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denominational objects for which it was started. The United Presbyterian Church has a rapidly and steadily widening sphere of influence and usefulness both at home and abroad," and our periodical should seek to follow her throughout that range as an humble but zealous co-worker. Hitherto, denominational magazines have seldom, as well as only very partially, shared in the success of those churches which they represented; and too little attention has been given to this strange fact, or to the circumstances that might account for it. The failure of those press-organs involves blame for some parties. Happily, the United Presbyterian Magazine has enjoyed exceptional favour and prosperity, though these are still far below the mark that might reasonably be expected. The conductors hope that, along with the increased exertions on their part to render it efficient and acceptable, the ministers, elders, and members of the Church will promptly do what they can to make it triumphantly successful--an undertaking which is neither desperate nor difficult.
THE CIRCLE OF RECOMPENSE: A SERMON.
BY THE REV. JOHN BISSET, NAIRN.
“God requireth that which is past.”—ECCLES. iii. 15. THERE is both sound philosophy and true religion in this passage. And although we do not intend to descant largely on the first, we would miss the design of the writer if we did not so discover and present it, as to illustrate and enforce the nature and duties of the last. Taken literally, the text means, 6 God requires that which has escaped.” And, as He requires the past, He has secured its return again, in due order. We have here the announcement of a general law, which holds true in nature, providence, and grace. God has so purposed and so planned, that the decree of the text shall be infallibly executed in the physical and moral world. There is substantial permanence, and yet continual change, in both. Our world, viewed physically or morally, has been a scene of sameness from the beginning, and yet of changes every moment. During no two moments are things precisely the same; and yet, during the whole lapse of time-from the eternity that went before it, to the eternity that is to follow-all things remain the same as God ordained them, with regard to essence, motion, principle, kind, purpose, or end.
God's works of creation are complete. And having finished them, and rested from them, nothing can be added to them or taken from them. No being but Himself can create or annihilate an atom. And whatsoever God doeth, is done for ever. This work has a reference to eternity ; for time is nothing to Him; and God doeth it that men may fear before Him. So that no new order of beings, in air, earth, or water, can be produced. God will not create more, because nothing more is needed to carry out His purposes and plans; and man is as impotent to add the smallest fractional part to the complement of existence, by creating power, as to add a cubit to his own stature. There is, therefore, no new thing under the sun.
The phenomena, or appearances of God's works, are often new to us, because of their diversified combinations. But these are produced by the movements which God has appointed—like the different appearances produced by turning a kaleidoscope ; to which, however, not one pebble can be added, por from which one extracted, to produce an appearance which could not have occurred before. " That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been.”
All things are moving in circular orbits. They come and go, and go NO. I., VOL. V., NEW SERIES-JANUARY 1861.
and come, according to the laws which the Creator has ordained. One generation of men passeth away, and another generation cometh, in constant succession, as wave impels wave to the shore. The sun also ariseth, and goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose. His apparent diurnal and annual courses produce to us, in regular succession, times and seasons, and days and years. “ The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north ; it whirleth about continually ; and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.” 66 All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full;" because what goes into it comes out of it. By evaporation the clouds are formed; and they, again, distil themselves in rain upon the mountains, which forms streams; and they, uniting together, form rivers; and thus the circulating process continues; so that, unto the place whence the rivers came, thither they return again. “Everything in the whole economy of nature has its revolutions ; summer and winter, heat and cold, rain and drought, seed-time and autumn, with the whole system of corruption and generation, alternately succeed each other, so that whatever has been shall be again.” God does not create a new sun every morning, nor a new moon every month, though we call her new.
The past is brought round, to suit the present; and the present will suffice for all time coming. The productions of the spring are not new. They are just what they have been heretofore. Every tree, and plant, and flower, and seed, has a production after its kind. This has continued from the beginning, and it will do so to the end. We only see the same things, in kind, which our forefathers saw, and which others will see after us : for God requires that the past shall return again in its proper order.
And, as the God of nature is also the God of providence and of grace, we may expect to find the same law or order in His moral kingdom as in His natural. And this, our text affirms, is actually the case. As the moral Governor of the world, God requires that the past return again in its proper order. “ That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been.” God directs and governs the world now as He has done from the beginning; and no new plan will be adopted till the consummation of all things. His moral procedure with men has eternity in view; and the whole of His providential dispensations, which are guided by the same wisdom, justice, and mercy, through all time, will move onward, without alteration, until that termination is reached. These are the wheels, in the prophet's vision, full of eyes, moving in a mysterious manner to us, yet wisely accomplishing God's purposes in time, by revolution after revolution, until His great design shall be completed and developed in eternity; and this without one wheel more being ever needed, to those already in motion, in the mighty and all-comprehensive machine. God's revelation, too, is now completed, and nothing shall be added to it, or taken from it, until Christ shall come in His glory. That revelation brings before us law and gospel, which have been, and will be, substantially the same through all time. The principles of morality and religion are, therefore, unchangeably the same, being derived from them. Vice now is just what it has been, and will be ; and the same is true of virtue. There have been different economies of religion, adapted to the state of the Church and the world ; but religion itself has undergone no change. We have the same object of worship, the same medium, and the same Spirit by which we draw nigh. The Church, through all time, and through all eternity, will only hear of one Saviour, and one Spirit, and one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in them all. There have never been, and there
never will be, more ways than one of justifying, sanctifying, and saving a sinner. The principles on which God will always justify and condemn, pardon and punish, save and destroy, have been ordained of old, and revealed to man from the beginning of the world. “ That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been.” And, as the whole of our future will soon be present, and no sooner present than past—what a solemn consideration, that the past course of our thoughts, words, and actions has been flowing round, by the requirement of God, to meet us in eternity! Although much of the past may be forgotten by us, it is not irrecoverably lost. Everything which has contributed to form the character, either good or bad—everything which has had a moral bearing on the soul, affecting its relation to God and eternity, will meet it at the judgment-seat. For "God requireth that which is past."
He requires an account of past time and opportunities. Time is given us to prepare for eternity. It is a precious inheritance, whose measured portions may be turned to good account. But if we shall squander it away in sin, or, through lack of a due impression of the responsibility which attaches to us, as the rational and accountable trustees of that valuable commodity, which the wealth of the world cannot redeein when lost, neglect to improve it, for our own spiritual welfare and the glory of God,—it would have been better for us to have had no share of time allotted us better for us if we had never been born. Our life here is our seed-time for eternity; and if we, through a carnal indolence, sleep away that precious season, or waste it in worldly pursuits, will not retribution cause spiritual want to rush upon us, at last, like an armed man? And with what shield will we then be able to defend ourselves? When worldly enjoyment passes away from the soul of the man who lived for it, it leaves a vacuum in that soul, with nothing to fill it but remorse, as the consequence of the past.
In the beginning of this chapter, we are told that “to everything there is a season. and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” But, if the thing is not done in the season God hath given, it remains undone. If the purpose is not put into practice in the time assigned by God, another thing will come round, and defeat it. The wheel of destiny turns, and brings to us a time to weep for what we have lost, instead of a time to laugh ; a time to mourn over our folly, instead of a time to dance; a time to die, without having gained the great end of life, instead of a time to live. There is, indeed, no such time mentioned, inasmuch as we begin to die as soon as we begin to live. How many have wished, at the close of a mis-spent life, for a second opportunity to live it over again, and improve it; or, that it might be lengthened out for a little, to give them time to repent, and implore mercy from God, ere the darkness of death closes in upon them, and their doom is fixed for ever! But oh! the wish is vain. No second chance is given to run the race of life. When the goal is reached, time expires, and only lives again in its consequences, to those who have finished their course. When the last hour has come, it cannot be prolonged a moment. When the glass of life has run done, there is no being that can turn it. The wheels of time never, never run backward. Let us, therefore, not be deceived, for God is not mocked. “If we sow the wind, we shall reap the whirlwind,” -the same in kind, and increased in degree. “ If we sow to the flesh, we shall of the flesh reap corruption ; but if we sow to the spirit, we shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." And such a harvest, from the proper use or abuse of the seed-time of this life, must be gathered by us.
6. For God requireth that which is past."
The same is true of past gifts and privileges. And these are numerous. If I should count them, they are more than can be numbered by me. But as God requires them, He can and will bring them all to our remembrance at last. We cannot, however, be ignorant of the following :-The gift of His Son to save us ; the gift of His Spirit to quicken and sanctify us ; the gift of His word to be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path; the gift of reason, of health, of prosperity, and of influence; the means of grace and religious privileges ; -all these He has conferred upon us for our spiritual and eternal benefit and His glory. And are we to imagine, that no after call will be made upon us to render an account of our proper use or abuse of these talents? Are they trifles not worthy of being mentioned! Has He not with the gifts put into our hands an explicit notification to this effect, when he says, “ Occupy till I come ?” Does not this warn us that He will come- - when we must give an account of our stewardship, and when He will expect His own with usury? And we know what He will say to each of those who faithfully improved these gifts: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” And what He will say of every one who hides his talent in the earth, or lays it up in a napkin: “ Cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness ; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We may ignore our responsibility—forget our spiritual privileges and advantages, and thus bury our abuse of them in oblivion. But will they remain buried ? No; they will rise from the dead with other accusers—such as the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon, and Sodom and Gomorrah-to condemn us with a guilt proportioned to the number and magnitude of the gifts and privileges we have neglected to improve. For “ God requireth that which is past.
This is also true of past sins and omissions of duty. That law by which is the knowledge of sin, has recorded against us, with the faithfulness of an omniscient observer, every transgression of thought, word, and deed. In every such act there is a moral element which makes it imperishable. There is immortality in the essence of every sin. It cannot be lost or become extinct. It stands against the sinner's name, in the books of remembrance, marked according to its aggravations. And when the books are opened, every transgression of every man will be read out, and brought again to his own recollection, that it may receive the just recompense of reward. There is no law in the universe more certain in its operation than this, that “the evil men do survives and comes back upon them.” The laws of nature may, by the will of God, be suspended for a time; but this is as unchangeable as His own nature. Not only will men have to give account of every sinful act they do, but of every idle word they speak, and of every evil thought they think, at the judgment-bar of final reckoning. “The profane word, the impure thought, the unjust transaction-they are gone, like the wind that whistled past,--and the soul of the sinner seems to have nothing more to do with them.” Yes; but they have more to do with the soul. As the wind turns round in its circuit, so will they ; and meet the soul, and claim it, and cling to it, as their parent, at the judgment-seat. And what a dreadful thought is this! If the conscience-smitten sinner has to say, in the place where God forgives sins, “ Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up,” what horror must the unpardoned feel, when the iniquities of their past life shall rush upon them, in the place 6 where no acts of pardon are past,” but where judgment shall be laid to the line, and righteousness to the plummet! Dives felt in hell, that he had to do with the past. All his good things were past, and all the evil he had