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BEGINNING OF THE YEAR.
Second Sunday after Christmas.
" Things new and old." — Matthew xiii. 52.
Into these two kinds our Saviour sorts the materials of wise instruction. The doctrines, the spiritual forces, the ways of interesting, influencing, and moulding men for a true service in the Christian life, are of these two classes, — partly new and partly old. This fact is at once an explanation of His own method of teaching, and a direction to His disciples how they should proceed to build up the Church, or to convert and to sanctify any individual heart.
The great Teacher had Himself just spoken to the multitude gathered within the reach of His voice seven striking parables. Four of them, — the parables of the Sower, the Tares growing with the wheat, the Mustard-seed becoming a tree, and of the Leaven penetrating through the woman's measures of wheat, — were doubtless delivered from a fishing- vessel anchored by the
shore of the Sea of Galilee, to a multitude of people listening on the banks. The other three, — those of the Treasure hidden in the field, of the Merchant seeking goodly pearls, and of the Draw-net which gathers in its meshes of every kind, — were heard afterward by
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a smaller group, collected in a dwelling-house that He had entered, not far from the sea-side. All the subjects, you notice, are taken from the agricultural, commercial, maritime, or domestic pursuits of the people He was instructing. Yet there was such novelty in the use made of them, such unexpected arrangement, coloring, and application of these "old" daily doings, that they were at once transfigured before the people into a fascinating glory ; they listened under the spell of an indescribable charm; it all seemed "new," as if the things spoken of were just created, and had the dew of the morning on them. So the touch of true genius, in a painting, is never so plain as where the figures and objects represented are common, yet the whole effect is original as a creation. " Things new and old " together make up the mystery and the beauty of the parable and
the picture. But more than this, — in what the parables taught, or the hidden meaning that Christ conveyed through them, there was the same mixture of the two elements. As they hearkened to the Lord from heaven these Galilean peasants and fishermen found something that was new, and something that was old. Duties were declared, principles were announced, springs of human feeling and action were touched, which their religious education and the light of their consciences had made as familiar to them as the slopes of the hills about the lake, the curves of the shore, or the trees along the street, under the common sunshine, where they plied their daily calling. This was "old," but this was not all. As the heavenly words came from the lips of this " Son of Man," knowing not only all that is in man but the secrets in the bosom of God, they caught glimpses of something " new," and as grand as it was new. Yery faint and inadequate these glimpses were, at first. But
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the patient Master knew the work He had to do, and led their dull intellects along through this simple path of parable, giving them what they were able to bear,
— tempered beams for their weak eyes. What He was seeking to unfold to them was nothing less than the nature of that, everlasting and universal kingdom of God, which embraces all other truth, transcends all mortal understanding, and provides redemption for all the nations of our race, and yet sets up its true throne in the unlettered heart of a regenerated child or a penitent slave. Holding fast all that was good in the "old" religion of conscience and Law He was bringing forth to them the " newness " of His Gospel.
"Then said He unto them. Every Scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man which is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old." Perhaps, while He was speaking, the table in the house where He was had been hospitably spread for this welcome and beloved Friend, like that of the lover in the Song of Solomon who sings, " At our gates are all manner of fruits, new and old^ which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved " ; — and thus Jesus frames another allegory from the ready meal ; — " so thoroughly," says Stier, " has He got into the taste for parables, that the festive board becomes a symbol of the nourishment of His Bread of Life." Neander, on the other hand, supposes the "treasure" to be the jewels which Eastern hosts sometimes display to their
guests, — " old " heirlooms to recall the past, and "new" gems to signify present prosperity or friendship, both alike precious.
We shall find that the principle the Saviour announces here is too broad to be confined to any one profession, even the most sacred. It appears in the whole provi-
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dential disposition of our lives, and impresses a particular lesson as we pass, under Christ our Leader, from the things of the old year to the things of the new.
Take notice, first, with what wonderful beneficence, in the mere outward scenery of our mortal life, God has joined these two elements, — the new and the old. A great deal that we hear, see, and experience every day is so familiar that it excites no surprise, and so fixed that we come to rely on its continuance ; but intermixed with this there is a great deal besides in every day that we never saw, or heard, or felt before, which keeps up a perpetual entertainment. The " old " supplies a foothold to assure us, props to lean upon, a sense of stability to
rest our groping and unsettled faculties, giving to the world about us something of the feeling of a home. The "new" stimulates those faculties, wakes up our dulness, and prevents us from sinking down into a stupid, careless monotony of mechanical routine. Every morning opens upon us with the same well-known elements of earth and water, air and sky. But when some subtle change in the season, the temperature, or the light, puts a new expression on the earth's face, shifts the scenes in the sky, scatters sunshine and shadow with an original pencilling, we seem to wake into a day that never had its exact likeness in any day that went before, and yet it is a day in the same old world. Were everything new, we should be strangers in a homeless dance of accidents, desultory, frivolous, careless, without concentration of purpose, or continuity of affection, or labor. Were everything old, we should rust and harden in lifeless repetitions. So God balances our being mercifully between uniformity and variety, between fixedness and alteration, between habit and experiment, between memory and hope, between endearments and friend-
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ships which grow ripe and mellow with time on the one hand, and, on the other, blessings, efforts, enterprises, and discoveries which, as it is written, are a part of the Creator's compassions, "]^ew every morning and fresh every evening." One great part of what makes life precious and sweet we bear on with us in our arms and hearts through all the changes ; the other part is like the unexpected openings in the winding road of a traveller, teaching us that the Maker's world is larger than we thought, and that there are not only many mansions in our Father's house, but endless opportunities for gaining knowledge and being useful in all these earthly fields, planted and recovered by His Son.
Enter next a sphere which lies closer to the seats of religious character. All the advances that are made in human society toward the practical realization of the great Christian ideas of justice, order, liberty, and love, are carried forward by the providential balance and interworking of these two principles, — the preservation of the old, and the introduction of the new. Each generation is meant to hand down something to its successor, in experience, in wisdom, in a funded stock of valuable traditional opinions and usages. So is each generation meant to find out something new, by study and endeavor, and to add the result to that funded cap-
ital, dropping off and pushing aside what it finds to be false or wrong. It is very rare that there is an institution, or custom, or doctrine, gaining the consent of a considerable number of good men, and holding its place a long time, which is so utterly bad that it requires to be completely blotted out, — and even when that is the case, we still hold on upon the past by some better bond not to be dissolved. Our roots to-day all lie back in the soil of centuries gone by, and we grow out of
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that, — tlie old. But there were errors and evils growing there that must have the axe laid at their root, to make room for better and nobler forms of life, — the new John Baptist comes heralding the Christ. Truth itself, speaking strictly, is always old, — eternal as God is. But as we are constantly walking around it, catching different aspects of it, and perhaps hewing away the disfigurements that mistaken men before us have plastered upon that majestic and beautiful countenance, its features seeiYh to be new. And here comes the distinction between true and false reformers, in their opposite extremes. Destructionists that are over-bold would cut
the present clean off from the past, for the sake of having a future built after their own plan, — like the Spartans that killed their old men because they were in the way, making their reform a beginning and a beginning over and over again, never bringing forth out of their treasure "things old." Conservatives that are overtimid, on the other hand, would never allow an innovation, lest it should disturb the peace; they render reform impossible by the fear of change, like Herod, who slaughtered the Holy Innocents lest there should be a young king among them to dispute his throne, — never bringing forth out of their treasure " things new." But the wise Householder in Heaven overrules both of their one-sided follies, and, by opposing each with the other, bears His human family forward in one unbroken order of gradual and merciful advancement.
Pass to the more sacred ground of God's special revelations in the three successive dispensations through which he has guided His Church. First was the Period of Patriarchs, of which we have the description and history in the Book of Genesis. It was adapted to the childhood of the race ; but when the time came for it to
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give place to a written Law, and an established Kitual, not everything in it was abolished. The grand central doctrine of one God, the duty of religious obedience, the paternal Providence that leads men out and in all their days, the prophetic appointment of sacrifices pointing forward to the Cross of Christ, the promise of the Messiah at the Garden of Eden, the institution of the Sabbath when God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, the justifying faith of Abraham who believed and trusted God so that it was counted to him for righteousness, the covenant by which children are bound up in the same family-blessing of Faith with their parents, — all these you find in that Book of Genesis, and in that first Biblical dispensation. Were they abolished when Moses came, with the Tables of the Law in his hands at Mount Sinai ? Not one of them. Yery much in that Mosaic age was new, — statutes, tabernacles, ordinances, and one national seat of the national worship. But much more was old than new, — and of every one of those " old things " that I just mentioned there remains some memorial and some hereditary power even now in our third and Christian age, — Christ promising, even of its final consummation, that His spiritual followers shall be privileged to sit down in the new kingdom above
with the old believers and patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There is a sublime and majestic unity in these revelations. Moses is, in turn, superseded by Christ; the Law by grace and truth; Jerusalem by the Church universal. Yet not one jot or tittle passes from that old Law till all is fulfilled. The principles that underlie the Eitual and Liturgy of the temple and the synagogue have only a freer and more expanded operation in the worship of Christendom ; prophecy is fulfilled; types are followed by their substance; and all
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the three dispensations of Holy Scripture are one, because within them all is the everlasting Christ, — '^ the same yesterday, to-day, and forever," "the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End."
These are inspiring and enlarging contemplations. They lift us out of the petty round of our narrow occupations in small cares and selfish calculations, in house and shop, in the poor gossipings, envyings, and competitions of societ}^ They make us feel that the world we are living in is not ours but God's world, and that all its
strange, blind ways are, after all, controlled by Him who seeth the end from the beginning.
Yet even over this exalted line of thought I should hardly have invited you to follow me at this solemn time, if I had not been drawing nearer with you, through such an approach, to the very inmost seat of what is most practical and momentous in our individual relations with God and with the judgment to come. There is an " old " life to be " put oif," not because it is old, but because it is bad ; there is a "new" life to be " put on." Unless every part of the framework and substance of the Gospel is mistaken, every heart that is not willingly renewed to righteousness and true holiness in the image of Christ by God's Holy Spirit is dying the death of sin ; then every one of us here who has not consciously and penitently renounced this world as his master for the sake of confessing and serving Christ his Saviour, is lost from God. " That ye put off the old man ; that ye put on the new " : — this is your Saviour's cry to you again to-day, from this place. Were He to enter here and look in your faces, as He entered and looked round on the old temple just before He suffered, this would be His sermon. Human nature keeps its old weaknesses, and wants, and wickedness
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IS'otliing c^n cover them up from Him who died to deliver us from them, lie would separate you here as He always did on earth, and as He has surely declared He will finally at the last day, into two easily marked and deeply divided classes. The line might not be seen by any outward profession, for men deceive themselves and are deceived. Those on the right side of it are not perfect characters ; but that does not put life or hope into the dying hearts of you that are on the wrong side. You all know, or may know by the Word in the New Testament, whether in an honest and good heart you have chosen Christ and followed Him in the regeneration or not. " ISTow then, as ambassadors for Christ, we beseech you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
What are the " old things" that, in such a new revolution, and new confession, and new creation in you, are to be kept and brought forth ? Not the old life ; that must be rooted out, for self-love, and pleasure-seeking, and pride, and money-getting, and frivolity are the springs and goings forth of it. The old things that are to be kept, when you become a new soul in Christ Jesus,
are your old capacities and powers, — the power of choosing, of repenting, of loving, of believing, of working for your Lord, powers which He gave you in an awful trust when He gave your body breath, and your mind the image of Himself. This ground- work of humanity, this capacity for conversion, for holiness, and for immortal life is the old element that has not to be given you again. It is there, — a talent buried or used, — and if buried, your Lord is asking. Why have you not yet used it for Him ? The Judge standeth at the door.
And for the very reason that He is a merciful Judge, He does not let our life flow on in one even, uninterrupted and continuous stream of time, with no breaks or
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turns in the current to make us stop and think whither and how fast we are drifting. He breaks it up into days, into years, into periods of infancy, youth, maturity, manhood or womanhood, old age, — shifting the old scene by new employments, new relations, new sorrows, and new blessings. Into every such waymark He puts a voice of warning, making it a solemn minister of His
salvation. He says, of infants, to their parents, " Suffer them to come to Me." O child, remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth; O young man, rejoice and let thy heart cheer thee; but remember that for all these things God shall bring thee into judgment. Be strong; overcome the wicked one, and let the Word of God abide in thee. O man and woman, filled and eager with business and pleasure, love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father. " He that doeth the will of God abideth forever."
Make this a winnowing time, to sift out of the old things in your habits and your desires whatever you do not dare to take with you into the day of your reckoning with God. " Set thy house in order." Make this a " 'New Year," in a sense so deep, so complete and so blessed, that, like as Christ was raised from the dead, so ye may walk in newness of life !
Take to you the old Gospel, the old promises of God, the old creed of truth, and holding them fast as your imperishable " treasure," move forward with them in the " new " and Living Way !
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