« PreviousContinue »
the God of Jacob for his help, and whose hope is in the Lord his God*. But we cannot hope for the continuation of his protection, unless we answer the intention of it: which the nature of the thing, as well as holy writ, assures us is, that, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we may serve him without fear t. It is not then, that we may sin against him without fear: that we may return securely to the follies and vices, the impiety and profaneness, from which we abstained, while his hand lay heavy upon us. Then we professed to observe days of fasting and prayer. And what was the language of them ? “Spare us, “good Lord, that we may safely go on to be as bad “ as we have been, and worse ?” Surely not. Some indeed expressed, even in the midst of danger, an open scorn of them: others were evidently kept from it by mere outward decency. Many however were awakened, spoke and thought seriously, resolved well, prayed heartily. But are they not most of them already, or shall we not find them soon, relapsed again into their old neglect ? For such hath always been the course of human nature, unless carefully restrained by conscientious vigilance. When he slew them they sought him, and turned them early, and enquired after God: and they remembered that God was their strength, and the high God their Redeemer. Nevertheless they did but flatter him with their mouth, and dissembled with him in their tongue. For their heart was not whole with him: neither continued they stedfast in his covenant |. After this feint of reformation, they grew, as men always do, wickeder than before. And I beg you to attend to the final consequence. When God saw this, he was wroth, and took sore displeasure * Psalm cxlvi. 2. 4.
+ Luke i. 74. Psalm lxxviii. 34–37.
at Israel : he delivered their power into captivity; and their beauty into the enemy's hand *.
If therefore it be asked, what we shall do to shew our thankfulness acceptably, the answer is plain : Walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless t; but practise those with more especial zeal, which either our circumstances particularly require, or our hearts tell us we have particularly transgressed.
Common prudence is one part of our duty; which we have unaccountably slighted. We have increased amusements and gaieties to a degree unexampled, just when Providence hath called us most loudly to thoughtful consideration. We have increased expensiveness to an equal degree, when perhaps our own fortunes, but certainly those of multitudes, whom our example tempts and often almost forces to imitation, are incapable of bearing it. And both these indiscretions have produced personal miseries and national inconveniences without number. We have disregarded, and affected to disregard, the care of our families, and the proper business of our several employments, though sometimes perhaps important ones, not only to indulge our appetites, but to gratify our caprices : behaviour, in every rank and station, fruitful of mischief; but in the higher of most dreadful and extensive mischief. In matters of national concern, we have followed our private interests, resentments, friendships, instead of truth, and right, and general good. We have framed and supported useless and hurtful distinctions and divisions; and been unjustly vehement in mutual reproaches; till our enemies were encouraged to fancy, that one Psalm lxxviii. 60. 62.
+ Luke i, 6.
half of us was ready to join them. We have vilified our governors, till we had almost disowned the blessings of government: and it was very near being too late, that our affection to an establishment, on which our own happiness depends, revived, after an indifference, that foreboded immediate ruin. Let us never forget more what we have been so seasonably convinced of now : but always esteem as highly our laws and liberties, and the august house that secures them, as we did in that hour, when the hazard of losing them was most imminent. But let us amend in
every other point also: and while there is yet space to repent *, become a sober-minded, frugal, industrious, honest, and united people. For we cannot else continue a free one : neither the justice of God, nor the connexions of human affairs, will permit it.
These then are fundamental rules of private prudence. With those of public wisdom we have no concern here, beyond two particulars. The first is our obligation to pray, that God would incline those, who are in authority over us, to consider seriously what have been the cause of our troubles, and direct them to proper remedies : would enable them to preserve, both in punishments and precautions, the true medium between too great severity and too great indulgence : would instruct them, how to reconcile all that wish well to the community: and how to prevent others from renewing any more our sufferings, or their own. The second is, our consequent obligation to distrust our own judgment, rather than theirs, in matters of such difficulty; and to use our faithful endeavours, that what they determine may become effectual. But how rightly soever we are disposed in these
* Rev. ii. 21.
respects, if we continue to entertain the same contempt of religion, which we have manifested for a long time past, it is in vain to trust, that God will continue to deliver us. How much, or how little forbearance he may exercise, cannot be said ; but sooner or later, except we repent, we must perish * For, let us think of it or not, he is the Ruler of the world : and he will approve himself to be such, by inflicting on those, who slight him, the vengeance they deserve. Indeed could he leave them to themselves; as the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom t, so casting it off is the inlet of folly. Religious motives are the only ones, that can, in all cases, either prompt to what is right, or restrain from what is wrong, with sufficient force: and when this tie is broken, no other will hold. Reason plainly shews it : Scripture hath repeatedly foretold it: the experience of all ages confirms it : and there is no room left for us to carry the trial further, without utter destruction. We have been sinking for a great while, in proportion as we grew vicious and profane, till at last we were plunged in the depth of distress. Once more however, after seeming quite rejected, we have received a kind encouragement. But if we let judgments and mercies both be lost upon us; what can there remain, but final ruin ?
Think then with yourselves, why should we not now return to God? Gratitude is a generous principle of action : and he hath furnished us with an opportunity for it. Hope is a nobler one than fear alone. And who can tell, what hope there may be yet for this nation, would we but apply to our offended Father with virtuous penitence? He can raise us friends where we least expected it, and change the * Luke xiii. 3.
† Psalm cxi. 10. Prov. ix. 10.
hearts of our bitterest adversaries. For he refraineth the spirit of princes, and is wonderful among the kings of the earth * When the ways of a man please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him ț. But if their enmity continues, he can check, he can break their power, at its very height: and strengthen the hands I, direct the counsels, prosper the undertakings of his people; so that no man shall be able to stand before them g. For his is the greatness, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty || : for the kingdom is the Lord's, and he is the Governor amongst the nations 1. Let it be thy pleasure, O Lord, to deliver us : make haste, O God, to help us. Let all those that seek thee, be joyful and glad in thee ; and such as love thy salvation say alway, The Lord be praised ** • Psalm lxxvi. 12. + Prov. xvi. 7. | Neh. vi. 9. Josh. i. 5. || 1 Chron.
| Psa xxii. 28. Psalm xl. 16. 19.