A Sermon and Prayer Delivered by SAMUEL FOTHERGILL at the Quarterly Meeting at French Hay, Near Bristol, 26th of 5th Month, 1767.
Fothergill, Samuel. Eleven Discourses Delivered Extempore, at Several Meeting-Houses of the People Called Quakers. Mostly Taken Down In Characters, by a Member of the Church of England. Wilmington: Coale and Rumford, 1817.
This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Part 2: The 18th Century.
The whole book of Canticles in understood and taken in that way of similitude, or metaphore, setting forth that close connextion, that near and dead relation, which eternally subsists between CHRIST and his Church; and in this sense it certainly coveys instruction, very proftiable as well as very delightful, to the mind which hath dedicated itself to the love and obedience of him, its only rightful LORD.
The Church is called a fountain of Gardens; which seems to me very evidently to imply that enclosed collected strength, beauty, regularity; those consolatory refreshments; that steady firmness of thought, unity of heart, and divine affection, which becomes a people that well understand what is meant by the solemn injunction of girding up the loins of their minds; (1 Pet. 1:13) well apprised of the state of their pilgrimage; of the nature, end, and design of their being; of the necessity of watchfulness unto prayer; (1 Pet.4:7) of having their minds brought into, and established in the lovely order of the gospel; their loins girded; their faculties circumscribed, and directed to the proper purpose, the great and glorious end of their being; within the limits of that holy frame of mind, which hath a fountain of gifts, preparatory to every kind of useful service, for the comfort of individuals, and the united benefit of the whole body; every abiding in the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of all wisdom; (Prov. 1:7,9,10) the most perfect wisdom, by which the mind is kept clean, and preserved in its proper clothing.
For the fear of the Lord, as the Psalmist expresses it, is clean, and endureth forever; (Psal. 19:9) and if this fear continued to rest upon our minds, it will assuredly keep them clean; and mroe and more illuminate them to discern the propriety and fitness of this language of Christ to his church: a garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, my church; erected and preserved by my power, my followers united unto me, and all dear to one another, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people zealous of good works. (1 Pet. 2:9)
May we therefore all separately, each for ourselves, attend to this state, and become acquainted with that degree of resemblance of such an enclosed garden which we bear, in the sight of him, who, at one view, sees the several conditions of men, and beholds the state of his whole creation!
If we are enclosed, of what nature is our enclosure? since nothing less will become our sufficient defence, then the surrounding arm of the Almighty! He is the strength of every individual that rightly trusts in him: Their situation is aptly described in holy writ, in many parts of it, by a variety of lively and beautiful figures; as here, by that of a garden enclosed, or a fountain of gardens. (Cant. 4:15) they likewise joyfully experience, in this sense of the text, what was meant by the song that was predicted to be sung in the land of Judah, when the divine covenant should happily cement, and enclose that favoured people in a state of innocence, integrity and love, enjoying together the lasting and unutterable sweets of divine protection and peace. In that day shall the song be sung in the land of Judah; we have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks: (Isaiah 36:1) and I cannot but entreat that all present, who are come to years of mature consideration especially, may obey the call of God; come out of a state of sin, and neglect of duty, and become fellow-citizens wit the saints, (Eph. 2:19) of this city; a city that hath sure foundations; (Heb. 11:10) being build upon that rock which the gates of hell (Matt. 26:18) have never been able to prevail against.
O ye that are in the bloom of life, and surrounded with the impetuous waves of divers passions; who continue yet uncorrected, unrefined by divine grace: may you diligently and seriously reflect upon your extreme want of resemblance to the garden enclosed; and of answering thereby the gracious design of your Maker, concerning you! May you be directed by the still small voice (1 Kings 19:12) which the Lord God will make use of, and meet with you in the garden; (Gen. 3:8) in order to reclaim you, and to draw you to himself! May all that stand in slippery places, make him their sure refuge, that they may know him, to calm every tumult in the mind; to crown them with the joys of obedience; and to direct their steps aright through life, to his honour, and their own true and lasting happiness!
May all who mourn for want of a place of rest, attain this happy situaiton--all who are ready to cry out, as one formerly did, Woe is me that I sojourn in Meshech, and dwell in the tents of Kedar! (Psalm 120:5) Woe is me, for this state of wickedness with which I am now on every surrounded; both that of my own, and that of others round about me, who are ready to fear the harvest is past, the summer is ended; (Jer. 8:20) and that they are not gathered in to the city walled with salvation: or the garden enclosed with divine beauty, with united and unfading joy.
I hope better things for those whose concern sometimes appears likely to become more than they are able to bear, even a concern, lest they should be excluded from an inheritance with the sanctified.
He that of old made the mountains skip like rams, and the little hills like lambs (Psalm 114:4) for the miraculous preservation of his people, even when they had begun to despair of their deliverance, can still equally effect the like glorious work in restoring the desponding, the broken in heart; that, having been too much off their watch, have from thence been the more subject to be tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:12) and cunning craftiness of men; whereby they lie in wait to deceive. Know that, though your own resolutions, your own strength, and wisdom, have been insufficient (in the days that are past) for your security; and perhaps the strongest resolutions, that you have hitherto made, have been written in dust; so that the next gale of temptation hath blown them away; and you have hence been carried further and further, into a state of groaning captivity, and crying distress! and have been unable to lift up your heads in the day of trial: know, that the duly humble and repenting sinner hath ever been graciously received; and the diffident have become clothed with divine strength, through the name and power of the Lord Jesus; their minds have been brought into a holy frame, having entered within the celestial enclosure and defence.
O, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Sion, then should Jacob rejoice, and Israel should be right glad! This hath been the sacred language of individuals that have at times been tost in uncertainty, distressed in vanity, wickedness and disappointment; who, notwithstanding, have been at last happily enclosed within the habitation of the holy city, or the garden enclosed; through a steady perseverance and strong resistance, though in the night season; like Jacob, who as a prince, prevailed with God and with men. (Gen.32:28) So the sincere, the penitent sinner, in his resolute and patient conflict, imploring and relying on divine help, will at length obtain an assured victory, to this great joy, and returning of thanksgiving to the Author of all his mercies.
A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; ah, too unthinking youth! To you appears particularly applicable that ancient call from God, Keep silence befofre me, oh ye islands! (Isa. 41:1) I beseech you, in this your time of danger, when your minds may be compared with floating islands, blown upon, and covered with a succession of waves, surrounded with temptations of various kinds, that are perpetually withdrawing your form that most precious interest, which Christ hath purchased for you in the garden enclose; I beseech you, that you maintain a steady dependance upon him; that ye be vigilant in your pursuit after eternal enjoyments; that ye stand upon your guard against the wiles of the grand enemy of your salvation; remembering that even when the sons of God have met together, Satan hath presented himself amongst them. (Job 1:6)
Doth thy mind watch with holy diligence to prayer? being fervent in spirit, that though the enemy may endeavour to come in as a flood of corruption, and seek incessantly to draw thee from the strong hold of that city, whose walls are salvation, and whose gates are praise; (Isa. 60:18) the arm of Omnipotence may defend thee: know, thou art no farther guilty, than as thou joinest with the temptation; it is no sin to be tempted; the holy everlasting Bridegroom of the true church, was himself tried, proved, tempted, before thee, time after time, by "the ruler of the darkness of this world, the prince of the power of the air;" yet he continued unmoved, unwearied; being supported and sustained by the power of God: He was like unto us in all things, sin only excepted; (Heb. 4:15) he knows and is willing to sustain them that are tempted; and to encourage in the day of battle, everyone that cleaveth unto, and calleth upon him, with full purpose of heart, in the whole course and conduct of his life; though he may be deeply proved, and may sometimes be ready to cry out,--"Even though the gates of death, may appear to be in motion against me, and just opening to receive me, yet if I die, Oh, let it be at thy feet!"
This hath been the language of minds, in the day of temptation; and when the battle hath been hot, they have known a secret hiding place, where the enemy could not prevail. Though he encountered the whole army of martyrs; though they were tempted, trod upon, buffeted and even crucified; yet it never was in his power to subdue them; they were still succoured by the hand of the Almighty; they were enabled to fight the good fight of faith; (1 Tim. 6:12) to pass through all their fiery trials with patience; and, in honour of their victory, are now crowned with glory.
How beautiful, ow amiable, must be those gardens enclosed, the rising youth, in the vigour and prime of life! when their minds are circumscribed, and animated to piety; when they have upon them in indubitable proofs of the handywork of God; standing immoveably upright on the side of religion and virtue; keeping out all the works of darkness, by wall of divine erection!
How excellent are these gardens enclosed! Their conversation and behaviour, how edifying! how exemplary! how truly honourable! their admission is sure into that glorious house, not made with hands, (2 Cor. 5:1) to a perpetual festival, an eternal fruition of the unspeakably rich rewards of the good works, which they have been enabled to perform, to the glorifying of their Father who is in heaven.
Than such a blessed society as this, I know of nothing that can possibly be deemed more amiable upon the face of the earth; nothing more consistent with the design of Heaven; or more resembling, for those that are young, to remember their Creator in the days of their youth, (Eccles. 12:1) with a continual reverence; and to give up their hearts to him, in the perfection of love; for the most desirable part of the whole creation to live thus, amidst the bloom and lustre of the spring-time of life, is to constitute the beauty of holiness! The one great ornament of the garden of the Lord here on earth!
Ye heads of families! fathers, mothers, and guardians, that preside over and sustain the various relations in domestic life; every carefully prosecute your own eternal happiness, and the happiness of all those over whom you are placed in charge! exhorting them in tender affection, and encouraging them by worthy example, to set their affections on things above; (Col. 3:2) watchfully guarding, and even confining them, in order to preserve them from all harms and corruptions of vice, as gardens enclosed within the limits of that holy fear, which is a fountain of life, that preserves from the snares of death (Prov. 13:14) and prepares for a crown of glory, in the regions of eternal felicity!
When the ties of nature become joined with the ties of grace, and together rest upon the minds of parents and guardians, they cannot but be solicitous that their offspring and charge may be favoured, in an eminent degree, with divine preservation; they would then earnestly desire to hlep them forward in their way, being qualified to day up to the rising generation, Follow me, as I follow Christ. I am persuaded, had this been more generally the case, had they themselves, I say, really lived as gardens enclosed within the bounds of divine wisdom, and government, our Christian society would have worn a different aspect to what it now does. Could parents and heads of families, from time to time have appealed to the Searcher of Hearts, for the uprightness of their intentions, and the rectitude of their conduct in these most important concerns, thenm might they have said with holy confidence, Lord! now lettest thy servant depart in peace; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation! ((Luke 2:29, 30.)
What think ye, parents? ye that live as if it were in a state of stupefaction; what think ye of the important moment, when in the sight of God, angels, and men, inquisition for blood shall be made? What think ye of the preparation of rendering the account with joy at the dread tribunal of final judgment? in which an inquiry into the discharge of your several duties, in this respect, will most assuredly be made? It is possible, and indeed I cannot but believe it consistent with the goodness of the Supreme Being, that, where the natural parents have been negligent in the discharge of this important trust, and have conducted their offspring in to bye-ways and crooked paths, forgetful of the way that leadeth to life eternal, the everlasting Father hath not been wholly unmindful of his children, thus abandoned to the wiles of the destroyer; but hath frequently reached forth a kind hand to such, and will continue to make up to them, who gratefully receive his kindness, and obey his voice, the deficiency of such past paternal care; even by the virute of his living power in their hearts: in the meantime, the very criminal neglect of such parents will, notwithstanding this, draw down on them its own weight of condemnation: "the hand-writing on the wall," will still remain against them, like wicked Belshazzer, they will be weighed in the balance, and found wanting. (Dan. 5:27.)
Indeed it must be confessed, and I am thoroughly assured, that all parents are not thus negligent: I cannot but remember the inestimable father I had early in life; and above all things, his almost unexampled care and tenderness over his infant offspring. I well remember the very powerful and moving eloquence of descending tears! when he collected his numerous family of little ones about him, and in the time of our extreme tenderness, and very early years, how often he hath wept over us, when he hath been recommending us to the throne of grace! though I cannot repeat the immediate language he uttered upon these occasions, which were so extremely interesting to us all!
I wandered, as to myself, indeed I may say, and strayed from the garden enclosed, in many of the succeeding steps of my life; and even ow stand as a monument of mercy amongst you! whilst I thus afresh remember and recite this amazing instance of a tender parent's anxious and unabated care, for our preservation out of the evils that abound in the world; for our having a safe place within the enclosures, where Christ feedeth his flock, and maketh them to rest at noon! (Cant. 1:7)
O, fathers and mothers! I beseech you, by the mercies of God, and the solemn account you must one day close with him, that you lay this charge seriously to heart; still offering up your humble petitions to the Father of Light, that he would enable you, more and more, to instruct the children he hath blessed you with, in the one thing needful; in order that being thus favoured, thus enlightened and enlarged by his power, you may have nothing to do but die, when that time shall arrive; nothing to charge yourselves with, in relation to the neglect of this great duty, when the measure of your days shall be accomplished; but may render up your accounts with joy, and receive the beatific sentence of well done good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful in a little; I will make thee ruler over more, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord. (Matt. 25:21.)
A garden enclose is my sister, my spouse.--May we pay all due honour to the testimony of Christ respecting his Church, both as individuals, as heads of families, and parents of children; and more and more sustain, with diligence and propriety, in all our several stations, the character of gardens enclosed; or be as "plants therein, of the Lord's own right-hand planting;" plentifully adorned and enriched with all the good fruits, were in the day when the Lord raised them up, fed, and miraculously supported them! and may fervently pray, that Sion might arise and shine, and shake herself from the dust of the earth; and put on her beautiful gardens! (Isa. 1:2, 60:1) and that many amongst us, who yet need it, might shake themselves from those outward things that adorn us, as they vainly imagine; that "divine beauty and lustre," which once conspicuously shined upon and adorned our Sion, may again be restored, and continue to dwell amongst us: and, in order to this, may we study more and more the increase of righteousness and true holiness; encouraging one another by good example, and by tender counsel in the pursuit thereof; as we cannot, consistent with our love of God, be indifferent in our wished for the happiness and welfare of any of our fellow creatures, nor say of our brother, "Let him alone, leave him to himself, it is sufficient for me to mind myself." Since it is our immediate duty to watch over him, and to be ready, on every occasion, tenderly to advise and assist, to prevent or support him; and not answer the Lord, when he shall require an account of his welfare from me,--Am I my brother's keeper? (Gen. 2:6)
At this door, my friends, unspeakable damage hath entered, and widely spread amongst us as a people; even through this neglect, the grand deceiver hath more easily broke into this and the other family; the power of seduction hath taken place; and many young people may be said to have laid violent hands on their own souls, and those of others too, in their gradual stepping out of the garden enclosed.
"Am I my brother's keeper? What have I to do with the welfare of another?" This hath greatly obstructed the increase of our felicity, as a collective body; the progress of our Sion; and introduced the destroyer; who hath broke into our enclosure, and made a sorrowful devastation among the flock and family of God. Where I see thus the danger of the hedge (which the Lord in mercy made about us,) being broke down; I cannot help expressing my concern, and using my speedy and vigilant efforts to prevent, as much as possible, the beginning and increase of so great an evil.
Is there even a servant lad, or a servant girl, that hath continued neglected, and their minds left to wander at will? I cannot but feel for them, with an earnest desire of informing such, and drawing them, if possible, within the limits of the garden enclosed; that they might enjoy the benefit and delightful assurance of immortal happiness, from their entrance into, and continuance in well doing! Many fly from their own interest, forget the God that made them, and even account the blood of the covenant as an unholy thing, (Heb. 10:29) for want of having their minds properly centered, and their judgments duly enlightened; and therefore it is all your duty, who are advanced within the heavenly bounds, and are grown up into a capacity of service, so faithfully to improve your talents, that ye may become instrumental, to enlighten their understanding, and to administer to them a suitable degree of spiritual health: not to say, "Am I my brother's keeper?" but if ye love God, to love your neighbour also: to lead him within the heritage and limits of the enclosed garden; within the "impregnable defence of that city whose walls are salvation."
I know well, friends, that though my education was within the garden enclosed, yet I wandered far from it; and in my departing, laid myself open to the enemy of my soul. I kept the worst of company; I subjected myself to almost temptation; broke through the fence of the sacred enclosure! trampled it under my feet! and when for a time I found the least inclination to do good, evil was present with me! and I went on from one degree of it to another! my wickedness so far increased with my diligence, that at length, alas! I beheld the strong wall broken down! the mound left defenceless! and no hopes left of returning peace to my afflicted soul!
O ye, who are the hopes of the next generation! the steps I have trod, warrant me to expostulate with, and to warn you of the most dreadful danger of that deviation, to which youth is too prone, for want of due and timely reflection, suitable to its vast importance; and the extreme difficulty of treading back, or extricating yourselves from it, when the mind os once engaged and entered into the path of folly: believe me, now is your acceptable time; now is the day of the Lord's tender mercy afforded to you: flatter not yourselves, therefore, with the hope of its being time enough, that in some future part of your lives you will diligently seek him: now is your seed-time; your hour of profitable diligence; and not in the decline of life. Life frequently is held by a moment of time! it passes, and man is not more seen! All flesh is grass, and its beauty as the flow of the field; the grass withereth, and the flower fadeth. (Isa. 40:6) The grave, to which we are all hastening, ought to be an early lesson of serious instruction, sounding the alarm in the ears of every youth; seeing it is frequently opened to receive its victim in the very bloom of life! and before the years draw nigh, in which, (in the course of nature,) they can take no pleasure (Eccles. 12:1)--boast not, therefore, thyself of tomorrow, since thou knowest not what a day may bring forth; (Prov. 27:1) but rather let the examples of others teach thee, the absolute necessity of improving the present moments; and duly to reflect upon the imminent danger of delay.
If thy delight be not now within the garden enclosed, thou canst not reasonably expect hereafter to do works meet for repentance: (Acts 26:20) believe me, the evening hour will have its fill of work, even after discharging the duty of the most diligent day; though thou begin this necessary work immediately, thou wilt not have a moment to spare, when thy sands of life are hastening to a close, and thou art finally appointed to tread the silent and solemn path of death! which is an hour that will, doubtless, bring with it a sufficient employment to the most serious mind, and to the most assidious improver of the time that hath been alloted to him in mutability.
O then, ye beloved youth! tat your minds may be thus properly exercised to lay hold of the tings
that belong to your everlasting peace! may you lay these reflections seriously to heart; and may
their good effects demonstrate that they have a powerful and proper influence upon your conduct,
through the whole series of your lives: that ye may finish your course with joy! and be crowned in
the end with glory and immortality! having faithfully answered the boundless love of Christ to his
Church, whose peculiar relation to himself, he expresseth in the endearing language, A garden
enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
We were cast upon rocks, and there left in a destitute state; when thou manifested thy tender regard, stretched forth thy delivering hand, and feed and sustained us by thy watchful providence! Thou wast pleased to look upon us in mercy, in the days of our temporal calamities! to reveal to us the saving arm of thy power, and to cause those very calamities to turn to our solid advantage! Thou, who art encircled with light, didst enlighten our darkness; gave us clearly to understand the great things of thy law; such of them as thou in thy wisdom saw necessary for us. In the day of our utmost need, thou wast pleased to appear for us, and to speak comfort to our afflicted states!
We earnestly beg, that the grateful sense of all these thine unutterably kind dealing with us, may be imprinted on our hearts in characters never to be obliterated! What more have we to ask, but that thou may continue to guide and direct us! that such a sense of thy unmerited mercies may be to us, as often heretofore it hath been, an enlivening comfort, and a strong comfort in the day of trouble: and we do beseech thee, O, blessed Father! to remember all in the like situation: send forth "thy light and thy truth" even amongst those who have never known, or have long forgotten thee. We pray thee, draw them into thy holy house; plant them in thine garden enclosed, forever beautiful, and most excellent garden! their hearts becoming hereby powerfully inclined to attend, with a fixed and unlimited submission, to the salutary discipline of thine omnipresent, and unerring wisdom!
If thou see any cast upon the bed of languishing, do thou be pleased, we humbly pray thee, to afford them the visitation of thy love: let thy divine consolation be their continual attendant, whereby they may be endued with perfect resignation to thy blessed will!
O, thou! that hast poured into our hearts, the fresh and reviving sense of thy unbounded love! accept, we beseech thee, our prayers for our own preservation, and the lifting up of our hands for one another, for the gathering together of many to thyself; who art, and hast been, the restorer of many that have been scattered abroad, that have gone astray, being seduced by various temptations, from thy sacred truth!
For thy great Name's sake, for thy dear Son's sake, and for the sake of thy glorious cause of righteousness! We pray thee, remember the offspring of thy people! incline and strengthen them more and more, to turn towards thee; and "to run the race that is set before them" (Heb. 12:1) that in the places of the honourable fathers, removed to thy kingdom, may succeed their sons; steadily walking in their footsteps, to the glory of thy Name; that generation to generation may tell thy acts, and age to age pronounce thy goodness and marvelous power! who, through manifold temptations and trials, preservest "unspotted from the world," them who trust in Thee, and adhere to the dictates of thy grace.
Be with the people assembled here at this time; and in a particular manner with those that are thine in heart, and dedicated to thy service. Endue, we pray thee, with the spirit of sound judgment, "those that sit in judgment;" and strengthen those who are enlisted in to thine army, "engaged under thy banner, and that turn the battle to the gate," that they may so act, and "so fight the good fight of faith," (1 Tim. 6:12) as to lay hold on eternal life! which thou art now, in this day of thy mercy, freely offering unto all!
May the ministers and stewards of thy word, cheerfully proceed in thy glorious cause, speaking powerfully in wisdom to all, that many may become, through their calls, yet more and more ardently inclined to listen to the doctrine of thy Son, and to be instructed in thy law, immediately form his internal voice in their own hearts.
O, holy and infinite Father of all our mercies! grant, we beseech thee, being preserved in our stations, as those who are "risen with Christ, our affections may be set on things which are above," that "when he who is our life shall appear, we also may appear with him in glory!" (Col. 3:1-4.)
May all our faculties, and all that is within us, bless thy great and excellent name! Mya we perpetually approach thy throne with confidence, to offer thee the oblation of humble prayer, and grateful praise and thanksgiving, now, henceforth, and for ever, world without end! Amen.