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receiving some benefit, unless the fault be their own.
Their shade, too, of protection and comfort ought to be extended toward all their poor brethren. In all this may I, as an individual, according to my sphere, acquit myself through life.
Round this corner of the wood stands a formidable hedge of rugged thorns, like so many soldiers, all with pointed bayonets, armed cap-a-pee, to resist the invader; not on the offensive, but all on the defensive they act. For this should kingdoms arm themselves, and nations wage war; and in this manner, as individuals, should every one's passion of resentment be employed : thus war alone is justifiable, and only then, too, when in defence of just rights and privileges; and until such times as nations and individuals arm for this only, we need not expect to see our swords beat into ploughshares, nor our spears into pruning hooks, Isa. ii. 4.
When a hedge is broken down, the richest pasture, and most pleasant nurseries, are
in great danger of being destroyed; so when an army, which is as a fence around a commonwealth or kingdom, is much enfeebled and broken, the constitution, wealth, and inhabitants thereof, are greatly in danger of being destroyed by foreign and domestic enemies.
In like manner, when the hedge of disci, pline around the vineyard of the church is not taken care of, but suffered to be broken down, is not the beautiful planting therein, even that delightful vine, Psal. lxxx. 8. exposed to the ravages of the boar out of the wood, and the wild beast of the field, ver., 13. even to error and corruption, which are more destructive than those would be to a pleasant planting or vine ?
Might not our ancient reformers, if they were now alive, adopt the language of the man of wisdom, with a little variation, and say, We went by the field and vineyard of the church, which, owing to the slothfulness of its watchmen and keepers, was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had coyered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down, Prov. xxiv. 30,
81., quite different it appeared from the beau. tiful order in which it was left by us?
Here, amidst a group of thorns, I see a delicate lily springing up. Charming flower! thou art destined to grow in a disagreeable situation; scarcely wilt thou have room to open thy delightful foilage for thy rugged neighbours, which, regardless of thy beauty or odours, will pierce thy blossoms; and scarce will the wind blow; but thou shalt find their hard oppression and sharp sting : yet though thus pierced and oppressed, thou wilt grow, spread forth, and flourish to perfection.
This putteth me in mind of that beautiful passage in the Song of Solomon, where the spouse is compared to a lily among thorns, Cant. ii. 2. Thus the church hath been in all ages surrounded by an unneighbourly and unfriendly world, which, regardless of either her beauty or salutary benefits, hath oppressed and pained her sore, and striven to retard, by the fierce winds of persecution, her growth and success in the world : yet, wonderful! to the praise of free grace, even of her head and husband Christ Jesus, in the
midst of this incumbrance she hath been made to grow, bud forth, and blossom as the rose, Isa. xxxv. 1. and Hos. xiv. 5.
As the bush burned and was not consumed, Exod. iii. 2. so the fire of persecution hath never been able to destroy her, but she hath always remained and grown, and shall grow when that fire shall be finally extinguished.
While I am musing, some how or other, these thorns have entangled me by my garments. This remindeth me of that monster of wickedness and miracle of grace, even Manasseh the king of Judah's being taken among thorns. Whether these were thorns literally, or the thorns of afflictions, I shall not determine; only whatever they were, they were made the means of catching him in his mad race to perdition, and of making him stop and consider his ways, Hag. i. 5, 7.; which consideration, through grace, was not only made effectual for stopping him in his mad career, but also of turning him about, and making him run a quite contrary course, even the way of God's commands, Psal. cxix. 32.
Thus the royal Psalmist himself was once caught in the thorns of affliction, when he was running astray, and made to turn again into the paths of the righteous, Psal. cxix. 67. Happy thorns ! happy afflictions ! when thus blessed for preventing men from running to destruction.
But ah! how many are caught in the thorns of affliction, that are never a whit the bettered thereby, but push forward in their mad career still. These may be said to be taught with thorns the evil of their doings, but, making no improvement of their lesson, are only torn thereby, as Gi, deon taught the men of Succoth, Judg. viii. 7, 16.
Surely then it is my duty, as well as all others, whenever we are caught in the thorns of affliction, to comply with that call, to consider our ways, Hag. i. 5, 7. what we have been doing, and whither we have been going; what hath brought us into these troubles, and what is their language to us?