New Year

A New Year's Letter

The following letter was written by the minister of Stephen’s home congregation of Faughan in 1887 to the members of the church looking back on the year that was past.

131 years later, it’s still very relevant as we close out one year and begin another:

ANNUAL REPORT: Faughan Reformed Presbyterian Church, 1887

Samuel Ferguson.jpeg

To the Members of the Congregation

Dear Friends,

In the good Providence of God we have been brought to the termination of another year of our congregational life; and it may not be inappropriate for me to briefly review the past, to glance at the future, and to put present duty before your minds. As we look back to the past, we are constrained to acknowledge the goodness of God, erewhile mixing trembling with our thankfulness. Another fifty-two Sabbaths are gone for ever, and what report have they borne on high? Certainly every one of them shall meet us again. Think you shall that meeting be joyful or sorrowful? We may not recal the past, we can improve present opportunities; let us do it in the diligent and attentive use of the public and private means of grace, divinely appointed as the scene of spiritual blessing. Death, whose hand is never still, has been busy during the year, some of our oldest members have been called home; but our sorrow is not that of those who have no hope. We desire to hear the Master’s voice saying – “Be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.” Affliction, too, has cast its shadow over some homes – remember it has not come unsent; and realise that, though your tears may have washed your affections white, you have been in a Father’s hand, who, though smiting, can heal again.

The role of membership remains substantially the same as during the last year. Would that our list of members were all true members of Christ’s body; growing up to the fulness of the stature of manhood in Jesus Christ! Looking to the future, let us encourage one another, provoking to works of faith and labours of love; let us manifest the charity that suffereth long and is kind; let love unfeigned rule in your hearts, and in all things act worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, being in your walk and conversation living epistles, requiring no translation – read of all men.

The cause of Temperance demands your active sympathy. Drunkenness is slaying its thousands. Can you, as Church members, be indifferent? In the good work of Temperance, be fellow-labourers with Christ; coldness ought not to retard you, for Christ Himself was discouraged when among men; here, as everywhere else, “in due time ye shall reap if ye faint not.”

The Faughan church building as it was at the time the letter was written

The Faughan church building as it was at the time the letter was written

The young of the congregation I would earnestly urge to acquire the knowledge, which is “the best of the sciences” – the knowledge of Bible truth. If parents neglect their home duties of teaching and catechising, they are making their children pass through the fire to the Molech of ignorance and sin. The Church cannot take the place of family training; it can only assist it, and for this purpose all who are able ought to attend the Bible class on Sabbath mornings in the Church.

In conclusion, we crave anew an interest in your prayers, that the preaching of the word and administration of the ordinances in your midst may be blessed, and that journeying to the common home of the redeemed we may each one be drawn more closely together in the bonds of true sympathy – the sympathy founded upon love to God and truth – and thus in our different positions “serve our generation by the will of God.”

Commending you each one to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified,

I subscribe myself, dear Friends,

Your Minister,

SAMUEL FERGUSON.

(Trevor Magee, Planted By A River, p. 64.)

Related Links: Don Whitney: Questions to ask at the start of a new year

New year, new you?

We’re now ten days into the new year. There’s something about a new year that excites us isn’t there? The possibility of a fresh start, with new possibilities and opportunities. And yet not a lot has changed. Just days into the new year a suicide bombing in Kabul killed at least 20 and injured many more. On the same day a young Japanese man was murdered in Ireland, the victim of a random attack after he took a different route home from work. On Sunday night, a car bomb in Syria left 25 dead. Closer to home, a man who had £50,000 raised for him after claiming he rushed to the aid of victims of the Manchester bombing, admitted stealing a purse from a lady as she lay injured. In Northern Ireland, an MP has been suspended after a social media post which appeared to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the terrorist massacre of 10 men on their way home from work.

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And yet while it’s always tempting to point the finger at others, if we look at ourselves we have to acknowledge that we haven’t really changed either. Even if we’ve made a big effort to turn over a new leaf, statistics show that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. And even if we manage to beat the statistics, a few new resolutions can’t really change our in-built selfishness, anger, negativity or self-righteousness. Advances in technology and better education can’t mask the fact that humanity is fundamentally broken. And that includes each of us.

Now that might seem a negative note on which to start a new year. But if you go to the doctor and are diagnosed with cancer, you wouldn’t tell the doctor ‘Don’t be so negative’. Instead you would say: ‘Tell me what I have to do!’

The gospel of Jesus Christ is fundamentally ‘good news’ – it’s what the word means. But before we can see the good news for what it is, we must be willing to listen to the bad news. According to the Bible, humanity isn’t just sick but dead (Ephesians 2v1). And yet the reason the Bible was written is because there is a God who raises the dead. Don’t start another year trying to pretend that things are better than they are. Face up to the bad news, so that you can hear the good.

Published in Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press, 11th January 2018