« PreviousContinue »
II. To attempt the more particular application of these things to you, of whom it may with such evident propriety be said, God has overthrown some of you, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning.
And here let me solemnly inţreat and charge you,-that you acknowledge the righteous hand of God in what has befallen you,that you reffect on the mixture of mercy, that has attended this awful providence, that you make it your earnest prayer, that the dross of sin may be purged away by it,-and that you long retain upon your hearts a permanent sense of these important lessons, which you have seen in so strong and “so affecting a light.
1. Let me intreat you to acknowledge the righteous hand of God in this calamity which has befallen you.
Let me address you in those words of the Psalmist, Be still and know that he is God *. Be affected with the sense of his interposition, and confess the righteousness of it. Assure yourselves, Sirs, that it is not only a general truth, that as we before observed, all secand causes, and fires among the rest, operate only by the divine concurrence, and efficacy, but that it is applicable to the present occasion. It was the hand of the Lord that kindled your fire, and his breath that fanned it into such a terrible blaze. The wind, you say, drove it upon some of the most considerable parts of your town ; but under whose command is the wind ? And why did it not blow towards an ops posite quarter, so as to bear it the contrary way, where it would soon have died for want of fuel? Or why did it not sleep in an entire calm, which might have given you an opportunity of extinguishing the burning with little trouble and dainage ?
It was his hand ; and let it also be remembered, it was a very righteous hand. Know, that God is just in all that he has brought upon you, nay, in all this he Has punished you less than your iniquities deserved t. I mean not to insinuate by this, that you of this town are Greater sinners I, than those that are round about you; or that any inference is to be drawn, as to the character of particular persons, or families, from their share of this calamity, whether more or less. I would not, by any such partial and uncharitable censure, Add grief to your sorrow ş. Nor would it be reasonable to do it ; for in such pro, vidences as these, All things come alike to all, and there is one event to the righteous, and the wicked Il. But this I confi
dently say, that all the sufferers that hear me this day, how clear. soever they may have been from scandalous crimes, nay, how, erer worthy in their character, or however useful in their sta, tion, have reason to acknowledge, that there are with them, even with them, sins against the Lord their God, sufficient to justify this, and more than this : yea, such will be most ready to say, It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed *: justly might he have delivered us over to Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish t, to the rage of everlasting burnings, and the darkness of perpetual despair : we Lay our hands on our mouths I, and our mouths in the dust, and cry out guilty before thee. And while you are thus owning God's justice, let me exhort you,
2. To attend to the mixture of mercy, which has appeared in this memorable providence.
Let me call you this day to see it, and own it, and to mingle songs of praise with your tears. Think not, I beseech you, your case worse than it really is ; but acknowledge the goodness of God in every mitigating circumstance that attends it. Most certain it is, most evident to every one that is but a stran. ger among you, to every wayfaring man that passes by your dwellings, that in the midst of judgment, God has remembered mercy: Why else is not your whole town consumed ? Why had some of you houses standing, in which to receive your suffering brethren, and stores remaining, out of which to relieve them? Let me address myself to those of you in particular, who were in the near neighbourhood of desolation ; to you, that were in a literal sense like a brand plucked out of the burning, freed from the flames, that were raging near you, perhaps, I may add, that were devouring all around you ; to you, whose houses stand in the midst of the ruins, as monuments of God's peculiar and distinguishing goodness : Now does he demand your sacrifice of praise ; and see to it that you retain an abiding sense of the mercy, and of that consequent claiịn, which he has to distinguished services from you,
But let me address myself to those, who, though perhaps their houses were reached, had opportunities, as I know very many of you had, of saving some considerable part of your goods; or to those who had estates, and substance elsewhere, out of the reach of those flames, perhaps sufficient for the comfortable and honourable support of your families; perhaps, after all this diminution, far more than you were possessed of some
* Lam. iii. 22.
t Rom. ii. 8, 9,
Judg. xviii. 19.
years ago. Permit me, Sirs, to tell you, that it would be very criminal ingratitude, to think so much of what you have lost, as to forget your remaining mercies; permit me to say, that yon have reason, as it were, to weep over those floods of tears, which you have so profusely shed: To Faint thus in the day of adversity, argues your spiritual strength to be small*; and perhaps may discover such an attachment to the enjoyments of this present life, as may awaken a serious mind to more afflictive doubts, lest your portion is here, or your Gods are taken away t.
But what shall I say to those of you, who have lost your all; your houses, your goods, your furniture, your clothing; and are turned out naked and destitute, to seek your bread you hardly know where? I do from my heart condole with such of you; I have felt your affliction myself, and, as I have had oppor. tunity, recommended it to the consideration of others; but you must give me leave to remind you, that even in your case there is a mixture of mercy: why else are you living among us this day? Is it not something, that your lives have been given you as a prey ? Is it not to be acknowledged as a gracious circumstance in providence, that the fire did not break out in the night, and surround you while you were sleeping in your beds, so as to cut off perhaps the possibility of your own escape; or at least to oblige you, in your first surprise, to fly for your own lives, incapable of assisting those, that were dearest to you? What if when you had a little recovered yourselves from your consternation, and come to examine the ruins, you had found ainong them the bones of a beloved child, or of a friend, who had been to you as your own soul? There had been a wound indeed, the scar and the pain of which, you must probably have carried to your graves. But your present losses are much less deplorable: for, not to say how much The spirit of a man may sus. tain f these afflictions ; not to plead, what good sense, and much more religion may do, towards reconciling men to some of the inconveniences of poverty; it is to be remembered, that God may change the scene! Hope at least is remaining, and that not an improbable hope. God has supported you thus far, and already carried you through the most helpless and destitute days of life, that you ever saw, or probably will see. Your brethren, your neighbours, your friends, and benefactors, whether nearer or more remote, have pitied you; and pity alone, much more with those substantial expressions of it, is some balm to our sore rows. Let me call you this day thankfully to acknowledge the wisdom and goodness of the great author of our beings, who has thus made man the guardian of man; who has implanted this tender feeling in the human mind; so that on the sight of any remarkable distress of our fellow-creatures, we are moved by a most powerful, but amiable kind of instinct, to open our hands, yea, to draw out our souls to them. Happy provision of the God of nature and of grace, which makes the possessions of the wealthy and prosperous a perpetual bank for the support of the distressed; and opens, as it were, amidst heaps of desolation, the sweet fountains of benevolence on one hand, and of gratitude on the other! These things call for your acknowledgment; and you are to remember, that all those supplies are ultimately derived from God, which, from his additional goodness, he chuses to send you by the hands of your fellow-creatures. And I would hope, he will go on to do you good, and will so Turn your captivity, like that of Job*, that your present suffering may serve to add a greater relish to succeeding and growing prosperity. At least with regard to the true christian, there remains another more secure, as well as more important hope; that the soul may be enriched by what impoverishes the body, and that these Light afflictions, which are but for a moment, may work out a far more erceeding, and eternal weight of glory t: which if you desire, then,
* Prov. xxiv. 10.
f Judg. xviii. 24.
Prov. xviji, 14.
3. Make it your serious concern and earnest prayer, that the dross of sin may be purged away by this burning.
By this, said Isaiah the prophet, speaking of very terrible judgments, which God sent among the Israelites, By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit to take away his sin I. Surely then it is meet to say unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more : that which I know not, teach thou me; if I have done iniquity, I will do no more ş. So may it be with you, and you will be unspeakable gainers by this loss; gainers in the true comfort and happiness of the remainder of life, and much more in the future state.
In pursuit of this blessed end, let me, my friends, this day solemnly call you to Search and try your ways ||, and to examine what is that Accursed thing, which may have occasioned this trouble and distress . I cannot do you a kinder office, than to assist you in the enquiry. Give me leave therefore to suggest a few reflections; by which I would not be understood
* Job xlii, 10. | Lam, iii. 40.
+2 Cor. iv. 17.
Job vii. 11.
Isa. xxvii. 9.
& Job xxxiv, 31, 32.
to mean any thing personal, for indeed I cannot intend it; most of you are strangers to me, nor have I reason to suspect peculiar evil of any; but an acquaintance with human nature in general, will very naturally lead me, in the present circumstance, to turn your thoughts inward, that you may Accomplish a diligent search*. Wherefore has God visited you? Wherefore has he Written these bitter things against you + ?
It may be, some of you have indulged yourselves in a luxurious way of living; and therefore God has stript you of those things, which have been the instruments of it. You have, perhaps, taken a secret pleasure and pride in gay dress, or affected a magnificence of furniture, beyond your rank; and therefore God has consumed your ornaments, and turned you out almost naked and bare. Or you have perhaps been addicted to riot and intemperance, squandering away your substance, and destroying your health, and it may be, your reason, with the abundance of good things God had given you. Just is he then in taking them away ; for it is a thousand times better, that intoxicating liquors should be employed, as they have been here, even to quench the flames, or that the choicest dainties should be burnt up, and your money perish with them, than that your reason should be impaired, your health destroyed, and your families reduced by continued extravagance.
Perhaps there are some of you that have been accustomed to make a kind of by-word of hell and damnation, to scatter about in rage, or mere wantonness, oaths and imprecations ; which in a professed christian is blasphemous impiety, and which even an atheist must own, to be at best but boisterous and unmannerly nonsense. And if so, justly has God executed upon you that denunciation against Him that sweareth ; justly has he caused his curse to enter and remain in the midst of your house, and consumed it, with the timber thereof, and the stones thereof i.
Or possibly, in other of your houses, the fire of contention has before been kindled; contention between the members of the same family, or between neighbour and neighbour; while a clashing of secular interests with some, or the diversity of religious persuasions and practices with others, have led you to forget the common ties of brotherhood and human kind, and to burn with mutual animosity and wrath. Justly has God writ. ten your sin in your punishment, and joined you as companions in suffering and distress; which must surely teach you a better temper, if you are not quite incorrigible.
*Psal. Ixiv, G.
+ Job xiii. 26,
Zech. v, 4.