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In this case the form of godliness or profession of Christianity, will avail nothing. "To what purpose "is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith "the LORD. I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, "and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the "blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required "this at your hands, to tread my courts? Bring no "more vain oblations, incense is an abomination unto
me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of as"semblies, I cannot away with: it is iniquity, even the "solemn meeting. Your new moons, and your ap pointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble to me, I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread "forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: "when ye make many prayers I will not hear. Your "hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judg"ment, relieve the oppressed, &c."*"They seek me "daily and delight to know my ways, as a nation that "did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of "their GoD: they ask of me the ordinances of justice,
they take delight in approaching to Go D. Is not this "the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of "wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let "the oppressed go free; and that ye break every "yoke?"+"Think not to say within yourselves, "We have Abraham to our Father. Now is the axe
"laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree "which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down "and cast into the fire."*
These scriptures, to which many more might properly be added, abundantly prove that no external humiliation, or publick honour put upon GoD and religion, can procure more than a respite to a guilty nation, unless repentance and works meet for repentance be connected with them. Such an outward shew of contrition Ahab exhibited, and a reprieve was granted him: but the destruction of him and his family was not averted.
We are not authorized to say at what time, or in what manner, the LORD may see good to be avenged on such a nation as this. He deals with collective bodies and with individuals in some respects according to the same rules. Young persons having heard the wrath of GOD denounced against sin, frequently venture upon flagrant vices with considerable apprehensions: but escaping with impunity, they grow bolder in wickedness, and are apt to conclude the threatenings of scripture to be mere empty words. Thus, "Because sentence against an evil work is not execut"ed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men "is fully set in them to do evil." But "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed and that without remedy." Some are cut off in youth, others are spared, and persist in
* Matt. iii. 7-12
† Eccles. viii. 11.
Proy. xxix. 1.
wickedness till they are grown old: but in general ungodly men are most secure when vengeance is at hand.*
In like manner guilty nations, being often warned, that their iniquities will bring down the judgments of GOD upon them, and finding respite, become hardened in sin; the remonstrances and reproofs of the LORD'S servants are disregarded, or only expose them to reproach, scorn, and ill usage; their measure of wickedness fills up rapidly, but without being observed; and when infidel and impious presumption are at the height, vengeance overtakes them as suddenly, as if they had never been forewarned. Thus it was with Israel and Judah in the Assyrian and Chaldean captivities; and especially this was the case of the Jews, at the time when Jerusalem, the temple, and the whole country was finally desolated by the Romans.
When the LORD has a number of believing servants and faithful ministers in a land, and they enjoy toleration and protection; a hopeful symptom remains. Their example, prayers, and exertions in various ways, prevent a total prevalence of impiety and iniquity. They are "the salt" and "the light" of the land: and for their sakes the LORD delays national judgments, and executes vengeance on the individuals who provoke his indignation. But prevailing divisions among professed believers, attended with lukewarmness, formality, loose principles, extravagant sentiments, and scandalous practice, tend to subvert this bulwark of
1 Thes. v. 1, 2.
our country. The gradual but effectual success of those, "who privily bring in damnable heresies" into congregations and bodies of men, hitherto steadily attached to the peculiar doctrines of the gospel; with the progress of infidelity on every side, are "signs of the “times,” which threaten to deprive us of our last ground of confidence.
If the present generation of pious Christians should be taken from the evil to come; and be succeeded by such," as have the form of godliness but deny the 66 power of it;" and if the number of zealous defenders of the truth should decrease; and timid, feeble advocates be substituted in their room; it is very probable that the LORD may permit the open enemies of Christianity to prevail for a season. In this case persecution may waste, or drive to a distance, the faithful remnant, suppress the testimony of the witnesses, and prevent the publick profession of the gospel; thus the light will be obscured or extinguished, and the candlestick removed, while infidelity and atheism will exult and triumph. Should this take place, no doubt the floodgates of national judgments will be opened; and the vengeance of the LORD, against our flagrant contempt and defiance of him, be made manifest to all the world. This was the course of events in Judea, especially from the death of Josiah, to the captivity: and when scarcely a man could be found to intercede for the land; the wrath of GOD was poured out upon them like an irresistible deluge. The same was still more remarkable, after the Jews in our LORD's time had filled up the measure of their iniquities: for the perse
cuted Christians separated from among them, when the Romans invaded the land, and then wrath came upon them to the uttermost. Something analagous hath been commonly observed in the desolations of countries professing christianity: and when we consider the dire calamities that have befallen a neighbouring nation, (for dire they have been, in what way soever they may terminate,) we may well recollect our LORD's words, "Think ye that they were sinners "above all men? I tell you nay, but except ye repent,
ye shall all likewise perish." In the mean while the LORD waits to be gracious: and who can tell, but that faith and prayer may prevail, and that a timely repentance and reformation may yet take place, and "so iniquity shall not be our ruin."
V. Then I proceed to deduce some instructions and admonitions, suited to the present emergency.
When Sennacherib invaded Judah, with a powerful army, uttering the most dreadful menaces and blasphemies; the pious king sent to the prophet Isaiah, stating the case to him, and saying, "Wherefore lift "up thy prayer for the remnant that is left:" and he himself spread the haughty Assyrian's letter before the LORD, and earnestly intreated his gracious interposition. Hezekiah indeed desired the prayers of an eminent prophet, who had long been employed in that honourable service: yet I apprehend, that we may properly consider his message to Isaiah, as a divine admonition to us at the present crisis. The providence of GOD hath formed a special relation between us and