Page images

often, and on so many different occasions, shows the stress he laid upon it, and how solicitous he was to have it rightly understood. I will add to these a passage from the Old Testament, and which goes to prove that acts of worship, done in the manner and with the views we are speaking of, that is, to atone or make up for the neglect or breach of moral duties, are so far from being at all pleasing or acceptable to God, that they are regarded by him only as so much mockery of him ; are odious and abominable to him. It is in the first chapter of Isaiah, and God is himself speaking to the Jews by the mouth of that prophet; ‘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, and of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, 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 the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth ; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, 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 judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” This passage is very remarkable. Sacrifices, burnt offerings, oblations, incense, the feast of the new moons, Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, were all what God himself had commanded to the Jews. They were of his own appointing. Yet how does he speak of them in the place before us?', ‘To what purpose is the multitude of sacrifices I am full of burnt offerings; I delight not in the blood of bullocks; your oblations are vain; incense is an abomination; your new moons and your feasts my soul hateth; I am weary of them.’ And whence was all this? How came this change, as one may say, in God's esteem and opinion of these ordinances? He tells them, ‘Your hands are full of blood.’ And what were they to do to make God again propitious to their services : How were they then to make their acts of religion again acceptable to him He tells them this also ; “Cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.’ So the very acts of worship and devotion which God himself

had commanded, when they were made to stand in the place of justice, mercy, humanity, and the like, when they served as an excuse for neglecting or breaking through moral duties, became detestable in his sight. The point we set out with was, that acts of outward piety and devotion signify nothing unless accompanied with real inward virtue and goodness; that they will in no wise make up for the neglect of moral duties; that they afford in the sight of God, I mean, no sort of reason or excuse for the practice of actual vice; and I think we have proved it to be our Saviour’s doctrine to a demonstration, as well as what God himself had declared to the Jews long before our Saviour's time.

[ocr errors][merged small]

The kingdom is the Lord's, and he is the governor among the nations.

THE doctrine conveyed to us in these words is that of a national providence; and it is a doctrine no less agreeable to reason than comfortable to the human mind. It must, therefore, afford us the highest satisfaction to find this truth confirmed by the sacred writers, in the clearest and the strongest terms. The scriptures are full of the most gracious promises to righteous nations, and of the most dreadful denunciations against wicked and impenitent kingdoms; and it is well known that neither these promises nor these threatenings were vain.

The history of the Jewish people, more especially, is scarce any thing else than the history of God’s providential interposition to punish or reward them according as they obeyed or disobeyed his laws. And although we should admit that, on account of the peculiar circumstances of that people, and the unexampled form of their government, this case cannot be fairly compared with that of other nations, yet there are not wanting some which may. In the ancient world, there were four celebrated empires which rose one after another, and successively filled the age with astonishment and terror; yet these, it appears, were nothing more than mighty instruments in the hand of God, to execute his various dispensations of mercy, or of justice, on the Jewish or other nations; and to prepare the way gradually for the introduction of another kingdom of a very disferent nature, and superior to them all. Their rise and fall were predicted in the sacred writings, by Daniel most especially, chap. 7, 8, long before they existed ; and some extraordinary characters, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, and others, were, though unknown to themselves, the instruments of the Almighty, raised up at certain appointed times, and furnished with great power, as well as other qualifications, to perform all his pleasure and fulfil his views; “I am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself; that frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish; that confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messenger. I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.” Thus we see that what is considered as the common vicissitude of human affairs; peace and war, pestilence and famine, political changes and national revolutions, the passions of the wicked, the virtues of the good, the shining qualities of the great ; every thing, in short, that the world calls accident, chance, and fortune, are all, in fact, under the control of an invisible and overruling hand, which, without any violation of the laws of nature, or the freedom of human actions, renders them subservient to the gracious purposes of divine wisdom in the government of the world. We of this kingdom have been most remarkably favored with the visible protection of Heaven; and there are in our own history so many marks of a divine interference, that if we do not acknowledge it, we are either the blindest or the most ungrateful people on earth. Let me more particularly call your attention to the following very singular circumstances in some of the greatest events that have happened in this country. Our separation from the church of Rome was begun by the passions of a prince, who meant nothing in the world less than that reformation of religion which was the consequence of it. The total dispersion and overthrow of what was profanely called the invincible armada was effected almost entirely by winds and tempests. That dreadful popish conspiracy, which seemed guarded by darkness and silence against all possibility of detection, was at last casually discovered by an indiscreet and obscure letter. At a time when there appeared no hope of ever recovering our ancient form of government, it suddenly rose from the ruins in which the tragedy of those times had involved it, under the direction of a man who had helped to destroy it, and who seemed almost to the last moment undecided whether he should restore or destroy it again. Our deliverance in the following reign from the attempts of a gloomy tyrant to enslave both body and soul, was brought about by the concurrence of the most surprising incidents, cooperating, at the critical moment upon which the whole depended, with the noblest efforts of true patriotism. § These are a few remarkable facts selected from a multitude of others, scarce less extraordinary; and they bear evident traces stamped upon them of superior power. Now it may appear to some, that the calamities which at various times have befallen our nation were a contradiction to the doctrine here advanced ; were a strong and melancholy proof that God's providential care was then at least withdrawn, and the light of his countenance turned away from this island. But it is not, Surely, to be expected, that throughout the whole duration of a great empire, any more than throughout the whole life of an individual, there is to be one uninterrupted course of prosperity and success. Admonitions and checks, corrections and punishments, may be, and undoubtedly are, in both cases useful, perhaps essentially necessary; and the care and even kindness of Providence may be no less visible in these salutary severities than in the distribution of its most valuable blessings. Both private and spublic afflictions have a natural tendency to awaken, to alarm, to instruct, and to better the heart of man; and they may be at last attended with other very important and beneficial consequences. We have then the strongest reason to conclude, that there is a power on high which watches over the fate of nations; and which has, in a more especial manner, preserved this kingdom, in the most critical and perilous circumstances. Does not this, then, afford some ground to hope, that, if we endeavour to render ourselves worthy of the divine protection, it will be once more extended to us; and that by a speedy and effectual reformation of our hearts and lives, we may remove or lighten the judgment which our iniquities have drawn down upon us? We may be allowed to console ourselves with those reviving hopes, which the belief of God’s providential government presents to us. We know in whom we trust; we know that this trust rests on a foundation which cannot be shaken. It rests, not only on the express declarations and promises of holy writ, but on the many remarkable instances of a Divine agency, which

occur in the history of mankind, and above all in our own. In every one of the extraordinary national deliverances abovementioned, the dangers that threatened this island were of a much greater magnitude, and more formidable aspect, than any which seem at this time to hang over us. Why then may we not indulge ourselves with the same expectations? A series of past favors naturally begets a presumption of their continuance; and it must not be wholly imputed to the partiality which every man entertains for his own country, if we give way to a persuasion that God will still vouchsafe his accustomed goodness to his favored land. We will soothe ourselves with the belief that a nation so distinguished as this hath been, with happier revolutions and greater blessings than any other ever experienced, will not at this time be deserted by its gracious Benefactor and Protector. Compared with the nations of Europe, it is not too much to say, that it is here that liberty hath fixed her seat. If it can be pretended, after all it is difficult to prove, that any other country possesses more liberty, they do not possess tranquillity along with it. It is here that Protestantism finds its firmest support; it is here that the principle of religious toleration is established; it is here that a public provision is made for the poor; it is here that public institutions for their relief exist in greater numbers and extent than in any other part of the world. It is here, in short, that the laws are equal, that they are, in general, administered both with integrity and with ability, and that the stream of justice flows with a purity unknown in any other age or nation. Nor have we only the happiness of enjoying these unspeakable advantages ourselves; we have been the instruments, and it is an honor to have been so, superior to all conquests, of diffusing them over the remotest regions of the globe. Wherever our discoveries, our commerce, or our arms have penetrated, they have in general carried the laws, the freedom, and the religion of this country along with them. Whatever faults and errors we may be chargeable with in other respects, for these gifts at least, the most invaluable that one country can bestow upon another, it is not improbable that both the eastern and the western world may one day acknowledge that they were originally indebted to this kingdom. Is it then a vain imagination, that, after having been made the instrument of Providence for such beneficial purposes, there is some degree of felicity yet in reserve for us, and that the part we are appointed to act in the world is not yet accomplished 2 What may be in the counsels of the Most High, what mighty changes he may

« PreviousContinue »