« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
Thirtieth of January.
EZRA ix. 6, 7.
And I said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God:-For our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up into the heavens. Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day.
HERE is not, I believe, throughout all history, an instance of so strange and obstinately corrupt a people, as the Jews, of whom Ezra complains ;-for though, on one hand, there never was a people that received so many testimonies of GoD's favor to encourage them to be good, so, on the other hand, there was never a people which so often felt the scourge of their ini- · quities, to dishearten them from doing evil.
And yet, neither the one nor the other seemed ever able to make them either the wiser or better;-neither God's blessings, nor his corrections, could ever soften them;-they still continued a thankless, unthinking people,-who profited by no lessons, neither were to be won with mercies nor terrified with punishments-but, on every succeeding trial and occasion, extremely disposed against God, to go astray and act wickedly.
In the words of the text, the prophet's heart overflows with sorrow, upon his reflection of this unworthy part of their character;--and the manner of his application to God, is so expressive of his humble sense of it, and there is something in the words so full of tenderness and shame for them upon that score,- -as bespeaks the most paternal as well as pastoral concern for them.And he said, O my God, I am ashamed,-and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God.-No
doubt, the holy man was confounded to look back upon that long series of so many of God's undeserved mercies to them, of which they had made so bad and ungrateful a use :-He considered, that they had all the motives that could lay restraints, either upon a considerate or a reasonable people; that God had not only created, upheld, and favored them with all advantages in common with the rest of their fellow-creatures -but had been particularly kind to them ;-that when they were in the house of bondage, in the most hopeless condition, he had heard their cry, and took compassion on their afflictions, and, by a chain of great and mighty deliverances, had set them free from the yoke of oppression.-The prophet, no doubt, reflected at the same time, that besides this instance of God's goodness, in first favoring their miraculous escape,-a series of successes, not to be accounted for from second causes, and the natural course of events, had crowned their heads in so remarkable a manner, as to afford an evident proof, not only of God's general concern, but of his particular providence and attachment to them above all people.-In the wilderness he led them like sheep, and kept them as the apple of his eye;-he suffered no man to do them wrong,-but reproved even kings for their sake; that when they entered into the promised land, no force was able to stand before them;-when in possession,-no army was ever able to drive them out;-that nations, greater and mightier than they, were thrust forth from before them; that in a word, all nature for a time, was driven backwards by the hands of God, to serve them, and that even the sun itself had stood still in the midst of heaven to secure their victories; that when all these mercies were cast away upon them, and no principle of gratitude or inte rest coull make them an obedient people,-God
had tried by misfortunes to bring them back; that when instructions, warnings, invitations, miracles, prophets, and holy guides, had no effect, he at last suffered them to reap the wages of their folly, by letting them fall again into the same state of bondage in Babylon, from whence he had first raised them.-Here it is that Ezra pours out his confession.-It was no small aggravation to Ezra's concern, to find, that even this last trial had no good effect upon their condu&t; -that all the alternatives of promises and threats, comforts and afflictions,-instead of making them grow the better, made them apparently grow the worse:How could he intercede for them, but with shame and sorrow?-and say, as in the text, O my God, I am ashamed, and blush to lift up my face to thee,-for our iniquities are increased over our heads, and our trespass is grown up into the heavens ;-since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day.
Thus much for the prophet's humble confession to God for the Jews, for which he had but too just a foundation given by them;-and I know not how I can make a better use of the words, as the occasion of the day led me to the choice of them, than by a serious application of the same sad confession with regard to ourselves.
Our fathers, like those of the Jews in Ezra's time, no doubt, have done amiss, and greatly provoked God by their violence ;-but if our own iniquities, like theirs, are increased over our heads;-if, since the days of our fathers, we have been in great trespass ourselves unto this day,it is fit this day we should be put in mind of it; -nor can the time and occasion be better employed, than in hearing with patience the reproofs which such a parallel will lead me to give.
It must be acknowledged, there is no nation which had ever so many extraordinary reasons and
supernatural motives to become thankful and vir tuous, as the Jews had;-yet, at the same time, there is no one which has not sufficient ;—and, setting aside at present the consideration of a future state as a reward for being so,-there is no nation under heaven, which, besides the daily blessings of God's providence to them, but have received sufficient blessings and mercies at the hands of God, to engage their best services, and the warmest returns of gratitude they can pay,-There has been a time, may be, when they have been delivered from some grievous calamity,-from the rage of pestilence or famine,-from the edge and fury of the sword,-from the fate and fall of kingdoms round them :-They may have been preserved, by providential discoveries, from plots and designs against the well-being of their states,
or by critical turns and revolutions in their favor when beginning to sink :-By some signal interposition of GoD's providence, they may have rescued their liberties and all that was dear to them, from the jaws of some tyrant ;-or may have preserved their religion pure and uncorrupted, when all other comforts failed them.
If other countries have reason to be thankful to GOD for any one of these mercies, much more has this of ours, which at one time or other hath received them all ;-insomuch, that our history, for this last century, has scarce been any thing else but the history of our deliverances, and God's blessings, and these in so complicated a chain, and with so little interruption,- -as to be scarce ever vouchsafed to any nation or language besides, -except the Jews; and, with regard to them, though inferior in the stupenduous manner of their working, yet no way so in the extensive goodness of their effects, and the infinite benevalence which must have wrought them for us.Here then let us stop, and look back a moment,
and inquire, as in the case of the Jews, what great effects all this has had upon our lives,—and how far worthy we have lived-of what we have received?.
A stranger, when he heard-that this island had been so favored by heaven,-so happy in our laws and religion,-so flourishing in our trade
-so blessed in our situation and natural product, -and in all of them so often-so visibly protected by Providence,-would conclude, our grati tude and morals had kept pace with our blessings;
and he would say, as we are the most blessed and favored, that we must be the most virtuous and religious people upon the face of the
Would to GOD! there was no other reason to incline one to so charitable a belief:-For, without running into any common-place declamation upon the wickedness of the age,-we may say, within the bounds of truth,-that we have profited in this respect as little as it was possible for the Jews; -that there is as little virtue,- -and as little sense of religion, at least as little of the appearance of it, as can be supposed to exist at all, in a country where it is countenanced by the state. -Our forefathers, whatever greater degrees of real virtue they were possessed of,-GOD, who searcheth the heart,-best knows;-but this is certain,-in their days, they had at least the form. of godliness, and paid this compliment to religion, as to wear, at least, the appearance and outward garb of it. The public service of GOD was better frequented,-and in a devout, as well as regular manner;-there was no open profaneness in our streets, to put piety to the blush,—or domestic ridicule, to make her uneasy, and force her to withdraw.
Religion, though treated with freedom, was still treated with respect;-the youth of both