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Man observes, “ as when one letteth out watero." It rages and swells more and more, till it makes an inundation, and overflows a country.
The contest between the men of Judah and the Israelites was at first little more than a strong passion for the King's interest and their country's good ; joined with some impatience, that any should rival or go beyond them in it. Thus far it was laudable and generous; and had it stopped here, all had been well. But they proceeded to quarrel with each other, until both were inflamed to the utmost. A rupture ensues, a secession follows, and the next step is rebellion.
2. You may please to observe further, that the contest, however sharp and fierce before, had never come to that height it did, had not there happened to be a Sheba amongst them, to blow the trumpet to sedition and rebellion. Artful representations, and studied disguises; invidious constructions, and malicious aggravations; these were what fired their passions to the utmost, and turned them into fury. Then they were prepared to go any lengths with their leader. Then they flew off in rage from that very King, whom, but a little while before, they beheld with the greatest respect and veneration.
And here I cannot but reflect a little upon the nature of incendiaries, the leaders and promoters of tumults and seditions ; how mischievous a sort of men they are ; how dangerous to any state or kingdom. Generally speaking, the bulk or body of any people are disposed to be peaceable and quiet. They love to mind their own proper business; and would of themselves be easy almost under any government. They would never think of rebelling, till loaded with oppressions ; such, as it were better to die, than to bear any longer. Reason, or the love of peace, or the public good, or their own private interest, would incline them to lie still, and bind them down to submission and order. There is no pleasure or safety. in seditions and riots, which should make men fond of being active in them. They are first drawn in by artificial insinuations and crafty pretences : such as they have neither skill, nor inclination, nor leisure to inquire into, but, as Scripture observes of some that followed Absalom, “ they go in “ their simplicity, and they know not any thing.” The consequence however is the same, when once their passions are wound
o Prov. xvii. 14.
p 2 Sam. XV. II.
up to a pitch, whatever were the motives, real or imaginary, which raised them. This their designing leaders know; and they understand too well what use to make of it. But,
3. We are next to take notice, what absurd and inconsistent things men are hurried into, by a predominant humour or passion; heightening and increasing those very evils, seeming or real, which they seek to redress.
The apprehension of being second only in the King's favour was what much afflicted the men of Israel. What course do they take to remedy this grievance ? Not the true and only pious or prudent method, that of patience and meekness, of dutiful and loyal behaviour, of zeal for the King's service, and for the honour and interest of their country; which must have gained them the favour and affection of their sovereign, and the love and esteem of all wise and good men: but the direct contrary. They rebel against that sovereign, whose favour they so much desired, and slight the happiness which they courted. And how were they now to better their circumstances, or to redress the grievance complained of? Could they hope for a milder, gentler, or better prince than King David ? Or could any of them be secure that, under a new government, they might not as soon break out into factions and parties, and as soon supplant or ruin one another? Besides, how could they expect that God should give success to a design so ill formed, and laid in perfidiousness and treason? Or if he should, that the success itself might not prove a snare and a curse to them; as it is the usual method of Divine Providence to make the prosperity of wicked men, first or last, an inlet to their greater misery? We find this eminently verified in those very Israelites, within a reign or two after. They were displeased at some rough usage they had met with from their king Rehoboam; and they “rebelled against the house of David 9" from that day. This God was pleased to permit, partly in consequence of what he had denounced against Solomon '; and partly by way of penalty to the Israelites themselves; who had been partakers in his sins. The issue of this was, that, as they revolted from their lawful sovereign, so they revolted from their religion too, and went out of rebellion into idolatry. When principles of morality once sit loose upon men, it is not to be expected that principles of religion will stay long. But to proceed.
9 1 Kings xii. 19.
r i Kings xi. 12, 33.
Another grievance which lay heavy upon the minds of the Israelites was the appearing slight and contempt thrown upon them by the men of Judah. But is sedition the way to take off contempt? Or is rebellion the ready road to honour ? Would not a manly and generous behaviour, a steady loyalty to their lawful sovereign, a noble ardour for the true good of their country, not to be shaken by any private resentment or impotent passion ; would not this have abundantly retrieved their honour, and have set them above contempt and obloquy? Would not this have been infinitely better than to betray a weak mind, or a corrupt heart; the surest way to render any person contemptible, as the contrary is to create reverence and respect? Besides that if such designs fail of success, (as they commonly do,) the contempt is so far from being removed, that it returns upon them with double and triple weight. Thus it proved in the case before us. God was pleased to defeat their wicked purposes. Their leader suffered, and the rest were content to bear much greater ignominy than what they first complained of.
Another thing, which we may reasonably suppose afflicted the Israelites, was, that they knew not how otherwise to be revenged on the men of Judah. But it should have been considered, that all such desire of revenge is both foolish and hurtful: hurtful to the world, and most of all generally to the enraged persons themselves, both as to the inward torment it carries with it, and the ill effects and consequences of it. The mischief which they intended for cthers, (as is usual in such cases,) fell chiefly upon themselves. And the unhappy men found, to their sorrow, that it would have been infinitely better to have borne a slight grievance, than to have ventured upon unwarrantable methods of redressing it.
4. You may please to observe further, how strong and invincible the prevalence of some passions is for the time, maugre all the remonstrances of religion, or even common humanity. As to religion, could not the men of Israel have reflected what a great and crying sin they were running into ? That they were to lift up
their hands against the Lord's anointed; the man whom they knew to be chosen of God, “ to feed his people Israel,” and to be " a captain over Israel ;" whom they had solemnly sworn to, or “made a league with, in Hebron before the Lord," and “ anointed king over Israel ®.” Notwithstanding all which, upon slight pretences, they rebel against him. So little does a sense of religion avail, when men are under the power of strong resentments, and so true is it, (however melancholy a truth it be,) that nature, corrupt nature, will, for the most part, prevail over duty and principle. And hence it is, that the strength of any government, generally, lies more in the affections, than in the consciences of the people. This is the less to be wondered at, since even the common principles of humanity, strong as they are in most persons, yet bend and yield to unruly passions. Had the rebel Israelites had any pity or compassion left either for enemies or friends; any tenderness for their native country, which they were endeavouring to lay waste; any bowels for their brethren, whose blood they had a mind to spill ; any consideration for the cries or tears, the frights or agonies, of such as they were blindly hasting on to ravage, plunder, murder, and destroy ; they could never have entered, upon so slight motives, into so rash and desperate an undertaking. But I proceed,
5. To observe, what is of more comfortable consideration to us, that such violent and impetuous passions, as make men deaf to the remonstrances of religion and humanity, seldom last long.
No sooner was Sheba, the promoter of the mischief, removed, but the people whom he had seduced, cooled into duty and order, grew calm and easy. As it was a sudden passion which hurried them on, fed by mistakes and misconstructions; so it died upon the first check and disappointment. They returned to their allegiance, and the King lived peaceably ever after.
A state of anger and resentment, fierceness and bitterness, is not the natural state of man's mind. It requires some outward force and violence, as to raise it at first, so to keep it up afterwards. Afflictions will bow it down, or reflections calm it, or time will wear it out, if no new fuel be administered to revive it. Thus it happened in the instance which I have been considering: and thus, I hope, it hath happened also in the nearer instance which I am next to consider; and which gave occasion to this day's joyful thanksgiving.
But when I say joyful, mistake me not, as if I thought it all matter of joy and triumph, without a proper mixture of com
passion, shame, and sorrow. This is not like the triumph over a foreign enemy; nor does it become us to shew our rejoicings in the same manner, or with the same unbounded freedoms. For though the blessing of Heaven be as great, or greater, and the Divine goodness as remarkable, in putting an end to a rebellion, and preventing a civil war at home, as in repeated victories abroad : yet there is a tenderness due to the misfortunes of our fellow subjects; and not of those only who spent their loyal blood in the service of their king and country, but of them likewise who were unwarily drawn in and enticed the other way, and have either fallen in battle, or have died ingloriously by the hands of justice: or of such as still survive ; but are too much filled with shame or grief, to rejoice with us; and such also as have their minds so unhappily divided, between private affections and the public good, that they are not yet able to have a full and perfect sense of the blessings of Heaven, or to relish the happiness of their country. These and the like considerations must cast a damp upon our joy, on this occasion; and render it something like to what a man feels within himself, when by the loss of his limbs he has had the good fortune to preserve his body. This shall make me the more tender of speaking to the case in hand : and it were well if we could draw a veil over what can hardly be remembered without a silent shame and sorrow for it. I shall however proceed to my second general head, namely,
II. To make some brief application of the foregoing reflections to the occasion of this day's solemnity.
I shall not minutely consider (nor indeed do I pretend to know) the birth and rise, or the particular springs and motives of the late rebellion.
1. Only I shall beg leave to observe in general, what is open and visible to all, that passion and resentment had the greatest hand in it; as it is the best excuse for it: I mean in those who were professed Protestants; and such of them especially, as had no scruple about the settlement in the late reign, nor in the beginning of this, nor since, if we may be allowed to think (as certainly we may) that a man is not influenced by any principles of conscience, who at the same time swears, and acts against it.
Title indeed was here pretended, as is usual in such cases. But whoever considers that the pretended title had been, in a manner, universally disowned and disclaimed in the two preced