A National Fast, A Mockery of God
A NATIONAL FAST
National Mockery of GOD,
Real Amendment both in Principle and Practice:
Our late extraordinary Successes no infallible Tokens of our being
the Favourites of Heaven,
Being the SUBSTANCE of a
PREACHED in the
Parish Church of St. ANN, WESTMINSTER, on FRIDAY
FEBRUARY 13, 1761
The Day appointed by his MAJESTY's Proclamation
GENERAL FAST AND HUMILATIOn
Chaplain to the Right Honourable the Earl of VERNEY, and Lecturer of the same Church.
THIS is a dreadful threatning indeed, denounced by God against the Jewish Church ! not to hear their cry, in their most solemn and serious addresses to him, when they fasted and prayed, when they offered burnt-offerings and oblations, even by his own appointment and institution, and not to accept his own appointed and [Page 2] instituted services; but to reject them with the utmost abhorrence, and to threaten to confuine them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence ! This is very dreadfull indeed! and seemingly hard and cruel treatment; but as our good Creator can neither be hard nor cruel to his creatures, it deserves our serious enquiry into the reasons, that occasion'd this extraordinary behaviour to them, and extorted this alarming threat from him; and these reasons we find are mention'd in the foregoing chapter, ''This evil people, faith the ''Lord (ch. xiii, 10.) refuse to hear my words; they walk in the ''imagination if their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve ''them, and to worship them; '' And likewise in the verses immediately preceding my text; ''Thus faith the Lord to this '' people, they have lov'd to wander; they have not restrain'd their'' feet, therefore the Lord doth not accept them ; he will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sins'' And what is more dreadful still, God in the next words, charges the prophet not to pray for them ; ''Pray not, says he, far this people, ''for their good; ,, And as the prayers of the prophets for the people always represented the intercession of Christ for them, (of whom he, far this people, ''for their good; ,, And as the prayers of the prophets for the people always represented the intercession of Christ for them, (of whom all the prophets in their public characters were express types and figures) God's forbidding the prophet to pray for them, was virtually intimating to them, that Christ, the great Prophet of all, should not interceed for them; whose intercession indeed would avail them nothing, in the fight of God, without faith and a suitable practice; and therefore he says in the very next words, the words of my text; '' When they fast", I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt [Page 3] offering, and an oblation, I will not accept them. '' As if he had said, of what significatlon is all their fasting and praying' to me if their lives and actions give the lie to their devotions? And what avails their offering me burnt-offerings and oblations, (tho' my own appointed ordinances if they do not offer them. up to me, in faith of the great burnt-offering and -oblation for all, for which end and purpose alone, I appointed and ordain'd them ? And how can they be suppos'd to have any real faith in 'the great sacrifice of all, "when they refuse to hear my words., by which alone faith cometh'*'? "When they walk in the imagination ef their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, ''and to worship them? When they love to wander, and do restrain their feet from any evil way ?" And all these corrupt practices in the state, he seems to charge as the natural and necessary fruits of that false doctrine; that had then "crept into the Church; '' The prophets, says God, (vers. 14.) prophecy lies ' in my name ; they prophecy a false 'vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit if their heart. ''And in consequence of this false doctrine, and these corrupt practices, flowing from it, he says of Jerusalem, in the next chapter (ch. xv. 6.) "Thou hast forsaken me faith the Lord, thou art '' gone backward; therefore will stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary wish repenting.
Thus then stood the case between God and his people, the Jews, both in Church and state, at that time. The first reason, you find, why God refused to hear their cry, when they fasted, was because ''they refus'd to hear his words, and walk'd in "the imagination of their own hearts; refusing to hear God's words ; was rejecting or neglecting his revelation; and walking in the imagination of their own hearts; was following their own foolish devices, and opposing their own imaginary schemes of salvation to the infinitely wise and gracious plan of God's revelation; in short, it was setting up NATURAL RELIGION in opposition to REVEAL'D, or a power and right in themselves of thinking and acting for themselves, in religious matters, independant and exclusive of all direction or instruction from revelation; the consequence of which was, that setting themselves thus at large, and becoming freethinkers, or latitudinarians in principle, they soon became libertines in practice; for no sooner did they begin to walk in the imagination of their own hearts, but they began to walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them; they then lov'd to wander, from the paths of Gods commandments, and did not restrain their feet from any evil way
Before this, in the prophet lsaiah's time, God complains of them by him, ''that they were a rebellious people, lying children, children, that world not hear the law of the Lord; which 'said to the seers, see not; '' trouble is not with your visions, ''and to the prophets, prophecy not unto is right things; '' that we may not know that we are in the wrong'' but speak unto [Page 5] '' us, smooth things;'' such, as may sooth us, in our security, and not affright or disturb us; '" prophecy deceits, that we may have this to plead in our excuse hereafter, that we were unhappily deceiv'd and mistaken, and knew no better. (lfai, xxx, 9, 10.) Accordingly, afterwards, in the Prophet Jeremiah's time, they had their very hearts wish and desire; for they had Prophets exactly of their own. features and complexion; ''their Prophets, says God, (Jer. 14, 14) prophecy. ''lies in my name, they prophecy a false vision, and divination, ''and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart; and my people," says he, in another place, '' love to have it so;'' and then with a most tender compassion for them, he asks both prophets and people, '' and what will you do, in the end there'' of'?'' (Jer, 5, 31.) An alarming and awakening question indeed! May those among us seriously consider it, whom it may concern most! Thus, the inspir'd penman says, '' they had ''forsaken God, and gone backward.''
Into this wretched abandon'd state of corruption, both in principle and Practice, the Jewish Church and polity were sinking apace, at the time, when God by the Prophet Jeremiah threaten'd them, in the words of my text; and yet you find by my text, that they had their formal stated fasts and sacrifices, as usual; but then it seems, these were only outside formalities, unanimated by any vital principle of faith within; "they honour'd God with their lips, while their hearts were far from '' him;" (Mar. vii, 6) or as the Prophet Jeremiah complains [Page 6] of them, in the 12th ch. (vers.2) "God was in their mouths, ''but far from their reins."
They were almost then totally corrupt, both in Church and State, notwithstanding their specious fasting and praying: which abandon'd profligacy of theirs, thus occasionally mask'd under an hypocritical piety, drew from fuel that alarming threat, contain'd in the words of my text; viz. ''when they fast, I ''will not hear their cry, and when they ever burnt offering "and an oblation, I will not accept them; but I will consume them, by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.
Let us not then presume upon our late successes, as tho' they were infallible tokens of our being the favourites of Heaven; but let us rather examine ourselves, whether we have endeavoured to be such, as to have deserved them; let us search our hearts, and see whether they are right with God; whether we are right in our faith and practice; for, if we are wrong in the one, we cannot be right in the other. But if, upon examination, we find ourselves to be right in both, (abating all human infirmities) then indeed we may draw comfortable hopes from these successes, that they are pledges of God's present love to us, and earnests of his future regard for us; and the best way to deserve the present, and secure the future, is to be truly thankful for the past; and the best way to be truly thankful for the past, is to express our thankfulness, not only with our lips, but in our lives and conversations;
But if we find upon examination, that our hearts are not right with God; that we are wrong in faith and practice too; then we have more reason to be alarm'd, at our late successes, than to be rejoiced at them; and to fear, lest they should be tokens of God's displeasurre, rather than pledges of his favour; who knows how to punish us with prosperity, as well as with adversity; for prosperity ma)' dissolve us into luxury and vice, as [Page 15] adversity may shrink us into poverty and contempt; just as the warm, sunshine of Heaven may ripen the fruits of the earth into rottenness; as well as the cold nipping blasts of it may blight them; and bring them to nothing; so that it is equal with God to save, or destroy, either by prosperity, or adversity, by good success, or ill
All depends then upon the good or ill use we make of either; God sometimes visits us with judgements, (as he did formerly.) in order to deter us from our sins; and sometimes he visits us with mercies, (as he has lately,) in hopes, that if his judgements cannot deter us from our sins, his mercies, his repeated mercies, may make us asham'd of them. But if we are past all fear and shame too, if God can neither work upon us, by his judgements, nor his mercies, then we are past all hopes of recovery; we are then out-laws of Heaven, and nothing remains, but extirpation
National depravity therefore loudly calls for national reformation; or else, it will certainly bring on national destruction; which God can as easily effect, by giving us success, as by the contrary, as I have said; so that what may seem to us design'd for our good, if we take not great heed, may prove in the end, an occasion of our fall.
Our late extraordinary succeses then should not flush us with any fond overweening opinion either of our personal, or national worth, in the fight of God; much less should they make us fancy and conceit our case to be better, in his fight, than it really is, in itself; or that it is even better, than that of our neighbouring nation, with whom we are at variance; or that our [Page 16] national merit is superior to theirs; and that therefore we are higher in the favour of heaven, than they are. These successes do not warrant, or justify any, or either of these surmizes; for they prove neither; they only prove this, that God sometimes makes use of one wicked nation; as a scourge to another; but then we should remember, at the same time that the scourge itself may receive its punishment, in the very using; by which it may be so shattet'd; wasted, and worn out; as to be render'd for ever after useless, both to itself and others; or else, when it has answerd the purposes of heaven, and God has done with it, he may either destroy it, or commit it to the flames, or throw it neglected by to rot of itself.
This then brings the matter home to ourselves, Let us then seriously consider the gracious design of his Majestys proclamation, which has call'd us together, in this solemn manner; It is, as it sets forth, ''that we may humble ourselves before '' almighty God, in order to obtain pardon of our sins; and ''may, in the most devout and solemn manner, send up our'' prayers and supplications to the Divine Majesty, for averting ''those heavy judgements, which our manifold sins and pro'vocations have most justly deserv'd; and imploring his blessing and assistance on our arms; and for restoring and perpetuating peace, safety, and prosperity to these kingdoms: These are the words, and this the design of the Royal proclaimation, viz'' that we may humble ourselves before Almighty ''God, in order to obtain pardon of our sins.'' Now there is no obtaining pardon. of our sins, without faith and repentance.; "repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus [Page 17] "Christ,'' (Acs xx, xxi.). And there is no true faith, without repentance, nor true repentance, without faith; and therefore that only is true faith, which is productive of repentance; and that only is true repentance, whereby we forsake sin: the question then is, are we resolv'd, by the grace of God, from this instant to forsake our sins? if we are not, we may depend upon it, we have no the saving faith in Christ; and to what purpose then is our present humiliation and confession of our sins, if we are not resolv'd to forsake them? Or what will it avail us, 'in the most devout and solemn manner, thus to have ''sent up our prayers and supplications to the Divine Majesty, ''for averting those heavy judgements, which (as the proclamation admonishes us) our manifold sins and provocations, have most justly deserv'd?'' I say, what will this avail us, if we are determin'd to continue in those very sins and provocations, which draw down those very judgements upon us, that we have just now been devoutly and solemnly supplicating God to avert; from us ? What a Solemn Mockery of God is all this? Is it not turning our Publick Fast into a Publick Farce? And devoutly acting the hypocrite with God? If this be the case then, as it most certainly is, if we are determin'd to continue in our sins, '' with what face can we look up to Heaven, and implore God's '' blessing and assistance on our arms, for restoring and perpetuatng peace, safety and prosperity to these Kingdoms ?'' With what assurance can we expect that God will bless and assist our arms, when by our manifold fins and provocations, we have taken up arms against Heaven, and are" determined not to lay them down? How can we possibly expect that he will continue [Page 18] to save us from our enemies, if we are resolv'd thus to continue his, In open rebellion against him How can we hope that ''God will restore and perpetuate peace and prosperity to these Kingdoms,"when we are not at peace with him, nor, endeavour to restore and perpetuate the prosperity of his Kingdom, in these Realms, by promoting and prospering the Kingdom of his Gospel among us? And what sign is there of the Gospel's. being promoted and prosper'd, among us, when we are almost totally overrun with heresies and schisms in the Church, and with profaneness and infidelity in the State? Are not the latter the natural consequences of the former? And are not both the. necessary result of that shameful neglect and contempt of the Gospel, and its ordinances, so notorious among all ranks and degrees of men, from the highest to the lowest, among us?
In the next place, let us briefly recollect the solemn confessions and. petitions, that we have just been offering up, at the throne of grace; we have been devoutly confessing then '' or long '' unfruitfulness under the (means of grace, our profaneness '' and infidelity, our heresies and schisms, our gross impurities '' and intemperance, and our other manifold and heinous pro vocations;'' and have profess'd to God, that we ''bewail all '' these, with sorrow and confusion, with penitent and contrite hearts;'' and moreover have been praying to him,'' that the ''world give is a still deeper sense of our guilt and unworthiness.'' Now as a proof of our sincerity, and that we are in earnest with ourselves and our Maker, in these solemn confessions and prayers, are we resolv'd by the divine assistance, [Page 19] to be more constant, for the future in the use of the means of grace, and to strive to be more fruitful under them? Are we resolv'd to endeavour, by every salutary measure, to put a stop to the progress of that deplorable profaneness and infidelity' among us, which, like a pestilence, is now become almost epidemical ?
And in order to do this the more effectually, are we determin'd, by every possible method in our power, to check the growth, and prevent the spreading, of those numerous heresies and schisms, among us, that have so miserably rent and divided the Church (which is the Body of Christ) in these Realms, and almost torn it to pieces? And lastly, are we resolv'd by the grace of God, to be more pure and temperate for the future, to be less lovers of pleasure and vanity, and more lovers of God, that we have hitherto been, and in one word, to walk before him in all newness of life, and holiness of conversation ?
If we can now lay our hands upon our hearts, and sincerely say, in the presence of almighty God, that these are our real unfeigned desires,. intentions and resolutions; then we may rest assured in humble confidence, that God hath heard our prayers, and accepted our humiliation; and that ''he will let our land " still enjoy the light of his countenance, and the blessings of " his bountiful hand, ''in fatherly indulgence to his obedient children's earnest request.
But if, on the contrary, our hearts smite us, in any of these respects, and we are conscious to ourselves, that we have no such thoughts and designs of future reformation and ammendment [Page 20] then has all our past service and devotion been but mere lip-, labour, and solemn grimace; but let us not be-deceiv'd; Goa is not to be mock'd: we may easily deceive ourselves, but we cannot so easily impose upon our Maker; for he searcheth the very heart and reins, and pierces, at one look, into the very been all this while only ading the. pious hypocrite with him, he will, sooner, or later, perhaps shortly, '' cut us asunder, '' and allot us our portion with the hypocrites, where shall be '' weeping and gnashing-of teeth.'' (Matth.. xxiv, 51 .)
Let me then, my Brethren, leave upon your minds that alarming admonition of Christ to the Church of Sardis, which has, been read to you, in the Epistle appointed for this day; and which, no doubt, was thought but too applicable to the Christian Church of this land, by its being thus appointed to be read to us this morning; viz ''I know thy works, says Christ, that '' thou hast a name, that thou livest, and ar't dead; be watchful, and strengthen the things, which remain, that are " ready to die; for I have not found thy, works perfect before '' God; remember therefore, how thou hast receiv'd and heard, " and hold fast, and repent; If therefore thou shalt not watch, " I will come om thee, as a thief, and thou that not know '' what hour I will come upon thee.
May God of his infinite mercy then grant us all grace to watch and to pray; that this hour may not come upon us unawares; that we may remember and retain what we have heard and received from, Christ and his Apostles'; that we may: hold fast [Page 21] the faith deliver'd unto us by them; and truly repent, before it is too late; that we may be vigilant, and strengthen and confirm the things of God, that still remain among us, but alas! in a languid and dying condition; that we may no longer be me- rely nominally alive unto God, by a fair outside, but cold, and formal profession only, while we are inwardly perhaps, in heart and foul, spiritually dead to him; but that our works, which appear speciously good, before men, may be made perfect by faith, before God; and our persons presented unto him, without spot or blemish, washed and cleans'd in the blood of the immaculate Jesus Christ, the righteous.
To whom with the Father and the 'Holy Ghost, three divine. Persons in one eternal undivided Essence, be ascrib'd by the- Church militant and triumphant, all honour, might, majesty, dominion and glory, new, henceforth, and to all eternity; Amen.