« PreviousContinue »
principal attention, to the neglect of their common welfare; drive them into doing bad actions, and countenancing bad persons; make foreign friends afraid to rely upon us; and both foreign and domestic enemies bold to enterprise against us. Their late enterprise was chiefly founded on our divisions: which neither they, nor indeed we, could have imagined would have suffered us to unite against them so soon, and so heartly, as we did. God be praised, who inclined our hearts to it: but let us sin no more. Each party sees, that the other have sinned: each might see, that they have sinned themselves: both must see, that the event was nearly pernicious: let us take warning for the future.
But it will be of small advantage not to oppose one another, if we all agree in behaving amiss: and therefore,
4. The last caution is, to indulge extravagant pleasures and amusements no more. It is but too visible, how much, living entirely to trifles and follies hath increased in the upper part of the world; and madness for diversions and entertainments, even in the middle and lower; together with most profligate intemperance and debauchery in the lowest of all. Now vicious indulgences are destructive to our temporal, as well as our spiritual interests; to the health and strength, that should labour for and defend the public; to the honesty and regularity, that should secure private peace and comfort. Merely imprudent gratifications, by devouring time and money, as they do beyond imagination, destroy industry, and propagate poverty; which, we must be sensible, is making yearly frightful advances upon us. And when wickedness is instigated by necessity, the worst of consequences may justly be apprehended. Those
of mean rank are then fully ripe for any mischief: and what mischief might we not have dreaded from them ten months ago, had Providence permitted the rebels to reach our capital? Persons of better condition, when distressed, will too often sacrifice every other consideration to the urgent one of supplying their wants, real or fancied; prefer their own present profit, sometimes a trifling profit, before the common safety; heighten groundless discontents, to take advantage of them; nay, join in rebellion itself against their consciences; of which we have lately had a most remarkable example, and ingenuous confession *. May it prove an useful preventive!
A further great evil is, that immoderate lovers of pleasure will of course favour the vilest wretches, who contribute to their entertainment; and too frequently depreciate the worthiest character, if it be a grave one whence proceed inconveniences without number. But were this despicable inclination hurtful no otherwise; it would be extremely so, by taking off the mind from application to things of moment. Even in persons the least considerable, indolence, and inattention to their proper business, may have extensive bad effects: and when it grows general among such, it sensibly impoverishes and weakens, and tends to ruin a nation. But they, who are intrusted with matters of importance, may not only, by a series of neglect, but by the ill-timed indulgence of an idle humour for a day or an hour, cause irretrievable mischief to a society, that hath purchased and depends on their best vigilance and industry : which therefore are due to it, not only in point of
See Foster's account of the behaviour of the late Earl of Kilmarnock after his sentence, p. 6, 7. 10, 11. 41.
honour, but of indispensable moral obligation in the sight of God.
These, I apprehend, are the chief particulars, in which we should learn, from being made whole, to sin no more. And every one should apply them to examine and direct himself, not to inveigh against others; and remember, that the utmost punctuality and zeal in some parts of his duty, will not be accepted, as an atonement for transgressing or overlooking any of the rest.
III. The last general head, comprehended in the advice of the text, is, a prudent consideration of what may follow, if we disregard it: Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. Perhaps we may think, that nothing worse can come. And so perhaps thought the poor man, to whom this was said first: for his illness had been a very deplorable one. Yet our Saviour gave him the warning: and let us take it also. Whoever goes on to offend, after receiving signal mercies, is plainly a greater sinner: and let him not doubt, but God can send him a heavier punishment even in this world, and make his last state worse than the first *. Indeed, should only what we have already felt return upon us: the tenderness of a wounded part will augment both the fear and the pain. And how little probability of it soever we discern, as one dreadful danger hath grown up out of nothing, so may a dreadfuler of the same nature. Our sins, if we amend not, will enfeeble and divide us yet more our intestine foes may take new courage; our foreign ones may support them better: God may refuse entirely to go forth with our hosts † ; and any thing may have any effect, that he pleases.
* Matth. xii. 45.
+ Psalm cviii. 11.
Hitherto we have only been washed by the waves: the next time we may sink under them: that surely would be worse. And they, who have now suffered so much from us, would with reason become vastly more formidable to us, were they to succeed hereafter, than if they had succeeded lately.
But where is the impossibility, that without the help of enemies at home, the powerful and inveterate one, which we have abroad, may enslave us ere long immediately to itself: and that without granting even the short reprieve to our religion, liberties, and properties, which perhaps from the former we might hope? Our only defence against both is in God's good providence; and our only ground of trust in that is, if we sin no more. For fresh provocations, it must be expected, will bring on severer judgments. Let us often recollect then, that He, who hath delivered us out of the hand of our enemies, can full as easily deliver us into it; and if he doth not, still hath us continually in his own. Every thing terrible, fire, famine, pestilence, waits on his orders. At this instant we are suffering heavily by the last, though hitherto confined to our cattle. But how much longer and more general a ravage it may make amongst them, or to what other species of creatures it may extend at length, and whether not to our own, which of us can say ?
But indeed, without any other scourge at all, sin alone, by the natural consequences, which Heaven hath originally annexed to it, is able to ruin us very completely. Contempt of God and our duty may overturn on a sudden, but must undermine gradually, in proportion as it prevails, every blessing that we enjoy; fill every family with disorders and distresses, abolish mutual faith and confidence, open a wide
door to fraud and force, defeat the execution of justice, make our envied constitution ineffectual to its great ends, and turn all the good of it into evil; till we are able to bear, as was the ancient complaint in like circumstances, neither our diseases nor their remedies*. The more immorality spreads, the deeper root it strikes; the difficulties of checking it increase; the numbers and vigour of those who endeavour to check it, lessen. Some distempers, by the fermentation, which they excite, work their own cure. But wickedness is a gangrene, which destroys the part it seizes; and, if it approaches towards being universal, must end in death. External force, like an acute disease, though for a time it bears down all before it, may still, by the vigour of nature, be thrown off unexpectedly; but an internal principle of dissolution, that hath corrupted the whole mass of humours, admits no relief.
Or suppose a sinful nation, either by stopping short of the extremity of sin, or by an uncommon delay of divine justice, neither of which can reasonably be expected, were to escape temporal ruin ever so long; yet there will be a worse, an infinitely worse thing, come without fail, and that very soon, to every sinner in it; the final vengeance of God in the next life; which will be, as it ought, peculiarly severe on those who despise the riches of his forbearance and long-suffering; and will not know, that his goodness leads them to repentance †.
I am very sensible, that this may appear a comfortless, and intimidating manner of speaking to you: and exceedingly unsuitable to so joyful a solemnity, as the present. But why then will not all who hear me, why will not this whole land, resolve on that † Rom. ii. 4.
* Liv. Hist. Præf.