[The following, which we have prepared from the notes of our pastor, Eld. G. A. Lofton, was preached in the First Baptist Church, in this city, on the first Sabbath in 1873. We think it will be read with pleasure and profit by our readers, who will make due allowances for the injury done it by our report. We omit the introductory. - Ed. Baptist.]
First Baptist Church, Memphis, TN
By Eld. G. A. Lofton, Pastor
New Year's Sermon - 1873
The Baptist, newspaper
Text - "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.
"I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" - Philippians iii. 13, 14.
I - Let Us Forget the Things Which are Behind.
What are those things which are behind us? My brethren, it is a solemn thing to see a year of three hundred and sixty-five days pass away forever. The year 1872 is now numbered with the eternal ages that are past. Each season, each month, each week, each day, each hour, each minute, each second has gone into the presence of an Omniscient God, freighted with the burden of our lives - whether good or evil. Aye, thirty millions of seconds during 'this year, like winged messengers to the throne of God, have written their brief but infallible record of our lives Time belongs to God, and it will be sure to tell all our secrets, sooner or later Every moment lost or employed, tells its story, day by day, upon the burning pages of the book of accounts. They tell even our most secret thought yonder at the still hour of midnight, whether the soul breathes in prayer, or whether it wrankles with vice; whether it ponders on God, and truth, and duty, or whether it plots crime, or burns with passion, or reposes in the gentle embraces of slumber, the great boon of nature - her sweet restorer. Yes, golden moments, ye are all up there, holding before God the panorama of the past. O! let us to-day unroll the unmouldering record of last year, and examine, before we pass its confines forever.
1. What are these things which we are to forget, and which are now behind us?
2. Our sins.
1. As individuals.
2. As a church.
b. Our failures.
1. How much have we left undone?
2. What might we have done?
c. Our good works.
1. What have we given to God?
2. What have we said for him?
3. What have we exemplified?
4. How have we attended his sanctuary?
5. How have we observed the ordinances of his house?
6. How have we visited the sick?
7. How have we read God's word?
8. How have we prayed?
9. How have we prospered? For us brethren, God has done great things, whereof we should be glad. There have been added to our company within the last few months:
(a) Forty-one by baptism.
(b) Twenty-seven by letter.
(c) Six by restoration.
(d) Our prayer-meetings have become more interesting.
(e) Our congregations have greatly increased.
(f) Our Sunday-school b large and flourishing. There have been about twenty-seven conversions in it alone!
(g) We are prospering in the doctrines.
d. Our sorrows.
1. We have lost three by death.
2. Several small children.
3. Some have lost property.
4. Some have been bereaved; all these should be forgotten.
e. Our blessings.
1. Many have received their children to life in Christ.
2. Some have grown in grace.
3. Some have received of earthly things.
4. We are spared to live, and are blessed with many temporal blessings.
1. Now let us consider in what sense we are to forget these things.
a. There is a sinful recollection of the past with reference to our sins.
(a) We may cherish our sins; indulge them; glory in our shame.
(b) Or we may be discouraged at them; brood over them.
"Let the sorrows of the mind
Be vanished from the place;
Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less."
2. We may pine over our afflictions, or we may grow rebellious at them.
3. We may grow proud of our words, or become lethargic over them. All this is wrong.
b . There is a sinful forgetfulness of the past.
1. We should remember our sins, to do them no more.
2. We should remember our failures only to be stimulated to greater and renewed efforts. Valuable.
3. We should remember our afflictions, to be humbled by them.
4. We should remember our good works, to improve upon them.
5. We should remember our blessings, to be grateful.
1. He that puts his hand to the plow, and then looks back.
2. Israelites' flesh pots of Egypt.
3. Let the dead bury their dead.
4."Let the dead past bury its dead."
Illustrated in common life and business
II - Let us Reach Forth Unto the Things Which are Before.
If the past is important, the future, to us, now is more so. The future is to be a portion of our eternal past, on the account of which we are, some of us, to be judged or rewarded. If we fail of eternal life, it will ever be as with lost Dives, - "Son remember." It will be the past, then, over which we will have to suffer. The only forgetfulness of the past in eternity will be that which swallows us up in Christ Jesus. Still, even then, the Christian is to suffer the loss of his "wood, hay, stubble." But today, my brethren, let the past be what it may, hope stands yonder in the future, and bids us be of good cheer. If we have lost time, let us redeem the time. If we have broken our vows, let us gather up the fragments, and return unto our God with a contrite and a broken heart, and he will forgive us. The poorest and the most wretched and ragged prodigal may return , and if we have wasted our father's goods, he has an abundant hand and will make us rich again in his love and graces. If we have done many good works, much more only remains to be done. Like the development of art and science, the development of religion only increases its demands and necessities. Each step of life and grace only increases our responsibilities and the necessity of grander energies and efforts - sublimer vigilance, prayer and dependence. If we have grown in grace and love and influence, let us rise to the full measure of the stature of men and women in Christ Jesus. Let us reach forth unto the great things which are before us.
Another year lies before us. If the going out of a year is solemn, the coming in of a new one is far more so. It is true, we have bid adieu to the year gone by forever; and three hundred and sixty-five days nearer the tomb than a year ago. But we know the year that is past. We can never brook its dangers again. We know its short comings and failures - we can improve upon them, and avoid their recurrence; but the year 1873 is untried. None of us know its dangers, its trials, its snares, its sorrows, its bereavements. How many of these hearts shall bleed - nay, how many shall beat a year hence? Who of us will be alive then? How many shall be in the presence of God before that time shall have elapsed, and the coming year fled, as all its sisters, in the past? Oh! God, what a solemn thought! A few of us have gone the way of all the earth in the year past; who of us will share a like fate in the twelve months to come?
What shall we do in 1873? As we stand upon the threshold of the new year, let us reiterate the solemn question, What shall we do?
1. My brethren, let us trust. Nothing can supersede or substitute faith. God asks us nothing without faith. Without it, it is impossible to please him; for, whatsoever is without faith is sin. Let us be sure of this. If we get down upon our knees to pray without faith, it is sin, for it is a mockery. If we give our money without faith, it will do us no spiritual good. If we read, or work, or sing, or pray, no matter what we do, without faith it wiil do us no spiritual good, but harm, because it will displease God. Let us cultivate our faith by all means, and whatsoever we lack, God can supply, for he is the author and finisher of our faith - the giver of every good and perfect gift; and faith is the gift of God.
2. Let us learn the will of God. Knowledge is the food of faith. It is infinitely inferior to faith, but active and efficient faith cannot exist without knowledge. My brethren, will we make this a year of study? How much have we lost by our ignorance, and how criminal is that Christian who neglects to search the Scriptures - who neglects to "study" to show himself approved unto God - who fails to be able to give a reason for the reasonable hope that is in him?
3. Let us contend earnestly for the faith delivered once for all to the saints. My brethren, who of you are Bible Christians? Who of us will be faithful to God's law - God's truth - God's church - against all error and unpopularity during the year 1873? How many tests will be applied! How fiercely you may be assailed and persecuted! O! God, give to the First Baptist Church in Memphis the faith, the knowledge, the grace, that will enable her to dare to do right.
4. Let us work. Work perfects faith, although faith produces that work. Work gives vigor to the natural system; so it does to the spiritual. Woe to that church that does not work! Some of our sisters and brethren have done much in 1872. May God give you the grace and the courage to do likewise in the year 1873. Some of you have visited the sick; taken the poor by the hand; cheered up the absentee and the backslider; exhorted the sinner; recognized the stranger; gathered the little ones to the Sunday-school, and built and encouraged poor Zion. May you go on in your good work, and be blessed.
5. Be constant in your attendance upon the meetings of the church. Some of you have been faithful amid scenes of darkness and trial, even while some have deserted, during this year. No conference, no communion has occurred, unless some of these faces have been present; some of these eyes have wept; some of these voices have sung and prayed. Be faithful, brethren, in assembling yourselves in the sanctuary of the living God. His way is in the sanctuary.
6. Be liberal, brethren. Be sure not to rob God. Nothing but the purest ignorance, or the starkest infidelity, can refuse to give to God the interest due upon your borrowed talents, whether of time, influence, intellect, or money.
7. Walk circumspectly. My brethren, you are in the midst of a great cloud of witnesses, and in the midst of a great crowd of detectives. Be sure every act of your life will be scrutinized during this year, as well as every other year of your life. Walk and watch, and give diligence to exalt your conduct in business, in pleasure, in society, in every relation of life. Go nowhere that Jesus would not go with you; do nothing that God would not bless; and do nothing that would compromise the cause of Christ.
8. Above all things, pray. Pray always and faint not. Pray without ceasing. "Prayer is the breath of God in man." - "The soul's sincere desire" - "The simplest form of speech" - "The Christian's vital breath." No Christian can dare to neglect prayer. Pray in your family; pray in your closet; pray along the street; pray behind the counter; pray in the prayer meeting; pray in the church. By all means pray!
These are the things to which we must reach forth. Now, what must we not do? Paul tells us that the racer must be "temperate in all things." He says again that he must "lay aside every weight," and the "sin that doth so easily beset" him, and run with patience the race set. before him. Christ says, avoid the appearance of evil. His apostle says again, that we are not only to be temperate in all things, but if even the eating of meat and the drinking of wine shall be the source of offence and sin, we must neither eat nor drink while the world standeth. Then what shall we not do? What weights shall we throw aside? What besetting sins are in our pathway?
1. Abandon the dance.
2. Abandon the circus and theater.
3. Abandon covetousness.
4. Abandon the accursed bowl, the pipe, the quid, the brush, the box.
5. Abandon idleness.
6. Pay our debts religiously.
7. Abandon lying, which is guile and deceit.
Let us thus press forward in all these things. Reach forth. Reach forth, and take a higher hold on the cross.
1. The only safety of the Christian lies in development - progress.
a. Stand still, and difficulty comes.
b. Go back, and difficulties thicken.
c. Go forward, and difficulties dissipate.
(1.) Moses at th e Red Sea.
(2.) Napoleon at St. Bernard.
(3.) "Go Forward," the watch-word of the Christian.
3. Development the grandst proof of Christianity.
a. In purity. "Every one that hath this hope, purifyeth himself."
b. Growth in stature. "Come up to the measure of," etc.
c. Growth in strength. Be strong in the Lord. Quit you like men.
III - Finally, Press Toward for the Prize of our High Calling of God in Christ Jesus.
1. Mark the significance of each word in this expression.
(1.) The racer presses with all his might.
b. Presses toward the mark.
(1.) Keeps his eye on the goal.
(2.) Looks neither to right or left.
(3. ) Never look back.
c. Presses toward the mark for the prise. [sic]
(1.) Heaven - eternal life.
(2.) The unfading crown.
(3.) The undying palm.
(4.) The ever melodious harp.
(5.) The spotless robe.
(6.) The imperishable throne.
(7.) The tree of life.
(8.) The rivers of bliss.
d. The prise of our high calling of God.
(2.) High calling.
(3.) Calling of God.
e. High calling of God in Jeaus Christ.
2. Hence, heaven offers every inducement.
Press forward, my brethren. We look not behind. We reach forth in the discharge of duty; but press on - press forward. How beautiful that song of Doddridge:
"Awake, my soul; stretch every nerve,
And press with vigor on;
A heavenly race demands thy zeal,
And an immortal crown.
"A cloud of witnesses around
Hold thee in full survey;
Forget the steps already trod,
And onward urge thy way.
" 'Tis God's all-animating voice
That calls thee from on high;
'Tis his own hand presents the prize
To thine uplifted eye.
"That prize with peerless glories bright,
Which shall new lustre boast,
When victors' wreaths and monarchs' gems
Shall blend in common dust."
[From Eld. G. A. Lofton, Pastor, FBC, Memphis, TN, "New Year's Sermon - 1873," The Baptist, newspaper, January 11, 1873. CD edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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