« PreviousContinue »
that you may improve your own hearts, by imitating the goodness, which you honour; that you may convince mankind of the excellency of the Christian doctrine. Consider yourselves, in this view also, as the stewards of God: as intrusted for the service and promotion of his Gospel. For be assured, such important and astonishing truths as that comprehends, and you have lately heard out of it, were not made known to you, with a design, that you should be indifferent about them; but deeply affected by them yourselves, and seriously diligent to engage the attention of others to them. If then you have any zeal for the faith, which you profess, as Heaven knows there never was more need : shew men, by its effects, what it is; and give demonstration to the world, how far the true charity of a good Christian goes beyond the boasted benevolence of unbelievers. Invite men by these means to a better opinion of religion : encourage them by the same to a steadier practice of it. Be watchful, and strengthen, by every method you can, the things which remain and are ready to die * : but particularly make provision in these excellent ways, which are now proposed to you, for the instruction of the ignorant, the conversion of the vicious, the spiritual improvement, as well as temporal relief of the sick : that so the administration of your charity may not only supply the want of the saints, but be abundant also by many thanksgivings to God t. * Rev. iii. 2.
+ 2 Cor. ix. 12.
PREACHED BEFORE THE HOUSE OF LORDS IN THE
ABBEY-CHURCH OF WESTMINSTER, ON THURSDAY, MAY 29, 1739.
PSALM cvi, 12, 13.
Then believed they his words, they sang his praise :
they soon forgat his works, they waited not for his counsel.
THE same wise and good Being, who hath fitted the whole frame of this world to the various wants of his creatures ; hath fitted the events of things to our reformation and moral improvement. Were they to be considered as events only, it would be folly not to learn from them: but as they are lessons intended by heaven for our instruction, it is impiety also. The dispensations of Providence, in which we are least interested, may teach us a great deal by analogy, both concerning the consequences of our behaviour, and the temper of our hearts : for we seldom apprehend how fatally we are capable of erring, till we see how other persons have acted before us, and what hath followed. But those transactions of former times, which extend their influence down to us, as they naturally excite a greater attention, so they generally reward it with more plentiful and more important matter of observation: and if we will not be made wise by the experience of our predecessors; the only doubt is, whether possibly our own may not teach us too late.
The two great methods of providential instruction are mercies and punishments. Undoubtedly our Maker would always prefer the first ; if it were not that enjoying them for some time, without interruption, tempts us unaccountably to overlook, both his goodness, and our own duty arising from it. Sometimes indeed they, who forget God in their prosperity, are moved by their afflictions only to murmur against him: but for the most part sufferings have a better effect; recall to our minds both our condition and our conduct. And it might be hoped, that the very deep impressions, which divinejudgments make, would naturally be lasting; or however, that when forgiveness had succeeded chastisement, the united force of terror and gratitude would be perpetual. To recollect our past deliverances, and dwell upon the thoughts of our present happiness, appears too pleasing an employment to grow wearisome. Considering both, as evidences of God's delight to do us good, must surely heighten our relish of them : and preserving in memory our obligation to a proper return, besides its being agreeable to ingenuous minds, one should imagine, would be sufficiently recommended to us, by our knowing, that the continuance of our blessings depends on this condition.
But mankind are strangely different in fact from what speculation may represent them. Be the advantages of their condition ever so great, many will attend only to its inconveniences : and seem as if they had rather be miserable, than not be ungrateful. Others are too intent on the enjoyment of their felicity, ever to think, to whom they owe it; or
think too much of the visible means, to remember the invisible Author. And unhappily, they who have the liveliest sense of the goodness of God, seldom retain it long : they sing his praise, and soon forget his works. Favours, received personally by ourselves, wear out of our minds in a very little time : but mercies derived to us from a former age, though continuing to subsist in full force, though perhaps improved, affect us no otherwise than the blessing of constant health doth ; which tempts many to be irregular, for one whom it makes thankful. Then, to complete the unhappiness, some who preserve the most lasting memory of divine favours, remember them often partially, and to bad purposes :
deduce from them wrong conclusions, and are led by them into unjustifiable behaviour. Though they do not forget his works, they wait not for his counsel: but inconsiderately follow their own imaginations : or if instruction forces itself upon them, they will not abide it * ; nor bear to be restrained, even by the voice of Heaven.
Now the obvious method of securing events of importance, both from oblivion and misconstruction, is by appointing stated and solemn commemorations of them. God himself hath done this, to preserve a just sense of his works of creation and redemption : but the celebration of his providential goodness he hath left, as it was natural, to human care. And serious care ought to be taken ; as on the one hand, that institutions of this kind be neither debased to low occasions, nor perverted to ill uses : so on the other, that they, whom the Lord hath redeemed and delivered from the hand of the enemy, may offer unto him the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and tell out his works
* So the old translation.
with gladness ; exalt him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the seat of the elders *
This is the duty, which we are now assembled to perform : and the two things, requisite to perform it as we ought, are,
I. To consider the nature of the blessing, which we commemorate :
II. The behaviour, to which it directs us.
I. In speaking of the blessings on this day restored to us, as, preceding evils must unavoidably be mentioned : and all persons ought to bear with the mention of what all contributed to, and shared in. To whom the chief load of guilt was imputable, the public voice hath most justly declared; but every order of men was blamable, and every order punished. First, a zeal excessively angry, for it must be acknowledged, was shewn in the church, against a very provoking sect of zealots : and illegal powers were exercised, to a dangerous degree, in the State ; when the bounds of legal power were less clearly fixed. Then fears and resentments carried good men too far; and gave bad men an opportunity of leading them insensibly further still, by very wicked arts : till they were neither sure of retreating with safety, nor yet could go forward without great guilt. Concessions were made them, in some cases too large; in most, if not all, very sufficient. But these came too late. The minds of men were exasperated, and confidence in each other lost : so that, instead of reconciling, they only gave ground of advantage for adding new demands, which the makers of them well knew, could not be granted. Insisting however that they should, from discontents they broke out into tumults; and tumults
* Psal. cvii. 2. 22. 32.