« הקודםהמשך »
to be beaten more severely. “ You only have I known of all the families of the earth ; therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities.” Amos iii. 2.
Let us attend to the words of the prophet, “ In that day did the Lord God of Hosts call to weeping and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth, and behold, joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine: let us eat and drink for to-morrow we die.” Sennacherib's invasion was a divine call to fasting, mourning, repentance, and prayer: but the people united excessive sensual indulgence, with infidel principles and daring impiety. “ And it was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of Hosts ; surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die.” Isaiah xxii. 12–14. Alas, does not the spirit and conduct of men in general throughout our land so exactly accord to this description, that a serious mind cannot but dread the denunciation of a like sentence against us? Thus Amos also warned the Jews and Israelites in his time. si Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria.—Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to draw near. That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches ; that eat the lambs out of the fock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall : that chaunt to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music like David ; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint them with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Therefore shall they go captive with the first that go captive ; and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed. The Lord God hath sworn by himself, I abhor the excellency of Jacob and hate his palaces : therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein." Amos vi. 1-8. And in another place --- I have given you cleanness of teeth in your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. I have withholden the rain,-yet have ye not returned unto me. I have smitten you with blasting and mildew ; — I have sent pestilence upon you. I have overthrown some of you as God overthrew Sodom, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning : yet have ye not returned unto me saith the Lord. Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel : and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, o Israel.” Amos iv. 6—13. If the people would not return to the Lord, when he corrected them as a Father, let them prepare to meet him as an avenging Judge.
In this case the form of godliness or profession of Christianity, will avail nothing. “ To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord, I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts: and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hands, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations, incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with: it is iniquity even your solemn meeting. Your new moons, and your appointed feasts my soul hateth : they are a trouble to me, I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: when ye make many prayers I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes ; cease to do evil ; learn to do well ; seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, &c." Isaiah i. “ They seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God; they ask of me the ordinances of justice, they take delight in approaching to God. Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the henvy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free; and that ye break every yoke ?" Isaiah lviii. 2–6. “ Think not to say within yonrselves, We have Abraham to our Father. Now is the axe laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Matt. iii. 7-12.
These Scriptures, to which many more might properly be added, abundantly prove that no external humiliation, or public honour put upon God and refigion, can procure more than a respite to a guilty nation, unless repentance and works meet for repentance be connected with them. Such an outward shew of contrition Ahab exhibited, and a reprieve was granted him : but the destruction of him and his family was not averted.
We are not authorized to say at what time, or in what manner, the Lord may see good to be avenged on such a nation as this. He deals with collective bodies and with individuals in some respects according to the same rules. Young persons having heard the wrath of God denounced against sin, frequently venture upon flagrant vices with considerable apprehensions : but escaping with impunity, they grow bolder in wickedness, and are apt to conclude the threatenings of Scripture to be mere empty words. Thus “because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Eccl. viii. 11. But “ he that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." Prov. xxix. 1. Some are cut off in youth, others are spared, and persist in wickedness till they are grown old: but in general ungodly men are most secure when vengeance is at hand.” 1 Thess. v. 1, 2.
In like manner, guilty nations being often warned that their iniquities will bring down the judgements of God upon them, and finding respite, become hardened in sin; the remonstrances and reproofs of the Lord's servants are disregarded, or only expose them to reproach, scorn, and ill-usage; the measure of their wickedness fills up rapidly, but without being observed ; and when infidel and impious presumption are at the height, vengeance overtakes them as suddenly as if they had never been forewarned. Thus it was with Israel and Judah in the Assyrian and Chaldean captivities; and especially this was the case of the Jews, at the time when Jerusalem, the temple, and the whole country was finally desolated by the Romans.
When the Lord has a number of believing servants and faithful ministers in a land, and they enjoy toleration and protection, a hopeful symptom remains. Their example, prayers, and exertions in various ways, prevent a' total prevalence of impiety and iniquity. They are " the salt and the light of the land :" and for their sakes the Lord delays national judgements, and executes vengeance on the individuals who provoke his indignation. But prevailing divisions among professed believers, attended with lukewarmness, formality, loose principles, extravagant sentiments, and scandalous practice, tend to subvert this bulwark of our country. The gradual but effectual success of those, who “ privily bring in damnable heresies" into congregations and bodies of men, hitherto steadily attached to the peculiar doctrines of the gospel ; with the progress of infidelity on every side, are signs of the times," which threaten to deprive us of our last ground of confidence.
If the present generation of pious Christians should be taken from the evil to come, and be succeeded by such, “ as have the form of godliness but deny the power of it;" and if the number of zealous defenders of the truth should decrease, and timid, feeble advocates be substituted in their room; it is very probable that the Lord may permit the open enemies of Christianity to prevail for a season. In this case persecution may waste, or drive to a distance the faithful remnant, suppress the testimony of the witnesses, and prevent the public profession of the gospel : thus the light will be obscured or extinguished, and the candlestick removed, while infidelity and atheism will exult and triumph. Should this take place, no doubt the flood-gates of national judgements will be opened ; and the vengeance of the Lord against our flagrant contempt and defiance of him be made manifest to all the world. This was the course of events in Judea, especially from the death of Josiah to the captivity : and when scarcely a man could be found to intercede for the land, the wrath of God was poured out upon them like an irresistible deluge. The same was still more remarkable, after the Jews in our Lord's
time had filled up the measure of their iniquities: for the persecuted Christians separated from among them when the Romans invaded the land, and then wrath came upon them to the uttermost. Something analagous hath been commonly observed in the desolations of countries professing Christianity: and when we consider the dire calamities that have befallen a neighbouring nation, (for dire they have been, in what way soever they may terminate,) we may well recollect our Lord's words, “ Think ye that they were sinners above all men ? I tell you nay, but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” In the meanwhile the Lord waits to be gracious: and who can tell, but that faith and prayer may prevail, and that a timely repentance and reformation may yet take place, and “so iniquity shall not be our ruin.”
V. Then I proceed to deduce some instructions and admonitions, suited to the present emergency:
When Sennacherib' invaded Judah, with a powerful army, uttering the most dreadful menaces and blasphemies; the pious king sent to the prophet Isaiah, stating the case to him, and saying "Wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left :” and he himself spread the haughty Assyrian's letter before the Lord, and earnestly intreated his gracious interposition. Hezekiah indeed desired the prayers of an eminent prophet, who had long been employed in the honourable service : yet I apprehend, that we may properly consider his message to Isaiah, as a divine admonition to us at the present crisis. The providence of God hath formed a special relation between us and the land in which we live, similar to those we bear to our parents or children: we are therefore peculiarly bound to pray for its peace and welfare; for the captive Jews were commanded to pray for the peace of the country in which they had peace. We have received, and still enjoy manifold advantages, temporal and spiritual, in this our favoured land; and we, or our descendants, shall probably participate the future prosperity or adversity, the blessings or calamities, that await the nation. Our personal transgressions form no small part of that guilt which calls for divine judgments on the land : and our lukewarmness and inconsistent conduct, as Christians, Whave helped to provoke God to deprive us of our religious privileges. It would therefore be a foolish hypocrisy in us, on this day of fasting and humiliation, to arraign the conduct of other men, and excuse our own.
On these and many other accounts it is our undeniable duty “ to lift up our prayer for the remnant that is left.” There is still a remnant among us of real believers; there is still ground for hope in the Lord's mercy; "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much ;" the most eminent believers who prayed with signal success were men of like passions with us: even Isaiah once cried out, “ Woe is me, I am undone, I am a man of unclean lips;" and yet his prayers were most effectually answered. It is likewise undeniable, that our enemies, like Sennacherib, want to subvert our holy religion, as well as our temporal prosperity: and this suggests a powerful plea in lifting up our prayer for national deliverance.
But it is confidently asserted by numbers, that prayers, offered on such occasions, are the dictates of revenge, ambition, or avarice. If avowed infidels alone held such language, it would not excite our surprise: but it is indeed most astonishing, that men, pretending to believe the Bible, should condemn a practice approved and commanded in every part of the Sacred Volume ! Let us, however, examine how Hezekiah prayed.-“ O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, who dwellest between the cherubim, (that is above the mercy-seat ;) “ thou art the God, even thou alone, of the kingdoms of the earth ; thou hast made heaven and earth. Incline thine ear, O Lord, and hear; open thine eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, who hath sent to reproach the living God. Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their countries; and have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone; therefore they have destroyed them. Now therefore, O Lord our
God, save us from his hand, that all the kings of the earth may know that thou art the Lord, even thou only.” Isaiah xxxvii. 15—20. Nothing can be plainer, than that zeal for the honour of God and the interests of true religion principally dictated this prayer. The Lord indeed answered it, “ by terrible things in righteousness :" but Hezekiah had only asked deliverance for his people, not destruction on his enemies; and his expanded charity made him earnestly desire that all the kings of the earth might know the difference between the true God, and worthless idols, and that they might diffuse that knowledge among their subjects.
I would not knowingly offer one prayer on this occasion, which could not be answered consistently with our enemies enjoying peace, security, true liberty, good government, and the blessings of true religion : but we may pray that the Lord would " abate their pride, assuage their malice, and confound their devices,” (that is, their devices against the peace of other lands, or the Christian religion,) in entire consistency with these friendly dispositions towards them: for such things would conduce to their advantage, as well as our own. We may not ask the Lord to aggrandize or enrich our pation, that she may reign over all countries, or engross all the commerce of the world: but surely we may pray that famine, pestilence, hostile invasions, and evil discords may be averted; that there may be employment and food for the poor, peace in our borders, and the continuance of our civil and religious liberties. Above all we should pray for the peace, purity, and enlargement of the church ; that it may please the Lord to illuminate all the ministers of religion, with true knowledge and understanding of his word, * that both by their preaching and living they may set it forth and shew it accordingly,' that labourers may be sent forth into the harvest; “ that the Spirit of God may lift up a standard" against the torrent of infidelity, impiety, and vice, that inundates the land; and that all ranks and orders of men may be endued with wisdom and grace, to serve God and their generation faithfully and successfully. Such prayers as these may be branched out into a variety of particulars, without indulging sinful passions, or violating the law of love. And if we pray in faith, depending on the Lord alone, and not on an arm of flesh; and duly considering his almighty power and abundant mercy as fully adequate to all our necessities and difficulties, we may yet hope that he may be intreated for the land, and prolong our tranquillity.
But without personal repentance we cannot offer such supplications as these. It therefore behoves every one of us to consider our ways, to examine our hearts, humbly to confess our sins, to seek forgiveness, and to pray for grace that we may henceforth walk before God in newness of life. If any persons have hitherto continued impenitent and unbelieving; they should on this occasion set about the great concerns of their immortal souls, with peculiar diligence and earnestness. Otherwise, whether the Lord spare the land or not, he will not spare them. “ Woe be to the wicked ! it shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him.” Isaiah iii. 11.
Even real Christians, at such a time as this, are called upon to review their lives, and renew their humiliation for all their past sins, as a part of the guilt accumulated by the land. They should especially consider their conduct as professors of the gospel, and inquire in what particulars they have dishonoured their profession, misled or weakened their brethren, or given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. We ought also to examine what fruit hath been produced by the solemnities, professions, instructions and prayers of the last season of fasting and humiliation. We should ask ourselves, whether we have really acted consistently with them, and been more fruitful, zealous, and conscientious than before? Thus we shall be prepared to plead with him as his children and friends, in the manner that Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Jehoshaphat, and others of old did; and prevailing with him we shall prevail with man also.
But we must likewise remember, that we are bound to use our influence and improve our talents, by every exertion, to promote the cause, and ob
tain the blessings, for which we pray ; both in our families and private cir. cles, and in more public stations. Thus we should seek, as well as pray for, the peace of the community, the prosperity of the church, the reformation of manners, and removal of every occasion or encouragement given to vice and impiety. If indeed we are decidedly for the Lord, and determine to follow him fully, without regard to men or dread of consequences; our conduct will have a considerable effect : for the example, endeavours, and prayers of his faithful people are the means, by which our national character must be improved, and our privileges continued to us.
Let such as profess to turn unto him that smiteth them, take care they do not rest in notions, forms, or external reformation, without true conversion, repentance, faith, and holiness. The prophet took notice of persons answering this description, when he said, “ They return, but not to the Most High.” Hosea vii. 16. And nothing more effectually prevents the conversion of sinners, than a mistaken idea that they are already converted.
Charity to the poor and afflicted is likewise an essential concomitant of acceptable fasting and humiliation : “ Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thine house? When thou seest the naked that thou cove him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,—then shalt thou call and the Lord shall answer. If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the aflicted soul, then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness shall be as the noon day.” Isaiah lviii. 6--12.
Finally, my brethren, if you thus return to the Lord, and seek his face, I am sent to you with encouraging words. “ Let the heart of those rejoice that seek the Lord.” “ Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him ; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.” “ In the time of famine they shall have enough.”_" Though the fig-tree should not blossom," and every resource should fail, " yet they may rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of their salvation.” Be not therefore « afraid of evil tidings; let your heart be fixed, trusting in the Lord.” If you hear of “ wars and rumours of wars, see that you be not troubled.” Should a deluge come, the Lord will prepare you an ark, in which you may be secure and comfortable: and he will say unto you, “ Come, my people, enter thou into thy chamber, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself, as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For behold the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. The earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.” Isaiah xxvi. 20, 21,
PREACHED ON GOOD FRIDAY, 1795.
CHRIST THE LAMB OF GOD.
20HN, 1. 29.
Behold the Lamb of God, wbich taketh away the sin of the world.
John Baptist, the predicted forerunner of the Messiah, was doubtless wellinformed of his person, offices, and kingdom. He prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance, as indispensably necessary to a participation of the blessings about to be communicated to mankind ; and while he baptized