« PreviousContinue »
ral favours too small; and his judgments too | rigorous. Let us follow man in these three articles.
requires you to love your neighbour. And would it be right that you, made of the same dust as your neighbour, and doomed both to The laws of God seem too severe. My return to dust again: would it be right for people, what have I done unto thee?" To this you, under pretence of some exterior advanconcupiscence answers, I choose to domineer tages in your own condition, to cherish a selfin the world; but God would have me be complacence that would debase the dignity of humble, wash the feet of his disciples, esteem human nature, and teach mankind to estimate others better than myself,' Phil. ii. 3, and their worth by external appendages? Would place myself, so to speak, in the meanest post it be fair in civil society that each should conin the world. I like to amass riches; but God tribute to your happiness, that the artist, requires my conversation to be without cov-should assist you by his industry, the scholar etousness,' Heb. xiii. 5, and he would have by his learning, the statesman by his wisdom, me learn of lilies and sparrows to confide in the soldier by his courage, and that you, a his Providence. I love to live well, and to simple spectator of all these things, should fare sumptuously every day; but God requires think of nothing but enjoying yourself at the me to be sober, to keep under my body, and expense of all mankind? Would this be right? bring it into subjection,' 1 Cor. ix. 27, and in- Are your complaints well grounded? My stead of living to myself, to take from volup- people, what have I done unto thee? wherein tuousness, and expend what I save in charity have I wearied thee? testify against me.' to others. I love to divulge the vices of a neighbour, and to erect my reputation on the ruin of his; but God threatens to exclude slanderers from his kingdom. In a word, the law of God controls every passion of my heart. Ah! why did God give me laws so opposite to my inclinations, or why did he give me inclinations so opposite to his laws?
I understand you, sinners, you wish God had formed religion, not only on the eternal rules of righteousness and judgment, which are the base of his throne,' Ps. xcvii. 2, but on the suggestions of such passions as animate you. Religion, intended by its wisdom to free the world from the vices that disfigure it, should have revealed, in your opinion, more ample methods of committing these very vices, and provide for the hardening of such consciences as the justice of God means to terrify. You wish that the sovereign God, by a condescension incompatible with the purity of his perfections, had imbibed, as it were, the wick ed views and inclinations of sinful man, sinful man being so base and so wicked as to refuse to conform to the holiness of the supreme God.
But hast thou, man, sufficiently reflected on this article? Thou complainest of the laws of God. Who art thou? Whence dost thou come? Who gave thee thy being? Is not God thy governor? This firmament before thine eyes, that infinite space in which thine imagination is absorbed, those heavenly bodies revolving over thy head, the earth beneath thy feet, is not this the empire of God? And you, vile creature, confined in a corner of the universe, you house of clay, you worm of the earth, you nothing, lighter than vanity itself, you, who are only a vain phantom, walking in a vain show, do you murmur at the laws of God? would you be Lord of religion? would you either say to God, command this, forbid that, or would you mount his throne, and give the universe law? What presumption!
You complain of the laws of God. Are not these laws just in themselves? God requires you to love him. Is it possible to refuse obedience to this just command, considering the eminent perfections, the majesty, and benevolence of him who requires your esteem? God
You complain of the laws of God. But what is the design of all these laws! Is it not to make you as happy as possible? Judge again yourself. Imagine yourself violating all the divine laws, having no veneration for God, no love for your neighbours, being haughty, overbearing, a liar, and a slanderer. Imagine yourself, on the other hand, humble, pious, zealous, patient, charitable. Is it not clear, that, in spite of the violence of your passions, you would like yourself best in the condition last mentioned? If your passions have so blinded your mind as to incapacitate you for entering into these reflections, imagine two men, the one animated with the vices, and the other with the virtues just spoken of, and if you can prefer the vicious man before the virtuous, I agree you shall complain of the laws of God.
You complain of the divine laws. But are not these laws infinitely proper to make you happy in this world? In what state would the human heart be, what bloody scenes would it revolve, were God to give it up to the infernal passions of envy, to excessive sensuality, to the miserable anxieties of avarice, or to the tumultuous rage of ambition? Imagine a society where robbery, assassination, and adul tery were allowed; a society in which selfinterest was the only motive, passion the only law and no bounds set to sin but such as ambition chose; where the magistrate was oppressing the people, the people revolting against the magistrate; where friend was betraying friend, and the receiver stabbing his benefactor; would you consent to live in such a society? Imagine an opposite plan, stretch your fancy as far as possible, and the farther you go the more fully will you perceive, that nothing can be so well contrived to produce present human felicity as the divine law; and that, even supposing some particular cases, in which obedience is attended with loss, affliction, and pain, yet in all cases there is ample indemnity both in a hope of future happiness, and in an enjoyment of present pleasure, arising from a consciousness of real rectitude and upright self-approbation.
You complain of the laws of God. But does not God exemplify all these laws himself? He commands you to be just. Is not he himself
just? Righteousness and judgment, justice and equity, are the bases of his throne. He requires you to be humble. But although this virtue may seem repugnant to the divine nature, yet we have beheld the prodigy of God humbling himself, of one, who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, making himself of no reputation, and taking upon himself the form of a servant! Phil. ii 6, 7. God requires us to be benevolent. Is not he love! Are we not all overwhelmed with his favours? Has he not given us his Son? O admirable beauty of religion! My brethren, it transforms a creature into the image of his Creator! O matchless condescension of the God we adore? He unites true happiness to an imitation of his attributes, and invites us to participate his happiness by partaking of bis holiness.
against God regard him as the governor of the world. Man complains of Providence, the economy of it is too narrow and confined, the temporal benefits bestowed are too few and partial.
Let us do justice to human nature, my brethren. If we cannot justify this complaint, let us acknowledge there is an appearance of equity in it. This complaint we allow, has some colour. God presents himself to us in religion under the tenderest relations, as a friend. & brother, a parent, a husband; the earth' belongs to this Friend, and the fulness thereof' is at the disposal of this God, and a single act of his will would instantly fill our houses with pleasures, riches, and honours: yet he leaves us in misery and indigence, and it would be in vain to search the New Testament for a single passage to ground a hope that we should become rich, reputable, and honourable in the world by sincerely practising the precepts of Christianity.
If this complaint at first sight seem unanswerable in the mouth of a Christian, it is precisely from the mouth of a Christian that it cannot come without extreme ignorance and ingratitude. If you be Christians you must be so affected with the numberless benefits bestowed on you, that it is inconceivable how an idea of such temporal blessings as you think necessary to complete your happiness, can make such an impression on your mind, or find a place in your heart. Being Christians, you are persuaded that God has blessed you with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. That he hath chosen you in him before the foundation of the world, that he predestinated you unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,' Eph. i. 3, &c. Being Christians, you believe, that God so loved you, that he gave his only begotten Son, that you believing in him should not perish but have everlasting life, John ini. 16 As you are Christians, you are persuaded, that for your sakes the Lord has shaken the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the dry land,' and ` nath sealed you and given you the earnest of the Spirit in your hearts,' Hag. ii. 6; 2 Cor. i. 22. Being Christians, you are convinced that the public ministration of the divine word, the ordinances of religion so often administered to you, are evidences of the watchful care of that Providence over you, which gives 'some apostles, some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, and for the work of the ministry,' Eph. iv. 11, 12. You believe, for you are Christians, that, when you die, heaven will be opened to you as it was for merly to Stephen; that angels will uphold you in your agony, as they once comforted your Redeemer; and that, how difficult soever the race may be. you shall surmount all, and finish with a song of ecstatic triumph. Being Christians, you believe there are in your father's house many mansions,' that Jesus Christ is gone to prepare a place for you,' and that, throughout all eternity, your happiness shall suffer no diminution. Yea, being Christians, you are already quickened with
You complain of the laws of God. what does God require of you but to endeavour to please him? Does he not promise to accept your sincere obedience, though it be accompanied with many frailties and great imperfections? Has he not engaged to assist you by the essential aid of the Holy Spirit? Brethren enter into your own hearts, listen to the suggestions, the joys, the hopes excited in your own consciences. This is the hand of the Lord drawing you; this is the light of heaven shining in your hearts; this is the Holy Spirit converting the soul,' Ps. xix. 7. Should God descend and stand among you, amidst thunders and fires like those of Mount Sinai; should he stand among you surrounded with 'blackness, and darkness, and tempest;' should he, from the centre of all these formidable ensigns of dreadful majesty, declare, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them,' Gal. ii. 10, human frailty might serve for an excuse; but he speaks, as we said before, to his people, to them he presents himself with all the attractives of grace.
Ah! were you to deplore your depravity! Were you to say in the bitterness of your soul, 'O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death!' Rom. vii. 24. God himself would comfort you, he would tell you, that he would not break a bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax,' Matt. xii. 20. If, sinking under a sense of sin, you were to cast yourself at his feet, and implore his assistance, he would give you his Holy Spirit, who, conveying light and strength through all your heart, would eradicate all your sins. But you love sin, you thrust back the mighty hand stretched out to help you, you grieve the Holy Spirit of God, turn the grace of God into lasciviousness,' Eph. iv. 30; Jude 4, and then complain that the laws of God are too severe. You consider God the Lawgiver as a mortal enemy, who attacks all your pleasures. Ah! how unjust are your complaints! O my people, what have I done unto thee? Are my commandments grievous, is not my yoke easy, my burden light? Am I not mild and lowly in heart? O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.'
The second class of human complaints
Christ,' and even now 'sit with him in heavenly places,' Ephes. ii. 5, 6.
Is it imaginable, that people enjoying so many advantages, favoured with so many benefits, and elevated with such glorious hopes, should complain for want of a few tempora Igratifications, or spend à thought on such momentary accommodations as fire the unruly passions of worldlings?
GOD'S CONTROVERSY WITH ISRAEL.
the world he is leaving, and the eternal state one hard the vanity and uncertainty of worldto which he is going: describe to him on the ly enjoyments, tell him o the anxieties, the indigence, poverty, and nullity of every thing here; then open heaven to him, show him happy angels for his companions, the Lamb in the midst of the throne to feed him, and This is not all. If the morality of Jesus Rev. vii. 17. Amidst so many just reasons for lead him unto living fountains of eternal joy,' Christ be thoroughly examined, it will be his detachment fron the world, this world is found almost incompatible with worldly pros- yet dear to him; this life, this short life, this perity. Such is the state of the human heart, indigent life, this life which is nothing but that either Jesus Christ must alter his reli gious laws, in order to put us into the posses-desirable than heaven, and all its eternal glovanity and deception, this life appears more sion of temporal prosperity, or he must deprive ry. If, then, in spite of so many disagreeables us of temporal prosperity in order to establish in this life, it be so hard to quit it with conhis morality in our hearts. You wish, you tent, what would be our condition were God say, that he had promised pleasures to mode- to give us a firmer health, a longer life, and a ration, riches to charity, and worldly grandeur more flourishing state of affairs? What would to humility. Instead of gratifying your wishes, be our condition, were there no mortifications he sees it necessary to the being of your moderation to remove from you the dangerous vicissitudes in fortune? in high rank, no uncertainty in friendships, no snares of pleasures; he does not make the charitable man rich, lest riches should excite avarice; and he does not bestow worldly grandeur on the humble, lest it should diminish bis humility. This is a well known truth of universal experience. It is generally seen, that every temporal good conveys a mortal poison into the heart of its possessor. The temptations attending prosperity are infinitely more difficult to overcome than those which belong to adversity. He who has triumphed over persecutors, executioners, and tyrants, has not unfrequently fallen a prey to pride, luxury, and intemperance, when objects proper to kindle these passions have presented themselves to him.'
the rigour of his judgments. The Jews of Our third complaint against God regards cases, and the prophet threatened more. BeMicah's time had experienced this in many hold! the Lord cometh out of his place, and will tread upon the high places of the earth. The mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be cleft before him. I will wail and howl, I will go stript and naked, I will make a wailing like the dragons, Therefore and make a mourning as the owls, for her wound is incurable. Jerusalem shall become heaps. Zion shall be plowed as a field,' chap. i. 3, 4. 8, 9, and iii 12.
Temporal prosperity is not only opposite to our duty; but it is for this very reason hostile to our happiness. Had God given us a life full of charms, we should have taken 1ttle thought about another. It is natural to be delighted with an agreeable situation, and whatever attaches us to the world, cools our ardour for heaven; the inward man is renew. ed, as the outward man perishes, and faith commonly grows as fortune decays. When the dove first flew out of the ark, finding no thing but wind and rain, and rolling waves, she returned to the ark for shelter and rest; but when, in her second flight, she saw plans and fields, there she alighted and staid. hold, my soul, thine own image. When the Be world exhibits to thy view prosperity, riches, and honours, thou art captivated with the beauty of the enchantress, and faliest a prey to her charms. But when the world puts on the gloom of poverty, anxiety and misery. thou turnest thine eyes towards heaven, and seekest happiness in its natural source. as things are now, in spite of all the distresses Eve that belong to life, we find it difficult to letac our affections from the world; but what would be the case, if all prospered according to our wishes? Speak to a man who talks of dying exhaust philosophical and religious arguments to determine him to die contentedly; place him between two objects, heaven and earth, 3 F
We have been treating of our text as it releave the prophet and his countrymen, in orgards you, my brethren, we will therefore der to give you full liberty to exhibit your complaints, and to say now, in the presence of heaven and earth, what ills God has inflicted unto thee? Ah, Lord! how many things hast on you. O my people, what have I done thou done unto us! Draw near, ye mourning ye sighing priests, ye afflicted virgins, ye deways of Zion, ye desolate gates of Jerusalem, serts peopled with captives, ye disciples of Jesus Christ, wandering over the face of the prisons filled with contessors, galleys freighted whole earth, children torn from your parents, with martyrs, blood of our countrymen shed tation of witnesses for religion, now thrown out like water, carcasses, once the venerable habito savage beasts and birds of prey, ruins of our churches, dust. ashes, and remains of houses dedicated to our God, fires, racks, gibbets, hither, and give evidence against the Lord. punishments till now unknown, draw nigh
My brethren, if we consider God as a judge, what a number of reasons may be assigned to brought upon us? The abuse of his favours, prove the equity of all the evils that he has the contempt of his word, the slighting of all pride and worldly-mindedness, the lukethe warnings given us by his ministers, the od ons vices, which preceded our miseries, are warmness and indifference, and many other evidences too convincing that we deserved all;
place to the sorrowful, but sincere confession, which a prophet puts in the mouth of the church, The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against him,' Lam. i. 18.
and they ought to make our complaints give | reins on the necks of the most ungovernable dispositions, and rushed furiously into all the worst vices of the nations around them. With this conduct the prophets were always reproaching them, and particularly Ezekiel in these words, in which he describes this wretched people under an image the most odious that can be imagined. O how weak is thine heart, saith the Lord God, seeing thou doest all these things! O wife committing adultery, taking strangers instead of thy husband! They give gifts to all whores: but thou givest thy gifts to all thy lovers, and hirest them that they may come unto thee on every side for thy whoredom. The contrary is in thee from other women in thy whoredoms, whereas none followeth thee to commit whoredoms, and in that thou givest a reward, and no reward is given unto thee,' Ezek. xvi. 30, &c. These words give us shocking ideas of this people : for if it was an abomination under the law to bring the hire of a whore into the house of the Lord,' Deut. xxiii. 18, for an offering, how much greater abomination must it be to apply the offerings of the Lord to the support of prostitutes!
But as we said that in this text God is to be considered as a father, we affir all these chastisements, even the most rigorous of them, are perfectly consistent with this character. It was his love that engaged him to em, loy such severe means for your benefit. You know, my brethren, and you know but too well, that the ease with which the enjoyment of the presence of God is obtained, too often lessens the favour in our eyes. I appeal to experience. Recollect the time so dear to you, when the gospel was reached to you in your own country, and when God, with a bounty truly astonishing, granted you both spiritual and temporal prosperity. Did you, I appeal to your consciences, did you value these blessings according to their real worth? Were you never disgusted with the manna that fell every morning around your habitations? Did you never say with the Israelites, There is nothing at all, besides this manna, before our eyes? Num. xi. 6. It was necessary, in order to reanimate your zeal for God, to take his candlestick away; it was necessary for you to learn the importance of salvation, by the difficulty of obtaining it; and to kindle your love to your spiritual husband by his absence. These events excited abundance of piety among you; and, though the misfortunes of the times have produced too many exam-gagements to fear God! He made a covenant with them, he divided the sea to let them pass over, he gave them bread from heaven to eat, he cleft the rock to give them drink, he brought them into the country of which Moses had said, The land whither ye go is a land which the Lord thy God careth for; the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year, even unto the end of the year.' Deut. xii. 12. Moreover, all their temporal blessings were types and pledges of spiritual benefits, either then bestowed, or promised in future. After so many favours on God's part, after so many crimes on the part of the people, had not the Lord reason to complain? Was ever controversy more just than this?
Their crimes were aggravated, too, by the innumerable blessings which God bestowed on them. The prophet reminds them of these in the words that follow the text. Remember, O my peo le, I redeemed thee out of the house of servants, remember what Balak consulted, and what Balaam answered.' What favour did this people receive! What numberless en
ples of human frailty, yet to these unhappy times we owe the bright examples of many eminent persons, whose names will go down with honour to the latest posterity
Let us then acknowledge, my brethren, that, although we have insulted the rectitude of God, we are willing now to do homage to it; let us confess, God has given his people no just ground of complaint; in all his conduct he has displayed the power of a God, the fidel ity of a husband, the tenderness of a parent; and we have nothing to reply to him, when he asks, O my people, what have I done anto thee? wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.'
As God has answered the complaints of his people, let us proceed to inquire, how his people will answer the complaints of their God. Let us see what we ourselves can reply. He has heard us, can we refuse to hear him? Let us proceed in this astonishing cause hetween God and his church. The Lord hath a controversy with his people, the Lord will plead with Israel.'
My brethren, you have certainly been often shocked at reading the history of this people; you have blamed their idolatry; you have detested their ingratitude; you have condemned the carelessness of their pastors, and all the vices of the people. But what would you say if we could prove that the excesses of priests and people are greater under the gospel than under the law? The Lord's controversy with you affirms this, and this we must now examine.
The history of the Jews is so well known. that every one of us is acquainted with their irregularities They corrupted both natural But which of us ministers, which of us has and revealed religion. They had as many courage to enter into this detail? And which gods as cities,' Jer. ii. 28. They chose rather of you Christian people would have humility to sacrifice their children to Moloch, than their enough to hear us out without murmuring, sheep and oxen to Jehovah. There was no trembling with indignation, and exclaiming opinion so absurd, no worship so puerile, no against your reprøver, Away with him, away idolatry so gross, as not to be admitted among with him! Surprising! When we now pleadthem. Having shaken off the ties of religion.ed the unjust cause of man against the Creator, the bridles of corrupt passions, they threw the the patient Creator satisfied every inquiry;
the earth did not open under our feet to swallow us up; no fire from heaven came down to destroy us; but every article of the controversy received a full answer. Now that we ought to proceed to hear the complaints of the Creator against us, I already hear every one murmuring, and refusing to pay as much regard to the just complaints of God, as God condescended to pay to those which had no foundation in reason and equity.
and is more done for the propagation of the gospel? Do the sufferings of pious persons for religion excite more compassion? I pronounce nothing I decide nothing. I leave you to judge of your own conduct.
Perhaps some of my hearers, whom the correcting hand of God has long pursued, and whom he seems to reserve as monuments of his lasting displeasure, perhaps they may think this maxim concerning the blessings of ProWell, we will speak to you in your own vidence does not regard them. But shall we way; we will treat you as sick people are be so ungrateful as not to acknowledge the treated when their physicians are obliged to benefits bestowed on us? And shall we be so disguise remedies, and conceal operations ne-insensible as not to mourn over our own incessary to their recovery, we will decide nothing; but we will leave each of you to judge of his own conduct. We will only produce a few of the articles of God's controversy with you, and propose a few maxims for you to examine; but if there remain the least degree of rectitude in you, we conjure you to apply these maxims in earnest to yourselves.
First. When God distinguishes a people by signal favours, the people ought to distinguish themselves by gratitude to him The equity of this maxim is clear to every one of us, and nobody will dispute it. I ask then were any people in the world ever favoured of heaven as the people of these provinces have been? A people (permit me to go back to your origin), a people formed amidst grievous oppressions and barbarous impositions; a people subject to tyrants more cruel than the Paraohs of Egypt; a people not ashamed to call themselves beggars, and to exhibit poverty on their standards; a people who, in the space of six months, gave up six thousand of themselves to racks and gibbets; a people risen from this low condition into the present state of magnificence: a people who, placed in a corner of the world, and occupying only a few acres, extend their influence over the whole world; a people opposing at the same time two great kings; a people in whose favour the sea suspended its usual flux on the day that was to decide the tate of these provinces for ever; a people whose forts were all occupied by the enemy, and who, when they had nothing to trust to but the unavailing fidelity of a few citizens, saw the enemy 'that came out against them one way, flee before them seven ways,' Deut. xxviii. 7. a | people inhabiting a country formed, (1 I may speak so) against the laws of nature, but which the God of nature supports as it were by miracle; a people taxing, governing, and making laws for themselves; a people walking in the light of the gospel shining in all its glory, and enjoying the reformation in its utmost purity This is only an imperfect sketch of the blessings which God in distin guishing mercy confers on you. Do you dis tinguish yourselves by your gratitude? Is there more piety among you than among other nations? Is there a greater attention to the word of God, and more deference to his laws? Are there more good examples in parents, and are their children better educated than others? Is there more zeal for family religion; is the truth more highly esteemed,
My brethren, let us look back a little. Let us for a moment turn our eyes to the land of our nativity, from which we are banished; let us remember the time, when, to use the language of the psalmist, we went in a multitude to the house of God with the voice of oy and praise,' Ps. xli. 4; nor let us forget the many advantages, which we enjoyed till the day of our exile. How happy a climate! What an agreeable society! What opportunities for commerce! What a rapid progress in arts and sciences? Was our gratitude proportioned to the liberal gifs of God? Alas, the exile we lament, the dispersion that separates us from our nearest relations, the lassitude we feel, the tears we shed, are not these sad, but sufficient proofs of our insensibility and ingratitude? This is the first article of God's controversy against us, and this is the first maxim of self-examination.
The second regards the chastisements of God. When men are under the hand of an angry God, they are called to mourning and contrition. Pleasures, innocemt in other circumstances, are guilty in this case. You perceive at once the truth of this maxim. God by his prophet says to you, Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it,' Micah vi. 9. One of his most cutting reproofs to his people was this, 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 shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of hosts, Surely this miquity shall not be purged from you till ye die,' Isa. xxii. 12, &c. Thus, in like manner, another prophet complained to his God, O Lord, thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive instruction; they have made their faces harder than a rock, they have refused to return,' Jer. v. 3.
Now, my brethren, though the blessings of Providence surround us, yet it is plain we are at present under the rod of correction. I lay aside all the afflictions just now mentioned; I will not remind you of gibbets, and racks, and tortures, subjects so proper to banish from our minds the senseless joy that fills them, were we either grieved for the affliction of Joseph, or pleased to remember the dust of Zion.' I will speak only of the cause