This sermon was preached by Rev. Hubbard Winslow in Massachusetts on June 6, 1853.
DELIVERED BEFORE THE
ANCIENT AND HON. ARTILLERY COMPANY,
MONDAY, JUNE 6, 1853.
ON THE 215TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CORPS.
BY REV. HUBBARD WINSLOW,
Boston, June 6, 1853.
My Dear Sir,
By an unanimous vote of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, the Officers of the past year were directed to present their grateful acknowledgments for the very instructive and eloquent Discourse delivered by you this day, on the occasion of their Anniversary, and to ask the favor of a copy for the press. It gives me much pleasure to be the organ of the wishes of the Company, and of the Officers recently associated with me in command.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Rev. Hubbard Winslow,
6 Alliston Street.
Boston, June 9, 1853.
Hon. Francis Brinley:
Dear Sir,—Be pleased to accept and to present to the other gentlemen of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, my grateful acknowledgment of the indulgence with which you have been pleased to regard the Discourse delivered by me on the occasion of your Anniversary, and to consider the manuscript at your entire service.
With sentiments of highest esteem, I have the honor to remain,
Your obedient servant,
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.
Without a gracious revelation from heaven the race of man is irrecoverably lost in idolatry and sin. Without this, in vain are the combined forces of science, art, arms, commerce, wealth, and all other human means, to elevate man to the knowledge of God and the practice of true virtue.
Such a revelation it has pleased God to grant. Its light began to dawn immediately after the fall in paradise. It is a kingdom of redemption, whose king is the Son of God, who appeared “when the fullness of the time was come,” according to the divine promise, to offer up himself in the cause of human salvation.
Should your present speaker deviate so far from the usual custom on this occasion, as to contemplate the subject of Military Institutions only as included in a more comprehensive theme, his apology is that it has been so ably discussed by his predecessors as to render its particular consideration at present superfluous.
I propose, with your indulgence, to offer reasons for believing that, in response to the utterance of the seventh angel in our text, pure Christianity, the only religion congenial to free civil institutions, is destined to become the permanent religion of the entire human family; and also to indicate the especial relation of our own country to this great event. I place Christianity in the van of the march of liberty, as pioneering rather than following true civilization, and as being at once both the parent and defence of all free institutions. My belief that all nations are to become civilized, elevated, refined, and to enjoy the inestimable blessings of liberty, is founded upon and precisely commensurate with my belief that pure Christianity is to prevail over the whole world.
My argument will be addressed to such as admit the truth and excellence of our religion, but are skeptical in regard to its success. It has been so long struggling with unsubdued foes; such large portions of mankind are sunk in gross idolatry; so much individual and organized hostility “against the Lord and against his anointed” still prevails on all sides; and there is so much deeply-seated infidelity, both secret and avowed, even in Christian lands, that the wisest of men sometimes find their faith put to the test. They are tempted either to doubt that interpretation of the Scriptures which asserts the universal triumph of Christianity, or to question the absolute authority of the Scriptures themselves.
But we are of those who believe that, despite of all obstacles, this divine religion, pure and undefiled, is to obtain complete victory over the world.
I. It is my first object to exhibit the rational grounds for this belief.
1. Christianity will prevail because it is TRUE.
Truth has a natural power over the human mind. Through prejudice and sin men may be induced to reject it, but in so doing they act against their proper nature; in resisting truth they hold their minds in a forced state. Although error may seem for a time triumphant, steadily advancing truth overtakes it at last and lays an omnipotent hand on the intellect. In both the natural and moral world, truth is progressive, and always ultimately sure of its object.
Look for the moment at the resistance encountered by some of the truths of natural science; for instance, those respecting the solar system. Five hundred years before Christ, Phthagoras taught, in part, the true doctrine upon this subject. But it was despised and rejected by men, and for ages seemed to be dead and buried. But truth cannot die; nor can it be always restrained. We may as well attempt to chain the internal fires of the globe. When those fires seem to lie dormant, they are accumulating force for fresh action. So truth, when apparently ineffective, is preparing to shake the intellectual world, and to assume practical dominion over it.
After the lapse of nearly two thousand years, the true doctrine of the solar system found another advocate. Copernicus published to the world that the sun is the centre of the system, that the earth moves round it and also on its own axis. Again was this truth assailed. But was it finally defeated? No. Truth has ample time to vindicate its claims, and it suffers noting from delay. Another hundred years rolled by and Gallileo arose. He invented the telescope, and with the combined aid of mathematical and telescopic evidence, reasserted the truth. But the day of triumph still lingered. Truth’s champion was imprisoned and his books were burned.
Another century passed, and Newton arose. His splendid discoveries in optics and his vast improvement of the reflecting telescope, combined with his towering mathematical genius to bring forth to the world, in bold defiance, this same despised and rejected truth. The conflict was long and severe, but every struggle gave new advantage to truth, and at length it compelled error to yield and prejudice to hide her face, while it marched resistlessly onward to take possession of the whole enlightened world.
Now the doctrines of Christianity being as true to the moral universe as those of Copernicus are to the natural, their final success is equally certain. There is in error a principle of innate destructibility; especially it cannot endure hard usage. It requires a peculiarly favorable adjustment of the elements; it needs the hothouse nursery of the selfish passions. And even patronage herself, with hands full of gold, cannot confer immortality upon it. Truth, on the other hand, survives by its own inherent vitality. Rough handling may for a time retard its progress, but cannot destroy it. It will live and thrive, even on bleak, wintry rocks, and amidst howling blasts.
For several centuries great ingenuity and labor were bestowed upon attempts to change the baser metals into gold; so have human device been employed to make false systems of religion, such as Paganism, Mahommetanism, and various corruptions of Christianity, pass for truth. But these base metals cannot be converted into gold; nor can they always pass for it; for the human mind eventually detects imposition.
In virtue of the same influence by which commanding intellects carry their own generation forward in some truths, they often hold subsequent generations back from embracing others. A single illustration of this fact will suffice. Galen, the illustrious prince of the Greek physicians, flourished in the year of our Lord 130. He taught surgery as well as medicine, and was in advance of all his contemporaries. Truth and error were blended in his teaching, but his greatness gave such currency to his errors, that for centuries it was unpardonable presumption to question any of his positions. This subsequently prevented men from arriving at the truth respecting the circulation of the blood.
At length Harvey arose. But even then mankind had scarcely reached a point of knowledge at which to cope successfully with the great name of Galen. History records, that “the promulgation of the truth by Harvey respecting the circulation of the blood, roused the attention of all Europe. The old professors, accustomed to pay a blind and implicit deference to the authority of Galen, which was now utterly subverted, and ashamed to confess that their whole life had been spent in teaching the grossest errors, took up their pens in opposition to the author of these innovations. One party asserted that the discovery was not new one; that it had been known to several persons, and indeed to all antiquity. Others attempted to disprove his statements by experiment and reasoning.” But over all these obstacles the truth at last prevailed.
Similar to this has been the conflict between Christianity and infidelity. Some infidels, such as Hume and Bollingbroke, have attempted to prove that Christianity is not true to nature. Others, such as Hobbs, Taylor, and Volney, have maintained that it is so very natural that any person could ascertain its principles without a revelation; that they were in fact understood and taught by the Egyptians, long before the Bible was written.
Here then we have two classes directly opposing each other in their attempts to subvert Christianity, just as the two classes opposed each other in their attempts to subvert science. The result in both cases has been the same.
Thus men of great reputation have frequently embalmed and transmitted error with truth, as amber combines and preserves the precious with the vile; but the progress of human knowledge at length forces a separation; only the truth is finally retained, the error is rejected. Hence, whenever an individual has ascertained a truth, whether of science or religion, and has cast it forth upon the human mind, he may set his heart at rest as to its final success. It will assuredly work its way through all obstructions, and will finally command the universal homage of mankind. In this view, we can look for nothing less than a complete and triumphant victory for Him who is, in the highest and most absolute sense, “THE TRUTH.”
2. Christianity will prevail because it is GOOD. It is as good as it is true, as perfectly adapted to our moral as to our intellectual nature. The happiest portions of the world are precisely those which enjoy most of its refining and ennobling influence; and they are the happinest because they enjoy it. Now, there is a tendency in goodness, as well as in truth, to gain upon and eventually to win the convictions of men; hence a religion which eminently elevates and blesses mankind must eventually receive their homage.
Do you say that men oppose Christianity despite of its perceived utility? This is rather true of individuals than of communities.
There is a power in consociated interests to foster whatever is proved to be useful. Hence, so fast as the nations of the earth become fully persuaded that Christianity renders them wiser and happier, they stretch forth their hands to receive it. Selfish individuals may hate it, because it makes war on their lusts, but the commanding voice of the public conspires with that of all wise and good men to declare in its favor.
Precisely the same principle obtains here as in the arts and sciences. The art of printing was at first resisted by thousands of individuals, because it destroyed their business and their gains; but when its general utility became manifest, they were compelled to yield. Individual selfishness must succumb to the public weal. So of steam navigation, rail-roads, manufactories, all abbreviations of labor. They are at first opposed by many because they conflict with private interests, but they at last compel submission to the general good.
The same law holds in the advancement of moral interests. The cause of temperance, for example, even in its truest and most Christian form, at first encountered great opposition. It had to struggle against some of the most depraved appetites and most selfish passions of men. But as its utility became manifest, lust and avarice were compelled to yield. The victory is not fully won, but the result is certain. The good cause is advancing, slowly but surely, and you can no more stop it than you can arrest the sun in his glorious path. The same is true of every vice which Christianity condemns, and of every virtue which she enjoins. By the all-prevailing power of her goodness, she is thus gradually subduing the world to her laws.
The character of Christ and the benefits of his religion are constantly becoming better understood. Hence his moral power over the world is practically increasing.
It is an instructive fact, that all attacks upon Christianity have been aimed at false views of its moral tendencies, as well as of its intellectual claims. The ground on which infidelity stands is, therefore, by the progress of human knowledge, constantly diminishing.
3. Christianity will prevail because it HARMONIZES WITH TRUE SCIENCE. This harmony is unaccountable on any other supposition than that the religion in question is from above and is destined to prevail. For when it was first promulgated most of the modern sciences were unknown. Now as Christianity assumes the truth of the Old Testament, were science subversive of the writings of Moses and the Prophets, it would be equally so of Christ and the Apostles. For although the Bible was given to teach us religion and not science, yet, if it reveals the true religion, it must have come from the Creator of all things, and will therefore assume only that with which science, in her amplest unfolding, fully harmonizes. But as both science and philology require profound study, we should hold judgment in abeyance respecting discrepancies, and patiently await the decision of mature investigation. It is often as true in religion as in science, that a “little learning is a dangerous thing.”
Observe, then, how the modern sciences, in their infancy, have threatened the Bible, but as they have advanced to maturity have become its firm advocates.
When modern Astronomy first scaled the heavens and walked those mighty spaces amidst flaming worlds, she looked askance upon the Bible. Its religion was in her dazzled eye, a small and contemptible affair, unworthy of so vast and splendid a universe. But as science and philology advanced, they unitedly espoused the conclusion that the principles of Christianity and those of Astronomy are strictly analogous, in simplicity, extent, grandeur, and design; that they obviously proceed from the same infinite mind, embrace the moral and physical departments of the same universe, and contemplate the same grand object.
Chemistry supposed, at first, that she could dispense with the living God, by referring all the phenomena of life and thought to certain physical agencies. But subsequent researches have proved that no such agencies exist adequate to the effects in question, and that we must recognize the power of that “Eternal Life” revealed in the Bible, before we can account for the first throb of created life or kindling of created intellect.
Geology, no less presumptuous, had scarcely begun to dig into the rocks when she vainly supposed she had there found testimony against the Mosaic record. But more thorough research has conspired with more accurate philology to demonstrate, beyond a question, that the cosmogonies of Moses and of science are, in their leading facts, essentially the same. Indeed the more thoroughly we study the two, the firmer is our conviction that no human being, in the age of Moses, could have described the order and progress of creation as he did, unless under the guidance of Him who alone foresees the developments of science.
The successive stages or epochs in the work of creation, following each other in the exact order indicated by physical laws, are written with equal distinctness and exact accordance upon the historic rocks and the inspired record. The stage through which the world is now passing, the period of God’s rest “from all his work which he had made,” is rendered no less evident by Geology than by revelation; for, if the one asserts that God ceased from creating, the other demonstrates that there have been no more creations since this period commenced.
The recent discoveries of Layard and of other distinguished Archaeologists, have tended alike to detect more or less of truth and fable in many of the profane histories, but to establish, so far as they go, the entire truth of all that is related in the sacred Scriptures. “The Nile, the Euphrates, and the Tigris, all seem to be yielding their testimony to the truth of the Bible.”
In fact all the discoveries of science and art are conducting us to the same faith. No other religion can endure their light. Paganism cannot; Mahommetanism cannot; the religion of the Chinese cannot; all false religions vanish before it like night-shades before the rising sun. It is becoming increasingly evident that the Bible, though the oldest of books, and written, much of it, by uneducated men, is yet in advance of all the sciences, arts, governments, and refinements of mankind. We can enter no science which it has not anticipated; we can make no improvements in laws, politics, social and domestic institutions, for which it has not amply provided; and its literary gems are excelled in classic beauty and brilliancy by those of no age or country.
Men have from time to time advanced imposing speculations subversive of its divine authority, but they and their speculations have passed away together. Many a perverted intellect has risen up, like a flaming comet, in its lawless course threatening wide disaster, which has soon disappeared forever from our moral horizon, while the true luminary of the world has been steadily ascending higher and higher towards its zenith in the heavens. And it needs not the eye of prophecy to see that the time must surely come, when all the congregated wisdom of the world will do homage to Him who spoke “as never man spake.”
4. Christianity will prevail, because it HAS PREVAILED. Greater obstacles remain not than it has already surmounted; mightier miracles are uncalled for than it has already wrought; no more signal victories than it has repeatedly won, will unfurl its triumphant banners over the whole earth. Our argument here is to the effect that the almighty power of God is in it. What this religion has done, therefore, it can still do. That living Omnipotence, which made the throne of the Caesars tremble at the name of Jesus; which prostrated the marble domes of heathen temples in the dust; which forced down the boasting science and literature of the Augustine age; which overthrew the time-honored dynasties of Jewish and Pagan prejudice; which, in the scoffer’s own emphatic words, “turned the world upside down,” can erect altars to the true God under the whole heavens. Not to believe here, is to make all history false; to doubt on this point, is to sin against our own senses. Truly, if John, in the dawn of Christianity, could feel assured of its triumph as of a present reality; and if the stubborn incredulity of multitudes of Jews was resolved into unwavering faith, unbelief in us is a shameful marvel. If the early Christians saw in the dawning light of the future, we see the blazing light of the past.
What wonders has this religion wrought! In defiance of all the ignorance, prejudice, lust and sottishness of mankind; despite of the meager facilities, in the early ages, for circulating thought and extending a permanent moral influence; and in resistance to all the canonized authority of idol systems, and the frowning menace of hostile kingdoms, it has steadily made its way; enlightening, elevating, disenthralling our race; revolutionizing states and empires; until it has boldly challenged and has received the willing homage of the most enlightened portions of the whole world.
In the mean time science, commerce, art, all forms of human enterprise, are bringing the distant members of the human family together. A valuable truth elicited by a mind here, speedily finds its way, as on the wings of the wind, to minds in remotest lands; a benevolent affection kindled in an American heart, may soon make itself felt by hearts in India, China, and the distant Islands of the ocean. Indeed, the deep throbbing of Christian liberty and the mighty impulse of Christian enterprise, in America, are at this moment prostrating the temples of pagan idolatry, and are even shaking the Celestial Empire to its centre. Already the eye of hope sees America stretching the hand of paternal embrace to lands of Christian liberty across the Pacific.
The direct instrumentalities of Christianity are also increasing both in number and effectiveness. Bibles, Tracts, Colporteurs, Missionaries, are diffusing light, and many are praying for the coming of God’s kingdom. The Holy Spirit, without whose influence no good is accomplished, is making the gospel effectual to the salvation of those who receive it.
Finally, in connection with these multiform encouragements, are the cheering voices of inspired prophecy, proclaiming the benign purpose of God that all flesh shall see his salvation. The decree of the Almighty has gone forth. “Hath He said it? And shall he not do it?” Sound the glad tidings over land and sea; let them roll upward on waves of silvery light to the highest heavens, and downward on the dark clouds of thundering terror to hell; let angelic worlds believe and rejoice, let “the devils also believe and tremble.”
II. Time forbids to speak as freely of the especial relation of our own country to this cause as I intended.
Let it be remembered, that while Christianity fosters and protects science, art, domestic and social institutions, civil government, all that elevates and adorns humanity, she also makes them subservient to her own welfare. She does not extend her dominions by the Bible and the Church alone, indispensable as these are, but by appropriating to her service the intellect, enterprise, commerce, wealth and power of Christian nations.
In this view no intelligent person can resist the conviction that our nation, in connection with our parent-nation, Great Britain, is destined to exert a controlling religious influence over the destinies of mankind. Its entire history, up to this hour, clearly marks it for some mighty agency.
When we notice signal interpositions of heaven in the early histories of nations, as in the Hebrew and the Roman, we justly conclude that some great design is to be accomplished by them. These nations have formed epochs and made their broad marks upon the world. What countries have not felt their influence?
But how far does our own nation transcend all others in the prophetic grandeur of its history? A land stretching from ocean to ocean, and from the burning tropics to the poles; possessing measureless wealth of soil, of precious and useful metals and minerals, of bays and navigable waters; of all that nature, in her widest reach of benefaction, ever presented to mortals; what was Canaan or Italy compared with it? This land was sacredly concealed from the civilized world until the constellated miracles of the fifteenth century had poured their lights upon mankind, and had thus prepared the way for a great and final demonstration. It then rose to view, as from ocean depths, and invited Christian civilization to its savage but generous bosom.
And what has less than four centuries wrought? Already does the vast wilderness bud and blossom as the rose. Already we behold a territory of more than a thousand miles square overspread with smiling landscapes, teeming with the products of cultivation; adorned with rich and splendid cities, with manufactures and commerce, with schools and churches, all rivaling those of the other hemisphere; and to crown all, an independent, Christian nation, not yet a hundred years old, standing firmly up in the strength of a giant manhood.
The character of the founders and early guardians of our nation should be especially noticed in this connection. They were the rarest men of the rarest race. The settlers of New England generally, and, to a great extent, of the central and southern States, were eminently of this character. They came to America, they braved the hardships and perils of the wilderness, they hewed down the forests, they planted these institutions, that they might serve God as faithful Christians in advancing the cause of human redemption. They were intelligent, high-souled, far-reaching, determined men. They were both lamb-wise and lion-wise;—towards God, gentle, submissive, humble; towards the hostile powers of man, unflinching and resistless.
We have not time to mention the immortal names associated with our colonial history, nor to open the brilliant roll of Franklins, Hamiltons, Jays, Jeffersons, and Adamses, connected with our earliest period as a nation; it will suffice to notice distinctly only one in this connection, the name of Him who was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Standing in the forefront of the prolonged struggle for liberty, he led our armies against fearful odds, until prolonged jubilant shouts proclaimed us an independent people.
Again, obedient to his country’s call, he ascended the first presidential chair, and by the dignity, impartiality, wisdom and commanding firmness of his administration, set an example for the imitation of his successors and for the admiration of mankind till the end of time. That man was a Christian; and when the millennial anthem shall ascend from the emancipated world, amongst the foremost names enkindling gratitude and praise to heaven will be GEORGE WASHINGTON.
Nor have we time to mention other names only less illustrious, as we trace our history down to the present; but there is ONE, scarcely second even to Washington, which none of us, whatever may be our political views, would consent to pass in silence. When half a century after the Father of his country was laid to rest, a man of gigantic intellect, of invincible honesty, of dauntless courage, of clear and far-reaching vision, of immovable firmness, and of all-embracing patriotism, was demanded, to teach us the nature and design of Republican Institutions; to expound and defend our Constitution; to enforce our obligations to the Federal Compact; to vindicate our commerce; to settle our relations with foreign powers; to save the Union from destruction, and transmit it, with augmented strength and glory, to future generations; that man appeared among us;—and not less manifest is the hand of God in raising him up to complete the work of Washington and establish us in our own goodly inheritance, than it was in raising up Joshua to complete the work of Moses and establish the Israelites in Canaan. That man, too was a Christian; and as in the case of Washington, so in his, “the lying lips, which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous,” will be “put to silence;” the foul breath of slander will eventually waste upon the breeze, and all human lips, the wide world over, will be proud to utter the immortal name, DANIEL WEBSTER.
In raising up men like these to found and guide our nation, what less could heaven have designed than that we should accomplish some signally benign work for our race? We have, it is true, to surmount the evils especially incidental to republics, besides some of those common to other nations, of which the most trying, perhaps, is slavery. But however different our views, all will eventually agree that we ought to “follow the things which make for peace,” and that there is a way to perpetuate the Union, while we elevate and redeem the oppressed, and through them pour into their fatherland the lights of science and religion. Thus “Ethiopia will stretch forth her hands to God.” Benighted Africa, long sunk in abject slavery, will rise up and take her seat among the Christian nations.
In estimating the relative influence which our country is to exert over the destinies of mankind, we should especially notice its prospective greatness. It doubles its population every twenty-five years. At this rate it will contain, in 1953, more than four hundred millions of people; a number equal to half the population of the globe. Boston will cover an area ten miles square, densely settled, and will have two millions of inhabitants. New York will stretch on all sides beyond the rivers bounding Manhattan, and will embrace a population of seven millions. Cincinnati will have three millions of inhabitants; and all the thriving cities of the land will rise, more or less, in like proportions. Railroads and engines, far better than we now have, will connect the ocean at all important points; Oregon and New England, Mexico and Labrador, will be only six days apart. The whole of North America, as to its moral and Christian influence, at least, will be included in this nation, and South America will realize and emulate its example.
Not only will intelligence fly on the magic wires, from sea to sea and from zone to zone, over all parts of this great land, but the lightnings will find a way to bear it from continent, so that antipodes will converse freely with each other. Thus “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”
Under these circumstances, our nation combines the two most important elements for extending its religion, to wit, freedom and strength. Ours is eminently a popular government, calling into activity all orders of mind, and thus investing the entire wealth of the nation’s intellect. It favors virtue, rewards talent, excites enterprise, and thus encourages its enlightened and benevolent subjects to circumnavigate the globe with the blessings of Christianity. There is thus an intimate alliance between true religion and liberty. If this religion lays the foundation and rears the top-stone of civil liberty, the nation blessed with this liberty pours forth the full tide of its influence to extend the religion which has thus blessed it.
While it should not be the specific object of civil governments to propagate Christianity, it still ought to be, and ever has been, a leading aim of our government to favor and protect it. Hence Bible, Tract, Missionary and Colonization Societies, whose direct and avowed object is to Christianize mankind, have always received from it appropriate encouragement. Thus the freedom of our institutions, founded as they are upon Christian principles, renders us virtually a Christianizing nation.
Ours is a strong government, able alike to control its own subjects and to command the respect of all foreign powers. This is by some doubted; and as it is the material point on which our entire argument ultimately depends, I must dwell a moment upon it.
Facts have proved that the strength of government does not lie in a despot, nor in a aristocracy of hereditary claims, defended by standing armies; for those armies, instigated by demagogues or by the popular will, may wheel their faces round and hurl monarch and courtiers from their seats in a single day.
The true strength of a government must lie in the intelligence, wealth, and virtue of its subjects, represented and protected by its three essential departments—the legislative, to enact laws; the judicial, to expound and apply them; and the executive, to enforce them. All these are most happily combined in the American government.
No mention, not even the British, compares with this for the general intelligence of its subjects. The Americans are eminently an educated, reading, knowing people. If knowledge is power, this is the most powerful nation beneath the heavens. Knowledge in this country is not restricted to a few, nor is it of a speculative character; it is the property of all classes and is eminently practical. The poorest man’s son sits at school upon the same seat as the millionaire, learns the same lessons, wins the same prizes, and aspires to the same places of power.
There is also with us a very general distribution of wealth. We have, it is true, the poor among us; but neither poverty nor riches are confined to any particular class. We have no privileged rank. Whilst an aristocracy of wealth, by combining the poor against the rich, weakens a nation, wealth possessed in the various classes, as the reward of industry and frugality, binds the people together in defence of their common interests. Hence, other things equal, the more wealth we possess and the more general its distribution, the greater is our national strength.
If we are destined to fall as a nation, the catastrophe will be more due to the want of virtue than of any other element of strength. Still, even in this respect, we certainly compare not unfavorably with the people of other lands. We may truly say, more in the spirit of gratitude than of boasting, that the principles of true virtue and religion are widely and practically embraced by the American people, and are already gaining upon their confidence and their homage.
With these advantages, our nation is rendered strong and enduring, by the law-loving spirit of the great body of citizens, investing the executive with so much of military force as may suffice to protect and defend them.
Wise legislation and impartial adjudication may greatly reduce the needed force of the executive, but they cannot entirely dispense with it. They who are “past feeling” in their souls, “being seared as with a hot iron,” must be touched in the only remaining vital part, the body. There must be, in every strong government, not only that which says to its subjects, This is your duty, do it if you will, but that which says also, This is your duty, do it if you will not. Even behind the throne of God, all radiant with light and love, are stores of wrath, with “lightnings, and voices, and thundering, and an earthquake,” indicating that the Almighty himself must needs wield these terrible engines against incorrigible rebels.
While, therefore, we strenuously deprecate standing armies, as endangering the safety and debauching the character of a nation, we do not by any means discard Military Institutions. We believe in the Christian authority and absolute necessity for well organized and disciplined military companies, to be at the service of the executive, for both civil and national defence. We cannot conceive how government can be securely maintained without them; nor have we the slightest suspicion that it ever will be, in the present state of humanity, excepting in the wild dreams of a transcendental and impracticable philanthropy. The man who shall devise means of sustaining government, in a world like this, without admitting a resort to force, will evince a wisdom more than divine. We fearlessly walk the streets of our thronged metropolis, and repose safely in our dwellings at night, only because lawless villains know that there is force in reserve, and that men true to law are empowered to use it.
For the same reason that we need the military arm to protect our social and domestic interests, we need it also to protect us as a nation. But it should be a power strictly limited by the necessities of the government and subject to its decisions, as expressed through the executive by the prevailing voice of the people. Hence the importance of military defences, and especially of schools in which pupils are trained in a course of severely scientific discipline for service. A few officers thus well schooled, are prepared, in case of necessity, to lead their fellow citizens in defence of their country, and with them to accomplish immeasurably more in repelling invasion than all the standing armies of the Old World. He who said, “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one,” never designed that his people should be undefended. Neither individuals nor nations can wisely depart from the wisdom of Christ. The citizen soldier, holding the weapon of defence, and even periling his life, if need be, in defence of his fire-side, his altar, his liberty, and his country, is acting no less in obedience to the injunction of Christ than to the noble example of our Puritan fathers.
We firmly maintain, then, that while aggressive wars can be maintained on no Christian grounds, the simple position of personal and national defence, and that by force, when other means fail, is alike the dictate of humanity and religion. Such is the principle assumed by our government; angel-like in deeds of love and mercy to all nations not aggressive, but to the spoiler “terrible as an army with banners.”
Movements of despotic powers at the present time seem to indicate intentions adverse to free institutions. So long as they are strictly defensive, true policy forbids our interference. But should tyranny assay to plant foot on this land sacred to freedom and Christianity, the land that drank the blood of our fathers in defending liberty, ten thousand swords shall leap from their scabbards, our artillery will everywhere awaken its thunder; all true Americans will unite heart and hand to repel the invader. “The battle of that great day of God Almighty” with “the spirits of devils working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth,” may remain to be fought by America, to prepare the way for the naked feet of the gospel through the nations. If so, America will not shrink from the conflict, nor has she any fear for the result. But we anticipate “a more excellent way.” Already, we trust, the awful day of sanguinary battles has gone down; soon may that glorious morning, bringing peace on earth and good will to men, pour its gladdening beams over the world.
The prospect of a vast power to be ultimately wielded over the earth by the American States, is also greatly brightened by our growing attachment to the Union. Events which have hitherto seemed to threaten, have in the end served to strengthen it. Political agitations are incidental to free institutions, but they need not alarm us. They are only the ripples upon the surface. The current of sober common-sense, in the American mind, is too deep and strong to be essentially disturbed by them.
If any thing was wanting to secure the permanence of our national compact, that want was supplied by the unanswerable arguments and imperishable eloquence of our great Statesman. So long as his name is honored by the people of this land, it will be an impregnable bulwark of strength to the Union. “Firmly knit and compacted together in peace,” the United States of America cannot fail to become more than a match for the rest of the world. Holding their commanding position of intelligence, freedom, commerce and wealth, and controlled by Christian principles, they will diffuse, as a beacon light upon the top of a high mountain, the bright and healing radiance of their example over all the nations.
The practical lesson of our subject, brief but weighty, is plainly this: THAT EVERY TRULY GOOD CITIZEN WILL DO ALL IN HIS POWER TO AUGMENT THE INTELLIGENCE, WEALTH, AND VIRTUE OF THE NATION, TO HONOR AND PERPETUATE ITS CONSTITUTION, AND TO SECURE OBEDIENE TO ITS LAWS.
Allow me, in closing, to congratulate you, The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, as a generous and patriotic Band, who have from the first steadfastly defended those Institutions, which are destined thus to bless mankind. It is no mean honor to bear any part in such a cause, but the part which you have borne is a highly distinguished one. You were the first regularly organized association for the defence of American liberty; and there is something sublimely defiant in the tones you are accustomed to utter. By the terrible bolts of his artillery, Napoleon swept the field and shattered the despotic dynasties of the Old World; by the same weapons, you have contributed to defend the liberties of the New. On every succeeding Anniversary like the present, the bold notes of your brazen voices will be gladly heard, as they have been for more than two centuries, by thronging patriots, old and young, upon our glorious Common; and to the latest generation, on the fourth day of every July, in the length and breadth of this great land, the cannon’s sulphurous throat will roll up to heaven, in the ears of exulting millions, the loud anthem of a nation’s liberty.
The day we celebrate brings you to your two hundred and fifteenth anniversary. You have survived six generations, and have ever been a faithful guardian of their lives and interests. You have defended them from the wild savages at home, by training and furnishing men for the sanguinary conflicts with the Narragansetts and Pequots; you have served also, in a similar manner, to rebuke the menace of no less dangerous foes from abroad. A faithful ally of the crown, during the period of colonial subjection, you shrunk from none of the services then imposed; a bold champion of liberty, when heaven’s appointed hour of release came, your well trained and valiant members firmly breasted, as occasions offered, the assaults of the revolution; undisturbed by subsequent strife’s of political parties, the turbulent action of designing demagogues, and the mad dreams of radical reformers, you have moved steadily on, from generation to generation, in the same undeviating path of duty.
O it is good, in these changing times, to see something thus abiding. We call you Ancient and Honorable, and well we may, for you not only have an origin far back in the Honorable Artillery Company of London, but you have lived, on American soil, to witness the rise and fall of states and empires in the Old World. Ancient and Honorable you indeed are; still, with the frosts of more than two hundred New England winters upon you, you have the freshness and vigor of youth; and you promise to enjoy “a green old age” through all coming years, till perfected renovation of humanity.
“Foretold by prophets and by poets sung,”
shall render your official service no longer needful. Until then, MAY YOUR ‘BOW ABIDE IN STRENGTH AND THE ARMS OF YOUR HANDS BE MADE STRONG BY THE HANDS OF THE MIGHTY GOD OF JACOB.’