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EDINBURGII ECCLESIASTICAL JOURNAL.
A HOMILY FOR THE LAST DAY OF THE YEAR EIGHTEEN
HUNDRED AND FORTY-EIGHT.
It is impossible to conclude a year of our lives without regret. We
It is natural for us to cling to all things with which we have been
Our regret is heightened into pain and sorrow, if what
These feelings, however, do not arise from the accident of our com-
according to the laws of our mental constitution, made our thoughts and feelings entwine themselves around it in a thousand folds, as the ivy twists itself round the tree or the wall which happens to be nearest. So we take leave of the departing year mournfully, not because it has been a prosperous or a calamitous one to us, but because it has been so long our companion ; because it and we have been fellow-pilgrims in the same journey, fellow-soldiers in the same campaign—who have looked so often in each other's faces, and seen each other near so long. This it is which makes the word “ farewell” sound so dreary, that we are now to lose one who has been with us many a day, so that a sense of loneliness and desolation steals over us.
It may be useful for us to cast our eyes back for a few minutes on the year which is so near its close ; and no doubt it will, if we study it attentively, yield us some useful lessons, both of a public and of a private kind.
I am well aware of the propensity of the human mind to exaggerate whatever is at hand, in comparison of that which is absent or distant. Yet making all reasonable allowances for this strong tendency, which is the source of so many delusions and mistakes, I do not think there can be any great error in asserting, that a year more fruitful in great and striking events has not occurred since the commencement of the Christian era. The multitude of those events; their remarkable character; their wide diffusion ; their novelty in some important respects ; their unexpected occurrence ; all these features give to these events a character almost unique and unprecedented.
In Italy, we have seen civil and political reform emanating from a Pope ; and an impetus given to revolution all over Europe by that power which always till now has most dreaded and withstood all reforms and changes ; being indeed itself founded on prescription. We have seen that Pope expelled from his palace and his capital in November, by his subjects who hailed him as father of his country, and almost worshipped him in May. The fliglit of Popes from Rome, and rebellions of the Romans against the Popes, are no new things in history: but a rebellion against a Pope who pursued the course of the present is new : and, indeed, the course taken by this individual is unprecedented in the history of the Papacy.
France presents, if possible, a more eventful history than even Rome. A king who had helped to dethrone his predecessor and relative, bimself dethroned and expelled, with all his house, in February, by his subjects, who erect a republic, against which they rebel in June, and are shot down in thousands, and banished by those who had a chief hand in inciting them to revolt. In November we have seen them discarding virtually that republic, and exalting to supremacy the heir of the late Emperor, who may probably end the year with a monarchy, as it began. These events, so sudden, so startling, so amazing for their extent and importance, would have seemed too improbable for the wildest fiction-and yet they are facts.
The history of Germany is, if possible, more amazing than that of France, and much more out of all keeping with its previous character,
Within a few months we have seen the capitals of Germany in the hands of mobs and deluged with blood; the oldest sovereignty of Europe shaken to its foundation ; the Representative of the old Roman Empire flying from his capital, and surrendering his crown, in imitation of his brother of Bavaria ; the Austrian Empire shaken almost in pieces, rebellion tearing its provinces from it, from Lombardy on one side, to Hungary on the other : and the whole system of things in Germany, the structure of ages, demolished as in a moment: and the most despotic sovereigns outbiding each other in the extent of the concessions which they are offering to democratic demands voluntarily proposing constitutions, more democratic than democracy itself had dared to hope for or to mention,
Our own country has not escaped disorder. But, blessed be God, the power of the seditious proved signally disproportioned to their will ; and their attempts only seemed to call forth the spontaneous loyalty of the great body of the people. In Ireland, we have witnessed a Rebellion, the seeds of which had been industriously sown for many years, reach its maturity at last : and a movement which seemed to be national, and which, it was feared, the whole strength of the British Empire might not succeed in quelling, put down by a few policemen, with an ease which has turned the Rebellion itself, and all its authors into ridicule.
And now enters the Pestilence to conclude this frightful drama ; and his black curtain is falling terrifically over all the varied and incredible scenes of this wondrous year.
The first sentiment, surely, which should arise in our hearts, when wo consider these events, is gratitude to Almighty God, the Ruler among the nations, for his great mercy to us as a people, as families, and as individuals. Our cities have not been the scenes of bloody battles--as Milan, Madrid, Paris, Vienna, and Berlin, have been. Our property, our liberties, and our lives, have not been at the mercy of lawless mobs. The dominion of law and order has been maintained. Revolution has not ruined thousands of wealthy families, and starved myriads of poor ones, as has been the case elsewhere. We sit under our own vine and fig-tree, none making us afraid ; our institutions enjoying, as they well may, the intelligent and hearty approval of the great body of the people. And the pestilence which walketh in darkness, and the destruction which wasteth at noon-day, have not come nigh
We are written among the living: Let us acknowledge all these mercies with humble gratitude to God, qur heavenly Father, from whom all our mercies and blessings of all
There are, however, great lessons to be learned from these events. In them, unless I mistake, we may perceive manifest traces of that retributive justice which so often displays itself in the history of nations, and affords' lessons which individuals may legibly read; though nations themselves appear incapable of understanding them.
In order to comprehend these, we need to observe the character of these convulsions, and the people among which they have occurred.
As to their character then, they differ essentially from all foregoing revolutions. In times past, rebellions arose from religious causes : or they were the risings of populations against foreign or domestic oppres
sors, real or supposed: or they were the resistance of one party in the state to another party. But the rebellions we have now witnessed, at least in France, in Germany and elsewhere, are the risings up of the lowest orders of the people against all the upper orders. And in this the peculiarity of these movements is very striking, that they are not directed against this or that form of government, this or that abuse of authority, but against government and authority themselves, in every form,
The object of attack is rule or government, called by whatever name. No doubt many have permitted themselves to aid in those revolutionary proceedings, who were not conscious of the intention to abolish, if possible, government, property, marriage : but the strength of the party all over the continent, was undoubtedly actuated by such designs: thie prime movers were everywhere, or generally, communists, or socialists; men not only destitute of religious and moral principles, but ostentatiously professing atheism in many instances. So that if the character of these revolutions be examined, I mean of the men who have been the secret springs and soul of them; for the real authors of all revolutions are very few; they will be found to be men of this stamp, men who warred not against any abuse or corruption of government or religion, but against all the institutions of society, and all the duties of religion. Rebellion is always an evil, but sometimes it has had an element of good in it, when its object was to resist wrong and falsehood, and to establish truth and right. But the success of these rebellions must have been the utter overthrow of society in the countries where they took place.
The state of opinion and feeling out of which the late continental tumults arose, is a much more serious matter than are the tumults themselves—however serious these may have been. The slaughter at Vienna, and at Paris, however appaling-is yet less terrific than the thought, that so many myriads of working men had imbibed doctrines which would dissolve society at once, and would render every one more wretched than the most wretched of themselves.
In point of peril, therefore, we have seen no revolutionary movements to compare with these.
Their frightful heavings show what a state of irreligion, vice, and brutal ignorance whole masses of the population of the great Continental cities must be in.
The question now presents itself, how this condition of matters originated? Who is principally to blame for it? It is a fact, which universal history confirms, that the worst opinions, the darkest theories, flourish most in those countries in which the free expression of opinion is most restrained. The readiest way to make men rebels and anarchists is to take away the liberty of writing and speaking con. cerning the measures of government; as the surest method of rendering them sceptics is to prevent them discussing, by pen or tongue, the great subject of religion. Infidelity flourishes no where so well as under the shadow of an Inquisition ; and disaffection ripens so fast in no soil as where men's every deed, word, and almost thought, are under the espionage of a prying police. These dispositions develope themselves and strengthen, in exact proportion to the efforts which are