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66 there is no way.” He, who should teach others the right way, wanders from it, and even the princes are turned into the wilderness, where the gospel at first found them. And when the shepherds are thus lost and bewildered, what must become of their poor flocks? can the teachers shew the sheep how to keep out of that wilderness, into which they themselves are fallen ? How should it be that the blind should lead the blind, and yet neither of them should go astray ? Doubtless the sheep must be unhappy, which have a blind shepherd over them: for the wolf may prey upon them unmolested, whenever he pleases, and may devour and disperse the whole flock.
This is a faithful account of the general decay of the Christian church. Sad experience proves the truth of it. The once flourishing church is now turned into a wilderness. We see it. The whole face of Christendom, compared to its former fruitfulness, is now a desert. The light of the gospel is almost extinguished for the wickedness of those men, who take upon them the name of Christianity, but deny the power of it; for the European churches, Protestant, and Roman, are already diminished and brought low by the great oppressor, and by sin, and by misery—they are so low, that the princes have lost the respect due to their high offices, and are become contemptible, and are now got into that very wilderness, from whence the gospel delivered them. In these times of general corruption, the Redeemer might in justice take away our candlestick, as he hath done from other churches. But here is the subject of praise and thanksgiving, that he still continues the light of the gospel to us. He is infinitely merciful to them, who trust to him, and be they ever so few, ever so poor and mean, yet he has given them a most sweet and comfortable promise, that when he comes to visit a wicked infidel church, he will watch over them with the care of the most tender shepherd, and they shali lack nothing-Yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction-the poor the poor in spiritus
the humble Christian he setteth on high. He will exalt them of low degree, according to his invariable rule, he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. 66 And he will make them families like a flock”-no flock can be more safe within the fold, than they shall be regarded by his infinite love, watched over by his all-seeing eye, and defended by his almighty arm, they shall be set on high out of the reach of danger. Though they be few, yet they are as dear to their God as the apple of his eye. Though the world despise them, yet the Lord Jesus loves them. Though they be the scorn and ridicule of an infidel age, yet he esteems them more than his own life, for he shed his blood upon the cross to save them. Though they be the off-scouring of the earth, yet they are the riches of heaven. And when their Lord comes again in all his glory, he will take them into his family, and will admit them into the eternal joys of his heavenly kingdom. How happy then must these Christians be, who are thus blessed in those worst times of the church? And O how thankful should they be, that they were not carried away with the torrent of vice and infidelity! The more wicked the age is, the more are they indebted to the grace of their God, which kept them from the prevailing corruption. And seeing nothing but open profaneness around them, how can they refrain from the praises of their dearest Lord, who preserved them from it ? Certainly they cannot avoid giving him thanks for this great blessing, while their hearts feel it ; and they will do all that lays in their power to make others partake of the same blessing, that they may join with us in the same thanks; O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness, and for the wonders that he hath done for the redemption of men.
This is I think the sense and meaning of the text. And it is a very awakening scripture, and ought to rouse up your particular attention: for it offers to your consideration a most interesting truth, viz. that the
Christian church would decline from its flourishing fruitful state, and degenerate again into the wilderness, from whence the Redeemer had taken it. And has this scripture been fulfilled ? Has the Christian church been, or is it at present in a wilderness ? Let us consider these points under the second general head, and endeavour to improve them to our spiritual use and benefit. And first, the flourishing church was to be diminished and brought low by the cruel oppressor, and by sin, and by misery. And God knows, it is dimi. nished and brought low indeed, so very low, that it is of the Lord's mercy we are not consumed. And I hope his goodness in sparing us may be the means of converting some, and confirming others; if we take a short view of our present unhappy state, with respect to immorality and infidelity, and consider how little we deserved to be spared.
As to morals, our people are entirely corrupt. They are beyond the example of former ages, dissolute and dishonest, insomuch that his majesty has more than once recommended it to the parliament to try to put a stop to the spreading of immorality. But nothing has been done. Nay the want of morals is so evident and glaring, that even the teachers of dry morality begin to find it, and have lately complained in public, that after all their moral preaching for near an hundred years, the people are not in the least more moral. And is it not time then to have done with mere morality, since we have had so much preaching of it, that now we have no morality left? This moral preaching has made our people so immoral, that they are got to a pitch of wickedness beyond what the very heathens ever attained: for to boast of having no virtue or honesty, to make it a matter of merit to be able to act upon no principle, and to be guided by nothing but interest, these are the peculiar characteristics of the present age. And when men thus avow open and barefaced corruption, and, throwing off the very mask of honesty, dare appear publicly the rotten advocates for vice, then cer
tainly the church can never be diminished and brought lower, as to morals. And it might reasonably be expected, that the common people would be thus immoral, since the great have set them the example, and have entirely cast off Christianity. Men of rank and politeness are become too refined and delicate in their notions to believe in Jesus Christ. And they have taken away all necessity of believing in him by utterly exploding his divinity: and yet they keep up the name of Christianity, which is the most stupid and idolatrous religion that ever was invented, if the author of it be not the true God. It rests entirely upon the divinity of Christ; this is its foundation. Nothing can stand without it. But where shall we find great and learned men, who believe that Jesus Christ is selfexistent, and equal with the Father in every perfection and attribute? Publicly from the press, privately in conversation, you hear this fundamental doctrine of Christianity ridiculed and insulted; and the disbelief has spread, and poisoned all orders and degrees of men, insomuch that we have societies erected upon the principle of blasphemy, with liberty of free debate, as they call it, i. e. with liberty to blaspheme the Godhead of Jesus Christ. And what is the most melancholy point of all, the church and state look on unconcerned, while that God, whose servants they are, is treated with more insolent blasphemy in this city, than the very Jews offered to him at his crucifixion. And are these things really so ? Do immorality and infidelity flourish thus abundantly among us? If they do, immorality will soon pull down our church, and infidelity will dig up the very foundations of it, and then cera tainly it will be diminished and brought low. God grant it may not fall lower than it is, but that the few names which are left in it may be kept from falling, and others may daily be added to them. And this we pray for the more earnestly, that Christ may not pour contempt upon princes, which is the second remark,
The church must be fallen very low, when its princes are become contemptible: for they were raised to great dignity, that they might stop the torrent of profaneness and unbelief. Their honours and revenues were to give them weight and influence in the support of their master's cause, and when it was sinking and like to fall into disgrace, it was certainly their interest then to maintain it with all their might, because if it fell, their disgrace would not be long after it. But they sat still and quiet, enjoying themselves, warm and snug in their. opulent stations, while their master was wounded with immorality, and crucified afresh by unbelief. Although they eat of his bread, yet they saw him robbed of his divine glory, and neither used their tongues nor their pens in his defence, therefore justly did he pour contempt upon such princes. He made them base and mean in the eyes of the people. He took away the respect due to their high offices, and because they refused to defend his divine honour, though they were well paid for it, he therefore made them dishonourable: for them that despise me, says our God, whatever their station be, shall be lighty esteemed. And has not this happened ? Look around Christendom, and see in what church the princes of it are respectable. The bishop of Rome-how low is he sunk! and his brethren are falling fast into disgrace, and the latter part of this verse is fulfilling—"He causeth them to wander in the 6 wilderness where there is no way." Christianity at first found them in a wilderness, and brought them out of it, but now by rejecting Christ they are got into it again : for every church without him is desolation, The finest system of religion, that the wit of man can dress up and delineate, is a wilderness without Christ. Let it be ever so artfully put together, yet unless it begin and end with him, it is but a mere desert. Lay the foundation of it ever so deep in the religion of nature, build it up ever so strong with morality, and adorn it ever so richly with metaphysics, yet it will be a mere delusive phantom, and of no use but to feed learned .