Sermon – Fasting – 1812


Moses Dow (1771-1837) graduated from Dartmouth in 1796. He was pastor of the Second Church in Beverly, MA (1801-1813) and in York, ME (1815-1830). This sermon was preached by Dow on August 20, 1812 on the national fast day, and again on April 8, 1813 on the Massachusetts state fast day.


sermon-fasting-1812-5

A

SERMON,

PREACHED IN BEVERLY,

AUGUST 20, 1812,

THE DAY OF THE

NATIONAL FAST,

ON ACCOUNT OF

WAR WITH GREAT-BRITAIN;

AND AGAIN AT

THE TABERNACLE IN SALEM,

APRIL 8, 1813,

THE DAY OF THE

ANNUAL FAST IN MASSACHUSETTS.

By MOSES DOW, A. M.

A
SERMON.

Luke xix. 41, 42.

AND WHEN HE WAS COME NEAR, HE BEHELD THE CITY, AND WEPT OVER IT, SAYING, IF THOU HADST KNOWN, EVEN THOU, AT LEAST IN THIS THY DAY, THE THINGS WHICH BELONG UNTO THY PEACE! BUT NOW THEY ARE HID FROM THINE EYES.

WHEN our Saviour uttered these pathetic words, he was on his last journey to Jerusalem. There he was going to shed his blood and lay down his life for the redemption and salvation of a lost world. It was not a prospect of his own sufferings which thus affected him. These he had always expected, and was prepared to meet, with heroic and divine fortitude. But a forefight of the miseries coming upon that ungrateful, persecuting city, by the awful justice of God, filled his sympathetic soul with the liveliest impressions of grief. He feared not death; but cheerfully led the way to the place of his execution. From the Mount of Olives he entered the city Jerusalem, riding upon an ass’ colt, amidst the loud acclamations of joy from the whole multitude of his disciples. But when the benevolent Saviour beheld THE DEVOTED CITY, he burst into tears. Pondering upon the Jews’ willful obstinacy—their rejection of all the offers of grace, and the utter ruin which awaited the city, the temple, and its inhabitants, he wept, with the tenderest compassion. And he exclaimed, “as with a wish, or ardent desire,” If thou hadst known, or, Oh that thou hadst known, in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! The Jews’ day, here intended, was the time in which they had been honoured and favoured with the presence of MESSIAH, their King. This was their day; for Christ and the first preachers of the gospel had spent all their time and labour at Jerusalem. They had been taught repeatedly, by Christ and his apostles, the things which belonged to their peace, prosperity and happiness. But they disregarded their message, would not believe their report, nor follow their instructions. Their hearts were hardened and their minds blinded with a spirit of infatuation. And being left under strong delusions to believe a lie, they preferred falsehood to truth. Thus this once prosperous city was judicially given up of God; her day of gracious privilege was hen expired,—her doom was passed, and every thing conducive to her welfare was, in righteous judgment, “hidden from her eyes.” When Jesus approached this devoted place, a view from the neighbouring hills awakened, in his sympathizing bosom, the liveliest emotions of pity. Though he was about to predict the entire desolation of the city, he did not desire the woeful day:—he did not delight in the destruction even of such wicked people. And therefore he exclaims, in the language of ardent desire, mixed with regret, “Oh, that thou hadst known, in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.”

The propositions, which we conceive deducible from this passage, are the following:

1. Nations and individuals may neglect the things which belong to their peace, till their case is desperate and past all remedy.

2. A prospect of ruin and misery coming upon the despisers of God’s mercy, will excite the tenderest compassion of all who have the spirit of Christ.

FIRST. Nations and individuals may neglect the things which belong to their peace, till their case is desperate and past all remedy. Short is the period of human life, even though we linger out threescore years and ten. And shorter still may be the day of God’s gracious forbearance, and man’s favourable opportunity to secure the divine favour. For numbers, in every age, “despise the riches of the goodness, forbearance and longsuffering of God; not knowing that his goodness leads to repentance: but after their hardness and impenitent heart, they treasure up wrath against the day of wrath.” They put far away the evil day, till, by long indulgence, they become feared in conscience, and incurably hardened in sin. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, their hearts are fully set in them to do evil.” God bears with them from time to time. He tries various expedients to turn them from their wicked purposes, to truth and holiness. He visits them with mercies and judgments—with warnings and invitations—with threatenings and promises. But when they have long turned a deaf ear to all his counsels, slighted his proposals, and undervalued his unspeakable blessings;—when they persevere in resisting, quenching and grieving his Holy Spirit, they are ripening fast for remediless destruction. For the Lord has expressly said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” The Spirit of God long strove with men of the old world, by inspiring Enoch, Noah and others to preach and to warn them. He long and patiently bore with them, notwithstanding their rebellions, waiting to be gracious. But, at length, incensed by their obstinate resistance to the warnings of his prophets and the remonstrances of their own consciences, he solemnly resolved to leave them to e hardened in sin, and to ripen for destruction. In like manner the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, by their filthy and abominable wickedness, provoked the Lord, not only to withdraw his restraints, but to make them the monuments of his eternal vengeance. The most astonishing forbearance the Lord manifested also toward the Israelites in the wilderness. Forty years long was he grieved with that generation. At length, grown indignant by their incessant murmurings, ingratitude and rebellion, he sware in his wrath that they should not enter his rest. Their short and limited season of probation was then closed, and their state of eternal retribution commenced.

If we trace the history of the several kingdoms of Judah and Israel, we find them subject to frequent and alternate changes from prosperity to adversity. They were taught, by experience, the truth of that divine aphorism, “WHEN THE RIGHTEOUS ARE IN AUTHORITY, THE PEOPLE REJOICE; BUT WHEN THE WICKED BEARETH RULE, THE PEOPLE MOURN.”

When such men as David and Josiah were their kings, their times were times of reformation, and Providence smiled upon all their concerns. But when such as Ahab, Jeroboam and Manasseh ruled over them, Providence frowned, wickedness increased, and the land mourned. In consequence of the great wickedness of the people, their day of gracious visitation was generally short—their fun of prosperity was soon covered with a dark cloud of adversity.

If we descend to later times, the glory of empires, kingdoms and nations appears still more transitory and fading. On the page of history many of them suddenly arise to view, exhibit a temporary splendor, and then quickly disappear, and are seen no more. By various massacres, famines, pestilence and revolutionary scenes, an immense multitude of governments has arisen, since the dispersion of the Jewish nation. But their prosperity and glory have been like “the morning cloud and the early dew.” Where righteousness has abounded, the nation has been exalted; but when sin has prevailed, it has quickly sunk in reproach and ruin. This has ever been the course of providence toward nations; and such will ever be its course to the end of time. Those, who make his laws their model, and his word their guide, God will bless and prosper; but those, who forsake his ordinances and the light of his word, he will leave to certain destruction—to perish without remedy. Where now are the once flourishing governments of Asia—the birth-place of man, of prophets, apostles, and the Saviour of the world? Alas, they are crumbled to ruins. Once they were the theatres of mighty works—the residence of many holy men, and the scenes of remarkable divine interposition. Jerusalem, that city of solemnities, that cradle of God’s ancient church, where resided the symbols of his presence, is now a heap of ruins. It was often and alternately rebuilt and destroyed by contending parties; but finally, according to the express prediction of our Saviour, it was utterly demolished by Titus. In exact fulfillment of the prophecy, about forty years after it was uttered, the city was razed to the ground; and its inhabitants destroyed. Indeed, so complete was the destruction of this renowned city, that not one stone was left upon another; but turned up by the Roman plough, in quest of plunder. This was in righteous judgment—for their crying sins; BECAUSE THEY WOULD NOT REGARD THE HINGS WHICH BELONGED TO THEIR PEACE.

Greece and Rome, once the seats of arts and sciences, the most powerful empires and mistresses of the world, corrupted, debauched and divided, have long since fallen a prey to savage invaders. A deluge of ignorance, barbarism and superstition has effaced the mountains of former learning and magnificence. Their proud ambition, enormous cruelties and abominable wickedness provoked Heaven to blot them from the list of nations. A new race have sprung up, to inherit their territory, who have formed governments, and had their day of prosperity. Holland, Switzerland, Italy and Germany were once independent, free and prosperous states. But not knowing the time of their visitation—not minding the things which belonged to their peace, they became infatuated, and then fell an easy prey to “the mighty power under whose iron rod all Europe groans” and bleeds at every pore. And they fell, not in the high places of the field—not by force of arms; but by blindly yielding to the insidious arts of their designing conquerors. They had drunken of “the wine of astonishment,” by which they were intoxicated, divided and enfeebled; and “then their ruin because inevitable.”—And can we say that our own nation is in no danger from this intoxicating cup, of losing the things which belong to its peace? Alas, whatever be the cause, our prosperity and glory are, in a measure, gone, our peace is fled, and war, with all its baneful attendants, is now our portion! The cause may be traced to our sins, which testify against us. These have provoked the Lord to anger; and his anger against sin is the sole cause of all misery, personal and relative, individual and national, temporal and eternal. The sins of professing churches have often provoked the anger of Heaven to remove their candlestick out of its place;—nations tremble for the same cause: yea, the whole earth, and creation itself, groan under the load of man’s guilt. The judgments of God are abroad in the earth, because of the wickedness of men. And when we consider the fury and rage, the mutual earnage and destruction of nations, does is not appear that they have been drinking of the intoxicating cup of God’s holy indignation? Else why are they thus maddened in their passions to wreak their vengeance on one another? Why does a nation, upon the slightest pretext, rise up against nation, so that “blood toucheth blood?” And does not the compassionate Saviour now weep over this infatuated land? Does he not say to America, in the language of our test, “Oh, that thou hadst known, even thou, at least, in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! Oh, that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” Had we as a nation hearkened to the God of our fathers, and to the maxims of wisdom contained in his word, this had, even now, been our happy case. We should not have been compelled to witness “the confused noise of the warrior, and garments rolled in blood.” Had we, our fathers, our princes and people, all united in maintaining the worship of God, and unfeigned obedience to his laws, our national prosperity would not have been interrupted. The things which belong to our peace would not have been hidden from our eyes. The blessings engaged to Israel, while they adhered to the service of Jehovah, might have been expected in this happy land. “Our sons would have been as plants, grown up in their youth,—our daughters as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace. Our garners would have been full, affording all manner of store;—our sheep would have brought forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets—our oxen would have been strong to labour—there would have been no breaking in nor going out,—no complaining in our streets. Happy is the people that is in such a case; yea, happy is the people, whose God is the Lord.”—Such are the blessings, which, in the ordinary course of providence, are generally conferred on nations, whose rulers and people faithfully follow the maxims of the gospel. And such happiness would have been thine, O America, had this been thy uniform character. But how art thou fallen from thy former greatness! How is thy glory departed! “How is the gold become dim, and the most fine gold changed!” Time was, when we were the envy of the world. The fame of our independence, freedom and prosperity rang, through the channels of COMMERCE, to the remotest nations. The wealth of almost every clime was, through this medium, wafted to our shores. By this our national treasury was replenished—agriculture and manufactures flourished—learning and the arts advanced with rapid pace, and we were swiftly emulating the greatness of the first in rank in the old world. Happy, thrice happy. O Americans, had ye known what happiness was yours—had ye regarded the things which belonged to your peace. But alas, how are they hidden from our eyes! We are now,

2d. To shew that a prospect of ruin and misery coming upon the despisers of God’s mercy will excite the tenderest compassion of all who have the spirit of Christ.

David that eminent type of our Saviour, exhibits, in a lively degree, this sympathetic, Christian affection. “Horror, says he, hath taken hold upon me, because of the wicked that forsake thy law.” “Rivers of water run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.” “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved, because they kept not thy word.”—Having the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, he was grieved to the very heart, to see others blindly rushing to their own ruin. A view of their sinful character and awfully dangerous state filled him with the mingled emotions of grief, indignation and pity. He mourned the wickedness of men and the dishonor of God, more than his own sufferings; and he wept a flood of tears. And no one has a right to pretend to the spirit of Christ, unless the sin and misery of others thus deeply affect him.

To rejoice in another’s calamity is the very temper of hell! To rejoice in the hope and prospect that his calamity will work for his good, is a very different thing. This is consistent with that Christian benevolence, which regards our neighbor as ourselves. If sore afflictions appear necessary to humble and reform a bold transgressor, and seem likely to produce that happy effect, then we ought to acquiesce in the divine method, and pray for its success. But to rejoice purely in another’s distress is inhuman, antichristian and diabolical. The benevolent Saviour and his inspired saints have taught us a better spirit, and set us a better example. They mourned and wept, even for those who thirsted to shed their innocent blood. But though Jesus was a man of sorrows, and often groaned and wept in view of suffering humanity; yet the blind infatuation, pride and obstinacy of sinners distressed far more his sympathetic soul. “He looked on the PHARISEES with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” And when he beheld the infatuated city of Jerusalem, in spite of all his counsels, warnings and entreaties, rushing headlong into ruin, his pitiful soul dissolved into tears. And were the Saviour now visible we should doubtless behold him weeping over the condition and prospect of our own guilty land! Our peace, prosperity and happiness are on the rapid decline, and war, adversity, and a host of evils, assume their place.

Liberty, too, the pride, the darling and boast of Americans, like a hunted, persecuted fugitive, seems on the point of seeking some more hospitable clime. Driven from nation to nation, and from one end of earth to another, like Noah’s dove, she an scarcely find rest for the sole of her foot. For a course of years she has found an asylum, protection and patronage in this western world. But her residence becomes more and more precarious. For already have many begun to treat this celestial visitant with neglect, or cold contempt!

1 [Preferring the unbounded indulgence of licentiousness to the wholesome restraints implied in genuine liberty, INFURIATE MOBS burst the barriers which heaven and earth have raised for the security of life, property and happiness. The deplorable condition of a sister state excites the indignant groans and sympathy of all the humane—of all the followers of the Lamb. That city, which, like Jerusalem, had been highly exalted in privilege, wealth and splendor, is now doomed to be the prey of those, who reverence no laws, respect no character, and whose tender mercies are cruel. Even the distant report of their maddened fury is enough to chill the blood, and freeze the soul with horror! It reminds us of that furious mob, who wreaked their vengeance on Stephen, the first Christian martyr. In his defence before the Jewish council, his pungent discourse cut to the heart his violent persecutors, and they, like ferocious beasts, “gnashed on him with their teeth.”

Being full of the Holy Ghost, he saw in vision a display of heavenly glory. And when he proclaimed aloud, before his exasperated persecutors, the glorious scene presented to his view, “they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord.” Then, with brutal ferocity and infernal rage, they “case him out of the city, and stoned him” to death!

A familiar mob persecuted the immaculate Savior of the world. They misinterpreted all his words and actions, multiplied their false accusations against him, and treated him with every personal insult and indignity. Nothing, in short, would satisfy their bloodthirsty fury, till they had inflicted, upon their unoffending victim, the most ignominious and torturing death!

Thus we see that human nature is the same, in all periods, and persecuting mobs were known as early as the apostolic age. From their unbridled ferocity and horrid misrule may Heaven preserve us. “O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united.”]

Had we, as a nation, regarded the things which belong to our peace, scenes of riot, misrule and civil war had never commenced among us. Had we followed the maxims of the gospel, in all our private and public relations and capacities;—had we “studied the things which make for peace, and things whereby one might edify another,” we had still remained a united people, owned and blessed of the Lord. But by our various sins we have made God our enemy; and unless he turn away his anger, and have mercy upon us, we must assuredly perish. We humbly hope and trust that “the things which belong to our peace” are not forever hidden from our eyes. We hope a precious remnant may yet be reserved, for whose sake God will be entreated to spare a guilty land. Were it not for this pious remnant, we had, ere now, been as Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim!

There is no truth in the Bible more plain than this, That it is on account of the righteous God bears with wicked nations. Should these be all removed, the wrath of heaven would soon burst upon their guilty survivors. In proportion as this class are multiplied, promoted, and abound in fruits of righteousness, will be the prosperity of any people. On the contrary, the more wickedness and wicked men are increased and exalted, the more the anger of heaven is enkindled, and ruin hastens apace.

Let our nation turn to the Lord, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance.—Let ministers and people unite in following the maxims of the gospel. And then, be assured, the doom of Jerusalem shall not be ours. God will be our shield, and no weapons formed against us, shall eventually prosper.

But should we go on unmindful of the things which belong to our peace—and could we succeed, in conquering the only free nation on earth, except our own;—the nation, who, bad as she is, is doing more than all the world besides in extending the word of life and the blessings of Christianity, to millions ready to perish! 2—Could we succeed in conquering that nation, which now, under Providence, stnds between us and ruin—what should we gain? Alas, nought but poverty, vice and slavery;—nought but a deadly alliance with that infidel, atheistical power, “whose armies shall soon be assembled at Armageddon, and fall in the battle of the great day of God Almighty.”

The greatest of all earthly judgments, with which we could be visited, would be an intimate confederacy with infidel powers. For vice, like the plague, is contagious. As sure as we become partakers of mystical Babylon’s sins, we must receive of her plagues. Our religion, under God, is our defence and our glory. Should his be destroyed, and atheism prevail, then farewell to our peace and happiness forever!

Shall we not all, my friends, imitate the mourning Jesus, and weep over our infatuated country? Our former glory is departed. “Darkness covers the land, and thick darkness the people.” Our joy is turned into mourning, and our abused mercies into desolating judgments. Already, distress wrings many a heart, and horrors of thick darkness brood on many a countenance. The arm of industry is palsied by the sickening aspect of the times, and anxiety is all alive in expectation of scenes more tremendous! Thousands of wives, parents, and other connections, now feel a dreadful solicitude for husbands, children and friends, who are in danger of falling a prey to a provoked enemy. The prospect that numerous widows, orphans and beggars will be multiplied by this desolating judgment, must give pain to every heart, that delights not in war and human misery. Our only consolation and hope, in this distressing season, are in the government and perfections of God. But even this hope and consolation we cannot expect to realize, if our sins continue to testify against us, and we remain impenitent. The rod of divine correction will still be stretched over us, and the besom of destruction will sweep us away, unless we take refuge in the Ark of safety, unless we “break off our sins by righteousness, and our iniquities by turning unto God.” “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.”

Be exhorted, my friends, to secure this refuge, and then you need not be afraid of evil tidings. “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings. His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.” Do you wish to avoid Jerusalem’s doom, and to shun the plagues of antichristian despoilers? Then beware of the fascinating cup. Beware of “THE WINE OF ASTONISHMENT.” Beware of snares laid privily for your destruction. Sell not your birthright for a mess of pottage. Barter not your religion, your Saviour and your souls, for any paltry gratification, which flattering infidels may offer. But behold the banner of the Prince of peace. Enlist under Christ as your Leader and Commander. Let his word be your sword, faith your shield, and hope your helmet of salvation. This is the contest, to which we are called. This is the warfare, to which the trumpet of the gospel invites you. Join, as volunteers, this standard, and then, whatever be the doom of your country, victory is yours. YOU SHALL COME OFF MORE THAN CONQUERORS, THROUGH CHRIST, WHO HATH LOVED US.

AMEN.


Endnotes

1. The subsequent part of the discourse, enclosed in brackets, was pronounced with the rest on the first delivery, but at the last time was omitted, as less pertinent. A few sentences towards the close have also been added, which the reader will excuse.

2. It is said that the Bible and Missionary societies of Great-Britain are paying, as a free will offering, not less than five hundred thousand dollars, annually, to promote the gospel among the heathen and others destitute of the means of religious instruction. And all this in addition to the millions they expend to support the gospel at home.—See Rev. Mr. Webster’s Thanksgiving Sermon, Nov. 26, 1812.

* Originally Posted: Dec. 26, 2016

Proclamation – Fasting Humiliation and Prayer – 1887, Massachusetts

Oliver Ames (1831-1895) was governor of Massachusetts from 1887-1890. This proclamation was issued on March 2, 1887 for a day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer to be held on April 7, 1887. (See the 1887 Massachusetts Thanksgiving Proclamation here.)


Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

By His Excellency

Oliver Ames, Governor.

A Proclamation for a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer. 

In conformity to a good ancient custom, established by our fathers, continued without interruption to the present time, and sanctioned by law,

With the advice and consent of the Executive Council, I hereby designate Thursday, the seventh day of April next, to be observed by the people of Massachusetts as the annual Fast Day.

I earnestly invite our people, humbly recognizing our dependence on our Heavenly Father, to keep the day as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer.

Given at the Council Chamber in Boston, this second day  of March, in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-seven, and of the Independence of the  United States of America the one hundred and eleventh.

Oliver Ames.

By His Excellency the Governor, with the Advice and Consent of the Council.

Henry R. Pierce, Secretary.

God Save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Sermon – Fasting – 1812


William Ellery Channing1 (1780-1842) was the grandson of one of the Newport Sons of Liberty, John Channing. William graduated from Harvard in 1798 and became regent at Harvard in 1801. He was ordained a preacher in 1802 and worked towards the 1816 establishment of the Harvard Divinity School. This sermon was preached by Channing on the national fast day proclaimed by President James Madison2 for August 20, 1812.


sermon-fasting-1812-4

A
SERMON,
PREACHED IN BOSTON, AUGUST 20, 1812,
THE DAY OF
HUMILIATION AND PRAYER,
APPOINTED BY THE
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,
IN CONSEQUENCE OF
THE DECLARATION OF WAR AGAINST GREAT BRITAIN
BY WILLIAM ELLERY CHANNING,
MINISTER OF THE CHURCH IN FEDERAL STREET,

THE author is not insensible to the many imperfections of this discourse, and he laments that his engagements have not permitted him to render it less unworthy the favourable opinion, which was expressed by those who heard it. He has consented to publish it, because he considers it closely connected with his late Fast Sermon3, and because he wishes to express with greater precision some important sentiments, which were suggested in that discourse, but to which he was not able to give the time and attention which they deserve.

 

ACTS XXIV. 16.Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man.

A CONSCIENCE void of offence is an inestimable blessing. We need it in prosperity—for no condition however prosperous can give happiness, if our own hearts reproach us, if remorse mingle itself with our recollections of the past, and the dread of retribution with our anticipations of futurity. We peculiarly need it in adverse and perilous times—for it has power to impart serenity, firmness, and hope, when every outward event conspires to depress and overwhelm us. In periods of public calamity, happy is that man, whose conscience approves him, who carries with him the supporting reflection, that he has been faithful in the sphere assigned him by Providence; that he has labored, according to his power, to avert the ruin, which threatens his country; that he has not hastened or aggravated national suffering, by abusing the rights of a citizen, or violating the duties of a man and a Christian. To aid you in securing to yourselves, this support and consolation, I propose to point out to you some of the duties, which belong to the period, in which we live, particularly those duties, which grow out of our relations to our rulers and our country. My views of our political state, and of the war, in which we are engaged, I have lately unfolded, and shall not now repeat them. The question is, what conduct belongs to a good citizen, in our present trying condition.

Our condition induces me to begin, with urging on you the important duty of cherishing respect for civil government, and a spirit of obedience to the laws. I am sensible, that many whom I address consider themselves called to oppose the measures of our present rulers. Let this opposition breathe nothing of insubordination, impatience of authority, or love of change. It becomes you to remember, that government is one of the noblest and most valuable of human institutions—essential to the improvement of our nature—the spring of industry and enterprise—the shield of property and life—the refuge of the weak and oppressed. It is to the security which laws afford, that we owe the successful application of human powers—the progress of the useful and elegant arts—the splendor of the city—and the beauties of the cultivated field. Government, I know, has often been perverted by ambition and other selfish passions; but it still holds a distinguished rank among those institutions, by which man has been rescued from barbarism, and conducted through the ruder stages of society, to the habits of order, the diversified employments and dependences, the refined and softened manners, the intellectual, moral and religious improvements of the age in which we live. We are bound to respect government, as the foundation of the social edifice—the great security for social happiness; and we should carefully cherish that habit of obedience to the laws, without which the ends of government cannot be accomplished. All wanton opposition to the constituted authorities; all censures of rulers, originating in a factious, aspiring, or envious spirit; all unwillingness to submit to laws, which are directed to the welfare of the community, should be rebuked and repressed by the frown of public indignation.

It is impossible, that all the regulations of the wisest government should equally benefit every individual of the society; and sometimes the general good will demand arrangements, which will interfere with the interests of particular members, or classes of the nation. In such circumstances, the individual is bound to regard the inconveniences under which he suffers, as inseparable from a social, connected state; as the result of the condition, which God has appointed; and not as the fault of his rulers; and he should cheerfully submit, recollecting how much more he receives from the community, than he is called to resign to it. Disaffection towards a government, which is administered with a view to the general welfare, is a great crime; and such opposition, even to a bad government, as infuses into subjects a restless temper, an unwillingness to yield to wholesome and necessary restraint, deserves no better name. In proportion as a people want a conscientious regard to the laws, and are prepared to evade them by fraud, or to arrest their operation by violence; in that proportion they need and deserve an arbitrary government, strong enough to crush at a blow every symptom of opposition.

These general remarks on the duty of submission are by no means designed to teach, that rulers are never to be opposed. Because I wish to guard you against that turbulent and discontented spirit, which precipitates free communities into anarchy, and thus prepares them for chains, you will not consider me as asserting, that all opposition to government, whatever be the occasion, or whatever the form, is to be branded as a crime. Subjects have rights as well as duties. Government is instituted for one and a single end,—the benefit of the governed; the protection, peace, and welfare of society; and when it is perverted to other objects, to purposes of avarice, ambition, or party spirit, we are authorized and even bound to make such opposition, as is suited to restore it to its proper end, to render it as pure as the imperfection of our nature and state will admit.

The Scriptures have sometimes been thought to enjoin an unqualified, unlimited subjection to the “higher powers;” but if we attend, we shall see that the injunction is founded on the principle, that these powers are “ministers of God for good,” are a terror to evil doers, and an encouragement to those that do well. When a government wants this character, when it becomes an engine of oppression, the scriptures enjoin subjection no longer. Expedience may make it our duty to obey, but the government has lost its rights; it can no longer urge its claims as an ordinance of God.

There have, indeed, been times, when sovereigns have demanded subjection as an unalienable right, and when the superstition of subjects has surrounded them with a mysterious sanctity, with a majesty approaching the divine. But these days have past. Under the robe of office, we, my hearers, have learned to see a man, like ourselves; invested with dignity for the benefit of his fellows; most honourable, most worthy our reverence, when, in the spirit of the universal sovereign, he employs power to execute justice and dispense blessings; and most degraded and worthless amidst all his pomp, when he forgets that his power is a trust, and prostitutes it to selfish ends. There is no such sacredness in rulers, as forbids scrutiny into their motives, or condemnation of their conduct. If indeed elevation of rank gave elevation to the character, implicit confidence in government would be our duty. But, rulers, when they leave the common walks of life, leave none of their imperfections behind them. Power has even a tendency to corrupt—to feed an irregular ambition—to harden the heart against the claims and sufferings of mankind. Rulers have generally seemed to be raised too high for sympathy, and have often sported with human rights and happiness, for the purpose of extending, or displaying their power. Rulers are not to be viewed with a malignant jealousy; but they ought to be inspected with a watchful, undazzled eye. Their virtues and services are to be rewarded with generous praise; and their crimes, and arts, and usurpations should be exposed with a fearless sincerity, to the indignation of an injured people. We are not to be factious, and neither are we to be servile. With a sincere disposition to obey, should be united a firm purpose not to be oppressed.

So far is an existing government from being clothed with an inviolable sanctity, that subjects, in particular circumstances, acquire the right, not only of remonstrating, but of employing force for its destruction. This right accrues to subjects, when a government wantonly disregards the ends of social union; when it threatens the subversion of national liberty and happiness; when it makes encroachments which, if endured, will lead to the prostration of all the rights of a people; and when no relief but force remains to the suffering community. This however is a right which cannot be exercised with too much deliberation. Subjects should very slowly yield to the conviction, that rulers have that settled hostility to their interests, which authorizes violence. They must not indulge a spirit of complaint, and suffer their passions to pronounce on their wrongs. They must remember, that the best government will partake the imperfection of all human institutions, and that if the ends of the social compact are in any tolerable degree accomplished, they will be mad indeed to hazard the blessings they possess, for the possibility of greater good. They should weigh, not only the evils they suffer, but the evils of resistance; the tumultuous state in which an appeal to force may leave them; the danger of dissolving instead of improving society. They should anxiously inquire, if no methods, more peaceful, will bring them relief.

It becomes us to rejoice, my friends, that we live under a constitution, one great design of which is—to prevent the necessity of appealing to force—to give the people an opportunity of removing, without violence, those rulers from whom they suffer, or apprehend an invasion of rights. This is one of the principal advantages of a republic over an absolute government. In a despotism, there is no remedy for oppression but force. The subject cannot influence public affairs, but by convulsing the state. With us, rulers may be changed, without the horrors of a revolution. A republican government secures to its subjects this immense privilege, by confirming to them two most important rights; the right of suffrage, and the right of discussing with freedom the conduct of rulers. The value of these rights in affording a peaceful method of redressing public grievances cannot be expressed, and the duty of maintaining them, of never surrendering them, cannot be too strongly urged: resign either of these, and no way of escape from oppression will be left you, but civil commotion.

From the important place which these rights hold in a republican government, you should consider yourselves bound to support every citizen in the lawful exercise of them, especially when an attempt is made to wrest them from any by violent means. At the present time, it is particularly your duty to guard, with jealousy, the right of expressing with freedom your honest convictions respecting the measures of your rulers. Without this, the right of election is not worth possessing. If public abuses may not be exposed, their authors will never be driven from power. Freedom of opinion, of speech, and of the press, is our most valuable privilege—the very soul of republican institutions—the safeguard of all other rights. We may learn its value if we reflect, that there is nothing which tyrants so much dread. They anxiously fetter the press, they scatter spies through society, that the murmurs, anguish, and indignation of their oppressed subjects may be smothered in their own breasts; that no generous sentiment may be nourished by sympathy and mutual confidence. Nothing awakens and improves men so much as free communication of thoughts and feelings. Nothing can give to public sentiment that correctness, which is essential to the prosperity of a commonwealth, but the free circulation of truth, from the lips and pens of the wise and good. If such men abandon the right of free discussion—if, awed by threats, they suppress their convictions—if rulers succeed in silencing every voice, but that which approves them—if nothing reaches the people, but what will lend support to men in power—farewell to liberty. The form of a free government may remain, but the life, the soul, the substance is fled.

If these remarks be just, nothing ought to excite greater indignation and alarm, than the attempts, which have lately been made to destroy the freedom of the press. We have lived to hear the strange doctrine, that to expose the measures of rulers is treason; and we have lived to see this doctrine carried into practice. We have seen a savage populace excited and let loose on men, whose crime consisted in bearing testimony against the present war; and let loose, not merely to waste their property, but to shed their blood, to tear them from the refuge which the magistrate had afforded, to slaughter them with every circumstance of cruelty and ignominy. I do not intend to describe that night of horrors, to show to you citizens, who had fought the battles of their country, beaten to the earth, trodden under foot, mangled, dishonoured!—What ought to alarm us even more than this dreadful scene is, the disposition which has been discovered to extenuate these atrocities, to speak of this bloody outrage as a mode of punishment, irregular indeed, yet mitigated by the guilt of those who presumed to arraign their rulers. In this and in other language, there have been symptoms of a purpose, to terrify into silence those, who disapprove the calamitous war, under which we suffer; to deprive us of the only method, which is left, of obtaining a wiser and better government. The cry has been, that war is declared, and all opposition should therefore be hushed. A sentiment more unworthy of a free country can hardly be propagated. If this doctrine be admitted, rulers have only to declare war and, they are screened at once from scrutiny. At the very time when they have armies at command, when their patronage is most extended, and their power most formidable, not a word of warning, of censure, of alarm must be heard. The press, which is to expose inferior abuses, must not utter one rebuke, one indignant complaint, although our best interests, and most valuable rights are put to hazard, by an unnecessary war. Admit this doctrine, let rulers once know that by placing the country in a state of war, they place themselves beyond the only power they dread, the power of free discussion, and we may expect war without end. Our peace and all our interests require, that a different sentiment prevail. We should make our present and all future rulers feel, that there is no measure, for which they must render so solemn an account to their constituents, as for a declaration of war; that no measure will be so freely, so fully discussed; and that no administration can succeed, in persuading this people to exhaust their treasure and blood in supporting war, unless it be palpably necessary and just. In war then, as in peace, assert the freedom of speech and of the press. Cling to this, as the bulwark of all your rights and privileges.

But, my friends, I should not be faithful, were I only to call you to hold fast this freedom. I would still more earnestly exhort you not to abuse it. Its abuse may be as fatal to our country as its relinquishment. Every blessing may, by perversion, be changed into a curse, and this is peculiarly true of the press. If undirected, unrestrained by principle, the press, instead of enlightening, depraves the public mind; and, by its licentiousness, forges chains for itself and for the community. The right of free discussion is not the right of saying what we please, what our passions prompt; not the right of diffusing falsehood and evil principles.—Nothing is to be spoken or written but the truth, and truth is so to be expressed, that the bad passions of the community shall not be called forth, or at least shall not be unnecessarily excited. From what wretchedness would our country be saved, were these simple rules observed. On political subjects, there is less regard to truth, more of false colouring and exaggeration, than on any other. The influence of the press is very much diminished by its gross and frequent misrepresentations. Each party listens with distrust to the statements of the other and the consequence is, that the progress of truth is slow, and sometimes wholly obstructed. Whilst we encourage the free expression of opinion, let us unite in fixing the brand if infamy on falsehood and slander, wherever they originate; whatever be the cause they are designed to maintain.

But it is not enough that truth be told. It should be told for a good end; not to irritate but to convince; not to inflame the bad passions, but to sway the judgment and to awaken sentiments of patriotism. In this country, political discussion has decidedly an unhappy influence on the temper. Many talk and write for the simple purpose of wounding their opponents. There are, comparatively, few attempts to mollify. Those who have embraced error are confirmed, hardened in their principles, by the reproachful epithets, which are heaped upon them by their adversaries. I do not mean by this, that political discussion is to be conducted with a frigid tameness, that no sensibility is to be expressed, no indignation to be poured forth on wicked men and wicked deeds. But this I mean, that we should deliberately inquire, whether indignation be deserved, before we express it; and the object of expressing it should ever be, not to infuse ill-will, rancor, and fury into the minds of men, but to excite an enlightened and conscientious opposition to injurious measures. He who addresses his fellow citizens on political topics, should ever propose to impart correct principles, and to awaken pure and honourable feelings; and the press, when employed for other ends, is grossly perverted.

Every good man must mourn, that so much is continually spoken, written and published among us, for no other apparent end, than to gratify the malevolence of one party, by wounding the feelings of the opposite. The consequence is, that an alarming degree of irritation exists in our country. Fellow citizens burn with mutual hatred, and some are evidently ripe for outrage and violence. In this feverish state of the public mind, we are not to relinquish free discussion, but every man should feel the duty of speaking and writing with deliberation. It is the time to be firm without passion. No menace should be employed to provoke opponents—no defiance hurled—no language used which will, in any measure, justify he ferocious in appealing to force.

By this language I do not mean to suggest, that I anticipate scenes of violence and murder, such as have lately been exhibited in other parts of our land, as have made our hearts thrill with grief, indignation, and horror. I have too much confidence in the good principles and habits of this section of our country. I trust, that none of us shall live, to hear the yell of a murderous mob ringing through our city, to see our streets flowing with the blood of citizens, butchered by the hand of citizens. But, my friends, there is a violence in the passions of this community, which ought to give us some alarm; which ought to set us all on our guard, lest, by our rashness, and intemperate language, we gradually lead on to a tremendous convulsion.

The sum of my remarks is this. It is your duty to hold fast and to assert with firmness those truths and principles on which the welfare of your country seems to depend; but do this with calmness, with a love of peace, without ill will and revenge. Improve every opportunity of allaying animosities. Strive to make converts of those whom you think in error: do not address them, as if you wished to make them bitter enemies to yourselves and your cause. Discourage in decided and open language, tat rancor, malignity, and unfeeling abuse, which so often find their way into our public prints, and which only tend to increase the already alarming irritation of our country. Remember, that in proportion as a people become enslaved to their passions, they fall into the hands of the aspiring and unprincipled; and that corrupt government, which has an interest in deceiving the people, can desire nothing more favourable to their purposes, than a frenzied state of the public mind.

My friends, in this day of discord, let us cherish and breathe around us the benevolent spirit of Christianity. Let us reserve to ourselves this consolation, that we have added no fuel to the flames, no violence to the storms, which threaten to desolate our country. To Christian benevolence, let us add the higher duties of piety, a cheerful obedience and resignation to the will of our Creator. Thus living we shall not live in vain. In the most calamitous times, we shall bless those who are placed within our influence; we shall carry within us consciences void of offence; and we shall be able to look up to God, as our approving and protecting father, who, after appointing us the trials which we need, will grant us everlasting rest in heaven.


1 “Channing, William Ellery,” ed. Dumas Malone, Dictionary of American Biography (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930), 4:4-7.
2 James Madison, Humiliation and Prayer Proclamation, August 20, 1812.
3 William Ellery Channing, A Sermon Preached in Boston July 23, 1812, the Day of the Publick Fast (Boston: Greenough & Stebbins, 1812).

Sermon – Fasting – 1810, Massachusetts


William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) was the grandson of one of the Newport Sons of Liberty, John Channing. William graduated from Harvard in 1798 and became regent at Harvard in 1801. He was ordained a preacher in 1802 and worked towards the 1816 establishment of the Harvard Divinity School. This sermon was preached by Channing on the annual Massachusetts fast day of April 5, 1810.


sermon-fasting-1810-massachusetts-3

A

SERMON,

PREACHED IN BOSTON,

APRIL 5, 1810,

THE DAY OF THE

PUBLIC FAST.

BY WILLIAM ELLERY CHANNING,

PASTOR OF THE CHURCH IN FEDERAL STREET.

THIS discourse was written without any view to publication, and I send it to the press not without reluctance and hesitation. But men, whom I love and venerate, have expressed a conviction, that it is suited to excite in some degree, that sense of our national danger, and that devotion to the public good, on which the safety of our country depends. I submit to their judgment; and I shall thank God from the heart, if their expectations are in any degree fulfilled.

Some of the sentiments, here expressed, have been derived from a late publication entitled, “A Letter on the genius and dispositions of the French Government,” a production abounding in vigorous thought and elevated feeling. This work carries within itself striking marks of authenticity and truth. One can hardly read it without the impression, that the author is describing, what he himself saw. His representations agree with the accounts of France, which I have received from other publications, and from gentlemen, who have lately returned from that country. I have often heard that the partialities of this author, when he visited Europe, were on the side of France. I have heard but one sentiment respecting the letter itself, that its statements are as correct, as they are solemn and affecting.

I have been led in this discourse to dwell on a very painful subject, the corruption of France and of her government. Some passages will be found to breathe an indignant spirit; but, I hope, it is an indignation originating in Christian benevolence. I hope that not one line is tinctured with malice or revenge. It is my earnest desire to cherish in myself, and to communicate to others, the universal good-will of my Lord and Saviour; to have my abhorrence of depravity mingled with pity and sorrow for the depraved.

I suppose that there are some minds, which will not readily receive all my representations. But where I cannot convince, I hope that I shall not irritate, for I have labored to avoid it; and I confidently trust, that no good man will accuse me of adding fuel to the fires of rage and discord, which threaten to consume our country.

W. E. C.

 

SERMON.

MATTHEW xvi. 3.

Can ye not discern the signs of the times?

IT is the design of a day of fasting to produce in a people a sense of their dependence on God; and a deep, penitent conviction of those sins, by which they have exposed themselves to his displeasure. This is a day on which it becomes us to contemplate our situation with seriousness; to inquire into our dangers; to ask ourselves whether we have not provoked divine judgments, and whether divine judgments are not hanging over us; and to implore with humble importunity the forgiveness and blessing of Him, whose word fixes the destinies of nations; whose good providence has been our refuge in the past, whose favour is our only hope for the future.

Perhaps, my friends, we have never before assembled on a day of fasting, when we have had such reason for apprehension and humiliation as at this time. The world is in tears. The fairest portions of the earth, the abodes of civilization and refinement, are laid waste. The storm of war and oppression is spreading its fury and desolation. We not only hear it at a distance; it approaches us, and threatens all we hold dear. Nation after nation is falling with a portentous sound; while the conqueror discovers no symptoms of being wearied with his work. It is not enough that so many thousands of victims have bled on the altar of his ambition. It is not enough that so many ancient thrones have fallen at his feet. Every new acquisition serves but to enlarge his views, and is regarded but as the pledge and promise of wider domination.

At this awful period well may we fear. The stoutest heart may be excused, if it trembles at the scenes, which open before us. On this day, when our sins and dangers as a people are the very objects, on which we ought to fix attention, my mind is irresistibly impelled to dwell on the judgments of God, which are abroad in the earth, and on the ground we have for apprehending, that these judgments, will visit us also. In discoursing on these subjects, I do not feel that I am departing from my province as a minister of Christ. As Christians, we ought to have a strong and lively sensibility to the miseries of the world in which we live, and especially to the miseries which threaten ourselves, and all whom we love. As Christians, we have the deepest concern in the present state of the world; for the interests of religion and morality, as well as national independence and prosperity, are threatened by the great enemy of mankind.

I have been led to select the words of the text on the present occasion, as it appears to me that the reproach, which they contain, applies strongly to this country. It may be said of us, as of the ancient Jews, that we do “not discern the signs of the times”;—that we are insensible to the peculiar character and features of the age, in which we live. I will not say, that the present age is as strongly marked or distinguished from all other ages, as that in which Jesus Christ appeared: but with that single exception, perhaps the present age is the most eventful period, the world has ever known. We live in times, which have no parallel in past ages; in times when the human character has almost assumed a new form; in times of peculiar calamity, of thick darkness, and almost of despair.—But to me it appears, that as a people we “do not discern the signs of the times;”—that we have no just impression of the awful, disastrous state of the world; and it is this insensibility which strikes me as one of the most alarming symptoms in our condition. The danger is so vast, so awful and so obvious, that the blindness, the indifference which prevail, argue infatuation, and give room for apprehension, that nothing can rouse us to those efforts, by which alone the danger can be averted.

Am I asked, what there is so peculiar and so tremendous in the times in which we live? My sentiments on this subject I shall now offer, I hope from pure motives, with the spirit of Christian benevolence, not wishing to force my views on others, but to excite serious, impartial attention to a subject, which almost overwhelms me with its solemnity and importance. Am I then asked, what there is so peculiar and so tremendous in our times?—I answer; In the very heart of Europe, in the centre of the civilized world, a new power has suddenly arisen, on the ruins of old institutions, peculiar in its character, and most ruinous in its influence. We there see a nation, which, from its situation, its fertility, and population, has always held a commanding rank in Europe, suddenly casting off the form of government, the laws, the habits, the spirit, by which it was assimilated to surrounding nations, and by which it gave to surrounding nations the power of restraining it; and all at once assuming a new form, and erecting a new government, free in name and profession, but holding at its absolute disposal the property and life of every subject, and directing all its energies to the subjugation of foreign countries. We see the supreme power of this nation passing in rapid succession from one hand to another.—But its object never changes.—We see it dividing and corrupting by its arts, and then overwhelming by its arms, the nations which surround it. We see one end steadily kept in view—the creation of an irresistible, military power. For this end, we see every man, in the prime of life, subjected to military service. We see military talent every where excited, and by every means rewarded. The arts of life, agriculture, commerce, all are of secondary value. In short, we see a mighty nation sacrificing every blessing, in the prosecution of an unprincipled attempt at universal conquest.

The result, you well know. The surrounding nations, unprepared for this new conflict, and absolutely incapacitated by their old habits and institutions, to meet this new power on equal terms, have fallen in melancholy succession; and each, as it has fallen, has swelled by its plunder the power and rapacity of its conquerors. We now behold this nation triumphant over continental Europe. Its armies are immensely numerous; yet the number is not the circumstance which renders them most formidable. These armies have been trained to conquest by the most perfect discipline. At their head are generals, who have risen only by military merit. They are habituated to victory, and their enemies are habituated to defeat.

All this immense power is now centered in one hand, wielded by one mind,—a mind formed in scenes of revolution and blood,—a mind most vigorous and capacious; but whose capacity is filled with plans of dominion and devastation.—It has not room for one thought of mercy.—The personal character of Napoleon is of itself sufficient to inspire the gloomiest forebodings.—But in addition to his lust for power, he is almost impelled by the necessity of his circumstances, to carry on the bloody work of conquest. His immense armies, the only foundations of his empire, must be supported.—Impoverished France however cannot give them support. They must therefore live on the spoils of other nations. But the nations which they successively spoil, and whose industry and arts they extinguish, cannot long sustain them.—Hence they must pour themselves into new regions. Hence plunder, devastation, and new conquests are not merely the outrages of wanton barbarity; they are essential even to the existence of this tremendous power.

What overwhelming, disheartening prospects are these! In the midst of Christendom, this most sanguinary power has reared its head, and holds the world in defiance—and now let me ask, How are we impressed in these dark, disastrous times?—Here is enough to rend the heart of sensibility. Here is every form of misery. We are called to sympathize with fallen greatness, with descendants of ancient sovereigns, hurled from their thrones, and case out to contempt; and if these will not move us, our sympathy is demanded by a wretched peasantry, driven from their humble roofs, and abandoned to hunger and unsheltered poverty. The decaying city, the desolated country, the weeping widow, the forsaken orphan, call on us for our tears. Nations broken in spirit, yet forced to smother their sorrows, call on us, with a silent eloquence, to feel for their wrongs;—and how are we moved by these scenes of ruin, horror, and alarm? Does there not, my friends, prevail among us a cold indifference, as if all this were nothing to us, as if no tie of brotherhood bound us to these sufferers? Are we not prone to follow the authors of this ruin with an admiration of their power and success, which almost represses our abhorrence of their unsparing cruelty?

But we are not merely insensible to the calamities of other nations. There is a still stranger insensibility to our own dangers. We seem determined to believe, that this storm will spend all its force at a distance. The idea, that we are marked out as victims of this all-destroying despotism, that our turn is to come and perhaps is near,—this idea strikes on most minds as a fiction. Our own deep interest in the present conflict is unfelt even by some, who feel as they ought for other nations.

It is asked, what has a nation so distant as America to fear from the power of France? I answer. The history of all ages teaches us, all our knowledge of human nature teaches us, that a nation of vast and unrivalled power is to be feared by all the world. Even had France attained her present greatness under a long established government, without any of the habits, which the revolution has formed, the world ought to view her with trembling jealousy. What nation ever enjoyed such power without abusing it? But France is not a common nation. We must not apply to her common rules. Conquest is her trade, her business, her recreation. The lust of power is the very vital principle of this new nation. Her strength is drained out to supply her armies;—her talents exhausted in preparing schemes of wider domination. War, war, is the solemn note which resounds through every department of state. And is such a nation to be viewed with indifference, with unconcern? Have we nothing to fear because an ocean rolls between us?

Will it be said that the conqueror has too much work at home to care for America? He has indeed work at home; but unhappily for this country, that work ever brings us to his view. There is one work, one object, which is ever present to the mind of Napoleon. It mingles with all his thoughts. It is his dream by night, his care by day. He did not forget it on the shores of the Baltic, or the banks of the Danube.—The ruin of England is the first, the most settled purpose of his heart. That nation is the only barrier to his ambition. In the opulence, the energy, the public spirit, the liberty of England, he sees the only obstacles to universal dominion. England once fallen, and the civilized world lies at his feet. England erect, and there is one asylum for virtue, magnanimity, freedom; one spark which may set the world on fire; one nation to encourage the disaffected, to hold up to the oppressed the standard of revolt. England therefore is the great object of the hostile fury of the French emperor. England is the great end of his plans; and his plans of course embrace all nations, which come in contact with England; which love or hate her, which can give her support, or contribute to her downfall.

We then, we may be assured, are not overlooked by Napoleon. We are a nation sprung from England. We have received from her our laws, and many of our institutions. We speak her language, and in her language we dare to express the indignation, which she feels at oppression. Besides, we have other ties which connect us with England. We are a commercial people, commercial by habit, commercial by our very situation. But no nation can be commercial without maintaining some connection with England, without having many common interests with her, without strengthening the foundations of her greatness. England is the great emporium of the world; and the conqueror knows, that it is only by extinguishing the commerce of the world, by bringing every commercial nation to bear his yoke, that he can fix a mortal wound on England.—Besides, we are the neighbours of some of an important influence on those channels of her commerce, those sources of her opulence.

Can we then suppose that the ambitious, the keen-sighted Napoleon overlooks us in his scheme of universal conquest; that he wants nothing of us, and is content that we should prosper and be at peace, because we are so distant from his throne? Has he not already told us, that we must embark in his cause? Has he not himself declared war for us against England?

Will it be said, he wants not to conquer us, but only wishes us to be his allies. Allies of France! Is there a man who does not shudder at the thought! Is there one who had not rather struggle nobly, and perish under her open enmity, than be crushed by the embrace of her friendship,—her alliance. To show you the happiness of her alliance, I will not carry you back to Venice, Switzerland, Holland. Their expiring groans are almost forgotten amidst later outrages. Spain, Spain is the ally to whom I would direct you. Are you lovers of treachery, perfidy, rapacity and massacre? Then aspire after the honour which Spain has forfeited, and become the ally of France.

Will it be said that those evils are political evils, and that it is not the province of a minister of religion, to concern himself with temporal affairs? Did I think, my friends, that only political evils were to be dreaded, did I believe that the minds, the character, the morals, the religion of our nation would remain untouched; did I see in French domination nothing but the loss of your wealth, your luxuries, your splendor; could I hope that it would leave unsullied your purity of faith and manners, I would be silent. 1 But religion and virtue, as well as liberty and opulence wither under the power of France. The French revolution was founded in infidelity, impiety, and atheism. This is the spirit of her chiefs, her most distinguished men; and this spirit she breathes, wherever she has influence. It is the most unhappy effect of French domination, that it degrades the human character to the lowest point. No manly virtues grow under this baleful, malignant star. France begins her conquests by corruption, by venality, by bribes; and where she succeeds, her deadly policy secures her from commotion, by quenching all those generous sentiments, which produce revolt under oppression. The conqueror thinks his work not half finished, until the mind is conquered,—its energy broken, its feeling for the public welfare subdued.—Such are the effects of subjection to France, or what is the same thing, of alliance with her: and when we consider how much this subjection is desired by Napoleon; when we consider the power and the arts, which he can combine for effecting his wishes and purposes, what reason have we to tremble!

It may be asked, whether I intend by these remarks to represent my country as hopeless? No, my friends. I have held up the danger of our country in all its magnitude, only that I may in my humble measure excite that spirit, which is necessary, and which by the blessing of Providence may be effectual to avert it. Alarming as our condition is, there does appear to me to be one method of safety, and only one. As a people we must be brought to see and to feel our danger; we must be excited to a public spirit, an energy, a magnanimity, proportioned to the solemnity of the times, in which we are called to act.—If I may be permitted, I would say to the upright, the disinterested, the enlightened friends of their country, that the times demand new and peculiar exertions. In the present state of the world, there is, under God, but one hope of a people; and that is, their own exalted virtue. This therefore should be your object and labour,—to fix the understandings of the people on the calamities, that are approaching them; to enlighten the public mind; to improve our moral feelings; to breathe around you an elevated spirit; to fortify as many hearts as possible with the generous purpose to do all, which men can do, for the preservation of their country.—You should labour, not to excite a temporary paroxysm, for the danger is not to be repelled by a few impassioned efforts. We want a calm and solemn impression fixed in every mind, that we have everything at stake,—that great sacrifices are to be expected, but that the evils are so tremendous as to justify and require every sacrifice. We want to have a general impression made of the character, spirit, designs, power, and arts of France;—of the unparrelled wretchedness, the political, moral, and religious debasement, attendant on union with her, or on subjection to her power. To effect this end I have said, that new exertions should be made. The common vehicles of political information have done, and may do much; but cannot do all, which is required. Authentic publications in the names of our wisest, purest, most venerated citizens should be spread abroad, containing the plain, unexaggerated, uncoloured history of the revolution and domination of France.

It may be said, that the people have all the evidence on this subject already communicated to them.—I fear, that many have not received sufficiently distinct and connected information from sources, on which they rely; and I am confident, that many, who know the truth, need to have the convictions of their understandings converted into active principles, into convictions of the heart. I fear, there are many, who are blinded to the true character of the conqueror of Europe, by the splendor of his victories; many, who attach to him the noble qualities, which have been displayed by other heroes, and who repose a secret hope in his clemency. They ought to know, and they might know, that he has risen to power in a revolution, which has had a peculiar influence in hardening the heart; that his character is unillumined by one ray of beneficence; that he is dark, vindictive, unrelenting; that no man loves him, that he cares for no man’s love; that he asks only to be feared, and that fear and horror are the only sentiments he ought to inspire.

I fear there are many, who attach ideas of happiness and glory to France, because they hear of the conquest of French armies; and I fear that this impression reconciles them to the thought of union with her. They might now, and they ought to know, that France is drinking even to the dregs that cup of sorrow, which she has mingled for other nations. They should be taught, that she is most degraded in her moral and religious condition, and wretchedly impoverished; that her agriculture, her manufactures, her commercial cities are falling to decay; that she is ground with oppressive taxes, most oppressively collected; that her youth are torn from their families, to fill up the constant ravages, which war and disease are making in her armies; that with all her sufferings she is not permitted the poor privilege of complaining; that her cities, villages, and houses are thronged with spies to catch and report the murmurs of disaffection. In a word, the people might and should be taught, that social confidence, public spirit, enterprise, cheerful industry, and moral and religious excellence have almost forsaken that unhappy country.

On these topics, and on many others, which would illustrate the character and tendency of the French domination, might not conviction be carried to some minds at least; and might not many sluggish minds be awakened, if persevering, steady efforts were made by men, whose characters would be pledges of their veracity and disinterestedness. Sudden effects might not be produced, and perhaps sudden effects are not to be desired. We do not want a temporary, evanescent ardour, excited for partial purposes and local objects. We want a rational conviction of their great danger fastened on the people, and a steady and generous purpose to resist it by every means, which Providence has put within their power.—Let me entreat all, who are interested in this great object, the improvement and elevation of public sentiment, to adhere to such means only as are worthy that great end; to suppress and condemn all appeals to unworthy passions, all misrepresentation, and all that abuse, which depraves public taste and sentiment, and makes a man of a pure mind ashamed of the cause, which he feels himself bound to support.—Let me also urge you to check the feelings and the expressions of malignity and revenge. Curses, denunciations, and angry invectives are not the language of that spirit, to which I look for the safety of our country. We ought to know, that the malignant passions of a people are among the powerful instruments, by which the enemy binds them to his yoke. The patriotism, which we need, is a benevolent, generous, forbearing spirit; too much engrossed with the public welfare to be stung by personal opposition; calm and patient in exhibiting the truth; and tolerant towards those, who cannot, or who will not receive it. Let me repeat it; the end, we should propose, the elevation of public sentiment and feeling, is not to be secured by violence or passion, but by truth, from the hearts, and lips, and pens of men, whose lives and characters will give it energy.

But as the most effectual method of exalting the views, purposes, and character of our nation, let me entreat you, who are lovers of your country, to labour with all your power to diffuse the faith and practice of the gospel of Christ. The prevalence of true Christianity is the best defense of a nation, especially at this solemn and eventful period. It will secure to us the blessing of Almighty God; and it will operate more powerfully than any other cause, in making us recoil from the embrace of France. No greater repugnance can be conceived, than what subsists between the mild, humane, peaceful, righteous, and devout spirit of the gospel, and the impious, aspiring, and rapacious spirit of this new nation. Christianity will indeed exclude from our breasts all feelings of ill-will, malice, and revenge towards France and her sovereign;—for these are feelings, which it never tolerates. But it will inspire an holy abhorrence of her spirit and designs, and will make us shudder at the thought of sinking under her power, or aiding her success.

But it becomes us to promote Christianity, not only because it will help to save our country.—We should cherish and diffuse it, because it will be a refuge and consolation, even should our country fall; a support, which the oppressor cannot take from us. The sincere Christian is not comfortless even in the darkest and most degenerate times. He knows, that oppressive power is but for a moment; and his benevolence is animated by the promise of God, that even in this world, this scene of cruelty and wretchedness, there will yet be enjoyed the reign of peace, of truth, and holiness under the benignant Saviour. And this is not all. He looks upwards with a serene and ennobling hope to another and a better world, where the wicked never trouble, where the weary are at rest; where the rage of party never agitates; where he shall be associated with wise, pure, and good beings, in retracing and admiring the dispensations of Providence, under which he now suffers; in exploring and extolling the works, ways, and perfections of God, and in accomplishing with an ardent and unwearied love his benevolent designs.—May we, my friends, so pass through this stormy world, so fulfill our duty in this dark and trying day, that we shall be welcomed to the abodes of light and peace through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

AMEN.NOTE.

I insert this note, that I may express more fully my sorrow and dismay at the influence of the French domination on the moral and religious state of the world. I need not recall to my readers the blasphemies and impieties of the authors of the French revolution. Oh, that their spirit had perished with them! But the shock, which they gave to the religious principles and feelings of their own and other nations, is still felt. I have heard truly affecting accounts of the depraved state of France, of the general insensibility to God which pervades the nation, of the selfishness and licentiousness of the rich, of the fraud and oppression of men in power, and of the want of mutual confidence among all ranks of people.

Wherever the French power extends, the same effects are produced. A cold and suspicious selfishness is diffused through society. Traitors are rewarded with power. An invisible army of spies, more terrible than the legions of the conqueror, are scattered abroad to repress that frank communication, which relieves and improves the heart. The press is in bondage. Nothing issues from it, but what accords with the views of the conqueror. Offensive truth is a crime not easily expiated. Under such strong temptations to flattery and deceit, the love of truth cannot long subsist. I fear, that if the fall of England should place the world in the power of France, the press would become the greatest scourge of mankind. No sentiments, but what are approved by an unprincipled despotism, would reach the next generation; and these sentiments would be poured into their minds, by means of the press, with a facility never possessed before the discovery of printing.

Let me here observe, that the contrast of England with France in point of morals and religion is one ground of hope to the devout mind in these dark and troubled times. On this subject, I have heard but one opinion from good men, who have visited the two countries. The character of England is to be estimated particularly from what may be called the middle class of society, the most numerous class in all nations, and more numerous and influential in England than in any other nation of Europe. The warm piety, the active benevolence, and the independent and manly thinking, which are found in this class, do encourage me in the belief, that England will not be forsaken by God in her solemn struggle.

I feel myself bound to all nations by the ties of a common nature, a common father, and a common Saviour. But I feel a peculiar interest in England; for I believe, that there Christianity is exerting its best influences on the human character; that there the perfections of human nature, wisdom, virtue and piety, are fostered by excellent institutions, and are producing the delightful fruits of domestic happiness, social order, and general prosperity. It is a hope, which I could not resign without anguish, that the “prayers and alms” of England “will come up for a memorial before God,” and will obtain for her his sure protection against the common enemy of the civilized world.

 


Endnotes

1. See Note.

 

* Originally Posted: Dec. 26, 2016

Proclamation – Fasting – 1870

William Claflin (1818-1905) was governor of Massachusetts from 1869-1872. Here is his proclamation for a statewide day of fasting and prayer for April 7, 1870. Notice the mention he makes of “The request of a few that this custom [of issuing proclamations] be discontinued…”



Commonwealth of Massachusetts

By His Excellency

William Claflin,

Governor:

A Proclamation

For a day of Fasting and Prayer.

The season has returned which our pious ancestors deemed suitable to a public acknowledgment of dependence upon the goodness of God.

The request of a few, that this custom be discontinued, manifestly does not express the feeling of any considerable number of the people of the Commonwealth.

And it is certainly desirable that among us there be no diminution of the religious sentiment which originated the usage.

If the observance of the day has degenerated from its original idea, we should use it as described by the prophet in Holy Writ, proclaiming “an acceptable fast to  the Lord.”

It is not to “bow the head as a bulrush,” but to “loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free.”

“Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?”

It is therefore recommended that Thursday, the Seventh day of April Next, be devoted to Fasting and Prayer, and to the exercise of those benevolent purposes which denote sincere humility of heart toward God and the recognition of our obligations to our fellow-men.

As we engage in public, worship, let us pray Him who rules the destinies of Nations, that He may preserve us from the dreaded pestilence, that He may give us freedom from wars and tumults, that He may bestow plentiful harvests, and secure to each a just recompense for his labors; and that we may be blessed with good order and good government, which are so essential to the prosperity of the States and Nations. Let us remember in our prayers the bereaved and sorrowing and ask for them the consolations which are granted to those who look with faith to the great source of all comfort. And let us ask of God the strength and wisdom necessary to develop in us those principles of piety, charity, and good will, which are man’s distinguishing attributes; and to add to His other blessings the full forgiveness of sin through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Given at the Council Chamber, in Boston, this third day of March, in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and seventy, and of the Independence of the United states of America the ninety-fourth.

William Claflin

By His Excellency the Governor,

By and With the Advice and consent of the Council.

Oliver Warner, Secretary.

God Save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Proclamation – Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer – 1799

John Adams (1735-1826) Adams was an attorney, diplomat, and statesman; he graduated from Harvard (1755); leader in the opposition to the Stamp Act (1765); delegate to the Continental Congress (1774-77) where he signed the Declaration of Independence (1776); appointed Chief Justice of Superior Court of Massachusetts (1775); delegate to the Massachusetts constitutional convention (1779-80) and wrote most of the first draft of the Massachusetts Constitution; foreign ambassador to Holland (1782); signed the peace treaty which ended the American Revolution (1783); foreign ambassador to Great Britain (1785-88); served two terms as Vice-President under President George Washington (1789-97); second President of the United States (1797-1801); he and his one time political nemesis- turned-close-friend Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence; Adams was titled by fellow signer of the Declaration Richard Stockton as the “Atlas of American Independence.”

This is the text of a national day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer proclamation issued by President John Adams. This proclamation was issued on March 6, 1799 declaring April 25, 1799 the day of fasting for the nation. See a sermon preached by Rev. Manneseh Cutler on the 1799 fast day here.



By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

As no truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration, nor any more fully demonstrated by the experience of all ages, than that a deep sense and a due acknowledgment of the governing providence of a Supreme Being and of the accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of hearts and righteous distributor of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness and rectitude of individuals and to the well-being of communities; as it is also most reasonable in itself that men who are made capable of social acts and relations, who owe their improvements to the social state, and who derive their enjoyments from it, should, as a society, make their acknowledgments of dependence and obligation to Him who hath endowed them with these capacities and elevated them in the scale of existence by these distinctions; as it is likewise a plain dictate of duty and a strong sentiment of nature that in circumstances of great urgency and seasons of imminent danger earnest and particular supplications should be made to Him who is able to defend or to destroy; as, moreover, the most precious interests of the people of the United States are still held in jeopardy by the hostile designs and insidious acts of a foreign nation, as well as by the dissemination among them of those principles, subversive of the foundations of all religious, moral, and social obligations, that have produced incalculable mischief and misery in other countries; and as, in fine, the observance of special seasons for public religious solemnities is happily calculated to avert the evils which we ought to deprecate and to excite to the performance of the duties which we ought to discharge by calling and fixing the attention of the people at large to the momentous truths already recited, by affording opportunity to teach and inculcate them by animating devotion and giving to it the character of a national act:

For these reasons I have thought proper to recommend, and I do hereby recommend accordingly, that Thursday, the Twenty-fifth day of April next, be observed throughout the United States of America as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens on that day abstain as far as may be from their secular occupations, devote the time to the sacred duties of religion in public and in private; that they call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions in time to come; that He would interpose to arrest the progress of that impiety and licentiousness in principle and practice so offensive to Himself and so ruinous to mankind; that He would make us deeply sensible that “righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people;” that He would turn us from our transgressions and turn His displeasure from us; that He would withhold us from unreasonable discontent, from disunion, faction, sedition, and insurrection; that He would preserve our country from the desolating sword; that He would save our cities and towns from a repetition of those awful pestilential visitations under which they have lately suffered so severely, and that the health of our inhabitants generally may be precious in His sight; that He would favor us with fruitful seasons and so bless the labors of the husbandman as that there may be food in abundance for man and beast; that He would prosper our commerce, manufactures, and fisheries, and give success to the people in all their lawful industry and enterprise; that He would smile on our colleges, academies, schools, and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of sound science, morals, and religion; that He would bless all magistrates, from the highest to the lowest, give them the true spirit of their station, make them a terror to evil doers and a praise to them that do well; that He would preside over the councils of the nation at this critical period, enlighten them to a just discernment of the public interest, and save them from mistake, division, and discord; that He would make succeed our preparations for defense and bless our armaments by land and by sea; that He would put an end to the effusion of human blood and the accumulation of human misery among the contending nations of the earth by disposing them to justice, to equity, to benevolence, and to peace; and that he would extend the blessings of knowledge, of true liberty. and of pure and undefiled religion throughout the world.

And I do, also, recommend that with these acts of humiliation, penitence, and prayer, fervent thanksgiving to the Author of all good be united for the countless favors which He is still continuing to the people of the United States, and which render their condition as a nation eminently happy when compared with the lot of others.

Given, under my hand and the seal of the United States of America, at the city of Philadelphia, this sixth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety nine, and of the Independence of the said States the twenty-third.

By the President, John Adams.

Timothy Pickering, Secretary of State.

* Originally Posted: September 9, 2017

Proclamation – Lord’s Day – 1782

John Dickinson (1732-1808) was a lawyer, statesman, and soldier during the War for Independence. He wrote, among many other pieces, the Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania which were highly praised both in the colonies and abroad. Although he was a delegate to Continental Congress, he absented himself from the vote to adopt on the grounds of wishing to have more secure footing before igniting war with Briton. This, however, did do keep Dickinson from fully supporting the measure upon its adoption and throwing all his energies toward securing the liberty of America.

He was held in an extremely high regard by the other notable men of the time, with Dr. Benjamin Rush remarking that, “Few men wrote, spoke and acted more for their country from the year 1764 to the establishment of the federal government than Mr. Dickinson.”

The following is a prayer proclamation John Dickinson issued while he was the president of Pennsylvania in 1782.



By the President and Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,

A Proclamation.

As the best and greatest of Beings commanded mankind into existence with a capacity for happiness, bestowing upon them understanding and many “good gifts”; so when they, by an abuse of the blessings thus intrusted, had involved themselves in guilt and misery, his compassion was extended towards them, and in “his tender mercies,” not only “seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night,” were continued unto them, but “the eternal purposes’ were revealed, and the heavenly treasuries opened, to restore the human race to the transcendent privilege from which by transgression they were fallen: And in this “marvelous work,” the laws of righteousness have been with such infinite wisdom adjusted, and united to the obligation of nature, that while they jointly tended to promote the felicity of men in a future state, they evidently cooperate to advance their welfare in the present, and to offend against the sanctions of revelation, of the dictates of reason and conscience, is suredly to betray the joys of this life, as well as those of another.

Wherefore, as we are entirely persuaded that just impressions of the deity are the great supports of morality, And As the experience of ages demonstrates, that regularity of manners is essential to the tranquility and prosperity of societies, And the assistance of the Almighty, on which we rely, to establish the inestimable blessings our afflicted country is contending for, cannot be expected without an observance of his holy laws, We esteem it our principal and indispensable duty to endeavor, as much as we can, that a sense of these interesting truths may prevail in the hearts and appear in the lives of the inhabitants of this state; And Therefore have thought proper to issue this Proclamation, sincerely desiring that they seriously meditating on the many signal and unmerited benefits of public and private import conferred upon them, the affecting invitations and munificent promises of divine goodness, and the “terrors set in array” against disobedient, may be urged to exert themselves in avoiding, discountenancing, and suppressing all vice, profaneness and immorality, and feeling a due gratitude, love,and veneration for their most gracious, all-wise , and omnipotent Benefactor, Sovereign, and Judge, and correspondent temper of resignation to the dispensations of his Supreme Government, may become a people “trusting in him, in whom they live and move and doing good.”

And to the intent that these desirable ends may be forwarded, all persons are herby fervently exhorted, to observe the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday, and thereon constantly to attend the worship of God, as a service pleasing to him who is, “a hearer of prayer,” and condescends to “inhabit the praises of his people,” and profitable to themselves; a neglect of which duty has, in multitude of instances, been the beginning of a deviation into the ways of presumption, that at length have led into the deepest distresses and severest sorrows:

And As the education of youth is of so much moment to themselves and to the commonwealth, which cannot flourish unless that important point be diligently regarded, the sentiments, dispositions, and habits begin then generally formed that pervade the rest of their lives, all parents, guardians, masters, and tutors are herby strenuously called upon, to discharge the high trust committed to them, and for which they must account, by a faithful attention; that those under their care may be nurtured in piety, filial reverence, submission to superiors in age or station, modesty, sincerity, benevolence, temperance, industry, consistency of behavior, and frugality regulated by an humble reliance on Providence, and a kind respect for others; that their inexperienced minds may be by wholesome instructions fully convinced, that whatever employment they are designed for, virtue will be a chief promoter of success, and irregularity of conduct the greatest obstacle to it; that the intellectual faculties are aided by moral improvements, but weakened by illicit courses; and in brief, that Religion is the fiend of their peace,health and happiness; and that to displease their Maker, or trespass against their neighbor, is inevitably to inure themselves.

And we expect and hereby require, that all well disposed persons, and especially those in places of authority, will by their conversation and demeanor encourage and promote piety and virtue, and to their utmost contribute to the rendering these qualities truly laudable and honorable, and the contrary practices justly shameful and contemptible; that thus the influence of good men, and the dignity of the laws, may be combined in repressing the follies and insolencies of scorners and profligates, in directing the weak and thoughtless, and in preserving them from the pernicious contagion of evil examples; And for further promoting such reformation, it is hereby enjoined, that all magistrates, and others whom it may concern, be very vigilant and exact in discovering, prosecuting, and punishing all persons who shall be guilty of profanation of the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday, blasphemy, profane swearing or cursing, drunkenness, lewdness, or other dissolute or immoral practices; that they suppress all gaming houses, and other disorderly houses, that they put in execution the act of General Assembly, entitled, “An Act for the suppression of Vice and Immorality,” and all other laws now in force for the punishing and suppressing any vice, profaneness or immorality: And for the more effectual proceeding herein, all Judges and Justice, having cognizance in the premises, are directed to give strict charges at their respective Courts and Sessions, for the due prosecution and punishment of all who shall presume to offend in any of the kinds aforesaid; and also of all such as, contrary to their duty, shall be remiss or negligent in putting the laws in execution: And that they do at their respective Courts and Sessions cause this Proclamation to be publicly read, immediately before the charge is given: And every Minister of the Gospel is requested strongly to inculcate in the respective congregations where they officiate, a love of piety and virtue, and an abhorrence of vice, profaneness, and immorality.

Given in council, under the hand of the President, and the Seal of the State, at Philadelphia, this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty two.

Attest. T. Matlack, Secretary.

John Dickinson.

God Save the Commonwealth.

Sermon – Fasting – 1836, Massachusetts (Gunnison)

The Nation’s Progress,

Or

Licentiousness and Ruin,

A Discourse,

Delivered on the Evening of the

Annual Fast in Massachusetts,

April 7, 1836.

 

By John Gunnison,

Pastor of the Union Evangelical Church

Of Amesbury and Salisbury.

 

“Their rules of life,

Defective and unsanctioned, prove too weak

To bind the roving appetite, and lead

Blind nature up to God.” Cowper.

 

Amesbury:

Printed by J. Caldwell,

Courier Press.

 

Discourse.

 

Psalm XXII: 23.

The Kingdom is the Lord’s; He is the governor among the nations.

Psalm II:9. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.

 

These sentiments are but dimly recognized, either by the rulers or the ruled of this world. That the world belongs to God–that He made it–that He governs it–and that He will dispose of it, are facts seldom presenting themselves, in all the impressiveness of their vast reality, before the great mass of human minds. It is true men do not–they dare not–in so many words deny the rightful dominion of God; yet they do virtually exclude Him from his own kingdom. By enacting laws, and cherishing principles, and setting examples, in direct contrariety to the divine law, rulers ask, in language by no means equivocal; “Who is the Lord, that we should obey Him?” –and by following out his spirit in their allowed practices, the great mass of men say, “There is no God!”

 Now here we detect the specious machinery of atheism. The simple fact that men deny their obligations to God, or attempt unrighteously to cancel these obligations, shows beyond doubt that they deem themselves their own masters, created for their own gratification, with a perfect right to live exclusively to themselves. Yet, notwithstanding the universality of this practical atheism, “The kingdom is the Lord’s, and He is governor among the nations.” This is God’s world. He made it. He preserves it, and to his righteous disposal it must ultimately submit.

“Why then do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? Why do the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, let us break their bands asunder, and let us cast their cords away from us? He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall have them in derision. He shall speak to them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.”

 It would seem that the fact of God’s rightful authority should have exerted, ere this, a constraining influence upon the world which he has made. Such however is not the result. It has been true in all time that men are “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” If we survey the first sinner, upon his expulsion from paradise, or mark the malice of Cain, or the ambition of Nimrod; or if we trace down in all its length the mighty stream of generations past, we perceive the same features, and the same proofs of practical atheism, in the great mass of men, of every period and of every clime.

 The idolatry of the Canaanites, the abominations of Israel, he tyranny of Ahab, the cruelties of Nero, the fires of the Inquisition, and the blasphemies of Voltaire and Paine, although standing out as monitory way-marks in the “course of time,” are by no means extraordinary exhibitions. They serve indeed as beacons for us to gaze at and as facts to converse upon and occasions from which wrongfully to infer our own virtue, and to congratulate our own age and country upon the refinement of intellect–the reign of liberty–and the influence of religion–when, in sober truth, the same great outlines of oppression, idolatrous love to the world, atheism, and unblushing sin, in all their essential elements, live and operate in our own bosoms–expand by our firesides–give complexion to our social interviews–pollute our sanctuaries– bask beneath the tree of liberty and assume the control of our national and state legislatures.

In confirmation of these remarks, it seems needful only to survey the existing state of the public mind and the public morals in our own land.

 From the morals of a community may always be inferred the virtue or licentiousness of public sentiment; and on the other hand, the public mind is always a true index of the public morals. That era of anarchy and misrule which changed the most populous cities of France into a modern Golgotha, by the sacrifice of not fewer than three millions of human beings upon the altar of cruelty and lust, did not at once burst forth, without having been preceded by the state of mind and morals, in perfect accordance with all the fatal transactions of that dark period.

Previous to the out-breaking of the French Revolution, it is a well-known historical fact, that the public mind had become notoriously licentious. It is true, that a “form of godliness” was sustained; nor is it less true, that atheism was openly avowed by many, and secretly cherished by more, whose place and whose privilege it was to give form, and force, and character to the public mind.

 Licentiousness of sentiment, therefore, may justly be regarded as the pioneer which preceded and effectually prepared the way for the abolition of God’s sabbath–the prostitution of His ordinances, and the entire reign of terror which ensued. And is not similar licentiousness of sentiment now a marked, and by no means a happy feature of our national mind?

The Press, in these States, is an engine of immense power indeed, with some qualification, may it not be denominated the presiding genius of our law, religion, and liberty? What then is the general character of the American press? Is it, or is it not anti-Christian? In reference to the great mass of periodicals devoted to politics, may it not justly be asserted, that their influence, in this point of view, is bad, decidedly bad? To profit, or party, or popularity, most of them are manifestly pledged; wholly irrespective of those eternal obligations which bind all men to act for God and virtue. And what shall be said of scores even, among those nominally devoted to the advancement of God’s kingdom? Is it not their direct tendency to undermine the deep and everlasting foundations of the gospel? It cannot be denied, that to a considerable extent, through the press, the public mind is infected with the spirit of a religion, which not only fails of recognizing God as the moral Governor of the world, and contemplating man as a lost and guilty being, whose only refuge from “the wrath to come” is in the cross of Christ–but a religion which commends itself to the worldly, the careless and the profane, by casting a false garb over the deep depravity of the heart–by trifling with sin, and sneering at accountability and a “judgment to come.” “Christ and the Church!” was the motto of our puritan fathers; but this perverted public sentiment leaves God, and Christ, and holiness, and the Church altogether in the back ground. And have not the magistrate and the preacher aided the press and contributed their full share in this deterioration of public sentiment?

 Whether the multitude range themselves under the undisguised banner of infidelity, or embrace a system claiming affinity with the scriptures, the operation of one and the same spirit seems widely prevalent. This spirit manifestly seeks to deny, evade or explain away the great distinguishing doctrines of revelation–to keep the awful attributes of God out of sight–to hurl conscience from her throne–to blot out accountability–to reduce heaven and hell and holiness to the mere imagery of a disordered brain, and with one sweeping stroke, to prostrate all those cardinal truths which alone can exert a redeeming influence upon fallen man.

 There was a period in our history, when the public sentiment (especially of New England) contemplated man, not as the mere creature of time and chance and reason; but as a being of eternal destination–a subject of God’s moral government–most strongly bound to recognize the law of his Creator and to live for eternity, his final abode. Then, appeals were made, both by the magistrate, the preacher, and the press, to the moral obligation and the living conscience of men.

Then, instead of eulogizing the all-sufficiency of reason, and man’s native purity, and God’s indulgent tenderness toward sin; instead of speaking with complacency of the imperfection of the scriptures, and the innocent frailties of human nature; and the trifling importance of vital godliness–public sentiment recognized distinctly through all its mediums, the “desperate wickedness” of unrenewed hearts; the personality and office word of the Holy Ghost; the vicarious sufferings of “God manifest in the flesh;” the supremacy of the scriptures; and the indispensableness of that new-birth, without which none can see God in peace.

 Then, God the Creator, God the Lawgiver, God the Governor and God the Judge, both in the world of matter and the world of mind, was acknowledged; and the elements of man’s spiritual and accountable being were aroused and put in motion by appeals to his actual state, in relation to those everlasting truths revealed in the scriptures.

 And what was the result upon the Puritans themselves, and their immediate descendants? Why (to borrow the language of a certain writer, not far from a century subsequent to the landing of the pilgrims) –“The name and interest of God has been written upon us, in capital letters, from the beginning. How did our fathers entertain the gospel from the first, with all the institution thereof! How much of “holiness to the Lord; was inscribed upon all their ways and works@ and how do we reap the fruits, in the good influence of our pious rulers, and the practice of morality, and the enjoyment of peaceable times!” Near the same period, a member of the British Parliament, in a speech before that body, said– “I have lived in New England seven years, and all that time I never heard one profane oath; and all that time I never saw a man drunk in that land.”

 Now when we wander back through by-gone periods, and contrast the purity of that “olden time” with the corruption of the present, how can we avoid the conviction, that, in the language of Moses to Israel, “Of the Rock that begat us we are unmindful; and have forgotten God, that formed us?” That “we have provoked him to jealousy with new gods, and sacrificed to gods which came newly up, which our fathers feared not?” How can the fact be well concealed that a spirit of practical atheism is not only pervading the domestic circle, but diffusing its baneful influence through the press, and the pulpit, the court of justice, and the hall of legislation?

Is it not obvious that the face of society now exhibits many of those dark presages which ushered in the death-struggle of liberty, religion and law in revolutionary France? Who can fail of perceiving, in “the signs of the times,” a marked contempt of those statutes of eternal righteousness, laid down in the great law-book of heaven? Is it not easy to detect in many features of our political economy and the administration of our civil government, a tacit denial of God’s right and God’s agency, and the great principles of God’s government amongst men?

Instead of making, as did the Puritans, God’s word the polestar and chart of legislative rule and legal enactment, is it not undeniable, that selfishness, reckless of consequences, often binds in fetters of adamant the decisions of the Judge–the doings of State legislatures, and the acts of Congress?

 Time was, when for arresting with a bold and fearless hand, the current of death in its fatal sweep over the community, a worthy citizen could not have been personally abused, legally prohibited the liberty of speech, fined, and condemned to solitary imprisonment; and the reckless ruffian exculpated from the due rewards of his deeds, and virtually commended for personal insult and brutal force! In the better days of New England, such an act of palpable disregard to righteousness in high places would have eclipsed her glory, and darkened the promise of her brightening hopes.

 But now, such a transaction may command public applause; and in perfect keeping with the spirit by which this is prompted, the system of retailing strong drink at the corner of every street, and in almost every dark receptacle of sin, is legalized, and guarded and watched over, and invested with energy and power, and progress, by those august bodies, which are entrusted with the guardianship of the commonwealth, and solemnly pledged to act for the public good. It would seem that the iniquitous system of “rum-shops and ruin,” which has so long obliterated the fear and counteracted the truth of God; and preyed upon the very vitals of our communities; I say, it would seem that this ruinous system should have failed ere this to command the influence of legislative enactments, and the fostering guardianship of the law.

 Indeed, it is matter both of astonishment and mortification, that in such a land, and at such a day, the cause of distillers, drunkards and criminals can be vindicated by the majesty of the statute book! Yet such is the fact; and the position (of some at least) of our constituted authorities, in relation to the distillery and the dram-shop, is such, in the judgment of sober charity, as to exclude the moral government of God and the accountability of man altogether from the public mind! And how shall it be accounted for? Why truly, “the powers that be” seem, at least in this respect, moved and influenced by that greater power, denominated in scripture phrase, “the God of this world.” Fear of public odium–love of sensual indulgence, or self-interest, in some one or other of its numerous forms, appears to have perverted the judgments–blinded the perception, and eradicated from the ethics of our rulers, those eternal principles of righteousness, which only can “exalt a nation.” And thus it comes to pass that in instances, too numerous, both the maker and the executor of the law sacrifice the interests of two worlds upon the polluted and polluting altar of selfishness.

In fact, the publicly legalized and cherished manufacture and sale of intoxicating drinks, with its associated sisterhood of vices, affords fearful indication that the death-struggle of virtue is about being witnessed; and that Jehovah is suffering us as a nation, to strengthen ourselves “against the Almighty;” and to rush madly “upon the thick bosses of his burning buckler.”

Associated with this sin and invigorated by the atmosphere of a lax religious sentiment, is the open and allowed and legalized desecration of God’s sabbath.

It is ours, not only to witness in the common walks of life, the transaction of secular business–the idleness– the labor, and the sport, which, from the gray-headed to the little child, alarmingly mark the Lord’s day; but also, to see our national legislature lay reckless hands upon that sacred institution, by employing scores of thousands in conveying the mails, discharging the duties of the Post Office, drilling at military stations, and attending to secular business, in various other departments of the  general government; and thus giving the whole country a precedent for travelling, boating, gambling, horse-racing, or whatever else may suit their own convenience or profit, or pleasure on that day, with the sanctification of which is entwined the very life of our country’s welfare. And it might with propriety be added, that the personal example of our rulers, from the highest to the lowest, with few exceptions, indicates in this respect, the prevalence of an infidelity, the sad story of which will probably be read by coming generations, in the gone-by glory and departed worth of this once favored land. Here again we can but perceive marked forgetfulness of God, rebellion against His laws, and a tacit denial that “the kingdom is the Lord’s; that he is Governor amongst the nation’s.”

An additional feature of the same degeneracy may be seen in the gross, growing, and disgraceful violation of the seventh commandment; under which, to say the least, every city, and village, and considerable town groans and becomes infected with the elements both of literal and spiritual death. This “body of sin” has filled our moral atmosphere with pestilential vapors; and in conjunction with infidelity, intemperance and sabbath breaking, consigned to the grave and a hopeless eternity.

“Tis a vortex insatiate, on whose giddy bosom,

The victim is whirl’d, till his senses are gone;

When lost to all shame, and the dictates of reason,

He lends not an effort to ever return.”

How many have found its ‘end as bitter as wormwood;” and mourned “at last, when their flesh and body are consumed!” and yet it is tolerated by the laxity of public religious sentiment. The prevailing skepticism, in regard to God’s government and God’s truth, gives it countenance; and the pulpit, and the press, and the ruler have forborne to portray its hideous features, and to hang out for the benefit of the young and unsuspecting, such beacons as should effectually deter them from that pathway which leads “down to hell.” And hence, it has continued to extend its ravages and multiply its victims, and increase its pollutions, in our nominally Christian communities–in which even, there has seemed to be too little virtue to check its onward march! Nevertheless, “Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience!”

“Whoremongers and adulterers, He will judge!”

To the foregoing it were well to add, in all their deteriorating attitudes, and disgraceful mobs, the deliberate assassinations, the gambling, the perjury and bribes, which in most parts of the country, stalk forth at noon day. But time forbids. Justice, however, demands the introduction of one other, and peradventure, the chief of this sisterhood of harpies, who have already commenced their prey upon our body politic; and are rapidly bearing off in their foul talons, the guards of liberty, the restraints of law, and the sanctions of religion. I allude to American Slavery. “That we have in the midst of us more than town millions of human being in servile bondage, is a fact suited to awaken the deepest solicitude and the most fearful apprehension.” This simple fact of itself is a caricature upon all the institutions of our boasted democracy; it gives the lie to our constitution; and holds us up to the world as a nation of hypocrites and oppressors! Such is the attitude in which it inevitably places these United States.

Nor is it amongst the least of the alarming features of this great national sin, that it finds a congenial atmosphere in the capital of this falsely-called “asylum of the oppressed;” and beneath the very eye of the constituted guardians of liberty!

Think of the spectacle. On the one hand, imagine the American eagle proudly towering above the nation’s dome, the ensign of equal rights; and on the other, –perchance within the very shadow which this proud ensign casts upon the distance–scores or hundreds of human beings, lacerated by the lash, groaning beneath the chain, or being bought and sold like beasts of burden! And those too, MEN, to whom equally with ourselves, not only the Constitution, but the God of nature, has guaranteed the “inalienable rights” of “life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness!” A spectacle sufficiently ludicrous one might suppose, to ensure its suppression, even were it not attended with superlative guilt. But alas! When we enter the halls of Congress; when we listen to the sentiments advanced by many of those legislators who lay high claim to patriotism, devotion to the cause of liberty, and even deference for the bible, we can be tremble for our political ark. There, in the legitimate spirit of despotism, we hear the right, and even the virtue of slavery asserted. Here, in too many lamentable instances, we see a disposition to sacrifice upon the altar of lust and licentiousness, whatever is valuable in our bill of rights, and whatever is obligatory in the law of love. It is a dark omen–that Columbia, the seat of government, the alledged strong-hold of liberty, the focus of equal rights, should after all be the greatest slave market perhaps in the Christian world, is a fact pregnant with the most fearful evils. The “mischief” however, thus “framed by law, and proceeding from the throne of iniquity,’ terminates not with the sacrifice of the flesh, and blood, and souls of nearly three millions of immortal beings; but like the poisonous effluvia from the fabled bohon upas, it impregnates the whole atmosphere of our republic.

Witness its influence in the interception and robbery of the United mail; the cold-blooded murder of guiltless citizens, without the privilege of trial by jury; the various attempts to interdict the freedom of the press; and by lawless mobs and brute force, to aim a fatal blow at free discussion, and liberty of speech! It is not, then merely the wrongful oppression of degraded millions, which is involved in the natural results of this great moral outrage; but all the rights and immunities for which the Pilgrims suffered, the Puritans prayed, and the Patriots bled; all that is dear in our social compact; all that is valuable in our privileges of citizenship; all that is to be prized in our religious, literary and political institutions; stands or falls inevitably with the great question of American slavery, in its present aspects and bearings. Yes–let the unobstructed influence of this crying sin, with its legitimate legion of moral maladies and physical tortures, continues to go forth and finally preponderate–and the knell of this republic will soon have tolled–our halls of legislation will be transformed into theatres of violence and blood–our Constitution scattered to the winds–our sanctuaries demolished–and evils “without a precedent, without a number, and without a name,” overwhelm us, as did the deluge the antediluvians, or the fire the guilty cities of the plain.

Without, therefore, attempting to describe the numberless evils, the cruelties, the unbridled licentiousness, the extreme degradation of morals, the ruin of souls, and the numerous and nameless lesser sufferings and sins of which slavery is directly or indirectly the prolific source; I would merely ask, do not the facts alluded to in this connexion, show undeniably that our nation has forgotten that God who has threatened to judge the oppressor? –That we practically claim the kingdom as our own–and impiously ask, “Who is Lord over us?”

Howbeit, such is the spectacle which our country at present exhibits. These are the great features of its moral character and its political aspect. Such is the cloud, surcharged with blackness and pregnant with the lightnings of heaven, which is now intercepting the rays of our sun, and stretching athwart our national horizon! It is not however, there mere demanded surrender of civil rights–it is not the prospective entombing of liberty and law alone, which admonish us of the coming catastrophe, in a voice of thunder; but those interests which are vastly more valuable–which will outlive time and chance and change–the interests of the imperishable spirit, the untold and imagineless joys or woes of an approaching ETERNITY, call upon us to AWAKE! And is there no redeeming principle? May not the threatening calamity be strayed? Not surely by casting a false and fallacious garb over the existing state of things. The elements of anarchy and sin can never be palsied and rendered powerless by the siren song of safety. You might as well hope to arrest the tornado by dint of argument, or to lull the ocean to repose with the sound of the violin. No–the seeds of iniquity lie deeply imbedded in the human soul. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” In the power and the purity of vital godliness, therefore, exists our last hope. A return to the primitive views of God’s character and the sublime, and spiritual and purifying truths of God’s word, holds forth the only bright promise either for “the life that now is or that which is to come.” Here must be the starting place, the source, and the sanction of all genuine reform. The gross, and willful, and bewildering errors, in regard to God’s righteous government and man’s moral being, which have so widely gone forth, must be counter acted by those scriptural truths, which urge the broad and spiritual and unyielding demands of the divine law–which waken up convictions of sin, solicitude for salvation, and thirst for holiness, in the heart forgetful of God and careless of its immortal destiny. Not until then, will the deceitful gains and the gaudy gayeties of this passing world fade away before the Saviors’ Cross. Not until then, will the sense of a present and presiding God constrain and hollow-hearted statesman, and the unrighteous judge, and the aspiring demagogue, to act in reference to that day, “when every work shall be brought into judgment, with every secret thing!” indeed, not until then, will “peace on earth and good will” abound, and man’s emancipated spirit, “like the waters of a peaceful pool, reflect the image of heaven.” But whilst he continues to imbibe the elements of any system which deprives God of his holiness–the transgressor of his guilt, and sin of its malignity; so long will man think upon and live for himself alone. So long will he forget his moral ruin, and the imperishable spirit, and God his Judge, and eternity, his final abode. So long will he seek only the world that he dwells in, the vanities that encompass him around, and those “fleshly lust that war against the soul.” Until the bible, as understood by Paul and the Pilgrims shall become the “citizen’s directory and the statesman’s manual,” bribery, and intrigue, and management will preside at our elections; and instead of having our “officers peace and our exactors righteousness,” the wicked will rule–sin will stand forth with brazen front in the hall of legislation, the seat of justice, and the sanctuary of God–and the land will mourn.

So long, it must be expected, that “the house” which “is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death” will continue to send forth its putrefactive influence; diffusing rottenness and corruption through the land–while drunkenness, perjury and murder flourish within and around it.

So long, that Sabbath will be used as an engine of Satan, in the unrestrained pursuit of sin. It will be appropriated to human convenience of interest, a legalized, and established and frequented entrance-way to perdition.

So long will rulers legislate, and advocates plead, and judges decide for distilleries and dram shops, and ensure an incalculable amount of wrong and ruin to the community.

So long will human flesh and blood and souls be held in unrighteous bondage– the institution of marriage derided–separation of parents and children enforced–a vast system of incest and pollution cherished–and liberty, and right, and religion despised and trampled in the dust, until “the land spew us out, as it spewed out the nations that were before us.”

And now, my brethren, it remains for the watchmen upon Zion’s walls; and for “the church of God which He has purchased with his own blood,” to decide in no small measure whether our country shall still be borne down, and palsied, and petrified by this mighty pressure of sin, until He who “is Governor among the nations, shall “break us with a rod of iron, and dash in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Did the prayer of Abraham avail for polluted Sodom? Might “ten righteous” have saved the guilty cities of the plain? What then may not the thousands of Israel, by deep humiliation, repentance, and intercession before God, accomplish for our sinning, sinking land? “Behold, thus saith the Lord, return ye everyone from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. But if ye will not return, I will pluck you up, and leave you desolate.” Let, therefore, the neglect of God and profanation of His sabbath, the lewdness and intemperance, oppression and pride, and practical atheism which now abound, be tolerated, and cheered and cherished, by the rulers and the ruled, but for a while, and the sad crisis of our destiny will have fully come.

“Behold, saith the Lord, it is written before me, I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense, your iniquities into your own bosom!” and what can shield us against the righteous retribution of Jehovah? Where are the cities, and states, and kingdoms of antiquity? Babylon? Ninevah? Tyre? Egypt? Carthage? Could their walls, or treasures, or armies withstand the visitation of the Almighty? “Like a potter’s vessel,” they are “dashed in pieces” –like a passing meteor, they have faded from the horizon of human sight! And thus must it be inevitably in relation to ourselves, “whenever God takes off his restraining hand,” and suffers lewdness, and lust, and infidelity unchecked to fill the sail, and guide the helm, and drive furiously upon the hidden rocks below! Then–in the characteristic language of an eminent writer–“the reign of chaos will return. The waves of our unquiet sea, high as our mountains, will roll, and roar, and dash, from West to East, and from South to North, wrecking the hopes, and upturning the deep foundations of all that we hold dear! Who then would thrust out our ship from her moorings, in a starless night, upon an ocean of storms, without rudder, or anchor, or compass, or chart? The elements around us may remain; and our giant rivers and mountains; our miserable descendants also may multiply and vegetate, and rot, in moral darkness and putrefaction, –But, the American character, and our glorious institutions, will go down to the tomb, and our epitaph will stand forth a warning to the world–Thus endeth the nation that despised the Lord!”

Here, then, o ye people! “Be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.”

 

Sermon – Fasting – 1825, Massachusetts

Francis Wayland (1976-1865) graduated from Union College in 1813. He served as President of Brown University (1827-1855), where he also taught psychology, political economy, and ethics. These sermons were delivered on April 7, 1825.

 

THE DUTIES OF AN AMERICAN CITIZEN.

 

TWO DISCOURSES,

DELIVERED IN THE

 

First Baptist Meeting House in Boston,

On Thursday, April 7, 1825.

 

THE

 

DAY OF PUBLIC FAST

 

By FRANCIS WAYLAND, JUN.

PASTOR OF THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH IN BOSTON. 

Published by request of the Society.

 

BOSTON:

JAMES LORING, WASHINGTON ST.

1825.

 

 

SERMON I.

 

LUKE XXI. 25.

AND THERE SHALL BE UPON THE EARTH, DISTRESS OF NATIONS WITH PERPLEXITY.

 

            The season has arrived, my brethren, when in conformity with the usages of our forefathers, we are assembled to supplicate the blessing of God on the labours of the advancing year.  Custom has permitted that on such occasions, the minister of religion, digressing somewhat from the path of his ordinary duty, should exhibit to his hearers, some truths not expressly revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He is allowed to select a subject, which may be rather of national interest, and is commanded to abstain only from such discussion, as would enkindle those feelings of party animosity, to which a free people, in the present imperfect condition of human nature, must always be liable.

            If, then, I should on this day direct your attention to a subject somewhat unlike those which you are accustomed to hear from this sacred place, I trust the example of wiser and better men will plead for me an apology.

            But I find in the occasion that has called us together, an apology, with which I must confess myself far better satisfied.  We have come here as citizens of the United States, to implore the blessing of God upon our common country.  At such a time, it cannot be unsuitable to inquire, how may the interests of that country be promoted?  The destinies of this, are intimately connected with those of other nations, and it surely becomes us to ascertain the duties which that connection imposes upon us.  I remember that on every question decided in this community, each one of you has an influence.  I am addressing an assembly, whose voice is heard through the medium of its representatives, not only in our halls of legislation, and in our cabinet, but throughout the legislatures and the cabinets of the civilized world.  In the attempt, then, to enlighten you upon any of those great questions, on which the well-being of our country, as well as other countries, is virtually interested, I seem to myself to be discharging a duty not improperly devolving upon a profession, which is expected to watch with sedulous anxiety, every change that can have a bearing upon the moral or religious interests of a community.  Impressed with these considerations, I shall proceed to offer you some reflections, on what appears to be the present intellectual and political condition of the nations of Europe; the relations we sustain to them; and the duties which devolve upon us, in the consequence of those relations.

            I shall this morning direct your attention to some reflections upon THE PRESENT INTELLECTUAL AND POLITICAL CONDITION OF THE NATIONS OF EUROPE.

                You are doubtless aware, that society throughout Christendom, has been undergoing very striking alterations since the era of the Reformation, and the invention of the printing press.  The effects of this new impulse, which was then given to the human mind, have been every where visible.  The attempt to delineate it would require a volume, instead of a paragraph.  It will only be possible here to state, that it has been produced by the more universal diffusion of the means of information; it has been characterized by more unrestrained liberty of thinking; and has every where resulted in elevating the rank, and improving the condition, of what are generally denominated the lower classes of society.

            But it must be obvious to all of you, ht especially within the last fifty years, the intellectual character of the middling and lower classes of society throughout the civilized world has materially improved, and that the process of improvement is at present going forward with accelerated rapidity.  A taste for that sort of reading, which requires considerable reflection, and even some acquaintance with the abstract sciences, is every day becoming more widely disseminated.  And not only is the number of news papers multiplying beyond any former precedent, but it is found necessary to enlist in their service a far greater portion of literary talent than at any other period.[i]

            For this increase of the reading and thinking population of Europe at this particular time, many causes may be assigned.  It is owing, in part, to that slow but certain progress, which the human mind always makes after it has once commenced the career of improvement.  It may also have been considerably accelerated by the various wars, which have of late so frequently desolated the continent.  The momentous events to which every campaign gave birth, have quickened the desire of intelligence in every class of society, and taught men more or less to reflect upon the principles which led to so universal commotions.  And besides this, the range of information among those attached to the army must have been materially enlarged by visiting other countries, and becoming in a considerable degree acquainted with their inhabitants, and familiar with their institutions.

            And her truth obliges us to state, that this melioration owes much of its late advancement to the pious zeal of Protestant Christians.  Desirous to extend the means of salvation to the whole human race, these benevolent men have labored with perseverance and success, not only to circulate the Bible, but to enable men to read it.  Hence have arisen the British and Foreign Bible Society, the British and Foreign School Society, the Baptist Irish Society, the multiplied free schools, and the innumerable Sabbath schools, which are so peculiarly the glory of the present age of the church.  And surely it is delightful to witness the disciples of Him, who went about doing good, thus girding themselves to the work of redeeming their fellow men from ignorance and sin.  O it is a goodly thing to behold the rich man pouring forth from his abundance, and the poor man casting in his mite; the old man directing by counsel, and the young man seconding him by exertion; the matron visiting the prison, and the young woman instructing the Sabbath school; and all pledging themselves, each one to the other, that, God helping them, this world shall be the better for their having lived in it.  The effects of these exertions are every year becoming more distinctly visible.  In a short time, if the church is faithful to herself, and faithful to her God, what are now called the lower classes of society will cease to exist; men and women will be reading and thinking beings; and the word canaille, will no longer be applied to any portion of the human race within the limits of civilization.

            In connection with these facts, we would remark, that in consequence of this general diffusion of intelligence, nations are becoming vastly better acquainted with the physical, moral and political conditions of each other.  Whatever of any moment is transacted in the legislative assemblies of one country, is now very soon known, not merely to the rulers, but also to the people of every other country.  Nay, an interesting occurrence of any nature cannot transpire in an insignificant town of Europe or America, without finding its way, through the medium of the daily journals, to the eyes and ears of all Christendom.  Every man must now be, in a considerable degree, a spectator of the doings of the world, or he is soon very far in the rear of the intelligence of the day.  Indeed, he has only to read a respectable newspaper, and he may be informed of the discoveries in the arts, the discussions in the senates, and the bearings of public opinion all over the world.

            The reasons for all this, as we have intimated, may chiefly be found in that increased desire of information, which characterizes the mass of society in the present age.  Intelligence of every kind, and specially political information, has become an article of profit; and when once this is the case, there can be no doubt that it will be abundantly supplied.  Besides this, it is important to remark, that the art of navigation has been within a few years materially improved, and commercial relations have become vastly more extensive.  The establishment of packet ships between the two continents has brought London and Paris as near to us as Pittsburgh and New-Orleans.  There is every reason to believe, that within the next half century, steam navigation will render the communication between the ports of Europe and America as frequent, and almost as regular, as that by ordinary mails.  The commercial houses of every nation are establishing their agencies in the principle cities of every other nation, and thus binding together the people by every tie of interest; while at the same time they are furnishing innumerable channels, by which information may be circulated among every class of the community.

            Hence it is that the moral influence, which nations are exerting upon each other, is greater than it has been at any antecedent period in the history of the world.  The institutions of one country, are becoming known almost of necessity to every other country.  Knowledge provokes to comparison, and comparison leads to reflection.  The fact that others are happier than themselves, prompts men to inquire whence this difference proceeds, and how their own melioration may be accomplished.  By simply looking upon a free people, an oppressed people instinctively feel that they have inalienable rights; and they will never afterwards be at rest, until the enjoyment of these rights is guaranteed to them.  Thus one form of government, which in any pre-eminent degree promotes the happiness of man, is gradually but irresistibly disseminating the principles of its constitution, and from the very fact of its existence, calling into being those trans of thought, which must in the end revolutionize every government within the sphere of its influence, under which the people are oppressed.

            And thus is it that the field in which mind may labour, has now become wide as the limits of civilization.  A doctrine advanced by one man, if it have any claim to interest, is soon known to every other man.  The movement of one intellect, now sets in motion the intellects of millions.  We may now calculate upon effects not upon a state or a people, but upon the melting, amalgamating mass of human nature.  Man is now the instrument which genius wields at its will; it touches a chord of the human heart, and nations vibrate in unison.  And thus he who can rivet the attention of a community upon an elementary principle hitherto neglected in politics or morals, or who can bring an acknowledged principle to bear upon an existing abuse, may, by his own intellectual might, with only the assistance of the press, transform the institutions of an empire or a world.

            In many respects, the nations of Christendom collectively are becoming somewhat analogous to our own Federal Republic.  Antiquated distinctions are breaking away, and local animosities are subsiding.  The common people of different countries are knowing each other better, esteeming each other by various manifestations of reciprocal good will.  It is true, every nation has still its separate boundaries and its individual interests; but the freedom of commercial intercourse is allowing those interests to adjust themselves to each other, and thus rendering the causes of collision of vastly less frequent occurrence.  Local questions are becoming of less, and general questions of greater importance.  Thanks be to God, men have at last begun to understand the rights, and feel for the wrongs of each other.  Mountains interposed do not so much make enemies of nations.  Let the trumpet of alarm be sounded, and its notes are now heard by every nation whether of Europe or America.  Let a voice borne on the feeblest breeze tell that the rights of man are in danger, and it floats over valley and mountain, across continent and ocean, until it has vibrated on the ear of the remotest dweller in Christendom.  Let the arm of oppression be raised to crush the feeblest nation on earth, and there will be heard every where, if not the shout of defiance, at least the deep-toned murmur of implacable displeasure.  It is the cry of aggrieved, insulted, much-abused man.  It is human nature waking in her might from the slumber of ages, shaking herself from the dust of antiquated institutions, girding herself for the combat, and going forth conquering and to conquer; and woe unto the man, woe unto the dynasty, woe unto the party, and woe unto the policy, on whom shall fall the scath of her blighting indignation.

            Now it must be evident, that this progress in intellectual cultivation must be operating important changes in the political condition of the nations of Europe.  This moral power has been applied almost exclusively to one portion of the social mass.  The rulers remain very much as they were half a century ago; but the people have advanced with a rapidity, of which the former history of the world furnishes us with no similar example.  The relations which once subsisted between the parties having changed, the institutions of society must change with them.  A form of government to be stable, must be adapted to the intellectual and moral condition of the governed; and when from any cause it has ceased to be so adapted, the time has come when it must inevitably be modified or subverted.  These remarks seem to us to apply with special force to the present condition of many of the nations of Europe.  I will proceed then, and remark some of the changes which this progress in intellectual improvement is effecting in their political condition.

            II.  We shall commence this part of our subject by remarking, that the various forms of government under which society has existed may, with sufficient accuracy, be reduced to two; governments of will, and governments of law.

            A government of will supposes that there are created two classes of society, the rulers and the ruled, each possessed of different and very dissimilar rights.  It supposes all power to be vested by divine appointment in the hands of the rulers; that they alone may say under what form of governments the people shall live; that law is nothing other than an expression of their will; and that it is the ordinance of Heaven that such a constitution should continue unchanged to the remotest generations; and that to all this, the people are bound to yield passive and implicit obedience.  Thus say the Congress of Sovereigns, which has been styled the Holy Alliance:  “All useful and necessary changes ought only to emanate from the free will and intelligent conviction of those, whom God has made responsible for power.”  You are well aware, that on principles such as these rest most of the governments of continental Europe.

            The government of law rests upon principles precisely the reverse of all this.  It supposes that there is but one class of society, and that this class is the people; that all men are created equal, and therefore that civil institutions are voluntary associations, of which the sole object should be to promote the happiness of the whole.  It supposes the people to have a perfect right to select that form of government under which they shall live, and to modify it at any subsequent time, as they shall think desirable.  Supposing all power to emanate from the people, it considers the authority of rulers purely a delegated authority, to be exercised in all cases according to a written code, which code is nothing more than an authentic expression of the people’s will.  It teaches that the ruler is nothing more than the intelligent organ of enlightened public opinion, and declares that if he ceases to be so, he shall be a ruler no longer.  Under such a government may it with truth be said of law, that “her seat is the bosom” of the people, “her voice the harmony” of society; “all men in every station do her reverence; the very least as feeling her care, and the very greatest as not exempted from her power; and though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy.”  I need not add, that our own is an illustrious example of the government of law.

            Now which of these two is the right notion of government, I need to stay to inquire.  It is sufficient for my purpose to remark, that whenever men have become enlightened by the general diffusion of intelligence, they have universally preferred the government of law.  The doctrines of what is called legitimacy, have not been found to stand the scrutiny of unrestrained examination.  And besides this, the love of power is as inseparable from the human bosom as the love of life.  Hence men will never rest satisfied with any civil institutions, which confer exclusively upon a part of society, that power which they believe should justly be vested in the whole; and hence it is evident that no government can be secure from the effects of increasing intelligence, which is not conformed in its principles to the nature of the human heart, and which does not provide for the exercise of this principle, so inseparable from the nature of man.

            We see then that the people under arbitrary governments, whenever they have become enlightened, must begin to desire some change in the existing institutions.  On the contrary, it is not unreasonable to suppose, that to such change the rulers would everywhere be opposed.  Instances have been rare in the history of man, in which the possessor of power, has surrendered it to anything but physical force.  The rulers everywhere will, to the utmost of their ability, maintain the existing institutions.  This is not conjecture.  The Holy Alliance has declared its determination to bring its whole power to bear upon any point, from which there was reason to fear the love of change, or in other words the love of liberty, would be disseminated.  They have announced that “the powers have an undoubted right to assume an hostile attitude, in relation to those States in which the overthrow of governments may operate as an example.”

            You perceive then, that if the people in Europe have become dissatisfied with the government of will, and if the rulers have determined to support it, the present progress of intelligence must be rapidly dividing the whole community into two great classes.  The one is composed of the monarchy, the aristocracy and the army, and in general of all those whose wealth, whose rank, or whose influence depend on the continuance of the existing system.  The other is composed of the middling and lower classes of society, of the men who understand the nature of liberal institutions, and those who are groaning under the weight of civil and religious oppression.  The question at issue is, whether a nation shall be governed by men of its choice, or by men whose only title to rule is derived from hereditary descent; whether laws shall be made for the benefit of the whole or a part; and whether they shall be the expression of a monarch’s will, or the unbiased decisions of an enlightened community.  It is a question between precedent and right; between old notions and new ones; between rulers and ruled; between governments and people.  It has already agitated Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Prussia, and South America.  Hence you see that the parties formed in those nations have all taken their names from their attachments to one or the other of these notions of government.  Hence we hear of constitutionalists and royalists, of liberals and anti-liberals, of legitimates and reformers.  It is in a word the same question, though modified by circumstances, which wrought out the revolution under Charles I., and in which the best blood of this country was shed at Lexington and at Bunker-Hill, at Saratoga, and at Yorktown.

            But we cannot pass from this subject without remarking another fact, which renders the present state of Europe doubly interesting to every friend of the religion of Jesus Christ.  You are well aware that what is called Christianity is at the present day exhibited to the world under two very different forms.  The one supposes man amenable to no created being for his religious opinions, and that provided he do not disturb the peace of society, he is perfectly at liberty to worship God after the dictates of his own conscience.  It supposes, moreover, the Bible to be a sufficient and the only rule of faith and practice; a book of ultimate facts in morals, which is to be put in the hands of everyone, which everyone is at liberty to interpret for himself, and that with his interpretation neither any man nor body of men has any right to interfere.  The other form, which also professes to be Christianity, supposes, on the contrary, that religious opinion must be subject to the will of man; and that for disbelieving the religion of the State, the citizen is justly liable to fine, disfranchisement, imprisonment, and death.  It denies to man to right of reading the scriptures, and substitutes in their place monkish legends of fabulous miracles.  It stamps the traditions and the decisions of men with the authority of a revelation from heaven, and thus places conscience, by far the strongest of those principles which agitate the human bosom and direct the human conduct, entirely within the control of ambitious statesmen and avaricious priests.  You perceive I have alluded to the Protestant and Catholic forms of Christianity, as they generally exist on the continent of Europe.

            These systems, as you must be convinced, depend upon principles very different the one from the other.  The one pleads for the universal circulation of the scriptures; the other, from its highest authority, forbids it.  The one labours for the improvement of the lower classes of society, and lives and moves and has its being in the atmosphere of religious liberty; the other has never been able to retain its influence over the mind any longer than whilst enforcing its doctrines by relentless persecution.  And hence are the scriptures supposed to have designated this church by that awful appellation, “drunk with the blood of the saints.” Here then we see that the adherents of these two systems must be at issue on that question, of all others dearest to man, the question of liberty of conscience.

            But it is here of importance to observe, how nearly the line which is drawn in this division coincides with the other on the question of civil liberty, of which we have just spoken.  The government of will has never been able to support itself without an alliance with the ecclesiastical power.  Having no hold upon the understanding or upon the affections of man, it must control his conscience or it could not be upheld.  And on the contrary, the Catholic religion cannot carry its principles into practice without the assistance of the civil arm.  The State needs the anathema of the Church to check the spirit of inquiry, and the Church needs the physical power of the State, to silence by force when it cannot convince by argument.  These systems are, as you see, the natural allies of each other; and hence in fact have they always been found very closely united.  Hence is it that we behold at present among the sovereigns of the Holy Alliance, so evident an attempt to re-establish the influence of the papal see; and hence, to use the language of the Christian Observer,[ii] do we perceive throughout Europe the mournful advances of that superstitious and persecuting church, whose much abused power we had hoped was crumbling to decay.”

            And on the contrary, it is equally evident, that popular institutions are inseparably connected with Prostestant Christianity.  Both rest upon the same fundamental principle, the absolute freedom of inquiry.  Neither accepts of any support not derived from the suffrages of a free, intelligent, and virtuous community.  Though each is perfectly independent, yet neither could long exist without giving birth to the other.  And here, were it necessary, it would not be difficult to show that the doctrines of Protestant Christianity are the sure, nay, the only bulwark of civil freedom.  A survey of the history of Europe since the era of the Reformation would teach us, that man has never correctly understood nor successfully asserted his rights, until he has learned them from the Bible; and still more, that those nations have always enjoyed the most perfect freedom, who have been most thoroughly imbued with the doctrines of Jesus Christ.  But a discussion of this sort would lead us too far from the range of this discourse.  Enough has, we trust, been said to convince you, that the very existence of Protestantism in Europe, is at stake on the issue of the question, which appears so soon about to agitate that continent.

            And hence if the human mind only continues to advance with its present ratio of improvement, a general division of the people in Christendom seems inevitable.  The questions at issue are the most momentous that can be presented, and the most active principles of the human heart must oblige every man to rank himself on the one side or the other.  It is the question, whether man shall surrender up into the hands of other men those rights, which he holds immediately from God; whether, in fact, he shall bow to nothing but law, or tremble at the frown of a despot.  It is whether the human mind shall advance steadily onward in the career of improvement,  or whether it shall lose all that it has gained, and sink back again into the gloom of monkish superstition.  On the issue of this controversy depends the question, whether the light of divine revelation shall shine far and wide over our benighted world, pointing out to our fellow men the path to everlasting life; or whether that light shall be extinguished, and the generations which follow, the prey to a designing priesthood, shall be led in ignorance to everlasting woe.

            Such seem to us to be some of the circumstances attending the present political condition of Europe.  That two parties are forming in every country, you have abundant evidence; it is equally evident that the question on which they are divided is of the utmost magnitude; and that it is in every nation substantially the same.

            In concluding, it may be worth our while to remark very briefly, the condition and the prospects of these two opposite parties.

            1.  As to their present state, we may observe, that the one has enlisted the greatest numbers, while the other wields the most effective force.  The one comprises the lower and middling classes of society, which are of course by far the most numerous, and the other the rulers, and their immediate dependents.  The physical power of any nation always resides with the governed, and it is the governed who are the friends of free institutions.  But it is to be remarked, that the millions who desire reform are scattered abroad over immense tracts of country, each one by his own fireside, without concert, and destitute of the means for organized operation; on the contrary, the force of the rulers is always collected, and can at any moment be brought to bear upon any portion of territory, in which there might appear the least movement towards revolution.

            But the friends of popular institutions are opposed, in every nation, by more than the force of their own rulers.  Whilst they are powerful only at home, the rulers are able to bring all their forces to bear upon a single point in any part of the civilized world.  To accomplish this purpose, seems the principal design of the Holy Alliance; and hence they have pledged the physical force of the whole to each other, whenever the question shall be agitated in any country, on which depends the rights of the people.

            2.  If we compare their prospects, we shall find that the power of the popular party is increasing with amazing rapidity.  Nations are already flocking to its standard.  Fifty years ago and it could be hardly said to exist, only as the voice of indignant freemen was heard in yonder hall, the far famed “cradle of liberty.”  From that moment, its progress has been right onward.  A continent has since declared itself free.  In the old world, the principles of liberty are becoming more universally received, more thoroughly understood, and more ably supported.  Education is becoming every day more widely disseminated; and every man, as he learns to think, ranks himself with the friends of intellectual improvement.  The trains of thought are already at work, which must operate important modifications in the social edifice, or that edifice, undermined from its foundations, must crumble into ruin.

            And thus from these very causes, the other party is rapidly declining.  Nations are leaving it.  The people are loathing it.  It cannot ultimately succeed, until it has changed the ordinances of heaven.  It cannot prosper, unless it can check that tendency to improvement, with which God endowed man at the first moment of his creation.  Every report of oppression weakens it.  Every Sabbath School, every Bible Society, nay, every mode of circulating knowledge weakens it.  And thus, unless by some combined and convulsive effort it should for a little while recover its power, it may almost be expected that within the present age it will fall before the resistless march of public opinion, and give place everywhere to governments of law.

 

 

 

SERMON II.

 

 

PSALM LXVII. 1, 2.

GOD BE MERCIFUL UNTO US, AND BLESS US, AND CAUSE HIS FACE TO SHINE UPON US; THAT THY WAY MAY BE KNOWN UPON EARTH, THY SAVING HEALTH AMONG ALL NATIONS.

 

          Pursuing the train of thought which was commenced this morning, I shall proceed to consider the relation which this country sustains to the nations of Europe, and some of the duties which devolve upon us in consequence of this relation.

            I.  Let us consider the relation which this country sustains to the nations of Europe.  Here we shall observe in the first place, that this country is evidently at the head of the popular party throughout the civilized world.  The statement of a few facts will render this remark sufficiently evident.

            1.  This nation owes its existence to a love of those very principles for which the friends of liberty are now contending.  Rather than bow to oppression, civil or ecclesiastical, our fathers fled to a land of savages, determined to clear away in an inhospitable wilderness, one spot on the face of the earth where man might be free.  Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem.

            2.  This nation first proclaimed these principles, as the only proper basis of a constitution of government.  Here was it first declared by a legislative assembly:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

            3.  This nation first contended for those principles with perfect success.  In other countries, attempts had been made to re-model the institutions of government.  But in some cases, the attempt was arrested in its outset by overwhelming force; in others, the first movement had been succeeded by anarchy; anarchy gave place to military despotism, and this at last yielded to a restoration of the former dynasty.  In our country first was the contest commenced in simplicity of heart, for the rights of man; and when these were secured, here alone did the contest cease.  Since our revolution, other nations have followed our example, and many more are preparing to follow it.  But when the most glorious success shall have attended their struggle for liberty, they are but our imitators; and the greatest praise of any subsequent revolution must be that it has resembled our own.  Our heroic struggle, its perfect success, its virtuous termination, have riveted the eyes of the people of Europe specially upon us, and they cannot now be averted.  To us do they look when they would see what man can do; and while sighing under their oppressions, yet hope to be free.

            4.  And lastly, our country has given to the world the first ocular demonstration, not only of the practicability, but also of the unrivalled superiority of a popular form of government.  It was not long since fashionable to ridicule the idea, that a people could govern themselves.  The science of rulers was supposed to consist in keeping the people in ignorance, in restraining them by force, and amusing them by shows.  The people were treated like a ferocious monster, whose keepers could only be secure while its dungeon was dark, and its chain massive.  But the example of our own country is rapidly consigning these notions to merited desuetude.  It is teaching the world that the easiest method of governing an intelligent people is, to allow them to govern themselves.  It is demonstrating that the people, so far from being the enemies, are the best, nay, the natural friends of wholesome institutions.  It is showing that kings, and nobles, and standing armies, and religious establishments, are at best only very useless appendages to a form of government.  It is showing to the world that every right an be perfectly protected, under rulers elected by the people; that  government can be stable with no other support than the affections of its citizens; that a people can be virtuous without an established religion; and more than this, that just such a government as it was predicted could no where exist but in the brain of a benevolent enthusiast, has actually existed for half a century, acquiring strength and compactness and solidity with every year’s duration.  And it is manifest that nowhere else have been so free, so happy, so enlightened, or so enterprising, and nowhere have the legitimate objects of civil institutions been so triumphantly attained.  Against facts such as these it is difficult to argue; and you see they furnish the friends of free institutions with more than an answer to all the theories of legitimacy.

            It is unnecessary to pursue this subject further.  You are doubtless convinced that this country stands linked by a thousand ties to the popular sentiment of Europe.  We have no sympathies with the rulers.  The principles, in support of which they are allied, are diametrically opposed to the very spirit of our constitution.  All our sympathies are with the people; for we are all of us the people.  And not only are we thus amalgamated with them in feeling, we are manifestly at the head of that feeling.  We first promulgated their sentiments, we taught them their rights, we first contended successfully for their principles; and for fifty years we have furnished incontrovertible evidence that their principles are true.  These principles have already girded us with Herculean strength, in the very infancy of our empire, and have given us political precedence of governments, which had been established on the old foundation, centuries before our continent was discovered.  And now what nation will be second in the new order of things, is yet to be decided; but the providence of God has already announced, that, if true to ourselves, we shall be inevitably first.

            Now to say that any country is at the head of popular sentiment, is only to say in other words that it is in her power to direct that sentiment.  You are then prepared to proceed with me, and remark, in the next place, that it devolves on this country to lead forward the present movement of public opinion, to freedom and independence.

              It devolves on us to sustain and to chasten the love of liberty among the friends of reform in other nations.  It is not enough that the people everywhere desire a change.  The subversion of a bad government is by no means synonymous with the establishment of a better.  A people must know what it is to be free; they must have learned to reverence themselves, and bow implicitly to the principles of right, or nothing can be gained by a change of institutions.  A constitution written on paper is utterly worthless, unless it be also written on the hearts of a people.  Unless men have learned to govern themselves, they may be plunged into all the horrors of civil war, and yet emerge from the most fearful revolution, a lawless nation of sanguinary slaves.  But if this country remain happy, and its institutions free, it will render the common people of other countries acquainted with the fundamental principles of the science of government; this knowledge will silently produce its practical result, and year after year will insensibly train them to freedom.

            But suppose that the spirit of freedom have been sustained to its issue, the blow to have been struck, and either by concession or force, the time to have arrived when the institutions of the old world are to be transformed; then will the happiness of the civilized world be again connected most intimately with the destinies of this country.  Ancient constitutions having been abolished, no new ones must be adopted by almost every nation in Europe.  The old foundations will have been removed; it will still remain to be decided on what foundations the social edifice shall rest.  From the relation we now sustain to the friends of free institutions, as well as from all the cases of revolution which have lately occurred,[iii] it is evident that to this nation they will all look for precedent and example.  Thus far our institutions have conferred on man all that any form of government was ever expected to bestow.  Should the grand experiment which we are now making on the human character succeed, there can be no doubt that other governments, following our example, will be formed on the principles of equality of right.  To illustrate the subject by an example;—who does not see, that if France had been illuminated in the era of her revolution by the light which our fifty years’ experience has shed upon the world, unstained with the blood of three millions of her citizens, she might now have been rejoicing in a government of law?

            We have thus far spoken only of the effects which this country might produce upon the politics of Europe, simply by her example.  It is not impossible, however, that she may be called to exert an influence still more direct on the destinies of man.  Should the rulers of Europe make war upon the principles of our constitution, because its existence “may operate as an example;” or should a universal appeal be made to arms, on the question of civil and religious liberty;—it is manifest that we must take no secondary part in the controversy.  The contest will involve the civilized world, and the blow will be struck which must decide the fate of man for centuries to come.

            Then will the hour have arrived, when uniting with herself the friends of freedom throughout the world, this country must breast herself to the shock of congregated nations.  Then will she need the wealth of her merchants, the prowess of her warriors, and the sagacity of her statesmen.  Then, on the altars of our God, let us each one devote himself to the cause of the human race; and in the name of the Lord of Hosts go forth unto the battle.  If need be, let our choicest blood flow freely; for life itself is valueless, when such interests are at stake.  Then when a world in arms is assembling to the conflict, may this country be found fighting in the vanguard for the liberties of man.  God himself hath summoned her to the contest, and she may not shrink back.  For this hour may he by his grace prepare her.

            How a contest of this kind would terminate, we should doubt, if our trust were in the arm of flesh.  But we doubt not.  We believe that the cause of man will triumph, because the Judge of the whole earth will do right.  The wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain.  And yet again we doubt not; for we believe that on the issue of this controversy, the dearest interests of the church of Christ are suspended.  That day will decide, whether the light of revelation shall shine far abroad among the nations, or whether it shall be extinguished, and its place be supplied by the legends of a monkish superstition.  We cannot believe that the blood of martyrs has flowed so much in vain.  We cannot believe that God will suffer his church to go back again for ages, after he has showed her in these latter days, so many tokens for good.  Therefore, though the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us; he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision.  Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.  For he hath set his King upon his holy hill of Zion.  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

            And if the cause of true religion and of man shall eventually triumph, as we trust in God it will, who can tell how splendid are the destinies which will then await this country!  One feeling, the love of liberty, will have cemented together all the nations of the earth.  Though speaking different languages and inhabiting different regions, all will be but one people, united in the pursuit of one object, the happiness of the whole.  And at the head of this truly holy alliance, if faithful to her trust, will then this nation be found.  The first that taught them to be free; the first that suffered in the contest; the nation that most freely and most firmly stood by them in the hour of their calamity;—at her feet will they lay the tribute of universal gratitude.  Each one bound to her by every sentiment of interest and affection, she will be the centre of the new system, which shall then emerge out of the chaos of ancient institutions.  Henceforth she will sway for ages the destinies of the world.

            Who of us does not kindle into enthusiasm as he contemplates the mighty interests connected with the prosperity of this country?  With the success of our institutions, the cause of man throughout the civilized world seems indissolubly interwoven.  What, then, let us inquire, are the DUTIES TO WHICH WE ARE SUMMONED BY THE RELATION THAT WE SUSTAIN TO OUR BRETHREN OF THE HUMAN RACE?  This is the last topic to which I shall direct your attention.

            And here it is scarcely necessary to remark, that it cannot be our duty to do anything which shall at all interfere with the internal concerns of any other government.  We should thus compromise the fundamental principle of our constitution, that civil institutions are to be established or modified only in obedience to the will of the majority.  But this will can only be ascertained by allowing each nation to select for itself that form of government, which it shall choose.  If the majority in any nation are willing to be slaves, no power on earth can make them free.  It is certainly their misfortune; but physical force can do them no good.  We may extend to them every facility for the dissemination of knowledge and of religion; this we owe them as brethren of the human race; and having done this, we must commit them to the decisions of an all-wise and holy Providence.

            It is evident, then, that unless called to defend the cause of liberty in the field, all we can do for it must be done at home.  Our power resides in the force of our example.  It is by exhibiting to other nations the practical excellence of a government of law, that they will learn its nature and advantages, and will in due time achieve their own emancipation.

            The question, then, What can we do to promote the cause of liberty throughout the world? Resolves itself into another, What can we do to ensure the success of that experiment which our institutions are making upon the character of man?

            In answering it, it is important to remark, that whatever we would do for our country, must be done for THE PEOPLE.  Great results can never be effected in any other way.  Specially is this the case under a republican constitution.  Here the people are not only the real but also the acknowledged fountain of all authority.  They make the laws, and they control the execution of them.  They direct in the senate, they overawe the cabinet, and hence it is the moral and intellectual character of the people which must give to the “very age and body of our institutions their form and pressure.”

            So long, then, as our people remain virtuous and intelligent, our government will remain stable.  While they clearly perceive, and honestly decree justice, our laws will be wholesome, and the principles of our constitution will recommend themselves everywhere to the common sense of man.  But should our people become ignorant and vicious; should their decisions become the dictates of passion and venality, rather than of reason and of right, that moment are our liberties at an end; and, glad to escape the despotism of millions, we shall flee for shelter to the despotism of one.  Then will the world’s last hope be extinguished, and darkness brood for ages over the whole human race.

            Not less important is moral and intellectual cultivation, if we would prepare our country to stand forth the bulwark of the liberties of the world.  Should the time to try men’s souls ever come again, our reliance under God must be, as it was before, on the character of our citizens.  Our soldiers must be men whose bosoms have swollen with the conscious dignity of freemen, and who, firmly rusting in a righteous God, could look unmoved on embattled nations leagued together for purposes of wrong.  When the means of education everywhere throughout our country shall be free as the air we breathe; when every family shall have its Bible, and every individual shall love to read it; then and not till then shall we exert our proper influence on the cause of man; then and not till then shall we be prepared to stand forth between the oppressor and the oppressed, and say to the proud wave of domination, Thus far shalt thou go and no farther.

            It seems then evident, that the paramount duty of an American citizen, is, to put in requisition every possible means for elevating universally the intellectual and moral character of our people.

            When we speak of intellectual elevation, we would not suggest that all our citizens are to become able linguists, or profound mathematicians.  This, at least for the present, is not practicable; it certainly is not necessary.  The object at which we aim will be attained, when every man is familiarly acquainted with what are now considered the ordinary branches of an English education.  The intellectual stores of one language are then open before him; a language in which he may find all the knowledge that he shall ever need to form his opinions upon any subjects on which it shall be his duty to decide.  A man who cannot read, let us always remember, is a being not contemplated by the genius of our constitution.  Where the right of suffrage is extended to all, he is certainly a dangerous member of community who has not qualified himself to exercise it.  But on this part of the subject I need not enlarge.  The proceedings of our general and State Legislatures already furnish ample proof that our people are tremblingly alive to its importance.  We do firmly believe the time to be not far distant, when there will not be found a single citizen of these United States, who is not entitled to the appellation of a well informed man.[iv]

            But supposing all this to be done, still only a part and by far the least important part of our work will have been accomplished.  We have increased the power of the people, but we have left it doubtful in what direction that power will be exerted.  We have made it certain that a public opinion will be formed; but whether that opinion shall be healthful or destructive, is yet to be decided.  We have cut out channels by which knowledge may be conveyed to every individual of our mighty population; it remains for us, by means of those very channels, to instill into every bosom an unshaken reverence for the principles of right.  Having gone thus far, then, we must go farther; for you must be aware that the tenure by which our liberties is held can never be secure, unless moral, keep pace with intellectual cultivation.  This leads us to remark in the second place, that our other and still more imperious duty is, to cultivate the moral character of our people.[v]

            On the means by which this may be effected, I need not detain you.  We have in our hands a book of tried efficacy; a work which contains the only successful appeal that was ever made to the moral sense of man; a book which unfolds the only remedy that has ever been applied with any effect to the direful maladies of the human heart.  You need not be informed that I refer to the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

            As to the powerful, I had almost said miraculous effect of the sacred scriptures, there can no longer be any doubt in the mind of anyone one whom fact can make an impression.  That the truths of the Bible have the power of awakening an intense moral feeling in man under every variety of character, learned or ignorant, civilized or savage; that they make bad men good, and send a pulse of healthful feeling through all the domestic, civil and social relations; that they teach men to love right, to hate wrong, and to seek each other’s welfare, as the children of one common parent; that they control the baleful passions of the human heart, and thus make men proficients in the science of self government; and finally, that they teach him to aspire after conformity to a Being of infinite holiness, and fill him with hopes infinitely more purifying, more exalting, more suited to his nature than any other, which this world has ever known; are facts incontrovertible as the laws of philosophy, or the demonstrations of mathematics.  Evidence in support of all this can be brought from every age in the history of man, since there has been a revelation from God on earth.  We see the proof of it everywhere around us.  There is scarcely a neighbourhood in our country where the Bible is circulated, in which we cannot point you to a very considerable portion of its population, whom its truths have reclaimed from the practice of vice, and taught the practice of whatsoever things are pure and honest and just and of good report.

            That this distinctive and peculiar effect is produced upon every man to whom the gospel is announced, we pretend not to affirm.  But we do affirm, that besides producing this special renovation to which we have alluded, upon a part, it in a most remarkable degree elevates the tone of moral feeling throughout the whole of a community.  Wherever the Bible is freely circulated, and its doctrines carried home to the understandings of men, the aspect of society is altered; the frequency of crime is diminished; men begin to love justice, and to administer it by law; and a virtuous public opinion, that strongest safeguard of right, spreads over a nation the shield of its invisible protection.  Wherever it has faithfully been brought to bear upon the human heart, even under most unpromising circumstances, it has within a single generation revolutionized the whole structure of society; and thus within a few years done more for man, than all other means have for ages accomplished without it.  For proof of all this, I need only refer you to the effects of the gospel in Greenland, or in South Africa, in the Society Islands; or even among the aborigines of our own country.

            But before we leave this part of the subject, it may be well to pause for a moment, and inquire whether, in addition to its moral efficacy, the Bible may not exert a powerful influence on the intellectual character of man.

            And here it is scarcely necessary that I should remark, that of all the books with which, since the invention of writing, this world has been deluged, the number of those is very small which have produced any perceptible effect on the mass of human character.  By far the greater part have been, even by their cotemporaries, unnoticed and unknown.  Not many an one has made its little mark upon the generation that produced it, though it sunk with that generation to utter forgetfulness.  But after the ceaseless toil of six thousand years, how few have been the works, the adamantine basis of whose reputation has stood unhurt amid the fluctuations of time, and whose impression can be traced through successive centuries on the history of our species.

            When, however, such a work appears, its effects are absolutely incalculable; and such a work, you are aware, is the Iliad of Homer.  Who can estimate the results produced by this incomparable effort of a single mind!  Who can tell what Greece owes to this first-born of song.  Her breathing marbles, her solemn temples, her unrivalled eloquence, and her matchless verse, all point us to that transcendent genius, who by the very splendor of his own effulgence woke the human intellect from the slumber of ages.  It was Homer who gave laws to the artist; it was Homer who inspired the poet; it was Homer who thundered in the senate; and more than all, it was Homer who was sung by the people; and hence a nation was cast into the mould of one mighty mind, and the land of the Iliad, became the region of taste, the birth-place of the arts.  Nor was this influence confined within the limits of Greece.  Long after the scepter of empire had passed westward, genius still held her court on the banks of the Ilyssus, and from the country of Homer gave laws to the world.  The light which the blind old man of Scio had kindled in Greece, shed its radiance over Italy; and thus did he awaken a second nation to intellectual existence.  And we may form some idea of the power which this one work has to the present day exerted over the mind of man, by remarking, that “nation after nation, and century after century has been able to do little more than transpose his incidents, new-name his characters, and paraphrase his sentiments.”[vi]

            But considered simply as an intellectual production, who will compare the poems of Homer with the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.  Where in the Iliad shall we find simplicity and pathos which shall vie with the narrative of Moses, or maxims of conduct to equal in wisdom the Proverbs of Solomon, or sublimity which does not fade away before the conceptions of Job, or David, of Isaiah, or St. John.  But I cannot pursue this comparison.  I feel that it is doing wrong to the mind which dictated the Iliad, and to those other mighty intellects on whom the light of the holy oracles never shined.  Who that has read his poem has not observed how he strove in vain to give dignity to the mythology of his time?  Who has not seen how the religion of his country, unable to support the flight of his imagination, sunk powerless beneath him?  It is the unseen world where the master spirits of our race breathe freely and are at home; and it is mournful to behold the intellect of Homer striving to free itself from the conceptions of materialism, and then sinking down in hopeless despair, to weave idle fables of Jupiter and Juno, Apollo or Diana.  But the difficulties under which he labored are abundantly illustrated by the fact, that the light which he poured upon the human intellect taught other ages how unworthy was the religion of his day of the man who was compelled to use it.  “It seems to me,” says Longinus, “that Homer, when he ascribes dissensions, jealousies, tears, imprisonments, and other afflictions to his deities, hath, as much as was in his power, made the men of the Iliad gods, and the gods men.  To man when afflicted, death is the termination of evils; but he hath made not only the nature but the miseries of the gods eternal.”

            If then so great results have flowed from this one effort of a single mind, what may we not expect from the combined effort of several, at least his equals in power over the human heart?  If that one genius, though groping in the thick darkness of absurd idolatry, wrought so glorious a transformation in the character of his countrymen, what may we not look for from the universal dissemination of those writings, on whose authors was poured the full splendor of eternal truth?  If unassisted human nature, spell-bound by a childish mythology, have done so much, what may we not hope for from the supernatural efforts of pre-eminent genius, which spake as it was moved by the Holy Ghost?

            To sum up in a few words what has been said.  If we would see the foundations laid broadly and deeply, on which the fabric of this country’s liberties shall rest to the remotest generations; if we would see her carry forward the work of political reformation, and rise the bright and morning star of freedom over a benighted world; let us elevate the intellectual and moral character of every class of our citizens, and specially let us imbue them thoroughly with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

            You are well aware that to carry into effect this design, is one of the objects in which good men of every denomination are now so actively engaged.  Having observed that the precepts of the Bible take more immediate effect when repeatedly inculcated upon man by teachers set apart for this purpose, missionary societies have been formed to furnish such teachers to the destitute.  Having found that the proportion of ministers of the gospel is lamentably insufficient to meet the wants of our increasing population; they have formed societies, and endowed institutions, with the design of qualifying a greater number for the pastoral office.  And again it has been observed, that youth is the season for instilling into man the elements of knowledge, and the principles of piety; and hence the Christian world is universally engaged in the benevolent work of Sabbath school instruction.  And here in passing I cannot but remark, that if indeed our country shall be saved from that ruin which has awaited other republics, and shall move steadily onward in that career of glory which Providence has opened before her; next to the circulation of the scriptures, to the Sabbath school more than to anything else, do I verily believe that salvation will be owing.

            You see then that these institutions all have one common object in view, to elevate the intellectual and moral character of our people.  Here is true philanthropy; here is Christian patriotism.  And this is one reason why we so often present these charities to your notice.  When therefore we ask you to aid us in circulating the Bible, in sending the gospel to the destitute, or in educating the ignorant, you must not look unkindly at us; for we plead the cause of our country, of liberty, and of man.  Let us all unite in spreading abroad the means of knowledge and of religion; let us do our utmost to render our nation a church of our Lord Jesus Christ;

Then, howe’er crowns and coronets be rent,

A virtuous populace shall rise the while,

And stand a wall of fire, to guard their native soil.

            And lastly, I would urge you, my brethren, to activity in these labours of charity, by presenting at single view, the momentous results with which they seem to me indissolubly connected; but I feel myself utterly incompetent to the task.

            When I reflect that some of you who now hear me will see fifty millions of souls enrolled on the census of these United States; when I think how small a proportion our present efforts bear to the pressing wants of this mighty population, and how soon the period in which those wants can be supplied will have forever elapsed; when moreover I reflect how the happiness of man is interwoven with the destinies of this country;—I want language to express my conceptions of the importance of the subject; and yet I am aware that those conceptions fall far short of the plain, unvarnished truth.  When I look forward over the long track of coming ages, the dim shadows of unborn nations pass in solemn review before me, and each, by every sympathy which binds together the whole brotherhood of man, implores this country to fulfill that destiny to which she has been summoned by an all-wise Providence, and save a sinking world from temporal misery and eternal death.

            In view of all these considerations, let me again urge you to be in earnest in this cause.  I would plead with you, instead of engaging in political strife, to put forth your hands to the work of making your fellow citizens wiser and better.  I pray you think less of parties and more of your country; and instead of talking about patriotism, to be indeed patriots.  And specially would I charge you to give to this cause not only your active exertions, but your unceasing prayers.  Ye who love the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest, until he establish this his Jerusalem, and make her a praise in the whole earth.  God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause his face to shine upon us; that his name may be known on earth, and his saving health unto all nations.  And to him shall be the glory, forever.  Amen

 

NOTES

 

Note A.           Page 6.

           

            In confirmation of these remarks, it may not be amiss to state the following facts.  The Gentleman’s Magazine was, until about thirty years since, almost the only extensively circulated periodical pamphlet in Great Britain.  In this department of literature are now numbered, The Edingburgh and Quarterly Reviews; Westminster Review; Blackwood’s, The Scotsman’s, Monthly, New Monthly, Gentleman’s, and Sporting Magazines; The Christian Observer; Eclectic Review; Universal Review; The Etonian; The Oxonian; Ackerman’s Repository; Retrospective Review; London Magazine; Baldwin’s Magazine; The  Churchman; Evangelical Magazine; Mechanic’s Magazine; The Literary Chronicle; Literary Gazette; The Kaleidoscope; Newcastle Magazine; British Critic; Pamphleteer; Classical Journal; Christian Guardian; Cottager’s Magazine; Farmer’s Magazine; Sunday School Magazine; European Magazine; Imperial Magazine; Literary Magnet; Knight’s Quarterly Magazine; four Botanical Journals, monthly; three of general science, quarterly; besides several other scientific and professional periodical works.  Some of these are splendidly edited, many ably, and most well supported.  The largest works print from five to fourteen thousand copies.

            Upon the eight morning and six evening papers in London, there are no less than 150 literary gentlemen employed, at an expense of L1000 per week; for workmen, L1500 per week; and L1500 more for the literary labours of the weekly and semi-weekly papers.  There are on an average 250 provincial papers.  300,000 papers are ordinarily printed in London weekly, and 200,000 in the country; total 500,000.  The whole amount of the expenses of the British newspaper press is estimated at L721,266 per annum.  The total number of newspaper stamps issued in Great Britain, for the year 1821, was 24,779,786.

            From these facts we may form some idea of the demand for information in Great Britain.  But one other fact may convince us that the number of readers very far exceeds the number of printed papers.  “It is there a custom for carriers to set out in all directions daily, and let papers out to customers, for a few moments to each, as they proceed, until night; so that a hundred persons may read or rather glance over the same paper for a penny each.”

            “There are but few papers published in the departments of France; but those in the metropolis, publish an enormous number.  The Constitutionel publishes 19,000; the Journal des Debats, 14,000, and the other papers from that to 5,000.”  It is probable that the ratio of improvement in many nations on the continent of Europe is not very far beneath that of Great Britain.

 

Note B            Page 31.

 

            “The following are a few of the subjects of the political essays of the Censor (a periodical paper published at Buenos Ayres) in 1817: an explanation of the Constitution of the United States, and highly praised—The Lancastrian System of Education—on the causes of the prosperity of the United States—Milton’s essay on the liberty of the press—A review of the work of the late President Adams, on the American Constitution, and a recommendation of checks and balances, continued through several numbers and abounding with much useful information for the people—brief notice of the life of James Monroe, president of the United States—examination of the federative system—on the trial by Jury—on popular elections—on the effect of enlightened productions on the condition of mankind—an analysis of the several State constitutions of the Union, &c.

            “There are in circulation, Spanish translations of many of our best revolutionary writings.  The most common are two miscellaneous volumes, one, containing Paine’s common sense and rights of man, and declaration of Independence, several of our constitutions, and General Washington’s farewell address.  The other is an abridged history of the United States down to the year 1810, with a good explanation of the nature of our political institutions, accompanied with a translation of Mr. Jefferson’s inaugural speech, and other state papers.  I believe these have been read by nearly all who can read, and have produced a most extravagant admiration of the United States, at the same time, accompanied with something like despair.”—Breckenridge’s South America, Vol. II. Pp. 213, 214.—From Prof. Everett’s Oration at Plymouth.

 

 

 

 

Note C.           Page 38.

 

            In illustration of these remarks, it may be interesting to state the following facts.  “Not one of the eleven new States has been admitted into the Union without provision in its constitution for Schools, Academies, Colleges and Universities.  In most of the original States large sums in money are appropriated to education.  And they claim a share in the great landed investments which are mortgaged to it in the new States.  Reckoning those contributions, federal and local, it may be asserted, that nearly as much as the whole national expenditure of the United States is set apart by the laws for enlightening the people.  Besides more than half a million at publick schools, there are considerably more than 3000 undergraduates matriculated at the various colleges and universities authorized to confer academical degrees.”—Ingersoll’s Oration before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

            It is, however, evident, from the returns of the State of New York alone, that the above estimate of Mr. Ingersoll is vastly below the truth.  Governor Clinton in his late message states, that “the number of children taught in our common schools during the last year, exceeds 400,000; and is probably more than one fourth of our whole population.  The students in the incorporated academies amount to 2,683; and in the Colleges to 755.”  It is very rare to find a person born in New England, who cannot both read and write.  The late Judge Reeve, of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, declared, that in the whole of his professional practice, he had found but three persons in that State who could not sign their names, and that all of them were foreigners.

 

Note D.          Page 39.

 

            “A republican government is certainly most congenial with the nature, most propitious to the welfare, and most conducive to the dignity of our species.  Man becomes degraded in proportion as he loses the right of self government.  Every effort ought therefore to be made to fortify our free institutions, and the great bulwark of security is to be formed in education; the culture of the heart and the head; the diffusion of knowledge, piety and morality.  A virtuous and enlightened man can never submit to degradation, and a virtuous and enlightened people will never breathe in the atmosphere of slavery.  Upon education, then, we must rely for the purity, the preservation, and the perpetuation of Republican government.  In this sacred cause, we cannot exercise too much liberality.  It is identified with our best interests in this world, and with our best destinies in the world to come.”Gov. Clinton’s last Message.   END.


[i] Note A.

[ii] Ch. Observer, Vol. 24, p. 401.

[iii] Note B.

[iv] Note C.

[v] Note D.

[vi] Johnson. Preface to Shakespeare.

Sermon – Fasting – 1839, Maine

Fret not thyself because of evil doers.”

A

Sermon

Preached on Fast Day,

April 18, 1839.

 

By Samuel Hopkins

Pastor of the First Congregational Church

In Saco, ME.

 

[Published by Request]

 

Saco:

S. L. Goodale

1839

 

 

Psalm 37. 1.

 

Fret Not Thyself Because of Evil Doers.

 

The world abounds with evil doers. You may find them – without search – among the polite and the vulgar; in high ways and by-ways; abroad and at home. They beset you, they face you, they thwart you – everywhere. If you will, you may spy some deformity of conduct, or policy, or principle – some flaw or defect – some excrescence or putrefying sore – upon every one you look at; upon chief magistrate, law maker, judge, and petty justice; upon pedagogue and school-boy; buyer and seller; husband, wife, and child; maid and mistress; deacon and minister of the Gospel.

How this strange and universal degeneracy comes to pass – how it dare sustain itself against the tremendous warnings of all past history – I do not stop to enquire. The fact is all I want. Everybody – at least everybody else – does wrong, more or less. They do not do what they should. They do what they should not.

Another thing. The eyes and ears of the present generation are peculiarly occupied with each others’ faults. Not that we are quicker to scent, or more ravenous to devour, the offal [refuse] of human wickedness than our fathers were. But times have changed. The ends of the earth are brought together. An evil done at a distant point–in a twinkling–is bruited in our ears. The press tells it. Steam power carries it. Strolling lecturers trumpet it and denounce it.  And the result is, that whereas past generations could see but little of the deeds of evildoers, beyond their own firesides or hamlets – we have an interminable succession of abominations, floating before us from every quarter of the globe, thrust upon us by every wind that blows, chattered to us by every tongue that talks, till we are sickened – verily sickened – with the uncleannesses of a world lying in wickedness. All this is well. God has his design in it. And God will make it tell – with power, too – in the accomplishment of his purposes of grace.

These two facts, then, are now before us; the one – that the world is full of evil doers; and the other – that the deeds of evil doers, to a degree unknown in former times, are forced upon our minds.

These things being so – if ever there was a generation for whom the words of our text were specially designed; if ever there was a generation who needed specially to weigh and remember these words – that generation is our own. And perhaps the careful consideration of their import can never be more timely than upon a day like this; a day set apart “in view of our manifold transgressions as individuals and as a community”; a day which we are as prone to occupy in brooding over the sins of others, as in confessing and forsaking our own.

The duty enjoined in the text can hardly be stated in plainer terms – “Fret not thyself because of evil doers.” In presenting it to your consideration I shall endeavor.

 

I.       To illustrate the behavior here prohibited.

II.    To present some reasons why we should avoid it.

 

I.       Let us examine the behavior here prohibited.

A man of a right spirit will feel the spirit stirred within him against Sin; whether the Sin be in himself or in others; whether it rise before him in the misdeeds of the oppressor, in the vices of the inebriate, in the arts of the libertine, or in the waywardness of a little child. He will not wonder, yet never feel – he will not behold, yet never care a feather – when evil doers are scattering firebrands, arrows and death. Neither will he be roused because men do evil here or there, in this way or that – yet blink and nod and go to sleep over wickedness in some other shape or some other place. It is impossible for us, if we obey the Bible, to look upon any sort of evil doing with indifference.

There is, then, a feeling, an excitement of heart against evil doers which is duty. To describe it; it is – dislike – strong aversion – abhorrence. All this exists in the spotless citizen of heaven. It exists in God.

But – there is a kind of excitement which, forsooth, because it is against evil doers, calls itself good, and passes for good, though it is kith and kin with the evil it opposes. It is not an excitement which leads us to yearn over the worker of iniquity. It is not an excitement which sends us to our closets to weep and plead in their behalf. It is an excitement which hurries us to harshness and bitterness; of look, of word, of deed. It is – passion. It is – ill humor. It is – wrath. It is what, in common talk, we call “getting cross.” It is what the Bible calls “fretting ourselves.” When we indulge it, we get out of all patience and into all agitation – perhaps, beside ourselves – because somebody does not do, or believe, or feel, or preach, what we think is right. When a child teases us; when a jockey cheats us; when a friend neglects us, or a neighbor defames us; when a man-seller or a rum-seller will not mind us; when an impudent fellow insults us; when any one refuses our party, our doctrine, or our measures; when Congress thrusts out our petitions; when  a Christian brother or a Christian minister seems to us to say “God speed” to the wicked; – whatever be the evil, and how great soever the provocation – the moment we lose our temper, the moment we get angry and vexed, we fall into the very behavior forbidden in our text. We “fret ourselves because of evil doers.”

II.    Let us consider some reasons why we should avoid fretting ourselves because of evil doers.

1. One reason is – it does no good. True – it sometimes passes for an evidence of piety; and sometimes is all the evidence we can get. We may point to our feelings and our bold words and our schemes and our labors against evil doers and say – “Lo our zeal – ; our zeal for the Lord of Hosts.” [Isaiah 37:32] – We may point conscience there and say – “Peace – Peace.” We may feel Pharisaical, and self-righteous, and self-pleased, and safe, because we are hot against the wicked. Thus our opposition to evil doers may give a temporary comfort; it may bolster up, for a day, our souls – lull to sleep, for a night, our fears – and keep at bay, for a while, our convictions.

But does this do us good? Does it make us better? Does it mold us into the likeness of God? Does it help us in our preparatory work for heaven? What! – fretfulness – ill temper – self-righteousness – the light of our own fire – the sparks of our own kindling – guide us to glory and to God! Fretting ourselves against the wicked – is this attuning our hearts to the music of heaven! But, if not – what doth it profit us?

“But it does the wicked good. It takes off their chariot wheels. It troubles their consciences. It sometimes makes them leave off their wickedness.”

Does it? What! You’re getting peevish do all this! Your ill humor physic away iniquity like this! The mere lightning and grumbling of a towering passion – of yours, of mine, or of a hundred others leagued together – will they do so much? Will a scowl – all alone – quell a willful child? Will a volley of angry words – and nothing else – reclaim a thief? Will the flashing indignation of priests and elders – all alone – convert a heretic? Will the trumpeted wrath of the north – all alone – bring to repentance the slaveholder of the south?

Try it – then. To the work – then; good men and true. And – by all your pity for the oppressed, your fears for the unbeliever, your regard for order, and you love for domestic peace – use no truth, no persuasion, no authority; but raise one united and untiring peal of wrath – till the wilderness bud and blossom – till the world put on righteousness for her robe and beauty for her diadem.

“But, nay – ; this is absurd. No one affirms it. Truth is wanted, for the conscience. Power is wanted, for the perverse.”

Well – then; has Truth grown halt and lazy, in her old age, that she must needs be whipped and spurred by Passion? Has Power lost its nerve and right that it must be bolstered up by anger? – If truth for the conscience, and power for the intractable – be the legitimate and effective means of dealing with the wicked, why not trust to them? Why foist in something else? Can we not publish truth – can we not use our power (when we get it) without being in a passion? To be sure we can. And if we can, and if a sour temper neither convicts the conscience nor subjects the forward pray how does it mend the matters of a wicked world? Not at all. Then it does no good. And God has well said – “Fret not thyself because of evil doers.”

The truth is – when a man’s desire is purely to do good; to convince, to reclaim, to gain, the evil doer; he coincides, instinctively, with the precept we are considering. He is moved; but not to wrath. He is excited; but not with fretting. He goes about, the gentle and hopeful bearer of “the Truth as it is in Jesus.” A precious testimony, this, to the righteousness and wisdom of the text.

2.  But – another reason. Fretting ourselves because of evil doers does hurt.

How is our own comfort affected by it? Well – or ill? Watch the man who is out of humor at somebody’s wickedness; the man whose words are quick and sharp and hot; the man who looks and tones and gestures show you that he is out of patience – vexed – that someone does not think as he thinks and do as he does. Is he happy? – No. that fretful gust must pass away; that swell of passion must subside, before he can enjoy himself or anything that God has made. But we need not look to others, to understand this. We have all felt it. Anger and enjoyment cannot live together. They are contrary the one to the other. We must either train ourselves to consider, and to endure evil doers without being irritated; or – in this world where they whirl around us like the leaves of autumn – we must lead wretched life to our graves.

Beside; a man in a passion is no comfortable companion. In matters not what his passion concerns. Whether fretting himself because someone has done right, or because someone has done wrong – he sends discomfort all around him.

And again; when we are irritated because of evil doers, we shall act accordingly. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” [Matthew 12:34] “Out of the heart are the issues of life.” [Proverbs 4:23] Like does not more surely beget like, than a fretted temper, some evil fruit. It makes us speak wrong. It makes us do wrong.

And yet more. A vexed spirit vexes a spirit. Passion excites passion. If you do wrong, and I fret about it, you are not excited by my wrath to do better, but to do as you please; and that is – to do wrong the more. Let a man see that you cannot bear him because he is so bad – you excite his anger. He cannot bear you. This is human nature. Miserable stuff, I grant; nevertheless, the very stuff you have to deal with. And a fine beginning you have made in the scheme of mending a sinner, when, by your fretting, you have brought him to fretting too. Why! You have made him bristle like a porcupine. He says “touch me if you dare.” You have made him set his feet like a mule; and there, in the midst of evil deeds, dogged the perverse – while he pleases, he will stand. And he will please to stand while – you fret. You have made him blind. You made him deaf. And now you may show him truth, pure as the blush of morning; he will not hail it. You may show it to him, vivid as the lightening’s glare; he will not see it. You may peel it to him like the rolling of a thousand thunders; he will not hear it.

Now we may philosophize about this as we please. We may speculate, till we are gray – and lecture, till the season of our stewardship is spent – about the omnipotence of truth; but we cannot make one hair of this matter white or black. It still remains true an angered man is immovable. The omnipotence of Truth notwithstanding – no sinner, since the world has stood, has been converted from the error of his way, or his doctrine, in a passion. – And while the world standeth, no sinner will be. The passion must be subdued – even in the operations of Divine grace – or the truth fails. Wake it up – sustain it; and you have reared a wall of defense and defiance; a wall which must come down ere the citadel can be won.

Now, if fretting ourselves because of evil doers works mischief like this – mars our comfort – and others’ comfort – provokes us to bad deeds – and rouses in those against whom we fret a spirit which prevents their reform – we had better give it up; we had better forswear it forever. We had better hold the truth in righteousness, and “speak the truth in love.” [Ephesians 4:15] We had better – first of all – and last of all – “take heed to our spirits.” [Malachi 2:15]

3. But another reason; – fretting ourselves because of evil doers is unseemly.

It is becoming to feel towards those who do wrong, as Paul did towards his unbelieving “kinsmen according to the flesh;” [Romans 9:3] as Stephen did, when he prayed “Lay not this sin to their charge;” [Acts 7:60] as Jesus Christ did, when he wept over Jerusalem – when he cried “Father forgive them.” [Luke 23:34] But, that it is becoming to feel fretful, in the case, is what none can show.

But, take another view. When we get vexed at evil doers it is not because they abuse God, but because they abuse ourselves, or our fellow creatures. We do not fret at a man because he is unconverted, spiritually; but because he is somehow irregular, outwardly. I have never seen a man cross because his neighbor was not born again. But I have seen hundreds cross because their neighbors–born again, or not – transgressed the second table of the law. Now we ourselves are guilty of deeds more evil than our neighbor’s deeds which anger us. Perhaps we have not, like him, cheated in a bargain; or extorted usury; or sworn profanely; or enticed men to drunkenness; or held our fellow men in bondage; – but, we have done things worse – all of us; we do things worse, all of us, every day. We have done, and do things compared with which the deed of his we fret at, is as a mole hill to a mountain–as a bubble to a world–as a feather to a universe of lead. He wrongs his fellow creature–(for that is the only thing which frets us)–we wrong our God. He treads upon the claims of blood to blood–we, in every error of our lives and secret thoughts, upon those of matchless Grace, of pure redeeming Love.

True – our sin against God is no counterpoise to his against man. His sin is just as heavy and just as ill deserving as though we were sinless. It merits our abhorrence just as much. Our greater wickedness is no reason why we should like or justify his. But it is a reason why we should view his, and bear it too, – without wrath.

It does not become an evil doer to sit in haughty, angry, judgment upon an evil doer. It does not become one who has a beam in his own eye to scowl and chafe at the mote in his brother’s eye.

But–

4. To fret ourselves because of evil doers is wicked.

It is against the Bible. It is as truly disobedience of God as any other thing. It is as openly, as pointedly, disobedience of God. Has he forbidden idolatry? So he has, this. Has he forbidden oppression? So he has, this. Has he forbidden domestic broils–and fraud–and lying–and stealing–and adultery. So he has, this; just as decidedly, just as plainly.

If it be sin to disobey God in one thing–is it not, to disobey him in another? If it be sin to hold flesh and blood of man as chattels, so it is to fret ourselves because of him who does it. if it be sin to be a drunkard, so it is to be vexed against a drunkard. And which is the less and which the greater sin–to be an evil doer in this or that; or–to be an evil doer in fretting ourselves against an evil doer? Which is the least a disobedience of God; and which the most?

True– this fretfulness is natural. It is hard to avoid it. We slip into it unawares. We see the best of men indulge it. And sometimes it seems as though one could scarce do God service–briskly–without it. But all this weighs nothing, nothing, against–“Thus saith the Lord.” “Therefore–thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever though art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself–for thou that judgest, doest the same things.” Thou who frettest against  an evil doer, and he–alike and equally–disobey God.

Another thing will illustrate this sin. What would be your thoughts, and what, your emotions, should I tell you that our Savior used, at times, to foam with passion against evil doers in his day, as you have seen his professed disciples do in yours? You would start at it as blasphemy. Why? If it be not a sin thus to feel toward the wicked–why?

But take another test; for the matter in hand is worth it. –The influence of petulance towards the wicked upon devotion shows it to be a sin. Any feeling which is wrong prevents our access to God. We must first smooth down our ruffled spirits before we can commune at the mercy seat. –Now how is it with an angry, peevish spirit toward the wicked? Does it help, or hinder, prayer? While we are in the heat–are we ready for the communion of our closets–or not? A certain writer answer the question. He says–“prayer is the daughter of charity and the sister of meekness; and he that prays to God in an angry spirit, “is like him who retires into a battle to meditate, and sets up his closet in the out quarters of an enemy, “and chooses a frontier garrison to be wise in. anger is a perfect alienation of the mind from prayer; “and–is contrary to the attention which presents our prayers in a right line to Heaven. For so have I seen “a lark rising from his bed of grass, and soaring upwards, singing as he rises, and hops to get to heaven, “and climb above the clouds. But the poor bird was beaten back by the loud sighings of an eastern wind, “and his motion made irregular and inconstant; descending more, at every breath of the tempest, than “he could recover by the libration and frequent weighings of his wings; till  the little creature was forced “to sit down and pant, and stay till the storm was over; and then–it made a prosperous flight and it did “rise and sing as if it had learned music and motion from an angel, as he passed sometimes through the “air, about his ministries here below.

“So is the prayer of a good man, when anger raises a tempest and overcomes him. Then his prayer was “broken, and his thoughts were troubled, and his words went up towards a cloud; and his thoughts “pulled them back against, and made them without intention. And the good man sighs for his infirmity; “but he must be content to lose his prayer; and he must recover it when his anger is removed, and his “spirit is becalmed, and made even as the brow of Jesus, and smooth like the heart of God: and then is “ascends to heaven upon the wings of the holy dove, and dwells with God, till it returns like the useful “bee, laden with a blessing and the dew of heaven.”

Surely, then, if fretfulness be disobedience of God; if it be contrary to the spirit of our great Example; if it spoil the hours of our closet devotion; there is something wrong about it. It is wicked to be vexed at the ill-behavior of others; as verily wicked as the evil we fret at.

 

Brethren beloved–there is reason why we should guard ourselves against this sin. Fretting is in vogue. We see it. We hear it–every day. We are tempted to it every day. And, truly, we ought to watch against and resist the temptation–because, God has forbidden the thing–; because, it is unseemly; –because it does much hurt and no good.

In times past we have been guilty. Not one of us but has lost his temper; more or less. Somebody has been lax, and somebody else has been ultra, on some subject of practical moment; and it has made us fretful. Some school boy has been a rogue; some vixen in our families has molested us; some sharper has over-reached us in trade; some canting tyro in politics, or religion, or morals, has aspersed our integrity; silly dupes have gulped the libel; and we–have been nettled about it. –Verily, verily, we have been guilty.

Brethren–suppose we should do better. Suppose we should cleave to the Bible in this matter. Suppose we should mind God. Come–let the past suffice, and more than suffice wherein we have fretted ourselves because of evil doers. In our families, in our streets, in our church meetings, in our enterprises of moral reform, never let us fret ourselves. If heretics and sinners, publicans and Pharisees, thwart us and throw dirt at us–by scores–by thousands–let us never fret. Should the world grow ten times as wicked; should Satan come down with tenfold wrath; nay–should the church of the living God–the family of our espousal and vows, of our hope and love–apostatize; should priest and people go and do abominations, together, on the altar of Belial–whatever else we do, let us never prostitute our own integrity; never let us allow ourselves in a fretful, snarlish temper.

Let us abjure it. Root and branch, let us expel it. We shall be the better. We shall be the happier. We shall die the easier. We shall love each other the more. We shall do the more–a deal more–toward the conviction and reform of evil doers. It would be so strange a thing, if only you and I should look upon the wickedness, and bear the buffetings of evil doers, without ill humor–why! The wicked would suspect us, Christians; and–by the contrast–themselves, sinners. But, however this might be, life would be another thing to us. Our food would be sweeter; our sleep, better; our sunshine, brighter. Our fellowship would be heartier; our pilgrimage, smoother; and the evening twilight of our days, softer.

Brethren–brethren–remember these words–“fret not thyself because of evil doers.” And, remember, THEY ARE GOD’S WORDS. He gave them–to be obeyed. If you care for his approval; if you value the peace which he giveth; if you covet the refreshing dews of his grace–obey his word. “Be not overcome of evil; but overcome evil with good.” “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city.”