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Motives to excite us.
We are presented with many motives in the dispensations of divine providence, at this day, to excite us to be much in prayer for this mercy. There is much in providence to shew us our need of it, and put us on desiring it. The great outward calamities in which the world is involved, and particularly the bloody war that embroils and wastes the nations of Christendom, and in which our nation has so great a share, may well make all that believe God's word and love mankind, earnestly long and pray for that day when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the nations shall beat their swords into plow-shares.
But especially do the spiritual calamities and miseries of the present time, shew our great need of that blessed effusion of God's Spirit: there having been, for so long a time, so great a withholding of the Spirit from the greater part of the christian world, and such dismal consequences of it in the great decay of vital piety, and the exceeding prevalence of infidelity, heresy, and all manner of vice and wickedness. Of this a most affecting account has lately been published in a pamphlet, printed in London, and re-printed in Scotland, entitled Britain's Remembrancer; by which it seems that luxury and wickedness of almost every kind, is well nigh come to the utmost extremity in the nation; and if vice should continue to prevail and increase for one generation more, as it has the generation past, it looks as though the nation could hardly continue in being, but must sink under the weight of its own corruption and wickedness.
And the state of things in the other parts of the British dominions, besides England, is very deplorable. The church of Scotland has very much lost her glory, greatly departing from her ancient purity and excellent order; and has of late been bleeding with great and manifold wounds, occasioned by their divisions and hot contentions. And there are frequent complaints from thence, by those that lament the corruptions of that land, of sin and wickedness of innumerable kinds, abounding and prevailing of late among all ranks of men. And how lamentable is the moral and religious state of those American colonies? of New England in particular? How much is that kind of religion which was professed, much experience, and practice, in the first and apparently the best times in NewEngland, grown and growing out of credit? What fierce and
violent contentions have been of late amongst ministers and people, about things of a religious nature? How much is the gospel-ministry grown into contempt? and the work of the ministry in many respects laid under uncommon difficulties, and even in danger of sinking amongst us? How many of our congregations and churches rending in pieces? Church discipline weakened, and ordinances less and less regarded? What wild and extravagant notions, gross delusions of the devil, and strange practices have prevailed, and do still prevail in many places under a pretext of extraordinary purity, spirituality, liberty, and zeal against formality, usurpation, and conformity to the world? How strong, deeply rooted, and general are the prejudices that prevail against vital religion and the power of godliness, and almost every thing that appertains to it or tends to it? How apparently are the hearts of people, every where, uncommonly shut up against all means and endeavours to awaken sinners and revive religion? Vice and immorality of all kinds withal increasing and unusually prevailing? May not an attentive view and consideration of such a state of things well influence the people that favour the dust of Zion, to earnestness in their cries to God for a general outpouring of his spirit, which alone can be an effectual remedy for these evils?
Besides, the fresh attempts made by the antichristian powers against the Protestant interest, in their late endeavours to restore a popish government in Great Britain, the chief bulwark of the Protestant cause; as also the persecution lately revived against the Protestants in France, may well give occa sion to the people of God to renewed and extraordinary earnestness in their prayers to him for the fulfilment of the promised downfall of antichrist, and that liberty and glory of his church that shall follow.
As there is much in the present state of things to shew us our great need of this mercy, and to cause us to desire it; so there is very much to convince us, that God alone can bestow it, and shew us our entire and absolute dependence on him for it. The insufficiency of human abilities to bring to pass any such happy change in the world as is foretold, or to afford any remedy to mankind from such miseries as have been mentioned, does now remarkably appear. Those observations of the apostle, 1 Cor. i. "The world by wisdom knows not God, and God makes foolish the wisdom of this world," never were verified to such a degree as they are now. Great discoveries have been made in the arts and sciences, and never was human learning carried to such a height as in the present age; and yet never did the cause of religion and virtue run so low, in nations professing the true religion. Never was there an age wherein so many learned and elaborate treatises have been written, in
proof of the truth and divinity of the christian religion; yet never were there so many infidels among those that were brought up under the light of the gospel. It is an age, as is supposed, of great light, freedom of thought, discovery of truth in matters of religion, detection of the weakness and bigotry of our ancestors, and of the folly and absurdity of the notions of those who were accounted eminent divines in former generations; which notions, it is imagined, destroyed the very foundations of virtue and religion, and enervated all precepts of morality, and in effect annulled all difference between virtue and vice; and yet vice and wickedness did never so prevail, like an overflowing deluge. It is an age wherein those mean and stingy principles, as they are called, of our forefathers, which are supposed to have deformed religion and led to unworthy thoughts of God, are very much discarded and grown out of credit, and thoughts of the nature of religion and of the christian scheme, supposed to be more free, noble, and generous, are entertained. But yet never was there an age, wherein religion in general was so much despised and trampled on, and Jesus Christ and God Almighty so blasphemed and treated with open daring contempt.
The exceeding weakness of mankind, and their insufficiency in themselves for bringing to pass any thing great and good in the world, with regard to its moral and spiritual state, remarkably appears in many things that have attended and followed the extraordinary religious commotion, that has lately besa in many parts of Great Britain and America. The infirmity of human nature has been manifested, in a very affecting manner, in the various passions of men, and the innumerable ways in which they have been moved, as a reed shaken with the wind, on occasion of the changes and incidents, both public and private, of such a state of things. How many errors and extremes are we liable to? How quickly blinded, misled, and confounded. And how easily does Satan make fools of men, if confident in their own wisdom and strength, and left to themselves? Many, in the late wonderful season, were ready to admire and trust in men, as if all depended on such and such instruments, at least ascribed too much to their skill and zeal, because God was pleased to employ them a little while to do extraordinary things; but what great things does the skill and zeal of instruments do now, when the Spirit of God is withdrawn?
As the present state of things may well excite earnest desires after the promised general revival and advancement of true religion, and serve to shew our dependence on God for it, so there are many things in providence, of late, that tend to encourage us in prayer for such a mercy. That infidelity, heresy and vice, do so prevail, and that corruption and wicked
ness are risen to such an extreme height, is exceeding deplorable; but yet, I think, considering God's promises to his church, and the ordinary method of his dispensations, hope may justly be gathered from it, that the present state of things will not last long, but that a happy change is nigh. We know that God never will desert the cause of truth and holiness, nor suffer the gates of hell to prevail against the church; and that usually from the beginning of the world, the state of the church has appeared most dark, just before some remarkable deliverance and advancement: Many a time, may Israel say, Had not the Lord been on our side, then our enemies would have swallowed us up quick. The waters had overwhelmed us.' The church's extremity has often been God's opportunity for magnifying his power, mercy and faithfulness, towards her. The interest of vital piety has long been in general decaying, and error and wickedness prevailing it looks as though the disease were now come to a crisis, and that things cannot remain long in such a state, but that a change may be expected in one respect or other.
And not only God's manner of dealing with his church in former ages, and many things in the promises and prophecies of his word, but also several things appertaining to present and late aspects of divine providence, seem to give reason to hope that the change will be such as to magnify God's free grace and sovereign mercy, and not his revenging justice and wrath. There are certain times which are days of vengeance, appointed for the more special displays of God's justice and indignation. God has also his days of mercy, accepted times, chosen seasons, wherein it is his pleasure to shew mercy, and nothing shall hinder it; times appointed for the magnifying of the Redeemer and his merits, and for the triumphs of his grace, wherein his grace shall triumph over men's unworthiness in its greatest height. And if we consider God's late dealings with our nation and this land, it appears to me that there is much to make us think that this is such a day.
* Particularly God's preserving and delivering the nation, when in so great danger of ruin by the late rebellion; and his preserving New England, and the other British colonies in America, in so remarkable a manner, from the great armament from France, prepared and sent against us the last year; and the almost miraculous success given us against our enemies at Cape-Breton the year before, disappointing their renewed preparations and fresh attempt against these colonies, this present year, (1747,) by delivering up the strength of their fleet into the hands of the English, as they were in their way hither. And also in protecting us from time to time from armies by land that have come against us from Canada, since the beginning of the present war with France. Besides many strange instances of protection of particular forts and settlements, shewing a manifest interposition of the hand of heaven, to the observation of some of our enemies, and even of the savages. And added to these, the late unexpected restoring of the greater part of our many captives in Canada, by those that held them prisoners there. It appears to me, that God has gone much out of his usual way, in his exercises of mercy, patience and long-suffering, in these instances.
God's patience was very wonderful of old, towards the ten tribes and the people of Judah and Jerusalem, and afterwards to the Jews in the times of Christ and the apostles ; but it seems to me, all things considered, not equal to his patience and mercy to us. God does not only forbear to destroy us, notwithstanding all our provocations, but he has wrought great things for us, wherein his hand has been most visible and his arm made bare; especially those two instances in America, God succeeding us against Cape-Breton, and confounding the armada from France the last year; dispensations of Providence which, if considered in all their circumstances, were so wonderfully, and apparently manifesting an extraordinary divine interposition, that they come perhaps the nearest to a parallel with God's wonderful works of old, in the times of Moses, Joshua, and Hezekiah, of any that have been in these latter ages of the world. And it is to my present purpose to observe, that God was pleased to do great things for us in both these instances, in answer to extraordinary prayer. Such remarkable appearances of a spirit of prayer, on any particular public occasion, have not been in the land, at any time within my observation and memory, as on occasion of the affair of Cape-Breton. And it is worthy to be remembered, that God sent that great storm on the fleet of our enemies the last year, that finally dispersed, and utterly confounded them, and caused them wholly to give over their designs against us, the very night after our day of public fasting and prayer for our protection and their confusion.
Thus, although it be a day of great apostacy and provocation, yet it is apparently a day of the wonderful works of God; wonders of power and mercy; which may well lead us to think on those two places of scripture; Psal. cxix. 126. "It is time for thee, Lord, to work, for they have made void thy law." And Psal. lxxv. 1. "That thy name is near, thy wondrous works declare"-God appears, as it were, loth to destroy us, or deal with us according to our iniquities, great and aggravated as they are; and shews that mercy pleases him. Though a corrupt time, it is plain by experience that it is a time wherein God may be found, and he stands ready to shew mercy in answer to prayer. He that hath done such great things, and has so wonderfully and speedily answered prayer for temporal mercies, will much more give the Holy Spirit if we ask him. He marvellously preserves us, and waits to be gracious to us, as though he chose to make us monuments of his grace and not of his vengeance, and waits only to have us open our mouths wide, that he may fill them.
The late remarkable religious awakenings, in many parts of the christian world, may justly encourage us in prayer for the promised glorious and universal outpouring of the Spirit