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Brethren, the 1st of December bids us say another word to you by way of Preface; and, in taking up our pen to answer this demand, we cannot tell you how much we feel. It naturally leads us to take a retrospective glance through the very many months and years of our intercourse with you through the medium of these pages; and, seeing the ravages that Death has made upon our ranks, we exclaim, under the deep emotion of our spirit, "Our fathers, where are they? the prophets do they live for ever?" How many— yea, how very many—correspondents as well as readers, have "gone the way of all the earth" since our connexion with this work. How many whose signatures were wont to appear here have laid aside the pen for ever! Yet it is sweet to reflect upon their blessed exchange. Our loss is their eternal gain. "Concerning them which are asleep, we sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." They are now realizing that of which they often spoke and wrote whilst here; and could they speak from their exalted station, they would stimulate and encourage us. Oh with what ardour would they assure us that " this light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." How would they urge us to scorn the trifles by the way, and testify, that one moment of their bliss would make ample amends for a thousand years of ceaseless and unmingled sorrow; for " the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us."
On behalf, then, of the departed, we cannot but rejoice; and desire for you, beloved, and for ourselves, that we may " not be slothful, but diligent followers of them who through faith and patience (now) inherit the promises." Their work is done; ours is incomplete. Oh, that we may be privileged and enabled, not in a legal spirit, but in a true Gospel sense, to " work while it is called to-day, knowing that the night cometh in which no man can work." How speedily that night may come, and how short the space left us for labour, God only knows. How many whose eyes now trace these lines may ?—nay, will—sleep the long sleep of death before another year shall close; and who can say, that he who now addresses you shall ever thus address you again? For " what is your life? it is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." Oh, how true it is "that men count all men mortal but themselves."
Brethren, we desire with all faithfulness and affection, to urge upon your consideration the brevity of life. The wind up of another year prompts us so to do. From the graves of our departed friends we would press it upon you. The present lamentable war and distress of nations speaks loudly too. We desire that our own minds, as well as yours, may be deeply imbued with the subject. How rapidly is Time receding from our view; and how soon— yea, how very soon—shall we " stand by Jordan."
.We write not this in a spirit of gloom, but from a sober conviction of the fact, and with an earnest desire that it should be turned to good account. What little we can do for our God, and for the good of our fellow-men, is, at best, not worthy the name. "Having done all, well indeed may we say, we are but unprofitable servants."
We would exhort you, then, beloved, upon this threefold principle to endeavour to labour in the Lord. First, as intimated, because of the many that have departed from among us, and whose seasons for usefulness have ceased. We trust you know us too well to imagine that we thus exhort you upon a legal or meritorious principle. God forbid! Did time and space permit, we could deduce numberless arguments from the Scriptures in support of the exhortations we are now endeavouring to urge upon you and upon ourselves; but we deem you to be already too well instructed to render such a course necessary. It is only therefore by way of remembrance, and upon the lineupon-line principle, we thus approach you. Consider, then, we say, our brethren departed. Sure we are, that could we have stood by their deathbeds, their lamentation would have been, the little they had done for God; they would have almost wished to have returned to life, in order to have turned to account lost and undervalued opportunities; and how strongly would they have urged upon us to seek to avail ourselves of all such.
Secondly, the eventful times in which we live call loudly for energy and activity. In what a marvellous way has the Lord been ratifying and confirming his own truth. How wonderfully has his Providence echoed (as it were) to his Gospel. In what a speaking way have the distressing scenes connected with the present War called upon men " so to number their days as to apply their hearts unto wisdom." Has there been such a season during the last half-century for preaching the Gospel? The reception of that Gospel, and the preachers of it—whether many or few—is another question. With this matter we are not now dealing; and, in a sense, we have nothing to do with it. It is in reality God's business. Our commission is, " Go, speak my words unto them, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear." And we consider that, in the marvellous changes and exciting scenes of the last few years, our God has made a wonderful opening for the declaration of his own truth. Hence it behoves us to cry, " The harvest truly is plenteous, and the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He may send forth labourers into his harvest." We believe that, dark as the day is in which' we live, and rare as may be the preachers of a full and free Gospel, there are, nevertheless, many of the sons of the prophets upon whom the spirit of an Elijah rests; and whom, for ourselves, we can say, we long to see brought forth in the fulness and power of the Spirit to proclaim "the unsearchable riches of Christ."
Thirdly, considering the short space of our own frail existence, it behoves us cheerfully to seize every opportunity of doing good, in a temporal as well as in a spiritual sense. Oh, how we detest that miserable selfishness in which we blush to say some professed children of God enwrap themselves. They seem to tremble lest they should overstep the little narrow boundary of their own contracted sphere. They live emphatically for themselves. They are as so many hermits; and hug their gold as the poor deluded Romanist is made to clench the candle or the cross in his death-throes. Away with such God-dishonouring selfishness. Those who are really under its ensnaring, captivating influence, appear to have forgotten the very A B C of true practical godliness. It would appear as though the middle clause of the last chapter of the 1st epistle of Timothy had no place in their Bibles.—Oh, should we address any such, let them no t forget the agonizing weight with which hoarded gold will bear upon the conscience in a dying hour. What heart-burnings— what bitter self-reproaches—what an intensity of desire that another and totally-different course had been pursued.
"But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister," Heb. vi. 9, 10. Brethren, whilst we "remember without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love," we thus write, that, as humble instruments in the Lord's hand, we may "stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance," for most earnestly do we "desire that every one of you may shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end."
We haye more than once expressed what we deem to be a becoming jealousy that the readers of the Gospel Magazine should prove by their practice that the maintainers of its doctrines are not that indifferent class which some suppose. They rejoice in the belief of, and to the best of their ability, they will promulgate, covenant verities; they exult in the "I wills^" and " they shalls " of a covenant Jehovah; they subscribe from the very core of their hearts to the declaration, "It is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts;" they at the same time—not in contradiction, but in the most perfect consistency—contend for, and'duly appreciate, the means which Jehovah has designed in order to the furtherance of his mysterious plans, and the opening out of his eternal mind.
Not only so, but, in accordance with the exhortations previously thrown out, we urge upon you, beloved readers, and we urge upon ourselves in common with you, this " working out your own salvation," not, as previously intimated, in a legal or fleshly way, but, in a true Gospel sense, living in the spiritual life—walking and working in newness of nature. "God is my record," says the great Apostle, and in our very humble measure we say so too, "how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."
In connexion, however, with the threefold motive which we just now urged, the question may arise, "And how can I be useful?" Readers, we believe there never was a day in which there were greater opportunities for doing good. The struggle between light and darkness is intense. The question who shall have the day, God or the Devil? is wide-spread. Things verge towards some great and momentous crisis; and the nearer that crisis the more striking the struggle.
But it does appear to us, that, however critical the times, and he the approaching crisis what it may, there is a path—and a privileged path too—for the child of God to pursue. He can visit the poor and the needy. There's many an heir of glory that hath at this moment scarcely " where to lay his head." How he shall obtain his daily bread is perhaps a problem. Oh, what a privilege to seek out such in the highways and the byeways—the streets and the lanes of the city, and to administer to their wants. There are the ignorant to be instructed; the wanderers to be reclaimed; the disconsolate to be soothed and comforted. Oh, what a privilege thus to occupy time and talent, and (if the Lord has- given it) money too. Do not such find his word,to be true, "It is more blessed to give than to receive?" Next to the Lord's own special communings, is there anything to equal the sweet sacred satisfaction of endeavouring in however humble a degree to copy one's Lord and Master, who " went about doing good?" All this, we repeat, may be done not with a view of merit, or in a legal pacifying of conscience, but as the fruit and consequence of Life. "Freely ye have received, freely give," is the standard of action.
Had you known, beloved, those who are gone as well as we knew them, you would testify that thus they lived and died; and that so far from those great and glorious—but libelled—doctrines, the belief of which was their staff and their stay, "leading to licentiousness," those doctrines taught them experimentally and practically to " deny ungodliness, and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." .
Beloved, we cannot conclude our annual address without congratulating you in that the Lord has in his Divine faithfulness, and through his Almighty power, brought us another year in safety through the wilderness, and that we are that much nearer home! Home! home! the prospect of home is increasingly precious. The Lord has his various methods of "leading his people aside from the multitude," in order to sharpen the appetite, and quicken the pace homeward! Under a measure of that influence, beloved, we now address you. Receive this our renewed pledge of love and devotedness to you in the Lord. And, whilst we thank you from the innermost recesses of our hearts for all your expressions of spiritual regard; we ask you to cover with a mantle of love the numberless proofs of frailty which we feel to be inseparable from our poor and imperfect services. Were we to yield to our own inclinations, we might say much upon this subject. It may suffice, however, to remark, that a consciousness of the momentous requirements of the work with the short-comings of the instrumentality Jehovah has condescended to employ, furnishes many a plea at the throne of grace. If ever there were a period in the Church's history when those called to stand in the forefront of the battle, might with good reason exclaim, "Who is sufficient for these things?" it is now, in these "last days," when "perilous times" have verily come.
Brethren, we need at once your sympathy—your forbearance—your prayers. We are but men—fallible, short-sighted creatures—like unto yourselves. If in the secresy of the closet, and beneath the scrutinizing eye of a heart-searching God, you have to acknowledge, and to weep, and to mourn over the frailty of even your best services; unite with your own petitions for pardon and succour and strength, a heart-cry, that similar pardon—wisdom—courage —strength may be vouchsafed to your
Brother and Companion in tribulation,