Reuben Puffer (1756-1829) graduated from Harvard in 1778. He was pastor of the Congregational church in Berlin, Mass. from 1781 until his death. He was awarded his Doctor of Divinity degree in 1810 by Harvard. This election sermon was preached by Rev. Puffer in Boston on May 25, 1803.
DELIVERED BEFORE HIS EXCELLENCY
CALEB STRONG, ESQ. GOVERNOUR,
EDWARD H. ROBBINS, ESQ. LT. GOV.
THE HONOURABLE THE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Commonwealth of Massachusetts,
May 25, 1803,
BEING THE DAY OF GENERAL ELECTION.
BY REUBEN PUFFER,
PASTOR OF THE CHURCH AT BERLIN.
PRINTED BY YOUNG AND MINNS.
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS.
ORDERED, That the Hon. Daniel Bigelow, Elijah Brigham and Jonathan Mason, Esquires, be a committee to wait on the Rev. Reuben Puffer, and, in the name of the Senate, to thank him for the Sermon he delivered this day before His Excellency the Governour, His Honour the Lieutenant Governour, the Honourable the Council, and the two Branches of the Legislature, and to request of him a copy for the press.
LUKE XIX. 44.
Because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.
The origin, progress, decline, and final subversion of civil states, yield a most interesting subject of contemplation. Beheld through the medium of history, they attract the notice, and command the attention of mankind. They are to be regarded as so many monuments erected by the hand of heaven for the benefit of succeeding ages. They point to the causes, by the joint operation of which nations rose and fell. They lay open the sources both of human felicity and misery. And they admonish the world to avail itself of the means, by which the latter may be escaped, and the former secured. The history of no nation is more replete with instruction, than that of the Jews; nor can any portion of their national existence be surveyed to greater advantage, than the one under review.
The dispensations of heaven towards this people, connected with their perverse conduct, form a striking contrast. On the one hand, we behold with astonishment the patience and forbearance of Deity; with scarcely less astonishment we view, on the other, a train of provocation, which admits of no parallel. At the time of which we are speaking, principles of a dangerous nature and tendency were adopted; a most pernicious fanaticism was prevailing; and such was the prostration of morals, such the unbelief, obstinacy, impiety, and abuse of things civil and sacred, as indicated the approach of some dangerous crisis.
This is a just account of the moral state of the nation at the time of our Saviour’s advent.
The outrage and violence, experienced by this Divine Teacher, are well known. It was in the foresight of his own death, and of the consequent judgments of heaven, that he uttered the pathetic lamentation, of which the text is the conclusion.
He was now on his last journey to Jerusalem. When that celebrated city opened to his view, which had long enjoyed, and long resisted the efforts of divine goodness and grace; where prophets and righteous men, sent to reclaim them, had cruelly and unjustly suffered; where he himself was shortly to be added to the number of these victims of popular prejudice, it affected him in the most sensible manner. A mingled tide of grief, compassion, and regret rushed upon his mind, and found vent in a flood of tears. “He beheld the city, and wept over it, saying; if thou hadst known, even thou, at least, in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.”
These last words assign the reason of that unequalled calamity, which shortly befell this devoted nation. While they lead us to explore the situation occupied by ourselves, they likewise bring into view those principles and habits, which are connected with our safety and happiness.
If we carefully search the records of divine providence, we shall be led to believe that nations, as well as individuals, have their seasons of visitation, when heaven is propitious; when the opportunity and means of happiness are afforded; and when it is in their power, by availing themselves of these advantages, to lay a foundation of solid and lasting prosperity. The entire history of God’s ancient people is an illustration of this remark. We scruple not to affirm, that proofs of it exist among all nations. They certainly exist in our own, and claim the attentive consideration of all.
Here it may be pertinently asked, when a people may be said to know the time of their visitation? They know this, when they duly consider the “signs of the times,” the character and aspect of divine providence towards them. They know this, when they appreciate present advantages and blessings, and do not hazard the loss of them in the delusive pursuit of a splendid phantom, of romantic schemes of liberty and equality, which can never be realized. Especially, they know this, when they eagerly seize, and diligently improve, the only safe and proper means for establishing national glory and tranquility.
There is a strong resemblance betwixt the character and state of nations, and of individuals. By prudent attention to their affairs, some, among the latter, acquire property, and rise into respectability, while others fall the untimely victims of profligacy. Is there not something resembling this visible among nations? Pursuing similar courses, they flourish or decline, ascend the heights of prosperity, or rush to the loss of freedom, of independence, and of all those political, civil, moral, and religious blessings, of which they once had the quiet and peaceable enjoyment.
Casting our eyes over those regions celebrated in ancient story, and what is discoverable, but a vast field of human misery and woe, where lie scattered round the broken remains of national greatness, policy, and power? Leaving these dreary realms, the prospect varies; brighter scenes, and more pleasing objects surround us. But concealed beneath the specious surface, principles are in operation, which tend to reproduce like disorders and calamities. Names and nations have changed; but their errors remain. New forms of government have arisen; but the evils which proved fatal to the old were not eradicated. Modern history with respect to ancient, is but a later edition of the wars and revolutions of nations; of struggles for freedom rarely crowned with success; or if in a few instances successful, the objects of which have speedily vanished, and left the people in less eligible circumstances than before. Thousands perish; but nothing worthy the sacrifice is gained to the sum of human happiness. Are we at a loss to account for these things? The solution is to be found in the text, “They knew not the times of their visitation.”
Rescued from foreign dominion by the outstretched arm of Omnipotence, and recently admitted to the honour of an independent existence, the United States now come forward to enjoy their day. Their political probation has commenced. The trial is progressing, and the decision impending, which shall make known, whether they are to be confirmed in the possession and enjoyment of the blessings of a free people, or be deprived of them.
How important is this period! How extensive the benefits, or the evils, that shall eventually flow from it! Posterity, distant generations, the race of man, are deeply concerned in the transactions of this time. These will reflect a bright ray, or cast a dark shade on ages to come.
No man liveth to himself. We live, we act for those who shall come after us. The customs, the manners, the habits, the national character now forming, will probably affect posterity of many generations. Their condition will take its complexion from this age. Their rights must descend to them through our hands. If by any neglect or misconduct on our part, these rights, of which we are the trustees and guardians, shall be forfeited and lost, they are forfeited and lost not to ourselves only, but to our descendants, who, in this respect, will suffer the consequences of their fathers’ sins.
Comparing our own with other countries, who can forbear to exclaim; “The lines are fallen to us in pleasant places; yea, we have a goodly heritage! Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like to thee, O people saved by the Lord!” saved “from the lion’s mouth, and from the horns of the unicorns.” It is not pride, it is pious gratitude, to say, that the blessings of freedom are enjoyed to as high perfection by us, as by any people on the face of the earth; perhaps to as high perfection, as will consist with the security of those blessings. They are not the exclusive privilege of a few: like the light and rain of heaven, they are a common gift, extending their salutary influence to the most distant part, and to the meanest individual. A situation so highly favoured, few nations have known. But are we secure of its continuance? Stands our mountain so strong, that it cannot be removed? Far otherwise. Whenever there shall be a general departure from the principles, which give support and permanency to our national institutions, they will then crumble to atoms.
It seems to be a maxim in the divine government, that when a people are no longer worthy of freedom, they shall cease to be free; that when they deserve to be slaves, they shall not long remain without their desert.
If such shall be the righteous doom of our country, which heaven avert! Then will this our day, wherein God hath “visited and redeemed his people,” rise, and witness against us. Then, with what anguish will posterity reflect on this period! In what accents of grief lament the mistakes, the errors, the faults, and the crimes, which combined to rob them of their rich inheritance, and left them poor indeed!
Admitting for a moment the painful supposition, and methinks I hear some future historian, after contrasting the happiness of our time with the wretchedness of his own, closing his remarks with these poignant reflections.
Happy America, hadst thou known, in the day of thy visitation, the things which belonged to thy peace! But these were hidden from thine eyes. Agitated by party, and rent by internal dissensions, thy true interests were neglected. Disagreeing about the best means of promoting the public good, the favourable opportunity for effecting this object was suffered to escape unimproved. Now, how art thou fallen! The days of darkness are come upon thee. The glory is departed. Lost is that freedom, which cost thee so dear. Perished are those liberties left in thy possession, and with paternal solicitude recommended to thy care, by the first of patriots and the best of men.
To proceed. The human race claims a share in the events of this day.
America arrests the attention of all nations. “We are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men.” The experiment is here making, whether, human guilt and depravity considered, mankind are capable of preserving the spirit, and supporting the form of a free, republican government. God forbid! that the negative should receive its last and decisive proof in us. If, indeed, our opinion were to be formed on past success, we should have reason to tremble for the result. In every instance that can be named, the trial has disappointed the hope of mankind. The singular advantages possessed by us, afford the prospect of a more favorable issue. Remote from other nations, there is less danger of falling under their influence, or of being involved in their endless disputes. A people dwelling alone, to use the expressive language of scripture, occupy a place of safety unknown to those, whose motions are perpetually disturbed by the proximity, and consequent powerful attraction of larger bodies. Add to this, we have the experience of past ages to guide our inquiries; to disclose hidden dangers; to develop the causes of failure in other instances; to acquaint us with the most probable methods of success; and to point out the course which ought to be pursued.
If with all these advantages the experiment should fail; should America follow the course of former republics, and exhibit only a transient view of liberty, glittering like a meteor for awhile, and then totally disappearing, what a dark aspect must it needs have on the common cause of mankind! Would the attempt to establish free governments again be made? Could it again be made on fairer grounds, and with better prospects? Must not the object, for which we have successfully contended be given up, on that contingency, as untenable? However reluctantly, must not the idea of equal liberty be thence-forward relinquished? With the freedom of America, will perish the world’s last, best hope; and ages will probably pass away ere mankind will have the courage to make a similar effort.
Contemplating the great things God hath done for this land, it imparts a hope that he will not destroy the work of his hands, and that future time shall perfect that which is begun in our day. But we have also our fears.
Will it be said that these fears exist only in a gloomy imagination? That they are visionary and groundless? Would to heaven they were! But if like causes must have like effects; if the eternal creator has so adjusted the relations of things in our world, that, in their general operation, virtue and piety lead to happiness, vice and irreligion terminate in misery; if, under his government, relaxation of moral principle is a prelude to the desolating judgments of heaven; then say, have we not some reason to apprehend that the day will come, (O that it might be a distant day!) which, concerning this noble structure of civil and religious freedom, shall verify our Saviour’s prediction; “There shall not be left in thee one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down?”
Solemn words! Who can read or hear them without emotion? Who can think of their past, and not anticipate a future accomplishment? We are as yet upon our probation. The irreversible decree is not yet gone forth. The season of heaven’s merciful visitation continues. But if it be suffered to depart unimproved, it departs to return no more.
Let us look on other nations, and receive instruction. Let those which have fallen from distinguished heights of preeminence, be our monitors. Let us hearken to that voice, with which from the depth of their ruins they cry aloud to us, Beware of the errours, that proved our destruction!
Never, it is believed, since the days of the jewish theocracy, has an equal opportunity for laying a foundation of lasting national happiness been afforded; and never, perhaps, if we except that nation, will another be found so despicable as our own, should we fail to do it. Raised to a high point of elevation, it remains, under providence, with ourselves, whether we shall maintain our allotted station in the political hemisphere; or like a star fallen from its orb, sink to blackness of darkness forever.
The principals and habits connected with national safety and welfare, come next to be considered.
Among the things that should engage the earliest attention, is correct information, or enlightened views of their state and circumstances.
Knowledge is to a people what the light of the sun is to the world. The general diffusion of accurate sentiments must lead them to a true understanding of the nature, use, and value of their rights; of the dangers that threaten their existence; of the enemies by whom, and the part on which they will most likely be assailed; and of the means necessary to their preservation.
It is by successfully playing off among them the arts of deception; by giving a wrong and perverted turn to public opinion; by begetting in the minds of the people a jealousy of their best friends, and persuading them to place unbounded confidence in those who have an interest in deceiving them, that their liberties have been usually wrested out of their hands. Here the work of mischief begins; hence originates that rage for innovation, which like a resistless torrent, sweeps away all the defences of public liberty erected by wisdom and foresight, and in its course demolishes the stablest pillars of social order and happiness.
To ensure safety, and to disappoint the views of disorganizers, a people must keep a steady eye upon their true interests. Cool and dispassionate, yet watchful and circumspect, they must pursue that line of conduct, which, after the best information to be obtained, appears most conducive to the general benefit. Vigilance is the guardian angel of freedom; if that be lulled asleep, this falls an easy prey to the first bold invader.
A patriotic spirit is intimately connected with the happiness of a people.
This is a branch of the great principle of benevolence; the love of our neighbour extended on the broad scale of the community. It consists not in empty professions, but in actual services. It leads a man to promote the good of the public, by a faithful discharge of the duties of his particular rank and station in society.
What a bright example of genuine patriotism was exhibited in the life of Jesus Christ? He gave the best evidence of love to his country, by his incessant labours for its good. The lost sheep of the house of Israel had the benefit of his instruction, of his miraculous operations, and of his prayers. He lamented their infidelity, and wept at the foresight of their impending fate. Though unjustly condemned by an act of public authority, it did not extinguish this patriotic flame. He died, not imprecating vengeance, but interceding heaven for his implacable persecutors. When, after his resurrection, his disciples were sent forth to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation in all the world, he expressly commanded the first offer to be made to his own nation; “beginning at Jerusalem.” How unlike was he to some modern patriots, who, amidst the warmest professions of attachment to their country, are industriously aiming at personal emolument? How unlike the spirit manifested by him is that spurious passion which, usurping the name of patriotism, kindles the torch of war, and spreads desolation over the face of the earth?
So far as love of country is a real virtue, it is recommended by the spirit of the gospel, and sanctioned by the example of the benevolent Saviour.
This is an instructive lesson to rulers. With what ardour should they copy the amiable original! To all around, their practice should hold this language; “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”
That a people may flourish, they must cultivate industry, frugality, and temperance; and discourage the opposite vices.
Luxury and dissipation, idleness and intemperance, are the well known enemies of freedom. By rendering men unworthy, they make them incapable of this blessing. By debasing their sentiments, and corrupting their principles, they convert them into the instruments of their own degradation.
This remark receives a striking illustration in the Asiatic countries, where sloth and effeminacy have done that, which, without the aid of such auxiliaries, tyrants could never have effected; where the wretched inhabitants, long degraded to the lowest state of vassalage, have lost the hope, and almost the desire of meliorating their condition.
The liberties of a people will flourish or decline, in proportion as the virtues in question are cherished or forsaken. They impart health to the body, and energy to the mind. They are the pillars of national glory and strength, no less than of individual prosperity.
As the means of gratification multiply with our increasing wealth, it should induce a caution, how we depart too far from the simplicity of former times, the happy age of our fathers; left, with the loss of their domestic virtues, we lose also that independent spirit, the very soul of freedom, which those virtues have bequeathed us.
The manners of men in elevated stations will have a commanding effect. May the speaker therefore be permitted to solicit the influence of their example in aid of those social virtues, which coexist with the prosperity of a people, and the progress of whose ruin will be marked with their decline.
Union and harmony are the safeguard of a people; disunion and animosity a source of danger.
Amidst the prevalence of party, the common good too often ceases to be an object. In the heat of altercation, men forget they have a country; forget they have liberties, which must be secured and defended by union. More intent upon carrying some favourite point, or in mortifying an opponent, than in doing what the substantial interests of the community render necessary, they seem not to reflect how much those interests, which all profess to have at heart, are weakened and exposed.
Should jealousy and discord prevail to that degree in these states, as to blind their eyes to the common advantage, and lead them in pursuit of separate objects, the connecting bond, which now unites them into one people, will be quickly dissevered. Whenever that event shall take place, instead of being a respectable nation, we shall be broken into a number of unconnected parts, among which a destructive rivalship of interfering interests will continue to exist, until someone popular leader, more successful than his competitors, shall make himself master of the whole. Thus ended the quarrels between the Grecian States, in the dominion of a Philips, and of an Alexander.
To what is the instability of free governments owing? And by what means have they usually been subverted? By ambitious men fomenting jealousies, and sowing the seeds of disunion among the people, until, availing themselves of the scenes of confusion that ensued, they found means to seize on their liberties, and left them nothing to contend about. By arts like these, after long and violent convulsions, the enormous fabric of the Roman Commonwealth sunk at length into one universal, unqualified despotism.
Much does it concern every true friend of his country, and of man, to guard against this pernicious evil; to repress the virulence of party; to shun irritation; and to promote, to the utmost, union, harmony, and a mutual good understanding. Embarked in the common cause of freedom, how criminal shall we be to endanger it by our dissensions? Members of the same body, how unnatural our conduct, when actuated by disuniting, dissocial passions? “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” Act rather by this rule, “As free, yet not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.”
The choice of rulers is another thing, which nearly affects the well being of a state.
The right of suffrage is one of the most important exercised by a free people. Language must fail to express the ill effects of a negligent, careless use of this privilege. If many forbear to act, if many more act without a due regard to the characters and principles of candidates, public stations will be filled by men who do not merit the distinction. It will be still worse, if the exercise of this privilege shall fall under the influence of intrigue and management. For then there will exist in fact a secret, invisible power in the bosom of the state; an active principle, the effects of which bid defiance to calculation; the germ of revolution; the source of those numberless mischiefs, by which free governments are disturbed, convulsed, and overthrown. Our liberties will perish, they will then perish, when elections shall be conducted on principles, and be influenced by motives foreign to the public welfare.
A wise, upright, energetic administration, is essential to the honour, safety, and happiness of a people. While it commands respect abroad, it will secure internal peace, order, and tranquility. But when weakness, timidity, and irresolution hold, with a palsied hand, the reins of government, the evil affects the entire system, and is felt in the remotest extremities. Public proceedings bear evident marks of languor, indecision, want of consistent plan, and neglect to seize the advantage of existing circumstances. In this state of things there is much to fear, nothing to hope. The general tendency is to anarchy and dissolution. Patriotism weeps over the declining glories of her country, and with keen sensations of grief realizes her exposure to foreign insult, and to unrestrained domestic disorders.
This view of a feeble administration must evince the importance of raising to office, those who possess energy and strength of mind to support the dignity of government, and to protect the rights of the people.
If it be demanded, what the qualifications of good rulers are; and how the people are to be directed in the choice of such? Let inspired scripture give the answer. “Thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them.”
That rulers must be “able men,” possessing a competency of natural and acquired accomplishments, is universally agreed. The necessity of religious principle has been contested. But if it be this, which gives direction and force to other principles; which adds dignity and worth to character; which lifts men to noble heights of virtue, to look with disdain on every mean artifice, on every base, dishonest, immoral practice; then, if this be set aside, no sufficient security remains for the fidelity of rulers; and there is reason to apprehend the abuse of power, and breach of public trust, so oft as the prospect of personal advantage, aided by the belief of concealment, or the hope of impunity, shall present the temptation. Allow to other principles all that can be justly said on their behalf; still this will have a preponderating influence, over which no sinister motive can prevail. Bearing in mind the tribunal of the Supreme Judge, before which rulers great men must stand, as well as those of meaner rank, awed and impressed with the solemn thought, they will aim to be “the ministers of God for good;” and to answer the design of their elevation, in being “a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well.”
None but characters of this description merit the suffrages of a free, enlightened public.
In hereditary governments, a people are not answerable for the character and qualifications of the civil magistrate. It is not their fault, but their misfortune, when high stations are not filled with the best men. In elective republics it is otherwise. Where power emanates from the immediate act of the people, it is both their sin and their punishment, when it falls on improper and unqualified subjects.
Consonant to this remark is the following passage from a sermon, delivered nearly forty years since, on an occasion similar to the present; 1 which I the rather beg leave to introduce, as displaying, in a lively manner, the sentiment and spirit of our fathers. “When,” says the preacher, “a people immediately appoint their own rulers, they are to the last degree infatuated , if they fix on those, who are not capable of seeing with their own eyes, but are obliged to move by the direction of others, or who get into power to gratify their vanity, their luxury, or their avarice; and it requires no spirit of prophecy to foresee, that a community who are so lost to public virtue, are nigh to destruction. A people may be deceived, they may be betrayed, by men in whom they put confidence. But they deserve to be abandoned by providence, if they trust their interest with men, whom they know to be either weak or wicked.”
The last thing to be noticed, as connected with national safety and happiness, is the regard paid to the obligations and institutions of religion.
It is not thought necessary to enter into a formal proof of the beneficial influence of religion upon the peace and the order, the security and the welfare of society. This has been often done in the most satisfactory manner. Let it be simply asked: If the responsibility of human conduct be denied, what remains to deter men from atrocious criminality? If the restraints which religion imposes be taken off, will not evil men wax worse and worse? Will principles, which confound the distinctions of right and wrong, virtue and vice, conduct their votaries in the paths of integrity and honour? Or will a man be more temperate, more just, more attentive to his duty, and better serve his generation, the less he believes in the moral government of Deity, and a future state of retribution? Whatever may have been advanced to the contrary, if you remove religious principle, no sufficient base will be left for the support of moral and social duty. If you take the fear of God away, and the expectation of a judgment to come, you loosen those cords, you burst asunder those bands, by which men are held to be good men, good neighbours, good citizens, good subjects, and good rulers. In a word, religion is the palladium of social order and happiness; and those, who are striving to break down its altars, and to overthrow its institutions, are to be regarded as in a state of hostility to the dearest interests of man.
The love of our country, the memory of our pious ancestors, the happiness of unborn millions, and our own eternal salvation, all conspire to exact it of us as a duty, to cherish the principles, adhere to the institutions, cultivate the virtues, and imitate the examples of our holy religion. Whenever we shall degenerate from the piety of our forefathers to that degree, that the house of God shall be forsaken; the ministers of religion be cast off as a useless encumbrance; and our Sabbath’s sacred to devotion, be converted into days of amusement and pleasure; then shall we have abandoned the ark of our safety; then shall we find ourselves, without chart or compass, afloat on the troubled sea of revolution, liable to be swallowed up by every swelling surge, and exposed to perish in the storm, which our own vices have contributed to raise.
Deeply impressed with the importance of religion to the happiness of a state, it greatly adds to the joy of this anniversary, and must be esteemed a token for good, that we see repeatedly placed at the head of the commonwealth, by the increasing suffrages of his fellow-citizens, a chief magistrate, who is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; and in whose character are united the accomplished statesman, and the devout Christian. Bound by the strongest and most endearing ties to the civil and religious institutions of his country, these, we doubt not, will have his decided support. Under an administration combining dignity with mildness, energy with moderation, and rectitude of measures with a liberal regard to the sentiments and feelings of the community, we promise ourselves great quietness. It shall be our fervent prayer for his Excellency, that he may continue to “see the desire of his heart, and peace upon Israel.” At some far distant period, having served his generation according to the will of God, may he quit the labours of a mortal, to receive the crown of an immortal life.
The gentleman re-elected to the second office in government, will accept our cordial congratulation. While this affords a pleasing testimony of the public approbation of his past services, it yields likewise a stimulus to further claims upon it. Convinced of His Honour’s zeal and abilities, we anticipate with pleasure the fruits of their exertion for the good of the Commonwealth.
In our divided state of public opinion, it much concerns the legislative branches of government to have “understanding in the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” The people hope for, and permit me to say, they have a right to expect in their rulers, a firm adherence to those principles and measures, which have raised us to a state of prosperity unequalled in the history of civil society. From such principles and measures, what discerning friend of his country will wish for a departure? Rapidly advancing in the road of improvement, what may we promise ourselves from a change? In your wisdom and integrity, respected rulers, do we confide, that the powers, constitutionally vested in you, will be uniformly employed in checking a progress of innovation; in preserving the union of the states under the general government; and in maintaining the strength and proportions of that goodly edifice, which deservedly attracts the admiration of the world.
May divine wisdom guide, and divine goodness crown your deliberations with success! Under your auspices, may the principles of freedom be well understood; genuine patriotism increase; the social and moral virtues prevail; and the uncorrupt religion of the gospel attain an influence unknown to former time! May this age, in which you are called to act a part so conspicuous, hereafter arise and shine with bright characters of distinction! And at the day of final audit, may you receive the rewards allotted to the friends and benefactors of mankind!
Men and Brethren of this numerous assembly.
We all profess to have the same object in view, the good of our common country. Whatever want of agreement there may be among us in other respects, let us at least unite in supplicating the God of our mercies, that he will be pleased to enlighten the guides of our nation with wisdom from above; that he will lead them in the paths of understanding, and make darkness light before them; that he will direct to the adoption of wise, safe, and judicious measures; and that he will preserve from dangerous errours and mistakes.
Amidst the fluctuation of human events, one point of comfort eternally remains, that the Lord reigneth. Defeat may attend the best concerted schemes of mortals; but his counsel shall stand. The wrath, the follies, and even the impieties of men shall praise him. Through all obstructions, the purposes of heaven shall hold an uninterrupted course, till they issue at length in the glorious discoveries of the perfect day.
Taking the prophetic writings for our guide, we are led to expect, that great events are yet to be unfolded. In them a period is clearly foretold, when wars shall cease; war, that scourge of nations, that indelible stigma on human nature! When the blessings of equal liberty, rarely known on earth, shall become the inheritance of all men; when civil and religious institutions, no more at variance, shall combine their influence to produce the greatest good; and when Christianity shall triumph over all that is corrupt and vicious in the human heart and manners.
Then shall commence the genuine age of reason, and perfectability of man; of which certain blind philosophers, in language stolen from prophetic inspiration, have spoken, but like Caiaphus, known not they were uttering a prophecy. Not, however, in the manner predicted by them; not by “throwing Christianity into the background,” and advancing infidelity and atheism in its place, shall this event happen; but by the universal spread of the gospel, and the prevalence of its sacred principles.
None can be ignorant of the attempts to discredit the authority, and to abolish the influence of divine revelation. To what lengths these may yet be carried, or with what degree of success they may for a time be attended, cannot be foreseen. But, eventually, the truth as it is in Jesus shall prevail. The enlightened eye of faith, through all the surrounding darkness, descries the triumphs of the cross, the bright glories of the Redeemer’s reign. Of those triumphs, of these glories, our country shall one day partake. For so runs the decree of the Almighty; “I will give thee the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” And though mercenary Balaams should come from afar; though they should ascend every high place, and from every point of observation utter their blasphemies “against the Lord, and against his anointed;” yet, so far from defeating, they shall be made, contrary to their intention, to subserve “the purpose of him, who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”
In the mean time, let us be guarded against every insidious attempt to corrupt our principles, or misguide our practice. It concerns us to beware, that no man spoil us through philosophy and vain deceit that we forsake not the old paths, which righteous men have trodden, for the unsafe ones of later inventions; and that we hearken not to the plausible, but ill grounded schemes of modern theorists, having for their object the demolition of all that the wisdom of ages, of all that divine wisdom has reared up; and which, if they meet with no check, if they proceed with their refinements, will erelong refine us out of the blessings of a free people, leaving us only the shadow of liberty, and perhaps not even so much as that. Let us aim to have just views of the situation, interests, and welfare of our country, and strive to promote these important objects. Particularly, let us cultivate in our own hearts, and recommend by our example to others, the social, moral, and Christian duties. Laying aside all bitterness and wrath, and evil speaking, let us seek the things that make for peace. Let us conduct our elections, both as respects the general and state governments, with due caution. Aware of its importance, let us cherish an attachment to the national constitution, the cement of our union, the ground and pillar of our political hopes. Whatever be the station in society we fill, whether dignified or humble, let us discharge the duties of it with all good fidelity. Let us, in fine, “exemplify in ourselves, maintain in our families, diffuse among our acquaintance, and transmit to succeeding generations, the sentiments and manners of confederate republicans, and sincere christians.”
On a due attention to these things, our national safety and glory depend. We shall stand or fall, rise to distinguished eminence, or sink to contempt and misery, by the character we establish for virtue or vice, religion or infidelity. If we know and improve the time of our visitation, then from us shall blessings flow down to posterity, and to mankind at large. Neglecting this, the loss of American liberty will furnish to future ages and generations one proof more of the truth of this moral aphorism, that “sin is the reproach and the ruin of any people.” “O that we were wise, that we understood this, that we would consider our latter end! O that there were such an heart in us, that we would fear the Lord, and keep all his commandments always, that it might be well with us and with our children forever!”