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" --shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation « as this?"
But there are some rules which warrant a more confident determination, provided they be applicable to our case. It is not to be expected that, on such occasions, even the majority will be sincere and earnest in the business of the day: multitudes, no doubt, will utterly neglect its important duties; nay, some will perhaps affect the reputation of superior discernment by deriding them! Others will attend the publick services with decency; but without any serious preparation, personal humiliation, or purposes of subsequent amendment. No small number, it may be feared, will so far forget the end of the appointment, as to amuse themselves with political speculations, or to rent their anger and spleen in revilings and disputes: and even they who desire to observe “such a fast as " the Lord hath chosen,” may fail of their design, through mistake, or for want of proper instruction. This has always hitherto been, in some measure, the case on such solemn occasions. — “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that “ leadeth unto life; and few there be that find it:" and none can duly sustain a part in the national humiliation, who are not humbled for their own sins, as penitent believers in Christ. Yet the outward observance publickly honours God; the preaching of his word may be the means of bringing sinners to repentance, and of invigorating the holy affections of true Christians; and the union of a large multitude in prayer, at the same time for the same blessing, is a hopeful token of success.
The misconduct of numbers, therefore, though greatly to be lamented, is no peculiar reason for discouragement. For if, in a land replete with crimes and impiety, a considerable proportion of pious persons can be found in the different orders: of the community; if these walk worthy of their vocation as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world ;” if they do not resemble Eli, (who was timid, irresolute, and self-indulgent, though not destitute of piety,) but Phinehas the son of Eleazar, and Samuel the prophet, in zeal and activity; if in their several stations they oppose flagrant abuses and national enormities, protest against vice and profaneness in every form, and endeavour with unwearied diligence to revive pure and undefiled religion, and to reform the manners of the people: then we may confidently hope that the LORD will spare us“ for his name's sake, “ though our iniquities testify against us." Especially if this remnant, being “mén of under“standing of the times to know what Israel ought “ to do,” attend in their several places on the important duties of this day, with proper dispositions of mind, and suitable preparation of themselves and their families : if, like Daniel, they humble
si Chron. xii. 32. .
themselves before God, “confessing their own “sins, and the sins of the land;" and unite, as with one heart, in beseeching the LORD “to spare “ his people, and not to give his heritage to re“proach, lest the heathen should say, where is “ now their God? then will the LORD be jealous “ for his land, and pity his people:!” No instance is recorded of his giving up his worshippers into the hands of their enemies, whilst such a remnant was found among them to intercede with him ; even though he abhorred the iniquity and hypocrisy of the nation at large. Under pious Josiah, when the affairs of Judah were hastening to a crisis, the nation was spared for a season ; because some prophets, priests, and princes, were zealously active for reformation : but after Josiah's death the whole mass soon became corrupt; and notwithstanding their fastings and forms, even the prayers of Jeremiah, and a few others, could not preserve them from becoming a prey to their idolatrous, cruel, and insulting invaders.
But in what respect do these rules apply to our land ? and can we decide by them how the LORD will deal with us? It does not become us to determine, what will be the event of our present troubles : but perhaps there will be no impropriety in concluding that the religious state of the nation does not warrant us to expect exemption from severe rebukes and humiliating losses ; and yet
"Joel ii. 12-19.
gives us à ground for hoping that we shall not be given up to ruin and desolation. There are, I apprehend, several zealous Christians in the superior orders of the community; a larger, perhaps an increasing, number may be found among the ministers of religion; and a considerable remnant in the middle and lower ranks of society. How far the whole multitude of them are, this day, in their closets, families, and publick congregations, employed in those duties, to which the royal proclamation hath so seasonably called us, can only be known by the heart-searching God. But as ten righteous persons would have sufficed for the preservation of Sodom; and as “the Lord delighteth “in mercy,” we may humbly hope that he will only correct, and not destroy, us.
III. What then may we reasonably expect that the Lord will do “ for his name's sake,” if he graciously accept our prayers in behalf of this guilty land ? As the prophet only requested the removal of the visitation under which Judah then groaned : so we should merely expect deliverance from deserved and threatened judgments. But should any man feel a vindictive spirit, excited by the enormous crimes and unprovoked injuries of our enemies ; should he stand prepared to rejoice in their calamities, and imagine that the LORD will answer prayers suggested by this disposition : let him remember him who said to his disciples, (when they were desirous of avenging his cause on the Samaritans by fire from heaven,) “Ye “know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for “the Son of man is not come to destroy men's " lives, but to save them:" We may indeed beseech the LORD to 'confound the devices' of those who seek our ruin; and we may adore his righteous sovreignty, when he executes vengeance on them: but we ought rather to desire, that he would abate their pride, assuage their malice,' and turn their hearts, and transfer the authority to those among them who are disposed to peace.Victory is often needful to the termination of war : but as all men, in every land are sinners ; and as “after death is the judgment,” and an eternal state of retribution; so every soldier, that is slain in either army, is a sinner transmitted to the tribunal of his Judge, and commonly in the worst state of mind that can be imagined ; not to speak of the miseries occasioned to the mourning relatives of the dead. . In this view the most splendid victory suggests many painful reflections to the pious mind, however actuated by genuine patriotism; and even our thankful praises, for such answers to our fervent prayers, must be mingled with tears of commiseration dropt over the miseries of this sinful world.