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in the providence of God, the generations of men overlap each other, connecting us in early life with those who began their race before, and in old age with those who continue after us, there are still some to receive our parting words, to remember seasons interesting to the soul, of prosperity or affliction, experienced by them or spoken of by their fathers, and to bear up and carry on the chain of descending influences that connect the existing race with the race that went before, and with those that follow after. Words spoken are of brief duration, Those laid up in books share also in our mortality, and perish faster often than photographic likenesses, or than the names inscribed on our tombstones. It is not anything of ours, spoken or written, that can make good a claim to preservation or perpetuity; but that which is the Lord'sthe good impressions He may have made, the words from His record which He has rivetted on the conscience, the influence transmitted by character, speech, or example, that bears the trace of His hand, and of the blessing He is pleased to impart to any agency He adopts for the prosecution of His work. These are His own : we can yield Him only what was His before. And if I may prolong or revive for a season what remains of these good influences, if I may recall the memory, or in any degree the glow, of early affection—if I might obtain from you a pledge, given in the secrecy of the heart, that you will be all and wholly for Christ, and that in parting we shall meet again, you and your children with you, where He calls us to be with Him for ever—then blessed will be the interval of our separation, happy the commission given to these closing words, and joyful the congratulations that will attend our reunion in the presence of the Lord.
My personal friends are aware that the press has not in time past been my temptation. The circumstances of our times act according to a man's talents or temperament, as an obstacle or an incentive to publication. The multitude of writers, and the prevalent appetite for books, stir up naturally, in men of fertile parts and literary taste, an emulation to share in this form of usefulness; while, again, the brief regard and the rapid dismissal attending works which would be deemed of merit were it their lot to stand alone in the field—the crowd of these that, from a brief limited existence, are rapidly posting to oblivion—the little chance left of saying anything new, or, if some fresh thoughts or views are given, of having them uttered before others better known, or in a better position for being heard, have seized and brought them out-above all, the stores of unrivalled theological literature that live stereotyped in our tongue and in our shelves, with the activity of our age in reproducing and readapting gems from this mine, have checked in me the rising impulse, and taught me, enjoying the affluence without aspiring to add to it, to cleave more closely to the sphere of duty that seemed marked out as more appropriately mine.
And much cause have I to acknowledge the condescending mercy of a heavenly Father in continuing with me, through so long a course of
years, the means of access to my fellowsinners by the spoken word and the living voice, making up to me as by a lengthened term for an originally limited endowment of strength and power, while many around me, more eminent in name and achievement, have finished their work and been withdrawn from this earthly scene. Nor has my place been appointed, like that of some of my fellowlabourers, in distant inhospitable stations—not among the brutishly ignorant, either of our own or of foreign lands, nor yet, to any extent, among the classes perversely enlightened or licentiously refined. I have not been honoured to engage in apostolic work, to carry the gospel where it was not known; but wherever called to prescribed labour, there never failed a band of Christian brethren to bid me welcome. These have borne me up with their continual prayers, have cheered me under discouragement and depression, and, by kind and genial influence, have enlarged my sphere and opened my way to new opportunities, and to occasional efforts in various parts of the United Kingdom and of the sister Island.
It becomes me, in putting off my armour, to join my testimony to that of multitudes gone before, that I have served a gracious Master, who sends none a warfare on their own charges, and who takes pleasure in the prosperity of His servants. If trials and disappointments form part of the allotment of the Christian minister—if there occur in his experience seasons of heaviness through manifold temptations, times of weakness and fear, these serve to bring him acquainted with the abundant consolations and exhaustless resources to which he has access in the Saviour, and which are found best, or only, “in the time of need.” Blessed to him that is cast down, is the strength given in weakness, the guidance in perplexity, the victory after conflict, the preciousness of the reward in souls brought to the Redeemer. There is joy in this tribulation more than the world has in its prosperity. The work carries its wages in it, and becomes endeared in its difficulties as well as in its successes. The grace that was sufficient to sustain the disciples of the first
school, with untiring energy in painfulness and weariness, and that gave them to rejoice in persecutions and distresses, on the cross and on the scaffold, does not fail us for our humbler necessities. Those appointed to the highest things have nothing over, and the least have no lack. These also "drink of the brook by the way," and are satisfied. They do not tire of the service or repent of their first choice. The world has no allurement that could tempt them to seek a new destination or another Master.
It may be I shall not meet the wishes of some of my friends in the selection made of these discourses for publication. They are, it will be observed, separate and miscellaneous in character-of old or more recent date--several of them on prescribed subjects and peculiar occasions, somewhat apart from the regular course of our Sabbath-day instructions. These, you know, have extended over large sections of the sacred books, in expository lectures, and in sermons often forming a continued series of discourses-doctrinal, practical, historical, prophetical, as the subjects, or our former progress in Scripture study, suggested. Some of you may remember the affecting lessons taught us in the Book of Job, and the varied inestimable treasures set before us in the prophecies of Isaiah-in the New Testament, extending over the Gospels, the Acts, most of the Epistles, and the Book of Revelation. The discourses on these extensive subjects seemed not adapted to the present purpose, seeing they would be much too voluminous if given entire, and mutilated and imperfect if separated or given out in detached portions. Besides, that, as hinted above, the numerous and admirable treatises, already within reach, on those parts of Scripture that have formed the staple of my ministrations deter me from publishing on the Decalogue, for instance ; on the Beatitudes; on the Epistle to the Romans; on the Old Testament characters set forth in the eleventh chapter to the Hebrews; or on other portions which were edifying to us as themes for meditation at the time. I have, therefore, preferred selecting a few sermons, more isolated and individual in character, and not depending for completeness or connexion on the order in which they are placed.
Some apology may be due for what may appear a forced or quaint adaptation of a text, in two or three instances. I do not profess to vindicate the liberty thus taken with the plain and direct meaning of words; but as I could plead the example of some eminently useful preachers for occasionally adopting this practice, and have found in my own experience that attention was roused, and that sermons on this plan were honoured to be not ineffective or unfruitful, I have ventured to give some specimens here, trusting that nothing may be found in them inconsistent or contrary to the principles which it should be the aim of all preaching to inculcate.
Believing I shall find from my friends, as I have ever done, a kind and cordial reception for what is good and well-intended, with a candid and liberal construction of imperfections and omissions, I remain, beloved Christian brethren,
Your faithful and affectionate Pastor and Friend,
EDINBURGH, October 1857.