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rows. Let me call you this day thankfully to acknowledge the wisdom and goodness of the great author of our beings, who has thus made man the guardian of man; who has implanted this tender feeling in the human mind; so that on the sight of any remarkable distress of our fellow-creatures, we are moved by a most powerful, but amiable kind of instinct, to open our hands, yea, to draw out our souls to them. Happy provision of the God of nature and of grace, which makes the possessions of the wealthy and prosperous a perpetual bank for the support of the distressed; and opens, as it were, amidst heaps of desolation, the sweet fountains of benevolence on one hand, and of gratitude on the other! These things call for your acknowledgment; and you are to remember, that all those supplies are ultimately derived from God, which, from his additional goodness, he chuses to send you by the hands of your fellow-creatures. And I would hope, he will go on to do you good, and will so Turn your captivity, like that of Job*, that your present suffering may serve to add a greater relish to succeeding and growing prosperity. At least with regard to the true christian, there remains another more secure, as well as more important hope; that the soul may be enriched by what impoverishes the body, and that these Light afflictions, which are but for a moment, may work out a far more exceeding, and eternal weight of gloryt: which if you desire, then,
3. Make it your serious concern and earnest prayer, that the dross of sin may be purged away by this burning.
By this, said Isaiah the prophet, speaking of very terrible judgments, which God sent among the Israelites, By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit to take away his sins. Surely then it is meet to say unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more : that which I know not, teach thou me; if I have done iniquity, I will do no more g. So may it be with you, and you will be unspeakable gainers by this loss; gainers in the true comfort and happiness of the remainder of life, and much more in the future state.
In pursuit of this blessed end, let me, my friends, this day solemnly call you to Search and try your ways ll, and to examine what is that Accursed thing, which may have occasioned this trouble and distress 1. I cannot do you a kinder office, than to assist you in the enquiry. Give me leave therefore to suggest a few reflections; by which I would not be understood
* Job xlii. 10. l Lam. iii. 40.
Isa, xxvii. 9.
& Job xxxiv, 31, 32,
+ 2 Cor. iv. 17.
to mean any thing personal, for indeed I cannot intend it; most of you are strangers to me, nor have I reason to suspect peculiar evil of any; but an acquaintance with human nature in general, will very naturally lead me, in the present circumstance, to turn your thoughts inward, that you may Accomplish a diligent search*. Wherefore has God visited you? Wherefore has he Written these bitter things against you +?
It may be, some of you have indulged yourselves in a luxurious way of living; and therefore Goel has stript you of those things, which have been the instruments of it. You have, perhaps, taken a secret pleasure and pride in gay dress, or af. fected a magnificence of furniture, beyond your rank; and therefore God has consumed your ornaments, and turned you out almost naked and bare. Or you have perhaps been addicted to riot and intemperance, squandering away your substance, and destroying your health, and it may be, your reason, with the abundance of good things God had given you. Just is he then in taking them away; for it is a thousand times better, that intoxicating liquors should be employed, as they have been here, even to quench the flames, or that the choicest dainties should be burnt up, and your money perish with them, than that your reason should be impaired, your health destroyed, and your families reduced by continued extravagance.
Perhaps there are some of you that have been accustomed to make a kind of by-word of hell and damnation, to scatter about in rage, or mere wantonness, oaths and imprecations; which in a professed christian is blasphemous impiety, and which even an atheist must own, to be at best but boisterous and unmannerly nonsense. And if so, justly has God executed upon you that denunciation against Him that sweareth; justly has he caused his curse to enter and remain in the midst of your house, and consumed it, with the timber thereof, and the stones thereof I.
Or possibly, in other of your houses, the fire of contention has before been kindled; contention between the members of the same family, or between neighbour and neighbour; while a clashing of secular interests with some, or the diversity of religious persuasions and practices with others, have led you to forget the common ties of brotherhood and human kind, and to burn with mutual animosity and wrath. Justly has God written your sin in your punishment, and joined you as companions in suffering and distress ; which must surely teach you a better temper, if you are not quite incorrigible.
* Psal. lxiv. 6.
+ Job xiii, 26.
Zech, v, 4.
But among those of a more peaceable disposition, are there none, that are conscious to themselves of dishonest gain? No Merchant, or trader, that has held the balances of deceit in his hand #, and has allowed himself to keep, as the scripture ex. presses it, A weight and a weight, a measure and a measure t, to buy by the one, and to sell by the other? None, that have Gone beyond and defrauded their brethren I, and practised arts by which they would have thought themselves to have been greatly injured, if they had met with them from others? If such there be, that as the prophet expresses it, have Coveted an evil covetousness to their house §, let them not wonder, if God has verified the words of his servant, so that The stone has cried out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber has answered it. And so will it be with those, who may attempt to found their rising houses in falsehood, and to cement them with perjury. And if any have already done it, by giving in, even upon oath, unjust accounts of their losses, let them Be sure, their sin will find them out I, and their unrighteous gain, the plunder of their fellow-sufferers, will be bitterness in the latter end.
But to insist no longer upon this head, it is very probable there are some, whose conscience would not allow them in such methods as these, who yet may accuse themselves of having been formerly, in their most prosperous days, backward to actions of bounty and charity; some, in whom the words of Solomon are fulfilled, They have withheld more than is meet, and it has tended only lo poverty ** It may be, when compassionate objects have presented themselves, or been recommended to you, your hearts, instead of being opened and warmed, have rather been contracted ; and you have been ingenious in finding out excuses, for not bearing your part in such expences. And now, all that you have spared and saved by such a mean and unworthy temper is gone, and perhaps, through the righteous judgment of God, has carried away with it a great deal more: while the generous and compassionate christian has at least bad this satisfaction, that a part of his substance is laid up in the bank of heaven, and secured far beyond the reach of any unhappy accident; for nothing is indeed so truly, and so surely our own, as what we have laid out on such charitable occasions.
$ Hab. ii. 9.
* Hos. xii. 7.
+ Deut. xxv. 13-16.
# 1 Thess. iv. 6.
** Prov. xi. 24. с
And I shall have reason to congratulate you upon your present loss, if, having felt affliction yourselves, and experienced the compassionate assistance of others, you melt into more humane sentiments, and knowing the heart of sufferers, be for the future more ready to relieve them, and more abundant in every good word and work : and happy for you will it be, if The Lord purge away your dross, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning *, so that you come forth from his furnace as silver seven times purified, and take the divine image in brighter and fairer characters. It has been often observed, that places which have suffered by a kind of general conflagration, rise more beautiful out of their ashes. But there will be much greater reason to congratulate you, if by this means your tempers are refined ; if the vain become grave, the luxurious temperate, the profane religious, the contentious meek, the fraudulent upright, and the sordid liberal. And sure I am, that with such an alteration, you would be happier in a cottage of clay, than you could have been before in a house of marble and cedar. And that this happy end may be answered, let me exhort you, once more,
4. That you endeavour to retain upon your hearts a lively sense of those important lessons, which you might, as it were, read by the light of these flames.
There are many very instructive truths, which God has often spoken to you from his word, and by his ordinances, which yet might, with some more sensible demonstration, be learned from such a scene of providence. And I doubt not but those that are truly wise, and who have set themselves with strict attention to reflect on what has passed, have prevented me in some of these meditations. Let me for a few moments, however, recall them to your minds, and suggest them to those, who have been either too indolent, or too perplexed, to form them for themselves.
I shall only mention two, which comprehend a great many more.—How vain are worldly possessions, when compared with spiritual and eternal blessings !—And how unutterably dreadful is the divine displeasure, by which fires will be kindled so much more terrible than these!
You have seen here the vanity of worldly possessions, and the superior value of spiritual and eternal blessings; and therefore labour to preserve a sense of it.
You had often before read that expostulation, Wilt thou sel thine eyes upon that which is not ? For riches certainly make themselves wings, and fly away as an eagle towards heaven *. But perhaps you never saw those wings spreading so wide, and rising in so rapid a flight; you never saw so many
* Isa. iv, 4.
families undone in an hour, the worth of so many hundreds and thousands of pounds dissipated in the air, and borne away by the wind in blazing and smoaking columns. You could not, when you came to look over the ruins, distinguish between the ashes of the most precious of your goods, and the poorest refuse of them; but they were mingled together, like the dust of the dead. So vain is wealth, and so uncertain is our confidence in riches! Thus all our goods, and our houses may perish. And though our lands may seem a more lasting possession, yet, as you have seen, flames may devour the product of them, either before, or after it is gathered in: ond our lives themselves, yet frailer than almost any thing else, may fail us in a moment. This you have seen with your eyes ; and forget it not; but charge it on your conscience, to observe the infinite difference between these transient enjoyments, and spiritual and eternal blessings. Those treasures are not liable to such accidents : as Neither moth nor rust can corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal them t, so neither can fire break out and consume them. It is a known story of Bias the philosopher, that when in danger of shipwreck, he saw others concerned about their goods, which were like to be lost, even if they escaped with their lives, he said, in consciousness of superior worth, and therefore superior happiness, I carry all my treasure with me. And so can the christian say. The most valuable treasure is that, which by divine grace is laid up in the heart, or, to speak with more strict propriety, in the soul itself ; so that should devouring flames surround the house, even the tabernacle of clay, or any other overwhelming calamity demolish it, the heaven-born inhabitant would escape with all its riches, and borrow wings from the tempest itself, to bear it on to eternal blessedness.
Once inore, reflect, how unutterably dreadful the wrath of God is, by which fires will be kindled much fiercer than these.
Our God, says the apostle, is a consuming fire f ; and it is a representation which God himself has made, when describing his displeasure against sin, Who, says he, would set briars and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together $. You have seen a burning town, and
* Pror, xxiii. 5.
# Mat, vi, 20.
Hob. xii. 29.
$ Isa. sgrü. 4.