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CHRIST A STRONG HOLD.
ZECH. IX. 12.
Turn ye to the strong holds, ye prisoners of hope.
At a time when every one is looking about for a place of safety from the impending danger :* when some are trusting in chariots, and others in horses; when some are hoping in our fleets, and others in our armies; when some are confiding in parliaments, and others in patriots : I say, while the generality are relying on an arm of flesh, and saying, “ These be thy Gods, O England,” you will not think it unreasonable or impertinent in me, to point to you a hiding-place where you may be concealed. You will suffer me to lead
you to a strong tower, where you may be secure, let the storm come ever so soon, and make ever so great desolation.
You must not expect to hear a discourse upon politics, or the news of the passing day. Do not suppose that I shall tell you where you may be safe from an invasion ; or where you may secrete your treasure, or your persons, from the ravage of a foreign or domestic enemy. No; what I propose is, to remind
*. This Sermon was preached in the American War, when the
French fleet lay off Plymouth.
you, that the welfare of your souls should be
your first and principal concern. If they be once safe, you need not be very solicitous about any thing else. Were you suitably affected with the danger of everlasting burnings, temporal calamities would seem scarcely worth minding. I hope this declaration of my plan will not damp your curiosity, and lessen your attention. But I trust that you will attend more diligently and devoutly to a subject, which professedly concerns your present comfort, and your eternal salvation. “ Turn ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope.” These words, which, from the connexion in which they are placed, appear to have a reference to evangelical blessings, naturally suggest several important inquiries.
Father of lights, assist thy unworthy messenger : Enable me to choose out acceptable words, that I may be an instrument in thy hand, of leading some dis. tressed and endangered soul to Christ, who only can save him from misery and ruin.
I. In what sense, or on what account, are mankind represented as prisoners ?
Here let it be noted that the prison which our subject now leads us to speak of, is of a spiritual description ; and is not so much a place, as a state, of confinement. All men, by nature, are under the curse of God, and the power of sin and Satan : and let it not offend, if I say, that this is now, or has been, your unhappy condition, as well as that of innumera. ble others. Perhaps, because you can move your hands and your feet as you please, and go whither you will without any restraint, you hardly know how to believe me when I call you prisoners. But prisoners
you are ; and more confined and more confirmed
captives than those who are chained to the oar, or locked up in the darkest and deepest dungeon. You see no thick walls, no bolted doors, nor barred windows, about you. What then? The law, the justice, the truth, the power of God, these are the walls, and bolts, and bars, that confine you. In common prisons, the criminals are not only locked up, but their hands and legs are loaded with irons; and notorious offenders are sometimes chained to the floor, so that they cannot stir from the spot to which they are fastened. So the evil dispositions and passions of men answer all the purposes of chains and bolts, to disable their souls from rising towards heaven, or moving a step in the way of holiness. They are also closely guarded by Satan, as a jailor, whose nature prompts him to unceasing vigilance and cruelty. In this dark and wretched prison is every sinner shut up; and if sovereign Grace prevent not, he will continue in this miserable confinement upon earth, till he be removed to a more horrible dungeon in the bottomless pit, the smoke of whose torment ascends for ever and ever.
Agree, therefore, with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer; and the officer cast thee into prison. Verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt not depart thence till thou hast paid the very last farthing.'
But I will not detain you upon this part of the subject. I should not have dwelt so long upon it, if I had not thought it necessary to make you sensible of your unhappy condition. And have I said enough for that purpose? Are you really convinced that you are
prisoners ? It is not every sinner that is sensible of his captivity. There are thousands, thousands in the world, there are many within our own knowledge, who are' to this hour in a state of imprisonment, and wear the badge of inglorious bondage, that never yet knew it: or, at least, were never uneasy under it. They are servants of sin. They are pleased with their master, and delight in his work : but they seldom trouble themselves to think how they will like his wages hereafter. With regard to such persons, all the encouraging things which I may say in the.progress of this discourse, will be but as water spilt upon the ground: so much labour and time thrown away. For if you do not think yourselves prisoners, and if your fetters do not gall-you too, you will not thank me for telling you of a strong hold; nor consider yourselves as concerned in the exhortation, tó turn to it for safety. Surely you cannot be so blinded, and infatuated, as to imagine that you are · really in the possession of your liberty. You know that while unconvérted, you are obnoxious to God's wrath; are under a sentence of condemnation : and are in hourly danger of being hurried away to blackness of darkness for ever. If you be, indeed, sensible of this ; convinced of it, not merely as to others, but with regard also to yourselves'; ' then you will be glad to hear me propose the next important inquiry.
II. Why are some called prisoners of hope, and who are they that may be so called ?
It certainly implies, that there are some without hope : The devil and his angels are such. God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to "hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to
be reserved to judgment. We read with astonishment and rapture of a Saviour, but noi of a Saviour appointed for them. He took not on him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham. Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; but apostate spirits never enjoyed such a blessing. They heard their brethren, the multitude of the heavenly host, when they sung,“ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” It must have echoed through the infernal regions, and filled them with envy and indignation not to be described. No imagination can conceive what they must have felt, on hearing the gospel preached to the children of men ; and seeing multitudes flocking to Jesus, and healed and saved by him, while not one proclamation of peace and pardon was made to them, and no more notice taken of them, than if such miserable creatures did not exist. They are prisoners, then, without hope. Such also are all those among men, who have died without repentance and pardon; and they are a multitude, we fear, greater than any man can number. There is a great gulph between heaven and hell, which can never be passed. If there were but the least glimmering of hope, that, after a million of ages, some blessed messenger of good tidings would come, and preach deliverance to the captives, it would be some alleviation. I had almost said, they would cease to feel their pain at the report of such deliverance. But, alas ! the gloom is impenetrable. Millions of ages pass away, and ten thousand millions after that period, and there is no more prospect of an end of their misery, than at the first hour when it began. How dreadful is their condition! We can