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tute an angel in his room? What can an angel do? Can an angel bear our manners, forgive our sins, and supply our wants? No, no, all the angels in heaven cannot do that for us which we need: an angel of the Lord may do much in opposing and destroying our enemies, and defending us, but we are conscious to ourselves that we are a rebellious people, have a stiff neck that none can break or bow but God; and though it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a sin-avenging judge, yet there is some encouragement if we have in the midst of us a covenanted God; yet, yet, we have hopes thou wilt be a tender-hearted Father. Lord, we follow thee naked,* quite stript of any aid but thine: our late guilt hath made us naked as to defence, and we make ourselves naked as to ornaments, and have no manner of excuse for our wicked conduct; scourge us, O Lord, but forsake us not. We broke off our earrings to make a golden calf, now we put off the rest of our garments, as not being worthy of one rag, and as having forfeited all our mercies: our fine attire shall go, we will strip ourselves in a holy revenge, that having put off our clothes, we may follow the faster after thee with sighs and tears. O that we could also put off our sins with our garments, and so put on the spirit of obedience to thy will.
But this is what I urge, that Christians in their societies and assemblies, do unanimously and socially join together to lament after the Lord. God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him, Psal. lxxxix. 7. Let Christians provoke one another to this regard for God; let them bring motives to quicken; yea, let them hold up one another by mutual suppòrts in this holy pursuit of God with prayers and tears, as iron sharpens
iron, so let us sharpen one another, taking each other by the hand; let us every one call his neighbour under the vine and under the fig-tree;* as Philip found Nathaniel under the fig-tree and told him the joyful tidings of Messiah; let persons in the same family get together in God's solemn worship, and lament after the Lord; husbands apart, and wives apart; children apart and servants apart, and sometimes all together; let neighbouring families get together, and humble themselves and say, come neighbours, God is gone or going, let us lift up our voices, hands and hearts together, to prevail upon him to return. Alas! we have conversed about our farms, oxen, sheep, and trades together, shall we not at last begin to converse with each other as Christians? We have drank, feasted, played, and been sinfully merry together, and by our sins banished God, and shall we find no time to mourn for our sins and lament after the Lord together? Let villages, towns, and cities gather into assemblies, and christain societies, and do as those mentioned Zech. viii. 21, "The inhabitants of one city shall go to another," not stay till they come to them, "saying," not being mute statues, but lively monitors, "let us go," let us travel to the place of God's solemn worship, "speedily," alas, we have put off such exercises too long, till God is almost past returning, "to pray before the Lord," not to go to such a city, to buy and sell, and get gain, but "to seek the Lord of hosts." Ah! we have lost him, him who is the God of armies, who arms our foes against us. All this shows great zeal for God, and flaming charity to one another, as when men are converted they will draw others to God in his worship, and give a lively example of it in practice.
But it may be objected, that this practice is uncouth, Zech. iii. 10. + John i. 45, 48. Zech. xii. 12.
that this path is untrodden, few it may be said use it in the place where we live, we shall be laughed to scorn for our labour. It is answered ver. 22, "Many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before him." God will greatly multiply converts and so take off the scandal of paucity of worshippers; it is not a few giddy-headed, factious spirits, but it is nations, many and strong, nations rich and potent. Gentile converts flock like doves to the windows, not by compact and fraud, but by peculiar operations of the Spirit in the ministry of the word, people of divers languages, at a great distance from one another. The same spirit actuates all gospel worshippers, to make them flock to God in ordinances; yea, warlike nations, and islands afar off, unapproachable or invincible by men, shall be conquered by the gospel; as it is said of Britain, though the Romans could scarce come to it, yet our Lord subdued it :* you need not fear want of good company; your zeal itself may provoke others; one active Christian in a place shall have companions in God's work in due time; and how dost thou know but thou wilt find some spark of goodness in some of thy neighbours that thy invitation may blow up, and draw forth? Try them by a gentle call, and thou mayest find more of God in them than ever thou wast aware of; possibly bashfulness, sense of weakness, want of acquaintance with Christians, and want of a call and opportunity have kept some lights under a bushel, which if brought out of their concealment, and a little snuffed, might shine bright in the church.
But it may be said, alas, I am a person of weak gifts, I cannot take a part in any societies, I can be of no use, but a burden.
* Romanis inaccessa, Christo vero subdita.
In reply I may say, thou needest help so much the more; hence it follows, ver. 23, "That ten men shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew;" like little children that are not able to go of themselves, being afraid to fall, will get hold of the hem of their father's garment, to hold them up, and strengthen them to walk more securely, or to direct them in a way that they have not known. Sincere proselytes will look after the communion of saints. The Apostle mentions fellowship in the gospel from the first day, Phil. i. 5, and there is great advantage from it, for Solomon saith, two are better than one," Eccl. iv. 9-11, which he illustrates there in several cases, on which I shall not enlarge; but it is certain you may find great help in the communion of saints.
But you ask, how shall I know they are saints, or fit to join with? I may be deceived and misled into byways of error.
I answer, we have heard that God was with his apostles by wonderful signs, gifts, and miracles, who were besides distinguished by holiness of conversation; and if there are appearances of God being for a people or among a people, you may safely associate with such as God thinks fit to own, and communicate himself to; when I am convinced from the bright beams of gospel light, and from the powerful influences and convictions of the Spirit, that this is indeed the way of God. I am then resolved to inquire after God in it, and join with them that travel in it heaven-wards.
DIRECTIONS AND ASSISTANCE TO FORWARD THE EXERCISE PRACTISED BY ISRAEL.
III. You may next be directed to some things which may contribute to your furtherance or assistance in lamenting after the Lord. What course should we take both to perform this duty aright, and to obtain what we lament after, namely, either the God of ordinances, or the ordinances of God?
Here I might repeat what was mentioned in the explication, by way of instruction: as,
1. They were inclined after the Lord. It were well if sinners would but stop their vain career, stand still, pause upon it, bethink themselves, and have a tendency God-wards; this is the first step to repentance, see Jer. viii. 6.
2. Settled after the Lord. Oh that men were assured upon good grounds, that their hearts were well fixed, piously disposed, and devoted to God, as our Saviour, who stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,* or as Paul, Acts xxi. 13.
3. Congregated, gathered, united together, to go hand in hand after the Lord, Zeph. ii. 1, "Gather yourselves together, yea gather together, O nation not desired!" Gather yourselves by mutual accommodation, and sincere repentance, to get under the wing of God, as chickens under the hen, or (as the allusion in that text is) that ye be not as chaff that is dissipated by the wind, verse 2, for there is an affinity in the words; sincere repentance unites to God and his people.
Luke ix. 51.
twp colligite ap palea, id est contrahite vos, ne sitis sicut palea