Taken from, Prayers from Plymouth pulpit. “A New Year’s Day Prayer,” (c. 1858) By Henry Ward Beecher.
We rejoice, O thou that dwellest in heaven,
that thou art not confined in thy wisdom, in thy power, in thy goodness, nor in thine administration, to the heavenly host. Throughout the whole domain, thou art the living God, and thy wisdom and thy power are felt wherever thou hast created, nor art thou ever weary of thy work, and the least thing that had the sovereign touch of life remains forever before thee, and all the wants of all the creatures that thou hast made rise up before thee for perpetual supply. Thou givest liberally; thou art inexhaustible in thy nature and resources. We cannot by searching, find out the nature of such a one, that dwells in unslumbering care, that knows no variableness, nor shadow of change, that outlives the passing generations of men, himself never old, forever young; full of goodness. And yet it is not so strange that thou shouldst be so, though we cannot understand the fullness thereof as that thou shouldst be a God of such tender mercy, a God of such divine love. We cannot understand how thou couldst bear us and carry us with such longing affections, and find in us reason for thy love; how thou canst see that which is desirable in the midst of so much pride and selfishness, so many passions, and the hurtful ways to which they give rise. This is the wonder and the love of Christ to sinful men. The mystery hid from ages, is an unsolved and unfathomable wonder yet; but we rejoice in believing that it is so, and that the divine grace of love that fills the heavens is to be the salvation of the earth. This is our hope.
It is not that we are strong, nor wise, but that thou art all this for us. It is thy righteousness and not our own that surrounds us; it is thy love to us rather than the love which we have to thee that encourages us; it is thy faithfulness and not our own perseverance that lays the foundation of our courage. We trust in God who is all in all, for thou art, O Blessed One, first and last, including all between; thou art Alpha and Omega, and the whole alphabet. All grace and mercy and truth is in thee; and we rejoice in thee, not in ourselves, not in man, not in institutions of religion, not in any thing that is upon the earth. O, we rejoice in thee, that art the fountain of all excellence, the Father of mercies, and the God of all grace and goodness. We have had abundant occasion to prove thee, and have put thee to proof, and we bear witness that thou art he that doeth exceeding abundantly more than we ask or think. Thy promises are never so large as thy performances, thou art before-hand with us; and when we think that we are walking in a desolate way, behold the footstep of God is before us; thou hast been there and prepared our way.
We rejoice to find thee on every side of us, and to find that our life is hid in thee; the secrets of it, the duties of it, and the duration of it, are of thee. We rejoice that we have such a friend, so gentle, so patient, so persevering. And this is the wound and the shame of our sin, that it is disobedience and an unwilling service of one so gracious and so full of all noble excellence. We are ashamed when we reflect how little we have requited thy love with our love; thy reasonable command with our filial obedience; we have sought each one his own way; we have had our own will and purpose aside from thine and contradicting thine. O Lord, we are unworthy of thy name or of thy favor; we only plead thy grace, saying, “God be merciful to us sinners.”
And now thou hast completed the mercies and the history of another year; thou hast advanced us to the first day of this year upon which we are entering. We would call upon our souls and all that is within us to bless and to praise thy name for the goodness of the year that has gone. Our record of it may have been of sin; our record of resolutions broken; our record of time misspent, of powers not legitimately used but turned aside against our secret convictions, against our own consciences, against the call of God’s voice in us powers not employed to their vast purposes and to their highest ends.
Our record is indeed sadly blotted; and tears and sorrows, hopes not fulfilled, and aspirations not met by any adequate realization, fill our remembrance; all on our side is human, weak, and wicked. If we look only to the year as we have marked it, it is not a year to be remembered nor sighed after as something to be brought back again; but when we look at thy way with us, it is a year robed in mercy, growing with every day, and waning not one single hour. Thou hast made it a year of divine love, of pardoning mercy, of gracious guidance. Thou hast held us up and carried us in thine arms even as a mother carries her little child. Thou hast counseled us; thy rod and thy staff they have comforted us; thou hast whispered to us in the hours of dullness and discouragement ; thou hast inspired us in our wayward moments, and brought us back again by ten thousand tokens; thou hast showed thyself indeed a guiding God and a Father.
We thank thee for the ministration of the year. It has past and gone to the judgment, and hangs there, waiting our coming –a record that we must yet again know and read, and now we beseech thee, O Lord God, by the patience which thou hast manifested, by the gentleness which we have proved, by the grace which is revealed of thee, and by all that is of goodness in thyself, we beseech of thee, take charge of us for the year upon which we have now entered. We are strangers to it; we do not know one single path; we are pilgrims and wander up and down in our several ways. Thou only seest the light and the darkness alike; thou only seest the end from the beginning. Thou alone art perfectly wise, and all things are in thine hands for merciful administration.
We commend ourselves and families to thee for the year upon which we are entering; and we beseech thee that thou wilt be gracious to us in our ordinary estate. If it be thy rich pleasure confirm to us life, a life of labor and usefulness. Bless us in our households; bless us in our social relations, and all our affections, and to one another, and sanctify our love; make it purer, nobler, and more heavenly. Bless us in our several secular duties. May we go abroad into all the relations of this life, carrying the savor of the Gospel with us, sanctifying whatever we touch, bearing about the name not only, but also the disposition of the Lord Jesus.
We beseech thee that thou wilt bless us in our individual experiences. Some thou art just calling out of darkness into light, and they are this year being bathed with new hopes. Be gracious to them, and sustain them, that no trouble may overtake them mightier than their strength; that with every temptation they may have rescue ; and that they may know that they have entered this year with God the Father for their guide, Christ for their Saviour, and the Holy Spirit for their enlightener and sanctifier.
Confirm those that have been already some way advanced in the divine life and have had occasion to prove thy mercies. We beseech of thee that they may not be discouraged, nor turn back, nor refuse to bear willingly such burdens as are needful for their culture. May those that have been for a long time in thy service and are ready to lay down their burdens, have still that same nourishing care which has never left them from their cradle until this day.
We beseech thee that they may already taste that heavenly joy which is so soon to be theirs. Thou hast taken from us not a few during the past year; they rest from their labors; they are divided by the sense and by the flesh from us that we cannot see them nor speak with them any more; but they are not divided from us in faith, nor in love, nor in joy. We tarry yet a little longer; thou art translating this church, thou art augmenting the ranks of those in the heavenly state that are glorified. O we thank thee that so many departing leave behind the savor of a holy life and the testimony of a triumphant death. We are comforted as we draw near, believing that the same grace that gave them victory, will give final release and victory to us. We beseech thee, if there be any of us appointed unto death in the year on which we have entered, may we not be afraid. May we know what is the meaning of that sound –death; may we always hear the word Christ when it is pronounced; may we know that it is but that divine presence calling us home; and may we feel every motion of death to be but the throbbing of the heart of God. May we long to depart to be in his bosom.
If any are sick, wilt thou graciously sustain and comfort them; visit them with thy salvation, and make today their sick-chamber to be as light as the temple of God. May they feel that thou art present, and may their joys be as choiring angels to them; and may they have occasion for thanksgiving even in their sick-chamber and in their hours of seclusion.
Be with those that belong to us who are far away. Wherever they may be today, may it be a Sabbath –God’s rest in their souls. If there be any present that are strangers among strangers, cause all heart-sickness and home-sickness to fly away quickly as they are in the presence of God, of Christ Jesus, and their brethren. May the joy of thy house banish all sad thoughts, and here may they renew their strength; here may they taste the bread of life; here may they renew their covenant, and here may they see that this is a gate of heaven. Be with us in the things we ask for, and wilt thou do for us all that we need.
And thine shall be the praise,
Father, Son, and Spirit.
Meet the Author and part of your Christian heritage: Henry Ward Beecher (June 24, 1813 – March 8, 1887) was an American Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and speaker, known for his support of the abolition of slavery, his emphasis on God’s love, and his 1875 adultery trial.
Henry Ward Beecher was the son of Lyman Beecher, a Calvinist minister who became one of the best-known evangelists of his age. Several of his brothers and sisters became well-known educators and activists, most notably Harriet Beecher Stowe, who achieved worldwide fame with her abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Henry Ward Beecher graduated from Amherst College in 1834 and Lane Theological Seminary in 1837 before serving as a minister in Indianapolis and Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
In 1847, Beecher became the first pastor of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York. He soon acquired fame on the lecture circuit for his novel oratorical style, in which he employed humor, dialect, and slang. Over the course of his ministry, Beecher developed a theology emphasizing God’s love above all else, a contradiction of his father’s stern Calvinism. He also grew interested in social reform, particularly the abolitionist movement. In the years leading up to the Civil War, he raised money to purchase slaves from captivity and to send rifles—nicknamed “Beecher’s Bibles“—to abolitionists fighting in Kansas and Nebraska. He toured Europe during the Civil War speaking in support of the Union.
In assessing Beecher’s legacy, Applegate states that
At his best, Beecher represented what remains the most lovable and popular strain of American culture: incurable optimism; can-do enthusiasm; and open-minded, open-hearted pragmatism … His reputation has been eclipsed by his own success. Mainstream Christianity is so deeply infused with the rhetoric of Christ’s love that most Americans can imagine nothing else, and have no appreciation or memory of the revolution wrought by Beecher and his peers.
Character excerpts taken from Wikipedia