The New Year
The “New Year” is at hand; and the time by common consent sacred to the formation of new resolutions. In most cases, however, the resolutions of the previous year have the dust brushed off from them, and are made to serve again, being just as good as new on account of never having been used.
There is a difference of opinion as to the value of making resolutions at any time. It is not our promises that save us, but the promises of God. Making good resolutions often tends directly against real improvement, since the resolution is taken as a substitute for action. A man makes a resolution and breaks it, and then when he is confronted with his failure, he makes another, or repeats the former one with new emphasis, and straightway his conscience is at rest. The resolution is accepted as an “indulgence.” In saying this we do not in the least discount a fixed choice, nor a firm purpose to cleave to the Lord; but the penitent who makes real progress is the one who comes to the Lord, saying,—
Yet allowing the most that might be claimed for good resolutions, the custom of having one special day for making reformation, out of three hundred and sixty-five, is most pernicious. It is often the case that people wait for months till the New Year to “turn over a new leaf.” This evil habit is fostered by religious papers and teachers who make so much of the New Year as the fit time for reflecting over the past and making a fresh start. From such talk people get the idea that there’s something sacred about New Year’s day.
This evil would be avoided if they would remember that the first day of January is no more the beginning of a new year than is the third of March, the 13th of June, the 19th of October, or any other day of any other month in the year. Every day is just one year from three hundred and sixty-five days before, and so every day begins a new year. Whatever is fit and especially appropriate for the first day of a new year, may be attended to at any time. Are you convinced of the error of your ways, and impressed that you ought to reform? Then never think of waiting for the first day of January to come. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
One word more as to the date of the New Year. It is purely arbitrary, and is not the same in all parts of the world. In England, until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, in 1752, the legal and ecclesiastical year began at March 25. This was more nearly the original time of beginning the year, as directed by the Lord. The spring of the year is the natural season. To begin a new year in the beginning of winter is as senseless and arbitrary as to begin a new day in the middle of the night. As a matter of convenience in reckoning, and for business purposes, the 1st of January is as good as any other day; but no one should think that any sort of sacredness attaches to it, or that it is any better than any other day for ceasing to do evil and learning to do well.
The false idea concerning the 1st of January, which is due chiefly to the Roman Catholic Church, has led to what are known as “watch night” services by many people. They assemble in a meeting-house on the last day in December, and remain together until after midnight, to “watch the old year out, and the new year in.” There would be something irresistibly funny in this performance, even if the first day of the year were sacred by Divine appointment. For since the last day begins at sunset, it is evident that the new year must also begin at sunset, with the day. So that when people watch till midnight to see the new year in, they are like men who watch for a train that has passed eight hours before.
It is stated on good authority that the term “watch night” originated with Wesley, but not with any reference to the New Year. That godly man was accustomed to spend much time in prayer, and would often, with a company of his people, spend the entire night in prayer. Thus they “watched” the night through. Not that they were watching the hours as they passed, but that they were watching with the Lord. The thought came from the Saviour’s words to His disciples on the night of His betrayal, “Could ye not watch with Me one hour?” and, “Watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation.” If there were more of this sort of watching every day in the year, there would be less superstition concerning one particular day.
“What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”