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DISCOURSE XIV. .
Preached October 6, 1745, on occasion of the Rebellion
JUDGES, CHAP. II.-VERSE 7.
And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the
days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord that he did for Israel.
Thus far all is well: God had been extremely gracious and merciful to Israel; and those who had seen his wonders, and had felt the miseries from which he had delivered them, retained a grateful remembrance of his goodness. But the case quickly altered; no sooner were the inen who had seen the works of the Lord,' gathered unto their fathers,' but there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel : and the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.' The effects of their departing from God their deliverer are described at the 14th
• And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of the spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.'
You have now the case of the Israelites fully before you, I wish it was a singular case, and that the rest of the people of God stood clear from the like imputation. If they do, happy are they; if they do not, they have great reason to fear that the same cause will produce the same effect, and that they likewise shall be sold into the hands of their enemies.
It is but a melancholy reflection to think that the misbehavior here charged on the people of Israel is almost a natural effect of the present degenerate and corrupted state of nature : we receive benefits with great warmth and zeal of gratitude, and we possess and enjoy them with great coldness and indifference, and too often with a total forgetfulness of the hand that bestowed them. This temper discovers itself in the common affairs of life, and the mutual intercourse that men have with men. Those who are able to help us, are courted and caressed as long as we want their assistance; are honored and reverenced whilst they afford it; and as soon as they have made us happy, we begin to think they did us but justice, they gave us only what we had a right to; and the acknowlegements due to the benefactor are paid to our own merit and desert. By these steps our success in the world, owing perhaps intirely to the partiality our friends had for us, and which ought to make us humble and thankful, leads us to two odious vices very incident to human nature, though very unbecoming the condition of it, pride and ingratitude.
Public blessings make still less impression on the minds of men than private benefactions. Very few think of any obligation lying on themselves for the good they enjoy in common with their neighbors. The peace and quiet security procured by the care and protection of government, is rarely reflected on as creating any debt of gratitude to those who watch for us. When tribute is demanded by those to whom tribute is due, 'men are apt to consider what they pay as so much lost out of their property; whereas in truth no part of our fortune makes a better return to us than that which is bestowed to secure the whole, and to maintain peace and tranquillity in our days.
What mischief this temper of ingratitude produces in private and in public life, is but too manifest. Every man almost has his complaint against somebody, who has repaid his good offices with neglect and contempt, perhaps too with injuries ; and in public life one would imagine that liberty was mistaken for a right to abuse the government; and that the dignity of a free state consisted in acting without regard or reverence to those who are at the head of it.
But the effects of this perverse disposition acting in the
affairs of this life, and among ourselves, are matters of light complaint compared with its influence in matters of religion, We have all one great Friend, if we would acknowlege him ; one great Governor, if we would regard him. But we are too apt to deal with God as we do with the rest of our friends ; we intreat, we beg for his assistance, when we are in distress; and when we are relieved, we think but little of him.
The common blessings of Providence are received and enjoyed by multitudes, who seldom or never think of the hand that supplies their wants. The former and the latter rain, and the plentiful seasons, are ascribed to I know not what course of natural causes; but such causes are meant, to which no thanks are due: and this notion, contrary to reason and true philosophy, is the more readily embraced, because it furnishes men with the good things of the world, and lays them under no obligations to the Author of them. St. Paul says that God at no time “left himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. But how has this evidence been attended to ? The constant and regular supply of our necessities makes us imagine that we have a right to them by prescription, and that we have a property in them as children of the earth ; or that if any thing is owing to wisdom, it is to our own wisdom in managing the ground and the seasons to the best advantage. And thus forgetting the Author of every good gift, and transferring the honor due to him to ourselves, we do, in the language of the prophet,' sacrifice unto our net, and burn incense to our drag, because by them our portion is fat, and our meat plenteous :' Hab. i. 16,
But however these common blessings, which come to all without distinction, are neglected and overlooked, one would imagine that signal deliverances wrought in favor of any people, and in which the arm of the Lord is made bare and visible to every eye, should be had in perpetual remembrance, and be transmitted with sentiments of gratitude, honor, and religion to the latest posterity.
But the case is far otherwise !
The history of the Jews, a people under the peculiar and visible government of Providence, is a series of rebellions and revolts against God, who had frequently and miraculously delivered them from the hands of their enemies. In their story the counsels of God with respect to them and their neighbors are laid open; and we see plainly the resentment of God's justice against a rebellious people, and in what manner he raised the nations round about them to punish and distress them. From their example we inay learn to reckon with ourselves; and by considering our own case, know what to fear and what to hope from the justice and mercy of God: for the ways of Providence are unalterable, and the same wisdom and justice which governed the Jews, governs all the people of the world. The
purposes of God are the same towards all nations, though not so discernible and manifest as in the history of the people of Israel. Profane history presents us many instances of nations subdued under the hand of their enemies, and fallen from a state of pride and sovereignty to the miserable condition of slavery and captivity. There the history leaves us. It acquaints us with the facts, and the politicians of the world are busied in assigning causes for the surprising changes that have been in the nations. Some discern great wisdom and conduct on the side of the conquerors, and great mistakes and ill management on the side of the unfortunate; and all agree to ascribe, in most cases, the events and successes of war to the number and bravery of the troops. But look into the sacred history, where the counsels of God are displayed by his holy Prophets : there will you see a plain reason why the favorite nation, delivered most wonderfully and miraculously from the slavery of Egypt, was sold again into slavery to the Philistines and other heathen nations around them. Had this story been told in the common way of history, we should have thought this people extremely weak or unfortunate, in that they had no sooner escaped out of the hands of the great and powerful kings of Egypt, but they became vassals and bondsmen to the little princes bordering on Canaan. But see the truth of the case : they became extremely unfortunate, because they were extremely wicked; their prosperity was their ruin, as it made them forget the Lord that bought them. And the strength, which they relied on as their security, betrayed them to their destruction; for they had to deal with him, who saveth not
kings by the multitude of an host, nor giveth the battle to the strong.' Let
no man be so weak as to imagine that this method of Providence was peculiar and confined to the Jews, and that other nations were left to follow their own imaginations, and that God regarded them not; for the contrary appears in the same sacred history in which we have the account of the Jewish nation. The counsels of God were not indeed so manifestly declared to other nations by prophets and messengers from God; but the methods of justice were the same to all, and the nations were left to reason and conscience, those great lights given to all alike, to interpret the conduct of Providence with respect to themselves. Were Sodom and Gomorrah de. stroyed by chance? No: it was by a fire from heaven, commissioned to extirpate a wicked and profane people. Were the Canaanites overpowered by the arms of Israel? Certainly not: but God, who had waited in patience and forbearance till the measure of their iniquity was full; delivered them up to destruction. Inquire what became of the great monarchies of Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt: you may see their doom foretold by the prophets. They were to be destroyed for their great idolatry and corruption; and the prophecies have been so remarkably fulfilled, that they are a standing lesson of instruction to all nations who have eyes to see and hearts to understand. Thus too it fared at last with the favorite people of the Jews; they were often punished in mercy, and suffered to be miserable, that they might become better. They were from time to time admonished by the prophets; and at last God sent his Son to them; him they slew and hanged on a tree; and having filled up the measure of their iniquity, vengeance pursued them; and such vengeance as astonished the world, and does yet astonish it; for there is no misery like their misery.'
Final punishments, whereby nations are intirely rooted out, are of use to us as examples and warnings to flee from the wrath to come; otherwise they can do us no service : for should we ever fall into so wretched a condition as to call down such judge ments on our head, who can deliver us from the hand of the living God ? But other judgments, how sharp and severe soever they may be, are the effects of mercy, and intended for our cor