Below is a sermon Andrew Fuller preached to mark a New Year. I have only added the headings and updated the spelling of a few words.
David E. Prince
“The acts of David, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, with all his reign and his might, and the times that went over him, and over Israel, and over all the kingdoms of the countries.”—1 Chron. 29:29, 30.
There is something in the manner of the sacred writers peculiar to themselves. A common historian might have glanced at the reign of David, and referred to other books in which it was described; but viewing the events of it only with the eye of a politician, his diction, though elegant and instructive, would leave no impression upon the heart. The sacred historians felt what they wrote. Eyeing the hand of God in all things, they conceive of them, they represent them, in an affecting light.
There is something in the phraseology of this passage which is singularly impressive. It opens at once to our contemplation the constant vicissitudes of human affairs. We see and feel, as in a moment, that the same affecting scenes which are passing over the world in our times have passed over it in former ages. Society may assume different shapes and forms; but it is essentially the same. “The things that are, are the things that have been; and there is no new thing under the sun.”
Our Insignificance and Entire Dependence upon God
We are also led to view the great current of human affairs as moving on without our consent, and without being subject to our control. We bear a part in them, but it is like the fishes playing in the stream; which passes over them independent of their will, and returns no more. What an idea does it give of our insignificance and entire dependence upon God! But though our influence in counteracting the great events of time be very small, yet their influence upon us is great. They bear a relation to us, as they formerly did to David and Israel, and the kingdoms of the countries, and leave an important impression upon us. We are either the better or the worse for the times that have gone over us, and may be so to eternity.
The vicissitudes that pass over us during a single human life, and the impressions which they leave behind them, are subjects which, if realized, would overwhelm the mind. There is a current of national changes which is passing continually. What times have passed over the nations of Europe within our remembrance! Some have risen, some have fallen, some enlarged, and some contracted. What multitudes of lives have been lost! How much of human nature has been developed! What evidence has been afforded of the enmity of man’s heart against the gospel, and the insufficiency of all human devices to give happiness to the world without it! What seeds have been sown for future change, the fruits of which may be seen to the end of time!
And while the page of history records the acts of the great, whether good or bad, there are others which it overlooks, but which are no less interesting, on account of the near relation they bear to us. There is a current of changes within the circle of our immediate acquaintance. What a number of deaths, of new faces, and of new circumstances! Poverty, power, and influence have changed hands; those whose fathers were abject are raised on high; while others, who have been delicately educated, are sunk into wretchedness. Nor do these changes extend merely to our acquaintance, but to ourselves. There are few of us but have had our times of sickness and of health, of prosperity and of adversity, of joy and sorrow. Times when unions were formed, and times when they have been dissolved; times when children have been born, and times when they have died; times when we have been so happy that we thought nothing could make us miserable, and times when we have been so miserable as to despair of ever again being happy.
The Cause and Kingdom of Christ
But these are things mostly of a civil nature. There is also a current of changes continually passing over us of a religious kind. The cause and kingdom of Christ while in this world is subject to constant vicissitude. In some places it prospers, in others it declines. Upon the whole, however, it is going on, and it becomes us to mark its progress. It was in one life that Israel forsook Egypt, and was planted in Canaan; in one life they were carried into captivity; and in one life brought back again; in one life the Son of God became incarnate, and accomplished our redemption; in one life the gospel was preached almost over the whole earth; in one life the Reformation was effected; and it may be in one life that antichrist may come to his end, and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ. Our life has been cast in an eventful period, and that of our children may be more so.
But if, as has been remarked, the events of time bear a relation to us, and leave an impression upon us, it becomes us to inquire what impression those times which have passed over us have left upon our minds:—
Great numbers of them are disregarded, and they can leave no good impression. All that was wrought in Judea, in the times of Augustus and Tiberius, was overlooked by the great mass of mankind. It filled some few with joy unspeakable; but the world in general took but little notice of it. The Greeks, Romans, and other nations went on just as we do; scheming, intriguing, buying, selling, amassing fortunes, spending them, waging wars, and struggling for the highest posts of honor. Many never heard of it, and most that did cared for none of these things. With what contempt did Festus speak of a cause which came before him, relative to faith in Christ! “Certain questions of Jewish superstition, and of one Jesus, who was dead, and whom Paul affirmed to be alive!” Many of those who beheld the miracles of Christ, and heard the preaching of the gospel, wondered and perished.
Missing God’s Hand
Thus things of the greatest moment may pass over us disregarded, and consequently can leave no good impression. It was the same at the Reformation from popery. God wrought a great work in that day; but the mass of mankind saw it not. They were each pursuing their schemes of ambition, or covetousness, or sensuality; and so did not profit by it: and thus it is at this day. The principal actors upon the theatre of human affairs have their respective objects in view; but they see not God’s hand. Nor is it much otherwise with the spectators: some admire, others fear, and others are filled with abhorrence; but few regard the works of the Lord, or discern the operation of his hands.
In others, the things which have passed over them may have made some degree of impression upon them, and yet the issue of it may be doubtful. Under threatening providences, or close preaching, they have been affected not a little—have heard the word gladly, and done many things—have been greatly moved, and reformed in their behavior; but, after all, it is doubtful whether their hearts be divorced from their idols.
On some, however, the things which have passed over us have had a good effect, and require to be recollected with thankfulness. One can remember a providence which brought him under the word, or into a praying family or religious connection; another, a conversation, a sermon, or a solitary walk, in which he saw and felt the light of life, and from which period his feet were turned from the ways of death.
The Changes of Time Should Make Us Humble
Finally, A recollection of the times which have passed over us, over Israel, and over the nations, will furnish matter for much humility and trembling, even though we should have profited by them; and if we have not, it is a subject the realizing of which would overwhelm us. What opportunities have we had of glorifying God, which have passed by unnoticed! what instructive lessons, under which we have been dull of learning! what rebukes, without being effectually corrected! and what narrow escapes from temptation, the falling into which had been worse than death! Neither have we sufficiently regarded the operations of God’s hand upon the world and the church, so as to be properly affected by them.
And if such reflections be furnished in regard of good men, what must be the retrospection of the wicked! Youth has passed over them, and left only the impression of guilt, shame, and remorse; or, what is worse, a gust to react its follies, even when they have lost the capacity. Prosperity has made them proud, and adversity filled them with hardness and rebellion of heart. They have been afflicted, and have not called upon God; or if they have, no sooner has it subsided than they have ceased. Death has approached them, and in their fright they have entered into solemn vows; but all have quickly been forgotten. How many slighted opportunities, solemn warnings, tender sermons, and powerful convictions will come into the account at the last day!