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PREACHED ON A GENERAL FAST.
2 CHRON. XV. 2.
The Lord is with you, while ye be with him, and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.
THESE words are the beginning of a serious admonition, given by the direction of Heaven to the nation of the Jews, as they returned from obtaining, under the conduct of Asa their king, one of the greatest victories recorded in Scripture. Their condition, after this, might have appeared to human policy a very secure one: but the Divine wisdom saw the greatest of all dangers impending over them, that which proceeds from forgetting God, and abandoning virtue. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Azariah the Son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: the Lord is with you while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you. Now these great truths, of which Heaven thought it needful to remind them, at the conclusion of a prosperous war, it must be very much more needful that we should attend to, who seem to be only at the beginning of a doubtful one. And accordingly we are met here, by the command of authority, to consider our ways, and humble
ourselves before God for our sins, as the necessary means for deriving a blessing on our arms, and restoring and perpetuating peace and prosperity to our country.
It is a melancholy consideration, that creatures endued with reason and humanity should ever come to employ force against one another, and make the dreadful addition of the miseries of war to the many unavoidable sufferings of life. But wicked as this is, when passion and resentment, desire of unjust gain, or fondness of infamous glory, prompts to it: yet when injuries of pernicious consequence are done to a nation, and persisted in, and no competent redress can be obtained, it becomes then, both necessary for particular societies, and beneficial to human society in general, that invaded rights be vigorously asserted by the only way left. When the sword is drawn for justice alone, and ever ready to be sheathed as soon as that is granted, then Heaven may be appealed to, with hopes of a favourable sentence coming forth from his presence, whose eyes behold the thing that is equal*. But if the assertors of a righteous cause be in other respects a sinful people, it is evidently just for God, who hath the cognizance of both these things, to regard whichsoever of them Infinite Wisdom shall direct, and make even the injurious party the rod of his anger, and the staff in the day of his indignation †, to correct, or destroy, if their wickedness deserve it, such nations, as, though right in their disputes with their enemies, are wrong at the same time in matters more important. And how little terror soever our enemies might give us at first; yet now we must be sensible, that we know not in the least, how soon and how formidably they may increase: but this we know
* Psalm xvii. 2.
+ Isa, x. 5.
certainly, that there is no restraint to the Lord, to punish, as well as to save, by many, or by few *. Times of war therefore add a peculiar strength to those admonitions, which reason and Scripture give us at all times, to consider what our state is with regard to Him, who doth according to his will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth +. Let us then all consider now, whether we have ground of hope or of fear from that awful declaration of the prophet, which you have heard read.
The Lord is with you, while ye be with him. be with him. To be with God, is to preserve in our minds a reverent sense of his being, presence, and government; to keep close to his laws, and stand on his side, against the opposite power of darkness and sin. Let us then think, if there be need of thought to answer; how is the reverence due to the Supreme Being preserved among us? Have we not persons who ridicule the notion of a wise and good Maker of all things? Have we not those, who, if they do admit a Creator, do not admit a moral governor of the world; or at least represent him so very defective in his administration of it, as finally to let bad persons be gainers by their wickedness, and good persons losers by their virtue: rejecting with mirthful scorn, what hath ever been the hope and support of wise and good men, the belief of that future state, in which the visible irregularities of the present shall be rectified? Have we not also too many, who, professing perhaps to believe in natural religion, yet speak of Christianity, the great means by which it is both supported and perfected, not only as a falsehood, but an impossibility: blaspheming that worthy name by which we are called, and disdaining to receive from God himself any other rules, either of faith + Dan. iv. 35. ↑ James ii. 7.
* 1 Sam. xiv. 6.
or life, than such as their own reason, directed by their own fancy, shall prescribe to them? And let us suppose, if we can, that the number of such, as go these lengths deliberately, is upon the whole but small: yet what shall we say of the inconsiderately guilty? Are there not multitudes of all degrees, who seem never once to have asked themselves, whether they believe in God or not? or if they do, whether any regard is due to him or none: who slight religion boldly, without imagining they have ever examined it: who are persuaded of its truth perhaps, so far as they have any persuasion about the matter; but have no notion, that they are to regulate their conduct by it: who possibly do not quite approve of profane persons, but are astonished at pious ones; and by their indulgence to the former, and their very great proneness to despise the latter, plainly shew, whether they perceive it themselves or not, which party they are on the road to join?
We have indeed many still, who frequent divine worship: but how many of all ranks, and of that rank particularly, which ought to be an example, and will be one either of good or bad; how many that omit this duty entirely, or near it; and though it be an evident part of the law of nature, and an express precept of Christianity, can yet talk, not only of their own neglecting it, with much gaiety and humour, but of other persons attending upon it as matter of conscience, with much raillery? And such an ascendant hath this contemptuous kind of impiety got, that there are many persons, who sincerely honour their Maker in their hearts, but dare not for fear of derision shew it in their behaviour. Let it be thought of a little, what the appearance and construction of these things is: and let those who