Have You Read Samuel Davies' New Year's Sermons?

Samuel Davies (1723-1761), who was only 37 years old when he died, preached two New Year's Day sermons at the end of his life. Together, they constitute a remarkable examination of the brevity of life and the importance of redeeming the time - given providentially as he prepared to step into eternity. He, now being dead, yet speaketh (Heb. 11:4). 

On January 1, 1760, he preached "A New Year's Gift" (see Sermons on Important Subjects, Vol. 3, Serm. 59, pp. 309 ff), using Rom. 13:11 for his text: "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed."

Listen to how he begins: "Time, like an ever-running stream, is perpetually gliding on, and hurrying us and all the sons of men into the boundless ocean of eternity. We are now entering upon one of those imaginary lines of division, which men have drawn to measure out time for their own conveniency; and, while we stand upon the threshold of a new year, it becomes us to make a solemn contemplative pause; though time can make no pause, but rushes on with its usual velocity. Let us take some suitable reviews and prospects of time past and future, and indulge such reflections as our transition from year to year naturally tends to suggest. 

The grand and leading reflection is that in the text, with which I present to you as a New-Year's Gift: Knowing the time, that it is high time to awake out of sleep."

The following year, his last on earth, on January 1, 1761, Davies preached "A Sermon on the New Year" (see Sermons on Important Subjects, Vol. 2, Serm. 34, pp. 139 ff), from Jer. 28:16: "This year thou shalt die." Because Davies died just one month later, on February 4, 1761, it has often been said (even by Davies himself before he died) that here Davies preached his own funeral sermon. Interestingly, he borrowed the same text that College of New Jersey Founder and President Aaron Burr, Sr. (1716-1757) had preached on his last New Year's Day on earth. 

In a most sobering sermon, Davies reminds us that "Thus it appears very possible, that one or other of us may die this year. Nay, it is very probable, as well as possible, if we consider that it is a very uncommon, and almost unprecedented thing, that not one should die in a whole year out of such an assembly as this. More than one have died the year past, who made a part of our assembly last new year's day. Therefore let each of us (for we know not on whom the lot may fall) realize this possibility, this alarming probability, 'this year I may die.'" 

None of us knows how long the thread of our lives may extend on earth. Our times are in the hands of the Lord (Ps. 31:15). Therefore, as one year closes, and a New Year begins, let us take stock and heed the words of Samuel Davies: "Therefore conclude, every one for himself, 'It is of little importance to me whether I die this year, or not; but the only important point is, that I may make a good use of my future time, whether it be longer or shorter.' This, my brethren, is the only way to secure a happy new year: a year of time, that will lead the way to a happy eternity."