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PREACHED ON THE OCCASION.
NUMBERS xvi. 30, 31, 32, 33, 34.
If the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her
mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down alive into the pit: Then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord. And it came to pass, as he made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder which was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and thcir houses, and all the men that appertained unto Cora!, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the congregation. And all Israel that were round about them, fled at the cry of them: For they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.
Our inconsideration requires the loudest calls ; and our hardness of heart the heaviest blows. When we were warned by the loud, penitential cries of a giddy dying young man,* upon whom God had laid his hand with uncommon severity ; crowds of thoughtless hearers attended the church at his burial. I preached to them from these alarming words of Isaiah : “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. Lord, when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see, but they shall see. Many of you saw, and some felt, on that awful occasion. But alas! the relentings of the most ceased with my warning, or vanished with the next morning's dew. Nay, instead of learning righteousness, too many, by stifling their convictions, hardened themselves, turned the savour of life into the savour of death, and learned to sin with less remorse than ever.
What can be done to awaken our stupid, drowsy, dead consciences ? Must God lift up his hand in a more conspicuous manner? In order to turn our hearts, must he now subvert our fields, or turn the course of our river? But why do I ask the question ?-Has he not wrought the double wonder at once?-0 ye ungodly colliers, that poison the bowels of the earth with your impure and impious breath ; see what destruction he has brought upon the solid element in which you get a maintenance.- -Ye profane watermen, whose wickedness overflows all the dikes of human and divine laws oftener than the Severn does its banks : See what a curse has overtaken the river, on which you earn your bread! And ye sinners of all ranks and occupations, see the finger of a sin-avenging God, laid upon this dismal spot; and by the desolation you behold here, judge of that which our iniquities would long since have brought upon all the earth, if Jehovah had not the patience and long-suffering of a God.
* A blooming dancer, under twenty years of age, whom I loudly warned on Saturday evening to "prepare for death and judgnent," and who distinguished himself among the nimblest of the company, while some cried, “Play away-dance away," &c. The next week, far from growing wiser, he procured money by wrong methods, to go every evening to a show, against the will and entreaties of his parents. And this he continued to do till, putting one day his knee to the ground, the unseen point of a nail made an insignificant wound in it, not unlike the prick of a pin. The show-man, to whom he mentioned this accident, by an unfortunate application inadvertently poisoned his trifling wound, and spoiled his dancing for ever. Terrible symptoms soon followed, with excruciating pains, which carried him off the Saturday following. The circumstances of his death, his solemn warnings to someof his companions on his death-bed, and his affecting cries for mercy, which were heard for a considerable distance, struck a transitory awe upon many young people, and brought them to hear the funeral sermon, which I referred to in the beginning of thisi
However, the axe of his vengeance is not thrown by ; it still is laid at the root of the tree; nay, it is lifted high, to strike a blow, general as our wickedness, repeat. ed as our crimes, fearful as our imprecations. But, punishment is God's strange work; and his Son, whom we put to open shame, and crucify afresh by our sins, is not yet weary of interceding for us. Yesterday, when the destroyer asked leave to bury us in heaps of ruins, as he did Job's feasting sons and daughters; or to bring in an unexpected flood upon us, as he did upon the world of the ungodly in the days of Noah; our compassionate Mediator interposed, and said, “Though they cumber the ground like barren fig-trees, let them alone this day, this year also, till I shall dig about them. If they bear fruit, well ; and if not, then after that, thou shalt cut them down.'
And now, sinners, see with grateful astonishment the prevalence of our Lord's prayer! We are spared! But tremble with godly fear at the literal fulfilment of his declaration : To make us bring forth fruit meet for repentance, he actually digs about us at a most alarming rate.—What trenches !—to rouse our souls, he tosses our grounds : To stop us in our sinful career, he absorbs our highway; and to water in our hearts the withered plant of God's fear, he dams up our navigable river.
Nay, he does more still. The gospel mentions those, who take the kingdom of heaven by violence ; few of us, alas ! seem to be of that happy number ; in general we act, as if we would storm the kingdom of darkness. We put on the whole armour of Satan; we take up the shield of unbelief, the helmet of presumption, the girdle of deceit, the breast-plate of unrighteousness, and the sword of the evil spirit, the word of a lying world. Thus equipped, with undaunted confidence we tread upon divine mercies, and go on from sin to sin, from the follies of childhood to the vanity or profligacy of youth, and if we are not killed in the field of intemperance, we crown all by the worldly-mindedness and obduracy of old age. Nothing turns us, nothing stops us. But now the angel of the Lord stands with a drawn sword in our way, as he did in that of Balaam. We seem determined to possess ourselves of Tophet; and to carry hell, as it were, sword in hand : But God fortifies it against our desperate assaults. See, sinners, see these newly-formed mounts, and stupendous chasms! Are they not ramparts of his raising, and ditches of his sinking, to make you desist from your
mad enterprise ? And if, with curses in your mouths, stolen goods in your hands, revenge in your hearts, or unpardoned sin upon your consciences, you force your way, through these uncommon bulwarks, to the chambers of death : Will you not doubly deserve to be devoured by the sword, which has been so dreadfully brandished over this desolated spot ?
If impenitency is the fixed object of our choice; if still shutting our ears to all ordinary and extraordinary calls and tossing Christ's easy yoke from off our necks, we equally harden our hearts against the yearning bowels of God's mercy, and the terrible warnings of his justice; shall we not make our dangerous case desperate ? Is it not enough to have paid no attention to the whispers of his grace, must we also slight the thunders of his power? Shall the dreadful peal that was rung here yesterday, only lull us asleep on the brink of destruction ? By rendering our obstinacy more inexcusable, shall the disregarded terrors of the Lord have no other effect, than that of accidentally fitting us for the aggravated punishment of those relentless cities, where Christ wrought his mighty works in vain ? Shall we secure to ourselves the torments of that Jezebel, to whom God gave time to repent, and who nevertheless repented not ? Is not the hell of Tyre and Sidon terrible enough for us? Or do we flatter ourselves that, because the scale of divine patience yet preponderates, no hills of guilt, no mountains of iniquity can possibly turn the scale of righteous vengeance.
If any are in that fatal error, permit me to undeceive them, by producing the unhappy witnesses mentioned in my text, Dathan and Abiram, with their wives, chil. dren and servants. And that we may improve at once God’s alarming severity towards them, and the riches of his long-suffering towards us, enquire we,
First, Into their crime, and our imitation of it.Consider we, in the
SECOND place, What new thing the Lord did, to destroy them from off the earth.-Let us,
THIRDLY, Improve the sight of this dreadful phenomenon, by which he warns us to repent, lest the earth swallow us up also.-_And then you will give me leave to conclude by a suitable address to several classes of hearers.
And thou, mighty God, who, in the midst of judg. ment, didst yesterday remember mercy, remember it now. Second by thy blessing the strokes of thy rod, and the truths of thy gospel. Gracious Lord of the harvest! give the increase to the seed that shall be sown in a field which thou hast so strangely ploughed up. And while thy feeble messenger calls upon this multitude to turn, turn thou us, O good Lord, and so shall we be turned.' The work is worthy of Omnipotence, worthy of thee. Take then to thyself thy great power, and reign. It is thy prerogative to break rocky hearts, as thou hast broken those rocks : And to turn the stream of human affections, as thou hast turned that of yonder river. Once more, great God, make bare thy powerful arm : And to-day work here as gloriously in the moral, as thou didst yesterday in the natural world.
1. Inquire we then, yirst, what was Dathan and Abiram's crime? Had they committed your excesses, O ye, who are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink;' and who (while your