THE perpetual ſuperintendency of Divine Providence in the government of the Univerſe, and Direction of natural▪ Cauſes, towards the Encouragement of good, and the Puniſhment of evil Doers, are Truths which none but the Impious and Prophane have ever dared to call in Queſtion. The Powers and Qualities of all created Beings are render'd ſubſervient to the Deſign and Purpoſe of him who made them, and become the Inſtrument of his Favour or Diſpleaſure towards the Sons of Men.
IN the common and ordinary Courſe of Things, we do not indeed ſo viſibly diſcern this great and univerſal Spring which actuates every Motion: In the Conduct and Fate of Individuals therefore, the Interpoſition of the Almighty doth too frequently eſcape our Notice [Page 4] and Obſervation; but when his Hand is ſtretch'd out over the Nations of the Earth, when Millions feel his Wrath, and Kingdoms bow down before him; when his ſignal Judgments affright, and his Terrors diſmay us; when the Angel of Deſtruction is commiſſion'd by him to puniſh offending Multitudes, and call Sinners to Repentance; when Sword, Peſtilence and Famine, Snow and Hail, Storm and Tempeſt fulfill his Word, then doth Mankind awaken from it's Lethargy of Sin and Ignorance, and diſcover the immediate Agency and Interpoſition of the Divine Being; then is the Sentence of an angry God legible to every Eye, written as it were in Characters of Fire, and pointing out the Finger of the Almighty.
AND amongſt them all, there is not perhaps one, wherein the Power, the Juſtice, and the Goodneſs of God are more immediately viſible than in that which is recorded in the third Chapter of the Book of the Prophet Jonah.
THE City of Nineveh, ſays the Prophet, was an exceeding great City, probably as eminently ſuperior to Others in the Wickedneſs, as in the Number of it's Inhabitants; a profligate and abandon'd Race of Men, who went on from Folly to Folly, and from Sin to Sin, till they had exhauſted the Patience and Long-ſuffering of an offended God, and fill'd up the Meaſure of their Iniquity; till at length, the Lord ſent unto them his faithful Prophet, the Meſſenger of ſad and heavy Tidings, [Page 5] to denounce unto them their immediate Deſtruction; and Jonah cried and ſaid, yet forty Days, and Nineveh ſhall be overthrown.
A Sentence ſo dreadful, and ſo unexpected, was received, we may imagine, with an equal Degree of Terror and Aſtoniſhment; they beheld themſelves in a Moment on the Brink of Ruin, the Stroke was certain, the Fate was unavoidable.
THE Truth of what was foretold, would admit of no Doubt or Diſputation; the Authority of the Perſon who deliver'd the Prophecy, the Preciſeneſs of the Time affix'd for it's Accompliſhment, the Conſciouſneſs of their own Guilt, all conſpired to perſuade them that their Deſtruction was nigh at Hand; their Fears were alarm'd, their Souls awaken'd, their Hearts melted by the approaching Danger; what therefore could be done on ſo ſolemn, ſo melancholy an Occaſion? Omnipotence was not to be reſiſted, nor Omniſcience to be deceived; they could only humble themſelves before the Lord, implore Pardon and Forgiveneſs, and throw themſelves on his Mercy. Who can tell, ſaid they, if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce Anger, that we periſh not? So the People of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a Faſt, and put on Sackcloth, from the greateſt of them even to the leaſt.
THE Sovereign of this diſtreſſed Nation, is deſcribed to us by the Prophet as exactly reſembling our own; ſolicitous for the Welfare, feeling for the Calamities, anxious for the Reformation of his afflicted People; he recommends to them in the moſt preſſing Manner the ſtrict and religious Obſervance of the Faſt, and enforces it by his own Royal Example.
[Page 6] HE aroſe from his Throne, and laid his Robe from him, and covered him with Sackcloth, and ſat in Aſhes, and he cauſed it to be proclaimed and publiſhed through Nineveh, by the Decree of the King and his Nobles, ſaying,
NO ſooner was this ſolemn Decree pronounced, but it was univerſally complied with; they faſted, prayed, and repented; they lamented their Sins, wept for their Iniquities, and turned unto the Lord their God.
GOD, whoſe Mercy is over all his Works, and who hateth nothing that he has made, took Compaſſion on them; he beheld their ſorrow and Contrition, and would not that it ſhould paſs unobſerved or unrewarded; he ſaw their Works, ſays the Prophet, that they turned from their evil Way, and God repented of the Evil that he had ſaid that he would do unto them, and he did it not.
SUCH an Inſtance of gracious Condeſcenſion, and unſpeakable Mercy, cannot but affect our Minds with the ſtrongeſt Senſe of Gratitude, and afford Matter of Comfort and Conſolation to a ſinful and afflicted People.
[Page 7] IT is indeed an Example, which if duly attended to by us on this ſolemn Occaſion, may be an uſeful Monitor, and ſerve in this Hour of Peril, to direct our Ways, and to guide our Footſteps aright.
LET us then ſeriouſly conſider and reflect on the Example before us, and as we but too nearly reſemble the People of Nineveh in the Multitude of our Sins, let us endeavour to imitate them in our Repentance alſo; and to this End let us lay before ourſelves the Means which they purſued, and the Methods which they made uſe of to bring on this ſalutary Effect.
AND firſt then, it appears by the Hiſtory of the Ninevites, as recorded in holy Writ, that the Duty of Faſting was always highly acceptable unto God, and that therefore it will moſt probably always continue to be ſo.
FASTING is a Duty indeed which though it had not the Sanction of the Almighty to recommend, or his Authority to enforce it, would by the common Rules of Prudence and Diſcretion lay Claim to our frequent Practice and Obſervation of it: Even when ſhe is not employ'd in the ſolemn Offices of Religion, to aſſiſt Repentance and raiſe Devotion, ſhe may ſtill be conſidered as the Hand▪maid of Temperance, the Companion of Health, and the Counſellor of Virtue.
THE moſt poignant of human Pleaſures will cloy without ſome Pauſe, and ſatiate without ſome intermiſſion; Abſtinence therefore is neceſſary to enhance the Value of every Bleſſing, and give a Reliſh to every Enjoyment.
BUT if this Virtue is uſeful in the common Courſe of our Affairs, it becometh an Act ſtill more ſolemn and [Page 8] important when it is made uſe of to avert the Judgments of God, and turn aſide his Indignation from us.
WE have ſeen the great and glorious Effect which it produced in the Caſe of Nineveh; to the ſame End, and for the ſame Purpoſes was it appointed on this Day; and may the God of Patience and long-ſuffering aſſiſt us with the ſame Portion of his divine Favour, and reward us alſo in like Manner for our Obſervance of it.
WE are call'd upon this Day by the Voice of public Authority to cry aloud, and forbidden to ſpare; to echo the Voice of our Rulers and lament the Crimes and Calamities of our Country; to ſay, that from a brave, a virtuous, and a ſucceſsful, we are now grown a ſinful, weak, and unhappy People. We are become, as the Pſalmiſt ſays, an open Shame to our Enemies; the very Scorn and Deriſion of all thoſe that are round about us. Is it not, my Brethren, a melancholy Conſideration, to ſee a Land of Plenty like this, reduced to a State of Penury and Famine; a Land of Honour and Virtue, changed into a Land of Folly and Corruption; a Land of Freemen, into a Land of Slaves; a Land of Chriſtians, into a Land of Pagans, Deiſts, and Freethinkers?
THERE was a Time when private Virtue ſupported public Welfare and Proſperity; when the Peace and [Page 9] Safety of Society was enſured by the Prudence and Piety of every Individual: There were once ſuch things as Patriotiſm, Sincerity, and Integrity amongſt us. Our Anceſtors ſacrificed every thing to the Love of our Country, whilſt we ſacrifice the Love of our Country to every thing elſe. Faſhion, in ſhort, hath deluded, Luxury hath enervated, Pleaſure hath enchanted us.
THE ſlow and ſecret Poiſon of Corruption hath inſinuated itſelf into every Vein; inffuſed a Liſtleſneſs and languor over the whole Frame; undermined and prey'd upon the Conſtitution. We remain ſupine and inactive; and even whilſt Miſery is pouring in upon us, ſeem utterly inſenſible of it. We lull our Senſes to Oblivion in the Arms of Indolence, and at the ſame Time fondly imagine ourſelves repoſing on the Boſom of Security.
IF the Ninevites had not been great and miſerable Sinners, the ſolemn Denunciation of the Prophet Jonas would not have fallen upon them; and if we alſo had not offended the Lord of Heaven and Earth, he would not have ſent down his heavy Judgments upon us. To bring this Matter home then to our own Breaſts and the preſent ſolemn Occaſion; the Angel of Deſtruction is gone forth, the Sword of War is unſheathed, and the Arrows of the Almighty are ſharpened againſt us. A great and powerful Enemy threatens us from abroad; our own Sins and Wickedneſs oppreſs and weigh us down at Home.
[Page 10] LET me then aſk you a few ſerious and important Queſtions; is this a Time to ſpread the Table of Luxury, or to wanton in the Gardens of Pleaſure? Is it a Time to revel in the Feaſt of Senſuality, whilſt thouſands are ſtarving around us? or to ſound the Inſtruments of Joy and Feſtivity amidſt the Groans of War, and the Shrieks of public Calamity? Shall the Mourner for his Country, and ſuch we ought all to be, put on his gorgeous apparel, and appear at the Funeral of his fellow-Citizens in the Wedding Garment? Is there yet amongſt us a Head ſo void of Underſtanding, as not to perceive our wretched Situation? Is there a Heart ſo callous and inſenſible as not to feel for and ſympathize with our bleeding Country? Shall we then pollute our laſt Moments with Sin, and expire in the Arms of Riot and Debauchery?
REMEMBER the People of Nineveh; they were grievous Sinners like ourſelves, but they faſted, repented, and were forgiven: As we have been guilty of their Sins, we have reaſon to fear the Judgment denounced againſt them; but if we imitate their Example in our Reformation, we may ſtill hope for their Pardon, and look for their Reward.
LET us then conſider this Day's Solemnity, as the Foundation on which we are to build the Structure of our future happineſs; as the Time appointed to ſow the Seeds of our Repentance, which with due Care and Culture may take Root, and ſhoot forth hereafter into a rich and plenteous Harveſt: Let us conſider this Day's Abſtinence as only an Emblem or Type of that total, that far more neceſſary Abſtinence from Sin and Wickedneſs which we all purpoſe henceforth religiouſly to obſerve. Let us keep the Faſt, not with the Leaven of [Page 11] Malice and Sin, but with the unleavened Bread of Sincerity and Truth.
LET me addreſs you then as Fellow-Creatures, Fellow-Citizens, and Fellow-Subjects: By the decay of public Virtue one Link of the great Chain of Perfection is loſt, which hath looſen'd the whole; let us ſtrive to reſtore and reunite it. It may be ſaid indeed, and perhaps with ſome truth, that we ſtill keep up the Appearance of Religion and Virtue; that the Places of public Worſhip are ſtill not only open, but frequently, (and the Congregation now before me is a Confirmation of it) reſorted to, and even crouded; but let us not therefore, becauſe we can deceive others, deceive ourſelves alſo: It is not merely the aſſembling ourſelves together in the Houſe of the Lord, Faſting, or appearing unto Men to faſt, which will recommend us to his divine Favour; unleſs we obſerve his Laws, and obey his Commandments. For if the Moment we return to our own Homes, we return alſo to all the Vices and all the Follies that we left behind us, what is our ſhort Attendance on the Almighty but a ſolemn Mockery of his Power, and an impious Diſtruſt of his Omniſcience?
WE have all been acceſſary to the Guilt of our Country; ſhould we not then contribute to her Repentance and Reformation alſo? National Iniquity muſt bring on national Ruin, and in that Ruin muſt we all be involved, if we are not careful to prevent it. If then we would ſave, let us help ourſelves; let us remember that the worſt of Foes, when they are Foes, are thoſe of our own Houſhold. The Traitor within muſt conſpire with the Enemy without, before we can be entirely loſt. England, whenever ſhe falls, muſt fall by her own Hand; and to the Guilt of Murther muſt add the Crime of Suicide alſo.
[Page 12] THE late extraordinary and unparallel'd Succeſs of our noble Friend and Ally, is a recent and a ſtriking Inſtance to convince us how much the Virtue, the Conduct, the Example of one Man may influence the Actions and rule the Fate of thouſands: His Arms were crown'd with Conqueſt, and we, it is to be hoped, ſhall in ſome Meaſure reap the Fruits of it. But ſhould it not chaſtiſe our Joy, and leſſen our Exultation to reflect that this Nation ſhould thus borrow that Fame, which ſhe uſed to beſtow; and ſtand indebted to foreign Courage for what ſhe had a Right to expect from domeſtic Virtue. Is Britain at laſt ſo poor in Valour as to depend upon another's Arms for her Safety; another's Bravery for her Defence; another's Victory for her Triumphs?
LET us for Shame, my Fellow-countrymen, at length ſee, and think, and act for ourſelves. If we have that Reverence for our Country, and that Regard for our Sovereign which we all profeſs, let Religion be our Patriotiſm; if we are ambitious to be thought good Subjects, let us endeavour to be good Chriſtians; let us ſhew our Loyalty by our Lives, and our Obedience by our Virtue. Let every Man be perſuaded, that the Welfare, the Safety, and the Preſervation of theſe Kingdoms depends on his own Conduct and Behaviour: We cannot all of us take the Field and bear the Sword in the Service of our King, but we may all gird on us the Sword of Truth, and defend him with the Buckler of Righteouſneſs; Virtue would add freſh Strength to every Arm, and Sharpneſs to every Sword; Innocence would give us Courage, Integrity would make us brave; and if the Enemy could once find us uncorrupted, they would ſoon prove us to be unconquerable. As by our Follies and our Crimes we have brought on Danger and [Page 13] Difficulty, ſo may we remove them by Goodneſs and Reformation; and inſure Succeſs and Victory abroad, by Penitence and Piety at Home.
BUT farther; every Man has ſome Friends who love and eſteem him; ſome who are guided by his Example, and led by his Direction; every one has ſome Power, and ſome Influence over others; let that Power be exerted, let that Influence be diffuſed, that ſo the generous Flame may catch from Breaſt to Breaſt, ſpread itſelf through every Limb, and animate the whole reformed, pardoned, happy Nation.
BUT laſtly, let us remember what that Faſt is which the Lord hath choſen, not only to looſe the Bonds of Wickedneſs, but to looſe the heavy Burthens, and let the oppreſſed go free; to deal our Bread to the hungry, and relieve the afflicted Soul.
A LITTLE, a very little will ſuffice to ſatisfy Nature; if it were not ſo, how few in theſe cruel Days would be able to ſurvive! What therefore we may ſpare from our own Superfluities, let us beſtow on the Neceſſity of others; what we ſave by faſting, let us give in Charity; thus ſhall we, at the ſame Time, preſerve ourſelves innocent, and make our Fellow-creatures happy, ceaſe to do Evil, and learn to do Good.
WE all feel the Neceſſity of the Times, and all complain of it. If even the Rich lament it, in the Boſom of Affluence, how muſt the Poor and Deſtitute, who ſhiver in the cold Regions of Adverſity and Affliction; alas! what is our Want to their Penury, our Difficulty to their Deſpair! The Storm, which we only dread at a Diſtance, is even now pouring on their Heads, ſhall we not then afford them a little Relief, a little Shelter from it?
[Page 14] To conclude then, let us all heartily and ſpeedily ſet about a general Reformation; from this Day of ſolemn Humiliation let us count our Righteouſneſs; from this auſpicious Aera let us date our Virtue; let it be recorded in the Annals of our Nation, that this Year open'd the Eyes of an offending People, and reconciled them to their God; ſaved them from his juſt Judgment, recommended them to his Pardon, and reſtored them to his divine Favour and Protection; that he took them once more under the Shadow of his Wings, ſaved his repenting Nation, fed them, and ſet them up for ever; preſerved them from Trouble, and compaſſed them about with Songs of Deliverance: that the Lord gave Strength unto his People, and gave his People the Bleſſing of Peace.
ALmighty and ever-living God, thou great and inexhauſtible Fountain of Good and Happineſs! in whoſe Hand are all the Corners of the Earth; on whoſe Aid we muſt depend for our Support, on whoſe Bounty we muſt rely for Succour, and to whoſe Mercy we muſt ſue for Pardon; accept the Prayers of thy penitent People; behold, O! Lord, we acknowledge our Faults; our Tranſgreſſions are multiplied before thee, and our Sins teſtify againſt us; but thy Hand, O! Lord, is not ſhortened that it cannot ſave, neither thine Ear heavy that it cannot hear; hear then, O! Lord, and ſave; let this Day's Humiliation be accepted as an Earneſt of our future Repentance, and this Day's Acknowledgment of our Sins plead with thee for Pardon of our paſt Iniquities: Turn away thy Wrath, and be not angry with us for ever. [Page 15] Return, we beſeech thee, O! God of Hoſts, look down from Heaven and behold, what only thou canſt behold, the Heart of the repentant Sinner: Spare us, thou God of Mercy; aſſiſt us, thou God of Power; proſper us, thou God of Victory; ſuffer not our Follies to ſink, or our Iniquities to overwhelm us; go forth, we beſeech thee, in this Hour of Peril, with our Fleets and Armies; ſtrengthen the Hands of our gracious Sovereign; preſide over his Councils, and direct his Ways; ſheath, O! Lord, the Sword of Battle that is drawn forth againſt us; take off from this afflicted Nation the bloody Garment of War, and put upon us the Robe of Peace; that by the Providence of thy Goodneſs, every Evil diſperſed, and every Enemy ſubdued, we, thy repentant Servants, being hurt by no Perſecutions, may ſerve and pleaſe thee in Newneſs of Life, praiſing and giving Thanks unto thee in thy holy Church, through Jeſus Chriſt our Lord.FINIS.