« PreviousContinue »
do it: the light is come, and shines in you; and the grace appears daily to you, and in you, against the very imaginations and motions to evil; and you are self-condemned in your excesses of all sorts ; and if your hearts condemn you, God will not justify you:* therefore bring your deeds to the true light with which Christ has enlightened you, and examine if they are wrought in God or no; and begin a cordial reformation, which stands in the spirit of reformation.'
Sect. VIII. An Address to the Civil Magistrate for Redress. Having thus ended my reflections upon the five great crying sins of the kingdom, and my reproof of the actors and promoters of them; give me leave to make my humble and Christian address to you that are in authority. And, in the first place, I beseech you to remember, that though ye are as gods on earth, yet ye shall die like men : that ye are encom passed with like passions, and are subject to sin. Such therefore of you, as may be concerned in any of these enormities (to whatever degree of guilt it be) I beg you, in the name of God, to “ search yourselves," and to be just to your own souls. O! let the mercies and providences of God con. strain you to unfeigned repentance! turn to the Lord, love righteousness, hate oppression, and he will turn to you, and love you and bless you.
In the next place, be pleased to consider your commission, and examine the extent of your authority; you will find that God and the government have empowered you to punish these impieties : and it is so far from being a crime, that it is your duty. This is not troubling men for faith, por perplexing people for tenderness of conscience; for there can be no pretence of conscience to be drunk, to whore, to be voluptuous, to game, swear, curse, blaspheme and profane; no such matter. These are sins against nature, and against government, as well as against the written laws of God. They lay the axe to the root of human society, and are the common enemies of mankind. It was to prevent these enormities, that government was instituted; and shall government indulge that which it is instituted to correct ? This were to render magistracy useless, and the bearing of the sword vain : there would be then no such thing in government as “ a terror to evil-doers:" but every one would do that which he thought right in his own eyes. God Almighty defend us from this sort of anarchy! There are three great reasons, which enforce my suppli
* Jobni. 9. iii. 21.
cation. The first is, The preservation of the government;' which, by such improvidence and debauchery, is like to be greatly weakened, if not destroyed. The industry, wealth, health, and authority of the nation, are deeply concerned in the speedy and exemplary punishment of these extravagancies. · This is the voice of interest, for the common good of the whole society; rulers and ruled.
But there is an higher voice, unto which Christian men ought to have regard, and that is, the Voice of God,' who requires us to fear him, and obey his righteous commandments, at the peril of making him our enemy, whom we should make our cominon friend and protector: for upon his goodness depends our very natural and civil comforts. So that it is our interest to be good; and it is none of the. least arguments for religion, that the piety and practice of it is the peace and prosperity of government; and, consequently, that vice, the enemy of religion, is, at the same time, the enemy of human society. What then should be more concerned for the preservation of virtue, than government; that, in its abstract and true sense, is not only founded upon virtue, but, without the preservation of virtue, it is impossible to maintain the best constitution that can be made? And however some particular men may prosper that are wicked, and several private good men miscarry in the things of this world, in which sense things may be said “ to happen alike to all, to the righteous as to the wicked;" yet I dare boldly affirm, and challenge any man to the truth thereof, that in the many volumes of the history of all the ages and kingdoms of the world, there is not one instance to be found, where the hand of God was against a righteous nation, or where the hand of God was not against an unrighteous nation, first or last ? Nor where a just government perished, or an unjust government long prospered ? Kingdoms are rarely as short-lived as men, yet they also have a time to die : but as temperance giveth health to men, so virtue gives time to kingdoms; and as vice brings men betimes to their grave, so nations to their ruin.
It is the reason given by God himself for the destruction of the old world. We have that example before our eyes, that a whole world has perished for its sin, its forgetfulness of God, and their duty to him ; one family only excepted.' Gen. vi. That is the reason which God renders for casting out the neople of those countries, that he gave into the hands of the children of Israel; “ they were full of uncleanness, adulteries, fornication, and other impieties.” And though he is sovereign Lord of the world, and may dispose of the kingdoms therein as pleaseth him (for he that gives, can take away; and he that builds, can cast down, and mankind is but a tenant at will, to receive or surrender at his Lord's good pleasure) yet he useth not that prerogative to justify his gift of those countries to the Jews; but, at the end of his prohibition of unlawful marriages and lusts, he charges them in these words ;* " Defile not yourselves in any of these things; for in all these the nations are defiled, which I cast out before you; and the land is defiled; therefore do I visit the iniquities thereof upon it; and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you; that the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.
So Saul's disobedience was his destruction, and his sin made way for David's title, . Saul died,” saith the sacred story, “ for his transgression :" this made the Philistines conquerors; his own sin beat him, and killed him. Saul died for his transgression : then if he had not sinned he had lived; he had beaten his enemies, and kept the kingdom? Yes, the place implies it. This, then, should deter men, but kings especially, who have so much to lose here, and so much to answer for hereafter. But what was Saul's sin? It was, first, “ Not keeping, but disobeying, the word of the Lord,” both as it came by the mouth of Sanuel, God's prophet, and as it spoke the mind of God to him in his own conscience: for Moses had said before that the word of God was nigb, in the heart," and in God's name commanded the children of Israel to obey and do it. In short, he refused the counsel of God, and God for his counsellor: for, in the next place, he betakes himself “to one that had a familiar spirit for advice," saith the story: "He enquired not of the Lord; therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David.” There are too many people troubled with familiar spirits; it were well if they were less familiar with them : had Saul trusted in God, he needed not to have been driven to that strait. He that was made king by God's appointment, and endued with a good spirit, so basely to degenerate, as to run to a witch for counsel, could not but miscarry. To this darkness and extremity iniquity will bring men: and truly, a wo follows all such persons; answerable to that expression of God by the prophet ;* 6 Wo unto them that take counsel, and not of me.” “ When Saul,” saith the place," was little in his own eyes, God honoured him; he made him head and king of the Levit. xviii. 24, 25, 26, 28.
+ 1 Sam. xv, 17.
tribes of Israel :" but when Saul grew proud, God deserted him, and for bis disobedience destroyed him. And what befel the family of Saul, in some after-ages befel both kings and people, and worse : for their land was invaded, first by the Egyptians, then by the Chaldeans and Babylonians : their temple was rifled, their treasure taken, and their kings, princes, nobles, artificers, and mighty men of valour, yea all, save the poorest of the people, were killed, or carried away captive, by the king of Babylon. The reason rendered is this: * « Because the kings did that which was evil in the sight of God, and stiffened their necks, and hardened their hearts from turning unto the Lord God of Israel;" and because the chief of the priests and of the people transgressed very much after the abominations of the heathen. And when God sent his messengers to reprove and warn them, and that out of his great compassion, they wickedly mocked his messengers, despised his words, and misused his prophets, till his wrath came upon them, and overthrew them.
I will here end my instances out of sacred story: and let us now briefly consider what the histories of other places will tell us, that we may observe some proportion of agreement in the providence of God throughout the world.
The first empire had Nimrod's strength, and the wisdom of the Chaldeans, to establish it ; and whilst their prudence and sobriety lasted, they prospered. No sooner came voluptuousness, than the empire decayed; and was at last, by the base effeminacies of Sardanapalus, in whom that race ended, transferred to another family. It was the policy of an Assyrian king, in order to subdue the strength of Babylon, then under good discipline, not to invade it with force, but to debauch it. Wherefore he sent players, musicians, cooks, harlots, &c. and by those njeans introducing corruption of manners, there was little more to do, than to take it. Nebuchadnezzar, by his virtue and industry, seen in the siege of Tyre, and in many enterprizes, recovered and enlarged the empire; and it seems his discipline (those times considered) was so excellent, that it was praised in scripture. But when he grew proud and foolish, forgetting that providence that had shown itself so kind to him, he became a beast, and grazed among beasts : till God, whom he had forgotten, had restored him the heart of a man and his throne together.
He, dying, left Evil-Merodach heir to his crown, not his conduct, nor the heart to consider what God had done by him : in his time pride and luxury increased, but came not
• 2 Kings xxiv. 14. 2 Chron. xxxvi. 14.
to its full pitch, till the reign of Belshazzar, who did not only, as Nebuchadnezzar, live, but die, a beast. In him we have the exact example of a dissolute and miserable prince: be thought to fence himself against heaven and earth : dissolved in pleasures, he worshipped no other God : his story may make us well conclude, that God and man desert those that desert themselves, and neglect the means of their own preservation. The city was taken before he knew it, and the sword almost in his bowels, before he believed it: his sensuality bad wrapt him in such a desperate security. But he fell not by the hand of one like himself; for God, who had determined the end, prepared the means. Cyrus and bis Persians were the men : the people were poor, inhabit. ing a barren country; but hardy, and of sober manners. Cyrus God had endued with excellent natural qualities, cultivated (as story tells us) by the care of four of the most temperate, just, and wise persons of those times. This was he, whom God honoured with the name of his “shepherd,” and who was the executioner of his vengeance upon the Assyrians. While he reigned, all was well; but after he and his virtuous companions deceased, their children fell into the vices of the Assyrians; and though they reigned from the Indus to the Hellespont, they soon became the conquest of the Greeks.
Never was there a greater instance given of the weakness of pomp and luxury, than in the resistance made at Thermopolæ, where three hundred virtuous Spartans encountered the vast army of Xerxes, consisting of no less than seventeen hundred thousand men. In short, the defeats of Salamine and Platea, the expeditions of Xenophon with Cyrus the younger, almost into Babylon, and the wars of Agesilaus in Asia, made it evident, that Greece wanted only union, and an head, to make herself mistress of that vast empire.
Åt last comes Alexander of Macedon, with the best disciplined people that was then known: the dispute was short, where steel was against gold, sobriety against luxury, and men against men that were turned women. Thus the Per. sians, prepared by their own vices, God delivered into the hands of the Greeks, who as much excelled them in their virtue, as they were short of their dominion and wealth. But this lasted not long; for Alexander, who died young, survived his virtue and reputation, by falling into those vices of the nations God had given him power to trample under foot; insomuch that he, who was before generous, became barbarous and tyrannical. Egypt, Asia, and Macedon, held up their heads a while; but not resisting the torrent 'of lewd