Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

those concerning which the finest speculations may be framed. Till then, whatever their learning, politeness, and parade may be, it cannot be expected, that our health should be generally recovered ; but we are like to continue, what we have long been, a vicious people, amidst the finest encomiums of virtue, that are any where to be found : Nor will there be much room to wonder if some of its most eloquent advocates should appear, even in their own practice, insensible of those charms which they so gracefully recommend to others, and sink in their character below those heathen moralists, whom they may chuse to imitate, rather than Christ and his apostles. Nevertheless I am persuaded, that if God intend mercy for us as a people, he will support among us a succession of those, who shall dispense his ordinances in such a manner, as he has generally chosen to honour with success. But though the greater part of sincere converts are reduced by these, I am to add, 2. That “ remarkable providences, whether merciful, or af

flictive,” are occasions, which God takes, to work upon the hearts of many others.

When ordinances have long been attended in vain, God perhaps interposes by other more peculiar and signal methods, to Pluck the trilling and lethargic sinner as a firebrand out of the burning*.

Sometimes remarkable mercies and deliverances accomplish the work. An appearance of God in their favour, when they are conscious to themselves that they are the unworthiest of all his creatures, shall shame and melt them, and powerfully prevail on their minds to turn unto the Lord; who Daily loads them with his benefitst, and thus seems, in more senses than one, to Send from heaven to save them, and to draw them out of many waters, in which they had otherwise been losti.

But we more frequently see, that afflictions are the means of performing this happy work. By a gracious severity God is pleased to lay hold on many, and to give them reason to bless the band, which, though by a rough motion, delivers them from the flames that were kindling around them, and shews The Lord to be merciful to them. Like Jonah in the ship, they are awakened by a storm, to call upon their Godll : Like Manasseh they are taken among the thorns, and laid in fetters, that they may be brought to know the Lord : Like the jailor, they are shaken with an Earthquake, and trembling, and astonished they fall down, and enquire what they shall do to be saved *? The terrifying fear of the approach of death, or the distressing weight of some calamity which threatens every moment to swallow them up in destruction, rouzes their consciences to an attention to those divine truths which they had long forgotten, and opens those records of guilt which they had studiously

* Amos iv. 11. y Jonah j. 6.

I Gen xix. 16.

of Psal. lxviii. 19. Psal. xviii. 16.

2 Chron. xxxiii. 11, 13.

sealed up

And there seems to be no affliction by which God more frequently works upon men than by sickness. When he weakens their capacity for the business of life, and spoils their relish for its enjoyments; when he confines them to their chambers, or even to their beds, and Makes their chain strait and heavyt; when he threatens to Take them away in the midst of their daysf, to Deprive them of the residue of their years , and immediately to bring them before that awful tribunal, for which they know in their own consciences they are so ill prepared: Then do we often see the accomplishment of that observation which Elihu made so many ages ago ; He chasteneth a man with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain, so that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat; his flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen ; and his bones that were not seen, stick out ; yea, his soul draweth near to the grave, and his life to the destroyers : But sending him an Interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness, then he is gracious to him, and saith, in a spiritual as well as a literal sense, Deliver him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom|.-Blessed be God, instances of this kind have been known, and known among us, in which the sickness of the body has wrought the cure of the soul, under the conduct of the great physician of both; and has so proved eminently to the glory of God, and the good of those who For a while have been in heaviness .

Yet it must be acknowledged, that in other instances the remorse which a man expresses upon a sick bed, and in the near views of eternity, proves but like that of some condemned malefactor, who, when he has obtained a pardon, throws off all those appearances of repentance with which he had once deceived himself, and perhaps deceived others too, and plunges himself anew into capital crimes ; it may be, into crimes for which he afterwards suffers death without those compunctions of conscience which he before felt, being hardened by a return into sin attended with such dreadful aggravations. This has been the case of many ; and I pray God it may not be thus with any of you. But if there be any among you that were once under powerful awakenings ; any, that have cried out of Terrors on every side *; that have confessed your sins, it may be, with greater freedom, and a more particular detail of circumstances, than the minister who attended you could have desired, and have resolved against them with all the appearances of the most determinate purpose ; and yet after all, have returned with The sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire t: Such have peculiar reason to be alarmed and terrified. Every day of divine patience toward such is astonishing. And if to all this have been added the returns of danger, and signal interpositions of providence for your deliverance, and yet there be no kindly impressions of penitence and gratitude on your hearts, they who know the particulars of the case, must surely look upon you with horror as well as with wonder : For what can one imagine of such, but that they are given over by God to a darkness which nothing but the flames of hell can enlighten, and a hardness which nothing can penetrate but the sharpness of unquenchable fire, and the gnawings of the never-dying worm ?

* Acts xvi. 26-30. $ Isaj. xxxviii, 10.

+ Lam. iii. 7.

Psal. cii, 24. || Job xxxiü. 19-24. 1 Pet. i. 6.

But to return from a digression into which compassion towards such a deplorable case has insensibly led me, I would farther observe, that as these various interpositions of a remarkable providence are often the means of working saving impressions on men's minds, so 3. God is sometimes pleased to over rule 6 little and inconsider

able incidents in life,” as the occasion of accomplishing this happy change.

As the Treasure of the gospel was at first put into earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power might appear to be of God, and not of man I; so God, to Make his own praise gloriouss, is sometimes pleased to produce the most important effects, by causes which seem in themselves least considerable. And it is astonishing to see from how small and seemingly unpromising a seed this plant of paradise springs up, and with how little cultivation too in some instances, after Paul had long attempted in vain to plant, and Apollos to water||.-A few lines in the bible, or any other good book, perhaps taken up by chance, shall be the instrument; and a passage, on which the

* Job xviii. 11. + 2 Pet. ii. 22. 2.Cor. iv. . $ Psal. Ixvi. 8. | 1 Cor. iii. 6,7.

eye glances without expectation or design, shall strike to the heart, like an arrow from the bow of God himself, after quivers of the most pointed and polished shafts have been exhausted in vain; though such shafts were most skilfully aimed, and most vigorously discharged. ---In other instances, a word dropped in conversation, and that perhaps no way remarkable either for its spirit or propriety, shall do that which the most solemn ordinances have not been capable of doing: An important encouragement, by the way, to abound in religious discourse, which God has sometimes been pleased to honour as the happy means of saving a soul from death, and laying a foundation for the delights of an everlasting friendship with those who have been so recovered. 4. Sometimes this great work is accomplished “ by secret and

immediate impressions from God upon the mind,” without any visible means, instruments, or occasions at all.

These things do not frequently happen; nor does it seem fit they should, lest any should be encouraged to expect them in the neglect of the appointed means. Nevertheless it is plain in fact, that God is sometimes pleased to go out of the common way; and his mighty hand is to be acknowledged in it. The reasons are known to himself ; and the praise is humbly to be ascribed to him, who Giveth not an account of any of his matters*.

It is not, to be sure, so common now as it was in the days of Elihu, that God should speak to Men in a dream, or seal instructions to them in slumberings on their bedt : Yet I have myself known several who have ascribed their first religious awakenings to some awful dream, in which the solemnity of the judgment day, or a view of the invisible world, has been represented to them with unspeakable terror ; and others, to whom, when they have waked in the night, some words of scripture have occurred with such power, that they have not been able to divert their thoughts to any thing else ; and that, when they themselves have not certainly known whether they were in the bible or not.

I have known those that, in the circle of their vain companions, and in the midst of their sensual delights, have been struck to the very heart with some such scripture as this ; To be carnally minded is deathf: Or such a text as this has on a sudden

* Job xxxiii, 13,

Rom. viii. 6.

+ Job xxxiii. 15, 16.

3 S

VOL. II.

darted into their minds; The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men*. Such passages have seemed to ring and thunder in their ears till the sound of their music, and the noise of their mirth have been quite overpowered, so that they have been driven from their revels to their knees, and have returned no more into the paths of the destroyer.

Yea, .to add no more instances of this kind, I have known those of distinguished genius, polite manners, and great experience in human affairs, who, after having outgrown all the impressions of a religious education, after having been hardened, rather than subdued, by the most singular mercies, even various, repeated, and astonishing deliverances, which have appeared to themselves no less than miraculous; after having lived for years without God in the world, notoriously corrupt themselves, and labouring to the utmost to corrupt others; bave been stopped on a sudden in the full career of their sin, and have felt such rays of the divine presence, and of redeeming love, darting in upon their minds, almost like lightning from heaven, as have at once rouzed, overpowered, and transformed them ; so that they have come out of their secret chambers with an irre. concileable enmity to those vices, to which, when they entered them, they were the tamest and most abandoned slaves ; and have appeared from that very hour, the votaries, the patrons, the champions of religion ; and after a course of the most resolute attachment to it, in spite of all the reasonings, or the railleries, the importunities, or the reproaches of its enemies, they have continued to this day some of its brightest ornaments: A change which I behold with equal wonder and delight, and which if a nation should join in deriding it, I would adore as the finger of God.

In mentioning these things thus publicly, I do indeed take an uncommon freedom, which some may perhaps censure; but so far as human testimony can give an assurance of truth, I may justly say that I speak what I know, and testify what, in its genuine and powerful effects, I have myself seent. And since the possibility of abusing such condescensions of divine mercy did not prevent their being granted, I cannot think it ought to engage me to be silent, when so natural an opportunity offered of declaring them, To the glory of him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own wills. Yet I must repeat the caution, which I before suggested, that it would be madness for

* Rom, i. 18.

+ John fi. 11.

Ephes. i. 11.

« VorigeDoorgaan »