|Sermon – Fasting – 1799|
|Eliphalet Gillet – 04/25/1799|
This is a fast sermon preached by Eliphalet Gillet (1768-1848) in Hallowell, Maine on April 25, 1799. This national fast day was proclaimed by President John Adams. The text of the sermon has been updated to reflect modern spelling and grammar.
Hallowell, April 25th, 1799.
The Day Appointed
By Eliphalet Gillet, A. M.
To administer government, whether civil or ecclesiastical, in such a manner as not to give offence, is peculiarly difficult. The meekness of Moses was proverbial; and yet it did not shield him from the tongue of slander. His designs were presumed to be unfavorable to the people, and his measures criminated as the height of usurpation. The opposition began by secret murmurs against his administrations, and afterwards broke out into open rebellion. At the head of these malcontents were Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The opposition was formidable—the mutinous spirit pervaded all ranks; and it must necessarily have issued in the subversion of their government, and the prostration of civil and religious order, had not the Lord miraculously interposed. For there were embarked in this iniquitous cause “two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown.” [Numbers 16:2]
They had, it seems, by some Paine or Godwin who was among them, been infatuated with the visionary idea of an “Age of Reason,” and of unrestrained “Liberty and equality.” This so possessed their minds that they could not yield submission to the constituted authorities, even though they were of divine appointment. In their wild career they had lost sight of the excellence and necessity of subordination in society. And they were far from rendering honor to whom honor was due. “They gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift you up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” [Numbers 16:3] Moses went out and expostulated with them. He entreated them to canvass the matter coolly, and see whether they were not actually gathered together against the Lord. “For what is Aaron, says he, that ye should murmur against him?” [Numbers 16:11] But their passions were too violent to be reasoned with, and they were too impatient of restraint to suffer either God or man to rule over them. They reply with a zeal that borders upon desperation—“Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us.” [Numbers 16:13] Their ULTIMATUM is then subjoined, “Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.” From this passage of scripture, in its connection, we are naturally led to speak of
THE DANGER OF A SPIRIT OF INSUBORDINATION, AND THE MEANS BY WHICH IT IS EXCITED.That God designed the state of man as a state of subordination is very evident from their different endowments of mind, and the diverse gifts of providence. The same might with truth be remarked of the angels, and all superior intelligences. There are thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers; as also Cherubim and Seraphim. And much of the beauty and harmony of any system depend upon a regular disposition of its component parts. But the lust, pride and selfishness of mankind, the fatal effects of the apostasy, render other distinctions necessary among them, arising from civil offices, either immediately bestowed by God, or granted by the suffrages of their fellow men. There must be “ministers of God, for good, to be a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well.” [Romans 13:3-4]
A spirit of insubordination may be considered in two respects
In reference to God, there can be no longer danger of there ultimately overthrowing His government, because He has all power in His hand. This sinning angel found by fatal experience, when thrust out of heaven, and “reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.” [Jude 1:6] This our first parents found, when banished from the Garden of Eden, and condemned to till a soil which “brought forth thorns and thistles.” [Genesis 3:18] This the Israelites found, when slain in the wilderness for their murmurings, or sold to their enemies for their idolatry. And indeed this all mankind have found, in the troubles and calamities of life, which come in consequence of sin, and rebellion against God. “Sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death, with its numerous trains of evils, hath passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” [Romans 5:12] It is a melancholy truth that there is by nature, universally, in man a total submission to the law of God. “They are not subject to His law, nor indeed can be. [Romans 8:7] The law is holy, just and good,” [Romans 7:12] but they are under the dominion of sin, and cannot serve two masters. This spirit is not only universal; but it is a dangerous spirit. It exposes men to condemnation. It subjects them, if persisted in, to eternal death.—For almost six thousand years, God has proclaimed His few, comparatively, in every age, have yielded to His solicitations. He has given up His own Son as a propitiation for their sins: so that God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. —-And he committed the word of reconciliation to the apostles, and their successors in the gospel ministry, who are ambassadors for Christ, and who are praying the world, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God. Still the “world lieth in wickedness.” [1 John 5:19] Well might God say, as in Isaiah 15:2,3, “I have spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts: a people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face.” And Proverbs 1:26,27, “I also will laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear cometh; when their fear cometh as desolation and their destruction as a whirlwind.”
But our subject leads us more particularly to consider the danger of a spirit of insubordination to civil government.
I wish here to be understood, as meaning a good government—calculated for the benefit of those who contribute to its support. There have been tyrannies and usurpations, both in church and state, which ought to be resisted and which every good man would feel in duty bound to resist, even unto blood. He must have an obdurate heart who can shut his ears against the cries of the oppressed; and a want of resolution who can forbear to redress their grievances even though at the peril of life. The ancient exploded doctrine of non-resistance in every situation is as inconsistent with the well-being of society as the equalizing principles of infidel philosophy so current at the present day.
But when a good government is opposed and resisted, the consequences are serious. There is danger both in reference to the government itself and those who endeavor to counteract its operations. When Moses heard the rebellious language of Korah and his company, “he fell upon his face.” [Numbers 6:4] He viewed it as portending evil to the Commonwealth of Israel. And so indeed it terminated. For the anger of the Lord went out against those who had mutinied, “and the earth opened up her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.” [Numbers 16: 32-34]
One of these two consequences generally follows an opposition to government; either an entire suspension of law and justice, or a more rigid administration. The reason why the Israelites felt neither of these consequences was the immediate interposition of God in cutting off the adversaries. Now the suspension of law, or the subversion of government is in itself a very great evil, and warrantable only in cases, of imperious necessity. Anarchy is worse than almost any kind of government. Even the arbitrary measures of Charles I and the oppressions of that day were exceeded by the anarchy and confusion, or perhaps more properly speaking, by the despotism, which accompanied the temporary subversion of the monarchy. So that, in certain circumstances, where there is a real evil, a remedy injudiciously applied may be worse than the disease. But however a body politic, that is disordered in its functions, may justify a hazardous regimen; the suspension of the operation of a good and equal government must be matter of regret to all who wish for “liberty with order.” Government is the good man’s security. It guarantees his property and his peace. It is like a city which hath “gates and bars.” And he might as well think of hating his own flesh, as to hate that which nourisheth and cherisheth it. The penal consequences of a good government do not affect righteous men, but the lawless and disobedient. The ends which it has in view are a restraint upon wickedness, and the advancement of the general good.
But, suppose the government maintain its ground against all encroachments and a check is put to every aspiring faction; the evil does not end here. An additional burden is laid upon society; the public expenditures are necessarily increased; and the peaceable share with the restless the bitter fruits of their ill-judged labors. Every tumult, which calls forth the arm of authority for its suppression, is a draught upon the public treasure. And not only so but it has a tendency to cause the cords of government to be drawn tighter to prevent, in the future, similar events. This seems to be a necessary consequence. Government must have energy enough to secure the ends and designs of it. People must give up so great a portion of their natural liberties and privileges as to enjoy the remainder in tranquility and peace. And it must be obvious to everyone, that the more a spirit of insubordination prevails, the more our liberties must be curtailed, in order to give efficacy to the administration. If therefore a nation would live free—if they would relinquish the smallest portion possible of their natural rights and privileges, they must put on the “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” [1 Peter 3:4] They must not, like Korah and his company, fly into a passion because they despair of the first offices of state or because they are called upon to support that government which is the guardian of their dearest treasures.
I now proceed to mention the means by which a spirit of insubordination is excited.
First, The spread of irreligious principles.—Irreligion made war in heaven. And it is the source of war and contention on earth. If the Holy Scriptures can be brought into disrepute and no longer considered as the law of our actions, much is done towards the subversion of a government founded in justice and administered by wisdom. Because our religion inculcates obedience, “not only for wrath but conscience sake.” [Romans 13:5] Our religion inculcates a quiet, pacific disposition. And a good government cannot be resisted without a very different temper of mind. Where the principles of irreligion are deeply rooted in the soul, you will find a uniform opposition to every kind of punishment under the divine government. They declaim warmly against the idea of God’s vindicating the honor of his law by chastising the rebellious. And hence they renounce the Governor of the universe in His true character and paint to themselves a Being who is reconciled to them in their courses of iniquity. Such principles necessarily operate against restraints and punishments under human authority. The idea of a day of judgment and a state of retribution is very efficacious in promoting not only piety towards God but order, peace, and harmony in the world. Irreligious principles may be necessary to the support of tyranny or oppression. It cannot well be carried on unless the leaders have drunk deep in this spirit. But they are the bane of good government. They unhinge every connection in society. The tenderest ties in families are dissolved, and this influence extends to the great family of the nation.
It is a common observation, and erroneous as it is common, that principles have no influence upon practice: and therefore it is of very little importance what persons believe. Paul judged very differently. “Shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness: and their word will eat as doth a canker.” [2 Timothy 2:16-17] An irreligious principle is like gangrene in the soul. It taints the whole system. The man, like Ahab, sells himself to work wickedness. He becomes a fit instrument for the service of those who wish to sacrifice their country in hopes of rising upon its ruins. And until such instruments are multiplied, the prostration of those establishments, which promote order and peace and secure the public good, can never be accomplished. It is the bulk of mankind that bring about great events. It is not a few visionary philosophers, immured [imprisoned] in their closets, that can do it. I mean, not by their own strength. But fatal experience proves they may by the dissemination of irreligious principles. If they can debauch the public mind and bring people to think they ought to be under no restraints, either human or divine, the work is almost fitted to their hands. They can then, by an imperceptible exertion, guide the multitude in their own way and accomplish their most atrocious purposes. “Behold the ships which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about by a very small helm, whithersoever the governor lifteth.” [James 3:4] After the principles of infidelity are sown, and the roots of bitterness begin to spring up, they systematic votaries of faction and discord look upon the victory as obtained. They have little else to do than to bear away the spoil.
The false prophet, Balaam, was “wiser in his generation than the children of light.” [Luke 16:8] He saw that it was in vain to curse Israel so long as they remained true to the principles of their religion. But if he could call them off to idolatry and cause them to bow the knee to the gods of the Moabites, he looked upon his atrocious designs as accomplished. He justly viewed it as no difficult task to curse a people that had brought down a curse upon themselves. The Scribes and Pharisees pursued the same measures in procuring the crucifixion of Christ. They would persuade the multitude not to adhere to his doctrines of religion. “Have any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees believed on him.” [John 7:48] And after they had proscribed his religion, and by their hypocrisy made it appear that his principles were hostile to the public good, they had the voice of the multitude at their command, whenever they wished to cry, “Crucify him, crucify him!” [Matthew 27:22; Mark 15: 13-14; Luke 23:21; John 19:6]
I have dwelt the longer upon this head from the consideration that our eternal as well as temporal interest is involved in it. The principles of irreligion unfit the mind for the service of God here or for His glory hereafter. They unfit us for usefulness in our day and generation and deprive us of that continual feast, which is served up by a “conscience void of offence towards God, and towards man.” [Acts 24:16] They lie at the bottom off all those crimes, which have blackened the pages of history; and their pernicious influence is too frequently visible in seas of blood. They cause different nations to encroach upon each other’s rights and privileges. They cause brothers to fall out by the way. And they cause a man to fall out with himself. Nothing but infidelity could inspire a man with rashness enough to precipitate his own death or, I might say, with more propriety perhaps, with too much cowardice to live. “The ravages of Alexander, were probably less injurious to the human race, and less guilty before God, than the ravages of the moral world by Hume or Voltaire.” 1
Secondly, Another mean of exciting on opposition to government is the perversion of that most salutary principle that “Men are born free and equal, and 2 have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights.” 3 Because one man has no natural to tyrannize over another, it does not follow that persons may not surrender a portion of their original and natural privileges for the sake of security and peace. Suppose men naturally possess an equal right to exercise authority or, which is the same thing, that there is no inherent right in any—a truth essential to all free governments, and suppose further, that which never takes place, that property, strength, and wisdom, were in equal measure bestowed, it would not disprove the necessity of inequality and subordination, when they enter into civil society, and cast in their influence and energy into one common stock, for their better security against unjust encroachments. “Everybody politic is formed, in the first place, by a voluntary association of individuals, who have entered into a mutual engagement; and, in the next place, by a social compact, in which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws, in one uniform manner, 4 for the common good; 5 that THE RIGHT IN THE PEOPLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE LEGISLATURE IS THE BEST SECURITY OF LIBERTY, AND THE FOUNDATION OF ALL FREE GOVERNMENT.” 6 Were power equally vested in every individual of a nation, they would be in no posture of defense. In order for the accomplishment of any beneficial purposes there must be a head, and he must have authority and power enough, under constitutional limitations, to guide the whole body. Much of the strength of a nation depends on concentrating its energies. The scattered rays of the sun afford but a feeble heat, but collected by burning glass, their operation is visible. An equality, therefore, is absolutely impossible. It is a thing entirely visionary under any kind of government. Whoever is vested with authority, as the minister of justice, whether for a longer or shorter space of time, whether by hereditary right or by the suffrages of his fellow citizens, is, for the time being, from the nature of his office, above the people, and they are necessarily in a state of subordination—of subordination to laws, and to men, only as they are the appointed guardians of those laws.
And this to many a “sore evil under the sun.” [Ecclesiastes 5:13] The language of Korah and his company was, “Ye take too much upon you.” And why? Was there any oppression? Was there any extortion? Had Moses and Aaron iniquitously invaded the property of the people, and ground the faces of the poor? Moses appeals to God. “I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.” [Numbers 16:15] Nay, they do not so much as accuse them of any such thing. They were rather deemed guilty of the unpardonable presumption of fulfilling the duties of their station—a station above those who were private members of the Commonwealth. “Seeing all the congregation are holy, say they, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; wherefore then lift you up yourselves above the congregation of the lord?” Why should one man be lifted above another, in order to exercise authority? Why not administer government in such a manner that there should be a perfect equality? Or, in other words, why not govern us without any government at all? And this is a state which desperate characters would rejoice in, who have everything to gain and nothing to lose by inverting the order of things, and who long to riot in the spoils of their fellow-men, without fear of those punishments which their crimes deserve, and to which god and wholesome laws subject them.
Thirdly, Another mean of exciting an insubordination to government is suggesting that the restrictions under which we are placed, and the burdens which are laid upon us are unnecessary and, at the same time, entirely arbitrary. This was the method Satan took to excite our first parents to revolt from God. He did not openly attack the divine government. This might have shocked them and frustrated his diabolical purpose. But he slyly insinuated that some things were wrong. They were under certain restrictions, which were of no benefit, and which prevented them from the enjoyment of a great portion of happiness. “Yea, hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” [Genesis 3:1] It is hardly credible. And of this tree, more especially. He might as well have forbidden you every other tree in the garden. This tree, you see, is good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise. And God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, instead of dying as ye suppose, your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. They yielded to his solicitations, and a strange kind of gods they found themselves transformed into. They knew good and evil, it was true: they knew the worth of good by its loss, and the misery of evil by suffering it.
This mode, however disingenuous, is calculated to ensure success. For we are apt to think we could bear any kind of burden better than that which is laid upon us. Though we would not exclaim against every kind of restraint and think every burden unjust, yet we may be easily made to feel that those we have to struggle with are, in their nature, the most insupportable, and must certainly have arisen from the negligence or, what is worse, the caprice of those who enjoined them. Resistance against such measures, therefore, may be thought a duty instead of a crime because it has a tendency to cause those in authority to bethink themselves and amend their ways. Which leads me to observe,
Fourthly, That another mean of exciting insubordination is weakening the confidence of people in their rulers. Certain among the children of Israel, when they saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount, gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, “Up, make us gods which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, we wot not what has become of him.” [Exodus 32:23] After persons can be induced to think and speak lightly of the ruler of the people, they have but a step further to go to contemn his authority. They will soon call upon Aaron to make them a “golden calf.” Anything but their present rulers will be acceptable. In their frenzy they will pass by wisdom, experience and integrity, as well as forget a long list of past services, and marshal themselves under some leader who has courage enough to embark in the storm or too little discernment to see the danger. Those therefore possess great power in causing opposition to constituted authorities, who can weaken our confidence in reference to their characters or public measures. This is a poison which, though gradual, is effectual. Nothing more certainly answers its end. It deprives the ruler of weight and prepares the public mind to withstand his operations.
Fifthly, Ascribing all calamities to the bad management of those in authority is another mean of exciting opposition to government. It is very wrong for people, when their sins have brought down the judgments of God upon them, to lay them to their rulers account and say, as Ahab did to Elijah, in the time of the famine, “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” [1 Kings 18:17] “Thou hast not brought us,” say the discontented Israelites to Moses, “into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards.” [Numbers 16:14] And what was the reason? Was it not their persevering obstinacy and unbelief? Yet they could complain of Moses being about “to kill them in the wilderness.” [Numbers 16:13] This is a dangerous fire when once kindled because there is enough fuel to keep it burning. There are calamities and evils enough under the best of governments to bring those who are in authority into disrepute if they must all be laid to their charge. When the rain of heaven is withheld or the public treasury exhausted by the depredation of lawless men, it is very easy and very popular for persons to rise up and exclaim against the management of the rulers. It is very easy for them to report concerning the best of rulers and, in such circumstances, not difficult to give it currency, that they are aspiring after their own aggrandizement and are very prodigal of the public wealth. And that if the present characters were displaced, and they allowed to succeed them, there would immediately be a retrenchment of the expenditures, and the public would be served for one half of the present revenue. But those public services, my hearers, which through a love of pre-eminence are to be given away, are always to be suspected. Men who zealously seek offices are not always those who fill them with most honor to themselves or with most profit to the nation.
Lastly, Professing an unusual degree of respect for the liberty and the happiness of the people has ever proved a most powerful and successful mean of exciting opposition to the administration of government. If a person is considerably exalted by office, by property, or by influence; and has the address to make us believe, when he attacks the administration, that he has much more regard to our happiness than he has to his own, he becomes a fit engine for the destruction of government. His efforts shake the pillars of the edifice and, unless timely checked, will end in its ruin.
Those who rose up against Moses and Aaron did it not so much on their own account, if we may credit their assertions, as they did on the account of those who were below them. For these, they sighed in the most pathetic manner. A fight of their calamities pierced them to the heart. “Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men?” It is not our own cause we are pleading. Being princes in the assembly, men famous in the congregation, we do not so sensibly feel your oppressions. But so long as the yoke of tyranny is upon the necks of these people, “we will not come up” nor submit to your authority. And many were credulous enough to believe them. Hence they rallied round their standard in the true spirit of anarchy: and never left them till a sense of their own danger awakened them. When the earth clave asunder and swallowed them up, then they fled, and cried, “Lest the earth swallow us up also.”
Absalom, in his endeavors to usurp the kingdom of his Father David, made use of the same hypocritical pretensions. As he was the king’s son and most tenderly beloved, he had no grievances of his own to complain of; but he was very much affected for the grievances of the people. “He rose up early and stood beside the way of the gate; and it was so that when any man that had a controversy came to the king for judgment, he called unto him, and said, see thy matters are good and right, but there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee. Absalom said moreover, oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice. And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand and took him and kissed him.” [2 Samuel 15:2-5] These soothing arts did not fail of success. The greater part of the whole nation cried, “God save king Absalom.”
The histories of Greece and Rome furnish numberless instances of the same nature; where addresses to the passions of people have issued in a victory over their reason and a sacrifice of their happiness. Cromwell, in England, had a most passionate regard for the liberties of the people. This stimulated him with much violence against the reigning monarch. It was this that led him to the determination not to leave him so long as his head remained on his shoulders. And as soon as this important object was accomplished, he took the reins of government into his own hand, and under the gentle title of protector, exercised the most arbitrary sway they had ever felt since the Norman Conquest. And we have still more recent instances in the regicides of France. Out of a pure, disinterested love for the people, they have filled the streets of their cities with rivers of blood, If such characters think they have the good of mankind in view, they “know not what spirit they are of:” [Luke 9:55] and those who put confidence in them will find them, as Egypt was to Israel, a “reed that will pierce through their hand.” [Isaiah 36:6]
IMPROVEMENTIf the spread of infidelity, the inculcation of a visionary system of equality, complaint of arbitrary restrictions, speaking evil of our rulers, and laying the calamities of the nation to their charge, and hiding the designs of ambition under the cover of a pure, disinterested respect to the liberty and happiness of the people, are means of exciting a spirit of insubordination, dangerous to civil government, and fatal to our future peace, we have reason to fear for the state of our country, and look to the God of our fathers for our protection. These means have been used in America. “Principles subversive of the foundation of all religious, moral, and social obligations, that have produced incalculable mischief and misery in other countries, have been disseminated among us:” 7 and they will be fatally successful, unless resisted by the piety, good sense and wisdom of the people. Nothing proves so effectual a barrier to dangerous innovations or is so happily calculated to secure peace and perpetuate the dignity of a nation as vital and practical godliness. A friend to God cannot be a foe to civil order. Whatever reasons persons in other countries may have to justify their conduct in rising up against government on account of tyranny and oppression, we can have none. We have a government of our own choice and we have a mild government. Our public men have no authority only what we invest them with at very short intervals. And if their conduct displease us, we remove them at our pleasure. We have as much liberty as we can possibly enjoy and have our lives, property and privileges secure.—And there is reason to fear that the restless, disorganizing spirit that prevails in the land, will render it impossible for us to continue so great a share as we now possess. When I say our government is good, I speak the language of the whole nation. There are none who avow the contrary, however zealous they may be for its subversion. This would be affronting the good sense of the people. They have all felt its beneficial effects. If our government is not good, we have spent a great portion of blood and treasure to very little purpose. It is much more sure way of exciting a seditious spirit to attack those who administer it, and to resist all its particular operations. They are friends to government but enemies to its administration. To this subtle policy, as its source may be traced the late insurrection 8 which, though matter of deep regret as it is “discord among brethren,” affords a timely discovery of the genuine fruits of those principles against which we ought to be on our guard. When those in authority inveigh against the law of the land, it is no more than a reasonable calculation to expect an open resistance. I know we do not deserve peace or any other blessing from God. And if He should always continue us in broils and contentions and dash us one against another, it would not be the one half of what our sins deserve. To all, therefore, who are stirred up to rebellion which is as the sin of witchcraft, we may say in the words of David to Saul, “If the Lord have stirred thee up against us, let him accept an offering; but if they be the children of men, cursed be they before the Lord.” [1 Samuel 26:19] – That person should differ in their views, respecting the good of their country, from their diversity of circumstances and local situations or from want of extensive information, is neither strange nor uncommon: but that they should adopt measures to resist the operations of government, to throw the nation into confusion, can be accounted for in no other way, only that they are “foolish Galatians” and somebody hath “bewitched them.” [Galatians 3:1]
In addition to all the evils we have to encounter at home we are exposed to danger from the Punic faith of the Republic of France.
Or, as the President has well expressed it in the Proclamation, “The most precious interests of the people of the United States are held in jeopardy, by the hostile designs and insidious arts of a foreign nation.” Our danger arises from the consideration of our being “too slow of heart to believe” [Luke 24:25] they are inimical [unfavorable] to us, and inimical to all those institutions which are calculated to promote the glory of God and the good of mankind. They may be the most humane, the most benevolent, and the most religious nation in the world: but if so, the tree is not known by its fruit. The grapes are certainly the grapes of Sodom and the clusters are the clusters of Gomorrah. If they gain an ascendency over us, farewell to that subordination which is necessary to our peace, liberty, and happiness; and farewell to that reverence which is due to God and to the religion of Jesus.
In the beginning of their struggles, their object was in some measure concealed; but we no longer “see through a glass darkly.” [1 Corinthians 13:12] Nothing less than the subjugation of all nations can satisfy their rapacity. The ambition of these modern Caesars and Alexanders has no line of demarcation but the horizon. It is a gigantic, colossal monster that is bestriding the universe. Fraternizing the Hollanders, subjugating the Geneveans, and massacring the Swiss 9 was considered by them only as a Prologue to the tragedy they designed to act upon the great theatre of the world. And hitherto it has been a very moving tragedy. Each Act has presented no imaginary Scenes of the sacking of kingdoms and slaughtered nations weltering in blood. “Instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united: for in their anger they have slain men, and in their self-will they have dug down walls. Cursed be their anger for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel.” 10 If the destruction of America does not swell the catalogue of their enormities, it will be prevented, under God, by our union, by our submission to the laws, by our support of the constituted authorities, and by our adherence to the blessed religion of the Gospel.
It may be said, however, Though the nation by whom our interests are considered as held in jeopardy has, in time past, treated us roughly and though, as one of her own poets 11 hath said, she meant to “fleece” us, yet her language now towards us assumes a different tone. To which I would reply in the words of the Mantuan bard,
Charity hopeth all things, but it will be early enough to give full credence after their works manifest it. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” [Matthew 7:16, 20] Should they ever become “clothed and in their right mind,” [Mark 5:15; Luke 8:35] a door is open on the part of America for a friendly negotiation.
Happy for the cause of Zion, that amidst the concussion of nations and shaking of empires, One rules over all, who is able to bring light out of darkness, and order out of confusion, and to make even the wrath of man praise him. To this Almighty Being may we look for divine grace, to prevent s from going in the way of Cain, or running greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, or from perishing in the gainsaying of Korah. AMEN.
1. Dr. Dwight. (Return)
2. Massachusetts Constitution, Part 1, Art. 1. (Return)
3. Pennsylvania’s Const. Chap. 1, Art. 1. (Return)
4. Virg. Const. Art. XVI. (Return)
5. Preamble to Mass. And Penns. Const. (Return)
6. Maryland Decla. Of Rights, Art. V. (Return)
7. Proclamation. (Return)
8. In the counties of Northampton, Bucks and Montgomery (Pen.). (Return)
9. Vide J. M. DuPan on the destruction of the Helvetic Union. (Return)
10. Gen. lxix. 5, 6, 7. (Return)
11. Mr. Barlow of Connecticut. (Return)
12. Aeneid B. II. (Return)
13. Ps. 55. 21. (Return)
Archive for the ‘Category – Sermons of Revolutionary Era’ Category
|Sermon – Fasting – 1798|
|Jeremy Belknap – 05/09/1798|
Jeremy Belknap (1744-1798) was born in Boston but spent many years in New Hampshire. He graduated from Harvard in 1762 and became a teacher. Belknap was ordained in 1767; in 1775 he was chosen to be chaplain to New Hampshire troops at Cambridge but was unable to take that position. He supported abolishing slavery and the slave trade. Belknap is best known for his History of New Hampshire, a series that was published in three volumes in 1784, 1791 and 1792.
The sermon below was preached shortly before his June 20, 1798 death. This fast sermon was preached in Boston and was given on the “”Day of the National Fast” declared by President John Adams. (The text of Adams’ 1798 fast proclamation is available here.) The text of the sermon was been updated to reflect modern spelling and grammar.
Delivered on the 9th of May, 1798,
By The President
By Jeremy Belknap, D. D.
A proclamation of the President of the United States, appointing a day of prayer or thanksgiving, is not to be considered as an act of legislative or executive authority; because no power is delegated, by the Constitution, to any person to direct us in matters of religion; neither is it an assumption of power or an act of imperfect authority, which needs the interposition of another power to give it effect. But it is a letter of advice, or a friendly call, form a man, whom the people have placed at their head, inviting us to join with him and with one another, in an act of national piety and devotion.
The propriety of such a call, from such a person is so evident, that nothing can be said to make it more evident. Every man who has a sense of his duty to God as our preserver, benefactor and Supreme Governor, must, at once, approve it, and be pleased with it. Had this friendly notice been given in any other way; had it been communicated by a private letter to each religious society or minister, it would have had the same effect as when it comes in the form of a public proclamation.
In the same light, I have always viewed the public calls of the Chief Magistrate of any particular state, to keep days of fasting and thanksgiving. The proclamation is not an act of authority; but of friendship, of piety and gratitude; and derives all its efficacy from the reasonableness of the duty recommended, and from our own consent. Our Chief Magistrates are so convinced of this, that, though in some instances, formerly, the words enjoin, require and forbid, may have been used; yet now we hear nothing but the language of recommendation and advice. The voice of authority in matters of religion is not assumed by American rulers; and if assumed, would not be approved, by American people.
If there be any instances of opposition to a compliance with so rational a duty, as is thus recommended, it is not a subject to wonder. We are assured, that in the most happy times, there will be a disappointed party who, though silenced and incapable of doing mischief, will secretly blaspheme. The old serpent when bound and cast into the bottomless well, will retain his serpentine disposition and take the first opportunity, when permitted, again to deceive the nations. So it must be expected that his emissaries will rebel in their hearts, and gnaw their tongues for pain; for evil men and seducers will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.
And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay; so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men, but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.One great use and intention of prophecy is to keep alive the faith and hope of god’s people in times of calamity and distress. When the city and temple of Jerusalem had been destroyed, and the Jews were carried to Babylon, they had the comfort of the prophecies which had been delivered by Isaiah and Jeremiah that the captivity would continue no more than seventy years; and that at the expiration of that period, a prince should arise, by the name of Cyrus, who would cause the people to be restored to their own hand, and their city and temple to be rebuilt. During this period of the seventy years captivity, there was a series of revelations made to Daniel, and by him recorded for the instruction and comfort of God’s people, in every age of the church; these revelations were made to him in visionary and figurative representations, and the subjects of them were the remarkable events which should befall those nations with whom the church of God should be connected till the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The words now read are part of one of these revelations Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a dream which made an uneasy impression on his mind, but he had forgotten the particulars, and could by no means recollect it, nor could any of the wise men of Babylon assist him in recovering it. They could indeed, by certain rules, interpret a dream when it was related o them; but it was beyond their art and skill to tell a person what he had dreamed when he himself had forgotten it. None could do this but the God “whose dwelling was not with flesh.” [Daniel 2:11] For this incapacity, the monarch, in a fit of tyrannic passion, commanded all the wise men in Babylon to be slain; and among them, Daniel and his companions were to be put to death; but upon his promise to show the king him dream, a suspension of the decree was obtained; and after solemn prayer to God, the secret was revealed to Daniel who declared it to the king in these words.
The same series of events was afterward represented to Daniel himself, in a vision of four beasts, answering to the four parts of the image, and signifying the same four kingdoms, with some farther particulars relating to the church of God. This vision is recorded in the 7th chapter; and there is another vision representing the same events, by the figures of a ram and a goat, in the 8th chapter. These visions were intended to conduct the mind of devout inquirers, through all the grand events, to the establishment of the universal kingdom of the Son of God, which will break in pieces and destroy all these kingdoms and stand forever.
If it be asked, in what part of the times, signified by this vision, do we live? Or, what events here set down, are to us past, present, and future? To give an answer to this question, we must consider how far divine Providence has explained the vision in its several parts. The golden heard of the image, as Daniel himself said, was the Babylonian empire, of which Nebuchadnezzar was the reigning prince; “thou art this head of gold.” It was then in the height of its splendor and glory; and the imperial city was emphatically called the “golden city.” The same empire was signified by the lion with eagle’s wings, in the 7th chapter. It was overthrown before Daniel’s death, by Cyrus, then general and afterward king of the Medes and Persians.
The silver breast and arms of the image represented the kingdom of the Medes and Persians; which succeeded by the Babylonian monarchy. This was signified by Daniel under the figure of a bear with three ribs in his mouth, in the 7th chapter, and afterwards of a ram with two horns, in the 8th chapter.
The brazen belly and thighs signified the Macedonian empire, conducted by Alexander, and continued by his four successors. This answered to the leopard with four heads and four wings, in the 7th chapter, and to the goat, first with one horn and afterward with four horns, in the 8th chapter.
These three empires, the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, and the Macedonian, have long since given place to the fourth, the Roman empire; which is meant by the iron legs and feet of the image, and by its ten toes, which were partly of iron and partly of clay. The same power is figured by the beast with great iron teeth, in the 7th chapter, and the little horn of the goat, which waxed great, in the 8th chapter. It is also represented in the Revelation of John by a beast with seven heads and ten horns. It is observable, that this empire is described in the victim of a Nebuchadnezzar in a three-fold state, 1. by the thighs and legs, which were entirely of iron; 2. by the feet, which were of iron and clay; and 3. by the toes, which were of the same materials; and this three-fold view corresponds exactly with the events which have taken place. For the Roman empire was at first strong and terrible. Whilst the spirit of true liberty animated their constitution: Whilst public virtue and genuine patriotism were the ruling principles, their councils were firm, and their arms were victorious. They conquered the neighboring countries and diffused the spirit of their constitution wherever they made a conquest. This was the first and best state of the Romans. But after a while, they grew intoxicated with success, and degenerated from their manly fortitude into luxury and pleasure. Then the spirit of corruption crept into the body politic, and it became, as the prophet represents it in its second stage, like a mixture of iron and clay. It was divided into two parts, viz. the Eastern and Western empire; the seat of the former was Constantinople, and of the later, Rome. There was, however, something of the strength of iron. They were still a powerful and formidable people. The northern nations who invaded and incorporated themselves with the Romans, in the second stage of the empire, brought with them a spirit of liberty, which the Romans had lost; but so distracted where they with intestine quarrels and religious controversies, that, like iron and clay, they never could be thoroughly blended; and these causes operate dot produce the third stage of the empire, its division into ten kingdoms; answering to the ten toes of the image and the ten horns of John’s beast.
This separation of the empire took place between eight and nine hundred years ago; and though some of the kingdoms have in some degree been changed, and mixed, ye there has been ever since such a distinction kept up, that there has generally been about the number of ten.
In the days of these kings (as Daniel foretold), i.e., the Roman empire, the God of Heaven did set up a fifth kingdom, prefigured by a stone, cut out of a mountain without hands. This was the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and as long as the divided remains of the Roman empire shall subsist, this kingdom will be, as it has hitherto been, in the state represented by the prophets, as “a stone of stumbling and rock of offense” ; but in due time it will smite the image on its feet and break it to pieces; and will itself become a great mountain and fill the whole earth. This grand event was signified to Daniel in other visions, recorded in the 7th and 12th chapters; and it is more particularly described in the three last chapters of the book of John’s revelation.
If it be enquired, why were these four empires made the subject of divine prophecy in preference to all the other kingdoms of this world? The answer is, that all of them were instruments, in the hands of God, to carry on the designs of His providence toward the Jewish people first, and ultimately the kingdom of His Son. The vision is a kind of prophetic chronology, to point out the time when the kingdom of God should come, or be visibly and permanently established. The reason why these four empires only are distinguished by the spirit of prophecy, was not because they were greater or more remarkable than some others; but, because the course of their history is connected with that of the Jewish church, and led in a regular and direct succession to the time and reign of Jesus Christ. 1 An answer of the same kind may be given, if it be asked why was this revelation made to a Gentile king? This Gentile king was connected with the Jews, and was obliged to a Jewish prophet for recovering and interpreting his dream; and the only record of it is preserved in the library of the Jewish church, to whom were committed the oracles of god. It is therefore a prophecy which comes to us in the same channel with all the other inspired prophecies, and has the same end in view, to testify of Jesus Christ; for the testimony of or concerning him is the spirit of prophecy and to Him give all the prophets witness. If the facts records correspond with the things foretold; if the prophecy coincide with the whole series of prophecy, having the same object in view, and this object be, what none but God could know, before the event; then it will follow, that eh inspiration is real, and there is a further evidence of the divinity of the revelations contained in the Old and New Testaments.
From the explication which has now been given of this sacred prophetic vision, we may see, that the present period of time, pointed out by it, is that which was signified by the ten toes of the image. The ten kingdoms, into which the Roman empire was divided, are still substituting, through under different forms of government; and though the division be different from what it was at first; and they are all, more or less, in the state in which the vision represents them, a mixture of iron and clay, of strength and weakness; they are partly strong and partly broken, they do not cleave to one another even as iron is not mixed with clay. None of them ever have been able, though some of them have attempted, to render themselves equally strong and terrible as the ancient Roman empire was in its first stage.
You will please to take notice, that these ten kingdoms comprehend the western part of the continent of Europe, once the western empire of Rome; among these, the countries subject to the dominion of Britain and France hold a distinguished rank; and as these are the principal ones, with which we ever had, or now have any political connection; so I shall confine my observations chiefly to them; though the same prophetic characters are equally applicable to Spain, Italy, Germany, and the other divisions of the western empire. These are the toes of the image; in which may be clearly discerned the materials of which they are composed, iron and clay, strength and weakness, wisdom and folly; sometimes the one prevailed, and sometimes the other; but there has been on union among them; all the attempts to unite them, so as to make a grand, formidable empire, resembling that of ancient Rome, have hitherto failed of success; and from the sure word of prophecy we have the strongest reason to conclude, that they will always remain in the same divided state, till the kingdom of Jesus Christ shall break them all to pieces and shall rise upon their ruins.
The iron part of these toes, or the strength and power of these divisions of the Roman empire, may be considered as consisting in the numbers of their people, the vigor, activity, and discipline of their land and naval forces; their wealth, arising from the husbandry, manufactures, commerce, and the management of their finances; the great fertility and high cultivation of their lands, their progress in arts and sciences, their maritime and insular situations, and the great natural advantages which they enjoy, of which their sagacity and their interest lead them to make the most rapid and successful improvement; to which they are farther urged by the spirit of jealousy and rivalship, always attending commercial nations. When these powers are put into action by fierce passions and by skillful leaders, they make a formidable appearance, and threaten one another, or the neighboring nations, with conquest; and it is not surprising if they are in some measure successful.
But if we view the clay part of their character, we shall find that they are not quite so terrible as some are apt to imagine. The great abilities and resources which they posses are counterbalanced by the prevalence of corruption, venality and profusion; by the luxury and effeminacy which commerce generally produces, and the unbounded appetite for pleasure which pervades all ranks and orders of the people. We shall find in some of them a spirit of faction, a want of firmness and consistency, a thirst for power and wealth, a revolutionary frenzy, operations to produce assassinations, robbery, and plunder. Under a pretense of republican liberty, we have seen some of them exercising the most boundless licentiousness and wanton despotism, in defiance of justice, humanity, policy, morality, and religion. The same crimes have stained their character when professing liberty and equality as when sounding the praises of their kings. The same tyranny, the same proscriptions, imprisonments, banishments, and waste of human life have disgrace the annals of republicanism as of monarchy; and their national character, instead of being meliorated, is, if possible, degenerated by their revolutions; for slaves, when made free, are the worst of tyrants.
Thank not, my brethren, that what I say is dictation by passion or party-spirit. I speak the words of true and soberness. This subject has been familiar to me above twenty years. It was in the beginning of the third year of our revolutionary war, 2 when we had no friend nor ally by Heaven to shield us form the vengeance of Britain and when she was making her greatest efforts to subdue us, that my thoughts were directed to this prophecy; and upon an attentive contemplation of it, with the best helps 3 that I could obtain, I found in it sufficient encouragement to rest my hope, that the formidable power then at war with us would not prevail. The confidence which I had did not prove to be vain; but as I though there was sufficient ground for consolation in the height of our distress, and when no human help was engaged on our side; so the conclusion of the war justified the expectation.
There was a time, about thirty-five years ago, 4 when Great Britain had a much fairer prospect of an extensive and growing empire, than France has now. Her dominions were then indeed scattered over all quarters of the world but united in allegiance to one sovereign, the political head of a wealthy, powerful, and commercial nation; and had he known to improve the advantages which Providence had put into his hands, he might have been one of the richest and noblest princes on the face of the earth. Had the true spirit of liberty and patriotism which made old Rome so respectable been the ruling spirit of the British government, it might, according to human probability, have rivaled or exceeded Rome in splendor. But Britain, intoxicated with glory and proud of success, thinking their triumphant flag superior to all the world, ventured on the mad project of quarreling with her best friends, and enslaving this country. Instead of the silken reins which always most effectually govern because scarcely felt, she began to forge iron chains for free Americans. By endeavoring to extend the spirit of corruption and scatter the seeds of despotism to the remote parts of her dominions, she roused in us the spirit of genuine liberty, a spirit which is always uncontrollable; and then by using force to quell it, she effectually weakened her own power, and proved to all the world that she was nothing but a mixture of iron and clay. The spirit of liberty and the spirit of despotism can never unite but will be in perpetual opposition; and these two principles, after a long and violent struggle, produced a separation by which the prediction was in one instance fulfilled, “they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.” This separation and the establishment of our independence, were the result of causes, foreseen and foretold by Him to whom all His works and all the operations of inferior agents are perfectly known from the beginning of the world. All the wisdom of statesmen, all the eloquence of orators, and all the strength and power of fleets and armies could not counteract the decree of Heaven, that America must be separated from Britain. From the experience which we have had of her conduct it is my most earnest wish, and, from our own increasing power and resource and the wisdom and stability of our present government, it is my confidence expectation, that the separation will ever remain and that we shall be an independent people, fully equal to the business of governing ourselves without any foreign interference whatever. If there be any persons among us who are for reuniting us with Great Britain, I hold their political principles in as much abhorrence as those who are for subjecting us to the influence of France; for I detest the though, that any rotten toe of Nebuchadnezzar’s image, or any proud horn of the seven-headed best, should ever exercise dominion over this country.
It is curious and amusing, as well as instructive to observe how nearly the conduct of France toward us in the present controversy, [the Quasi War (1798-1800) was not official until July of 1798, but French ships had been attacking American ships before war was officially declared; also the XYZ affair became known in early 1798] resembled that of Britain in a former controversy; and how the same kind of language is used by the emissaries of the one as was then held by the minions of the other. The quarrel between Britain and us was not of our seeking but their own; we were their friends and customers; and had they let us alone, we should have remained so probably to this day. So the controversy between France and us is not of our seeking, but we have been forced into it by themselves. We have not intended them any injury; we have not invaded their country, not capture their property, either by sea or land; we have not intermeddled with their interior government, nor fought to alienate the people of France from their rulers. We rejoiced in what we supposed was their emancipation; and we hoped, in the first stage of their revolution, that they would so limit and restrain the power of their princes and nobility and so reform the abuses of their governments, as to enjoy a degree of freedom to which they have been strangers ever since the elevation of the Bourbon family. We were as friendly toward the people of France as ever we were toward the people of Britain before they began the quarrel with us. But when it was begun, we were hectored and threatened, by the proud language of affected superiority. In the one case our ears were dinned with supremacy and omnipotence of the British parliament, with the pompous parade of their former victories and the triumphant flourish of their flag over the four quarters of the world. In the other case, we are told that France is generous to her friends but terrible to her enemies; we hear of the invincible arms of the republic, one and indivisible; we are pointed to the fate of Venice as an example of republican vengeance; and we are warned by the meditated conquest of Switzerland and the invasion of Britain what we are to expect if we do not buy our peace of the terrible republic. So Sennacherib, king of Assyria, threated Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah; and so Phillip of Spain, with his invincible armada, menaced the island of Britain in the days of Elizabeth!
To secure a party in our country, the government of Britain once maintained a swarm of crown officers with pensions and places; and tempted our most wealthy citizens with the hope of preferment; and then boasted of the strength of their influence over us. Just so the French government is boasting of the influence which they have in this country, and of their power to control our councils, to divide the people from the government, and effect a revolution in their own favor.
To preserve our connection with Great Britain and prevent a separation from her, we sent the most respectful petitions which were treated with neglect and contempt by the sovereign and his ministers. So the present ruling powers of France have refused to hear our envoys, when soliciting for an audience to represent our grievances and losses. When we entered into a treaty with France to assist us in supporting our independence 5 and would not be diverted from it by the flatteries of intrigues of Britain, they were incensed against us, and made the war most sanguinary and destructive. So, when we had made a treaty with Britain, 6 to recover our property unjustly taken away, and the French have found that we will not break our faith, they are come out in vengeance against us and are forcibly taking our property and ruining, as far as they are able, our commerce.
When these similar circumstances are considered, must we not conclude that both these rival and contending nations have no true regard for us; that they have no generous and magnanimous principles of action; but are both governed by the same interested, narrow, selfish policy, and that neither of them deserve our confidence any farther than the maxims of that kind of policy will permit. There is an old rule of common prudence, which will apply as well to nations as to individuals;
And this very sentiment, though expressed in better language, was the advice of our great and good Washington, when he retired from office.
“The great rule of conduct (said he) for us, in regard to foreign nations, is to have as little political connection with them as possible. Europe has a set of interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation; it must therefore be unwise in us to implicate ourselves in the vicissitudes of her politics, or the combinations of collisions of their friendships or enmities. It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world. As far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with good faith. But it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.” 7
This is the advice of a man who thoroughly understood, and wisely pursued, the true interest of his country. Of his successor we ought to have the same opinion; for from above thirty years experience he has been known and prove dot be one of our most enlightened and steady friends.
From the foregoing observations we clearly see what are the prophetic characters of these European nations, which are represented by the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s image and the ten horns of the apocalyptic beast. It is both surprising and edifying to all studious Christians to see how plainly and exactly the picture is drawn by the inspired pen and how rapidly events are coming on, which bear so near a resemblance to the accomplishment of the prophecies. It was foretold that an antichristian power would arise and rule over the nations. This we have been used to interpret of the papal sovereignty; the combination of wealth and power with a corrupt form of Christianity, to enslave the bodies and souls of men; and doubtless the interpretation is just. But as the Scripture assures us “there are many antichrists,” [1 John 2:18] so we should extend our idea of this power to comprehend all that opposeth and exalteth itself against the pure religion of Jesus Christ. It is very evident that the French nation was one of the firmest supporters of the papal usurpation, and that its former government answered to the prophetic character of one of those “kings which gave their power and strength to the beast.” 8 But it was also foretold that these very kings, the same antichristian powers, should “hate the whore and make her desolate and naked, and ear her flesh and burn her with fire;” 9 and do we not see this remarkable prediction in a fair way of being fulfilled? The French power is not the less antichristian for the revolution. It is in another shape, directly opposed to Christianity, as well to the corrupt forms of it as to its purity. The kingdom of Satan, at present, appears to be divided against itself; how then shall his kingdom stand?
When the spirit of God foretells future events, He does not prescribe what ought to be done but related before hand what will be done. His foreseeing and foretelling these events does not justify the means which are to be made use of to bring them into effect. Wicked men may do many bad things, which may serve to bring on what is foretold in the divine inspire wrings; and yet these very men may be proper subjects of punishment for these actions. An instance of this we have in the king of Assyria, to whom the prophet Isaiah makes this memorable address: “O Assyrian, the rod of mind anger and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and will give him a charge to take the spoil and pretty and to trend them down as the mire of the streets. Howbeit, he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few. Wherefore it shall come to pass, when the Lord hath performed his whole work on Mount Zion, and on Jerusalem, I will punish the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.” 10
We must not then think it strange or unaccountable that those very men, who are instrumental of brining on revolutions, predicted in the word of God, should themselves be guilty of the most atrocious crimes, and influenced by no motives but those of violence, rapine, and destruction; that they should cast o fall fear of God and even deny His existence; for bad as they are, they may be proper instruments in the hand of God to punish other bad men; to pull down thrones of iniquity; to overturn monarchies which have been supported by ambition and bloodshed; to destroy hierarchies which have been founded in pride and priest craft and maintained by superstition and persecution. From what other sort of persons could such revolutions be expected? People of sober and rational principles would not be guilty of a violent attach on the established religions of any nation; they would content themselves with enjoying the liberty of their own consciences in peace. But such convulsions are to be expected only from those who are inflamed by the most malignant passion, and influenced by the zeal of fanaticism, either in religion or politics, who have a rage for conquest and plunder and who set no bounds to their ambition and fury.
When the great designs which God has determined to accomplish, by the instrumentality of such agents, shall be fulfilled; when things shall be prepared in the course of Providence, for the final destruction of all that rule, authority, and power, which, under whatever name or appearance, hath opposed itself against the kingdom of Christ; then shall be brought to pass that great event which is represented in the vision by the stone, smiting the image on its feet and reducing it to dust. Then all these kingdoms, these powers, which have so disturbed and stressed the world, will vanish like chaff before the wind and the gentle, peaceful kingdom of the Son of David will be gradually, but universally established.
This kingdom, my brethren, is set up among us and we profess to be the subjects of it. For its increase and enlargement, it is our duty to pray; and one of the petitions in our Lord’s admirable form of prayer is, “Thy kingdom come.” [Matthew 6:10] If we are sincere in uttering this prayer, we should accompany it with our endeavors to promote it. This will be the best way of expressing our gratitude to God for so distinguishing a favor.
If it be asked, how shall we do anything toward promoting the kingdom of God in the world? I would answer, there are many ways in which we may do it, and some persons may be able to do more than others; but there is one way in which we may all do something, and perhaps this is the best way in which any of us can promote it; I mean by our example. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in Heaven.” [Matthew 5:16] There is nothing more forcible than example; like the magnet, it draws with a secret and silent, yet powerful influence. It is often more effectual than positive percepts and penal laws. Multitudes are swayed by it who are not to be governed by any other means. It is in every man’s power to do good in this way; and therefore it is every man’s duty to set a good example, to let every person with whom he is conversant, see that he is under the influence of Christian principles and prospects; that he is sincerely serving God and committing the keeping of his soul to Him in well-doing. It is impossible to conceive how much good may be done by our example. It may do good after we are dead. The remembrance of what we have been, and what we have done, may long outlive us, and unborn posterity may be the better for it. Ion this respect, then, every person has a degree of importance annexed to his character and every person ought to use that importance and that influence for the noblest purpose.
And what nobler purpose can we serve than that for which Christ died? This purpose is accomplishing, though by slow degrees; and Christianity, in its whole progress, is marked with peace on earth and good will to men. Wherever it is known and practiced mankind are the better for it; but wherever it is denied and rejected, they are the worse. Christianity, when rightly known and regarded, has made men ashamed of many enormities which they before practiced. It has abated the horrors of war, and introduced a spirit of philanthropy into that destructive science. It has reformed the legal and judicial systems, and taught less severity and milder methods of reclaiming offenders than were before known; it has, in some cases mitigated and in others extinguished, the evil of servitude, and taught men a sense of equal freedom. It has shed its genial influence on government, and taught us, in this highly favored land, how to crush rebellions and establish constitutions without violence or bloodshed.
Happy influence, blessed spirit of true religion! This is the way in which the kingdoms of this world will be so subdued, as to become the kingdoms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The conquests of the Son of God are effected not by force of the sword, but the secret energy of truth; not my might nor power, but the divine spirit. By such means, and by none else, will true religion prevail, till the kingdom of Christ shall become universal.
May we ever be governed by the mild and peaceful dictates of the Gospel! May it go on from conquering to conquer, till it shall have eradicated war, slavery, oppression, tyranny, superstition, and vice; till antichristian power and influence shall be abolished; till false religion, false philosophy, and despotic government shall be destroyed; till love and peace shall reign, and truth and righteousness shall be established in the earth.
If we believe the Scriptures, we must expect that these blessings will be bestowed on the world, before the plan of Divine Providence shall be completed; and therefore we may pray in faith, grounded on the divine promises, of the accomplished of these predictions. The prospect is in the highest degree pleasant to all the sincere lovers of God and man. Whilst, therefore, we are looking, praying, and waiting for these glorious times, let us learn to anticipate them, as far as we are able, by cultivating in our own minds and conduct, those heavenly graces and virtues which shall prove us the true subjects of Christ and prepare us for the universal reign of the Prince of peace.
1. Hurd’s Introduction to the study of prophecy, p. 80. (Return)
2. May, 1777. (Return)
3. The works of Joseph Mede, Sir Isaac Newton, and Dr. Thomas Newton. (Return)
4. 1763. (Return)
5. 1778. (Return)
6. 1795. (Return)
7. See his Address to the people, p. 35. (Return)
8. Rev. xvii. 13. (Return)
9. Verse 16. (Return)
10. Isaiah x. 5-7, 12. (Return)
CIVIL MAGISTRATES MUST BE JUST, RULING IN THE FEAR OF GOD
Charles Chauncy, BOSTON, 1747
Introduction: Charles Chauncy (1705–1787). The most influential clergyman in the Boston of his time and—apart from Jonathan Edwards the elder—in all New England, Chauncy was graduated from Harvard and served as pastor of the First Church in Boston for sixty years. A thoroughly prosaic character who opposed enthusiasm and the revivalism espoused by Whitefield and Edwards, he prayed he would never become an orator; those who knew him well concluded that this was one prayer that undoubtedly had been answered.
He was nonetheless a vigorous controversialist and prolific pamphleteer, devoting the decade of 1762 to 1771 to combating the British threat to send an Anglican bishop to America. It was an issue that rallied Congregationalists across New England in the period leading up to the Revolution.
The election sermon reprinted here was preached to Governor William Shirley, the council, and the house of representatives of Massachusetts on May 27, 1747. The bracketed passages in the printed text of this sermon were omitted during the oral delivery.
The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me; he that ruleth over Men must be just, ruling in the Fear of God.
II Sam. xxiii. 3.
If we may judge by the manner in which these words are introduced, there are none in all the bible, applicable to civil rulers, in their publick capacity, of more solemn importance.
The last words of good men are commonly tho’ worthy of particular notice; especially, if they are great as well as good, of an elevated station as well as character in life. This is a consideration that adds weight to my text. For it is enrolled among the last words of one of the best and greatest men that ever lived. Such was David, “he man after God’ own heart,”who was raised up from low life to the regal dignity, and stiled, on that account, “he anointed of the God of Jacob.”
And was my text nothing more than his own private sentiments, formed with due care, upon long observation and experience, it might well deserve the particular attention of all in civil power; especially, as he was a man of extraordinary knowledge, penetration and wisdom, as well as piety; and, at the same time, singularly qualified to make a judgment in an affair of this nature, as he was called into publick service from a youth, and had for many years reigned king in Israel.
But it is not only David that here speaks. The words are rather God’ than his. For they are thus prefaced, The God of Israel said, the rock of Israel spake to me. “hat God who had selected the Jews to be his people, and was their God so as he was not the God of other nations; the rock on whom their political state was built, and on whom it depended for support and protection” This God spake unto David, either by Samuel, or Nathan, or some other inspired prophet, or himself immediately from heaven, saying, as in the words I have read to you, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. It is certainly some momentous truth, highly worthy of the most serious consideration of civil rulers, that is here delivered, or it would not have been ushered in with so much solemnity. Some read the words, (agreable eno’to the original, as criticks observe) there shall be a ruler over men that shall be just, ruling in the fear of God; and refer them to Christ, as agreeing with other prophecies, which describe him as a “ing that shall reign in righteousness,”and be of “uick understanding in the fear of the Lord” But if they be allowed to look forward to him that has since “ome forth out of Zion,”they were also designed for the instruction and benefit of Solomon, David’ son and appointed successor to the throne of Israel. And by analogy they are applicable to civil rulers, in their various stations, in all ages of the world.
In this view I shall now consider them, under the two following heads obviously
contained in them.
I. There is a certain order among mankind, according to which some are entrusted with power to rule over others.
II. Those who rule over others must be just, ruling in the fear of God. The whole will then be applied to the occasions of the day.
I. I am to say, in the first place, there is a certain order among men, according to which some are entrusted with power to rule over others. This is evidently supposed in the text; and ’is supposed, not as a bare fact, but a fact that has taken place conformably to the will of God, and the reason of things.
This, to be sure, is the truth of the case, in it self considered. Order and rule in society, or, what means the same thing, civil government, is not a contrivance of arbitrary and tyrannical men, but a regular state of things, naturally resulting from the make of man, and his circumstances in the world. Had man abode in innocency, his nature as a sociable creature, and his condition as a dependent one, would probably have led to some sort of civil superiority: As, among the inhabitants of the upper world, there seems to be a difference of order, as well as species; which the scripture intimates, by speaking of them in the various stile of thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, archangels and angels. But however it would have been, had man continued in obedience to his maker, government is rendered a matter of necessity by the introduction of sin into the world. Was there no civil rule among men, but every one might do that which was right in his own eyes, without restraint from humane laws, there would not be safety any where on the earth. No man would be secure in the enjoyment, either of his liberty, or property, or life: But every man’ hand would be against his fellow; and mankind must live in perpetual danger, from that oppression, rapine and violence, which would make this world rather a hell, than a fit place to dwell happily in.
The present circumstances of the human race are therefore such, by means of sin, that is necessary they should, for their mutual defence and safety, combine together in distinct societies, lodging as much power in the hands of a few, as may be sufficient to restrain the irregularities of the rest, and keep them within the bounds of a just decorum. Such a superiority in some, and inferiority in others, is perfectly adjusted to the present state of mankind. Their circumstances require it. They could not live, either comfortably or safely without it. And from hence, strictly and properly speaking, does that civil order there is among men take rise. Nor will it from hence follow, that government is a mere humane constitution. For as it originates in the reason of things, ’is, at the same time, essentially founded on the will of God. For the voice of reason is the voice of God: And he as truly speaks to men by the reason of things, their mutual relations to and dependencies on each other, as if he uttered his voice from the excellent glory. And in this way, primarily, he declares his will respecting a civil subordination among men. The sutableness of order and superiority, both to the nature of man, and his circumstances in the world, together with its necessary connection, in the nature of things, with his safety and happiness, is such an indication of the divine pleasure, that there should be government, as cannot be gainsay’ nor resisted. Only it must be remembred here, a distinction ought always to be made between government in its general notion, and particular form and manner of administration. As to the latter, it cannot be affirmed, that this or that particular form of government is made necessary by the will of God and reason of things. The mode of civil rule may in consistency with the public good, admit of variety: And it has, in fact, been various in different nations: Nor has it always continued the same, in the same nation. And one model of government may be best for this community, and another for that; nay, that model which may be best for the same community at one time, may not be so at another. So that it seems left to the wisdom of particular communities to determine what form of government shall take place among them; and, so long as the general ends of society are provided for and secured, the determination may be various, according to the various circumstances, policies, tempers and interests of different communities.
And the same may be said of the manner of vesting particular persons with civil power, whether supreme or subordinate. This is not so fix’ by the divine will, as that all nations are obliged to one and the same way of devolving the administration of rule. The supreme authority in Israel, ’is true, from which, of course, all subordinate power in that state was derived, was settled by God himself on David, and entail’ on his family to descend in a lineal succession. But it does not appear, that this was ever intended to be a rule obligatory on all nations of the earth: Nor have they kept to it; but have varied in their manner of designing persons for, and introducing them into, the several places of civil trust. And this seems to be a matter alterable in its nature, and proper to be variously determined according to the different circumstances of particular nations. But ’is quite otherwise in respect of government itself, in its general notion. This is not a matter of meer humane prudence, but of moral necessity. It does not lie with men to determine at pleasure, whether it shall or shall not take place; but, considering their present weak, exposed and dependent condition, ’is unalterably right and just there should be rule and superiority in some, and subjection and inferiority in others: And this therefore is invariably the will of God; his will manifested by the moral fitness and reason of things.
And the will of God, as discovered in the revelations of scripture, touching government among men, perfectly coincides with his will primarily made known, upon the same head, by the constitution of things: Or rather, ’is more clearly and fully opened. For kings, and princes, and nobles, and all the judges of the earth, are here represented* as reigning and ruling by God: Yea, they are stiled, the ministers of God† and the powers that be are declared to be ordained of God‡ And, upon this consideration, subjection to them is demanded, for conscience sake* and whosoever resisteth, is looked upon as resisting the ordinance of God.† rom all which it is apparent, there is no more room to dispute the divinity of civil rule upon the foot of revelation, than of reason.
And thus we have seen, not only that some among men have rule over others, but that it is reasonable in itself, and agreable to the will of God, it should be so. And ’is easy to collect from the whole, the true design of that power some are entrusted with over others. It is not merely that they might be distinguished from, and set above vulgar people; much less that they might live in greater pomp, and be revered as gods on earth; much less still that they might be in circumstances to oppress their fellow-creatures, and trample them under their feet: But it is for the general good of mankind; to keep confusion and disorder out of the world; to guard men’ lives; to secure their rights; to defend their properties and liberties; to make their way to justice easy, and yet effectual, for their protection when innocent, and their relief when injuriously treated; and, in a word, to maintain peace and good order, and, in general, to promote the public welfare, in all instances, so far as they are able. But this leads me to the next head of discourse, which is what I have principally in view; viz.
II. Those who rule over others must be just, ruling in the fear of God. Here I shall
i. They must be just. They ought to be so in their private capacity; maintaining a care to exhibit in their conduct towards all they are concerned with, a fair transcript of that fundamental law of the religion of Jesus, as well as eternal rule of natural justice, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”But private justice, tho’necessary in all, yet is not the virtue here especially intended. The injunction respects those who rule over men; and ’is as magistrates, not private members of society, that they are required to be just.
And this duty includes in it more than a negation of unrighteousness. ’is not enough that rulers are not unjust; that they don’ betray the trusts reposed in them; that they don’ defraud the public; that they don’ oppress the subject, whether in a barefac’ manner, or in a more covert way; by downright violence, or under the cloak of law: ’is not enough, I say, that rulers don’, in these and such like ways, pervert judgment and justice; but, besides all this, they must be positively righteous. Being possess’ of an inward, steady, uniform principle of justice, setting them, in a good measure, above the influence of private interest, or party views, they must do that which is equal and right, in their various stations, from the king in supreme, to the lowest in authority under him. It would carry me too far beyond the hour assigned me, should I make a distribution of rulers into their several ranks, and mention the more special acts of justice respectively required of them. I shall therefore content my self with speaking of them chiefly in the collective sense; pointing out, under a few general heads, some of the more important articles wherein they should approve themselves just. And they are such as these.
1. They must be just in the use of their power; confining it within the limits prescribed in the constitution they are under. Whatever power any are vested with, ’is delegated to them according to some civil constitution. And this, so long as it remains the constitution, they are bound in justice to conform themselves to: To be sure, they ought not to act in violation of any of its main and essential rights. Especially, is this an important point of justice, where the constitution is branched into several parts, and the power originally lodged in it, is divided, in certain measures, to each part, in order to preserve a ballance in the whole. Rulers, in this case, in either branch of the government, are bounded by the constitution, and obliged to keep within the proper limits assigned them; never clashing in the exercise of their power, never encroaching upon the rights of each other, in any shape, or under any pretence whatever. They have severally and equally a right to that power which is granted to them in the constitution, and to wrest it out of each other’ hands, or to obstruct one another in the regular legal exercise of it, is evidently unjust. As in the British constitution, which devolves the power of the state, in certain proportions, on King, Lords and Commons, they have neither of them a right to invade the province of the other, but are required, by the rule of righteousness, to keep severally within their own boundaries, acting in union among themselves, and consistency with the constitution. If the prerogatives of the King are sacred, so also are the rights of Lords and Commons: And if it would be unjust in Lords or Commons, to touch, in any instance, the prerogative of the crown; so would it be in the crown, to invade the rights, which are legally settled in Lords and Commons: In either of these cases, the law of righteousness is violated: Nor does the manner in which it is done make any essential difference; for, if one part of the government is really kept from exerting it self, according to the true meaning of the constitution, whether it be done openly, or by secret craft; by compulsion or corruption, the designed ballance is no longer preserved; and which way soever the scale turns, whether on the side of sovereignty, or popularity, ’is forced down by a false weight, which, by degrees, will overturn the government, at least, according to
this particular model.
And the case is just the same in all dependent governments, as in those whose power originates in themselves: Especially, where the derived constitution, like that of Great-Britain, is divided into several ruling parts, and distributes the granted powers and priviledges severally among these ruling parts, to each their limited portion. The constitution is here evidently the grand rule to all cloathed with power, or claiming priviledge, in either branch of the government. And ’is indeed a fundamental point of justice, that they keep respectively within the bounds marked out to them in the constitution. Rulers in one branch of the state should not assume the power delegated to those in another: Nay, so far should they be from this, that they should not, in any degree, lessen their just weight in the government; much less may they contrive, by an undue application to their hopes or fears, or by working on their ambition, or covetousness, or any other corrupt principle; much less, I say, may they contrive to influence them to give up their power, or, what is as bad, to use it unfaithfully, beside the intention for which it was committed to them. These are certainly methods of injustice; and, if put in practice, will, by a natural causality, weaken, and, by degrees, destroy those checks which rulers are mutually designed to have one upon another; the effect whereof must be tyranny, or anarchy, either of which will be of fatal
2. Another general instance wherein rulers should be just, relates to the laws by which they govern. [They have an undoubted right to make and execute laws, for the publick good. This is essentially included in the very idea of government: Insomuch, that government, without a right to enact and enforce proper laws, is nothing more than an empty name. And this right, in whomsoever it is vested, must be exercised under the direction of justice. For as there cannot be government without a right of legislation, so neither can there be this right but in conjunction with righteousness. ’is the just exercise of power that distinguishes right from might; authority that is to be revered and obeyed, from violence and tyranny, which are to be dreaded and deprecated. Those therefore to whom it belongs to make, or execute the laws of a government ought, in these exercises of their power, to square their conduct by that strict justice, which will be to them a sure rule of right action.]
To be sure, if they would be just, they must make no laws but what bear this character. They should not, when upon the business of framing and passing acts, suffer themselves to be swayed by any wrong biass, either from self-will, or selfinterest; the smiles or frowns of men greater than themselves; or the humour of the populace: But should bring the proposed laws to a fair and impartial examination, not only in their reference to the temper, genius and circumstances of the community, but to that justice also which is founded in the nature of things, and the will of the supreme legislator: And if they should appear to be inconsistent with this eternal rule of equity, they ought not to countenance them, but should do what they can to prevent their establishment. And the rather, because should they enact that into a statute, which is unrighteous; especially, if it be plainly and grosly so, they would be chargeable with “raming mischief by a law” The guilt whereof would be the more aggravated, as power, in this case, would be on the side of oppression; and, what is as bad, as unrighteousness, by this means, would take a dreadful spread thro’the community. For as the laws are the rule for the executive powers in the government, if these are unjust, all that is done consequent upon a regard to them, must be unjust too. That would be the state of things which Solomon describes, when he says, “ saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of
righteousness, that iniquity was there:”Than which, there cannot be given a more terrible representation of the unhappy effect of a disregard to justice in the making of laws.
But rulers, in order to their answering the character of just, must not satisfy themselves with making none but righteous laws; but must provide also, so far as may be, a sufficiency of such to restrain the sons of wickedness, men of avaricious minds, and no consciences, from that rapine and violence, those frauds and oppressions, in their various kinds and degrees, which their lusts would prompt them to perpetrate, to the damage of society, and in violation of all that is right and just. Besides which, they should be particular in their care to guard the important and extensive article of commerce; calculating laws so as that they may have a tendency to oblige every member of the community, to use the methods of fairness and honesty in their dealings with one another: In order whereto, one of the main things necessary is, to fix the precise weight and measure, according to which these and those commodities shall be bought and sold; hereby rendring the practice of honesty easy and familiar, while, at the same time, it is made a matter of difficulty, as well as hazard, for this member of the community to defraud that, by palming on him a less quantity than he bargain’, for, and expected to receive.
[A noble example of this expedient to promote justice, the scripture presents us with, in the history it gives of the laws by which the Jews of old were governed. It was not thought sufficient to prohibit their “oing unrighteousness in mete-yard, or weight, or measure;”and to command their having “ust ballances and just weights, a just ephah and a just hin:”But the standard was fixt by law, according to which all weights and measures must be regulated; and it was kept in the sanctuary of God. And so exact was the government in its care to prevent all fraud, that it allowed no “eights, ballances or measures to be made of any metal, as of iron, lead, tin, (which were obnoxious to rust, or might be bent or easily impaired) but of marble, stone or glass, which were less liable to be abused.” And officers also “ere appointed in every city to go about into shops, and see that the ballances and measures were just, and determine the stated measure of them: And with whomsoever they found any weight or measure too light or short, or ballance that went awry, they were to be punished by the judges.” .
This pattern of justice has been copied after by all governments acquainted with it; and the more particular their laws have been for the regulation of weights and measures, the better calculated have they been to promote honesty in private dealing.] And if justice in rulers should shew itself by reducing the things that are bought and sold to weight and measure, much more ought it to be seen in ascertaining the medium of trade, as nearly as may be, to some determinate value. For this, whether it be money, or something substituted to pass in lieu of it, is that for which all things are exchanged in commerce. And if this, which is of such universal use in the affair of traffick, be a thing variable and uncertain, of one value this week, and another the next, ’is difficult to conceive, how justice should take place between man and man, in their dealings with one another. If the measure we call a foot might gradually, in the space of a few months or years, lengthen into a yard, or shorten into an inch; every one sees, it would, if used as a measure in trade, tend to spread unrighteousness in a community, rather than justice. So, if the weight we call a pound might gradually, in the like space, increase or diminish one half; ’is past dispute, it would be an occasion of general iniquity, rather than a means to promote honesty. And the case is really the same (however insensible we may be of it) with respect to the passing medium in a government. If what we call a shilling, may, in a gradual way, in the course of a few months or years, rise in value so as to be equal to two or three, or sink in proportion; ’is impossible, in the nature of things, but a wide door should be opened for oppression and injustice. An upright man, in this case, would find it extreamly difficult to do himself justice, or others he might be concerned with in business. And for those of dishonest minds, and no principles of honour or religion, if men of craft and foresight, they would have it very much in their power to enrich themselves by being unjust to their neighbour.
I am sensible, the case may be so circumstanced in a government, especially if it be a dependent one, as that it may be extreamly difficult, if not impossible, while they have no money, to keep that which passes, in the room of it, from varying in it’ real worth. But it is not very difficult; to be sure, it is not impossible, to pitch upon some certain standard, to which the current medium may be so related, as that it’ true value, at different times, may be nearly ascertained: And if this was established as the rule in all public payments, as well as private contracts and bargains, it would be no other than what is right. It would certainly tend, not only to do every one justice, but to put it very much out of the power of men of no probity “o go beyond and defraud their brother:”Whereas, while the medium is connected with no established certain standard, but continually varies in it’ real worth, it must be, in the natural course of things, an occasion of great injustice. [Some, on the one hand, under the fair pretence of a reasonable care to secure themselves, will injure those who lie at their mercy, by extorting from them more that is meet. And others, on the other hand, will take the advantage, to pay a just debt with one half the true value it was originally contracted for: Nor will the practice of unrighteousness be confined to these and such like instances, but unavoidably mingle itself with men’ transactions in the whole business of trade, so as to put them upon making a prey of one another; as is too much the case among ourselves at this day.]
There is yet another thing, belonging to this head, wherein rulers should approve themselves just; and that is, the execution of the laws. [The power of executing as well as making laws (as has been hinted) is inseparable from government. And the demands of justice are to be comply’ with, in the one as well as the other. If ’is just that rulers should make righteous laws, ’is equally so, when they are made, that they should take effectual care to enforce a proper regard to them. Of what service would laws be, though ever so wisely calculated to promote the public good, if offenders against them should be connived at, or suffered, by one means or another, to go unpunished? And what might reasonably be expected in consequence of such a breach of trust, but that the best laws, together with the authority that enacted them, should be held in contempt? There is no such thing as supporting the honour of government, or securing the good ends proposed by the laws it establishes, but by unsheathing the sword, in a faithful and impartial execution of justice. But here, that we may speak clearly, it may be proper to distinguish between those rulers to whom it belongs to appoint and authorise persons to execute the laws, and those who are vested with authority for this purpose. For the duty which justice requires is different, according to the nature of that power, wherewith these different rulers are betrusted.
It is certainly a point of justice, in those whose business it is to empower others to execute the laws, to select out of the community such as are well qualified for so important a trust. Every man is not fit to have the sword of justice put into his hands. And the main thing to be lookt at, in the choice of persons for this service, is their suitableness to it. Meerly their being men of birth and fortune, is not a sufficient recommendation: Nor, if they are eagerly forward in seeking for a post of honour or profit, is it a certain indication, that they are fit to be put into it: Neither, if they should offer money to purchase it, ought they, on this account, to be preferred to men of greater merit: Much less ought it to be looked upon as a turning argument in their favour, that they are fit instruments to serve the secret designs of those in superior station. These are considerations beside the true merit of the case: And those only ought to bear sway, which enter into the real characters of men, determining their qualifications for the trust that is to be reposed in them.
The advice which Jethro gave Moses is here proper, “hou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness.” These are the men, men of understanding, courage and resolution; men of integrity, fidelity and honesty; men of piety and substantial religion; men of a noble generosity, setting them above the temptations, which those of narrow minds and selfish views, are easily drawn away by and enticed: These, I say, are the proper men to fill the various posts in the state. And it would be injustice to the public, for the persons concerned in the disposal of them, to neglect these, and bestow them on those of a contrary character. Men of low natural capacities, and small acquired accomplishments, are unmeet to be exalted to places of important trust. And should this be done, it would be acting over the evil, which Solomon complained of in his day, Folly is set in great dignity. And those are as unfit to be constituted guardians of the laws, who are indolent, inactive and irresolute; much more, if, together herewith, they are known to be of a vicious turn of mind. It can’ be supposed, men of this character should be faithful in the Online Library of Liberty: Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788) execution of justice; and to devolve this care on them, would be to wrong the community, and expose authority.
Not that those, with whom it lies to appoint officers, are always to blame, when unqualified persons are put into places of trust; for they are liable, after all prudent caution, to be mistaken in their own judgment, and to be imposed on by misinformation from others. But then, they should take due care, when such persons are found, upon trial, to be unequal to the trust committed to them, to remedy the inconvenience: Nor otherwise will they continue innocent, however faultless they might be at first. ’is evidently the demand of justice, that such unmeet persons should be displaced, and others better qualified put in their room. And ’is equally just, that those who are capable of behaving well, but behave ill in their respective stations, should be testified against. And should they be so unadvised, as grosly to abuse their power; applying it to the purposes of tyranny and oppression, rather than to serve the good ends of government, it ought to be taken out of their hands, that they might no longer be under advantages to injure their brethren of the same community.
These are the demands of justice from those, who are to put others into the executive trust.
And justice is likewise required of this sort of rulers, according to the respective trust that is committed to them.
If ’is their business to sit in the place of judgment, they must judge uprightly in all cases, whether civil or criminal, and not under a wrong influence from favour to the rich, or pity to the poor, or fear of the great, or affection or disaffection to any man’ person whatsoever; having that precept in the divine law ever in their eye, “e shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: But in righteousness shalt thou judge thy brother.” And that also, “hou shalt not wrest judgment, thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift; for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.”†f ’is their business to enquire who have been offenders against the laws, and to exhibit complaints against them as such; they must be couragious and impartial, complying with their duty equally in respect of all, be their character what it will. If ’is their business to act as executioners of justice, they must faithfully inflict the adjudged sentence: In doing of which, tho’there may be room for the exercise of compassion, especially in the case of some sort of debtors; yet the righteousness of the law may not be eluded by needless, much less fraudulent delays, to the injury of the creditor.
In fine, whatever their trust is, whether of less or greater importance, they must exercise it with care, fidelity, resolution, steadiness, diligence, and an entire freedom from a corrupt respect to men’ persons, as those who are concerned for the honour of government, and that it’ laws may take effect for the general good of the community.]
To go on,
3. Another instance wherein rulers should be just, respects the debts that may be due from the public. A government may be in debt, as well as private men. Their circumstances may be such, as to render it adviseable for them to borrow money, either of other governments, or within themselves: Or, they may have occasion to make purchases, or to enter into contracts, upon special emergencies, which may bring them in debt. In which cases, the rule of justice is the same to magistrates, as to men in a private life. They must pay that which they owe, according to the true meaning of their engagements, without fraud or delay.
[They may also be in debt for services done by labourers, in this and the other secular employment. And here the rule of justice is that, “ithhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, go, and come again, and to-morrow I will give, when thou hast it by thee.” Or if the labourers are such as have nothing beforehand, but their day-labour is what they depend on for the support of themselves and families, the rule is yet more particular, “hou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy; at his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart on it: Lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee.” And again, “hou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, nor rob him: The wages of him that is hired, shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.”†]
In fine, they may be in debt to their own officers, whether in higher or lower station, the proper business of whose office calls off their attention from other affairs. And as their time, and care, and tho’, are employed in the service of the public, a public maintenance is their just due. “ho goeth a warfare any time at his own charge? Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Or, who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? Or saith not the law the same also?”‡For it is written, “or this cause pay you tribute; for they are God’ ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.§Render unto Cæar the things that are Cæar’.” or is it sufficient that they be supported according to the condition of men in low life. This may be tho’ enough, if not too much, by those who imagine, that the more strait-handed they are upon the head of allowances, the more serviceable they shall be to the public. But there is such a thing in the state, as a “ithholding more than is meet.”And it really tends to the damage of a government. Too scant an allowance may unhappily prove a temptation to officers, to be hard upon those dependent on them; and what they may injuriously squeeze out of them, by one artful contrivance or another, may turn out more to the hurt of the community, than if twice that sum had been paid out of the public treasury, and this evil, by means hereof, had been prevented. Besides, ’is no ways fitting, that men cloathed with honour and power should be brought down to a level with vulgar people, in the support that is granted them. Their outward circumstances should be elevated in proportion to their civil character, that they may be better able to support the visible dignity of their station, and command that respect which is due to men of their figure. He that is governour should eat the bread of a governour; and subordinate officers should be maintained, according to the rank they bear in the state: Nor ought their honourable maintenance to be tho’ a matter of meer bounty; ’is rather a debt, which can’ be withheld without injustice.
[To be sure, where their stipends have been established, or, at least, they have had reasonable encouragement to expect such a certain acknowledgment for their service, righteousness requires that it be paid them: Nor may it be tho’ that the same nominal sum, falling vastly below the real worth of the debt, will be sufficient to discharge it. It certainly is not sufficient, in the eye of justice, either natural or revealed; which respects no man’ person, but will do that which is right to the lowest, as well as to the highest officer in the state.
And the case, in point of equity, is really the same, where a government has come into no special agreement; but the ascertaining the quantum proper for the support of it’ officers, is left to it’ own wisdom and probity. For an allowance is due to them by the law of righteousness: And it ought to be granted, both in proper season, and full proportion, that there may be no reason for complaint, either of penurious or unjust dealing.
I may add here, the distribution of rewards, in case of extraordinary service done for a government, falls properly under this head of justice. For tho’there may be bounty in it, there is also a mixture of righteousness. But however this be, it has been the practice of all nations to shew singular marks of respect to those who have distinguished themselves by their eminent labours for the public. And it is to be hoped, this government will never be backward, according to their ability, suitably to reward those who have signalized themselves, in doing service for their king and country.]
4. Another general instance wherein rulers should be just, concerns the liberties and priviledges of the subject. In all governments there is a reserve of certain rights in favour of the people: In some, they are few in kind, and small in degree: In others, they are both great and numerous; rendring the people signally happy whose lot it is to be favoured with the undisturbed enjoyment of them. And it would be no wonder, if they should keep a jealous eye over them, and think no cost too much to be expended, for the defence and security of them: Especially, if they were the purchase of wise and pious ancestors, who submitted to difficulties, endured hardships, spent their estates, and ventured their lives, that they might transmit them as an inheritance to their posterity.
And shall such valuable, dear-bought rights be neglected, or invaded by the rulers of a people? ’is a principal part of that justice which is eternally expected of them, as they would not grosly pervert one of the main ends of their office, to preserve and perpetuate to every member of the community, so far as may be, the full enjoyment of their liberties and priviledges, whether of a civil or religious nature.
Here I may say distinctly, As rulers would be just, they must take all proper care to preserve entire the civil rights of a people. And the ways in which they should express this care are such as these. They should do it by appearing in defence of their liberties, if called in question, and making use of all wise and sutable methods to prevent the loss of them: Nor can they be too active, diligent or laborious in their endeavours upon this head: Provided always, the priviledges in danger are worth contending for, and such as the people have a just right and legal claim to. Otherwise, there may be hazard of losing real liberties, in the strife for those that are imaginary; or valuable ones, for such as are of trifling consideration.
They should also express this care, by seasonably and faithfully placing a proper guard against the designs of those, who would rule in a dispotic manner, to the subversion of the rights naturally or legally vested in the people. And here ’is a great mistake to suppose, there can be danger only from those in the highest station. There may, ’is true, be danger from this quarter: And it has sometimes proved so in fact: An unhappy instance whereof was seen in the arbitrary reign of King James the second, in person at home, and by his representative here; as a check to which, those entrusted with the guardianship of the nation’ rights were spirited to take such measures, as issued in that revolution, and establishment of the succession, on which his present majesty’ claim to the British throne is dependent. May the succession be continued in his royal house forever! And may the same spirit, which settled it there, prevail in the rulers of the English nation, so long as the sun and moon shall endure! But, as I said, a people’ liberties may be in danger from others, besides those in the highest rank of government. The men who strike in with the popular cry of liberty and priviledge, working themselves, by an artful application to the fears and jealousies of the people, into their good opinion of them as lovers of their country, if not the only stanch friends to it’ interests, may, all the while, be only aiming at power to carry every thing according to their own sovereign pleasure: And they are, in this case, most dangerous enemies to the community; and may, by degrees, if not narrowly watched, arrive to such an height, as to be able to serve their own ends, by touching even the people in their most valuable rights. And these commonly are the men, thro’whose influence, either as primary managers, or tools to others, they suffer most in their real liberties.
In fine, they should express this care in a constant readiness to bear due testimony against even the smaller encroachments upon the liberty of the subject, whether by private men’ invading one another’ rights, or by the tyranny of inferiour officers, who may treat those under their power, as tho’they had no natural rights, not to say a just claim to the invaluable priviledges of Englishmen.
The ancient Romans have set an illustrious example in this kind. Such was the provision they made to secure the people’ priviledges, that it was dangerous for any man, tho’in office, to act towards the meanest freeman of Rome in violation of the meanest of them. Hence the magistrates who ordered Paul and Silas to be beaten uncondemned, feared when they heard they were Romans. And Lysias, the chief captain, was filled with the like fear for commanding, that Paul should be examined with scourging; when he understood, that he was born a freeman of Rome. And it would have a good tendency to secure to the people the enjoyment of their liberties, if these smaller instances of illegal power were carefully and severely chastised. But justice in rulers should be seen likewise in their care of the religious rights and liberties of a people. Not that they are to exert their authority in settling articles of faith, or imposing modes of worship, so as that all must frame their belief, and order their practice, according to their decisions, or lie exposed to penalties of one kind or another. This would be to put men under restraint, as to the exercise of their religious rights: Nor are penal laws at all adjusted in their nature, to enlighten men’ minds, or convince their judgment. This can be done only by good reason: And this therefore is the only proper way of applying to reasonable creatures.
Justice in rulers should therefore put them upon leaving every member of the community, without respect of persons, freely to choose his own religion, and profess and practice it according to that external form, which he apprehends will be most acceptable to his maker: Provided, his religion is such as may consist with the public safety: Otherwise, it would be neither wisdom nor justice in the government to tolerate it.
Nor is this all; but they should guard every man from all insult and abuse on account of his religious sentiments, and from all molestation and disturbance, while he endeavours the propagation of them, so far as he keeps within the bounds of decency, and approves himself a peaceable member of society. Besides which, it would be no more than reasonable, if, as christian magistrates, they distinguished those in their regards, who professed the religion of Jesus, and in that way, which, to them, was most agreable to scripture rule. They should be guardians to such christian societies, by defending their constitution; by countenancing their manner of worship; by maintaining the liberties granted to them in the gospel-charter, in all their regular exercises, whether in church assemblies for the performance of the services of piety, or the choice of officers, or the administration of discipline; or in councils, greater or less, for the help and preservation of each other: And, in fine, by owning those who minister to them in sacred things, and providing for their support, according to that rule in scripture, as well as common equity, “hey that preach the gospel should live of the gospel” Or if they are generally and wrongfully kept out of a great part of that support, which has been engaged, and is justly due to them, by taking their case into consideration, and doing what may be effectual for their relief.
This last instance of the care of rulers, I the rather mention, because it falls in so exactly with the circumstances of the pastors of the churches in this province. There is not, I believe, an order of men, in the land, more universally, or to a greater degree, injured and oppressed in regard of their just dues. While others have it, in some measure, in their power to right themselves, by rising in their demands, in proportion to the sinking of the current medium, they are confined to a nominal quantum, which every day varies in its real worth, and has been gradually doing so, ’ill it is come to that pass, that many of them don’ receive more than one half, or two thirds of the original value they contracted for. And to this it is owing, that they are diverted from their studies, discouraged in their work, and too frequently treated with contempt. And what is an aggravation of their difficulty, their only desiring that justice may be done them, often makes an uneasiness among their people: And if they urge it; to be sure, if they demand it, ’is great odds but there ensues thereupon contention and strife, and, at last, such a general alienation of affection, as puts an entire end to their usefulness.
Suffer me, my fathers in the government, as I have this opportunity of speaking in your presence, to beseech the exercise of your authority, on the behalf, (may I not say) of so valuable and useful a part of the community: And the rather, because some special provision for their relief seems to be a matter of justice, and not meer favour; as it is by means of the public bills, tho’contrary to the design of the government, that they are injured. And might not this be made, without any great expence either of time or pains, and so as to be effectual too, to put it out of the power of people to turn off their ministers with any thing short of the true value of what they agreed with them for, when they settled among them? This is all they desire: And as it is nothing more than common equity, would it not be hard, if they should be still left to groan under their oppressions, and to have no helper?
The great and general court, it must be acknowledged, more than twenty years since, “pon serious consideration of the great distresses, that many of the ministers within this province laboured under, with respect to their support, resolved, that it was the indispensible duty of the several towns and parishes, to make additions to the maintenance of their respective ministers; and therein to have regard to the growing difference in the value of the bills of credit, from what they had sometimes been.”nd thereupon “arnestly recommended the speedy and chearful practice of this duty to the several congregations within this province.”And that the recommendation might be universally known and comply’ with, “rdered, that their resolve should be publickly read on the next Lord’ day after the receipt thereof, and at the anniversary meeting of the several towns in the month of March next”following.* And it is with thankfulness that we take notice of this instance of the care of our civil fathers; tho’we are sorry, we must, at the same time, say, it was generally treated with neglect by our congregations, as being void of power. It will not be pretended, but that the distresses of the ministers, and from the same cause too, the sinking of the medium, are vastly greater now, than they were twenty years ago: And if it was then reasonable, in the great and general court, to recommend it to the several congregations, throughout the province, as their indispensable duty, to make additions to the maintenance of their ministers, and therein to have regard to the lower value of the bills of credit, from what they formerly were; it is certainly now high time to oblige them to this: Especially, as the grievances of the ministers have often, since that day, upon these occasions, been opened to their civil fathers, whose interposition has been humbly and earnestly intreated. But I would not be too pressing: Neither have I said thus much on my own account, who am not, thro’the goodness of God, in suffering circumstances myself, but in very pity to many of my poor brethren who are; because there may be danger lest guilt should lie on the government, if they take no notice of the sighing of so considerable a body of men; and because, I verily believe, the offerings of the Lord are too often despised, by reason of that poverty those are unrighteously reduced to, by whom they are presented.
But to return,
5. Another instance of justice in rulers relates to the defence of the state, and it’ preservation in peace and safety. [The happiness of a people lies very much in their living peaceably among themselves, and at quiet with their neighbours. For which reason, rulers are bound in justice to use all prudent endeavours, that they may “it every man under his own vine, and under his fig-tree, and have none to make them afraid.”In order whereunto, They should take care to prevent intestine jarrs and commotions in the government, by giving no occasion for murmurings and complaints; or if any should unhappily arise, by speedily removing the causes of them: By testifying a just displeasure against the fomentors of animosities, fewds and factions: By watching the motions of uneasy, turbulent and mobbish spirits, and checking the first out-breakings of them; or if, thro’the lusts of men, insurrection or rebellion should happen, by seasonably putting a stop thereto, lest afterwards the whole force of the government should be scarce sufficient for this purpose.
It may be, the late unnatural rebellion, which began in Scotland, was too much despised at first. It would not otherwise, ’is probable, have risen to such a formidable height: Tho’the alwise holy God, by permitting this, and then remarkably succeeding the king’ arms, under the command of his royal highness the duke of Cumberland, to put an end to this traiterous attempt against the throne of Great-Britain, took occasion, not only to lay the nation and it’ dependencies, under more sensible bonds to give glory to him, in language like that of the 18th Psalm, “reat deliverance hath he given to his king, and shewed mercy to his anointed: Therefore will we give thanks unto thee, O Lord, and sing praises to thy name” But to do that also, which was proper to engage their more fervent prayers of faith, that he would go on to clothe the king’s enemies with shame, and cause the crown to flourish on his head and the head of his posterity forever.
Rulers also should endeavour to keep the state from being embroiled in foreign war, by contriving, in all prudent ways, to engage and continue the friendship of neighbouring nations; by bearing with lesser injuries from them, and not hastily resenting greater ones, so far as may be consistent with the public safety; by sacredly adhering to the treaties and contracts, they may have entred into with them; by expressing a due caution not to invade their rights or properties, or in any instance whatever to give them just cause of provocation: Or if this shou’ at any time happen, by appearing ready to make them all reasonable satisfaction.
Or if, after all, war should arise, by means of the pride, or avarice, or self-will and tyranny of unreasonable men, their concern should now be to look to the preservation of the state at home, by providing a sufficiency of warlike stores, in their various kinds; by guarding the exposed frontiers and coasts; and, in a word, by putting and keeping things in such a posture of defence, that neither their people, nor their interests, may easily fall a prey in their enemy’ hands.
Besides which, it would be both wisdom and justice to carry the war into their enemies territories; doing every thing in their power to humble their pride, curb their malice, and weaken their strength; especially, where there may be most danger of being annoyed by them.]
6thly, and finally, rulers should be just to promote the general welfare and prosperity of a people, by discouraging, on the one hand, idleness, prodigality, prophaneness, uncleanness, drunkenness, and the like immoralities, which tend, in the natural course of things, to their impoverishment and ruin: And by encouraging, on the other hand, industry, frugality, temperance, chastity, and the like moral virtues, the general practice whereof are naturally connected with the flourishing of a people in every thing that tends to make them great and happy. As also, by rendring the support of government as easy as is consistent with it’ honour and safety; by calculating laws to
set forward those manufactures which may be of public benefit; by freeing trade, as much as possible, from all unnecessary burdens; and, above all, by a wise and sutable provision for the instruction of children and youth: In order whereunto effectual care should be taken for the encouragement and support, not only of private schools, but of the public means of education. Colleges ought to be the special care of the government, as it is from hence, principally, that it has it’ dependence for initiating the youth in those arts and sciences, which may furnish them, as they grow up in the world, to be blessings both in church and state. It would certainly be unrighteous, not to protect these societies in the full and quiet enjoyment of such rights as have been freely and generously granted to them: And if they should not have within themselves a sufficiency for the support of their officers, it would be a wrong to the community, not to do what was further wanting towards their comfortable and honourable support. And having thus, in a general and imperfect manner, gone over the more important instances, wherein rulers should be just, it might now be proper to enlarge on the obligations they are under to be so: But the time will allow me only to suggest as follows.
[They are obliged to be thus just, from the fitness and reasonableness of the thing in itself considered. ’is a duty that naturally and necessarily results from the relation they stand in to society, and the power they are vested with, in all righteous ways, to promote it’ welfare. And it would, in the nature of things, be incongruous and absurd for men so scituated and betrusted, and for such good ends, to injure those over whom they are exalted, by abusing their power to the purposes of tyranny and oppression. Such a conduct would evidently and grosly break in upon that propriety and fitness of action, which is immutably and eternally required, in such a constitution of things, as rulers and ruled, and the relative obligations respectively arising therefrom. They are also obliged to be thus just, in virtue of the will of the supreme legislator, made known in the revelations of scripture; which enjoins such precepts as those,
follow.” And again, “hus saith the Lord, Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: And do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow”†: To which laws of the great king of the world they owe an indisputed obedience, as they are, in common with the rest of mankind, the subjects of his government: Nor can they be freed from the charge of reflecting contempt on the divine majesty, and that sovereign authority by which he governs his creatures, if, in their administrations, they should express a disregard to them.
They are likewise obliged to be just, out of regard to the community, to which they are related; whose welfare is so dependent hereon, that if they act, in their respective stations, not from a principle of justice, but under the influence of worldly views and selfish designs, it may reasonably be expected, that “udgment should be turned away backward, and justice stand afar off” that “ruth should fall in the street, and equity not be able to enter” The natural effect whereof must be the ruin of a people. Whereas, if they “ut on righteousness, and it clothes them; and their judgment is as a robe and a diadem: If they deliver the poor that cry, and the fatherless, and him that hath none to help him; and break to pieces the wicked, and pluck the spoil of his teeth” they will approve themselves those “ighteous ones in authority, who cause the people to rejoice” And the righteousness wherewith they rule them will be their exaltation.
In fine, it should be a constraining argument with rulers to be just, that they are accountable to that Jesus, whom God hath ordained to be the judge of the world, for the use of that power he has put into their hands. And if, by their unjust behaviour in their places, they have not only injured the people, but unhappily led them, by their example, into practices that are fraudulent and dishonest; I say, if they have thus misused their power, sad will be their account another day; such as must expose them to the resentments of their judge, which they will not be able to escape. It will not be any security then, that they were once ranked among the great men of the earth. This may now be a protection to them, and it often indeed screens them from that human vengeance, which overtakes those of less influence, tho’guilty of less crimes: But the “ings of the earth, and the great men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men,” ill in the day of the appearing of the son of God, be upon a level with the meanest of mankind, and as ready, if conscious to themselves that they have been unjust in their stations, to “ay to the mountains and rocks, fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?”A most affecting consideration, and should powerfully excite those who rule over others, to a righteous exercise of their power; especially, as they will by this means, if in other respects also they have behaved well, obtain the approbation of their judge; who will, as they have been “aithful over a few things, make them ruler over many” placing them at his own right hand, in his kingdom.
II. I now proceed to say, in the second place, Those who rule over men, must rule in the fear of God. The fear of God, being not only in itself a considerable part of religion, but also a grace that has a special influence on all the other parts of it, is commonly, and not unfitly, used in scripture to signify the whole of it. This seems to be the meaning of the phrase here: And the thing intended is, not only that rulers should be endowed with an inward principle of religion, but that they should exercise their authority, in their whole administration, under the influence of so good and powerful a disposition. He that ruleth over men, must rule in the fear of God. As if the royal prophet had said, “t is necessary, civil rulers should have upon their minds a becoming sense of God and religion: And it should govern their public conduct. Whatever they do, in their several stations, should be done under the guidance of an habitual awe of God, a serious regard to his governing will, and their accountableness to him. This is the principle that should have a predominating sway in all exertments of themselves in their public capacity.”This I take to be the true sense of the words. To be sure, ’is the truth of the thing. Civil rulers ought to be possessed of a principle of religion, and to act under the direction of it in their respective stations. This is a matter of necessity. I don’ mean that it is necessary in order to their having a right to rule over men. Dominion is not founded in grace: Nor is every pious good man fit to be entrusted with civil power. ’is easy to distinguish between government in it’ abstracted notion, and the faithful advantageous administration of it. And religion in rulers is necessary to the latter, tho’not to the former. Not but that they may be considerably useful in their places, if the religious fear of God does not reign in their hearts. From a natural benevolence of temper, accompanied with an active honest turn of mind, they may be instrumental in doing good service to the public: Nay, they may be prompted, even from a view to themselves, their own honour and interest, to behave well in the posts they sustain, at least, in many instances. But if destitute of religion, they are possessed of no principle that will stimulate a care in them to act up to their character steadily and universally, and so as fully to answer the ends of their institution. ’is a principle of religion, and this only, that can set them free from the unhappy influence of those passions and lusts, which they are subject to, in common with other men, and by means whereof they may be betrayed into that tyranny and oppression, that violence and injustice, which will destroy the peace and good order of society. These, ’is true, may be under some tolerable check from other principles, at least, for a while, and in respect of those actings that are plainly enormous. But no restraints are like those, which the true fear of God lays upon men’ lusts. This habitually prevailing in the hearts of rulers, will happily prevent the out-breaking of their pride, and envy, and avarice, and self-love, and other lusts, to the damage of society; and not only so, but it will weaken, and gradually destroy, the very inward propensities themselves to the various acts of vice. It naturally, and powerfully, tends to this: And this is the effect it will produce, in a less or greater degree, according to the strength of the religious principle, in those who are the subjects of it.
And a principle of religion also, and this only, will be effectual to excite rulers to a uniform, constant and universal regard to truth and justice, in their public conduct. Inferiour principles may influence them in particular cases, and at certain seasons: But the fear of God only will prompt them to every instance of right action, and at all times. This will possess them of such sentiments, give such a direction to their views, and fix such a happy biass on their minds, as that their chief concern and care will be, to behave in their offices so as to answer the good ends for which they were put into them. In one word, they will now be the subjects of that divine and universal principle of good conduct, which may, under God, be depended on, to carry them thro’the whole of their duty, upon all occasions, under all difficulties, and in opposition to all temptations, to the rendring the people, over whom they bear rule, as happy as ’is in their power to make them. To be sure, without a principle of religion, none of their services for the public will meet with the divine approbation. ’is therefore, in respect of themselves, a matter of absolute necessity that they be possess’ of the true fear of God. It won’ suffice, should they behave well in their places, if they have no higher view herein than their own private interest; if they are influenced, not from a due regard to God, his honour and authority, but from love to themselves. This will spoil their best services, in point of the divine acceptance: Whereas, if they act from a principle of religion, what they do in a way of serving their generation will be kindly taken at the hands of a merciful God, and he will, thro’Jesus Christ, amply reward them for it, in the great day of retribution.]
It now remains to apply what has been said to rulers and people. And ’is fit I should first turn the discourse into an address to your Excellency, as it has pleased God and the king to advance you to the first seat of government, among those who bear rule in this province. The administration, sir, is devolved on you in the darkest day, it may be, New- England ever saw; when there was never more occasion for distinguishing talents in a governour, to direct the public counsels, and minister to the relief and comfort of a poor people, groaning under the calamities of war and debt, and, what is worse than both, an unhappy medium, that fills the land with oppression and distress. We would hope, it was because the Lord loved this people, that he has set you over us; and that he intends to honour you as the instrument in delivering us from the perplexing difficulties wherewith our affairs are embarrass’.
We have had experience of your Excellency’ superiour wisdom, knowledge, steadiness, resolution, and unwearied application in serving the province: And would herefrom encourage our selves to depend on you for every thing, that may reasonably be expected of a chief ruler, furnished with capacities fitted to promote the public happiness.
We rejoice to see so many posts in the government, at the disposal of your Excellency, either alone, or in conjunction with your council, filled with men of capacity, justice and religion: And as the public good is so much dependent on the nomination and appointment of well qualified persons to sustain the various offices in the province, we promise our selves your eye will be upon the faithful of the land, and that, while you contemn every vile person, you will honour them that fear the Lord. And should any attempt by indirect means to obtain places of trust which others better deserve, we assure ourselves your Excellency will resent such an affront, and testify a just displeasure against the persons who shall dare to offer it.
The opinion we have of your Excellency’ integrity and justice, forbids the least suspicion of a design in you to invade the civil charter-rights of this people. And tho’ ou differ in your sentiments from us, as to the model of our church-state, and the external manner of our worship; yet we can securely rely on the generosity of your principles to protect us in the full enjoyment of those ecclesiastical rights we have been so long in possession of: And the rather, because your Excellency knows, that our progenitors enterprized the settlement of this country principally on a religious account; leaving their native land, and transporting themselves and their families, at a vast expence, and at the peril of their lives, into this distant, and then desolate wilderness, that they might themselves freely enjoy, and transmit to us their posterity, that manner of worship and discipline, which we look upon, as they did, most agreable to the purity of God’ word.
Your Excellency knows too well the worth of learning, and the advantage of a liberal education, not to be strongly dispos’ to cherish the college, which has, from the days of our fathers, been so much the glory of New-England: And we doubt not, you will be always tender of its rights, and exert your self, as there may be occasion, for its defence and welfare.
And as your Excellency is our common father, we repair to you as the friend and patron of all that is dear and valuable to us; depending that you will employ your time, your thought, your authority, your influence and best endeavours, to ease our burdens, to lead us out of the labyrinths we have run into, and to make us a happy and prosperous people.
We can wish nothing better for your Excellency than the divine presence enabling you to act, in your whole administration, under the influence of a steady principle of justice, and an habitual awe and reverence of that God, for whom ultimately you derived your authority, and to whom you are accountable for the use of it. This will recommend you to the love, and entitle you to the praise of an obliged happy people; this will yield you undisturbed ease of mind under the cares and burdens of government; this will brighten to you the shades of death, embalm your memory after you are dead, and, what is infinitely more desireable, give you boldness when great and small shall stand before the Son of man, and procure for you that blessed euge, from the mouth of your divine Saviour and Master, “ell done, good and faithful servant: Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
Permit me, in the next place, with a becoming respect, to apply myself to thehonourable his majesty’ council, and the honourable house of representatives; whose desire has ordered me into this desk. Through the goodness of God, we see the return of this anniversary for the exercise of one of those charter-rights, granted to our fathers, and continued to us, on the wise and faithful management whereof, the public happiness is very much dependent. His majesty’ council, this afternoon to be elected, is an happy medium between the king and the people, and wisely designed to preserve a due ballance between the prerogatives of the one, and the privileges of the other. And as they constitute one branch of the legislature, they have a share in framing and passing all acts and orders. To them it appertains to assist the chief ruler with their advice upon all emergent occasions, especially in the court’ recess. And without their consent, none of the civil posts in the government can be filled; in consequence whereof, no judges can be appointed, no courts erected, no causes tried, no sentences executed, but by persons who have had their approbation: All which, by shewing the weight of this order of men in the state, bespeaks the importance of this day’ business, and, at the same time, demands a proportionable care and faithfulness in the discharge of it. It is not, gentlemen, a trifling concern you have before you; an affair wherein you may act with carelessness or inattention; with a party or partial spirit; out of affection to friends, or complaisance to superiors; much less upon the corrupt design of making instruments to be imployed and managed to serve your own private schemes. It is not for yourselves only that you are empowered and called to vote in the elections of this day, but for your God, your king and your country: And you will be unjust to them all, if you give your voice as moved by any considerations, but those which are taken from the real characters of men, qualifying them to sit at the council-board. You all know, from the oracles of God, how men must be furnished, in order to their being fit to be chosen into places of such important trust; that they must be wise and understanding, and known to be so among their tribes; that they must be able men, and men of truth, men that fear God, and hate covetousness. And ’is to be hoped, we have a sufficiency of such, in the land, to constitute his majesty’ council. It would be lamentable indeed, if we had not. ’is your business, gentlemen, to seek them out. And with you will the fault principally lie, if we have not the best men in the country for councillors; men of capacity and knowledge, who are well acquainted with the nature of government in general, and the constitution, laws, priviledges and interests of this people in particular: Men of known piety towards God, and fidelity to their king and country: Men of a generous spirit, who are above acting under the influence of narrow and selfish principles: Men of unquestionable integrity, inflexible justice, and undaunted resolution, who will dare not to give their consent to unrighteous acts, or mistaken nominations; who will disdain, on the one hand, meanly to withdraw, when speaking their minds with freedom and openness may expose them to those who set them up, and may have it in their power to pull them down, or, on the other, to accommodate their conduct, in a servile manner, to their sentiments and designs; in fine, who will steadily act up to their character, support the honour of their station, Online Library of Liberty: Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788) and approve themselves invariably faithful in their endeavours to advance the public weal.
These are the men, ’is in your power, my honourable fathers, to choose into the council; and these are the men for whom, in the name of God, and this whole people, I would earnestly beg every vote this day: And suffer me to say, these are the men you will all send in your votes for, if you are yourselves men of integrity and justice, and exercise your elective-power, not as having concerted the matter beforehand, in some party-juncto, but under the influence of a becoming awe of that omnipresent righteous God, whose eye will be upon you, to observe how you vote, and for whom you vote, and to whom you must finally render an account, before the general assembly of angels and men, for this day’ transaction.
We bow our knees to the alwise sovereign Being, who presides over the affairs of the children of men, in humble and fervent supplications, that he would govern your views, direct your tho’s, and lead you into a choice that he shall own and succeed, to promote the best interests of this people. And when the elections of this day are over, and the several branches of the legislature shall proceed upon the affairs of the public, we promise ourselves you will act as those, who have upon their minds a just sense of the vast importance of the trust that is reposed in you. To you is committed the defence of the province, the guardianship of it’ liberties and priviledges, the protection of it’ trade, and the care of it’ most valuable interests: And never was there a time, wherein it’ circumstances more urgently called upon you to exert yourselves, in seeking it’ welfare. Religion is not in such a flourishing state, at this day, but that it needs the countenance of your example, and the interposition of your authority, to keep it from insult and contempt. We thankfully acknowledge the pious care, the legislature has lately taken to restrain the horrid practice of cursing and swearing, which so generally prevailed, especially in this, and our other sea-port towns, to the dishonour of God, and our reproach as wearing the name of christians. And if laws still more severe are necessary, to guard the day and worship of God from prophanation, we can leave it with your wisdom to enact such, as may tend to serve so good a design. And tho’we would be far from desiring, that our rulers should espouse a party in religion; yet we
cannot but hope, they will never do any thing to encourage those, who may have arrived at such an height in spiritual pride, as to say, in their practice, to their brethren as good as themselves, “tand by thy self, come not near me; for I am holier than thou” Concerning whom the blessed God declares, “hese are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.”And as for those, be their character, persuasion, or party, what it will, who, under the notion of appearing zealous for God, his truths or ways, shall insult their betters, vilify their neighbours, and spirit people to strife and faction, we earnestly wish the civil arm may be stretched forth to chastise them: And if they suffer, ’will be for disturbing the peace of society; the evil whereof is rather aggravated than lessened, by pretences to advance the glory of God and the interest of religion. We are thankful for the good and wholesome laws which have been made, from time to time, for the suppression of vice, in it’ various kinds; and, in particular, for the restraint that has been laid upon those, who may be inclined to excessive drinking. Alas! that such multitudes, notwithstanding, are overtaken with this fault. Hard drinking is indeed become common all over the land. And ’is astonishing to think what quantities of strong drink are consumed among us! Unless some, well capable of forming a judgment, are very much mistaken, more a great deal is needlessly and viciously consumed than would suffice to answer the whole charge, both of church and state. A reproach this, to any people! And if something further is not done by the
government, to prevent the use that is made of strong drink, it will, in a little time, prove the destruction of the country, in the natural course of things; if God should not positively testify his displeasure against such horrid intemperance. It may deserve your consideration, my fathers, whether one occasion of this scandalous consumption of strong drink, has not been the needless multiplication of taverns, as well as more private licensed houses, that are too commonly used for tipling, and serve to little purpose, but to tempt people, in low life sinfully to waste their time, and spend their substance.
[It would also redound much to the advantage of the province, if our civil fathers could contrive, some way or other that might be effectual, to prevent people’ laying out so much of the fruit of their labour, in that which is needless and extravagant. It will not be denied, by any capable of making observation, that the excesses, all ranks of persons have unhappily run into, need correction. ’is owing, in a great measure, to our pride, discovering it self in the extravagance of our garb, as well as manner of living, that we are brought low. And, if some restraint is not laid upon this vicious disposition, so generally prevalent in the land, we may complain of our difficulties, but ’is not likely, without a miracle, they should be redressed.]
But there is nothing more needs your awaken’ attention, my honoured fathers in the government, than the unhappy state of this people by means of the current medium. Whatever wise and good ends might be proposed at first, and from time to time, in the emission of bills of credit, they have proved, in the event, a cruel engine of oppression. It may be, there was scarce ever a province under more melancholly circumstances, by reason of injustice, which is become almost unavoidable. Sad is the case of your men of nominal salaries: And much to be pitied also are those widows and orphans, who depend on the loan of their money for a subsistance: While yet, these last, of all persons in the community, should be most carefully guarded against every thing that looks like oppression. This sin, when widows and fatherless children are the persons wronged by it, is heinously aggravated in the sight of a righteous God; as may easily be collected from that emphatical prohibition, so often repeated in all parts of the bible, “hou shalt not oppress the widow, nor the fatherless.”But the oppression reigning in the land, is not confined to this order or that condition of persons, but touches all without exception. None escape its pernicious influence, neither high nor low, rich nor poor. Like an over-bearing flood, it makes its way thro’ he province; and all are sufferers by it, in a less or greater degree, and feel and own themselves to be so.
And will you, our honoured rulers, by any positive acts, or faulty neglects, suffer your selves to be instrumental in the continuance of such a state of things? God forbid! We don’ think you would designedly do any thing to countenance oppression, or neglect any thing that might have a tendency to remove it out of the land. Neither can we think, that any former assemblies have knowingly acted, in the emission of public bills, upon dishonest principles: Tho’it may be feared, whether the righteous God, in holy displeasure at the sins both of rulers and people, may not have witheld counsel from our wise men, and scattered darkness in their paths: And if, in consequence hereof, there has been disunion in the sentiments of our civil fathers, concerning the public medium, and unsteadiness in their conduct, ’is no matter of wonder: Nor, upon this supposition, is it hard to be accounted for, that injustice, by means of the paper currency, should have taken such a general and dreadful spread, thro’the land.
But, by what means soever we became involved in these perplexities, ’is certainly high time to make a pause, and consider what may be done that will be effectual towards the recovering and maintaining justice and honesty, that we may be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. It would be culpable vanity in me, to attempt to prescribe to our honourable legislature; yet may I, without going beyond my line, after the example of the great apostle of the gentiles, reason with you of public righteousness, and its connection with a judgment to come.
You are, my fathers, accountable to that God whose throne is in the heavens, incommon with other men. And his eyes behold your conduct in your public capacity, and he sees and observes it, not merely as a spectator, but an almighty righteous judge, one who enters all upon record in order to a reckoning another day. And a day is coming, it lingers not, when you shall all stand upon a level, with the meanest subjects, before the tremendous bar of the righteous judge of all the earth, and be called upon to render an account, not only of your private life, but of your whole
management as entrusted with the concerns of this people. Under the realising apprehension of this, suffer me, in the name of God, (tho’the most unworthy of his servants) to advise you to review the public conduct, respecting the passing bills, and to do whatever may lay in your power to prevent their being the occasion of that injustice, which, if continued much longer, will destroy the small remains of common honesty that are still left in the land, and make us an abhorrence to the people that delight in righteousness.
Let me beseech you, sirs, for the sake of this poor people, and for the sake of your own souls, when you shall stand before the dreadful bar of the eternal judgment, to lay aside all party designs and private considerations, and to deliberate upon this great affair, with a single view to the public good, and under the uniform influence of a steady principle of righteousness; for, as the wise man observes, “ransgressors shall be taken in their own naughtiness,”while “he righteousness of the upright shall Online Library of Liberty: Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788) deliver them, and their integrity shall guide them” and again, “s for the upright, the Lord directeth their way.” If there needs any excuse for my wonted plainness of speech, I can only say; my conscience beareth me witness, that what I have said has proceeded, not from want of a decent respect for those who are my civil fathers, but from faithfulness to God, whose I am, and whom I desire to serve, as well as from an ardent love to my dear country, which I am grieved to behold in tears, by reason of “he oppressions that are done under the sun.” ustom might now demand an address to my fathers and brethren in the ministry; but as a sermon will be preached to the clergy to-morrow, by one who is every way my superior, and from whom I expect myself to receive instruction, I shall no otherwise apply to them than as they may be concerned in the exhortation to the people, which, agreably to the preceeding discourse, speaketh in the words of the inspired Solomon, “ear God, and honour the king.” e, first of all, concerned to become truly religious; men of piety towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and the subjects of that regenerating change, which shall renew your whole inner man, and form you to a resemblance of the blessed Jesus, in the moral temper of his mind. And let your religion now discover itself in all proper ways; particularly, in doing your duty to those, whom it hath pleased God to entrust with power to rule over you. Be exhorted to “ake supplications, prayers and intercessions, with giving of thanks, for the king in supreme, and for all in authority”under him, that by means of their wise, and gentle, and just administrations in government, we may “ead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty.” nd as subjection to civil rulers is so peremptorily demanded of you, by the laws of our holy religion, that you can’ be good christians without it, let me caution you, on the one hand, not to “espise dominion,”nor “peak evil of dignities” And, on the other, let me “ut you in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates; submitting to every ordinance of man for the Lord’ sake: Whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governours, as unto them that are sent by him, for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well: For so is the will of God.” nd as rulers are the ministers of God, his authoris’ deputies, for the people’ good, and continually, so far as they answer the ends of their institution, attend on this very thing: “or this cause pay you tribute also” And do it, not grudgingly, but with a chearful mind, in obedience to that glorious sovereign Being, who has said, “ender unto Cæar the things that are Cæar’.” n fine, let me call upon you to “ender unto all their dues.”Abhor the little arts of fraud and deceit that are become so common, in this day of growing dishonesty. Make use of conscience in your dealings with your neighbour; and be fair and equitable, wherein you may have to do with him in a way of commerce. In conformity to the righteous God, love righteousness, and discover that you do so, by constantly living in the practice of it: Always bearing it in mind, that he, “hose eyes behold, and whose eyelids try the children of men,”will hereafter descend from heaven, “o give to every man according as his work shall be.”Behold! He cometh with clouds, and we shall, every one of us, see him. We are hastening to another world; and it will not be long, before we shall all be together again, in a much more numerous assembly, and upon a far greater occasion, even that of being tried for our future existence, at the dreadful tribunal of the impartial judge of the quick and dead. The good Lord so impress the thought upon the hearts of us all, whether rulers, or ministers, or people, as that it may have an abiding influence on us, engaging us to be faithful and just in our respective places: And now may we hope, of the mercy of God, thro’the merits of our saviour Jesus Christ, to be acquitted at the bar of judgment, pronounced blessed, and bid to inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. amen
John Wise was a Congregational minister. In this essay, Wise lays out the Biblical argument for democracy, believing that God had ordained a natural law that was superior to civil law, and since God had made all men free, any restriction of that freedom was by definition unholy. Wise thought monarchy and aristocracy contradicted Christ’s ministry because they “subverted the design of the Gospel, and the end for which Christ’s government was ordained, viz., the moral, spiritual, and eternal happiness of men.”
NINEVEH’S REPENTANCE AND DELIVERANCE
Joseph Sewall (1688–1769). A Harvard graduate of 1707, Sewall spent a long and generally serene ministry at Old South Church in Boston, where he preached beyond his eightieth year. He was a strong Calvinist, yet he became a friend of George Whitefield, who preached in Sewall’s pulpit during several visits to Boston. He was offered the presidency of Harvard in 1724, but he declined it after a peevish attack by Cotton Mather. He preached the artillery sermon in 1714 and the election sermon in 1724, and he was awarded a D.D. by the University of Glasgow in 1731. With his classmate Reverend Thomas Prince, he edited The Compleat Body of Divinity from collected papers of Samuel Willard (1726). His own papers were not collected, but Sibley’s Harvard Graduates (vol. 5), lists twenty-nine writings by him.
Reprinted here is a fast-day sermon preached before the Massachusetts governor, the council, and the house of representatives on December 3, 1740. Always ready to look for underlying causes and strongly attached to his province, Sewall readily supported the patriot cause and permitted his meeting house to become a shrine of the American cause. In Charles Chauncy’s words, Sewall “was a strenuous asserter of our civil and ecclesiastical charter-rights and priviledges. . . . He knew they were the purchase of our forefathers at the expence of much labor, blood, and treasire [sic]. He could not bear the thought of their being wrested out of our hands. He esteemed it our duty, in all wise, reasonable, and legal ways, to endeavour the preservation of them. . .” (Chauncy, Discourse Occasioned by the Death of . . . Joseph Sewall [Boston, 1769], p. 26).
And God saw their Works, that they turned from their evil Way, and God repented of the Evil that he had said that he would do unto them, and he did it not.
Jonah III. 10.
In this book we have a very memorable and instructive history. The prophet Jonah, whose name the book bears, was call’d of God to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian monarchy, and cry against it: He criminally attempted to fly from the presence of the Lord, by going to Joppa, and from thence to Tarshish; but that God whom the winds and sea obey, raised such a storm as made the heathen mariners conclude there was something very extraordinary, and accordingly they propose to cast lots, that they might know for whose cause this evil was upon them. Jonah is taken, and cast into the sea; upon which it ceased from raging: And thus, by the wonderful Providence of God, he became a type of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who having appeased the wrath of God by his obedience unto death, lay buried in the earth three days, Matth. 12. 40. For as Jonas was three Days and three Nights in the Whale’s Belly: So shall the Son of Man be three Days and three Nights in the Heart of the Earth. Jonah having cried to God, as out of the Belly of Hell, was delivered from his dreadful confinement. Chap. 2. v. 10. The Lord spake unto the Fish, and it vomited Jonah upon the dry Land. Thus the brute creation, even the mighty whales, obey the word of God’s power, while men transgress his law. Jonah, being thus delivered from the depth of distress, obeys the second call of God to him, Ch. 3. v. 1. Happy is that rebuke, how sharp soever, which is sanctified to make us return to God and our duty. And here it is observ’d, in the third verse, that Nineveh was an exceeding great city, great to or of God,* “Things great and eminent have the name of God put upon them in scripture[,]” of three days journey. It is computed to have been sixty miles in compass, which may well be reckon’d three days journey for a footman, twenty miles a day, says Mr. Henry; or as the same author observeth, walking slowly and gravely, as Jonah must, when he went about preaching, it would take him up at least three days to go thro’ all the principal streets and lanes of the city, to proclaim his message, that all might have notice of it.” However, no greatness or wordly glory will be any security against God’s destroying judgments, if such places go on obstinately in their sins. O let not London! let not Boston, presume to deal unjustly in the Land of Uprightness, lest the holy God say of them as of his ancient people, You have I known of all the Families of the Earth: Therefore I will punish you for all your Iniquities, Amos 3. 2. But to return, Jonah, in obedience to the divine command, cries against this great city, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown, v. 4. In the five following verses, we have the faith and repentance of the Ninevites described, which our Lord takes particular notice of, Matth. 12. 41. The Men of Nineveh shall rise in Judgment with this Generation, and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonas, and behold, a greater than Jonas is here. Let us then attend to these words with reverence and godly fear, lest they also rise up in judgment against us in the terrible day of the Lord. And here I would more particularly observe, 1. The People of Nineveh believed God, v. 5. Jonah, we may suppose, declared to them the true and living God, who made heaven and earth, and publish’d his message in his name; and God wrought such a faith in them as excited a fear of his judgments, and made them deeply concern’d to put away their provoking sins, that they might escape the threatned destruction. And this impression of fear and concern was general; for we find, 2dly, That they proclaim’d a Fast, and put on Sackcloth from the greatest of them even to the least of them. Yea, there was a royal proclamation for this by the Decree of the King and his Nobles, v. 7. And this great monarch humbled himself before the Most High, who cuts off the spirit of princes, and is terrible to the kings of the earth. The king of Nineveh arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and cover’d him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes, v. 6. Thus did he practically confess, that he had behav’d unworthy his royal dignity, and deserv’d to have it taken from him. And the proclamation requir’d the strictest abstinence, Let neither Man nor Beast taste any Thing. Not as if the beasts were capable of moral good or evil; but as these had been abus’d by them, they would have their moans and cries under the want of food, further to excite penitential sorrow in themselves. And all are commanded to cry mightily to God, v. 8. Yea, all are exhorted to turn every one from his evil Way, and from the violence that is in their hands. The Ninevites were sensible, that to outward signs and means of humiliation, they must add repentance and reformation. 3. We have their Encouragement to attend this Duty, in a time of impending judgment, v. 9. Who can tell if God will turn and repent. We may suppose that Jonah declar’d to them the grace and mercy of the God of Israel, and shew’d them the way of salvation thro’ the then promised Messiah; that tho’ their bodies should be destroy’d, their souls might be sav’d in the day of the Lord. And they might well infer some ground of hope as to their temporal deliverance from this, that the judgment was not presently executed; but the space of forty days was given them for repentance. However, as it doth not appear they had any particular promise respecting this matter, so their faith and hope are here express’d as attended with doubt and fear. Who can tell? A like expression we have, even respecting God’s covenant people, Who knows if he will return and repent? Joel 2. 14. 4. We have an account of Nineveh’s repentance, and God’s gracious deliverance, v. 10. Godsaw their Works, i.e. with approbation and gracious acceptance. Their works “whereby they testified the sincerity of their faith and repentance.”* Our Saviour says, they repented at the preaching of Jonas. Luke 11. 32. We may conclude therefore that his preaching was accompanied with the powerful influences of the spirit of God convincing them of their many hainous transgressions, awakening them with fears of God’s judgments, and prevailing upon them to turn from their sins to the Lord. Had it not been for this wonderful work of grace upon them, they had been like to the sinners of the old world, who went on securely, tho’ Noah was a Preacher of Righteousness to them, ’till the Flood came, and took them all away. Here were some, I hope, and that not a few, who had saving repentance given them; and others were so terrified and awakened, that they engaged at least in an outward and publick reformation. And may we not suppose that in this wonderful work, God gave his ancient people a specimen and earnest of the call of the gentiles? Now, upon this their repentance it is said, Godrepented of the Evil, and he did it not. Which words must be understood in such a sense as is consistent with the divine perfections. It is not spoken of God, as if he could in a proper sense be griev’d for what he had done in threatning the Ninevites; no, this was right, and he had a gracious design in it: Nor, as if he had alter’d his counsels concerning them. He is of one mind, and who can turn him? Nor, as if he acted contrary to truth and faithfulness; no, the threatning was conditional. And accordingly when they repented God turned from his fierce anger, and gave them deliverance; which is agreable to that rule of his government which we have declar’d. Jer. 18. 7. 8. At what Instant I shall speak concerning a Nation, and concerning a Kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it: If that Nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their Evil, I will repent of the Evil that I thought to do unto them.
From the words thus explained to you, I would observe the following doctrines,
(1.) If we would seek the Lord in a right manner, we must believe him; the threatnings and promises of his word. (2.) It is the duty of a people to cry to God in prayer with fasting, when he threatens to bring destroying judgments upon them; and their rulers should be ready to lead in the right discharge of this duty. (3.) Our seeking to God by prayer with fasting must be attended with true repentance, and sincere endeavours after reformation. (4.) When a people do thus attend their duty, God will repent of the evil, and not bring destruction upon them.
I.If we would seek the Lord in a right manner under his threatned judgments, we must believe him; the threatnings and promises of his word.
The people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast. We are not told what particular credentials Jonah produc’d to prove that he was a true prophet sent from God. His preaching might be more full and particular than is here recorded; and God set it home, so that they were made sensible they had to do with the true and faithful one, whose name is Jehovah; and accordingly they set themselves to entreat his favour with great seriousness. And thus we must believe, that the Lord is that powerful, holy, faithful, and merciful God, which he declareth himself to be in his word. We must realise it, that his word is sure and most worthy of credit, whether he threatens evil to the impenitent, or promiseth mercy to such as confess and forsake their sins; or we shall never be concerned to seek his face in a right manner. Without faith it is impossible to please God, in our approaches to him: For he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Heb. 11. 6. Agreably, in a time of danger, that pious king Jehoshaphet, said to God’s ancient people, Hear me, O Judah, and ye the Inhabitants of Jerusalem, Believe in the Lord your God, so shall you be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. 2 Chron. 20. 20. Certainly then, we who are born under the clear light of the gospel dispensation, must believe the Lord our God speaking to us in his word, if we would attend the duties of this day, so as to obtain mercy for ourselves, and this distressed people. We must believe that if we go on obstinately in our sins, and despite the warnings God has given us in his word and by his providences, we shall after our hardness and impenitent heart treasure up unto our selves wrath against the day of wrath; But if we forsake the way of sin, and return unto the Lord, he will have mercy and abundantly pardon. We must believe our Lord Jesus when he says to us, Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. And we must also receive it as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and will cast out none that come to him in the exercise of faith and repentance. O that there was such a faith in us! Then we should fly to God’s name, as to our strong tower this day, and find him our defence and refuge in the day of trouble. By Faith Noah being warnned of God of Things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an Ark to the saving of his House; by the which he condemned the World, and became Heir of the Righteousness which is by Faith, Heb. 11. 7.
II.It is the duty of a people to cry to God in prayer with fasting, when he threatens to bring destroying judgments upon them; and their rulers should be ready to lead in the right discharge of this duty.
Thus did the men of Nineveh, nor did their king refuse to humble himself and lie in the dust before that Almighty God, who threatned to destroy them. The order given was, “Let Man and Beast be covered with Sackcloth, and cry mightily to God.” This then is a moral duty incumbent on all as God shall call. God’s ancient people practised it. Thus when the children of Moab and Ammon came against Jehoshaphet to battel, he feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a Fast, 2 Chron. 20. 1–3. And we have an account in scripture of more private fasting, Mark 2. 18, 20. Where we are informed that the disciples of John, and of the pharisees used to fast. And our Lord declares that after his departure, His Disciples should also Fast. And we have particular direction about religious fasting, 1. Cor. 7. 5. Here then, I would be a little more particular in describing the duty of fasting and prayer, in which we are this day engaged.
1.In religious fasting we must chasten our bodies, by abstaining from meat and drink, and other pleasures which gratify the outward man.
Thus must we acknowledge that we have abused God’s good creatures, and are unworthy of the least drop and crumb even of the blessings of his common Providence. And in this way we ought to afflict and keep under our bodies, that our animal appetites may be bro’t into subjection, and that our souls may be the more deeply humbled before God. Indeed the necessity of persons, respecting the weakness of some constitutions, is here to be regarded. However, when persons wantonly indulge their appetites, and find their own pleasures when God calls to weeping and mourning, is sinful and shameful. And God declares in his word, that this is a provoking evil, Isai. 22. 12–14. In that Day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping and to mourning, and to girding with sackcloth: And behold Joy and Gladness, slaying Oxen, and killing Sheep, eating Flesh, and drinking Wine; let us eat and drink, for to morrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine Ears by the Lord of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord God of hosts. And surely the men of Nineveh will rise up in judgment against such, and condemn them; for we find they were very strict in attending these outward signs and means of humiliation. But then, it must be granted that this bodily abstinence will profit little, unless our hearts are broken for sin, and broken off from the pleasures of it.
2. In religious fasting we must afflict our souls; have the heart inwardly pierced, and the spirits broken upon the account of our sins.
That God who is a spirit, and forms the spirit of man within him, looks on the heart, and requireth us to worship him in spirit and truth. The Sacrifices of God are a broken Spirit: a broken and contrite Heart, O God thou wilt not despise, Psal. 51. 17. The call of God to his people on a day of solemn fasting, was that, rent your heart, Joel 2. 13. There must then be a deep and thorow conviction of sin, and contrition upon the account of it. We must look to Jesus whom our sins have pierced, and mourn as one mourneth for his only Son, and be in bitterness, as one that is in bitterness for his First-born, Zech. 12. 10. There must be hatred of sin, and indignation at it as the accursed thing which stirs up God’s holy displeasure against us. There must be inward grief because God has been dishonour’d and his law broken by our sins: That godly Sorrow which worketh Repentance, 2 Cor. 7. 10. There must be holy fear of God’s judgments. We must take shame and blame to our selves, and make that confession, Dan. 9. 8. O Lord to us belongeth confusion of Face, to our Kings, to our Princes, and to our Fathers, because we have sinned against thee. We must abhor our selves, lie down before God in deep abasement, and humble ourselves under his mighty hand: Thus must we go to God self-condemned, and willing to be reconcil’d to him upon his own terms; looking to Jesus as our advocate with the Father, and depending on him as the propitiation for our sins.
3.We must cry mightily to God in prayer. Earnest prayer, in this and other places of scripture, is express’d by crying to the Lord, Psal. 130. 1. Out of the depths have I cried unto thee O Lord. Prayer is a great part of the duty of the day; and we must take care, that it be that effectual fervent Prayer that availeth much, Jam. 5. 16.[,] in-wrought prayer, that prayer which is wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost. For this end, we must ask the spirit of grace and supplication to help our infirmities, and stir up the gift of God in us. Thus must we pour out our hearts before God, and say, in most humble importunity as Jacob, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. For God said not to the seed of Jacob, seek ye me in vain, Isa. 45. 15. And therefore, if we approve our selves the genuine sons of that patriarch, we shall also have power with God, and prevail thro’ the merits and intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ: we shall either obtain the blessing for God’s people, as Elias did, tho’ a man subject to like passions; or at least shall deliver our own souls. I might further set before you the prophet Daniel, who has given rulers a bright example of a publick spirit, greatly concern’d for the peace of Jerusalem. How earnest was he when he set his face to seek the Lord by prayer with fasting! Hear his repeated cries, Ch. 9. 19. O Lord hear, O Lord forgive, O Lord, hearken and do, defer not, for thine own sake, O my God. And when God call’d his people to sanctify a fast, the divine command is, Joel 2. 17. 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 thy Heritage to Reproach; that the Heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the People, Where is their God? May Moses and Aaron, lift up their hands with their hearts to God in prayer this day, and receive the blessing from the Lord.
4.We must turn, each one from his evil way. Thus when the exhortation given was to cry mightily to God, it follows; Yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the Violence that is in their Hands. And indeed, unless this be our care, our sins will cry louder than our prayers, and provoke God to cover himself as with a cloud, Isa. 59. 1, 2. Behold, the Lord’s Hand is not shortned that it cannot save: neither his ear heavy that he cannot hear. But your Iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your Sins have hid his Face from you, that he will not hear. And when God had declared to his people that he rejected their assemblies and solemn meetings, he gives them that exhortation. Wash ye, make ye clean, put away the evil of your Doings from before mine Eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek Judgment, relieve the Oppressed, judge the Fatherless, plead for the Widow, Isa. 1. 16, 17.
But this brings me to the 3d general head,
III. Our seeking to God by prayer with fasting, must be attended with true repentance, and sincere endeavours after reformation.
God saw their works, that they turned from the evil way. Here we may consider,
1. What is implied in this work of repentance and reformation.
2. Why we should thus engage in the work of repentance and reformation.
First, What is implied in this work of repentance and reformation?
A. 1. It implieth, An holy and prevailing resolution to turn from those sins which we confess on the day of fasting. When we appear before God to confess our sins and ask pardon for them; if we attend this duty in sincerity, we are convinc’d that it is an evil and bitter thing that we have forsaken God by transgressing his law; and we shall accordingly resolve to put away this accursed thing which separates between God and us, and engage to return to God and our duty. Thus did God’s people on a solemn fast. They entred into an oath to walk in God’s law, and solemnly promis’d, that they would reform the evils which had crept in among them; in taking strange wives, in profaning the Sabbath, in their cruel exacting upon their poor brethren, &c. Neh. 9. 38. 10. 29–31. And it is certainly seasonable and necessary for persons on such a day to resolve, relying on God for grace, to put away such and such sins as have more easily beset them, to take more care to keep themselves from their own iniquity, and to reform whatever hath been contrary to God’s law.
Which leads me to say,
2. It intends, That this resolution be put in practice in sincere endeavours to put away those sins and reform those evils, which have been confess’d and bewail’d before God. This God requires of us. Thus saith the Lord God, Repent and turn your selves from all your Idols, and turn away your Faces from all your Abominations, Ezek. 14. 6. And after this manner did the children of Israel testify their repentance, when they cried to the Lord under the oppression of their enemies. And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the Lord and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel. Judg. 10. 16. Agreeably, when we have fasted and prayed, we must bring forth fruits meet for repentance, by engaging in a thorow reformation of all sins of omission or commission. If we have omitted religious duties, secret or family prayer, self-examination, the ordinances of God’s house; we must now conscienciously attend upon them. If we have neglected the duties of those relations which we sustain towards men, in publick or private life; we must now with care and diligence discharge them. If we have committed sins contrary to the laws of sobriety, righteousness and godliness; we must labour by the spirit to mortify them. In a word, we should cleanse our selves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. And in order to these things, we ought earnestly seek to God to put his laws into our minds, and write them in our hearts; for it is he alone that can work in us to will and to do, in beginning and carrying on this necessary work of reformation.
3.That we return to God by Jesus Christ; to believe in, love and obey him. The prophet Hosea complains, They return, but not to the most High, 7. 16. Whereas, when a reformation is sincere and general, we shall have a regard to the Lord our God in it, as to our chief good and highest end. We shall not be principally concern’d to serve a turn, and escape this or the other threatned judgment. As they, When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God. And they remembred that God was their Rock, and the high God their Redeemer. Nevertheless, they did flatter him with their Mouth, and they lied unto him with their Tongues, Psal. 7. 8. 34–36. But shall make it our great business to obtain peace with God thro’ Jesus Christ the only Mediator, who has made peace thro’ the blood of his cross. And then shall we endeavour to be stedfast in his covenant. The language of our hearts must be as Hos. 6. 1. Come and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. 14. 3. Asshur shall not save us, we will not ride upon Horses, neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the Fatherless findeth mercy. We must return to God as to our Lord and lawgiver, to obey and serve him; as to the object of our desire and choice, to take our full contentment in him: Thus it is said of God’s people All Judah rejoiced at the Oath: for they had sworn with all their Heart, and sought him with their whole desire, and he was found of them, 2 Chr. 15. 15. As to particular persons, it is necessary that they thus give up themselves to the Lord, and then keep the covenant of their God. And as to a people, considering them collectively, this must be their prevailing desire and practice: If they are generally false & hypocritical, they will give God reason to complain of them, as of his ancient people, O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee: O Judah, what shall I do unto thee: for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. Hos. 6. 4.
Secondly, Why should our days of fasting be thus attended with sincere endeavours after reformation?
A. 1.God demands this of us. When that inquiry was made, Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow my self before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousands of rivers of oyl? The answer is, He hath shewed thee, O Man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6. 8. And therefore, when God’s people fasted in a formal customary manner, without engaging in the necessary work of reformation, God said to them, Did ye at all Fast unto me, even to me? And then it follows, Execute true Judgment, and shew Mercy and Compassions every Man to his Brother. And oppress not the Widow, nor the Fatherless, the Stranger, nor the Poor, and let none of you imagine Evil against his Brother in your Heart, Zech. 7. 8, 10.
2.God makes precious promises to encourage and excite us to this duty. Thus when God had exhorted his people to put away the evil of their doings; he adds for their encouragement, Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your Sins be as Scarlet, they shall be white as Snow; though they be red like Crimson, they shall be as Wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the Land. And in the 55th Chapter we have that exhortation enforc’d with a promise of full and free pardon, v. 6, 7. Seek ye the Lord, while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. Let the Wicked forsake his Way, and the unrighteous Man his Thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. ver. 6, 7. Surely then, we must be basely ungrateful, if we are not drawn with these cords of a man, and bands of love. While we refuse to attend this great duty, we practically despise the riches of God’s goodness whereby he leads sinners to repentance. And this is another reason why we should engage in the work of repentance and reformation.
3. If we refuse to repent and reform, we shall be condemned out of our own mouths, and fall under the threatned judgments of God. One considerable part of the duty of a day of religious fasting is to make an humble and penitent confession of our sins whereby we have provoked a holy God to come out in judgment against us, and to cry to him for grace that we may turn from them. Thus ’tis said of God’s people on the day of solemn fasting recorded Neh. 9. The Seed of Israel stood and confessed their Sins, and the Iniquities of their Fathers: 2d v. But if there be no care to put away the sins which we have confess’d, we shall give our Lord and judge reason to say to us as to the wicked servant, Out of thine own Mouth will I judge thee. Now this will be dreadful indeed, and must aggravate our condemnation, to be thus self-condemned; and so to fall under the righteous judgment of God. We have the proof of this written for our warning in the doleful account which the Scripture gives of the sin and punishment of God’s ancient convenant people. Tho’ they had their days of fasting, particularly on the seventh month, when the high priest was to make an atonement for himself and the people, and enter into the holy place within the vail, Lev. 16. Notwithstanding this, God said to his people, If ye will not be reformed, but will walk contrary to me, then will I also walk contrary to you, and will punish you seven times for your sins. And God fulfilled his word. They mocked the Messengers of God, and despised his Words, and misused his Prophets, until the Wrath of the Lord arose against his People, till there was no Remedy, 2 Chron. 36. 16. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by fire, and God’s people led into captivity to Babylon. And after their merciful restoration, when they had filled up the measure of their sins by disobeying and crucifying the Lord of Glory, and then by rejecting the offers of the gospel made to them by his apostles; the wrath of God came upon them to the uttermost by the Romans, and they are made an execration and a curse unto this day.
IV.When a people do thus turn from their evil way to the Lord, he will repent of the evil, and not bring destruction upon them.
God saw their works—and God repented of the Evil that he had said he would do unto them, and he did it not. Judgment is God’s strange work; but he delighteth in mercy. And when God threatens, it is with a reserve of grace and favour to the penitent. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen & repent, and do the first Works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy Candlestick out of his Place, except thou repent. Rev. 2. 5. Thus God said to the prophet Jeremiah,
Take thee a Roll of a Book, and write therein all the Words that I have spoken unto Thee against Israel, and against all the Nations, from the Day I spake unto thee, from the Days of Josiah, even unto this Day. It may be the House of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every Man from his evil Way, that I may forgive their Iniquity and their Sin, Jer. 36. 2, 3.
God knew perfectly well what they would do; but then he here lets his people know how ready he was to forgive the penitent and receive them into favour: It’s true, such as repent may be afflicted in this life; but then it is with the tender compassion of a father, not with the deadly wound of an enemy. The first and purest times of Christianity were times of persecution; however, while the holy martyrs overcame by the blood of the Lamb, not loving their lives unto the death; the church was preserv’d, yea increased and multiplied. And as to a people, considering them collectively, I suppose no one instance can be produc’d in which God pour’d out his fury to destroy them, while a spirit of repentance and reformation prevail’d. And even in times of abounding iniquity, when the glory of God was departing from his people, and destroying judgments breaking in like a flood; God was pleased to make a remarkable distinction between the penitent, and such as were hardned in sin.
And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the City, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a Mark upon the Foreheads of the Men that sigh and that cry for all the Abominations that be done in the midst thereof. And to the others be said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the City and smite: let not your Eye spare, neither have ye Pity, Ezek. 9. 4, 5.
But the time would fail me, should I attempt to speak particularly to this head; and I have in part prevented my self by what has been already said. I shall therefore only give a few hints further to confirm & illustrate the truth before us. The faithful and true Goddeclareth this in his word.
When I say unto the Wicked, Thou shalt surely die: If he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; If the Wicked restore the Pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the Statutes of Life, without committing Iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die, Ezek. 33. 14, 15.
When Ephraim bemoan’d himself and repented, God manifested his fatherly compassions to him.
I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus, Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a Bullock unaccustomed to the Yoke: Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my Youth. Is Ephraim my dear Son? Is he a pleasant Child? For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: Therefore my Bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord. Jer. 31. 18–20.
Again, When a people do thus turn from their evil way to the Lord, They are prepar’d to receive and improve God’s merciful Deliverance after a suitable manner. While a degenerate people are impenitent they will be ready to despise the riches of God’s goodness and forbearance, and to wax wanton under sparing mercy. Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his Salvation, Deut. 32. 15. But when sin is embitter’d by the godly sorrow which worketh repentance we shall observe that caution after God has spoken peace, Psal. 84. 8. Let them not turn again to Folly. Such a people will be jealous over themselves and for the Lord of hosts, and be concern’d to improve all his gracious appearances for them to the honour of his great name. Accordingly, God says of his people, How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land? And then returns this answer, Thou shalt call me, My Father, and shalt not turn away from me, Jer. 3. 19. Again, this truth is evident from the happy experience of the penitent. We have a remarkable instance before us. Now, did God spare repenting Nineveh, and will he not spare his repenting covenant-people? Yes surely,
If their uncircumcised Hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their Iniquity: Then will I remember my Covenant with Jacob, and also my Covenant with Isaac, and also my Covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the Land.
And God was pleas’d to fulfill his promise to his people, 1 Sam. 7. and in other instances upon record in scripture. In a word, the Lord Jesus our great high priest, has offered a sacrifice of infinite value to make atonement for the congregation of his people, whether Jews or gentiles; and he lives in heaven to interceed for them: And therefore, when God’s people look to him and mourn and turn to the Lord, he will turn from his fierce anger, and command salvation.
USE 1. Learn that true religion lays the surest foundation of a people’s prosperity. Righteousness exalteth a Nation, Prov. 14. 34. When we turn to God by Jesus Christ, and do works meet for repentance; we take the best way to obtain salvation from the help of his countenance, who is the Father of Lights, from whom cometh down every good & every perfect gift. It’s sin that separateth between God and his people: When this accursed thing is therefore put away from among them, that God to whom belong the issues from death, will draw nigh to them with his saving health, and appear for their deliverance.
And if God be for us, who can be against us? There is no Wisdom nor Understanding, nor Counsel against the Lord. The Horse is prepared against the Day of Battle: But Safety is of the Lord. Prov 21. 30, 31. Certainly then, the one thing needful is to secure the presence and favour of God; and this we do when we return to him in hearty repentance, and then walk before him in new obedience. Blessed is that people whose God is the Lord: No weapon form’d against them shall prosper, and that good word shall be fulfilled unto them, God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in Trouble, Psal. 46. 1. and v. 5. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved. God shall help her, and that right early, O that God would impress on our minds the firm belief of these things! O that he would affect our hearts suitably with them! That we might strive together in our prayers this day, crying to God with the prophet, O Lord, revive thy Work in the midst of the Years, in the midst of the Years make known; in Wrath remember Mercy. Hab. 3. 2.
USE 2. Abounding iniquity will be the destruction of a people, except they repent. If they persist and go on in the ways of sin, refusing to return to God, iniquity will be their ruin. Sin is the Reproach of any People, Prov. 14. 34. It hath both a natural and moral tendency to lay them low, and expose them to shame. Sin in the body politick, is like some foul and deadly disease in the natural body which turns the beauty of it into corruption, and weakens all it’s powers. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole Head is sick, and the whole Heart is faint. From the Sole of the Foot, even unto the Crown of the Head, there is no Soundness in it; but Wounds and Bruises, and putrifying Sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither molified with Ointment, Isa. 1. 5, 6. And then, this deadly evil provokes the holy God to pour contempt upon a people, and lay their honour in the dust. Thus God threatned his people, Thou shalt become an Astonishment, a Proverb, and a By-word, among all Nations whither the Lord shall lead thee. Deut. 28. 37. And in the 44th and 45th [verse:] He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him; he shall be the Head, and thou shalt be the Tail. Moreover all these Curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee till thou be destroyed: Because thou hearknedst not unto the Voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his Commandments and his Statutes which he commanded thee. And the threatning was fulfilled upon them. God said to his people, O Israel, Thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. And the weeping prophet laments their sins and ruin, Jerusalem hath grievously sinned: all that honoured her, despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward. Her filthiness is in her skirts, she remembreth not her last end, therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no Comforter. Yea, after this remarkable deliverance granted to Nineveh, it’s suppos’d about ninety years, when they returned to their former sins, the prophet Nahum foretells their ruin, Chap. 1.
USE 3. Let us then be sensible of the destroying evil of sin, and the necessity of true repentance.
God speaks to us this day as to his people of old, Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy Backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts, Jer. 2. 19. And as 44. 4. O do not this abominable thing that I hate. Most certainly they are guilty of great folly, who make a mock at sin. This is to cast fire-brands, arrows and death; and say, Am I not sport? The wise man observes, that One Sinner destroyeth much Good, Eccl. 9. 18. Thus Achan took of the accursed Thing; and the Anger of the Lord was kindled against the Children of Israel, Josh. 7. 1. Let us then fly from sin as the most pernicious evil, and see the necessity of our turning to the Lord by sincere repentance. O let that word of the Lord sink deep into our hearts this day! Turn ye, turn ye, Why will ye die, O House of Israel? Ezek. 33. 11.
Which leads me to the last use;
4. Let us all be exhorted to turn, every one from his evil way; and to engage heartily in the necessary work of reformation.
This, this is our great duty and interest this day, as we would hope to be made instruments in God’s hand of saving our selves and this people. Let us then seriously consider that we have to do with that God who is able to save and to destroy. And settle that word in our hearts as a certain truth, When he giveth Quietness, who then can make Trouble? and when he hideth his Face, who then can behold him? whether it be done against a Nation, or against a Man only. Job 34. 29. And accordingly, let us turn from all sin to the Lord, and in this way hope and wait for his salvation. O let us take heed, lest there be in any of us an evil Heart of Unbelief in departing from the living God. To day, let us hear his voice, and not harden our hearts. May each one of us say with Job, Now mine Eye seeth thee: Wherefore I abhor my self, and repent in Dust and Ashes. And as it has pleased the Father to commit all judgment to the Son; let us look to him, and encourage our selves in him whom God hath exalted to be a prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. May our ascended Jesus, who has receiv’d of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, pour out this great blessing upon the whole land, and fulfill that word,
Then will I sprinkle clean Water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness and from all your Idols will I cleanse you. A new Heart also will I give you, and a new Spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony Heart out of your Flesh, and I will give you an Heart of Flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my Statutes, and ye shall keep my Judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the Land that I gave to your Fathers, and ye shall be my People, and I will be your God. Ezek. 35. 25–28.
Blessed be the Lord, his spirit has been, we hope, moving on the hearts of many to convince and awaken them. O let us not resist and quench the spirit! lest the threatning denounc’d against the sinners of the old world, should be fulfill’d on us, My Spirit shall not always strive with Man, for that he also is Flesh. Gen. 6. 3. Let us cherish his motions, and pray the more earnestly that he may be given in an extensive manner as a spirit of saving conversion and thorow reformation. And surely, If we duely consider the state of this sinful, distressed people, we shall be constrain’d to say with the prophet It is Time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain Righteousness upon you. Hos. 10. 12. And then with our fervent prayers, let us unite our best endeavours with regard to our selves, our families, and this people; that all iniquity may be put far from us, and that we may become zealous of good works. In this way we might hope God would say of us as of the remnant of Judah; Then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you. Or as Isa. 65. 8. Destroy it not, for a Blessing is in it.
But the time requireth me to draw to a close. I would therefore proceed with due respect to make a particular application of what hath been said, unto our honoured rulers, who have call’d us to sanctify a fast with them; and have set apart this day to humble themselves under the sense of sin, and the tokens of the divine displeasure upon this province.
My fathers! Suffer the word of exhortation: Let God see your works; that you turn from every evil way; that God may also repent of the evil, and not bring it upon us. For how dreadful must it be if the example of the nobles and men of Nineveh should rise up in judgment against any of you: They repented at the preaching “of one Prophet sent to them by God, you have Moses and the Prophets”; Yea in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son that prince of the prophets, who is God manifest in the flesh. You have the sacred writings of the New-Testament, in which God reveals his wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men; and also his grace and mercy to the penitent by a redeemer. And as the judge of all the earth hath advanced you to rule over his people; so he declareth to you in his word, That they who rule over Men must be just, ruling in the Fear of God; and requireth you to lead in the work of reformation by your example, and by the right use of that power with which he hath betrusted you.
This people have observ’d many days of fasting and prayer, and yet there’s sorrowful occasion to make that complaint; For all this his Anger is not turned away, but his Hand is stretched out still. You have also in this more private way sought the Lord some years past,* confessing your sins, and the sins of this people before him; notwithstanding which, the holy and faithful God goeth on walking contrary to us, and threatens to punish us seven times more for our sins. What means this heat of his anger? Why do we still complain, Judgment is far from us, neither doth Justice overtake us: we wait for Light, but behold Obscurity; for Brightness, but we walk in Darkness. We grope for the Wall like the Blind, and we grope as if we had no Eyes. Isa. 59. 9, 10. Alas! We must take up the lamentation which follows, v. 12–14.
Our Transgressions are multiplied before Thee, and our Sins testify against us: for our Transgressions are with us, and as for our Iniquities, we know them: In transgressing and lying against the Lord, and departing away from our God, speaking Oppression and Revolt, conceiving and uttering from the Heart, Words of Falsehood. And Judgment is turned away backward, and Justice standeth afar off: for Truth is fallen in the Street, and Equity cannot enter.
O it is time then, high time, heartily to engage in keeping the fast which God has chosen, and we have describ’d for our instruction and reproof, Isa. 58. 6, 8.
Is not this the Fast that I have chosen? to loose the Bands of Wickedness, to undo the heavy Burdens, and to let the Oppressed go free, and that ye break every Yoke? Is it not to deal thy Bread to the Hungry, and that thou bring the Poor that are cast out to thy House? when thou seest the Naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thy self from thine own Flesh?
Upon this God promiseth,
Then shall thy Light break forth as the Morning, and thine Health shall spring forth speedily: and thy Righteousness shall go before thee; the Glory of the Lord shall be thy Reward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. 8, 9. v.
And 12 v[:] They that shall be of thee, shall build the old waste Places: thou shalt raise up the Foundation of many Generations; and thou shalt be called, The Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Paths to dwell in. Be intreated therefore to cry to God for grace that you may cleanse your hearts and hands from all sin, and so turn to the Lord; and then, let it be your constant care and diligent endeavour to do works meet for repentance. As God has exalted you above your brethren, let your light shine before them, that others seeing your good works may glorify your heavenly Father, and be excited to follow you. Let all that behold you, see your pious regards to God’s worship and ordinances, his day and house. Do your utmost that the worship of God may be maintain’d in the power and purity of it, among this people. Let all due care be taken that men may fear this glorious and fearful name, the Lord our God, and not presume to take it in vain; for because of swearing the land mourns. Let the Lord’s-day be strictly observ’d; for God hath set the Sabbath as a sign between him and his people, that he is the Lord who sanctifieth them. Let the most effectual means also be used that the great abuse of taverns may be reformed; that these be not converted into tipling and gaming houses for town- dwellers, to the dishonour of God and hurt of the common-wealth. Let the fountains of justice be kept open and pure, that judgment may run down as waters; and that such as thirst after righteousness may come freely, and be refreshed. And whereas the present difficulties which embarrass our affairs, do very much arise from the want of a suitable medium of trade, and different apprehensions in the legislature about supplying the treasury, whereby the publick debts are, in part at least, left unpaid, and the country naked and defenceless, in this day of calamity and war: I can’t but humbly apprehend, that this awful frown of Providence calls aloud to you further to consider, whether there has not been great injustice and oppression with relation to the bills of publick credit which have pass’d among us, from their sinking and uncertain value; and to use your best endeavours that whatever bills shall pass for time to come in lieu of money, may be a just medium of exchange; for a false Ballance is abomination to the Lord; but a just Weight is his Delight, Prov. 11. 1. Whatever methods may be propos’d to extricate us out of our present distress, justice and equity must be laid in the foundation; or we may expect that the Lord who loves righteousness and hates wickedness, will confound our devices, and bring them to nought. But then, I presume not in the least measure to determine whether this or that way is right. May that God before whom all things are open and naked, direct Your Excellency and the whole court, into such paths of righteousness as shall lead to our deliverance and safety; that we may neither oppress one another, nor become a prey to an insulting enemy! May you be filled with the most tender and fatherly compassion for your people under the present distress and danger, and do all you can to relieve them! And if there should be a difference in your opinion about the way, may you be enabled to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, that the God of peace may be with you, who has promis’d to guide the meek in judgment!
But in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: Truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel!
O God! We know not what to do; but our eyes are unto thee. We wait upon thee O Lord, who hidest thy self from the house of Israel; confessing that we thy servants, and thy people have sinn’d. Thy ways are equal, our ways have been very unequal. O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day, because we have sinned against thee. To the Lord our God also belongeth mercies and forgivenesses, tho’ we have rebell’d against him. O Lord, hear, O Lord forgive, O Lord, hearken and do, defer not, for thine own sake, O God! for thy city, and thy people are called by thy name. Look to the face of thine Anointed, O merciful Father! Behold thy Son in our nature, who on earth offer’d a sacrifice of infinite merit to atone for the sins of thy people; and now appears in heaven, as a Lamb that had been slain, interceeding for us. We are unworthy; but the name in which we now ask thy divine help, is most worthy. O hear us, for thy Son’s sake, and speak peace to thy people. Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock, thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up thy strength, and come and save us. Turn us again O God; and cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved. O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us; for we are bro’t very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name; and deliver us, and purge away our sins for thy name’s sake: So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture, will give thee thanks for ever; we will shew forth thy praise to all generations.
And would you, our honoured rulers, to whom I again address my self, have the all-wise God present to shew you what his people ought to do in this very critical conjuncture, and to make you the joyful instruments of our deliverance; then abide with God by taking his word for your rule, by making his glory your highest end, and by seeking the public-weal in all things. Ask of God a public spirit, and by all means labour to subdue a vicious self-love remembring the warning given us, 2 Tim. 3. 1, 2. In the last Days perilous Times shall come. For Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous. May you have the love of God and his people shed abroad in your hearts by his spirit; and be ready to sacrifice private views and personal interests to the publick good! Shake your hands from bribes of every kind, and when call’d to give your vote, consider seriously what is right in the sight of God, with whom is no respect of persons, or taking of gifts; and act accordingly. And if at any time you should be tempted to this great evil, as the best of men may; set that word of God in opposition to the temptation.
He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly, he that despiseth the Gain of Oppression, that shaketh his Hands from holding of Bribes, that stoppeth his Ears from hearing of Blood, and shutteth his Eyes from seeing Evil: He shall dwell on high, his Place of Defence shall be the Munition of Rocks; Bread shall be given him, his Waters shall be sure. Isa. 33. 15, 16.
In this way you shall obtain the gracious presence of God with you. The Lord is with you, while ye be with him, 2 Chron. 15. 2. And if God be with you and for you, who can be against you? What can harm you? What can be too hard for you, if the Almighty is pleas’d to own you as his servants, and command deliverance for his people by you? Surely the mountains shall become a plain, crooked things straight, and the night shine as the day. Let me say to you therefore as 2 Chron. 15. 7. Be ye strong, and let not your Hands be weak: for your Work shall be rewarded. God will be your shield, and exceeding great reward. You shall see the good of God’s chosen, rejoice with the gladness of his nation, and glory with his inheritance. And when the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto these my Brethren, ye have done it unto me: Come ye Blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom.
[* ]Urbs magna Dei. Calvin.
[* ]Dutch annotations.
[* ]Decemb. 10, 1736.
GOVERNMENT THE PILLAR OF THE EARTH
Benjamin Colman (1673–1747). One of the prominent clergymen of his day, Colman became in 1699 the first pastor of Boston’s Brattle Street Church, where he found himself at odds with Increase and Cotton Mather because of certain of his views that deviated from strict Congregationalism. His B.A. and A.M. degrees were from Harvard, and he was awarded an S.T.D. by the University of Glasgow. In 1724 he declined the presidency of Harvard, but he served as one of its trustees (1717–28) and remained an overseer, in addition to his ministry at Brattle Street Church, until his death. A prolific author with more than ninety published titles to his credit, he was a supporter of the evangelical movement stirred by the Great Awakening and was a commissioner of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and for Parts Adjacent. Thrice married, Colman was survived by his third wife, Mary Frost.
The sermon reprinted here was preached at the Thursday Lecture in Boston on August 13, 1730.
For the Pillars of the Earth are the Lord’s, and He hath set the World upon them.
1 Sam. ii. 8.
The words are part of a raptrous and heavenly song, utter’d by a devout, inspir’d and transported mother in Israel, upon a great and joyful occasion. If the Divine Eternal Spirit please to inspire and speak by a gracious woman, it is the same thing to us, and requires our reverend attention as much, as if he raise up a Moses or an Elias, or make his revelations by a Paul or John.
Samuel, the rare and wonderful son of inspir’d Hannah, never outspake his lovely mother in any of his prayers or acts of praise. Eli would have sat at her feet, and laid himself in the dust, at the hearing of this flowing torrent of fervent devotion from her beauteous lips; and saints thro’ all ages hang on the heavenly music of her tongue.
Great things are here said of God, and of his government, in the families and kingdoms of men; and such wise and just observations are made, as are worthy of deep contemplation by the greatest and best of men. Had she like Deborah been the princess of the tribes of Israel, she could not have spoken with more loftiness and majesty, with more authority and command; nor better have address’d the nobles and rulers, the captains and the mighty men; to humble and lay ’em low before God.
“She celebrates the Lord God of Israel,* his unspotted purity, his almighty power, his unsearchable wisdom, and his unerring justice”:
In the praises of these she joys and triumphs, her heart was exalted and her mouth enlarged.
“She adores the divine sovereignty in its disposals of the affairs of the children of men; in the strange and sudden turns given to them; in the rise & fall of persons, families & countries. “She observes how the strong are soon weakned, and the weak are soon strengthned, when God pleases: How the rich are soon impoverish’d, and the poor inriched on a sudden: How empty families are replenish’d, and numerous families diminished[”]: All this is of the Lord;
He maketh poor and maketh rich, He bringeth low and lifteth up: He raiseth up the poor out of Dust, and lifteth up the Beggar from the Dunghill; to set them among Princes, and make them inherit the Throne of Glory; For the Pillars of the Earth are the Lord’s, and He hath set the World upon them.
Thus my text is introduced as a reason for those dispensations of God towards a person, a family, or a people, which at any time are to us most surprising and admirable.
1. The things spoken of are great and mighty; the Pillars of the Earth. The earth is a vast fabrick, and in proportion to its mighty bulk must its pillars be.
The metaphor is plainly taken from architecture; as in stately, spacious and magnificent structures we often see rows of pillars, to sustain the roof and lofty towers. But whether we apply this manner of expression to the natural or moral earth, it is figurative and not literal.
The natural earth has no pillar. The will and word of God is its only basis. It seems to us who dwell on it fix’d and immoveable in the air. It keeps it’s place and line there, as if it were set on some lasting solid pillars, and never mov’d at all.
We darkly philosophise upon the point, and talk of the poles of heaven; which are more unintelligible to a common audience than the pillars of it. We speak obscurely of the earth’s being fixed on it’s own center. And we discourse more intelligibly of the secret power of magnetism which is in matter; whereby bodies mutually attract or gravitate toward each other; by which the mighty globes of the universe preserve their distance, motion and order.
This seems to be the only natural pillar of the earth: The amazing work and power of God. And the planets which roll in the same circle with us, have all of ’em the same pillars. That is to say, all bodies thro’ the whole solar system attract or gravitate toward each other, with forces according to their quantities of matter.
But after all this fine doctrine in our new philosophy, concerning the centripetal forces of the sun and planets; a plain Christian is much more edified by the simple and vulgar account which the sacred pages give us of this mysterious thing:*“He stretcheth out the North over the empty space, and hangeth the Earth upon nothing! He hath founded it upon the Seas, and established it upon the Floods.” Which is to say, No man knows how or where, this vast material frame finds it’s basis and station.
Let us hear God again on the point, and say no more upon it;
Job xxxviii. Who is this that darkneth Counsel by Words without Knowledge? Gird up now thy Loins like a Man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou Me. Where wast thou when I laid the Foundations of the Earth? Declare if thou hast Understanding. Who hath laid the Measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who hath stretched the Line upon it? Whereupon are the Foundations thereof fastned? or who laid the Corner-stone thereof?
We see then that the natural earth has no pillars, in any proper sense; Neither has the moral earth, (i.e. the inhabitants of it) any, but in a metaphorical sense: And so the princes and rulers of it are called it’s pillars; because the affairs of the world ly upon their shoulders, and turn upon their conduct and management, in a very great degree.
And thus the text explains it self, and is to be interpreted from the scope of our context; which speaks of the Bows of the mighty Men, and of the Thrones of Princes, and then adds—the Pillars of the Earth. So that by pillars we are to understand governours and rulers among men; but not the persons that bear rule, so much as the order it self, government and magistracy. For the persons may be weak and slender reeds, little able of themselves to bear up any thing; and here and there they may fall; but the order stands and doth indeed uphold the world.
2. The things said of these pillars of the earth are also very great: “They are the Lord’s, and He has set the World upon them.[”] That is to say, The order and happiness of this lower world, the peace and weal of it, depend on the civil government which God has ordained in it. All this is very elegant and rhetorical, a high and noble strain of speech, upon the highest subject that belongs to this our earth.
The Great God has made the governments and rulers of the earth it’s pillars, and has set the world upon them.
1. The governments and rulers of the earth are it’s pillars.
2. These pillars of the earth are the Lord’s.
3. He has set the world upon them.
I.The governments and rulers of the earth are it’s pillars.
The pillar is a part of great use and honour in the building: So is magistracy in the world. One style in scripture for it is, foundations and corner-stones. Where we read of the Chief* of the People, in the Hebrew it is the corners. We read also of the†Foundations of the Earth being out of Course. The meaning is, the government of it was so. Kings bear up and support the inferior pillars of government, and a righteous administration restores a dissolving state: Psal. lxxv. 3. The Earth and all the Inhabitants thereof are dissolved: I bear up the Pillars of it.
In like manner, wise and faithful ministers are pillars in the Church: Which is built on the Prophets and Apostles, JesusChrist being the chief Corner-stone, Eph. ii. 20. The prophet Jeremiah was made by God an iron pillar: And of Peter, James and John we read, that they seemed to be Pillars: Gal. ii. 9. They were deservedly so reputed, and truly so in the Church of Christ. Famous are the Lord’s words to Peter, Matth. xvi. 18. Thou art Peter, and on this Rock will I build my Church. And when John had the vision of the New-Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, it is said that the Wall of the City had twelve Foundations, and in them the Names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.
Now the design and use of pillars in a building is one of these two, or both together: 1. For strength to uphold it, or 2. For beauty to adorn it.
1. The governments and rulers of the earth are its pillars in respect of strength to uphold and support the virtue, order and peace of it. Pillars should be made strong, and commonly are so; of stone and marble, iron and brass. And it had need be a strong Rod to be a Sceptre to Rule, Ezek. xix. 14. Magistrates need be strong, for government is a great weight; and it is laid upon their shoulders. Moses felt the weight and said, I am not able to bear this People alone
2. The governments and rulers of the earth are it’s pillars for ornament, to adorn it. Pillars in a fine building are made as beautiful as may be; they are plan’d and polish’d, wrought and carv’d with much art and cost, painted and gilded, for sight as well as use. As the legs are to a body, comely in it’s goings: Such are pillars in a stately structure for beauty to the eye. It is the allusion of the spouse, recounting the beauties of her beloved, Cant. v. 15. His Legs are as Pillars of Marble, set upon Sockets of fine Gold. A bold and elegant comparison, becoming the pen of Solomon, who had built the temple of God with all it’s pillars. They represented the strength of Christ and his stability, to bear the weight of the government laid upon him; and also the magnificence of the Goings of God our King in the Sanctuary: Likewise the steadiness of the divine administration. So those in power and magistracy are to be supposed, men adorn’d with superior gifts, powers and beauties of mind: Men that adorn the world wherein they live, and the offices which they sustain. And then their office adorns them also, and sets them in conspicuous places, where what is great and good in them is seen of all. To be sure, government and magistracy adorn the world as well as preserve it.
1. Magistrates uphold and adorn the world, as pillars do a fabrick, by employing their superior wisdom and knowledge, skill and prudence, discretion and judgment for the publick good. These accomplishments are to be supposed in the civil order, and they render ’em the pillars of the earth.
Wisdom is both strength and beauty, a defence and ornament. So Solomon shines among kings, for the Wisdom of God was in Him. God gave him Wisdom and Knowledge exceeding much, and Largeness of Heart even as the Sand upon the Sea-shore. Angels excel in strength, and rulers should be wise as the angels of God. The government is laid on Christ because in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He is the wisdom of God and the power of God. As God at first founded the earth by his wisdom, and by his understanding established the heavens; so by the communication of wisdom and understanding to some, he preserves the order and happiness of others on it. What is said of a house is true of a state,
Thro’ Wisdom it is builded, and by Understanding it is established, and by Knowledge shall the Chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant Riches: A wise Man is strong, yea a Man of Knowledge increaseth Strength.*
But then, Is the pillar for ornament? What is more beautiful than knowledge and wisdom? What more adorns a man, a place, a country? The queen of Sheba came far to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and Huram was as much struck as she was: 2 Chron. ii. 12. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who hath given to David the King a wise Son, endued with Prudence and Understanding, who may build a House for the Lord, and an House for the Kingdom.
2. Integrity, uprightness, faithfulness added to knowledge and wisdom, makes men strong and beautiful pillars, whether in church or state. Every man is ready to pretend to a competency of wisdom, and as ready to proclaim his own Goodness; but a faithful Man who can find? Prov. xx. 6. He is a rare and beauteous spectacle, as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Jehojada, Hezekiah and Nehemiah, in their times, and to the end of time. All that rule over men should be like to these, just men ruling in the fear of the Lord, and then they are to the world as the light and rain, without which the earth must perish. As darkness vanishes before the light, so a King that sitteth upon the Throne of Judgment scattereth away all Evil with his Eyes. David, that pillar of Israel, came into the government with that noble purpose and resolution, Psal. lxxv. 3. When I shall receive the Congregation, I will judge uprightly. So he fed them in the integrity of his heart, and led them by the skilfulness of his hands. God’s righteousness and faithfulness, justice and judgment, are the foundation of his everlasting government, the habitation of his throne. See the pillars of the divine government; Psal. xxxvi. 5, 6. Thy Faithfulness reacheth to the Clouds, thy Righteousness is as the great Mountains. Nor can the kingdoms and provinces on the earth stand, but on the like basis of a just and righteous humane government. Psal. lxxii. 3. The Mountains shall bring Peace to the People, and the little Hills by Righteousness. “Both the superior and inferior magistrates shall minister abundantly to the stability and tranquility of the state.[”]
3.A publick and enlarged spirit for the common weal and a single regard thereunto, without suffering our selves to be misled by private and selfish views. This renders men pillars to the world, in the places wherein Providence sets ’em. And so,
4. A spirit of peace and love, meekness and humility, candour and gentleness; whereby persons are ready to unite their counsels, and act in concert with one another; paying a just deference one to another and preferring one another in honour; glad to receive light from any one, and well pleased to reflect it from them; all pursuing one end, as the many pillars in a great house stand quietly near to one another, and all help to bear it up: This spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind, render men strong and beautiful pillars of the earth. But if the peace of God rule not in mens hearts; if their passions shake ’em and they clash with one another; the house totters, the high arches above cleave asunder, and the roof falls in; as when Sampson bow’d the pillars of Dagons house, and buried the lewd assembly in one vast ruine.
5. A pillar implies fortitude and patience; resolution, firmness and strength of mind, under weight and burden: Not to be soon shaken in mind, nor moved away from what is right and just; but giving our reason in the meekness of wisdom, and hearing the reasons of others in the same spirit of meekness, to form an impartial judgment, and abide by it; But yet with submission to the publick judgment and determination. The unstable are as water, and more fitly likened to the waves of the sea, than to a pillar on shore. And the irresolute, discouraged and sinking mind is at best but a pillar built upon the sand; which falls when the wind blows and the storm beats upon it, because of its weak foundation.
There is a passive courage, ever necessary in an accomplish’d ruler, as much it may be as an active. The pillar stands regardless thro’ the weather beat on it, or tho’ dirt be cast on it. True it will wear under the injuries of time, but it looks still great, and stands while it wears away. The wise, the meek & strong Moses stood as many shocks, as ever man did from an impatient, murmuring, ungrateful people.
But this for the first head; the governments and rulers of the earth are its pillars.
II. These pillars of the earth are the Lord’s.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein. All are God’s rightful propriety & dominion. The shields of the earth belong to him. These are the same with the pillars of it.
1. The Lord makes these pillars, forms fashions ’em, polishes and adorns ’em. He gifts, qualifies and furnishes all whom he calls out to public service. He makes the more plain and rough, and he orders the carved work and gilding in his house. He, the Father of Light & Glory, gives men their natural powers and excellencies; and all their acquired gifts are from him.
He looketh upon all the Inhabitants of the Earth, He fashioneth their Hearts alike, He considereth all their Works. In the Hearts of all that are wise-hearted He putteth Wisdom. Both Wisdom and Might are His: Counsel is His and sound Wisdom; He is Understanding, He is Strength; by Him Kings rule and Princes decree Judgment.*
He gave to David integrity, and to Solomon wisdom; and both were pillars of his framing.
2. Both the order & the persons are of the Lord’s ordering, constituting and appointing. Civil government is of divine institution, and God commissions and entrusts with the administration whom he pleases. The great King of the World has order’d a government in it, and he raises up governours, supream and subordinate. There is no Power but of God; the Powers that be are ordained of Him. He puts the scepter into the hand, and the spirit of government into the heart.
3. The pillars are the Lord’s, for he disposes of them as he pleases; places and fixes them where he will; rears ’em when he sees fit; and when he will removes, or takes ’em down: Or if he has no pleasure in them, breaks ’em to pieces and throws ’em away.
He removeth Kings, and setteth up Kings: For Promotion cometh neither from the East, nor from the West, nor from the South: But GOD is the Judge; He putteth down one and setteth up another: He leadeth Counsellors away spoiled & maketh the Judges fools: He looseth the Bond of Kings, and girdeth their Loins with a Girdle: He leadeth Princes away spoiled, and overthroweth the Mighty.†
Thus the sovereign GOD forms the pillars of the earth, prepares ’em, sets ’em up, ordains the places and times of their standing; takes ’em down and puts others in their room. He calls, and uses whom he will, inclines and spirits how he will, and improves to what degree he will. They are his therefore, and his is the greatness and the glory and the majesty! And to him it must be ascribed both by the persons endowed and raised by him, and by others interested in them: 1 Chron. xxix. 12, 13. Both Riches and Honour come of Thee, and in thy Hand is Power and Might, and in thy Hand it is to make Great, and to give Strength unto all: Now therefore, our GOD, we praise Thee, and bless thy Name for ever and ever.
But to do the utmost honour to the civil order among men, and to give yet greater glory to GOD, let us come to the third and last part of our text.
III.GODhath set the world upon the governments and rulers, whom he has made the pillars of it.
The natural world is in the hand of GOD, and is upheld in it’s being and order by his power. The moral world is most upon his heart, and govern’d in a way and manner suted to the nature and present state of man. And as he governs the spirits of men when he pleases by immediate impressions on them; so as more proper to the present order and happiness of mankind, he has appointed the government of men to be by men. So the peace, tranquility and flourishing of places are made to depend on the wisdom and fidelity of their rulers, in the good administration of the government. While the utmost misery and confusion befals those places where the government is ill administred. The reason is given in the text, GOD has set the World on this foot; it can’t stand on any other bottom. The virtue and religion of a people, their riches and trade, their power, honour and reputation; and the favour of GOD toward them, with his blessing on them; do greatly depend on the pious, righteous and faithful government which they are under.
GOD hath set: As well in the nature of things, as in his word. Government is not a creature of man’s lust and will, but of divine constitution, and from a necessity in the nature of things. The very being and weal of society depends thereon.
Government was not in the original of it assumed or usurped by any one man. For instance, not by Lamech before the Flood, nor by Nimrod after it. Indeed the spirit of tyranny, and the lust of dominion, seem to have began in them; but order & rule was before them. Mankind naturally went into that, and these were the men who made the first breaches on it; the one being of the race of Cain, the other of Ham; who have had some of their likeness in every place, and thro’ all generations; that would turn the world upside down and overthrow the foundations which GOD has laid.
In a word, magistracy, like the other ordinances of heaven, stands by the power and blessing of GOD; who effectually owns it and works by it, establishes the earth and it abideth. He has graven it deep in the hearts of men, even as the desire of happiness and self-preservation. He has as much ordained, that while the earth remaineth civil order and government shall not cease; as he has sworn that seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not. Both the one and the other equally continue to the world’s end, absolutely necessary to the life, comfort and welfare of mankind.
I shall now make a few reflections, by way of practical inference and improvement.
1. See the divine wisdom and goodness in ordaining and establishing a magistracy and government in the world. It is one of the many great instances, wherein the Supream Governour of the world has taken care for the universal and perpetual weal of it. And they that would be lawless and ungoverned, despising dominion and speaking evil of dignity, distinction, authority and rule among men, act as madly and mischievously as one would do, that should go into a house and sap the foundation of it, till it fall upon him and crush him to death.
It is one evident mark of the Romish imposture, and of the spirit of Antichrist, that it has invaded, usurp’d upon and subverted the authority of kings and princes, governments and states, over their subjects. The popes claim of supremacy transfers the allegiance of subjects to a foreign power, and absolves ’em from their oaths. This alone is a sufficient mark of the Beast and of the man of sin. What confusion and vexation has the world suffered from this insolent & monstrous doctrine! And how strange is it that so many kingdoms and nations of Europe should so long wander after it, to their infinite misrule & distraction! But the word & dreadful judgment of GOD must be fulfilled on a wicked world.
The Reformed churches took early care to protest against this doctrine of devils. They declared for a “conscientious subjection and obedience to the laws and magistrates under which they liv’d, and by whom they were protected & defended in their just rights and liberties.[”] “Every kind of magistracy (say the Helvetian churches) is instituted by GOD, for the peace and happiness of man, and all subjects should own the goodness of GOD in the institution of a magistrate, by honouring him as the minister of GOD.[”]
These are some of the just and true principles of the Protestant religion, according to the oracles of GOD in this matter:
Rom. xiii. 1–5. Let every Soul be subject unto the higher Powers: For there is no Power but of GOD; the Powers that be are ordained of GOD: Whosoever therefore resisteth the Power, resisteth the Ordinance of GOD. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for Wrath (or fear of punishment) but also for Conscience sake. Render therefore unto all their Dues, Tribute to whom Tribute is due, Custom to whom Custom, Fear to whom Fear, and Honour to whom Honour. Tit. iii. 1. Put them in mind to be subject to Principalities and Powers, to obey Magistrates. 1 Pet. ii. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Submit your selves to every Ordinance of Man for the Lord’s sake; whether it be to the King as supream, or unto Governours as unto them that are sent by Him: For so is the Will of GOD.
Let us very gratefully observe these precepts, for they are very graciously given us for the good of the world.
2. Are magistrates the pillars of the earth? Are they the Lord’s? and has he set the world upon them? Let us then devoutly observe the governing Providence of GOD in disposing of persons and offices, both with respect unto our selves and others.
As to our selves, let GOD lead, and Providence open our way, and let us follow humbly & obediently. Let us think soberly of our selves, and not vainly pine after honour and power, or wickedly push for it like Absalom. But neither need we hide our selves like Saul, when the divine call is plain, nor insist on excuses like the meek and accomplished Moses. Or if again Providence lays us by, why should we not retire with Samuel’s humility and greatness of soul.
And then as to others, Let us not think our selves neglected or overlook’d, be envious and discontent, if GOD prefer them. Suffer the Most High to rule in the kingdoms of men, and to give the provinces that belong to ‘em to whomsoever he will. Let us know and keep our own place, and do our duty to those whom GOD sets over us.
Let people reverence & honour their worthy rulers, and let the highest among men be very humble before GOD. They are pillars, but of the earth. The earth and its pillars are dissolving together. Government abides, in a succession of men, while the earth endures, but the persons, however good & great, must die like other men. We must not look too much at the loftiness of any, nor lean too much on any earthly pillar: Put not your Trust in Princes, nor in the Son of Man in whom there is no Help: His Breath goeth forth, he returneth to his Dust. Nor may the highest among mortals behold themselves with elation & security, as the vain king of Babylon once; but let them fear and tremble before the God of heaven, who inherits all nations, and stands in the congregation of the mighty, and judgeth among the gods.
3. Are rulers the pillars of the earth; are they the Lord’s? and has he set the world upon ’em? Let all that are in public offices consider their obligations to be pillars, in the places wherein Providence hath set ’em.
Let rulers consider what they owe to GOD, who has rear’d and set ’em up; and to the publick which GOD has set upon them. Let ’em seek wisdom & strength, grace and conduct from GOD, that they may answer the title given ’em in my text. Let ’em stand, and bear, and act for GOD; whose they are, and who has set ’em where they are. Let the publick good be their just care; that it may be seen that GOD has set the world in their heart, as well as laid it on their shoulders. Let ’em act uprightly, that they may stand secure and strong. Let ’em fear GOD, and rule by his word, that they may be approved by GOD, and accepted always by men with all thankfulness.
As government is the pillar of the earth, so religion is the pillar of government. Take away the fear of GOD’s government & judgment, and humane rule utterly falls, or corrupts into tyranny. But if religion rule in the hearts and lives of rulers, GOD will have glory, and the people be made happy.
Fathers of our country, let me freely say to you, that the devotion and virtue of our humble, but illustrious ancestors (the first planters of New-England), laid the foundation of our greatness among the provinces: And it is this that must continue and establish it under the divine favour & blessing. Emulate their piety and godliness, and generous regards to the publick, and be acknowledged the pillars, the strength and ornament of your country!
But let me move you by a greater argument, even a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, which the Holy Ghost has set before you in a most illustrious promise;
Rev. iii. 12. Him that overcometh will I make a Pillar in the Temple of my GOD, and he shall go no more out: And I will write upon Him the Name of my GOD, and the Name of the City of my GOD, which is New-Jerusalem; which cometh down out of Heaven from my GOD: And I will write upon Him my New-Name.
Christ will erect a monumental pillar, that shall stand for ever, in honour of all them who in their station here, be they high or low, faithfully endeavour to uphold his church and kingdom.
It is a triumphant promise taken from the Roman manner of pillars rear’d to the memory of illustrious persons and patriots, on which were inscrib’d their names and worthy deeds; together with that of the empire, city or province, which they were so happy as to serve and help to save.
Infinitely more glory and honour shall be done to him who serves the Lord CHRIST, his kingdom, people and interest, in his life here on earth: When he comes into his temple above he shall have a pillar of celestial glory rear’d to eternize his name; and on it shall be written (O divine honour!) “This was a faithful Servant of his GOD, and Saviour, and of the Church on Earth.[”]
There let him stand for ever, “A monument of free grace, never to be defaced or removed.” While the names of famous emperors, kings and generals, graven in brass or cut in marble, on stately pillars and triumphant arches, shall moulder into dust.
So the pillars in Solomon’s porch were broken down, and carried away by the Chaldeans: But he that is made a pillar in the celestial temple shall go no more out. Yea the pillars of the literal earth and heavens will shortly tremble, and be shaken out of their place; but he that believes in Christ, and has his glorious name written on him, shall remain unshaken and immoveable; and remain, like his living saviour, stedfast for ever.
This infinite and eternal glory we wish to all in this worshipping assembly, the greater and the less, high and low, rich and poor together: As in the act of worship, we are all on a level before the throne of GOD. And the lowest in outward condition may be the highest in grace, and in the honours that come from above.
But in a more especial manner we wish this mercy and blessing of our GOD and king, out of his house to your Excellency our governour: Whose return to your country, and your advancement to the government of it, we cannot but congratulate in the most publick manner, with hearts full of joy, and sincere thankfulness to GOD.
The Lord GOD of our fathers, who hath spread our heavens, and laid the foundations of our earth, make you a pillar to us both in the state & church.
As it hath pleased him to chuse, adorn & set you up; so may he please to fix & establish you, and long continue you a father, and illustrious blessing to your people.
And may the name of Christ, and of these churches of our Lord Jesus, be graven deep upon your heart: And your faithful services to them be an everlasting name to you, which shall not be cut off.
So, not only erect your self a pillar in every pious and grateful heart, that loves our civil and religious liberties; and let their prayers and blessings come upon you; but also lay a good foundation against the world to come, for everlasting fame and renown, and to be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
[* ]Henry in loc.
[* ]Job xxvi. 7. Psalm xxiv. 2.
[* ]Judges xx.
[† ]2. Psal. lxxxii.
[* ]Prov. xxiv. 3, 4, 5. 1 Cor. i. 24. Col. ii. 3. 2 Sam. xiv. 20. 1 Kings iv. 29.
[* ]James i. 17. Psalm xxxiii. 15. Exod. xxxi. 3. Dan. ii. 20. Prov. viii. 14.
[† ]Dan. ii. 21. Psal. lxxv. 6, 7. Job xii, 17, 18.
This is an extraordinary find. What is interesting is the attitude of the present preacher. If he were the preacher during the revolutionary war, the church would be statist. Notice how he attempts to rewrite history by claiming the church today still retains this “rebellious spirit” because it is anti-war.
Sermons of 1776, With a Spirit of 2003; Newly Found Papers Reflect New York’s Mood in Time of War
Published: March 16, 2003
The country is at war. New York City is threatened. A pastor exhorts young men to fight for liberty, be brave and prepare for the day of death. ”Let a spirit of patriotism fire your breath,” he says in a voice reaching out from 1776.
In a remarkable discovery, members of the First Presbyterian Church in Greenwich Village stumbled upon two previously unknown sermons from the Revolutionary War, tucked between pages of an old ledger found during a cleanup of the church basement.
Apparently written by the Rev. John Rodgers, the church’s pastor from 1765 to 1811 and a staunch pro-colonist and prominent clergy member in New York, they give a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a city about to be plunged into the violence of the war. And their words have an uncanny resonance in 2003.
Kenneth T. Jackson, president of the New-York Historical Society, called the discovery of the sermons ”an important find.” In a strongly Loyalist city, he said, these words were treasonous, so speaking them and saving the texts were acts of bravery.
”This is revolutionary language, publicly stated from a public place,” Mr. Jackson said. ”It’s what makes history exciting.”
Written in a tiny, perfectly ruled hand, in ink faded to brown, the first sermon is dated Jan. 14, 1776, and is mainly a discourse on the nature of fear of the Lord. But on the last page, Rodgers takes flight on the subject of fighting for freedom. He addresses those preparing to volunteer for the Colonial side.
”Many have already dressed themselves in military array and taken the field, choosing rather to risk their lives in the cause of liberty, than to resign their privilege and live in slavery,” he writes.
In death, he goes on, ”your memory will be dear to survivors, and you will be translated to the world where there never will be the scourge of war, nor the sad spectacle of garments soaked in blood.”
Later in the year, Rodgers began serving as a chaplain to the Colonial army. By July 14, 1776, the date of the second text, circumstances had changed drastically.
The city was an armed camp. The Declaration of Independence had been read in the city commons, and afterward a crowd gathered in Bowling Green and upended the statue of King George III.
A British expeditionary force was massing on Staten Island. Colonial troops were bracing for a fight, and most of the city’s civilians had fled.
The second sermon’s mood is darker. It includes a humble lesson about war as the product of ”the corruption and depravity of human nature.” History, Rodgers writes, shows that ”nation has risen up against nation and kingdom against kingdom and desolation and ruin has been spread all around.”
Rodgers hammers on the theme that what is important for a warring nation is faith in God. Even if the war is just, likely to succeed and wisely begun, ”it is madness to act but in a dependence of him.”
The sermon focuses on a biblical passage from I Chronicles about the victory of the Reubenites and Gadites against a superior force. For the victors, ”it was their concern to make God their friend and serve his favor and this ought to be our great concern, in this time of our publick calamity,” he wrote.
These words bear resemblance to those of President Bush, who has invoked God as the provider of liberty and speaks, as he did in the State of the Union address, of ”our confidence in the loving God behind all of life and all of history.”
Rodgers’s discourse was typical of the 18th century, said Edwin G. Burrows, a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the co-author of ”Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.” In the second sermon, Rodgers was probably trying to send a sobering message to troops emboldened by strong patriot stands at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, Dr. Burrows said. By late August, any euphoria was snuffed out by the colonists’ crushing defeat in the Battle of Brooklyn, which led to the British occupation of New York.
Though they are unlikely to change interpretations of history, the sermons are a valuable reminder, Dr. Burrows said, of ”what it must have been like to have been in New York in the summer of 1776, watching this huge British juggernaut bearing down on the city and wondering what the outcome would be.”
”It’s also a reminder not ever to throw things out,” he said. ”Historians love things like this. There’s always the hope of finding more stuff in the basement.”
The sermons were uncovered in January by D. Karl Davis, a church member. He was helping clear out the warren of rooms and corridors under the church, which was founded on Wall Street in 1716 and eventually moved to 12th Street and Fifth Avenue in 1847. Mr. Davis was flipping through the pages of a 1982 ledger when out slipped a plastic sheath with the two sermons inside.
”When I saw the date, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. ”The past became the present and showed the continuity of this church over the years.”
”It was so beautiful,” he added. ”Amid all that dirt it was like something rising from the ashes.”
How the sermons ended up in the ledger is a mystery, but a fellow volunteer, Eugene Cannava, speculated that a would-be thief had temporarily put them aside.
The subterranean purge produced several trash bins’ worth of novelties. Although hundreds of items were sold in an auction this month, the church is keeping the most valuable, including the sermons.
”This is a 10-year-old boy’s dream,” said Kathie Young, a member of the congregation who organized the cleanup.
Among the items were a 1906 brass wall clock; an 1835 Bible; a canceled check for $1,800 to install the iron fence around the church in 1847; a toy train track mounted on a board; a Hopalong Cassidy record collection; two 19th-century rope beds; an immense amount of old furniture; and more than 100 boxes of documents. There was also a 1786 contract transferring land from Trinity Church to First Presbyterian for the pastor’s house, which burned on Sept. 21, 1776, in a great fire that destroyed at least a quarter of the city’s homes.
But the most valuable finds were the sermons.
Basic bibliographies of early American printed works list only three published Rodgers sermons, one of them, from 1784, titled ”The Divine Goodness Displayed in the American Revolution.”
The texts are not signed. Though an official history of the church says Rodgers did not tend to write out his sermons, church officials say they are convinced that he is the author. The handwriting matches that of a letter signed by him, said the church archivist, David Pultz.
The documents also have a somewhat repetitious and sketchy quality, indicating they may have been an effort to work out ideas ahead of time, Mr. Burrows said. And they match Rodgers’s reputation. One Tory historian described him as a man of ”rigid republican principle, a rebellious, seditious preacher.”
In fact, many Presbyterians were sympathetic to the rebel cause. The current senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jon M. Walton, said the church’s rebellious spirit persists, with antiwar sentiment running high in the congregation.
Dr. Walton has also spoken about war from the pulpit, denouncing a war on Iraq, saying the evils exceed any justification. He said the 1776 sermons support his point of view.
”The Iraqi parents who are tucking their children in bed in Baghdad,” Dr. Walton said, ”are the people who need to hear the words Rodgers is saying — that in the midst of the terrible and fearsome battle that is about to ensue, God will watch over them.”
Levi Hart 1738-1808
Liberty Described and Recommended: in a Sermon Preached to the Corporation of Freemen in Farmington
Levi Hart occupied the pulpit of a Congregational church in Preston, Connecticut, for forty-six years. He appears to have commanded a high regard for eloquence and good judgment, for an unusual number of his sermons were printed for wider distribution by the members of his congregation; however, few of them dealt with political subjects. In this one, Hart echoes the preoccupation of the time—the concept of liberty. Written to raise one more voice against slavery, Hart places his recommendation in a theoretical context that carefully refines the various definitions in use for the term at that time, and nicely summarizes the basic assumptions of American political theory that underlay not only the Revolution but also the state constitutions that were shortly to be written.
Though the author of the following discourse might avail himself of the common apology for publishing Sermons, viz The importunity of friends; yet he should have been averse to this publication had it not been that the subject and occasion gave him opportunity to cast in his mite for the relief of the opressed and injured Africans, whose cause he thought himself bound to plead, and to bear his testimony against the cruel and barbarous Slave Trade. He is sensible the arguments on that subject might be treated, more at large, and to better advantage; he designed to treat the subject only in a moral and religious view, and he could only hint a few thoughts on that branch of the argument, in a short discourse in which several other things were considered.
The author pretends not to pronounce on the impropriety of the Slave Trade in a political view—this would be out of his province: but he would submit to the gentleness of the law, whether the admission of slavery in a government so democratical as that of the colony of Connecticut, doth not tend to the subversion of its happy constitution. Be this as it may, if the Slave Trade is contrary to the law of nature, which is the law of God, it is more than time it was effectually prohibited, and until that is done we are accountable to God for all the sufferings which we bring upon the unhappy Negroes; for whatever difficulties there may be in the way of freeing the slaves already among us (as there are confessedly some) these cannot be reasonably advanced, against prohibiting the importation of more. Should it be objected [vi] that preaching and printing against the slave trade will tend to encourage servants in disobedience to their masters and support them in disorder and rebellion, the author can only reply, that though he is fully convinced that there is no more reason or justice in our enslaving the Africans than there would be in their enslaving us, yet he thinks the Negro slaves among us are bound by motives of duty and interest to “be obedient to their own masters,” and to “shew all good fidelity” in their service, agreeable to apostolic direction, and as the most probable method to make their yoke less, and pave the way for obtaining their freedom, or, if not their own, that of their posterity.
He would be sorry to be, even the innocent, occasion of disorders in families, but should this be the case it is no sufficient objection against asserting the truth on this subject: there is, perhaps, scarce any doctrine of christianity but what hath been made the occasion of sin, through the perversness of wicked men, especially hath this been true of the doctrine of grace. Must the doctrines of grace therefore not be preached?
II. Peter ii, 19.
While they promise them Liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into Bondage.
To assert and maintain the cause of Liberty, is far from being peculiar to the British colonies in North-America, at the present day: our venerable Ancestors fought and found it in this western world, and at no small expense of their treasure and blood, purchased it for, and conveyed it down to us. The most distinguished and worthy characters in Great-Britain have patronized, spoke and written, and some of them even died, in defence of the sacred rights of Liberty. Those ancient, renowned States of Greece and Rome, in their most flourishing condition, received their greatest stature from a set of public spirited, patriotic men whose hearts glowed with the love of liberty, who were her defenders and supporters, and whose names and writings are venerable to distant ages and nations of men, even long after those mighty empires are gone to decay, and perished through neglecting to follow the maxims of those wise men, the patrons of liberty, who pointed out the path to lasting empire and glory.
Indeed, the sacred cause of liberty ever hath been, and ever will be venerable in every part of the world where knowledge and learning flourish, and men are suffered to think and speak for themselves. Yet, it must be added, that Heaven hath appeared in the cause of liberty, and that in the most open and decisive manner. For this, the Son of God was manifest in the flesh, that he might destroy the tyranny of sin and satan, assert and maintain the equal government of his Father, redeem the guilty slaves from their more than Egyptian bondage, and cause the oppressed to go free.
The whole plan of Redemption, which is by far the greatest and most noble of all the works of God made known to us, to which they all tend and in which they cease, is comprised in procuring, preaching and bestowing liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to the bound. And the gospel of our salvation is principally taken up in defending that glorious liberty which is prefaced forever by the Son of God—the bondage from which he redeems us—the ransom which he paid for our redemption—the way to obtain and enjoy this Liberty, and in stating and urging the most cogent and endearing arguments, and motives, to persuade us to come out of our bondage, and accept of the Liberty wherewith Christ maketh his people free. It is on this account nominated Gospel of Good News; and is to the sinner, like the jubilee trumpet to the enslaved Israelite.
But it must be remembered, that in proportion as Liberty is excellent, and to be desired on the one hand, so slavery or bondage is terrible and to be avoided on the other. These are justly esteemed the two extremes of happiness and misery in Society. It will not therefore be thought foreign to our subject, or an unsuitable attempt upon the present occasion, to enquire into the various significations of these two opposite terms, as they are used in the several kinds of society with which we are concerned, especially as they are introduced in our text as opposed to each other, and it is intimated that the most fond assertors of liberty may after all, be themselves in a state of the most abject slavery and bondage.
Liberty may be defined in general, a power of action, or a certain suitableness or preparedness for exertion, and a freedom from force, or hindrance from any external cause.Liberty when predicated of man as a moral agent, and accountable creature, is that suitableness or preparedness to be the subject of volitions, or exercises of will, with reference to moral objects; by the influence of motives, which we find belongeth to all men of common capacity, and who are come to the years of understanding.
This Liberty is opposed to that want of capacity, by which there is a total ignorance of all moral objects, and so, a natural incapacity of choosing with regard to them. Again, the term Liberty is frequently used to denote a power of doing as we please, or of executing our acts of choice; this refers principally to external action, or bodily motion; and is opposed to force or opposition:—thus the prisoner who is bound in fetters, and secured with bolts and bars in a prison, is not at liberty to go out, he is deprived of this kind of liberty, and is in bondage.
Again, Liberty may be considered and defined with reference to society:—Mankind in a state of nature, or considered as individuals, antecedent to the supposition of all social connections, are not the subjects of this freedom, but it is absolutely necessary to the well being of society.
Human society is founded originally in compact, or mutual agreement. All the larger circles of society originate from family connection or mutual compact between husband and wife, and mutual compact necessarily implieth certain rules and obligations which neither of the parties may violate with impunity.
In the early ages of the world, before vice and wickedness had corrupted and destroyed the original natural form of civil government, as a fine writer of our own nation expresseth it,—“each patriarch sat king, priest and prophet of his growing state”* But when the wickedness of man was become exceeding great, and every imagination of his heart evil, the earth was filled with violence: by the daring efforts of wicked men to subvert the original excellent form of society, and introduce despotic rule where the lives and happiness of many, even whole kingdoms should depend on the will, and be subservient to the pleasure of one man.** But as a society evidently originates from mutual compact or agreement, so it is equally evident, that the members who compose it, unite in one common interest; each individual gives up all private interest that is not consistent with the general good, and interest of the whole body: And, considered as a member of society, he hath no other interest but that of the whole body, of which he is a member: The case is similar to that of a trading company, possessed of a common stock, into which every one hath given his proportion, the interest of this common stock is now the property of the whole body, and each individual is benefited in proportion to the good of the whole, and is a good or bad member in proportion as he uniteth to, or counteracteth the interest of the body. And thus it is in the present case: civil society is formed for the good of the whole body of which it is composed. Hence the welfare and prosperity of the society is the common good, and every individual is to seek and find his happiness in the welfare of the whole, and every thing to be transacted in society, is to be regulated by this standard.—In particular, all the laws and rules formed in such society must tend to promote the general welfare, this is the test by which they must be tried, and by which they must stand or fall; all regulations in the body, and all rewards and punishments to individuals, must be determined agreeable to this.—Those who seek and promote the public interest, are to be esteemed and rewarded; and those who counteract and oppose it, must be punished in proportion to the injury aimed or committed against the public welfare.
We may add, that as the good of the public is the end and design of all good laws and rules, established in a well regulated society, so they must be enacted by the public, i.e. by the wisest and best men in the society, appointed by the body for this purpose.—Men who best understand the public good, and have a common interest with the body, and who are above the narrow pursuits of private interest.—If Laws and rules in society are established by any man, or body of men, who have not a common interest with the whole body of the members, but the contrary, it is evident at first view, they will be exposed to act in opposition to the general good.—None therefore but the representatives of the whole body, in whom as far as possible, the interest of all ranks is contained, are proper to make laws for the regulation of society. For the same reason, those who are to execute the laws, should be appointed in such a manner, and by such authority, as in the best possible way secures their attachment to the general good: And, the members of civil community who are disobedient to such laws and oppose the administration of such authority agreeable to them, deserve punishment according to the degree of their opposition, and their opportunity to promote, or counteract the general good. The crime of every private member in opposing the interest of society, is greater than that of opposition to the interest of an individual, as much (other things being equal) as the interest of the society is greater and of more worth than that of an individual.
In this view of our subject, we may form some conception of the crime of a civil ruler, who sacrificeth the public interest committed to his trust by society, for the sake of his own private gain;—who betrayeth that sacred deposit, to gratify his narrow, sordid thirst of wealth or honour:—We may form some conceptions of his crime, but we want words to paint the horror of it.—If a private man is without excuse, and is justly doomed to die as a traitor and rebel, when he deserts his country’s cause, or basely betrays it, though to save his life, what epithets of lasting infamy are black enough to draw the picture of the inhuman paricide, who basks in the glare of riches and grandeur, at the expence of the public welfare: Yea, may we not depend that heaven itself will assert the cause of liberty, defend the injured innocent, and discharge its thunderbolts on the guilty head of the oppressor, red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man that owes his greatness to his country’s ruin?
From this general view of society, we are led to observe, that civil liberty doth not consist in a freedom from all law and government,—but in a freedom from unjust law and tyrannical government:—In freedom, to act for the general good, without incurring the displeasure of the ruler or censure of the law:—And civil slavery or bondage consisteth in being obliged either by a bad set of laws, or bad and tyrannical rulers, to act in opposition to the good of the whole, or suffer punishment for our steady attachment to the general good.
Religious liberty is the opportunity of professing and practising that religion which is agreeable to our judgment and consciences, without interruption or punishment from the civil magistrate. And religious bondage or slavery, is when we may not do this without incurring the penalty of laws, and being exposed to suffer in our persons or property.—
Ecclesiastical liberty, is such a state of order and regularity in christian society, as gives every member opportunity to fill up his place in acting for the general good of that great and holy society to which the true church of Christ belongs, and of which they are a part. And ecclesiastical slavery, is such a state as subjects some branches of this society to the will of others, (not to the good of the whole glorious kingdom) and punisheth them with the loss of some, or all of the priviledges of ecclesiastical society, if they disobey such tyrannical will, however they may act for the good of the whole, and so, agreeable to the law of Christ.
Finally, there is another kind of liberty and bondage, which deserve particular attention in this place, only as they are especially pointed to in our text, but as being of principleconcern to men, they may be denominated spiritual liberty and bondage:—This liberty is spoken of by our Lord, John viii, 32, 36. Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,—if the Son make you free, ye shall be free indeed. And, by the Apostle, Rom. vi, 18. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. Gallat. v. 1. Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. 2. Gen. iii, 18. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
Spiritual liberty then, is freedom or readiness and engagedness of soul in the love and service of God and Christ, and discharge of the various branches of christian duty.
Spiritual bondage, takes place in the dominion of sin and satan in the soul, or that state of allienation from God and Christ, to which all impenitent sinners are subject.
This brief view of the various significations of the terms liberty and slavery, might be usefully improved in many inferences and remarks. I will detain you only with those which follow. Inference first.
If civil liberty consisteth in acting freely, and without constraint, or fear of punishment, for the public good, and tyranny and slavery are the reverse of this,—it followeth, that every one who acts for the general good of society, is entitled to the approbation and assistance of the body. None can justly fall under the frowns of society, but those who prefer some private benefit to the public welfare: And every society which suffers, or even connives at the practice, in any of its members, of taking away the liberty or property of those who have done nothing against the public interest, connives at injustice, and is so far guilty of tyranny and oppression.
Of all the enjoyments of the present life that of liberty is the most precious and valuable, and a state of slavery the most gloomy to the generous mind—to enslave men, therefore, who have not forfeited their liberty, is a most attrocious violation of one of the first laws of nature, it is utterly inconsistent with the fundamental principle and chief bond of union by which society originally was, and all free societies ever ought to be formed. I mean that of a general union for the common good, by which every individual is secure of public approbation so long as he acts for the public welfare.
Could it be thought then that such a palpable violation of the law of nature, and of the fundamental principles of society, would be practised by individuals and connived at, and tolerated by the public in British America! this land of liberty where the spirit of freedom glows with such ardour.—Did not obstinate incontestible facts compel me, I could never believe that British Americans would be guilty of such a crime.—I mean that of the horrible slave trade, carried on by numbers and tolerated by authority in this country. It is not my design to enter largely into the arguments on this subject; all who agree to the general principles already laid down, will join in pronouncing the African slave trade a flagrant violation of the law of nature, of the natural rights of mankind. What have the unhappy Africans committed against the inhabitants of the British colonies and islands in the West Indies, to authorize us to seize them, or bribe them to seize one another, and transport them a thousand leagues into a strange land, and enslave them for life? For life did I say. From generation to generation to the end of time! However the cruel bondage is somewhat lightened in these northern colonies, through the kindness and lenity of the masters—kindness and lenity, I mean as far as these terms are applicable in the present case; I say, however the cruel bondage of the poor Africans is somewhat lightened among us, if we would [ask] for a just estimate of the nature of the slave trade we must be acquainted with the method of procuring the slaves—transporting them, and their treatment in the West Indies, to which, and the southern colonies a great part of them are transported, and where the nature of the slave trade is consistently displayed.
When the Guinea traders arrive on that coast if the trading natives are not already supplied with a proper number of slaves, they go into the back settlements and either by secret ambush, or open force, seize a sufficient number for their purpose, in accomplishing which great numbers, many times are slain, and whole towns laid in ashes. When taken they are driven like cattle to the slaughter, to the sea shore, and sold to our Guinea traders, often for a small quantity of that soul and body destroying liquor, rum, qualified however with a large proportion of water, by which the ignorant natives are imposed upon, cheated, and disappointed.—The poor slaves are bound and thrust into the filthy holds of the ship—men, women, fathers, daughters, mothers, sons, without distinction; where they are obliged to rot together thro’ a long sea passage, which happily relieves numbers from more intolerable sufferings on the shore.—
When they are arrived at the West Indies they are again exposed in the markets, and sold like beasts of burden to the inhuman planters, by whose cruelty many more of them perish. It is supposed that out of near an hundred thousand which are computed to be transported from Africa annually, almost one third perish on the passage and in seasoning; and those unhappy numbers whose hard lot it is to be doomed to longer slavery, wear out their wretched lives in misery which wants a name. The Egyptian bondage was a state of liberty and ease compared with the condition of these unhappy sufferers; and for a trifling offence their barbarous masters will seize and butcher them, with as little, and in many instances, perhaps less ceremony or regret than you would take away the life of one of your domestic animals. It would be an affront to your understandings to enter on a long course of reasoning to prove the injustice and cruelty of such a trade as this. Let us for once put ourselves in the place of the unhappy Negroes. Suppose a number of ships arrived from Africa at a neighbouring sea port to purchase slaves, and transport them to that distant and to us inhospitable climate and those burning sands—put the case that a prevailing party in the neighbouring towns were so lost to all sense of public welfare and to the feelings of humanity as to accept their bribes and join with them to effect the ruin of their fellow men. Let this be the devoted town—and even now while you are met to assert and exercise that invaluable liberty which is the distinguished glory of Englishmen, the honour and safety of Connecticut; in this destined hour while your hearts glow with the love of liberty and exult in her possession, behold this house surrounded, whole armies from the neighbouring towns rush on you, those who resist are at once overpowered by numbers and butchered, the survivors, husbands, wives, parents, children, brethren, sisters, and ardent lover and his darling fair one, all seized, bound and driven away to the neighbouring sea port, where all ranged on the shore promiscuously, in a manner that pity and modesty relent to name; you are sold for a trifling sum, and see your inhuman purchasers rejoicing in their success. But the time is come for a last farewell, you are destined to different ships bound to different and far distant coasts, go husbands and wives, give and receive the last embrace; parents bid a lasting adieu to your tender offspring. What can you say? What do to comfort or advise them? Their case and yours admit not of consolation—go, mothers, weep out your sorrows on the necks of your beloved daughters whom you have nursed with so much care, and educated with such delicacy; now they must go to a distant clime, to attend the nod of an imperious mistress, covered with rags and filth (if coverd at all) they must descend to the most servile and intolerable drudgery, and every the least symptom of uneasiness at their hard usage, meet the frowns and suffer the merciless lash of a cruel master.—But why ruminate on this; behold the inhuman monsters tear you from your last embrace, bound in chains you are hurried to different vessels, crouded in their holds and transported away forever from the sight of all you love, to distant cruel lands, to live and die in slavery and bondage, without the smallest hope of ever enjoying the sweets of liberty, or revisiting your dear native country, with this only consolation, that your sons and daughters are suffering the same cruel bondage, and that from you a race of abject slaves will, probably be propagated down for hundreds of years! Such are the sweets of this beloved slave trade! It is the same to the unhappy sufferers now, that it would be to us if it was our own case, and the reasons against it are as strong and powerful as they would be then—in short the man that can deliberately attend to this subject and not feel the emotions of pity, or indignation, or both, appears to be sunk quite below the feelings of humanity. Is it not high time for this colony to wake up and put an effectual stop to the cruel business of stealing and selling our fellow men, so far as it can be stopped by one province?
With what a very ill grace can we plead for slavery when we are the tyrants, when we are engaged in one united struggle for the enjoyment of liberty; what inconsistence and self contradiction is this! Who can count us the true friends of liberty as long as we defend, or publicly connive at slavery.—
The general assembly of the neighbouring colony have prohibited the importation of Negro slaves under a large penalty, and have enacted that such slaves shall be free as soon as they set foot on the shore within the colony. Can this Colony want motives from reason, justice, religion, or public spirit, to follow the example? When, O when shall the happy day come, that Americans shall be consistently engaged in the cause of liberty, and a final end be put to the awful slavery of our fellow men? Then may we not expect that our liberties will be established on a lasting foundation and that British America and English liberty will flourish to the latest posterity!
Inference 2. If civil liberty consisteth in acting freely and without constraint or fear of punishment for the public good, and so, agreeable to the laws formed to promote and secure it, and civil bondage or slavery is the reverse of this. We learn the importance of intrusting those, and none but those, with the guardianship of our civil liberties who are themselves free, who are not under the dominion of this sordid selfishness and narrowness of soul by which they will betray their country, our dear Colony for a little private profit or honor to themselves.
Men who know the worth of public liberty, and are able and willing defenders of it, be the consequences what they may to their private interest, are the only proper persons to be rulers or representatives of this free and happy colony. In such the votes of the freemen should unite, without the least regard to party, interest, or any private views, agreeable to the nature and solemnity of their oath, and as they value their inestimable liberties, and would dread to fall a helpless prey to tyranny and oppression.
Inference 3. If it is of such importance that we enjoy and secure civil liberty, which respects only a comparatively small circle of society which must disband, at the latest, with the close of fleeting time, at what moment is it to us all, that we are the subjects of that spiritual liberty, which unites us to, and interests us in the good of the whole kingdom of God our Saviour, and which shall last forever.
It is a just way of reasoning in the present case, from the less to the greater, let me say then, with what astonishment and abhorrence should we look on a person who chuses slavery and bondage under the most cruel tyrant, with the certain prospect of a shameful, painful death, by the hand of the executioner, rather than all the sweets of English liberty!
But with what an unspeakable greater madness is he chargable who prefers the guilty slavery of sin and satan, to the glorious, perfect liberty of the children of God! Yet how many make this fatal choice! How many too, who are at great expence and trouble in the cause of civil liberty and zealous assertors of it! What self-contradiction and inconsistence is here! Is not this to strain out a gnat and swallow a cammel? What is English liberty? What is American freedom? When compared with the glorious liberty of the sons of God? And what is slavery under the gauling yoke of oppression, to the hard bondage of sin and satan! Let the hitherto, willing slaves of sin and satan then rouse up, there is now an opportunity to escape from bondage; there is one come to preach deliverance to the captives, and the opening the prison to them who are bound. Jesus Christ the mighty king and Saviour, the scourge of tyrants, and destroyer of sin and satan, the assertor, the giver and supporter of original, perfect freedom; he sets open your prison doors, knocks off your chains, and calls you to come forth. Oh! What a prisoner who will not leap for joy at the sound of this jubilee trumpet, accept the offered pardon, embrace the given freedom,—bid adieu to slavery and bondage, and stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ makes his subjects free. Here the most perfect liberty may be enjoyed. The exalted king seeks and secures the public interest, to this all the branches of his good government and wise administration tend, and in this they center, for this joy which was set before him, he came into our nature and world, and even endured the cross and dispised the shame.—All the subjects in this happy kingdom are united in the same honourable cause, to them there is neither Barbarian, Scythian, Greek, or Jew, bond or free, they are all one, in one cause, and pursue it animated by one spirit; they feel how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.—In vain shall the tyrant satan vent his impotent rage against these happy sons of liberty: be wise in reason then, bid adieu to the kingdom of darkness, the cause of tyranny and oppression, inlist under the Captain of the Lords host, fight under his banner, you may be sure of victory, and liberty shall be your lasting reward, for whom the son maketh free shall be free indeed.
FEBRUARY 13, 1833
The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States:
Preached in St. Michael’s Church, Charleston,
FEBRUARY 13TH , 1833
PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH
DIOCESE OF SOUTH-CAROLINA:
By REV. J. ADAMS,
PRESIDENT OF THE COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON OF CAROLINA;
AND (EX-OFFICIO) HORRY PROFESSOR OF MORAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
Published at the request of the Bishop and Clergy of the Protestant
Episcopal Church of the Diocese of South-Carolina.
PRINTED BY A. E. MILLER,
Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.–l. Peter, iii. 15.
Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.–Proverbs xiv. 34.
The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever. Revelation xi. 15.
Sermon Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.–l. Peter, iii. 15. Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.–Proverbs xiv. 34. The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever. Revelation xi. 15.
As Christianity was designed by its Divine Author to subsist until the end of time, it was indispensable, that it should be capable of adapting itself to all states of society, and to every condition of mankind. We have the Divine assurance that it shall eventually become universal, but without such flexibility in accommodating itself to all the situations in which men can be placed, this must have been impracticable. There is no possible form of individual or social life, which it is not fitted to meliorate and adorn. It not only extends to the more transient connexions to which the business of life gives rise, but embraces and prescribes the duties springing from the great and more permanent relations of rulers and subjects, husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants; and enforces the obligation of these high classes of our duties by the sanctions of a judgment to come. We find by examining its history, that, in rude ages, its influence has softened the savage and civilized the barbarian; while in polished ages and communities, it has accomplished the no less important end, of communicating and preserving the moral and religious principle, which, among a cultivated people, is in peculiar danger of being extinguished
amid the refinements, the gaiety, and the frivolous amusements incident to such a state of society.
The relation which the prevailing system of religion in various countries and in successive ages, has sustained to civil government, is one of the most interesting branches of the history of mankind. According to the structure of the Hebrew Polity, the religious and political systems were most intimately, if not indissolubly combined; and in the Mosaic Law, we find religious observances, political ordinances, rules of medicine, prescriptions of agriculture, and even precepts of domestic economy, brought into the most intimate association. The Hebrew Hierarchy was a literary and political, as well as a religious order of men. In the Grecian States and in the Roman Empire, the same individual united in his own person, the emblems of priest of their divinities and the ensigns of civil and political authority. Christianity, while it was undermining, and until it had overthrown the ancient Polity of the Jews on the one hand; and the Polytheism of the Roman Empire on the other; was extended by the zeal and enterprize of its early preachers, sustained by the presence of its Divine Author and accompanied by the evidence of the miracles which they were commissioned to perform. It is not strange, therefore, that when, under the Emperor Constantine, Christianity came into the place of the ancient superstition, it should have been taken under the protection, and made a part of the constitution of the Imperial government. It was the prediction of ancient prophecy, that, in the last days, kings should become nursing fathers and queens nursing mothers to the Church; (1)–and what was more natural than to understand this prophecy as meaning a strict and intimate union of the Church, with the civil government of the Empire. Ancient usage, with all the influence which a reverence for antiquity is accustomed
to inspire, was on the side of such a union. We may well believe, then, that Christianity was first associated with civil government, without any intention on the part of civil governors to make it the odious engine of the State which it afterwards became. And if the Roman Emperors had been satisfied to receive the new religion without distinction of sects, as the broad ground of all the great institutions of the Empire, it is impossible to shew or to believe, that such a measure would not have been both wise and salutary. The misfortune was, that there soon came to be a legal preference of one form of Christianity over all others. Mankind are not easily inclined to change: any institution which has taken deep root in the structure of society, and the principle of the union of one form of Christianity with the imperial authority under the Roman Emperors, had acquired too many titles to veneration to be relinquished, when the new kingdoms were founded which rose upon the ruins of the Roman Empire. This principle has always pervaded and still pervades the structure of European society, and the necessity of retaining it is still deeply seated in the convictions of the inhabitants of the Eastern continent.
The same principle was transferred to these shores when they were settled by European colonists. In Massachusetts and some other Northern colonies, no man could be a citizen of the Commonwealth, unless he were a member of the Church as there established by authority of law. (2) In Virginia and some of the more Southern colonies, the Church of England was established by law. In this State, legal provision was made for the establishment of religious worship according to the Church of England, for the erecting of churches and the maintenance of clergymen; and it was declared, that “in a well grounded Commonwealth, matters concerning religion and the honour of God, ought
in the first place, (i.e. in preference to all others,) to be taken into consideration.”(3)
It is the testimony of history, however, that ever since the time of Constantine, such an union of the ecclesiastical with the civil authority, has given rise to flagrant abuses and gross corruptions. By a series of gradual, but well contrived usurpations, a Bishop of the Church claiming to be the successor of the Chief of the Apostles and the Vicar of Christ, had been seen for centuries, to rule the nations of Christendom with the sceptre of despotism. The argument against the use of an institution arising from its abuse, is not valid, unless, when, after sufficient experience, there is the best reason to conclude, that we cannot enjoy the use without the accompanying evils flowing from the abuse of it. Such perhaps is the case in regard to the union between any particular form of Christianity and civil government. It is an historical truth established by the experience of many centuries, that whenever Christianity has in this way been incorporated with the civil power, the lustre of her brightness has been dimmed by the alliance.~~~~~The settlers of this country were familiar with these facts, and they gradually came to a sound practical conclusion on the subject. No nation on earth, perhaps, ever had opportunities so favorable to introduce changes in their institutions as the American people; and by the time of the Revolution, a conviction of the impolicy of a further union of Church and State according to the ancient mode, had so far prevailed, that nearly all the States in framing their new constitutions of government, either silently or by direct enactment, discontinued the ancient connexion.~~~~~A question of great interest here comes up for discussion. In thus discontinuing the connexion between Church and Commonwealth;–did these States intend to renounce all connexion with the Christian religion? Or did they intend to disclaim all preference of one sect of Christians
over another, as far as civil government was concerned; while they still retained the Christian religion as the foundation-stone of all their social, civil and political institutions? Did Massachusetts and Connecticut, when they declared, that the legal preference which had heretofore been given to Puritanism, should continue no longer, intend to abolish Christianity itself within their jurisdictions? Did Virginia and S. Carolina when they discontinued all legal preference of the Church of England as by law established, intend to discontinue their observance of Christianity and their regard for its Divine authority? Did the people of the United States, when in adopting the Federal Constitution they declared, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” expect to be understood as abolishing the national religion, which had been professed, respected and cherished from the first settlement of the country, and which it was the great object of our fathers in settling this then wilderness to enjoy according to the dictates of their own consciences?
The rightful solution of these questions has become important to the religion, the morals, the peace, the intelligence, and in fact, to all the highest interests of this country. It has been asserted by men distinguished for talents, learning and station, and it may well be presumed that the assertion is gradually gaining belief among us, that Christianity has no connexion with the law of the land, or with our civil and political institutions. Attempts are making, to impress this sentiment on the public mind. The sentiment is considered by me, to be in contradiction to the whole tenor of our history, to be false in fact, and in the highest degree pernicious in its tendency, to all our most valuable institutions, whether social, legal, civil or political. It is moreover, not known to the preacher, that any serious effort has been made to investigate the relation which Christianity sustains to our institutions, or to enlighten the public understanding on the subject.
Under these circumstances, I have thought it a theme suitable for discussion on an occasion, when the clergy of the diocese and some of the most influential laymen of our parishes, are assembled in convention. I may well expect to prove inadequate to the full discussion, and still more to the ultimate settlement of the principles involved in the inquiry. But I may be permitted to presume, that when it is once brought to the notice of this Convention, any deficiency of mine in treating the subject will not long remain to be satisfactorily supplied.
The relation of Christianity to the civil institutions of this country cannot be investigated with any good prospect of success, without briefly reviewing our history both before and since the Revolution, and making an examination of such authorities as are entitled to our respect and deference. It is an historical question, and to arrive at a sound conclusion, recurrence must be had to the ordinary means which are employed for the adjustment of inquiries of this kind.
I. The originators and early promoters of the discovery and settlement of this continent, had the propagation of Christianity before their eyes, as one of the principal objects of their undertaking. This is shewn by examining the charters and other similar documents of that period, in which this chief aim of their novel and perilous enterprize, is declared with a frequency and fulness which are equally satisfactory and gratifying. In the Charter of Massachusetts-Bay, granted in 1644 by Charles I., the colonists are exhorted by “theire good life and orderly conversation, to winne and invite the natives of that country to the knowledge and obedience of the onely true God and Saviour of mankind and the Christian faith, which in our royall intention and the adventurers’ free profession, (i.e. the unconstrained acknowledgment of the colonists,) is the principal end of this plantation.”(4) In the Virginia
Charter of 1606, the enterprize of planting the country is commended as “a noble work, which may, by the providence of almighty God, hereafter tend to the glory of his Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God;”–and the Pennsylvania Charter of 1682, declares it to have been one object of William Penn, “to reduce the savage nations, by gentle and just manners, to the love of civil society and Christian religion.”(5) In the Charter of Rhode -Island, granted by Charles II. in 1682-3, it is declared to be the object of the colonists to pursue “with peace, and loyal minds, their sober, serious and religious intentions of godly edifying themselves and one another, in the holy Christian faith and worship, together with the gaining over and conversion of the poor ignorant Indian natives to the sincere profession and obedience of the same faith and worship.”(6) The preceding quotations furnish a specimen of the sentiments and declarations with which the colonial Charters and other ancient documents abound.(7) I make no apology for citing the passages without abridgment. They are authentic memorials of an age long since gone by. They make known the intentions and breathe the feelings of our pious forefathers; a race of men who, in all the qualities which render men respectable and venerable, have never been surpassed; and who ought to be held by us their offspring, in grateful remembrance. We very much mistake, if we suppose ourselves so much advanced before them, that we cannot be benefited by becoming acquainted with their sentiments, their characters and their labours. The Christian religion was intended by them to be the corner stone of the social and political structures which they were founding. Their aim was as pure and exalted, as their undertaking was great and noble.
II. We shall be further instructed in the religious character of our origin as a nation, if we advert for a moment to the rise and progress of our colonial growth. As the colonists desired both to enjoy the Christian religion themselves, and to make the natives acquainted with its divine blessings, they were accompanied by a learned and pious Ministry; and wherever a settlement was commenced, a Church was founded. As the settlements were extended, new Churches were established. Viewing education as indispensable to Freedom, as well as the handmaid of Religion, every neighbourhood had its school. After a brief interval, Colleges were instituted; and these institutions were originally designed for the education of Christian Ministers.(8) Six days of the week they spent in the labours of the field; but on the seventh, they rested according to the commandment, and employed the day in the duties of public worship, and in the religious instruction of their children and servants.
Thus our colonization proceeded on the grand but simple plan of civil and religious freedom, of universal industry, and of universal literary and religious education.
The Colonies, then, from which these United States have sprung, were originally planted and nourished by our pious forefathers, in the exercise of a strong and vigorous Christian faith. They were designed to be Christian communities. Christianity was wrought into the minutest ramifications of their social, civil and political institutions. And it has before been said, that according to the views which had prevailed in Europe since the days of Constantine, a legal preference of some one denomination over all others, prevailed in almost all the colonies. We are, therefore, now prepared:
III. To examine with a good prospect of success, the nature and extent of the changes in regard to Religion, which have been introduced by the people of the United States in forming their State Constitutions, and also in the adoption of the Constitution of the United States.
In perusing the twenty-four Constitutions of the United States with this object in view, we find all of them (9) recognising Christianity as the well known and well established religion of the communities, whose legal, civil and political foundations, these Constitutions are. The terms of this recognition are more or less distinct in the Constitutions of the different States; but they exist in all of them. The reason why any degree of indistinctness exists in any of them unquestionably is, that at their formation, it never came into the minds of the framers to suppose, that the existence of Christianity as the religion of their communities, could ever admit of a question. Nearly all these Constitutions recognise the customary observance of Sunday, and a suitable observance of this day, includes a performance of all the peculiar duties of the Christian
faith.(10) The Constitution of Vermont declares, that “every sect or denomination of Christians, ought to observe the Sabbath or Lord’s Day, and keep up some sort of religious worship, which to them shall seem most agreeable to the revealed will of God.”(11) The Constitutions of Massachusetts and Maryland, are among those which do not prescribe the observance of Sunday: yet the former declares it to be “the right, as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the Universe;”(12)- and the latter requires every person appointed to any office of profit or trust, to “subscribe a declaration of his belief in the Christian religion.”(13) Two of them concur in the sentiment, that “morality and piety, rightly grounded on Evangelical principles, will be the best and greatest security to government; and that the knowledge of these is most likely to be propagated through a society, by the institution of the public worship of the Deity, and of public instruction in morality and religion.”(14) Only a small part of what the Constitutions of the States contain in regard to the Christian religion, is here cited; but my limits do not permit me to cite more.(15) At the same time, they all grant the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, with some slight discriminations, to all mankind. The principle obtained by the foregoing inductive examination of our State Constitutions, is this:–THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES HAVE RETAINED THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION AS THE FOUNDATION OF THEIR CIVIL, LEGAL AND POLITICAL
INSTITUTIONS; WHILE THEY HAVE REFUSED TO CONTINUE A LEGAL PREFERENCER TO ANY ONE OF ITS FORMS OVER THE OTHER. In the same spirit of practical wisdom, moreover, they have consented to tolerate all other religions.
The Constitution of the United States contains a grant of specific powers, of the general nature of a trust. As might be expected from its nature, it contains but slight references of a religious kind. In one of these, the people of the United States profess themselves to be a great Christian nation. In another, they express their expectation, that the President of the United States will maintain the customary observance of Sunday; and by parity of reasoning, that such observance will be respected by all who may be employed in subordinate stations in the service of the United States.(16) The first amendment declares, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” This leaves the entire subject in the same situation in which it found it; and such was precisely the most suitable course. The people of the United States having, in this most solemn of all their enactments, professed themselves to be a Christian nation; and having expressed their confidence, that all employed in their service will practice the duties of the Christian faith;–and having, moreover, granted to all others the free exercise of their religion, have emphatically declared, that Congress shall make no change in the religion of the country. This was too delicate and too important a subject to be entrusted to their guardianship. It is the duty of Congress, then, to permit the Christian religion to remain in the same state in which it was, at the time when the Constitution was adopted. They have no commission to destroy or injure the religion of the country. Their laws ought to be consistent with its principles and usages. They may
not rightfully enact any measure or sanction any practice calculated to diminish its moral influence, or to impair the respect in which it is held among the people.(17)
If a question could be raised, in regard to the soundness of the view, which has now been taken, of the relation in which our Constitutions of government stand to the Christian religion, it must be settled by referring to the practice which has existed under them from their first formation. The public authorities both in our State and National Governments, have always felt it to be required of them, to respect the peculiar institutions of Christianity, and whenever they have ventured to act otherwise, they have never failed to be reminded of their error by the displeasure and rebuke of the nation. From the first settlement of this country up to the present time, particular days have been set apart by public authority, to acknowledge the favour, to implore the blessing, or to deprecate the wrath of Almighty God. In our Conventions and Legislative Assemblies, daily Christian worship has been customarily observed. All business proceedings in our Legislative halls and Courts of justice, have been suspended by universal consent on Sunday. Christian Ministers have customarily been employed to perform stated religious services in the Army and Navy of the United States. In administering oaths, the Bible, the standard of Christian truth is used, to give additional weight and solemnity to the transaction. A respectful observance of Sunday, which is peculiarly a Christian institution, is required by the laws of nearly all, perhaps of all the respective States.(18) My conclusion, then, is sustained by the documents which gave rise to our colonial
settlements, by the records of our colonial history, by our Constitutions of government made during and since the Revolution, by the laws of the respective States, and finally by the uniform practice which has existed under them. Manifold more authorities and illustrations might have been given, if such a course had been consistent with the limits which it was necessary to prescribe to myself on this occasion. But the subject is too important to be brought to a close without some further observations.
1st. We cannot too much admire the wisdom displayed by the American people in establishing such a relation between their religious and political institutions. To have abolished Christianity, or to have shewn indifference to its sacred nature and claims in framing their political institutions, would have been committing a great national sin. It would have been, also, to forget the Divine warning, that “except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”(19) To have given a legal preference to any one form of Christianity over another, would have been to depart from the usage of primitive times, and to sanction abuses to which it was no longer necessary to adhere. To have refused to others the free exercise of their religion, whatever this might be, would have been illiberal and at variance with the spirit of the age. They wisely chose the middle course,– the only course in fact warranted by experience and by primitive truth and order. They rightly considered their religion as the highest of all their interests, (20) and refused to render it in any way or in any degree, subject to governmental interference or regulations. Thus, while all others enjoy full protection in the profession of their opinions and practice, Christianity is the established religion of the nation, its institutions and usages are sustained by legal
sanctions, and many of them are incorporated with the fundamental law of the country.(21)
2. The doctrine against which I am contending; to wit, that Christianity has no connexion with our civil Constitutions of government, is one of those which admit of being tested by the absurd and dangerous consequences to which they lead. It cannot be disguised, that a general belief, that Christianity is to receive no regard and no countenance from our civil institutions, must tend to degrade it and to destroy its influence among the community. It has hitherto been believed, that Christian morals, Christian sentiments, and Christian principles ought to form the basis of the education of our youth; but this belief cannot continue to prevail, if the opinion in question shall once become general. It has hitherto been supposed, that our judges, our legislators, and our statesmen ought to be influenced by the spirit, and bound by the sanctions of Christianity, both in their public and private conduct; but no censure can be rightfully attached to them for refusing to comply, if nothing of this kind is required by the commissions under which they act, and from which their authority is derived. If the community shall ever become convinced, that Christianity is not entitled to the sustaining aid of the civil Constitutions and law of the country, the outposts of the citadel will have been taken, and its adversaries may successfully proceed in their work of undermining and destroying it. In this country, where the authority of law is comparatively feeble, every enterprise must be accomplished by influencing public opinion; and the strength of public opinion is irresistible and overwhelming. In fact, under a belief, that such a conviction has been wrought in the public mind, the adversaries of Christianity have begun to break new ground against it; and this too with renewed confidence of ultimate success. It is announced from stations usually
supposed to be entitled to respect and confidence, that the Scriptures of the New Testament expressly forbid all praying in public;–that the Christian Clergy are an unnecessary and useless order of men;–and that the setting apart of Sunday, is not authorized in any part of the Christian dispensation. These are novel and sweeping assertions, and they have already been repeated so often, that they sound less harsh than they once did, in the ears of our community. Those who attempt to impose such assertions upon us, must calculate with much confidence, either on our willingness to be deceived, or on our having too little acquaintance with the subject to detect their mistakes, or on our feeling too much indifference to our religion to take an interest in refuting them. Who believes, that without an order of men to administer the sacraments, to illustrate the doctrines and enforce the duties of Christianity, without public worship, and without the general and respectful observance of Sunday, there would be the least vestige of religion among us at the end of half a century. As well might we expect the preservation of public order and civil obedience in the community, if our laws were permitted to remain in the statute-book, without a Judiciary to explain their import, or an Executive to enforce their observance.
3. Let us not forget what is historically true, that Christianity has been the chief instrument by which the nations of Christendom have risen superior to all other nations;–but if its influence is once destroyed or impaired, society instead of advancing, must infallibly retrograde. This superiority of the nations of Christendom is a fact, and as such can only be accounted for by assigning an adequate cause. “With whatever justice other lands and nations may be estimated,” says Heeren, (22) “it cannot be denied that the noblest and best of every thing, which man has produced, sprung up or at least ripened,
on European soil. In the multitude, variety, and beauty of their natural productions, Asia and Africa far surpass Europe; but in every thing which is the work of man, the nations of Europe stand far above those of the other continents. It was among them,” continues he, “that by making marriage the union of: but two individuals, domestic society obtained that form without which so many parts of our nature could never have been ennobled;-.and it was chiefly and almost exclusively among them, that such constitutions were framed, as are suited to nations who have become conscious of their rights. If Asia, during all the changes of its extensive empires, does but shew the continued reproduction of despotism, it was on European soil that the germ of political freedom unfolded itself, and under the most various forms, in so many parts of the same, bore the noblest fruits; which again were transplanted from thence to other parts of the world.” These remarks, though applied by the author to Europe only, have respect equally to the descendants of Europeans on this side of the Atlantic. They are true of all Christian nations. These golden fruits are what Christianity has produced, and they have been produced by no other religion. If, then, we permit this chief’ cause of all our choicest blessings to be destroyed or counteracted in its effects; what can we expect from the dealings of a righteous Providence, but the destiny of a people who have rejected the counsel of God against themselves?(23) If we refuse to be instructed by the divine assurance, we shall be made to feel by the intensity of our sufferings, ” that righteousness exalteth a nation, and that sin is a reproach to any people.”
4. No nation on earth, is more dependent than our own, for its welfare, on the perservation and general belief and influence of Christianity among us. Perhaps there has never been a nation composed of men whose spirit is more high, whose aspirations after distinction are
more keen, and whose passions are more strong than those which reign in the breasts of the American people. These are encouraged and strengthened by our systems of education, by the unlimited field of enterprise which is open to all; and more especially by the great inheritance of civil and religious freedom, which has descended to us from our ancestors. It is too manifest, therefore, to require illustration, that in a great nation thus high spirited, enterprising and free, public order must be maintained by some principle of very peculiar energy and strength. Now there are two ways, and two ways only by which men can be governed in society; the one by physical force; the other by religious and moral principles pervading the community, guiding the conscience, enlightening the reason, softening the prejudices, calming the passions of the multitude. Physical force is the chief instrument by which mankind have heretofore been governed, but this always has been, and I trust will always continue to be inapplicable in our case. My trust, however, in this respect, springs entirely from a confidence, that the Christian religion will continue as heretofore to exert upon as, its tranquilizing, purifying, elevating and controlling efficacy. No power less efficacious than Christianity, can permanently maintain the public tranquillity of the country and the authority of law. (24) We must be a Christian nation, if we wish to continue a free nation. We must make our election;- to be swayed by the gentle reign of moral and Christian principle, or ultimately, if not soon, by the iron rod of arbitrary rule.
Nor will it he sufficient for any of us to say, that we have not been active participators in undermining and destroying our religion;-we cannot escape crime, if it shall be destroyed by our neglect or indifference. The guilt of nations which have never been evangelized, for not rendering to Jehovah the glory due to his name, must be very much palliated by their ignorance; which is, in
some respects, and in a considerable degree, invincible. But how can we escape, if we neglect, or abuse or fail to improve the Christian inheritance which has come down to us from our fathers, and which it cost them such sacrifices to acquire. Have we forgotten the saying of our Saviour, that the damnation of Sodom, in the day of judgment, will be tolerable when compared with the sufferings which will, on that day, be inflicted upon Capernaum, which had been exalted to heaven by being made the scene of His miracles, but which still Persisted in its impenitence?(25) In the Divine administration, then, the principle applies to nations, as well as to individuals, that their punishment will be severe in proportion to the advantages which they have neglected to improve, and the blessings which they have undervalued and despised. Nor let Its deceive ourselves by supposing, that if Christianity is permitted to decline among us, we can fold our arms in silence and he free from all personal responsibility. As a citizen of our community, no man can escape criminality, if be believes in the truth of Christianity, and still, without making resistance, sees its influence undermined and destroyed.
We are accustomed to rejoice in the ancestry from which we are descended, and well we may, for our ancestors were illustrious men. One of the colonial governors said in 1692, “God sifted a whole nation, that he might send choice grain over into this wilderness.” (26) And the present Lord Chancellor of Great Britain has thus spoken of them : “The first settlers of all the colonies, says he, were men of irreproachable characters. Many of them fled from persecution; others on account of an honourable poverty; and all of them with their expectations limited to the prospect of a bare subsistence in freedom and peace. All idea of wealth or pleasure was out of the question. The greater part of them viewed their emigration as a taking up of the ·cross, and bounded their
hopes of riches to the gifts of the spirit, and their ambition to the desire of a kingdom beyond the grave. A set of men more conscientious in their doings, or simple in their manners, never founded any Commonwealth, It is, indeed, continues he, the peculiar glory of North .America that with very few exceptions, its empire was originally founded in charity and peace.”(27) They were in truth men who feared God and knew no other fear.(28)
In no respect, therefore, were: these illustrious men so peculiar, for no trait of character were so distinguished as for the strength of their religious principles. The perilous enterprise in which they were engaged, was chiefly a religious enterprise. To enjoy their religion according to the dictates of their own consciences, and to effect the conversion of the native Indians,(29) we have seen, were the great objects of their toils and sufferings. The principles which supplied them with the high motives from which they acted, were perseveringly taught to their children, and aided by their own bright example, became the vital sentiment of the new communities which they founded.. What must have been the strength of the conviction of Christian Truth in the American mind, when the popular names of Franklin (30) and of Jefferson among its adversaries, have not been able much to impair its influence. May a high reverence and sacred regard for this Heavenly Wisdom remain with us to the end of time, the crowning glory of the American name.
The conspiracy formed in Europe to destroy Christianity in the last century, has been overthrown and put to shame on that continent, by the overwhelming convulsions, distress and ruin brought upon its guilty nations, through the dissemination of its destructive principles.(31) In the whirlwind and storm of this mighty moral tempest, its seeds were wafted to our shores. They have taken root in our land, and we are threatened with their pestilential
fruit in disastrous plenty. Infidelity advanced at first in this country with cautious steps, and put on the decoruos garb of rational and philosophical enquiry; until at length having examined its ground and prepared its way, it has assumed the attitude of open and uncompromising hostility to every form and every degree of the Christian faith.
Our regard for the civil inheritance, bequeathed us by our fathers, leads us to guard it with the most jealous vigilance. And shall we permit our religious inheritance, which in their estimation was of still higher value and is of infinitely more enduring interest, to be takes from us without a struggle? Are we not convinced, that if our religion is once undermined, it will be succeeded by a decline of public and private morals, and by the destruction of those high and noble qualities of character, for which as a community we have been so much distinguished. (32) Christianity, in its integrity, will never perish; the gates of Hell, shall never prevail against the Church of God. (33) But it has perished and may perish again in particular districts of country. Are we accustomed to reflect on the consequences of a decline of the influence of Christianity among us, and along with it, of public and private morals? And on the other hand, are we sensible of the consequences which must attend the introduction and general belief of the infidel system in our land.? The Christian and infidel systems have been long known in the world, and their opposite moral effects on mankind, have been manifested by the most ample experience. A. tree is not more unequivocally known by its fruit, than are these two systems by the results which they have respectively produced. What has Christianity done for the nations which have embaced it? It has done much, very much. It has diminished the horrors of war. The spirit of ancient war, was a relentless and sanguinary vengeance, which knew not how to he satisfied but by the destruction of its victim. This fell spirit has
in a goodly measure, been softened in the conduct of modern warfare. It has meliorated the calamitous lot of captives. – Anciently, death, slavery, or an enormous ransom, was their customary doom every where; and this still continues to be the case in all countries not Christian. And when Christian principles, motives and feelings shall have become universal, “glory to God in the highest, and on earth pence, good will towards men,” will universally prevail. In arbitrary governments, it has released the stern rigour of despotic sway. It has suppressed infanticide. It has secured the life and limbs of the slave against the caprice or passion of a tyrannical master. The frequent periodical recurrence of a Day of Rest, has elevated the character and meliorated the state of the labouring classes of every Christian Country. It has restored the wife from a condition of humiliation and servitude, to be the companion, the associate, the confidential adviser and friend of the husband. It has restored marriage to the standard ordained “at the beginning,” (34) the indissoluble union of two individuals, called by St. Paul a great mystery symbolical of the spiritual union between Christ and his Church; and has thus furnished the only reasonable security for domestic tranquillity, and the suitable nurture and education of children. Under its influence, the combats of gladiators, the impurities of superstitious rites; and unnatural vices, are no longer tolerated. The poor, the sick and the forsaken, are relieved by the numerous hospitals and asylums which are provided in all countries in which its authority is acknowledged. Moreover, it has been chiefly instrumental in rendering the nations of Christendom superior in virtue, intelligence and power, to all the other nations of the earth. Nor are we to estimate its principal benefits by what is visible. “The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation;” it does not consist in external splendour; its chief influence is unseen, renewing and sanctifying the hearts of the multitude who throng
the obscure and humble walks of life. Again, what has Christianity done for our own nation? The answer is once more; much, very much. It was the moving cause which led our ancestors to transfer themselves to these shores, and to procure for us the fair inheritance which we now enjoy. It was an intimate and practical acquaintance with the doctrines, history and spirit of Christianity, which imparted to them that entire dependence on God, that unhesitating confidence in the protection of his Providence, that deep conviction of his favour, and those commanding moral virtues which shone in their lives with so resplendent a lustre. Especially it is to Christianity, that we are indebted for the steady self-control, and power of habitually subjecting our passions to the sway of reason and conscience, which have preserved us to this day, a free and a united people. May the future historian never record of us, that becoming wise above what is written, and forsaking the paths of our pious forefathers, we brought the judgments of Heaven upon our guilty land, and were made to drink to the dregs of the cup of national humiliation and shame. And what has Christianity done for us personally’ The answer is not only much, very much, but every thing. In infancy it may very possibly have saved us from death by exposure; no uncommon fate wherever Christianity has not prevailed. Born, as we were by nature, children of wrath, she received us by baptism into the fold of Christ, and made us heirs of the promises, the hopes and the consolations of the Gospel. Sensibly alive to the transitory nature of all human connexions, and the instability of all earthly prospects, she provided sureties, who, in case of the demise or default of our natural guardians, might feel themselves responsible for fitting us to receive the Christian inheritance, to which we were admitted in prospect, by baptism. On arriving at years of discretion, she confirmed us in the privileges of our high estate; and as we journey onward in the thorny path of life, she feeds us with “that bread which came
down from Heaven,” rescues us from temptation, strengthens us amid our infirmities, and animates our weary steps by the kind voice of encouragement. Aided and animated by her divine guidance, when we shall come to the end of our path, we shall not be overwhelmed with fearful apprehensions. We shall contemplate the solitude of the grave without dismay. She will not leave us within its narrow and lonely precincts. She will guide and sustain us through the dark valley of the shadow of death, and will bring us to mansions of immortality and glory. And what has the infidel system to give us in exchange for the Christian promises, hopes, virtues, consolations and final inheritance which it destroys? What has it done for those who have embraced it? And in case we embrace it, what effects may it be expected to produce on our national destinies, on our domestic tranquillity, on ourselves personally, and “on all estates and orders of men?” We can have no difficulty in answering these questions;–we have the oracular voice of the experience of the last half century. These will be the burthen of its teachings, the fruit of its instructions. By excluding a Supreme Being, a superintending Providence, and a future state of rewards and punishments, as much as possible, from the minds of men, it will destroy all sense of moral responsibility; for, the lively impression of an omnipresent Ruler of the Universe and a strong sense of moral obligation, have, in the history of mankind, always accompanied each other; and whenever the former has been weakened, it has never failed to be followed by a corresponding moral declension. Now what is to preserve an habitual reverence for Almighty God in the public mind, if the institution of public worship ever comes to be disregarded, if the Christian Ministry shall be rendered odious in the eyes of the community, if the observance of Sunday shall be generally neglected, and if the Scriptures shall be brought into general discredit? Yet with just such a state of things we are threatened. Let us not refuse to look at the real nature
of the case. The fact is, that a man’s sense of duty, his moral sensibility, is the conservative element of his character; and no man can receive so great an injury himself; or inflict so great a calamity on another, as the impairing or the destruction of this grand principle. Of all unpromising indications in a youth, is not insensibility to moral considerations, the most decisive and unequivocal? When the sense of duty is extinguished in an individual, he becomes a burthen to himself and a nuisance to others, the sport of every wind of caprice and passion. From infecting individuals, a moral taint soon comes to infect a nation, which now becomes, in the natural order of a descending course, the theatre of every crime which can degrade individuals, disturb society and brutalize mankind. In such a community, all the virtues which procure respect and esteem, and still more, those which elevate and adorn society, must decline and perish. The security of society depends on the conviction which we habitually feel, that those among whom we dwell, are governed in their conduct by humanity, justice, moderation, kindness, integrity and good faith. When these main pillars of moral and social order are overthrown, general confidence between man and man must be exchanged for universal suspicion, every individual will be seized with apprehension and terror, the mild authority of law must cease its reign, and the dark and fearful passions of selfishness, lust and revenge break forth with unbridled violence and fury. During the last half century, where are the achievements of the infidel system to be seen, but in the ruin of hundreds of thousands of estimable families, unexampled distress of nations, general anarchy and convulsions, and in the devastation of much of the fairest portion of the earth. Encouragement of the infidel system among us, will dissolve all the moral ties which unite men in the bonds of society. Circumvention and fraud will come to be esteemed wisdom, the sacred mystery of “plighted troth” will be laughed to scorn, wise forbearance will be
accounted pusillanimity, an enlightened practical benevolence will be supplanted by a supreme regard to self-gratification and an insensibility to the welfare of other men, the disregard of Almighty God will be equalled only by a corresponding contempt of mankind, personal aggrandizement will be substituted for love of country, social order and public security will be subverted by treason and violence;–these, and all these have been, and may again be the fruits of the infidel system.(35)
Finally, let us in the strength of almighty God, cling with fresh earnestness and new resolution to our religion, as to the last anchor of our hope and safety. “It is not a vain thing for us, it is our life.” It is our only imperishable treasure. In it are comprised, at once, the great causes of peace, of virtue, of intelligence, of freedom, of good government and of human happiness.
FOOTNOTES AND SERMON NOTES
(1) Isaiah xlix. 23 Dr. Lowth says of this prophecy: “It was remarkably fulfilled when Constantine and other Christian princes and princesses showed favour to the church.”
(2) In 1631, the general Court of Massachusetts-Bay passed an order, “that for the time to come, none should be admitted to the freedom of the body politic, but such as were church- members.”
(3) Act of November 30, 1706
(4) Almon’s Collection of Charters, p.63
(5) Almon pp. 68, 104.
(6) Idem. P. 34
(7)see NOTE *A*:
(8) Scarcely had the Massachusetts’ colonists arrived at their new scene of labour, when their thoughts were turned to the establishment of. a College and in 1636, Harvard University was Founded. Dr. I. Mather says:–”The ends for which our fathers chiefly erected a College were, that so scholars might there be educated For the service of Christ and his Churches in the work of the Ministry, and that they might he seasoned in their tender years, with such principles as brought their blessed progenitors into this wilderness. There is no one thing of greater concernment to these Churches in present and after-times, than the prosperity of that society. They cannot subsist without a College.” –Magnalia, B.V. The Heraldic inscription, ‘”Christo et Ecclesiae,” on the seal of the University, is at once emphatic evidence, and a perpetual memorial of the great purpose for which it was established. The College of William and Mary, in Virginia, was founded in 1662, and was the second collegiate Institution established in the United States. The preamble of the Act establishing it recites, “that the want of able and faithful Ministers in this country, deprives us of those great blessings and mercies that always attend upon the service of God; –” and the Act itself declares, ” that for the advancement of learning, education of youth, supply of the ministry, and promotion of piety, there be land taken up and purchased for a College and Free School; and that with all convenient speed, there be buildings erected upon it for the entertainment of students and scholars.”–Quar. Register, vol. IIII. p, 26. Quotations of similar import might be made pertaining to Yale, Nassau Hall, and in fact, to all the Colleges first established in this country.
(9) The author has not seen the new Constitution of Mississippi, and, therefore, this assertion may possibly not apply to that document.
(10) see NOTE *C*:
(11) Art 3.
(12) Art 2.
(13) Art 55
(14) The quotation here is from the Constitution of New Hampshire; (part i Art. 6.) And the concurrence is substantial, not verbal. The parallel passage in the Constitution of Massachusetts runs thus:-”The happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality, and these cannot be generally diffused through the community but by the institution of a public worship of God, and the public institutions, (instructions) in piety, religion and morality, ” part i, Art . 3.
(15) See NOTE *B*
(16) see NOTE *C*
(17) See Note *D*
(18) ” All the States of the Union, I believe, (twenty-three of them certainly, by explicit legislative enactments, acknowledge and declare the religious authority of Sunday.” Speech of Mr. Frelinghuysen of New-Jersey, in the Senate of the United States, in the session of 1829-1830. (19) Psalm 127. 1.
(20) The great interests of a country may be ranked thus:-1. Its religious and moral interests. 2. The peace of the country both in regard to foreign enemies and internal convulsions. 3. The intellectual interests, or the intersts of education. 4. The pecuniary interests.
(21) see NOTE *E*
(22) Politics of Ancient Greece, translated by Mr. Bancroft, p 1.
(23) Luke 8:30
(24) See Note *F*
(25) Matthew xi. 23
(26) Am. Q. R. No. XVIII. P. 128
(27) Brougham’s Col Pol Vol. I. p 59
(28) Je crains Dieu cher Abner, et n’ai point d’antre crainte–Racine
(29) see Note *G*
(30) See Note *H*
(31) See Note *I*
(32) See Note *K*
(33) Matthew 16 .18.
(34) Matthew 19. 4.
(35) Gouverneur Morris resided in France during the first part of the Revolution, and in a letter to President Washington, dated Paris, April 29, 1781, he thus speaks of the state of morals.
“Every one agrees that there is an utter prostration of morals; but this general position can never convey to an American mind the degree of depravity It is not by any figure of rhetoric, or force of language, that the idea can be communicated. A hundred anecdotes and a hundred thousand examples, are required to shew the extreme rottenness of every member. There are men and women who are greatly and eminently virtuous. I have the pleasure to number many in my acquaintance; but they stand forward from a back ground deeply and darkly shaded. It is, however, from such crumbling matter, that the great edifice of freedom is to be erected here. Perhaps, like the stratum of rock, which is spread under the whole surface of their country, it may harden when exposed to the air, but it seems quite as likely that it will fall and crush the builders. I own to you that I am not without such apprehensions, for there is one fatal principle which pervades all ranks. It is, perfect indifference to the violation of engagements. Inconsistency is so mingled in the blood, marrow and very essence of this people, that when a man of high rank and importance laughs to-day at what he seriously asserted yesterday, it is considered as in the natural order of things. Consistency is a phenomenon.” Life by Sparks, vol. ii. p. 68.
Again, p. 255, under date December 21, 1792, “the morals, or rather the want of morals, in this country, places every one at his case. He may be virtuous if he pleases, but there is no necessity either to be or to appear so. The open contempt of religion, also, cannot but be offensive to all sober minded men.” (36) The author is happy to sustain his views by the authority of Mr. [Theodore] Frelinghuysen, United States Senator from New-Jersey.
“Our predecessors have acted upon a true republican principle, that the feeling and opinions of the majority were to be consulted. And when a collision might arise, inasmuch as only one day could be thus appropriated, they wisely determined, in accordance with the sentiments of at least nine-tenths of our people, that the first day of the week should be the Sabbath of our government. This public recognition is accorded to the Sabbath in our Federal Constitution. The President of the United States, in the discharge of the high functions of his Legislative Department, is expressly relieved from all embarrassment on Sunday. Both Houses of Congress, the offices of the State, Treasury, War, and Navy Departments, are all closed on Sunday.” Speech in the Senate 8th May, 1830. (37) See 11 Sergeant & Rawle, pp. 400, 401, where the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania says, that “from the time of Bracton, Christianity has been received as part of the Common Law of England.” To this effect, the opinions of Lord Chief Justice Hale, ( the great and good Lord Hale) Lord Chief Justice Raymond, and Lord Mansfield, are quoted. The Court refer to the King vs. Taylor, 1 Vent, 293. 3 Keb, 607.–The King vs. Woolston, 2 Strange, 834.–Fitzg. 64. Raymond, 162. Fitzg. Vs. Chamberlain of London. Furneaux’s Letters to Sir W. Blackstone. Appx. To Black, Com. and 2 Burns’ Ecclesiastical Law, p 95– Also, 8 Johnson 292, where the Supreme Court of New-York quote the same authorities, and add Emlyn’s Preface to the State Trails, p 8. Whitlock’s Speech 2 State Trials, 273 Tremaine’s Pleas of the Crown, 226, S. C The King vs. Williams, tried before Lord Kenyon 1797, 26 Howell’s State Trials, 653.
As the documents here referred to are not easily obtained, it may be useful to subjoin further quotations.
The aim of the crown and of the Colonists in planting Connecticut, is still more strongly expressed than in the case of Massachusetts. The General Assembly of the colony are instructed to govern the people, “so as their good life and orderly conversation may win and invite the natives of the country to the knowledge and obedience of the only true God and Saviour of mankind and the Christian faith: which in our royal intentions and the adventurers’ free profession, is the only and principal end of this plantation.” (Alman. p. 30.) The same declaration under considerable variations, is contained in nearly all the colonial charters. In the Rhode Island charter, at p.39 of Almon,–Virginia, p. 93.–Maryland, pp. 115. 125.-For the Carolina charters, see Trott’s Laws, vol. i. pp. xxi. xxxiii. In the Virginia Charter of 1609, it is said, moreover, that “it shall be necessary for all such as shall inhabit within the precincts of Virginia, to determine to live together in the fear and true worship of Almighty God, Christian peace and civil quietness:”-and that “the principal effect which we (the crown) can desire or expect of this action, (i.e. the granting of this charter) is the conversion and reduction of the people in those parts unto the true worship of God and Christian religion.” (AImon. pp. 91. 92.)
The value of this note cannot fail to be enhanced, if the author subjoins the sentiments and views of Columbus when he entered upon his adventurous enterprise. The materials are prepared to his hands.
Mr. Irving says, “one of the great objects held out by Columbus in his undertaking, was the propagation of the Christian faith. He expected to arrive at the extremity of Asia, at the vast and magnificent empire of the Grand Khan. He contemplated that, by means of his discovery, an immediate intercourse might be opened with this immense empire, that the whole might speedily be brought into subjection to the Church; and thus, as had been foretold in Holy Writ, the light of revelation might be extended to the remotest ends of the earth.” The Queen, also, was filled with Pious zeal at the idea of effecting such a great work of salvation. He opens the journal of his first voyage by saying, that their Majesties of Spain (Ferdinand and Isabella) determined to send him to the parts of India, to see the princes, people and lands, and to discover the nature and disposition of them all, and the means to be taken for the conversion of them to the Holy Faith. In his will, moreover, Columbus enjoined on his son Diego, or whoever might inherit after him, “to spare no pains in having and maintaining in the Island of Hispaniola, four good professors of theology, to the end and aim of their studying and labouring to convert to our Holy Faith the inhabitants of the Indias;–and, continues he, in proportion as by God’s will, the revenue of the estate shall increase, in the same degree, shall the number of teachers and devout persons increase, who are to strive to make Christians of the natives; in attaining which no expense should be thought too great.” Life of Columbus, vol. i. pp. 103. 104. 118.–vol. Iii. p. 418.
Some further quotations are, made for the benefit of those who may not have a copy of the American Constitutions at hand.
Constitution of Massachusetts, Part i. Art. 3.–”As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through the community, but by the institution of a public worship of God, and of public institutions (instructions) in piety, religion and morality; therefore, to promote their happiness, and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this Commonwealth have a right to invest their Legislature with Power to authorize and require, and the Legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases, where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.
And the people of the Commonwealth have also a right to, and do, invest their Legislature with authority to enjoin upon all the subjects, an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers, as aforesaid, at stated times and seasons, if their be any one whose instructions they can conscientiously and conveniently attend. All moneys paid by the subject to the support of public worship, and of the public teachers aforesaid, shall, if he require it, be uniformly applied to the support of the public teacher or teachers of his own religious sect or denomination, provided there be any, on whose instructions he attends; otherwise, it may be paid towards the support of the teacher or teachers of the parish or precinct in which the said moneys are raised. And every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good subjects of the Commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any sect or denomination to another, shall ever be established by law.” Part ii. Ch. v. Sec, i. Art. I.–”Whereas our wise and pious ancestors so early as the year 1636, laid the foundation of Harvard College, in which University many persons of great eminence have, by the blessing of God, been initiated into those arts and sciences which qualified them for public employments, both in Church and State; and whereas the encouragement of arts and sciences, and all good literature, tends to the honor of God, the advantage of the Christian religion, and the great benefit of this and the other United States of America, it is declared that the President and fellows of Harvard College,” &C.
New, Hampshire.–The Constitution of this State contains provisions, in regard to the Christian Religion, substantially the same with those just quoted from the Constitution of Massachusetts, except so far as these relate to Harvard University. See p. 12. The Constitutions of Vermont and Rhode island have been sufficiently quoted. See pp. 9. 12.
Connecticut, Art. 7 Sec. 1.-”it being the duty of all men to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe, and their right to render that worship in the mode most consistent with the dictates of their consciences; no person shall, by law, be compelled to join or support, nor be classed with, or associated to, any congregation, church, or religious association. But every person now belonging to such congregation, church, or religious association, shall remain a member thereof, until he shall have separated himself there from, in the manner hereinafter provided. And each and every society or denomination of Christians in this State, shall have and enjoy the same and equal powers, rights, and privileges; and shall have power and authority to support and maintain the ministers or teachers of their respective denominations, and to build and repair houses for public worship, by a tax on the members of any such society only, to be laid by a major vote of the legal voters assembled at any society meeting, warned and held according to law, or in any other manner.”
New-Jersey-The Constitution of this State declares, (Art. xix.) “that there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this province (this constitution was formed in 1776,) in preference to another, and that no protestant inhabitant of this colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons professing a belief in the faith of any protestant sect who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature, and shall fully and freely enjoy every privilege and immunity enjoyed by others their fellow subjects.”
Delaware.- The Constitution of this State assumes, (Art. I. Sec. I. ) that “it is the duty of all men frequently to assemble together for the public worship of the Author of the Universe; and piety and morality, on which the prosperity of communities depends, are thereby promoted.”
Maryland.-The declaration of rights says, (Art. xxxiii.) “that as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to him, all persons professing the Christian religion are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty.” And again, (Art. xxxv.) “that no other test or qualification ought to be required, on admission to any office of trust or profit than such oath of support and fidelity to this State, and such oath of office, as shall be directed by this Convention or the Legislature of this State, and a declaration of belief in the Christian religion.” See also p.12.
North-Carolina in her Constitution (Art. xxxii.) says, “that no person who shall deny the being of a God, or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority of either the Old or New Testament, or shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office, or place of trust or profit, in the civil department within this State.”
So far as these quotations make any distinction between denominations of Christians, the author does not concur with them, but they conclusively shew, that the constitutions from which they are taken, unequivocally sustain the Christian religion.
In Art. 7th of the Constitution of the United States, that instrument is said to have been framed, “by the unanimous consent of the States present, the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our Lord, 1787, and of the independence of the United States of America, the twelfth.” In the clause printed in Italic letters, the word Lord means the Lord Jesus Christ, and the word our preceding it, refers back to the commencing words of the Constitution; to wit, “We the people of the United States.” The phrase, then, our Lord, making a part of the dating of the Constitution when compared with the commencing clause, contains a distinct recognition of the authority of Christ, and of course, of his religion by the people of the United States. This conclusion is sound, whatever theory we may embrace in regard to the Constitution;–whether we consider it as having been ratified by the people of the United States in the aggregate, or by States, and whether we look upon the Union in the nature of a government, a compact or a league. The date of the Constitution is twofold;–it is first dated by the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ; and then by the Independence of the United States of America. Any argument which should be supposed to prove, that the authority of Christianity is not recognised by the people of the United States in the first mode, would equally prove that the Independence of the United States is not recognised by them in the second mode. The fact is, that the Advent of Christ and the Independence of the country, are the two events in which of all others, we are most interested; the former in common with all mankind, and the latter as the Birth of our Nation. This twofold mode, therefore, of dating so solemn an instrument, was singularly appropriate and becoming. The Articles of Confederation are dated in the same twofold way.
Again, in Art. 1, Sec. 7, c. 2 of the Constitution of the United States, provision is made, that, “if any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return; in which case it shall not be a law.” In adopting this provision, it was clearly presumed by the people, that the President of the United States would not employ himself in public business on Sunday. There is no other way of explaining the fact, that in the case contemplated, they have given him ten business days, during which he may consider a bill and prepare his objections to it. The people had been accustomed to pay special respect to Sunday from the first settlement of the country. They assumed, that the President also would wish to respect the day. They did not think it suitable or becoming to require him, by a constitutional provision, to respect the day;–they assumed that he would adhere to the customary observance without a requirement. To have enacted a constitutional provision, would have left him no choice, and would have been placing no confidence in him. They have placed the highest possible confidence in him, by assuming without requiring it, that his conduct in this respect would be according to their wishes. Every man who is capable of being influenced by the higher and more delicate motives of duty, cannot fail to perceive, that the obligation on the President to respect the observance of Sunday, is greatly superior to any which could have been created by a constitutional enactment. It is said in the text, that this obligation extends by parity of reasoning to all persons employed in stations subordinate to the Presidency in the service of the United States. This is certainly true, but it is perhaps not Putting the argument in its strongest light. The reasoning is quite as much a fortiori as a pari. The people in adopting the Constitution, must have been convinced, that the public business entrusted to the President, would be greater in importance and variety, than that which would fall to the share of any functionary employed in a subordinate station. The expectation and confidence, then, manifested by the people of the United States, that their President will respect their Sunday, by abstaining from public business on that day, must extend a fortiori to all employed in subordinate stations.(36)
The recognitions of Christianity in the State Constitutions are of three kinds. 1. These instruments are usually dated in the year of our Lord, and the same observations which were made on this phrase in the case of the Constitution of the United States, are no less applicable, mutatis mutandis, to the Constitutions of the respective States. 2. Nearly all of them refer to the observance of Sunday by the Chief Executive Magistrate, in the same way in which such observance is referred to, in the Constitution of the United States; and, therefore, in regard to them, no further observations are required. 3. Definite constitutional provisions not only recognising the Christian religion, but affording it countenance, encouragement and protection: the principal of which are quoted in the text P. 12, and in Note B.
This appears to the author the most convincing ground upon which to rest the argument against Sunday mails. The institution of Sunday, and its appropriation to the duties of religion, had been established from the first settlement of the country. Laws were in force and had long been in force requiring its respectful observance, in all the thirteen States which were originally parties to the Constitution of the United States. No authority over the Christian religion, or its institutions, has been given to the National Legislature by this Constitution. All their measures ought to be consistent with its institutions, and none of them ought to be in violation of them. And until within a few years, our national legislation was, in this respect suitable and highly commendable. It is not known to the author, that until very lately there existed any Act of Congress requiring a violation of any Christian institution. (Mr. Frelinghtrysen’s Speech in Senate, p. 5.) The Act of 3d March, 1825 section 11th , makes it the duty of every postmaster to deliver letters, papers, &c. on every day of the week, at all reasonable hours (Gordon’s Digest, 427.) This is the first statute enacted by Congress, authorizing and requiring a violation of the religion of the country. Congress can rightfully make no change in the religion of the nation; but in this instance they have enacted, that as far as the mail department of the public business is concerned, there shall no longer exist the established (by law) observance of Sunday. This Act does not leave Christianity in the same situation in which it was, before it was passed. It employs some thousands in desecrating and destroying an institution peculiar to Christianity. It is, therefore, in the judgment of the author, unconstitutional, and ought to be rescinded. Nor is the argument from the alleged necessity of Sunday mails, any better than the constitutional argument. London is the first city on earth for wealth, business and enterprise; but no mail is opened or closed in it on Sunday. And notwithstanding the immense intercourse between London and Liverpool no mail leaves the Metropolis for Liverpool, between Saturday evening and Monday morning. (Mr. Frelinghuysen’s Speech in the United States’ Senate, 8th May, 1830.)
It is mentioned above by the author, that a very suitable concern has, in general, been manifested by the Federal Government, to prevent the desecration of Sunday. The rules and regulations of the Army of the United States, present an instance in point. By Art. 2nd of these rules and regulations, which every officer, before he enters on the duties of his office, is required to subscribe: ” it is earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers diligently to attend divine service; and all officers who shall behave indecently or irreverently at any place of divine worship, shall, if commissioned officers, be brought before a general court-martial, there to be publicly and severely reprimanded by the President; if non-commissioned officers or soldiers, every person so offending, shall for his first offence, forfeit one-sixth of a dollar, to be deducted out of his next pay; for the second offence, he shall not only forfeit a like sum, but be confined twenty-four hours; and for every like offence, shall suffer and pay in like manner.” (Act of April 10th , 1806, Sec. 1.) (Gordon’s Digesl, Art. 3269.) This Art. is taken almost verbatim from the “rules and orders” enacted by the Old Congress on the same subject. (See Journal of 30th June, 1775.) Will it be arrogating too much, if the author respectfully asks any military commander into whose hands these pages may come, candidly to examine the bearing which the above regulation may rightfully have upon military reviews held on Sunday, and upon marching on Sunday, when the exigencies of the service do not require it? He is under a belief, that military reviews are quite as common on Sunday as upon any other day of the week. He also within a few weeks observed, with regret, a statement in the newspapers, that certain of our citizens went from the city to a neighbouring island, for the purpose of attending a military review on Sunday.
The author proposes briefly to review the legislation of South Carolina, so far as this subject is concerned, and to extend his enquiries, to the Federal Government, and to the other States, as far as circumstances permit.
The Carolina Charter of 1662-3, granted to the Lords Proprietors “the patronage of all the Churches which might be built in the Province, and the administration of all other things pertaining to Religion, according to the Ecclesiastical Laws of England, together with all and as ample rights, jurisdictions, privileges, prerogatives,” &c. A new charter was granted in 1665, by which the former was confirmed and enlarged in some particulars, though not in respect to Religion. By reason of the remote distance of the Province, it was permitted by the Charter to the Lords Proprietors, “to grant at their discretion, fit and reasonable indulgences to all such as really in their judgments and for conscience sake could not confirm to the Liturgy and ceremonies of the established Church.” This the Charter hopes, considering the distance, will be no breach of the unity and uniformity established in England. Such indulgence was to be granted, however, on condition, that the persons to whom it might be given, “should not disturb the peace and safety of the Province, or scandalize or reproach the Liturgy, forms and ceremonies of the Church of England, or any thing there unto relating.” (Trott’s Laws of South Carolina, vol. i. p. 21, &c.) Such was the original fundamental Law of South-Carolina in regard to religion. The Constitutions of Mr. Locke, expanded the provisions just quoted into details; but as they were never adopted in the Province, it is not necessary further to notice them. (Dalcho’s History of the Protestant Episcopal Church of South Carolina, p. 7.) By comparing, however, the Constitutions from Art. 97 to 106, it seems probable that they were used in compiling Art. 38 of our Constitution of 1778.
The Statute of December 12th, 1712, in adopting the Common Law of England as the Law of South Carolina, (Grimke”s Laws of South-Carolina, p. 99,) made Christianity a part of our fundamental Law, it being a well established principle that Christianity is a part of the Common Law of England. (37)
But besides this Statute, incorporating Christianity with our law, we have many others bearing immediately on the subject. The Act of 1712, for securing the observance of Sunday, (Grimke’s s Laws, p. 19.) after reciting that “nothing is more acceptable to God than the true and sincere service and worship of him, according to his holy will, and that the holy keeping of the Lord’s Day is a principal part of the true service of God,” requires that “all persons shall observe this day, by exercising the duties of piety publicly and privately, and shall resort to their parish Church, or some meeting or assembly for religious worship.” The same Act further provides, that “no person shall exercise any worldly labour, or work of their ordinary callings on the Lord’s Day, works of necessity and charity excepted;”–and that “persons exposing for sale, on the Lord’s Day, any goods, wares, fruit, &c, shall forfeit the articles so offered for sale.” Travelling is also forbidden “by land or water, except to some place of religious worship, or to visit and relieve the sick, unless belated the night before, or on some extraordinary occasion, to be allowed of by a justice of the peace.” It permits no sports or pastimes of any kind on Sundays, and prohibits innkeepers from entertaining any person in their houses excepting strangers. It requires the Church-Wardens and Constables of Charleston, twice on each Sunday in time of Divine Service, “to walk through the town and apprehend all offenders against this Act.” All persons are commanded to aid the constables. A penalty is inflicted on any master, mistress or overseer commanding or encouraging any servant or slaves to work on Sunday. No writ, process, warrant, order, judgment or decree can be served on Sunday, excepting in case of treason, felony, or breach of the peace. The service of such writ is to be void, and the party serving the same is to answer in damages to the persons aggrieved. In case any person shall be imprisoned or detained by any writ served on Sunday, he shall be discharged. This entire act contains two quarto pages closely printed, and of course, this sketch is very imperfect. It is very minute in its specifications, and each offence is visited with its appropriate penalty. It is unquestionably at this day a part of the law of South Carolina. (Brevard’s Digest, ii. 272.–Constitution of South-Carolina, Art. 7.) The Act of 1740, inflicts a penalty of Five pounds on any person who shall on Sunday, employ any slave in any work or labour, and excepts only “works of absolute necessity, and the necessary occasions of the family.” (Grimke, 168.) The Act of 29th July, 1769, for establishing Courts, &c., after specifying particular days for holding courts, says, “that if any of the days above appointed for holding the said courts, shall happen to be on Sunday, the said courts shall begin on the day following.” (Idem. p. 269.) The Act of 17th March, 1785, for establishing County Courts, &c. says, that “it shall not be lawful for any sheriff or other officer to execute any writ or other process on the Sabbath day; and all process so executed shall be void, unless the same shall be issued against any person or persons for treason, sedition, felony, riot, or breach of the peace, on behalf of the State, or upon any escape out of prison or custody.” (Grimke’s Laws, p. 376.) The Ordinances of the City Council of Charleston, forbid under a penalty, all labour and all pastimes on Sunday. The Marshal is required to pass through the city twice on Sunday to see that order is preserved. It is his duty to seize goods offered for sale. For selling liquors of any sort on Sunday, a penalty is imposed of $100 for every offence. (Digest of Ord. p. 171. 218. 231.)
It has been mentioned, that during the Revolution, or soon afterwards, the greatest part of the States framed for themselves new constitutions of government, and our first Constitution under the new order of things, is dated March 19, 1778 The 38th section of this document, conveys to us with great distinctness, the sentiments of this community in regard to religion at that time, and continued to be our fundamental Law on this subject until the adoption of our present Constitution in 1790. This section is interesting in itself, and must be a great measure unknown to the present generation, For this reason, the author feels justified in reproducing it entire: –
“38th. That all persons and religious societies who acknowledge that there is one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and that God is publicly to be worshipped, shall be freely tolerated. The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State. That all denominations of Christian Protestants in this State, demeaning themselves peaceably and faithfully, shall enjoy equal religious and civil privileges. To accomplish this desirable purpose without injury to the religious property of those societies of Christians which are by law already incorporated for the purpose of religious worship, and to put it fully into the power of every other society of Christian Protestants, either already formed or hereafter to be formed, to obtain the like incorporation, it is hereby constituted, appointed, and declared that the respective societies of the Church of England that are already formed in this State for the purpose of religious worship shall still continue Incorporate and hold the religious property now in their possession. And that whenever fifteen or more male persons, not under twenty-one years of age, professing the Christian Protestant religion, and agreeing to unite themselves in a society for the purposes of religious. worship, they shall,(on complying with the terms hereinafter mentioned,) be, and be constituted, a church, and be esteemed and regarded in law as of the established religion of the state, and on a petition to the legislature shall be entitled to be incorporated and to enjoy equal privileges. That every society of Christians so formed shall give themselves a name or denomination by which they shall be called and known in law, and all that associate with them for the purposes of worship shall be esteemed as belonging to the society so called. But that previous to the establishment and incorporation of the respective societies of every denomination as aforesaid, and in order to entitle them thereto, each society so petitioning shall have agreed to and subscribed in a book the following five articles, without which no agreement or union of men upon pretence of religion shall entitle them to be incorporated and esteemed as a church of Ihe established religion or this State. (See Locke’s Const. Art 97-100.)
I. That there is one eternal God, and a future state of rewards and punishments. II . That God is publicly to be worshipped. III. That the Christian religion is the true religion. IV. That the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are of divine inspiration, and are the rule of faith and practice. V. That it is lawful and the duty of every man being thereunto called by those that govern, to bear witness to the truth. That every inhabitant of this State, when called to make an appeal to God as a witness to truth, shall be permitted to do it in that way which is most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience. And that the people of this State may forever enjoy the right of electing their own pastors or clergy, and at the same, time that the State may have sufficient security for the due discharge of the pastoral office, by those who shall be admitted to be clergymen, no person shall officiate as minister any established church who shall not have been chosen by a majority of the society to which he shall minister, or by persons appointed by the said majority, to choose and procure a minister for them nor until the minister so chosen and appointed shall have made and subscribed to the following declaration, over and above the aforesaid five articles, viz: That he is determined by God’s grace out of the holy scriptures, to instruct the people committed to his charge, and to teach nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation but that which he shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved from the scripture; that he will use both public and private admonitions, as well to the sick as to the whole within his cure, as need shall require and occasion shall be given, and that he will be diligent in prayers, and in reading of the holy scriptures, and in such studies as help to the knowledge to the same; that he will be diligent to frame and fashion ha own self and his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make both himself and them, as much. as in him lieth, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ; that he will maintain and set forwards, as much as he can, quietness peace, and love among all people, and especially among those that are or shall be committed to his charge. No person Shall disturb or molest any religious assembly; nor shall use any reproachful, reviling, or abusive language against any church, that being the certain way of disturbing the peace, and of hindering the conversion of any to the truth, by engaging them in quarrels and animosities, to the hatred of the professors, and that profession which otherwise they might be brought to assent to. No person whatsoever shall speak anything in their religious assembly irreverently or seditiously of the government of this State. No person shall, by law, be obliged to pay towards the maintenance and support of a religious worship that he does not freely join in, or has not voluntarily engaged to support. But the churches, chapels, parsonages, glebes, and all other property now belonging to any societies of the Church of England, or any other religious societies, shall remain and be Secured to them for ever.”
This, then, was the state of things when the Constitution of 1790 became the principal branch of our fundamental Law and this Constitution says it self decides, that it no more than an alteration or amendment of the preceding Constitution of the State. (See Constitution of South- Carolina of 1790, Art. * Sec. 2) The Constitution of 1778, then, is still in force, except as far as it has “been altered or amended” by the Constitution of 1790; and the 38th Section of the former is still in force, except so far as it has “been altered or amended” by Article 8th of the latter. Now Article 8th of the Constitution of 1790 says, “the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever hereafter, be allowed within this State to all mankind: Provided, that the liberty of conscience thereby declared, shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of this State.” The word “allowed” in this provision is worthy of special notice, and is the key to the just construction of it. It is to be understood in reference to a preceding state of things, that is, chiefly in reference to the 38th Section of the Constitution of 1778. This section had said, that “the Christian Protestant Religion shall be deemed and is hereby constituted and declared to be the established religion of this State;” and the 3d Section of the same Constitution had required the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Privy Council, all to be of the Protestant Religion. But the Constitution of 1790, required that this state of things should continue no longer. Protestantism was no more to receive any preference. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, was, forever hereafter, to “be allowed” within this State to all mankind. The Constitution of 1790, then, “alters and amends” (Art. 8. Sec, 2.) the former Constitution, so far as religion is concerned, chiefly in these particulars— 1st It discontinues all preference for Protestantism over any other form of Christianity. 2nd It “allows” the “free exercise of their religion,” whatever this may be, to all mankind. It is too manifest to require argument, that these changes made by the Constitution of 1790, leave the substance of Christianity, that is, Christianity without distinction of sects, precisely as they found it established by the Constitution of 1778.
It only remains to notice the Acts pertaining to this subject, which have been framed since the adoption of the Constitution of 1790. By the Act of 14th February, 1791, the Secretary of State, and various other officers, are required to keep their offices open every day in the year, Sundays, Christmas days, and the Anniversary of the Independence of America, excepted. (Faust’s Acts, vol. i. p. 22.) By the Act of 19th February, 1791, for building a toll bridge across Edisto River, &c. “all Ministers of the Gospel, and all persons going to and from places of Divine worship, are exempted from any pontage or toll,” (Faust, vol. i. 131.) and by the Act of 21st December 1792, the same classes of persons are exempted from payment of ferriage, toll or duty. (Faust, i. 282.) By the Act of 1807, persons exempted from such payments at public, are also exempted at private ferries. (Brevard’s Digest, ii. 195.) The author finds the same exemption in the Act of 17th December, 1813, and presumes it exists in all the succeeding Acts Pertaining to roads, bridges, ferries, &c. Such exemption is a distinct legislative encouragement to an attendance on the ordinances of the Gospel. In the case of Shaw vs. McCombs, in 1799, it was decided, all the Justices concurring, that “if a verdict be delivered in after 12 o’clock on Saturday night, and recorded on Sunday morning, it is void.["] (2 Bay, 232.) In Bell vs. Graham, it was decided in 1818, all the Justices concurring, that disturbing an assembly convened for religious worship on Sunday, during worship, is indictable. (1 Nott & McCard, 278.) A highly valuable legal friend informs the author, that until twenty-five or thirty years since, it was customary in Charleston to have a “session or assize sermon” at the opening of every Court of Common Pleas and Sessions; and on such occasions, the judge, jury, officers of court and prisoners, all went to St. Michael’s Church to attend divine service and hear a sermon. The same custom still exists in the country. The Act of 27th March, 1787, assigns a fee of £3 sterling for every session sermon that shall be preached. (Dalcho’s Hist. of Pros. Epis. Church of South Carolina, p. 156.)
Thus the author has reviewed a series of legislative acts and other documents from the first settlement of the State, by which it appears, that Christianity has been made a part of our law, that its peculiar institutions and usages have been legally protected, and uniformly aided and encouraged. Now the laws of any community are the most authentic and most authoritative mode by which the sentiments of that community can be made known. The voice of South-Carolina, then, has been, through her entire history, uniform, distinct, unequivocal in favor of the Christian religion.
Government of the United States.–A very partial examination of our federal legislation has given these results:–
The Act of April 30th, 1816, provides for the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress, and assigns their compensation. The Act of April 14, 1818, Sec. 2, provides for the appointment of a Chaplain to the Military Academy at West-Point. By the Act of April 12, 1808, Sec. 7, a Chaplain is to be appointed to each brigade of the Army. The Act of April 23, 1800, Sec. 1, prescribes the rules and regulations For the government of the Navy of the United States. Art. 1. requires all commanders of vessels of war, to shew in themselves a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism and subordination, and to guard against and suppress all dissolute and immoral practices, and to correct all such as are guilty of them. The whole of the 2nd Art. will bear quoting. It says: “The commanders of all vessels in the Navy, having Chaplains on board, shall take care that Divine service be performed in a solemn, orderly and reverent manner twice a-day, and a sermon preached on Sunday, unless bad weather, or other extraordinary accidents prevent it; and that they cause all, or as many of the ship’s company as can be spared from duty to attend every performance of the worship of Almighty God.” Art. 3. visits with a severe penalty any officer or other person in the Navy who shall be guilty of fraud, profane swearing, drunkenness, or any other scandalous conduct, tending to the destruction of good morals. (See Note D. p. 33 .) The author has not found any statute to this effect: he, therefore, states on the authority of Mr. Frelinghuysen, that “the business of the Supreme Court, the: highest judicial tribunal of the country, is by law, directed to suspend its session on Sunday.” — Senate Speech 8th May, 1830, p. 5.
The author cannot doubt that an extensive search into the laws of the United States, the Reports of the Courts of the United States, and our immensely voluminous Congressional documents, would be rewarded with proofs equally numerous and gratifying, of regard, respect and aid manifested towards Christian institutions by the Federal Government. Such examination it is not in the author’s power at this time to make; he will, therefore, content him self with copying a single instance which has fallen in his way without searching. The Secretary of war, (Mr. [Lewis] Cass,) in his report to the President of the United States, 25th November, 1832, speaking of the Military Academy at West-Point, says, “especially am I impressed with the importance of a proper place of public worship, where all the persons attached to the institution, amounting, with their families, to more than eight hundred individuals, can assemble and unite in the performance of religious duties. In a Christian community, the obligations upon this subject will not be questioned; and the expense of providing a suitable place of worship, especially as a Chaplain is maintained there, cannot be put in competition with the permanent advantages of a course of religious instruction to such a number of persons; a large portion of whom are at that critical period which determines whether the future course of life shall be for evil or for good.”
Pennsylvania.–In the case of Updegraph vs. the Commonwealth, in 1824, (11 Sergeant G Rawle, 394.) the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania extensively reviewed the subject now under discussion, and the author presumes he shall be justified in quoting, with an unsparing hand, from so distinguished a source. The trial was on an indictment for blasphemy, founded on an Act of Assembly, passed in 1700.
The Court said, that “even if Christianity was not Part of the law of the land, it is the popular religion of the country, an insult on which would be indictable, as directly tending to disturb the public peace.” Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been a part of the common law of Pennsylvania; not Christianity founded on any particular religious tenets; not Christianity with an established Church, and tithes, and spiritual courts; but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men. The first legislative act in the colony was the recognition of the Christian religion and establishment of liberty of conscience. It is called “the Great Law.” And after quoting it at length, the Court further says, “Thus this wise Legislature framed this great body of laws for a Christian country and a Christian people. Infidelity was then rare, and no infidels were among the first colonists. They fled from religious intolerance, to a country where all were allowed to worship according to their own understanding. Every one had the right of adopting for him self whatever opinion appeared to be the most rational concerning all matters of religious belief thus securing by law this inestimable freedom of conscience, one of the highest privileges and greatest interests of the human race. This is the Christianity of the common law, incorporated into the great law of Pennsylvania; and thus, it is irrefragably proved, that the laws and institutions of this State are built on the foundation of reverence for Christianity. On this, the Constitution of the United States has made no alteration, nor in the great body of the laws which was an incorporation of the common law doctrine of Christianity, as suited to the condition of the colony, and without which no free government can long exist. Under the Constitution, penalties against cursing and swearing have been enacted. If Christianity was abolished, all false oaths, all tests by oath in the common form by the book, would cease to be indictable as perjury The indictment must state the oath to be on the Holy Evangelists of Almighty God.” After reviewing a series of decisions made in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, the Court continues thus; “It has long been firmly settled, that blasphemy against the Deity generally, or an attack on the Christian religion indirectly, for the purpose of exposing its doctrines to ridicule and contempt, is indictable and punishable as a temporal offence. The principles and actual decisions are that the publication, whether written or oral, must be malicious, and designed for that end and purpose.” After stating that the law gave free permission for the serious and conscientious discussion of all theological and religious topics; the Court said, that a malicious and mischievous intention is, in such a case, the broad boundary between right and wrong, and that it is to be collected from the offensive levity, scurrilous and opprobrious language, and other circumstances, whether the act of the party was malicious; and since the law has no means of distinguishing between different degrees of evil tendency, if the matter published contains any such evil tendency, it is a public wrong. An offence against the public peace, may consist either of an actual breach of the peace, or doing that which tends to provoke and excite others to do it. Within the latter description fall all acts and all attempts to produce disorder, by written, printed, or oral communications; for the purpose of generally weakening those religious and moral restraints, without the aid of which mere legislative provisions would prove ineffectual. No society can tolerate a wilful and despiteful attempt to subvert its religion, no more than it would to break down its laws;–a general, malicious, and deliberate intent to overthrow Christianity, general Christianity. This is the line of indication where crime commences, and the offence becomes the subject of penal visitation. The species of offence may be classed under the following heads. 1. Denying the Being and Providence of God. 2. Contumelious reproaches of Jesus Christ; profane and malevolent scoffing at the Scriptures, or exposing any part of them to contempt and ridicule. 3. Certain immoralities tending to subvert all religion and morality, which are the foundations of all governments. Without these restraints, no free government could long exist. It is liberty run mad, to declaim against the punishment of these offences, or to assert that the punishment is hostile to the spirit and genius of our government. They are far from being the friends to liberty who support this doctrine; and the promulgation of such opinions, and general receipt of them among the people, would be the sure forerunner of anarchy, and finally of despotism. No free government now exists in the world, unless where Christianity is acknowledged, and is the religion of the country. Christianity is part of the common law of this State. It is not Proclaimed by the commanding voice of any human superior, but expressed in the calm and mild accents of customary law. Its foundations are broad, and strong, and deep; they are laid in the authority, the interest, the affections of the people. Waiving all questions of hereafter, it is the purest system of morality, the firmest auxiliary, and only stable support of all human laws. (See p. 19.) It is impossible to administer the laws without taking the religion which the defendant in error has scoffed at, that Scripture which he has reviled, as their basis; to lay aside these is at least to weaken the confidence in human veracity so essential to the purposes of society, and without which no question of property could be decided, and no criminal brought to justice; an oath in the common form on a discredited book, would be a most idle ceremony. No preference is given by law to any particular religious persuasion. Protection is given to all by our laws. It is only the malicious reviler of Christianity who is punished. While our own free Constitution secures liberty of conscience and freedom of religious worship to all, it is not necessary to maintain that any man should have the right publicly to vilify the religion of his neighbours and of the country. These two privileges are directly opposed. It is open, public vilification of the religion of the country that is punished, not to force conscience by punishment, but to Preserve the peace of the country by an outward respect to the religion of the country, and not as a restraint upon the liberty of conscience;–but licentiousness endangering the public peace, when tending to corrupt society, is considered as a breach of the peace, and punishable by indictment. Every immoral act is not indictable, but when it is destructive of morality generally, it is, because it weakens the bonds by which society is held together, and government is nothing more than public order.(Guardians of the Poor vs. Greene, 5 Binn. 555.)
“This is the Christianity which is the law of our land, and,” continues the Court, “I do not think it will be an invasion of any man’s right of private judgment, or, of the most extended privilege of propagating his sentiments with regard to religion, in the manner which he thinks most conclusive. If from a regard to decency, and the good order of society, profane swearing, breach of the Sabbath, and blasphemy, are punishable by civil magistrates, these are not punished as sins or offences against God, but crimes injurious to, and having a malignant influence on society; for it is certain, that by these practices no one pretends to prove any supposed truths, detect any supposed error, or advance any sentiment whatever.”
New-York.–The subject to which this note pertains, was further discussed in the Supreme Court of New-York in 1811, in the case of the People vs. Ruggles. (8 Johnson, 290.) The trial was for blasphemy. In delivering the opinion of the Court, Chief Justice Kent said, “the authorities shew that blasphemy against God, and contumelious reproaches and profane ridicule of Christ, or the Holy Scriptures, (which are equally treated as blasphemy) are offences punishable at common law, whether uttered by words or writings. The consequences may be less extensively pernicious ill the one case than in the other; but in both instances, the reviling is still an offence, because it tends to corrupt the morals of the people, and to destroy good order. Such offences have always been considered independent of any religious establishment or the rights of the Church. There is nothing in our manners and institutions which has prevented the application or the necessity of this point of the common law. We stand equally in need now as formerly, of all that moral discipline, and of those principles of virtue, which help to bind society together. The people of this State, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice; and to scandalize the author of these doctrines is not only, in a religious point of view extremely impious, but even in respect to the obligations due to society, is a gross violation of decency and good order. Nothing could be more offensive to the virtuous part of the community, or more injurious to the tender morals of the young, than to declare such profanity lawful. It would go to confound all distinction between things sacred and profane; for to use the words of one of the greatest oracles of human wisdom,” profane scoffing doth by little and little deface the reverence for religion;” and who adds in another place, “two principal causes have I ever known of Atheism; — curious controversies and profane scoffing.” (Bacon’s Works, vol. ii. pp. 291. 503.) The very idea of jurisprudence with the ancient law-givers and philosophers, embraced the religion of the country.” Jurisprudentia est divinanrm atque humanarum rerum notitia (Dig.b. 1. 10. 2. Cic. De legibus b. 2. passim.).
Through the Constitution has discarded religious establishments, it does not forbid judicial cognizance of those offences against religion and morality, which have no reference to any such establishment, or to any particular form of government, but are punishable, because they strike at the root of moral obligation, and weaken the security of the social ties. The legislative exposition of the Constitution is conformable to this view of it. Christianity in its enlarged sense, as a religion revealed and taught in the Bible, is not unknown to our law. The statute for preventing immorality, (Laws,. Vol. I. p 224,) consecrates the first day of the week as holy time, and considers the violation of it immoral. The Act concerning oaths, (Laws, vol. i. p. 405,) reorganizes the common law mode of administering an oath,’by laying the hand on and kissing the gospels.’ Surely, then, we are bound to conclude, that wicked and malicious words, writings and actions which go to vilify those gospels, continue as at common law, to be an offence against the public peace and safety. They are inconsistent with the reverence due to the administration of an oath, and among other evil consequences, they tend to lessen in the public mind, its religious sanction.” In this decision, all the justices concurred.
In the Convention of New-York, assembled in 1821, to revise the Constitution of that State, this decision of the Supreme Court was condemned with unsparing severity by General [Erastus] Root, who said that he wished for freedom of conscience, and that if judges undertake to support religion by the arm of the law, it will be brought into abhorrence and contempt. (Debates, p. 463.) In defending the decision of the Court, Ch. J. Kent said: “such blasphemy was an outrage upon public decorum, and if sanctioned by our tribunals would shock the moral sense of the country, and degrade our character as a Christian people. The authors of our Constitution never meant to extirpate Christianity, more than they meant to extirpate public decency. It is in a degree recognised by the statute for the observance of the Lord’s Day, and for the mode of administering oaths. The Court never intended to interfere with any religious creeds or sects, or with religious discussions. They meant to preserve, so far as it came within their cognizance, the morals of the country, which rested on Christianity as the foundation. They meant to apply the principles of common law against blasphemy, which they did not believe the Constitution ever meant to abolish. Are we not a Christian people! Do not ninety-nine hundredths of our fellow-citizens hold the general truths of the Bible to be dear and sacred? To attack them with ribaldry and malice, in the presence of these very believers, must, and ought to be a serious public offence. It disturbs, and annoys, and offends, and shocks, and corrupts the public taste. The common law, as applied to correct such profanity, is the application of common reason and natural justice to the security of the peace and good order of society.”
Mr. Tompkins, (President of the Convention and Vice-President of the United States,) said; “the Court had never undertaken to uphold by the authority of law, any particular sect, but they had interposed, and rightfully interposed, as the guardians of the public morals, to suppress those outrages on public opinion and public feeling, which would otherwise reduce the community to a state of barbarism, corrupt its purity, and debase the mind. He was not on the bench at the time the decision alluded to took place, but he fully accorded in the opinions that were advanced; and he could not hear the calumnies that had gone forth against the judiciary on that subject, without regret and reprobation. No man of generous mind; no man who regarded public sentiment, or that delicacy of feeling which lies at the foundation of moral purity, could defend such all outrage on public morals, or say that the decision was unmerited or unjust.”
In this note, the author has reviewed with some care the legislation of South-Carolina in regard to the Christian religion. He has also quoted several statutes, &c. of the United States on the same subject. He has freely quoted a single decision of each of the Supreme Courts of Pennsylvania and New-York; and also a specimen of the discussion held in the Convention of New-York in 1821. The sentiments of Massachusetts, can be seen in her Constitution quoted above, and also in the extract from an opinion of the late Ch. J. Parsons, given in Note F. The author does not think it necessary or useful to continue his search in regard to other states. He has every reason to believe, that if search were made into the legislation and decisions of the other States, they would be found to speak as decisively on this subject as those whose records he has examined. Notwithstanding the fullness and distinctness which are found in the decisions of Pennsylvania and New-York, their Constitutions contain less in regard to Christianity, than is found in those of most of the other States. As Sunday is peculiarly a Christian institution, laws requiring its observance are a species of test in regard to this subject; and Mr. Frelinghuysen says, that twenty-three at least out of twenty-four States have such laws. (p. 14) To them the author is able to add, upon the same authority, (Speech in 1830) the Territory of Michigan, which, by an Act of May, 1820, ordains, “that the first day of the week shall be kept and observed by the people of the Territory as a Sabbath, holy day, or day of rest, from all secular labour and employments.” The preamble declares, “that in every community, some portion of time ought to be set apart for relaxation from worldly care and employments, and devoted to the social worship of Almighty God, and the attainment of religious and moral instruction, which are in the highest degree promotive of the peace, happiness and prosperity of a people.” The author now hopes and believes, that his readers will conclude with him, (See p. 16) that Christianity (without distinction of sects) is the established religion of the nation, that its institutions and usages are sustained by legal sanctions, and that many of them are incorporated with the fundamental law of the country.
With a view of illustrating this subject by uniting high authority with great clearness of argument, the author subjoins a part of the opinion of the late Chief Justice Parsons, of Massachusetts, in the case of Barnes vs. First Parish in Falmouth, contained 6 Mass. Reports, p. 404, &c. In this case, the Court had occasion to vindicate Art. 3, Part i. of the Constitution of that State (p. 30) So far as the Massachusetts’ Constitution and the argument vindicating it make a discrimination between Christian denominations, they do not meet the concurrence of the author, but he considers the main positions of the Chief Justice incontrovertible, and his course of reasoning highly instructive and convincing. To the members of the legal profession, it is not necessary to say any thing of this celebrated jurist; and to all others, it is sufficient to say, that in all the qualities which adorn the bench, he may fairly be placed by the side of Holt, Hale, Hardwicke, Mansfield, Scott, Marshall, Kent and Story.
“The object of a free civil government, (says the Chief Justice,) is the promotion and security of the happiness of the citizens. These effects cannot be produced, but by the knowledge and practice of our moral duties, which comprehend all the social and civil obligations of man to man, and the citizen to the State. If the civil magistrate in any State, could procure by his regulations an uniform practice of these duties, the government of that State would be perfect.
“To obtain that perfection, it is not enough for the magistrate to define the rights of the several citizens, as they are related to life, liberty, property and reputation, and to punish those by whom they may be invaded. Wise laws, made to this end, and faithfully executed, may leave the people strangers to many of the enjoyments of civil and social life, without which their happiness will be extremely imperfect. Human laws cannot oblige to the performance of the duties of imperfect obligation; as the duties of charity and hospitality, benevolence and good neighbourhood; as the duties resulting from the relation of husband and wife, parent and child; of man to man as children of a common parent; and of real patriotism, by influencing every citizen to love his country, and to obey all its laws. These are moral duties, flowing from the disposition of the heart, and not subject to the control of human legislation.
“Neither can the laws prevent by temporal punishment, secret offences committed without witness, to gratify malice, revenge, or any other passion, by assailing the most important and most estimable rights of others. For human tribunals cannot proceed against any crimes unless ascertained by evidence; and they are destitute of all power to prevent the commission of offences, unless by the feeble examples exhibited in the punishment of those who may be detected.
“Civil government, therefore, availing itself only of its own powers, is extremely defective; and unless it could derive assistance from some superior power, whose laws extend to the temper and disposition of the human heart, and before whom no offence is secret; wretched indeed would be the state of man under a civil constitution of any form.
“This most manifest truth has been felt by legislators in all ages; and as man is born not only a social but a religious being, so in the pagan world, false and absurd systems of religion were adopted and patronized by the magistrate, to remedy the defects necessarily existing in a government merely civil.
“On these principles tested by the experience of mankind, and by the reflections of reason, the people of Massachusetts, in the frame of their government, adopted and patronized a religion, which by its benign and energetic influences, might co-operate with human institutions, to promote and secure the happiness of the citizens, so far as might be consistent with the imperfections of man.
“In selecting a religion, the people were not exposed to the hazard of choosing a false and defective religious system; Christianity had long been promulgated, its pretensions and excellencies well known, and its divine authority admitted. This religion was found to rest on the basis of immortal truth; to contain a system of morals adapted to man in all possible ranks and conditions, situations and circumstances, by conforming to which he would be ameliorated and improved in all the relations of human life; and to furnish the most efficacious sanctions, by bringing to light a future state of retribution. And this religion as understood by Protestants, tending by its effects to make every man, submitting to its influences, a better husband, parent, child, neighbour, citizen and magistrate, was, by the people, established as a fundamental and essential part of their Constitution.
“The manner in which this establishment was made, is liberal, and consistent with the rights of conscience on religious subjects. As religious opinions, and the time and manner of expressing the homage due to the Governor of the Universe, are points depending on the sincerity and belief of each individual, and do not concern the public interest, care is taken in the second article of the Declaration of Rights, to guard these points from the interference of the civil magistrate; and no mall can be hurt, molested or restrained in his person, liberty or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience, or for his religious profession or sentiment, provided he does not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship; in which case he is punished, not for his religious opinions or worship, but because he interrupts others in the enjoyment of the rights he claims for himself, or because he has broken the public peace.
“Having secured liberty of conscience, on the subject of religious opinion and worship for every man, whether Protestant or Catholic, Jew, Mahometan or Pagan, the Constitution then provides for the public teaching of the precepts and maxims of the religion of Protestant Christians to all the people. And for this purpose, it is made the right and duty of all corporate religious societies to elect and support a public Protestant teacher of piety, religion and morality; and the election and support of the teacher depend exclusively on the will of a majority of each society incorporated for those purposes. As public instruction requires persons who may be taught, every citizen may be enjoined to attend on some one of those teachers, at times and seasons stated by law, if there be any on whose instructions he can conscientiously attend.
“In the election and support of a teacher, every member of the corporation is bound by the will of the majority; but as the great object of this provision was to secure the election and support of public Protestant teachers by corporate societies, and some members of any corporation might be of a sect or denomination of Protestant Christians different from the majority of the members, and might choose to unite with other Protestant Christians of their own sect or denomination, in maintaining a public teacher, who by law was entitled to support, and on whose instruction they usually attended; indulgence was granted, that persons thus situated might have the money they contributed to the support of public worship, and of the public teachers aforesaid, appropriated to the support of the teacher, on whose instructions they should attend.
“Several objections have at times been made to this establishment, which may be reduced to three: that when a man disapproves of ally religion, or of any supposed doctrine of any religion, to compel him by law to contribute money for public instruction in such religion, or doctrine, is an infraction of his liberty of conscience;–that to compel a man to pay for public religious instructions, on which he does not attend, and from which he can, therefore, derive no benefit is unreasonable and intolerant; — and that it is anti-Christian for any State to avail itself of the precepts and maxims of Christianity to support civil government; because the founder of it has declared, that his kingdom is not of this world.
“These objections go to the authority of the people to make this Constitution, which is not proper nor competent for us to bring into question. And although we are not able, and have no inclination to assume the character of theologians, yet it may not be improper to make a few short observations, to defend our Constitution from the charges of persecution, intolerance and impiety.
“When it is remembered, that no man is compellable to attend on any religious instruction, which he conscientiously disapproves; and that he is absolutely protected in the most perfect freedom of conscience in his religious opinions and worship; the first objection seems to mistake a man’s conscience for his money, and to deny the State a right of levying and of appropriating the money of the citizens, at the will of the Legislature, in which they are all represented. But as every citizen derives the security of his property, and the fruits of his industry from the power of the State; so, as the price of this protection, he is bound to contribute in common withhis fellow-citizens for the public use, so much of his property and for such public uses, as the State shall direct. And if any individual can lawfully withhold his contribution, because he dislikes the appropriation, the authority of the State to levy taxes would be annihilated; and without money it would soon cease to have any authority. But all monies raised and appropriated for public uses by any corporation, pursuant to powers derived from the State, are raised and appropriated substantially by the authority of the State. And the people in their Constitution, instead of devolving the support of public teachers on the corporations by whom they should be elected, might have directed their support to be defrayed out of the public treasury, to be reimbursed by the levying and collection of state taxes. And against this mode of support, the objection of an individual disapproving of the object of the public taxes, would have the same weight it can have, against the mode of public support through the medium of corporate taxation. In either case, it can have no weight to maintain a charge of persecution for conscience sake. The great error lies in not distinguishing between liberty of conscience in religious opinions and worship, and the right of appropriating money by the State. The former is an unalienable right, the latter is surrendered to the State as the price of protection.
“The second objection is, that it is intolerant to compel a man to pay for religious instruction, from which, as he does not hear it, he can derive no benefit. This objection is founded wholly in mistake. The object of public religious instruction is, to teach and to enforce by suitable arguments, the practice of a system of correct morals among the people, and to form and cultivate reasonable and just habits and manners; by which every man’s person and property are protected from outrage; and his personal and social enjoyments promoted and multiplied. From these effects every man derives the most important benefits, and whether he be or be not an auditor of any public teacher, he receives more solid and permanent advantages from this public instruction, than the administration of justice in courts of law can give him. The like objection may be made by any man to the support of public schools if he have no family who attend; and any man who has no law suit may object to the support of judges and jurors on the same ground; when if there were no courts of law, he would unfortunately find that causes for law suits would sufficiently abound.
“The last objection is founded upon the supposed anti-Christian conduct of the State, in availing itself of the precepts and maxims of Christianity, for the purposes of a more excellent civil government. It is admitted that the founder of this religion did not intend to erect a temporal dominion, agreeably to the prejudices of his countrymen; but to reign in the hearts of men by subduing their irregular appetites and propensities, and by moulding their passions to the noblest purposes. And it is one great excellence of his religion, that not pretending to worldly pomp and power, it is calculated and accommodated to ameliorate the conduct and condition of man under any form of civil government.
“The objection goes further, and complains that Christianity is not left for its Promulgation and support, to the means designed by its author, who requires not the assistance of man to effect his purposes and intentions. Our Constitution certainly provides for the punishment of many breaches of the laws of Christianity; not for the purpose of propping up the Christian religion, but because those breaches are offences against the laws of the State; and it is a civil, as well as religious duty of the magistrate, not to bear the sword in vain. But there are many precepts of Christianity, of which the violation cannot be punished by human laws; and as the obedience to them is beneficial to civil society, the State has wisely taken care that they should be taught and also enforced by explaining their moral and religious sanctions, as they cannot be enforced by temporal punishments. And from the genius and temper of this religion, and from the benevolent character of its author, we must conclude that it is his intention, that man should be benefited by it in his civil and political relations, as well as in his individual capacity And it remains for the objector to prove, that the patronage of Christianity by the civil magistrate induced by the tendency of its Precepts to form good citizens, is not one of the means, by which the knowledge of its doctrines was intended to be disseminated and preserved among the human race.
“The last branch of the objection rests on the very correct position, that the faith and precepts of the Christian religion are so interwoven that they must be taught together; whence it is inferred, that the State by enjoining instruction in its precepts, interferes with its doctrines, and assumes a Power not entrusted to any human authority.
“If the State claimed the absurd power of directing or controlling the faith of the citizens, there might be some ground for the objection. But no such power is claimed. The authority derived from the Constitution extends no further than to submit to the understandings of the people, the evidence of truths deemed of public utility, leaving the weight of the evidence and the tendency of those truths, to the conscience of every man.
“Indeed this objection must come from a willing objector; for it extends in its consequences, to prohibit the State from providing for public instruction in many branches of useful knowledge which naturally tend to defeat the arguments of infidelity, to illustrate the doctrines of the Christian religion, and to confirm the faith of its professors.
“As Christianity has the promise not only of this, but of a future life; it cannot be denied that public instruction in piety, religion and morality by Protestant teachers, may have a beneficial effect beyond the present state of existence. And tile people are to be applauded, as well for their benevolence as for their wisdom, that in selecting a religion, whose precepts and sanctions might supply the defects in civil government, necessarily limited in its power, and supported only by temporal penalties, they adopted a religion founded in truth; which in its tendency will protect our property here, and may secure to us an inheritance in another and a better country.”
Nor were the professions made by the colonists of a desire to convert the native tribes of this country to the Christian Faith, vain and unsubstantial. The labours of Eliot, of Gookin, and of the five Mayhews, are a model of missionary zeal, enterprise, perseverance and self-devotion. In 1674, the single colony of Massachusetts contained not less than 3600 Christian Indians. In 1698, report was made to the commissioners of the Society for Propagating the Gospel, that within the same colony, there were thirty distinct assemblies of Indians, having 36 teachers, 5 schoolmasters and 20 rulers. The whole number of Indians under this arrangement, was 3080. All the rulers, teachers and schoolmasters were Indians; but the teachers were occasionally assisted by the neighboring clergy. A favorable report was given of the improvement and manners of the Indians, of their sobriety, decent dress, and proficiency in reading and writing. Mr. Eliot, often called the Apostle of the Indians, translated the entire Bible, Baxter’s Call, &c. into the Indian language. He, moreover, composed and published Catechisms, Primers, Grammars, &c. for their use. Mr. Eliot declared to Mr. Gookin, that he considered himself pledged “to endeavour, so far as in him lay the accomplishment and fulfilling the covenant and promise, which the people of New-England made to the King when he granted their charters; viz. that one great end of their emigration to the new world, was, to communicate the gospel to the native Indians.” –Qua. Reg. vol. iv. pp. 199-204.
Endeavours for the conversion of the Indians were not confined to individuals. In 1619, twelve years after the first settlement of Virginia, we find this record: “The King of England having formerly issued his letters to the several bishops of the kingdom, for collecting money to erect a college in Virginia, for the education of the Indian children, nearly £1,500 had been already paid towards this benevolent and pious design, and Henrico had been selected as a suitable place for the Seminary. The Virginia Company, on the recommendation of Sir Edwin Sandys, its treasurer, now granted 10,000 acres of land, to be laid off for the University at Henrico.” “The first design,” says Anderson, “was to erect and build a college in Virginia, for the training up and educating infidel (Indian) children in the true knowledge of God.” (Am. Qua. Re;y. vol. iv. p. 123.) One of the principal designs of the founders of the college of William and Mary in Virginia, was, to provide instruction for the Indians. ” The Hen. Robert Boyle, one of the Governors, gave large sums of money for this purpose He was very zealous in this work, sending 400 miles to collect Indian children, first establishing a school on the frontiers convenient to the Indians, that they might often see their children under the first management, where they learnt to read; paying £500 per annum out of his own pocket to the schoolmaster there; after which they were brought to the college.” Beverly’s Hist. of Virginia, quoted in Amer. Quar. Reg. vol. iii. p. 269.
The original of Dartmouth College in New-Hampshire, was an Indian Charity School, instituted about the year 1754, by the Rev. Dr. Eleazar Wheelock For several years, with some assistance from others, he clothed, maintained and educated a number of Indian children, “with a view to their carrying the gospel in their own language, and spreading the knowledge of the Great Redeemer among their savage tribes.” The charter of the college (granted by George III. in 1769,) also says, in addition to the preceding quotation, that Dr. Wheelock “actually employed a number of them (educated Indians) as missionaries and schoolmasters in the wilderness for that purpose; and that by the blessing of God upon his endeavours, the design became reputable among the Indians, insomuch that a larger number desired the education of their children in said school, and were also disposed to receive missionaries and schoolmasters ill the wilderness, more than could be supplied by the charitable contributions in the American colonies.” Accordingly contributions were sought and obtained in England. The charter further recites, “that we (the Crown) willing to encourage the laudable and charitable design of spreading Christian knowledge among the savages of our American wilderness, and also that the best means of education be established in our province of New-Hampshire, constitute a college by the name of Dartmouth College, for the education and instruction of youth, of the Indian tribes in this land, in reading, writing, and all parts of learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing and Christianizing children of Pagans, as well as in all liberal arts and sciences; and also of English youth and any others.” (4 Wheaten’s Reports, pp. 519-524.) This college still has a fund appropriated to the education of Indian youths; and there has seldom, if ever, been a time, when there were not some Indian youths members of it, or attached to its preparatory school. Not less than fifteen or twenty Indian youths have received the degrees of this college, and many have passed through the earlier stages of a collegiate education. Occasionally an Indian youth has been graduated at other Northern colleges.
No one individual, perhaps, has contributed so much as Dr. Franklin, towards forming the Peculiar traits of the American character. His love of knowledge, his patient industry, his frugality, his moderation, his love of peace, his disciplined temper, his keen sagacity, and public spirit, have deeply impressed themselves on his countrymen. His influence has been unfavourable to religion, by causing many to believe, that morality without the sustaining aid of personal religion, is sufficient for this life, and adequate to secure happiness in the life to come. His early scepticism may be ascribed in some measure to his injudicious parental education and discipline. The most authentic memorials of his religious opinions, are his letters to the Rev. Mr. Whitefield and President Stiles, the former written in 1753, and the latter in 1790. (Franklin’s Works, vol. vi. pp. 34. 241.) In the latter, he speaks of Christianity as “the best system of religion and morals the world ever saw or is like to see.” To some (unknown) person, who seems to have consulted him in regard to publishing a work against Christianity, he replies by putting the question; “if mankind are so wicked with religion, what would they be without it!” He advises the same person to burn his manuscript before it is seen by any one else, and to “think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and to retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which (says he) is the great point for its security.” (Idem. vi. 243.) He here distinctly admits the necessity of religion to support the morals of the community. In fact, his sound common sense and good feelings, always led him in his more mature years, to discourage all disrespect to religion, and to aid any thing which tended to enlarge its influence. (Turdor’s Life of James Otis, pp. 386-391.) But the most remarkable proof of his increased sensibility to the value of religion, late in life, is contained in a speech delivered by him in the Convention assembled in 1787, to form the present Constitution of the United States. The Convention had fallen into great difficulties, and the business had come apparently to a stand. In justice to Dr. Franklin, as well as for the sake of its good tendency and intimate connection with this discussion, the speech is attached to this note.
“Mr. President, (says he) the small progress we have made after four or five weeks close attendance and continual reasoning with each other, our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many Noes as Ayes, is, me thinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding. We, indeed, seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running all about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those republics, which, having been originally formed with the seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exist; and we have viewed modern states all round Europe, but find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
“In this situation of this assembly, groping as it were in the dark, to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us,how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings. In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard,-and they were graciously answered. All of us, who were engaged in the struggle, must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favour. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend!–or do we imagine we no longer need its assistance! I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men; and if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid! We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that “except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe, that without his concurring: aid, we shall succeed in this Political building no better than the builders of Babel: we shall be divided by our little partial local interests: our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a by-word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest. I, therefore, beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business: and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.” (Franklin’s Works, vol. i. 474.) The opinion of George Washington in regard to the necessity of religion to sustain the morals of a nation, cannot be reprinted too often. In his Farewell Address, he says, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labour to subvest these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of man and citizens. The mere politician equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice! And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Sir W. Scott, speaking of this conspiracy to destroy Christianity in Europe, and especially in France, says:– This work, the philosophers, as they termed themselves, carried on with such an unlimited and eager zeal, as plainly to show that infidelity, as well as divinity, has its fanaticism. An envenomed fury against religion and all its doctrines; a promptitude to avail themselves of every circumstance by which Christianity could be misrepresented; an ingenuity in mixing up their opinions in works, which seemed the least fitting to involve such discussions; above all, a pertinacity in slandering, ridiculing, and vilifying all who ventured to oppose their principles, distinguished the correspondents in this celebrated conspiracy against a religion, which, however, it may be defaced by human inventions, breathes only that peace on earth, and good will to the children of men, which was proclaimed by Heaven at its divine origin.
If these prejudiced and envenomed opponents had possessed half the desire of truth, or half the benevolence towards mankind, which were eternally on their lips, they would have formed the true estimate of the spirit of Christianity, not from the use which had been made of the mere name by ambitious priests or enthusiastic fools, but by its vital effects upon mankind at large. They would have seen, that under its influence a thousand brutal and sanguinary superstitions had died away; that polygamy had been abolished, and with polygamy all the obstacles which it offers to domestic happiness, as well as to the due education of youth, and the natural and gradual civilization of society. They must then have owned, that slavery, which they regarded or affected to regard with such horror, had first been gradually ameliorated, and finally abolished by the influence of the Christian doctrines:–that there was no one virtue teaching to elevate mankind or benefit society, which was not enjoined by the precepts they endeavoured to misrepresent and weaken; no one vice by which humanity is degraded and society endangered, upon which Christianity hath not imposed a solemn anathema. They might also, in their capacity of philosophers, have considered the peculiar aptitude of the Christian religion, not only to all ranks and conditions of mankind, but to all climates and to all stages of society.
“Unhappily blinded by self-conceit, heated with the ardour of controversy, gratifying their literary pride by becoming members of a league, in which kings and princes were included, and procuring followers by flattering the vanity of some, and stimulating the cupidity of others, the men of the most distinguished parts in France became allied in a sort of anti-crusade against Christianity, and indeed against religious principles of every kind. How they succeeded is too universally known: and when it is considered that these men of letters, who ended by degrading the morals, and destroying the religion of so many of the citizens of France, had been first called into Public estimation by the patronage of the higher orders, it is impossible not to think of the Israelitish champion, who, brought into the house of Dagon to make sport for the festive assembly, ended by pulling it down upon the heads of the guests–and upon his own.” Life of Napoleon, Vol. I. pp. 36. 37.
It is understood, that within a few years, a society of professed infidels has been formed in New-York, (See Gospel Messenger, vol. v. p. 217.) and the author has observed by the newspapers, that within a few weeks, the birth day of Thomas Paine, has been celebrated in that city;–it is presumed by this society. If these humble pages shall by chance meet the eye of any one who has celebrated the birth day of Mr. Paine, he may, perhaps, be instructed by perusing the following passages from the correspondence of Gouverneur Morris.
Writing to Mr. Jefferson, under date of 2lst January, 1794, Mr. Morris says, “I must mention, that Thomas Paine is in prison, where he amuses himself with publishing a pamphlet against Jesus Christ. I do not recollect whether I mentioned to you, that he would have been executed along with the rest of the Brissotines, if the adverse party had not viewed him with contempt. I incline to think, that if he is quiet in prison, he may have the good luck to be forgotten.” (Life by Sparks, vol. 11. 393.) Again, under date of 8th March, 1794, Mr. Morris says, “in the best of times, he had a larger share of every other sense than of common sense, and lately the intemperate use of ardent spirits has, I am told, considerably impaired the small stock which he originally possessed.” (vol. ii. 409.) NOTE *K*
The 42nd of the Letters on the Study of the Law, ascribed to the late Sir James Mackintosh, furnishes tile most valuable illustrations of this subject. The gifted author was not only distinguished as a jurist and a statesman, but he was familiar with almost every walk of literature and philosophy.
“I am now to treat of religion, and of the claims which it has upon the acknowledgement and support of him, who sustains the character of an advocate In our courts of justice. The worship of a Supreme Cause and the belief of a future state, have not only, in general, been concomitant, but have so universally engaged the concurrence of mankind, that they who have pretended to teach the contrary, have been looked upon in every age and state of society, as men opposing the pure emotions of our nature. This Supreme Cause, it is true, has been prefigured to the imagination by symbols suited to the darkness and ignorance of unlettered ages; but the great and secret original has nevertheless been the same in the contemplation of the simplest heathen and the most refined Christian. There must have been something exceedingly powerful in an idea that has made so prodigious a progress in the mind of man. The opinions of men have experienced a thousand changes; kingdoms that have been most powerful have been removed; the form of the earth itself has undergone various alterations; but amidst these grand and ruinous concussions, religion has remained unshaken; and a principle so consentaneous to the first formation of our nature must remain, until by some power, of which, at present we have no conception, the laws of that nature are universally dissolved. Powers thus singular must have their foundation in truth; for men may rest in truth, but they can never rest in error. To charm the human mind, and to maintain its monstrous empire, error must, ere this, have chosen innumerable shapes, all, too, wearing, more or less, the semblance of truth. And what is thus true must be also just; and of course, to acknowledge its influence must be the spontaneous and natural effusion of a love of truth; and the love of truth either is really, or is affected to be, the character of those who have dedicated themselves to the study of our laws. Thus naturally, even upon the first glance, do the characters of the lawyer and the supporter ot religion meet; the conclusion must be, that he who affects to doubt of the fundamental truths of religion, much more he who dares to deride them, is dissolving by fraud and violence, a tie which all good men have agreed to hold in respect, and the violation of which must render the violator unworthy the esteem and support of his fellow creatures.”-pp. 299-300.
“It is the nature of religion to Preserve unbroken that secret chain by which men are united, and, as it were, bound together; and as you are interested in common with the rest of your species in its preservation, particularly does it become you, as a professor of those laws which are one of its instruments, to display an anxiety to guard it from violence or contempt. Yet how do you do this, if you are either forging doubts yourself, or listening to them who forge doubts of the existence or authenticity of religion! It is the great aim of those who would overturn the peace and order of mankind to undermine the foundations of religion, by starting doubts and proposing questions, which being artfully calculated for every turn, are apt to dazzle and confound the common apprehension, like that famous question of the Elean philosopher. Can there be any such thing as motion, since a thing cannot move where it is, nor where it is not! Yet, by the questions of an equally foolish and unmanly nature, do many men, of no inferior learning or capacity, suffer their time and their attention to be miserably wasted! But do you not Perceive the mischievous tendency of such questions! Do you not see that, by rendering every principle doubtful, they loosen all those sacred obligations by which men are kept within the bounds of duty and subordination! And shall you, who are continually in public to call out for the interposition of the law against injustice and wrong, be forever in your private parties and conversations labouring to weaken every known and settled principle of justice and of right? Give me leave to say, it is a weak pretence that is made use of by those who are thus unworthily engaged, that they are searching after truth; and indeed it is merely a pretence; for it is curious enough to observe, that many of these searchers after truth are men who have been employed nearly half a century in this pretended pursuit, and yet have they not settled one single principle; nay, they are more full than ever of doubts and conjectures; and as age and fatigue have exhausted their strength and robbed them of their wit, their questions brain in childishness and folly, what they loose in subtlety and invention; nor is this a single case; I never in my life met with an old searcher after truth, but I found him at once the most wretched and most contemptible of all earthly beings. The fact is, the men I mean, are not searching after the truth; for where is it to be found! or who is to be the judge of it, when every certain principle is shaken or overthrown by which the decision is to be made! They have robbed their own minds of a resting place, and they would reduce the minds of others to the same unhappy and unsettled condition. With this spirit they attack every sentiment whereon men have been accustomed to rely; and as words are the common medium through which ideas are delivered, they play upon the meanings of words, till they have thrown every thing into that confusion which, unfortunately for themselves and for others, is so congenial with their debased inclinations.
“The propagation of doubt, with respect to religion, is at all times an injudicious, and frequently becomes an immoral act. He who seeks to destroy a system by an adherence to the pure principles of which, mankind may be kept in peace and virtue, (how delusive soever he may esteem that system to be) without proposing a better for that important purpose, ought to be considered as an enemy to the public welfare. I am here naturally led to consider religion as peculiarly powerful in settling the mind. It is impossible for a great and expanded intellect to be untouched by considerations of so great importance as those which religion presents to the contemplation; it will therefore either decide in certainty, or it will wander in doubt; for, to a thinking mind, what intermediate state can there be? And he that is in doubt, as I have before observed, cannot be at rest; and he who is not at rest cannot be happy. Now if this be true of doubt, the reverse must be true of certainty, which is a contrary influence. And need I point out to you the necessity of such a state to a mind engaged in the pursuit of a science so various and profound as the law? Or, on the contrary, how utterly impossible it is for a mind entangled in scepticism, according to the modern idea of that term, to attend with regularity and happiness to an object so important! Let me advise you to rest satisfied with those clear and fundamental truths upon which so many great and wise men have rested before you: and that, trot merely because they have thus rested, for that would not be to be like them, but because they are sustained by your uncorrupted sentiments, and produce clear ideas of the various virtues that adorn and elevate the mind, and also, which is of still greater importance, that stimulate you to the continual practice of them.”–pp. 304-307.
“Why then not be content to argue in this respect from the effect to the cause, and rest satisfied with that as a matter of faith which the reason of man has never yet been able to explain? Reflect upon the thousands who are now in their graves, whose lives were spent in endeavours to ascertain that power which mocked all their efforts and baffled all their ingenuity; learn from them to confide in that first Great Cause, which, though it be hidden from your sight, you most sensibly feel, and against which your feeble arm is raised in vain. What is the grand aim and end of knowledge, but to regulate our practice! And whence is this knowledge primarily to be acquired! from books? from men! No; by contemplation of these, it is true our knowledge may be enriched and augmented; but it must first spring from the secret source of our own bosoms; these let us search with impartiality, and we shall need the assistance of no fine-spun theories, no finesse, no subtlety, to discover the truth; truth is of a certain simple nature, and accordingly all will be certainty and simplicity here.”-pp. 307-308.
“Do you wish to obtain the rare and valuable faculty of solving difficulties and obviating doubts, by the exercise of which obscurity is in a moment rendered clear, and darkness changed into light? It is to be acquired only by industrious reading and profound contemplation. Do you desire to know upon what subject this power can be most worthily exercised’ I answer, Religion in all its varieties; of its purity as it came forth from the hand of its Omnipotent Founder, and of its degeneracy under the operation of human influences.”–p. 311. Source of Information: The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States: Sermon preached in St. Michael’s Church, Charleston, February 13, 1833 By Rev. J. Adams, Charleston, Printed by A. E. Miller, No.4 Broad-street, 1833. Courtesy of the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.