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both sovereign and people may take up the words of the Psalmist : Like as the arrows in the hand of the giant, even so are the young children. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate*.
But then, as ever, we hope to see either our public or our private happiness continue, we must be careful to remember, III. That both depend on the divine benediction.
Except the Lord build the house, their labour is but lost that build it : except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.- Children, and the fruit of the womb, are an heritage and gift that cometh of the Lord t. These are the express declarations of holy writ: and both reason and experience humbly subscribe to them. It is not indeed possible for us in many cases to discern particularly in what manner the Providence of God conducts things : but we may plainly discern in general, that as the whole course of nature is nothing else than the free appointment, which he hath been pleased to make; as the motions of the inanimate world proceed from those which he originally impressed upon it; and all the thoughts and actions of intelligent beings are doubtless absolutely subject to the influence of their Maker; (since we see they are greatly subject, and often when they perceive it not, to that of their fellow-creatures ;) it must be in his power by various ways, perhaps the more effectual for being unknown, to dispose of every thing so, as may best answer his wise purposes mercy or correction. And as he evidently can do this, it is likewise evidently worthy of him to do it; * Psalm cxxvii. 5, 6.
+ Psalm cxxvii. 1, 2. 4.
for the highest of his titles is that of the moral governor of the universe: and therefore, we may firmly believe the Scripture assuring us, that he doth it in fact; that he makes all things work together for good to them that love him *, and curses the very blessings + of those who love him not.
Whenever then we find our affairs going on to our content, our families flourishing, our healths constant, our hearts full of exultation, and dictating language to us like that of David, In my prosperity I said, I shall never be removed ; let us be sure also like
h him to add, Thou, Lord, of thy goodness hast made my hill so strong I. In the hand of God it is, whether we shall have the things that we wish for; whether, when we have them, they shall prove comforts or afflictions, the joy or the grief of our souls; whether lastly, if they are ever so dear to us, they shall remain with us, or be snatched from us: and, therefore, it unspeakably concerns us all to interest Providence in our behalf. They, whom God favours most, are by no means exempt from sufferings : but he not only will always make religious persons full amends hereafter, but ordinarily grant them deliverance and consolation here. Thus the Psalmist, immediately after his above-mentioned triumph, had cause to subjoin, Thou didst turn thy face from me, and I was troubled s. But it follows, Then cried I unto thee, and gat me to my Lord right humblyll
. Thou turnedst my heaviness into joy : thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness 1. Nor was this a singular mercy to him, or confined to the more worldly Jewish dispensation : but our blessed Redeemer hath given a general promise to his disciples, * Rom. viii. 28. + Mal. ii. 2.
Psalm xxx. 6. § Psalm xxx. 7. || Psalm xxx. 8. q Psalm xxx. 12.
that they, who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, shall have all things needful added unto them*: and shall, even when molested with persecutions, receive now in this time an hundred fold of what they undergo, as well as in the world to come eternal lifet.
Persecutions indeed, more or less, the Apostle hath told us, all shall suffer that will live godly in Christ | and partly on that very account. But in these, they shall be enabled to take pleasure §, even when they are the heaviest: and usually they are very light, compared with the calamities, which the wicked bring on their own heads. The natural tendency of Christian virtues is to happiness; of sin, to misery : God hath appointed this tendency, and he will make it effectual. If nations, in the midst of their wealth and tranquillity, will not shew they are sensible, that he bestows them, he will justly prove it by taking them away. And if those persons whom he hath raised to superior honours, and favoured with marks of distinguished goodness, will ungratefully forget, by whose power and for whose service they were thus exalted and blessed, he can easily make them know by unexpected judgments, that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and doth according to his will in the armies of Heaven, and amongst the inhabitants of the earth. But princes and their people, joining together in thankful obedience to the laws of their Great Benefactor, will be happy in themselves and each other, will shine as lights in the world; and to speak in the language of the Prophet, upon all their glory there shall be a defence **. For God # Matth vi. 33.
+ Mark x. 30. I 2 Tim. iii. 12. § 2 Cor. xii. 10. || Dan. iv. 25. | Phil. ii. 15.
Isaiah iv. 5.
will save Sion, and build the cities of Judah.—The posterity also of his servants shall inherit it; and they, that love his name, shall dwell therein*. Their children shall continue, and their seed be established before him t.
* Psalm lxix. 36, 37.
+ Psalm cii. 28.
MATTH. VI. 16.
Moreover, when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites.
The practice of fasting from a principle of religion has been thought of by different persons in so very different a manner; some placing it amongst the highest duties, whilst others account it mere superstition: and a great part of those, who observe it the most rigidly, are so little improved by it in true goodness: that, I hope, discoursing on this subject may be useful in general, as well as particularly seasonable at present, to direct your judgment and behaviour in relation to it. And therefore, I have chosen to treat of it from words of the greatest authority; those of our blessed Saviour: which contain,
I. A supposition, that religious fasting would be used amongst his followers: When ye fast.
II. A caution against using it amiss : Be not as the hypocrites.
I. A supposition, that religious fasting would be used amongst his followers: which indeed he must suppose of course, unless he forbad it; because the custom had very long been, and was then, universal in the world. Not only the people of the great city and empire of Nineveh, as we read in Scripture, but the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, almost all nations, of whose religion we have any particular accounts, appear to have been led, either by nature or ancient