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my ways* Yet we cannot but hope, that a very considerable part of the accusations brought against us, would appear, upon enquiry, to be without foundation. But however that be, we must remind you, that our faults will be no excuse for your transgressions : and we earnestly beg, that they who complain we do not the good we ought, would at least not hinder, but give us opportunity, and assist us rather, to do both others and themselves the good we would.
But even they, who proceed from complaints to endeavours of amending things, will fail unhappily of their end, if they trust to worldly methods alone, and leave religion and virtue, the great support and cement of human society, out of their schemes. This will be merely palliating for a little while: and doing what the Scripture, in perfect conformity with plain reason, hath long ago condemned, as doing nothing. Because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace, and there was no peace : and one built up a wall, and others daubed it with untempered mortar : therefore thus saith the Lord God, I will rend it with a stormy wind, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundations thereof shall be discovered ; and it shall fall, and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof, and ye shall know that I am the Lord t. Indeed every page of the prophetical writings recommends itself greatly to thinking persons, by the most forcible and convincing expressions of the utter inefficacy of every expedient for public good, that is not accompanied with true virtue and true piety.
These, therefore, it is our most important interest to restore and promote : to represent with earnest* Mal. ii. 9.
+ Ezek. xili, 10-14.
ness, and yet with mildness, to such as are deficient in either, how wrong in itself, and how hurtful to the world, their conduct is : and to be zealous in doing our own duty, whether they will attend to theirs or not: persons of rank and influence, by setting an example worthy of imitation, and showing different regards to the good and the bad; persons intrusted with public power, by behaving in their several stations uprightly ; parents and masters, by the prudent exercise of their private authority; and every one at least, by reforming himself. This, if it do nothing farther, will be securing his own happiness : and the more single reformations there are, the nearer will be our approach to an universal
We are called indeed perpetually to repentance: but the present national call, if it be not hearkened to, will much aggravate the guilt, not only of the profane despisers of it, but those also, whose compliance with it is merely external; who dare to approach the Searcher of hearts, and mock him by saying to him, without sincerity, such things as we have joined in saying this day.
On the times appointed for confession of sins, it hath always been a rule, as the word of God plainly shews, for persons to abstain in a considerable degree from their usual food : not as thinking it a duty of any value in itself, for that were a superstitious imagination; and nothing can be more express against every superstition, than Scripture is : but partly to make an acknowledgment of more than ordinary solemnity, by their actions as well as words, of their unworthiness to partake of the common blessings of heaven; and chiefly to spend those hours in humility of spirit, and cool reflection for their future good, which they have spent too frequently in dangerous
levities, or sinful indulgences. It is not then the abstinence, it is not the outward humiliation, nor even the real seriousness of a day, which God requires of us; but that these things be made subservient to our lasting benefit : that preserving on our minds the impression of what we have said and heard here, we go home and retire into ourselves; think over our several duties, public and private, with respect to our Maker, our fellow creatures, and the regulation of our own hearts; and after renewing our applications for pardon and grace, set right, without delay, whatever hath been wrong: that we form resolutions to think often of our own conduct, to follow steadily the most effectual methods for preserving it such as we ought, and not to suffer the opinions and customs of an inconsiderate world, to wear out of our minds the regard we owe to the Author and end of our beings.
But besides these obligations, there is yet another, which particularly deserves our attention at this time; that when we ask mercy of God, we shew it to man. And accordingly the Scripture joins closely together fasting and giving alms; which therefore we should join too, each according to his ability: but always remembering, that no one part of our duty whatever will be accepted as an equivalent for transgressing any other; but we must break off our sins by righteousness, as well as our iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor *, if ever we expect that our charity should avail towards procuring our pardon.
And now would we but employ the present solemnity, in determining conscientiously to practise these things: besides the good fruits, it could not fail to produce in each of us singly; we might hope, on very just grounds, to experience nationally the same happy effects of it, which we read the Jews did, from making the same determination, upon hearing the admonition of the text. They gathered themselves together, and they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers. And they sware unto him with a loud voice : and all Judah rejoiced at the oath. For they had sworn with all their heart, and sought him with their whole desire, and he was found of them : and the Lord gave them rest round about *.
* Dan. iv, 27.
PREACHED ON A GENERAL FAST.
1 PET. V. 6.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of
God, that he may exalt you in due time. HUMILITY of heart and behaviour is a duty so deeply founded in the nature of man, that though we knew of no power above us, we ought yet to think modestly of ourselves, from a consciousness of our infirmities; and pay a mutual deference one to another, in proportion to the different pre-eminences, be they ever so small, by which we are severally distinguished. But the least apprehension of a perfect Being superintending us, must surely magnify beyond expression the sense, how very imperfect we are : and convince us, that the utmost reverence, of which we are capable, towards such a one, if such a one there be, will fall vastly short of what we owe. Now the existence of a powerful and wise, a just and good, Ruler of all, is at first sight a possible thing. And were we sure of no more, the notion is so respectable in itself, so beneficial to human society, and so peculiarly comfortable to every honest mind, that passing it over with a scornful neglect, instead of attending to it seriously, would be a haughtiness of spirit, blameworthy and shocking to a great degree.