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THE UNTRODDEN PATH:
A MEDITATION FOR THE OPENING YEAR:
BY THE REV. J.
Ye have not passed this way heretofore.'-JOSHUA III. 4. If it be a trite thing to say that this is a world of change, there is novelty enough in the events that suggest it. The changes themselves are new. Even the most certain of them, the seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night,' which'shall not cease' so long as 'the earth remaineth,' are full of variations; and the robes in which the earth adorns herself several times a year are always new. But it is in our human life that the principle of change has its swiftest manifestations. On this same old earth what generations of men have lived and died! What varying types of men! What activities, pleasures, achievements, history tells of, where all is silent now! What kingdoms and empires that once flourished-the world trembling under the tread of their armies, and all men dazzled with their splendour-have long ago vanished!
In these days, changes are more rapid. Our fathers had more time to think. Newspapers, steam-engines, telegraphs, accomplishing wonders for us, also bring upon us a rushing multiplicity of business that involves us in almost perpetual motion. Life's journey now is often too much like travelling by express train: so much that might interest and profit passed swiftly by; fields and trees and inviting scenery glanced at for a moment—and away! A year now is much more than a year used to be; and requires much more quick discernment, and a far more quiet mind, resolved and self-controlled, to avoid confusion, and to make the most of our larger opportunities. The discoveries of science, the inventions of genius, the race for wealth, the alarms of war, the scepticism that assumes identity with the spirit of enquiry, the endeavour to lay bare the mystery of thought while all but the material is excluded from investigation, the teaching that binds Almighty God to human ideas of order-all this, and we must add, the clearer manifestations of truth,-betoken a future more and more in contrast with the former days.
The effect is already everywhere observable. We feel it in our homes. We see it in our children. It stirs in all social life. It is apparent even among the more ignorant and unread. We meet with it in all Christian work. Nor is the advantage on the side of ungodliness, except where good men
VOL. IV.-SIXTH SERIES.
ignorantly idolize the methods and adaptations that have been perfectly successful in other circumstances and conditions. In some instances, the changing current of human thought must be stemmed ; in others, it only needs direction. Our principles are unchangeable : our methods necessarily change; and their chief excellence is in their adaptation to the changing moods and aspects of the time. We are the sworn enemies of sin; but if our army is to move only on certain lines, with which our adversaries themselves have become acquainted, and if our mode of attack is to be always the same, ignoring emergencies and opportunities that suggest a more effectual onslaught, no marvel if we are sometimes worsted. Measuring our duty and present action by what used to answer well, or by what now succeeds elsewhere, and forgetting to be 'wise as serpents,' and 'by all means save some,' the floods of ungodliness may roll on more broadly and disastrously than ever. But of this there is no need. All learning, all reason, all the beautiful, all that inspires and elevates, is ours. All the power of true science and philosophy
given to our Saviour-King; and, while His Spirit works silently through manifold agencies outside as well as within His Church, Behold,' saith He, 'I make all things new.'
And each separate life has its advances, its own turning-points and changes. A child is leaving home for school; the journey is over, the parental charge is tenderly, trustfully yielded, in part and for a time, to other hands, and while the father or mother returns home to find the difference there, the absent one has entered on entirely new surroundings, meets with new acquaintances and becomes the subject of new influences, new thoughts and hopes and fears—the
freedom and fun and frolic only a memory now. The youth must go to his apprenticeship; and whether it be far or near, on land or sea, he must take his place beside others, who have had the start of him; he must work as they do, bringing into subjection proud, rebellious thoughts, and battling victoriously with aching limbs and the tired feeling of the first weeks or months. Whether they are shy and timid, or elate and buoyant, as our children loosen from their early associations and take their first outlook on the world, we cannot have too much kindly and tender thought for them, nor make too careful a provision for their well-being. Their future for ever will be greatly affected, if not determined, by these first turnings in the way not passed heretofore.'
The arrival at manhood, the new business to be conducted on one's own account, the home we begin to call our own, the married life, the springing up of family joys and cares, the enlarging borders, the settled friendships, the more accurate knowledge, and the transitions that have marked new departures in thought and religious life—these are among the pleasanter ways into which we come with rejoicing, often after long anticipation. There are other changes the reverse of pleasant. Adverse winds blow upon, and sometimes blast, our cherished hopes; the horizon darkens; the heavens become black with clouds ; the threatening storm bursts mercilessly, and spends itself in "pitiless peltings'on our head. The waves run high. We are full of tossings to and fro.
'Riches make themselves
What shall we do? And, what will be the end? wings,' and 'fly away.' The tree is torn up by the roots to be transplanted in foreign soil. The nest in which we thought to die is rudely seized, and we must henceforth adapt ourselves to—we know not what. The spring and buoyancy of other days are leaving us. The shadow of death rests on those who ministered, and would still have ministered, to our joy. They are gone. Through some mistake or folly, some thoughtless word or only halfmeant utterance, or some secret cause we may not know, or knowing cannot reveal, we have missed the good designed for us. Bitter consequences of former and forgiven sin meet us ever and anon. Trusted friends are not the same. Affliction smites us to the dust. The days are long and dreary. The nights are disturbed with strange and sad reflections; and pain and weariness accumulate on the 'way not passed heretofore.'
Nor is it a pleasant thought to the man of health and vigour-that he has reached the summit of earthly life, and every future step must be downhill. More than half his time gone, even if he live to a good old age! And when the joyous working days are over, and 'the evil days'—in which men say they have no pleasure '—come, and the entrance to 'the valley of the shadow of death' appears in sight, stranger still must be the stirring thought and emotion as he descends this way not passed heretofore.'
In younger life there is sometimes an oppressive monotony in our days. The time seems long. Everything is slow. Almost every day is dull. The bright exceptions are but for a fleeting moment. The changes fairly hoped for, and promised, appear so distant, and there are so many contingencies between. 'I shall never be a man,' feels the young boy, to whom the next holiday seems the distance of an age. We live in the same old house, in the same style; are always meeting the same faces, and day by day doing the same things. It is always the same, even the short holidays and the Sundays are very much the same. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done, is that which shall be done : and there is no new thing under the sun.' It is wearisome. Others are more favoured : without much apparent thought or endeavour, they glide into new associations, into endless varieties of the pleasant and the beautiful; some of them, too, unable to appreciate their advantages and opportunities. We feel, or imagine, higher possibilities striking root in our own hearts, if only our circumstances, or the influences about us, were not always or so much the same. If only we had the chances others have!
Nor is the feeling quite confined to strong, exuberant youth. In older folk it appears occasionally as in a time of unsuccessful toil, or when patience only exasperates the offending, or when bodily affliction withdraws us from pleasurable excitements and busy scenes, and in pain and feebleness we drag on from month to month-the same way becoming sadly familiar. 0, how we should like a change! But the examination of this plausible and not unnatural desire, arising so much from a sense of painful monotony,
brings us face to face with what is more to be regretted than aught else that we complain of. We find much ignorance, and more or less self-will; childish inferences and reasonings based on appearances rather than on realities. We find great fear where no fear was.
And under the wearying sameness are bright suggestions, hidden meanings, too refined and beautiful and new for the outward ear to catch, too exquisite for the natural eye to see—things which have not 'entered into the heart of man,' but which God hath prepared for them that love Him '; and which the Spirit of Goodness only whispers in the ear of the most quiet and patient among men.
All life is a forward movement, for better or worse. There is addition, growth of some kind, every day. We cannot be exactly what we
The surrounding influences, in connection with the one weary round, are never quite the same. The enviable changes in other lives are often the meeting of many ordinary, and perhaps tedious, influences at a given point; and all in our life also—if longer in doing so—is designed to converge to some higher good. The deeds by which men have made their mark could not have been wrought but for the years of patient discipline and hard work by day and night, in which they prepared themselves for future glory. From the acorn to the oak, what long, long time for the development! but also, what a change! The desire to be transplanted is not good. All
a ! that is best and enduring is of silent, steady growth.
Besides, there is the uncertainty of all before us. The greatest surprises may be close at hand. EIGHTEEN HUNDRED AND EIGHTY is, to us, as a country, new and unexplored. The scenes which it will present to us, the events that will happen as we advance, the larger knowledge we shall gain, the new acquaintances we shall make, the perils, the pleasures, the weariness, the quiet resting-places' of the journey—are all unknown, and, in the detail, unimaginable. It is a 'dark continent,' less known to us than was the interior of Africa to Livingstone or Stanley. As a promised land' we may indeed
. ' regard it, but of its very locality we cannot be sure, whether it will be limited to the earthly, or will pass the bounds of the invisible and eternal. We have no spies to go before us, to bring their good or ill report. Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.' Over the entrance, therefore, of this New Year, for young and old, whether the changes be swift or slow, we will inscribe the words : ' Ye have not passed this way heretofore.'
And we will begin it with the lesson that past experience is no sufficient guide for the future; nor will we ever yield to the vain, miserable, ruinous feeling, that we know enough, and that as men of experience we may be trusted now. 'He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool'; even if his heart has thrilled and quivered under the longest, richest and most diverse experience. To know our ignorance, and that a false step now may lead us wrong for ever, will make us thoughtful and earnest. It should keep us on the alert, like Israel watching the priests as they dip their feet in the Jordan, all ready to follow in their track. It should impress on us the value of the eternal principles by which all life is governed, and by which, given