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Parish Papers by Norman Macleod

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2. Let it be the great work of the year to become better acquainted
personally with Jesus Christ as the living and ever-present Friend,
Brother, and Saviour.

3. Endeavour to concentrate your efforts to do good upon some definite
unselfish work in your family or out of it, which may help others, as
it certainly must help yourself.

4. In all things try to live more towards God, seeking His approval of
your inner and outer life. The less you talk about yourself or your
doings before men, the better for yourself and for them.

5. Aim this year at being a peacemaker between professing Christians;
to allay disputes, and to heal breaches among friends and relations;
and to make men respect and esteem each other more.

6. Do not leave behind you in the old year guilt unpardoned, but
believe in Jesus for the remission of sins; nor enter a new year with
sin loved and cherished, but accept of and rely upon His Spirit to
sanctify you. Begin the year without enmity to any man on earth,
"forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as
Christ forgave you, even so do ye."

7. If you are the head of the house, resolve to read a portion of
God's Word once a-day at least to the family; and either read or offer
up, always with them, a short but hearty prayer.

8. Endeavour to keep an account of your income and expenditure, that
you may be able to live justly and generously. Give what you can to
assist poor relatives, and poor Christians, and the Church of Christ.
Try this one year to tax yourself ten per cent, on your free income
for such purposes.

Learn to do these things, and many more will the Lord teach thee to
know and do; and may the God of love and peace be with thee!


"Remember all the way the Lord hath led thee" during the past year.

REMEMBER HIS MERCIES.--Calmly review, as far as you can, what God has
given you these bygone months.

Have you been blessed with _bodily_ health? If so, consider what
a gift it is to be spared the tortures some endure: the restless,
feverish nights; the long weary days; the unceasing pain; the no-hope
of relief in this world.

Have you been blessed with _mental_ health? If so, think of the mercy
of not having been visited with insanity, or of having been freed from
the suffering of even mental depression, so touchingly described by
the poet as

"A grief without a sigh, void, dark, and drear,
A stifled, drowsy, unimpassion'd grief,
That finds no natural outlet, no relief,
To word, or sigh, or tear;"

Think of the mercy of having been able to _enjoy_ God's beautiful
world, and to feel the life in its scenery, its music, and its blue
sky, during the summer that has passed, as you walked along the
sea-shore, among the woods, across the green fields, up the glen,
over the moorlands, or gazed on the glorious landscape from the windy
summits of the old hills. Health of body and of mind!--Oh, common,
most blessed, yet, alas! how often unnoticed, gifts of God!

Have you received other mercies connected with your _temporal_
well-being? Perhaps at the beginning of the year (as at the beginning,
maybe, of many a year before) things looked very dark for you and
yours. Yet "hitherto" God has helped you. You may never have had more
light on your path than what enabled you to take the next step with
safety, but that light has never failed you. God has been pleased thus
to discipline many of His people. You may, possibly, remember also
peculiar deliverances:--from sickness; from money difficulties; from
bodily dangers; with unexpected additions to your means of comfort and
of usefulness.

Again, call to remembrance your _social_ mercies, which have come more
indirectly through others. Think of the relations and friends who have
been spared to you! Begin with your dearest, and pass on from those
to others less closely allied, but still most valued, and number them
all, _if you can_. Do any remain whom death threatened to remove
during the past year? Have any, have many, been a comfort to you?
Have your anxieties regarding the temporal or spiritual well-being of
others been lessened? Have beloved ones been given to you during the
year--such as a wife, a husband, or a child? If God hath led you in
this way during the past year, it ought indeed to be remembered!

And if any of those Christian friends have fallen asleep in Jesus,
then it is a great mercy to know most certainly that they are your
friends still, and your _best_ friends too; and you should thank God
for the happiness which they now enjoy, and which you hope to share
with them.

But you have other mercies to remember besides these. Surely much has
been done for your spiritual good by your Father in heaven. He has
shewn patience, forbearance, and long-suffering towards you; and has
been teaching you during these past months by faithful ministers or
faithful friends; and has been striving within you to bring you
to Himself, and to keep you there. Have you enjoyed no peace in
believing, nor gained any victories over self and sin? Have you
possessed no more calm and habitual fellowship with God? Have you done
no good? Has prayer neither been offered in truth, nor answered in
love? Has all been fruitless and dead? Oh, let us beware of the
falsehood of denying spiritual mercies bestowed on us by God! "If I
should say I know Him _not_, I should be a liar like unto you,"
said our Lord. The graces of the Spirit, the least of them, are the
earnests of eternal good, the assurances of enjoying the whole fulness
of God.

BUT YOU HAVE SORROWS TO REMEMBER. Alas! we are in little danger of
forgetting these. The sunny days may come and go unheeded, but the
dark ones are all registered. We cannot forget that "the Lord taketh
away;" but why do we not as vividly remember that the same Lord
"_giveth_" and that in both cases we have equal cause, did we only
see it, to exclaim, "Blessed be the name of the Lord!" I ask not what
these sorrows have been. Enough that they are very real to you, or to
those who are bound up with you in the bundle of life. It was a weary
time to you in the wilderness, and it is well to remember that portion
of the way in which you have been led, which was as a dark valley and
shadow of death.

AND WHAT OF SIN? That is what makes it so hard for us to remember the
past journey. The backslidings and falls in the way; the careless
straggling behind; the lazy resting-places; the slow progress; the
careless devotions; the misspent days of the Lord; the opportunities
lost of doing good to others, or of receiving good ourselves, through
procrastination, sloth, and indifference; the manifestation of our
unloving and selfish spirit towards our brother, in envy, bad temper,
backbiting, jealousy, or unguarded speech; the little done or given
for God's work on earth, in charity to the poor, or to "our own flesh"
who required assistance;--the everything, in short, which deters
memory from looking steadily at what it would if it could blot out for
ever from its records! Yet it is of great importance that this portion
of the journey should be remembered; although it is not the way in
which God led us, but which we chose for ourselves in our ignorance
and self-will. Ponder it well! Recall what your conduct has been in
avoiding temptation; how you have made use of the means of grace; the
days in which you may have lived without God, or if you prayed to Him,
when you did so as a form, without any real faith or love; the days in
which you have been so presumptuous as to live without "faith in the
Son of God," and to meet trials, temptations, and duties, without
seeking strength from the Holy Spirit; the Sundays that have come and
gone without having been improved, and sermons heard in vain, and
public worship joined in outwardly only, without reality; the little
help, or possibly great discouragement given to Christian ministers
and Christian members by your very coldness; the time lost never to be
recalled, and of all that could have been done for the ignorant, the
afflicted, the wicked, the sick and dying, for friends and relations,
which has been left undone, and never can be done in the other world.
Think of what your Master has said, who is to judge you--that "herein
is my Father glorified, that ye bring forth much fruit"--that "if any
man will be my disciple, let him take up his cross _daily_, and follow
me"--that "many will say in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not eaten
and drunk in thy presence? hast thou not taught in our streets? have
we not done many wonderful works in thy name? and I will say
unto them, I know you not; depart from me, all ye workers of
iniquity:"--think of this _now_, for think of it one day you must: and
if you do so with any degree of truthfulness, I am sure you cannot
enter another year without pouring out your heart in humble
confession, and laying down your burthen at the foot of the cross,
crying out, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" "Have mercy upon me, O
God, according to thy loving-kindness, and according to thy tender
mercies blot out all my transgressions!"

Allow me now to put what I have to say in a practical form:--

1. When you review your _mercies_, consider how you are affected by
them. It is easy, I know, to say, and to say so far truly, "Thank God
for them!" Yet the whole spirit in which they are possessed may be
intensely selfish. We may have been seeking our life in them to the
very exclusion of God from our hearts, forgetting that "a man's life,"
says our Lord, "consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he
possesseth." What things? Any creature things whatever! To make these
our _life_, that is, our happiness, or to esteem them as essential to
our happiness, is, as our Lord adds, for a man "to lay up treasures
for himself, and not to be rich towards God." This is that
"covetousness which is idolatry,"--the worship of _Self_, through what
ministers to Self.

2. As you remember your _sorrows_, remember not only how you were
sustained and comforted under them, but, what is of incomparably more
importance, consider how far you have been realising God's purpose in
sending them. That purpose may have been to perfect you by trial; or
to prove your loyalty to Him; or to _prevent_ evil in yourselves and
others. But never forget that the lesson of all lessons is, that we or
others should find _life_, and life eternal--that is, as I have said,
life in the knowledge and in the love of God, which will satisfy and
endure for ever; or, if this is already found by us, that we should
possess it "more abundantly." Now, whatever tends to make us realise
that what we often call and think to be "our life" is yet no
life--that money, friends, or earthly enjoyments cannot fill the
immortal soul, or be its portion for ever;--whatever awakes us from
this dream and dispels the delusion, and makes us know the excellence
and reality of true life in God, must be a blessing of the highest and
richest kind. Yet what has such a tendency to do all this as sorrow,
and the very trials which we so much deplore? The pain is no doubt
great--often agony--a very cutting off a right hand, or plucking out a
right eye; but the gain intended by the operation is incalculable and
endless. Yet, what if all the good is lost through our blindness,
ignorance, hardness of heart, pride, self-will, and unbelief? Alas!
alas! if we too "go away sorrowful" from Christ when He threatens to
take away our "much riches," though He does so in order only through
this very discipline to induce us to follow Himself, and by the cross
to gain life eternal! Alas! when it can be said of us, "Yet the Lord
hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to
hear, unto this day; that ye might know that I am the Lord your God."
And what is their punishment? "They have forsaken the Lord, they have
provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger, they are gone away backward.
_Why should ye be stricken any more?_ Ye will revolt more and more!"
What a real loss of friends would this be! For by separating ourselves
through unbelief from Christ, we thereby for ever separate ourselves
from our friends in Christ, if they are with Him!

Ye who have experienced comfort from good in affliction, bless God!
"O Lord, my strength, my fortress, and my refuge in the day of
affliction!" "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me,
bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all
His benefits." Let the remembrance of the past, also, strengthen your
faith for the future. As you "let your requests be made known to God
with prayers and supplication," do not forget the "_thanksgiving_" for
this will help you henceforth to "be careful for nothing." He who has
led you out of Egypt, through "the depths," and across the desert,
will never leave you nor forsake you.

3. As you remember your _sins_, consider how very ignorant you are of
their number or their heinousness. But if you could enumerate each
sinful thought, word, and action committed during the past year and
during your past life, there is something in you _worse than sins_,
and that is _sin itself_, _the evil heart_, the wrong mind, out of
which sins proceed; for the corrupt tree is worse than any definite
quantity of fruit which it has produced; the ever-flowing bitter
fountain is worse than any definite quantity of water which has come
from it. But whatever you have been or done in time past, what do you
intend to be and to do _now_? Is it your intention to continue in
sin? However dreadful the thought is, yet many, if such is your real
intention, will sympathise with you. For many _do_ continue in sin,
and resolve to do so, for the present at least. Will you, then, permit
the year to close, and with an unconcerned eye behold all its sin and
sins added to those of other impenitent years, finally sealed up for
judgment? How will you then stand the reading of your autobiography?
Read over any page now, peruse the life of any day, and ask, Has
this been the life of one who believes there is a God to whom he is
responsible? Point out one solitary proof, and such as you think
Christ will accept, in all these twelve chapters of the past year,
of a heart which loved God, or had one mark of a sincere though an
imperfect follower of Jesus Christ. And if you cannot do so, will you
permit the volume to close for ever without a cry for mercy, without
imploring God to wipe out or destroy in the atoning blood of Jesus
these pages, which cry "Guilty" in every line? Will you not resolve
rather, through the grace given to every honest man who wishes it, to
begin and write a new volume, which shall witness to a changed life,
and be inscribed no longer with all that is selfish, and of the earth
earthy--"without God or Christ in the world." Let it be so, I beseech
of you, my reader. Have done, now and for ever, with this shocking
_mutiny_ against your God. End the weary, shameful strife. Be, then,
at peace with God, and remember that for _you_, if you believe in
Jesus, there is free pardon, restoration to favour, a new heart, a new
life, which is now life eternal.

And for you who have long given up sin as a master--who know that
while the "flesh wars against the spirit, the spirit wars against the
flesh," thank God and take courage! "Sin shall not have dominion over
you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace." Hear the words of
our invincible Leader, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world;"
"Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world."

This year we may die. Let this mere possibility lead us to redeem with
greater earnestness what remains of life to the service of our God; so
that when the next year dawns upon this world it will find us, if we
are in the other world, remembering our mercies before God's throne,
our sorrows for ever vanished, and our sins for ever blotted out; but
that if we are still here, it will see us living more worthy of our
mercies, finding true good in our sorrows, and obtaining the victory
over our sins!

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