[This message by Rev Donald MacLean was distributed to his Portree congregation on 1 January 1952.]
My Dear Friends
This is the third time I have had occasion to address you by means of the printed page at the close of one year and the opening of another. The passage of time leaves its mark on every sphere of our activities. We, ourselves, get older; our families change either as Death removes a member here and there, or some leave to earn their living in another part of the county; nor is our congregation without visible tokens of the inescapable fact that here we have no continuing city. The world around us presents changes which would not have been credited even ten years ago. The question arises: where shall we find a rock which shall remain unmoved by the ebb and flow of events and circumstances so keenly affecting us on every hand? To this query there can only be one answer, “The Lord liveth; and blessed be my Rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted” (Ps. 18:46). The unchangeable Jehovah is the Saviour of His people. “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Matt. 3:6).
To enjoy a portion in that salvation is the greatest blessing a sinner can receive. That blessing must become a personal possession while we are in this world, for once we enter Eternity our state is fixed for ever, “and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there shall it be” (Eccl. 11:3). Therefore, when we are disposed at this time of year to consider the events of the past and to indulge hopes for the future, surely we should not neglect to consider what hope we have in prospect of the Eternity to which each new year hastens us.
There is the hope of the hypocrite, which shall perish, “whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be a spider’s web” (Job 8:14). There is also the hope of the truly converted soul which shall never be put to shame for “the Lord will be hope of His people, and the strength of the children of Israel” (Joel 3:16), so that the “righteous hath hope in his death” (Prov. 14:32). Those who become heirs of the “good hope through grace” do so not in virtue of any goodness which they possess or intend to do, but solely because they have been brought into saving union with “the Hope of Israel and the Saviour thereof in time of trouble,” the Lord Jesus Christ, Who came to seek and to save that which was lost.
The work which Christ completed in his glorious Person as “Emmanuel, God with us,” made a full satisfaction to the claims of Law and Justice on behalf of all those who shall eventually be in their Father’s House. In Him, therefore, is to be found justification, adoption, sanctification, and everlasting glory, and all who find Him, enjoy fellowship with Him in the pardon of their sins, in their being made partakers, in a measure, of the peace that passeth all understanding, and in their tasting of that love which causes them to say, “We will be glad and rejoice in Thee, we will remember thy love more than wine” (Song 1:4). Is there anything in this world to be compared to entering a New Year on the bosom of the unsearchable love of Christ!
In order that sinners may taste of this love and peace and be made partakers of this hope, the means of grace are set up in the world. As the brazen serpent was set up in the wilderness in the camp of Israel so that whosoever would look to this serpent would be healed of the wounds of the fiery serpent, so Christ is held up on the pole of the everlasting gospel and whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. The brazen serpent was also evidence to the Israelites that God was not willing any should perish, and was a token of His favour. Similarly, when Christ in the gospel is kept before a people, surely that is a great favour and a token that God is still waiting to be gracious.
Our fathers clearly discerned that Satan’s aim was to take away from the people of this land the Truth of God in its purity and, as they, themselves, had tasted the refreshing waters of the river whose streams make glad the city of God, they sought to preserve that blessing for their children and nation free from the poison of the god of this world. That blessing we still have in the kindness and mercy of the God of our fathers, and if we pass to Eternity with a false hope, we shall have to smite on our own breast.
The means of grace will avail us nothing in a spiritual and eternal sense, however, apart from the power and working of the Holy Spirit. Christ is now exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high, but is still present in this world by the Spirit by Whom He makes Himself known. Therefore He said, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).
In this sense it must be acknowledged that we live in times similar to Jeremiah, when “the Hope of Israel” was “as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night” (Jer. 14:8). It is to be feared that Christ is a stranger in the great majority of our households, and even those whom He visits from time to time have the complaint that He does not tarry long. The reason for this is not that there is any change with Him, but that “our iniquities testify against us, for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against Thee” (Jer. 14:7).
Our sins as a nation, as a congregation, as families, and as individuals, have grieved away the blessed Spirit of promise until we have become as the mountains of Gilboa, of which David said, “Let there be no dew, neither let there be rain upon you” (2 Sam. 1:21). Hence conversions to God are almost unknown, and in the place where there should be the cry of the new birth, the silence of spiritual death reigns. I would not be faithful to your souls were I to hide the seriousness of the fact, for it means the great majority are going to Eternity with a false hope. The awakening must come in Time or else in Eternity.
Let us then, each one for himself and herself, and as families and a congregation, seek grace to plead earnestly for the return of that blessed Spirit, Who alone is able to convince us of sin and make Christ glorious in our eyes. Let us confess our manifold transgressions and, taking up the language of the Psalmist, pray:
Against us mind not former sins;
Thy tender mercies show;
let them prevent us speedily,
for we’re brought very low.
For thy names’s glory, help us Lord,
Who hast our Saviour been:
Deliver us; for Thy name’s sake,
O purge away our sin.
(Ps. 79:8-9, metrical version.)
With best wishes for your spiritual and temporal welfare.
Your affectionate Pastor,