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light, and have loved darkness : the gospel of Christ, in which all the goodness and mercy of God are displayed through the redemption purchased by the blood of Christ ; in which the aid and comfort of the Holy Spirit of God is offered to all who diligently seek it; in wbich the hopes and fears of eternity are displayed to guard us against the temptations of sin ; has been not only rejected, but treated with a malicious scorn; and all our hopes in Christ represented as delusions and impositions on the weakness of men. How has the press for many years past swarmed with books, some to dispute, some to ridicule the great truths of religion, both natural and revealed. I shall mention no particular cases, there is no need for it; the thing is notorious. I wish the guilt in this instance was confined to the authors only, and that nobody else was answerable for it; but the earnestness with which these books were sought after, the pleasure and approbation with which they were received, are too strong indications of the general taste to be dissembled ; and the industry used to disperse these books at home and abroad, and especially to our plantations in America, to which great numbers, and at a great expense, have been conveyed; are proofs of such malice against the gospel and the holy Author of it, as would not be borne even in a Mahometan country. In this branch of trade this great city beats all the world ; it is become even the mart for infidelity.
It required no great sagacity to foresee what the consequence would be of the pains taken to unsettle all principles of religion. Infidelity and immorality are too nearly allied to be long separated; and though some have pretended to preserve a sense of virtue without the aid of religion, yet experience has shown that people who have neither hopes nor fears with respect to another world, will soon abuse this by indulging the worst of their passions, and will not regard man when once they have learned to disregard God.
Whether this be our case let every man judge by what he hears and sees; by what indeed he must hear and see if he lives amongst us. Blasphemy and horrid imprecations domineer in our streets, and poor wretches are every hour wantonly and wickedly calling for damnation on themselves and others, which may be (it is much to be feared) too near them already. Add
to this the lewdness and debauchery that prevail amongst the lowest people, which keeps them idle, poor, and miserable, and renders them incapable of getting an honest livelihood for themselves and families; the number of lewd houses which trade in their vices, and which must at any rate be paid for making sin convenient to them ; and it will account for villanies of another kind, which are growing so fast as to be insupportable and almost incurable : for where is the wonder that persons so abandoned should be ready to commit all sorts of outrage and violence ? A city without religion can never be a safe place to dwell in.
The unnatural lewdness of which we have heard so much of late is something more than brutish, and can hardly be mentioned without offending chaste ears, and yet cannot be passed over intirely in silence, because of the particular mark of divine vengeance set on it in the destruction of Sodom by fire from heaven. Dreadful example!
But these vices are so enormous that it is to be hoped the generality of our people are not guilty; I hope in God they are not, I trust they are not. But how unhappy is it for this country that there should be any ground even for suspicion that these vices are growing to be common!
But to go one step farther
When men, not content with indulging their own brutish passions, take pains to corrupt others, they act with such cool and diabolical malice as outdoes former examples, and seems to be a challenge to the power and justice of God. Have not all the abominations of the public stews been opened to view by lewd pictures exposed to sale at noon-day? Have not histories or romances of the vilest prostitutes been published, intended merely to display the most execrable scenes of lewdness ? lewdness represented without disguise, and nothing omitted that might inflame the corrupt passions of the youth of the nation ! What was the encouragement for men to dare giving such an affront not only to the common sense but to the common law of the country? Was it not the quick sale these pictures and these books had ? And is not this a deplorable circumstance, and sad instance of the corrupt disposition of many among us?
Is it to be wondered at, after so much pains taken to corrupt the religion and morals of the people, that they should be indisposed to attend to any thing serious, or that they grow sick of religion, which has no comforts for them; that they fly from the church and crowd to the playhouse ; that they are tired of themselves and their own thoughts, and want to lose themselves in company from morning to night? It is this unhappy unsettled state of mind that has introduced a kind of general idleness among the people, and given rise to almost infinite places of diversion in and about this town: it were well if they were places of diversion only; but they are often places for carrying on worse business, and give opportunities to the profligate to seduce the innocent, who often meet their ruin where they only came for pleasure. While I was writing this, I cast my eye on a newspaper of the day, and counted no less than fifteen advertisements for plays, operas, music and dancing, for meetings at gardens, for cock-fighting, prize-fighting, &c. Should this paper (as many of our newspapers do) go abroad, what an idea must it give to all the churches abroad of the manner in which Lent is kept in this protestant country? What our Saviour said to the Jews on another occasion, · You have turned the house of prayer into a den of thieves,' may with a little variation be applied to ourselves. We have turned this season appointed for serious reflexions and humiliation of body and spirit, into a time of mirth and jollity, of music, dancing, and riotous living.
How far this spirit of indolence and idleness has gone, and to what excess, may be seen in all orders among us; friendly visits for conversation are become insipid things, and are degenerated into meetings for gaming, where people hardly known to each other are invited by one tie only, the love of play, which seems now to be, not an amusement or diversion, but a serious business of life, and one would think a necessary one, by seeing how some children are trained up to it. There is a great and a grievous evil among us,
which naturally springs from the disorders before mentioned : I mean the great increase of popery in this kingdom. When men have lost all principles of religion, and are lost to all sense of morality, they are prepared to receive any superstition whenever the
decay of health, or the cross accidents of life revive the fears of futurity, which may be stifled, but cannot be extinguished : such persons not able to digest the wholesome food of repentance by which their spiritual condition might be gradually mended, greedily swallow the high cordial of absolution, which like other cordials gives some present ease, but works no cure. And with respect to people of a serious and religious turn of mind, the manifest and almost general contempt, or at least neglect, of the duties of religion gives a great advantage to the emissaries of Rome to impose on their weakness, and to persuade them that they can have no hopes in the religion of a church where religion itself is hardly to be found.
Lay these things together, and what more your own observation and reflexion may furnish, and much more they may furnish, and then ask your heart whether you have not reason to fear that God will visit for these things. If your heart misgives you, and forebodes the time of taking vengeance for these iniquities to be drawing near, consider farther, how graciously you have been dealt with by having had warning of your danger, and remember that the long-sufferance of God is a call to repentance.'
It is purely for the sake of this reflexion that I now address myself to you : I have no pleasure in laying open the shame of my country, or in exposing its nakedness either to friends or to foes; and when I consider my own situation, it is a prospect void of all comfort to me to see the condition of the people over whom I have a charge; and, God knows my heart, these considerations are a pain and grief to my mind.
But let us not despair ; there is still one remedy left, and whatever reason we have to condemn ourselves, yet of this we may be sure, that God has not forgotten to be gracious.' To him then let us turn with hearty repentance for our sins; and with a resolution to do, each of us in his proper station, what lies in our power to stem the torrent of iniquity which threatens our ruin.
As to you, my brethren of the clergy, who share with me the care of the souls in these populous cities, let me exhort you (though I trust you want not to be exhorted) to awaken the people, to call them from the lethargy in which they have too
long lived, and make them see their own danger. Speak to them, ' persuade them as knowing the terrors of the Lord.' Speak to their hearts and consciences with such plainness as becomes the ministers of the gospel ; tell them in season and out of season, that` unless they repent, they must perish. If the warnings we have had are a call on the people to repentance, remember they are still stronger calls on us, to preach repentance, and to discharge the duty we owe to God and his church, and to the flock of Christ, over whom we are placed. May this work of God prosper in our hands!
I should be wanting to the duty I owe to the highest as well as the lowest, should I omit on this occasion to remind those who are intrusted by their country with the government of these populous cities, how much the welfare of the people depends on the faithful execution of the law. I pretend not to accuse them particularly of neglect: a general neglect of this kind is one of the worst symptoms of the time; every man is left to do what is right in his own eyes; one would think ‘ there was no king in Israel.' Could the vile abominable pictures of lewdness have been offered to sale in the most frequented parts of the city; could books for the instruction of the inexperienced in all the mysteries of iniquity have been publicly cried in our streets; had not the laws and the guardians of the laws been asleep? But surely it is high time to awake, and to let people once more know (what seems to be almost forgotten) that laws are made for the punishment of wickedness and vice, and for the maintenance of true religion.
Government is a great trust, and the powers of it are not intended merely to do honor to those who have them, but must be used for the good of the community. This is a truth sufficiently known; it has been sounded in the ears of the nation without ceasing; but the misfortune is, that this doctrine has been applied so constantly to the supreme magistrate only, that those who have subordinate powers derived from his authority, forget, or are not accustomed, to make the application to themselves. And yet surely there is not a constable but has, in proportion to the power the law gives him, a trust reposed in him in behalf of his king and his country: those who are in higher