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GREAT BRITAIN'S PRESENT JOYS AND HOPES;
IN TWO SERMONS,
PREACHED IN CHESTER.
THE FORMER ON THE NATIONAL THANKSGIVING DAY, DECEMBER 31, 1706. THE LATTER THE DAY FOLLOWING, BEING NEW-YEAR'S DAY.
PSALM 1XV. 11.
Thou crownest the year with thy goodness.
AMONG other feasts of the Lord, which the Jewish church was appointed to observe, (and many annual feasts they had for one fast,) one is called, The feast of in-gathering at the end of the year according to the civil computation of their year. The feast we are, this day, solemnizing with joy, in communion with all the religious assemblies of our land, being appointed by authority on the last day of the year, according to the vulgar reckoning, may be looked upon as our feast of in-gathering: in it we appear before the Lord, in whom all our joys must terminate, and to whom all our trophies must be consecrated. Remember therefore the law of those feasts, that none must appear before the Lord empty: if our hearts be here empty, what will it avail us that our congregation is full? It is the soul that appears before God: if that be empty of holy joy in God, and holy concern for the welfare of the public, which ought to fill us on such occasions, it is but the carcass and shell, without the life and kernel, of a Thanksgiving-day.
Let this feast at the end of the year be kept to the honour of that God who is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last; both the spring, and the centre, of all our glories. As we must begin every day and year with him, so with him we must end both. For of him, and through him, and to him are
the land of our nativity; in the peace whereof we have our share; and in the praises whereof we are unworthy of the name of Englishmen, if we do not cheerfully bear our part. And how can we sum up our acknowledgments of God's favours to our nation, in more proper words than those of my text, Thou crownest the year with thy goodness. Common providence crowns every year with the goodness of God; but special providences crown some years more than others with it.
I. Every year is crowned with God's goodness. We of this land have as much reason to say so as any other people; for, like Canaan, it is a land which the eyes of the Lord our God are always upon, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year. He who appoints the bounds of men's habitations, has appointed very well for us: The lines are fallen to us in such pleasant places, as forbid us to envy the situation of any of our neighbours, or of any nation under heaven.
As we have daily mercies to give thanks for, in the close of every day; so we have yearly mercies to give thanks for, in the close of every year, even the blessings of "Heaven above," and the "Earth beneath;" for both which we are indebted to him who made heaven and earth, and continues the ordinances of both for the benefit and comfort of that mean, unworthy creature,—man.
1. The annual revolutions of the heavenly bodies, and the benefit we receive by their light and influences, in the several seasons of the year. Summer and winter crown the year; God made both, and both for the service of men,—as well as night and day. The shadows of the evening are not more acceptable to the weary labourer, than the winter
quarters of refreshment are to fatigued armies; and then the spring, that time when kings go forth to war, is as welcome to the bold and faithful soldier, as the morning is to the honest and industrious husbandman, who then goes forth to his work and to his labour."
And he who made summer and winter, has made both very easy and comfortable to our land. So very temperate is our climate, and so well secured from both extremes, that the inconveniences neither of the heat in summer, nor of the cold in winter, are intolerable, nor such obstructions to business and intercourse as they are in some other countries, no farther north than Russia, nor south than Spain. So that if our land produce not such furs as the north does, and such silks as the south, we ought not to complain nature did not provide them, because it had better provided that we should not need them. We can bid both summer and winter welcome; each are beautiful in their season, and neither are a terror to us. May the happy temper of our climate be infused into our minds, and our moderation be known unto all men!
God's covenant with Noah and his sons, by which the seasons of the year were re-settled after the interruption of the deluge, is the crown and glory of every year: and the constant and regular succession of summer and winter, seed-time and harvest," in performance of that promise, is an encouragement to our faith in the covenant of grace, which is established firmly as those ordinances of heaven!1
2. The annual fruits and products of the earth, grass for the cattle, and herbs for the service of men, with these the earth is every year enriched for use; as well as beautified and adorned for show. The harvest is the crown of every year, and the great influence of God's goodness to an evil and unthankful world. And so kind and bountiful is the hand of providence herein, that we are supplied not only with necessary food, for the support of nature, and the holding of our souls in life; but with a great variety of pleasant things for ornament and delight. Our soul is as happy as our climate, and like that of Asher, yields royal dainties.!
Though all years are not alike plentiful, yet— through the wise disposal of Providence, that great house-keeper of the universe-one year serves to help out another, and so to bring in another; so that when we gather much, it proves there is not much over, and when little, there is no great lack. Or, one country supplies another; so that the extremities of famine have never sent us from our Canaan to sojourn in any Egypt for bread, but either we have had it among us, or have been able to fetch it. It is from the goodness of God that we have our yearly corn, and out of that our daily bread, which
even after a plentiful harvest we might come short of, if when we bring it home God did blow upon it.TM In these things God does good to all, and gives them witnesses of his being and providence, his power and bounty, sending rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." And these witnesses to us, will be witnesses against us, if we serve not the Lord our God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, in the abundance of the good things he gives us; but make those things the food and fuel of our lusts, which were given us to be oil to the wheels of our obedience.
Let us thank God for all the blessings of this kind, with which every year of our lives has been crowned; and let not the commonness of them lower their value with us, nor lessen our grateful sense of God's goodness to us in them; nor because they have been hitherto constant, let us therefore imagine that they come of course, or that to-morrow must needs be as this day, and much more abundant: but let the praise of all those blessings which we enjoy by the constant course of nature, be given to the God of nature; to him let us own our obligations for what is past, and on him let us own our dependence for the future, lest we provoke him to take away our corn in the season thereof.
II. Some years are, in a special manner, crowned with the goodness of God more than other years; Thou wilt bless the crown of the year with thy goodness, so the Seventy read it. This year, in which by extraordinary instances, not to be paralleled in the events of former years, thou hast made known thy goodness; things which the former years expected not, and which the following years cannot forget, and will reap the benefit of. This year, which thou hast made to excel other years, and to out-shine them in the historian's annals as much as crowned heads transcend common persons-by reviving the work in the midst of the years, when we were ready to ask, Where are all the wonders which our fathers told us of? And to speak of the years of the right hand of the Most High, as what we have heard and read of, and what our fathers have told us of, but which we expected not to see in our time.
Every year was crowned with God's goodness, but not so as the sixth year was, when God made the earth to bring forth fruit three years,' which were to live upon the products of that. Every year was not a year of release, much less a year of jubilee. The great God never does any thing mean or little; even the common works of nature, and the common course of providence, give proofs of the infinite power and goodness of the Creator and Director of the universe: but sometimes the arm of Omnipotence is in a special manner made bare, and the treasures of divine bounty opened, in which, though
God never out-does himself, (as men are sometimes | of Jacob, where the princes of our people are gathersaid to do upon extraordinary occasions,) he out-ed together, even the people of the God of Abraham.* does what he used to do, that he may awaken a stu- And we trust it shall please the Lord better than pid and unthinking world, to see the goings of our hecatombs of drink-offerings and sacrifices. God, our King, in his sanctuary, and may proclaim himself glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, working wonders.'
Some expositors apply the year, here said to be crowned with God's goodness, to the year of gospel grace, in which redemption was purchased for, and published to, a poor captive world, which is called, The acceptable year of the Lord." That was indeed the year of God's goodness, when the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward men appeared so clear, so bright; that was indeed a crowned year, not to mention the crowns of common years, the fruitful fields and flowery meads. Even the glory of that year in which Israel was brought out of Egypt, and received the law from God's mouth, all the glory which crowned the top of Sinai's mount, was not to be compared with the glory of the everlasting gospel, that glory which excelleth, that crown of glory, which fadeth not away.
But the occasion of the day leads me to apply the text to those fruits and gifts of the divine goodness, with which our land has been crowned this year past, which the house of peers in their address have called," A WONDERFUL YEAR;" and therefore we may take leave to call it so, who must form our ideas of public affairs very much by the sentiments of those, who are better acquainted than we can be with the particular motions of them, and have a clearer insight into their secret springs and tendencies than it is fit for us to pretend to. I know present things are apt to affect us most, and will allow for that; remembering many a thing, which we called a great and mighty thing when it was in the doing, but it afterwards dwindled, and looked very little but not undervaluing what God has wrought for us formerly, as if there had never been the like before, nor prejudging what may yet be in the womb of a kind providence, as if we were never to expect the like again, but only giving it its due weight, and what we think it will hold to, it cannot be denied, but that God has of late done great things for us; so they say among the heathen, and shall not we say it among ourselves?
Blessed be God for the many testimonies borne this day, by better hearts and better tongues than mine, to the glory of God's goodness; but into the great treasury of the nation's offering, into which the great men cast in of their abundance, we are here out of our poverty to cast in our mite: and the righteous acts of the Lord must be rehearsed at the places of drawing water," which were the rendezvous of the meaner sort of people, as well as in the palaces
In this plain and short acknowledgment, let us therefore all join with thankful hearts, Lord, thou crownest the year-THIS year with thy goodness. Observe,
1. God and his providence must be owned in all the blessings of the year. Whatever has been or is our honour, our joy, our hope, comes from God's hand, and he must have the praise of it. We are very unthinking and unwise if we know not, and very unjust and ungrateful if we own not, that God gives us our corn, our wine, our oils, our victories, our wealth, our peace, our all: Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?* whatever it is we glory in: Let him that glories, therefore, glory in the Lord.
It is fit instruments should have their due praise; and the sense the nation has expressed of its obligations to those whom God has honoured in the public service, is a very good indication. It was a sign that Israel remembered not the Lord their God, when they showed not kindness to the house of Gideon ;b but we must lift up our eyes above the hills, as high as heaven, for from thence cometh our help, and our salvation. It is not from our own sword or bow, but from God's right hand and his arm, that our kingdom is great, our power victorious, and our glory bright; and therefore to him must the kingdom, the power, and the glory, be ascribed. Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel; for without him it never had been done, how willingly soever the people offered themselves.d
We believe there is a Providence that governs the world, and rules in all the affairs of it; and good men have the comfort of it every day. Even a heathen could say, Ουκ επί ζην εν τω κόσμω κενω θεων και KEYш πроvolas—There were no living in this world without God and his providence. If Providence be our support in the day of our distress, let Providence have our praise in the day of our triumph. It watches us particularly, let us watch it filially; and since every creature is that to us that God makes it to be, let our thanks pass through the instruments to the great Author of all our salvation.
2. The goodness of God must in a particular manner be acknowledged, as that in which all our springs are, and from which all our streams flow. We must take notice, not only of his wisdom and power in effecting things great and admirable in themselves, but his goodness and mercy in doing that which is happy and advantageous for us; and make that the burthen of all our songs, For he is good, and his mercy endureth for ever; a short song,
but highly honoured, when it was upon the singing | in name, and in honour, this might be the fruit of it,
of these words, that the glory of the Lord took possession of Solomon's temple.e
When we consider what an unworthy people we are, how ungrateful we have been for God's former favours, and what unsuitable returns we have made, we have reason to admire God's goodness, above all his attributes, in the repetition and progress of his blessings; for he is good to the evil and unthankful. If England's God and Saviour had not been a God of infinite mercy, God and not man, in pardoning sin, we had been ruined long since: but his goodness is his glory, and it is ours; in it, the power of the Lord is great, according as he hath spoken.f
Acts of justice to the church's enemies are acts of goodness to her friends. When he that is mighty doth great things, and scatters the proud in the imagi- | nation of their hearts, it is in remembrance of his mercy,—and his mercy therein is on them that fear | him from generation to generation. O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness! Lord, thou art good, and dost good, and thou, therefore, dost good, because thou art good, not for any merit of ours, but for the honour of thy own mercy. 3. These blessings which flow from the goodness of God have crowned this year; he in them has crowned it. That word shall lead us into the detail | of those favours, which we are this day to take notice of, with thankfulness, to the glory of God. A crown signifies three things, and each will be of use to us. (1.) It dignifies and adorns. (2.) It surrounds and encloses. And, (3.) It finishes and completes. And accordingly this year has been dignified, surrounded, and finished with the blessings of God's goodness.
(1.) God hath dignified this year with his goodness. A crown denotes honour. Heaven itself, which is perfect holiness in everlasting honour, is often represented by a crown; a crown of glory which fadeth not away: and a year of honour this has been to our land; the children that shall be born will call it so.
Surely the English nation never looked greater, nor made a better figure, among the nations than it does at this day. Never did it appear more formidable to its enemies, nor more acceptable to its friends; never were the eyes of Europe more upon its counsels; never was its alliance more courted and valued, nor its influences upon all its confederates more powerful and benign; never was English conduct and English courage more admired, nor our English Jerusalem more a praise in the earth. Would to God our goodness grew in proportion to our greatness; (and that would be both the advancement and security of our greatness ;) and that when God, as he promised Israel, makes us high in praise, and
• 2 Chron. v. 13. f Numb. xiv. 17. . g Luke i. 49, 50.
that (as it follows there) we might be a holy people to the Lord our God; that while our forces, and those of our allies, are triumphing over the common enemy of Europe abroad, giving us occasion for one thanksgiving-day after another, virtue and serious godliness might triumph-over vice and profaneness, impiety and immorality, those common enemies of mankind —at home; that the pious proclamation of our gracious queen, and her other endeavours for the suppression of vice, and the support of religion, may not be frustrated; that all our other glories may be made substantial, and may be established—to us, and those that shall come after us, by that righteousness which exalteth a nation; and may not be withered by sin, which is a reproach to any people, especially to ours.
Two crowns are at this day the honour of our English nation, and for both we are highly indebted to the divine goodness: The imperial crown of government at home; and the triumphal crown of victory abroad.
[1.] The imperial crown of government at home is our honour and joy, and that by which we have a great deal of reason to value ourselves, and for which we have no less reason to be thankful to God, who because he loved our land, and his thoughts concerning us were thoughts of good, and not of evil, to give us an expected end, set such a government over us.
Which of all the crowns of Europe can pretend to outshine the English diadem at this day, which is as the sun when it goes forth in its strength? The flowers of our crown are not-like his on the other side of the water, who would be called the king of | glory-gathered out of the spoils of ruined rights and liberties of the subjects, nor stained, like his, with righteous blood. The jewels of our crown are not got by fraud and rapine from injured neighbours; not, like his, seized by an unrighteous war, and a deceitful peace, in a bold and impudent defiance of all that is honourable, just, and sacred: no, the flowers and jewels of our crown are its own against all the world; none of all our neighbours has any demand upon us. Mercy and truth are the splendour of our crown, and justice and righteousness the never-failing supporters of our throne. The globe and sceptre, that is, the wealth and power, of the English sovereign, are both equitable beyond dispute,-who, therefore, may justly assume that motto, and abide by it, Je mien tiendrai—I will hold my own.
How happy, how very happy, is the constitution of our government! such as effectually secures both the just prerogatives of the prince, and the just properties of the subject; so that no good prince can