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PREACHED AT WESTMINSTER-ABBEY,
NOVEMBER 5, 1688.
What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?
I CANNOT think it the chief, much less the sole business of this day, to declaim and make invectives against the persons whose villainy occasioned the solemnity of it. Their action was indeed bad enough, had we not lived to see it transcended by many worse; so that were not Protestantism in itself a better religion than Popery, it would have but little advantage from most of the persons who profess it. For are we less proud, covetous, or rebellious, than the Papists? I am sure, if many that call themselves Protestants were so, we must make our reckoning from before six hundred and forty, or despair of finding them so since. All the wicked arts of the Jesuits have been first sanctified, and then acted under the splendid names of the power of godliness, Christian liberty, and the sceptre and kingdom of Jesus Christ, with other such words as have writ their meaning with the sword’s point, and now stand legible to posterity in letters of blood. Nor ought any to wonder that I ascribe these reformers’ practices 80 to Jesuitish principles; it being so well known, that the Jesuit never acts himself more than under another person, name, and profession.
Declamatory satires may indeed seem useless to all purposes whatsoever; it being impossible to revile away a distemper, or to cure a disease by an invective. But were they never so proper, though the church of England, whose principles and practices breathe nothing but loyalty to princes, may justify any hard speeches against the sons of Rome, yet surely the Papists are not fit to be reviled by, nor indeed before many amongst us, who have acted worse things, and that with the aggravation of acting them under a better religion; unless it could be fit to arraign one malefactor before another, who is himself a greater. I wish that, while we speak loud against those of the Romish church, we could at the same time inwardly abhor and detest their impieties, and yet imitate their discretion, and be ashamed that those sons of darkness should be so much wiser in their generation, than we that account ourselves such children of light. For be they what they will, it is evident that they manage things at an higher rate of prudence than to fear a change in their church-government every six months, or to be persuaded by any arguments to cut their throats with their own hands, or, amongst all their indulgences, to afford any to their implacable enemies.
My business at this time shall be to make the mercy of the present day an occasion of declaring our great unworthiness not of this only, but of all other mercies; and that by a parallel instance; if so be our wickedness proves not too big for a parallel, and of that bulk, as to laugh at examples, and baffle 81all comparisons. For indeed our sins seem as much to surpass those of the Jews, the persons here up braided by God, as all men would judge it more monstrous and intolerable for a vineyard to answer the dresser’s labour and expectation with a crop of thorns than with a vintage of wild grapes. The words that I have here fixed upon are a vehement complaint of God, uttered against the Jewish church and nation, his peculiar and most endeared people; and accordingly offer these two things to our consideration.
I. The form and manner of the complaint.
II. The complaint itself.
I. And first for the form and manner of it. It runs in a pathetical, interrogatory exclamation; which way of expression, naturally and amongst men, importing in it surprise, and a kind of confusion in the thoughts of him who utters it, must needs be grounded upon that which is the ground and foundation of all surprise, which, I conceive, is reducible to these two heads:
1. The strangeness. 2. The indignity of any thing, when it first occurs to our apprehensions.
1. And first for the strangeness of it. Whatsoever falls out either above or beside the common trace of human observation, and so puts the reason upon new methods of discourse, is that which we call strange, and such as causes surprise; which is nothing else but a disturbance of the mind upon its inability to give a present account of the reason of what it sees first offered to it; from whence it is, that as a man comes still to know more, the strangeness of things to him grows less; and consequently nothing can be strange to him to whom nothing is unknown. But how then come we here to find God himself under 82 a surprise, and omniscience, as it were, brought to a nonplus? Surely it could be no ordinary thing that should thus put an infinite wisdom upon making inquiries. Nor indeed was it. For could any thing be imagined more monstrous, and by all rational principles unresolvable, than upon a most rich and fertile soil, fenced and enclosed against all injuries from abroad, dressed and manured by the finger of God himself, and watered with all the influences of a propitious heaven; I say, could any thing be more prodigious, than in such a place to see a figtree bear a thistle, or the fruit of the bramble load the branches of the vine? This is a thing directly against all the principles of mere nature, though not encouraged by the assistance of art: and therefore even the God of nature seems to stand amazed at the unnatural irregularity of such a monstrous event. But,
2. The other ground of such interrogatory exclamations is the unusual indignity of a thing: this being as great an anomaly in the morality of actions, as the former was in the nature of things; and therefore as that passion of the mind, raised by the strangeness of a thing, is properly called wonder, so that which commences upon this, is properly indignation. It being a great trespass upon decency and ingenuity, and all those rules that ought to govern those intercourses of rational beings; which are all crossed, and even dissolved, by that one grand fundamental destroyer of society and morality, which is ingratitude. For society subsists by the mutual interchange of good offices, by which the wants and concerns of men are mutually supplied and served; that being the only thing that unites and keeps men together 83in civilized societies, who otherwise would range and ravin like bears or wolves, and never but to seize a greater prey.
Now ingratitude is the thing here exclaimed against with so much abhorrence; a passion that has all in it that wonder has, with the addition of some thing more; wonder resting merely in the speculation of things, this proceeding also to a practical aversation and flight from them. But since a sinner is no strange sight, nor can it pass for a wonder to see men wicked, what cannot be found in the bare nature of things must be sought for in their degree; and therefore it must needs be some superlative height of wickedness which drew from God this loud exclamation. What that is, will appear in the prosecution of the next thing, which is the complaint itself; for which there are these things to be considered.
1. The person complaining, who was God himself.
2. The persons complained of, which were his peculiar church and people.
3. The ground of this complaint, which was their unworthy and unsuitable returns made to the dealings of God with them.
4thly and lastly, The issue and consequent of it; which was the confusion and destruction of the persons so graciously dealt with, and so justly complained of.
Of each of which briefly in their order.
1. And first for the person complaining, God himself. It must be confessed, that according to the strict nature and reason of things, as he who knows all things cannot wonder, so neither can he who can do all things properly complain; weakness being 84 cause of complaining, as ignorance is of wonder. Yet God is here pleased to assume the posture of both; and therefore the case must needs be extra ordinary. But how possible soever it may be for in finite power to complain, it is certainly impossible for infinite goodness to complain without a cause. So that we read the indubitable justness of the complaint in the condition of the person who makes it; a person transcendently wise, just, and merciful, who cannot be deceived in the measures he takes of things and persons, nor prevaricate with those measures, by speaking beside the proportion of what he judges. And after all, he it is that complains who has power enough to render all complaint needless; who has an omnipotence to repair to, and an outstretched arm to plead his cause in an higher dialect than that of words and fair expostulations. We see therefore the person here complaining, even the great and omni potent God; and we may be sure, that where God is the plaintiff, no creature can, with either sense or safety, be the defendant.
The next thing to be considered are the persons here complained of; and they were the Jews, the peculiar and select people of God; a people that had no cause to complain, and therefore the more unfit to give any to be complained of. From the beginning of God’s taking them into his care and patronage, they were fed and maintained at the immediate cost and charges of Heaven; they were dieted with miracles, with new inventions and acts of Providence, the course of nature itself still veiling to their necessities; the heaven, the sea, and all things, dispensing with the standing laws of their creation to do them service, m order to their serving of God. 85But it seems it was easier to fetch honey out of the bowels of the earth, to broach the rock, or draw rivers from a flint, than to draw obedience from them.
They were persons who wore all the marks of the particular, incommunicable kindnesses of Heaven: God had not dealt so with any nation, says David, Psalm cxlvii. 20. They seemed as an exception from (or rather above) the common rule of Providence; a people whom God courted, espoused, and married, and, by a yet greater wonder, continued to court them even after marriage. God thought nothing too good for them to enjoy, nor thought they any thing too bad for themselves to commit. They were a people culled and chose out of the rest of the world; in short, they were, in some sense, a gathered congregation, whom God thus horribly complains of.
3. The third thing to be considered is the ground of this complaint raised against them; which was their unworthy, unsuitable returns made to the dealings of God with them. Which will appear, first, by considering God’s dealing with them; and secondly, their dealing with God; and so, by confronting them both together, we shall give them all the advantage of contraries set off by nearness and comparison. We will begin with God’s dealing with them, which consists of these three things.
1. That he committed his sacred word and oracles to them; so that when all the world round about them had no other religion than what they either derived from their own errors, or at best from their conjectures, these were taught by immediate and infallible revelation; neither confounding themselves in the notion of God’s nature, so as to own a multiplicity 86 of deities; nor yet of his worship, so as to serve him by absurd, and, what is worse, by impious practices, which yet the best and the most reputed of the gentiles placed all their devotion in. In sum, they had that sure word of prophecy, which was able to make them wise to salvation; while the neighbouring nations had such a religion, as neither represented them wise in this world, nor like to be saved in the next.
And yet, as pure and as divine as the Jewish worship was, it had many more ceremonies than ours; nor do we find any proviso for the abatement of the least of them, to gratify any tender conscience whatsoever; though yet the nature of God, who was to be worshipped, and of the souls of men, who were to pay him that worship, were the same then that they are now, and consequently apt to be helped or hindered by the same means: which one consideration is enough to cut the sinews of all the pitiful arguments that the nonconforming comprehensive sages did, or do, or ever will produce. But we understand the men; they strike indeed at the church, but their aim is further, and, if God prevents not, their blow will follow it.
How this profane, atheistical age may rate things, I know not; but believe it, the accounts of England run high in the books of Heaven, for the religion which God has planted amongst us. A religion refined from all that superfluous dross which the Romish is generally and justly charged with; and yet so prudent in its economy and constitution, as not to leave itself wholly unprovided of decency in circumstantials, which are the necessary appendants of all human actions; and consequently being left to the 87arbitrement of every man’s various fancy, would be so differing, loose, and extravagant, that should but a sober heathen view such a divine worship, he would certainly say, (as St. Paul speaks,) were we not mad? while with amazement he beheld one man paying his reverence to an infinite Majesty sit ting, another expressing the same reverence (forsooth) with his hat on his head; postures which pass for affront and contumely even in our addresses to an earthly superior.
But let the doctrine, discipline, and rituals of the church of England be searched to the bottom by rational and impartial heads, and then let them, if they please, produce any thing justly offensive to a conscience tender not to the degree of rebellion. God will one day reckon with us for the church privileges we enjoy, and for our religion, which is unquestionably the best, the purest, and the most primitive in the world; how ill soever it has been used by some, who were concerned upon more accounts than one to encourage it. In this respect therefore our case falls in with the Jews, that God has vouchsafed both them and us the greatest of blessings, the richest and most improveable of talents, even a pure, a clear, and an uncorrupted religion. God’s regard to which (for ought I know) was the chief, if not the only cause of the mercy we commemorate this day.
2. As God planted his vineyard with this so generous a plant, so he was not wanting to refresh and influence it with the continual dews of his mercy, and the showers of his choicest blessings. The miracles of Egypt and the Red sea, the Jews’ frequent deliverances from captivity, from the insolence of the 88 Philistines and the Midianites, and from that scourge of nations, the Assyrians, were enough, not only to have argued, but even to have shamed them into the highest returns of gratitude and obedience.
And has not God dealt as mercifully and as gloriously with these three nations? So that we are an island, not only encompassed with a sea of waters, but also surrounded with an ocean of mercies. From the day that God first vouchsafed us the settlement of the reformed religion under the reign of queen Elizabeth, how has he been like a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, both to guide and protect us in the profession of it? For can we forget the deliverance of eighty-eight, and those victorious mercies, more invincible than the armada designed to invade and enslave us; when the seas and winds had a command from Heaven to fight under the English colours, and to manifest the strength of God in our weakness? Or can we pass over that never to be forgot blessing of this day, which brought to light those hidden and fatal works of darkness, that would have ruined both king and church, and the three estates at a blow; when that God, who humbles himself enough in be holding what is done upon the earth, was pleased to stoop yet lower, and to behold what was doing under it too; and so, by a mature providence, stepping in between the match and the fatal train, to catch us as it were a brand out of the fire, or rather, by the greater mercy of prevention, to keep the destructive element from kindling upon us; and thereby to give us both an opportunity and obligation of eternally celebrating the mercy of such a glorious rescue from a plot in all the parts of it so black and hideous, 89that the sober Papists themselves ever did, and do, and, I believe, ever will profess an utter abhorrence of it, how ready soever they may be to repeat it.
But the divine mercy has not took up here; it has delivered us from a blacker and a greater calamity; a calamity, the memory of which has even blown up the gunpowder treason itself; I mean the late horrid and for ever accursed rebellion, contrived, acted, and carried on by persons and principles worse, and more destructive to monarchy, than those of the Papists. For the crowns of Spain and of France thrive and flourish, for all the Popish religion settled in those kingdoms; but the sanctified actors of our late confusions were such as tore the crown from the king’s head, and his head from his shoulders, and would, upon the same advantages, undoubtedly do the same again. The least finger of fanaticism bearing harder and heavier upon monarchy, than the whole loins of Popery: God deliver us from them both.
Now surely, by these miraculous instances of mercy, God would fain provoke us to such a degree of piety, as might prevent his justice from consigning us over to a relapse into the same sad effects of the same sins. For can we think that God detected and dashed the conspiracy of this day, only to enable the sons of luxury and ingratitude perpetually to conspire against him? Did he break the neck of the late rebellion, that we might transcribe their actings towards their king into our behaviour towards God? Did he deliver the sword into our hands, that we might thrust it into the bowels of his church? Did he scatter all those antimonarchical sects of presbytery, independency, and anabaptism, and other fanatics, by whatsoever names they stand distinguished, 90 and (such is their good fortune) in a fair way dignified too? I say, did he scatter all these locusts, that we might court their return, recall our old plagues, and fall back into our former Cromwellian confusions? If this be our lot, we must charge our misery upon none but ourselves: for God would have delivered, nay, actually has delivered us; but it seems, even in spite of providence and mercy itself, we are resolved not to be delivered.
3. The third course of God’s dealing with the persons here complained of in the text was by judgments. It is possible that the most generous of plants, fixed in the richest soil, and visited with the kindest and most benign influence of sun and weather, may yet not fructify, till they are pruned and cut, and rid of those superfluous branches and suckers which steal and intercept that juice and sap, which, according to the prime intention of nature, should pass into fruit. And therefore the great husbandman of souls takes this course with his spiritual vines, to add the pruning-hook of his judgments to the more gentle manurings of his mercy; and when watering will not do, to dig about them. And it is his last course; after which, if they still continue barren, comes the sentence of extirpation, positive and irreversible, Cut them down, why cumber they the ground?
Now that God has not been wanting to endeavour our reduction and fertility by these means also, we can call in many great and sad experiences to attest. For not to mention the sun of mercy, almost as soon as risen in the first reformation of religion, presently setting again in blood in the cruel reign of queen Mary; nor yet to mention the festivity of almost 91every succeeding prince’s coronation, presently followed by a dismal sweeping plague, as if sent purposely to upbraid us with the mortality of our joys, by casting so sudden a cloud over our triumphs, and dashing our wine with our own tears: I say, not to insist upon these more remote instances of the divine judgments, let us cast our eyes upon those latter ones, much surpassing all the former. And here we shall see three kingdoms for some years bleeding by an unnatural civil war, weltering in their own blood, and wasted and spoiled by the fury of their own inhabitants; a calamity so universal, that, like a deluge, it involved all sorts, estates, and conditions of men; from the prince to the peasant; from him that wielded the sceptre, to him that held the plough. And this war we shall find concluded with the success of the rebel cause and army; which in the midst of peace continued upon the kingdom all the miseries of war; acting all the cruelties of banishments, imprisonments, sequestrations, and decimations upon all those that durst own the least loyalty to their prince or affection to the church.
And when it pleased Providence to blow over this storm in the happy restoration of both, it was not long before the destroying angel stretched forth his hand over us in that woful mortality, caused by a spreading devouring sickness, that ceased not to destroy and mow down thousands before it, without stay or stop; till at length it gave over, as it were, out of very weariness with killing.
And when we were still unconcerned, after all these blows falling so thick and heavy upon us, a fire, more dreadful than all, breaks forth upon the metropolis and glory of our nation, the great magazine 92 of our strength and riches, and makes as great a mortality of houses, as the sickness had made of inhabitants.
And, lastly, when the growing impiety of the nation had baffled this judgment also, and brought us out of this fiery furnace with all our dross still about us, God commissions the enemy, the enemy whom he had so often delivered into our hands, to come and outbrave us at our very doors, and to fire those ornaments and bulwarks of our English nation even under our noses: a disgrace and a blot upon us not to be fetched out by the fire that burnt them, nor to be washed off by the whole ocean that carried them; and it is well that there followed not a destruction greater than the disgrace.
We have seen and felt what an angry God can do; and if we still sin on, and make new judgments necessary, so that God can neither fire, nor plague, nor fight us by sea or land out of our sins, what can be expected, but that he, who hitherto has been only a correcting, should, in the next place, be a consuming fire?
Having thus shewn how God dealt with his people, his vineyard, and his beloved inheritance, namely, by instruction, by mercies, and by judgments, (so that he might well make good this his saying, What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done?) and withal having shewn how parallel to those his proceedings with us have been, let us now come to see how both of us have dealt with God by way of return.
Three things the text remarks of them.
1. Great injustice and oppression, in verse 7.
2. Great rapacity and covetousness, in verse 8.93
3. Great luxury and sensuality, in verses 11, 12.
1. And first, God charges them with injustice and oppression; though a sin of all others least to be expected from them, that they, who had so lately groaned under the rod of oppression, should presently turn oppressors themselves; and that in the most cruel and inhuman instances of it, neither judging the cause of the fatherless, nor supporting the widow; as this prophet tells them in chap. i. verse 23. It seems no plea sub forma pauperis could thrive or succeed in their courts: they had no commiseration for those who had suffered the same bondage and captivity, and smarted under the same tyranny with themselves.
We have had mercies, indeed great and glorious, in his majesty’s restoration: but have those been any gainers by the deliverance who were the greatest losers by the war? No, (in a far different sense from that of the scripture,) to him only that has shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly. But if a man’s loyalty has stript him of his estate, his interest, or relations, then, like the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, every one steps in before him.
We keep days of thanksgiving for our deliverance from the powder plot, and for his majesty’s return, and the like; but do these experiments of God’s goodness to us provoke ours to our brethren, our loyal, suffering, undone brethren? to whom the greatest kindness had been but the strictest justice. But such have been our methods of treating them, that we must expect the same declaration that God makes in verse 7, that he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a 94 cry; and it is well if it prove not a cry to Heaven for vengeance.
2. The second thing here charged by God upon his ungrateful people was their abominable covetousness. Every one (says the prophet Isaiah, i. 23) loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: and here again he charges them for joining house to house, and field to field; and that deservedly, for the usual way of men’s doing so is by their joining sin to sin, and extortion to extortion: a course equally offensive to God, and grievous to man; it being no more possible that a nation should flourish when the wealth of it is grasped into a few hands, than that the body should thrive when the nutriment due to all the parts of it is gathered into two or three swelling wens or imposthumes. The imputation of covetousness, I well know, makes a great and a tragical noise, when it is maliciously and falsely cast upon a certain sort and profession of men, who (God knows) for much the greatest part of them have scarce any thing to be covetous of. But surely this is far more likely to be found amongst those who can raise great estates and families out of nothing, and transmit the fruits of their sin and rapine to their posterity.
How much covetousness endangered this nation, even in reference to this very business of the powder treason, those words of king James sufficiently demonstrate, who, considering how far the conspiracy had gone, and how near we were to ruin, and how narrowly we escaped it, is reported to have said with some heat, but more reason, “that this horrid plot might have been earlier discovered, had not some of his officers loved their money or their own 95persons much more than their country.” And the truth is, considering how gross the action was, being a conveyance of so much wood and so many barrels to such a certain place, adding withal the number of the persons engaged in the plot, it is a miracle it was not searched into and found out before. I am sure, upon this and many other accounts, we have cause to adore the truth of that divine aphorism of that eminent prelate and great martyr, both for king and church, archbishop Laud, who lived and acted up to all that he said, even to the sealing it with his last blood. “The Lord (says he) deliver us from covetous and fearful men: the covetous will betray us for money, the fearful for security.”
3. And lastly, the third thing charged by God upon those unworthy persons spoken of in the text, was their excessive luxury and sensuality; pursued by them even to the degree of a trade or a profession: for in the 11th verse of this 5th chapter, we have them rising up early, and sitting up late at their cups; such painful and laborious drunkards were they; and to the clattering of their cups we have the additional music of the harp and viol, in the 12th verse, where we find them feasting and gratifying all their senses, till they had utterly silenced their reason; and, which is the natural consequent of voluptuousness, wholly abandoned all thoughts of Providence; as it is in the same verse, not regarding the work of the Lord, nor the operation of his hands.
It is like they might spend their time, as many amongst us do nowadays, in dressing and adorning themselves, in preparing for the great and weighty work of balls and dances, and then in shewing their 96little wit, by scoffing at God, and goodness, and all religion.
But did God vouchsafe such transcendent blessings either to them or us, only to be improved into the food and fuel of intemperance? Did God keep off our enemies by sea and land, that we might compass both to satisfy our unruly appetites? There have been rumours and fears of French armies, but they are the French fashions and the French vices that have invaded, and conquered, and spoiled our land; while every one almost makes this his sole business, employment, and glory, to do wickedly, and to fare deliriously every day: a trade which is sure to go on apace, though all others languish and decay.
Such surely are neither the persons nor practices that moved God to do such great things for us; who fills no man’s coffers only to furnish him out in every new vain dress or ridiculous fashion. For, as St. Paul says, does God take care for oxen? So we may be sure, that much less does he take such care for apes and monkeys, for goats and swine; for such as are good for nothing, but either mimically to imitate their neighbours’ fooleries, or to immerse themselves in all kind of lascivious and debauched living. But if these be the courses we are resolved upon, we should do well to strike this and such other festival days of public deliverance out of our rubrick, which stand there only to blush for our guilt, and upbraid us for our ingratitude.
Thus at length I have given you some account of the grounds of that loud and heavy complaint here commenced by God himself against his peculiar darling people; namely, their unworthy, unsuitable returns 97made to God’s dealings with them; that when he endeavoured to inform and guide them with the word of his eternal truth, to endear them with his mercies, and to discipline and reclaim them with his judgments, they were so incorrigible, and even impenetrable by all these methods, that they let loose the reins to all the filth and baseness that the corruption of their nature could ingulf them in; defying heaven with their clamorous oppressions, burdening the earth with their rapines and extortions; and lastly, abusing themselves and all the good creatures of God with their insatiable luxury and intemperance.
And now, if we think that the injured goodness of God could, after all this, satisfy itself with bare complaints, we may conclude, that it had something else to complain of besides their wickedness, even his own justice; which was too far concerned to put up such provocations, without much another kind of revenging the injuries done to his abused mercy. And therefore we have God here come to his final resolution; namely, to destroy and ruin those vile persons; which is the sad issue and consequent of the foregoing complaint, and the
Fourth and last thing proposed by us to be handled. This dreadful proceeding of God with them we have fully set down in the 5th and 6th verses: And now go to, says God; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned nor digged; but there shall come up briars and thorns: I will also command the clouds, that they rain no rain upon it. In a word, he would utterly bereave 98 them of all their defences, and expose them to all the miseries of a defenceless condition.
Now the defences of a nation are twofold: 1. Its laws; 2. Its military force: in the destruction of both of which, history tells us how miserably the Jewish nation suffered, till at length, overpowered with continual invasions, their commonwealth and government was quite dissolved.
1. And first for their laws, (which in every government are as the sinews and nerves, binding together all the parts and members of the body politic;) the execution of them amongst the Jews was at length wholly neglected; so that they stood only to upbraid the weakness of the magistrate, and as trophies of a victorious reigning impiety, much too strong for them: which laws, had they had their full course and career, must have borne down all disorder before them, and made judgment run down like a river, and righteousness like a mighty stream. But they, by new unheard of methods of policy, set themselves only to suppress their laws, and to secure themselves by the rotten short arts of connivance, winking at the grossest disorders so long, till they had even winked themselves blind; and indulged wickedness into that bulk and height, that, over topping authority, and scorning all control, it was itself only a law to itself.
2. And then, in the next place, this introduced a dissolution of their military power; no persons ever growing into a fitness for war under a licentious and ungoverned peace: whereupon we find them run down by every potent adversary. The Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Grecians, and the Ro mans, all successively vanquished and enslaved them.99
And then they found that neither their insulting over their poor brethren, their joining house to house, nor their chanting to the harp and viol, their merry meetings and profuse feastings, their gaudy dresses and damning oaths, could enable them to look an active, hardy, and resolved enemy in the face.
And now, as the walls and safeguard of a nation are its laws and military force, so upon a failure of them ensue two fatal and destructive evils.
1. A growth of sects and factions; for as soon as God had pulled up the hedge of his vineyard, we find it in the sixth verse of this chapter overrun with briars and thorns; things not only useless, but hurtful; such as, instead of refreshing or feeding the husbandman, only rend and tear his flesh; and not content only to grow, will at length aspire also to govern; it being natural to the vilest bramble to affect royalty and supremacy.
The Jewish church and nation was at length pestered with Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and Essenians, all rending the unity of the church, and troubling the peace of the state, much like that rabble of sects and names nowadays amongst us, the blessed effect of the late bloody reformation; which how they swarm, and to what a languishing condition they have brought this once flourishing kingdom, every judicious person sees, and every pious laments. And, which is the greatest mischief of all, we still take pretences of conscience for cur rent from those, who had conspired and rebelled against the government, murdered one king, and banished another, and to this day have not declared the least repentance for any of all those things which 100 they have done. But since our physicians think the best way of curing a disease is to pamper it, the Lord in mercy prepare the kingdom to suffer what he by miracle only can prevent.
2. The other mischief consequent upon God’s pulling down the wall of his vineyard, was its being trodden down. It was first to be choked up by a growing evil from within, and next to be laid waste by a force from abroad. The non-execution of laws caused the first, and the failure of power occasioned the next. How deep the Jews drank of this cup has been already hinted, even till the whole nation was drunk with God’s fury: and if so, could any thing prepare them for and expose them to a more dreadful fall; and yet they had experience of as great mercies from God, as ever this day produced to England; and I am confident they did not (because indeed they could not) abuse them more.
Now what rational ground we can have to presume upon greater kindness and forbearance than God vouchsafed his own vineyard, I believe it will pose any of us to tell. We have lived under a long sunshine, and God knows that it has ripened our sins apace. Nor have the judgments used by him been hitherto able to reduce us, though they have been so various, that now there remains not many more behind; but yet those which do remain are such, that, if God brings them upon us, they will indeed leave no work for any more. In the mean time, it is surely our grand concernment to prevent the divine justice, before the last and fatal sentence goes out against us; and so, breaking off our crying national sins by a commensurate national repentance, 101to reconcile ourselves to our great Judge; even that Judge, who has mercy for relenting sinners, but repays the obstinate, and those who hate him, to their face.
To whom therefore be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, am dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen102
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