Serious Reflections on WAR
by Samuel Davies. Preached on January 1, 1757; being a day appointed by the Presbytery of Hanover to be observed as a religious fast, on account of the present state of public affairs.
"From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?" James 4:1
The years that now roll over our heads are not likely to be passed over slightly in the annals of our country; they are big with very important events, in which our own welfare and that of our posterity is closely interested. Our happy country has been for a long time the region of peace; and our years have run on in one uniform tenor of undisturbed tranquility: but for some time past the scene has been changed. We have seen years of terror and alarm, of desolation and slaughter; and the prospect through future years is equally gloomy. We are as yet, blessed be God, a free and happy people! We enjoy peace in the midst of a ravaged, bleeding country: but how long we shall enjoy this distinguished happiness is a dreadful uncertainty! The fate of our country, and all that it contains, hangs in an anxious suspense. Whether the present year will leave us as it found us—is only known to Omniscience.
The Christian improvement of such important events, whether prosperous or afflictive, is the best use we can make of them. And now, while we stand upon the threshold of a new year, it is proper we should pause, and look back to the events which the past year has brought forth, and forward to those with which the coming year is pregnant. The review of the past furnishes us with occasion both for praise and humiliation, and with materials to sing of mercy and of judgment; and the prospect of the future calls for prayer and repentance, to avert those judgments with which we are threatened, and to obtain a favorable outcome to the expeditions in which we may engage. That must be a thoughtless mind indeed, that can learn no useful lessons from the present posture of our affairs, even without a teacher. And that must be an atheistic mind indeed, that is not led, by the present appearances of things, to those exercises of devotion, which such a season so loudly calls for.
The presbytery, therefore, has thought proper to appoint this day to be observed as a religious fast, through all the congregations under their care, on account of the present state of our public affairs: that we may leave the old year and our old guilt, at once, behind us—that we may enter upon the new year as new creatures—that, as we bid adieu to the old year, we may drop a tear, and vent a groan, over the sins we committed in it—that we may not carry with us into this year the heavy load of last year's guilt—but may enter it with earnest prayers, that God would be with us through it, and afford the same safe conduct to our country and nation.
The better to answer the design of this day, I shall briefly recapitulate the affairs of the year past; and offer some conjectures, from the present appearances of things, concerning the events that may be before us in the year upon which we are now entering.
The last seasonable and plentiful summer, after a year of drought and scarcity, ought always to be remembered as a surprising instance of divine bounty. How kind is our heavenly Father, even to the disobedient and unthankful! How rich in mercy, even to the ungrateful abusers of that mercy! With how much long-suffering does he endure even the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction! And oh! the stupid ingratitude of the sons of men! They sin on still, unmoved by the riches of his grace, as well as incorrigible under his rod. What return has God received for rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, and a whole country full of blessings? Alas! not the gratitude of the dull ox to his owner, or the stupid donkey to his master: for "the ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's crib," Isaiah 1:3; but how few among us know or consider our divine Master? How few acknowledge their obligations to God for these blessings?
Last year, as well as that before it, our frontiers have streamed with British blood. There you might see flourishing plantations deserted; families scattered or butchered; some mangled and scalped; some escaped in horror and consternation, with the loss of their earthly all; some captivated by the savages, dragged through forests, and swamps, and mountains, to their towns, and there prostituted to barbarous lust, or condemned to lingering tortures, which, I believe, have hardly ever been equaled on this side hell. This has been the fate of some hundreds of families on the frontiers of Virginia and Pennsylvania; a fate so melancholy, that words cannot describe it, nor are our tenderest compassions equal to it.
Last year also saw the surprising loss of the important harbors and fortresses of Minorca and Oswego; a loss not likely to be soon repaired; a loss occasioned, not by the superior force of the enemy—but it is to be feared, by the cowardice or mismanagement of our own men; which renders it the more mortifying.
The last year was also sadly memorable for disappointed schemes and blasted expeditions. Our expedition against the Shawnese most unaccountably miscarried. The northern expedition against Crown Point, and the other French forts in those parts, which has been so expensive, and from which we entertained such great expectations, has proved abortive last summer, as it did the preceding: and whether ever it can be carried into execution, is dreadfully uncertain. The scheme for increasing our little regiment, by drafting the young men in the militia, did not answer the end; and, instead of fifteen hundred men, we had hardly half that number. In short, there is no scheme that I can think of, that has been successful but the expedition of Colonel Armstrong against an Indian town.
I know that in this world, which is now under an indiscriminate Providence, success is not peculiar to the pious; but victory and defeats happen promiscuously to the good and bad. And yet, I cannot but look upon it as very remarkable, that amidst so many disappointments and defeats, one of the most hazardous expeditions, conducted by one that fears God, and depended upon his strength, should be successful. Such is Colonel Armstrong; a Christian, as well as a soldier. I have known him seeking after Jesus, as a broken-hearted penitent, with cries and tears, for some years. Had we many officers thus prepared to serve their country, we might expect more service from them. Faith made heroes in ancient times; and I am persuaded that piety is the best source of courage still. But alas! how few Christian heroes have we to boast!
Last year we had a treaty with the Catawba Indians, and with the more powerful nation of the Cherokees. We have complied with our engagements, and had high hopes of powerful assistance from them; but we have been disappointed; and as to the latter, we fear they will not even observe a neutrality—but may be seduced to the French interest.
Last year has also heard the declaration of war between Great Britain and France; but what year will see the end of it, or what the outcome will be, is utterly unknown. The commencement of war must always appear a very solemn period to a thoughtful mind. It is the commencement of scenes of blood and desolation as to thousands. Many will lose their lives in it, many their relations, many their estates, and many their liberty: and whether we may not be of the number, is all uncertain.
Now the sword is drawn, and begins to maim and mangle our fellow-men. Now cannons begin to roar, and tear hundreds to pieces; now multitudes sink in the ocean, and multitudes welter in their blood on the field of battle. Now cities blaze, and are turned into ruinous heaps. Now the fate of empire, the cause of religion and liberty, is disputed; and who knows what will be the outcome? Now death devours thousands at a single meal; and multitudes of thoughtless immortals are hurried into the eternal world unprepared; without thought in those destroyed—as to where they are going; or in the destroyers—as to where they are sending them. These are the dire effects of war; and are not these very tragic and affecting? and must they not render the commencement of a war very solemn and terrible?
Last year has been remarkable for very grand alliances. The empress queen, who is indebted to Great Britain for the preservation of her dominions, and for the advancement of her husband to be emperor of Germany, and for whom our king bravely fought in person, has perfidiously and ungratefully deserted us, and entered into a confederacy with France. The empress of Russia has acted the same treacherous part, and acceded to that alliance, though bound by treaty to furnish us with no fewer than fifty-five thousand men, upon demand. The Dutch, intimidated by the French, have refused to fulfill their obligations to us. The brave king of Prussia has entered into an alliance with Britain; and is, indeed, the only important and active ally we have in the world. He has distinguished the last year with one illustrious victory over the Austrians. And may the same success still attend him in every good cause!
To sum up this review, the last year has been a very important period in the history of our country. Terror and devastation have stalked through the earth; and streams of human blood have been running by sea and land.
To all which I may add, that God has visited a part of this congregation with a deadly contagious disease, which has thinned the neighborhood, and swept off some families almost entirely. Blessed be God; it is now stopped: but, certainly, it befits us always to remember that gloomy time, and reap instruction from the graves of our friends and neighbors, which are now so thick among us.
And now, may we not learn from this summary, that we and our nation are a guilty people, and that a provoked God has, by this succession of calamitous events, loudly proclaimed his displeasure against us? Have our undertakings prospered, like those of a people in favor with God? Far from it. And hence, we may also learn that we are now loudly called to repentance, humiliation, and prayer. Let us repent of those sins which have brought these calamities upon us; let us "humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt us in due time;" 1 Peter 5:6; and let us cry mightily to God, that he would "turn away from his fierce anger, that we do not perish," Jonah 3:9.
Let us now look forward to the year ahead of us. Blessed be God, we are blind to future events; and therefore incapable of anticipating the pain they might afford us, if known. But we may, at least, venture to form conjectures, from the present appearances of things. Who knows, but still darker times are before us? Who knows, but the measure of our iniquities is at length full, and God is about to call a guilty people to account? There may be a winnowing time at hand, to try and purge the Protestant churches. Popery may die hard; and its last struggles may throw the Christian world into confusion, in which thousands may be overwhelmed, and we among others.
The continent of Europe is likely to be the seat of war; and whether our brave ally, the king of Prussia, will be able to stand his ground against the formidable confederacy formed against him, is dismally uncertain. The preservation of the Protestant religion, and turning the scale of war in our favor, depends upon his success; and, therefore, though at this vast distance, we should earnestly pray, that a gracious Providence would still guard and prosper him.
Great Britain is in anxious expectation of an invasion from France; and what may be the consequence, is all unknown; though thus much may be very probably expected, that should it be so much as attempted, it will cost much blood and the lives of thousands.
Many captures will probably be made at sea this year, by which great numbers will be reduced to poverty; and, it is not unlikely, many naval engagements will happen, in which multitudes of human limbs and lives will be lost. We may also expect that this year, like the last, will produce frequent skirmishes between our men and the French and Indian savages; and that these will continue their desolating and bloody inroads upon our frontiers, and probably penetrate father into the country than they have hitherto done.
It is also likely, the expedition against Crown Point, and other French forts and settlements, will be again set on foot; but the outcome is dreadfully uncertain.
It is likewise probable, that some grand decisive blow may be struck, in a general engagement, which may determine our fate; but what the determination will be, is not likely to be known until it happen.
Who knows but the Indian savages may generally desert us, and, in conjunction with the French, pour down upon us like a torrent? And if they should meet with assistance from some of our own slaves, how inconceivably terrible would be the consequence! What unexampled scenes of blood and slaughter, of desolation and torture, would fill our land! This, alas! is not so unlikely as we could wish.
In short, this year, like the last, is likely to be a turbulent, bloody season. The potsherds of the earth are dashing together, and thousands are broke to pieces in the conflict. Alas! what a world do we live in! What a restless, troubled ocean! What an aceldema, a field of blood! What savages are the sons of men, biting and devouring one another!
Now, in the present state of things, the question in my text is very proper; "Whence come wars and fightings among us?" What infernal cause is it that sets the world in arms? that sets reasonable creatures of the same race, upon disturbing and destroying one another? Whence is it that the art of war, that is, the art of killing one another with the greatest skill, is a necessary science? Whence is it that a great warrior, that is, a great destroyer of mankind, should be an honorable and celebrated character? Whence is it that swords and guns, and other instruments of death, have become necessary utensils in life, and a piece of furniture for kingdoms?
To such questions my text gives the true answer: "Wars and fightings among you, come from hence, even from your lusts, which war in your members." This holds true with regard to lesser societies, and particular churches: contentions, quarrels, schisms, envying, and strife, proceed from this turbulent source. Families, neighborhoods, and particular churches, would be, circles of peace and tranquility, were it not for the ungovernable lusts of some of their members. It was probably to these lesser societies that the apostle immediately referred; but this assertion will also hold true in a more extensive sense; for wars and fightings among nations proceed from the same evil source, even from their lusts!
The lust of dominion, the lust of riches, the lust of vain glory and applause, have set the world in arms from age to age; and the quarrel still continues and is never likely to be ended, while those restless lusts, from whence it springs, remain predominant in the hearts of men. One man has no right to superiority over others, except it was originally derived from their consent. What, then—but the lawless lust for power, could prompt a man to risk his own life, to embroil nations, to lay countries waste, and to destroy the lives of thousands of his fellow-men, that he may exercise dominion over the survivors?
The needs of nature are few, and easily satisfied; and every country produces the necessities for the support of its inhabitants. What, then—but the lawless lust for riches, or an insatiable avarice for the possessions of others, can cause nations to burst through their bounds, and make inroads upon the property of their neighbors? How peaceably did we live, until France began to imagine that she needed more plantations— that she needed a tobacco colony—-that she needed the whole of the fur trade, and so forth? But now this unbounded covetousness has set her in arms; has brought upon us and upon herself all the calamities of war; and who knows what will be the consequence?
Man is not really a being of such mighty importance, as that he should set the present and future generations a talking about him, and admiring his exploits. Nor is the breath of popular applause such a substantial good, as to deserve the eager pursuit of a reasonable being. And yet, the lust for fame can carry a man through a life of fatigues and dangers to drench countries in blood, and throw away the lives of their inhabitants, merely to get a name—the name of a great destroyer, a public robber, and a murderer of his species! For that is generally the import of the names of heroes and great warriors—of the Alexanders and Caesars of the world.
What a blind, infatuated, and yet powerful lust is this! Matters of justice and property between nations, are not so intricate in themselves—but that they might be amicably decided, were it not for the strength of lust. But that they should immediately fly to arms, and shed each other's blood—that matters of property should not be determined—but by taking away the lives of the proprietors! How astonishing is this! How shocking an evidence of the horrid power of lust over them!
These lusts, says the apostle, which produce wars in the world without—also war in your members. There the war begins—and thence it circulates through the world. These mutinous and rebellious lusts raise an internal war in the man's own breast. There they commit ravages upon his own soul, and throw all into a ferment. There they produce confusion and every evil work. They set the man at variance with HIMSELF and all about him. He and his conscience are often engaged in conflict; nay, he dares to resist even the Holy Spirit himself; the Spirit of all grace and goodness.
His selfish, proud, and avaricious lusts set him at variance also with OTHERS. Hence proceed broils, animosities, and quarrels in neighborhoods and families which turn them into a little hell. Were the fire of lust within but quenched—these flames would immediately go out! But a depraved heart, like an unruly tongue, "sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by hell." James 3:6. When these lusts inflame the hearts of public people, of kings and their ministers, they set the world in a blaze around them; and their subjects, fired with the same passions, add fuel to augment the flame!
You see the proper original SOURCE of war, that it is the lusts of men; and my present design is, to make some reflections upon war as proceeding from this source, which may assist us in the business of this day, and in a profitable improvement of the present posture of our public affairs.
First, This subject naturally leads us to reflect upon the fallen, degenerate state of human nature.Cannons and trumpets, and all the horrid noise of war, proclaim aloud this melancholy truth—that we are a race of apostate creatures, who have fallen from our original rectitude, and have become the slaves of imperious and savage lusts.
What is this world—but a field of battle? What are soldiers—but destroyers of mankind by profession! What are heroes and conquerors—but the most bold and successful butchers of the human race! What is the history of nations, from their first rise to the present day but a tragic story of wars, struggles for dominion, encroachments upon the possessions of others, bloody battles and sieges; ravaged countries, ruined cities, and heaps of slain? How many hundred thousand souls has the sword of war cut off, in Europe only, within these past sixty years?
And thus it generally is, and has been, all the world over. The earth is peopled with Ishmaelites: their hand against every man, and every man's hand against them. Twenty years of peace is a rare thing among the nations. The ocean of mankind has but few and short calms; and it is soon tossed into a tumult, and the outrageous waves dash, and foam, and break against one another. Human blood is streaming almost incessantly by sea and land; and now the tide is likely to swell unusually high—a tide of human blood!
Swords and guns, the instruments of death, are become necessary utensils, like the tools of agriculture or architecture. Men are tearing one another to pieces about the trifles of time—which a few years at most will tear from all their hands. A thousand swords are dividing this atom earth, among a thousand lords; and yet, strange! they cannot agree after all. What burning resentment! What sullen enmity! What envenomed rancor! What barbarities, and tortures, and eager thirst of blood! What public authorized murders! MURDERS, I say; for if the man who takes away his neighbor's life unjustly is guilty of murder, certainly those who commence an unjust war, and thus take away the lives of thousands, perhaps at one blow, are still more deeply guilty of murder.
One scholar computes that the number of men killed in the field of battle amounts, at least, to forty thousand million, from the beginning of the world to the year 1748; and to this, adding the havoc, calamity, and destruction attending war, namely, famine, disease, pestilence, and massacres in cold blood—he thinks he may fairly double the last total, and make the number no less than eighty thousand million. And, as the number of men existing at a time upon the earth never exceeds five hundred million, the number of men cut off by the sword of war, or its attendant evils, in all ages, must, at least, be equal to a hundred and sixty times the number of souls this day on the globe. What a prodigious and shocking computation is this!
This is a sketch of the history of the world. But is this the history of mankind in their paradisaical state? Would innocent creatures thus tear one another to pieces? Would innocent creatures be thus actuated with such malignant passions? Did human nature first come out of the hands of its Creator—thus inflamed with the passions of hell? Is it not plain, that the great fundamental law of all morality is not now deeply impressed upon the hearts of men, namely, that we should "love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and our neighbor as ourselves." Luke 10:27. The love of God, and the love of man, if they were the ruling passions of the human soul, would soon put an end to these confusions and blood-sheddings; would turn this earth into a heaven, a region of perfect peace and universal benevolence! And does not the strength, the inveteracy, and the universality of such infernal passions, prove that they are innate—and that we are all born corrupt; and are, from the womb, in a state of universal degeneracy?
"O fallen, fallen man! in what mournful strains shall we lament over you! The offspring of God degenerated —the most intricate and noble piece of Divine workmanship in our world—shattered, broken, and lying in ruins!"
Who can repair these ruins, and raise the noble frame again? None but he who formed it at first. There is need of a new creation; and consequently of a new creating powers. This, and this only, is the effectual cure of war and all its bleeding wounds. This is the only inviolable bond of peace; the only firm cement of divided nations.
Friends, while we are surrounded with the terrors of war, let us learn our own degeneracy, mourn over it, and cry for the exertion of that power which alone can form us anew, and repair these wastes and desolations. The present war, indeed, on our side, is just, is unavoidable; and consequently our duty. But how corrupt must this world be, when it is even our duty to weaken and destroy our fellow-men as much as we can! How corrupt must the world be, when peace itself, the sweetest of all blessings, has become an evil, and war is to be chosen before it? When it has become our duty to shed blood! When martial valor, or courage to destroy man, who was made in the image of God, has become a virtue! When it has become glorious to kill men! And when we are obliged to treat a whole nation—as a gang of robbers and murderers, and bring them to punishment! This certainly shows that they are degenerated creatures; and as they share in the same natures with us—we must draw the same conclusion concerning ourselves! Let us, therefore, humble ourselves, and mourn in dust and ashes before the Lord; and let us lament the general depravity of the world. But,
Secondly, This subject may naturally lead us to reflect upon the just resentments of God against the sin of man.
War is not only the natural result of the depraved passions of mankind—but a just punishment from God for that depravity. It is at once the natural effect, and the judicial punishment of their lusts. As innocent creatures, under the influence of universal benevolence, would not injure one another, or fly to war—so God would not allow the calamities of war to fall upon them, because they would not have deserved it.
But alas! mankind have revolted from God, and incurred his displeasure; and he employs them to avenge his quarrel and do the part of executioners upon one another! They are fighting his quarrel, even when they least design it. The sword of war—is God's sword; he designs by it to chastise his children; to punish his enemies: and in both, to testify his resentments against sin. It is sin which sets the Omnipotent in arms against this rebellious province of his dominions, and constrains him to let war loose among us, as the executioner of his vengeance!
God is angry with the wicked every day; and hence it is that, according to that striking piece of imagery, he calls for the sword, and says, "Sword, go through the land, cut off man and beast from it." Ezekiel 45:17. If, therefore, we expostulate and pray with Jeremiah, "Oh sword of the Lord, how long will it be before you are quiet? Put up yourself into your scabbard; rest and be still!" we have the same answer, "How can it be quiet, seeing the Lord has given it a charge?" a charge against his enemies; "there has he appointed it." Jeremiah 47:6, 7.
Now if this is the case—is it any wonder that the sword has received a commission against our country and nation—seeing our land is full of sin against the holy One of Israel? The transgressors have come to the full among us; and almost all flesh have corrupted their way. "There is none righteous; no, not one!" Romans 3:10. The fear and love of God—are almost lost among his own creatures, in his own world! This is a subject I have often enlarged upon; but, alas! how much in vain, as to multitudes!
They will sin on still—in spite of warnings and remonstrances. And all the most solemn and serious addresses to them on this head, seem but idle harangues, or fashionable pulpit cant. But I must tell you once more, in serious sadness, whether you hear, or whether you forbear—that our country and nation are likely to sink under the burden of guilt, accumulated from so many quarters, and for so many ages; that without a reformation, we are likely to be an enslaved, ruined people; and that the present calamities of war are the punishments of the divine hand upon an ungrateful, rebellious nation!
Indeed, sirs, we shall find it an evil thing and a bitter—that we have forsaken the Lord our God. Sin will be found in the outcome—to be the bane of society in this world—as well as of souls in the world to come. And unless we learn this by gentler instructions, we are likely to learn it by the painful lessons of experience. And, oh! how just and fit is it, that creatures in rebellion against God, should be left to avenge his quarrel upon one another; that a world of sin—should be made a field of blood!
Indeed, this unavoidably follows according to the course of nature. The love of God, and the love of our fellow-creatures, are the grand cements of the moral world, and the bonds of social union. And when these are broken, what must follow—but mutual enmity and hostilities? Then the character of mankind is "hateful, and hating one another." Titus 3:3.
Friends, God is proclaiming by the sound of cannons and the martial trumpet, what he has often proclaimed unheard by the gentler voice of his Word, namely, that he has a just controversy with our world for its rebellion. And shall not this make us solicitous to be reconciled to him? Blessed be his name, the quarrel may yet be made up. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." 2 Corinthians 5:19. And if we accept of reconciliation in
this way, we shall again be received into favor. We shall be justified by his grace, and so "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1.
Sinners, what do you think of this proposal? I seriously propose it to you; and it demands your most solemn attention. What do you think of being reconciled to God this day, through Jesus Christ; that he may no longer have any ground of controversy with you, nor with your country on your account. I honestly warn you, that if you still persist in your rebellion, "He will sharpen his sword: he has bent his bow and made it ready. He has prepared for you the instruments of death—he has ordained his arrows against you!" Psalm 7:12, 13. "He has for a long time been silent, and restrained himself." But he will not always bear with you! "The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man; he shall stir up wrath, like a man of war: he shall cry, yes, roar: he shall prevail against his enemies: he will destroy and devour at once." Isaiah 42:13, 14.
O sinners, are you able to engage the Omnipotent in battle? Will you not rather fall at his feet, and submit? Methinks the terror of such declarations as these from his own lips, may confound and overwhelm you. "If I sharpen my glittering sword, and my hand takes hold of judgment, I will render vengeance to my enemies, and will reward those who hate me; I will make my arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh!" Deuteronomy 32:41, 42. Oh bring not this intolerable doom upon yourselves! But submit to the overtures of grace now, while you may; while God is reconcilable, and even entreats and beseeches you to be reconciled to him. Then this almighty Enemy will be your almighty Friend; and his protection will render you secure in all the calamities of life, and through all eternity! How happy would it be, if war among the nations—might be the occasion of peace with God! I am sure it is a loud call to this; and oh! that we may listen to it and obey! But,
Thirdly, The consideration of war as proceeding from the lusts of men, may excite us to the most zealous endeavors, in our respective characters, to promote a spiritual reformation.
A thorough reformation would be the most effectual expedient for a lasting peace among mankind, and to put an end to the ravages and devastations of war. Were their tempers formed upon the model of Christianity, that humane, gentle, benevolent religion of the harmless Lamb of God—then they would then live like friends, in the bonds of love; they would observe the rules of justice towards each other; they would naturally care for each other's welfare, and promote it, as that of another self. Therefore, if we would contribute to the peace of the world, let us labor to reform it. It is but little, indeed, that you and I can do, in so narrow a sphere, for a general reformation: but let not that little be undone—at least, let it not be unattempted.
Let us first begin at our own hearts. Let it be our next care to reform our families; then let us extend our endeavors to our neighborhood, and to our country, as far as our influence can reach. Small and unpromising beginnings have sometimes, under the divine blessing, ripened into a very grand and happy result.
Twelve fishermen, with the power of God along with them, did more to reform and save the world, than was ever done before or since! And who knows what happy effects might follow, if even this small, contemptible company here, should resolutely set themselves upon promoting a spiritual reformation in our country, with a humble dependence upon God for success, and exhibiting an example of it in our own practice. In the name of God, let us unanimously make the attempt. The attempt is glorious and God-like; and if it should fail of success—it will not fail of its reward.
Let our lives be a loud testimony against the wickedness of the times; and a living recommendation of despised religion. Let our children be instructed in the knowledge of Christ; and let us labor to make them sincere, practical Christians; let us exhort each other daily, lest any of us be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, Hebrews 3:13; let us by our conversation and advices endeavor to bring our friends and neighbors in love with true religion, and to be solicitous about the concerns of eternity. Let us zealously concur in every scheme that is likely to have a godly influence upon our country. And oh! let us earnestly pray for our country; for we can never be sufficiently sensible, that the Holy Spirit is the only effectual reformer of the world. And, blessed be God, we are encouraged to hope that he will give his Holy Spirit to those who ask him, Luke 11:13; which leads me to add,
Fourthly, that the consideration of war as proceeding from the lusts of men—may make us sensible of our need of an outpouring of the divine Spirit.
"When He comes—He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment!" John 16:8. I must repeat it again, that the Holy Spirit is the only effectual reformer of the world! It is He alone who can effectually "reprove the world of sin." If He is absent—legislators may make laws against crime;
philosophers may reason against vice;
ministers may preach against sin;
conscience may remonstrate against evil;
the divine law may prescribe and threaten hell;
the gospel may invite and allure to heaven;
but all will be in vain!
The strongest arguments, the most melting entreaties, the most alarming denunciations from God and man, enforced with the highest authority, or the most compassionate tears—all will have no effect—all will not effectually reclaim one sinner, nor gain one sincere convert to righteousness! Paul, Apollos, and Peter, with all their apostolic abilities, can do nothing, without the Holy Spirit. Paul may plant the seed—and Apollos may water it; but God alone can make it grow! "So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow!" 1 Corinthians 3:6, 7. He is all in all.
"For your land will be overgrown with thorns and briers," says Isaiah, "until the Spirit is poured down upon us from heaven!" Isaiah 32:13,15; that is, their country shall be laid waste, and made a mere wilderness of briers and thorns, by the ravages of war; or the people themselves shall be like briers and thorns—fruitless, noxious, and troublesome.
In this language the prophet Micah describes the same people: "the best of them is as a brier; the most upright is sharper than a thorn-hedge." Micah 7:4. Such shall they continue, "until the Spirit is poured down upon us from heaven!" But when the happy time comes, "Then the wilderness will become a fertile field, and the fertile field will become a lush and fertile forest." Isaiah 32:13-18.
That is—this effusion of the Spirit shall put an end to the desolations of war, and extinguish those flaming passions, from which it proceeds. This shall introduce the blessing of lasting and extensive peace: for, as it is there added, "Justice will rule in the wilderness and righteousness in the fertile field. And this righteousness will bring peace. Quietness and confidence will fill the land forever. My people will live in safety, quietly at home. They will be at rest!" This is the blessed effect of the outpouring of the Spirit; and never will peace and harmony be established in this jangling world—until this Divine Agent takes the work in hand.
It is He alone—who can melt down the obstinate hearts of men into love and peace!
It is He alone—who can soften their rugged and savage tempers, and transform them into mutual benevolence!
It is He alone—who can quench those lusts that set the world on fire, and implant the opposite virtues and graces. Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, are mentioned by Paul, as the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22, because the Spirit alone is the author of them. And if these dispositions were predominant in the world—what a serene, calm, peaceful region would it be, undisturbed with the hurricanes of human passions!
"If you bite and devour one another," says the apostle, "take heed that you are not consumed by one another: this I say then," as the best preservative from this evil:
"Walk in the Spirit—and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh." Galatians 5:15, 16. O friends! did we all walk in the Spirit—what peace and harmony would reign in families and in neighborhoods! Were the Spirit of God poured out upon the nations, we would no more hear the sound of the war trumpet, nor see garments rolled in blood; but peace would spring up in every country as its native growth, and allure contending kingdoms into friendship with its fragrance!
Oh, how much do we need the influence of the blessed Spirit to calm the tumult of the world, to restrain the ambition and avarice of princes and their ministers, and to quench the savage thirst of blood! How much do we need him for a purpose more important still; that is, to make this gospel, this neglected, inefficacious gospel, which sinners are now hardy enough to trifle with, to make it powerful to their salvation—to make the weapons of our warfare mighty to the pulling down the strong-holds of Satan, and to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ! How much do we need him to break the heart of stone, to enlighten the dark mind, and to comfort the desponding soul! This kind office, alas! we cannot perform to a dear child or friend. But oh! the joyful thought! He is able!
And how are we to expect this blessing? In what way is it to be obtained? The answer is, Pray for it. Pray frequently, pray fervently, "Lord, your Spirit! Oh give me your Spirit! He is the blessing I need; He is the blessing families, and nations, and the whole race of man, need." Pray in your retirements, pray in your families, pray in warm devotions, pray without ceasing—for this great fundamental blessing. O friends! had many among us done this, the Spirit would not be so much withdrawn; and should many now do this, he would not be long absent.
Hear what encouragement Christ has given to prayer, in this particular: "Ask—and it shall be given you; seek—and you shall find; knock—and it shall be opened unto you. If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children—how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:9-13. Therefore, friends, let us earnestly cry to God for his Spirit. Would you beg for bread—when famishing? Would you beg for life—if condemned to die? Oh then beg for the Spirit: for this gift is of more importance to you and the world, than daily bread, or life itself!
I shall conclude with TWO PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS:
The one is, "humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time." 1 Peter 5:6. You have seen that war is both an evidence and effect of the corruption of our nature, and of the righteous indignation of God against us on this account; and in both these views—it loudly calls upon you to humble yourselves.
The other advice is but a repetition of what I have already recommended to you, namely: "Pray without ceasing." 1 Thess. 5:17. No sign could be more encouraging than to see the praying spirit spreading among us; to see those who have any influence in heaven through their divine Mediator, using their interest in behalf of their country. The efficacy of believing prayer is very great. The encouragements to this duty are many; and I am sure our need of it is peculiarly urgent; therefore, "continue instant in prayer." Romans 12:12.
It is but little we can do to promote a national reformation, much less an universal reformation among all nations. The world will sin on still, in spite of all our endeavors; but, if divine grace concurs—we may do much to reform the little spot where we dwell. Every man is of some importance in his family, and perhaps in his neighborhood; and why should we not begin at home? Why should we not labor to reform the place where we live? Why should we not endeavor to become the salt of the earth—to season the huge mass of corruption—the light of the world, to dart some rays of light through the Egyptian darkness which hangs over our country; and as a city set upon a hill, conspicuous to all around us, for the beauties of holiness? Oh, let us labor to bring about so happy a revolution; let us be ambitious to take the precedence in turning to the Lord, and to be the first fruits of the glorious harvest of righteousness, which we hope for, before the consummation of all things.
To engage you the more, I have the pleasure to inform you, that the synod of New York, and the ministers in Connecticut, have appointed, that on the last Thursday in every month, during these troublesome times, the congregations under their care, should meet together in little societies, and spend a few hours in united prayer to God for our country and nation. And I earnestly recommend it to you, my dear people, to join with your friends in various parts, upon that day, in so seasonable and important a duty; and who knows what extensive advantage thousands may receive from the prayers of a few? They will, at least, return with blessings into your own bosoms!