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ed? and if there be, in what way this mercy is to be sought and expected?
İ. In order to estimate the state of the nation, we must attend to two views, which, when contrasted, illustrate each other, and, in their combination, constitute our national character, and discriminate it not only from that of every nation around us, but from all the kingdoms recorded in the history of past ages. I mean our national privileges and our national sins.
With regard to the first head, the peculiar privileges which, by the favour of Divine Providence, we have enjoyed as a people, I must be brief. A full detail of them would require a volume. Though the island of Great Britain exhibits but a small spot upon a map of the globe, it makes a splendid appearance in the history of mankind, and has for a long space of time, been signally under the protection of God, and the seat of peace, liberty, and truth. When Christendom had groaned for ages under the night of papal superstition, the first light of reformation dawned amongst us by the preaching and writings of Wickliffe. From that time we have possessed the knowledge of the Gospel, and God has had a succession of witnesses in our land; they have been, at different periods, exposed to suffering, and many of them were called to seal their testimony with their blood; but they could neither be intimidated nor extirpated. In Luther's time, when the pillars of Popery were more publicly and generally shaken, we were amongst the first who were animated and enabled to shake off the yoke of Rome; and God has often since remarkably interposed to preserve us from being brought into that bondage the second time. The spirit of persecution under various forms, has again and again at tempted to resume its power, but has been as often restrained and defeated. Civil commotions likewise stand upon record in our annals; and our forefathers have felt miseries of which we can form but a very imperfect idea. But they suffered and struggled for us. The event of every contest and revolution contributed gradually to establish that happy basis of government which we call the British Constitution; and, together with these advances in favour of liberty, an increase of commerce, wealth, and dominion, has been afforded us. From that distinguished æra, the Revolution, and more especially since the accession of the present royal family, we have enjoyed such an uninterrupted series of peace and prosperity, as cannot be paralled in the history of any nation we have heard of, not excepting even that of Israel. I call our peace uninterrupted; for the efforts of rebellion in the reigns of our two last kings were so speedily crushed, and were productive of so few calamities, except to the unhappy aggressors, that they are chiefly to be noticed as instances of the goodness of the Lord, who, notwithstanding we were then a sinful people, was
pleased to fight our battles, and put our enemies to shame. I call it uninterrupted; for though we have been engaged as principals in several foreign wars, and the storm fell with dreadful weight upon other countries, we at home knew but little of the war but from the public prints, which usually, after the first or second year, were filled with accounts of the successes and victories which the Lord of hosts (alas! by how few was he acknowledged) gave to our fleets and armies. When the last war terminated, we were at the height of national honour and power. Our arms were victorious, and our flags triumphant, wherever our operations had been directed, in the most distant and opposite parts of the globe. What an accession of empire and riches did we then acquire, while we were sitting, (if I may so speak) under our vines and fig-trees, undisturbed; and while a considerable part of Germany, rather involved, than properly interested in our disputes, was almost desolated by fire and sword! And, notwithstanding our increasing provocations, every succeeding year has afforded signal proofs that, though the Lord is displeased with us, he has not yet forsaken us. If, in some instances, he has justly disappointed our expectations, he has, in others, appeared no less remarkably in in our favour; defeating the designs of our enemies, protecting our commerce, and affording us in general, more plentiful harvests at home, since the war has rendered supplies from abroad more precarious and difficult. Add to our internal peace, wealth, and plenty, the inviolable immunity both of persons and property, in which we are preserved by the spirit and administration of our laws, and that unrestrained liberty which people of all sentiments and denominations possess and exercise, of worshipping God in the way they think most agreeable to his will. Must not a due consideration of these things constrain us to say, "He hath not dealt so with any nation ?"
What could the Lord have done more for his vineyard ?* How could he have laid a people under stronger obligations to his service? What returns might he not expect from such a nation as this? But, alas! we have requited him evil for good! Such a nation as this is very imperfectly described by an enumeration of privileges. I have a more painful task now to attend to; I should enumerate (were it possible) our national sins. It is but a sketch I can offer upon this immense and awful subject. But enough is obvious, and at hand, to make us tremble, if we regard the Scripture, and do, in our hearts, believe there is a God that governs the earth.t I wish you to keep in mind, as I proceed, the slight view I have given of the favours God has bestowed upon us. The recolfection of his mercies is necessary to give a proper sense of the
* Isa. v. 4.
+ Psalm lviii. 11.
colouring and aggravation of our sins. It is often pleaded that, sinful as we are, we are not more depraved in morals and prac tice than the inhabitants of France or Italy, or the other nations of Europe. I much question the truth of this plea. I am afraid that, in some instances at least, we are more corrupt and profligate than any nation now existing. But, admitting that France or Italy equal, or even exceed us, in open and positive wickedness; if they fall short of us in advantages for knowing the will of God; if they are not equally enriched by the bounties of his providence; if he has not so signally appeared on their behalf as he has on ours, their sins, however enormous or numerous, are not attended with equal aggravations; we must fix upon a nation (if such could be found) that is upon a par with us in the blessings of Gospel light, of civil and religious liberty, before we can properly form a comparison, or have any just reason for supposing that our sins are not greater than theirs.
The magnitude of our national debt is a frequent topic of conversation. We have, indeed, but an indistinct idea of a number not very far short of two hundred millions; yet we can form some conception of it. But our national debt of sin is beyond all the rules and powers of arithmetical computation. The holiness, authority, and goodness of God (which are infinite) afford the only proper measures by which to judge of the horrid evil of the sins committed against him.
The sin of a nation is properly the aggregate or sum-total of all the sins committed by every individual residing in that nation. But those may be emphatically called national sins, which, by their notoriety, frequency, or circumstances, contribute to mark the character of one nation as distinct from another. It is to be hoped that some species of sins amongst us are not yet become national. They are rather exotics, not perfectly familiarized to the soil, or prevalent in every part of the land. I shall confine myself to a few of the particulars which are more directly charac teristic of this nation, and at this time.
1. The maxims and usages generally prevalent among a people, if contrary to the rule of God's word, are national sins. If customary, they are national; if inconsistent with the precepts of Scripture, they must be sinful. A woe is denounced against those who call evil good, and good evil:* but this dreadful abuse of language, sentiment, and conduct, can only be avoided by making the inspired writings the standard of our judgment. In a land, that bears the name of Christian, adultery is deemed gallantry; murder, in some cases, is a point of honour; avarice is
prudence; profuseness wears the mask of generosity; and dissipation is considered an innocent amusement. On the other hand, meekness is accounted meanness of spirit, and grace is branded with the opprobrious names of melancholy and enthusiasm. Habituated, from our infancy, to the effects of these prepossessions, and more or less under their influence, very few of us are duly sensible how utterly repugnant the spirit and temper of the world around us is to the genius and spirit of the Christianity we profess. It would, I think, appear in a much more striking light to an intelligent and unbiassed observer, who, upon hearing that Great Britain was favoured with the knowledge of the true religion, should visit us from some very remote country, with a view of sharing in our advantage. If I could make the tour of the kingdom with such a stranger, and show him what is transacting in the busy and in the gay world, in city, court, and country: if I could describe to him the persons he would see at our theatres and public places, at Newmarket, at contested elections, and explain the motives and aims which bring them together; if I could introduce him into the families of the great, the reputed wise, and the wealthy; from these data, together with the ignorance and licentiousness of the populace, which must unavoidably engage his notice wherever he went, I apprehend he would not be long at a loss to form a tolerable judgment of our national character. And if, after this survey, he were attentively to read the New Testament, I think he must allow that, admitting it was a revelation from God, our national character was neither more nor less than the union and combination of our national sins. He could not but perceive, that infidelity, pride, sensuality, greediness of gain, strangely coupled with thoughtless profusion, contempt of God, and a daring opposition to his will, constitute the leading features of our portrait as a nation.
2. If there be sins which, though not expressly enjoined, are authorized, and, to people who regard man more than God, rendered in a manner necessary by the sanction of legislature, these, and especially in a free country, may be deemed national sins. Here I feel myself embarrassed. As a private member of society, full of respect and reverence for the authority to which, by the providence and will of God, I owe a willing and thankful subjection, I could wish to be entirely silent. But I likewise bear another character. As a minister of the Gospel, I stand here before a higher Master. In his service I am commanded to be bold and faithful; and I dare not, in conscience, especially at such a time, and on such an occasion as this wholly suppress my sentiments. But I wish to speak with all the tenderness and delicacy the subject will admit.
In this land of liberty, the measures of government and of parliament, are canvassed with great freedom; often, indeed, with a very offensive intemperance and indecency. It is, however, one important privilege of our happy constitution, that British subjects have a right of presenting respectful petitions, either to the throne or to the senate, when such measures are in contemplation as are apprehended may prove detrimental to the interests of the nation or of individuals: a right which, upon the ground of real or pretended grievances, has been abundantly exercised of late years. But it is long since the honour of God and the interests of true religion have been the objects of an address or petition from any corporate body in the kingdom. This indifference of all parties to the cause of God, when all are so attentive and feeling in cases where they think their own temporal concerns affected, warrants one to consider the acts of the legislature, while no alteration is desired by those on whom they are binding, as the acts of the whole nation. Even the edicts of an arbitrary prince, whose will supplies the place of law, might involve a nation in guilt, if he enjoined what was contrary to the commands of God, and they, through fear, obeyed him. Much more then may laws, made by the representatives of a free people, be considered as acts of the community, if they excite no constitutional endeavour for relief.
I am far from supposing that any of our laws now in force were formed with an intention of promoting sin. But some of them, through the prevailing depravation of morals amongst us, do it eventually. For instance, the Test and Corporation Acts, which require every person who has a post under government, or a commission in the navy or army, to qualify himself for his office by receiving the sacrament of the Lord's supper, would occasion no sin, if men were generally influenced by the fear of God, or even by a principle of integrity. They would then rather decline places of honour or profit than accept them upon such terms, if they were conscious that their sentiments or conduct were repugnant to the design of that institution. But as the case stands at present, while gain is preferred to godliness, and the love of distinction or lucre is stronger than the dictates of conscience, we frequently see professed infidels and notorious libertines approach the Lord's table as a matter of course, and prostituting the most solemn ordinance of Christianity to their ambition or interest. The great number and variety of appointments, civil and military, which cannot be legally possessed without this qualification, render the enormity almost as common as it is heinous. If the Lord be a God of knowledge, he cannot be deceived. If he be a God of truth and holiness, he will not be mocked. I am afraid we