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insatiable ambition of a Buonaparte? Though hostile invasion is an unspeakable calamity in any situation, and under any circumstances, yet it is capable of as many modifications as the dispositions and designs of the invaders; and if in the present instance the crimes of our enemy supply the most cogent motives to resistance, can it be wrong to turn his vices against himself; and, by imprinting a deep abhorrence of his perfidy and cruelty on the hearts of the people, to put them more thoroughly on their guard against their effects?
It may be thought a sermon on a fast-day should have comprehended a fuller enumeration of our national sins, and this was the author's design when he first turned his attention to the subject; but he was diverted from it by observing that these themes, from the press at least, seem to make no kind of impression; and that whatever the most skilful preacher can advance is fastidiously repelled as stale and professional declamation. The people in general are settled into an indifference so profound, with respect to all such subjects, that the preacher who arraigns their vices in the most vehement manner has no reason to be afraid of exciting their displeasure; but it is well if, long before he has finished his reproofs, he has not lulled them to sleep. From a due consideration of the temper of the times, he therefore thought it expedient to direct the attention to what appeared to him the chief source of public degeneracy, rather than insist at large on particular vices. He has in this edition, in some places, expanded the illustration where it appeared defective, as well as corrected the gross errors of the press which disfigured the discourse; being desirous, ere it descends to that oblivion which is the natural exit of such publications, of presenting it for once in an amended form, that it may at least be decently interred.
JEREMIAH viii. 6.
I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.
THOUGH We are well assured the Divine Being is attentive to the conduct of men at all times, yet it is but reasonable to believe he is peculiarly so while they are under his correcting hand. As he does not willingly afflict the children of men, he is wont to do it slowly and at intervals, waiting, if we may so speak, to see whether the preceding chastisement will produce the sentiments which shall appease his anger, or those which shall confirm his resolution to punish. When sincere humiliation and sorrow for past offences take place, his displeasure subsides, he relents, and repents himself of the evil. Thus he speaks by the mouth of Jeremiah:-At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
We are this day assembled at the call of our sovereign, to humble ourselves in the presence of Almighty God, under a sense of our sins, and to implore his interposition, that we may not be delivered into the hands of our enemies, nor fall a prey to the malice of those who hate us. It is surely then of the utmost consequence to see to it, that our humiliation be deep, our repentance sincere, and the dispositions we cherish, as well as the resolutions we form, suitable to the nature of the crisis and the solemnity of the occasion; such, in a word, as Omniscience will approve.
In the words of the text, the Lord reproaches the people of Israel with not speaking aright, and complains that, while he was waiting to hear the language of penitential sorrow and humiliation, he witnessed nothing but an insensibility to his reproofs, an obstinate perseverance in guilt, with a fatal eagerness to rush to their former courses. He hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented himself of his iniquity, nor said, What have I done? but every one rushed to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.
As the principles of the divine administration are invariable, and the situation of Great Britain at this moment not altogether unlike that of
Israel at the time this portion of prophecy was penned, perhaps we cannot better improve the present solemnity than by taking occasion, from the words before us, to point out some of those sentiments and views which appear in the present crisis not to be right; and, after exploding these, to endeavour to substitute more correct ones in their stead.
1. They who content themselves with tracing national judgments to their natural causes, without looking higher, entertain a view of the subject very inadequate to the demands of the present season. When you have imputed to the effects of an unparalleled convulsion on the Continent, to the relative situation of foreign powers, to the turbulent passions and insatiable ambition of an individual, the evils which threaten us, what have you done to mitigate those evils? What alleviation have you afforded to perplexity and distress? They still exist in all their force. Far be it from me to attempt to discourage political inquiry. An inquiry into the sources of great events, an attempt to develop the more hidden causes which influence, under God, the destiny of nations, is an exercise of the mental powers more noble than almost any other, inasmuch as it embraces the widest field, and grasps a chain whose links are the most numerous, complicated, and subtle. The most profound political speculations, however, the most refined theories of government, though they establish the fame of their authors, will be found, perhaps, to have had very little influence on the happiness of nations. As the art of criticism never made an orator or a poet, though it enables us to judge of their merits, so the comprehensive speculation of modern times, which has reviewed and compared the manners and institutions of every age and country, has never formed a wise government or a happy people. It arrives too late for that purpose, since it owes its existence to an extensive survey of mankind, under a vast variety of forms, through all those periods of national improvement and decay in which the happiest efforts of wisdom and policy have been already made. The welfare of a nation depends much less on the refined wisdom of the few than on the manners and character of the many: and as moral and religious principles have the chief influence in forming that character, so an acknowledgment of the hand of God, a deep sense of his dominion, is among the first of those principles. While we attend to the operation of second causes, let us never forget that there is a Being placed above them, who can move and arrange them at pleasure, and in whose hands they never fail to accomplish the purposes of his unerring counsel. The honour of the Supreme Ruler requires that his supremacy should be acknowledged, his agency confessed; nor is there any thing which he more intends by his chastisements than to extort this confession, or any thing he more highly resents than an attempt to exclude him from the concerns of his own world. Wo unto them (saith Isaiah) that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! And the harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe, and wine are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation
of his hands. The same prophet complains, that while the hand of Jehovah was lifted up they would not see; but he adds, they shall see. If lighter chastisements will not suffice, he has heavier in reserve; if they despise his reproofs, he will render his anger with fury, his rebukes with flames of fire. He is resolved to overcome; and what must be the issue of a contest with Omnipotence it is as easy to foresee as it is painful to contemplate.
2. They speak not aright who, instead of placing their reliance on God for safety, repose only on an arm of flesh.-The perfect unanimity which prevails, the ardour to defend every thing dear to us which is expressed by all classes, the sacrifices cheerfully made, the labours sustained, and the mighty preparations by sea and land which the vigilance of government has set on foot to repel the enemy from our coasts, or ensure his discomfiture should he arrive, must be highly satisfactory to every well-disposed mind. They afford, as far as human means can afford, a well-founded prospect of success. Though there is, on this account, no room to despond, but much, on the contrary, to lead us to anticipate a favourable issue to the contest; yet nothing, surely, can justify that language of extravagant boast, that proud confidence in our national force, without a dependence upon God, which, however fashionable it may be, is as remote from the dictates of true courage as of true piety. True courage is firm and unassuming: true piety, serious and humble. In the midst of all our preparations, we shall, if we are wise, repose our chief confidence in Him who has every element at his disposal; who can easily disconcert the wisest councils, confound the mightiest projects, and save, when he pleases, by many or by few. While the vanity of such a pretended reliance on Providence as supersedes the use of means is readily confessed, it is to be feared we are not sufficiently careful to guard against a contrary extreme, in its ultimate effects not less dangerous. If to depend on the interposition of Providence without human exertion be to tempt God; to confide in an arm of flesh, without seeking his aid, is to deny him: the former is to be pitied for its weakness, the latter to be censured for its impiety; nor is it easy to say which affords the worst omen of success. Let us avoid both these extremes; availing ourselves of all the resources which wisdom can suggest or energy produce, let us still feel and acknowledge our absolute dependence upon God. With humble and contrite hearts, with filial confidence and affection, let us flee to his arms, that thus we may enjoy the united supports of reason and religion; and every principle, human and divine, may concur to assure us of our safety. Thus shall we effectually shun the denunciations so frequent and so terrible contained in his holy word against the vanity of human confidences. Cursed is the man who trusteth in man, and
maketh flesh his arm.
3. Their conduct is not to be approved who, in the present crisis, indulge in wanton and indiscriminate censure of the measures of our
Isaiah v. 11, 12.
rulers. I say wanton and indiscriminate, because the privilege of censuring with moderation and decency the measures of government is essential to a free constitution; a privilege which can never lose its value in the eyes of the public till it is licentiously abused. The temperate exe cise of this privilege is a most useful restraint on those errors and excesses to which the possession of power supplies a temptation. The free expression of the public voice is capable of overawing those who have nothing besides to apprehend; and the tribunal of public opinion is one whose decisions it is not easy for men in the most elevated stations to despise. To this we may add, that the unrestrained discussion of national affairs not only gives weight to the sentiments, but is eminently adapted to enlighten the minds of a people; and, consequently, to increase that general fund of talent and information from which the accomplishments even of statesmen themselves must be ultimately derived. While, therefore, we maintain this privilege with jealous care, let us be equally careful not to abuse it. There is a respect, in my apprehension, due to civil governors on account of their office, which we are not permitted to violate even when we are under the necessity of blaming their measures. When the apostle Paul was betrayed into an intemperate expression of anger against the Jewish high-priest, from an ignorance of the station he occupied, he was no sooner informed of this, than he apologized, and quoted a precept of the Mosaic law, which says, Thou shalt not revile the gods nor curse the ruler of thy people. In agreement with which, the New Testament subjoins to the duty of fearing God that of honouring the king; and frequently and emphatically inculcates submission to civil rulers, not so much from a fear of their power as from a respect for their office.
The ancient prophets, it is true, in the immediate discharge of their functions, appear to have treated kings and princes with no sort of ceremony. But before we establish their style into a precedent, let us recollect they were privileged persons, speaking expressly in the name of the Most High, who gave them his words and invested them for the moment with a portion of his majesty.
Apart from the personal characters of rulers, which are fluctuating and variable, you will find the apostles continually enjoin respect to government, as government, as a permanent ordinance of God, susceptible of various modifications from human wisdom, but essential, under some form or other, to the existence of society; and affording a representation, faint and inadequate it is true, but still a representation of the dominion of God over the earth. The wisdom of resting the duty of submission on this ground is obvious. The possession of office forms a plain and palpable distinction, liable to no ambiguity or dispute. Personal merits, on the contrary, are easily contested, so that if the obligation of obedience were founded on these, it would have no kind of force, nor retain any sort of hold on the conscience; the bonds of social order might be dissolved by an epigram or a song. The more liberal sentiments of respect for institutions being destroyed, nothing would remain to ensure tranquillity but a servile fear of men. In the