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He giveth snow like wool; he scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes: he casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold?
THE winter solstice calls us to reflect on the blessings which the munificent Author of nature grants to us in this rigorous season.The advantages of winter to the earth, to the atmosphere and to man, are incalculably great. In consequence of the cold and frost, many noxious vapours are retained in the superiour regions of the atmosphere, by which means the air is rendered more pure. Far from being prejudicial to the health of man, they often improve it, and counteract that debility which a continued heat would produce. The constitution of the human body varies according to the climate in which it is placed, so that the inhabitants of the northern countries enjoy a constitution adapted to the excessive cold that prevails there ; and they are generally very robust and hardy. Even as man, though he loves to be in action, and that labour is necessary to him, is yet glad to have his toil interrupted by the recurrence of each evening, to taste the sweets of sleep, and to pass into a state altogether opposite to that in which he was when awake; so also does our nature accommodate itself to the vicissitudes of the seasons, and we are pleased with them, because they contribute to our happiness and well being.
At present our fields and gardens are covered with snow, which is necessary to preserve them from being injured by the cold, to secure the seeds from the impetuosity of the winds, and to prevent their being destroyed. The fields, after having, during the fine weather, produced all the fruits upon which we live in the winter, require some repose. And in this we have great cause to acknowledge the wisdom and goodness of God; for if he had not provided for our support, and if to obtain our nourishment we were obliged to cultivate the earth in this rigorous season, our complaints might have some foundation; but he has begun by filling our magazines which are sufficient to supply all our wants, and permit us to enjoy a degree of repose suitable to the season.
How tender are the cares of Providence for us during the winter! He has given to men that industry of which they have so much need to fortify themselves against the attacks of cold and frost. Their inventive mind has made them find the means of procuring for themselves an artificial heat. And is it not evident that Divine Wisdom has foreseen the wants incident to different climates, when he has placed in them animals that could live no where else? Winter does not materially interrupt trade or commerce. For though the rivers may have lost their fluidity, their surface, solid as a rock, is converted into a high road. Though we are obliged to suspend the labours of the field, there are various other ways in which we may be usefully employed; and we are never doomed to a state of idleness and inaction. The repose of nature invites us to look for resources in our own minds; and though our imagination cannot now be warmed with the beauties of nature in their spring and summer robes, our mind, from the present change in nature, may be led to reflect upon the instability of all earthly things, and prepare to enter into that eternity to which it is hastening, and devote itself with full sincerity to the service of that Supreme Being who never changes, but is ever the same, merciful, just, and omnip
CHRISTIAN LIBERTY AND FREE INQUIRY.
And why even of yourselves, judge ye not what is right?
THIS day reminds us of the landing of our pilgrim fathers on the rock at Plymouth. We count over their dangers, we remember their sufferings, and thank God that, by their piety and zeal, a new and extensive continent has become the abode of a free, intelligent and happy people. They left the land of their early joys and the friends of their bosom, that they might here build their altar to the most High, might here worship God agreeably to the dictates of their own minds, and might here sing the Lord's song in this new land of promise. They came as Protestants; for this we praise them they came as Dissenters; for this we praise them. If we go on in the path they entered, and, assisted by the greater light which they believed was to break forth from the word of God, should dissent from their errours, are we to stand guilty even before them?-We would continue to follow their glorious example, of leaving old errours and coming over to new truths.-Free inquiry is the natural wish of the human mind; it is a chartered privilege of true christianity; it is guaranteed to us by our civil institutions. It is our duty, therefore, to set in judgment upon all the religious dogmas of previous generations, so far as to approve what is excellent and reject what is untenable. Any thing short of the fullest religious freedom, would be treachery to our faith.
But in forming or adopting a system of faith, we should embrace no one till we have thoroughly understood it, and diligently and faithfully compared it with the word of God. We should adopt no system merely because it is an old one, or a new one, a long one, or a short one, nor yet because it numbers among its supporters great names. We should examine it for ourselves; we should find out what it really contains; its meaning, its spirit, its tendency; and having subjected it to this severe examination, if we are satisfied with every thing it includes and implies, then we may adopt it, but not before.
In adopting it, we should also as much as possible, free ourselves from all our prejudices and prepossessions. We endeavour to do this in respect to every other subject; why should we not do it in respect to religion? Neither should we go about to patch up a system, which shall agree in "part at least with that in which we have been educated. We should seek for truth, simple truth; and we should be happy to gain it, wherever it may be found; even though we may receive it from an enemy, and even though it may run directly counter to our previous sentiments, and our natural dispositions.
And after we have formed our system we should be careful lest we place too much reliance on it. It is still the work of man. Much of errour may mingle in it, and it may be founded on false and deceptive principles. We should therefore always hold our minds open to conviction, that we may reject it altogether, or any part of it, as soon as we may have reason to believe it to be untenable. No temptation whatever should induce us to continue our support to what we think unworthy of it-wresting scripture, colouring facts, and sophisticating reason, to give credit to unauthorized speculations.If we have hitherto given our names and out hearts to a system, which we find not deserving of either, we should have the honesty to renounce it.
It is more blessed to give than to receive.
God makes men, not passive instruments, but trustees and voluntary agents, in conveying to one another the blessings of his goodness. He makes them instruments in such a sense that the blessings received shall come from them, as well as primarily from him. He makes them, in short, grantors of benefits at the same time that they are conveyors. In no other way could there have been room for gratitude to inferiour beings for any benefits.
You must be sensible, that the principal blessings of our existence are not received by us immediately from the hands of the Deity. We see that he acts by instruments; by passive instruments in the material world; and by voluntary instruments in the intellectual world. In both, there is a series established of intermediate causes between us and that Divine power, wisdom and goodness, in which all causes terminate, on which they all depend, and to which ultimately they owe all their efficacy. Every reasonable and moral agent, placed in society, and surrounded with fellow-creatures, is a trustee for distributing God's bounty. But, in the distribution, he is subjected to no restraints or limitations, except such as his own prudence and virtue may prescribe to him. He has the option of being either slothful and treacherous, or diligent and faithful; and, consequently, of either withholding happiness from his fellow-creatures, or granting it. We have all of us commissions from God (as Christ had) to relieve distress, and to seek and to save that which is lost; and we should consider ourselves as sent of God for this purpose. These commissions have been given us, not by any specific orders or formal agreements, as among men, but by endowing us with powers to help our fellow-creatures, by planting in us kind affections prompting us to it, and by placing us in situations where we shall have opportunities for it. By this method of government his creatures are made a kind of Deities to one another. They become real benefactors in the very same instances in which God is to be acknowledged as the Supreme Benefactor. Obligation to them takes place as well as to him; and, while our first gratitude is due to him, (the cause of all causes,) gratitude becomes due likewise to those inferiour beings, on whose free will, and spontaneous instrumentality, he has been pleased to suspend the fruits of his beneficence. There is, therefore, in this part of the constitution of nature unspeakable wisdom and goodness. Had nature been otherwise constituted; had no absolute dependance of the states of beings on one another been established; were there in the universe no precariousness of condition, no liableness to losses and calamities; were all the happiness of beings ascertained to them, independently of their own active choice and endeavours to bless one another-were this the plan of nature, the moral world would be little more than a kind of dead machinery. Moral agents would be incapable of doing any good to one another. No scope would be given to the exercise of benevolence; and, consequently, all possibility of the greatest happiness would be excluded.
Let our gratitude to Christ, our benefactor and friend, be full and free. He was the herald of peace, and an example of love. He went about doing good. We ought to finish the work given us to perform; and like him, be faithful unto death.
PREPARATION FOR CHRISTMAS.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
THIS text I address to you, christian! at a moment when the next sun brings round the anniversary of your Saviour's birth. You must prepare a way for him in your heart. He is coming to his temple, and his temple is the soul of man. Let every valley of doubt, therefore, be filled up; every mountain of pride be brought low; the crooked paths of errour be made straight, and the rough ways of wickedness be made smooth.
The customary salutations, which are uttered at the new year, at christmas, and at our birth day anniversaries, are to my mind filled with solemn admonitions and anxious prayers. At this season I would join gladly in the warm wishes, which breathe around us, in that manner which best accords with my feelings and views; which is, by wishing you the wisdom to improve your fleeting opportunities. -I wish to the young, the good understanding to make choice of what shall cheer them most in the days of their youth, that gladness, which only God can put in the heart of man; that joy, which is kindled by the light of his countenance; that generous festivity, whose most sumptuous fare is surrounding happiness; and that gay conscience, which will give fresh spirit to the pulse of health, new gold to the sunshine of nature, and additional delight to their most delightful days! At the call of cheerful piety and sincere goodness (and to that potent call alone obedient,) happiness, my young candidates for her, shall come down, and accompany you through the whole course of all your successive years; that happiness, which, at the commencement of each of them, the lip of civility invokes to descend upon you, but which only the voice of virtue within you can prevail to bring down to you. Virtue is a friend, and the only one that has power to accomplish the periodical benedictions, which other friends can only pronounce, and put you into actual possession of all the joy, which the warmest of them can wish you.
And, while I beg the young to permit me to express my friendship for them, at the approaching season of kind and friendly greetings, by praying that they may enter upon that virtuous practice, which contains the answer to the prayers for their happiness, let the best allow me to wish for them, a perpetual progress from one degree of animation to another, in that spirit of goodness, which includes all the spirit of happiness.
And let them who have slept till today in the lap of moral sloth, and continued in a state of total insensibility to this virtuous and happy spirit, accept my sincere wishes for their immediate excitation to the proper employment of their powers. Let their resolution to rouse themselves bear the date of this day. Let them make it memorable to themselves, for their recovery from the sleep of moral indolence; from the lethargy of their best energies; from the swoon of their highest faculties. Let them mark it in their calendar, as the day, upon which they awoke to duty and to God; upon which they were born to the noblest life; the natal day of Peace, and Hope, and Joy! when first their reason saw the light of wisdom, and their bosoms were open to admit the sunshine of the breast! Let them distinguish this day, by a determination to dedicate every succeeding day to their duties.-Then,
The yearly course, that brings this time about,
For unto you is born this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.
THE event of our Saviour's birth should be celebrated by all christians. When the heavens and the earth at first arose in beauty from the hands of the Creator, the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. In like manner, when these new heavens and this new earth appeared, all the angelic host broke forth into strains of gratulation, ascribing glory to God in the highest ; on earth peace; good will towards men.-Christianity was an ultimate point, began and fixed by the Almighty. Neither the circumstances, advancement, nor wishes of the age called for it. The progress of science, literature and morals did not naturally lead to it. It was an event of God's determining-and to Him be the glory. A deep moral darkness rested on man's heart, that only altar which can, properly speaking, be dedicated to the Most High. Christ came, filled with spiritual knowledge, to seek and to save those who were lost to moral truth and hope. He proclaimed on earth the religion of heaven, and illustrated it by his example. He took from human life its evils, by instructing ignorance; by removing sin; by comforting affliction, and by destroying death.
I. He filled the human soul with joy, by disclosing the whole character of God; and that character as represented by the word FATHEr, or summed up in the word, LOVE. To live and to die in ignorance and uncertainty, whether the Governor of the world be a tyrant or a friend, whether we are under the misrule of hate, or the government of love, must sit heavy upon the candid and inquisitive mind, and give additional smart to all the sorrows which embitter human life. Christ has made certain to us, that Jehovah is ONE, the only God; that his almighty power is guided by wisdom, in prosecuting plans of everlasting mercy; that his justice is not severity, but prospective kindness; that his benevolence will never be withdrawn from any child, but will pursue the disobedient with the remedial chastisements of love.-As God knows both worlds, we are never to forget or neglect him, for he requires only what we can perform, and will never call us to go ways which do not lead to felicity.
II. Christ has developed man's whole nature and condition. Of man, at his birth, he has said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." All these uncontaminated powers are to be unfolded by right education, so that each passion and faculty may retain the exact place in the character which God ordained in the constitution. Every requirement centres in love to God and man. By cherishing constant piety, and exercising constant beneficence, man best performs his duty to himself, to his Creator and to society. These constitute in the heart, his great act of consecration. Man's condition here is probationary. By struggling he is to be strengthened. He is to act in view of rewards and punishments, because he is schooling for eternity.
III. Christ has presented the terms of pardon. If the prodigal will return he shall be accepted. Repentance means thorough moral reformation; and of every sinner this is required, even to the plucking out of a right eye, as no man can be saved in his sins.
IV. Christ has revealed a future life, by first proclaiming it, and then by rising from the dead. Our existence is thus connected with every moment of the eternal future. That the next world may be one of happiness, Christ tells us that this must be one of virtue.