« PreviousContinue »
ning ex imples in this kind, more than once so seasonably extend d to the relief of our distressed brethren, who fed hither for refuge from the rage and cruelty of their persecutors : I say, I have often thought, that this very thing, next to the infinite mercy and goodness of almighty God, hath had a very particular 'influence upon our preservation and deliverance from those terrible calamities which were just ready to rush in upon us. And what cause have we to thank God, who hath allotted to us this more blessed and merciful part, to give and not to receive ; and to be free from perfecution ourselves, that so we might be in a capacity to give refuge and relief to them that were persecuted ?
There are but few that have the faith to believe it, but certainly charity to the poor is a great security to us in times of evil. So David assures us, speaking of the righteous or charitable man, He shall not (fays he) be a fraid in the evil time, and in the days of learth he hall be satisfied:
And so likewise in times of publick distress, when we are beset with cruel and powerful enemies, who, if God were not on our side, would swallow us up, the publick charity of a nation hath many times proved its best fafeguard and shield: It shall fight for thee (faith the son of Sirach, speaking of the charity of alms) against thine enemy, more than a mighty shield and strong spear.
And of this, as I laid before, I doubt not but we of this nation, by the great mercy and goodness of God to us, have had happy experience in our late wonderful deliverance under the conduct and valour of one of the best and bravest of princes ; to whom, by too many among us, the most unworthy and unthankful returris have been made for all the unwearied pains he hath undergone, and for the many desperate hazards to which he hath exposed himself for our fakes, that ever were made to so great and generous a benefactor : to so great a benefactor, I say, not only to these nations, but even to all Europe, in afferting and maintaining their liberties against the infolent pride and unjust incroachments of one of the greatest oppressors the world hath known for many ages. Of whom it may be faid as Job doth of the leviathan, Job xli. 33. Up
on the earth there is not his like. I am glad I cannot apply what immediately follows, that he is made without fear ; but surely the next words are apposite enough, v 34. He beholdeth all high things : and is king over all the children of pride. And yet he that is higher than the highest, even he that fitteth in the heavens, doth laugh at him, for he seeth that his day is coming,
To conclude this particular; if we would have our prayers
ascend up to heaven, and find acceptance there, our alms must go along with them. So the angel intimates, when he says to Cornelius, A&s x. 4. Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. They prayers and thine alms ; they must
go together, if we defire that our prayers should be effectual. And the Prophet Isaiah, speaking of the fast which God hath chofen, and which is acceptable to him, makes charity and alms a most essential part of it, If. lviii. 7.9. Is it not (fays he) to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out, to thy house? when thou seeft the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself, from thine own flesh? Then shalt thou call, and the Lord fall answer ; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
6. and laftly, We should prosecute our repentance and good resolutions to the actual reformation and amendment of our lives; for in this repentance doth mainly consift.
This is the proper fruit and effect of all our humiliation and good resolutions, to forsake our fins, and to become better for the future ; more pious and devout towards God, more sober and chalte with regard to ourselves, more juft and charitable, more humble and meek, towards all men : in a word, more innocent, more useful, and more holy. in. all manner of conversation.
And, without this, all our fasting and humiliation, our most earnest prayers and supplications, will signify nothing. All our forrow and tears will be but as water spilt
upon the ground, and will not turn to any account, either to save our own souls, or to preserve this untoward generation, this crooked and perverse nation, from ruin and destruction. So God tells Solomon, that this is the only way to appease and reconcile him to a sinful people, 2 Chron. vii. 14. If my people which are called
by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways ; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their fin, and will heal their land.
And if this were the happy effect of our prayers and humiliation this day, to turn us from our wicked ways, God would then turn away his anger from us; and, as he promised to the Jews by the Prophet Zachary, he would turn these our monthly fasts into joy, and gladness, and chearful feasts, Zech. viii. 19.; as, he hath in a great measure already done, Blessed be his great and glorious name.
But if we will not hearken and obey, can we expect, that God should deliver us from the hands of our enemies, that we may sin against him without fear all the days of our lives? To what purpose should the providence of God take so much care to preserve our religion to us, when we make no better ule of it for the direction and government of our lives? when it serves most of us only to talk of it? and too many amongst us to talk against it, to deride it, and despitefully to use it? If this be the truth of our case, what can we say, why the kingdom of God should not be taken from us, and given to a nation that will bring forth the fruits of it? what can we say, why our candlestick should not be removed, and the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, which we have fo long enjoyed, and so long rebelled against, should not be utterly extinguished amongst us?
And if I cannot prevail with you to come to these good resolutions, and to make them good ; if you will not be perfuaded to practise, yet be pleased to attend to what we say. Hear our words at least, if you will not do them. This the people of the Jews would do when they were at the worst. So God tells the Prophet concerning them, Ezek. xxxii. 31. They come unto thee as the people cometh ; and they fit before thee' as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them.
I had much rather' at any time have occafion to praise than to reprove, especially in this great assembly : and yet it is not to be dissembled, that the behaviour of too many in this place is frequently so careless and irreverent, as is very misbecoming those who are
in the more peculiar presence of the great and glorious majefty of heaven and earth, and profess at that very time to worship him.
I am sure we have a better pattern perpetually before us, of a decent and unaffected devotion, of a most serious and steady attention, without wandering, without diversion, and without drowsiness: such an example as I cannot but hope will in a short time gain upon us all, and by a more gentle and filent reproof win us to the imitation of it.
And if we could but be prevailed upon to demean ourselves with that reverence, and to hear with that attention, which becomes the worship and the word of God, it might then be hoped, that we would consider what is said ; and consideration would probably work conviction, and conviction bring us to a better mind, and to a firm purpose of doing what we are inwardly convinced it is both our duty and our interest to do.
Let us then go away from this solemnity, with a resolution to do every one what we truly and earnestly to repent us of our fins past, and to lead a new life for the future ; to fear 'at great and terrible God, in whose presence we have humbled ourselves this day; and to turn to him that hath smitten us, left we provoke him to punish us yet seven times more, and after that seven times more for our sins, and for our impenitency in them, till at last he make our plagues wonderful.
To conclude : Let us every one, with that true penitent in Job, take words to ourselves, and say, Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have born chastisement, I will not offend any more : hat which I see not, reach thou me; if I have done iniquity, I will do no more. Oh! that there were such a heart in us, that it might be well with us, and with our children for ever.
Which God of his infinite goodness grant, for his mercies sake in Jesus Christ. To whom, with thee, O Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, both now and ever. Amen.
S E R M N
That God is the only happiness of man.
Preached before the Queen, at Whitehall, March 20. 1691.
PSA L. lxxiii. 25. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I defire besides thee.
HE design of this pfalm is, to vindicate the goodness and justice of the divine providence, not
with tanding the prosperous state of the wicked, and the afflicted condition of good men many times in this world. And, in the first place, the Pfalmist, whoever he was, whether David or Asaph, lays down this for a most certain truth, That God is good to good men : V 1. Of a truth God is good to Ifrael, to such as are of a clean heart, And
yet for all this he tells us, that at some times he was under no small temptation to question the truth of this principle, when he beheld the promiscuous difpensation of things here below, that the wicked are often prosperous, and good men exposed to great calamities in this life; as if God either neglected human affairs, or had a greater kindness for the workers of iniquity, than for pious and good men : ¥ 2. 3. As for me, my foot had well-nigh Nipped: for I was envious et the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
This, he says, was a very great stumbling-block to good men, and tempted them to doubt of the providence of God: Therefore his people return hither ; and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. And they Say, Doth God know ? and is there knowledge in the Most High, v 10. 11. This sentence is somewhat obscurely rendered in our translation, so as to make the sense of it difficult; which is plainly this : Therefore his people return hither; that is, therefore good men come to