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“righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people,” the generality of the Jews had abandoned the God of their fathers, and turned aside like a deceitful bow. Not only were they blind to the typical nature of their economy, and the spiritual sense of their peculiar observances ; but they threw off the restraint of moral principle, and indulged, with unblushing impudence, their criminal passions. To such an awful height had impiety and profligacy risen, that they were chargeable with transgressing and lying against the Lord, and departing from their God; speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving, and uttering from the heart, words of falsehood. Yea judgment was turned, away backward, and justice stood afar off; for truth was fallen in the street, and equity could not enter; yea truth failed, and he that departed from evil, made himself a prey. In vain did God warn by his providence; in vain remonstrate by his prophets : these sons of rebellion and obstinacy persisted in their crimes, till “the sin of Judah,” no longer tolerable, was “written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond.” Abused patience aggravated, and hastened, the doom of this guilty people. Since they hardened their hearts against mild expostulation, and gentle correction, the Lord God thundered his threatenings, and in terrible indignation said,
“ Shall I not visit for these things ? And shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” Pious Habakkuk, who clearly saw the impending ruin, wept, in secret, over the infatuation of his countrymen; acknowledged the justice of Jehovah's controversy ; and wrestled, in fervent prayer, for devoted Israel. “O Lord, I have heard thy speech," the sentence which thou hast denounced against my people," and was afraid : O Lord,” we indeed deserve all the evils to which it condemns us : yet cast us not, I pray thee, out of thy sight, but “revive thy work in the midst of the years,” these years of trouble which are coming upon us; “in the midst even of these years, make known” thyself, and thy tender compassions : “ in wrath," merited wrath, “ remember," and testify, unmerited “ mercy.”
The words wrath, mercy, remember, which occur in the text, must be understood, and explained in a sense which will not militate against the purity and simplicity of the divine nature. It would be both ignorant and impious to ascribe to Jehovah those emotions which agitate the bosom of a mortal. In the uncreated mind, there is, properly speaking, neither passion, nor affection, but all is pure act. The wrath of God, then, as it respects himself, in his holy determination to punish sin ; and, as it respects his creatures, is the execution of that determination. Mercy, in Him, is that perfection which is ever ready to relieve the miserable; and when it regards misery connected with guilt, it is termed grace.
As everything is invariably present to the infinite mind, God cannot be strictly said to forget : and therefore to remember mercy, is the same as to show mercy. And the prayer of the prophet is briefly this, that the Lord would graciously remove from the Israelites the punishment of their sin, or would soften, with kindness, the rigor of his chastisements. · Let us not imagine, my brethren, that we have no concern in a petition which refers immediately to an occasion that existed many centuries past. To all who“ discern the signs of the times,” the judgments of God, which are abroad in the land, furnish an ample proof, that this is a day of rebuke, and of the Lord's anger. And, therefore, every one who is under the power of godliness, will immediately see, that the inquiries, and the exercises suggested by the prayer of the prophet, are peculiarly adapted to the serious purpose for which we have this morning assembled. “O Lord, in wrath remember mercy.”
In applying these words to the service of the day, we are naturally led to contemplate our
situation, and our duty. By adverting to the former, we will find, that wrath is upon us from the Lord ; and therefore our duty is to plead with him for mercy. .
First, with respect to our situation : the Lord is dealing with us in wrath.
Here lend me your attention, whilst I briefly prove the fact; and vindicate the divine procedure, by showing the righteous reasons on which it is founded. · I. The Lord is dealing with us in wrath.
Let the careless, if they please, contemn the assertion as of no importance; or the profane deride it as the child of superstition; it is a solemn truth, that Jehovah has a controversy with America. Very suitable to her condition is the spirit of the prophetic exclamation, “ Hear ye, 0 mountains ; and ye strong foundations of the earth ! for the Lord hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel." For the confirmation of what has now been advanced, it is not necessary to recur to scenes which time has almost buried in oblivion, and which are no where preserved but in the records of the historian. Those symptoms of the divine displeasure on which I insist, are such as have recently occurred, and must be fresh in the memories of all who have arrived at the age of manhood.
It is not long since war desolated our country. We saw her invaded by a numerous and disciplined army, trained to be the tool of oppression, and hired to commit deeds of blood, in order to insure success to schemes of iniquity-We saw our suffering citizens driven from their homes by these sons of plunder, and obliged to seek, among strangers, an asylum from the wintry blast, and relief from the miseries of poverty and exile_We saw the temples of the living God wrested from the peaceful worshipper; ravaged and wrapt in flames, by wretches whose senselessness could be equalled only by their impiety-We saw a part, at least, of the states overrun by banditti, whose conduct was marked with perfidy and violence -We saw the sword of slaughter drawn, and the fields of America drenched with the blood of her children. For more than seven years did wo stream her bitterness into our daily cup. * At length the Lord was pleased to remove from us the rod of his anger; to respite us from affliction, and to give peace in our borders. The happy effects of a change so desirable, were immediately and sensibly felt. As soon as the pressure of external calamity was taken off, languishing Commerce recovered her vigor : Agriculture was prosecuted with safety and success ; Science resumed her wonted seats;
* See note at the end of the volume.