« PreviousContinue »
THE VOICE OF THE ROD.
their eyes against the avenues of alarm; they | on Judah and Israel, and those he has sent on
the tempest. Estimate, if you are able, the de-
exciting alarm, is the mortality of our cattle. The second minister of the God of vengeance, with terror, and became the sole subjects of conThe mere approaches of this calamity filled us prayers and solemn humiliations, to avert the versation. Your sovereign appointed public scourge. Your preachers made extraordinary efforts, entreating you to enter into the design of God, who had sent it upon us. But to what times wonder how they can enjoy the least remay not men become accustomed? We somewhere its dreadful jaws open; where a black vopose in places where the earth often quakes; lume of smoke obscures the light of heaven; where mountains of flame, from subterranean in liquid rivers on houses, and on whole towns. caverns, rise to the highest clouds, and descend Let us seek in ourselves the solution of a difficulty suggested by the insensibility of others. We are capable of accustoming ourselves to any thing. Were we to judge of the impressions future judgments would produce by the effects produced by those God has already sent, we and famine; we should attend concerts, though should harden our hearts against both pestilence the streets were thronged with the groans of dying men, and join the public games in presence of the destroying angel sent to extermi
But whether God afflict us in love, or strike in wrath; whether he afflict us for instruction, or chasten us for correction, our first duty under the rod is to acknowledge the equity of his hand.
Does he afflict us for the exercise of our resignation and our patience? To correspond with his design, we must acknowledge the equity of his hand. We must each say, It is true, my fortune fluctuates, my credit is injured, and my prospects are frustrated; but it is the great Disposer of all events who has assorted my lot; it is my Lord and Ruler. O God, "thy will be done, and not mine. I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because it was thy doing," Matt. xxvi. 39; Ps. xxxix. 9.
Does he afflict us in order to put our love to the proof? To correspond with his design, we must acknowledge the equity of his hand. We must learn to say, "I think that God has made us a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." "though thou slay me, yet will I trust in thee," O God! 1 Cor. iv. 9; xv. 19; Job xiii. 15.
Does he afflict us in order to detach us from the world? To correspond with his design, we must acknowledge the equity of his hand. It is requisite that this son should die, who constitutes the sole enjoyment of our life; it is requisite that we should feel the anguish of the disease to which we are exposed; it is requisite this health should fail, without which the association of every pleasure is insipid and obtrusive, that we may learn to place our happiness in the world to come, and not establish our hopes in this valley of tears.
Does he afflict us to make manifest the enormity of vice? To correspond with his design, we must acknowledge the equity of his hand. We must acknowledge the horrors of the objects our passions had painted with such be-nate the nation. guiling tints. Amid the anguish consequent on crimes, we must put the question to ourselves which St. Paul put to the Romans; "What fruits had you then in those things, whereof you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death." Sensibility of the strokes God has already inflicted by his rod, was the first disposition of mind which Micah in his day, required of the Jews.
If you ask what those strokes were with which God afflicted the Israelites, it is not easy to give you satisfaction. The correctest researches of chronology do not mark the exact period in which Micah delivered the words of my text. We know only that he exercised his ministry under three kings, under Jotham, under Ahaz, under Hezekiah; and that under each of these kings, God afflicted the kingdom of Judah, and of Israel with severe strokes.-And the solemnities of the present day excuse me from the laws, binding to a commentator, of illustrating a text in all the original views of the author. We must neither divert our feelings nor divide our attention, between the calamities God sent
citing us to sensibility, is the plague, which raThe third minister of God's vengeance, exvages a neighbouring kingdom. Your provinces do not subsist of themselves; they have an intimate relation with all the states of Europe. And such is the nature of their constitution, that they not only suffer from the prosperity, but even from the adversity, of their enemies. people whom God has now visited with this But what do I say? from their enemies! The awful scourge, are not our enemies; they are our allies; they are our brethren; they are our fellow-countrymen. The people on whom God has laid his hand in so terrible a manner, is the kingdom which gave some of us birth, and united by the tenderest ties. Every stroke this which still contains persons to whom we are kingdom receives, recoils on ourselves, and it cannot fall without involving us in its ruins.
which calls for consideration, is the spirit of
the depths of hell a commission like that granted | transient satisfaction; but a state of violence to the spirit mentioned in the first Book of cannot be permanent. Each passion offers vioKings. "The Lord said, who shall persuade lence to some faculty of the soul, to which that Ahab that he may go up and fall at Ramoth- faculty is abandoned. The happiness procured Gilead? And there came forth a spirit, and said, by the passions is founded on mistake: the moI will persuade him. And the Lord said, Yea, ment the soul recovers recollection, the happithou shalt persuade him, and prevail," xxii. 20. ness occasioned by error is dissipated. The 22. Yea, a spirit who has sworn the overthrow happiness ascribed to avarice is grounded on of our families, the ruin of our arts and manu- the same mistake: it is couched in this princifactures, the destruction of our commerce, and ple, that gold and silver are the true riches: the loss of our credit, this spirit has fascinated and the moment that the soul which establishus all. He seizes the great and the small, the ed its happiness on a false principle becomes court and the city. But I abridge my intentions enlightened; the moment it investigates the on this subject; I yield to the reasons which for- numerous cases in which riches are not only bid my extending to farther detail. To feel the useless, but destructive, it loses the happiness strokes of God's hand, is most assuredly the first founded on mistake. We may reason in the duty he requires. Hear ye the rod, and who same manner concerning the other passions. hath appointed it." There is then in the soul of every man a harmony between happiness and virtue, misery and crime.
II. This rod requires us, secondly, to trace the causes and the origin of our calamities. Micah wished the Jews to comprehend that the miseries under which they groaned were a consequence of their crimes. We would wish you to form the same judgment of yours. But here the subject has its difficulties. Under a pretence of entering into the spirit of humiliation, there is danger of our falling into the puerilities of superstition. Few subjects are more fertile in erroneous conclusions than this subject. Temporal prosperity and adversity are very equivocal marks of the favour and displeasure of God. If some men are so wilfully blind as not to see that a particular dispensation of Providence is productive of certain punishments, there are others who fancy that they every where see a particular providence. The commonest occurrences, however closely connected with secondary causes, seem to them the result of an extraordinary counsel in him who holds the helm of the world. The slightest adversity they regard as a stroke of his angry arm. Generally speaking, we should always recollect that the conduct of Providence is involved in clouds and darkness. We should form the criterion of our guilt or innocence not by the exterior prosperity or adversity sent of God, but by our obedience or disobedience to his word; and we should habituate ourselves to without surprise in this world, the wicked prosperous, and the righteous afflicted.
2. This harmony is equally found in the great circles of national society. I am not wholly unacquainted with the maxims which a false polity would advance on the subject. I am not ignorant of what Hobbes, Machiavel, and their disciples, ancient and modern, have said. And I frankly confess, that I feel the force of the difficulties opposed to this general thesis, of the happiness of nations being inseparable from their innocence. But notwithstanding all the difficulties of which the thesis is susceptible, I think myself able to maintain, and prove, that all public happiness founded on crime, is like the happiness of the individual just described. It is a state of violence, which cannot be permanent. From the sources of those same vices on which a criminal polity would found the happiness of the state, proceeds a long train of calamities which are evidently productive of total ruin.
Without encumbering ourselves with these discussions, without reviving this controversy, the better to keep in view the grand objects of the day, I affirm, that the calamities under which we groan are the necessary consequence of our crimes; and in such sort, that though there were no God of vengeance who holds the helm of the universe, no judge ready to execute justice, our degeneracy into every vice would suffice to involve our country in misery.
But notwithstanding the obscurity in which it has pleased God to involve his ways, there are cases, in which we cannot without impiety refuse assent, that adversity is increased by crimes. It is peculiarly apparent in two cases: first, when there is a natural connexion between the crimes you have committed, and the calamities we suffer: the second is, when the great calamities immediately follow the perpetration of enormous crimes. Let us explain:
Under what evils do we now groan? Is it because our name is less respected? Is it because our credit is less established? Is it because our armies are less formidable? Is it because our union is less compact? But whence do these calamities proceed? Are they the mysteries of "a God, who hideth himself?" Are they strokes inflicted by an invisible hand? Or are they the natural effects and consequences of our crimes? Does it require miracles to First, we cannot doubt that punishment is a produce them? If so, miracles would be requiconsequence of crime, when there is an essen-site to prevent them. Men of genius, protial tie between the crime we have committed, found statesmen, you who send us to our books, and the calamity we suffer. One of the finest and to the dust of our closets, when we talk proofs of the holiness of the God, to whom all of Providence, and of plagues inflicted by an creatures owe their preservation and being, is avenging God, I summon your speculation and derived from the harmony he has placed be- superior information to this one point; "our tween happiness and virtue. Trace this har- destruction is of ourselves:" and the Judge of mony in the circles of society, and in private the universe has no need to punish our crimes life. 1. In private life. An enlightened mind but by our crimes. can find no solid happiness but in the exercise of virtue. The passions may indeed excite a
I have said, in the second place, that great calamities following great crimes, ought to be
regarded as their punishment. And shall we | with which we are struck, is to develop their refuse, in this day of humiliation, ascribing to consequences and connexions. Some calamithis awful cause the strokes with which we are ties are less formidable in themselves than in afflicted? Cast your eyes for a moment on the the awful consequences they produce. There nature of the crimes which reproach these pro- are "deeps which call unto deeps at the noise vinces. All nations have their vices, and vices of God's water-spouts," Ps. xlii. 8; and to sum in which they resemble one another; all nations up all in one word, there are calamities whose afford the justest cause for reprehension. Read distinguished characteristic is to be the forethe various books of morality; consult the ser runners of calamities still more terrible. Such mons delivered among the most enlightened was the character of those inflicted on the kingnations, and you will every where see that the dom of Judah and of Israel in Micah's time, as great are proud, the poor impatient, the aged is awfully proved by the ruin of both. covetous, the young voluptuous, and so of every class. Meanwhile all sorts of vice have not a resemblance. Weigh a passage in Deuteronomy in which you will find a distinction between sin and sin, and a distinction worthy of peculiar regard. "Their spot," says Moses, "is not the spot of the children of God," xxxii. 5. There is then a spot of the children of God, and a spot which is not of his children. There are infirmities found among a people dear to God, and there are defects incompatible with his people. To receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, but not with all the veneration required by so august a mystery; to celebrate days of humiliation, but not with all the deep repentance we should bring to these solemnities; these are great spots; but they are spots common to the children of God. To fall, however, as the ancient Israelites, whose eyes were still struck with the miracles wrought on their leaving Egypt; "to change the glory of God into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass; and to raise a profane shout. These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt," is a spot, but not "the spot of the children of God," Exod. xxxii. 8.
Is this the idea we should form of the plagues with which we are struck? Never was question more serious and interesting, my brethren; and, at the same time, never was question more delicate and difficult. Do not fear, that forgetting the limits with which it has pleased God to circumscribe our knowledge, we are about with a profane hand to raise the veil which conceals futurity, and pronounce with temerity awful predi ons on the destiny of these provinces. We shall merely mark the signs by which the prophet would have the ancient people to understand, that the plagues God had already inflicted were but harbingers of those about to follow. Supply by your own reflections, the cautious silence we shall observe on this subject: examine attentively what connexion may exist between calamities we now suffer, and those which made the ancient Jews expect a total overthrow. And those signs of an impending calamity are less alarming in themselves, than the dispositions of the people on whom they are inflicted.
1. One calamity is the forerunner of a greater, when the people whom God afflicts have recourse to second causes instead of the first cause; and when they seek the redress of their calamities in political resources, and not in re
Now, my brethren, can you cast your eyes on these provinces, without recognising a num-ligion. This is the portrait which Isaiah gives ber of sins of the latter class? In some fami- of Sennacherib's first expedition against Judea. lies, the education of youth is so astonishingly The prophet recites it in the twenty-second neglected, that we see parents training up their chapter of his book. "He discovered the cochildren for the first offices of the republic, for vering of Judah, and thou didst look in that offices which decide the honour, the fortune, day to the armour of the house of the forest. and the lives of men, without so much as initi- Ye have seen also the breaches of the city of ating them into the sciences, essentially requi- David, that they are many: and ye gathered site for the adequate discharge of professional together the waters of the lower pool. And duties. Profaneness is so prevalent, and indif- ye have numbered the house of Jerusalem, and ference for the homage we pay to God is so the houses have ye broken down to fortify the awful, that we see people passing whole years wall. Ye made also a ditch between the two without ever entering our sanctuaries; me- walls, for the water of the old pool; but ye chanics publicly follow their labour on the sab- have not looked unto the Maker thereof, neibath; women in the polished circles of society ther have ye had respect unto him that fachoose the hour of our worship to pay their shioned it long ago. And in that day did the visits, and expose card-tables, if I may so speak, Lord God of Hosts call to weeping and to in the sight of our altars. Infidelity is so rife, mourning, and to plucking of the hair, and to that the presses groan with works to immorta- girding with sackcloth. And behold, joy and lize blasphemies against the being of God, and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating to sap the foundation of public morals. How flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink easy would it be to swell this catalogue! My for to-morrow we shall die. And it was rebrethren, on a subject so awful, let us not de- vealed in mine ears by the Lord of Hosts, sureceive ourselves; these are not the spots of the ly this iniquity shall not be purged from you." children of God; they are the very crimes which bring upon nations, the malediction of God, and which soon or late occasion their total overthrow.
It belongs to you to make the application of this passage; it belongs to you to inquire what resemblance our present conduct may have to that of the Jews in a similar situation. Whether it is to the first cause you have had recourse for the removal of your calamities, or whether you have solely adhered to second causes? whether it is the maxims of religion
III. To feel the calamities under which we now groan, and to trace their origin is not enough: we must anticipate the future: the third sort of regard required for the strokes
you have consulted, or the maxims of policy? whether it is a barrier you have pretended to put to the war, to the pestilence, and famine; or whether you have put one to injustice, to hatred, to fornication, and to fraud, the causes of those calamities!
2. One calamity is the forerunner of greater calamities, when instead of humiliation on the reception of the warnings God sends by his servants, we turn those warnings into contempt. By this sign, the author of the second Book of Chronicles wished the Jews to understand that their impiety had attained its height. "The Lord God of their fathers sent unto them by his messengers, rising up betimes and sending; because he had compassion on his people: but they mocked the messengers of God; they despised his word, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, so that there was no remedy," xxxvii. 15, 16.
My brethren, it is your duty to inquire how far you are affected by this doctrine. It is your duty to examine whether your present desolating calamities are characterized as harbingers of greater evils. Do you discover a teachable disposition towards the messengers of God who would open your eyes to see the effects of his indignation; or, do you revolt against their word? Do you love to be reproved and corrected, or do you resemble the incorrigible man of whom the prophet says, "thou hatest instruction," Ps. 1. 17. What a humiliating subject, my brethren, what an awful touchstone of our misery!
this is a subject already decided rather than a
4. Not wishful to multiply remarks, but to
3. One calamity is the forerunner of greater calamities, when the anguish it excites proceeds more from the loss of our perishable riches than from sentiments of the insults offered to God. This sign, the prophet Hosea gave to the inhabitants of Samaria, "Though I have redeemed them," says he, speaking for God, "they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds." It was for corn and wine, that they cut themselves when they assembled together; or as might be better rendered, when they assembled for devotion.* Examine again, or rather censure a subject which presents the mind with a question less for inquiry than for the admission of a fact already decided. We would interrupt our business; we would suspend our Make, my brethren, the most serious reflecpleasures; we would shed our tears; we would tions on these words of God to his ancient celebrate fasts on the recollection of our people. If in the strictest sense, they are incrimes, provided we could be assured that applicable to you, it is because your present caGod would remit the punishment? We "cut lamities require less than sevenfold more to efourselves; we assemble to-day for wine and fectuate your total extermination. Do I exagwheat;" because commerce is obstructed; be-gerate the subject? Are your sea-banks able cause our repose is interrupted in defiance of to sustain sevenfold greater shocks than they precaution; because the thunderbolts fallen on have already received? Are your cattle able the heads of our neighbours threaten us, and to sustain sevenfold heavier strokes? Is your our friends, our brethren, and our children; or commerce able to sustain a sevenfold greater is it because that those paternal regards of depression? Is there then so wide distance God are obscured, which should constitute our between your present calamities, and your highest felicity, and all our joys? I say again, total ruin?
The original word is so translated in the French bibles, Ps. Ivi. 7; lix. 4. The French version, in regard to the former phrase, They cut themselves, seems to harmonize better with the scope of the passage than the English, They rebel, because it follows, Though I had bound and strengthened their arms, meaning their wounded arms.
IV. Let us proceed to other subjects. Hitherto, my dear brethren, we have endeavoured to open your eyes, and fix them steadfastly on dark and afflictive objects; we have solicited your attention but for bitter reproaches, and terrific menaces. We have sought the way
THE VOICE OF THE ROD.
to your hearts, but to excite terror and alarm. | ter's house; see him mar, and form his vessels The close of this day's devotion shall be more anew, giving them a form according to his conformable to prayers we offer for you, to the pleasure." Behold, as the clay is in the potgoodness of the God we worship, and to the ter's hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of character of our ministry. We will no longer Israel. At what instant I shall speak concernopen your eyes but to fix them on objects of ing a nation, and concerning a kingdom to consolation; we will no longer solicit your at- pluck up, and pull down, and to destroy it; if tention to hear predictions of misery: we will that nation against whom I have pronounced, seek access to your hearts solely to augment turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil your peace and consolation. and who hath appointed it;" and amid the dation of these hopes is stronger than all that "Hear the rod, that I thought to do unto them." The founwhole of your calamities, know what are your we can ask. resources, and what are your hopes. This is our fourth part.
In particular, we found our hope on the love republic. Has not God established it by a sewhich God has uniformly cherished for this ries of miracles, and has he not preserved it by a series of miracles still greater? Has he not at all times surrounded it as with a wall of fire, and been himself the buckler on the most laws of nature, and of the elements for its pressing occasions? Has he not inverted the defence?
One of the most notorious crimes of which a nation can be guilty when Heaven calls them to repentance, is that charged on the Jews in Jeremiah's time. The circumstance is remarkable. It occurs in the sixteenth chapter of this prophet's revelations. mission was on the eve of their approaching His ruin: its object was to save by fear the men whom a long course of prosperity could not instruct. He discharged those high duties with the firmness and magnanimity which the grandeur of God was calculated to inspire, whose minister he had the glory to be. cause your fathers have forsaken me," he said in the name of the Lord, "and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and have worshipped before them; and because ye have done worse than your fathers, therefore will I cast you out of this land, into a land which neither ye, nor your fathers know," ver. 11-13.
cies with which God has loaded us during the We found our hopes on the abundant mertime of visitation. With the one hand he abases, with the other he exalts. With the one with the other he obstructs it from entering; "Be-hand he brings the pestilence to our gates, and from desolating our cities, and attacking our persons.
still left the state to recover, and to re-estabWe found our hope on the resources he has lish itself in all the extent of its glory and prosperity. We found our hopes also on the Lest the apprehension of ruin without resolemnities of this day; on the abundance of source should drive them to despair, God God, on the many prayers which will be offertears which will be shed in the presence of made to Jeremiah a farther communication; heed to heaven, and on the numerous purposes honoured him with a vision saying, "Arise, of conversion, which will be formed. Frusand go down to the potter's house, and there trate not these hopes by a superficial devotion, I will cause thee to hear my words." The by forgetfulness of promises, and violation of prophet obeyed; he went to the potter's house; vows. the workman was busy at the wheel. He Your happiness is in your own hands. formed a vase, which was marred in his hand; and amend your doings." Here is the law, "Return ye now every one from his evil way, he made it anew, and gave it a form according here is the condition. This law is general; this to his pleasure. This emblem God explained condition concerns you all. to the prophet, saying, Go, and speak these words to the house of Israel. Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? "O house of saith the Lord. Behold as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it: if that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. turn ye now every one from his evil way, and Reamend your ways." What effects might not this mission have produced? But the incorri-tity to be violated in the face of the sun, and gible depravity of the people was proof against houses of infamy to be open as those of temthis additional overture of grace; those abomi- ples consecrated to the glory of God; if you nable_men, deriving arguments of obduracy suffer public routs and sports to subsist in all even from the desperate situation of their na- their fury; if you abandon the reins to mamtion, replied to the prophet, "There is no hope, mon, to establish its maxims, and communiwe will walk after our own devices, and we cate its poison, if possible, to all our towns and will every one do the imagination of his evil provinces. Have compassion, then, on the caneart," xviii. 1—12. Revolting at those awful dispositions, we its sighs. Place her under the immediate prolamities of our country. Be impressed with are, my brethren, invested with the same com-tection of Almighty God. May he deign, in mission as Jeremiah. God has said to us as clothing you with his grandeur and power, to well as to this prophet, "Go down to the pot-clothe you also with holiness and equity. May
Yes, this law concerns you; this condition is required of you this day to lay a new foundaimposed on all. High and mighty lords: it is tion for the security of this people: Return ye then, my lords, from your evil ways and be converted. In vain shall you have proclaimed a fast, if you set not the fairest example of decency in its celebration. In vain shall you have commanded pastors to preach against the corruption which predominates among us, if fer profaneness and infidelity to lift their head you lend not an arm to suppress it; if you sufwith impunity; if you suffer the laws of chas