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that should precede his second advent? “ There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.” (Luke xxi. 25, 26.) Rapidly retrace the judgments which within a few years have been poured upon the earth, and then say whether men were ever more energetically called upon to cultivate righteousness, piety, and the fear of God. Behold kingdoms overthrown; the sword drunk with the blood of thousands ; the desolated fields bathed with the tears of the bereaved, covered with carnage, and burdened with the bodies of the dying and the dead; cities sacked and in flames, and the inhabitants fleeing by the light of their consuming habitations, in order to preserve their lives; the vulture and the beast of prey tearing the still palpitating limbs of the expiring; the course of nature reversed, and thousands in the bloom of life preceding their fathers to the tomb, and bringing down the gray hairs of their parents with sorrow to the grave; the bursting hearts of innumerable widows and orphans, shuddering as they contemplate the blood-stained laurels of their departed friends, and thrown without protector or support on a cruel and unfeeling world; the myriads suddenly cut off in the midst of their sins, and summoned red with unexpiated guilt to the tribunal of the Most Holy. Ah, Lord! who but must acknowledge, that thy judgments, thine awful judgments, are in the earth!
To be convinced of this, we need only look at our own country. Though God has exercised to us undeserved mercy, yet has he not visited us with many judgments and calamities, to show that in the midst
of mercy there was wrath, and that “ Jehovah hath a controversy with us?” I speak not merely of the cloud which hangs over our country; of the critical situation in which we stand with the European nations; of the numbers who, from the unsettled state of the world, have been precipitated from affluence to want; but also of those elements which God controls, and which have so often been commissioned by him to punish our ingratitude and neglect of him. Of how many have we heard during the last year, who shrieked for help, but who shrieked in vain, as they sunk beneath the waves! How often has the tornado filled the mariner with terror, destroyed the hopes of the cultivator of the earth, and in an instant buried beneath the ruins of his habitation the inhabitant who was not dreaming of danger! But if these and similar occurrences were not sufficient to make us seriously reflect on the judgments of God, his heart must indeed be callous who can remain insensible when remembering that peculiarly mournful calamity in a sister city, of which we have lately heard.* I feel the poverty of language when speaking to you of it. For a moment imagine yourselves to be present. Behold the crowd immersed in pleasure, ignorant that death is hovering over them, their faces clothed with smiles, their hearts beating high with festivity, unconscious that the judgment-bar is erecting, the books opening, and their everlasting interests speedily to be decided! Listen, when a sense of their danger suddenly bursts upon them, to their cries, their shrieks, their lamentations, their imploring supplications, alternately to their friends and to their God! Behold the convulsive throes of
Alluding to the burning of the Theatre in Richmond, Dec. 26, 1811.
their departing spirits, as their bodies become the food of the flames ! Conceive the unutterable agony of the heart-broken parent, or partner, or friend, as he tremblingly seeks among the smoking ruins the half-consumed remains of those who a few hours before gladdened him with their smiles, and gave a charm to life, but whose afflictive death has now inflicted on his heart a wound, the pain and scar of which must be carried even to the grave!
But, brethren, I forbear: enough has been said to show you the suitableness of the text to our present situation; we should then meditate with solemnity on this important declaration :“ When the judgments of the Lord are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”
In explaining these words, let us,
I. Consider the author of those judgments and calamities with which we are visited; the ends for which they are sent; and their fitness to instruct us in righteousness.
II. Inquire why the judgments of God do not always have this happy effect, which they are designed and calculated to produce.
1. Judgments come from God. His providence rules over all the creatures that he has made, from the highest archangel to the creeping worm: it extends to all events, regulating the countless worlds that are scattered through the immensity of space, directing the motion of each mote that floats in the air. This is not only the language of revelation; it is also the decision of reason; and to deny it is to overthrow all the attributes of God, to subvert the foundation of all worship, and to tear every source of real consolation from the afflicted.
Yes, God presides over the universe; nothing happens without his knowledge and permission.
66 Is there evil in the city,” says the prophet Amos, speaking of natural evil or affliction, “ Is there evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?" All second causes, animate and inanimate, are directed by him, are subject to his control, are overruled for the advancement of his glory, and the benefit of his children. He himself declares, “I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness : I make peace, and create evil : (that is, natural evil,) I the Lord do all these things."
Ever let this truth be impressed upon your minds in your afflictions. Judgments that would crush us when proceeding from any other source, can be borne when viewed as coming from the hand of God. Imitate then the ancient believers, who, whatever may have been the inferior causes of their affliction, without justifying the instruments and leaving to God the punishment of the unrighteous, ever looked up to Him who ruleth over all. Joseph, sold by his brethren, looks beyond their treason, and says it is the Lord who sent him into Egypt. Job, robbed by the Chaldeans and Sabeans, suffering by the rage of the elements, says, it is the Lord who hath despoiled him of all. No, my brethren ; " affliction cometh not from the dust; sorrow springeth not up from the ground;" it is ordered by him who ruleth over all.
2. But why does God visit us with judgments ? Not that he delights in the miseries of his creatures: “ He afflicteth not willingly, nor grieveth the children of men.” He would rather “ draw them by the cords of love ;” and “ by his goodness lead them to
repentance.” For this reason he encompasses them with his mercies, and confers on them benedictions which ought to raise their hearts to the Fountain of good, to the Source of enjoyment. If they continue unmoved by these benedictions, he still exercises forbearance; strives with them, waits for their return; but if they still continue unaffected, his wisdom, his justice, the vindication of his holiness, his goodness itself, require that he should visit them with judgments, that they may be humbled, convinced of their iniquity, and taught righteousness; that he should inflict
upon them temporal calamities, that they may escape everlasting agonies!
3. A few plain considerations are sufficient to show that the judgments of God have a natural tendency to 'awaken men from their security, and to teach them righteousness.
Man is a depraved and corrupted ereature. This truth, so frequently asserted in the scriptures, is in nothing more evidently shown, than in the effects of prosperity. The very multitude of divine favours hides the hand which confers them, and makes us forget our benefactor; intoxicated and blinded by enjoyment, in the bosom of peace and abundance, piety languishes, our passions are inflamed, and we cease to “ hunger and thirst after righteousness.” In this situation, what does the mercy, the compassion of our Father, require from him? To visit us with his judgments. Then we see the impotence of the idols which have seduced us; then conscience wakes from its lethargy, and retraces to us in accents awfully impressive, all our wanderings from God and right
Like the Israelites, we often revolt when mercy succeeds to mercy; we verify also in our own experience, the effects of judgments upon them: