THE PROPER IMPROVEMENT OF GOD’S MERCIES [Note: Thanksgiving Sermon for peace, in May 1802.]
Nah_1:15. Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy rows.
IN the writings of the prophets there is an abruptness of style, which often renders them intricate, and almost unintelligible. The rapidity of their transitions from one person to another, from one period to another, and from one subject to another, tends to bewilder the mind, and operates as a discouragement to us, when we endeavour to investigate and comprehend their meaning. But when we are on our guard respecting this, we shall often discover beauties that will amply repay the labour of investigation, and shall be led to admire those passages, which at first sight appeared to be involved in impenetrable obscurity.
The subject of the prophecy before us is the destruction of Sennacherib’s army, as a prelude to the overthrow of the Assyrian empire, of which Nineveh was the capital. The prophet begins this chapter with expatiating in general terms on the power and vindictive justice of Jehovah [Note: ver. 2–7.]. He then speaks of these perfections with a more express reference to his main point [Note: ver. 8–10.]. After that, he proceeds to address himself to Nineveh, from whence that “wicked counsellor,” Sennacherib, should come [Note: ver. 11.]. Then, in Jehovah’s name, he addresses himself to the Jewish nation, to certify them, that, however greatly this formidable enemy should harass and distress them, they should be freed from his yoke [Note: ver. 12, 13.]. Then he addresses more immediately Sennacherib himself, and declares that he, his family, and his idols, should be signally and entirely cut off [Note: ver. 14.]. Lastly, beholding, as it were, his prophecy already accomplished, he points to the Messenger hastening over the mountains to announce the glad tidings: and he calls upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem to resume their wonted occupations, and especially their religious ordinances, in humble acknowledgment of the Divine goodness, and with a faithful regard to those vows which they had made in the day of their calamity [Note: ver. 15.].
The affinity between this subject, and that which calls for our attention this day, will more fully appear, while we consider,
The tidings which are announced to us this day—
These certainly relate, in the first instance, to Hezekiah’s deliverance by the destruction of Sennacherib’s army—
[This was a great deliverance, wrought by God himself through the ministry of an angel [Note: Isa_37:36.]. And it may well serve to illustrate the blessings we this day commemorate [Note: If it be the Restoration of Peace, the parallel must be drawn between the dangers to which Jerusalem, and our nation, had been exposed. And, if there have been any signal interpositions of the Deity in favour of our land, the mention of them will mark the parallel more strongly. If it be the Restoration of King Charles the Second, the blessings of Hezekiah’s government, and the renewal of the established ordinances of religion, must rather be adverted to as the ground of the parallel.] — — —]
But they relate also to the deliverance of mankind from sin and death through the intervention of the Lord Jesus—
[The deliverances vouchsafed to the Jews, are constantly represented in Scripture as typical of the great work of redemption: and the very expressions in the text are used by Isaiah with a more direct reference to that event [Note: Isa_52:7.]. Nor is this idea founded in conjecture; for St. Paul, quoting the words of both the prophets, applies them directly to the proclaiming of salvation to the Gentile world [Note: Rom_10:13-15.]. If then the prophet mingled these two events, well may we do so too; and from contemplating the mercies vouchsafed to us in a temporal view, take occasion to reflect on the infinitely richer mercies which we obtain through Christ [Note: Here the destruction of our spiritual enemies by Christ, “the Angel of the Covenant,” may be announced, as joyful tidings to those who are “shut up under the Law,” the wretched expectants of death and judgment.] — — —]
We are at no loss how to improve these tidings, since the prophet himself suggests,
The duties resulting from them—
In an encouraging yet monitory strain, he exhorts us to,
A devout acknowledgment of the mercies received—
[The way to Jerusalem having been blocked up by the besieging army, the prophet tells the people, that now they may have free access to the temple, and come up at the appointed seasons to their solemn feasts. And should not we also now avail ourselves of the opportunities which are afforded us, and wait upon God without distraction [Note: Here, if the King’s Restoration be the subject of thanksgiving, reference may be made to the interruption of the established worship during the usurpation, and the danger of its entire abolition afterwards, during the time of the Revolution.]? We should at least spend this day, not in mere carnal mirth, but in solemn feasting before God, even in spiritual, and more appropriate joy.
The remembrance of the work of redemption more especially should kindle in our hearts a sacred flame of gratitude and thanksgiving, and should stimulate us to a more strict observance of the Sabbath, which, in commemoration of it, was made to supersede the original Sabbath, and was designated by that honourable appellation, The Lord’s Day.]
A conscientious performance of the vows we have made—
[It is most probable, that many, during the siege of Jerusalem, would make vows to God, as the Jews from the beginning had been in the habit of doing under their calamities. Nor can we doubt but that many of ourselves, in seasons of sickness or trouble, have purposed, and perhaps vowed, to change the course of our lives, if we were delivered from the distresses which we either felt or feared. At this time in particular we have been making vows, which we are bound to perform [Note: Such vows are constantly offered to God, in the forms of prayer for the 29th of May, and the fast-days; and they may here be quoted from the one or other of those forms, as the occasion requires; and may be pressed on the conscience as obligatory at this time.]. But, alas! if we compare our petitions in the midst of trouble, with our lives when delivered from trouble, what an awful contrast does there appear! Let it not, however, be so on this occasion; but let us remember the vows that are upon us; for “better were it never to vow at all, than to vow and not pay [Note: Ecc_5:4-5.].”]
We conclude then with an address, both inspired and uttered by God himself; “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee! Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most High [Note: Psa_50:7; Psa_50:14.].”