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Secondly, we may learn what confidence and trust we ought to place in God for the deliverance of his church and true religion, notwithstanding the hopeless prospects which arise from human affairs : this point enlarged on. If ever hopes are justifiable, they are, when the honor of God and the truth of religion is concerned: the people of Israel had as little to boast of on their own behalf as other nations; but they were chosen by God to bear his name, to be witnesses of his truth in the dark
ages of the world, to prepare the way for the coming of their great master; and though they were often afflicted, yet they were as often restored, until they were at last utterly rejected, for denying that great prophet for whose sake they had been so long and so often preserved.
Application of these observations to the people of this nation. Since the beginning of the Reformation in this kingdom, there never was so fair a prospect of a firm establishment of the protestant religion as at the present time; yet the people seem never to have had less sense of it: their deliverance is near, but they understand it not; this topic enlarged on. Allusion made to the various arts played off by the church of Rome, to prevent the foundation of this establishment. A succinct account given of the progress of the Reformation in this country, from its first step in the reign of Henry the Eighth, to the accession of George the First; in which the dangers it has run, with the various arts and designs of the papists, are clearly pointed out: whence we may learn wherein our true interest consists. Fas est et ab hoste doceri : if we cannot judge for ourselves, let us learn of our enemies to know wherein to place our security. The two greatest efforts made by popery to bring ruin on this church and nation with force and violence, were one at this time, the other in King James's reign; and their great provocation was, to see a succession of protestant princes likely to be established among us. And as this is their fear, so is it our security. If we consider the circumstances of times past, and the doubtful condition in which we have often been, when our happiness has depended on one single life, we shall have reason to think that Providence has at this time both wisely and mercifully provided for our safety, It is an easier matter to kindle the fires of
persecution, than it would be to extinguish them. Should the wishes of some take place, and a popish prince prevail over us, where will they next go for protection ? What prince or family in Europe is left to which they may apply for succor ? If therefore we have any sense of loyalty, any concern for our religion, our country, and ourselves, let us show it by a cheerful and steady obedience to the prince whom God has set over us.
With regard to the second observation, that notwithstanding the hopeless prospect of human affairs, the text affords grounds for dependence on God, this may well be spared; the application being made to our hands. God's care over us has already appeared, and we are likely to be saved, whether we desire it or no. Concluding exhortation.
Preached at the Temple Church, Nov. 20, 1715.
ACTS, CHAP. VII.-VERSE 25.
For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God
by his hand would deliver them; but they understood not.
The text is part of the dying speech of St. Stephen, which he delivered to the high priest and the people, just before he was offered up a glorious sacrifice for the truth of the gospel of Christ. The design of it was to set before the people of Israel the history of their redemption from slavery and idolatry, and to stir them up to attend to the present offers of peace through Christ Jesus, by showing them the fatal mistakes they had often made in despising or abusing former mercies. Moses was their great prophet and their lawgiver; Moses was in the highest veneration among them ; for his sake, and to preserve the authority of his laws, they refused to hearken to any other teacher ; and therefore rejected the gospel as tending to subvert the constitutions of Moses. Yet how was this man received ? How was this deliverer entertained? Was he not evil-intreated ? Was he not, before he could work their deliverance, forced to seek his own by a hasty flight from them into the land of Median? When he appeared in the spirit of the Lord, to avenge the wrongs of his people, and smote the Egyptian who oppressed the Israelite, the very next day he was reproached by his brethren for the murder, as they called it: for he had given them a provocation which it seems they could not bear; he had showed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another ? So far did the private passions and resentments prevail against the considerations of public safety, that delivering them from the Egyptians was no merit, because he endeavored also to deliver them from one another.
To draw parallels between the histories in Scripture, and those of our own times, is so slippery a subject, so liable to be influenced by the passions of the speaker, who can easily overlook the circumstances which suit not with his view, choose out and adorn those which do ; that in such applications of Scripture history there is very great danger of missing the Scripture doctrine, and publishing our own partial sentiments, under the cover of the book of God, which was given to correct and amend them. I shall therefore, without trying to show you how like we are in all respects, or in any, to the people of Israel, or how nearly our enemies resemble the Egyptians, confine myself to such observations, and such applications of them, as naturally arise from the text and our own circumstances.
First then, we may observe from the text that Moses, though raised by God in a wonderful manner to be the deliverer of his people, yet fell under great discouragements from his countrymen for whose sake he was raised up.
The people of Israel, at the time of the birth of Moses, were under so severe a bondage, that there was no human prospect of deliverance: those who were of strength sufficient, were held to such constant and hard labor, that they had neither time nor ability to contrive any thing for themselves. Could it be expected that any genius should arise from among the brick-kilns, to restore the liberty of Israel ; or that one employed from his childhood in gathering straw should attempt to set up the promised kingdom ? And that mere strength and number might not prevail, the Egyptians had taken care to destroy the male children of Israel; so that the prospect for the next generation was even worse than what the present had. But the providence of God turned these circumstances to his own wise ends. Had not the king of Egypt commanded the male children to be destroyed, Moses, it is probable, had been bred as he was born a slave, and sent, as soon as he was able, to take his share of the hard labor imposed on his countrymen : but by being exposed for fear of the cruel king's command, he fell into the hands of the princess of Egypt, and had his education even in the court of Pharaoh, and · became learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds. By this means he was qualified to undertake the great work which God had prepared for him; and Israel, though in the lowest condition, had one to go before them, who had been brought up in the dignity of a prince; and yet though he had lived in the plenty of Egypt, and forished in the court of its great king, he forgot not his distressed countrymen, but he partook in all their miseries with an affection which became him who was one day to be their deliverer. One would think that these circumstances, together with the prophecies relating to their deliverance, should have pointed out the person intended by God to bring about their redemption : Moses himself thought he should at least have been favored by his countrymen in his noble enterprise for their service; "he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them :' but, as it follows in the text,' they understood not.' This was so discouraging a circumstance, that he seems to have laid aside the thoughts of being able to serve them; he found that to accomplish the deliverance of Israel, he must struggle as well against the Israelite as the Egyptian, and subdue the slaves in order to their redemption, as well as the tyrants who oppressed them. And yet, 'notwithstanding this blindness of the people, the murderer, as they called him, was ordained by God to be their prince and deliverer; and they were at last happily convinced of their mistake, by receiving at his hand the blessings promised to their forefathers.
From whence we may learn, in the second place, what confidence and trust we ought to put in God for the deliverance of his church and true religion, notwithstanding the hopeless pros pects which arise from human affairs.
Had we been to judge by the rules of human wisdom and policy, what hope was there that Moses should be the deliverer of that people, in whom he had so little interest, that he was