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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.
At our last meeting on the same most necessary occasion, which calls us together now, I endeavoured to lay before you, from these words, both the general duty of man's walking humbly with his God *, and the particular reasons, which we of this nation have, for exercising a very deep humility towards him, as we have been particularly guilty, besides various other sins, of that unspeakable shocking one, pride against him. Too many amongst us have dared to treat the faith, if not of his being, yet of the only thing which makes it valuable, a just and good Providence, with utter contempt : absurd as it is, that the wise and
powerful Maker of the world should not be the ruler of it, and that the Ruler of the world should not reward every one according to his works t. Much greater numbers, if they do not deny his moral government, yet almost entirely disregard it: attend on his public worship but seldom, and then visibly as matter of mere external decency; never condescend to pay him any homage in private ; nor through their whole behaviour consider him, in the least, as, what they * Mic, vi, 8.
+ Matt. xvi. 27.
profess to acknowledge he is, the lawgiver, the irispector and judge, of their lives and hearts : but securely follow passion, appetite, custom, fancy, as the guide of their conduct; and openly ridicule those that do otherwise; call themselves Christians
perhaps, but are totally void of reverence for every doctrine of Christianity that is above their comprehension, for every precept that contradicts their inclination ; and strangely negligent even of natural piety and social virtue. Larger multitudes yet imagine, that they are mighty religious persons, if they preserve but a tolerable regularity in the outward acts of devotion, justice, and temperance: though not proceeding from any inward principle of love and duty to God, not accompanied by any sense of their needing his pardon through the blessed Jesus, or his help through the influences of the Holy Spirit ; not carried on to an uniform habit either of obedience or resignation, or animated by the hopes of a better world. Indeed they most commonly live, and often die, as unconcerned about his future disposal of them, as if it were not a matter of moment at all, instead of being the only real one that belongs to our condition.
But, if possible, we have slighted him still more, considered as a people, than separately. We have enjoyed the greatest national blessings, without the least national thankfulness for them. In particular he hath blessed us with the clearest knowledge of the several obligations incumbent on us : and we have shewn the most absolute scorn of all methods for
promoting or securing the practice of them, even in those points, on which our public welfare most confessedly depends. Nor have we hitherto received the warnings, or even the corrections of the Almighty,
which have begun to overtake us, with more respect, than his mercies. You have just heard the case of the barren fig-tree read in the Gospel for the day: Behold, these three years I come, seeking fruit, and find none : cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground * ? Brethren, what is our case? The present is the fifth year that we have professed to observe a solemn fast, on account of our sins and our dangers, without making the least reformation in any single article. Nay, we have continually increased in neglect of religion, in gaiety and madness for pleasure: till we are come to pursue our diversions openly on the most sacred day of the week; and some (for, in every instance, while the offence is renewed, the complaint must) cannot persuade themselves to abstain from them, or from inviting large companies of others to join in them, even on these anniversaries of peculiar humiliation
Such outrages on piety and common decency as these, must when repeated after notice taken of them, and warning given against them, which hath been faithfully done by the ministers of God's word, be deemed premeditated insults, not inadvertence and forgetfulness. Yet forgetfulness of the Most High can never be a slight offence: and is greatly aggravated by the strong admonitions to remember him, which not only his holy word and our consciences, would we hearken to them, give us perpetually, but his Providence also hath given us of late. The natural consequences, and superadded punishments of our disregard to him, have appeared very plainly for some time, and are daily becoming more visible and sensible, in the sins, and follies, and distresses of priyate life, in the general want of public order and public spirit, in burthens and uneasinesses; in threatenings and actual attempts from abroad to deprive us of the liberty we have abused, and the religion we have scorned ; and sink us down into the slavery, and superstition, and wretchedness, that we have deserved to feel. Hitherto, indeed, the storm hath not fallen upon us : but it still hangs over us more heavily, than most of us have ever known : our efforts to dispel it have succeeded very imperfectly : the difficulty of renewing those efforts must be augmenting each year : our enemies are multiplied in a dreadful manner: and what assistance we may expect from our friends, God only knows. One thing, indeed, may afford some consolation to us. We have manifested, on occasion of our danger, an universal zeal for that establishment, which is the only human means of preserving us from it. Had we failed in our loyalty, we had completed our wickedness: and should any temptation hereafter entice or provoke us to fail in it, we and our posterity are entirely undone. But there can be no sure dependence on their dutifulness to their king, who are undutiful to their God : or on their attachment to the common interest of the society, who prefer every present gratification to their own everlasting welfare. Or if there could ; a profane and wicked people will never have equal spirit in defence of the community, for they have not equal motives to it, with a pious and virtuous one. Or supposing their courage ever so great : their wealth, their strength, their union, their assiduity, their observance of rules, their mutual confidence, will be less : and those vices, which have brought us already so far on our way towards ruin, must at length, if we persist in them, bring us to it, merely by producing their natural effects.
* Luke xiii.-7.
But could we have hopes of escaping these, the honour of the divine government is concerned not to let a national contempt of it go unpunished, even in this world; and all reliance on human wisdom and power, without regard to God, will prove in the end fatal self-deceit. When the Lord shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall stumble, and he that is holpen shall fall down : they shall all fail together *. The anger of the Lord shall not return, till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly t.
But surely then we had much better consider it in this our day I; and, as another text awfully exhorts, give glory to the Lord our God, before he cause darkness : and while we look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death 9. Too many, of all ranks, will probably slight whatever of this kind is said, even from Scripture itself. But still our commission is : Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel ; to a rebellious nation, that hath rebelled against me, they and their fathers unto this very day: and thou shalt say unto them. Thus saith the Lord; and thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear ||. Men in power and high stations more especially, and they who aspire to them no less, have always been disposed to look with great disdain on the artless and unwelcome directions, which religion suggests for deliverance from danger. They have more refined contrivances, on which they rest; and scorn the plain methods of reconciliation to God, and trust in him, through our blessed Redeemer, as fitted only for the populace to hearken to. But the Scripture hath provided an alarming denunciation * Isa. xxxi. 3. + Jer. xxiii. 20. Luke xix. 42. § Jer. xiii. 16.
l) Ezek. ï. 3, 4. 7.