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Gentiles. It will rather resemble the troubled, unsettled ocean, '' casting up mire and dirt;" a true picture of the history of the visible church hitherto: and what else can be looked for, in the present state of men's minds, who call themselves Christians, than "confusion worst confused?" and instead of the waters of life, clear as crystal, which will one day flow from the throne of God, what can we expect but the muddied and unwholesome waters of false doctrine and heresy?
The prophecy contained in the fifty-eighth chapter, which next follows, is very remarkable; a professing people, not defiled with idolatry, and who bear the name of the house of Jacob, are addressed; a people distinguished generally by an approbation of religion, and particularly by the religious observation of fast days; at the same time that the oppression of the poor and destitute, the exactions of covetousness, and especially the profanation of the sabbath, prove the insincerity and hypocrisy ofv their public profession. So. many circumstances here agree with the state of religion and morals in those Protestant nations that have been reformed from the Romish superstition and idolatry, that the learned Vitringa was of opinion the prophecy before us concerns these nations.1
1 Bishop Horsley leans to the same opinion.
In the present state of things, the Protestant nations certainly form the visible church of God upon earth; the kingdom of heaven, which was taken away from the natural descendants of Abraham, has been given to them. The application of the term " house of Israel" to theiu may therefore be admitted. Among these nations, the British Isles, Holland, the north-west of Europe, and the North American colonies, we must acknowledge a considerable attention to the religion of the Bible, to the pure worship of God, and to the means of religious instructions: but it is too true, the national character has been inconsistent with the real love of spiritual religion; and the standard of morality, if higher than in Roman Catholic countries, has not been such as should have adorned the profession of a pure faith.
1. Cry aloud, spare not,
Lift up thy voice like a trumpet;
And show to ray people their transgression,
2. Me, indeed, they seek day by day,
As a nation that did righteousness,
And forsook not the judgment of their Elohim:
They inquire of me the judgments of righteousness;
3. " Wherefore have we fasted, and thou seest not,
The practice of proclaiming fast days by public authority on all occasions of national calamities, has been a very striking peculiarity in the customs of the nations above mentioned, since the time.of their separation from the mystic Babylon. That the practice is scriptural, and at all times proper, cannot be denied, when attended with consistency of conduct. Such public demonstrations of penitence highly become a nation who, in the time of danger, would prostrate itself before the throne of the Almighty, to deprecate the judgment that seems to threaten them for their sins.
But what have been the character of Protestant national fasts in the times that are past and in our own age, in this and in other reformed countries? How like to the prophet's description!
3. Lo, in the day of your fast you obtain ' your' desire,
4. Lo, ye fast for strife and debate,
Instead of appearing in the character of true penitents, desirous of putting away whatever is offensive in the holy eyes of God, they still followed the inclinations of their own hearts; and though they sought, in their public fast, for some mitigation of the righteous judgment of God, they forgot to show that mercy and lenity to others which themselves supplicated from their " Master which is in heaven:" and who, that is a little read in history, can fail to understand the import of the two last lines? How often have solemn appeals to heaven on public fast days been made in the midst of quarrelling and envious disputation? nay, with the very design of answering some party or political purpose! Not to humble themselves before God, and exercise themselves in penitence, but to advance their pretensions, and to sanctify their cause in the eyes of the world, in order that they might render the authority and influence of religion subservient to their own party interests and schemes of policy! And where no such wicked intent appeared, could a reasonable man suppose that the mere formalities of humiliation for a day, when on the morrow all their wicked and vain practices were resumed, could appease the displeasure of the Almighty?
Observe not such a fast as on this day,'
5. Is this the fast that I have chosen,
That a man should humble himself for a day?
That he should bow down his head as a bulrush!
Will ye call this a fast,
And a day acceptable to Jehovah?
We are told in the following verses what sort of fast would be acceptable to God, — with what " works meet for repentance" such an act of public humiliation should be accompanied, in order to- bring down God's blessing upon an afflicted nation: —
6. Is not this the fast which I choose?
To open the bands of wickedness, ,
To loosen the chains of the yoke.'
To let the oppressed go free,
7. Is it not to distribute thy bread to the hungry,
1 Bishop Stock. the poor by wicked oppressors, and
3 " To undo the knots of to loosen the parcels (the bundles
wicked men, and to loosen the of the yoke) from their shoulders."
bundles of the yoke." — Idem. "To ease the burdens laid on
When thou seest the naked that thou cover him,
And here we seem to gather what conduct, in our own and other evangelized nations, will alone preserve us when God's judgments are abroad on the earth: we learn wherein will consist real national prosperity and security in the eventful times that are coming. I hope we may infer from some encouraging expressions, that some of these nations wUl bring forth these fruits meet for repentance, and, as nations, be blessed and made instruments of blessings in the last troublesome times, when "great Babylon comes into remembrance before God, to give her of the cup of his wrath." But the bands of •wickedness, or of the injurious man, the disturber of the peace of others, which he binds upon his fellow creatures, must be unloosed. And it is obvious, that it is in vain for the welfare of the poor, that the nation be in possession of political liberty, if a good, a generous, and a vigorous administration of the laws do not prevent the oppression of the weak and impoverished by the powerful and rich.
The chains of the yoke must be loosened. We must all be sensible that, notwithstanding the great improvements which have been made in the administration of justice, and in some of the institutions of government, yet from various causes arising out of the state of modern society, there is many a burden and many a yoke that presses hard upon the lower classes, and which condemn not a few of them for life to hard and cheerless labour. This, every Christian legislator should know, is displeasing to the God of mercy, who proclaims himself " the Protector of the poor," and " the Judge of the fatherless and widows."