Page images
PDF
EPUB

against them in particular. Hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us; for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves : therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation : he that believeth, shall not make haste *. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet; and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand. Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong t. Another sort of persons, extremely apt to despise the thought of reformation, indeed all serious thought whatever, are they who abandon themselves to indolence and voluptuousness, and the study of luxurious elegance and delicacy. But for these likewise there is in the treasury of the prophets a menace in store, which contains, alas! much too exact a description of our own times.

Wo unto them that are at ease in Zion, that put far away the evil day, that lie upon ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, that eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall, (the luxury of the table had then made but a small progress) that chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, that drink wine in bowls, and perfume themselves with the chief perfumes *, but are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and their banquet shall be removed f. Others again are by no means indifferent about the storm, which they see gathering; but have no belief, that amendment, or any thing, can disperse it: and therefore will take no pains in what they conceive will produce no good. But at least to themselves amendment will produce the greatest good: and resolutions not to amend, will bring both upon them and others, more certain and speedy, and total destruction; which else, after all, may perhaps be avoided. For hear the declaration of God in this case. Now therefore speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying: Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I frame evil against you ; return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. And they said, There is no hope ; but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart. Therefore thus saith the Lord, Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things. I will scatter them, as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity I.

beds of

* Or, be ashamed. See Rom. ix. 33. X. 11. + Isa, xxviii. 14-18. 22.

So that, whether it be confidence, or despair, that hinders reformation, the threatenings, you see, are the same. And the full execution of these threatenings, together with the cause of it, is thus recorded in the Book of Chronicles. The Lord God of their

• In our translation it is, Anoint themselves with the chief ointments. But this, though literal, gives a different idea now from what it did then. + Amos vi. 1. 3–7.

| Jer. xviii, 11, 12, 13. 17.

fathers sent to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of God arose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young or old: he gave them all into his hand *.

How near we have approached to them in our guilt, is too visible: how easily we may come to resemble them in our punishment, is not less so. The hand of God is plainly lifted up over us : the only question is, Will we humble ourselves under it, or will we not ? Will we yet acknowledge, that He is the sovereign of the world, and obeying him the only way to prosper? Will we yet seek him while he may be found t ; confess our sins, change our conduct, and petition for his mercy? There have been circumstances, in which repentance itself would not stop the course of temporal punishments, though it will always prevent eternal ones : in which God hath said to his prophets, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer an oblation, I will not accept them : but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence 1. Even to this extremity, we may reduce ourselves : but that we are already in it, no way appears.

The general rule of his providence is, At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it: if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will * 2 Chr. xxxvi. 15, 16, 17.

+ Isaiah lv. 6. | Jer. xiv. 11, 12.

1

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them *. And it ought to be our persuasion, that we are within the rule. Our cause is unquestionably good: and though we have been, most of us, lamentably wicked, yet through his grace many have preserved their integrity; and either for their sake, or his mercies' sake, we still enjoy great blessings. He hath been far from forsaking us, to the degree that we have forsaken him ; else our state were wretched indeed : and would we but now humble ourselves, throughly under his mighty hand, there is no room to doubt, but he would exalt us in due time.

Whenever he calls upon us to use the instrument, he surely designs us to attain the end, for which it was formed. Now penitent reformation is the natural, as well as the appointed instrument for exalting both particular persons and communities. Religion works indeed by terror at first, and lowers the high spirits of the guilty: but only to raise them again on solid grounds, instead of the treacherous props which kept them up before. Without it, there is no dignity in the condition of man: and how should there be any expected in his deportment ? If persons either believe not in one, who sees and rewards, or cannot hope that he will reward good to them: if all that they promise themselves be here, and they apprehend, that neither annihilation or misery awaits them hereafter; they will of course be many of them dangerous and mischievous, the generality of them base and vile, attend solely to the indulgence of their fancies and their senses, eat and drink, for to-morrow they die t. Or if any sparks of worth do remain, unextinguished by such a mean way of thinking, they will have only an occasional * Jer. xviii. 7, 8.

+ i Cor. xv. 32.

and partial influence. Or could it, in some few, be a constant and uniform one, yet they will be very few: and the body of a people, if they are without conscience towards God, will be without honour and probity towards men, without prudence and magnanimity in the conduct of themselves, profligate and despicable in all respects. But on the contrary, true religion, for I speak not of superstitious persuasions and observances, true religion places men above sordid interests, low pleasures, and worldly anxieties : teaches them to dread nothing, but offending their Maker; to set their hearts on nothing, but pleasing him; and to have no conception of pleasing him by any other means, than rational piety and genuine virtue : it excites them by the noblest of motives to whatever is useful and estimable; and restrains them by the strongest terrors from whatever is bad and hurtful: obliges them to right behaviour in the highest prosperity, and supports them in it under the heaviest adversities : inspires men with the most earnest concern for doing their duty; and frees them from all concern about the consequences of it in this world, by presenting to their view the endless recompenses of a better. Such, in some degree, is the influence even of natural religion : but unspeakably more powerful will that be found, whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might be partakers of the divine nature *.

Then farther, the sentiments, which thus dignify every one's behaviour singly, must have the same influence upon all, considered as forming a community. Public welfare will never be consulted as it ought, while men act merely on separate selfish bottoms : nor ever fail to be consulted, when a well-founded

* 2 Pet. i. 4.

« PreviousContinue »