Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it has been already of old time, which was before us.
You remember that when Paul visited Athens his attention seems to have been especially attracted by two things: that the city was so full of idols; that the people who dwelt there were so given to change and novelty. "For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing." When we read these words we are ready at first to exclaim, What a remarkable people these ancient Athenians must have been! Surely we have in them man's desire for novelty exemplified in a strangely exaggerated and quite exceptional form. But who can read these words without feeling that they describe the prevailing habit and attitude of the human mind? Go to those places where men and women "mostly congregate" — where they meet or work, or walk in friendly intercourse, and wheat do we see? Why, the same spectacle which engaged the attention of Paul at Athens — some telling, others hearing, some new thing. Human nature is unchanged by the lapse of centuries; it cherishes the same desires. Anything new, while the charm of novelty remains, will awaken a degree of interest which is quite out of proportion to the intrinsic worth of the thing itself.
I. MAN'S HOPELESS INQUIRY, "Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new?" This is evidently the inquiry of some one who has long been engaged in a fruitless and unsatisfactory search after some new thing. Of course, there is very much which is circumstantially new — relatively new — new in form — new in use. We have new machinery, new modes of locomotion, new houses, Hew furniture, new methods of preparing food; indeed, in one sense, the world seems filled with novelties. But all this does not seem to touch upon, or noticeably to lessen, what some one has called "the miserable monotony of human life." There is something very wonderful and very solemn in the sameness of human life, in the fact that there is nothing new; that there is, with all superficial differences, a substantial uniformity and monotony in human character and experience. If we look upon the family of man, in its present condition or in its past history, we are at first almost bewildered by the endless diversity of appearances. We find age differ from age, country from country, race from race, class from class, individual from individual. And yet, if we disregard the accidents of human life, its mere circumstances, and confine our attention to its essentials — to life itself, what do we find? We can distinguish through successive generations, not only the same leading types, but also the minute varieties of human character. The same feelings, motives, desires, principles of action, are operating now as powerfully and distinctly as before the flood; then and now might we see the glow of love, the elation of hope, the outpouring of gratitude. And we find that the ambition, the avarice, the pride, the sensuality of the nineteenth century after Christ, correspond in character and action with those same evil principles as they were displayed in the nineteenth century before Christ. All the cardinal sins are existing as veritably now as in any previous age. There is very little originality in sin. We are called to contend with, and, if may be, vanquish "old foes with new faces." It is because we are men of like passion with those that have preceded us, that the history of the past is intelligible. We find that the sins which called down the curses of Heaven ages and generations ago are still being perpetrated in our midst. Do you think that Eli's were the only disobedient children, who have brought their parents to grief? I might easily enlarge on this subject. I will confine myself to one illustration — Man's vain and fruitless inquiry after some new thing, an inquiry, the prosecution of which, in some form or another, has distinguished man in every age of the world. Take the case of Solomon. In this quest he spent a considerable portion of his life; and he left off with a sigh of disappointment, and with an inquiry expressive of utter hopelessness. Instead of dwelling on the mere fact, I would point out its significance. I would remind you that the fact of your inquiring, with all this feverish anxiety after "something new," reveals to us in a very clear, though sad and humiliating manner, the hollow, monotonous, unsatisfying nature of your past lives. What is the secret of your desire for something new in the future? Is it not, to a great extent, your dissatisfaction with the pasty Now, without knowing anything about your lives individually, I am able to say something concerning them, the truth of which you will all readily admit — that they do not present to you at this moment a very satisfactory appearance. Let us take the most favourable example we can find. We Speak of youth as a season of happiness. But are we correct in our estimate? There is a certain exemption from the cares of maturity — there is a certain buoyancy and elation of spirit, which we do not, to the full extent, retain. But, my young friends, tell me, Has the world made you happy? The old man is so dissatisfied, that he believes that he must have been more happy in some previous period of life than he is now. The young man, not less dissatisfied, believes that a hitherto undiscovered happiness is waiting for him in the future. What, then, is the fact which demands our attention? It is this. You have always been going on from point to point, inquiring after "something new": and your inquiry for the new is a confession as to the insufficiency of the old. As you pressed on in your way you have seen fruit hanging in the richest and most tempting clusters. You have plucked and tasted, and they have been as the apples of Sodom. What a spectacle does our world at this moment present! You see men everywhere seeking for happiness and rest, and finding them not. But this unceasing search after "something new," not merely reveals the unsatisfactory nature of the past, — it ought also to suggest an important caution as to the future. Is it not reasonable that you should pause in your pursuit, and inquire if it is likely that you will find, in the direction in which you have hitherto gone, anything which will really satisfy you? Is it reasonable for a man to go grovelling along, hugging a delusion like this? As long as you continue to indulge the hope of finding happiness and satisfaction in this world, you will never look above or beyond this world for them. Let us admit that in the future everything will turn out as you propose — as you desire. What then? "Why, that the future will be as the past. You are seeking happiness, you are seeking contentment in the wrong way; your faces are set in the wrong direction." We see, then, where the mistake is. We want some new thing, but it is within, and not without ourselves.
II. GOD'S GRACIOUS AND SATISFACTORY REPLY. To all these dissatisfied searchers after novelty, we can hear God say, "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." Yes, this is our great necessity, to become new creatures in Christ Jesus; then shall we find old things pass away, and all things become new. Do you want a new experience? You may have it in communion and fellowship with Christ. Do you, wearied with the familiar and unsatisfying objects of the world, want new sources of enjoyment and new objects of contemplation and pursuit? All these you will realize in a life in Christ.
(T. M. Morris.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.