Sermon – Fasting – 1841, New York




On the Occasion

Of the National Fast;

Delivered Before The

Academy of Sacred Music,

In the Broadway Tabernacle, New York,

On Friday Evening, May 14, 1841.


New York:

Office of the Iris, 647 Broadway,

John S. Taylor & Co., 145 Nassau Street.




Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1841,

By George H. Houghton,

In the Clerks Office of the District Court of the Southern District of New York.


Piercy & Reed, Printers, 9 Spruce St.




The introductory remarks of this Address have reference to two things which may be here more distinctly presented. The one is, those widely-circulated notices of the meeting, on the evening of the Fast Day, which were intended to indicate the subject of the Address. This is their form: “Rev. E. N. Kirk will deliver an Eulogy on the Death of the late President Harrison.” These notices are alluded to here, both because of the blunder they contain, and for the wrong impression they were calculated to make. The author of the Oration is not responsible for their awkward use of language, in speaking of an Eulogy on Death, where they meant to promise an Eulogy on the President. And moreover, although the personal qualities of that great and good man are incidentally introduced, yet the discourse was in no way designed to be, nor, we think, can it properly be designated, an Eulogy. The other allusion is to the fears of many excellent persons, that the Academy of Sacred Music would give a secular character to the latter part of a day designed to be as sacred as the Sabbath. Nothing was farther from their desires, nor from those of the speaker. Whether the fears were well or ill-founded, must be determined by those who heard, and by those who now may read.




The specialty of the case may justify a preliminary remark. Many who desire to see this day and its rites so observed as to meet the Divine approbation, and secure the greatest degree of the Divine blessing, have feared that the present exercise might strike and discordant not, and disturb the plaintive harmony of the nation’s dirge. It is of course manifest that we do not participate in this fear. Nor should it be alluded to here, did it not furnish us a good occasion for introducing the fact, that the general estimate of Sacred Music is too low. If the fear is founded upon the notice that there was to be a Concert and an Eulogy on the Death of General Harrison, we are not surprised at it. A Concert given in reality for the public amusement, but calling itself “sacred,” were as ill-timed and sacrilegious, as it were unfair toward those places of professedly secular amusement, which, in deference to public sentiment, have this night closed their doors.

And again; it were as much a violation of good taste, as of religious propriety, to devote the hours of such a day to an “Eulogy on Death,” as your advertisements have it, or an Eulogy on our departed chieftain, as your advertisements partly state and partly imply.

And yet again; if he, who knows not this Academy, nor its principles, aims, and practice, presumes that its members are not acquainted with the true nature of Sacred Music, and its relations to such occasions as the present, and therefore fears that the holy art will be perverted, and the holy season desecrated, we need no other vindication than the exercises of this evening.

But if the fear alluded to, implies that Sacred Music should not occupy the hours of such a day, then we must be indulged in our brief plea. And it is altogether based upon this fact, that the elements of Sacred Music; sacred poetry expressed by appropriate melody and harmony, have not on earth a more appropriate sphere than that which we here assign them.

A nation is mourning its bereavement in mutual condolence! A nation is mourning its sins in lowly prostration before the offended Deity! The active stir of business is suspended, the voice of mirth is hushed, the face of beauty is veiled, the steps of millions hasten tremblingly to the house of prayer – the honorable and the base are gathered in the temples of mercy – ten thousand supplicating voices are raising their imploring cry, “Spare, O Lord, thy people; give not thy heritage to reproach” – the strength of the nation is feebleness before God, lofty looks are bowed, and proud spirits are contrite – intellect, the heart, the will of a free and mighty people lies low before the mighty Governor of the Universe. He has taken away our staff and our strength; He has removed the stay in which we trusted; and thus cast the nation upon his own naked arm; and we are made to feel an awful nearness to the Omnipotent. He has taken away the veil which hid Him and His authority from our unbelieving eyes; and a sinful people seem to be ushered unanointed into the presence where angels tremble, and archangels veil their faces! Well may we weep. We do weep. The voice of lamentation is wafted like the sigh of the summer wind from the Northern Lakes to the Southern Gulf, from the Atlantic Sea to the Rocky Mountains. It is in the presence of Death we are weeping. We had but just rejoiced as a nation. Part of us had honestly opposed the choice; but the choice once made, patriotism carried it over party, and the man of the North West became the man of the country. Never since the first days of the republic, had there been such enthusiasm on the accession of a Chief Magistrate. The heart of the people has honestly, profoundly glad; but scarcely had the excessive, nay, the idolatrous congratulations ceased, ere the whisper of fear began to spread; the sun had barely lifted his cheering disk upon our horizon, ere a dark cloud was drawn toward it by a mighty and invisible hand. The people trembled, they supplicated; but the decree had gone forth; the mercy that would save us from total ruin, arrested us kindly, though sternly; it gathered us around a vacated throne, a pallid corpse, a silent grace, and changed the voice of joy into lamentation; that amid blasted hopes and broken hearts, we might pause to “hear the voice of the rod and him who appointed it.”

Death is always formidable to man as an inhabiter of time and an inheritor of this lovely planet, so full of God’s bounty. We are loth to part from familiar scenes; we are by instinct tenacious of life. And when we see any fellow-creature die, we start as from a spectral hand that writes our own doom. But when death strikes a high mark; when it treads unrelenting upon hopes and hearts, breaks through the life guard of the throne, and despises the supplicating millions; our terror is enhanced. It has entered our palace; it has conquered our unvanquished defender; it has dimmed the eye that watched only for his country’s welfare; it has closed the ear that was quick to a nation’s complaint, and open to the cry of the needy; it has chilled the heart that throbbed with paternal love over the people that called him father; it has palsied that hand, so honestly, so honorably pledged to defend the Constitution, and to execute the laws. As was said of the death of the great Maccabeus, so may we say here: “At the first tidings of this dreadful accident, all the cities of Judah were moved, streams of tears flowed from the eyes of all their inhabitants. They were struck for a time, dumb, immoveable. An effort of grief at length breaking this long and sad silence, with a voice interrupted by sobbings, that sadness, pity and fear are wringing from their hearts, they exclaimed, ‘How is this mighty fallen, he who saved the people of Israel!’ At these cries Jerusalem redoubled her wailings; the vaults of the temple trembled, the Jordan was troubled, and all its banks echoed the sound of these mournful words: ‘How is the mighty fallen, that saved the people of Israel.’”

Yes, the nation feels; and to express her feeling, behold this day of fasting and prayer! Yes, America, “Atheistical America,” who has no national church, no national creed, no national clergy; America is now in the dust before her God. To our friends and to our foes in Europe, who ask, Where is your religion? We reply, Behold it! With you it may be form the state policy to appoint and observe a fast. But with us, none can doubt that it is a genuine expression of public sentiment. Here is no pageant, no pomp, no royal patronage to encourage our piety. It is a free people invited by a man who has and who wishes no other authority than such as the people have given him, to meet the chastisement of our common Father. And we have done it. We have done it, because we recognized that God has afflicted us, and that for our sins. Such is the object of this day and of its exercises. But what can more appropriately enter into the design of this day, than penitential song? It is answer enough to this, to refer to the dirges and elegies of Jeremiah and David. Whether then we contemplate this fast as an expression of true grief or as an act of homage and worship toward a God holy, and yet inclined to forgive the penitent; Sacred Music is a most desirable auxiliary in our solemn public exercises.

But we leave the vindication, and enter more directly upon the designs of this day. In the expressive language of the prophet, we have paused to “hear the rod and him who hath appointed it.” This day has reference to the past and the future. The rod is upon us, and it speaks to us of the sins which is rebukes; and it hath another voice, lessons are rich, varied, most important, nay, indispensable. America, O America! My dear, my native land, hear the voice of the Lord! Americans, my countrymen, shall we not hear this voice; shall we fail to profit by these lessons? Shall we not become better observers of Providence, and commune more closely with Him “in whom we live and move, and have our being?”

The Voice of the Rod

 1. We are learning our dependence on God. Nation after nation, for nearly six thousand years, has been trying to obtain prosperity independently of the favor of Jehovah. The experiment has been fairly made; made under every variety of circumstances. But no one nation has ever yet truly prospered, and answered the true and obvious ends of the social state; because no nation, not even the Jewish, has yet governed itself permanently and faithfully by the will, and under the supreme authority of Jehovah. And hence the most of them have run a career of ambition, crime, and luxury, to dreadful and utter ruin; while others have remained in a state of stagnant, though sometimes splendid barbarism. America sees the open page of history spread before her. Infidelity and Christianity are both expounding it to here, each in its own way. The one says– no, it was simply and solely because they cast off the fear of God.

The political and diplomatic errors which led immediately to their destruction, had their origin in national impiety. The universe waits to see to which Instructor the young republic will accord its faith. Untold and unborn millions await this decision. The exercises of this day ministers of Christ feel as they do feel, their souls pressed with unusual responsibilities. May the Spirit of the Lord be our aid.

The holy oracles proclaim that Jehovah ruleth among the armies of heaven, and doeth his pleasure among the inhabitants of the earth; that it is he who lifts up, and he who casts down. This was believed by our fathers. But the Atheism of the European illuminati rolled its pernicious waves over us soon after the revolution; and we have had many manifestations of that Skepticism which denies to the Son of God the supreme control of human affairs. What, through our dullness, the sacred oracles failed to teach, He has been teaching by the rod of His chastisement. And the lessons have not been in vain.

I select a single specimen of the tone of the secular press in our country, in reference to this fast; a tone to us full of promise for our country:

 “National Fast.– We hope to see evidence that the occasion of the National Fast will not have passed by as a mere formality. We hope to see proofs that the National Heart can be touched by the spirit of devotion.

“It is nearly time that this and other Nations, professing to be Christian, should break some of the links in the base chain that binds them to the foot-stool of Belial, Moloch and Mammon. The spirit of avarice especially should be crushed. It is in this country a whirlpool that is engulphing all, with hardly an exception. The base pursuit of gain, with little regard to the honesty of the means, has become the disgrace of some of those most eminent for intellect, and heretofore highest in public estimation.

“We hope that by divine co-operation the hearts of our countrymen will be ‘touched to finer issues.’ For we are sure that a mere money-loving and money-seeking nation, must sink under the enervating indulgences, which the sordid spirit brings in its train.”

“Then look at the frequency with which the most enormous crimes are perpetrated; the frauds, embezzlements, defalcations, and forgeries, which greet our ears on every side; the prevalence of Sabbath-breaking, intemperance and profaneness, (though in these particulars we hope there has been some amelioration of late.) Look too at the delicate sate of foreign relations. How easily, by an unfortunate turn of affairs, –by the occurrence of some ‘untoward’ event, –may we become involved in a bloody and protracted war! Now these accidents, as we call them, are entirely within the control of the Being before whom if, as individuals, we look at our personal demerit in the sight of the Holy One, surely, taking all these things into account, and a thousand more which will suggest themselves to the reflecting mind, we shall find reason enough for setting apart, as a nation, one day for fasting, humiliation, and prayer.”

 From the Spring of 1837 to the present day, there has been a powerful tendency of the public mind back toward the recognition of a minutely superintending Providence Events which human prudence would not foresee nor provide against, indicated the movings of an invisible hand, and suggested the counsellings of a Superior Will; blow followed blow, cloud came after cloud, until the close of the last political campaign. Then hope revived; and confidence was returning. The country had chosen a tried man, a man whom his enemies opposed, not from personal, but political considerations; who had, in fact, no enemies but such as envy made. There he sat, calm at the helm, inspiring new confidence in our institutions, new hopes for our country. The Lord saw it, and saw that we had not yet learned where to put our trust. And again; the pressure of his hand must be felt. The rod is therefore upon us. It teaches us, that while political sagacity has its sphere, and that a very important one; yet, after all, there remains so many occult which modify and baffle all his plans and enterprises, that man in his very philosophy ought to seek for a sure director of those unseen influences, those hidden but mighty powers, determine the fate of empires. My countrymen – God is teaching us that He reigns over us, that his favor is life. We must learn that lesson, or perish. We must learn to recognize, to fear, to obey, to trust, to supplicate God, who has revealed himself in his Word. We had in the late President all that we can ask in a Chief Magistrate of a Constitutional Government. He met the wants of our hearts as well as those of our judgments; and therefore we loved as well as trusted him. Probably there is scarcely the man living who combines, both in his history and character, so many of the qualifications that office requires. He was evidently fitted of God for the station and its responsible duties. He had the practical talents for governing, which are more needed there than in any other office of the republic. All this has been proved by incontestable evidence. Through a space of at least twenty years, he was called upon to act in the varied character of Commissioner to the Indians, Secretary of the Territory, Legislator, Commander in Chief, and Governor. Here he displayed all those practical talents, that purity of purpose, that knowledge of men, of public affairs, of the principles of government, which his last station demands. He had, in fact been remarkably trained amid the horrors of the border- warfare, the difficulties of treating with the treacherous savage, and the rude settler. But as he rose from station to station, he became more and more the very shield and pillar of that whole North- Western Territory. By treaty he procured the right of the soil, by the prowess of his arm he defended it, by the wisdom of his counsels he governed it. There were times when the Indians renewed their bloody system of border-warfare. Once, shortly after the battle of Tippecanoe, they commenced their depredations on the borders of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, at points so far distant from each other, as to distract public attention and create a universal panic. As the murders became more frequent, and more aggravated by the cruelties which attended their perpetration, the alarm scene of dismay and suffering; the labors of husbandry were suspended, families deserted their homes and sought safety in flight, and Governor Harrison found himself surrounded by fugitives claiming protection, and by sufferers demanding vengeance. There his patriotism and capacity and energy were called into full exercise. The country was put into the best posture for defense, the enemy was met at every point where his approach could be anticipated, and the defenseless inhabitants owed their safety, under God, to his well directed energies. Of his integrity, it is enough to state, that after having had more power than many an eastern prince, over men’s persons and property, more opportunity to enrich himself in appropriating the best lands of the world; by one treaty alone, securing fifty-one million acres of the richest country in the West, and the most valuable mineral region in the Union, he lived and died poor, and that not from prodigality, but integrity. He never used his immense power and influence to procure stations for his own relatives, if we except his private Secretary. And soon after his resignation in the army, while the wants of a large family were pressing upon him, he made up his mind to ask an appointment for one of his sons in West Point. But before he had done it, a poor boy, a neighbor’s child, made a personal application to the General, to secure him a place in the Institution. He immediately waived the application for his son, and procured a place for this poor lad, who is now a distinguished citizen of Indiana. Who can doubt the integrity of that man! Equally strong was his sense of honor, which was to the country a pledge that merit, and not favoritism nor party-interests, would secure the places of trust. A political opponent, who had known him for forty years, said: “General Harrison never had a particle of dishonesty about him; he was honest in politics, honest in religion, honest in everything.” His benevolence which is the antagonist of ambition. There has been much reproach cast upon our government in regard to the Indians; but he who becomes familiar with General Harrison’s history, will not make the charge of cruelty without many and strong qualifications. Harrison was a warrior; and there may have been a mingling of that selfish love of military renown which leads many to enlist cheerfully in the work of blood. But every step of his military career indicates the contrary in his case. Let the historian speak here for a moment: “On the morning of the 27t, the final embarkation of the army on Lake Erie, commenced. The sun shone in all his autumnal beauty, and a gently breeze hastened onward the ships to that shore, on which , it was anticipated, the banner of our country would have to be planted amid the thunder of British arms and the yells of ferocious Indians. While moving over the bosom of the lake–every eye enchanted with the magnificence of the scene, and every heart panting for the coming opportunity of avenging their country’s wrongs, –the beloved commander-in-chief caused the following address to be delivered to his army:

‘The General entreats his brave troops to remember that they are the sons of sires whose fame is immortal; that they are to fight for the rights of their insulted country, while their opponents combat for the unjust pretensions of a master. Kentuckians! Remember the river Raisen; but remember it only, whilst victory is suspended. The revenge of a soldier cannot be gratified upon a fallen enemy.’” The latter sentiment characterized all his military operations, even with the savage tribes. He never drew his sword but for his country and for liberty. It was fiery rampart to our exposed frontier; but it blazed only for defense. And in alluding to his qualifications, we speak once more of his simplicity of character and manner. One who knew him wells, says: “in personal address and manners, he was the very man to be popular in a republican government. He was no aristocrat in democratic disguise; but, a people’s man, he went among the people in the people’s dress, and with the people’s manners.  Though President of the United States, any one could see him even from sunrise in the morning. He had a native courteousness united with the ease and dignity of a Virginia republican. His countenance was goodness, honesty, frankness, and disinterestedness. His eye was emphatically “the light of his body,” a soft, sparkling eye–dark, but gently; and though gentle, full of fire. Mildness and energy were hardly ever more beautifully blended.” Another says, “he was condescending. The poor and illiterate found as ready access to him as the great and learned. Even the children were at home with him, and none but the guilty were embarrassed in his presence.” His views of agriculture, as presented in an address delivered ten years ago, are so entirely accordant with the spirit of our institutions, so utterly opposed to this office-seeking, money-grasping spirit, that now infects the youth of our nation; and at the same time these views are so strongly descriptive of the simplicity and purity of his character, that you will bear their introduction here. “The encouragement of agriculture, gentlemen, would be praiseworthy in any country; in our own it is peculiarly so. Not only to multiply the means and enjoyments of life but as giving greater stability and security to our political institutions. In all ages and in all countries, it has been observed, that the cultivators of the soil, are those who were least willing to part with their rights, and submit themselves to the will of a master. I have no doubt, also that a taste of agricultural pursuits, is the best means of disciplining the ambition of those daring spirits, who occasionally spring up in the world, for good or for evil, to defend or to destroy the liberties of their fellow-men, as the principles received from education or circumstances may tend. As long as the leaders of the Roman armies were taken from the plough, to the plough they were willing to return. Never in the character of General, forgetting the duties of the citizen, and ever ready to exchange the sword and the triumphal purple, for the homely vestments of the husbandman.

The history of that far-famed republic is full of instances of this kind; but none more remarkable than our own age and country have produced. The fascinations of power and the trappings of command were as much despised, and the enjoyment of rural scenes and rural employments as highly prized, by our Washington, as by Cincinnatus or Regulus. At the close of his glorious military career, he says, ‘I am preparing to return to that domestic retirement, which, it is well known, I left with the deepest regret, and for which I have not ceased to sigh through a long and painful absence. Your efforts, gentlemen, to diffuse a taste for agriculture amongst men of all descriptions and professions, may produce results more important than increasing the means of subsistence, and the enjoyments of life. It may cause some future conqueror for his country, to end his career,

“Guiltless of his country’s blood.”

Such views in our day are of incalculable importance and you will excuse their introduction while I am showing what we have lost, in losing such a man. And you will allow one other feature of his character to be mentioned; his patriotism. He was born of a race that have distinguished themselves as lovers of liberty. As far back as Charles I, we find a Harrison, boldly condemning to the scaffold a monarch who as much violated the law of his country, as any murderer does. The father of our hero was signer of the Declaration of Independence, who nobly ceded the Speaker’s chair to Hancock, seizing the modest candidate in his athletic arms, placing him in the chair, and then exclaiming to the members, –“we will show Mother Britain how little we care for her, by making a Massachusetts man our President, whom she has excluded from pardon by a public proclamation.” Such was the descent of General Harrison. He was born and bred in the very school of Washington, and Adams, and Madison. And through the long course of almost half a century, that he was in his country’s service, not an act, not a word, can be adduced that indicates that he preferred anything to the welfare of his country, and the permanence of her institutions. His time, his property, his domestic comfort, the temporal welfare of his family, his life, his fortune, his sacred honor, were laid on his country’s altar; and his dying breath uttered the sentiment, that next to the fear of God, had lain deepest and most cherished in his heart, as it had been the main-spring of his wonderfully active, and efficient, and protracted career– “I wish you to understand the true principles of the government– I wish them carried out– I ask nothing more.” Yes, departed sage, horseman of Israel and the chariot thereof; they shall be carried out, and the last earthly wish of thy noble heart shall be gratified! And in his statement of the principles on which he would govern the country, we have an exhibition of the apparent importance of his presence at the helm of State.

“Among the principles proper to be adopted by any Executive sincerely desirous to restore the administration to its original simplicity and purity, I deem the following to be of prominent importance:

I.        To confine his service to a single term.

II.      To disclaim all right of control over the public treasure, with the exception of such part of it as may be appropriated by law to carry on the public services, and that to be applied precisely as the law may direct, and drawn from the treasury agreeably to the long established principles of that department.

III.    That he should never attempt to influence the elections, either by the people or the state legislatures, nor suffer the federal officers under his control to take any other part in them than by giving their own votes, when they possess the right of voting.

IV.    That in the exercise of the veto power, he should limit his rejection of bills to–1. Such as are, in his opinion, unconstitutional. 2. Such as tend to encroach on the rights of the states or individuals. 3. Such as involving deep interests, may, in his opinion, require more deliberation or reference to the will of the people, to be ascertained at succeeding elections.

V.      That he should never suffer the influence of his office to be used for purposes of a purely party character.

VI.    That in removals from office of those who hold their appointments during the pleasure of the Executive, the cause of such removal should be stated, if requested, to the Senate, at the time the nomination of the successor is made.

VII.  That he should not suffer the Executive department of the Government to become the source of legislation; but leave the whole business of making laws for the Union to the department to which the Constitution has exclusively assigned it, until they have assumed that perfected shape when and where alone the opinions of the Executive may be heard.”

 These are the principles which we had fondly hoped he was going to carry out and execute. To us, they seem inseparable from the dignity of that high office, essential to the healthful action of our political system.  With such an exposition made by such a man, we rejoiced to see him going up to the highest place of power and trust.

Such was General Harrison, considered in reference to the qualifications for the Presidential chair. And such is our loss. But it is the Lord who qualified him, who gave him and who has taken him. Hear then, mourning nation, the voice of the rod. It proclaims our complete, our incessant dependence on a sovereign God. Today let it be engraven on the heart of this people, and let them tell it to their children’s children; that “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and all the people of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.”

2. The dealings of Providence bring to our view our national and personal sins. This blow is but one of a series. The history of the last six years recounts the resources of the Almighty hand, when he means to visit a nation for its sins–fires, storms, disease, wrecks, perplexity, fear, murderers, rumors of war, heart-burnings, volcanic and subterranean thunderings of party strife–public distrust created by an unparalleled series of public frauds, and the breach of the public faith; these have been the inflictions superadded to ordinary inflictions, and to which the vain heart of man pays too little heed. And all these chastisements seemed to have, through our obstinacy, one defect as chastisements; they did not strike suddenly enough, nor with a sufficiently general effect, to make the nation comprehend their meaning. So this last was sent, and may it be the last? This has a two-fold efficacy–it strikes the nation like an electric shock. Probably there was not a hamlet within the broad domain of our empire, in which the cry was not heard in less than one week from its occurrence–the President is dead. And it came too just in the height and heat of the nation’s enthusiasm. Just when they would feel it most, and when the spirit of man-worship was in its most lusty stage. God lifted him up to a nation’s admiration; but at the same time held up the decree– “this day have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion; be wise, now therefore, O ye kings, and be instructed, O ye judges of the earth; serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry.” The space of one short month was given, that like Nineveh we might repent and avert the impending blow. But we repented not, and the rod fell. All our sins are comprehended in this one of rejecting Christ. And all our national sins are personal sins. And the appropriate spirit and employment of this day, is the review of our personal transgressions, and the putting away of our individual atheism and unbelief, our disregard of the supremacy of Christ, and of his precious gospel. He is the true patriot, who this day carries a broken heart to his closet, and mourns over his own and our people’s sins; our worldliness and love of money, our party-spirit, our profanation of the Sabbath, our lewdness and profaneness, our neglect of the Bible and of prayer. “Kiss the Son,” as our Sovereign and your Savior, and let your entire influence be henceforth devoted to securing to him the faith, the homage and the praises of the nation. Let us repent and bring forth fruits meet for repentance. Let the ministry lay aside its sins, the country, the President, the Cabinet, the Law-makers, the Judges, the Princes, and the People all bow down this day before an offended God, and seeking the aids of his grace, promise new obedience to Him who was exalted, in order that to Him every knee might bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of the Father.

3. Let us learn that we must die, and how to die. The dispensation that now afflicts us, impresses on our minds two great realities; – that we must die; and, that personal piety is the only and the essential preparation for that great change. I doubt, if any event in our history has ever called forth so cordial, so extensive and impressive an expression of the genuine conviction of our country. It is remarkable, how earnestly the secular journals have echoed the question–was our noble friend prepared for the great change? And it is as remarkable how full, and how satisfactory an answer Providence is giving to that inquiry. The nation is treasuring up his doings and sayings; but none give such relief to the burdened heart, as those which show him a penitent suppliant for mercy at the foot of the cross. And he did bow there, we fully believe. For several years the claims of his Savior, and the interests of his own soul had been objects of supreme importance in his view. And his were no superficial views of piety as consisting in belonging to a particular sect, or rendering a respectful homage to Christianity in general. He regarded the gospel as designed to penetrate and renovate the heart. He said to a clergyman, “I like your views of repentance; genuine sorrow, humble confession, and a forsaking of sin, are the only things that can bring peace to the sinner, or make him a better man–“How beautifully,” said he, “is the gospel adapted to the wants of the world. God must love the penitent more than the sinless, and the forgiven penitent must love God more than those who never sinned.” And in a full accordance with our views of the nature and intent of the rite, he intended to celebrate the love of his Savior at the sacramental supper. But the facts are before the nation; he loved the Bible, the Sabbath, the ministry, the cause of evangelical religion. His message, penned in the chamber where maternal piety taught his infant lips to lisp the Lord’s prayer, presents to the nation his sense of our dependence upon the power and favor of God.

Let the nation now gather around his silent tomb. By the fresh grave let our young men learn to die. We ask the infidel there; what do you find despicable in piety? Did it make Harrison less intelligent, less energetic, less upright, less patriotic? Let the soul consumed by the feverish thirst of wealth stand there and think of one whose character was never tainted by the foul passion, one who had chosen the good part that can never be taken from him. Let the ambitious pause in his career, and see whether honors are worth so much, when they may be enjoyed so briefly, snatched away so suddenly, so early; whether it is best to sell the soul and gain the world.

Let the friend of his country there see that just what we need in our rulers, is, that conscientiousness and disinterestedness which piety creates. He had the godliness which is profitable for the life that is, and for that which to come.

“It is appointed unto men once to die; and after that, the judgment.” Fellow citizens, are you prepared for judgment? Could his voice be heard amidst us again, think you it would teach you to disregard the mercy of God and to despise his anger? Oh no; my countrymen, no. Pause, pause, he would say; pause ere you rush into the holy presence where my soul is now standing in holy fear and rapture. Young men, cease to struggle for party and for power. Political men, cease your schemes of vain ambition. Where are my laurels now? Behold them already withered in the tomb. Where is the power and glory of my envied elevation? Evaporated by one breath of disease. Where is my soul? Here, where no political party no military renown, no classic lore, no national gratitude, no personal worth, has raised me; but that grace of Christ to which I fled, as a perishing sinner. Living, I would have labored for your temporal good, and I would have labored for your temporal good, and I would have shewn you an imperfect though honest example of obedience to Christ. But that was not permitted me. To my emancipated spirit, it is only permitted to utter one word more of counsel. It is this–“Be ye also ready.”

Sermon – Fasting – 1851, Massachusetts

The Divine right of Government:



Delivered in

Quincy, Massachusetts,

On the Day of

The Annual State Fast,

April 10, 1851,


By WM. P Lunt,

Minister of the First Congregational Church in Quincy.



WM. Crosby and H. P. Nichols,

111, Washington Street,



To William P. Lunt, D. D. Quincy,

Quincy, April 12, 1851.

Dear Sir, –In the belief, that, in times like the present, the pulpit may find a useful auxiliary in the press, the undersigned, with many others who had the good fortune to hear your Fast-day Sermon on the 10th inst. are desirous of obtaining a copy for publication. Your kind compliance with their and our wishes in this regard will much oblige, dear Sir,

Yours very truly,

S. G. Williams

Josiah Brigham

Daniel Greenleaf

Thomas Greenleaf



Ebenezer Woodward

George W. Beale

I.W. Munroe

Gideon F. Thayer

Lysander Richards


To Messrs. S. G. Williams, Josiah Brigham, and others.

Quincy, April 17, 1851.

Gentlemen, – I place at your disposal a copy of the Discourse which you have done me the honor to ask for publication, and am, with great regard,

Your friend and servant,

Wm P. Lunt.



Titus III. 1, 2.

“Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers.”


It appears, then, from the text, that there is such a virtue, in the judgment of a Christian apostle, as allegiance to human authority, and that obedience to magistrates is to be found on the catalogue of Christian duties. It may be well for us to keep this fact in mind; because, in the estimation of many at present day, the only test of virtue seems to lie in resistance to the execution of laws, and in disrespect to rulers.

It also appears from the text, that one of the vices against which Christian morality laid an injunction in apostolic times was the vice of an evil-speaker or a brawler. This, too, it may be well for us to bear in mind; because this part of morality seems to be obsolete in the consideration of many in our generation. A man is in no esteem now, if he be not a brawler and an evil-speaker. The Apostle Peter, in one of his epistles, speaks of a class of “presumptuous, self-willed” persons, who “are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” If the Apostle Peter were alive now he would find a class who are not only “not afraid,” but who esteem it quite commendable, to “speak evil of dignities.” They vilify their magistrates from principle. They appear to regard it as their peculiar mission, and the service which they are sent into the world to perform, to malign the motives and characters of those opposed to them. They set about the service quite deliberately. They have furnished a good deal, by their ingenuity and invention, to enlarge the vocabulary of abuse. Probably the people’s English was never so rich in terms and phrases suited to the purpose of defamation, as, through the contributions of such persons, it has grown to be. What will become of the next generation, if they use faithfully all these weapons of tongue-welfare, which are laid up in the armories of the fashionable philanthropy, and add to them others of their own forging, perhaps of keener edge than any they inherit, it is impossible for our foresight to determine. Certainly there is not a prospect of the earth being possessed by a very amiable society.

By they are doing a good work, they say; they are working for God and for humanity; and this will excuse, they imagine, any methods and instruments that may be employed. Doubtless they are so sincere, and so intent upon the object at which they are aiming, that they are not observant of the consequences of the course they pursue. And they will not, therefore, take it ill, if one who is standing by a cool spectator should undertake to suggest, by way of caution, that their mode of reforming the world may possibly resemble a case which is recorded in the Bible. The unclean spirit against which they are striving may be cast out; but the mischief is, that seven other spirits, more wicked than the one ejected, enter in, and the last state is worse than the first. If we must purchase exemption from one undeniable social evil by the introduction into the system of seven more virulent diseases, surely the world will not be very much of a gainer by the use of such remedies.

Another suggestion may not be regarded inapplicable to those persons who are so fond of “speaking evil of dignities.” The Apostle Jude, in his brief epistle, relates an interesting and instructive incident. He tells us that “Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil” (it was a kind of habeas corpus process served upon the evil one for the body of Moses), “durst not bring against even him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.” If this was treating the devil altogether too well, there is very little danger of the Archangel Michael’s example being followed in our day.

It may therefore be deemed not inappropriate to the present occasion, called together as we are by the recommendation of the public authorities, “to consider, in the spirit of Christianity, the private and public sins of this community;” to give our attention specially to the two which are named in the text, –Resistance to the Laws, and Evil-Speaking.

With regard to the first of these sins, – resistance to the laws, – I am aware that there are two classes of persons who will be likely to object to the remarks now to be offered. First, there is the class containing those who will be ready to say that there is no disposition in our community to resist the laws; that, however much opposed our people may be to a particular enactment, they have no wish and entertain no purpose to act in any other than a regular way, through discussion and the ballot-box. It is to be hoped that this course will be pursued. Our people generally have been marked by a love of order, as much as by an inbred, if not an inborn, hatred of oppressions. But we are all composed of inflammable materials; and it is not unlikely that those who kindle into a flame most slowly may burn with the greater fierceness, and keep their unsafe heat for the longer time. When, too, we hear it said, as it has been said among us not once, but repeatedly, and as deliberately as the persons uttering it were capable of, that, Constitution or no Constitution, a certain law shall not be executed; when we hear the most violent language used by those who are looked to as guides, and witness the natural influence of such language upon the temper of persons who are ignorant and impressible; when the pulpit is denounced, if it says a word to support of the Government and Union under which we live; when the coarsest abuse is poured out upon the Judiciary, because they dare to refuse to be made use of for party purposes; – when these things are said and done, surely the coolest may see reason to be alarmed, and the conviction must be forced upon them, that there are some unmistakable symptoms in the midst of our community, of resistance to the laws. The danger is not imaginary, as some are disposed to allege. Nor is it wholly a pretext thrown before the public by designing politicians, who wish to divert attention by sounding a false alarm. There is a factious element in our community; and it will be found far more material to put down, at all hazards, this turbulent spirit, than to oppose any law, however objectionable.

But, besides those who maintain that there is no ground for fearing resistance to the laws, there is among us another class composed of persons who make resistance, passive if not active, to the laws a matter of principle. They assume the right to bring any act of statue of the government to the bar of their individual judgment or conscience; and, if the statute in question does not square with their private notions of justice, they claim the liberty to set it aside. This doctrine has been broached among us; and it finds able, eloquent, earnest advocates. The doctrine in question, it will be observed, goes far beyond any nullification that has been heretofore proposed. The dogma set up in this new school is, – that, without waiting for State action, without the necessity of calling any convention, every individual is competent to consider and pronounce the final judgment upon the laws of the land; that the rule hitherto adopted in our communities – that the majority shall govern – is a false rule; that King Majority is as great a tyrant as King George; that every individual, when he enters into society, promises to obey the Constitution of such society, as he understand that Constitution, not as others interpret it for him; that he is bound to submit only to such laws as he approves, and finds a warrant for in his own judgment. The practical operation of such a dogma is, – that, if any statute conflicts with the conscience of an individual, he will not entertain the question whether his conscience is right, but assume that it is infallible; nor will he entertain the question whether it would be practicable to submit every public act to twenty million consciences, with all the variety that may be found ranging from the inmates of the State’s prison up to the most enlightened and righteous in the land; but that, if the statute in question is pronounced wrong in the court of his private mind, he will set it aside; he will trample upon it; he will annul it. When Louis Fourteenth of France abruptly interrupted some one of his courtiers, who presumed to mention in his hearing the State, – “The State! I am the State,” – it has been thought to indicate the highest point of arrogance that a human being could reach. The pretensions of absolute power, it has been supposed, would be carried no farther. The doctrine of the tyrant is, “My will is law. My conscience is the public judgment. There shall be no appeal from my edicts.”

But is it any less arrogant and assuming for a private individual to say, – “Constitution! I am the Constitution. There shall be no appeal from my conscience to any tribunal or instrument on earth.” Who would have looked, a few years since, to find the most extravagant and high-toned doctrine of absolutism adopted by individuals nominally republicans?

Now, against every doctrine of this kind, against every species of nullification, – that which would bring State laws into conflict with the laws of the nation, as well as that more extreme but equally ungrounded species which would set the decisions of the mind of an individual, call them decrees of conscience or assertions of will, in opposition to the deliberate expression of the public mind, – against every form of nullification, both reason and religion alike protest. Man, in his private relations, may and should be governed by his own sense of right. And if all the separate members that compose society were as scrupulous to apply this inward light, each one to his private walk and personal character, as some are officious in thrusting their peculiar judgments upon the community, it would be well for the world.

But when men come to act together, a multitude of consciences and wills, there must of necessity be some umpire to settle unavoidable differences. There must of necessity be some limits beyond which the freedom of the individual shall be restrained. There must be some standard, some central authority, which shall be sovereign, and beyond which, for the purposes of society, there shall be no appeal. For the purposes of society, I say, this limitation of the individual’s prerogative is indispensable. Thought may still be free; but, when thought expresses itself in overt acts, those acts must be restrained within some fixed and definite bounds. This seems to be unavoidable, if we would maintain any form of human association.

The simple questions, then, for men to ask are, Who shall be the umpire? What power shall fix the limits beyond which the individual shall not go? And what shall be the standard from which no appeal is allowable? These questions, it is well known, have been variously answered in different countries; and, according to the answer given to them, the forms of society, and the political institutions under which men have lived, have varied. In one country the settled polity is, that a single individual, as the autocrat of Russia for example, or the Pope of Rome, called infallible, shall be umpire. He shall arbitrarily, and according to his good pleasure, fix the limits beyond which the wills of his subjects shall not transgress. His mind shall be the standard from which there shall be no appeal. In another country, the aristocracy – those who are accounted the wisest and best in the land – are the ultimate judges of what is right and binding.

Now, we reject both of these standards. We deny the divine right of kings; we deny the infallibility of the Pope. But yet we allow, as all reflecting men must allow, the necessity of some ultimate standard, if we would avoid anarchy, and uphold the order and stability of a social system. How is this problem met and solved in the theory and practice of our free forms of government? We say, – and this is the fundamental principle of our systems, – that the will of the majority, deliberately expressed, and embodied according to wholesome, prescribed forms agreed upon beforehand, and described in written Constitutions, – that this will of the majority shall rule, and that nothing shall set it aside but itself revising and reversing its own acts. This fundamental principle of our institutions has always heretofore been esteemed the best, the safest, the most reasonable rule for determining public questions; and, if we look at the working of this principle, the influence it has actually exerted, the results which have flowed from it, the prosperity and happiness, public and private, to which it has contributed, we must be convinced that it has proved itself by its fruits and beneficent principle. The amazing spectacle which our favored land presents, stretching as it does from ocean to ocean, is a proof that may be seen of all men to the same effect.

It is not maintained by any, that the principle is a perfect one, either theoretically or practically. Doubtless, the majority in any community are liable to error. They may, and sometimes do, commit mischievous mistakes. They may be driven by passion or by interest; or, by the dissemination of false doctrine, may be led deliberately into unjust and pernicious measures. But with all this liability to error, inseparable from the will of the majority, should we be ready to exchange the popular rule, judging of its character by its influence on the whole, for the principle upon which absolute governments are founded? If the action of the majority is wrong in any instance, being grounded in false doctrines whether moral in any instance, being grounded in false doctrines whether moral or political, the only remedy open to us, short of revolution, is to set about rectifying public opinion, so that at some future period the wrong measures may be repealed. If the expressions of the popular will were to be regarded as irreversible decrees which it were unlawful to consider and discuss, in that case there would be some valid reason for complaint. It is true, that, when public opinion gets bent and fixed in any wrong direction, it is no easy matter, and it is not the work of a day or of a year, perhaps not in some cases the work of a single generation or century, to rectify the errors that have been committed, and to put society upon the right track. But is this any reason why a being so short-lived as the individual man is upon the earth should fret and work himself into a passion, and distrust Providence, and oppose his will to the public will, and, if he cannot have his own way, impede, as much as in him lies, the working of social institutions?

Government, therefore, as we may easily convince ourselves, grows out of the necessity of human affairs, although its form may and does vary in different countries and periods of time. But whatever form it may assume, and however much it may be improved, it will always be an imperfect instrument, involving evils of greater or less magnitude, and for ever failing to correct social inequalities, and to bring the condition of mankind upon the earth to that point of absolute justice and right of which the human mind can form an ideal conception. Nor is this any good reason why men should give over all effort to better their condition, and to bring the actual state of society more nearly up to the level of their ideal standard. Let such efforts be unceasingly made by the wise and benevolent of successive generations. But, in laboring for a good which they have not attained, let them not put to hazard the manifold blessings they already possess. With all its imperfections, and failing, as it does, to accomplish much that the heart of man earnestly desires to attain, there is yet a sacredness attached to government which is a wholesome sentiment; and although there are cases when rulers may be rightfully resisted, and when revolution is a duty, yet these are extreme cases, and require for their justification the most imperative necessity.

The sentiment of the sacredness of government is expressed and enforced in the Scriptures very emphatically. The words of the Apostle Paul, for example, are often quoted to enforce this sentiment, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Although these words have too often been misinterpreted, as if they were designed to uphold and justify absolute governments, and to inculcate passive, unresisting submission to laws, however unjust and oppressive; one sentiment they do at least convey, namely, the divine right of government, the majesty and sacredness of public law, and the consequent venerableness of those who are invested and authority. He who allows himself to speak evil of magistrates dishonors himself as one of the people from whom those magistrates derive their delegated power. And therefore it is a just and well-grounded maxim for every good citizen, that a magistrate, when he has been fairly chosen to office, whether we ourselves helped to elect him or not, is entitled to respect until he may forfeit it by some unworthy act.

The Divine Right of Government! This is eminently a Christian sentiment. The divine right of kings is a fiction formerly entertained very widely by the human mind, but which has vanished before the clear light of intelligence and Christian truth. The divine right of any particular form of government, in preference to any other form, will not bear the test of examination. But the divine right of government as opposed to anarchy; the necessity, established by God himself in our constitution and condition, for some restraint upon the wills of individuals; the essential sanctity of law, – this is a sentiment which no changes to which the human mind is subject can impair. Reason and Scripture, with united voice, say to men: “Choose you, as wisdom may dictate, under what form of civil society you will live. Determine, as you like best, where the sovereign authority shall be lodged from which there shall be no appeal. If you are oppressed by intolerable burthens and unjust exactions, rise up against the tyranny, and shake it off; do this calmly, in the fear of God, and not without a prudent calculation of the hazards. However, do the work, hazardous as it is, if you are convinced that it must be done, and strive to place yourselves in a position more favorable for your happiness.” But Reason and Scripture add this caution to the liberty which is granted to men: “Remember, you cannot choose whether you will live under some government or none at all. This is not – this never has been– this never will be the alternative offered to mankind.” Nor, because a government fails to come up to the ideal standard we form in our minds, and to accomplish all the unmixed good we could desire, are we at liberty to disallow its claims, and to fall back upon our own individual judgments.  It is with government as with all earthly blessings, even the best: we take it, and we take them all, “for better or for worse,” “until death do us part.” Authority supreme, from which there shall be allowed not appeal, must reside somewhere. God, who desires the highest good of communities, has instituted government for the promotion of that good. Government, therefore, is not only to be submitted to as a necessity, nor merely to be look upon as an institution quite useful to society, but the Christian citizen will look upon it as a shield which Heaven has interposed between what he most loves and what he most dreads; he will regard it with veneration, as type, however imperfect, of that divine sovereignty which rules the universe; as a branch of that law whose “seat is the bosom of God.” This is the doctrine in regard to governments, magistrates, and laws which Christianity plainly inculcates.

And assuredly there never was a time when our community stood more in need than now of the influence of this great conservative sentiment of the divine right of government, and of such precepts as those contained in the text, to moderate the excitement which exists against an obnoxious law. To examine with the utmost freedom, consistent with decorum, all public measures, is a clear and indisputable right, which none of us would willingly surrender. To discuss the laws of the land, to point out their defects, to argue their inconsistency with the Constitution, to criticize their details, or to object to the principle they involve; to point out, by fair reasoning, their opposition to natural justice and to the duties of religion; to urge their repeal on the ground either of their transcending the powers lodged with the lawmaking branch, or if clearly within the scope of their authority, yet as unadvisable exercises of that authority, under a complex system which depends very much for its harmonious working on compromise, concession, and forbearance, – all this is allowable surely. But while this process for rectifying public sentiment, necessarily slow, requiring long periods of time it may be, and calling for much patience before the object is gained, – while this process is going on, the obnoxious law must be executed, or there must be a revolution. And amidst the complicated affairs of this world, where nothing corresponds to the principles which we are apt to regard best, we are forced to decide between submitting to a wrong for which we are not responsible, or hazarding the existence of those social safeguards upon which all our most valued blessings rest.

It should be borne in mind, too, that there are consciences on both sides of such a question as now divides our community; that there are convictions equally strong, equally enlightened, equally pure and honest, on both sides. It is neither justifiable nor sufferable for a person to assume, that the motives of himself and of those who agree with him are right, and that all opposed to him are acting under the influence of interested, immoral, and unchristian motives. The only fair view of the case is, that there is a conflict of consciences equally honest. And, in such an exigency, what can be done, what do the necessary imperfections of the social state allow to be done, except to submit to the umpire which we have voluntarily and deliberately adopted, – the will of the majority; to defer to the best judgment touching the matter in dispute, which the body of the community is capable of arriving at for the present, and to trust to the enlightening influence of causes now at work, to produce a better state of public opinion hereafter?

This conflict of consciences among men that think at all, and that are able to exercise the faculty of judgment on moral subjects, demonstrates the imperative necessity of some government, that is, of some established umpire, whose decisions, if not always wise and right, if even they may at times be unjust, are far better fore society than infinite wranglings among those who will consent neither to give over their disputes, nor to refer their differences to any earthly tribunal. What society needs, in order that the great interests of man which are aimed at in social institutions should be promoted, is some chance for repose. It were but poor amends for the evil of never-ending, bitter strife, to say that the combatants are conscientious. If they are conscientious in quarrelling, there ought to be some power somewhere in the world that shall be conscientious in putting a stop to their quarrels. We are bound to consider what must be the consequence, if, in every collision that occurs between private conscience and public law, we apply the doctrine that we may set aside a portion of that public law. Where can this doctrine end but in the sovereignty of every individual? – a state of things very much resembling that which is described in the Book of Judges, – “In those days there was no king in Israel; but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” And as the wise man tells us, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.” There is not an article in any Constitution that now exists upon earth, or in any Constitution that could be devised by the wit or wisdom of man, to which the honest or the contentious conscience of some individual might not be found to object. If a person should feel impelled by his conscience to aim a murderous weapon at my life, or to appropriate to himself a portion of my substance, or to vilify and slander my good name (and all these things have been done very conscientiously), I should pray to be protected from that man’s conscience.

What other conclusion, then, can wise, practical men come to, but to allow the laws of the land, which have been enacted in due form, to have their course and be executed, until we can so far change the current of public opinion that what is objectionable in those laws may be corrected?

Among the great, wise, and good men who met in convention more than sixty years since to frame the Constitution of the United States, under which we have lived and prospered thus far, was Benjamin Franklin, known all over the world for his genius, his virtue, and his usefulness. At that time, he was eighty-one years old. He had learned all that he was likely to learn upon earth. He had all but finished his mortal career, and therefore was not open to the charge, from the most captious, of being influenced by interested motives. In a speech that he made at the close of the convention, he said, among other good remarks; “I consent to this Constitution, because I expect not better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors I sacrifice to the public good. On the whole, sir, I cannot help expressing a wish, that every member of the convention who may still have objections to it would with me on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and, to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.” Such was the language of Franklin on a memorable occasion. I would seek to strengthen the good sense and practical wisdom of his words, not by any language of my own, but by the inspired world of Holy Writ: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers.” This is the charge given to a Christian teacher and minister in early times; and the same charge is given, as I understand the matter, to the servants of the altar now. If the time shall ever come when it shall be deemed the legitimate office of the Christian pulpit to preach revolutionary doctrines, and to instigate the minds of men to resistance to the laws of the land, it will be time, too, for the people to consider whether the pulpit is worth upholding. God grant that that time may never come!

Sermon – Fasting – 1798, Massachusetts (Morse)

Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826) Biography:

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Morse graduated from Yale in 1783. He began the study of theology, and in 1786 when he was ordained as a minister, he moved to Midway, Georgia, spending a year there. He then returned to New Haven, filling the pulpit in various churches. In 1789, he took the pastorate of a church in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where he served until 1820. Throughout his life, Morse worked tirelessly to fight Unitarianism in the church and to help keep Christian doctrine orthodox. To this end, he helped organize Andover Theological Seminary as well as the Park Street Church of Boston, and was an editor for the Panopolist (later renamed The Missionary Herald), which was created to defend orthodoxy in New England. In 1795, he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity by the University of Edinburgh. Over the course of his pastoral career, twenty-five of his sermons were printed and received wide distribution.

Morse also held a lifelong interest in education. In fact, shortly after his graduation in 1783, he started a school for young ladies. As an avid student of geography, he published America’s very first geography textbook, becoming known as the “Father of American Geography,” and he also published an historical work on the American Revolution. He was part of the Massachusetts Historical Society and a member in numerous other literary and scientific societies.

Morse also had a keen interest in the condition of Native Americans, and in 1820, US Secretary of War John C. Calhoun appointed him to investigate Native tribes in an effort to help improve their circumstances (his findings were published in 1822). His son was Samuel F. B. Morse, who invented the telegraph and developed the Morse Code.

A Sermon

Delivered at the New North Church in Boston,

In the Morning


In the Afternoon at Charlestown,

May 9th, 1798,

Being the Day recommended by

John Adams,

President of the United States of America,


Solemn Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer.

By Jedidiah Morse, D.D.

Minister of the Congregation in Charlestown.

Published at the request of a number of the Hearers, in both Congregations.

Printed by Samuel Hall, No. 53, Cornhill, Boston.




2 Kings, XIX. Part of Verse 3 & 4.

This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, (or reviling) and blasphemy – wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left.


Thus king Hezekiah, by his messengers, addressed the prophet Isaiah, in circumstances of singular perplexity and distress for the safety of his threatened country. It must be interesting to us in the present posture of our public affairs, to know that were the peculiar circumstances and dangers, which prompted good king Hezekiah to make a declaration and a request, so remarkably applicable to our case as a nation, and so exactly coincident with the spirit of the proclamation. “This day,” said Hezekiah to the prophet, “is a day of trouble, of reviling, and of blasphemy – Wherefore lift up thy prayer so the remnant that is left.” –  “The United States of America,” says the President, to the minister of religion and the people, “are at present placed in a hazardous and afflictive situation” – Wherefore make earnest supplication to God “that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it.” – In what respects the causes which, in each case, produced the perilous and distressful situation, bear resemblance to each other, may be perceived from a concise historical view of the state of public affairs in the kingdom of Judah, at the period of which we are speaking, and with which, as applicable to the present occasion, I shall introduce this discourse.


The Assyrians, in the time of Hezekiah, were the most powerful nation on earth. Their empire embraced and controlled the strength of the kingdoms of Babylon, Nineveh and Medea. – They had, in rapid succession, subdued and annexed to their empire, Syria, Palestine, and the whole territory inhabited by the ten tribes, constituting the kingdom of Israel; and had even carried their conquests into Egypt, and ravaged that country. With their immense spoils, they had enriched and aggrandized their empire; and with their captives, they had peopled their waste territories. Thus strengthened by the accession of the conquered countries, by their inhabitants and wealth, they became formidable, and the dread and terror of their neighbors.

They were a treacherous and faithless, as well as powerful nation. Ahaz, king of Judah, the wicked father of Hezekiah, discarding the aid of the God of his fathers, had very unwisely, and at the very great price, purchased an alliance with the king of Assyria; but he basely betrayed the interests of Ahaz, and converted the fruit of all his conquests to his own advantage. “In reality,” to use the words of the learned and faithful historian, Predeaux, “he was in reality distressed rather than any way helped by this alliance; the land being almost as much exhausted by the presents and subsidies, which were extorted from him by his pretended friend and ally, as it was by the ravages and pillages of his open enemies.” Two other evils of magnitude to the kingdom of Judah, grew out of this alliance: it brought into its neighborhood, in place of a number of small and feeble states, the formidable Assyrian empire, which afterwards proved a severe scourge; it cut off the inhabitants from their lucrative trade to the Southern sea, which had been the source of all their riches. And what was worst of all, and proved afterwards a source of great and almost ruinous calamity to the kingdom of Judah, was, that Ahaz, with a view to induce the king of Assyria to form an alliance with him, had meanly engaged, in case of his compliance, to become his vassal and tributary. This base agreement was the foundation of the difficulties and distress in which the good king Hezekiah was involved, when he sent the message in our text to the prophet.

Early in the reign of Hezekiah, the king of Assyria sent to demand the tribute, which, by the agreement of Ahaz, was his due. Hezekiah could not brook this base submission, and refused to comply with the demand. A war with Tyre, which commenced at this time, diverted the Assyrian king, Salmanezer, from urging his demand by force.

This demand, however, was repeated by his successor, Sennacherib, who, upon the refusal of Hezekiah to comply with it, declared war against him, and entered Judah with a numerous army. In this alarming state of affairs, Hezekiah consulted with the chief men of his kingdom, and it was agreed to put the city of Jerusalem into the best possible state of defense. Accordingly the old walls were repaired; new ones erected, and towers and other works, necessary for their defense were provided: All the people, capable of bearing arms, were enrolled an disciplined for war; and every possible preparation was made to repel the attacks of the enemy.

In the meantime, the king of Assyria was ravaging the cities of Judah, and advancing towards Jerusalem. Grieved at this havoc, and fearing its increase, notwithstanding the defensive measures which he had taken, he sent ambassadors to Sennacherib with this humiliating message, “I have offended, return from me; that which though puttest on me I will bear. And the king of Assyria appointed to king Hezekiah 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold.” [II Kings 18:14] To pay this heavy contribution he exhausted the treasures of the temple, and his own coffers, and even cut off the gold from the doors and pillars of the temple. Mark the subsequent conduct of the haughty Assyrian conqueror: Having procured from his humiliated enemies, their means of defense, and knowing them to be now more completely in his power than ever, regardless of the sanction of treaties and oaths, he renewed the war with Hezekiah, and pushed on his conquests more vigorously than ever!

In the meantime, hearing that and Egyptian army was advancing, agreeably to treaty, to the aid of Hezekiah, Sennacherib raised the siege of Jerusalem, and proceeded to meet them, gave them battle and defeated them, and carried desolation into the heart of Egypt, and came back with great spoil. Elated and proud with his successes, he returned to the siege of Jerusalem, and, by three of his principal officers, sent to Hezekiah that insulting, boastful and blasphemous message which is recorded at length in the chapter preceding the text. It is remarkable, that Sennacherib directed that this message should be delivered under the walls of Jerusalem, in the Hebrew language, and within the hearing of the people, with an evident design to destroy their confidence in their king, and to excite them to revolt. The style of the message was calculated to effect this base purpose. When the messengers of Hezekiah, who were appointed to negotiate with those of Sennacherib, requested the orator, Rabshakeh, to speak to them in the Syrian language, telling them that they understood it, and not to talk with them in the Jews language in the hearing of the people who were on the wall; the orator replied–“Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? Hath he not sent me to the men which fit on the wall?” [II Kings 18:27] – or, in plainer and more modern language, My business is not with your government, it is with the people. “Then Rabashakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews language, and spake, saying, Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you, for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand. Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, The Lord will surely deliver us. Hearken not unto Hezekiah; for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me; and then eat ye every man of his own vine and fig-tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern. Hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuadeth you, saying, The Lord will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? Have they delivered Samaria out of mind hand? Who are they, among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of mind hand? But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word.” [II Kings 18:28-36]

We can easily conceive what effect this message must have had upon the people, upon the messengers of Hezekiah, and upon this good king himself, when it was told to him. They rent their clothes; the king covered himself with sackcloth, and, like a good man, went into the house of the Lord. He then sent the message, of which our text makes a part, to the prophet Isaiah. “This day is a day of trouble and of reviling and of blasphemy; wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left.”

 How far the facts and circumstances, in the foregoing narrative, apply to our case as a nation; what degrees of resemblance there are in the causes which involved Hezekiah and his people in their great perplexity and distress, and those which have brought us into our present unhappy and perilous situation, I leave everyone to judge for himself. I make no particular applications. However we may vary in our opinion on these points, we shall all agree, I apprehend, in this – “the situation of the United states, at present, is hazardous and afflictive.” And I would hope that we all feel disposed, in compliance with his request, to unite in earnest supplications to God for those important and timely favors enumerated in the proclamation. It would be difficult to reconcile with a sincere belief of the Christian religion, the conduct of any person, who should seriously object to the observation of this day, as a day of humiliation, fasting and prayer, at a time when all must agree, we have peculiar need of divine support, guidance and protection. Whether our troubles and dangers arise from our own errors, or from the unjustifiable conduct of foreign nations, it becomes us, in either case, and peculiarly in the former, to humble ourselves before God, and to implore his forgiveness, direction and benediction. But that we should have men among us, so lost to every principle of religion, morality, and even common decency, as to reprobate the measure; as to condemn the authority who recommended it, and to denounce it as hypocritical, and designed to effect sinister purposes, is indeed alarming. Such persons address the sentiments, if not the language, of Rashakeh to the people – “Suffer not your President to make you trust in the Lord.” That such vile sentiments should find their way into a newspaper, and be read and tolerated by a people who profess Christianity, indicates a degree of corruption and depravity in the public mind, more truly threatening to our dearests rights and interests, than the hostile attitude and movements of foreign nations.

 I proceed to show, in what respects, the present may be considered as a day of trouble, of reviling and blasphemy.

It is a day of trouble with us in respect to our foreign relations. Our situation is rendered “hazardous and afflictive,” (says the proclamation), “by the unfriendly disposition, conduct and demands of a foreign power, evinced by repeated refusals to receive our messengers of reconciliation and peace; by depredations on our commerce, and the infliction of injuries on very many of our fellow citizens, while engaged in their lawful business on the seas.” These circumstances prompted our Chief Magistrate to recommend the solemn Fast which we now celebrate; and they constitute the leading and most operative causes of our existing troubles.

To the unfriendly disposition and conduct of foreign power, we may ascribe the unhappy divisions that have existed among us, which have so greatly disturbed our peace, and threatened the overthrow of our government. Their maxim, to which they have strictly and steadily adhered, has been, “Divide and govern.” Their too great influence among us has been exerted vigorously, and in conformity to a deep-laid plan, in cherishing party spirit, in vilifying the men we have, by our free suffrages, elected to administer our Constitution; and have thus endeavored to destroy the confidence of the people in the constitution authorities, and divide them from the government. They have abused our honest friendship for their nation, our gratitude for their assistance in our revolution, and our confidence in the uprightness and sincerity of their professions of regard for us; and, by their artifices and intrigues, have made these amiable dispositions in the unsuspecting American people, the vehicles of their poison. Hence has arisen no small portion of the troubles which we now experience. They are the bitter fruit of a subtle and secretly operating foreign influence among us – an influence which has proved the bane of our peace, and which ought, as we value our liberties and dearest privileges, to be vigilantly watched, and firmly resisted.

Calculating upon the effects produced, in this country, by their “diplomatic skill” in intrigue, and believing that they had secured a party sufficiently strong to enable them to accomplish their designs, this foreign nation have, by degrees, adopted a bolder and bolder tone towards us, and at length have openly avowed their object. By their ministers they have quarreled with our government: They have vehemently opposed our exercising the rights of an independent nation: They have fomented insurrections among us: They have artfully endeavored to plunge us into a ruinous war: They have, unjustly and unprovoked, captivated, imprisoned, and otherwise mal-treated many of our fellow-citizens. And when, notwithstanding all these aggressions and provocations, our government, sincerely anxious for peace, and willing to sacrifice everything but our national honor and independence to this purpose, sent ambassadors of reconciliation, with ample and unexceptionable powers – (could it have been expected from allies? – allies who have yet their admirers among us!!!)they have refused, and that repeatedly and perseveringly, and in a manner most mortifying to an independent mind, even to receive them! They will not hear what we have to say in vindication of those measures, at which they affect to be offended. They spurn at our advances for reconciliation, and insult us with their neglect. More than all this, to use the language of our commissioners, “In the haughty style of a master, they tell us, that unless we will pay them a sum of money, to which our resources scarcely extend, we may expect their vengeance, and, like Venice, be erased from the list of nations; that they will annihilate the only free republic on earth, the only nation in the universe, which has manifested for her a cordial and real friendship!” – Still more, they say to our commissioners of peace, “You believe, perhaps, that in returning and exposing to your countrymen, the unreasonableness of the demands of this government, you will unite them in their resistance to those demands. You are mistaken – you ought to know that the diplomatic skill of France, and the means she possesses in your country, are sufficient to enable her, with the French party in America, to throw the blame, which will attend the rupture of the negotiations, on the Federalists, as you term yourselves, but on the British party, as France terms you; and you may assure yourselves this will be done.”

Such are the causes which have progressively operated, till they have ultimately placed us in our present hazardous and afflictive situation. If proofs are demanded in support of the foregoing statement, they are contained in the State Papers which have been published by our own government and by the government of France –in the late dispatches from our commissioners, and in the newspapers; and these proofs are abundant, luminous and convictive to everyone who reads them with a candid and unprejudiced mind.

It will, perhaps, be expected by some, that while so much is said concerning the unjustifiable conduct of one foreign nation, another, whose conduct towards us, during the present war, has been unfriendly and unjustifiable, should not pass unnoticed and uncensored. On this subject I would observe, that this thing was done at the time. The unjust spoliations of the British nation were reprobated in the strongest terms, throughout America; and similar measures for an amicable adjustment of differences, and compensation for losses, were then adopted, and pursued successfully with Great-Britain, which have since been repeatedly proffered to France, and as repeatedly rejected with most insulting aggravations. I am by no means an advocate for the aggressions of any nation on our rights. I would with equal indignation resist them all. But when differences with a nation have been once settled, and provision made for the peaceable adjustment of any new ones which may arise, why should we be continually opening afresh old wounds? What purposes can it answer, but to inflame the public mind, to prevent a union in the measures of our own government, and aid the views of a nation who seek our division and ruin? It was insinuated to our commissioners in France, and it is a current and credited language among a particular class of people in this country, (and the design of it is too visible to escape a discerning mind), that it is the wish of our government and its supporters, to form an alliance with Great-Britain. To this insinuation I believe I may safely and truly answer in the words of our commissioners – that “with respect to any political connection with Great-Britain, America never contemplated it.” Our maxim, as citizens, in regard to all nations, ought to be that contained in the declaration of our independence, “Enemies in war, but friends in peace.”

Our situation is rendered “hazardous and afflictive,” not only from the unfriendly disposition, conduct and demands of a foreign power, which excite painful apprehensions that war may be the consequence, and which render necessary expensive measures of defense; but also and peculiarly from the astonishing increase of irreligion. I use this word in a comprehensive sense, and would be understood to mean by it, contempt of all religion and moral obligation, impiety, and everything that apposeth itself to pure Christianity. This day is a day of reviling and blasphemy.

Never, at any period, could this be said, in reference to the world at large, with more truth than at the present. Kings, princes, and rulers in all governments; government itself in all, even its mildest, forms; priests and ministers of religion of all denominations; and the institutions of Christianity of all kinds, from the most corrupt to the most pure, are reviled and abused, in a singular manner, in similar language, in all Christian countries, and seemingly by common consent. The existence of a God is boldly denied. Atheism and materialism are systematically professed. Reason and Nature are deified and adored. The Christian religion, and its divine and blessed Author, are not only disbelieved, rejected and condemned, but even abhorred, and efforts made to erase their very name from the earth. As the natural fruits of these sentiments, and what we ought to look for where they prevail – fraud, violence, cruelty, debauchery, and the uncontrolled gratification of every corrupt and debasing lust and inclination of the human heart, exist, and are increasing with unaccountable progress. Evidence of the truth of this representation is brought by almost every arrival from Europe, and we have it, in various and convincing forms, before our eyes in our own country.

Our newspapers teem with slander and personal invective and abuse. Our rulers, grown grey, many of them, in the service of their country; who, in the various dignified and responsible offices they have filled, have discharged their duties with great ability and incorruptible integrity, are yet stigmatized continually, as unfriendly to the rights and liberties of the people, and to the true interests of their country. Our Government itself, the most perfect, and best administered, the least burdensome, and most happysying to the people of any on earth, is yet steadily opposed in all its important measures, and regular and continual efforts are made to “stop its wheels.”

The Clergy also, who have according to their influence and abilities, supported the Government and vindicated its administration, have received, from the same quarter, a liberal portion of reviling and abuse. And what have the Clergy done to provoke this treatment? Can it be said, with truth, that they are unfriendly to the rights and interests of the people? On what side were they in the year 1775, and during the revolution? What interests can they have separate from those of their people and their country suffer, must they not necessarily suffer with them? Their little all of property stands on the same basis with that of their people, and the same events affect them equally. Could they not subsist in as much ease and affluence as they now do, by other professions? Are their stipends or their prospects of promotions enviable or alluring? Can they then be your friends who are continually declaiming against the Clergy, and endeavoring by all means – by falsehood and misrepresentation, to asperse their characters, and to bring them and their profession in to disrepute? If the Clergy fall, what will become of your religious institutions? Undoubtedly they must share the same fate. And are they of no value?

What can be the design and tendency of all these things? Have we not reason to suspect that there is some secret plan in operation, hostile to true liberty and religion, which requires to be aided by these vile slanders? Are they not intended to bring into contempt those civil and religious institutions founded by our venerable forefathers, and to prostrate those principles and habits formed under them, which are the barriers of our freedom and happiness, and which have contributed essentially to promote both; and thus to prepare the way among us, for the spread of those disorganizing opinions, and that atheistical philosophy, which are deluging the Old World in misery and blood?

We have reason, my brethren, to fear that this preparatory work is already begun, and made progress among us; and that it is a part of a deep laid and extensive plane, which has for many years been in operation in Europe. To this plan, as to its source, we may trace that torrent of irreligion, and abuse of everything good and praise-worthy, which, at the present time, threatens to overwhelm the world. This plan is now unveiled.

In a work written by a gentleman of literary eminence in Scotland, within the last year, and just reprinted in this country, entitled, “Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe,” we are informed, that a society who called themselves the illuminated has existed for more than twenty years past in Germany. The express aim of this society is declared to be, “To root out and abolish Christianity, and overturn all civil government.” Their principles are avowedly atheistical. They abjure Christianity–justify suicide–declare death an eternal sleep–advocate sensual pleasures agreeably to the Epicurean philosophy–call patriotism and loyalty narrow minded prejudices, incompatible with universal benevolence–declaim against the baneful influence of accumulated property, and in favor of liberty and equality, as the unalienable rights of man–decry marriage, and advocate a promiscuous intercourse among the sexes–and hold it proper to employ for a good purpose, the means which the wicked employ for bad purposes.

This society, under various names and forms, in the course of a few years, secretly extended its branches through a great part of Europe, and even into America. Their aim is to enlist in every country, “such as have frequently declared themselves discontented with the usual institutions”–to “acquire the direction of education–of church management–of the professorial chair and of the pulpit–to bring their opinions into fashion by every art, and to spread them among young people by the help of young writers.” They are unwearied in their efforts, by various artifices, to get under their influence the reading and debating societies, the reviewers, journalists or editors of newspapers and other periodical publications, and booksellers and post-makers; and to insinuate their members into all offices of instruction, honor, profit and influence, in literary, civil and religious institutions. The leading members of this Order are men of great talents, zeal and industry; and governed by their maxim, borrowed from the Jesuits, “that the end sanctifies the means,” they are prevented by none of those religious and moral principles, which are wont to restrain men when prompted to acts of wickedness, from pushing their plans by the vilest means.

This society, aided by concurrent causes which it has been instrumental in combining and bringing into operation, has already shaken to their foundation, almost all the civil and ecclesiastical establishments in Europe. There is great reason to believe that the French revolution was kindled by the Illuminati; and that it has been cherished and inflamed by their principles. The successes of the French armies, many of them, can be traced to the influence and the treacheries of different branches of this society.  –– There are too many evidences that this Order has had its branches established, in some form or other, and its emissaries secretly at work in this country, for several years past. From their private papers which have been discovered, and are now published, it appears, that as early as 1786, they had several societies in America. And it is well known that some men, high in office, have expressed sentiments accordant to the principles and views of this society.

In a work published by Hoffman, at Vienna, in 1795, and quoted by professor Robison, in the following remarkable passage respecting France: – “The intelligent saw (in 1790) in the open system of the Jacobins, the complete hidden system of the Illuminati. We knew that this system included the whole world in its aims, and France was only the place of its first explosion. The Propaganda works in every corner to this hour; and its emissaries run about in all the four quarters of the world, and are to be found in numbers in every city that is a seat of government.” There can be little doubt that the “Age of Reason” and the other works of that unprincipled author, as they proceeded from the fountain head of Illumination, and have been so industriously and extensively circulated in this country, were written and sent to America expressly in aid of this demoralizing plan. The titles of some of these works, and the tendency of them all, are in exact conformity to the professed principles and designs of the society. It is not improbable that the affiliated Jacobin Societies in this country were instituted to propagate here the principles of the illuminated mother club in France. And is it not apparent that the seeds which were then sown, are springing up and bearing fruit.

Let any who doubt the truth and fairness of the foregoing representation, read for themselves. The book which is my authority ought to be read by every American. It throws more light upon the causes, which have brought the world into its present disorganized state, (I speak for myself), than any, I had almost said than all other books beside.

I hold it a duty, my brethren, which I owe to God, to the cause of religion, to my country, and to you, at this time, to declare to you, thus honestly and faithfully, these truths. My only aim is to awaken in you and myself a due attention, at this alarming period, to our dearest interests. As a faithful watchman I would give you warning of your present danger.

By these awful events – this tremendous shaking among the nations of the earth, God is doubtless accomplishing his promises, and fulfilling the prophecies. This wrath and violence of men against all government and religion, shall be made ultimately, in some way or other, to praise God. All corruptions, in religion and government, as dross must, sooner or later, be burnt up. The dreadful fire of Illuminatism may be permitted to rage and spread for this purpose. When a work of vengeance and destruction is to be performed, the instruments are fitted for their work. But while we contemplate these awful events in this point of view, let us beware, in our expressions of approbation, of blending and end with the means. Because atheism and licentiousness are employed as instruments, by divine providence, to subvert and overthrow popery and despotism, it does not follow that atheism and licentiousness are in themselves good things, and worthy of our approbation. While the storm rages, with dreadful havoc, in Europe, let us be-comforted in the thought, that God directeth it, and that he will, by his power and wisdom, so manage it, as to make it accomplish his own gracious designs. While we behold these scenes acting abroad, and at a distance from us, let us be concerned for our own welfare. In various respects, as we have shown, it is with us, at present, “a day of trouble, of reviling, and blasphemy.” Our situation is “hazardous and afflictive” –We have reason to tremble for the safety of our political, as well as our religious ark. Attempts are making, and are openly, as well as secretly, conducted, to undermine the foundations of both. In this situation of things, our duty is plain, and lies within a short compass.

The pious king Hezekiah hath set us an example, when place in a similar situation, well worthy our present imitation: he took the message he had received from the king of Assyria, and spread it before the Lord, and prayed – (let us unite in this pertinent prayer) – “O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims – thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth – thou hast made heaven and earth – Lord, bow down thine ear and hear – open, Lord, thine eyes and see; and hear the words of Senacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God. Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, therefore they have destroyed them – Now, therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only.” [II Kings 19:14-19] The effectual fervant prayer of this good man availed much. [James 5:16]

As citizens, we ought with one heart to cleave to, and support, our own government. It is a government of our own forming, and administered by men of our own choice; and therefore claims our confidence and support. We ought to repel, with indignation, every suggestion and slanderous insinuation, calculated to weaken and just confidence in the rectitude of the intentions of our constituted authorities. All such insinuations, at this critical period, proceed from an influence hostile to our peace; and, if permitted to have their intended effect, may accomplish the purposes of our enemies, in our division and the overthrow of our government. While, on the one hand, we would avoid passive obedience and non-resistance, let us not vibrate into the other extreme, and believe it a duty to be jealous and suspicious of everything which is done by our rulers. We thought them honest men, and friends to their country, when we elected them into office; and what have they since done to forfeit our good opinion? Let their measures be examined with candor, and we shall assuredly say, they deserve well of their country. In this moment of our political danger, let us be impressed with this truth – that – “United we stand – divided we fall.” The increasing union among us, and the revival and expression of the true American spirit, are tokens for good, and augur well in regard to our political interests.

As Christians, we ought to be alarmed for the safety of the church; to be vigilant in resisting the open and secret attempts to bring into disrepute and to prostrate our religious institutions. If these foundations be destroyed, and infidelity and atheism prevail, what will the righteous do? Let us then search for the Achans, the accursed things, among us, and let them be taken away and destroyed. Let us, each with care, inspect his own heart and conduct, and repent of, and correct, what he finds amiss. Let us examine into the state of our families, “those little communities which constitute the great public body,” and reform, as far as in us lies, whatever is sinful or wrong in them. Let us exert all our influence and efforts to effect a general reformation, in principles and manners, trusting in the Lord to succeed our endeavors. These are the sure, and only means of our preservation. If, in defiance of all warnings, we will be a sinful people, and abuse our civil and religious blessings, we must expect to be punished with the loss of them. Talents that are unimproved will in due time, be taken away. As we would hope for their continuance then, let us properly appreciate our national privileges, and our religious institutions, and repent that we have been so insensible of their value, and so negligent to improving them. And, agreeably to the excellent and reasonable advice of our Chief Magistrate, let us this day, “with the deepest humility, acknowledge before God the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation, and beseech him, of hi infinite mercy, through the Redeemer of the world, freely to remit all our offences, and to incline us, by his Holy Spirit, to that sincere repentance and reformation, which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor, and heavenly benediction.” And will God vouchsafe to hear our prayers, and the prayers of his people, throughout our country, this day, and grant us an answer of peace, through Jesus Christ, our divine Lord; to whom, with the Father and Holy Spirit, be ascribed praises everlasting.


Sermon – Fasting – 1832, Massachusetts (Greenwood)

Francis William Pitt Greenwood (1797-1843) Biography:

Born in Boston, he graduated from Harvard at the age of 17 and then studied theology at Cambridge. Upon his ordination, he became pastor of Boston’s famous New South Church in 1818, but became ill and resigned two years later. He spent a year in Europe and then returned to Baltimore, where he spent two years as editor of Unitarian Miscellany. In 1824, he relocated to Boston and became pastor of King’s Chapel, where he remained until his death. He faced recurring bouts of illness, and on one occasion on the advice of his doctor he went to Cuba to help his health. In addition to theology, he was also interested in botany and conchology (the scientific study and collection of mollusk shells) and became a supporter of the Boston Society of Natural History. He wrote for its journal and was also associate editor of the Christian Examiner. A number of his sermons were published as well as his hymnal for Christian worship. In 1839, he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity from the Harvard College of Divinity.


















B O S T O N:


362 Washington Street.


S E R M O N.


JAMES V. 16.



            The apostle is urging the duty of intercession with God for the sick, and of mutual confession and forgiveness in the time of sickness.  He thus joins moral duty with prayer, and signifies that an humble, repentant, charitable state of mind, is one condition on which the restoration of bodily health, and the answer of prayer depend.  And who will object to the condition?  Who will harden his heart against his neighbor, and refuse him his full forgiveness, when he sees the hand of the Lord lying heavily upon him, and hears the groans of his anguish, and thinks, whatever he may have been, or whatever he may have done, what a poor, feeble, suffering creature he is now?  And who, on his own sick-bed, feeling the same hand on himself, and made sensible, by the near approach of another world, how vain and how wrong are the competitions and discords of this, and by he pressing thoughts of judgment and God’s holiness, of his own manifold imperfections, and repeated transgressions, can hesitate to acknowledge his errors, and forgive all who have sinned against him, as he himself hopes to be forgiven.

            After thus recommending the holy dispositions which should accompany prayer for the wick, the apostle James asserts the efficacy of prayer in obtaining the implored blessing.  ‘The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man,’ he continues, ‘availeth much.’  He then mentions as an instance in proof, the case of Elias or Elijah, at whose earnest entreaty the Lord withheld rain from heaven, and afterwards caused it to be given again.

            The translation, in our common Bible, of the latter clause of the test, is not a happy one.  It is clearly tautology to say, at least according to the present meaning of words, that an effectual prayer will avail much.  The single Greek word which is here rendered by the two English words ‘effectual fervent,’ is rendered by some commentators inwrought, or inspired; and these commentators consequently suppose that the whole passage applies only to the prayers of such persons as are inspired, or strongly and supernaturally moved to pray for particular blessings, which are granted at their request.  And they say that the very instance given of Elijah, an inspired prophet, who prayed, as he was moved by divine impulse, for extraordinary and almost miraculous events, is a proof of the correctness of their interpretation.  This rendering, though not to be overlooked, is not required, and in all probability is not the correct one.  The original word (eveqyouuevn) is one from which our own word energetic is immediately derived.  It means internally and strongly working.  Wakefield translates the sentence thus; ‘The effect of the prayer of a righteous man is very powerful.’  And if the translators of the received version had omitted the word effectual, and rendered ‘The fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,’ they would have given us a more intelligible translation, and one, too, not far from the true meaning of the writer.

            I have offered this brief criticism on the passage, because it is one which is constantly quoted, whenever the efficacy of prayer is the subject of discussion, and is not often clearly apprehended, on account of the dim and neutral character of the translation.

            As to the doctrine of the text, the prevalence of the sincerely fervent prayer of a righteous man, I have no doubt of its soundness.  Even if it could be conclusively shown that in this particular place, reference is had solely to the prayers of inspired saints in the first age of Christianity, and previously under the Jewish dispensation, yet there are so many general exhortations to prayer in the Scriptures, on the ground of its efficacy with One who hears and answers it, that I could not permit myself to deny that sincere, fervent, and righteous prayer is of much avail, not only with the petitioner, but with God.  And this doctrine, which I believe to be a Scriptural, appears to me to be also a comforting and a rational doctrine.  It is comforting to all who love God, to perceive him brought so near to them; to be confident, from the assurances of his own word, that he hears all they say to him; that he not only hears, but attentively and graciously listens, with the purpose of granting those requests which can be granted, consistently with his own wisdom, the real good of the petitioner, and the happiness of the great whole.  Why should prayer be made, if God does not hear?  Why should God hear if not to listen: and why should he listen, if not with a purpose connected with the prayer?  We are not justified in expecting any miraculous answer to prayer, but a direct answer to prayer, through ordinary means, we are justified in expecting, if the gift is expedient for us; and if it is not granted we should rest satisfied that it is not expedient.

“If what I ask my God denies,

It is because he’s good and wise.’

            Beyond a very few steps, and a very short distance in the path of God’s operations, our eyes are too weak to see.  It is highly unbecoming in us o say, or to presume, that there is nothing, because we see nothing beyond, or that we know exactly how those events which we do see re brought about by a ruing Deity.  There is a regularity and order in that which we discern, which we call natural, and which none but a fanatic would look to see interrupted.  But without this regularity and order being interrupted, blessings may come to us, or evils may be averted from us, through the steps of this very order, this natural regularity and order, at the voice of our prayer, and a bidding from on high.  There is nothing irrational in this, for there is nothing irrational in believing that we are ignorant, and that God, who orders all things, may grant us special blessings by common means; and that he will grant them, because, in a revelation which we agree is from him, he has promised so to do.

            To occupy no longer time in introduction—though I easily might on so wide, so fruitful and so interesting a subject—and to come at once to the occasion of our present assembling together, let me ask who knows anything of the origin and mode of progress of the disease which we have prayed God to avert from us?  Who knows what place or what person it will next attack?  Who knows how it journeys from place to place, and from person to person?  Who knows how near it may be to ourselves, or whether it will enter our gates at all?  Who knows how many it will visit if it should come, or how many of those whom it visits it will spare, and how many it will not spare from the consummation of death?  Who knows how soon it will leave a town or city, after it has once entered?  Who knows at what time it will leave the world, or whether it will ever leave the world?  Who knows whether sin may not be the cause of this disorder, and whether prayer, righteous prayer, may not be among the most effectual means of averting it?  At any rate, the servant of God who has prayed in sincerity that the calamity may not fall on himself, his household and his neighbors, has performed his duty in seeking the throne of Grace.  He knows that he has been heard kindly by Him who sitteth on the throne, and that whether he is to be spared or not, whether his household and neighbors are to be spared or not, the event will be wisely and mercifully ordered.  He feels, moreover, that his own affections have been raised and his own charities been warmed and extended by his devotion; and that he is consequently better prepared for sickness and for health, to be taken or to be left.

            This last is a highly important consideration, and is ground on which all sober and pious persons can stand together, whatever may be their differences of opinion with regard to the direct efficacy of prayer on the mind of the Deity, or rather the literal correspondence of its efficacy with the promises of scripture.  All such will agree that the effect of prayer on the devout heart is great and beneficial; that it softens and sanctifies; that it places the petitioner, by the influence thus exerted on his dispositions and life, in the best position for receiving and enjoying the blessings, and bearing and improving the chastisements of Heaven.  All will agree, too, that if prayer has not this effect on the hearts and lives of those who pray, it can have no effect on Him who hears; and that whatever may be the precise way in which the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth, one thing is undeniable, if a prayer be not one of sincerity and righteousness it will avail nothing.

            What, then, should be some of the moral influences and effects of prayer on the present occasion?  What must be some of the moral influences and effects of fervent and righteous prayer?

            In order to answer these questions let us consider, first, what it is which we pray God to avert from us.  Some call it the blighting curse of God.  I will not call it so.  Some call it a fierce demon let loose upon poor mortals, and some a horrid monster glutting itself with prey.  I give my assent to no such epithets.  It is a wasting disorder, melancholy in its character, but commissioned with the intentions of God’s omniscience.  It is a judgment on the earth.  It is a warning to the people against sin and uncleanness.  It is a trying but also a just providence.  These are the names by which I prefer to describe it; and in painting it to the imagination, I would draw it not with eyes angry and bloodshot, and a mouth breathing out fumes from the bottomless pit, but as an angel, a mourning as well as a retributive angel, bearing the sword of the Almighty not in vain, but hiding its sad countenance with one hand, while with the other it deals the speedy blow.

            1.  I have called it a judgment on the earth, and a warning against sin and uncleanness.  And is it not reasonable and justifiable to call it so, when we are told that it seizes first and principally on the intemperate and the unclean?  How can the voice of God speak more plainly against these forms of unrighteousness, than in this mandate to his destroying angel?  In praying that the disorder may not be sent among us, we should call to mind this purpose of its mission, and remember the vices against which it appears so evidently to be sent, and thus strengthen our conviction of their fatal nature and exceeding sinfulness, and redouble our efforts to root them out.  How can we expect that the disease will keep away, when that which invites the disease is permitted to remain?  It is a solemn truth that every intemperate and corrupt person, that every keeper and every supporter of the haunts of profligacy and riot is laboring to bring the so much dreaded pestilence to the place in which he dwells.  Should the punishment come, it will be called a demon and curse—when behold the demon and the curse are even now among us and upon us.  Do we expect to sin on and sin on forever, without any notice taken, and without a retribution?  While we pray, we would meditate on these things, with the purpose of acting accordingly, and then we may hope that our prayer will be availing.

            2.  But the disease does not entirely confine itself to the above described victims.  Though it principally selects these, yet it falls occasionally on the sober and pious and on innocent children.  And ought we not to be taught by this, not to boast of our virtue, nor to be sure of exemption, not to elevate ourselves in fancied security above the poor creatures whose vices are their exposure?  Humility will always accompany sincere prayer.  We are all exposed in some degree; and therefore it should be a primary consideration with us how we shall be prepared; and surely no better preparation will present itself to the Christian than that of mercy and charity.  While we are roused to act against sin, it will be in a temper of great pity for the sinner, and with especial care that we do not fall into sin, particularly the sin of the Pharisee, ourselves.  ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.’  Let us be careful that we interfere not with the Supreme prerogative.  It is the Lord’s to send abroad his terrible and righteous judgments; it is ours to be kind and charitable, humble and watchful.

            3.  We are to be prepared, but not afraid.  ‘The Lord is the strength of my life,’ exclaims the Psalmist, ‘of whom shall I be afraid?’  It is the tendency of true prayer to lift up the heart above fear, because it lifts it up into the presence of God.  Can we run to an Almighty Guardian, and acknowledge his power to save, and then feel and talk and act as if we had no guardian?  Shall we come into the temple of the Most High, and address him as our ever present God and watchful Father, and after we have gone from the door, tremble at the first rumor of disease, as if we had no God and no Father?  I say that he who prays sincerely, not only prays to be delivered from pestilence, but prays to a being who sends, limits and rules the pestilence, who is the Lord of life and death, who is the Judge of all the earth, who will do what is right, and who is the refuge and defense of all those who trust in him.  Such a suppliant cannot be overcome by unworthy dread.  He has gone and placed his life in the hands of its Author, and his blessings and comforts in the hands of their Giver.  They are locked up—he is sure of them—and therefore he is not afraid.  My friends, if we come here and pray, and if other congregations of our brethren assemble to pray, merely because we are afraid; and if the effect of our praying will be only to make us more afraid, we have not prayed aright—we could not have been doing a more ineffectual thing—our prayers have been vainer than vanity.  He who has been fervently and righteously praying that this pestilence may be averted from him and his, will rise up from his knees, a fearless man.  He will feel himself piously and rationally superior to the exaggerated alarms which have operated on some.  Rather than permit a sufferer from the disease to be shamefully deserted and neglected, he will go and minister to him himself.  Rather than permit the lifeless frame of a fellow creature to lie on the bare earth, he will dig a grave with his own hands, and then fall again on his knees, and commit that body to the earth, and the spirit to God who gave it.  And when he has done this, he will feel that his prayer has availed much.

            4.  But while fervent and righteous prayer will make us fearless, it will have no tendency to make us neglect other proper means of prevention or of cure.  It will, on the contrary, lead us to view those means with increased respect and gratitude, as the merciful provision of God, and use them diligently and advisedly, as by his ordination and appointment.  Whence are all these means?  What are all exciting, soothing and healing medicines; what are all purifying and disinfecting agents; what are all sanative applications, but treasures drawn from his storehouse?  So far from despising them, therefore, the religious man will regard them as things divine; he will regard medical skill, as an art and gift divine; and he will make use of them when necessary, as by divine commandment.  The health which God bestows, he will endeavor to preserve or restore by means which the finger of God points out, not relying on his own strength or merits and leaving the event to Him.  He loves to pray to his gracious Father, but he will not tempt him.  He is no fatalist.  He believes it to be disobedience to God, not to employ the aids which God furnishes for his use; he therefore employs, but does not finally trust in them.  He trusts in nothing but the divine wisdom, mercy and promises, and in these he trusts to the end.

            Let us then confess our faults one to another, and let us pray one for another.  Let us confess our faults to God, and pray for ourselves.  If our prayers are fervent and righteous; if they awaken us to the evil and danger of sin; if they make us humble and unassuming; if they inspire us with a cheerful courage, united with a rational prudence, we may be confident that they will avail much.  They have availed much.  They have prepared us in the best possible manner against the hovering pestilence; they have saved us from sin, which is more dreadful than pestilence.  God has heard them; and he will answer them, if not by temporal immunity, yet y the answer of eternal salvation.


Sermon – Fasting – 1841, New York (Sprague)

William Sprague (1795-1876) Biography

Born to farming parents, Sprague attended Colchester Academy and then attended Yale, where he graduated in 1815. He was invited to be the tutor for the children of Virginian Major Lawrence Lewis, nephew of George Washington. (Lewis’ wife was the granddaughter of Martha Washington.) He accepted, and traveled from Connecticut to Virginia. The Lewis’ home, Woodlawn, was part of the original Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home), and over the year Sprague stayed with the family, he received permission from Bushrod Washington (George Washington’s nephew who served on the US Supreme Court) to go through many of George Washington’s letters and papers. Sprague was allowed to take as many of those letters as he wanted, so long as he left copies of all letters he took, which was about 1,500. From these letters, Sprague was able to compile the very first complete set of autographs of all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In 1816, Sprague returned to school at the Theological Seminary at Princeton, where he studied for three years. In 1819, he became an associate pastor at First Congregational Church in West Springfield, Massachusetts, and remained there a decade before becoming pastor of Second Presbyterian in Albany, New York, where he remained until 1869. Sprague was a prolific writer, and penned sixteen major works, including biographies of important American Christian leaders as well as religious works such as Lectures on Revivals of Religion (1832), Contrast Between True and False Religion (1837), and Words to a Young Man’s Conscience (1848). He also wrote over 100 religious pamphlets and smaller works. Elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society, much of his writing and preaching was of a historical and biographical nature. In fact, one of his greatest accomplishments was his nine-volume Annals of the American Pulpit, which was particularly rich with biographies of those pastors who played important roles in the American War for Independence. By the time of Sprague’s death in 1876, he had collected over 100,000 historical autographs, including three complete sets of signatures of all the signers of the Declaration; one set of all the members of the Convention that framed the US Constitution; a complete set of the autographs of the first six Presidents of the United States and the officers of their administrations (including signatures of the Presidents, Vice Presidents, Cabinet members, US Supreme Court Justices, and all foreign ministers in those administrations); and the signatures of all military officers involved in the American War for Independence, regardless of the nation from which they came or the side of the war on which they fought. He also collected signatures of leaders of the Reformation as well as those of great skeptics and opponents of religious faith. His collection was considered the largest private collection in the world at the time of his death.


















To the Rev. W. B. Sprague, D. D.

            Dear Sir—

            The trustees, as well in conformity with their own wishes, as the wishes of others of your congregation, respectfully request for publication a copy of the Sermon delivered by you on the morning of the 14th inst., the day recommended by the President of the United States for a National Fast.

We are very respectfully,

Your obed’t serv’ts,






Jno. I. BOYD,



Albany, May 15, 1841.


            To the Board of Trustees of the Second Presbyterian Congregation in Albany:


            It has not been my custom to apologize for my own productions: on the contrary I have suffered even the most hasty of them to go to the publick for what they were worth; considering it a good general rule, that if a sermon is too poor to print without an apology, it is too poor to print at all.  In consenting, however, to the publication of this discourse, as I am aware that it very imperfectly meets the expectation which the occasion might reasonably justify, it is due to myself to state that it was necessarily prepared in a few hours, when I had but partially recovered from the fatigue of a journey; to say nothing of the fact of which you are already apprized, that I had previously delivered two other discourses on the same subject, in the same place, and to some extent to the same congregation; so that for this there remained little else than the gathering up of the fragments.  But for the mysterious disappearance from my study of the MSS. Of the two former, one of them, would have been given to the publick instead of this, which is now somewhat hesitatingly yielded to your wishes.

            I beg you will accept, Gentlemen, the assurance of my highest regard.

            W. B. SPRAGUE.

May 25, 1841.





Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.


                The occasion which has brought us into the house of God this morning, marks an era in the history of this nation.  Not that this is the first time that the nation has been called to keep a day of humiliation and prayer; but the first time that it has been called to keep such a day for such a cause.  Not that this is the first instance in which death has removed an individual whom we had elevated to the chair of supreme authority; but the first in which such an event has occurred at the commencement, or even in the course, of the Presidential career.  I am sure you will agree with me that every sentiment of religion, every dictate of propriety, justifies this appointment.  I count it an omen for good that our present Chief Magistrate, as one of the first of his official acts, has called upon his people to humble themselves beneath the rod of God.  Whatever his future communications to the nation may be, he has already given us one that will stand the test of time; for it breathes the spirit of reverence for the Divine authority, of confidence in the Divine government.  Whatever measures may characterize his course hereafter, he has adopted one in the beginning which may always be appealed to as worthy of imitation, so long as this nation exists.  God grant that this disposition to acknowledge Him, and to call upon the country to acknowledge Him, may prove the harbinger of a happy administration—an administration through which blessings incalculable in their number and extent shall be conveyed not only to this nation but to the world.

            If I were to meet one of you with your heart bleeding at the death-bed of a beloved friend, I know not what more appropriate counsel I could address to you, than “Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.”  Or if death had made a fearful inroad upon our congregation, removing someone who had shared in an unusual degree our affection and confidence, and in respect to whom, after he was gone, we should say that an armour-bearer had failed us—here again, I know not what better I could say to you, than “Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.”  And now that my country hath been smitten of God, and is bleeding under His righteous hand, what better can I say to her—what better can I say to you, my friends, who are assembled here this morning as part of this nation, than “Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.”  The rod speaks: listen to the warning voice.  Consider the hand that wields it:  it is the hand of the Ruler of nations.

            We shall fall in, I trust, with the design of the occasion, if we consider this national bereavement as having a bearing both upon the past and the future; as administering rebuke on the one hand, and conveying instruction and expostulation on the other.  In the prosecution of this object,

            I.  I remark, in the first place, that this dispensation rebukes our national ingratitude, and calls upon us to form a higher estimate of our obligations to the Divine goodness.

            I do not say that, as a nation, we have been insensible of our superior privileges; or that we have been backward on certain occasions and in certain ways, to speak of them; but I appeal to you, whether it has not been chiefly in a manner that has discovered more of a boasting than of a grateful spirit.  When we have congratulated ourselves on the freedom and the supposed stability of our institutions, has not the secret feeling of our heart been, rather a feeling of complacency in consideration of our possessing these privileges, than a feeling of gratitude towards the bestower of them?  And even when we have professed to recognize them as the fruit of the Divine goodness; when we have said with our lips that it is God who hath made us to differ from other nations, and that He hath not dealt so with any nation as with us; nay, when we have been assembled professedly to recount the tokens of His favour, and offer to Him the sacrifice of thanksgiving; has not our recognition of His goodness been, to a great extent, a mere matter of form;—have we not been too much like those of old who sang His praise, and then forgat His works?  Yes, Brethren, as a nation, we are deeply chargeable with the sin of ingratitude; and I repeat—this dispensation administers a rebuke for it.

            For suppose you had lost an earthly friend—say a parent—whose watchful kindness had been the channel through which, from the first hour of your existence, there had been conveyed to you an uninterrupted stream of blessings; and you had been accustomed always to receive these blessings merely as a matter of course, without lifting your eye to that Almighty Father who gave you your earthly parent and constituted the endearing relation that he sustained to you; I ask whether his removal from the world would not come as a rebuke to your ingratitude;—whether it would not set you to thinking of blessings innumerable which had been forgotten in unthankfulness; and not merely of those which had come to you through the medium of parental kindness, but of others which may have come more directly from the hand of your Heavenly Father?  And why should not the same principle operate in respect to the nation bereaved of its Head?  The President of this nation sustains to it, in an important sense, the relation of a father.  The President who has lately died, though not the choide3 of the whole nation, was the choice of the majority; and I may safely say in view of the mourning which his death has brought over the land, had the respect and good will of the country at large.  I suppose that none of us doubt that he was a man of integrity and wisdom; and there is much reason to believe that, if he had lived, he would have ruled the nation in the fear of God.  Of course, the loss of such a man from such a place, irrespective of all party considerations, is to be regarded as a publick calamity.  We must suppose that a great blessing—certainly that which the majority of the nation accounted so—has been withdrawn from us in his death; and why should not this remind us of other blessings which we have enjoyed and still enjoy, and rouse us from a habit of thankless indifference in respect to them?  We have had other men distinguished for their patriotism and talents and usefulness to rule over us; and instead of being cut off at the commencement of their career, they have lived to complete the term of service which their country had allotted to them.  We have seen our nation going forward in the course of unexampled prosperity; enlarging the bounds of her habitation on the right hand and on the left; and when clouds have lowered in our horizon, they have soon disappeared; or if a tempest has passed over the land, it has lasted but for an hour, and has left a purer atmosphere and a brighter sky.  You who have travelled in other countries, especially on the continent of Europe, know better than others how to value the liberal spirit that characterizes our institutions.  You may have seen much abroad to gratify your curiosity and excite your astonishment; but you come back after all, rejoicing that your home is on this side of the ocean.  You welcome the sight of your own vine and fig tree, beneath which you can sit without any to molest or make you afraid.  Now I say, the effect of this national bereavement should be to remind us of these forgotten and neglected mercies; to lead us to recount them, not with a view to minister to our self-complacency, but to quicken our impulses of gratitude for the Divine bounty.  It will be a beautiful offering to the memory of your departed President, to make his death the occasion of a grateful recollection of your distinguished blessings.

            II.  This dispensation rebukes our national self-confidence, and charges us to cease from man and put our trust in the Lord.

            I honour and venerate my country; but I am sure I do not charge her unjustly, when I say that she has been most criminally given to leaning upon an arm of flesh.  She has gloried in the wisdom of man, as if man had no occasion to take counsel of any wisdom above his own.  She has seen ruin waiting on one set of measures, and safety and glory on another, without remembering that no measures can render her interests secure, unless they are attended with God’s blessing; that her destinies are in the hands of him who putteth down one and setteth up another.  In all this she has dishonoured the Ruler of nations.  She has acted as if she would take the scepter of supreme authority into her own hands.  She has practically bid the Most High stand aside, and without dreaming of the vanity or the madness of her pretensions, has attempted, in the spirit of the ancient builders of Babel, to make to herself a name whose glory should fill the earth.

            But it is not easy to conceive how a more effectual rebuke could have been given to this spirit, than has been in the death of our Chief Magistrate.  In his administration were bound up the hopes of a majority of the nation.  His election had been the result of a struggle, which had well nigh convulsed the country; and those who had placed him in that lofty station, thought they saw in the measures to which he was pledged, all they could ask to ensure the country’s prosperity.  But come, yet self-confident politicians, to your President’s grave, and tell us what ye think now of the wisdom of trusting to an arm of flesh.  Nerveless as a clod is the hand which but the other day received the staff of office.  The eye that looked out upon that brilliant and imposing pageant, sees not: the ear upon which fell the deafening plaudits of the multitude, hears not: the voice that uttered itself with freedom and energy from the highest place in the nation, speaks not: the senses are all locked up in the slumber of the sepulcher.  And death hath removed to another sphere, though by no means blotted out of being, that well-balanced and well directed mind, in which were already treasured up thoughts and plans for the development and execution of which you were anxiously waiting.  That beautiful fabric which your imagination had framed, and to which your heart was so strongly attracted, God has only touched; and lo, it has passed away, like the morning vapour before the sun!  Transfer your confidence, then, from the creature to the Creator.  Remember that if our national interests are safe, they are so only because God’s protecting hand is upon them.  Remember that if we in our folly refuse to put our trust in Him, we have no right to expect, either from His word or His providence, but that He in judgment will withhold His blessing from us.  If we confide in Him unreservedly and implicitly, we may be sure of His favour; and with that we need not fear, though enemies should encircle us, and convulsions should agitate us, and our very mountains should be carried into the midst of the sea.

            III.  This dispensation of providence rebukes our national idolatry of our rulers, and teaches us to remember that they are but men.

            Far be it from me to intimate that we have had too much of that sober and rational regard for those in authority, to which their station justly entitles them:  what I would here reprobate is that idolatrous homage, that fanatical praise, which they are perpetually receiving from that part of the nation that approves and sustains their measures.  I refer not to any particular administration as distinguished in this respect above others; but if I mistake not, you will find in looking through our whole national history, that just in proportion to the prevalence of party spirit, this evil of which I am now speaking has prevailed: the majority of the people have spoken, and written, and acted, concerning our rulers, as if everything they did was right, merely because they did it.  Now it is to be borne in mind that rulers are constituted with the same flesh and blood, the same susceptibilities and infirmities, with other men; and if other men cannot safely be subjected to such an influence, neither can they.  Admitting that they are good men, and disposed to rule with an equal hand; admitting too that they are discerning men, and more capable than most of discriminating between truth and falsehood; yet, after all, if their ears are continually trained to the sound of their own praise, it is hardly possible but that their hearts will beat too vigorously to the idea of their own merit; and as a consequence, that they will commit mistakes and errors which they would otherwise have avoided.  Many a ruler, I doubt not, has adopted measures adverse to the publick good, which he never would have adopted, had he not been kept in countenance by the unceasing flatteries of a party.  The nation that deals thus with its rulers, need not wonder if it should first ruin them, and then render them instrumental of bringing ruin upon itself.

            You see how this dangerous and deceiving spirit is rebuked by this providence.  Rulers are not only, like others, accountable for their conduct at the bar of Heaven, but their responsibility is increased in proportion to the amount of authority which is committed to them.  When they die, they enter upon their retribution, receiving good or evil in another world, according to the amount of good or evil which they have done in this.  Say, then, whether the grave of our departed President does not charge us to beware how we throw stumbling blocks in their way?  It lifts up the voice of intercession in their behalf, and pleads with us to remember that they have temptations enough to encounter, without being subjected to the ordeal of national flattery.  It admonishes us that such a course, more than almost any other, puts in jeopardy the best interests of our country.  And finally, it proposes to us the solemn interrogation, how we can meet our rulers in the judgment, if by our inordinate and unceasing flatteries, we have contributed to nourish their pride, to benumb their moral sensibility, and thus to accumulate for them the materials of an aggravated condemnation.  But on the other hand,

            IV.  This providence rebukes no less effectually our growing contempt of authority, and calls upon us to render honour to whom honour is due.  I am not sure but that I may have introduced this thought in the discourse which you heard on the Sabbath morning after the President’s death; but if I did, it is too important, and too opposite to the present occasion, not to be introduced here, even though it be at the expense of repetition.

            It is the fashion in this country for the party not in power to be exceedingly restless, and to oppose the administration under which they live, with at least an equal degree of zeal with that with which its advocates sustain it.  It is the fashion to level against rulers the arrows of detraction; to watch for every occasion for calling in question either their integrity or their ability, and to find occasion often where there is none; to impute selfish and abominable motives, where nothing can be said against the external act; and sometimes even to talk loudly of revolt and rebellion.  And I must add, it has become the fashion in many parts of our land, to trample upon the laws with mob-like violence; the consequence of which is, that sometimes an innocent man is maimed, or mangled, or torn to pieces, where the laws ought to have protected him; and in other cases the criminal is prematurely and unjustly punished, because the operation of the laws is too tardy for the taste of the people.  If I mistake not, this desperate spirit constitutes one of the worst features of our times.  In every instance in which it is manifested, there is not only an outrage committed against the laws of God, but an act of rebellion against the laws of the country.

            Here again, listen, and you shall hear your President’s grave still speaking forth the language of rebuke and exhortation.  He had indeed but just entered upon his office; but he had held it long enough to know that it was anything else than a bed of roses; and some have imagined that he actually fell a victim  to the fatigue and anxiety by which his introduction to it was attended.  His language to the nation now is, “Your rulers have care and responsibility enough to overwhelm them, apart from all those burdens which ye have been accustomed needlessly and voluntarily to impose.  Let the clamours of party then be hushed.  Let the voice of crimination and insult be heard no more.  Remember that your President is a man, that your rulers are all men, and that you have as little reason to expect perfection in them as have in you.  Be lenient, then, towards their infirmities, and be not too strict to mark even their errours against them.  Remember that they are God’s ministers for good, and as such claim your homage and obedience.  And if you will see their administration most fruitful in blessings, study to alleviate rather than increase their burdens; submit cheerfully to the laws which it is their duty to enforce, and co-operate with them to suppress the spirit of insubordination, and thus promote the best interests of our common country.  Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.  It is due to humanity; it is due to justice; it is due to honour; it is due to patriotism.”

            V.  This affecting providence rebukes our national inconsideration of death, and calls upon us to awake to a sense of our mortality.

            Look through any circle you please, no matter how limited, no matter how extensive, and you find a general inattention to the concerns of eternity.  You may travel through the length of the land, and then through the breadth of it, and it is only here and there one that you will meet, who is not living as if this world were his final home.  The merchant is busy in accumulating wealth, and in proportion to his success, is ever grasping for more; but he forgets that he must die and leave it.  The politician is eager to make his voice heard through the nation; but he forgets that his voice must soon be hushed in death.  The aspiring statesman has his eye upon some lofty place of honour, and labours day and night to lift himself into it; but he forgets that there is a pathway ever kept open even from the throne to the sepulcher.  The creature of habitual thoughtlessness is buzzing about in pursuit of pleasure, like a butterfly in the sun; but it never occurs to him that death may put an end to all his pleasures to-morrow.  Yes, the great mass of the nation are utterly absorbed in this world; and neither their vision nor their aspirations extend to a coming one.

            True there are rebukes to this spirit of inconsideration, every day, and on every side:—every death-bed scene, every funeral procession, every open grave, rebukes it.  But in ordinary cases the providence of God speaks to a comparatively small circle: here it speaks to every individual in the nation; for if the death of the father of a family be an admonition to that family to prepare to die, not less is the death of the Head of a nation an admonition to that entire nation to consider their latter end.  But a little while since, my countrymen, your President spoke to you as a living man, and he told you concerning the projected measures of his administration: today he speaks to you from the silence and corruption of the tomb, and I trust I may add, in view of all the cheering evidence of his Christian character which has come to us,—from that world where the dignity of earthly distinction is forgotten amidst the splendours of a blood-bought crown; but he speaks on another and more momentous subject—your relations to God and eternity.  If you were disposed to heed the voice of the living, turn not a deaf ear to the voice of the dead.  Men of every class and every character throughout this nation, not God’s ministers, but the grave, is preaching to you to-day; and the doctrine is everywhere the same—that you must all die; and the exhortation is everywhere the same—that you should prepare to die.

            Hitherto I have dwelt upon those national sins which are more directly and especially rebuked by this affecting dispensation; but I must now add in the

            VI.  Last place, that God has here sent us a rebuke for all our national transgressions, and is calling us to repentance and reformation in view of them.

            Nothing is so well adapted to set an individual to reflecting upon his sins, as the chastisements of the Divine hand.  Thus, you remember, when Jacob’s sons were brought into circumstances of difficulty and peril in Egypt, they began immediately to commune with themselves and with one another, in respect to their cruel and murderous treatment of their brother; and the reason was that conscience did its office, and recognized the doctrine of a retribution.  And the same principle applies to communities as to individuals.  When the rod of God is laid upon a nation as it has been now upon us, it is adapted to excite the inquiry, wherefore is it that He has thus come out in judgment?  What are the sins of which we have been guilty, that we are thus subjected to the chastisements of Heaven?  I can only hint at those which have not been already mentioned.

            Let me say, then, that we are chargeable with having shut our ears against the voice of God, when he has spoken to us in former judgments.  It is but a few years since the pestilence passed through this land, like fire through a forest.  We had heard of it indeed as the scourge of other lands; but we had looked at the ocean as an effectual barrier against its approach to us.  Presently, however, that barrier was passed; and we read in our own newspapers, under the head of domestick intelligence, as fearful tales of desolation as any which had come to us from across the ocean.  It was not here and there only, but every where; and the graves were multiplying every day by thousands and thousands; and even the most thoughtless were compelled to feel that they lived on the threshold of eternity.  But at length the pestilence passed off, and our anxiety passed off with it; and there is reason to believe that instead of melting the nation into penitence, it rendered it more obdurate in transgression.  At a more recent period, the country has been subjected to unprecedented commercial distress.  Rich men have seen their fortunes vanishing like chaff before the whirlwind; and poverty and bankruptcy and ruin have become as household words, where for years nothing but affluence and independence had been dreamed of.  But the nation has remained unhumbled still.  We have been loud enough and busy enough in referring the evil to second causes; but where have been the evidences of our recognition of the Divine hand;—of our repentance and reformation in view of the Divine rebuke?  And finally, the elements have been commissioned as ministers of God’s displeasure toward us.  The conflagration has swept over no inconsiderable portion of the metropolis of the land, blotting out the productions of art, frustrating the labours of industry, and arresting temporarily the current of expectation and enterprise.  Our vessels have been abroad upon our waters, freighted with youth and beauty, with intelligence and virtue; but the midnight tempest has opened for these multitudes a common grave in the deep; or the terrific explosion has announced their entrance into eternity; or else the flames around and the waters beneath have contended in the work of death, till there have been only enough left to record the horrours of the scene.  These events occurring in fearfully rapid succession, have for the time, spread consternation and agony through the land; and it has seemed as if God’s warning voice were raised to a note so loud and terrible, that the most thoughtless must be forced to consideration; but here again, scarcely have the tidings died away upon our ears, before we have regained our accustomed insensibility, and virtually said to God that if he would melt or humble us, it must be done by some yet more appalling visitation.

            Infidelity is another crying sin with which we are chargeable—yes, infidelity in every form and degree; from the dark insinuation against Christianity that is only whispered in a corner, down to the open rejection of all religion, and the blasphemies of the blackest atheism.  The state of the country in reference to this subject at this moment would, I doubt not, if it could be laid open to us, furnish matter of most appalling interest to everyone who regards his country’s welfare.  We should see that there is no place so high, but that infidelity has been able to reach it; no place so low but that she has been willing to creep into it; and I fear, no place so sacred, but that she is suffered to profane and pollute it.  From every part of this land, and especially from our great cities, there is a voice going up to Heaven, calling for still heavier judgments to descend upon us, because we are so rapidly becoming an infidel people.

            And there is the sin of slavery—yes, silent as we may be in respect to it, because fanaticism on the one hand, and prejudice and selfishness on the other, are lifting up together their discordant voices to seal our lips and palsy our efforts—the sin of slavery is, at this moment, bearing testimony against us before the Ruler of nations, as loudly as any other.  True, indeed, the fact that this mighty burden of guilt rests upon us is no reason why we should act precipitately, and thus defeat our own efforts in endeavoring to throw it off; but it is a reason why we should not remain inactive; and if we are contented to remain so, what else will other nations say of us, what else will our own consciences say of us, what else will God the righteous Judge write in His book concerning us, but that with all our eulogies of freedom, and all our pretended abhorrence of slavery, we are, after all, willing that this sin should lie at our door?

            The spirit of violence and bloodshed too is abroad in the land, and in some parts of it to a degree, to which you will scarcely find a parallel even in the most barbarous country.  The good and useful citizen is decoyed away from his habitation to be murdered at noon-day; and the murderer with a view to escape detection, turns his own dwelling into a sepulcher.  The magistrate, while engaged in the discharge of his appropriate functions, falls dead from his seat, a victim to ruthless violence.  The neighbourhood echoes at midnight to the alarm of fire; but it turns out that amidst those flames there is blood; and the fire has been kindled only to hide the assassin’s hand.  And in some instances the perpetrators of these deeds are suffered to go at large, while justice stands like a statue at her post, as if her eyes were put out, or her hands were palsied, or her life blood were frozen.  My country, thou hast a fearful account to settle for these bloody outrages; especially for such as are voluntarily, deliberately, left unpunished!

            I Had intended to add to this list of our national sins, the extensive desecration of the Sabbath; the neglect of the ordinances of religion; the profanation of God’s holy name, as well as the sin of intemperance, which is still in no small degree prevalent, notwithstanding all that Christian benevolence and Christian enterprise have done to arrest it; but instead of pursuing this train of thought, I will only in conclusion urge you in a single word, to fulfill the great purpose for which the solemnities of this day have been ordained—that of repentance and reformation.  The repentance of the nation must be that of the individuals of which the nation is composed; and as you are among its component parts, I call upon you this day, every one, to break off your iniquities by turning to the Lord, as a debt which you owe to your country.  Repent of your own personal transgressions—of the sins of your heart and of your life, and supplicate grace to enable you to live a righteous, sober and godly life, to the glory of God’s holy name.  Humble yourselves in view of our national sins, and resolve that the full amount of your influence shall be consecrated to the cause of national reformation.  And then go forth and act in the spirit of this day’s solemnities, in the spirit of the resolutions you have here formed, and it will be good for you, it will be good for our common country, that you have engaged in this exercise.

            It is at once a sublime and affecting thought that this great nation is professedly humbling itself to-day around the tomb of its departed Head.  If I had a voice that could be heard from one end of the land to the other, I would say, My countrymen, take heed that ye do not hereafter prove this day’s solemnities to have been a farce.  Ye are professing now to be humble for our sins, and to ask that God’s judgments may not be lost upon you: show your sincerity then by forsaking the sins for which you mourn; by laying duly to heart the chastisement which you profess to recognize.  But if you rise from your knees only to commit the sins which you have confessed; if you go forth from your chambers of fasting to open your bosoms to the influence of party strife, and criminal worldliness, and forgetfulness of God, then remember that you have played the hypocrite amidst the solemnities of an occasion which has had it not more of a fast than of a funeral; and to say nothing of other testimony, the grave of your lamented President will be a witness against you until it shall give up its dead at the great resurrection day.




Sermon – Fasting – 1850, South Carolina

























From the Message of his Excellency, W. B. Seabrook.


            “In recommending, as I now do, that South Carolina should interpose her sovereignty in order to protect her citizens, and that by co-operation with her aggrieved sister States, she may be enabled to aid in averting the doom which impends over the civil institutions of the South, it is fit and proper that, as a Commonwealth, we should, at an early day, to be designated by you, implore the God of our fathers for the pardon of our manifold transgressions, and invoke his protection and guidance in this our day of trouble and affliction; that he would graciously vouchsafe to enlighten the minds of our Federal rulers, the North and its citizens, and direct them in the way of truth, of reason and of justice, and preserve a once happy political family from the unspeakable horrors of civil strife.”

From the Journal of the House of Representatives,

November 26, 1850.

            Mr. Memminger submitted the following Preamble and Resolutions, which were ordered to be considered immediately, and were agreed to:

            Whereas, it becomes a Christian people, at all times to look to the King of Kings for guidance and direction, but more especially in seasons of trial and difficulty; and, whereas, the enactments of the last Congress of the United States have destroyed the equal rights of the Southern States, have invaded the peace and security of our homes, and must lead to an overthrow of the existing order of things: therefore,

            Resolved, unanimously, That we recommend to the people of South Carolina, to set apart Friday, the 6th of December, as a day of fasting and humiliation, and that the Reverend Clergy throughout the State be invited to assemble their respective congregations on that day, to unite in prayer to Almighty God, that He may direct and aid this General Assembly in devising such means as will conduce to the best interests and welfare of our beloved State.

            2.  Resolved, unanimously, That religious services and a sermon appropriate to the occasion be had in the Hall of the House of Representatives, and that a fitting Clergyman be invited to officiate.

            3.  Resolved, unanimously, That a committee of three be appointed on the part of this House, and that a message be sent to the Senate proposing the appointment of a like Committee to meet the Committee of this House, for the purpose of carrying into effect these resolutions.

From the Journal of the House of Representatives,

December 7, 1850.

            Mr. E. P. Jones submitted the following resolutions, which were ordered to be considered immediately, and were agreed to:

            1.  Resolved, That a copy of the able and eloquent discourse, delivered before the General Assembly, by the Rev. Whitefoord Smith, be requested of him for publication.

            2.  Resolved, That a committee of three, on the part of this house, be appointed to meet a similar committee on the part of the Senate, for the purpose of making the request, and directing the publication.

            3.  Resolved, That two thousand copies be published.

            In the Senate, on the same day, the message of the House was concurred in, and Messrs. Moses, Manning, and Griffin appointed on the committee.





Senate Chamber,

Columbia, Dec. 10, 1850.


Rev. Whitefoord Smith.


            Dear Sir:—We take pleasure in communicating, as a committee appointed for that purpose, the unanimous resolution of both Houses of the Legislature, requesting, for publication, a copy of your able, impressive and eloquent Sermon, delivered at the solicitation of the General Assembly of the State, on the day of fasting, humiliation and prayer.


            In performing this duty, permit us to assure you of the high consideration with which we subscribe ourselves,


            Very respectfully yours,

            FRANKLIN J. MOSES,

            Chair of the Senate Com.

            E. P. JONES,

            Chair of House Com.



Columbia, Dec. 10, 1850.


Gentlemen:—Your note of this date, conveying the request of the General Assembly of South Carolina, for a copy of the Sermon delivered before that body, on Friday, the 6th inst. For publication, is before me.  I cannot forbear the expression of my profound gratitude for the kind manner in which the discourse has been received by the Legislature.

The manuscript is placed at your disposal.

            With the highest consideration,

            I have the honor to be,

            Very respectfully,

            Yours, &c.



To the Hon. F. J. Moses,

            E. P. Jones, and others,         Committee.



God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.  The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  PSALMS. XLVI. 1, 2, 3, and 11.

            Never, in the history of our State, have our people been called to the observance of a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, under circumstances so peculiar and critical, as those which now surround us.

            For near three quarters of a century our country has enjoyed a state of almost uninterrupted internal tranquility, and pursued her steady and onward course towards that point of greatness and glory to which the Providence of God had called her.  In the legitimate exercise of the functions of government, there seemed nothing to retard her progress, and the eye of hope was already dazzled with the splendor of the future, while anticipating the development of her illimitable resources.  The capability of man for self-government was the theme of the proud American, as he pointed to each bright page of his country’s history, rendered illustrious by acts of patriotism which claimed the admiration of the world.  No scenes of moral sublimity had Time’s long calendar chronicled, grander than the Declaration of American Independence, and the adoption of our Federal Constitution.  No name shone brighter on the roll which fame had made immortal, than that of the Christian Washington.  The future was radiant with the reflection of the past, and down the long vista of coming years, the sanguine could already discern the last-born star of the political firmament, outshining every sister planet, and reigning “lord of the ascendant.”

            But it is not to be disguised that all these bright hopes have become clouded—that the most serious dissensions have arisen among us—and that while we are at peace with all the foreign powers of the world, we are the subjects of an internal convulsion which threatens the overthrow of our government.  There is reason to apprehend that the confederated States of this Union,

“That stood the storm when waves were rough,

Shall, in a sunny hour fall off,

Like ships that have gone down at sea,

When Heaven was all tranquility.”

            At such a time, when such dangers threaten us, nothing surely can be more appropriate and becoming than that, as a Christian people, we should recognize the supreme control of God, and with a rue and sincere humiliation, present ourselves before the throne of Grace, to ask the guidance of the All-wise, the support of the Almighty.

            While the perilous condition of our country is of itself sufficient to justify the appointment you have made of this day for fasting, humiliation and prayer, the sable drapery of these halls of legislation admonishes us that South Carolina has other griefs, which should lay her in the dust before God.

            For many years past, in every exigency of her history, she has been accustomed to turn her eyes to that favored son, whose wisdom and far-seeing sagacity pre-eminently qualified him to direct the public mind, and upon whose virtue and firmness she leaned as on the pillar of her strength.  But in vain do we look to meet the glance of that piercing eye—in vain do we seek the motion of that hand which always pointed out the path of duty and of honour.  Carolina’s long-loved son is gone,

“Like a summer-dried fountain

When our need was the sorest.”

            The flowers on his tomb are yet scarcely withered—the eyes that wept for him are yet moistened with tears—the hearts that bled at his departure are not yet healed.  But alas! He is gone.  And while the cry of his own dear State is rallying her sons to the rescue, he, who was ever foremost to answer to her call, comes not now.

“He sleeps his last sleep, he has fought his last battle,

No sound shall awake him to glory again.”

            Strange and mysterious was the dispensation of Providence which removed him from us at such a time.  But like the Hebrew Prophet, who had led his people through all the intricacies of the wilderness and the perils of the desert, till they were in sight of the promised land, yet was not permitted to enter that land and head their hosts in battle with their foes; so our illustrious statesman, who for years had predicted the coming of this day and of these events, was only allowed to guide us to the passage of this Jordan, and then his work was done.  May He who has taken away our Moses, give us another Joshua!

            Nor while we visit with tears the grave of our Calhoun, can we forget that he who was called to succeed him in the high honours of the Senatorial office, has likewise followed him with rapid step to the grave.

            From our Judiciary, also, in the last twelve-month, have been removed two bright luminaries of the law; one in the maturity of years and honours, the other in the meridian of life and usefulness.  A visitation so extraordinary may well be expected to produce the deepest impression.  While we are thus solemnly reminded of the uncertainty and frailty of all human dependence, it becomes us to put our trust in Him who is the rock and the refuge of his people.  Surely Heaven could scarce address us in plainer or in louder tones, commanding us to cease from man, and to make God the only object of our faith.

            It is a practice sanctioned by a high antiquity, and commended by every consideration both of reason and religion, that a people, in any crisis of their history, should turn their thoughts to God.  Even heathen nations, whose brightest illuminations were but the indistinct lights of natural religion, acknowledged this propriety.  Political disasters were followed by sacrifices and humiliation; and difficulties were solved, and perplexities relieved, by consulting the oracles of their gods.  And surely nothing is more fitting to a Christian people, bowed under the weight of manifold afflictions, than a true and penitent humiliation—nothing more proper to them, when surrounded by peril, than acts of supplication and prayer.  And let it be distinctly remembered, that we claim to be a Christian people.

            The causes which have led to the existing crisis in our public affairs, have been often superficially and imperfectly considered.  By forgetting our relation to God as a Christian nation, we lose sight of moral causes, and turn our eyes only to external and political ones.  He who supposes that all the excitement and danger which now pervade our land are the result of abolitionism alone, has not thoroughly explored the subject, and has formed a very inadequate conception of the evil.  The disposition to interfere with the slave institutions of the South, is but one of the ebullitions of a spirit of insubordination and lawlessness, of infidelity and atheism.  In the eyes of this fanaticism, the rights of the South are as sacred as those of the North.  But to it, no rights are sacred.  The law and revealed will of God have declared it to be consistent with his moral government and wise purposes, that differences should exist in human fortunes; that there should be rich and poor, high and low, bond and free.  It is in antagonism to these great principles of our holy religion, that the wild passions of the godless are arrayed.  In their esteem, a Bible, which proclaims the right of one man to a larger possession than another, is a cheat, an imposition, a cunningly devised fable.  A God who should order such inequalities in the temporal condition of men, is no God.  Religion, therefore, they consider priestcraft—revelation a shameless imposture—the God of the Bible their sworn and bitter foe.  They may not yet have gathered the strength and courage necessary for so open an avowal of their views and designs, or, with a cunning policy, they may be biding their time for the declaration; but when the one or the other shall justify the announcement, the war-cry of their ranks will be universal equality and no religion—their oriflamme, the bloody flag.

            When that day shall come, which to all appearance is fast approaching, they who now, instead of supporting the Constitution and laws of our Government, either passively look on at this gathering storm of human passion, or seek to direct it hither for their own security, will be the first victims of its violence. For, let them not suppose that the infuriate mob will desire to seek their homes amid the malaria of southern swamps, when they can so easily avail themselves of a nearer possession in the beautiful villas of the Hudson and the Delaware.

            It is, unfortunately, too common, to confound the religious freedom which our Constitution secures to every man, with infidelity and atheism; to suppose, because we repudiate Church establishments, we acknowledge no religion.  Nothing can be more false in fact—nothing more fatal in practice.  The laws and institutions of our land are all avowedly Christian.  While preeminence is given to no particular church or denomination—while no religious tests of conformity or orthodoxy are demanded—while freedom to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, is guaranteed to every man—yet still we claim to be a Christian people.  What means the adjournment of this General Assembly from Saturday to Monday, but the recognition of the Christian Sabbath?  What arguments have we for the protection of our rights of property, that are not founded on the Christian Revelation?  What insurmountable barrier do we present against the pretended philanthropy of those who would overturn our domestic institutions, but the living oracles of God?

            It may well constitute a subject of humiliation to us on this day, that, in this particular, our practice has been so far beneath our creed.  We can scarcely suppose that any intelligent citizen of this State can be found, who would be willing to imitate unhappy France in her bloody revolution, either in the repudiation of religion, or in the general and authorized profanation of the Sabbath.  Yet, how frequently it happens, that those who shudder at the thought of what would be the result of a general and legalized act, seem unconscious of the evil of an individual or partial dereliction!

            Think not, Legislators of South Carolina, when a portion of your fellow-citizens appeal to you in petitions for the suppression of immoralities and the prevention of violations of the Divine Law, that it is with any disposition to coerce their neighbors into the practice of religion by the civil power.  The idea of conversion by force is the exploded theory of a bye-gone age.  But it is because, with the spirit of true patriotism, they look upon this as a Christian State; and they would have all its statutes built upon a sure and permanent foundation.  They believe that a due respect to God’s laws is the certain way to secure his favor for their land—to promote its prosperity—to augment its glory.—They have learned, as well from the history of all the kingdoms of the earth, as from the inspired record, that “righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”  And when the day of invasion or peril shall come, they would gird on the harness of war, not trembling with fear, the first-born child of guilt; but triumphant in hope, the fruit of confidence in God.  They would answer the reproachful addresses of their foes in the language of the once happy Israel to the haughty Assyrian:

            “The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised the, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee.  Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed; and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high?  Even against the Holy One of Israel.”

            Since, however, the peculiar domestic institution of the South is made the ostensible cause for all the wrongs of which we complain in the Federal legislation of our country, let us turn our attention to it briefly.  As Christians, we are called to admit that all things are under the special, superintending providence of God.  We shall not go back to trace the origin and history of slavery through the patriarchal and prophetic ages, nor stop to note its Divine recognition in the dispensation of God’s chosen people.  These are matters too patent and indisputable to be questioned even by its most relentless opponents.  But the horrors of the slave-trade have furnished a copious theme for philanthropic declamation, while the barbarism and cannibalism of the untaught African have been always overlooked.  Can we doubt that the hand of God was mighty enough to have prevented all this inhumanity, if his providence had no purposes of mercy and wisdom to serve in the permission of a temporary evil to effect an ultimate and incalculable good?  And if we could dispossess our minds of those prejudices which warp our better judgment, and look rather to the way in which God brings good out of seeming evil, to what different conclusions should we come, than when, following the blindness of our own reason and passions, we undertake to challenge His justice and goodness?  If we form our opinions of good and evil, not according to principles of worldly expediency, but, as Christians ought to do, according to the word of God, considering a future life as well as the present, can there be any question that the negro race among us, under all the supposed disadvantages of slavery, are happier than were their fathers in their native land, or than they themselves could be in any place or in any condition that is really practicable?  They who make slavery a cause of offence, fight not against us, but against God.  Who, in the creation, formed these lands and suited them to that peculiar culture which makes their product the great staple of the world?  Who, of all the various tribes of men, has adapted this peculiar people to this climate and fitted them for this very toil?  Who, in his own infinite wisdom, gave those rules for the regulation of this relation, so that it might be a blessing both to the master and his slave?  Who has caused, in the last twenty years, a spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice in the hearts of good men, and led them to consecrate themselves to the great work of evangelizing and saving this portion of the human family?  Who has crowned these Christian labors with such eminent success, unparalleled in the history of modern missions, so that in our own State alone, more than fifty thousand of these very people are in the communion of His Church?

            And what is it that these sworn foes to slavery desire to do?—Is it to place the negro race in a better condition, civilly, politically, or religiously?  Have they not written their own hypocrisy in capitals before the world, by forbidding their entrance into many of their States?  And in those free States, where a scattered remnant of them still survive, are they not “the most degraded, under-foot, down-trodden,” victims of inhumanity?  What would they come to teach them?  Is it contentment, and peace and piety?  What text-book would they give them?  Is it the Bible?  No, no!  They would come only to desolate and to blight.  Under a pretence of religion, they would institute “a higher law.”  Under the pretended sanction of the Gospel of peace, they would light up the fires of an exterminating war.  Under the affectation of Christianity, they would teach the doctrines of devils.

            Some of the more moderate and thoughtful among those who array themselves against us on this subject, profess an unwillingness to interrupt by force our existing relations, but at the same time desire to effect a peaceful change in public sentiment among us.  Ignorant of the true state of things, and misled by imaginary evils, they would teach us a better way.  To all such offers, “be our plain answer this:  The laws we reverence are our brave fathers’ legacy—the faith we follow, teaches us to live in bonds of charity with all mankind, and die with hope of bliss beyond the grave.  We seek no change; and, least of all, such change as they would bring us.”

            There is a singular fact connected with the history of slavery among us, which seems to have escaped public notice, and which conveys a most important moral lesson.  In the early periods of our history, this institution was viewed at the South with an evil eye.  It was commonly regarded as a hindrance to the prosperity of those States in which it existed.  So common was this feeling at the South, that many of our youth were sent for their education into the free States.  Thousands who were born and reared among us, looked forward with hope to the day when we should be able to rid ourselves of a slave population, and when our territory should become the abode only of the free.  At this time, there existed among this great body of people no Christian missions.  They lived and died in as utter heathenism, as did their pagan progenitors.  No man cared for their souls.  To speak, therefore, of their emancipation, was to address the philanthropy and Christian feeling of the human heart.

            A little more than twenty years ago, attention was first turned to their religious culture.  It was remembered that they were human beings—that though they were our property, they were also our fellow-creatures.  It was discovered that their oral instruction in the elementary principles of practical and experimental religion, was compatible with the public safety, and even tributary to the master’s interest.  To our own State belongs the honour of having originated this enterprise, and it stands associated with a name of which South Carolina has always been proud.  Since that time, in many of the slaveholding States, the different churches have engaged in the work of teaching them their moral responsibility, their duty to God, and to their masters.

            Now, mark in this, the hand of a wise and gracious God, accomplishing his own designs in ways we had not known.  Had the torrent of fanaticism which now threatens to desolate the land, come upon us and found us unprepared—had we no moral and religious barrier to interpose against this professed philanthropy—its progress had been irresistible.  The great mass of Christians in the slave States would have been paralyzed—the public sentiment among ourselves would, in all probability, have been greatly divided—and no unanimous concurrence of our people could have been expected in its defense, when the institution was regarded only as a political one, and, by many, considered as an evil.

            But the public mind has now received another direction.  Missionary efforts for the salvation of the negro race have turned the attention of Christians to the more calm and correct appreciation of slavery.  They found the authority for its existence in the Bible—they discovered its obligations and duties sanctioned by a Divine Revelation.  The more its discomforts and inconveniences were modified and alleviated, the firmer hold did it take upon every Christian heart.  And when the battle-cry of fanaticism was raised in its first serious attack upon the slave institution, its first bold repulse was from the Christian church, whose adamantine fortification was the Word of God!

            This was no “odium theologicum.”  The question at issue was no metaphysical point of speculative theology.  It was a question of practical religion, grave in its character, momentous in its consequences.  And the Southern Church occupied the platform which inspiration had laid, when, with the spirit of prophecy, it foresaw the licentiousness of later times.  “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed.  And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit.  These things teach and exhort.  If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil-surmisings, perverse disputing of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness:  from such withdraw thyself.”

            And now, hallowed by this sacred connection, and assured of the righteousness of our cause, and of the promised protection and blessing of Heaven, the Christians are among the foremost to plant themselves in the breach, and to defend with their lives this institution of God and our fathers.

            What could more powerfully enforce the salutary lesson, that the faithful fulfillment of the duties involved in this relation is the best security for its preservation; and that the only danger to be apprehended in connection with it, is the want of fidelity to our stewardship!  Look around through all the slave States, and you shall find that wherever the greatest attention has been paid to the moral duties of this relation, there, the greatest unanimity exists, and the loftiest courage is exhibited in its defense.

            No apology will be needed for having occupied your attention so long on this topic.  It is well that on so solemn an occasion our conscientious conviction of the rectitude of our cause should be declared before the world.  And it is likewise most proper that we should know whether we have a right to expect the Divine blessing, which this day has been specially set apart to seek.  If our cause be an unjust and sinful one, our humiliation and prayers shall be all in vain.  For, as saith the Psalmist, “if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”  But if, on the contrary, we are assured of its righteousness—if we can appeal to the Searcher of hearts for our sincerity and integrity—if what we defend is the institution of God, and consistent with his revealed will, then we know that our prayers shall be answered and the Divine blessing be given.

            But although the justice of our cause may well embolden us, yet is this day most properly consecrated to humiliation and prayer.  We have many sins for which to mourn and repent.  Let us not indulge in a spirit of pride and vain-boasting, but examine wherein we have failed of our duty to God.  It is not the rage and malice of our enemies we have to fear.  We have a conscience void of offence towards them.  We have not wronged them; we have not deserted them in the time of their need; we have not sought their hurt.  But our only fear is that we have provoked the displeasure of our Heavenly Father, by neglecting his commands, and being too forgetful of Him—that in the pride and fullness of our hearts, we have lost sight of our dependence upon Him.  Let us return unto Him with penitence and tears.  Let us rend our hearts and not our garments, and put away all evil from us, and in sincerity and truth devote ourselves to Him.  Let us remember the Sabbath He hath sanctified, and keep it holy.  Let us meet the high responsibilities of a Christian people with cheerful and willing hearts.  Oh!  I would that He who looketh into all hearts might behold in every one of us to-day, and in all our people who are surrounding his altars, the spirit of a true contrition and of a living faith!  Oh!  I would to Heaven that this day’s acts of penitence and prayer might come before the mercy-seat as an acceptable offering, the odour of a sacrifice pleasing to God!  Oh! That there might follow this day’s humiliation, such an effusion of the spirit of love, and of power, and of a sound mind, as should inspire our people with a moral courage, adequate not only to the necessity of these times, but of all times; such a spirit of rejoicing and heavenly triumph, as neither danger can disturb, nor disaster overcome, nor death destroy.  Then should there be heard the shout of a King in the camp, and the people of the Lord should do valiantly.

            Let it be deeply impressed upon our minds, how insufficient is human wisdom, how inadequate human power, to achieve anything of itself, without the aid of God.  It is too common for men to rely upon themselves more than upon God.  This is perhaps one of the abuses we make of our moral agency.  It is true that we are not to neglect the right and proper means for the accomplishment of an end, but the best and most efficient means may be utterly unavailing, when, depending on them alone, we refuse to put our trust in the Lord.  The secret spring of all moral power is faith in God.

            It were falling infinitely below this great occasion, and losing sight of the moral issues it involves, if we should place our security and trust in any other than an Almighty arm.  We claim that our cause is the cause of justice and of truth.  We appeal to God, as did our fathers in the darkest days of their peril, for support; and we believe that He will guide us safely through.  But let us not anticipate his time, nor, by any rash precipitancy of our own, take our cause out of his hands.  Human pride is human weakness.  Our sufficiency is of God.  If we entrust our cause to him, our steps shall be ordered surely.  Cast your eyes around you, and ask, if we were disposed to lean upon earthly aid, whence is that aid to come?  Yet, this need not intimidate us.  For, what though we were deserted by men?  What though the world were in arms against us?  Has God never delivered his people under circumstances as threatening and desperate as even these would be?  Man’s extremity has always been God’s opportunity.  And if we had not a hand to lift for our defense, the voice Almighty might be heard, bidding us, “stand still, and see the salvation of God.”

“Lo! To faith’s enlighten’d sight,

All the mountain flames with light,

Hell is nigh, but God is nigher,

Circling us with hosts of fire.”

            While prayer cannot sanctify that which is unholy in principle, yet how great is its advantage, when the object of the prayer is good.  How powerful, then, should be the influence of this day’s service upon all our hearts.  “For, if God be for us, who shall be against us?”  It becomes those who are supported by such high considerations, to be above all petty heats of passion—to repose with a steady confidence on God—to deliberate calmly—to act courageously.  In all we purpose and in all we do, let the fear of God be before our eyes, but not the fear of man.  For, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; but the fear of man bringeth a snare.

            Through the length and breadth of the land, too, it shall be told, that South Carolina is not engaged in an unhallowed cause.  It shall be known, that she has taken no step, engaged herself to no line of action, until she had asked direction of Heaven, and committed her cause to Him that judgeth righteously.  But let us not forget, that when we come to place ourselves under Divine guidance, and to seek illumination from above, we should dispossess our minds of all antecedent prejudices, and sincerely implore Almighty God to show us the way in which He would have us go.  It may not comport with His will, to workout our deliverance in the way we might desire.  And it would be impious in us, while asking his counsel, to be determined to pursue the course which our prejudices or passions might prefer.  It has been frequent in the history of nations and of men, that the ways in which He has wrought out the deliverance of his people, have been very different from those which they anticipated.  We are taught to pray, “Thy will be done.”

            Whether it shall please Him to interpose at this time, for our deliverance, by producing a revolution in public opinion throughout the land, making even our enemies to be at peace with us; or, by some signal judgment upon those who persecute us, manifesting the strength of his displeasure; or, by cursing them with a mental blindness, that by farther aggressions they may drive the most tardy and timid into a ready co-operation with us—whether He shall be pleased that this Confederacy of States shall still continue, with the wrongs of which we complain redressed, and with a Constitution rescued from the dust, and environed around with new securities—or, whether it shall be His will that the bonds which have united us shall be severed, and new combinations formed; all these should be left in His hands.  Nothing is beyond the reach of His power.

            We have not been nursed in the lap of Christianity, and taught the Bible from our infancy, without learning that it is not with the Lord to save by many or by few.  It is not numbers which constitute right; neither in morals, do numbers constitute might.  A firm and true reliance upon God is worth more than a Macedonian phalanx.  A secret and lurking infidelity in our hearts may say, the age of miracles is gone.  But a living faith confesses no abatement of Jehovah’s power.  Under the protection of that power, we place ourselves to-day. We cannot tell, in the boding future, through what dark scenes our path may lie.  We know not who may survive to witness the triumphs of constitutional freedom.  But, come what may, in weal or in woe, this shall be our rejoicing, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Whatever insignia may wave over the bannered hosts of other States, let the glorious and encouraging motto on our flag be this:  “The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

 Gentlemen of the Senate

And House of Representatives:

            You occupy this day the most honourable, and yet, the most responsible position which it is possible for men to hold.  In your hands, under God, are our destinies, and the destinies of our wives, and children, and servants.  The eyes of your fellow-citizens are upon you, awaiting, with intensest interest, your action.  Our State has been traduced and mocked, as rash and hasty.—No efforts have been spared to wean from her the support and co-operation of her sister States of the South.  Her chivalry has been made a bye-word of reproach.  Her nice and delicate sense of her constitutional rights, has been distorted into disaffection to the Union.  Her avowed determination to maintain those rights “at any and every hazard,” has been met by threats of coercion if she dare resist.  Everything has been done that could be done to provoke your wrath, and urge you to an impetuous and precipitate act.  You understand the design, and hitherto, South Carolina has taken no step which she has had to retrace.  You know full well that a constitutional revolution is not the work of a day.  They who desire our destruction would rejoice to force you into a wrong position.  Let them find that your indomitable courage is tempered by a wise discretion.

            When you adopted the resolutions by which this day was set apart for these religious purposes—when you invited the ministrations of religion to hallow your deliberations, and called upon the whole people of our State to unite with you in prayer to God in this great emergency; you sent a thrill of joy through every Christian heart, and inspired hope and confidence in the breasts of us all.  Then we saw that our Legislators were placing us “rectus in curia” before the world—that you were recognizing your dependence, and ours, upon God—that you were taking counsel where wisdom dwelt, and seeking alliance with a mightier power than all the kings of the earth.

            And how encouraging to your own hearts must be the thought, that, united with you in spirit to-day around the throne of the heavenly mercy, are the people you represent, and supplications are ascending for you for thousands of souls—that infancy, in timid accents, is lisping its early prayer; and old age, trembling under its infirmities, commends you to God; and female tenderness, with its accustomed faith, implores on you the blessing of Heaven; while manhood adds all its strength to the general intercession.

            And may we not suppose that the knowledge of this day’s transactions shall have its effect far beyond the borders of our own State?  May not God make the position of a praying people terrible to their foes?  May not the dark clouds which have hung portentously over our sky, be removed by an Almighty Hand?  The attitude in which you have placed yourselves by this day’s proceedings shall reflect honour on your names among the generations to come.  For it declares that, while you fear no earthly power, you own subjection and fealty to the King of Kings.

            Gentlemen, to the best of my humble abilities, I have performed the duty with which your kindness has honoured me.  I have endeavored cautiously to abstain from dictating to you in those things which are legitimately confided to your hands, as the Representatives of the people of South Carolina.  I have only sought to point you to the true source of wisdom, to the fountain of all grace and good.  And now, I commend you to God.  May He enable you so to direct our ship of State through all the perils of the present storm, that she may gallantly ride each heaving billow, and find safe anchorage in the Port of Peace!    Amen.

Sermon – Fasting – 1843, Massachusetts

Our Political Idolatry.




Delivered in the First Church in Roxbury,

On Fast Day, April 6, 1843


By George Putnam,

Minister of that Church


Published by Request of the Parish.



William Crosby and Co.



Isaiah 10:11

Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?


            These are words of warning.  The application to be made of them is obvious.  They related to a proud and self-confident nation, a people who, regarding themselves as in some sense the chosen people of God, their city as the religious center of the world, with a temple in which they said all men ought to worship, a favored people, highly privileged and exalted, imagined that on this account their national existence and welfare would be shielded for ever by a peculiar Providence, irrespective of national character.  But they were woefully mistaken.  The moral law of God makes no exceptions.  They sinned, and their sins were visited rigorously upon them as upon others.  They fell, as they had been warned, into captivity and ruin, like other nations that had in like manner corrupted their ways. 

            Our own country needs the same warning; and would that we might give better heed to it than they did whom the prophet had in his mind!

            Our Fast day is not a Sabbath.  It derives its appointment from the civil authorities.  We come up hither today as citizens of the State, in obedience to the call of the magistrate.  It seems, therefore, as much in accordance with propriety as with usage, that the observance should be as peculiar as the occasion; that, omitting the usual Sabbath-day topics, we should consider, in some of their more moral aspects, our public condition and civil relations,—not as to the details of the political expedients and measures of the day, but those principles which underlie them all, and the tendencies that direct them,—not party politics, but the elements of our social system.  And inasmuch as this is professedly not a day for congratulations and rejoicing, but a day of humiliation, it is not a fit time to take flattering views, or prophesy smooth things; but to look upon the darker side,—the side of error and danger,—and see wherein we should take shame or take warning, for evils committed, or evils to be apprehended.  If we meet here for any one definite object more than another, it is to contemplated and mourn for our public sins, mistakes, calamities, and dangers, and to be humble before God on account of them. 

            Our text leads us to this remark, namely, that our nation is liable to the same errors and sins which have in all ages brought distress or ruin on other nations, and that, greatly favored as we are in some respects, if we do as other nations have done, we shall suffer as they have suffered.  Jerusalem and her idols must fare as Samaria and her idols.

            Our people think otherwise.  They seem to imagine that our free institutions, universal suffrage, and the establishment of what are called popular rights, are in absolute pledge and infallible means of national welfare; as if, by avoiding privileged orders and monarchical power, we had turned out of the only path, and must needs be safe.  This is a great delusion, and it is high time to awake from it.  We flatter ourselves that we are free indeed, and absolutely, and always must be, if we keep on as we are going on,—free, in a sense in which people, under different forms of government, never were, nor can be.  No such thing; we have a sovereign, and on that threatens to become, if he be not yet, as absolute, as arbitrary, as uncontrolled, and as capricious too, as ever sat upon a throne.  That sovereign is the majority, a dominant party.  Out of seventeen millions, the nine millions constitute the sovereign, and the eight are subjects.  We are never under any rule but that of a party,—a party,—a sovereign always rendered vindictive and oppressive by the bitter struggle through which alone he ever gets into power.  The sovereign people means, of course, a sovereign majority.  And this mighty sovereign is subject to dangerous tendencies and misleading influences, similar to those which have made individual monarchs unscrupulous and tyrannical.  As, for instance,—the one thing that perhaps more than any other has perverted and made insupportable the absolute monarchies of the Old World,—the system of courtiership,—that is, a few persons, of little principle and great address, besetting the sovereign, and, by insinuating flatteries, and professions of unbounded devotion to his person and service, securing the honors and emoluments in his gift, and the fatal powers that accrue to court favorites.  They get their places by flattery, and use them for their own aggrandizement, and in disregard of the subject’s welfare. 

            And now is not our sovereign monarch beset just so?  As a general rule, those who aspire to favor with our king, Majority, pursue the same course; they fawn upon him, flatter him, assure him of his unparalleled wisdom, his universal and astonishing intelligence, his incorruptible virtue, of his perfectly cool and passionless judgment; above all, (and this is always the most agreeable incense to the ear of monarchs,) they tell him of the rightful extent of  his prerogative, how he ought to rule with absolute sway, how certain checks to his power ought to be removed an shall be, and nothing stand between him and the exercise of his divine instinct of right, his unerring wisdom and good pleasure.  They are careful not to tell him, that to err is human, that he is liable to passion and may do wrong, to mistakes of judgment and may err, and that therefore he ought, for his own safety and the welfare of his subjects, to surround himself, and keep himself surrounded, with regular checks against his own mistakes and caprices.  O, no!  if he ever did do wrong for a moment, it was because he was innocently misled by this or that false friend and bad adviser, who has squandered his money, or disparaged his wisdom, and must be put away. 

            Never was there a sovereign more courtier-ridden than ours, more easily duped by flatteries, or intoxicated by the sweets of power and the pride of dominion.  Our public men, and would-be public men, are of the genus Courtier, to as great an extent as any set of men that ever surrounded an absolute throne; and they do—as why should they not?—corrupt the sovereign as much, and do as much to blind him to his faults, and to make him a reckless and conceited tyrant.  A demoralized sovereign must be as pernicious here as elsewhere.

            The downfall of liberty and the decline of states has generally been brought about by the sovereign’s gradually engrossing into his own hands all the powers of the state, and ruling with the unrestrained sway of pure despotism.  That sovereign may be an aristocracy, as in Venice, and in Rome at one period; or an individual man, as in France before the first revolution; or the mass of the people, as in France after that revolution, and in some of the states of ancient Greece; in either and every case of unrestrained, unbalanced power, whether of monarchy, an aristocracy, or a democracy,—no matter which,—the liberty and safety of the individual and the good order of the state have been the sacrifice. 

            Our fathers seem to have understood perfectly this fearful lesson of history, and, in establishing a republic and framing our system of polity, they appear to have been as anxious to guard against an unmitigated democracy as against an unmitigated monarchy; they designed the one as little as the other; they designed neither.  They placed the sovereignty in its most rightful and proper depository, the people; but they were careful to set up all the checks against its despotism that were compatible with such a sovereignty; they desired to have, and they provided, as many guards as possible against the ambition, the rashness, the vindictiveness, the destructiveness of excited numbers, victorious majorities, and headlong party.

            This is not the place, and I am not the person, to show in detail how wisely our fathers managed this matter, teaching the young sovereign that he must set and maintain salutary restraints upon himself, and keep himself from doing wrong in the coming day of his pride and passion.  I will only refer to one of these checks,—the judicial system.  Here is one great branch of power, the administration of justice, taken away from the sovereign, removed as far as possible from his control, not intended to be subject to any vote of his, he himself even being made amenable to its decisions.  Our fathers designed that the rampant monarch, the major party of the day, should never assume, nor indirectly approach, this department of government,—the judiciary.  They put the appointing and the removing power of this branch, as far as practicable, out of the reach of party cabal and popular caprice, that it might be as much as possible independent of the sovereign, a barrier between the monarch, Majority, and the individual subject.  Experience has proved how wise they were.  The judiciary has been unapproachably the highest in character, the purest in its administration, of all the departments of the government.  Uninfluenced by party spirit, uncontrolled by this or that ruling faction, not obliged to court the smiles and bespeak the sweet voices, of the fickle multitude, it has stood aloof and incorrupt,—independent in its dignified and beneficent function.  It has fearlessly asserted the majesty of law.  It stands in its place, the calm and passionless organ of individual right and eternal justice, the curb of the strong, the defense of the weak, and the impartial guardian of all.  Here, as everywhere, where its independence is secured, it is the bulwark of liberty against the encroachments of arbitrary power, in its insidious pretensions, or its open violence. 

            This provision for and independent judiciary, as well as many others, shows that our fathers dreaded and would avert despotism, that is, concentrated power, whether lodged in a king or a multitude.  They never designed and unmixed democracy.  But here, as everywhere, the grasping sovereign makes constant efforts after absolute power.  It is ever of the nature of a sovereign to do so.  He always chases at the restraints put upon him.  Now conflicting parties contend which shall best secure and deserve the name of Democracy; and whichever can most firmly fix the title on its banners is nearly sure of triumph.  Here, as everywhere, whoever can most flatter and exalt the sovereign, and raise him into unfettered absolutism, will, of course, win his smiles and sit at his right hand. And men seem to be seeking how they shall outdo one another in professions of unlimited loyalty to the monarch, and give freest play to his passions and his will. 

            The present stage of our history is strongly marked by the tendency to make the sovereign, Majority, absolute and unfettered in his sway.  Just so in the palmy days of the Caesars, all Rome was studying ways to exalt the emperor’s power, and remove all hindrances from his way.  Public sentiment seems to be upon the steady, onward march towards changing our old republic, with its numerous checks and guards, into the despotism of an unmixed democracy.  As in a single instance, already referred to,—the judiciary,—is it not plain that the idea is working in the sovereign’s mind, that that institution must, in some way, be brought under his more immediate control,—must not be so independent of the popular voice,—must have done with its abstract right and absolute justice, and learn to echo only the popular acclamations,—must come every year to the sovereign to beg for a precarious subsistence and for the boon of appointment and reappointment, and so learn to dispense justice according to the behests of partisan press, the votes of a caucus, and the interests of this or that party struggling to get or keep the ascendency?  When king James II wished to play the despot, the great step was to get the courts of law subject directly to his will, and a Judge Jeffreys became a notable instrument in the sovereign’s hands.  The king made him Lord Chancellor.  It is always one great step towards despotism to get a dependent and subservient judiciary.  And our sovereign will probably take that step, and many more.  A raging thirst of power burns in the heart of this sovereign.  He is but too unlikely to observe the limits he at first set to himself, and there is none else to compel his observance of them. 

            I am showing that there is the same room for, and danger of, a despotism, under our institutions, as under any other, and that the same consequence must follow.  Why is there not the same room for it?  Let us see. 

            One leading maxim under a monarchical government is this, that the king can do no wrong; that is, he cannot be called to account, tried, or punished for anything he may do.  This maxim is probably essential to sovereignty and to the stability of a government; but it is a great help to a king toward becoming a tyrant.  The same maxim here pertains to the sovereign majority, and is more potent here than elsewhere; for an individual tyrant may be put out of the way, like a Julius Caesar, a Charles I., or the Russian Paul, and the many kings that have been dethroned; but our multitudinous sovereign may commit what outrages he will, out-herod Herod in atrocity, and there is no remedy, legal or illegal. 

            It is little relief, that the majority may change every year, now this side triumphing, and now that.  If the system be such as gives absolute power to the ruling party, little is gained by a frequent change of masters.  The rival houses of York and Lancaster alternated on the English throne, every few years, for a long period; but it made little difference in the condition of the oppressed subject which side was uppermost.  So let the principle be established, that a numerical majority is absolute in power,—the constitutional checks removed or evaded,—and it will matter little to individual citizens which party triumphs today or tomorrow.

            Is our sovereign any less likely to commit violence than other sovereigns?  The greatest atrocities on record have been committed, not by kings, but by excited and dominant masses, sometimes with, and sometimes without, the forms of law. 

            That great interest, so closely connected with the prosperity and morality of a nation,—Property,—is that more likely to be respected under an absolute democracy that under any other absolute power?  No; the popular passion and jealousy are more easily excited against this interest than any other.  From the nature of things, property, if it exist and flourish at all, must be very unequally divided.  It is true, we have not, and cannot have, any permanently rich class.  The families that are rich now are no more likely than others to be so a few years hence.  But those, who, for the time being, happen to hole property in large masses, are always objects of jealousy, often bitter and rabid, to those who have little or none, for the time being; that is, to the majority, the sovereign.  At least, such a jealousy may be easily awakened by the interested demagogue.  Let that majority become the absolute, unlimited monarch, according to the tendency of the times, and the security of property is gone.  The assault will be gradual and specious at first, but effective.  It will show itself in a noisy and meddlesome zeal for the rights of the poor, in petty persecutions of property, all sorts of embarrassments thrown in the way of its operations, inquisitorial proceedings instituted over private possessions and affairs, innumerable means of  thwarting, vexing, hampering the thrifty and successful,—making them odious and suspected.  This is the way with despotism, whether popular or monarchical.  There is nothing in our institutions, after the removal of a few barriers,—which are no more than bulrushes in the hand of our mighty sovereign,—nothing to hinder our approaching the condition of some Oriental states,—(for the thing has been comparatively unknown in modern Europe, except in France, during the reign of the Jacobin clubs,—) Asiatic states, I say, in which the possession of riches subjects the holder to such exactions, persecutions, and dangers, that treasure is hidden in the ground, carried out of the country, disappears, is hunted out of visible existence, by the jealousy or cupidity of the potentate.  It would be no marvel, if another century should witness such a state of things in this favored land; for such a potentate is growing up here, and, under the plausible motto of Popular Rights, sounded from all tongues, is fast approaching the fatal absolutism. 

            Once more,—is our boasted sovereign one that is sure to surpass other sovereigns in the moral character of his dealings with mankind?  Will this sovereign manifest a high-toned conscience, a scrupulous regard to honor and good faith in his engagements?  This question is answered but too plainly already.  To the infinite shame and sorrow of every high-minded citizen, the answer I written down before the eyes of the world in facts as black and foul as any, of this class, that ever yet blasted the fame of prince or people.  In some States of the Union,—and God only knows how it would be in other States under like difficulties, or how it will yet be in some of them,—in some States debts have been openly repudiated, or else evaded under flimsy pretexts more disgraceful than open repudiation, because more mean.  And this by the people, the infallible majority, the immaculate heaven-born sovereign of the New World, the model government, the desire of all nations!  Our good name is gone beyond the power of many ages to redeem.  The most beggarly prince in Europe, who strives to maintain a tottering throne, or who only goes out on adventure to acquire one, is a more welcome applicant to the capitalist than many a State in this Union, ore the whole together; and our glorious sovereign, Majority, that we fondly dreamed was to eclipse all others in the splendor of his power and the exaltation of his character, is a disgraced swindler, that can no longer be trusted for a mess of pottage.  After this, any, the gloomiest, apprehensions for the career of our great potentate, in his future strides to absolutism, will not be deemed quite fanciful or gratuitous.  Ten years ago, had this moral outrage of repudiation been predicted, the prophet would have been scouted, as a libeler, that could be no lover of his country.  Yet now it is fact,—a fact that should secure a charitable hearing for one who ventures to whisper his fears of calamity and disgrace yet to come.

            We are accustomed to place our great reliance on the intelligence of the people.  Certainly we must place it there, if anywhere.  There is probably as much intelligence diffused among our people as among those of any country in the world.  But, after all our efforts for the cause of universal education, who does not know that there are, and always will be, great numbers, who really know almost nothing of the institutions or interests of the country, and do not at all know the duties or feel the responsibilities of the sovereignty which they share?  It is an unpleasant truth,—but who seriously doubts that it is a truth?  Nay, worse, there are great numbers who have no interest in the permanency and good management of our institutions,—or do not feel that they have,—who partake of the sovereignty; and may be said to hold the destinies of the country in their hands; for none will doubt that such persons are more numerous, a hundred fold, than the difference between the majority and the minority on any disputed question that ever divided, or ever will divide, the people.

            In fact, it seems to be of the nature of sovereignty everywhere, that men acquire it, not by competency, but by birth.  And, from the nature of the case, it would be as absurd for us to inquire into the fitness of a man to share the sovereignty by his vote, as for the Russians to inquire into the fitness of the crown prince to reign.  He is born to reign, and in either case he must reign, fit or unfit, qualified or not,—and either nation must bear the consequences, or guard against them as it can. 

            It can avail but little for our security, that we have, and may continue to have, what is called a government of laws.  The legislatures in many States—and there is too much cause to say the same of the national councils—seem to be losing the character of independent deliberative bodies.  They meet, not to deliberate, but to act,—not to exercise their judgment, but to carry out at once the express or presumed decrees of sovereign party,—each member pledged and bound, not to think, but to do as he is commanded,—a dead hand, to register the edicts of the monarch.  A legislature thus conducting itself will soon cease to be an assembly of wise men,—or, if they be wise, their wisdom will be as useless as their folly,—and it will become, as to a great extent our have become already, a mere index of the party passion and popular caprice of the year, enacting the changeful our-door clamor into laws as changeful.  Our legislative bodies are becoming as subservient to the sovereign, as much mere automatic machines in his mighty hand, as ever was a British parliament under the eye of a Henry VIII or a queen Elizabeth.  Unless our people pause soon in this career of revolution, and begin to retrace their steps towards the original theory of our government, the meeting of a legislature will come to be dreaded by quiet and order-loving citizens, little less than the gathering of a mob.  Grave discussion gives place to party cabal, to foul-mouthed violence, nay, to open brawls and occasional homicide.  A busy, capricious, and arbitrary legislation, continually unsettling all things and keeping them unsettled, echoing ever the gustful passion of the hour, will soon cease, as things are going on, to give us any comfort in the mere name of a government of laws.  A legislature that basely lays down its independence at the feet of the sovereign, whether that sovereign be a crowned king or a triumphant party, always was and will be more an oppressor than a guardian, more a scourge than a blessing,—a supple tool of tyranny.        

            But why indulge these somber and unusual apprehensions?  Why reflect thus on unhappy possibilities and fearful tendencies?  It is not that we would depose our sovereign, or change him for another, if we could.  He is—as American citizens we will maintain—the best in the world.  I will cry with him who cries loudest, long live the Republic!—as long as it can live and be truly a republic.  God grant that may be forever!  We are born the subjects of this sovereign, and would render to him all true allegiance.  But we will watch him, jealously, as every strong sovereign must be watched.  We would not wrap ourselves up in our notorious national vanity, and refuse to see the peril.  We will respect our changeful ruler, the Majority; but we would not be so duped by our own ceaseless and absurd adulation of him, as to be blind to the fact, that he can as easily become, is as eager to become, and is as likely to become, and absolute and arbitrary tyrant, a ruthless scourge of liberty, as any potentate that ever wore a crown.  Such he has been in other parts of the world, and he may become such here.  Let him become such, let all barriers fall away, and nothing stand between the individual citizen, and the passions and caprices of king Majority, always at war with, and perpetually exasperated by, a rival Minority, nearly equal, and close upon his heels, and often displacing him to take his turn in power and plunder, both made greedy and hot by the chase,—let this come to pass according to the strong tendencies of the age, and then, woe to the lane!  The Assyrians be upon thee!  As it has been with Samaria, so must it be with Jerusalem! 

            Absolute and unmitigated democracy, such as we are approaching,—far distant be the day of our reaching it!—is tantamount to downright and insupportable despotism, the worst in the world, because it is the reign of chaos and confusion.  That is a condition that cannot be borne long,—never was borne long.  When it comes to that pass, men must have relief, and it is only found in some single mighty are, able to seize and hold the scepter.  Some “man of destiny” always arises at such a crises, and gives the only protection and rest then attainable, gives it beneath his iron heel and blood-red banner.  He finds the people torn by faction, weakened by ceaseless dissensions, wearied out and impoverished by the instability of every private and public interest, fit and glad to welcome any master that can give them repose.  Thus Greece got her Alexander, thus Rome got her Caesar, thus France got her Napoleon.  Our “man of destiny,” we trust, is not yet born; but we are doing more than we are aware towards laying for him the foundations of a throne, broad and strong enough to overshadow and crush us. 

            Miserable forebodings, these!—yet I see not how any man, who stands apart from political strife, and watches the tendencies of the times, can help sometimes entertaining them; they are but echoes of the sad lessons of history, voices from the tombs of ruined nations; and, if ever these are to be uttered, when so fitly as on the day set apart for public humiliation?

            Humiliation,—a word most appropriate to our subject.  It is the one thing that this nation needs,—humiliation!  We want it; not such as consists in shame and disgrace without repentance, of which kind we have enough; but humiliation before God.  Our pride needs to be humbled.  We are a vain-glorious people,—none more so ever flourished.  Pride such as ours must be put away, or it must have a fall and we with it.  The truth is, we have set up an Idol.  The specious name we have inscribed upon its car is Popular Rights; a noble title, a precious possession, and never to be disparaged, ever to be honored,—yes honored and guarded, but not worshipped.  Our people worship it, make a god of it.  Our public men can never laud it and magnify it enough.  It is the one great theme of state papers, and the daily press, and the popular harangue.  “Take care lest Popular Rights be abridged, or called in question, or secretly undermined, or be not worshipped enthusiastically and loudly enough.”  This is the one precept, the universal homily of politics; as if any one questioned the validity of those rights; as if the least conceivable speck of danger lay in that direction of all others; as if the one great and only peril with us did not consist in exalting the popular will into a divinity, and men’s believing that the voice of the people is in very truth the voice of God; as if the only possible despotism for us did not threaten us singly and solely from the side of party passion, and sweeping popular domination, majority exalted into a tyrant.  One of the worst Roman emperors, Domitian, I think, had his closet paneled all round with mirrors, so that no assassin might approach him unperceived.  His thoughts were always upon assassins; he could conceive of the existence of no other evil; not considering that the dangers and miseries of Rome were centered in himself,—him alone, his power and his cruelties.  So our emperor, the Popular Will, who is not nearly so bad as Domitian, has mirrored himself all round, and is watching with sleepless eye for the approach of an enemy; conjuring up fearful specters, of king or aristocracy,—phantoms that exist nowhere in this country, but in the cant of demagogues, and in the brain of the ignorant and deluded;—his guards proclaiming, every moment, from every quarter but the right one, “Here they come! Here is the danger!”  when, in fact, it is from himself alone that the ruin of our liberties can possibly come; in himself lies the only conceivable danger. 

            We worship a political idol; Popular Rights, Equal Rights, Inalienable Rights, is the flaming inscription; but under that title we worship man, human nature, ourselves, our idea of speedy perfectibility, our own omnipotence and infallibility, our unparalleled intelligence, and unequalled liberty, and glorious destiny.  This idol may crush us yet, as it has others; as Samaria, so Jerusalem.  In this idol, and our fanatical worship of it, lies our danger.  When we learn to believe in God as firmly, and to worship him as devoutly, then, and not till then, the danger will be overpast. 

            Would that there were in fact, as well as in name, one day of true fasting and real humiliation throughout the land,—a day when the whole people, tearing off the sevenfold veil of national conceit, should confess with shame and contrition their political idolatries, their atheistic pride, their clamorous ambition for rights, to the forgetfulness of duties, their thirst for power, their rash removing of the father’s landmarks, their woful breaches of honor and integrity, their party rancor, their political lies and flatteries and endless chicaneries and self-deceptions, their cringing, self-seeking pretenses of devotion to the despot they are rearing and pampering,—the whole vast, complicated idol worship, which blinds them with self-sufficiency, and estranges them from their God!

            This land is indeed a Jerusalem, and a glorious temple of liberty has been built therein, but a political idol usurps the place of the shechinah of the Lord; so it must not be, or that temple must fall into the dust, and bury us in the ruins.  Such is the law of the God of nations.  So it has been, so it must be.  “Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?”                            

Sermon – Fasting – 1847, New Hampshire

Andrew Preston Peabody (1811-1893) Biography:

Peabody graduated from Harvard in 1826 when only fifteen years of age. He then entered Harvard Divinity School for three years, also serving as a mathematical tutor. In 1833, he was ordained as minister of South Parish Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he remained for 27 years until 1860.  After leaving his church, he returned to Harvard, where he served the  next 21 years in various positions, including Professor of Christian Morals, preacher to the university, and twice as president, once in 1862, and then from 1868-1869.  Peabody was a noted writer, having many of his sermons published as well as a Sunday School hymnbook he composed. He also penned some sixty articles from 1837-1859 in The Whig Review magazine; worked for the North American Review from 1852-1861; and likewise wrote for “The Christian Examiner,” “The New England Magazine,” “The American Monthly,” and other religious periodicals.  In 1863, he was awarded a doctorate from the University of Rochester, and on July 3, 1875, he delivered the centennial address at Cambridge, Massachusetts, upon the 100th Anniversary of George Washington’s taking command of the Continental Army.








APRIL 15, 1847.













ACTS X. 36.

Preaching peace by Jesus Christ.


            The day before yesterday, a peal of rejoicing for the taking of Vera Cruz was rung forth from most of the church steeples in town.  In employing for the expression of their gladness the furniture and property of our churches, the friends of the war now in progress have themselves violated the neutrality, which they have endeavored to impose on the voices of the sanctuary.  They have forced into their service tones hallowed by the most sacred associations with the worship of the living, and the last rites of loving piety over the departed.  They have thus taken their injunction of silence from the house of worship, and in making its inanimate, though most eloquent music echo their peculiar sentiments, they have, I trust, (if in any instance that work remained to be done,) unsealed, for Christian utterances on the great questions at issue, the living voices of all that minister at the altar.  I am sincerely thankful that our bell bore no part in that concert.  But, as the conduct of our Wardens in refusing to have it used for such a purpose may be called in question, I propose now to vindicate it, and to offer some of the reasons which justify the expressive silence of our belfry while the surrounding steeples rang with joy.

            In the first place, in our professed regard, our most precious article of church furniture is a volume here at my side, which bears the same relation to our rites of worship, which the image or oracle did to the temple service of the ancient heathen, and the ark with the overshadowing cherubim to that of the Jews.  This book is literally our oracle.  We come hither on the day which it pronounces sacred; we offer our prayers and praises to the Father whom it reveals, through the Mediator whom it presents to our faith; and all else that we profess to do here is to study its lessons of truth and duty.  This book has various contents, that have come down to us through a long series of ages, and it purports to give us a compend of God’s special revelations of his will and law for the guidance of successive generations of men.  Its history carries us through centuries of violence, wrong and blood; but we find them all spanned by the promise of a heaven-born King, under whose scepter wars should cease, the sword be broken into the ploughshare, and the spear into the pruning hook.  We have the record of the coming of that King, and of the song of angels on his birthnight, proclaiming, “on earth peace, and good will among men.”  We find abundant reason to believe that it was his prime aim and end in living and dying, to interweave all kindreds of men by the most sacred bonds of brotherhood, and to quench forever those lusts and passions, which alone lift the arm of violence, and light the flame of war.  That his aim has not been reached,—that his end is far from its fulfillment,—the recent victory gives us only too signal a token.  And that this is the case many rejoice, and have a perfect right to seek out all lawful modes of expressing their joy.  But it is certainly in utter violation of decorum and consistency that voices from our church-towers should bear part in this joy, and ring in gladness that the Gospel is not yet supreme,—that Christ does not yet reign,—that the earth is still reddened by he passions which he came to subdue,—that our oracle falls so far short of the fulfillment of its predictions.  In self-consistency we must put our Bible out of our church doors, and establish some other rule and form of worship than the Christian, before we lend any of the agencies of our sacred edifice to express joy on occasions on which the Bible would bid us mourn.

            Again, the Mexicans are called our enemies.  They probably are so.  We have done enough to make them so; and for them to be otherwise, they must have a double share of the spirit of Christ.  Now the religion, to which our church is consecrated, prescribes certain modes of dealing with enemies.  Its precepts are:  “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink”—“Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you,”—“Overcome evil with good.”  Had the Mexicans done us wrong, and had a Christian army crossed their frontiers to minister to their necessities, to proffer them on our behalf fraternal relations and offices, and to diffuse among them the benefits of that higher civilization and purer moral culture to which we lay claim, the progress of that army would have been conquering and to conquer, and we, with bell and organ, shout and anthem, would have made these walls shake and ring for the victory.  Heaven grant that they may stand long enough to echo with such bloodless triumphs, which are yet in reserve for coming years.  But which of these Christian laws for the treatment of enemies has not been atrociously violated in the recent siege?  Far other voices than those of love rent the walls and ran through the streets of the beleaguered city.  The most appalling necessities, the most deadly sufferings on the part of the besieged, were made the point of support and ground of confidence for the assailants.  Not one note of mercy, not one breathing of compassion, tempers the official narrative of that bloody transaction, or relieves the unmingled sadness, and the unqualified reprobation, with which it must be regarded by every Christian heart.  We have made that nation our bitter enemies; and the most rancorous hatred of men or fiends can invent no more fearful agony than that in which, within the last few months, we have consigned thousands upon thousands to a speedier or more lingering death, and steeped thousands of bereaved and desolate families.  If then there be anywhere a temple dedicated to the creed “of them of old time,” by whom it was said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy,” there is a bell which may fittingly swing in response to the boom of the rejoicing cannon.  But when the express laws of Christ have been in letter and in spirit utterly set at nought, a mournful silence becomes the Christian sanctuary.

            Again, the Bible establishes a law of impartial justice,–of sacred respect for the rights and property of all men.  Even in its early and imperfect revelations, it was said, “Thou shalt not steal,” and “Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor’s landmark”; and none can doubt that the Gospel prescribes the most rigid and conscientious equity in every relation and transaction.  Now what shadow of right have we even to the peaceful occupancy of the coil which we have deluged with the blood of its owners?  Does any pretended landmark of ours reach to the lines of our army, or approach within gunshot of the walls of Vera Cruz?  Have our citizens any more rights of property there, than Santa Ana and his army within our fields or walls?  It is said, indeed, that war suspends all common maxims of right and justice.  I know that it does.  But I look in vain to the New Testament for the charter of such a suspension.  The code of war is independent of that of Christ.  The broadest construction of his teachings leaves no provision open for a state of voluntary hostility, and those who aid in bringing about such a state are morally responsible for every violation of private rights, and every outrage on private property, to which it may lead.  So far as the written word of God goes, the midnight burglar or assassin within my doors, and the invading army battering down the walls of the Mexican city, occupy the same moral position, and incur the same fearful accountability.  The victory which we refused to help celebrate, was won in a conflict which no one has yet been daring enough to defend on moral grounds.  It was a victory of force over right,—of human passion over the law of Christ; and it would have been high treason against our holy faith, to have lent any portion of the apparatus of our Christian worship to proclaim the triumph of anti Christian principles.

            Yet once more, our church is consecrated to a humane and merciful religion.  Its Founder lifted off men’s burdens, and helped their infirmities.  Beneath his touch, bread grew in the desert for the famished multitude, and living pulses beat in the palsied frame.  Wherever he went, health and gladness flowed from his lips, and sprang upon his footsteps.  He bade his followers show mercy as they would receive mercy; taught them in the parable of the Samaritan that humanity was independent of national distinctions; and, in his sketch of the final judgment, made works of love for the relief of the needy, the stranger and the prisoner, the test of discipleship requisite for a place at his right hand.  In the same spirit, one of his three most intimate associates assigns to the visiting of the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, the first place among the marks of pure and undefiled religion.  Now it was for works of a character diametrically opposed to the tender and loving spirit of Christ and his Gospel, that we heard those notes of rejoicing.  I pity, from the bottom of my heart, the man who can have so much as a momentary feeling of exultation at such horrors.  What! Rejoice at the explosion of those infernal missiles in those late peaceful homes,—at the scattering of the dissevered limbs and mangled corpses of those hundreds of women and children?  Imagine the scene enacted among us.  Suppose our whole population surrounded by the enginery of war,—our wives and children forbidden all egress,—witnessing day after day spectacles of the intensest agony, at the very thought of which the blood runs cold,—burrowing in our cellars, while the shell bursts through roof, ceiling and floor, explodes on the ground, and wraps the torn and bleeding form of matron and maiden, boy and babe, in the winding-sheet of smoke and flame.  The groan of the wounded, the wild shriek of the  dying, rises from house to house above the roar of the artillery.  Dwelling after dwelling buries in its shattered ruins the dismembered and the dead, while survivors suffer a thousand times the pangs of death in the lacerating of every fibre of their being.  Were this measure meted to us, could we conceive of its giving joy anywhere this side of pandemonium?  Those Mexicans have human hearts.  There are there as here fond parents and loving children.  They have the same susceptibilities of suffering and anguish with ourselves.  Sudden calamity is no less appalling, the cup of bereavement no less bitter, the sense of desolation in the widow’s or the orphan’s heart no less keen, to them, than to us.  The frightful realities, through which the dead have passed into eternity, and surviving friends have seen them go, exceed the power of language, and leave imagination far behind experience.  And for works and scenes like these, shall there be rejoicing and that, too, echoed from the temples of the meek, compassionate, loving Redeemer?  These are the very works which Jesus came to destroy; and, had any sound of sympathy with them gone forth from our house of prayer, we should have reason to feel that it had utterly lost its consecration, and was no longer a fit place for the gathering of a Christian assembly.

            But it is said, perhaps, that the rejoicing was not for the horrible havoc of the siege, but for the display of the noblest traits of character on the part of our troops and their leaders.  Be it so.  In order to render it meet that our churches should participate in the outward demonstrations of joy, the characters manifested in the siege and illustrated in the victory must belong to the Christian school,—the virtues brought into exercise in the conflict must be such as have received our Divine Master’s approval.  Now, though I believe war under all circumstances inconsistent with the precepts, and opposed to the spirit of the Gospel, I by no means deny that there may be many noble Christian traits beneath the “garments rolled in blood.”  Where one repels assault from his own home, or helps roll back the tide of invasion from his own shores, even though his conscience be not fully enlightened as to the extent to which a Christian is bound to suffer wrong without doing wrong, he may still manifest some of the loftiest attributes of character,—he may have a keen sense of justice, may love mercy, and may be filled with that spirit of generous, disinterested self-sacrifice, which, with greater light, would have made him an unresisting martyr for truth and righteousness.  There was much of this martyr spirit among the leaders in the American Revolution; and I honor them for it, and believe that they were true to their highest convictions of duty.  But virtues of this class have no foothold in an assailing army, in an openly aggressive war.  We are told that the leaders in this war believe it unjust and wrong.  If this be the case, they must regard the successive outrages to which they have lent their services, as unmitigated robbery and murder; and to do this work they have sold themselves, body and soul.

            I know that the prevalent theory is,—“The soldier has no right to look behind his country’s orders,—it is no concern of his whether his country’s wars be right or wrong,” that is, he is not a moral agent,—he has ceased to be personally accountable.  This might be a safe theory, were human authority competent to establish it.  But unfortunately the very idea of accountability implies a higher party.  When the individual soul stands before the divine tribunal, stained with the wanton butchery of those women and babes, think you that the plea, “I knew that it was wrong and vile, but my country bade me do it,” will be accepted in Heaven’s chancery in mitigation of the crime?  We praise the man in high executive or legislative trust, who resigns his office, rather than violate his own conviction of duty at the bidding of the Chief Magistrate or of his constituents.  Why should not the conscientious soldier do the same, so that a government, intent on some scheme of lawless aggression, might know beforehand, that it could employ for such work only the refuse of its forces?  It is said that such a doctrine would undermine the military profession?  I answer, that, if the tenure of the military profession requires a man to perform acts of the most decisive and momentous moral significance, yet forbids him to consult his own conscience as to their moral bearing, and at the same time provides him with no release under the divine signature from the responsibility for individual acts which rests upon other men, it is a profession which cannot bear the light of Christianity.  I say not that the profession can rest on no other tenure, but would commend this as a subject of serious inquiry for the friends and advocates of war.  And I would still urge the question,—Is there, in the precepts or the spirit of Christ, any warrant or pretence for obeying man rather than God,—for trampling on every divine law and every human charity, and wading through seas of guilt at the bidding of corrupt rulers?  This at any rate is not Christian virtue,—not a style of moral excellence to be praised in or from the sanctuary.  This sacrifice of individual conscience is no offering for the altar of Christian faith.  Those who first bore the Saviour’s name, while they offered up everything else for Christ’s sake, proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than man,” in the very ears of those who occupied high places of power, and at the peril of their lives.

            We cannot then regard the blind, unquestioning obedience to Government at the sacrifice of individual conscience, without which our fleet and army would never have laid siege to Vera Cruz, as entitled to a place among the Christian virtues.  And for which among the shining sisterhood did that transaction afford scope?  Under which of the beatitudes shall we canonize the heroes of that massacre?  Surely meekness, humility, forbearance, long-suffering, can have had no home in the hearts of the assailants; and these are the cardinal virtues of the gospel.  The moral system of Christ beautifully verified the prediction:  “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low.”  He deranged the entire moral scale, and transposed its very extremes.  He found the military virtues, aggressive courage, quick resentment, bigoted patriotism, unyielding obstinacy, at the summit of the scale.  He cast them down, and cast them out; and for courage he put fortitude,—for resentment, forgiveness,—for exclusive patriotism, an all embracing philanthropy,—for harsh, unfeeling rigidness of purpose, a love incapable of weariness or exhaustion.  For any signal victory, in which these virtues of the gospel and the cross bear the most prominent part, let every voice that the sanctuary can lend join in the triumph; but not for a victory over those virtues,—not for the disowning and overturning of the Christian scale,—not for transactions, which carry us back to the days of heathenism, and make us feel as if the sun of righteousness were setting in blood.

            Such were some of the reasons why no merry peal rang from our church-tower on the news of the victory.  That bell has deep notes of grief, which it might most fittingly have sent forth.  On that same afternoon, for the death of a single child, we heard the slow, sad knell from a neighboring steeple.  Had our bells all been tolled for the dead at Vera Cruz, they would have chimed with many hearts that were filled with sadness at the tidings, and would have been a not unapt expression of the contrite sorrow with which, under so heavy a load of guilt, the great heart of the nation should humble itself before its forsaken God.  Were we to embody right Christian feeling in our outward forms of worship, our churches would be clothed in mourning, the funeral toll would summon us to the sanctuary, our anthems would all be dirges, our praise would lose itself in penitential sorrow, until this atrocious war shall cease, and its memory shall be bathed throughout the land in floods of devout contrition.

            I have thus far spoken of the proprieties of the temple made with hands.  The order of the sanctuary, the outward beauty of holiness, is, however, but the type of that temple, whose builder and maker is God.  “The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”  If it be sacrilege to testify unholy joy for deeds of blood and rapine by soulless sounds from the house of prayer, how much more so is it to harbor thoughts of such joy in our hearts!  Of the warning this there is more need than a few weeks ago I was willing to believe.  While the fortune of the war hung in doubt, there were indeed many ready to denounce it; and one of the great political parties, though lacking courage, (with a few illustrious exceptions,) to maintain a firm and decided stand against it, still proffered many strong expressions of disapproval and abhorrence.  But now that success has crowned our arms, we find many members and some distinguished leaders of that party joining in the congratulations and festivities that hail the recent victories; thus showing how flexible the conscience of a political partisan is made by the current maxims of expediency and availability.  There are strong indications that this war in its triumphant progress is going to become generally popular, and that, through its shout and din, one of its laurelled heroes is to be elevated to the chief chair of state.  I can hardly imagine an event more fatal than this would be to the peace, and ultimately to the liberties, of a nation.  Should it once be established by so signal a precedent that military rnown, achieved in warfare however atrocious, affords the surest and quickest passage to the first places at the nation’s disposal, we have nothing in prospect but wars and rumors of wars for generations to come; and every new swarm of aspirants for public favor will work their way to power and office by fomenting discord and stirring up the waters of strife.  All this you and I may be unable to prevent, though none can tell how fast or far any earnest expression of dissent from the multitude on moral and religious grounds might spread.  There certainly exists, in our country, with all the prevalent apathy and time-serving, enough of Christian principle and sentiment to make itself strongly felt, would it only in some one quarter take to itself resolute, determined utterance.  The pulpit, the press where uncorrupted, the individual voice and influence of men who love the right better than their party, might yet achieve the salvation of our country from a destiny, which, after tossing her on seas of blood, will inevitably merge the last vestige of republican freedom in anarchy or military despotism.  But, whether we can effect much or little, we can at least be true to our own consciences.  We can keep ourselves innocent from the great transgression, and deliver our own souls from blood-guiltiness.  We can help our children, our neighbors, our friends, in the formation of right principles and sentiments.  We can prepare ourselves to pass, with clean hands and pure hearts, from a land filled with violence to the welcome tribunal of Jesus, and the peaceful seats of the redeemed.

            I know that such sentiments as I have now uttered are deemed unpatriotic.  I see it currently said in our most respectable public journals, that, whatever may be thought of the justice of this war, every citizen of the United States must needs rejoice in the brilliant success and honor that have attended our arms.  I for one feel no such joy, but only deep sorrow, shame and humiliation, the deeper for every victory.  Yet I believe that I love my country none the less for this.  In my view, success in crime, adroitness in wrong-doing, whether in an individual or a nation, confers no honor, and affords no just cause for joy.  I love my children; and, because I love them, if they entered on any wrong course of conduct, I should hope that they would fail of their evil ends, and be humbled and made better by the failure.  And I have all along hoped, till it is now too late for the hope, that our country might fail of every end sought by this conflict, and might, though the mortification of those lusts and passions whence it sprang, be made wiser and better.  I cannot but believe that Providence, in permitting this guilty success for a season, is preparing for us sorer judgments and a heavier doom.  The justice of an outraged Heaven makes me tremble for my country.  I can take no hopeful view of the nearer future; nor do I believe that we shall any of us live long enough to see the time, when we can again congratulate ourselves, as we have been wont to do, that we were born citizens of these United States.  By the threatened triumph of the war spirit, and the political profligacy which must follow in its train, our goodly heritage is to my eye hopelessly laid waste, and the sanctuary of our true peace and well-eing made utterly desolate.

            Think not, because I have thus freely expressed by abhorrence of this war, that I have no sympathy with those, who have been made its agents.  As to the members of our naval and military establishments, while, (as I have said,) I believe that they will find it hard to make good their plea before a higher tribunal, “let him that is without sin cast the first stone.”  I leave all harsh and reproachful censure for those, (if any there be,) who have never failed in the moral courage requisite for the surrender of all personal considerations at the call of duty.  Were these officers to make the sacrifice, which high Christian principle undoubtedly demands of them, it would be an illustrious sacrifice, worthy of the best days of the primitive church.  Their profession should not be made a mark for peculiar attack or condemnation.  It is but the exponent and representative of a still imperfectly Christianized condition of the body politic.  It will exist and be honored, so long as nations calling themselves Christian elevate other moral standards above that of the gospel,—it will decline and vanish with the revival and establishment of primitive Christianity.  In the present war, while I would not for worlds place myself in the moral position of those actively employed in its prosecution, I regard the greatest load of guilt as resting on the government, which has taken advantage of their maxims of unconditional obedience, to send them on a mission of rapine and blood, which most of them loathe and hate.  I sincerely lament the havoc that has been made in their ranks, and for their sake, as well as for the country’s, I long to see the plague staid.

            As for those, who, unforced by what they deemed prior obligations, have thrown themselves into this conflict, I feel unutterable pity for their recklessness and inhumanity.

            But, most of all, I confess, my sympathies are with the bereaved, suffering, homeless Mexicans,—with the multitudes, that, without fault of their own, have been made to feel the direst of earthly calamities, and have been given over to the wasting of the war-fiend, whose tender mercies are cruelty.  They are our brethren, commended to our charity and our intercessions by the blessed gospel, borne equally with ourselves on the heart of Jesus, loved no less than we are by the eternal Father.  Heaven grant them speedy release from fear, surprise and agony,—space to rear again their shattered dwellings, and to gather in quietness the remnants of their divided households.  Haven  grant that they may learn better lessons than we are teaching them, and that their experience of the bitterness of strife may commend to them the arts of peace and the spirit of gentleness and mercy.

            But all is not dark.  We have faith in the sure word of prophecy.  We doubt not that we may hasten, and our posterity behold the day, which the old Hebrew seers descried from afar through ages of guilt and woe, when men shall learn war no more.  Nor are we without signs of its approach.  The gospel is now, more than ever before, preached in its primitive spirit.  Christians are fast learning what they had forgotten for fifteen centuries, that meekness and mercy are the disciple’s only armor.  Let us labor in faith and hope, by example and influence, by word and deed, to diffuse the spirit of irrespective love and universal brotherhood, and, though God call us home before the work be done, we may join the second host of herald angels, who will wake the echoes of the regenerated earth with the song, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”


Sermon – Fasting – 1841, Pennsylvania

John Alonzo Clark (1801-1843) Biography:

Clark’s father and grandfather were both involved in the American War for Independence, and he was born in Massachusetts shortly after Thomas Jefferson became president. Clark was the youngest of eleven siblings, and grew up as a sickly child. Coming from a long line of relatives who were openly professing Christians (and with two of his own brothers being Episcopalian ministers), he early became interested in spiritual things, aspiring to become a minister. In 1823, he graduated from Union College in New York, and in 1826 became an Episcopal missionary to the state. He then became the assistant rector (or priest) of Christ Church in New York City. In 1832, he accepted the pastorate of a very small congregation at Grace Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Under his leadership, the church grew rapidly, and he also began a number of home churches and actively evangelized from home to home in the community (an activity that was unusual in that day). In 1835, he became pastor at St. Andrew’s Church in Philadelphia, where he worked for two years before his already poor health began to fail even more rapidly. He spent a year in Europe, trying to recuperate (a trip that led to his two-volume work “Glimpses of the Old World”), but the trip did not improve his health. By 1843, he permanently retired from the ministry and died shortly thereafter, having been the author of a number of written works over his lifetime.















May 14, 1841,


On the occasion of the National Fast recommended by his Excellency John Tyler, President of the United States.









            The following Correspondence is inserted merely by way of preface to explain the occasion of the publication of this Discourse.

Philadelphia, May 14, 1841.



            At a meeting of the Vestry of St. Andrew’s convened immediately after divine service in the morning, the following Resolution was unanimously adopted.

            “Resolved, That the Rector be requested to furnish the Vestry with a copy of the Sermon preached by him this morning, for publication; and that the Wardens be requested to make the application.”

            In compliance with the Resolution of the Vestry, we respectfully solicit from you a copy of the Discourse for publication.

With great regard we are

Sincerely and truly your’s


LAMBERT DUY,      Church Wardens.


Rev. John A. Clark, D. D.

Rector of St. Andrew’s Church.




Philadelphia, May 15, 1841.




LAMBERT DUY,                  Church Wardens.





            I have just received your communication, enclosing a Resolution of the Vestry, requesting a copy of my Sermon preached yesterday morning, on the occasion of our national fast, for publication.  The request quite surprised me, as the Discourse which you would thus honour is of the most unpretending character, and was prepared in a very feeble state of health, and without the remotest expectation that it would be desired for publication.  I hope the feelings of personal kindness on the part of the Vestry towards me—multiplied and unceasing expressions of which I am happy to record I have continued to receive during my whole connexion with St. Andrew’s Church, a period of six years—I hope their feelings of personal kindness have not prompted them, in this instance, to prefer a request which, if granted, their after and more mature judgment will not approve.

            The views I endeavoured to present in my Sermon yesterday, are such as the events transpiring around us have forced upon my attention.  I am not aware, however, that there is anything connected with these views, new or original, and I am sure that there is nothing in the mode in which they were presented, deserving the publicity you would give them.

            Still, as I am desirous ever to gratify those who have in so many ways sought to promote my comfort, and have uniformly evinced towards me so much personal regard and kindness—if in the honest judgment of the individuals composing the Vestry, it is believed that the publication of the Discourse will be useful, in the smallest degree, in arresting the progress of those national sins, which now unhappily darken and overshadow our land—and in leading the minds of our fellow countrymen to the love and practice of that “righteousness” which alone can “exalt a nation”—it shall be at their disposal.

With great regard, dear sirs,

I am sincerely and truly

Your friend and pastor,



Philadelphia, May 24, 1841.


            We have received your note of the 15h inst., and laid the same before the Vestry, and we beg leave to assure you that the opinion of the Vestry remains unchanged in relation to the expediency of publishing your Fast-day Sermon.  They believe that the views it contains are such as the great majority of the people would do well to hold and act upon; and they are convinced that its publication would tend to the good of those into whose hands it might fall.  With these feelings they were induced to request your consent to its publication, and further reflection has served but to increase their desire that this step might be taken.

We are, very respectfully,

            Your most obedient servants,

            G. STEVENSON,

            LAMBERT DUY,      Church Wardens.



Rev. John A. Clark, D. D.


                                                                                                            Philadelphia, June 1, 1841.



LAMBERT DUY, ESQ.        Church Wardens.




            In consequence of my absence from the city, I have not till now had an opportunity of replying to your second letter, bearing date of the 24h ult., in which the request is still reiterated on the part of the Vestry for my Sermon, preached on the occasion of our recent national fast, for publication.  Having already left the matter wholly to the verdict of the Vestry—I herewith send you a copy of the Discourse.

            With great regard,

            I am, gentlemen, truly

            Your affectionate friend,

            JOHN A. CLARK.






            “Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.”—NEHEMIAH, ix 33.

We are presented, in the chapter from which our test is taken, with the affecting scene of a whole nation congregated in one vast assembly, to observe a solemn national fast.  They appear clothed in sackcloth, with earth upon their heads: and among their confessions to Almighty God, whose hand now lay heavy upon them, are the words of our test—Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.

            These words seem well suited to the occasion upon which we have assembled, and will naturally lead to a train of reflections in keeping with this day—a day in which a great and mighty nation, in conformity with the suggestion of their chief magistrate, are bowing themselves down in deep humiliation before that august Being whose breath called them into existence, and who in just displeasure has smitten them with the rod of chastisement.

            We are assembled here this morning in the sanctuary of God, in compliance with the Proclamation of our present Chief Magistrate, who has recommended to the people of the United States, of every religious denomination, to observe this as a day of FASTING and PRAYER—“and to join with one accord in humble and reverential approach to Him in whose hands we are, invoking Him to inspire us with a proper spirit and temper of heart and mind, under the frowns of His providence, and still to bestow his gracious benedictions upon our government and our country.”1

            We may truly say, that “the frowns of God’s providence” are upon the nation:—and glad we are to know, that this truth is recognized and admitted by one who now, by the fiat of that same Providence, sits at the helm of our government.  Truly can we take up the sad response, and say—the frowns of God’s providence are upon us.  Most emphatically do the words of ancient Judah’s holy seer depict the state of things around us at this moment, when he said, the land mourneth!”  Yes:  the land mourneth!  It mourneth, because God hath smitten us with the rod of his displeasure.  He hath smitten us, not simply once, or twice, but many times; and this in a great variety of ways.  Just now again he hath repeated the blow, and stricken us at a point and in a way which justifies the appropriation to ourselves of the strong language of Israel’s pathetic lament—the Lord hath covered us with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel.

            And if the inquiry be made—what is our duty at this moment, and under these circumstances?  We reply, unquestionably it is to imitate smitten and stricken Israel—to look up and say, to Him whose chastening hand is upon us—“Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.”

            The leading idea—the main position—in our text, is the assertion of the entire justice of God in the infliction of judgments upon Israel in the case referred to, and consequently in all cases, and in reference to all nations upon whom he in his wisdom sees fit to lay his chastening hand.

            This idea, and the truth it asserts, we shall endeavour to elucidate, and distinctly set forth, in the remarks offered on the present occasion.

            Before we proceed to this main position, however, we desire to call your attention to three preliminary considerations, which will greatly tend to illustrate and confirm this position.

            1.  And first I would remark, that all the nations of the earth are under the control of Jehovah.  This idea is necessarily involved in the fact of a divine government, and of an overruling Providence.  This idea, with its various ramifications, runs through every part of the divine record.  In the test itself there is a distinct recognition of this truth.  Why should it be said, that God was “just in all that was brought upon” the Jewish nation, unless all that befell them came from His hand—unless their destiny was under His control?  And it is not merely of the Hebrew people, in reference to whom the scriptures affirm that Jehovah exerts a controlling power—but in reference to every people and tribe.  It is in this sense that he is emphatically described “THE KING OF NATIONS;” and it is distinctly affirmed that “by Him Kings reign and Princes decree justice.”  His ability to control the destiny and to regulate the movement of nations, is described in the most sublime strains by the Prophet—“Behold the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance.”  “Have ye not known?  Have ye not heard?  Hath it not been told you from the beginning?  Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?  It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth; and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers, that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell           in: that bringeth the Princes to nothing:  He maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.  Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown; yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth:  And He shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble.”

            So indisputable is Jehovah’s control over all nations, that in designating Jeremiah to the Prophetic office, who was to predict, as God’s messenger, the fall and rise of many people, he says to him—“See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, and to destroy and to throw down—to build and to plant.”

            The idea of this absolute divine control over nations, is still more graphically depicted in a subsequent chapter of the same Prophet—“The word came to Jeremiah, saying—Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there will I cause thee to hear my words.  Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold he wrought a work on the wheels.  And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter:  So he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.  Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying—O house of Israel, Cannot I do with you, as this potter? Saith the Lord.  Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.  At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and pull down, and to destroy it:  If that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.  And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it:   If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them.”

            No language could more explicitly assert the absolute control of Jehovah over the nations of the earth than this.  They are all in his hand, as the clay is in the hand of the potter.  He can mould them as he pleases.  He can destroy them when he chooses—and out of their ruins raise up other nations and empires.  When the Lord would punish Israel, he employs “the Assyrian” “as the rod of his anger.”  But when the king of Assyria would come against Israel contrary to the will of Jehovah, he “puts a hook into his nose,” and “a bridle into his lips,” and “turns him back by the way by which he came.”  When God hath any purpose to accomplish, “he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains,” and “all the inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth, see it,” and are moved.  When “the nations rush like the rushing of many waters,” “God rebukes them, and they flee far off, and are chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.”

            The eternal Jehovah causes Palestinato be “dissolved”—“Moab” to “howl”—Damascus to be taken away from being a city, and converted into a ruinous heap”—“the Egyptians” to be “given into the hand of a cruel lord”—“Tyre to be laid waste, so that there is no house—no entering in.”—Yea, adds the prophet, “behold the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.”  Do not these statements show the entire sovereignty of God over the nations of the earth?  Does not Jehovah most distinctly assert his indisputable control over nations, and kingdoms, and empires, when he says in reference to a wicked prince, “remove the diadem, and take off the crown; I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it to him?”  Is not God the Lord of the whole earth, and of all the creatures that move upon it?  Is he not the universal, uncontrolled, and uncontrollable sovereign?  Are not all creatures in his hand?  Unquestionably they are!  And as God controls the destiny of individuals, orders their lot, and numbers the very hairs of their heads, in like manner does he control the destiny of nations.  The hearts of kings, the deliberations of senates, the issues of war, the wealth and prosperity of nations, are all in the hand of God.  Look at the great empires that have risen, and filled the earth with their fame.  Where are they now?  Swept into oblivion!  In the hour of their highest prosperity, God foresaw and foretold their ruin.  His decree sealed their fate.  The history of Tyre, of Babylon, of Egypt, of Greece, of Rome, and especially of the Jews, demonstrates the truth that all the nations of the earth are under the control of Jehovah.  The traveller in the oriental world, whose feet treads upon the dust of Babylon, once “the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of Chaldee’s excellency”—or upon the marble ruins of Gaza—or within the rocky places of Petra—or amid the broken pillars of ancient Thyatira, is constrained to see and feel that cities, and kingdoms, and empires, rise, and flourish, and decay, at the bidding of God.  All nations are wholly under his control.

            2.  Again we remark, that all nations are not only under Jehovah’s control, but under his moral government.  Nations have a moral responsibility as well as individuals.  God holds them accountable for their conduct just as strictly as he does individuals, and will just as certainly punish them for their sins.  Hence, it is said of Israel, “The Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions”2  And again, “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned: therefore she is removed.”3  Nations are punished for national sins.  Those are regarded as national sins which pervade the great mass of the people.  Those also are accounted as national sins which are connived at, or sanctioned, either by legislative acts, or by the example and influence of individuals who are appointed to govern the nation, or who are the official representatives of the people, chosen or appointed by the nation to enact her laws and to conduct her government.

            This, then, is to be distinctly noted: the sins of the great mass of the people—the sanction of wrong on the part of government—and the open depravity of the rulers of any people, all come under the class of national sins.  As the moral governor of the universe, and a God of justice, Jehovah must punish these sins.  What was the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the Plain—what was the fall of Tyre, and Babylon, and Jerusalem, but an illustration of this very principle—that God holds nations morally accountable to him for their national acts?  It was not until the drunken Chaldean king in that night of his fatal revel, as he sat amid his thousand lords, commanded the sacred vessels which had been taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem, to be brought—it was not until those sacred vessels were used as common wine cups by “the king and his princes, his rulers and his concubines,” lifting up their voices in profane songs, “praising the gods of gold and of silver, or brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone”—it was not until this last heaven-daring act of desecration, that the fingers of that mysterious hand came forth and wrote upon the plaster of the wall the doom of the king and the nation.  That very night Belshazzar was slain, and Darius the Median took the kingdom.”

            Does not God hold nations morally accountable to him for their conduct as nations?  Look at Nineveh!  Consider Jonah’s commission!  “The word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”  And what was the proclamation tht Jonah was to make?  Simply this!  “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed.”  Nineveh was an immense city—the seat of a great empire—containing a population among which there were more than sixty thousand of so tender an age that they “knew not their right hand from their left.”  These were to be involved in the general destruction.  Though individually innocent, yet as a part of the nation, they shared the national guilt, and were to be involved in the national destruction.  Within forty days, Nineveh, then flourishing in the zenith of its glory, was to be laid in utter ruins; its doom was sealed; and it was to perish on account of its wickedness.  A messenger is sent by the Almighty to proclaim this through its streets—“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed!”  Had this message been unheeded, just as sure as God is on his throne that city, like Sodom, would have been whelmed in destruction.  But “the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.  For word came unto the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh, (by the decree of the king and his nobles,) saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing; let them not feed, nor drink water.  But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God; yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?  And God saw their works that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”  Here we see fully carried out, that principle in the divine government, which Jehovah himself had laid down, and upon which he acts in the administration of that government as it respects nations.  “At what instant I shall speak concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and pull down and to destroy it; if that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.”  You see, therefore, that the divine government under which nations as well as individuals are placed, is a moral government.  Sin in nations as well as in individuals, displeases God, and he will certainly empty upon them the vials of his displeasure.

            3.  Again:  I remark that God punishes nations for national sins, by the infliction of TEMPORAL JUDGMENTS.  It is only here that they have a corporate and national existence.  Individuals, each one for himself, will for their personal sins have at last to meet the retributions of Christ’s judgment-seat.  But God judgeth the nations, and awards to them their allotments, while they still have a name and local habitation upon the theatre of this world’s existence. 

            The instruments which God employs for the execution of his displeasure upon  any people whose sins cry to heaven for vengeance, are multiplied and various.  He has infinite resources at his command.  War, and pestilence and famine, and flame and flood, are all ministers that wait upon his beck.  He can, at his pleasure, open the windows of heaven, and break up the fountains of the great deep, to drown a sinful world.  He can cause the heavens to empty a deluge of fire upon the cities of the plain.  He can turn the waters of Egypt into blood, and send death into every habitation.  He can bring up locusts upon the land to eat up every green thing.  He can “make the heavens as brass, and the earth as iron.”  He can “smite with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew.”  He can make the embattled thousands of Assyria, the rod of his anger to punish Israel; and he can send the angel of destruction into the camp of the Assyrians to “punish the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks,” by smiting with the silent withering touch of death, a hundred and eighty-five thousand of his armed warriors in a single night.4  That same God who did such wonders in ancient times, still lives; and still holds the same sway over the nations of the earth.  He still abhors sin; and still possesses infinite expedients by which to execute his displeasure upon the nations that cast away his fear, and trample upon his law.  God punishes nations now, as he did formerly, for their sins.  He punished Israel.  Though they were his peculiar people—though they were highly exalted above all other nations, he would not allow sin in them to go unrebuked.  When they cast his law behind them, he held them responsible not only as individuals, but as a nation.  He therefore brought upon them national judgments.  He therefore brought upon them national judgments.  He caused them to be carried away captive.  He allowed the crimson tide of war to roll over their land.  He sent multiplied judgments upon them.  He wrested from them their property, and subjected them to a foreign yoke.

            Now the position laid down in our text is, that in the infliction of these various judgments, God acts strictly in accordance with the principles of rectitude and justice.  The history of the Jews, as far as their case is concerned, most strikingly demonstrates this position.  This, at the time they observed the great national fast referred to in our text, they distinctly acknowledged.  Their language in their humble confession to Almighty God, was “Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.”  God had in all respects acted as a righteous governor.  In all the inflictions of judgment upon the nation, he had proceeded no farther than was necessary to uphold his moral government, and to indicate his deep and changeless displeasure against sin.

            And what was affirmed of Jehovah in that case, may be affirmed of the divine administration in every case.  “Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.”

            The great truth asserted in our text, would lose much of its force on this occasion, and the object for which we are assembled in a great measure be defeated, did I not in this connexion call your attention particularly to the undoubted fact, that God has been displeased with us as a nation.  During the last ten years he has rebuked us in a variety of ways, and spoken out his displeasure in tones that have been reverberated through the whole land.  How solemnly did he speak to this whole nation, when he permitted the Asiatic cholera to be wafted on the wings of the wind across the great deep, and bade it hang like a dark cloud of death over every city in our land!  Was not the voice of God in that pestilence!  With what awful tread it marched from place to place, filling all hearts with dismay, and sweeping thousands into eternity!  And when the moral impression of this awful visitation faded away like “the morning cloud and early dew,” Jehovah again spoke to us in flame and fire.  A mighty conflagration was kindled in the very centre of the great mart and metropolis of our land, which no human power could stay, till edifice after edifice, and block after block had fallen, and millions of property had been swept away in one fatal night.5 

            Since that period, how often, how emphatically, how distinctly, has the Most High spoken to us by tempest,6 and by flood, on the sea and on the land!  Since that period, what unwonted scenes have been acted upon our great rivers, and bays, and along our coast!  Were not the three combined elements of flame, and frost, and flood, manifestly the ministers of the Lord, and acting in obedience to his word, when in a single night—in a single hour—they became the dread executioners to sweep hundreds from time to eternity; and in the sudden, awful, and bitter bereavement they occasioned, carried grief and mourning through the whole land!7

            But, more particularly, and no less distinctly, has God spoken in the silent, noiseless, but deadly blight that has fallen upon our national prosperity.  We were prosperous; we were heaping up wealth; thousands were enjoying perfect ease of circumstances a few years since.  A wonderful change, however, has come over the land.  The wheels of business have suddenly stopped.  The sinews of trade have been cut in sunder.  The affluent have become poor; men who considered themselves rich, have seen their property melt away like the dew of morning.  Individuals who supposed that they had a competence for life, have unexpectedly found poverty staring them in the face.  And all this has occurred in a time of peace—when no enemy had been among us to lay waste and destroy—when no civil commotion had occurred to shake the pillars of our government—when everything upon which national prosperity is supposed to depend, seemed auspicious—and at a period when the earth has not withheld her bounties, but has poured forth her productions with unwonted profusion.  Now, men may speculate, and theorize, and ascribe this to a variety of secondary causes; but if we are not atheists, if we do not shut out God altogether from the government of the world, we shall see His hand in this.  “Shall there be evil in a city,” or a land, “and the Lord hath not done it?”  Whatever may have been the proximate, political or natural causes that have brought these disastrous influences upon us, the hand of God has most assuredly been in it.  We can read our sin in our punishment.  “The Lord hath done that which he had devised.”8

            Men, however, did not choose to look at the matter under this aspect.  God’s hand was not seen.  They looked to secondary causes.  Still, however much, and however honestly they differed, in relation to the causes which they supposed had involved the nation in this wide-spread disaster, and borne it down to the very dust in depression; all were ready to concede the fact of the disastrous state in which our country was involved.  Various were the expedients devised to roll away this dark cloud of adversity.  But among all the propositions which the wise counselors suggested, how few thought or said—“Bring hither the ephod, and let us inquire of the Lord.”9  Men undertook to settle this matter themselves; some in one way, and some in another.  A large majority of the nation looked for relief in the elevation of a new and favourite candidate to the Presidential chair.  The nation was agitated to its very centre to compass his election.  He was proclaimed the successful candidate.  He was inducted into office with the accustomed ceremonies, amid assembled thousands of his countrymen.  Combining in his character every public and private virtue, all hearts began to be drawn towards him, and all eyes were fixed upon his movements.  Every step that he took, seemed to be directed with so much caution, and to proceed from such singleness of heart, that public expectation fastened still more intensely upon him every day, as the agent that was to extricate the nation from all its difficulties.  In all this, it is to be feared, men looked not to God, but to human instrumentality.  They forgot that it was for their sins that the nation’s prosperity had been cloven down.  And, therefore, in the midst of the people’s acclamations of triumph, while the laurels which were hung around their representative head at his inauguration, were still fresh and blooming, God stretched forth his hand, and suddenly touched him with death.  No one had anticipated such an event.  Of the hundreds that saw and heard him on the day of his inauguration, who thought of his dying before the expiration of his Presidential term?  “His eye was bright; his voice was clear; his step was firm; no part of his iron constitution gave signs of failing.”  But, one short month was scarcely completed, amid the cares and toils of government, and the news flew through the land—The President is dead!

            Now, the point to which we wish to call your attention, is, that in this—that in all that has been brought upon us—God has been rebuking us.  He has done right.  The pestilence, the flame, the flood, the commercial depression, the fall of our beloved President; all these are to be regarded as so many successive tokens of God’s displeasure against our national sins.

            Have we not national sins?  Can there be any question in relation to our having “done wickedly” as a nation?  No people under heaven ever enjoyed more civil liberty than we.  In soil, and climate, and laws, and advantages of education, and religious privileges, God has distinguished us above all the nations of the earth.  And yet, what wretched returns have we made to him for all this!  What sins and enormities disgrace our land!  Go through the whole Decalogue, and see what command has not been openly trampled in the dust by this nation.  Some of the Legislatures of our States have scoffingly rejected, and driven out with scorn from their legislative halls, all recognition of God and of his control.10  In how many instances have the legislators of our land, in the very temples of justice, trampled on all laws, human and divine, cherishing and uttering sentiments full of murder and blood!  How often have they set at defiance all decency; being notorious for drunkenness, and debauchery, and every evil work!  How often have they desecrated the Sabbath, and profaned the name of Jehovah, and scoffed at religion!  These things our rulers have but too frequently done.  And God has seen it all.  This, however, is only a small part of our national guilt.

            As in the days of one of Israel’s prophets, so now with great force and truth it may be said, “because of swearing, the land mourneth!”  Profanity is one of the crying sins of our land.  Go from one end of our country to the other, and all along our rail-roads, and canals, and navigable rivers, and national roads, you will hear one continued volley of profane oaths bursting upon your ears; and that, in utter contempt and defiance of that divine precept proclaimed from the burning top of Sinai, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”  We are not strangers to these things.  We can scarcely walk along through a single street of our city, without having our ears assailed with oaths, and curses, and awful profanity.  God sees all this, and keep a record of it in the book of his remembrance.

            Drunkenness is another sin of our land.  Notwithstanding all the laudable efforts that have been made to suppress intemperance, this sin, like a wide spreading pestilence, stalks abroad everywhere through the land; the foul minister of disease, and ruin, and death.  In a statistical calculation made recently by an intelligent clergyman of this city, from accurate data which he had collected, it was stated, that the amount paid annually in our country, for intoxicating drinks, exceeded the amount paid out to sustain the government, to sustain all our schools, to sustain the preaching of the gospel at home, to sustain our charitable institutions, and all our missionary operations: that a larger number of persons had been destroyed since the declaration of American Independence, by intemperate drinking, than had ever been called into the field to defend our country in all the several wars in which this nation has been engaged: and that at the present moment, so wide spreading is this evil, if you were to allow twelve hours for each day, there is on an average a drunkard committed to the grave, somewhere in the United States, every six minutes each day, from one end of the year to the other.  What an idea does this give us of the extent and frequency of this terrible sin of drunkenness!  And does not the Holy One of Israel see and abhor all this?  And will he not visit for these things?  What does he mean when he says to Israel, “Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!  Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which, as a tempest of hail, and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.  The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet.”11

            Licentiousness is another of our national sins.  Of all the sins that defile the earth, none can be more hateful to God than this!  And yet its extent, especially in our large towns and cities, is truly awful and appalling.  Were it proper or possible to give statistics here, what startling facts would be brought to light!  How many thousands and tens of thousands is this sin yearly hurrying forward to a ruined eternity!  And how many who wish to claim high respectability in society, and to be ranked even among the virtuous, give countenance and support to this vice!  O, what scenes of pollution does the all-seeing eye of God behold around us on every side!  The only wonder is, that having drunk so deep into Sodom’s sin, we have not, ere this, shared its fate.

            But I pass on to another point.  Among the causes which have operated to involve the nation in great and crying sins, and which have contributed to the utter shipwreck of private character, is the undue love of money, which has pervaded the whole mass of society, and spread its infection through all classes like a fearful pestilence.  Men everywhere, in all ranks and stations in society, were “in haste to be rich.”  The old paths of patient toil and honest industry were deserted, and new ways devised, by which the object of men’s pursuit could be more speedily attained.  Hence, those extensive schemes of speculation, and of wholesale gambling, which in their operation have fallen with suh disastrous influence upon the most safely vested interest in the country.  This mania for speculation, not only scattered the fortune of thousands to the winds, but exerted a most deleterious moral influence upon the public mind.  It seemed to crush and obliterate the few vestiges of moral sense that had remained in the human mind.  This was manifested in a variety of ways.  The whole country began speedily to put on a new aspect.  Singly, and in masses, men hesitated not to adopt new courses of action.  They no longer waited around the gates of justice, but, in many instances, trampled down into the dust all respect for law and authority.  The mob undertook to be umpire, and to settle all questions in a summary way, by an appeal to the excited passions of the worst portion of the community.  There is nothing that has stained the fair honour of our country with so foul a blot—nothing which has made us so much the sport and by-word of European nations—and nothing, we may believe, which has been more offensive in the eye of God, than the existence and toleration of mobs in this land.  Our own city has participated in the guilt, and been the theatre upon which one of these disgraceful scenes has been acted.12

            Alas, what elements of depravity are around us!  The workings of iniquity are seen under ten thousand varied manifestations.  It seems as though the crime and corruption of the old world had been transplanted here, and was springing up with increased vigour on our soil.

            Among the sins which are rife around us, we must not forget to mention that of systematic gambling.  How many rooms—how many dwellings in this city—are yearly rented for the express purpose of carrying on this nefarious business, and exclusively devoted to this object!  And how many individuals are there that calculate to get their livelihood by this system of deliberate robbery!13

            Another of the crying sins of our land, is the desecration of the Sabbath.  In the early history of this country, there was nothing that ore strikingly characterized those venerable men who cleared away the mighty forest, and planted the first germ of our nation, than their strict and conscientious observance of the Sabbath.  They proceeded upon the plain and obvious principle, that they were not to look for success in their various enterprises, unless they feared God and kept his commandments.  And to them the Most High acted on that rule of his government, declared by the man of God to Eli, “them that honour me, I will honour.”  While our fathers honoured God, the banner of prosperity waved over our country, and we were overshadowed with the blessings of the Most High.  But a new order of things for many years past has sprung up among us.  The ancient reverence for the Lord’s day has greatly declined.  Men have allowed their love of pleasure, and of gain, to urge them on to an utter disregard of the command so sacredly enjoined by the Almighty, remember the Sabbath-day and keep it holy.  Where can you now go, and not see crowds around you on every side, trampling this sacred injunction of Jehovah in the dust?  And alas, this sin is participated in by almost all classes in society!  This disregard of divine authority does not escape the omniscient eye!

            Again:  So common has dueling become in this country—that it may with great propriety be mentioned as one of our national sins.  How long, and by what distinguished names has this barbarous and heaven-daring sin been upheld and practiced in our country!  And even to this present moment, how many there are that would contend that it was their privilege to avenge any imaginary or real wrongs they have suffered—by the pistol, or the bowie-knife!

            What law of Jehovah has not been set at defiance by the nation?  Look around!  What acts of peculation, of embezzlement, of high-handed fraud, have been committed, not only by private individuals but by officers of public institutions—by those holding high official stations under government!  What dishonesties—what derelictions from the path of rectitude have been practiced—what forgeries have been committed—what developments of depravity—what tales of murder and bloodshed have come to our ears, or have been acted in our very streets!  And does not God see and abhor all these?

            I might here specify several other national sins that lift up a mighty voice to heaven, calling down upon us the wrath of God.—But I pass over these, and close by remarking, that the greatest of all our national sins is the neglect and contempt with which the gospel of Christ is treated; and the utter disregard which has been manifested to the various and multiplied rebukes which Jehovah hath put forth to recall and reclaim this nation.

            Though to all the people of this land, there has been proffered and proclaimed a free and full and everlasting salvation—a salvation purchased by the tears and toil and agony and death of the incarnate Son of God—these riches of infinite grace have been utterly neglected or despised!  Of the seventeen millions that form the entire mass of our nation, by far the great majority act and live just as they would if Christ had never come here on the errand of their redemption—had never poured out his precious blood for their salvation!  How few in all this land have truly received and truly submitted to the glorious gospel of the Son of God!  God’s greatest gift to man—that gift which filled all heaven with amazement—has been scorned and rejected by millions in this land.  This, I repeat it, is our greatest sin—the neglect or rejection of Him who came down from heaven for our redemption.

            And we have not only closed our ears to the sound of the gospel—but to the voice of God as he has been speaking in his various providences.  Who hath heard and regarded his voice?  Who, under these various divine rebukes which we have noticed, hath turned from his evil ways and humbled himself under the mighty hand of God!  And though God’s long-suffering and forbearance with us have been so distinguished—where shall we find any proper sense of gratitude at all commensurate with the extent of this goodness!  Indeed, how few, how very few in all this land have any adequate conception of the goodness of Jehovah to us as a nation!  What multitudes and multitudes have set him utterly at defiance!

            Now, when you consider the forgetfulness and neglect of God of which this nation has been guilty—when you consider what an immense amount of crime is spread over all this land, and how the depravity of the people has broken forth in every form;—and then, when you consider in connexion with this, that God claims to be the moral governor of this nation, and that he has determined to punish our national sins with national judgments, can you be surprised at what has befallen us?  Do you not rather wonder that he hath dealt so gently with us?  Who that reflects will not unite with Israel and say—“Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly?” 

            But we must hasten to a close.  Allow me to call your attention in conclusion, to three practical deductions.

            1.  It becomes us first of all to acknowledge the justice of God in his dealings with us.  He has chastened us.  We see his hand in the various calamities that have befallen us.  It was the Lord that took away our chief magistrate.  He took him away on account of the sins of the people.  This was JUST on the part of God.  We deserved it.  Our sins deserved it.  “Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.”

            2.  At this time, we are especially called upon to confess and bewail our sins.  Even if we have not personally participated in those national sins to which we have alluded, yet as members of this great national compact, we all share in the guilt, and so we must in the punishment of our national sins.  We are bound therefore to confess them before God, and to mourn over them, and seek for pardon, that the divine displeasure shall no longer rest upon us as a nation.  How sad it is to remember, that the good old General who had fought for his country so many battles, and had now reached the evening of life, and was garnering up his hopes for heaven, and diffusing happiness by his presence in the domestic circle—had he been left in his happy home might have passed many more years on the earth—but when he was torn from that retirement, and invested with the robes of office, and placed at the head of the nation, then the nation’s sins came upon him, and he was cut down for their sake.  We trust he has gone to a world where sin is unknown.  But it becomes as none the less to humble ourselves before Almighty God, for those sins which called down this last heavy stroke upon our country.

            3.  And, finally, it becomes us on this occasion not only to acknowledge the justice of God in all that he has done—not only to confess our sins before the Lord, but to pray and labour for a universal reformation through the land.  What will all our confessions, and rebukes, and fasting, amount to, if we go on in sin just as we have hitherto done?  Listen to the divine word, “Is not this the fast I have chosen?  To loose the bands of wickedness; to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?  Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?  When thou seest the naked, that thou over him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?”  In other words, we are to seek to bring about a great and extended reformation—to roll away that load of sin which presses down this nation, “as a cart is pressed down that is full of sheaves.”  For this we are to labour and pray without ceasing.  Let us begin with ourselves.  Let us embrace if we have hitherto neglected to do so, at once, the Lord Jesus as our Saviour.  Let us break off every sin, and seek to have the light of our example such as becometh the gospel of Christ.  Let us do wickedly no more, but live as enlightened, free, Christian men, ever remembering that it is “righteousness” alone that will save, preserve, and “exalt” our “nation.”

            Let this day be spent by all in prayer.  Let us seek the face of the Lord, not only in public but in private.  Humble prayer to God is mighty, and it is the duty to which we are now especially called.  Let us not fail to call upon God, with one accord, for his mercy and for his blessings.  If we—if all thus humble themselves before the Lord—thus call upon his name, we may hope that for the sake of our great Intercessor he will turn, and show mercy upon us, and continue to bless us in all our interests as a nation.







1 The Proclamation of President Tyler, recommending the 14th of May as a day of Fasting, is a document that ought to be preserved—and is couched in the following terms:
“When a Christian people feel themselves to be overtaken by a great public calamity, it becomes them to humble themselves under the dispensation of Divine Providence, to recognize His righteous government over the children of men, to acknowledge his goodness in time past, as well as their own unworthiness, and to supplicate His merciful protection for the future.
“The death of William Henry Harrison, late President of the United States, so soon after his elevation to that high office, is a bereavement peculiarly calculated to be regarded as a heavy affliction, and to impress all minds with a sense of the uncertainty of human things, and of the dependence of nations, as well as individuals, upon our Heavenly Parent.
“I have thought, therefore, that I should be acting in conformity with the general expectation and feelings of the community, in recommending as I now do to the people of the United States, of every religious denomination, that according to their several modes and forms of worship, they observe a day of fasting and prayer, by such religious services as may be suitable to the occasion:—And I recommend Friday , the fourteenth day of May next, for that purpose; to the end that, on that day, we may all with one accord join in humble and reverential approach to Him in whose hands we are, invoking Him to inspire us with a proper spirit and temper of heart and mind, under these frowns of His providence, and still to bestow His gracious benedictions upon our Government and our country.
John Tyler.
Washington, April 13, 1841.
2 Lament. Jer. i. 5. (Return)
3 Id. 8. (Return)
4 See Isaiah xxxvii. 36, and also Isaiah x. 12. (Return)
5 In the great fire in New York in 1836, it was supposed that between twenty and twenty-five millions of property were destroyed. (Return)
6 We shall not soon forget the tornado of 1840, that in one moment laid Natchez in ruins; beneath which, so many of its inhabitants were ensepulcherd. (Return)
7 Among the disasters above referred to, we may mention the stranding of the Barque Mexico, on Hempstead Beach, south shore of Long Island, in January, 1837, by which catastrophe one hundred and sixteen lives were lost, many of the sufferers having frozen to death; the burning of the Ben Sherod on the Mississippi river, in May, 1837, by which not less than two hundred persons were buried beneath the flood; the destruction of the Steam Packet Home on Ocracoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina, in October, 1837, in which ninety persons sunk like lead to the depths of the ocean; the loss of the Pulaski off Cape Lookout, on the coast of North Carolina, by the explosion of its steam-boiler, in June, 1838, in which more than one hundred and twenty persons perished; and finally, the awful conflagration of the Lexington on Long Island Sound, during a cold wintry night in January, 1840, in which more than one hundred and thirty souls, hemmed in by fire, and frost, and the devouring flood, were driven from their last hold on life, and engulfed in the dark deep waters. (Return)
8 Lament. Jer. Ii, 17. (Return)
9 I Samuel xxiii. 9. See also Dr. Humphrey’s Sermon on the death of Harrison. (Return)
10 Were we to confine ourselves merely to our own State, we might be furnished with facts that too nearly make up the outlines of this sad picture. There has been no recognition of Religion in the person of a chaplain, in our State Legislature, since the adoption of the Constitution in 1790. Some two or three years since a proposition was made in the Senate to appoint a chaplain, or rather to invite the clergy of Harrisburgh to officiate alternately in that capacity. After a long discussion, the resolution was rejected by a large vote—we believe not less than two-thirds of that body. This was but too manifestly saying we have no need of God, nor of his guidance, in our legislative deliberations. Can we be surprised at the crippled and maimed state of our public financial affairs? Whether men acknowledge it or not, there is a God in heaven that ruleth over all. And we would ask with one of old—“Who hath hardened himself against him and prospered?” (Return)
11 Isaiah xxviii. 1, 2, 3. (Return)
12 We allude to the burning of Pennsylvania Hall. (Return)
13 There are parts of Philadelphia, and those in the very centre of the most peaceable and respectable neighbourhoods, in which within a single stone’s throw, there are said to be not less than twenty of these gambling establishments. (Return)

Sermon – Fasting – 1836, Massachusetts

David Peabody (1805-1839) Biography:

David Peabody grew up working the family farm in Massachusetts. When 15 years old, he told his father he wanted to attend college. His father consented and in 1821, Peabody entered Dummer Academy, where he began the study of Latin, to prepare him for college. He soon realized his personal need of salvation, but it was three years before he acted on it. In 1824, he entered Dartmouth College.

To cover his expenses, Peabody worked as a teacher while attending college, but the stress took a toll on him. After graduating in 1828, he returned home to regain his strength, working as the assistant editor of the New Hampshire Observer of Portsmouth. He began attending the Theological Seminary in Andover and also agreed to run a Young Ladies’ Select School at Portsmouth, but once again the physical strain took its toll and he was forced to resign.

To regain his strength, Peabody moved south to Prince Edward County, Virginia, and began working privately as a tutor for a prominent family. After creating a plan of study for the children, he returned to study at Union Theological Seminary.

In 1831, he received his license to preach from the West Hanover Presbytery and began pastoring a church. Six months later, his health had returned so he left the church and moved back north. In 1832 he became pastor of First Church in Lynn, Massachusetts, but three years later he suffered a serious hemorrhage. He resigned his pastorate and went to work for the Massachusetts Sabbath School Society. His health improved, so he took the pastorate of a Calvinist church in Worchester, but later that year the hemorrhage returned and so he retired.

The following year, his health had improved and he reentered the ministry, only to experience another relapse. On the advice of his doctor, he took a sea voyage and then wintered in St. Francisville, Louisiana. While there, he preached to both black and white congregations, returning to his flock in the north the following spring. He worked hard preaching but by 1838 experienced yet another relapse. To recuperate his health, he and a friend traveled in Vermont and New Hampshire, and while there he was offered the position of Professor of Rhetoric at Dartmouth College. Believing that a change from pastor to professor would lighten the strain on his body, he accepted the position. His health was improving, until he was struck with pleurisy, but this time he refused to slow down and died six months later, at the age of thirty-four. A number of his works were published during his lifetime.

The conduct of Men,

Considered in contrast with the Law of God.














It may be due to those readers of the following Discourse who heard it from the Pulpit, to state, that, as it was originally prepared in a double form, and delivered with sundry extemporaneous additions, it was found necessary, in preparing it for the press, to make several alterations; which, it is believed however, do neither change its character, nor detract from what little value it may have possessed.



“We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts, and from thy judgments.”

                In pursuing the rain of reflection naturally suggested by the text, it will be my object, my hearers, to lead you to look at the world—at man—in contrast with the Law of God; to furnish you with some views of human character on a large scale, as it appears in the light which is reflected from the Decalogue; and hence to deduce moties to humiliation and prayer.  You are perfectly aware, indeed, that the world lieth in wickedness; and you need no arguments to convince you, that man, as a race, is opposed to the divine Law.  All this is familiar, because often affirmed and illustrated; all this, too, is to your minds unquestionable, because you see the evidence of it both on the pages of Revelation, and in living exhibition around you.  But we need something more than conviction, something more than knowledge.  We need a frequent repetition of well known lessons, a fresh representation of admitted truths, with such variations of light and position, as shall, in some degree, impart novelty to what is old, and impressiveness to what is familiar.

            Some men are disposed to complain of us, that we make the world far worse than it really is; that we spread over it shades of depravity much darker than do actually exist, except here and there in the lives of those who are to be regarded rather as anomalies than as fair examples of human character; and that we carefully shut out from view the bright sports of innocence and joy, which no unjaundiced eye can fail to discover.  These men, however, we apprehend, are either not over-zealous students of the Bible; or else they imagine, that when that antiquated book was written, human nature was vastly worse than it is at present.

            But what is the present moral condition of the world?  What is its actual state, compared not with any Utopian scheme of excellence and virtue, not with any standard of perfection which man has devised,—but with the universal, the unchanging, the only obligatory standard—the law of God?  Why, in sober truth, its state is such, that a holy and impartial observer—suppose an angel that has never sinned—who should critically survey it in all its operations and principles of action, would conclude at once that men had banded together in one general conspiracy to set the divine laws at defiance, except as far as the observance of them is found indispensable exception; but it makes nothing against our position; for when men act in accordance with law only because their own temporal interest requires it, they cannot be said, in any proper religious sense, to obey law, but only to obey the impulses of a selfish nature.  From such an impartial survey, we should be prepared to return to our closets with something of the penitential sorrow of the Prophet, and mourn over what we had discovered in the midst of ourselves and everywhere among men, saying, “we have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments.”

            Let us see, then, in what this departure consists;—let us compare the conduct of men extensively with the requisitions of the Decalogue, fixing on those points—since we cannot on all—in which the contrast is most strikingly apparent, or which are peculiarly worthy of attention.

            Take the first and second Commandments; which together require that men have no other gods but Jehovah, and that they render to him, as a spirit, spiritual worship.  With these in your hand, travel abroad among men, and make your observations.  First, visit if you will,—though these are not within the province of our immediate concern,—the four hundred and eighty millions of Pagans, three fifths of the human family, who, to a man, have set their faces against God; and here and there a tribe only excepted, have changed his glory into the corruptible image of men, birds, four footed beasts, and creeping things.  All that portion of the race you must set aside at once as palpable transgressors of the fundamental and universal law—that law which constitutes the basis of the whole moral code.  If from them you turn to the Jews and Mohammedans,—in the one you discern a people, who, though professing to worship the God of Abraham, have long since virtually rejected him; for of them the Savior said, “He that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me;”—and in the other, a people, who, amidst many corrupt notions of the Deity, have in truth elevated their Prophet above his throne.  How far all these are from obeying that comprehensive rule, which requires all men to render unto God a spiritual and undivided homage, is sufficiently apparent. 

            But not to linger on ground so remote, and so little a matter of our concern to-day, you will come back and cast your eye over what is passing in nominally Christian communities.  And you will say—“Surely men here have no other gods but Jehovah.”  But tell me can He be said to be their God whom they never affectionately acknowledge; whom they never devoutly worship; to whom they erect no altar in their dwellings; whose word and ordinances they regard with indifference; towards whom they feel in their hearts no reverence and no love!  If Jehovah be their God, why not serve him; why not confess him before the world; why not make at least some decided demonstration of their homage and attachment?  Is it enough that they do not put themselves to the trouble of openly and boldly denying him?  Enough that they do not announce to the world that they are idolators or atheists?  Judge ye,—for if the Lord be God, he is a great God and a jealous; and if he is chosen by you as your God, you will worship him, ay, in spirit and in truth,—judge ye, how many such worshippers the eye of Omniscience discerns among all the thousands of decent, honest, kind hearted, moral, church-going men in Christian lands!  Of how many can the Omniscient Searcher of hearts say—“They have no other gods before me?”  If by their fruits we are to know them, few, alas! We must judge, are the spiritual worshippers of God.

            Again: Repeat your tour of observation with another article of the Decalogue:  “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”  Profane oaths and blasphemies, it is well known, abound among the heathen; and it is a remarkable and melancholy fact, that the first sentences of a Christian language which pagans learn to pronounce, are generally—at least to a great extent—sentences of profaneness and blasphemy.  So true is this, that travelers in heathen countries have often been surprised by a salutation accompanied by an oath, in their own tongue, when the speaker could scarcely pronounce any other word in the language.

            Of the frequency of this vice among ourselves, you are sufficiently aware.  You have daily examples of it, in various forms more or less gross among almost all ages and classes in society, from the brisk gentlemen of the bar-room and the theatre, down to the unruly and vulgar school-boy.  By some men, and some too who profess to be men of sense and respectability, one might suspect, a covenant had been entered into with their lips, that they should never utter the sacred name of God, except in connection with an oath!  They know not how to approach their Maker in prayer; but they can dare him to vengeance on themselves or their fellow men just to give expression to momentary anger, or,—what is if possible still more contemptuous of Heaven,—to impart grace to a period or pungency to wit!  Such is the treatment, from vast numbers, which this third most easy and reasonable requisition of the Divine Law receives.

            Again:  God demands, in his immutable Law, that one day in seven shall be consecrated peculiarly to him, as a day of holy rest.  The voice in which this demand was originally made known, seems, either with full emphasis or in fainter echoes, to have gone abroad everywhere among men, and been reiterated down through their successive generations.  But, my hearers, take another survey, and see how this law has been observed.  By a great majority, the day has been employed merely to mark into convenient divisions the lapse of time.  Some have regulated by it the seasons of licentious festivity and idolatrous worship—sad perversion surely of its original design!

            But,—to turn to a more important inquiry,—what is the manner of its observance among Christians?  How and to what extent, does it appear that they who bear the Christian name, are in this point obedient to the Law of God?  Why, my hearers, you shall find a numerous class of them who regard the Sabbath of our times as a mere human institution.  They observe it, not because it has been consecrated by divine authority, but because it is required by human convenience.  They honor it not as arising from an ordinance of Heaven, and, of course, they honor not the ordinance whence it arises; but because they consider it as, on the whole, a happy accident of custom, and even perhaps essential to the good order and well-being of society.  God and his Law they leave entirely out of view; and the Sabbath, in their estimation, has little more to do with either, than have the stated terms of legislative assemblies and judicial courts.

            Another numerous class acknowledge the divine origin and binding authority of the Christian Sabbath; but still suppose it to be designed as a day of rest from labor for the refreshment and reinvigoration of the exhausted body and mind; and not at all as a day holy unto the Lord for purposes of spiritual worship and improvement.  Consequently, with them it is a holy day—a season of relaxation and amusement.  Possibly they may be found in the sanctuary occasionally in the morning or evening;—but it is to gratify friends, or to fall in with established customs, or to break up the monotony of the week’s affairs.—Their motives in all this are essentially the same with those, which require on the Lord’s Day a particularly sumptuous entertainment or a ride for pleasure, as a necessary part of its sacred observances.  They cannot imagine what harm there can be in a little social visiting, with its edifying accompaniment of gossip and gaiety; and if the evening should pass away without a friendly call given or received, why then the holy season has been to them altogether incomplete and unsatisfactory.

            And even of that other class, who feel in some measure, or profess to feel, the claims of the Christian Sabbath upon them, as the day of God, the feast day of the soul, the seed time for the harvests of eternity,—how few devote its precious hours to the sublime purposes for which they were appointed!  How, even by the best class that can be selected among men, is the intent of the Divine Law, as interpreted by the principles and examples of Christianity, frustrated and lost!  Some deem the season well spent, if they have placed themselves within hearing of the ordinary number of sermons and prayers in the house of God, or kept their eye running over the pages of some religious book,—no matter whether or not the mind apprehends or retains a single truth, or whether or not a single devotional feeling is stirred in the soul.  Some plead hard the necessity of laboring, at particular times, on this day; and would rather run the risk of diminishing, by their example, the respect that is felt for it in a hundred hearts, than hazard the loss of injury, from the contingency of bad weather, of a little precarious property.  On this principle, the farmer drives his team afield, to save a half eared crop from a gathering storm; and the man of business indulges himself and his family in a ride to a neighboring town; or commences or prosecutes a journey to a distant mart of trade; and our wise legislators enact laws requiring the transportation of the mail, and the employing of thousands of hands, and the famishing of thousands of souls; and continue their deliberations on important questions almost till the very dawn of the holy morning—all on the day which they hold to be sacred to religion and to God; and all, I say, on the same principle, That man’s secular profit or convenience may set aside the laws of Heaven.  It is nothing more nor less than this.  Not one of them can offer any apology for such a desecration of the Sabbath, that does not involve the principle—that mere human profit or convenience may in these cases,—and if in these cases, why not in any other?—countervail the ordinances of Infinite wisdom.

            Our country is deeply stained with the guilt of violating the Fourth Commandment.  The stain is upon our Statute Books; upon our legislative halls; upon our rulers;—and upon the common body of the people.  Touching this matter, we are a guilty nation:—are we not guilty, too, as individuals?  Certainly it becomes us to be silent concerning the nation’s guilt, so long as we allow ourselves to act—though perhaps on a smaller scale—on the same unhallowed principle.  In view of all this, we surely have occasion to humble ourselves before the Lord to-day, and to say with the Prophet, “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy statutes and from thy judgments.”

            Turn now a rapid but honest glance on what is passing in domestic circles.  Suspend the precept, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” in the interior of every dwelling; and under it write the multiplied and diversified delinquencies which occur in every household—the unkind words, the disobedient acts, the disrespectful demeanor, the ill wishes, the unuttered heartburnings, and longings for freedom from parental restraint, together with all other varieties of this sin;—do this, not merely in heathen communities, which are proverbial for a want of natural affection,—but among ourselves, where Christianity has labored to exert its purifying power; and then collect the scattered items into one aggregate amount, and weigh them in the balance of the Sanctuary; and say whether there be not matter here, if the Divine Law is to be strictly interpreted, of deep humiliation before God.  Is there not a growing prevalence of this sin amongst us, which calls not only for grief and self abasement, but also for active efforts to stay the evil and avert the consequences?

            But there is one point on which, you may flatter yourselves, that the most patient and critical scrutiny, will be able to detect no guilt, except among the most inhuman and ferocious of the race.  “Thou shalt not kill.”  Rarely, you may imagine, is this law broken.  Well, then, before you pronounce with confidence, take some post of extensive observation, and note down your discoveries.  Confine your view, if you will, to our own Christian community.  Let us see with what scrupulosity this Sixth great command of God is obeyed.  How often, in the intercourse of life, do you perceive this and that man angry with his brother without cause!  They, according to the moral code of Jesus Christ, are murderers.  If they cherish anger in their hearts, so that it becomes a settled passion, they are, in temper and spirit, chargeable with the murder’s guilt.  It is not necessary, however, to dwell on cases so little tangible.

            Look up, now, to the higher walks of life.  Who is he whom you see blustering and storming at his fellow in a hurricane of passion?  It is a man of honor, who has been entrusted perhaps with the responsibility of enacting laws for you and your country.  The delicate scarf-skin of his honor has been wounded by some unkind remark of his friend;—and now, when the violence of anger ought to be subsiding in feelings of forgiveness, he coolly intimates the necessity of reciprocal compliments of pistol-shot to atone for the insult and restore friendship.  The challenge in due time and form is given and accepted.  Look once more, and see these dignified personages, at the hour appointed, stealing away with their attendants to some solitary glen, on this honorable errand.  The ground is measured—the arms are prepared—the preliminaries are completed—the signal is given, followed by the flash and the peal;—and whether both fall, or one, or neither, they leave the ground, dead or alive—murderers, murderers in the sight of God and man.

            And these tragedies, as we well know, are acted over by our lawmakers—not to speak of others encouraged by their example—so frequently that the appellation of duelist applied to them excites no surprise; and sometimes almost within sight of the Capitol.  Not a few of our most admired statesmen, are men who have thus aimed the weapon of death at a fellow’s breast, and perhaps left the field stained with his blood.  And, tell me, as they go back to their sacred work of preserving and enriching the ark of our liberties, does not that blood follow them; and as they put forth their hands to write or seal our laws, does not that blood mark and remain upon the parchment—unseen indeed by men, but read by Omniscience, and heard, too, in its cry to Heaven for vengeance on a guilty land?

            There are those,—and their number is not small, as recent occurrences testify,—who seem to care nothing for the shedding of blood, whether of one man or of thousands; who would be willing to involve the country in war, and commit it to all the direful consequences of war, for the sake of a few millions of dollars, or for some other reason, if possible more insignificant, for which this was held up as a mere pretext and disguise.  Happily, indeed, through a merciful Providence, the dreaded event has been forestalled.  But how must God regard a people on whom he has lavished the riches of his goodness, who to so great an extent and for so unworthy a reason, were almost on the point of sending forth their ships to belch death on the ocean, and drawing up their troops to cut down every one of their once honored allies who should land on the shore!

            These suggestions are made in the spirit—not of a political partisan, but simply of a plain advocate of the principles of the Divine Law.

            Would, my hearers, that the work of death in our land ended here.  But—to pass over that common waste and destruction of the vital energy by means of animal indulgences, which might be set down to the score of suicide—there are ways not yet alluded to, in which men are ready to engage in the wholesale sacrifice of life.  Distillers and venders of intoxicating liquor are yet found among us.  In a single town in this Commonwealth, five thousand hogsheads, it is said, are manufactured annually.  Nor is this the only manufactory general of this essence of misery and death.  Many a fountain, it is true, and we would be grateful for the fact, has been dried up; but you may still see them scattered here and there over almost the whole surface of the country, pouring out their deadly streams, to be distributed wherever man’s beastly appetite or love of gold may convey them.  And observe, as these streams flow on, how every place through which they pass, is accursed.  Disorder, poverty, famine, crime, disease, and death, hold their revels along their borders, and laugh and batten amid the desolations which the poisonous waves spread around them in their course. 

            And to facilitate the work of destruction, there are, very fortunately, men holding some a more and some a less honorable rank, according to the kind of service to be performed in the general business, who regularly divide and subdivide these streams into smaller currents, and distribute the precious poison for the public good at so much per gallon and so much per glass, that all those families and individuals may be accommodated, who are disposed to ruin their health, squander their estate, and make shipwreck of their souls,—and are able to pay the rumseller for the privilege.

            So extensively is this business still carried on in the midst of us, and so prolific is it in all the varieties of human woe, that it would seem as if our Great Enemy might cheerfully consent never more—except as the legitimate fruit of this—to breath famine or pestilence from his shriveled lips, or sound the alarm of war among the nations.  One might suppose, that, insatiate as he is, this alone, since it is so easy to obtain auxiliaries often of very respectable character in the work, might suffice to glut his ravenous appetite with victims, and stay the greedy yearnings of his malice.

            Ah! My hearers, here is matter of grief and humiliation.  From this cause, there is blood on our country;—is there not blood on some of our own hands?

            In relation also to the Seventh Commandment—for in this review we must omit none of the Commandments of God—a careful examination would disclose guilt around us, of the extent and deep dyed aggravation of which we are little aware.  I shall not dwell here on those offences against the law of purity, which, being confined to the imagination and the heart, are known only to conscience and to God; but which, as Jesus Christ assures us, are regarded as positive transgressions.  Nor shall I do more than allude to those dens of wickedness which the persevering efforts of good men have not yet been able to remove from our cities and large towns; to the purlieus of our theatres, and other chambers of abomination which, though perhaps on a small scale, would, if opened, “shame the eye of day.”  I should hardly be believed, should I fully describe to you the systematic exertions of wicked men, acting by a common understanding and concert in many of our large towns, with the manifest design of corrupting the young and unsuspecting; and preparing them to become hereafter a prey to the grossest seductions of vice.  Such an association of profligates has actually been discovered, within a comparatively short period, together with their obscene pictures and other machinery of like character, with which they carry on their infernal plans.  And this is only a sight glance, a mere surface view of the evil, as it exists in the community.  Such is its prevalence in our most populous cities, that it is often found unsafe for unsuspecting innocence to trust itself, even in respectable families, without the most vigilant protection.  The young and the aged, the married and unmarried, the respected and the despised, are frequently alike guilty.  My hearers, it is my sober belief, that if we were fully apprised of the extent to which this sin, in its various forms, prevails; how many licentious practices, natural and unnatural, exist among us; and what wide spread mischief, moral and physical, is their legitimate result,—we should start back with horror to find in the midst of ourselves, so many foul features of resemblance to the people of Sodom whom God destroyed.  There is in the community a generation of vipers gliding often under a specious disguise,—possibly there may be some of them in our own neighborhood;—and it becomes families to be on their guard, lest they discover “the trail of the serpent” when too late to escape the poison.  Let mothers, let fathers, let confiding youth, beware!

            Verily we have reason to enter into our closets to-day, and mourn over the guilt which rests upon us as a people and as individuals; and to say, “O God, we are ashamed and blush to lift up our faces unto thee; for our iniquities are increased over our heads, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.”

            Look abroad then with a microscopic eye;—and what do you discover?  Is there no unfairness here—not in singular and solitary instances, but in the common business transactions of men?  Is there no study to take advantage, in as honest and polite a way as possible,—but nevertheless to take advantage,—of the ignorance, or the necessities, or the vices of other men?

            In the first place, of their ignorance.  Is there never a concerted scheme among merchants, or an attempt made by individuals of them, to raise or keep up the market, for the express purpose of augmenting their own gains at the purchaser’s expense, who is ignorant that the balance of trade requires a reduction?  I do not speak here of professed merchants exclusively; but of all who are engaged in buying and selling;—and I ask, if they do not often contrive to turn to their advantage the ignorance of those with whom they have dealings, by concealing the true state of the market, or by managing to keep it up where it cannot justly be held?

            Again:  In respect to the quality of what is manufactured, or bought or sold, is there not frequently a dishonest use made of the ignorance of others?  Is it not common with the manufacturer and vender, to make the commodity pass for more than its real value; and with the purchaser, to labor to obtain it for less, crying, It is naught, It is naught, while the bargain is pending, and then, when he has accomplished his purpose, boasting of his adroitness and success?  And does the mechanic in his work, study durability and good service, as much as strict honesty would require?  Or, is his eye rather on the number of articles he turns off and the amount of profit he gains; and does he not often laugh in his sleeve over the ignorance and gullibility of those who may be so unfortunate as to purchase his fabrics for their use?  These may serve as examples of what I mean by taking advantage of another’s ignorance.  And, unless I mistake, this is not a rare thing among men who would be held respectable.

            In the second place, advantage is often taken of another’s necessities.  Suppose that a time of great scarcity is seen to be approaching.  Immediately the price of the “staff of life” is raised, and raised sometimes quite above the reach of the poor.  What is the consequence?  Numbers of them are reduced to great suffering, if not to absolute starvation.  But a few are enriched, enriched by the misery and destruction of their neighbors.  This may serve as an example of a numerous class of cases of similar kind.  I know they are vindicated on the ground of the universal laws of trade.  But are they, can they be vindicated by the holy Law of God?  Is there a whit more regard paid here to the rights and well-being of these men, than is paid by the high-way robber to those of the man whose property he seizes?  In the one case, the alternative presented, is the payment of the price demanded, or death by starvation: in the other, the tribute of your purse, or death by the bullet or the bludgeon.  In the one, a demand is made, backed by necessity; in the other, by violence.  And in the sight of God, what, judge ye, is the difference between the two, in point of honesty and justice?

            And, in the third place, would not a careful observer discover a large class of men, who gladly turn to their advantage the vices of others?  Who would sell to another the material of his ruin, but for the profit of it.  It is said, indeed, that it is an equitable bargain; that on each side there is so much given and so much received, forming a true and satisfactory balance.  One party receives his lucre, and the other his poison, and both are content.  But suppose a man calls on you for a half gill of aqua-fortis to drink, under the insane but honest impression that it will do him good; and offers you the fair market price for it; and you sell it to him.  Is it, think ye, in the eye of God, an equitable bargain?  Our standard, be it remembered, is not human law, but divine.  And according to this standard, in other words, in the sight of God, is it an equitable bargain?  Is the article, so used, of any value to the purchaser.  Does he not pay you for that which is infinitely worse than worthless, when applied to such purposes?  And if you should engage in the business of such traffic, would you not, in addition to all other guilt, the guilt especially of being accessory to another man’s self-destruction, which comes under the prohibition of the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” would you not be guilty of taking from him that for which you return no proper equivalent—nothing but misery and death;–and so come, to say the least, fearfully near the confines both of murder and robbery?  True the purchaser imagines he receives and equivalent; but you know he does not.  He consents freely to be imposed on and deluded; but you know it is a delusion.  Is it, then, as viewed by a God of justice, a sufficient vindication?  Can the imagination of a man whose vices have made him, on this one point, insane, and who under this insanity, offers you a purse of gold for a few gallons of deadly poison, can his imagination constitute the traffic honest, in which you are engaged?  What is it but turning to your advantage the hallucinations of vice, and taking from a fellow man, with his consent, under a delusion, it is true, that money which enriches you, but is paid back to him in no equivalent—nothing but disease and death, both of the body and the soul!  And this is palpably condemned by the obvious principles of the Divine Law.

            The law, which in terms forbids Slander,—“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” may be considered, like all others in the Decalogue, as embracing in its prohibition a large class of sins, but aimed specifically at the highest of the class.  In a direct, liberal application, it seems to forbid slander only.  But interpreted more generally, yet in perfect accordance with acknowledged principles of interpretation, it will be found to prohibit falsehood of perhaps every conceivable kind.  A very large proportion, certainly,—indeed I believe it correct to say, the whole, of the falsehood which is uttered, tends in some way or other to the injury of our fellow men.  It may not be aimed directly against their character: yet it may be equally against their happiness.  If a man deceives in trade, or by falsifying a promise, or in any other of a thousand ways which might be mentioned, he violates the spirit of this law, quite as much, it may be, as if he sought to injure his neighbor’s reputation.

            Write, then, this law on every door-post; inscribe it on the inner walls of every dwelling; and let it stand emblazoned in every place where men congregate for business or pleasure;—and as each breath of slander or injurious falsehood passes over it, let it send back a power that shall silence the tongue of the offender;—and my hearers, how much worse than wasted breath would be saved; how much more quiet would be the public haunts of men, and how much less loquacious, allow me to speak it, would often be the private coteries of women!

            Should we extend this prohibition so as to embrace all the varieties of falsehood, what a vast amount of guilt should we find in every community and neighborhood!  Even if it was in his haste only, that David exclaimed—“All men are liars”—we are compelled by a deliberate survey, to admit that few are entirely innocent of the transgression.  It cannot be concealed that there is much of practical, if not of literal, verbal lying in almost every branch of the intercourse which man carries on with man.  It abounds in the commercial, and, if possible, still more in the political world.  It has well nigh come to this in our country, that a politician who, on all occasions, boldly speaks the truth and acts the truth, must be set down as scarcely better than a driveller.  The cunning, necessary for political promotion and glory, is little else than consummate skill in violating the ninth Commandment.  And when that skill is possessed by any individual, who has talents enough to enlist in his favor more than one half the tongues and presses of the people in the same unholy art—his success is sure.

            Let me not be misunderstood.  I speak not in accusation of a party, but rather in rebuke of a sin, which is too extensively characteristic of the people.  To whatever political party we look, and to whatever sphere of action, we find sufficient evidence of the prevalence of this sin, to cover us with shame and confusion.

            But once more:  The Law of God finally forbids all Covetousness.  This is a disposition of the heart, an internal principle of action, a root from which springs no inconsiderable proportion of the vices and crimes most common in the world.1  To give a brief and summary definition of it, it is an inordinate desire of natural, worldly good—of that good or that measure of good, real or imaginary, which it is not proper that we should possess, either because it belongs to another, or would be injurious to us.  It seems to have been originally, and to be still, the first principle of evil, the elementary germ of sin in the heart.  Most wisely, then, does the holy Decalogue close with this prohibition.  The axe, in its final blow, is here laid at the root of the tree; and were this law obeyed, the whole aspect of the sinful world would be changed.  Avarice would no longer grind the face of the poor, and hoard its ungodly grains.  Ambition would no longer aspire at power, and trample on the rights of men.  Sensuality would no longer spread snares for the unwary and riot in polluted pleasures.  Pride would give place to humility, and vanity to meekness.  Envy would be exchanged for sympathetic joy; and anger, malice, and revenge, for pity, grief, and love.  We should be greeted with the smile of contentment and the song of gratitude, instead of the lowering brow of care and the bitter plaint of repining.  And in all habitations and along all the walks of men, we should breathe the balmy atmosphere of cheerfulness and peace.

            But, alas, what a contrast to this, does the actual condition of the world around us present!  What is it, I might almost inquire, that puts every wheel in society in motion,–that keeps all its active elements astir,—but some form or other of Covetousness, an inordinate desire of worldly good?  How much of this is embodied in the enterprising schemes of speculators and merchants!  How much of it enters into the patriotism of the statesman and the fervid eloquence of the orator!  How much of it is couched under that zeal for the public good, so loudly professed by partisan sycophants and aspiring demagogues!  Subtract this principle with its kindred adjuncts from the motives which stir and govern the world,—substituting nothing else in its place,—and almost the whole machinery of life would stand still.  Here and there would remain a spring still operating, of a temper and elasticity drawn from above; but with this exception, it would be like destroying the principle of gravitation in nature, causing every orb in the firmament to stop in its course.  It is covetousness, too often, that, with the help of winds and waves, wafts our Commerce over every stormy sea, and to every sickly shore.  It is Covetousness, too often, that smiles at the counter and presides over the day-book of the tradesman.  It is Covetousness, too often, that urges on the march of improvement in husbandry and the arts, clothing the earth with richer harvests, and making the most ungovernable elements subserve the convenience and comfort of men.  It is Covetousness, too often, that drowns the noise of our water courses with the din of machinery, and causes our villages to resound with the hum of business.  It is Covetousness, too often, that distils in the honey of flattery or the gall of invective from the Editor’s pen, and throws off the sheets of political cant from a hireling press.  It is Covetousness, always, that oils the lying lips of the cheat; and gives dexterity to the hand of the gamester; and emboldens the thief on his nightly errand; and nerves the assassin’s arm for its deed of death; and feeds the fires of the distillery, and pours off, and transports, and distributes its sublimated poison.  It is Covetousness, always, that sits snug in its abundance, closing its ear against the cry from Zion’s wastes at home, and the habitations of cruelty abroad; that prompts the perjurer’s oath, and by the aid of law filches the bread of the widow and the fatherless; and sends forth the adulterer at midnight, and fills peaceful homes with shame, infamy, and wretchedness; and rivets the chains of Slavery; and presses the foot of despotism on the neck of nations; and deluges empires with blood.

            Such is Covetousness,—so powerful as a principle, so subtle, so diffusive, so universal in its operation.  It finds its way into almost every channel of human feeling and action, sometimes mingling itself with better principles, frequently producing valuable results, but always corrupting and degrading the soul.

            And what a dark picture must this be to the eye of a holy God!  The law has gone forth from his mouth,—Thou shalt not covet; and as he looks down to see if there be any that do understand and obey, and with the exception of here and there a bright spot partially redeemed from the common waste, beholds the whole world alive and busy with the workings of Covetousness, must not his displeasure be enkindled, as it was against Israel, when he said, “For the iniquity of his Covetousness was I wroth, and smote him!”

            Perhaps in no country, certainly in no Christian country, is this sin more prevalent and more pernicious in its influence, than our own.  The facilities thrown here in every man’s way, for the attainment of wealth, honor, and power, tend directly to cultivate this passion, and give it a disastrous supremacy over the mind.  They have undeniably had this effect; and Covetousness is one of our crying, national sins.

            Thus have we taken a rapid survey of the condition of the world, as it appears in contrast with the Law of God.  And surely every step of our progress, every discovery we have made, has furnished fresh matter of sorrow—fresh occasion for humiliation and fervent prayer for forgiveness before the Lord.  We might have paused, at different points in our progress, to notice what lights there are, in connection with the shades of the picture; but the shades, deep, heavy, and almost unrelieved, form the appropriate object of our attention to-day.  The first Table of the Law, prescribing summarily the duties which we owe to God; and the second Table also, prescribing in the same summary manner the duties which we owe to man,—both the more forcibly enjoined for the use of the negative and prohibitory form,—we have seen to be transgressed, to a deplorable extent, among all classes of mankind.  Except by a remnant, God is not worshipped in spirit and in truth; his reverend name is blasphemed; and his Sabbath violated by multitudes.  Parents are dishonored, it is feared, to an increasing extent; life is often wantonly sacrificed; adultery, in its protean form and fair disguise, steals abroad through the community; virtual fraud often marks the commercial transactions, of men; slander and falsehood are so common as to have become almost a necessary art; and Covetousness is the mighty spring of action and enterprise throughout our busy world.

            This picture is not too darkly drawn.  The pencil has been dipped in no deeper colors than those employed by the pencil of inspiration; nor than those which an eye that has gazed on Sinai’s brightness, discovers in the present state and character of mankind.  There is no view which can be taken of men and their doings, so mournful and mortifying, as that which presents them in full-drawn contrast with the Divine Law.  While we honestly endeavor to form a true estimate of the character of men, holding in one hand the Tables of the Decalogue, radiating light from every line, and unrolling with the other the dark moral map of the world, we are constrained to say, “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from the precepts and from the judgments of our God.  O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, because we have sinned against thee.”  Such a view, as far as time allowed, I have labored to set fully and faithfully before you.  Let your minds dwell upon it, my hearers, while in your closets, you bow down at the Mercy Seat, humbly confessing your guilt and earnestly imploring pardon.  Let a sense of guilt,—of guilt personal—for are we not personally involved in the prevailing iniquities?—of guilt national—for we as a people have grievously transgressed,—rest on every heart, till with sincere penitence and earnest longings for mercy, you can pray, “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God.”  “Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger towards us to cease.”

            But, my hearers, if the view which we have taken, should be productive of nothing more than mortification and sorrow, our labor will have been in vain.  Let it be a godly sorrow, working repentance, that ye may receive damage by us in nothing.  Send up not only your importunate supplications for forgiveness, but like Israel, when they returned from their backsliding, enter into a covenant to seek the Lord God with all the heart and, like Jehoshaphat, when he not only sought the God of his fathers, but walked in his commandments.

            Ye who love Zion, the design of this day calls you to double your diligence, watchfulness, and fidelity.  Let the multitude of your thoughts within you, prompt the individual inquiry—“Lord what wilt thou have me to do?”  “What can I do to stay this mighty tide of iniquity!  Let all on whose hearts the Divine Law has been inscribed anew, array themselves close and strong against those sins which abound in the land, and with untiring perseverance and with all the power of example, influence, and prayer, labor to suppress them.

            Let the young also set their faces as a flint against them.  To you, under God, is soon to be committed, all that remains of the hope of our country.  Fall in carelessly with the prevailing tide of sin, and the last rays of that hope are extinguished.  Take for your guide the eternal laws of Heaven, and better omens will yet cheer us; the clouds will pass away from the sky; and our sun, now threatening to fall from his mid-day height, will still rejoice, as a strong man, to run his race of glory.

            Finally; God calls upon you all, to day, my hearers, to array yourselves under the banner and in support of his righteous Law; relying on his strength, to plant yourselves in eternal opposition to sin, wherever and in whatever form it exists; and to toil on, year after year, in the conflict, till, at least in your own heart, the victory shall be complete.  This is the day to commence the work.  For to keep a Fast acceptable unto God, is not merely for a man “to afflict his soul, and bow down his head as a bulrush, and spread sackcloth and ashes under him.—But, to loose the bands of wickedness”—(whether they bind your own souls, my hearers, or the souls of other men;) to undo the heavy burdens; to set the oppressed free; and to break every yoke; to deal thy bread to the hungry; to bring the poor that are cast out to thy house;”—in short, to act under the constant impulse of a spirit of heavenly benevolence, irrevocably pledged to a war against sin, to the defense of right, to the relief of woe.  “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee; and the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.”




1 “In this disposition seem naturally to be involved, Ambition, Avarice, and Voluptuous wishes for its attainment [the attainment of the good sought]; and out of it to spring as consequences, Pride, Vanity, and criminal Sensuality, in its enjoyment; Envy towards those who possess more of it than ourselves; Anger and Malice towards those who hinder us from acquiring it: Revenge towards those who have deprived us of it; Falsehood as the means of achieving and securing it; Forgetfulness and therefore Ingratitude with respect to such as give it; and Impiety, and consequent Rebellion, Repining, and Profaneness towards Him from whom we receive less of it, than our unreasonable wishes demand.” Dwight’s Ser. 129.(Return)