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after repeated acts of treason, for any one of which against the king's person they would have been justly put to death, nevertheless spares them and withholds the deserved punishment ? But although he be a God of mercy yet his Spirit may be grieved, and his longsuffering may be wearied out. Remember how he destroyed the seven churches, and behold in what a wil. derness they now lay, and we shall perish after their example, unless we repent. And I hope the consideration of the scripture now before us, may, by his blessing, be the means of persuading those among you, who are his enemies, now to sue to him for pardon, and to confirm those who have placed their whole trust and confidence in his merits. "As to the former, their dreadful situation is described in these words, “ again they are “ diminished and brought low, through oppression, af“ fiction, and sorrow," &c. And as to the latter, they have a sweet promise of his loving protection, even in the greatest corruption of the church. “Yet setteth he “the poor humble Christian on high from affliction, “ and maketh him families like a flock.” While the rest of the world sits in darkness and in the shadow of death, the people of God have light in all their dwellings. While others are visited with his plagues and judgments, he sets his own people on high, out of the reach of affliction, and in the worst of times he watches over them with the care of the most tender shepherd, and makes them families like a flock. And these are the persons here called upon to be thankful, and if they, after such mercies, should be silent, the very stones would cry out, and call them ungrateful.
Let us then meditate upon these interesting words,
Secondly, By applying the doctrine contained in them to our spiritual use and improvement.
And may the blessed Spirit go along with us, and enable us to reap all the profit from this scripture, which he intended for the faithful by recording it ! let
us then enquire into his guidance by what means the church, which we saw before flourishing and fruitful, should now become a desolate wilderness: for the same people, who had been in the wilderness, and were brought out of it, and placed in the fruitful garden of the church, are again diminished and brought as low as they were at first. They decrease in number, and are depressed in condition. They who multiplied exceedingly, are again diminished, and they, who were high in every respect, are brought low. The faithful are diminished from among the children of men. Oh dreadful change ! to be turned from fruitfulness into barrenness from a flourishing church into a desolate wilderness-from being cherished with the comfortable rays of divine light, and watered with the fertile dew of heaven, now to be deprived of both, are the greatest calamities which can befal a people in this world. To · be thus driven into the wilderness again, is worse than to have been in it at first : because after God had visited them with the grace of his gospel, and has now withdrawn himself in displeasure, there is no reason to think, that he will return in mercy to a people, who have abused his grace and insulted his gospel: after he has long waited to reclaim them, and they still reject the offers of his pardoning love, and stand out against all his intreaties, obstinately rebellious, then it will be but just and equitable, if he suffer them to be again diminished and brought low through oppression, affliction and sorrow. These three are the causes of the decay of the Christian church, and they contain a short history of that mystery of iniquity, which now worketh in the children of disobedience. The first cause is the oppressor, the second is the evil of sin into which he brings them, the third is the evil of sorrow and misery. And it is impossible that any church or society should flourish, which is under the vile bondage of the cruel oppressor, and sin and misery. Under these tyrants it must be diminished and brought low.
The first we render oppression, but as there must be
an agent to perform the action, I therefore chose to give him his term of office, and to call him the oppressor. Such an one was Pharaoh, who oppressed the children of God, and by his hard bondage tried to diminish them and to bring them low: and he holds forth to us, in his manner of treating the Israelites, a lively portraiture of a more cruel oppressor, who is a declared enemy to all the people of God, and who has been trying to murder them from the beginning. The oppression of this great adversary was represented in Pharaoh's bondage: for it was by his instigation that Pharaoh was such a tyrant over the bodies of the Israelites, as he is over the souls of all his deluded followers. So that the oppressor is a just and expressive title of the great tyrant the devil. Is not he the oppressor of God's people, who brought us all into slavery by the original transgression, and who leaves no temptation untried to keep us his slaves ? Although he deals in nothing but lies and murder, yet he keeps the multitude under his infernal bondage, and oppresses them with the most heavy yoke of sin and misery. And when they begin to be uneasy, and to be galled . with the yoke, he tempts and deceives them on with lies, using all his cunning wiles, and lays every bewitching snare for their destruction. And although they are assured, that he has no wages to give them, but death temporal and eternal, yet he deludes and leads them on, until he gets them fast bound with the chains of sin and misery. And is he not an oppressor ? Is not such a lawless tyrant, who has an absolute dominion over sinners, and who executes it with hellish malice, is not he the great oppressor ? And so far as his tyranny reaches, the church must be diminished and brought low. He keeps it under by means of evil, which is the second cause of its decline. We render the word affliction, but it signifies evil, and properly the evil of sin ; the evils of affliction and misery which follow sin are expressed in the third cause of the church's decay. The great oppressor overthrows the
most flourishing church by sin. This is the successful battery he raises against it, by which he first gained, and still keeps his dominion: for sin cuts off all the supplies of grace, which the soul might receive from heaven, strips it of its armour, and leaves it quite naked and defenceless against the oppressor's strata gems. And a course of sin reconciles men to it, and although they know it must end in their eternal destruction, yet they never seek, nay they are offended, when we press them to seek, that divine grace which alone can set them free. And is it not the strongest of all delusions, that the oppressor should make men choose eternal destruction; and should force them to work and labour for it, to take more pains to obtain a place in hell, than are necessary to gain heaven? What bondage can be harder? Must it not wear them down and bring them low ? For sin is the cause of all evil, and that which subjects us to all evil of all kinds, certainly must be the vilest oppression. And it is impossible, that any church should be in a flourishing condition, which is under the bondage of Satan and sin, and thereby subject to sorrow, which is the third cause of the decay of the Christian church. The word sorrow includes all the evil effects of sin upon the body and the soul, in time and to eternity: for no good can come wherever sin is. The prophet Isaiah gives the reason (lix. 1, 2.) “Behold the Lord's hand is not 56 shortened, that it cannot save, neither his ear heavy, 6 that it cannot hear, but your iniquities have sepa“ rated between you and your God, and your sins have * hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” Evil is the cause of God's withholding good : “ for your
iniquities, says he, have turned away these things, 6 and your sins have withbolden good things from 66 you." And when the good things, which God has to give, are withholden, what can the sinner find, but misery and sorrow? And must not misery and sorrow
wear him down and bring him low? Will they not - affect his soul, as sickness does his body, bringing it
first down to the grave, and then to the lowest place of the infernal pit? And thus the church decays. By these three causes it declines. Christ made it flourish-the oppressor makes it diminish. Grace rendered it fruit. ful-gin renders it desolate. Through Christ and his. grace it was happy-by the oppressor and sin it is. miserable. And it is one of the strongest proofs and evidences of its present low estate, that the offices of the church, which were formerly respectable, are now become contemptible," he poureth contempt upon “ princes.”—The head of the church fulfils his promise" them that honour me, I will honour, but they “ that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” Be their rank and station ever so great, yet, if they despise me and my laws, I will make them despicable; their highest honours shall not keep them from the lowest contempt, but shall expose them the more to it, and bring it upon them the sooner: for they were therefore raised to be princes, that they might have it in their power to prevent the decline of the church. Their great offices gave them authority, and their great revenues gave them interest, which they ought to have employed for the honour of their master; but as they suffered him to become contemptible, he therefore poured contempt upon them. « The priests' lips, says * God, in the prophet Malachi, should preserve know6 ledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: “ for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts: but ye “ have departed out of the way, ye have caused many " to stumble at the law, therefore have I also made you “ contemptible and base before all the people :” so long as the priest's lips preserve knowledge, he is respectable. So long as he has a zeal for his master's honour,
? is in high esteem. But when he forgets whose servart he is, and pursues any one thing in preference to the salvation of men's souls, then God suffers him to fall in the opinion and esteem of mankind; for his sovereign Lord and master poureth contempt upon him, and “causeth him to wander in the wilderness where