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1. I shall first, as plainly and briefly as I can, consider the original meaning and contents of these words, I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning ; yet hate ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord: In which words you will naturally observe,
1. They are reminded, that it was the hand of God, which bad lately kindled a fire among them.
I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. I doubt not but these words are to be under. stood, in a proper and literal sense, of fire, and of fire kindled in the common methods of divine providence.
They are to be understood of fire properly so called. It is true, sometimes any of God's judgments are compared to Fire*, that being, as you too well know, a most dreadful and irresistible calamity, when it breaks out among the dwellings and possessions of men. Thus does the wrath of God, whenever it is kindled, rage and flame. Thus does it bear down all before it, and turn the most pleasant objects into heaps of ruin, desolation, and horror. But here, I apprehend, it is to be taken for proper fire, because it stands distinguished from several other kinds of judgments, ver. 7, & seq. from drought, blasting, and mildew, from the palmerworm, and the pestilence; and it is very remarkable, that it brings up the rear, as one of the most terrible of all.
I scruple not to add, that Amos speaks of fire kindled by the common method of divine providence. It is indeed said, he overthrew them, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, which, you know, was by fire and brimstone, rained down upon them in a miraculous manner; but there is no reason to take the words thus strictly, or to suppose that such a terrible tempest of fire and brimstone had actually fallen upon the cities of Israel. That had been an event of so great moment and importance, that probably the sacred history would have been full of it, and succeeding prophets would often have referred to it, as more memorable than even the calamity of Sodom, as such a visitation on God's people would certainly have been; whereas there is an entire silence elsewhere, with relation to any such judgment. And I am sure it is impossible to infer it from hence, because The overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah was proverbially used for any very dreadful calamity t, and might with peculiar propriety express any devastation that was made by fire, though kindled in a common manner.
* See Psal. xcvii. 3. Isa. XXX. 33. Ixvi, 15, 16. Jer. iv. 4. xxi. 12. Lam. ij. 3, 4. Ezek. xxxvi. 5. Amos v. 6. Nah. i. 6.
+ Deut. xxix. 23. Isa, i, 9. xiii. 19. Jer, xlix. 18. 1. 40. Zeph. ii. 9. Mab. X. 15.
As for the fires here mentioned, it is possible some of them might have been kindled, by what men in their common forms of speech call some unhappy accident; and drought, and winds, and other circumstances might concur, to spread that conflagration, which at first arose from a little spark, or some trifling instance of negligence. Others of these fires might be kindled by a cruel enemy: for though Joash, the father of Jeroboam the Second, in whose days Amos prophesied, was in the main a prosperous and successful monarch, yet being engaged in frequent wars with his neighbours, it is not improbable that the frontiers of his country might sometimes suffer by them. And we are particularly informed of a Syrian war, which had happened some years before: for we are told, that in the days of Jehoahaz, The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of Hazael king of Syria, and Benhadad his son, all their days *, and He oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahazt. And since this Hazael carried his inhumanity so far, as to Dash even their children in pieces, and to rip up their women with child, it is no wonder also, that he should set their strong holds on fire; as we are expressly assured that he did I.
But whatever was the occasion of the conflagration, whether the cruelty of enemies, or negligence, or accidents, you plainly see, that God claims it to himself, as his own deed, that he had overthrown them; agreeable to the general principle which is laid down in this very prophecy, as what every man's conscience must bear testimony to, that there is no Evil in a city, that the Lord hath not done S. And it is a most evident and important truth, discovered and attested even by natural religion, that all the efficacy of second causes is owing to the continual operation of the Supreme. He appointed fire and water to be, in their various natures, useful to mankind; and when he pleases, he can turn both into a scourge.
Thus when the rains descend, and the floods beat down the fruits of the field, and overwhelm houses, with their inhabitants, it is he that Breaks up the fountains of the deep, and opens the windows of heaven ll. And when the flames break out with iinpetuosity, and the fiery deluge spreads itself abroad, it is The breath of the Lord that kindles it 1, and keeps it up ; nor does one single
* 2 Kings xiii. 3.
Gen. vü. 11.
Kings viii. 12.
$ Amos iji. &
+ Ver. 22.
spark rise or fall without his providential interposition and guidance. An observation to be applied to all the other events of human life, and which the sacred scriptures every where inculcate, with a plainness and spirit suited to its importance, for the conviction of those ignorant wretched creatures, who live Without God in the world *.
2. The prophet farther leads them to reflect on their own preservation from the flames, as an instance of divine mercy.
Ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning ; this plainly intimates, how narrow an escape they had from the extremity of danger to which they were exposed : and so the expression is elsewhere used, where Jerusalem is represented by the same similitude ; Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire +? It implies, that they were just ready to be consumed ; that the fames were beginning to take hold of them ; that The smell of fire had, as it were, passed upon them I, and they were scorched and blackened with it ; but yet they were saved, and Their lives at least given them for a prey $. There may perhaps be some remote reference to the case of Lot, who when God was about to overthrow Sodom, and he loitered in it, was thus delivered; for The Lord being mierciful unto him, the men laid hold of his hand, and brought him out of Sodom 11.
Again, as the prophet argues from their preservation, as well as their calamity, to enforce their obligations to return to God, we may infer, that he intended to represent that preservation likewise as his work. Whatever accidental engagements, whatever prudential conduct, might have been the means of it, still it was to be acknowledged, that there was the gracious hand of God in it, which prevented their being destroyed with their babitations. And we lose more than half of the sweetness and advantage of all our deliverances, if we do not see and adore the gracious providence of God in them, and are not thereby engaged in bis service. Which leads me to add,
3. It is also intimated in the text, that the design of this afflictive providence was, to bring them to thorough repentance and reformation.
Yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord; plainly implying, that this was what might, humanly speaking, have been expected, and what was by God intended in the dispensation. This gives us a most edifying and important view of the
Dan. iü. 27,
* Eph. ii. 19.
Ś Jer. xxi. 9.
+ Zech. ii. 2.
nature of true repentance; it is a return to God. All sin is an alienation of the heart from the service of God, to which we are under ten thousand natural obligations, all highly increased by the revelation God has made of himself to us. Now the very essence of true repentance consists in a return to God; in a deep acknowledgment of our guilt in going astray from him, and casting off the easy yoke of his commands ; and in renewed resolutions of devoting ourselves, for the future, more entirely to his service. That external reformation, which arises from other inferior motives, is by no means worthy of the name of religion. It may indeed be huinan prudence; it may be compassion to others, who might suffer by our irregularities : but till God is regarded, yea supremely regarded in it, we cannot reasonably suppose, that God will regard us; which he intimates, when he complains concerning the Israelites, that They returned, but not to the Most High *.
Again, the text further implies, that this overthrow by fire had, in its own nature, a tendency to promote such penitent and religious sentiments, and that it was their duty to consider it in this view. And indeed, whatever awakening judgments befal men, it is their wisdom and duty thus to regard them. The Lord crieth, and the wise man will hear his voice : Hear ye the rod, and him that hath appointed it f. And thus God is represented, as sending very terrible calamities on the Israelites in this very view ; In their affliction they will seek me early, saving, Come let us return unto the Lord; for he has torn, and he will heal us; he has smitten, and he will bind us up I. And it is a most important truth, that he Does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men d: which abundantly justifies the goodness of God, in all those penal evils with which our world abounds. Life is to be considered as a state of discipline, and our heavenly Father has recourse to the rod, that it may give wisdom to those, who are too giddy, or too stubborn to learn it by gentler methods. Thus did God call to the Israelites ; thus is he calling to you; and may his grace prevent the necessity of joining with the prophet, when,
4. He complains that they had not fallen in with the design of those awful providences, but still continued an unreformed and impenitent people.
Yet have ye not returned unlo me, saith the Lord, notwithstanding this judgment, and all the others with which it was introduced. And this charge is advanced no less than five times,
* Hos, vii, 16.
+ Mich. vi. 9.
los. v. 15. vi. 1,
§ Lam. ii. 33.
within six verses.
Though I have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places ; though I have withheld the rain from you ; though I have smitten you with blasting and mildew, yea, though I have sent among you the pestilence, after the manner of Egypt; your young men have I slain with the sword, and the stench of their camps hath come up unto your nostrils; and though, to complete all, I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning; yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord *. Thus the awful majesty of heaven complains, that they had been chastised, and delivered in vain. And indeed, when we come to examine into their history, we find the complaint but too just. Could it be said they returned to God when they Sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; when they had trodden down the head of the poor in the dust of the earth; when they added whoredom, and incest, to all their other iniquities; and with mingled rapine and impiety, lay down before their idolatrous altars, on clothes, which (expressly against the law) they had taken for pledges, and drank in the house of their false Gods, the wine of those whom they had unjustly condemned +? Yet this is the account that God himself gives of the state of things among them, in the preceding chapter, even he who had been witness to their sins, and Had sworn by himself, that he would not forget any of their works I. So evidently does it appear, that the human heart may harden itself against the most dreadful dispensations of divine providence, and, like That king Ahaz, even in its distresses may trespass yet more against the Lord $; unless the secret influence of his grace be joined with the stroke of his rod, and while he is Chustening them thereby, he teaches them out of his law II. There is a Reprobate kind of silver, which will not be purged even by fire, when the bellows are burnt, and the lead consumed, the founder will yet have laboured in vain .
Thus I have laid before you those particulars in the text, that appear to me most remarkable and instructive. And though I doubt not but you have anticipated me in your own reflections, yet I hope you will now permit me,
* Amos iv. 6—11.
* Amos ii. 6-
| Amos viii. 7.
Jer, vi, 29, 30.