Sermon – Election – 1783, Massachusetts

 

sermon-election-1783-massachusetts

A

Sermon

Preached Before His Honor

Thomas
Cushing
, Esq;

Lieutenant Governor,

The Honorable the

Council,

And the Two Branches

Of The

General Court

Of The

Commonwealth

Of

Massachusetts

May 28, 1783.

 

Being the Anniversary of

General
Election
.

 

By Henry Cumings, A.M.

Pastor of the Church in Billerica.

 

Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In Senate, May 29, 1783

 

Ordered, That Jeremiah Powell,
Moses Gill, and Ebenezer Bridge, Esquires, be a Committee to wait on the Rev.
Mr. Henry Cumings, and return him the Thanks of this Board for the Sermon
delivered by him, Yesterday before his Honor, the Lieutenant- Governor,
the Council, and the two Branches of the General Court; and to request a Copy
of the same for the Press.

S. Adams, President

I Peter V. 5.

 

Yea, all of you be subject to one another.

 

Without enquiring into the
particular meaning of these words, considered in a sense restrained by their
coherence with what proceeds and follows, I shall take them as an independent
sentence; in which detached view, they comprehend all those duties of civil and
social life, which mankind owe to one another, whatever difference there may be
among them, as to their respective capacities and outward condition in the
world.

As then are formed for society,
and cannot be happy in a state of separation from one another; so their
well- being depends upon mutual assistance and support, and a reciprocal
interchange of those offices of friendship and benevolence, which their mutual
dependence requires, and both reason and religion prescribe.

That all men ought in some sense
to be subject to one another, is the plain doctrine of the apostle Peter, in
the words just read. This doctrine concerns all societies, under every form and
constitution of government, whether monarchal, popular or mixed. It is
especially suited to the genius of a commonwealth, founded upon this leading
principle, that ˙all men are born free and equal;î that is, come into the world
on even ground in regard to authority; no one having a right to govern, in
virtue of primogeniture or descent from an higher and more noble parentage than
others.

The subject therefore is worthy of
the attention of this respectable auditory; and the speaker has no doubt but
they will afford him their candid indulgence, while he modestly attempts to
offer a few thoughts upon it, though he should not be able to handle it, in a
manner answerable to it’s dignity and importance.

According to it’s most common use,
the word subjection signifies the submission of an inferior to a superior, and
applies only to those duties, which men owe to those, who have authority over
them. In order therefore to accommodate the doctrine of mutual subjection, to
all the members of a community, we must sometimes depart from the strict sense
of this word, or vary the meaning of it, so as to make it consist with the
differences between men, in regard to their several abilities; and with those
distinctions of office, rank and authority, which are necessary in society.

It is evident that the duties,
which men owe to one another, and to society, are not, in all cases, precisely
the same; but must be different, according to the difference of their
respective advantages, opportunities and other circumstances. And when any one
fulfils the obligations resulting from his particular condition and station in
life; or that arise from the particular sphere of action, whether high or low,
in which he moves; he does, on his part, conform to the great law of mutual
subjection, and render himself a good and useful member of society.

Every one ought to consider, that
he was born, not for himself alone, but for others, for society, for his
country; and consequently that he is indispensably obliged to render the
best assistance and service in his power, to his fellow- citizens around
him, and to contribute his share towards the general interest of the community
to which he belongs, This obligation is not confined to a few; but extends to
all, from the highest officer in the state, through all subordinate ranks, and
inferior orders and degrees, down to the lowest peasant and plebian. For though
all are not able to render themselves useful and beneficial, in the same
respects; yet there is no one, who enjoys the powers of reason and health, in
any tolerable degree, but may, by a suitable employment of his faculties and
abilities, not only serve himself, but the public, and make himself a blessing,
in some respect or other.

There is a resemblance between the
natural body and the body politic. The natural body is composed of many
members; none of which are useless; but all calculated to answer some valuable
purpose, and sub- serve the good of the whole. What therefore apostle
Paul says of the natural body with a view to illustrate the union, which ought
to subsist between the members of the Christian church, is equally applicable
to civil societies. The body, says he, is not one member, but many. If the foot
shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not
of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of
the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where
were the hearing? If the whole body were hearing, where were the smelling? But
now hath God set the members, every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased
him. The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the
head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the
body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary. God hath so tempered the
body together, that there should be no schism in it; but that the members
should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all
the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice
with it. So that the union and connection between the several parts of the
natural body, and their necessary dependence one on another, is an apt
illustration of the great law of mutual subjection in civil societies; the
members whereof, whether rich or poor, in high life or low, in office or out of
it, stand in need of mutual assistance and support; without which it will be
impossible to promote the common interest, or to preserve the peace and harmony
of the whole.

A man’s being raised above others
in wealth or office, does not render him independent on those who are beneath
him, in these respects. He cannot say, he has no need of those, who are in a
lower condition and meaner circumstances; for, without their aid and service,
he would lose the advantage of his elevation; and, like Samson, shorn of his
locks, become weak like other men.

The mechanic and tiller of the
ground are as necessary in society as the legislator, civil magistrate, or any
other profession. The labors of the poor and services of the lower classes of
people, in their several callings and occupations, are of as great importance
to the general welfare of a state, as the counsel of the wise, the bounty of
the rich, and protection of the powerful. If therefore any one, capable of
attending to the common business of life, is an unprofitable and useless member
of the community, it is not owing to any necessity arising from his outward
condition in the world, but to some faulty cause.

Whoever, suppressing a regard for
the good of others, confines himself to the narrow circle of his own private
interest, does thereby render himself, at best, a nuisance to society. Such an
one can have no just claim to honor and respect, let his station in life be
what it will. It is not the external splendor of their circumstances, but a
constant endeavor to be good, and to do good, according to their abilities,
that makes men truly great and honorable. In the sight of God, who respecteth
not persons, but in judging of men regards only the moral differences between
them, no outward condition is more honorable than another. The true criterion
of real worth is a man’s conduct; in that station or post in life, whether
conspicuous or obscure, which providence has allotted to him.

It is the business of civil
rulers, who are entrusted with the high powers of government, to enact and take
care for the effectual execution of such laws, as shall be best calculated to
restrain the exorbitancy of the human passions, to guard individuals against
insults and outrages, and secure every one in the peaceable enjoyment of
liberty, property, and all the blessings of society. And while they employ
their authority and power in pursuit of these great ends of their promotion, it
is the duty and interest of people at large, to yield a cheerful obedience to
them, and a ready compliance with those rules, regulations and laws, which are
made and provided, for the benefit of each particular member, in harmony with
the prosperity and welfare of the whole collective body.

The grand end of social union and
of the institution of civil government, is the good of the whole, and of every
individual in consistence therewith.
This end may be frustrated, not only by an abuse of powers in rulers; but also
by an abuse of liberty in the people. Power abused ceases to be lawful
authority, and degenerates into tyranny. Liberty abused, or carried to excels,
is licentiousness. Neither of these can consist with the good of society. The
former, unresisted, will introduce slavery, and ignominious servitude, among
the lower ranks and orders of people. The latter is a prolific source of
disorder and anarchy.

When rulers take the advantage of
the powers they are vested with, to oppress their subjects and rob people of
their just rights, in order to enrich and aggrandize themselves, they
counteract the very end of their advancement, and instead of being ministers of
God for good, become rods of his school for correction (not to say, ministers
of the devil for mischief.) And when people, under pretence of liberty, refuse
obedience to lawful authority, and oppose the measures of just government,
merely because such measures do not coincide with their private views and
separate interests, the principles on which they act, are evidently
inconsistent with a state of society, and lead directly back to a state of
nature. For where such an excess of liberty is claimed and allowed, as leaves
it optional with every individual to obey or disobey the civil authority,
according as he shall judge it to be for or against his particular interest, a
state of society cannot differ much from a state of nature.

If every man, without compulsion,
would strictly conform to the obligations of natural law, there would be no
occasion for forming any social connections, or uniting under any forms of
civil government. But such is evidently the state of human nature; such the
disorder of the human passions; such the power of envy, prejudice and a lust of
domination; such the force of evil biases, proceeding from ignorance,
contracted views and competitions of interest; that without the introduction of
social compact and civil authority, mankind could have no dependence upon
mutual help and assistance, nor any security against abuses and injures,
violence and rapine.

It being necessary for men to
unite in society, and establish civil government, in order effectually to avail
themselves of the advantages of mutual succor, defense and protection; without
which, their enjoyments would be few and precarious, and their inconveniences
and dangers great and distressing: this being the case, every one, who has just
conceptions of things (far from claiming a liberty to do whatever his ambition,
avarice or partiality to himself might dictate to be right) must feel himself
obliged to consult the general welfare, by conforming to the laws of society,
constitutionally made by public authority, for the good of the whole; though
such laws should sometimes interfere with his private views, and contradict his
prejudices.

The public good is the attracting
point, the common centre of gravity, which should confine, regulate and govern
the motions of all the members of society. When any fly off from this point and
take an eccentric course, the coercion of law should be used, to check their
irregular motions, and reduce them back to
their proper centre, in order that the economy and beauty of the politic system
may be preserved, and the bands of society remain unbroken.

That a due subordination may be
kept up between the several parts of the politic body; and all the members
thereof be made to conspire, in the exercise of their respective functions, to
the health and happiness of the whole; effectual care should be taken to
prevent government from falling into contempt, To honor those, who are
entrusted with the powers of government, is one thing, evidently necessary for
this end. This therefore is a duty which we owe to society. And that people may
have no excuse for not doing their duty, in this respect, it concerns all civil
officers, especially those in high rank and authority, to maintain their
dignity, by a decent gravity of deportment, an inflexible adherence to the
rules of justice and equity, and a steady application to the business of their
exalted stations. Such
a conduct, in rulers, has a powerful tendency to attract esteem, and command
respect and veneration. But tho’ they should justly merit the highest honors,
by a worthy behavior, and a zealous uniform pursuit of the great ends of
their promotion, it would not be at all strange, to find some few, disposed to
withhold from them due respect and submission. For there always have been, and
probably always will be, some in the world, who under the baneful influence of
those leveling principles, that cannot brook any civil distinctions and
restraints, despise government, and speak evil of dignities. Persons of this
description are dangerous members of society, as their principles and practices
are subversive of all civil authority, and tend directly to plunge civil
government into an universal wrack of ruin.

It deserves to be remembered, that
we honor society, when we honor those, who are clothed with lawful authority.
For as all lawful authority in rulers, is derived from the people, through the
medium of that constitutional compact, which binds them together in one body;
so to treat the rulers of a people, with respect and honor, suitable to their
public characters, and the offices which they sustain, is a proper expression
of that reverence, which individuals owe to the community, as a body. I may
add, that as the respect shewn to those, who are in public stations, rebounds
to the public; so it also tends to make a people appear respectable, and
to give to government the energy, necessary for attaining the ends of it. On
the contrary, to withhold respect from those, who have been constitutionally
promoted to offices of authority and power, is to cast a slight and contempt on
the whole body of the people, and tends to make a society appear mean and
despicable, to relax the reins of government and undermine the very foundations
of it.

It is reasonable indeed for a
people to keep a jealous eye upon those, who are be trusted with power, in the
several departments of government.
This
is necessary to keep them on their guard against all
encroachments on their liberties, and to preserve them in a readiness to resist
the first approaches of despotism. But suspicions may be carried too far. When
upon insufficient grounds, they are indulged to such a degree, as to destroy
all confidence in civil rulers, an encourage the impatience of people under the
restraints of law, they are of dangerous consequence; as they plant the seeds
of faction, a convulsive disease, that threatens the dissolution of the body
politic. When faction enters a state, with its usual train of virulence,
malevolence and abusive invective, it unstrings the nerves of government, and
introduces such disorder and uncertainty into public measures, and such strife
and division among people, as are inconsistent with the public safety, security
and prosperity. This distemper is generally the
offspring of envy and disappointed ambition. Avarice always stands ready to
foster and nurse, to increase and inflame it, by groundless criminations of men
and measures; especially when the public exigencies require heavy taxes, and
expensive exertions.

The inconveniences and mischiefs,
that must accrue to society, from this, and every other gross violation of the
law of mutual subjection, are sufficient to convince any one of the necessity
of a strict adherence to it. Our obligation to avoid divisive principles and
practices, and by a constant intercourse of mutual good offices, to endeavor to
make ourselves beneficial to one another, and serviceable to society, is
therefore a plain dictate of reason and common sense. I would add (if any
desire further satisfaction) that this obligation is enforced upon us, in the
sacred scriptures, by the authority of the supreme Legislature and Governor of
the world. The words at the head of this discourse are the words of an apostle,
under the inspiration of God. Another inspired apostle expresses himself to the
same purpose, in these words, Let no man seek his own; but every man another’s
wealth.- Look not every man on his own things; but every man also on the
things of others. The meaning of which is, that men ought not to confine their
views to their own private interest, but to extend their regards to the welfare
of others, and exercise a benevolent concern and care for the good of their
fellow creatures.

This also is a doctrine expressly
taught by the great author of our holy religion, when he commands us to love
our neighbor as ourselves; and enjoins upon us that comprehensive rule of
equity and charity, All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you,
do ye even so to them.

It may not be improper to observe
here, that the Christian religion recommends itself to the embraces of every
lover of mankind, by its being the most benevolent institution in the world,
admirably calculated, by it’s doctrines, precepts and sanctions, to promote
peace on earth, and good will among men. And whoever duly considers the nature
of Christianity, and attends to it’s adaptedness to suppress the corrupt lusts,
and restrain the irregular passions of men; to fill the mind with noble
sentiments of piety and benevolence, and engage people in pursuits, suitable to
the dignity, and conducive to the happiness of their reasonable natures; cannot
doubt, but (other things being alike) he, who has imbibed the spirit and
principles of this religion, will make a better magistrate, a better
legislator, a better judge, and in short, fill every office and department in
government, with more honor to himself and advantage to the public; and in
private life, make a better subject and a better citizen; than one who has
formed his views and sentiments, upon any other system of religion and morals.

It has indeed been objected, as an
essential defect in Christianity, by some not well affected to it, that it
no where particularly recommends the noble virtue of patriotism. But (not to
insist on any thing else) it is sufficient to reply to this objection, that
whatever there is excellent and laudable in patriotism, is included in that
generous and diffusive benevolence, which is the animating soul of this
religion. Virtuous patriotism, far from implying any ill- will to the
rest of mankind; is nothing else, but the principle of universal benevolence,
exercised as far as a man’s power extends, upon the objects that claim his first
regards. Far as no one has ability to carry his good will to all men into
effect; so reason will teach every one, that his first obligation is to those,
with whom he is more immediately connected, and where providence has assigned
him his station and sphere of usefulness. Should a man suppress a particular
affection for the society, with which he is most closely united, and neglect
the interest of his own country under pretence of exercising equal benevolence
towards all mankind; it would be the same thing, in effect as to resolve to be
useless, and neglect the good of all. For there is no other way, in which any
one can render himself serviceable to those parts of the great community of
mankind, with which he has no special connection, than by the exercise of an
hearty zeal for the welfare of his own country, and endeavoring, in the most
effectual manner, to promote the good of that society, which bounds the sphere
of his influence and power. In this sense, and in this way, all men, in all the
distinct states and kingdoms of the world, may and ought to be subject to one
another. It is thus only that we can fulfill our obligations to all mankind.

True it is, patriotism is but a
blind affection, and essentially defective as to any virtuous excellence,
if it prompts a man to defend the cause of his country, when his country forms
itself into a faction against the rights of mankind, and is wickedly
endeavoring to bring other states and nations under it’s arbitrary jurisdiction
and government. No one, who will consult the sober dictates of reason, can
suppose himself obliged to espouse such an unrighteous cause, or freely to
afford any support to his country, in the prosecution of such an evil design.
The principle of benevolence to all, clearly forbids this. But the same
principle obliges the members of every community, to a zealous exertion, in
defense of their rights, laws and liberties, when the same are endangered by
the unrighteous claims, and violent proceedings of ambitious enemies. In such a
case, defensive war is a duty, founded not barely on the principles of self-
preservation and patriotism, but also on the principle of unconfined
universal benevolence; it being evidently for the interest of all mankind, that
in all parts of the world, those should be opposed, to the last extremity, ¨who
are endeavoring to advance themselves upon the ruins of the essential rights of
human nature.

The man, who makes the happiness
and prosperity of his country, a grand object of his zealous pursuit, and
generously risks his life and fortune, when the case requires it, in the
defense of it’s constitution and laws, is a character worthy of universal
esteem and honor. Such an one, so far as his abilities extend, exercises
friendship to all men. What then shall we say of those who, when the rights and
liberties of their country, are in danger of falling a prey to the aspiring
ambition of proud invaders, who have waged an unjust war against it, stand
aloof, and not only refuse to assist in saving it from ruin, but desert it, and,
of free choice, join the standard of the enemy? Can such persons make good
their pretensions, 1 will not say to patriotism, but to general benevolence?
Whatever be their motives, are they not to be viewed as enemies, if
actions have any meaning? And should their country, which they have thus
neglected, and abandoned to its fate in a time of trouble and danger, be
successful in its endeavors to maintain its cause, and defeat the designs of
its enemies, must not their admission afterwards to the freedom and privileges
of it, be an act of mere favor and special grace, to which they can lay no
equitable claim?

Christianity indeed obliges us to
love and forgive our enemies, and do good to those who treat us ill. But this
obligation does not extend so far, as to exclude a regard to our own safety and
defense. It would be unreasonable to suppose, that our good- will to
enemies, ought to supercede our obligations to ourselves and to our
country; or that we are required to consult their welfare, by methods that would
encourage and promote their evil designs, and put us into such a situation, as
to lie at their mercy. It is allowed by all, that a vindictive temper is
inconsistent with the spirit and precepts of Christianity. Whoever does any
thing merely for the sake of revenge, or in order to gratify his malevolent
resentments, transgresses the Christian law of benevolence. But a man may
take such measures for his own security and defense, as shall operate to the
disadvantage of his enemies, and at the same time preserve a Christian temper.
If by the conduct of enemies, we are unhappily reduced to this
alternative, either to take such measures, as will involve them in trouble and distress; or to suppress
our love to ourselves, to our friends, and to society; common sense will teach
us on which side our obligation lies. In cases of competition, even private
friendship ought to yield to the public good; much more ought benevolence to an
enemy to give way to the good of our country; and to remain suspended, as to
outward exercises, when the case is so circumstanced, that it cannot
be thus exerted, without counteracting the interest of the community to
which we belong. A regard to the public ought to swallow up event partial
affection, inconsistent with the general interest.

It is to the honor of America,
that from the time we were first threatened with British tyranny, to the
commencement of the late war; and from the commencement of the war, thro’ all
the stages and vicissitudes of it, to it’s happy conclusion; she has produced
an illustrious band of worthy patriots, who, unactuated by any unfriendly
dispositions towards the rest of mankind, have, with unshaken firmness and
fortitude, defended her cause, in the cabinet and in the field, by the pen and by the sword, against the arbitrary claims
and hostile violence of her unnatural and cruel enemies. Inspired with the love
of liberty, moved by the generous impulse of patriotic virtue, how many,
quitting the calm enjoyments of domestic ease and tranquility, have
magnanimously encountered and braved all the fatigues and dangers of war, and
voluntarily sacrificed their lives for the support of the cities of our God, in
the unabridged enjoyment of their religion and liberties! Time would fail me to
give a catalogue of those worthies, who, unintimidated by the vaunting menaces
and fulminating proclamations of British Rabshakehs, have nobly dared to
espouse the cause of American liberty, and distinguished themselves by their
heroic exertions; not counting their lives dear, that they might save their
country. Their names are written on our hearts, as with a pen of iron, and
point of a diamond; and will be consecrated to honorable remembrance, in the
annals of America, till time shall be no more: while the name of every envious,
sneering scoffer, calumniator, and wicked conspirator, is either lost in
oblivion, or doomed to perpetual infamy.

Some, it may be, whose frozen
breasts have never yet been warmed with the generous flame of patriotic
fire, in order to detract from the merit of the zealous assertors and defenders
of the liberties of their country, will pretend there is no such thing as
public virtue. But
if there are any such contracted souls, who, without a blush, profess to have
no social affections, of force enough to give them the least motion out of the
narrow sphere of self, it may be best not to dispute feelings with them; but to
allow them all that sordid selfishness which they claim, and not affront them
by contradiction. But let us not sacrifice our own generous feelings, to
their system. They have no more right to impose their feelings upon us, than we
have to impose ours upon them.

It must give pleasure to every
true friend of human kind, to consider, that the late grand revolution, which
has raised so great a part of America into a state of independence, was
undertaken, and, by the assistance of divine providence, has been brought
about; not from ambitious views, or a fondness for dominion; but upon principles
friendly to the rights and liberties of every nation, upon the face of the
whole earth. Unprompted by ambition to enlarge her territories by unjust
conquests, or to compel any other states or kingdoms to submit to her usurped
authority and government, America has contended only for the common rights of
men. Her grand aim, her ultimate object in all her struggles and exertions, has
been, not to prepare a yoke of bondage for the necks of others; but to free
herself and posterity from the tyranny of lawless arbitrary power (that
source of plagues to the weak and defenseless part of mankind) and to secure
those blessings, without which, the great ends of society, must be lost. With
the most perfect cordiality, we have wished, and still wish, to cultivate friendship
with all nations, on such a footing, as shall be to mutual advantage, and
conduce to the general good of the whole world. In regard even to Britain,
persuaded I am, that the inhabitants of these states (with very few exceptions)
might safely appeal to the great Searcher of hearts, as a witness to their sincerity,
should they declare, that though she has treated them in the most barbarous and
provoking manner, and forced them in their own defense, to fly to arms, and
engage in a long and bloody war; yet they never wished to see her deprived of
freedom, or reduced to inglorious subjection to any power on earth. Though she
has cut the knot of kindred- love, and effectually destroyed that
predilection, which produced a special attachment to her, in preference to
others, yet we are not so implacable and unforgiving, but that we can heartily
wish her prosperity and happiness, its common with other nations.

The independence of these American
states, being founded on such a broad basis of generous philanthropy, we have
reason to hope they will still be the special care and charge of the gracious
Parent of the universe, whose tender mercies are over all his works; and that,
under his almighty patronage, they will become a permanent flourishing empire,
supported by the principles of virtue, religion and liberty without
licentiousness.

Let me, on this occasion, with all
the sensibility of lively joy, express my hearty congratulations, on the happy
cessation of hostilities, after a most distressing, expensive and bloody war.
Hail, auspicious, happy day, that has put a stop to the effusion of human blood
and the horrors of war, and sheathed the devouring sword; that has crowned our
virtuous efforts with glorious success, giving us established independence with
the returning blessings of peace, and filling our mouths with songs of triumph!
Men, brethren and fathers, I felicitate you, I felicitate my country, on this
great, this glorious event; an event, which cannot but cause every patriotic
heart to expand with joy, at the prospect of the bright scenes which it opens
to view, after a long and gloomy night of sorrow and trouble.

What acknowledgments do we owe to
the supreme Governor of the world; who was pleased to hear our cries, in the
days of our distress, and
to give us persevering courage and fortitude in those trying times, when our
affairs wore the gloomiest aspect; when we were involved in awful scenes of
havoc, blood and carnage, and surrounded with the depredations and shocking
ravages of a war, carried on against us with savage wantonness; who was pleased
to defend us, by his mighty power, when we were weak, unprepared and unequal to
the conflict, and to enable us to make such a noble stand, and to gain such
signal victories, while we were without ally, as gave us respectability abroad,
and induced one of the first European powers, heartily to espouse our cause,
and assist us by a generous and friendly alliance: who hath been our shield and
protection, from the first rise of the war, through all the hazardous progress
of it, and hath led forth our armies, under the conduct of a wise, brave and
intrepid general expert in war, of singular equanimity in success and
disappointment, endued with a soul formed for noble achievements, whom he was
pleased to raise up and qualify for the important command which has been
committed to him, and to honor as a distinguished instrument of the
emancipation of his country? These are the Lord’s doings, and they are
marvelous in our eyes.

When we look back on the
difficulties and hazards in which we have been involved; when we consider what
engines of mischief and destruction have been employed to work our ruin;
when we reflect on the perils and dangers we were in, not only from the policy
and power, the stratagems and violence of open and professed enemies, but from
the insidious arts, treacheries and conspiracies of false and deceitful men
among ourselves; who, under the disguise of friendship or mask of neutrality,
have constantly endeavored to dishearten and discourage us, to obstruct our
measures, retard our operations and disappoint our enterprises, and,
at the same time, secretly to aid the cause of those, who had unjustly
compelled us, to make our appeal to Heaven, as our last resort: When we
consider these things, what reason have we to adore, the merciful providence of
almighty God, who, by many signal interpositions in our favor, ,has finally
baffled and defeated the mischievous machinations of all our enemies, both
secret and open; disconcerted the plans of those who unrighteously rose up
against us, and obliged them (notwithstanding all their pride of power,
and vain confidence of reducing us to unconditional submission) to yield
the grand point contended for, by negotiating a peace with us, upon the footing
of equality and independence! With the greatest pertinency may we now adopt the
language of the royal psalmist, and say, If it had not been the Lord, who was
on our side, when men rose up against us; then they had swallowed us up quick,
when their wrath was kindled against us; then the waters had overwhelmed us,
the stream had gone over our soul; then the proud waters had gone over our
soul. Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us, as a prey to their teeth. Our
soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken,
and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and
earth.

If we have wisdom to make a good
improvement of this happy event, what blessings and felicities, that this world
is capable of affording, may we not secure to ourselves and to our posterity?
When we look forward, what glorious prospects open to view! How pleasant must
it be to every sincere lover of his country, to entertain his fancy with future
scenes, and behold, through the medium of probable conjecture, the future
glory, grandeur and magnificence of America! To behold her raised superior to
all her enemies; extending her friendly arms for the support and protection of
other states and nations against the attacks of restless encroaching ambition;
and (while none dare to distrust or affront her) offering a refuge and asylum,
in her bosom, to the injured and oppressed of the human race in all quarters of
the globe! To behold wealth and opulence flowing in upon her, in continual
streams, from the inexhaustible sources of agriculture, and a free trade and
commerce with all nations! To behold her spreading, by a rapid population, over
those vast tracts of uncultivated land, which are now the haunts of wild
beasts, and see the wilderness, by the hand of industry, changed into a
fruitful field, blossoming as the rose, and yielding, in plentiful exuberance,
every rural comfort and delight! To behold her exalted to noble heights of
improvement, in every useful art and science; mounting on the strong pinions of
virtue, learning, eloquence, religion, philosophy, and other sublime
intellectual accomplishments, above Greece and Rome, in their zenith of glory!

These are agreeable prospects; but
whether America shall ever realize them, depends much upon the wisdom and
virtue of the present generation. Every patriot, from the highest to the lowest
order, has now an extensive field opened before him, for the display of his
utmost abilities, in providing for the future peace and prosperity of his
county. The consequences of our conduct this opportunity, will affect, not
ourselves only, but unborn millions.

Every consideration proper to
influence the human mind, obliges us to exert ourselves, to make sure of the
blessings, which are now offered by the propitious hand of providence, and to
transmit the same to succeeding generations. Should we neglect the means
necessary for these purposes, the bright day, which now beams upon us, may soon
be overcast with clouds; and our songs of triumph end in new scenes of sorrow and
trouble.

The British troops are not yet
removed. Their withdrawment, as soon as conveniency will permit, is necessary
to give us full assurance that the reconciliation on the part of Britain is
sincere. Suspicion therefore should not sleep, until they are withdrawn.
Prudence, wisdom, reason, require vigilance caution, and oblige us to be on our
guard.

Though the land now rests from
war; and we daily expect to hear that the definitive treaty of peace is
completely ratified, yet it would be exceedingly unsafe for people to lay by
their arms, and neglect all military matters. Our country affords so many
tempting objects to excite the ambition of other nations (especially of those,
who can have easy access, by reason of a proximity of territory) that we can have
no security of a lasting peace, or of enjoying long the blessings of freedom,
if we should totally withdraw our attention from the arts of war, and be
unprovided with the means of defense. Standing armies in a time of peace are
indeed dangerous to liberty; but a well furnished and well disciplined militia
is of great importance to a state, being necessary either to prevent a war, or
to put people into a capacity to defend themselves against any invasion or
attack from their enemies. The public welfare requires that our militia be kept
on such a respectable footing, as shall render us secure at home, and
formidable abroad. But leaving it to the wisdom of our rulers to determine what
is best in reference to this matter, let me observe, that

The inhabitants of these states
are under the most sacred obligations, not only to consult the happiness of the
states, to which they respectively belong, by discountenancing all disorders,
suppressing those vices, that are inconsistent with the interest of society,
and giving encouragement and support to every virtue, upon which the peace,
prosperity and stability of each state, separately considered, depend; but by
endeavoring to strengthen those bands of union, which have connected the whole
together, as one independent nation. By solemn confederacy and compact every
one is bound, to keep the good of all the sates in view, while he aims to
promote the good of the particular state with which he is more immediately
connected. In order to preserve the union between the states, and establish it
upon a permanent basis, whatever is inconsistent with the principles, which,
upon the maturest deliberation, have been adopted, as the grand cement of it,
must be carefully avoided; and a proper attention be paid to the interest and welfare
of the whole. The separate good of the several states, is to be pursued only by
such measures, as shall harmonize with the good of all in the confederacy.

Nothing did more encourage Britain
to undertake and protract the late war, than a presumption, that it would be
impossible for states, so distant from one
another; so different, in many respects, in their education and manners; and
between which, from situation and other circumstances, there would often be an
interference and competition of interest; to unite, or remain long united in
one common cause. By mortifying experience she is now convinced of her mistake;
having seen the union gather strength and confirmation, under the overruling
hand of providence, from the very measures which she took, in hopes to break
and destroy it. Chagrined at this disappointment of our enemies, it is possible
there may be some among us, who having always been disaffected to our cause,
and all along endeavored to alarm people’s minds with presages of divisions and
dissensions between the states, may still wish and hope to promote such an
event, lest their reputation for foresight should suffer; as Jonah wished for
the destruction of Nineveh, lest his prophetic abilities should be called in question.
But should any be so inimical as to attempt any thing of this sort, by sowing
discord; fomenting animosities; endeavoring to propagate unreasonable
jealousies and suspicions, or to nourish and strengthen local prejudices; it is
hoped there is wisdom, virtue and resolution enough among the friends of the
country, to defeat their evil designs, and (maugre the utmost efforts of every
incendiary and mischief- maker) to preserve the union unbroken, and the
confederacy uninterrupted and entire.

It is evidently of the greatest
importance to these states, both conjunctly and separately considered, to keep
the public faith, sacred and inviolate. This is a main pillar in the politic
fabric; without which the building must soon fall. This is necessary to gain us
honor and confidence among other nations, and to preserve peace and union
among ourselves. Every one therefore is obliged to contribute his share towards
fulfilling the engagements and promises, made by lawful authority, in behalf of
all the states, or of the particular state to which he belongs; that all,
whether countrymen or foreigners, who have afforded or shall afford any
assistance or service to the public, may receive justly expected rewards; and
none have reason to complain that they have been deceived and injured, by
depending on public faith. Should any be disposed to violate their obligations,
in this respect, the civil magistrate has undoubted authority, and ought to
compel them to their duty; for if every one might be left at liberty, to do what is right in
his own eyes, public credit would stand upon a precarious foundation, and be
continually liable to be sacrificed to the humor, caprice and avarice of
individuals.

Though a public credit has been in
a declining state, yet we are glad there is an hopeful prospect of its
recovery. What particular methods are best for placing it on a firm and durable
basis, I have not the vanity to think myself capable of determining. But it is
conceived, no method can be adopted for this purpose, but what will require
the aid of taxes, in some mode or other; and consequently give umbrage to those
(if any such there are) who never can be satisfied, unless they can enjoy the
blessings of good government without cost. But he, who has just conceptions of
things, cannot sure expect to enjoy the blessings of society, or suppose it
possible to support the honor and credit of government, and attain the ends of
it, without considerable expense, even in the most peaceable times; much less,
in times of danger, difficulty and general calamity.

It cannot be thought strange, that
a distressing war, of eight years continuance, has involved us in a great debt.
But considering the magnitude of the object, which we have had in pursuit, and
the great exertions which we have been obliged to make an order to attain it,
our debt is not so great, as might have been expected. Those nations, which are
now groaning under the iron yoke of oppression, and despotic government, would
think themselves happy, if they could purchase the invaluable blessings of
liberty, at so cheap a rate. There is yet another consideration, which alone is
sufficient to silence all complaints, on this head. It is this, that if we had
been reunited to Britain, and in addition to other expenses, had had a proportional
share of her enormous debt laid upon us, it would have hung like a millstone
about our necks, and plunged us into inevitable bankruptcy, from which we never
could have recovered ourselves. Our present burden, tho’ somewhat pressing, is
comparatively light. Let prodigality, luxury, and other impoverishing vices be
banished from among us; and let frugality, economy and industry supply their
place; and then considering our means and resources, it will not be so
difficult to discharge our debt, in the course of a few years, as some may
imagine. And while the legislature, in levying taxes, for this and other
important purposes, take all possible care to make the burden as light as the
public exigencies will permit, and to adjust each man’s share of the public
expense to his interest and circumstances, every one, instead of indulging a
murmuring temper, should cheerfully endeavor to defray his part, rejoicing that
such wise provision is made for judgment to run down as waters, and
righteousness as a mighty stream.

Convinced of the necessity of a
strict regard to justice, for preserving the credit of government, and
mutual confidence between the members of a community, every true friend to
society will wish and endeavor to promote it, in all orders of men, from the
highest to the lowest. It is an observation of a king, as much celebrated for
his wisdom as magnificence, and may be laid down as a maxim, confirmed by the
experience of all ages, that righteousness exalteth a nation. According to the
natural course of things, and common order of providence, that society has
the fairest prospect of prosperity, and lasting felicity, where government,
first founded in equity, is administered according to the rules of impartial
justice; and where truth, honesty and fidelity are encouraged, maintained and
promoted between man and man, in their private intercourse and transactions. In
this case, peace and harmony will prevail among the members of a society; who
will consequently be in a suitable disposition to serve one another, and
to unite in such measures, as the general interest shall, at any time, require.
But, when the opposite vices predominate; when faith and truth, uprightness and
integrity take their flight; when justice is made a matter of traffic, and is
bought and sold for money; when deceit, falsehood, unrighteousness and
oppression bear sway without control; then disorder and confusion, schism,
tumult and misery, may be expected as a natural consequence and effect.

Though unrighteousness, may
sometimes answer a present purpose; yet follow it a little way, in it’s
consequences, and it will be found to be the parent of difficulty and trouble,
of embarrassment and perplexity. There can be no danger or hazard in adhering
to the rules of justice; but what is morally wrong can never be good policy, in
reference either to public or private affairs.

There is nothing more manifest,
than that the interest of a people is greatly affected, by the virtues and
vices prevalent among them. From hence the inference is obvious, that the
morals of a people are among the great objects, which claim the particular
attention of the legislature and civil authority. It evidently falls within
their province, to provide means, by law, for the suppression of vice and
wickedness, and the promotion of good morals. In order effectually to answer
these ends, care should be taken for diffusion of learning and religion through
a society; that people may entertain just conceptions of the dignity and rights
of human nature, and be early initiated in the principles of a sober,
honest and pious life. The general prevalence of ignorance and irreligion must
be productive of very mischievous effects in society. For ignorant minds,
unimpressed with a sense of a Deity, of a providence and a future state, must
be unprincipled, and prepared, whenever occasions offer, for the most atrocious
crimes. I would just add, that an ignorant people, are continually liable to be
imposed upon, and seduced into a surrender of their liberties, by the
specious arts, eloquence and address of deigning men, whose, enterprising
ambition will not fail to lay hold on such an advantage, for the acquisition of
power.

Sensible of how great importance
it is to the happiness of a people, to be early instructed in the principles of
piety and virtue, and furnished with good degrees of knowledge, respecting the
things of this world and that to come, our worthy ancestors were induced to
take effectual care for the encouragement and support of the liberal arts
and sciences; for the preservation of a reverential sense of a Deity on
people’s minds; for the instruction of all in religion and good literature.
Great and invaluable are the blessings, that have been derived to us, their
posterity, from their pious care, in these respects; a consideration whereof
should provoke us to imitation; that as we have reason to honor their memory,
for the excellent provision they made for our happiness and welfare, so
our descendents may have equal reason to rise up and call us blessed.

Our new constitution, while it has
provided every guard, which human wisdom can invent, to defend our
liberties, civil and religious, against every encroachment of arbitrary power,
has authorized our civil rulers to take care of the morals of people, by
furnishing then with the means of instruction in virtue, piety and every
branch of useful knowledge. They will therefore consider themselves as obliged
to adopt suitable measures for the encouragement of literature, the
advancement of the sciences, and the preservation of a sense of religion among
all orders of men.

To say nothing of other literary
institutions, which claim the patronage of our political fathers, and of all
the friends of science; let me observe, that the laws providing for the
establishment of schools, in our several towns and plantations, are wisely
calculated to promote the great ends of society, by affording to all, the
necessary means of education and instruction in the most important, useful and
profitable branches of learning. But of what service or significance are
the best laws, while they lie dormant, and may be transgressed with impunity?
A law unexecuted is without life; and can answer no end, but to bring civil
authority into disrepute.

As to laws obliging people to
assemble for public worship, and provide themselves with public teachers of
religion; such laws are evidently well adapted to promote the good order of
civil government, and advance the happiness of a people, by enforcing the use
of proper means for impressing men’s minds with an awe of the supreme Governor
of the world, and engaging them from a sense of their accountableness to him,
to fulfill all moral obligation, and live in the practice of the virtues of a
good life. And it is conceived that such laws can be no reasonable ground of
complaint, so long as the sacred rights of conscience are sufficiently guarded
and secured, by leaving people at liberty to choose their own teachers, and
modes of worship; and while none are subjected to fines, forfeitures or any
disadvantages of a civil nature, for their particular religious sentiments and
profession, if they be peaceable members of society, and do not propagate
any doctrines, inconsistent with the safety of the state.

To carry the idea of religious
liberty so far, as to make it an effectual hindrance to the providing and using
necessary means, for the preservation of a sense of religion and moral
obligation among the members of a community, is to oppose it to the interests
of human society, and to rob civil government of one of it’s main supports. For
this most powerful enforcements of obedience to civil authority, are derived a
consideration and belief, that there is a supreme invisible Power, presiding
over the world, to whom all men are accountable, and who will reward, or
punish every man, in a future state, according to his works. Obedience that
proceeds wholly from fear of punishment from men, is precarious and uncertain;
and will be withdrawn, upon the slightest temptations of pleasure or profit,
whenever a person believes,
that he can escape with impunity. Religion therefore forms a more steady and
permanent principle of obedience to civil government, than any penal
sanctions, of a temporary nature by which the laws of men can be enforced.

It would evidently conduce greatly
to the happiness and tranquility of society, and facilitate the administration
of government and public justice, could people, in general, be persuaded to
submit to the authority of the community, vested in it’s rulers, and to obey
the laws, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake. It is not conceivable
how any society should enjoy this advantage, where the public worship of God is
neglected, and no proper means made use of, for the instruction of people in
piety, religion and morality.

The design of the institution of
civil government being the good of the people, they who are entrusted with the
management of it, should make this the grand object of their attention and
pursuit, and in the exercise of their constitutional powers, use all means and
methods, that are of manifest importance and necessity to answer this end. This
will make them a terror to evil doers; and an encouragement to them who do
well. This will not only command a general reverence; but ensure to them the
particular esteem, assistance and support of every true friend to the
commonwealth; and cause the censures and calumnies of the envious, malicious
and factious, to recoil on their own heads. This will make them public
blessings and benefactors; and give them those sincere delights and supporting
consolations, which arise from reflections on such good and useful actions, as
have greatly contributed to the general interest and prosperity, and advanced
the happiness of society.

It might be thought an inexcusable
omission, should I close this discourse, without paying a particular honorable
attention to the worthy gentlemen, who have lately been vested with
the sovereign powers of this commonwealth. Their promotion to such high
stations of authority, by the suffrages of a free people, gives them
respectability, and entitles them to our confidence.

It affords us singular pleasure,
that the highest seat in government, is filled, the fourth time, with a
generous, uniform, persevering and resolute patriot; who has acquitted
himself with integrity and honor, in the several important departments, in
which he has been employed, since the beginning of our late contests. Nor shall
we forget, that for the early decided and distinguishing part, which he took,
in the cause of his country, he had the honor to be marked out, in conjunction
with an eminent compatriot, for the first victim of British vengeance. Our
satisfaction on account of his being again chosen first magistrate of this
commonwealth, would be without allay, on this occasion, was he not prevented,
by sickness, from honoring the solemnities of the day with his presence.

We are happy to find, that the
second rank in government, by the voice of the people, is again conferred on a
gentleman, who, by an unwearied inflexible attachment to the cause of America,
through all the hazardous scenes of the late war, from first to last, has given
full proof of his patriotism, and justly merited public respect and honor.

We rejoice that so many other
worthy characters, that have approved themselves fast friends to their country,
in the most perilous times, are instructed with a share in the administration
of government, and the important powers of legislation.

The testimony, which his
Excellency; his Honor, the lieutenant- governor; and the honorable
gentlemen, that compose the two branches of the general court, have received;
and which the council, still to be chosen, will receive, of the esteem and
confidence of the people, by their election to such high offices; must be an
encouragement and animating motive to them, to improve the advantages
resulting from their exalted stations, for the good of the public, the end of
their advancement. We know that their business must be particularly difficult
and arduous, at such a day as this. Until the body politic shall be cured of
those distempers and disorders, which have been introduced by the convulsions
of war, it will
require great strength and fortitude of mind, to hold the reins, and sustain
the burden of government. Great skill and wisdom, great firmness and resolution
tempered with prudence, are necessary, at the present crisis, to retrieve
public credit; to do equal justice to all; to quiet the agitations of people’s
minds; to put the affairs of the public into a proper train and arrangement; to
repair the disorders of the political machine, and adjust the wheels and
springs of it, in such a manner, that
every part may answer its end, and contribute to the beauty, order and
usefulness of the whole. We therefore most heartily commend our civil fathers
to the blessing of that God, who giveth wisdom to the wise, and understanding
to the prudent. May the legislature, and all in authority, from the first
magistrate to the lowest officer, be endued with wisdom and armed with prowess,
suitable to their stations, and be public blessings.

And let all people, of every class
and denomination, seriously consider, how much it behooves them to submit to
those, who are in authority over them, and to conform to the constitution and
laws of the commonwealth, in order effectually to secure the blessings of civil
government. While civil rulers are to be cautioned against an abuse of
authority, and exhorted to employ their powers for the good of the public;
people are to be put in mind to honor and obey magistrates; to be subject unto
the higher powers, and to submit themselves to every ordinance of man, for the
Lord’s sake.

When people give way to a
refractory temper; set themselves up in opposition to government; and by
continual groundless invectives, endeavor to bring an odium upon their rulers,
and upon all public measures; they take a direct method to over- throw
all civil authority, and to disband and abolish society. Let people be vigilant
and guarded against the encroachments of arbitrary power; but let them, at the
same time, take heed, that they deprive not themselves of the blessings of good
government, and plunge themselves into all the disorders and mischiefs of
anarchy, in order to secure themselves against tyranny. This would be as
preposterous, as for a mariner to suffer voluntary shipwreck upon the rocks of
Scilly, in order to avoid the dangers of Charybdis. No wise man will run into
one extreme, in order to avoid its opposite, while he can steer safely, in a
middle course, between both.

Sensible of the importance of good
government, the true friends of society will cheerfully submit to lawful
authority, and endeavor to encourage and support those, who are in public
stations, in the execution of their high offices, for the public good. And
while they do thus, they will cultivate in themselves and others, those
benevolent dispositions, and those principles of integrity, honesty and
justice, which are necessary to preserve peace and amity, good humor, order and
mutual confidence among neighbors, and to lay a foundation for those private
friendships, which afford some of the most refined social pleasures and
delights.

And let it be remembered, that by
the virtues of a good life, added to their religious devotions and acts of
homage and worship, the people put themselves under the protection and
patronage, and secure the friendship of that almighty Being, whose providence
governs the world; whose voice all nature obeys; to whose control all second
causes and subordinate agents are subject; and whose sole prerogative it is to
dispense blessings or calamities, as to his wisdom seems best. A people under
the smiles of Heaven must be prosperous and happy. If God be for us, who can be
against us?

What happiness might we enjoy, as
a people, and as individuals, if every one would, reform his vices; cultivate a
meek, peaceable and benevolent spirit; and use his best endeavors to promote
the good of others, as well as his own? What blessings might we procure to
ourselves and to the community, if with one heart and one soul, we would apply
ourselves to the duties, that we owe to one another, as brethren and fellow
citizens, and make it our business to fulfill all moral, social and civil
obligations? By thus doing, at the same time that we should brighten our
prospects into the future world, and, through the merits of our most merciful
Redeemer, provide for immortal blessedness in another state of existence, we
might also secure to ourselves all the blessings of society on earth, and
change this world into a sort of paradise.

We have therefore every inducement
suitable to work upon us as rational creatures, to engage us to conform to the
rules of virtue, and comply with the great and comprehensive law of subjection
to one another. Let us lay our minds open to the sacred influence of such mighty
motives, that we may be happy in our connections, both public and private, in
this world; and in the world to come, be admitted to the society of those
blessed beings, who, knit together by the indissoluble ties of the most sincere
and ardent love, have happy and uninterrupted experience of the most pure,
perfect and sublime pleasures of friendship, for ever and ever.

May the benevolent Parent and
supreme Ruler of the universe bestow his benediction on us; unite our hearts in
love to one another, and in the love of virtue; and dispose us to keep all his
commandments always; that, the scenes of our troubles closed, we may see good
days; rejoice in the happy effects of his favor to us, and in the promising
prospects of the blessedness and prosperity of our descendents, to the latest
generation.

AMEN

 

 

By | 2017-03-23T16:28:54+00:00 December 27th, 2016|Categories: Historical Sermons|0 Comments