Have we not therefore cause to say, with the Ninevites, “Who can tell?” Is it not a peradventure? Is there more than a possibility, that we may yet obtain mercy? If our sins are no less numerous, no less of a scarlet dye, than those of other nations, and exceedingly aggravated beyond theirs by being committed against clearer light and the distinguished advantages we have long enjoyed; if we I have not only transgressed the laws of God in common with others, but daringly trampled upon the gracious tenders of His forgiveness, which He has long continued to propose to us with a frequency and energy almost peculiar to ourselves; if all the day long He has stretched out His hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people (Rom 10:12), and hitherto, almost in vain; if neither the tokens of His displeasure nor the declarations of His love have made a suitable impression upon our minds—who can tell if He will yet be entreated? May we not fear, lest He should say, My Spirit shall strive with them no more (Gen 6:3). They are joined to their idols; let them alone? “When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear” (Isa 1:15).
Where are now the mighty empires, which were once thought rooted and established
as the everlasting mountains? They have disappeared like the mists upon the
mountaintops. Nothing of them remains but their names. They perished and their
memorials have almost perished with them. The patience of God bore with them for
a time, until the purposes for which He raised them up were answered; but when the
measure of their iniquity was full, they passed away and were dispersed, like foam
upon the waters. What security have we from such a catastrophe? Or what could we
answer if God should put that question to us, “Shall I not visit for these things...and
shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this” (Jer 5:9)?
Where are now the churches which once flourished in Greece and Asia Minor?
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the former, and when our Lord indicted his epistles
to the latter, most of them were in a prosperous state. If there ever was a time when
the commendations given to them were applicable to professors of the Gospel in our
land, I fear we can hardly claim them at present.
Can it be justly said of us, that our faith and love are every where spoken of (Rom
1:8; 1Th 1:7), and that we are examples to all that believe? That our works and service
and faith and patience are known and the last to be more than the first (Rev 2:19)? Or
rather, may it not be said of too many, that while they profess to believe in God, in
works they deny Him (Ti 1:16)? That they are neither hot nor cold, that they have a
name to live, and are dead, that they have at least forgotten their first love (Rev 3:15-
16; 2:4)? When these defects and declensions began to prevail in the first churches,
the Lord admonished and warned them; but instead of watching and repenting, they
gradually became more remiss. At length their glory departed, and their candlesticks
were removed out of their places (Rev 2:5). Many regions which once rejoiced in the
light of the Gospel have been long over spread with Islamic darkness.
Let us not trust in outward privileges, nor rest in a form of godliness destitute of
the power. It will be in vain to say, “The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD
are these” (Jer 7:4), if the Lord of the temple should depart from us. When the Israelites
were afraid of the Philistines, they carried the ark of the Lord with them to battle
(1Sa 4:3). But God disappointed their vain confidence. He delivered the ark of His
glory into the hands of their enemies to teach them, and to teach us, that formal
hypocritical worshippers have no good ground to hope for His protection.
Alas, then, who can tell? Appearances are very dark at present. Besides what we
may expect or fear from the rage and madness of our foreign enemies, we have much
to apprehend at home. A spirit of discord has gone forth. Jeshurun has waxed fat, and
kicked (Deu 32:15). Many seem weary of liberty, peace, and order. Our happy constitution,
our mild government, our many privileges, admired by other nations, are
despised and depreciated among ourselves—not only by the thoughtless and licentious,
and those who, having little to lose, may promise themselves a possibility of
gain in a time of disturbance and confusion, but they are abetted and instigated by
persons of sense, character, and even of religion. I should be quite at a loss to account
for this, if I did not consider it as a token of the Lord’s displeasure. When He
withdraws His blessing, no union can long subsist!
“Because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness
of heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies
which the LORD shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness,
and in want of all things” (Deu 28:47-48). These words of Moses to rebellious Israel
emphatically describe the former and the present state of many nations who have
been spoiled, insulted, and glad if they could escape (great numbers could not so escape)
with the loss of their all, and at the peril of their lives, to a more hospitable
shore. May their sufferings remind us of our deserts! Who can tell if the Lord may yet
be merciful unto us, and exempt us from similar calamities!