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The Language of a Birthday

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The Language of a Birthday

8 minuten leestijd

The correspondence of Rev. J. Newton numbers many pages, including many letters written to his wife. The following one dates from 1757 and was sent to her for her birthday. Newton had a gift of expressing his thoughts in clear language. Are not the concerns he raised worth our consideration?

My dearest M,

I would not give you occasion to think that the return of your birthday is less interesting to me at present than it was seven years ago, or that my concern in it gives me less pleasure now I am with you in Liverpool than when I was exiled from you on the coast of Africa. It is a part of my happiness and demands my daily acknowledgement and praise to God that my regard for you is no more capable of being weakened by time than heretofore by absence. You will not expect me to address you in the strain of modern politeness, but I am persuaded that you will favorably accept what I may write because you will approve of my motive and my sincerity.

I often wonder at the ill-timed festivity and gaiety with which the return of a birthday is usually observed. Multitudes who, with respect to the past, can find little to make them reflect with pleasure on their having been brought into the world, and, with respect to the future, tremble in the midst of all their parade at the serious apprehension of death, yet agree to drown both the past and the future in noise and dissipation. For my own part, I see sufficient reason to make my birthday more especially a season of serious reflection. And I recommend the practice to you.

For what is the language of a birthday? Has it not a warning voice to remind us that another year of our time and opportunities is closed upon us (time and talents for which we are accountable and seasons which cannot be recalled), and that death and eternity have advanced nearer to us by the stride of a whole year? Therefore I judge that a birthday is a very improper day for mortals to be frolicsome. To those whose hearts are deeply engaged in the things of this world, I should imagine the very thought of the occasion would be like the handwriting on the wall to Belshazzar (Daniel 5 ) , sufficient to put a full stop to their feast and to turn their joy into heaviness. But such is our depravity, that till grace touches the heart, the most obvious and most interesting truths can make no proper impression upon us. But I seem to forget that I am writing to you.

I am no enemy to joy; and I am sure the real Christian, who has peace with God and in his own conscience, has both the best title to joy and the best disposition for it. I invite you to rejoice; but let it be in the right way and in the right manner. "Rejoice in the Lord," and "rejoice with trembling." Let us learn from the first, the sure grounds we have for rejoicing; and from the second, the many considerations which should correct and qualify our joy, that it may not deviate into a wrong channel and become sinful and dangerous.

I say, "Rejoice in the Lord." I congratulate you on your birthday; not to give you a vain complacence in yourself, but to lead you back to the time and circumstances of your birth, that you may reflect upon the goodness of God. You were born of creditable and affectionate parents, in easy circumstances, with a body neither diseased nor deformed and a mind endued with rational faculties, and with a soul formed for immortality, capable of loving and serving God here and being happy with Him for ever. Your lot was cast in a land favored with the gospel, without which all temporal blessings would have been of little worth; but if you take them together and compare your own state with that of millions of your fellow-creatures, what great reasons have you to rejoice in this first view.

But I would lead your thoughts forward from thence, step by step, through every succeeding year, to this day; through infancy, childhood, and especially youth, that dangerous period in which such numbers make shipwreck of their hopes and prospects. Must you not say, "Surely mercy and goodness have followed me all the days of my life"? What sorrows, what sicknesses, what snares have you either been exempted from or preserved safely through? How many within the circle of your own acquaintance have been cut short before they reached your term of life? How many who are yet living are suffering from evils to which you are equally exposed? I make no scruple to number our happy marriage among the blessings for which you see cause to be thankful; that it pleased God to bring us together, to bless us with true affection, to restore us to each other after long separations, to recover us from long sicknesses, to fix us in our present situation, and, above all, to direct our hopes beyond the present world for our chief happiness.

This is the crowning mercy. I f the Lord has shown you and me those things which are hidden from many of the wise and prudent; if we know our disease and our remedy, that we are sinners, helpless and hopeless in ourselves, but sinners for whom a sure and free salvation is provided in Jesus Christ, and that we have ground to hope that we are interested in the pardons and promises of the gospel; that the hairs of our head are numbered, and that all things are working for our good; that God will be our sun and shield here and our portion for ever; if these things are so, we may well rejoice, but still it must be in the Lord, for all our good, present and hoped for, is from Him alone.

But I say, secondly, "Rejoice with trembling." Our joy in this world cannot be unmixed. There are unavoidables, which, though they cannot take it from us, will and ought to temper it, such as these: An ingenuous sense of our unsuitable returns for so many and great mercies. May God preserve from that terror of mind on account of sin, which, sooner or later, will be the portion of those who know Him not. We need not be distressed, for though we have sinned, Christ has died for sinners and is able to save to the uttermost. Yet, certainly, we have much cause to grieve and be ashamed that we have lived so long to so little purpose, that we have received so much and rendered so little, and that, after all our experiences and resolutions, we are still so inactive and so unstable in His service.

The snares, temptations, and enemies around us may make us thoughtful, if they do not make us tremble. These would surely prevail against us at last were not the Lord on our side. We may almost tremble, likewise, for the sins of those among whom we live. Lot chose to reside in Sodom because it was a pleasant country and well watered; but the sins of the inhabitants soon made him forget the advantages of the place. His righteous soul was vexed from day to day by their ungodly deeds. And so we shall feel if we have a due regard for the glory of God, the love of Christ, and the souls of our neighbors.

We have just reason to fear lest mercy, so long despised, should be withdrawn. Let us, like good Eli, tremble for the ark o f God. In this view we may tremble for ourselves, for we have contributed our part to the filling up the measure of national iniquity. We have neither borne that testimony against sin in public, nor mourned for it in secret, as we ought. And though, I trust, it shall be well with us at last, who can teil what scènes of distress and difficulty we may be appointed to struggle through while we are upon earth? Therefore we should tremble while we rejoice.

I could enlarge my homily, would time and paper permit. In brief, you have, to my comfort, been spared to finish another year. The event o f the next is uncertain. I would therefore exhort you and myself to live this year as though it would, as though it certainly were to be, our last. It may possibly prove so. Let us renew our application to the throne of grace and the blood of sprinkling. Let us pray that we may be always ready, that our hearts may be withdrawn from worldly things and be fixed, trusting in the Lord. And then come life, come death, let peace be continued, or trouble be multiplied, nothing shall be able greatly to move us.

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Bekijk de hele uitgave van maandag 1 maart 2004

The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's

The Language of a Birthday

Bekijk de hele uitgave van maandag 1 maart 2004

The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's

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