Joseph Eckley (1750-1811) graduated from Princeton in 1772. He was the pastor of the Old South Church in Boston beginning in 1779. Eckley was an original member of the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians. (This Society is discussed in WallBuilders’ book The Jefferson Lies.)
The following sermon was preached by Eckley as an artillery election sermon in Boston on June 4, 1792.
PREACHED AT THE REQUEST
ANCIENT AND HONOURABLE
June 4, 1792:
BEING THE ANNIVERSARY
ELECTION OF OFFICERS.
BY JOSEPH ECKLEY, A. M.
MINISTER OF THE Old South Church in BOSTON.
PRINTED BY SAMUEL HALL.
PSALM LXXXV. II.
TRUTH SHALL SPRING OUT OF THE EARTH; AND RIGHTEOUSNESS SHALL LOOK DOWN FROM HEAVEN.
There is a grandeur and elegancy in the ancient poetry of the East, which, in some particulars, has been unequalled in modern times. The words which I have read to you include a striking illustration of the propriety of this remark, in which truth and righteousness, two of the most exalted virtues conspiring to ennoble the human race, are represented as forming both an easy and a happy junction—the one ascending from the earth as when she bringeth forth her bud, or from the garden when it causeth the things that are sown in it to spring up—the other looking down like the benignant sun in his daily course, directing us by his rays, and refreshing us with his heat.
To a person of taste and science, the recital of the text will, on this account, communicate an elegant pleasure. But when it is considered that, added to this circumstance, it contains a prophetic declaration applying to the state of man, we become interested in it as a public body. On the present agreeable occasion, it solicits our attention, and will not fail, I hope, to afford us entertainment in our several stations and capacities as good soldiers or as statesmen, as philosophers and as Christians.
Will you permit me to add, I contemplate it with satisfaction, that at the request of this ancient and honourable Company, I have it in my power to address you at a time, when, judging of the state of improvement, and the revolutions in the world, the prophecy which it contains, seems to be fast verging to an accomplishment.—Scarcely will it be needful to observe that it has an evident relation to the Messiah’s reign on earth, embracing some prosperous condition of things, surpassing any which has yet appeared, when the knowledge and love of truth, which the Psalmist, by a bold and brilliant figure, describes as coming from the earth, shall really arise in the hearts of men, and the sun of righteousness look down and smile with blessings on them.
Indeed beautiful as the text is, it comprises little more than an epitome of the illustrious signatures of the times it so happily foretells; in which, relying on this and other gracious promises to the same effect, we find that knowledge, liberty, peace, holiness, and happiness will universally prevail.
In attempting to perform the duty annexed to the subject, it will be natural for me then, in the FIRST PLACE, to propose to you some of the evidences corroborating the text, on which the expectation of so glorious an era appears to be founded—offering some general remarks concerning the time in which it may be expected. Having done this, I shall SECONDLY consider the means which will probably conspire to its introduction—subjoining a few observations on the methods of improving the present complexion of things in the world at large, and our country in particular.
Among the sacred references to this important era, the following, which are selected from many others, appear to be sufficiently explicit. The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of the times. There shall be abundance of peace. They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; for they shall not hurt nor destroy. All the ends of the earth shall remember, and turn unto the Lord. In his days shall the righteous flourish. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my People, there it shall be said unto them, ye are the Sons of the living God. And men shall be blessed in him: All nations shall call him blessed.
Various sentiments have been held by commentators relating to the time, when these distinguishable prophecies will be fulfilled. Whilst one class of writers has dated its existence at a season prior to the general resurrection or conflagration of the world—according to the theory of another class, it is not to be expected ‘till the second advent of our Saviour on the great day of judgment; after which, it is supposed that the righteous will reign with the Redeemer on the earth, new formed amidst the convulsion which is to pass upon the system, and properly prepared for their reception.
The present opportunity will not admit of a particular discussion of the subject. As it is interesting in its nature, and intimately connected with the business of the discourse, I shall however briefly offer to you a few remarks, inclining me to give the preference to the former of these theories.
In the first place, it is to be preferred on account of the general complexion of the language used by the inspired writers in its numerous representations. When we read of People and of Nations employed in converting their warlike weapons into instruments of husbandry—of the mountains bringing forth peace, and the little hills producing righteousness,[i] we find ourselves transported among beings of our own class and order—we mix in those scenes which have little or no affinity with the employments of the resurrection state—being vastly more allied to the circumstances of the earth in its present situation, than when it will have been melted and transformed by fire. And whatever allowance may be made for the figurative manner in which the prophetic authors were accustomed to indite their thoughts, the application of every metaphor is excluded from this subject by what we learn in reference to the continuance of the season, which the Psalmist says will be as long as the sun and the moon shall endure.[ii]
Secondly, the doctrine, I think, is to be inferred, with some degree of propriety, from a consideration of the nature and perfection of the divine government and administration over all human affairs.
Judging from what appears to have been the design of the Creator, it is not so easy to suppose that a period will be put to the world by judgment and by conflagration, until a change has passed on it for the better. Scarcely does it seem sufficient for the gratification of the good man to think that the clouds which have hovered round this terraqueous globe, should be succeeded by the brightness of some future state. As more honorary, in his estimation, to the Almighty Architect, may it not be expected that the darkness, which, through divine permission, has been spread over the earth, by the great adversary of God and man, will be dissipated long before the setting of the sun—that he who crept by his wiles, into the habitations of men, will eventually be driven from them, having first been conquered on his own assumed ground—that where in consequence of his success, innumerable thorns and briars have risen up, the myrtle tree will put forth its fragrant leaves, and the little shrubs their aromatic fruit—and that in exchange for Eden, once the happy, but forfeited seat of the two progenitors of mankind, a new paradise will be formed, which instead of being circumscribed by the small bounds, capable of having been traversed by Adam or by Eve, will be from sea to sea, and extend from the river to the ends of the earth.
Indeed, of the rise and glory of such a distinguished time, we find there has been a general impression with many of the most refined and polished nations of the world. It is the season particularly noticed by the ancients under the descriptions of the golden age—the mighty years—the baleyon days, prognosticated by their common bards, and celebrated by their more refined poets. The Pollio of Virgil[iii] seems as if it had been composed with a pointed reference to the distinguished circumstances of the important era; in which the writer, no otherwise mistaken than in the name and title of his professed hero, boldly rises on the lofty strains rehearsed in the imitation of the celebrated Pope,—
The Saviour comes, by ancient bards foretold;
Hear him ye deaf, and all ye blind behold.
No more shall nation against nation rise,
Nor ardent warriors meet with hateful eyes.
The lambs with wolves shall graze the verdant mead,
And boys in flow’ry bands the tyger lead.
No sigh—no murmur, the wide world shall hear;
From ev’ry face, he wipes off ev’ry tear.
Fix’d is his word—his saving pow’r remains;
His realm for ever lasts—the great Messiah reigns.
Thus, as in the seventh day in the first sacred week, when the Supreme Architect made a pause, and contemplating what he had produced out of the preceding chaotic state, pronounced it very good, and sanctified it to man—as on the sabbatical year in the Jewish economy when the land had rest—so, in this promised time of jubilee, the world shall enjoy an uninterrupted series of happiness and composure—the beneficent and wise designs of heaven relating to the present state, assume the semblance of winding to a close; and the affirmation of the angel to the Evangelist be accomplished, when he said, that in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.[iv]
In the second division of the discourse, it was proposed to consider the means, leading to the introduction of this auspicious day. Among these, I conceive that the progress of science in the world, holds a conspicuous rank. Despotic governments, with their concomitant evils, always maintain their strength proportionate to the degrees of ignorance among the people. The dominion of tyranny is properly speaking a dominion of darkness—supported by the imposition of falsehood under the pretended vestiges of truth—enervating the mental powers of human beings, and degrading them from the rank of men. Terrible in its external form, but base within, it may be compared with the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, the head of which was of gold, but the feet of iron, mixed with rotten clay.—Against this, the kingdom of the Messiah is professedly introduced, which, like the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, will eventually overthrow the usurping idol, and maintain its place for ever. Indeed, unlike the kingdoms of this world, it is of a spiritual nature—designed to illuminate the understandings, and regulate the affections of its subjects. By informing them for what purposes they were sent into the world—enjoining a supreme veneration to the great Author of their being, and next to this, an affectionate regard to one another, as children of the same eternal Father—partakers of the like wants, and brethren of one common family, it is eminently calculated to meliorate the events which may be expected by them in human life, until they are first prepared, and afterward translated to heaven. It is the kingdom which God has given to his Son—the laws by which it is governed—the promises which give it life, and the sanctions administering to its support, being written by Prophets and Apostles inspired for the honourable work, and guided by a hand which is divine.
With much reason it might be expected, that principles thus pure in themselves, and friendly to the common benefit of mankind, would be disrelished by despots and their dependants, whose object is a monopoly of power, as it is of grandeur and wealth. Either therefore by a direct denial of the authenticity of the sacred scriptures, or by the establishment of religious hierarchies, professedly assisting, but actually subverting their operation, a great part of the governments which have hitherto existed in the world, have united with meretricious zeal. From such powerful causes, aided no doubt by the moral depravity annexed to human nature in general, throwing a veil before the intellectual vision, it has come to pass that the progress of religious science has, for many ages, been comparatively small. But the interest of mankind is too deeply concerned, to allow such licentious impositions to remain perpetual. The enlarged cultivation of the art of printing, by which the mild and equitable principles of our religion become more generally known—the great increase of commerce, introducing man to an acquaintance with his fellow man—the burdens incident to tyrannical governments, with the public bankruptcies which are threatened in consequence of the wanton wars concerted through the meer ambition of statesmen and of princes, will no doubt conspire in time, to produce alarms, where despotism now prevails, occasioning many revolutions, in which the people will judge it prudent to take the lead.
Forseeing these things, it has pleased the benevolent Creator of the world, plainly to foretell that the time will certainly come when mankind universally shall be free. And he has foretold it, not only as a probable event, resulting from an application of the truths of reveled writ to the general benefit of society, but as that, which by his wise and holy providence, he is determined to bring to pass. The language in which he has asserted it is, I the Lord will perform it. In the government of the world, he no doubt, acts by means—making use of the reason and abilities of his creatures in the accomplishment of his wise designs. Acquainted with these means, and reasoning from analogy, we may often judge of their operation with a great degree of probability and precision.
But there would be an uncertainty attending all human things, were they to be left unaided by the concurrent influence of a divine and overruling Mind. By ways and methods which are often out of fight by us, but perfectly coincident with the well known and established doctrine of the moral liberty and free agency of man, the purposes of infinite Wisdom are brought to view. In expectation of the joyful jubilee on which we are now contemplating, we may therefore rely not only on the probable conjunction of natural causes and effects, but more surely on the divine promise certifying the event, and making it the proper object of a rational and yet implicit faith. Thus supported by the united aids of reason and revelation—to the pleasure, we add the triumph of our faith, in anticipating the happy era, when, in every nation under heaven, the eyes of the blind will be opened, to release the prisoners from their prison, and them that sit in darkness from the prison-house—when the broken-hearted shall be comforted, and liberty proclaimed to the captive—they that erred in spirit, being brought to understanding, and they that murmured to sound doctrine.
In the preceding observations, the view which we have taken, has been principally confined to the emancipation of mankind from the shackles of oppression, and the emporium of reason in every nation of the world. A more important article included in this promised era, is that of the universal prevalency of religion; which, as it will be productive of the peaceful state so beautifully described by the prophetic writers, will operate, with like success, to complete the happiness and glory of the times.
Arguing from the maxims already proposed, it is easy to conceive that at least there may be a decided conviction of the value of political liberty, and a general struggle in its behalf, where the knowledge of religion in its spirituality and truth is by no means universal in its operation. The idea of interest alone, resulting from the improvements made in society by experience and by time, may be sufficiently operative in the production of very astonishing changes in the political world. Whilst we are at no loss therefore in accounting for the existence of such changes in the former of these articles, we seem to be under the necessity of examining still further for the cause of the latter.
And this I conceive to be no other than the animating influence of the Divine Spirit, which, when to answer the wise purposes for which the Deity gave permission, the mystery of iniquity will have sufficiently worked—the weakness of all error been detected, and the force of moral principles obtained at least a speculative triumph, he will then plentifully communicate to the world; and thus, by refining the minds of men, will confirm them in the belief of religious truth—by meliorating their dispositions, insure to them the enjoyment of liberty and peace—and by sanctifying their hearts, prepare them for the reception of every blessing they can enjoy both here, and forever hereafter.
Then shall the reign of virtue—the expected time of rest—the promised Sabbath—the Messiah’s kingdom on earth, be happily consummated; and the ancient prophecy of Daniel, comprehending many others of more recent date, advance to its complete fulfillment—I saw in the night visions, and behold one like the Son of Man, came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
Proceeding now from general principles to their application, it may be proper in this place, to take a view of the present state of society in the world, and enquire in what progress it appears to be toward the enjoyment of the expected blessings—so far especially as relates to the articles of knowledge and liberty, which according to the account that has been given, will be progressive in their operation, preceding the universal prevalency of religion which will crown the whole.
And I must take occasion here to congratulate my respected hearers, not only on the present political state of their country, but on the circumstance of their having lived in an age, when, as among the heavenly bodies, a newly discovered planet, through the penetration of an Herschel, was added to the system of which the earth is part, so the United States of America, by a mighty movement in the great order of human things, were at the same time brought forward to the admiring gaze of all the sons of freedom, and amidst their acclamations, took rank among the nations of the world.
It will be needless to attempt the recital of the remarkable scenes accompanying the procession of this great event. With those who now hear me, and have borne no inconsiderable part, as statesmen in projecting—as soldiers by confirming, and as philanthropists in contemplating them, their memory will be coequal with the duration of life. The principal business before us is the consideration of their effects. And important as these have been to the inhabitants of the United States, the circumstance which renders the revolution of the highest value is the influence which it appears to have on the sentiments of mankind in general, arising from the perception that it embraces no other than the common cause of the great majority of people in every clime and nation of the globe.—Where is the place in which the political doctrines which gave it birth—the actions by which it was sustained—the signal providences appearing in its behalf, with the unparalleled success by which it was finally crowned, have not been received with avidity, and contemplated with surprise? From the general discussion it has introduced on the subject of national politicks, a degree of light has emanated, through which many ancient but false maxims have been highly exploded—the design of government, with the proper business of public magistrates been freely discussed;—and whilst the antiquated notion of the divine commission and authority of earthly sovereigns, true only as it related to the Jews, has been giving way to the more rational opinion that it is God makes men, and men make kings, MAN has come forward in his proper garb on the theatre of human life, where, instead of waiting like the silent mute for the single purpose of external ornament, he has had his opinion to make known, and his part to act in the important drama.
In the mean time, the objects of religious hierarchies have been closely inspected. Exploded in the new world, they have sunk in estimation in the old. It is perceived that the rights of conscience are too sacred to be regulated by mortals. The language which has been held on the nature of religious liberty, has been sufficiently energetic to command an universal hearing; and what a few years past, would have brought the abettors to the dungeon or the stake, is now triumphant over the united influence of the Inquisitions in Spain and Portugal, or of the Vatican in Rome.
On the subject of political changes, it is impossible to reflect without advertence to the present state of France. Important to the world in general, it is interesting to Americans, both as the professed friends of universal freedom, and the recipients of the assistance of this magnanimous people, in a time of trouble.
We love the French: It is the debt of gratitude, for they loved us. In France we have a brother. When the fair standard of American liberty was erected, he heard the tidings. As the friend of liberty, he crossed the Atlantic to behold and to protect it. He put his soul into the act; and having returned with the affections of Columbia’s sons, Fayette is now conspicuous near the like standard in his native country, to join in dressing it with its proper trophies, and to behold it flourish. The time is come when the like trophies are in general admiration, and the sons of freedom, in whatever place they dwell, are viewed as brethren. We have lived to see the world in mighty motion—combinations forming to relieve the oppressed and set the sons of Afric free—the rights of man assumed—state prisons torn—political and moral principles examined with becoming freedom; and whilst many are running to and fro, knowledge is increasing.
In fine—if it might not be deemed too particular, I should propose it for enquiry, whether, judging from the past as well as present combination of events, there is not sufficient reason to conclude, that we have advanced to that important part of time delineated hieroglyphically in the vision of St. John, by the pouring out of the sixth vial on the Euphrates? In which time, as formerly by turning the waters of that river, and making the channel dry, a way was found for the admission of the Eastern kings Cyrus and Cyaxeres into Babylon, terminating in the deliverance of the Jews, then acknowledged to be the people of God, so now, the floods of error are gradually passing away before us, introductory to the complete establishment of the kingdom of righteousness and truth, when, after the yet expected succession of events, the seventh and last angel will pour his vial into the air, the seat of Satan’s sway—a voice out of the temple of heaven from the throne will say, It is done—the millennium state, or empire of holiness commence with the distinguished luster promised in the Messiah’s reign, and the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Having thus gone through with the principal ideas suggested by the text, and taken a view of the present moral and political state of man, a few observations shall be subjoined, arising from the particular situation of our country, and on the happy methods of its improvement.
Perhaps it may be thought a mistake, but I shall notwithstanding venture to observe, that, considering the degree of political knowledge prevailing in America, it appears to me to be next to impossible that tyranny should ever be established in the United States. The sentiment, it is presumed, is founded on the reason and nature of things: But if the preceding construction of the scripture promises be true, it is removed still further from the admission of dispute.
For myself therefore I must confess that I look forward, without the least anxiety on this article, and anticipate many succeeding generations, each of them illustrious for a happy race of freemen. It does not follow however, that we are to expect a complete exemption from political evils. In the present imperfect state of human nature, a revolution in the government may not only be productive of a necessary change of duties, but in some respects, of a change of dangers. There will everywhere be sinister and sordid men, who, when desirous of places of emolument of honour, will be less anxious concerning the means, than the certainty of their attainment. These are the time-servers and the sycophants, who, in monarchical governments, will surround the court, or be seen cringing within the vortex of the throne; and in the governments which are more popular, will be equally busy, fluttering and negotiating, on all sides, in the assemblies of the people. The object of their attraction is the same in one as in the other situation: It is the power of serving and promoting them, which, whether it be lodged in many or in a few, like the shrines of Demetrius, will be sure of commanding a great crowd of adorers, crying, through in more modernized language, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
Considering this subject with the attention it deserves, may it not then, with propriety, be concluded, that one of the most certain means productive of the safety and happiness of a people, consists in their ability to distinguish and find out disinterested and honest men to constitute the several departments by which the laws are enacted, and righteousness professedly maintained. Let the king live forever, will invariably be the form of expression among suitors and dependants, where absolute monarchy prevails. It is just as necessary in republicks, that the congratulatory address should be to liberty and the constitution. Liberty is one of the noblest of all the birthrights, which a wise and rational man can wish. But whilst the interested, as well as the disinterested, may equally profess to be within the number of its votaries, the inhabitants of these States will no doubt discover the necessity of committing the protection of their laws and privileges to approved patriots—judiciously guarding against the arts of those who merely address themselves to the popular feelings of a day, thereby enfeebling the social compact—and preserving a just respect for the political sentiments which are frank and undisguised, having been formed on an acquaintance with the history of government in the world, exhibiting the various occasions of the rise and fall of nations, testified by reason, and confirmed by indubitable experience.
I cannot help adding a remark or two, in this place, on the subject of religion. The unjustifiable influence of the Church, with the unbounded power of its dignitaries and other priests, in various parts of Europe, has had the unhappy effect of occasioning much infidelity with great numbers of the laity, who, from their wealth and station in life, profess to think freely, or without subjection to exterior control; and as this influence is now continually diminishing, even with the other ranks and classes of the people, it is probable that, in a few years, the interests of religion will undergo a more material convulsion, the consequences of which will very generally be perceived and known. Certainly there is much weakness in refusing to admit the evidence of truth owing to the errors and misconduct of a part of those who are its professed abettors. The various enormities, both in the doctrines and practices of many churches, were really to be expected, because they were long ago foretold by the great Author of our Religion; and every argument of this kind, was thus completely wrested from the cause of infidelity.
But whatever may have been the bad effects of such religious impositions in several of the nations in Europe, it is hoped they will not extend to the citizens of America. For the credit of religion, it is no more than reasonable to observe, that among the promoters of the Revolution in this country, there is no class of persons who have been more indefatigable in their stations than the body of the clergy—explicitly declaring their disapprobation of all religious establishments—thus committing their temporal interest to the governance of the people—assuming no influence but such as might arise from the general manner of their lives, and serious performance of the duties of their office—hereby removing every occasion of distrust and jealousy against their order, and offering themselves, on well-known principles, as the constant candidates for the friendship and esteem of those whom they profess to serve. What the consequence has been, where the Church and State have been blended together, as in some countries, is already discovered. What the consequence may be, in relation to the present system adopted in America, less than half a century now before us, will clearly determine. In the establishment of the national system of government, it is a matter, I conceive, which is worthy of attention.
Whilst the clergy have no interest clashing with that of the laity’s, for the sacred offices of religion are engaged in by the former from a sincere apprehension of their importance, and suitably encouraged by the latter from the like faith and motives, it may be presumed that the most salutary effects will be experienced by the community. In attempting to lay the foundation for the happiness of posterity, it is not only wise and virtuous, but absolutely requisite, to call in the united aids of morality and religion. Never were the prospects of any people more promising and glorious than those of the inhabitants of these States, or the means and capacity greater for rendering them successful. Consequential on the exertions productive of the Revolution in America, the mental abilities of her sons seem to have been brought forward at an earlier period than is usual, and to have expanded to a fuller growth. From the contemplation of the vast scenes through which we passed during the war, and the great and important business which has been transacted since the peace, there is an energy of mind, and a genius characteristical of Americans, which, like the Eagle in the escutcheon of the National Arms, delights itself in soaring high, and beholding objects which are great as well as deep. What tends still further to the growth of this mental invigoration, is the knowledge of the vast capaciousness of the territory belonging to the United States, already increasing in population with the most astonishing rapidity, and in like manner improving in the arts.
It is to be expected that the succeeding age will make progression both in agriculture and science, which, if it were possible for us to behold it, would inspire our minds with equal wonder and delight. On the excursive pinions of imagination, we will now take the view. Roving by the perennial fountains, or on the the verdant banks of the meandering streams, we perceive the busy husbandman employed in gathering the rich bounties of Ceres and Pomona—the hills around him vocal with the musick of his bleating flocks—the meads and vallies blooming like the rose. Where the Wigwam stood, behold the Capitol erects its lofty dome, and the sacred Church its spire. Cities after cities rise to court the admiration of the observant eye; whilst Patriotism and Philosophy find new Washingtons and Hancocks, Adamses and Franklins, to add to the resplendency and importance of the times.—Thus it is that Fancy assumes the privilege to indulge her sportive flights. Guided, as she professes in the present case by the conductress Reason, her flights are not in vain. Hail to the rising glory of this Western World! Hail to the more happy days of universal peace and freedom! Let thy ways, O Lord, be known on earth; and thy saving health among all nations.
As the subject on which we have contemplated, is highly interesting to every friend of liberty and his country, there is, I conceive, a particular application of it due on this occasion, to the ancient and honourable Company, at whose desire we are now assembled.
Worthy and respected Gentlemen,
With pleasure I address you as the members of an association, incorporated more than a century and half, as a military school and nursery for officers, the utility of which has been experienced from its commencement to the present time. Were it now a season of Alarm and War, it might have been requisite to have discoursed to you on the immediate duties of the soldier, or on the proper use and design of Arms. In the present tranquil situation of the United States, I have presumed there was no topick more naturally coinciding with your views, or better harmonizing with the spirit usually cherished on this day, than such as might lead me to the exhibition of some of the glorious fruits of the past efforts of this country in the cause of truth and freedom; which, as they were the objects with your Company, when it lately lent its generous aid in erecting the waving banners in the military field, would in a similar manner, awaken the same animation, if, in the course of human events, there should ever be the necessity of taking the field again. You study tacticks from no delight in war, but from the laudable and benevolent principle of maintaining righteousness with peace. Inspired by so rational and conciliating a motive, you are entitled to the thanks of your countrymen for the perseverance which you manifest in the duties of your institution. From the respectable abilities of the Officers whom in time past you have chosen to command you, as well as from the military knowledge and attention of the Captain[v] who leads your corps this day, you no doubt derive very essential advantage. Reflecting on the present glory of America, it is a satisfaction which you owe yourselves, to call to mind how many members of your association became distinguished in the late noble contest for our liberties, whose heroic actions, with their names, the page of history will faithfully transmit to the latest times.
The polite attentions, added to the presence of your commander in chief the Governour of this Commonwealth, with that of the principal gentlemen in the civil and other offices in the State on these public days of your anniversary election, must be convincing testimonies to you of their great esteem for your ancient corps, and their approbation of its honourable design. Having performed the religious services of the Church, we shall cordially accompany you to the Hall, where the festive board will be surrounded by so many friends and defenders of the proper rights of man, and the hilarity during the regalement, as well as through the future pastimes and military evolutions of the day, be the result of those philanthropic sensations which extend from our country to every nation on the globe.
Receive from us our most hearty wishes for your future prosperity and honour. Engaged in protecting the liberties of your countrymen, may you at the same time experience the efficacy of that sacred and religious freedom, which is proposed to us through the great Captain of our spiritual and everlasting salvation—that when you quit the ranks militant on earth, you may be admitted to the angelick companies in heaven—and putting off the sword and buckler which are worn by Combatants, may receive the crowns of Conquerors in the celestial state.
To this respectable assembly in general, let me now observe, that pleasing as our political and other prospects may be considered, the time allowed us in which to enjoy them is short and transient; after which, our conduct on the serious question of their improvement, will pass a most solemn and august review. An apprehension of the brevity of human life, should instruct us to comprise in it as many duties as is possible. Among these, I presume, we may rank the duties which we owe our country in particular, and the world at large.
Shall I be allowed to make the enquiry, whether to the other methods of improvement, and the numerous institutions among us, the establishment of a Revolution or Constitutional Society, might not be attended with important advantages—part of the business of which should consist in a regular correspondence with those of the same names in Europe, and the objects be the dissemination of the great principles of liberty and good government, and the introduction of some well-concerted plan among the nations, as the basis of an universal peace.[vi]
The happy influence of these Societies abroad has been confessedly experienced; and in speaking of them, I am led to pay a tribute of respect to the memory of a distinguished member, not long since deceased in Great-Britain, whose known attachment to the general cause of liberty, and affectionate writings in favour of the interest of America, have inscribed his name upon our hearts. Could we pay a visit to the tomb of Doctor Price, we would shed a tear of friendship on his hallowed urn; or if the harmonious musick of the band this day, could reach the dead, we would bid it cease a while its martial notes, and softly strike the funeral dirge.
What a blessed revelation is the Gospel of the Son of God, in which we learn that after the body sinks, or goes to mingle with its native dust, the spirit still survives! In the great world of spirits, the friends of liberty, in its moral and most extensive sense, shall meet in perfect and never-ending bliss.—And with this idea, I conclude.—Glorious as are the promises we have contemplated relating to the prosperous state of nations, and the happy days of universal jubilee, they are bounded by what may properly be called the events of time. “The cloud-capt tow’rs—the gorgeous palaces—the solemn temples—the great globe itself, with all that it inherit, shall dissolve—and like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a wrack behind.’ Or, in more energetic, because inspired language—The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up.
But there are other promises which reach forward to eternity. If we are found among the friends of truth and virtue, we shall be able to stand unmoved amidst the convulsions of the present system; for there are prepared for us new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness; and we shall live eternally with the Lord.—To him be everlasting praises.
A M E N.