SOCIETY OF NEW-YORK
BENEFIT OF THE SAME.
PRINTED BY T. AND J. SWORDS
No. 160 Pearl-Street
O that the salvation were given unto Israel out of Zion! O that the Lord would deliver his people out of captivity! Then should Jacob rejoice, and Israel should be right glad. [* According to the old version in the Common Prayer Book.]
EVERY sympathetic heart will be awakened by this passionate exclamation, and will be naturally led to inquire, "What could occasion such strong emotions in the breast of the holy Psalmist?" His thoughts had been engaged on a subject extremely interesting [3/4] to every person who entertains proper sentiments of piety towards God, or benevolence towards his fellow men--he had been meditating upon the general corruption and depravity of mankind. The whole psalm, whence the text is taken, is fraught with religious instruction; as it first dwells upon the degeneracy of human nature, and then leads our imagination to the only effectual cure--to that salvation which is given unto Israel out of Zion. It begins with observing the absurdity of those who, either in principle or practice, deny the existence and the superintending power of a Deity--"The foolish body hath said in his heart, There is no God." This is, indeed, a very irrational assertion; and, the necessary consequence of this atheistic folly is, the mounds of both public and private virtue are broken down, and an inundation of all sorts of vices pours in to desolate the land; thus, it immediately follows; "Corrupt are they, and become abominable in their wickedness; there is none that doeth good." But, however wicked men may deny God, and set at defiance his supreme authority, he still exists; he is still attentive to the conduct [4/5] of his rational creatures; he is prepared to punish or reward: as the Psalmist goes on to observe, "God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that would understand and seek after God." But, what a dreary prospect must this earth afford to a Being of infinite purity, truth, and benevolence! For, the next assertion is, "They are all gone out of the way, they are altogether become abominable; there is also none that doeth good, no not one." God beholds man whom he created a little lower than the Angels, and crowned with glory and honour, fallen from his original state of dignity. He beholds those whom he made capable of looking up to heaven, and knowing and adoring the great Supreme, denying the God that made them, and living as if no such being existed in the universe. He views those whom he created of one blood, and commanded to dwell together as brethren, tormenting and destroying each other--truth, justice, and benevolence flying from the habitations of men, and their seats usurped by falsehood, fraud, and cruelty. He beholds this earthly abode of rational and [5/6] immortal man, which was designed as a holy temple in which innocence might send up perpetual hallelujahs to the throne of God, polluted with crimes; resounding with imprecations poured forth by one sinful mortal against another, and with blasphemies directed with horrid assurance against high heaven. This is, indeed, a dreary spectacle which God and his holy Angels view with commiseration; which calls forth the sighs and prayers of the godly, and which might well prompt the pathetic exclamation of the Psalmist, "O that the salvation were given unto Israel out of Zion! O that the Lord would deliver his people out of captivity!" This would be a happy change; this would be a delightful prospect to every considerate and pious person; "then should Jacob rejoice, and Israel should be right glad."
It is scarcely necessary to remark to you, that Mount Zion, in the city of Jerusalem, was the place in which the most solemn rites of their religion were celebrated by the nation of the Jews. Here God sat enthroned in visible majesty, as the supreme Ruler of his chosen people: here he received their [6/7] affectionate homage: here he issued, from time to time, his mandate to correct their faults, and to instruct them more perfectly in the ways of righteousness: hence they expected help and strength, life and salvation--all sorts of temporal and spiritual blessings: hence the law was to go forth for the conversion of the heathen nations: and, from this sacred mount, the knowledge and the worship of the true God were to be extended to the uttermost parts of the earth.
These observations will lead us to comprehend the full meaning of the metaphorical language of the text. The holy Psalmist, from the consideration of the apostasy and corruption of mankind, here expresses a longing desire for the salvation of the ruined race--a salvation which was to go forth out of Zion under the direction of the Messiah: a salvation which would bring back the wretched people from the most dreadful of all captivities, the captivity under sin and death: a salvation, at the consummation of which every benevolent heart would rejoice, and every true believer be right glad.
From the words of the text thus introduced [7/8] and explained, I shall take occasion, in the following discourse,
1. Briefly to insist upon the general corruption and depravity of human nature: "God looked down from heaven upon the children of men; and they are all gone out of the way, they are altogether become abominable, there is none that doeth good, no not one."
2. To show that Christianity affords the only effectual remedy for this wide spreading and destructive disease; the only complete deliverance from this spiritual captivity: and this will lead, in the last place, to some observations that relate more immediately to the benevolent institution, for the support and advancement of which I am now to solicit your kind benefactions--an institution, the laudable intention of which is, to render the Bible, the Book of God, universally the object of pious attention; to direct and animate the devotions of Christian people by the excellent forms contained in our Book of Common Prayer; to diffuse the knowledge, and to increase the love of that salvation which came forth out of Zion under Christ and his Apostles, among those who would otherwise [8/9] perhaps be ignorant of the sublime doctrines of Christianity, and uninfluenced by its heavenly precepts.
As to the first subject proposed for our serious consideration, "the general depravity of mankind," not many words will be necessary to establish this humiliating truth. I shall not insist upon the whole tenor of the sacred Scriptures, the current language of which is, "that the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; that we are born in sin, and are by nature the children of wrath; that there is a necessity for all mankind to be delivered from the bondage of corruption, before they can be fit inhabitants of the mansions of heavenly truth and purity." I shall not urge, that the whole gospel scheme of salvation through the atoning blood of a Redeemer and the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, is entirely founded upon this momentous truth, that man is depraved; fallen from his original state of innocence; and standing in need of an atonement for his sins, and of spiritual assistance to prepare him for the pure joys of heaven.
 To omit, at present, these momentous doctrines, which are universally inculcated in the word of divine truth, I shall only entreat you to consider, whether the general depravity of mankind be not too evidently evinced by fact and common experience. If we examine our own hearts, do we not perceive that they are corrupted and disordered by many evil passions? Do we not find, that it is easy to slide down the dangerous declivities of vice; but, that the ascent of the holy hill of virtue and piety requires vigorous and unremitted exertions. If we look round upon the conduct of our fellow men, are we not compelled to make the painful confession, that the history of mankind is little more than a narrative of their follies and crimes? What more is a great part of the business of the world than one continual exertion to prevent or to punish the iniquitous propensities of human nature? What are all our bars and bolts, whips and fetters? What are all our voluminous codes of law, courts of justice, and places of confinement and correction? Nay, what are all our religious institutions, but so many [10/11] sad confessions, that man is a vicious and mischievous animal, scarcely to be kept in order by the strongest fences that can be raised around him by laws human and divine? We need not run into common-place declamation on this subject: we need not have recourse to the history of past ages, in confirmation of such assertions: our own times have furnished too many flagrant examples of the degeneracy of mankind. In one part of the world, more especially, we have lately seen the fences of religion and law entirely broken down; and there, the malignity of the heart of man has discovered itself in the commission of crimes, which cause those to shudder who have the least serious consideration; and the narrative of which, it is to be hoped, posterity will read with abhorrence. We may be in no danger of rushing into such horrid enormities. We, nevertheless, always carry about with us propensities to evil, which must be restrained with unabating vigilance. We are the descendants of sinful progenitors; and, in a greater or less degree, partake of the baneful effects of the original apostasy. To rise [11/12] from this degenerate condition; to regulate the disordered faculties of our nature; to recover the image of God that was lost by transgression; to think, and speak, and act in all respects as becometh reasonable and immortal beings, must now be the great concern of our life. Let us, then, go on to consider,
2. That this important work can be accomplished by the aid of religion alone--it is this which must give salvation from the spiritual evils which we deplore: this alone can deliver fallen man from his wretched captivity under sin and death. Speculative philosophers, foes to the Gospel of Christ, and not willing to derive from it any assistance, may discourse eloquently of the dignity of their nature; of the moral fitness of things; how beautiful virtue is, and how conducive to the happiness of man. But of what significance are all these refined speculations when opposed to the impetuosity of vicious passions? They are dissipated in a moment, like withered leaves scattered before a raging tempest. Legislators may attempt, by their institutions, to obviate the [12/13] pernicious effects of human depravity. But, the wisest laws of man, enforced by the whole strength of civil authority, can only lay restraints upon the outward behaviour, without regulating at all the inward principles of action--they prevent, while they continue to operate, the surface of the body from exhibiting any marks of disease; but they afford no radical cure for our spiritual sickness; they cannot reach the inbred malady of the heart. It was from these considerations that, in all the preceding ages of the world, and under every form of civil government, the aid of religion has been called in to check the vicious propensities of men, and thus secure the welfare of human society. The keen eye of Religion looks through the darkness which is utterly impenetrable by the laws of men: She is quick and powerful where human law is inactive and feeble: She regulates the principles, and thus secures the propriety of external deportment: In the most effectual manner She renders the streams of virtuous conduct pure, by thoroughly purifying the fountain from which they flow.
If these assertions be true respecting religion [13/14] in general, even when blended with some of the absurdities of superstition, what shall we say of the pure system of Christianity as professed by our holy Church? How can we sufficiently prize this fair daughter of heaven?
The salvation which came forth from Zion to deliver the people out of captivity; the wonderful plan of redemption revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is altogether worthy of God, and conducive to the felicity of man considered either as an individual, or as a member of civil society, as made both for time and eternity. It is perfectly suited to the condition of human nature. It views us as depraved, guilty creatures, and mercifully invites us to repentance upon the express assurance of pardon through the atoning blood of the Mediator. It affords a pure and comprehensive system of moral precepts enjoined by divine authority. It enforces obedience by urging the strongest motives; by applying with peculiar energy our hope and fear, the two most powerful passions of the human heart; pointing with one hand to the joys of heaven, [14/15] and with the other to the pains of hell. It encourages us to be continually growing in grace; to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord, by proposing the spotless example of our Redeemer, and offering the efficacious assistance of the Holy Spirit.
And who would not wish to extend the influence of this benign institution? What benevolent heart that is duly sensible of the lost condition of mankind by nature, can refuse to lend assistance in the good work of diffusing the knowledge of salvation? What humble and grateful Christian who has escaped from the thraldom of sin and satan, can see his brother reduced to a state of wretched captivity; and yet, pass by, without making one generous effort for his deliverance? Brethren, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that are more consentaneous to the kind and pious sentiments which actuated the Psalmist when he expressed the words of the text. Entertaining just conceptions of the high importance of religion to both the temporal and eternal welfare of man, you will be solicitous that the Word of God may be read and understood; that [15/16] the Gospel of Christ may run and be glorified; that from Mount Zion in the land of Judea, the salvation that is attainable through the Redeemer may be extended to the uttermost parts of the earth. Permit me then,
In the last place, to request your favourable attention to some observations more immediately relative to the institution that is now recommended to your friendly patronage and assistance. It is proposed, by voluntary contributions, to establish a fund, for the purpose of purchasing Bibles and Common Prayer Books, to be distributed among those who have not the ability to purchase for themselves. And is not this a most useful work of charity? Since the time of the holy Psalmist, that salvation which was the object of his longing desire has been given unto Israel out of Zion. The Messiah (the desire of all nations, as well as of his people Israel) has appeared. The fulness of the Son, made of a woman. Upon the mountains of Israel have been seen the feet of Him that brought good tidings, that published peace; that brought good tidings of good, that published [16/17] salvation, saying unto Zion, thy God reigneth. It is from the Bible alone that we, upon whom the ends of the world are come, can now obtain a knowledge of this salvation. How important, then, is the benevolent employment in which we are at this time engaged! If it be grateful to every sympathizing heart to be instrumental in rescuing a fellow citizen from the distresses of captivity in a foreign land, how much more pleasing ought the task to be, to save an unhappy mortal from the galling fetters of sin, the ignominious bondage of Satan? If we be disposed to employ our time and our estate for the relief of our wretched brethren of mankind who are labouring under bodily disease, or any other temporal evil; with how much more readiness ought we to exert every faculty with which heaven has blessed us, in order to cure the maladies of their souls, to save them from the wrath to come? If our liberality be exerted in giving bread to the hungry, and clothing to the naked, how much more effectually shall we yield comfort to the poor, by putting into their hands the precious Word of God, and teaching [17/18] them to rely on those consoling promises, by which they are encouraged to hope, that the short affliction of a moment may work out for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Let cruel infidels attempt to wrest out of their hands this heavenly support; but let kind-hearted believers exhort them to hold fast a rod and a staff which will sustain them, even when they are passing through the valley of the shadow of death.
The present times demand extraordinary exertions, in order to enable the Word of God to run and be glorified, to dissipate the cold mists of ignorance and prejudice, and to warm the tepid hearts of fruitless professors with the flame of vital piety. Infidelity, with equal art and industry, is attempting to make inroads upon the Church of Christ. Be assured, while you are contributing to the support of truth in opposition to error; while you are endeavouring to prevail upon the ignorant to consider all Holy Scripture as written for our learning, and teaching them to pray, that "they may in such wise read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest [18/19] them, as to be induced to embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life;" while you are thus furnishing an antidote to the poison which the infidel is diffusing round him; you not only discharge your duty as good Christians, but you act the part of most useful members of civil society. Anarchy, rapine, murder, crimes of every sort decry Christianity as useless to mankind; because, with a stern look and tremendous voice, she denounces against them the judgments of Almighty God; but peace and happiness, truth and justice court her influence, and perpetually hail her as their best friend and surest support.
We, my Brethren, when contemplating our religious advantages, may well adopt the language of the holy Psalmist, "The lines are fallen unto us in pleasant places; yea, we have a goodly heritage." We live in the full enjoyment of all the ordinances of our religion, while many of our brethren, in the more uncultivated parts of the country, are not only deprived of the blessing of public social worship; but, it is to be feared, that [19/20] many families are destitute even of a Bible, by which alone the rising generation can be best instructed in the duties which they owe to God and their neighbour. And are you not disposed to inquire, "What reward shall I give unto the Lord for all his benefits bestowed upon me?" While we are receiving the cup of salvation, and drinking to the refreshment of our souls, let us express our gratitude by extending it to others who are fainting in the thirsty wilderness where no water is.
It cannot be supposed, but that every benevolent person in this assembly will be ready to exclaim, "O that the salvation proclaimed through a Redeemer to ruined man might sound to the uttermost corners of our land; so that all the people might know the will of God, and be inclined to do it; so that penitent sinners might be delivered from the captivity which they have hitherto endured under their spiritual foes!" Let us unite in our prayers, and in our benefactions, so that the happy era may soon arrive, when the religion of Jesus Christ shall have its full effect in renovating a corrupted world--when the wilderness and [20/21] the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert rejoice and blossom as the rose: when salutary Virtue shall take the place of pernicious Vice--when, instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle-tree: when the whole earth, like the ancient land of the chosen people, shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord--when the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon. Although we may not live to see this happy day, surely, affectionate Christians will rejoice at the prospect of this great felicity; the true Israel of God will be right glad. The cherishing of such dispositions now, is a necessary qualification for our final admission into that august assembly which is thus described by the beloved disciple, St. John; "I beheld, and lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."
 That our hearts may now be warmed with this flame of divine love, and our voices attuned to these strains of heavenly praise, may God of his infinite mercy grant, through the merits and mediation of our compassionate Redeemer, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost be ascribed, &c.