William Symmes (1731-1807) graduated from Harvard in 1750. He was pastor in the North Parish in Andover (1758-1807). The following sermon was preached on May 25, 1785 in Massachusetts.
THOMAS CUSHING, Esq;
The Honorable the
TWO BRANCHES OF THE
MAY 25, 1785:
Being the ANNIVERSARY of
By WILLIAM SYMMES, A. M.
PASTOR OF THE FIRST CHURCH IN ANDOVER.
I. CHRONICLES, XXVIII. 8
Now therefore, in the sight of all Israel, the congregation of the Lord, and in the audience of our God, keep and seek for all the commandments of the Lord your God; that ye may possess this good land, and leave it for an inheritance for your children after you forever.
It has generally been observed by historians of the best hearts and information, that the rise and growth, the decay and fall of States and Empires, have corresponded in a great measure to their virtues and vices. These have been deservedly considered as the great hinges on which the fates of nations turn. If in every instance their advancement to splendor and power is not to be ascribed to the influence of moral principles, degeneracy and dissolution of manners have never failed to pull down their banks, and lay them open to such an inundation of miseries, as have at last overwhelmed them in ruin.
To prevent so sad a catastrophe, and ensure their civil happiness, the Ruler of nations and Father of men, required his ancient favorite people to employ themselves in that holy service, to which they were bound by his laws, and their own consent.
Their kings were expressly required to write a copy of the law, which was to form their private character, and be the rule of their administration. Nor was there any other test whereby abuses in government could be rectified, or the faith of the church and worship of God restored to their primitive purity.
Accordingly David, who was by divine commission a ruler and a prophet, and by principle a devout patriot, having subdued the enemies of the State, and established the regular course of justice, near the close of his life prescribes, in the passage before us, the only means whereby a professing people can secure the continued favour of Heaven, and consequently their own and their children’s freedom and happiness.
Invested with the supreme authority in the State, he assembled the princes and heads of the twelve tribes at Jerusalem. Constrained by the social affections of a good and great mind, and ardently wishing the prosperity of the people committed to his care, he in the most solemn manner impresses the charges of God upon them.
“All Israel, the congregation of the Lord,” are supposed to be present by their representatives, in whom they had reposed an honorable trust. A faithful discharge of the proper duty of their station obliged them to deny themselves for the general good, and use their utmost efforts to promote the interest and increase the happiness of their brethren.
A stranger to the insolence of little minds in an elevated station, the Jewish monarch addresses the assembly of the elders in the soft endearing stile of brethren; gives them a sketch of his own history, and points out his successor by name, who should perform that pious service which he himself had designed, and would gladly have executed, had he not been denied that honor.
Solicitous to support the distinguishing character given him by the unerring Judge of real worth, he reminds the “assembly of the mighty” of the peculiar presence of the Deity; gives him the attractive title of the “Lord our God,” which imports parental affection, and covenant privileges: And then fixes their attention to the main point, endeavouring to persuade them to “keep and seek for all the commandments of the Lord their God.”
Their punctual obedience is required for their own sake, but principally as a fit and probable means of diffusing a similar spirit of piety and virtue among the people; and as the only course they could take to secure to the present, and transmit to future generations, the possession of that good land, and a fair inheritance of civil and religious privileges.
In some instances there is a similarity of circumstances betwixt the ancient congregation of the Lord and us. Were they a people nigh unto God; since their rejection we have been taken into a like visible relation to him? Were their long and arduous contests for freedom happily terminated? Our redemption from the hand of the enemy is completed by the establishment of “peace in our borders.” Did their civil constitution secure the rights and privileges of the people, ours is like to theirs before they trespassed in asking a king? Our religious advantages are greatly superior, and our land is perhaps as good and fertile as theirs, were it equally cultivated. And the late revolution in America, tho’ not effected by the wonder-working rod of a Moses, was accomplished in the course of the divine administration under the auspices of a leader, great and good next to him: And in a manner which carries evident marks, and signatures of his hand, who “changes the times and the seasons, who removeth kings and setteth up kings,” and possesses all perfections in their highest exaltation.
The advice given in the text to the rulers and people of Israel, is as suitable and proper for us as it was for them. We have as much to gain by complying with it, and as much to lose by slighting and neglecting it.
That the following discourse may coincide with it, and in some degree be adapted to our circumstances, and the occasion of the present solemnity:
The nature and extent of the charge in its primary reference to the rulers of a people, first offers itself to consideration.
And then secondly,
The natural and moral tendency of a general subjection or disobedience to the divine government.
The first object of our consideration and improvement is the nature and extent of this all-important duty, of “keeping and seeking for all the commandments of the Lord our God,” more especially as it concerns the rulers of a people.
Such are the perfections of the ever-blessed God, that he will not, he cannot enjoin anything unsuitable to the nature and powers of his creatures. Such is his supreme commanding authority, that in whatever way and degree his will is made known to men, either by reason or revelation, from that moment they are laid under indispensible obligations to obedience. Nor can they refuse their immediate compliance, or neglect to regulate all their conduct by the laws of Heaven, without injury to themselves, and injustice to their maker. Hereby rulers (to say the least) are equally bound with the lowest order of their confederate fellow-citizens.
“The weightier matters of the law,” are not a few. “Thy commandment,” faith the inspired Psalmist, “is exceeding broad.”—So extensive as to reach every man, and direct his behavior at all times, and in every station and condition in life. So equitable as to require improvement in proportion as men are distinguished by power, wealth, or other advantages for doing good.
What a wide extended field of service is here opened before the trustees of the Commonwealth? As the offices they sustain are by divine designation, and it is in the power of their hands to abound in God’s service; they are under additional obligations to “Keep and seek for all his commandments.” Their talents for improvement are many, and that injunction of the Lord of Christians, “occupy ‘till I come” merits their particular regard.—An upright punctual discharge of the duties of their station demands their time and utmost efforts, their assiduous persevering attention.—
Seeking implies positive industrious exertions in the use of all proper means, to obtain the end proposed. If he that runs may read those divine precepts that regulate the common actions of life; we may not from hence conclude that those who move in a higher sphere can obtain all needed information at so cheap a rate. Many cases may occur in which a virtuous ruler may not easily discern the path of duty and safety. To remain heedlessly ignorant, is inexcusable. To act while his mind is in suspense, is inconsistent with his character. What other course then can he take, but to seek for more light, and pursue that line of conduct which has had the sanction of his reason, conscience, and the revealed law of God. “The cause which I knew not, I searched out,” said an eminently worthy and beneficent magistrate in ancient times.—
The maxim “that public affairs cannot be transacted without corruption and iniquity” however zealously abetted by mercenary courtiers, or whatever reputation it may have acquired by customary practice in regal governments; its aspect on a republican form is very unpropitious. Experience evinces that monarchies may flourish in some degree for a time, tho’ probity be not the favourite virtue of those in power: But the very existence of free republican States depends upon the reign of justice. This comprehensive virtue is, in a manner, “all in all.” Nothing can atone for the want of it in the legislative, judicial, and executive departments. The prophet describing the humiliating, unsafe, and even wretched situation of the Commonwealth of Israel at a particular period, does it in this expressive language: “Justice standeth afar off, truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.”—
But what saith the scripture of civil government? One apostle saith, it is the “ordinance of man”—another saith, it is the “ordinance of God.” There is a sense no doubt in which the latter position is as true as the former. And if civil government be in any sense the ordinance of God, and the laws of virtue, which are the laws of God, are not to interfere in the administration of it: Is not this quite what has been ironically termed, “a divine right of governing wrong?”
A submissive respect paid to all God’s commandments, at the same time that it raises a ruler above the pursuits of injustice, and a faulty ambition, is perfectly consistent with the greatest degrees of political wisdom that are subservient to the honor, preservation and support of society.
It is not in an immediate way that the Governor of the world usually dispenses good or evil to communities or individuals. He employs means and instruments in accomplishing the purposes of his providence, and the designs of his grace. It is by helping men, by improving and heightening their faculties, assisting and invigorating their endeavors; that he prepares them to receive, and bestows upon them temporal and spiritual blessings. Nor does he in this way of conferring his favours “give his glory to another.” For all the natural and gracious endowments of men are equally his free gifts, are derived from the same source, and applied by his unerring direction to effect the designs of his wise and universal government. “It is the same God who worketh all in all.”
In conferring favor on a people, especially in effecting any great revolution, he employs the fittest instruments, and raises up men of piety and public spirit, of prudence, penetration and fortitude, to do great things, and if necessary, to suffer gloriously. Persons possessed of such qualities, are most likely to render essential service to their country. The Jews never had a better king than David, to whose honor it is recorded, “that he fed them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with the skillfulness of his hands.”
The annals of other nations furnish examples of men invested with the most important offices, who, disdaining every mean illusory artifice, were very successful in transacting the affairs of the public. Slight advantages may be sometimes gained by perfidy and deceit: But no acquisitions of power or property will counterbalance the loss of honor. In every mode of government, especially in a republic; the reputation of being just and faithful to its engagements, is of the last importance.
Insidious politics are the proper element of loose unprincipled minds, engrossed by private selfish views—How often has the pretence of mysteries in government served for a cloak of unrighteousness? Whereas the art of governing well requires a sacred regard to truth and equity: And in some exigencies, a profound judgment and sagacity to take the best expedients.
Prudence and caution constitute another trait in a ruler’s character, of the utmost importance in our present circumstances. In “keeping and seeking for all the commandments of God,” and knowing that “a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand;” he will follow after the things which make for peace. Whilst the war continued, many things concurred to unite these States in their common defense, to strengthen the confederacy, and hold them together, to the great disappointment of their enemies. They have now, as it were, entered on a new stage of existence. If they are not summoned to unite for protection against the foreign enemy, the union can be continued and cemented only by friendly hearts, pacific counsels, and conciliatory measures. The advice Joseph gave to his brethren is good at this time, and claims the particular attention of those who are at the head of our affairs: “See that ye fall not out by the way.” Happy for us if rulers supreme and subordinate, are directed and instructed by the maxims of prudence and discretion, “in the things of our peace.”
The light of nature condemns such a confidence in God, as hinders the wise and industrious use of means for safety. At the same time, the success of the most opposite means, and best concerted measures, always supposes the divine concurrence. Had not the “God of peace and love been with us” hitherto, and blessed us, our mouths had not now been filled “with songs of deliverance.” He has still all times and hearts in his hand, and can so influence our public counsels, as to strengthen and perpetuate the union: Even as he “bowed the hearts of all the men of Judah to David, as the heart of one man.”
As in a good constitution of government there is no absolute power but that of the laws; a reverential regard to the divine presence and approbation will have an happy influence in making and executing such as are wise and salutary. The Father of the universe has not imposed his laws upon men merely as tests of obedience; but as lessons to prevent their ruin, and teach them how to be happy. A model, which eternizes the benignity of those human laws which are suggested by preventive wisdom; a standard of benevolence, from which subordinate legislators should never deviate. Acting in character as the “ministers of God for good to men,” they will ever esteem it more eligible to prevent crimes, than to punish them.
It being the sole end of government to secure the civil happiness of the community, (and, as far as may be, of every individual) it is fit and proper that the laws by which men submit to be governed, should be as few, clear, and easy in their application as possible. For laws themselves, when needlessly multiplied, become a vexatious and intolerable burden.
The laws of Heaven, being a transcript of perfect rectitude and benignity, no objection can weigh against their being executed. In like manner human laws ought ever to be so mild and equitable as to interest the community in their punctual execution, and in no instance fail of being enforced. “Either” (says a writer) “never attempt anything, or go through with it, is an excellent maxim, and nowhere more rationally applied than in the matter of legislation.” It is necessary to civil happiness that government be supported and respected. But will this be the case, if good laws are evaded with impunity? What has a greater tendency to weaken the authority of a state, than to continue laws in being which “the powers that be,” cannot, or care not to execute? Every sincere friend and lover of his country, must wish to see the dignity of the Legislature preserved; and consequently regret every instance, in which it is disparaged by the contempt that is case upon its institutions. If the occasion allowed me to mention one instance only, it should be the law that relates to grammar-schools. It having been of so long standing, the presumption is, that it is a good one. Should it not then be carried into execution, according to its full meaning and extent?
This Commonwealth is favored with divers valuable literary institutions, which owe their existence and endowments to the well directed liberality of particular patriotic members of society. A charity recommended by this circumstance, that the community reaps the benefit of it whilst the donors are living. But these institutions were never designed to interfere with the law above-mentioned, or to prevent general education: Much less to vie with the University in the neighborhood, to which we look up for that degree of literature, that is requisite to complete an education for the learned professions. May all that love and seek its prosperity, prosper.
We have had a long and arduous contest for freedom and independence; and the “mercies of our God have been upon us according as we hoped in him.” He hath said in his never-failing providence, “Let there be light.” He spake, and it is done. A day of the gladness of our hearts has succeeded a long and dark night of affliction. But what would have been our present situation, had not light and knowledge been spread among the people? Would our “Souls have made their boast in the Lord,” this day, for unexampled privileges, had he not been on our side, not only controlling the councils of men, and the events of war, but by the gospel and general education, diffusing a cultivated patriotic spirit, fatal to the evil genius of despotism? Will “wisdom and knowledge be the stability of future times, and strength of salvation,” if the minds of children and youth are neglected? Especially if they are not taught to esteem “the fear of the Lord their best treasure.” It is true in a political as well as religious sense, that “fools die for want of wisdom.”
Other nations have been chiefly concerned to cherish lucrative and commercial arts: Perhaps the singular honor is reserved for America, of making it the principal object of her attention to improve human nature, and produce the greatest degree of moral worth.
The fathers of the people, bound by the ties of nature, religion, and interest, cannot be indifferent to anything that has a tendency to strengthen and improve their morals. However opposite men’s sentiments are respecting the interposition of civil authority in matters of religion; one thing is clear, that a constitution of government, that bids fair to be durable, must make provision for curbing the lusts, and bounding the riotous appetites of men. But if piety be an essential part of morality, how can the secular power take cognizance of the one, without interfering at all with the other?
Every man who is so happy as to have free access to the sacred scriptures, has a right to search them. It is his duty to endeavour to understand them in their true sense, and regard them as the only writings that can authorize the religious sentiments he imbibes, or the mode of worship he prefers. And when all the members of a community enjoy the free use of their reason in matters of religion; when they are left to pursue the dictates of their own consciences, which are subject to God only, and no particular mode of worship is established by law; where is the grievance if public worship is required in some mode or other, to preserve order, and prevent the infection of bad examples?—
We cannot set too great a value on our civil and religious liberties: But we can place ourselves in no point of view, in which we can have the least colour of right to any kind of liberty that disturbs the peace of society, or discharges us from the service of God.
Constant experience shews the influence of example to be greater and more powerful, than that of precept. The guardians of the Commonwealth, by copying the law of God in their lives, will be likely to influence the public manners in some proportion to the elevation of their rank and dignity. Or should “the generation in which they shine as lights be faithless and perverse, they shall not lose their reward.” By their righteousness they shall deliver their own souls.”
The greatest assemblage of civil virtues, will not always screen a man in a public station from censure. The venal, the licentious may reproach him: but having the verdict of conscience in his favor, he has the approbation of his Maker, and the ineffable consolation that his “judgment is with the Lord, and his reward with his God.
It is as true that society cannot subsist without order and government, as that man was made for society, and if those who “rule over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God;” then no person can plead an exemption from the duty of submission to wise and just government. The same absolute authority that requires fidelity in rulers, obliges the people to honor, support, and obey them in all things lawful. This is to act on the principles of an equitable requital for necessary and useful services, agreeable to an express ordinance of the apostle Paul: “Render therefore to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
These sentiments may derive some support by considering secondly,
The natural and moral tendency of a general submission or disobedience to the divine government.
The adoption of the Hebrew nation to become the peculiar people of God, did not hinder them from abusing their privileges by numberless sins and rebellions against him. When he gave them his laws, it was supposed that they might refuse to obey his voice. Therefore he annexed promises to their obedience, and threatened to dispossess them of the good land which he had given them, if they refused and rebelled. Every engagement to reward them with prosperity if they “kept his ways,” implied a threatening that he would “visit their transgressions with a rod.” In this light we are to consider the animating motive to obedience in the text, “That ye may possess this good land, and leave it for an inheritance for your children after you forever.”
By many signal instances of Providence in our favor, the great Proprietor of all things hath enabled us to keep possession of the good land which he gave to our fathers. A country which well repays the toils of the husbandman, and would do it in a more ample manner, were agriculture (the most useful and necessary of all arts) better understood among us. We not only enjoy those things which constitute the riches of a soil; but also those privileges, civil and religious, which are “the glory of all lands.” What should we not do that we may possess ourselves, and transmit so rich an inheritance to posterity?
Next to self-preservation, the welfare of succeeding generations will be uppermost in every mind, not debased by infidelity, or laid waste by unbounded ambition and avarice. Can we view our cotemporaries, and look down into posterity, without the tenderest emotions of joy or grief, as we conceive good or evil to be coming on them? Is it not from the religion and morals of our country, that we must take our prospect of the happiness or misery of the present and future generations?
Virtue and vice are not more opposite in their nature, than in their effects. If men diseased in mind, and vicious in practice, confounded them in speculation; when they feel the different effects of them, they shew that they are not insensible of the reality of moral distinctions.
Nor is reigning vice less productive of infelicity to national communities, than to individuals. The former have as little reason as the latter, to expect prosperity in a course that naturally tends to ruin and misery. What the prophet says of Israel has been often exemplified in the fate of other nations; “thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.” As the connection between “living after the flesh” and that “death is the wages of sin,” cannot be broken; so the general prevalancy of vice in a nation has never failed sooner or later to involve it in national calamities and ruin.
It naturally tends to create dissentions, and disband society. It produces an opposition to the most apposite schemes, and best concerted measures to promote the common good. It diverts men from that seasonable and regular attention to important affairs, upon which the welfare of a people depends. It exhausts their treasures, and impoverishes them; ruins their reputation, and brings them into contempt. It enervates their spirits, debilitates their understandings, infatuates their counsels, lulls them into security, and lays them open to innumerable calamities.
The kingdoms of Israel and Judah, are remarkable examples of sin and judgment. If they are deemed an exception to the rest of mankind, let the point be decided by the fate of other nations. Have not their vices been their ruin? Was not the declension of manners in the states of Greece, attended with that of empire and dominion? By gratifying a taste for expensive living, and other arts of effeminacy and luxury, they lost their freedom. A Roman historian dates the corruption of his country from the destruction of Carthage, and ascribes the ruin of the Commonwealth to Grecian refinements, in voluptuous manners.—“Asia, conquered by the arms of Rome, in its turn conquered Rome by its vices.” This passage may supply the place of many examples. If in every instance the decline of nations has not been in the same proportion as they were remarkable for their vices; this has commonly been attended with the loss of liberty and territory, as its natural and proper effects.—
The same thing has a moral tendency to produce the same unhappy events. When irreligion prevails in a land, and gross immoralities abound; they put a people out of favor with the great sovereign of the world, break down the hedge of his protection, and open a gap for all manner of evils to rush in upon them. According to the established order of Providence, prevailing iniquity causes a separation between God and his people. “He turneth rivers into a wilderness, and the water springs into dry ground: A fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein. If God depart from us, our glory and defense will depart: And we can expect success in none of our undertakings. It will be “in vain to rise up early, to set up late, and eat the bread of carefulness.” If the Lord be not our helper, the business and labor of the city and of the field, will perish.—
A nation favored with gospel privileges, cannot flight and neglect their religious advantages, without endangering their civil liberties. If they have reason to “tremble for the ark of God,” their temple of freedom totters to its very foundation. But when impiety and profaneness, luxury and extravagance, become national; it does not require an omnipotent arm to sink such a people. If left to themselves, they will do the business effectually. The poison may be slow in its operation, but not the less fatal in the event.
On the contrary:
A practical acknowledgment of the divine authority by rulers and people, has a natural and moral tendency to make a nation prosperous and happy.
We live under a civil constitution, formed with a particular view to support the honor and power of government, and protect the rights of the people. But the wisest rules are of no advantage to those who do not observe them. The best civil institutions will not promote the public happiness, unless they are supported by able and upright magistrates; and the people in general are disposed to “lead peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness and honesty.” It is the character of a people that renders them happy at home, respected abroad, and constitutes their strength. Their best defense (under God) is the regularity and hardiness of their manners.
The path of the just is safest and best for every man. No person in any other course can secure true self-enjoyment: Nor in any other way advance the public happiness, than by serving the will of God in his generation. If he be a magistrate, he will maintain his just character, keep in view the ends of his institution, and by putting salutary laws in execution, “be a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well.” If he be in a private station, he will “study to be quiet, and do his own business.” Supposing this to be the real character of the community, all things will be in a regular train; exhibiting a hopeful prospect of prosperity in times to come. For in the nature of things, probity and integrity create confidence. Industry and frugality, tend to opulence. And benevolence, truth and justice, promote peace, unity and good order.
“He that tilleth his land,” saith Solomon, “shall have plenty of bread.” It is not God’s ordinary method to rain down bread for the food of men, as he did manna for Israel in the wilderness. He blesseth the labor of their hands, and maketh their fields yield their increase; or the fields of others from whence they may be supplied. He ensures the advantages of commerce, and smiles upon the industrious endeavours of the citizen in the way of his calling, that he may have wherewith to procure the fruits of the earth.
Happy America! If its inhabitants, detesting the degenerate manners of Sodom, and the vile language of Ashdod, prove sober, industrious, and “temperate in all things.” Thrice happy, if they sincerely love and venerate the civil and sacred institutions of their country. Then vice, the prolific source of misery, will be discountenanced and abhorred; the virtues of the mind preferred to the ornaments of the body; and our public and private interests have the glorious smiles of God upon them.—
If those who govern are inspired with integrity, wisdom, courage, and vigilance for the public safety; and the governed with worthy and good affections; we shall then unite in pursuing “the things of our peace.” Society will be improved, our understandings enlarged, our morals refined, and the interests of time will not interfere with those of eternity. “Happy is that people that is in such a case; happy is that people whose God is the Lord.”
Can we wish for greater encouragement to “keep and seek for all the commandments of the Lord our God: Since while we do thus, we may expect that the “hand of our God will be upon us for good,” and upon our posterity! At the same time, we shall take the right course to prepare ourselves for going up into the house of our God, and to have our feet stand within the gates of Jerusalem above; “whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord.”
Such are the observations which this text of sacred scripture has suggested. And by the blessing of God they may be of use seriously to remind this respectable audience, that “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father,” is the first bond and tie to all duty, and the great means of national prosperity. It was this principle that influenced the conduct of our ancestors, and animated the expressions of their concern for the welfare of their country, and the flourishing circumstances of its civil and religious interests, in all generations: Induced by similar sentiments and impressions, “the elders of the congregation of the Lord” are now assembled “to enquire in his temple;” and with others,” to seek of him a right way for ourselves, for our children, and for all our substance.”—
A tribute of unceasing praise is due from us to the supreme Ruler of the universe, for that established form of government, which allows and encourages all ranks of men to pursue their religious interests. And while so many at the present day appear to have thrown off the divine government, and affect to “despise the commandment of the Lord;” the exemplary regard which the heads of our tribes continue to pay to divine institutions, is a “way of well-doing” that has a peculiar tendency to “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
The civil fathers of the country, and particularly of this Commonwealth, being honored with the highest title that men can bestow; a title that infers an obligation to do everything which the good of the State requires; can never be supposed to lose sight of the sole end of their exaltation above the multitude of their brethren. Having introduced the important public concerns of the ensuing year, with the “word of God and prayer,” you will bear it in mind that your debates will be “in the audience of our God;” your motives of conduct open to his inspection; and that your duty, honor and interest, are all comprised in the real conscientious service you render, or use your best endeavors to render, to the community.
The character of David in his political capacity, is worthy of being emulated by all who are at the head of our affairs. He ruled justly, in exact conformity to the divine will. An high degree of national prosperity and honor, being the result of an administration founded on mild and equitable principles; the people congratulated themselves upon the multiplied favors shewn them on the part of Heaven. We read that they were “joyful and glad of heart, for all the goodness that the Lord had done for David his servant, and for Israel his people.”
The gentleman who without intermission since the commencement of the constitution, has been seated in the second chair of magistracy and government, has obtained in his re-election a renewed and sure token of respect, and a substantial proof that his past services have been well received.
When the privileges of election are extensive, and the body of the electors properly jealous of their liberties; the less rotation in office, the stronger the proof, that such a people enjoy one of the greatest of all temporal blessings, an incorrupt Legislature.
We doubt not the honorable Senate will continue to deserve that great share of public confidence and respect, so justly due to so important a branch of our civil constitution.
The honorable House of Representatives, by making probity and equity the standard of their proceedings, will, we trust, justify the public wisdom in assigning them a station of so great moment, to the honor, safety and welfare of their country; and uniting with the other Branch of the Legislature in the elections of the day, will strictly regard that ancient rule;–“Take wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes,”—men of real worth, capacity and integrity—men who reverence the awful government of God, and “set no wicked thing before their eyes.” Other principles or qualities are often productive of good to the community; but are too weak to bind men to strict duty at all hazards. Conscience bears witness to a man’s fidelity and uprightness of intentions; and will hold him fast, when all other obligations are disregarded.
Our dependence under God (honored fathers) is upon “your keeping and seeking for all his commandments,” which are “pure, enlightening the eyes,” and of universal utility, for “in keeping of them there is great reward.” You have it in the “power of your hands to do worthy deeds” for the honor of God and the general good of the community.
The improvement of agriculture, the present state of the militia, of commerce, and manufactures, deserve your serious attention. We have a hopeful prospect that we shall not feel the rod of tyranny and arbitrary power. How greatly would it relieve our apprehensions, and refresh our spirits, were those things that have a malignant influence on society, suppressed; a spirit of industry, sobriety and frugality, invigorated; a regard for the Lord’s day, revived; and a taste for religious and moral pleasures, more generally cultivated.
To you, gentlemen, the guardians of our liberties and laws, have we in a great measure confided our national liberty, honor and independence; even all that is, or ought to be dear to us. “The Lord will be with you while you are with him.” “He is with you in the judgment.” And though you now sustain the character of “God’s,” you are admonished by the “fall” of others 1 (lately your associates in honor and power) that you must “die like men.” A tribunal awaits you, before which no titles of honor, but that of Christian; no mark of distinction but that of moral goodness and worth, will avail anything. God grant that in your political, and every other capacity, you may finally receive the plaudit of your Judge.
Of all people we shall be the most inexcusable, if we are not “obedient to the voice of the Lord our God, whose goodness has been so signally manifested in the dispensations of temporal and spiritual blessings. When we consider “how great things he hath done for us,” should not our hearts glow with gratitude, and our obedient lives proclaim his praise? Should not all the powers of the creation conspire to exalt his name? His authority binds all ranks of men to strict duty, to “keep and seek for all his commandments.” He requires rulers in pursuing the ends of their institution, “to serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind,” and that all others should do all they can to strengthen their hands, by assisting in the execution of good laws, promoting peace and good order, and cheerfully contributing to the support of government.
Were the present prevailing follies and vices, exchanged for their opposite virtues, such an alteration of habits and moral qualities, would in many instances lessen the burden of taxes; which we may reasonably suppose, are now s light as possible, since those who impose them are equally bound to observe the laws, and pay their proportion of the public expense.
What a pleasing sight would it be to see all ranks and professions contributing by their prayers and endeavors to the safety and prosperity of our country. Then might we hope that the “Lord our God would care for our land, and we should see the good of his chosen.” If “we keep his covenant, and remember his commandments to do them; the wilderness shall blossom as the rose, and it shall be well with us, and our children after us.”
But let us not forget what we are,–creatures made for another state of existence. Delightsome as our native soil may be; it is “not our rest.”—In this life, we have no permanent city. “Our fathers where are they? We also are “strangers and sojourners on the earth:” Therefore we “look to another, a better country, that is, an heavenly.” If we are the true subjects of a kingdom which is not of this world, we shall through the voyage of life, be fed with the “bread which came down from Heaven.” We shall “have right to the tree of life:” And the Lord our God will give us to rejoice in the view of our interest in the “unsearchable riches of Christ, the blessings of the perpetual hills, and of the everlasting mountains.”
May that God who has been our “dwelling-place in all generations, rejoice over us to do us good.”
Happy for us, if with seriousness and assiduity we practically regard that advice and caution, which the Hebrew law-giver in the last year of his life, gave to the people committed to his care, for whom he had a sincere affection. “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God, for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware, that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in keeping his commandments, his judgments, and his statutes.”
1. Hon. Jeremiah Powell, Esq; President of the Council, in the most perilous stages of the war; and a member of the Council after the commencement of the Constitution, Hon. Josiah Stone, of the Senate.