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INHABITANTS OF WELLINGBOROUGH,
At whose Request this Sermon is published.
MY DEAR FRIENDS, The composition of laboured and polished discourses on occasions of solemn humiliation before God, seems to me to have an absurdity yet greater than an exact elegance of dress at the funeral of a friend. When theretore I appeared among you, on your late fast day, I was solicitous about little other preparation, than what arose from a view of human nature, a deep feeling of the several circumstances of your affliction, and a serious concern to deliver what might be approved of God, as suited to the great purpose of your assembling, and subservient to your edification by the awful providence which occasioned it.
With these sentiments I spoke to you out of the fulness of my heart, and the countenances of many of you testified, that you heard me in the fulness of yours. When you surprised me with your unexpected request, that the sermon might be printed (which some of my reverend brethren that heard it had before intimated as their desire,) I knew not how to deny you, though I had excused myself to them ; lest I should seem wanting in a due concern to keep alive upon your minds any good impressions which might have been made by it: and on farther consideration I was the more willing to comply, as such melancholy accidents (though blessed be God, not in an equal degree) frequently happen, especially in populous cities, and I do not recollect many single sermons which so directly lead to the religious improvement of them. I therefore set myself, as well as I could, to recollect what I had said, and have endeavoured to preserve the same freedom in writing which I used in speaking. I have laboured, as much as possible, to write from the life. The ruins of your town, the distress of your families, and the mixture of hope and fear attending the present situation of your affairs, have been as it were before my eyes, and on my heart in almost every sentence: and I have frequently intermingled these meditations with earnest prayers to God, that he so would lead me into the secret recesses of your souls, that what you before heard, and will now read, may be like a nail fastened in a sure place.
The trouble of writing this discourse in short-hand, and afterwards correcting the transcript, is so little a matter as hardly to deserve your thanks. Would my other engagements have allowed of more, I should have submitted to it with pleasure. I only beg that you, and others in your circumstances,
into whose hands it may fall, will read it attentively, and that each of you will consider what conscience hath to say to the plain admonitions it contains; and if you feel your hearts warmed anew, endeavour immediately to improve those good affections, that they may produce holy resolutions, and yield the peaceable and substantial fruits of righteousness; that it may appear you have not suffered so many things in vain.
These are my most hearty prayers for you. I hope you will in return excuse the defects of a sermon, which might have been more accurate, had it been less sincere ; and will also pray, that I may be animated and cheered under the various and almost incessant labours, to which providence calls me, by seeing the world around me growing the wiser and better by them, and may finally be accepted of him, whom it is my highest ambition to serve and please: for whose sake I am
Your very affectionate friend,
P. DODDRIDGE. Northampton, Dec. 30, 1731.
SERMON 1. ON A DREADFUL FIRE AT WELLINGBOROUGH.
Amos iv. 11.— I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and
Gomorrah, and ye were as a Firebrand plucked out of the Burning ; yet have ye nwt returned unto nie, saith the Lord.
W E are assembled this day, (I hope many of us with sensi. ble and penitent hearts,) to lament The burning which the Lord hath kindled *. You have wisely set apart this portion of time as a season of solemn fasting and prayer, that you may Humble yourselves under God's mighty hand t, as those that hope he will exalt you in due time. But what is that humiliation which he requires, and will accept? Is it merely for a few hours To bow down your heads like a bulrush I? Is it merely to give us your bodily presence in this place of worship, and hear the words that are spoken in God's name to you, or in yours to him? Nay, I will add, is it merely to feel some tran. sient emotions of the mind, in the reflection of a providence, which has left behind it such deep memorials, as nature itself may teach those to retain, whom grace doth not teach to improve them? Sirs, if your assembling this day be indeed a rational and a religious action, you come to enquire wherefore it is that God hath Called to contend by fire, as Amos expresses it $: you come that the voice of the rod may be more distinctly explained, in the name of him who has appointed it ll. and, in one word, agreeable to the language of my text, that you may be engaged to return to the Lord that smiteth you. . I could wish you had among you such an interpreter, as might be one among a thousand, to declare to you his righteousness I, and his will, in such a manner as might most effec. tually lead you to comport with it. But since the office of ad. dressing you on this occasion is devolved upon me, I shall
* Lev. x. 6.
Amos vii. 4.
+ 1 Pet. v. 6.
Isai. lviii. 5.
endeavour to shew that you have at least consigned it to one who is tenderly concerned for you, and therefore will not, and indeed cannot have the heart to amuse you with a studied form of words ; but will endeavour, in the plainest and most faithful manner, to advance some important instructions and useful reflections, suited to the sad occasion that calls us together. And though some of those bints, like the providence that introduced them, may seem Not to be joyous, but grievous *, I hope they may afterwards yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness.
It is a great instance both of the wisdom and goodness of God, that he has chosen to teach us, not only by precept, but example ; in which respect it may properly be said, as well as in the other, that He has set before us life and death $. The Hearts of, men in all ages are fashioned, in a great measure alike lli and from observing the temper and conduct of the Israelites in particular, in those various and remarkable circumstances, in which they are represented, we may learn more of the corruption of our nature, and draw more obvious lessons of religious instruction, than perhaps from the history of any other nation whatsoever. One can hardly imagine a circumstance, either of prosperity or distress, to which there is not something in their case, which has an apparent correspondence ; and it is evidently so in particular, with reference to the event spoken of in the words of my text. God had been exercising them with a variety of judgments, and at length, as that was one of the greatest, he gives a commission to the devouring flames to break out, and spread ruin and desolation in their dreadful march. Thus far their condition and yours agree ; and would to God, that it might rest there, and that with respect to you, who are as brands plucked out of the burning, there might be: no room to add, yet have ye not returned unto me.
In handling the words, I shall,
Secondly, attempt the practical improvement of them, with a proper regard to your present circumstances. Yet affecting as they are, and suitable as the tenor of the discourse may be, I am sensible it entirely depends on the divine blessing and grace, to make it successful; to that therefore I humbly recommend what I am about to say, and entreat you to lift up your hearts to God, that he may give you the seeing eye, the hear, ing ear, and the understanding heart.
* Heb. xii. 11.
+ Deut, xxx, 15.
* Psal. xxxiü, 15,
I. I shall first, as plainly and briefly as I can, consider the original meaning and contents of these words, I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning ; yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord : In which words you will naturally observe,
1. They are reminded, that it was the hand of God, which had lately kindled a fire among them.
I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. I doubt not but these words are to be under. stood, in a proper and literal sense, of fire, and of fire kindled in the common methods of divine providence.
They are to be understood of fire properly so called. It is true, sometimes any of God's judgments are compared to Fire*, that being, as you too well know, a most dreadful and irresistible calamity, when it breaks out among the dwellings and possessions of men. Thus does the wrath of God, whenever it is kindled, rage and flame. Thus does it bear down all before it, and turn the most pleasant objects into heaps of ruin, desolation, and horror. But here, I apprehend, it is to be taken for proper fire, because it stands distinguished from several other kinds of judgments, ver. 7, & seq. from drought, blasting, and mildew, from the palmerworm, and the pestilence; and it is very remarkable, that it brings up the rear, as one of the most terrible of all.
I scruple not to add, that Amos speaks of fire kindled by the common method of divine providence. It is indeed said, he overthrew them, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, which, you know, was by fire and brimstone, rained down upon them in a miraculous manner, but there is no reason to take the words thus strictly, or to suppose that such a terrible tempest of fire and brimstone had actually fallen upon the cities of Israel. That had been an event of so great moment and importance, that probably the sacred history would have been full of it, and succeeding prophets would often have referred to it, as more memorable than even the calamity of Sodom, as such a visitation on God's people would certainly have been; whereas there is an entire silence elsewhere, with relation to any such judgment, And I am sure it is impossible to infer it from hence, because The overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah was proverbially used for any very dreadful calamity t, and might with peculiar pro
* See Psal. xcvii. 3. Isa. xxx. 33. Ixvi. 15, 16. Jer. iv. 4. xxi. 12. Lam. ij. 3,4. Ezek. xxxvi. 5. Amos v.6. Nah. i. 6.
+ Deut. xxix. 23. Isa, i. 9. xiï. 19. Jer. xlix. 18. 1. 40. Zeph. ii. 9. Mat. X. 15.