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we know, a sinner beyond others. And therefore, could we of these nations truly say, that we are not such neither; still the caution, given him, would be a seasonable one to us. We have at least sinned enough to deserve what we have suffered, which is more than a little. And had we deserved nothing farther, yet, as Elihu remarks in the case of Job, Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more *.
But, to see, how far such advice is necessary for us, it will be requisite, not to keep in generals, but descend to particulars. And they must be such, as relate to each of us in our private capacities: for I am not speaking now to bodies of men, or to single persons in high stations. May God bestow plentifully on all such, grace to consider, what the warning, Sin no more, directs them to, while we consider, what it directs us to. And I apprehend the present occasion calls upon us to avoid, for time to come, four kinds of sin especially: to disregard religion no more; to misbehave towards our rulers no more; to encourage party-disputes and contentions no more; to indulge extravagant pleasures and amusements no more.
1. To disregard religion no more. Perhaps this is the nation upon earth, where it is regarded the least, (our neglect of God's worship in our churches, our families, our closets; the impious talk, the infidel books, that abound every where, afford lamentable 1 evidences of it) though we have confessedly the greatest blessings to incline us to be religious, and the most rational instruction how to be so. Notwithstanding this, who is there amongst us, of any age, who doth not perceive, how much commoner
* Job xxxiv. 31.
and opener both indifference and profaneness are grown within his own time, within a small part of it? Who was there amongst us lately, of any thought, that did not strongly fear we were become so entirely unconcerned about the matter, that even popery would have had no térrors for us? God be thanked, it hath proved otherwise. And permit me to add, let them be thanked also, by whose long despised and reproached labours, a spirit of piety had still in some measure been kept alive: and by whose earnest and seasonable exhortations an unexpected degree of protestant zeal was principally raised. Do us the justice then to bear it in mind, that you wanted our help, and you had it. The enemies of the government avowedly hate us for what we have done: if its friends will not love us for it, our case is hard indeed. But, however you think of us, learn at least to think of the religion we profess, as the truest support, indeed as an essential part, of our happy establishment. Not that preserving it for political purposes alone will be at all sufficient: they, who aim at no more, will come short even of that. God will disappoint them, men will see through them: and infection will spread from hypocrisy, as well as profligateness, though not quite so fast, yet till at length the whole frame is corrupted and destroyed.
You may plead, that however profane the nation may be, we are answerable each for himself only. But indeed, so far as our behaviour can properly influence, we are answerable beyond ourselves. Do we then endeavour to discountenance irreligion, and encourage seriousness in those who belong to us, in those with whom we converse? Do we, as our Saviour hath enjoined us, confess him before men*?
* Matt. x. 92. Luke xii. 8.
Or do we not on many occasions outwardly appear ashamed of him, while inwardly our hearts condemn us for it?
But were we to answer for ourselves alone, what answer could we give? We are as good as others, perhaps. And what if others be very bad? Will that excuse us from being what the word of God, and our own consciences, tell us we ought to be? If not, we are indeed such? Is concern for our future happiness, is reverence and love of God, the great principle within our breasts? Do we really love him the better for these very mercies, for which we are now met to praise him? We hope so, perhaps. But what proof have we given of it? By serving him better since? And if none, while the motive was fresh upon our minds, what is to be expected afterwards, unless the present call awaken us, as Heaven grant it may!
2. The next point of instruction is, to misbehave towards our rulers no more. The connexion is inseparable, Fear God: honour the King*. For by nim kings reign, and princes rule; nobles and all the judges of the earth. For which reason we are to respect, not only the person of our sovereign, but, to use the Apostle's words, all that are in authority t For without a number of such, government cannot be administered. And professions of duty to him, with unjust bitterness against those whom he entrusts, and causeless opposition to the measures they advise, betray either gross insincerity, or pitiable weakness, or an impetuosity of temper, that should be better governed. This however doth not restrain those, to whose rank or office it belongs, from using the faithful, though possibly sometimes unpleasing, freedom ‡ 1 Tim. ii. 1.
* 1 Pet. ii. 17. † Prov. viii. 15, 16.
of giving such counsel, or, proposing such laws, as public-spirited prudence appears to direct. Nor doth it restrain any one from expressing, in a proper manner, his opinion of whatever public measures may considerably affect him, or the whole, provided he hath ground to think himself a judge of them. But it ought to restrain all persons from being vehement, and judging harshly, where perhaps they were unqualified to judge at all: from indulging such behaviour, such language, or even such notions, as are injurious to governors, or hurtful to the ends of government; as may excite or cherish disloyalty, or unreasonable dissatisfaction, or barely promote unconcernedness about those, whom Providence hath set
How far we have been guilty of these things, it is much fitter that each one should think seriously for himself, (for it is a very serious matter) than that any one should take upon him to tell others, especially from this place. I shall only say therefore, that every sort of persons may have been guilty: some by wrong compliances, and abuse of power and favour; some by ill-founded complaints and resentments; all by disguising selfish views under plausible pretences. But whoever the criminals are, the crime is very great. Not only those in authority suffer by it, when they ought not, which alone is grievous injustice, but the community in general suffers deeply with them. The wrong things of this kind, which are said and done, give the ill-designing dreadful advantages against their superiors; and hurry the inconsiderate, even they who mean well, into wildnesses almost incredible. Nay, the wise and good are insensibly cooled and alienated by them. And then is the juncture for attempting to overturn a con
We have felt this: and therefore we shall be inexcusable, unless we remember it; remember to abstain from all appearance* of undutifulness; to keep our mouths with a bridle, while the wicked or the weak are before us t; on no occasion to expect more from our rulers, than we justly may from human creatures, like ourselves; to bear it patiently, if our most equitable expectations are not always answered; and accept and acknowledge every worthy deed they do, and surely they have done many, with all thankfulness ‡. Acting thus, very probably, might have prevented the late rebellion, and may prevent another.
3. A further caution, closely connected with the preceding, is, to encourage party contentions no more. For they always break in, and usually to a high degree, be it ever so undesigned at first, on the respect owing to our governors. Or could that be avoided, one side will be tempted to patronize, for the sake of popularity, what they know, or easily might know, is wrong; to oppose what is useful, or even necessary; to construe the worthiest and wisest conduct unfairly; to prefer the support of their cause before the service of the public; to imagine or pretend, that the prevalence of it will produce every desirable effect; when both reason and experience demonstrate, that little, if any, good is like to follow The other side, from it, and possibly much harm. in return, are tempted to reject what they ought to forward; to insist on what they ought to give up; to oppress their adversaries by superior power: to accuse them of being what they are not, till perhaps they provoke them into being what they would not be. And on both sides these disputes engage men's
* 1 Thess. v. 22.
+ Psal. xxxix. 1.
Acts xxiv. 2, 3.