PRINTED BY T. AND J. SWORDS
No. 160 Pearl-Street
THE subject of my Address to you, on the present occasion, is taken from the charge given by GOD to his servant Moses, respecting the order which was to be observed by the children of Israel in their encampments in the wilderness. This charge we find recorded in the first chapter, of the book of Numbers, in the following words: The children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp, and every man by his own standard, throughout their hosts. But the Levites shall pitch round about the Tabernacle of testimony; that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel.
Although this injunction was originally given to a particular people, the descendants of Abraham; Christians in every age, and of all nations, may draw from it much useful instruction. It is more especially [3/4] worthy of our regard who live in these last days of scoffing infidelity, and of avowed hostility to Christ and his religion. Whoever yields a dispassionate attention to the present state of religion in the world, and to the prevailing manners of the day, cannot but perceive, with extreme concern, that a spirit of innovation prevails to an alarming degree; that with the most mischievous intentions, opposition is continually made to the established opinions of the world; and, among other things, that it appears to be one of the subtile arts of the great Deceiver of mankind, to weaken the restraints of law; to seduce well-meaning persons into error and vice, by dissolving entirely the connection between religion and government; by discarding the religious principle as altogether unnecessary in the management of the affairs of civil society.
Far different from this was the determination of GOD himself with respect to the people of Israel. Under the Mosaic Economy, which was a dispensation of divine wisdom, religious and civil institutions were [4/5] intimately blended together. In this order of things; in the government of this nation, GOD is every where present; all relates to him; every part of it is expressly calculated to excite in the hearts of the people the love and reverence which are due to his holy name, and thus to secure rectitude of conduct in every condition and relation of life, upon the principle of responsibility to the almighty Sovereign of the universe. Of the truth of this observation, the words which I have just cited afford a remarkable instance. It is my intention, first, to explain them; and then to draw from them such observations as the present circumstances of the Christian Church seem to require, and which are directly applicable to the design of this Ecclesiastical Convention.
It has already been observed, that GOD is here directing his people in what manner they were to encamp, during their march through the wilderness. In the centre of their hosts was fixed the Tabernacle of the LORD, and round about it the Levites were commanded to pitch their tents. By this [5/6] arrangement it was signified to them, that they were most nearly related to the GOD of the armies of Israel, and must be ever ready to attend upon the services of his Sanctuary. At a greater distance, in four divisions, the other tribes encamped. The doors of their tents opened towards the Tabernacle, over which rested the cloud of glory; GOD thereby teaching them to hold the place of his immediate presence always in view, and to be obedient to every intimation of his will. On the east, which was the front of their hosts, were fixed the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; on the west, which was of course the rear, were placed Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin; on the north, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali; and on the south, Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. Every division was distinguished by its own particular standard. On that of Judah was portrayed a Lion; on that of Ephraim, an Ox; on that of Dan, an Eagle; and on that of Reuben, the figure of a Man. [See Ainsworth's Annotations] [6/7] Thus, the children of Israel, through out their hosts, pitched their tents, every man by his own camp, and every man by his own standard; in beautiful order encompassing the Sanctuary of the LORD, and ever ready to defend it against the assaults of their idolatrous foes.
To this regular disposition of the hosts of Israel frequent allusions are made by the sacred writers. When extolling the overflowing grace and goodness of GOD, they express themselves in this manner: "The rivers of the flood thereof shall make glad the city of GOD, the holy place of the Tabernacle of the MOST HIGHEST. God is in the midst of her--in the inmost part of the congregation--therefore shall she not be removed." And, in another place, the divine protection is thus implored: "Hear, O thou Shepherd of Israel; thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep: Show thyself also, thou that sittest upon the Cherubim. Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasses, stir up thy strength, and come and help us:" in other words, "send us help from the place of thy [7/8] glorious presence, thy Tabernacle," which was carried immediately before these three tribes, when the Israelites marched; and was fixed in the same situation when they encamped in the wilderness. Thus also, alluding to these circumstances, St. John, in the book of Revelations, stiles our mighty Redeemer, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Under the standard on which the figure of this animal was portrayed, Judah marched, at the head of his brethren, to the conquest of the opposing nations of Canaan. The great Captain of our salvation, who, in his human nature, sprang from the tribe of Judah, has gone before us, to vanquish our spiritual adversaries, sin and death and hell. In another passage of this same book of Revelations, the beloved Disciple evidently sets forth the Christian Church by images borrowed from the regular distribution of the children of Israel, when they encamped in the wilderness. As the Tabernacle is frequently called the Throne of God; so, saith St. John, "Behold a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne." As a cloud of glory rested on the Tabernacle; [8/9] "so there was a rainbow over the throne," signifying that the wrath of GOD was appeased, and that good-will was now to be proclaimed to men. As the twelve tribes of Israel, under their respective leaders, surrounded the place of GOD's more immediate presence; so, in this mystical vision, "there were round about the throne four-and-twenty seats, and upon the seats four-and-twenty elders;" sitting to denote their dignity; clothed in white raiment, significant of their purity; and with crowns of gold on their heads, as signs of the authority to which they were advanced. These elders are represented as being double the number of the twelve tribes, because, after the coming of the Messiah, the Church was enlarged by the accession of the Gentiles. As the four ensigns belonging to the four grand divisions of the hosts of Israel were displayed round the Sanctuary of GOD; so, it is said by St. John, "round about the throne were four beasts" or, as it ought to be translated, living creatures, full of eyes, to denote their vigilance; and, similar to the [9/10] standards of Israel, the first of them was like a Lion, the second like a Calf, the third had a face as a Man, and the fourth was like a flying Eagle.
Thus, my brethren, do all the parts of the sacred volume perfectly harmonize. The Scriptures of the Old Testament are explained by the New. The Evangelists correspond with the Prophets. The Gospel throws light upon the obscurity of the Law. The Church of CHRIST is found to be in substance the same, both before and since his taking our nature upon him, and appearing in the likeness of man. Let us, then, from the passage now under consideration, endeavour to draw such practical improvement as is suited to the common circumstances of a Christian audience, and to the particular design of this assembly.
Like the Israelites of old, we are marching through a wilderness beset with dangers, towards a place of rest. The humble believer, who is continually looking forward to the joys of the good land of promise, has frequently too much occasion to call this world "a great and terrible [10/11] wilderness, wherein are fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there is no water." Here he finds himself assailed by malignant spirits, and by envious and ungrateful men. In the vanities of this world there is a drought of all spiritual sustenance: in its highest gratifications there is no water to refresh the weary soul which is panting after the joys of immortality. Like the hosts of Israel encamped in the wilderness, the Church in every age has been surrounded by enemies; but Christians of the present day seem to be exposed to peculiar dangers. Their foes are equally conspicuous for their art and their malignity. Infidels assail them by bold misrepresentation or by perverted reasoning, by sly insinuations or by open blasphemy.
While a contest is to be maintained with these external enemies, let not the Sanctuary of the LORD be brought into a perilous situation by the want of unanimity and united exertions; let it not be betrayed into the hands of the enemy by the lukewarmness of friends or the perfidy of false [11/12] brethren. Let not an overweening attachment to liberty excite a wish in our bosoms to discard the influence of religion from the civil institutions of men. Let it not be supposed, that true liberality of sentiment leads to cold indifference; that it requires us to consider the various religions of the earth, whether heathen, mahometan, jewish, or christian, as standing on the same ground, and entitled to equal respect. And, more especially, let not any of those who have pitched their tents among the true Israelites, and pretend to venerate the Tabernacle of the LORD, betray the cause of truth and piety to the derision of their heathen foes, by yielding to their enticements and adopting their ungodly manners.
Christians are now denominated the chosen generation, the peculiar people, the holy nation. Let it be our first concern to guard our religion against every assault. For this purpose, let the Levites, the Ministers of the LORD, pitch round about the Tabernacle of testimony, that they may be always near at hand, to engage in its [12/13] sacred duties, and to defend it against every impious intrusion. And let the people, although at greater distance, in compact array, encompass the Sanctuary, and yield it their constant protection. Surely, Religion justly claims the chief attention of that rational and accountable Being who was made for society here, and for immortality in a more exalted state of existence. The services of Religion, as you have heard, were intimately interwoven in the whole texture of the Jewish polity, and this polity was instituted by Divine Wisdom. Christianity, which is equally of heavenly origin, is, indeed, not so closely connected with civil government. The Church of CHRIST is a more distinct society. The kingdom of the REDEEMER is said to be not of this world. But still, let it ever be remembered, that Religion is the main pillar which sustains the whole complicated fabric of civil society. It is this alone which can reach the heart and conscience, and thus yield the best security for the performance of all our relative duties. It is this alone which affords motives [13/14] to virtuous conduct and never-failing sources of comfort in every period and condition of life; in the lowly habitations of the poor and miserable, as well as in the palaces of the rich and prosperous; in the stillness of retirement, as well as in the busy haunts of men; in adversity and prosperity; in youth and in old age; in the lightsome paths of health, and in the dark valley of the shadow of death. Such is the blessed tendency of the Religion of JESUS, when it takes possession of the heart of man; so favourable is its influence upon our temporal prosperity; so full of bliss and glory are its prospects of futurity.
Since, therefore, the welfare of the community at large is so much concerned in the prevalence of christian principles among all ranks and orders of men, let all, in their respective stations, contribute to the support of the Church of CHRIST, the Sanctuary of the LORD set up in the midst of the Congregation of Israel. Let every man by his own camp, and every man by his own standard, pitch round about the Tabernacle of testimony. Let [14/15] the Levites fix themselves close to the sacred Enclosure; and let the rest of the people, although more remote, encamp around in strong and beauteous order.
Under the dispensation of the Gospel, the Ministers of Religion have devoted themselves in a formal manner, and with peculiar solemnity, to the service of their Lord and Master, CHRIST JESUS. Let my brethren of the Clergy, therefore, be most solicitous to extend the influence of his Religion, by the faithful performance of all their ministerial duties. Let them habitually recollect the solemn charge which was given to them at the time of their ordination; "have always printed in your remembrance, how great a treasure is committed to your charge. If it should happen that the Church, or any member thereof, do take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and the punishment that will ensue. See, then, that ye never cease your labour, your care, and diligence, until ye have done all that lieth in you, according to [15/16] your bounden duty, to banish from your respective cures all error in religion and viciousness in life." But, whatever his rank and occupation may be, let no one deem himself exempted from the necessity of yielding assistance, to the utmost of his power, in promoting this beneficial work. By a devout attendance upon all the public solemnities of our Religion; by administering upon proper occasions, instruction to the ignorant and consolation to the afflicted; by a diligent use of the talents committed to his care, whether they be power, wealth, or wisdom; by a virtuous and holy deportment in all circumstances of life, every person in this assembly may contribute to advance the welfare of the Church of CHRIST; may be successful in his pious labours to the conviction of unbelievers, the confutation of gainsayers, the discouragement of those who do evil, and to the praise and exaltation of those who do well. By this union of heart and exertion, the injunction of the Apostle will be complied with, for all things will be done decently and in order; the prophetic [16/17] description of Solomon will be exemplified, for the Church will look forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.
Under the former dispensation, the LORD GOD of Israel separated a particular family, the sons of Levi, from the congregation of Israel, "to bring them near to himself, to do the service of the Tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them." The Christian Church is a regular, well-ordered society. In this Institution also, a particular order of men is set apart, and invested with the exclusive power of ministering in the Sanctuary of the LORD. Let no one presume to take this honour unto himself unless he be called of GOD, as was Aaron. The authority of those who undertake to minister in the Church of CHRIST, is a matter of much more moment than the world seems commonly to imagine. Under the former dispensation, the High-Priest, the Priests, and the Levites had their respective duties; and none could intrude into these sacred offices without incurring the [17/18] divine displeasure. It has been observed by the ancient Fathers of the Church, that Bishops, Priests, and Deacons among Christians, correspond to the High-Priest, the Priests, and Levites who ministered to the Jews. Be ye, therefore, careful to discourage every sacrilegious intrusion, lest ye should be partakers of the crime of those whom St. Jude has forewarned, that they shall perish in the gainsaying of Korah.
By the express command of GOD delivered to his servant Moses, abundant provision was made for the comfortable support of the tribe of Levi, whose duty it was to pitch round about the Tabernacle of testimony. The same Almighty Sovereign of the universe now also requires, that they who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel; that they who serve at the Altar should partake of the Altar. It is your indispensable duty, enjoined by the great Head of the Church, to provide for the decent maintenance of his Ministers. Be not deceived, my beloved brethren. The portion which is afforded to them is not to be viewed in the light of alms bestowed [18/19] upon the indigent. No! it is rather to be considered as so much reserved for the use of his ministering servants by the bountiful Donor of all good things; by him who giveth you richly all things to enjoy. Viewing the subject in this light, it was demanded by GOD's inspired Messengers under the Law, Will a man rob GOD? Yet ye have robbed me, saith the LORD. But ye say, wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. And, under the Gospel, it is asked, If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter we shall reap your worldly things? Do ye not know, that they who minister about holy things, live of the sacrifice?
Unless ye duly prize the goodness of GOD in affording you the Gospel of his beloved Son; unless ye express a becoming zeal in providing for the maintenance of his Priests, and for the celebration of his holy worship, he may be provoked by your ingratitude to withdraw the blessing from you. And what more grievous calamity can befal us, than to be deprived of the solemnities of our religion? When [19/20] the children of Israel, for their profaneness and disobedience, were given up into the hands of their enemies, and bereft of their religious ordinances, the pathetic exclamation of those who thought seriously was, The glory is departed from Israel; for the Ark of GOD is taken!
The reason assigned by the great Lawgiver of the Jews for this devout and universal regard to the Sanctuary of the LORD is, that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel. In every period of the Jewish history, we find that the nation was prosperous or afflicted, as they regarded or neglected the sacred ordinances of their religion. It is not, indeed, to be expected by us, that GOD will now interpose in so miraculous a manner, either to reward our devotion, or to punish our impiety. But still, universal experience teaches us, that in the common course of his providence, his blessing attends those nations who are distinguished by their virtue and piety, his wrath falls upon the immoral and profane. In the various events which, for a few years past, have [20/21] occurred to our observation, have we, my brethren, no reason to dread the divine displeasure? Have there not been some evident tokens of wrath upon the congregation of Israel? Is it not a matter of infinite importance to us, to avert the vengeance of that Almighty Being, who can deprive us of every temporal and spiritual comfort, and make us miserable in time and eternity? If we are so ready, on all occasions, to fly from temporal calamity, how much more anxious ought we to be to escape from the wrath to come? In this our state of probation, let us earnestly seek the favour of GOD, that he may now take us under his merciful protection, and hereafter crown us with the bliss and glory of heaven. Christianity stands on the same divine authority which sustained the religion of the Jews. All its ordinances are equally obligatory upon those who profess to believe the Gospel. Let me, then, affectionately exhort you to attend punctually and devoutly upon all the solemn services of the Sanctuary. If any of you have hitherto been inattentive and [21/22] negligent, begin now to bewail your errors and amend your conduct. Let the Priests, the Ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach! And let the people of every rank and condition turn unto him with all their heart, under the encouraging expectation that he will be gracious and merciful; that he will be slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repent him of every threatened evil. Let us pass through the wilderness of this world, devoted to his service, and relying on his protection: And the gracious promise runs, Ye shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your GOD, that hath dealt wonderously with you. And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your GOD, and none else, and my people shall never be ashamed.