introspection and self-examination, our faculty of sitting in judgment on ourselves,— these are the highest faculties we possess, and we ought to be proud to use them. Yet often and often it may be truly said that we "do not consider."
It must be admitted there is a certain excuse for us. We really have very little time. The wear and tear of life — especially London life — is so great, that when we do have a chance of sitting down for a moment alone, we are far too tired for serious thought. We hurry from one engagement to another — engagements mostly which we are bound to fulfil — as fast as horses or steam can carry us. And when we get home at night, it is time—very often more than time—to go to bed. On the old-fashioned English Sunday, people had plenty of opportunity for reflection in the intervals of worship; but they generally went to sleep instead. And under the new fashion we are almost as much hurried as on week-days. We pay calls all the afternoon; we go out to dinner in the evening; and we are lucky if we have no engagement afterwards. The hour or two we spend in church on Sunday mornings might be conducive to reflection. But generally they are not. Most persons find that the prayers are too long, and involve too much repetition and monotony. Robert Hall used to say that there were persons who first prayed him into the spirit, and then prayed him out again. Such is the effect, I fear, of our own liturgy. And then the sermon;—well, that ought to conduce to reflection, but generally it does not help us much. Either the preacher tells us what we knew before, and then we return more the slaves of custom than ever; or he tells us what we did not know before, and then as a rule we go home and abuse him, wasting our few moments of leisure in discussing the motes that are in his eyes, which we might better have employed in attempting to take the motes, or perhaps the beams, out of our own eyes. A certain allowance, no doubt, is to be made for all men on account of the pressure of circumstances; and some are less thoughtless than others: but it may be said universally of all of us, that we do not consider our ways as we should,—as we might.
There is one day in the year when such consideration is almost forced upon us—viz., New Year's Day. The first of January, like Janus after whom the month is named, has two faces, one looking to the years that are past, the other to the time that lies before us. We can hardly help remembering to-day that another of our "threescore years and ten" has gone. And this is not a cheerful thought, especially if our past has been in any degree wasted. But never mind; let us look the thought in the face this morning; let us for a few moments consider our ways. Let us look behind and before.
And first behind. From our past experience, so far as it was bad, we may learn warnings; so far as it was good, we may find suggestions for making it better still. Out of failures or comparative failures the wise man makes stepping-stones to success. Let us ask ourselves, therefore, were our ways last year wise ways? I don't mean—did we never do stupid things? Of course we did many. Pre-eminently stupid must we be if we are not aware of it; and, on the contrary, we are almost wise if we have sense enough always to discover when we have been stupid. I mean, was the set of our lives, the general tenor and tendency of our lives,—was that wise? Are we, in spite of the stupid things, upon the whole developing, progressing, making the best of ourselves. If not, why not? Is it all the fault of circumstances?
And first, regarding the culture of the body. It is scarcely necessary to say we ought to take care of our health. Injuring our health is suicide— slow perhaps, but suicide none the less. It is through the organism the soul receives its impressions and does its work. The wellbeing of the organism, therefore, should be our first concern. How was it with you in this respect last year? Did you live a healthy life? Or, if circumstances prevented that, did you do what you could to counteract them? How about your eating and drinking? Was that altogether satisfactory from the point of view of self-development? Did you eat too much to please yourself? or too little to please some ritualistic clergyman? How about your recreations? Did you have enough? Did you realise the importance of recreation for a healthy and vigorous life? Or did you keep on with your work when prudence told you you should stop? Did you always take care that your recreations were of the right sort—really re-creative? Did you go in for unwholesome amusements? or for wholesome amusements to an unwholesome extent? In one word, are you in as good health as you were last year? If not, why not? Is it all the fault of circumstances?
Secondly, regarding culture of the mind. It is our duty to try and become constantly more perfect, not only in body but in mind; and this of course involves the constant endeavour to know as much as we can about as many subjects as possible. Here our development will chiefly depend upon our reading.
There are people who read nothing but novels. Now I have nothing to say against works of fiction: I only want to remind you that they form but one department of literature. The old-fashioned condemnation of novels was absurd. Some no