Benjamin Trumbull (1735-1820) graduated from Yale in 1759. He was the preacher for a church in North Haven, beginning in 1760, for almost 60 years. Trumbull served as volunteer and chaplain during the Revolutionary War. This sermon was preached by him in Connecticut on May 14, 1801.
IN CIVIL GOVERNMENT.
S E R M O N,
PREACHED ON THE
AT HARTFORD, IN CONNECTICUT,
MAY 14, 1801.
By BENJAMIN TRUMBULL, D. D.
PASTOR OF THE CHURCH IN NORTH-HAVEN.
At a General Assembly of the State of Connecticut, holden at Hartford, on the second Thursday of May, A.D. 1801.
ORDERED, That the Honorable David Daggett, and Mr. Joseph Doolittle, present the thanks of this Assembly to the Reverend Benjamin Trumbull, D. D. for his Sermon delivered before them at the General Election on the fourteenth instant, and request a copy thereof for the Press.
A true copy of Record,
SAMUEL WYLLYS, Secretary.
I KINGS ii. 2, 3.
I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord Thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies as it is written in the Law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou dost, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself.
MEN of the most distinguished fame, piety and usefulness, after a few years of faithful services, must quit the stage, and retire into darkness and silence. Kings, who, like David, have filled the throne with honor, must exchange their robes of royalty, the scepter and the crown, for the shroud and the tomb.
To this solemn and momentous period, David, that eminently pious and magnanimous ruler, was now advanced. And how august, how instructive and interesting is the scene, which his example, as exhibited in the text, presents to our view? We behold a renowned and mighty prince, after achieving wonders in the field, and rendering the most essential services to the church of God, taking leave of the world, resigning his government, and giving his final charge to Solomon, who was to reign after him upon the throne of Israel. I go, says he, the way of all the earth. “Exhausted with years and public labors, I suffer the common lot of man, and must sleep with my fathers. I have done with courts, government and life itself. I am bidding a long adieu to them, to you and to all mankind. You are now to accede to the government of a numerous and mighty nation, the people and heritage of the God of Jacob. Upon this great occasion, in these tender and solemn moments, I therefore entreat and charge you, by the affections of an aged, dying father, by all my desires and prayers for your honor and prosperity, and for the welfare of Israel, God’s chosen people, that you be strong and show yourself a man: That you act up to the dignity and glory of your nature. This your exalted station, as the ruler of God’s people, and the immense interests committed to your care will constantly demand. To you, and to them it will be of incalculable importance.”
The words import, that there is great worth and dignity in man: That to conduct himself agreeably to them is to act an useful, wise and glorious part. They comprise everything which a wise, magnanimous and dying father could wish for a favorite son: Everything which a pious prince, who preferred Jerusalem to his chief joy, could desire to see in him, who was to bear rule over the heritage of the Lord. Indeed in this short sentence, David compriseth distinguishing piety and righteousness, whatever is enjoined in the subsequent verses, relative to keeping the charge of the Lord and walking in all his commandments. It also imports that civil government is an arduous work, equal to the utmost strength of human capacity, challenging all the dignity and powers of the greatest men; and that it is of the highest importance that civil rulers be men, displaying that piety, knowledge, prudence, fortitude and magnanimity which are the glory of man.
In this view of our text it will be natural, for its further illustration, to give some sketches of the dignity of man: To show how this is displayed in civil government, or what it is for rulers to show themselves to be men: And lastly how important it is that they should act in character, agreeably to the dignity and excellency of human nature.
I. It will be natural to give a sketch of the dignity and capacity of man.
To show the dignity and awful weight of government, it is necessary to exhibit the dignity and worth of the creatures governed, and the immense value of their interests. This only can show the magnitude of the trust committed to the civil magistrate and the dignity and importance of his office.
But man, who is a subject of divine and human government, is a creature of vast dignity, worth and interests. This is expressed in the text, in the terms, be strong and quit yourselves like men. Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God. Man is capable of the most signal usefulness and enjoyment in time and in eternity. In a variety of respects, his Creator hath exalted him, and put a matchless dignity upon him. Though by his apostasy he hath lost the moral image of God, and in that respect the crown is fallen from his head, the gold is changed, and the most fine gold is become dim, yet he still retains resemblances of his natural image, and in many respects is a glorious creature. He is a master-piece of divine workmanship; fearfully and wonderfully made. The erectness of his stature, the convenience and usefulness of his members, the wisdom with which they are all placed, the beauty and majesty of his countenance, the gift of language, and harmony of his voice are endowments by which he is distinguished and exalted above all creatures in this lower system of worlds. But his intelligent soul more especially gives him his dignity and inestimable worth. This is a bright resemblance of the natural perfections of his common father. He is a spirit, so is the soul of man. He is all intelligence and activity, and so is the human mind. Man is the living image of the living God. In him is displayed more of the image and glory of the Deity than in all his other works below the sun.
The worth and dignity of man appear in his capacity, in the great and noble achievements and works which he hath done and is capable of doing. He is capable of thought, reflection, reasoning, consciousness, volition and extensive knowledge:–Of contemplating himself, the heavens, the earth and seas, the variety of creatures and things which they contain, with their natures and usefulness:–Of speaking of trees, from the Cedar that is in Lebanon, even unto the Hyssop that springeth out of the wall: 1 of discovering their various uses, whether for food or physic, for navigation or commerce, for personal or national emolument: And of employing all creatures, elements, trees, plants, herbs and shrubs of every country and climate for his own profit, convenience and pleasure.
He is capable of rising instantaneously, in his contemplations, from earth to the heavens; of traveling among stars and planets; of measuring their distances and magnitudes; and of making vast discoveries in philosophy and astronomy:–Of rising still higher, from the contemplations of nature, to the far more important and pleasing contemplations of nature’s God. He can plan and effect wonderful works; erect cities and kingdoms, found and govern empires. If we look back to the effects of ancient times, in the land of Shinar, Egypt and Palestine, what glorious works there presented themselves, where Babel, Babylon, Nineveh, and the Pyramids, which have been the wonder of the world, were erected! Where stood Jerusalem, the holy temple, and all the magnificent works of Solomon! If we survey the kingdoms of Europe, what super works attract our view and fill us with astonishment!
How great and useful have been the writings of men, in every learned profession! What thanks do the world owe to Hypocrates, Boerhaave, and to several modern writers, for their discoveries and communications in the healing art? To Hale, Cook, Littleton, Montesquieu and others, for the light which they have thrown upon the laws of nature and nations, and upon jurisprudence in general? How have Lock, Sir Isaac Newton, Franklin, and other logicians and philosophers, enlarged the boundaries of human knowledge? With what admiration do we view the works of theologians? Of Pool, Owen, Perkins, Twiss and others? What changes have they effected? Paul propagated and established Christianity through the heathen world; and the pens and eloquence of Luther and Calvin wrought the glorious protestant revolution.
To come nearer to our own times, and to our own country, how great and extensively useful have been the works of our pious and venerable ancestors, in crossing the Atlantic, in planting Christianity in North America, in turning a wilderness, a land not sown, into gardens, orchards and fruitful fields? And in converting thousands of heathen to the knowledge, love and fear of God? Especially, in forming such free, civil and religious constitutions, at a time when the light of liberty was but just dawning upon mankind; and in founding colleges and schools, and making such provision for the general diffusion of knowledge among their descendants, as has rendered us, under the divine smiles, the most free, intelligent and happy people upon whom the fun hath ever shone?
May I not with equal propriety mention the more modern, but not less signal and important works, the American revolution, affected by the energies of the sword and pen of a Washington, aided by the other sages and heroes of America? The peace negotiated by those renowned men, Adams, Franklin and Jay? The constitution of the United States, the counsels and labors by which, in the course of a few years, they have been elevated to such a distinguished point of power, respectability, opulence and prosperity? Do not all these proclaim the capacity, the dignity and worth of man.
But nothing has yet been said of that in which his chief importance appears. He is immortal, capable of more happiness than all the creatures of God, whether angels or men have yet enjoyed, or will enjoy to the consummation of all things. The lives and happiness of the whole intellectual system, collected into one life and sum of happiness, would be a mere nothing, like a drop to the ocean, or spark to the sun, in comparison with immortality, and that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory and blessedness which one soul is capable of enjoying. The pains and sorrows of all men on earth and of the damned in hell, from the creation to the judgment day, are nothing, when contrasted with that eternity of sufferings which an immortal spirit may endure. As redeemed creatures may be progressing in knowledge, usefulness and bliss, during their immortality, it is not improbable, that the knowledge, usefulness and happiness of every individual saved from among men, will exceed those of all creatures from the day of their creation to the end of time. In this view how does language fail to describe, or imagination to conceive the dignity, capacity and worth of man?
Again, if we consider all the counsels of God from eternity, and all his works in time employed for his recovery; the Son of God dying, rising, interceding and reigning forever for his salvation, how does it aggrandize our ideas of the dignity and worth of man? Saith Dr. Young, In heaven’s great and constant effort for our welfare is capitally written the dignity of man. In what beautiful and striking language does he represent his incalculable worth?
“Know’st thou the worth of an immortal soul?
Behold this midnight glory: worlds on worlds,
Amazing pomp! Redouble this amaze;
Ten thousand add, and twice ten thousand more;
Then weigh the whole: one soul outweighs them all.
A greater than he hath said, What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
II. I proceed to show how this dignity is displayed in civil government, or what it is for rulers to show themselves to be men; especially in the sense of our text.
In general it may be observed, that since the dignity and importance of men are of such incalculable magnitude, they must, to show themselves men, at a wise, honorable, magnanimous and glorious part. Their conduct must be in some measure proportionate to their dignity, their high stations and immense interests, and to their capacity, and advantages. They must first seek and promote the greatest and best interests; the highest happiness of themselves and others, and harmoniously treat all objects and interests according to their nature, worth and importance. For men of great dignity and consideration, to act dishonorably, unrighteously, meanly, or wickedly; to neglect great and lasting interests, and employ themselves about those which are trifling and momentary; to prefer private to public good, the honors, wealth and pleasures of time, to those of eternity, are totally inconsistent with the reason and dignity of man.
These observations will apply, in their full force and utmost latitude, to civil rulers. As they stand in the first rank among men, as to their management are committed vast and complicated interests, and as they are distinguished for abilities and advantages for public usefulness; so they should act with views proportionably great, wise, public spirited and magnanimous. Everything selfish, narrow, partial, unrighteous and wicked in them, will appear in a peculiar manner inglorious and inconsistent with human dignity, and especially with that of a civil ruler.
From these general observations it clearly appears that the dignity of man is strongly exhibited, in good government. It will however appear, in a stronger point of view, from a consideration of the immense interests committed to their care, and of the persons for whom they are to legislate and judge. If one immortal creature be of such incalculable worth, how much more valuable must be thousands and millions of them, with all their interests civil and religious? In a Christian state or nation there are many of the sons of God, princes of heaven who shall reign in life by Jesus Christ forever. There are men of whom the world is not worthy; men who shall judge angels, nay judge the world, 2 even the judges and potentates of the earth. So precious are they that God hath said, He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye. 3 In presiding over such beings and interests, the highest dignity is manifested. The greater the trust is, which is committed to men, the greater are the honor and dignity put upon them.
Especially is the case, when they are called to it of God, as are all civil rulers, whatever may be their forms of government, or whatever instrumentality men h=may have in their advancement. For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another. 4 For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 5
They are termed by the high and awful name of Gods, 6 and judge and act for God. They are his ministers, for good to the people. 7 By the very nature and design of their office, they are God’s deputies not for themselves, but for the people, to do them good and nothing but good. Their whole authority, powers and influence should be employed to keep and promote the public peace and happiness; to maintain all the natural, civil and religious rights of their subjects, to suppress all immorality, and to countenance and support everything which is useful, virtuous and praise-worthy. They are represented as the very pillars of the earth, which support it, and prevent its dissolution. 8 In what can the dignity of man be possibly more displayed than in sustaining these high and momentous offices, and in a zealous, wise and faithful discharge of them? Does it not imply everything in which human nature can appear great and good?
Particularly, civil rulers, to show themselves men, must be truly and eminently religious. This is fully implied in the text. Solomon was directed to show himself a man by courageously keeping the charge of the Lord his God, by walking in all his ways, and commandments, and testimonies, as they were written in the law of Moses. The words import that no person can be a man, acting consistently with his rational nature, without it. The same idea is suggested by the prophet Isaiah, who calls upon the Israelites to show themselves men, by renouncing their idols, and acknowledging and submitting to God, as their portion and happiness. 9 David insisted on this in his address to Solomon, not only as absolutely necessary, that he might show himself a man, but that he might be happy either in his person or government. That thou mightiest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself. His remarkable words, I Chron. xxviii. 9. Are exceedingly expressive of these truths. And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off forever. Thus did the man after God’s own heart, one of the greatest, most experienced and renowned princes, press religion upon his son, that he might be happy in his person and kingdom, and not be totally and forever rejected by God. Indeed he gives it, as the first and most essential part of the character of a good ruler, that he must be truly pious and righteous. The God of Israel said, the rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men, must be just, ruling in the fear of God. 10
Those great commands, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God, are not less binding on the prince than on the peasant, on the ruler than on the subject. These precepts, and the high office which rulers bear, as ministers of God, oblige them to imitate him in his goodness, in the purity of their principles and aims, of their constitutions, laws, judgments, and whole legislative and executive conduct. They should bear true allegiance to him, act with the same benevolent principles, and seek the same ends which he seeks, the public happiness and the glory of his name. But without religion consisting in the love and fear of God, in the love and practice of righteousness and universal goodness, there can be no allegiance to him, nor a single principle or view under the influence of which they ought to act.
In a word, the consideration of their dignity and worth, that as individuals they have interests to secure far superior to everything temporal, and that the many thousands of their subjects have interests equally momentous, and that magistrates are called to their high offices, to subserve these complicated and immense interests, furnisheth the most energetic motives to religion and virtue. A celebrated writer observes, “He who thinks of his dignity, necessarily thinks of God; and he who values his dignity as necessarily worships and obeys him.”
Further, they must, to show themselves men, possess great knowledge and wisdom, an enlarged understanding, comprehensive of the various interests of the people and of the means of promoting them.
Civil Government is arduous, and requires the knowledge of a great variety of things, with a singular prudence in the management of public affairs. The civil magistrate should have an intimate acquaintance with the genius, laws, customs, manners, dangers, resources and whole state of the people whom he governs. He ought also to know the genius, laws, customs, commerce, wants and advantages of the sister states; their peculiar prejudices and prepossessions, that he may avail himself of all these circumstances, to do good to the people over whom he presides, and to the several states in the union: and that by his extensive knowledge, and the impartiality and integrity of his government, he may subserve the general interests of the nation. Indeed he should have a general acquaintance with the religion, genius, navigation, commerce, general laws and state of nations and of the whole world; that from this comprehensive view he may govern himself and the affairs of the commonwealth, with respect to all their extensive and numerous interests and relations, in such a manner as shall most effectually promote the peace and emolument of the subjects of his own immediate government, and the peace and mutual advantage of all their relations. In this way he may be useful and do good to all men. As far as possible, he should be versed in the whole art of jurisprudence, finance and government.
The knowledge of men is also of high consideration to civil rulers. However wise they may be, in other respects, and however excellent their constitutions and laws, and with whatever extent of wisdom and foresight measures may be adopted for the general happiness, yet if the men appointed to execute them are too weak, irresolute or wicked to perform the duties of their respective offices, the designs of the legislature will be frustrated, and the people will be deprived of the happy effects of their wisdom, and of those advantages to which they have a just claim by their constitutions and laws. That rulers may therefore be happy in their government, they must know men, and have fortitude to reject the weak, intriguing and wicked, and to employ the wise, faithful and good, in the executive departments of the government.
As the human mind is capable of endless improvement, and as knowledge is so important for the purposes of good government, how laboriously should rulers study these points, that they may be men in knowledge and wisdom?
The affairs of government are high, above the reach of vulgar minds, though they may be good, and have the best designs towards the community. Moses therefore commanded, Take ye wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. 11 Solomon, sensible of the necessity of wisdom in the government of a great people, asked it of God. The petition was highly acceptable, and he gave him wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. 12
Civil rulers, to show themselves men, must also possess high paternal feelings, be of a public, noble spirit, deeply impressed with a sense of the vast worth of the interests, the liberties, lives, property, order, peace and prosperity of a commonwealth and nation. They should be strongly inclined to sacrifice all private interests for the public good, and to employ their honors, talents, opportunities and advantages wholly for its advancement. God commands that all rulers should be men fearing God and hating covetousness. 13 As they are his ministers for good, they ought, as far as possible, like him to be good and do good unto all. Like the light of the morning sun, rising without clouds, and gladdening a thousand regions, and like the clear shining after rain, which warms and fertilizes the gardens, the orchards and fields, and with countless fruits and plenteous harvests, enriches whole nations, and administers food and gladness to all men, they should, by extending the righteous, benign and peaceful influences of their government to small as well as great, to the fatherless and widow, to the humble cottage as well as the spacious dome, to thousands, to millions, to all, diffuse universal safety, comfort and joy. While, with these feelings, they act the man, they will appreciate the civil, temporal order, peace and happiness of the community; the liberties, lives and fortunes of the thousands who have entrusted to them their invaluable interests. They will appreciate their immense religious concerns, and not forget their own.
They will realize the importance and necessity of religion and Christian morals, that a people may be free and happy. They will not be insensible of the mutual influence, which government and religion have upon each other. All the measures of government, and even the examples of rulers, will encourage, or injure religion. It cannot be unaffected with the government and example of those in authority. Religion in like manner hath incalculable influence on the government, liberties and happiness of a people. In proportion as men are really conscientious and influenced by genuine principles of the gospel, they will be self-governed. Crimes will be prevented even in secret, and it will give to individuals and to the community at large, such security, peace and order, as mere law can never afford. Where men feel the influence of religion, mild laws will be sufficient for the purposes of government, and but few restraints on the natural rights of the people will be necessary. But when conscience is lost, and moral motives have no influence, a people can be governed by severe laws and punishments only; by Newgates, swords and cannon. In just such proportion as the influence of moral principles and motives are annihilated, the restraints of law must be increased, and the natural rights and liberties of the subjects be diminished. At the same time, property, character, life, and all public and private interests will be less secure. What state of society can be more wretched, than that described by the prophets, when judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off? Truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter? 14—When every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders? 15—When the best of them is a brier, and the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge? 16—What order, honor or safety, what liberty or happiness can there be among such a people? It is doubtless the greatest quackery in politics, to imagine, that free government and liberty can be maintained without religion and morals.
While rulers taste the pleasures of religion, and act under the influence of wisdom, they will also appreciate the interests of literature, encourage colleges and schools, and advocate all proper means for the general diffusion of knowledge among the people. This is of high consideration both in a civil and religious view; especially in a republican government. If the people are sufficiently illuminated, they will ordinarily, under a wise and good government, be peaceable, steady and joyful. Whatever factious and designing men may insinuate, they will know their true interests, and faithfully support a wise and righteous government. Faction will have but little influence, and ordinarily will be but of short duration. This lays the foundation for eminence in all the learned professions, and is the hand-maid of religion. This has been one grand mean of the civil and religious liberty, peace and happiness of this and the New-England States. This indeed was a leading step in securing the liberty and happiness of America. Men must understand the great principles of rational liberty, that they may contend for, and maintain them. Religion and literature will therefore be encouraged while legislators display the dignity of man.
Further, that they may show themselves to be men, they must possess uncommon magnanimity and fortitude. It is commanded in the text, Be thou strong and show thyself a man: and the Lord commanded Joshua, Be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee. 17
Men of all characters have need even of supernatural strength, that they may overcome the world, their lusts and spiritual enemies. For who is he that overcometh the world, but he that is born of God? Is not this the victory that overcometh the world even our faith? 18 Rulers, and all men in high life, are in peculiar danger from the riches, pleasures, honors, applause and flattery of the world. Worldly cares, company and a multiplicity of business are calculated to fill the mind and leave no place for God and religion. Hence it is written, Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. 19 Great courage and magnanimity therefore are necessary for men in public stations that they may war with firmness and resolution against the lusts of their own hearts, and the snares and allurements of the world: That they may bear a firm testimony against vice, scatter the wicked with their eye, and not bear the sword in vain: That they may be proof against the subtlety and arts of intriguing men, and the flattery and bribes of those who, in these crooked ways, would court their favor, and tempt them to partiality and respect of persons. They have often to steer in a rough sea. Sometimes faction rears its baleful head within, and wars rage without. Liberty, property, religion and life are at stake. What fortitude, at such times, is necessary, that their hearts may not melt and be shaken with fear, either from the attacks of foreign or domestic, open or secret enemies? The ruler should stand like a rock in the sea, which keeps its place though the storms arise, the billows roll and dash themselves upon it with the greatest violence. Especially, is this necessary in popular governments; that rulers may act impartially, do justice and judgment, faithfully pursue their own opinions and the public good, though popular prejudices and the popular breath should sometimes be against them. When party spirit runs high, and rulers, notwithstanding their most able, upright and faithful services, are misrepresented and vilified, a peculiar nobleness and magnanimity are necessary, to rise superior to calumny and abuse, and to treat all parties with candor, impartiality and goodness. This displays the dignity of man.
Indeed, integrity, faithfulness, diligence, sobriety, and all the social virtues, are necessary that Christian magistrates may show themselves men. They should be examples of everything which a wise and good ruler would wish to have the people to be, to make them great, honorable and happy. The good example of rulers puts great dignity upon them, endears them to their constituents, and has a most salutary influence on individual and public happiness.
In a word, that any of us may show ourselves to be men, we must act up to the dignity of our nature. We must know the Lord our God, be strong to keep his charge, and to walk in his ways, and exhibit all those virtues which may make us good citizens, useful in society, and qualified for a blessed immortality!
III. I proceed to show how important it is that rulers should act in character, agreeable to the dignity of human nature.
The observations which have been made, and passages of scripture which have been adduced, set this in a strong point of light. The address of David to his beloved Solomon, in our text, imports its high necessity and transcendent moment.
The express commands of God, that rulers, from the ruler of thousands even to the ruler of tens, should be able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; just, ruling in the fear of God, are expressive of its high importance. The divine requisitions are of the highest consideration. They are absolutely indispensible.
Further this appears from a consideration of the immense interests committed to the management of rulers, and of the influence which the manner of their government will necessarily have upon them. They rule over men, over thousands, it may be over millions, everyone of whom is worth more than a world. They enact and support the laws by which they are to be protracted in their names, persons, estates and all their civil and religious interests; nay, by which they are to live or die. They are guardians of everything dear to them. The many thousands over whom they bear rule will rejoice or mourn according to the manner in which they govern. It will have influence on the religion, morals, present and endless happiness of innumerable multitudes of the human race. Individuals, families, the present age, and generations to come may be exceedingly effected by their government and example. Is it possible then to calculate of what importance it is that they should show themselves to be men?
Further, in what a forcible and engaging point of light will this appear from the happy effects of a wise and righteous government? How are these attested by scripture and all experience? Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength and not for drunkenness. 22 When the righteous are in authority the people rejoice. 21 Their influence is represented as cheering as the light of the morning, and like the genial effects of the sun and rain, which clothe nature in all her beauties and produce fruits and harvests of every kind. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain. 22
How happy and honorable was the nation of Israel under the government of David and Solomon? How did the kingdom of Judah prosper in the reigns of Asa, Jehoshaphat, and other wise and pious kings? How have other nations and communities flourished under wise and good government? How great and happy have been the effects of it in New-England, and especially in Connecticut? How wise and free are her constitutions? How mild and salutary her system of laws, and the genius of her government? Where is liberty so amply enjoyed? Where is such provision made for schooling? And where is knowledge so generally diffused among the people? What commonwealth was ever governed with less expense, or to more general satisfaction? Where is the community upon earth which rivals her in these respects?
The distraction and misery to which a people are reduced, by a weak and wicked government, may add further light and energy to the point under consideration. The mouth of the Lord hath spoken, Woe unto thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning. 23 When the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn. 24 God denounceth it as one of the heaviest curses upon his own people, That he would give children to be their princes, and that babes should rule over them. 25
Facts and the experience of mankind, in every age and country, give us the same ideas of a weak and wicked government. How did the folly of rehoboam at once divide the kingdom of Israel, and deprive it of all that wealth, dignity and prosperity, to which the preceding reigns of his illustrious ancestors, David and Solomon, had raised it? How fatal and lasting were the effects of the wicked reigns of Jeroboam and his successors, on the throne of Israel; and of Ahaz, Manasseh, Amon and Zedekiah upon the throne of Judah? They have been the same in other nations in every period of the world! How have the impious and wicked governments of Europe, within the course of a few years, brought incalculable miseries on the people and astonished the world with new crimes? In what a strong and affecting point of light do these considerations evince how highly necessary and important it is that rulers show themselves to be men?
The consideration, that the blessing of God will attend a wise and pious government, and no other, is also of great consideration, to engage rulers to be strong and keep the charge of the Lord. That thou mayest prosper, says David, to his beloved Solomon, in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself. The words import that there is no prosperity to be expected for rulers themselves, nor their subjects, unless they show themselves strong, to keep the charge of the Lord, and to walk in his ways. At the same time, they contain an implication or promise, that if they will do these they shall prosper in all their measures, and be most happy in their government. The blessing of God will attend them and the people, and righteousness will exalt the nation.
In a word, that civil rulers, and all others, in the various departments and conditions of life, should act in character, as men, is of infinite moment to themselves. All are indispensibly bound to pay the first and principal attention to religion. Our Saviour and Judge has commanded, Seek first the kingdom of God. 26 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life. 27 If we are disobedient to these high commands, we shall deprive ourselves of the transcendent dignity and happiness of men. We shall destroy interests more valuable than the whole material system, and whatever our circumstances may have been in the present state, we shall mourn at last without pity or end. Our responsibility will be high and solemn, in proportion to the interests entrusted to us; and to our capacities, honors and opportunities. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him will they ask the more. 28
On a review of our subject it is natural to remark on the infinite ingratitude, horrible nature and criminality of sin. What language can describe the ingratitude of treason against him who has given such dignity and worth to man? How ineffable the criminality of destroying such a creature? How sorrowful would it be? How dreadful the crime to destroy the cities, the wealth and happiness of empires, to quench the sun and stars and obliterate the whole material system? But still more sorrowful and tremendous is it to ruin an immortal soul! To destroy one’s self! Well has the poet said,
“Not all these luminaries quench’d at once,
Were half so sad, as one benighted mind,
Which gropes for happiness, and meets despair.”
It is natural further to remark the necessity not only of rulers being men of prayer, constantly asking wisdom, and the high qualifications for good government, but that the people should pray for, and by all means encourage and support them. Proper views of the vast interests committed to their management, and of their high responsibility to God and men, cannot fail to awake in them, as it did in king Solomon, an impressive sense of the necessity of wisdom and aid from heaven, and of their diligently employing all means and opportunities to furnish themselves for public usefulness, and to call into exertion their whole capacity for the common weal.
At the same time, these views will strongly impress on the minds of good people, a sense of the duty of making supplications, prayers and intercessions for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty. 29 Under the same views and impressions, they will obey magistrates, and be in subjection, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 30 They will render tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. 31 They will be candid in judging and modest in speaking of men in authority, and of the public measures. They will be peaceable, contented, industrious and thankful under a good administration of government. With their lives and fortunes, they will support their constitutions and laws. They will abhor faction, discountenance public clamor and insurrection; and be far from the character of those who despise dominion and speak evil of dignities, and of those things which they know not. 32
Further, justice cannot be done to this subject without observing, that it furnisheth motives of the highest consideration to cultivate the mind, and to summon into exertion all the powers of man. Is it possible to describe, or even to conceive the weight of the arguments which his dignity, immortality and capacity for endless improvement and usefulness, for happiness or misery, furnish to persuade every man to be wise and good? Who can seriously contemplate them and not be all life and diligence in the service of God and his generation?
In this state, and at this eventful period, there are peculiar incentives, for all to show themselves men, and to be strong to keep the charge of the Lord our God: especially for the legislature. The good sense and order of our citizens; the encouragement and support, which, for more than a hundred and sixty years, they have uniformly given to the government; their steady conduct in electing men, who have been distinguished for wisdom and patriotism; and when they have once chosen them, in giving them their suffrages annually, during the period of life, or until, by reason of age, they have been incapacitated for public usefulness, is of great consideration, to encourage them to give themselves to the study of government and jurisprudence, and to possess themselves of every qualification which may render them publicly and most extensively useful. The expression of the general esteem of their fellow-citizens in annually placing them in the chair of state, cannot but conciliate their warmest affections, elevate their patriotism, and stimulate their exertions for the common weal. This, while it animates them, is of essential advantage to the citizens, as it gives them rulers rich in experience as well as knowledge. Experience in government is like experiment in philosophy; it teacheth that which nothing else can teach, and is to be depended on. These circumstances create mutual confidence between the ruler and subject, and greatly subserve the general peace and happiness.
On these auspicious circumstances, on the general health and plenty; on the preservation of the lives of his Excellency the Governor and Council, of the Judges of the Superior Court and of our citizens in general, with heartfelt joy, I beg leave to congratulate your Excellency, and this honorable General Assembly. That since the last general election there has been but one breach among the judges of our courts, and but two among two hundred of the clergy, 33 certainly demands our public notice and grateful acknowledgements. The flourishing state of our college and schools is matter of congratulation. These all exhibit motives to piety and usefulness. With the utmost deference, I wish to suggest to your excellency, and this honorable legislature, that you will appreciate and feel their influence. The examples of former governors and magistrates, which have shone with the most distinguishing luster, the happy and lasting effects of their government, the honor and pleasure of continuing and increasing the public happiness, and of important and extensive usefulness to the American States, and to the world of mankind, will not certainly escape your wise observation, nor be without their influence. The eventful period, in which you are called to public action, the uncommon field which presents itself for the display of all the greatness and goodness of man will not be without your notice.
Was there ever call for such a number of great and good men, and for the display of talents in the various departments of the national government, and in those of the government of the particular states, as there is as present? While our citizens are making settlements in every part of the United States; while they are settling a new and extensive government; while they are traversing the ocean, appearing in the East and West-Indies, and in almost every port in the habitable earth, what infinite service might be done to the cause of God and men, by training them to good government, to wisdom, piety, righteousness and the various social virtues? Who can calculate the good effects which it might have not only on the affairs of this state, but of the sister states in general? What happy influence it might have on the morals, civil and religious interests of the new settlements? How far it might extend its influence to future ages and to the four quarters of the earth?
To govern with views, and in a manner most subservient to these noble ends, will be, in the true import of our text, to show yourselves men.
The dangers attending government call for vigilance, manly wisdom and exertion. To maintain and cultivate the peace of America, amidst the animosities of Europe, and the conflicts and jealousies of numerous nations, to conciliate parties and preserve internal peace, to guard against the intrigue, perfidy and demoralization which have made Europe a field of blood, and spread unprecedented misery among a great proportion of the human race, are works becoming the dignity of man. Objects and motives of such magnitude, it is presumed, will arrest your attention, and call into exertion all your powers for the general prosperity and happiness. May you be strong nd show yourselves men, and so keep the charge of the Lord our God, that you may prosper in all that you do, and whithersoever you shall turn yourselves. May you by great and noble actions, the most extensive benevolence and usefulness, embalm your names to the latest posterity. Thus may you prepare for the closing scene of life, when, like David, you shall go the way of all the earth, and stand before him who is higher than the highest and judgeth among the Gods. Then may you meet his all-gracious approbation, and be forever as distinguished for dignity and blessedness among the sons of God, as you have been for exaltation and usefulness among men.
The dignity and worth of man call for universal exertion for his salvation. Especially do they challenge our exertions, my Reverend brethren, who are appointed to watch for souls, as those who must give account. 34 We have interests of our own more valuable than empires, and beside these, how many others of equal importance, are committed to our care? How solemn, how wonderful the trust? How extensive is the field of usefulness, which opens before us? How grand are the objects, how weighty the motives which call us to action. What immense good, by the blessing of God, may we, at such a period, effect by our spirited and faithful labors? By ably defending Christianity? By a zealous and faithful preaching of the doctrines of the cross? By an assiduous inculcation of Christian morals? By supporting government, and training up young men for usefulness in church and commonwealth? By diffusing the knowledge of Christ among the new and extensive settlements on our borders, and by communicating the blessings of salvation to the perishing Heathen of the American continent?
The union and correspondence we have formed with the Presbyterian churches in America, and a similar one with the ministers and churches of Vermont, afford advantages for the most extensive usefulness. The countenance which this honorable legislature have been pleased to give our charitable designs, the liberality with which our good citizens have supported them, and especially, the revival of God’s work in many of our congregations and in the new settlements, challenge our religious acknowledgements. At the same time, they afford engaging motives to perseverance and still greater exertions in our work. Shall we not then brace up with a kind of invincible and immortal vigor and heroism, and spring forward, with united hearts and exertions, to the divine employment to which we are called? Let us rise superior to this vain world, to all its allurements, reproach and persecution. Like the great apostle, warmed with the love of God and men, and fixing our eye upon the goal of glory, let none of these things move us, neither let us count our lives dear to us, that we may finish our course with joy; and the ministry we have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. 35
To conclude, since man is far greater than can be conceived, let all my hearers show themselves to be men. Contemplate, I beseech you, the transcendent worth and dignity of your natures. Know that you have interests of your own, an empire within, to govern, more valuable than Alexander’s or Caesar’s. You have to subdue your lusts and govern yourselves: To vanquish Satan and the world, or you can never be happy. You run not for corruptible and mortal, but for incorruptible and immortal crowns. You may be kings and priests, and reign with your Redeemer and his redeemed people forever. Deprive not yourselves of heavenly priesthood and royalty. Be not guilty of the infinite crime of destroying yourselves, nor of destroying others. Know that you have families to train to virtue and glory: That you are called to seek the peace, and promote the interests of the churches, societies and corporations to which you respectively belong: To support, build, make honorable and happy this commonwealth; this young, but extensive and growing nation. In proportion as you awake to these duties you will show yourselves to be men. Whatever you design to do, do it immediately; for soon, yes, very soon, like David, you will go the way of all the earth. Work therefore while the day lasteth; for the night cometh when no man can work. This will make you honorable and useful in life and happy in death. This will qualify you to rejoice in the gladness of God’s nation, and to glory with his inheritance forever. Amen.
33. Joseph Hopkins, Esquire; one of the judges of the Court for the County of New-Haven, the Rev. Nathaniel Taylor, one of the fellows of Yale-College, and the Rev. Timothy Langdon have deceased since the last election.