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EVERY man capable of reflecting on what is going on around him, must have some desire to know how the state of things, which he sees, has grown up; or, in other words, what is the history of the past.
The Bible meets this natural curiosity with the most important information to which his thoughts can be directed; telling him, that man was created innocent, but seduced into disobedience.-That from this one source has proceeded all the vice, and all the misery under which the whole creation groaned and travailed in pain together *, until the coming of Christ to redeem from condemnation such as, seeking the guidance of the Holy Ghost, walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; and being led by the Spirit of God, receive the inestimable and elevated title of children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, with whom they shall be glorified t.
Compared with the value of this information, every ́ other subject of enquiry becomes vain and insignificant.
Rom. viii. 22.
Ibid. v. 4. 14. 16, 17.
Indeed, one who should hear it for the first time, and who knew nothing of the reception this knowledge generally meets with, would assuredly expect, that whoever heard these things, and believed them, would be so absorbed and elevated by the contemplation of them, that he could not descend again to any other subject of thought, unless it was to help him, in some way or other, to do what the leading of the Spirit might require of him; or to assist some fellow-creature in finding that light, whose salutary rays were cheering and enlivening his own path. And these considerations would carry him on from this great view of the general history of man, to desire such knowledge of the particular history of the country in which he dwells, as may prevent his being ignorant of any peculiar debt of gratitude for special instances of mercy shewn towards it, and enjoyed immediately, or in their consequences, by himself. He would be farther induced to make such enquiries from perceiving, that he had duties, as a member of the society in which it had pleased God to place him; which duties he could not properly fulfil, without knowing to what laws that society would justly require his submission;-what rights he was bound to assist that society, by all lawful means, in preserving:and, more particularly, whether the Church established in his country for the service and honour of God, was well fitted for the promotion of those great ends;-in what respect it might need his prayers, or require his help towards its improvement;-how far, and in what way, he could promote its useful influence.
The compilers of our Liturgy, when they instruct us to pray, "O Lord arise, help us and deliver us," have bidden
us at the same time to say, "O Lord we have heard with our ears, and our fathers have declared unto us the noble works that thou didst in their days, and in the old time be fore them." From this combination they seem to have expected, or at least they must be supposed to have wished to teach, that English fathers should tell their children what great things God hath ever continued to do for his Church, and what peculiar blessings he hath showered on this our country.
If this duty be neglected, people may yet be found willing to obey the occasional calls of their Sovereign, by observing national fasts and thanksgivings; because they are not disposed to deny that obedience is due to the King, and honour to God. But is it likely, or possible, that when thus summoned, they should plead before God with the same earnestness and fervour, as if they had in mind how former events had been ordered by Him for the benefit of their fathers; and that He might therefore, without presumption, be expected to let the prayers of the faithful again draw forth some special interference to complete those works of mercy?
But though individuals, like the Samaritan leper, have turned from walking with the unthankful crowd, to give glory to God, with heartfelt gratitude, for the wonderful blessings heaped upon this country, writers of English history have not taught their generation to consider what was done in the old time before them, as the effect of God's mercy. Some historians have been unhappily notorious for their hostility to Religion; or for an ungrateful and perverse blindness to the merits of the form of government
under which events have been made to place us. Nearly all have only differed from heathen historians by occasional expressions of respect for Christianity. Whilst they have confessed God with their lips, they have spoken of events, as if He had no share and no object in their arrangement; as if He took no part in the disposal of the world, unless when He is seen interrupting the order of nature by miraculous interference.
It can scarcely be necessary to observe how different this is from the language of Him who knew the Father, and spake of Him as always producing, by the exertion of His will, what we term the daily course of nature; saying, "He maketh the sun to rise on the evil, and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
If the worldly historian be a lover of the moral virtues, he will too certainly be found to make the general tenor of his observations lead to the subverting of the proper order of the two great commandments. Patriotism and benevolence towards man always stand, with him, before devotion to God and zeal for His service. But, in general, the historian does not even pretend to such an inflexible affection, even for morality, as to preclude him from preferring able policy and successful ambition, particularly if the latter be exercised at the expense of foreign nations, before scrupulous integrity. As for humble self-denial, or the piety, which afraid of giving power to worldly temptations, prays for permission to devote more tranquil and abundant leisure to preparation for appearing before God, they are never spoken of in history but with pity or contempt. The ordinary writer of history calls the proud