Thomas Allen (1743-1810) graduate from Harvard in 1762. He was pastor of the Congregational Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts from his ordination in 1764 until his death. He twice volunteered as a chaplain during the revolutionary war and took up arms in the Battle of Bennington. The following sermon was preached by Rev. Allen on May 25, 1808.
HIS EXCELLENCY, JAMES SULLIVAN, ESQ.
HIS HONOR, LEVI LINCOLN, ESQ.
THE HONOURABLE COUNCIL,
BOTH BRANCHES OF THE LEGISLATURE
Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
ON THE DAY OF
MAY 25TH, 1808.
BY THOMAS ALLEN, A. M.
MINISTER OF THE CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH IN PITTSFIELD.
PRINTED BY ADAMS AND RHOADES,
PRINTERS TO THE STATE.
In House of Representatives, May 25, 1808.
Clerk of the House.
I TIMOTHY, iv. 8.
GODLINESS IS PROFITABLE UNTO ALL THINGS, HAVING PROMISE OF THE LIFE, THAT NOW IS, AND OF THAT WHICH IS TO COME.
True religion is the only foundation of human happiness. The gospel of Jesus Christ contains a system of religious truth and duty, the best adapted to promote personal, domestic, and national good. It affords us the most excellent rules of conduct in every condition of life. The sacred volume gives us the most ample instructions with respect to all social and relative duties; and it points out the design of civil government, and makes known the duty of rulers.
An inspired apostle assures us in our text, that godliness is profitable unto all things; that religious obligation reaches every state and condition of life, even the most exalted. The Christian spirit, when it is possessed, pervades the whole conduct, and is felt through the whole soul.
The nature of godliness, its necessity and importance in the character of civil rulers and of the people, and its usefulness in promoting public happiness will be the topics of discourse on this anniversary. Though frequently touched upon by those, who have gone before the preacher in the offices of this day, the subject has not yet been exhausted; or if it had been, it might be reviewed with advantage.
The preacher is duly sensible of the great respect, that is due to this numerous assembly, and must appeal to a spirit of candor in an age of taste and refinement for the want of those modern embellishments, which advanced years seldom possess. If he can speak with the faithfulness, the subject and the occasion demand, and in demonstration of the spirit and with power, he shall not lament the absence of the recommendations of style.
Godliness comprises the whole Christian character. It embraces the whole Christian system. It receives its doctrines and precepts as of divine origin. It contains in it supreme love to God, and an ultimate regard to his glory, and a subordination of all selfish views to the highest good of the creation. It leads us to obey God and uniformly to fulfill the duties which relate to him and our neighbour at every hazard and loss. It implies a change of heart, the renovation of our souls by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; a resurrection from the dead to spiritual and divine life, the seed and beginning of life eternal. It consists in the divine likeness, in the moral image of our creator; and contains in it all that is implied in the new creature, repentance unto life, the faith of God’s elect, the sanctification of the spirit, and being rich in all good works. It implies a heart reconciled to God, subjected to him as the Supreme Ruler, and devoted to him as the last end of the universe. The possession of true godliness implies that we are delivered from the bondage of sin, and enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God: that we are upright before him, and have respect unto all his commandments; and that Christ is in us the hope of glory, that we believe the sufficiency of his mediation, and place our whole dependence upon what he has done for our redemption.
Godliness in the human breast is a precious gift of Heaven, it is an unction from the Holy One, a seal and earnest of the Spirit, a well of water springing up to everlasting life. It triumphs over every selfish consideration, inflexibly adheres to truth and duty, notwithstanding every discouragement, and opens the eyes to see the truth as it is in Jesus. It courts no man’s favor, and fears no man’s censure so as to make shipwreck of a good conscience; and nothing can quench the sacred flame. No dangers, no losses, no sufferings will overcome it. The virtuous principle in man will be supported by the author of it, and he will crown it with glory and salvation.
The usefulness of godliness is asserted in the text. It is profitable unto all things. It is useful in every condition and relation in life. Its natural tendency is to promote our real happiness in this world, as it enables us to prosecute our worldly business to the greatest advantage, by rendering us temperate, industrious, and frugal. It yields the peace of God, which now is, and of that which is to come. God will withhold no good thing from them, who walk uprightly, and all things shall work together for good to them, who love God. Great will be their happiness here, but inexpressibly greater in the world to come. I give unto my sheep, saith our Saviour, eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any be able to pluck them out of my hands.
Let us now consider the importance and usefulness of godliness in the character of civil rulers, as the words are to be understood without limitations.
It is not indeed the only qualification necessary in the character of a good ruler, many pious persons are not qualified for that office. To piety, must be joined a cultivated understanding, a good judgment, a penetrating discernment. But godliness is of primary importance, and sanctifies other talents, and renders them useful. The God and rock of Israel hath said, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And the wisest of mere men, under the inspiration of him, whose understanding is infinite, hath said, When the righteous are in authority the people rejoice; but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn. In the latter case their interests are betrayed, and unnecessary burdens imposed on them.
Godliness will preserve rulers from those views and pursuits, from that selfishness and partiality, which are of pernicious influence on the public good.
Godliness will preserve rulers from bribery, and corruption, and from that covetousness, which is idolatry. They will not love the wages of unrighteousness, nor bow before the shrine of Mammon. Nothing can purchase their integrity, nothing seduce them from the path of righteousness.
Godly rulers will guard against pride and self exaltation, against that undue love of commendation and applause, which leadeth men astray. If it be more honorable to seek the approbation of a nation of freemen, than that of an individual; yet even here there is danger. The public esteem may be too highly regarded, as it always is, when men do what they believe is wrong in order to obtain it.
Godly rulers will not endeavour to subvert our excellent government, nor to wrest from the people their civil and religious rights by introducing arbitrary power. A principle of religion will teach them ever to respect the liberties of the people, and to become ministers of God for good to them. Neither civil nor ecclesiastical tyranny will ever be countenanced by pious magistrates.
True godliness will preserve rulers from the rage of conquest, and the desire of extending the territories of a nation or its advantages in commerce on the ruins of justice and humanity. National glory does not consist in the terror of arms, in the power to oppress and desolate the earth; but in a sacred regard to the principles of justice and equity, in promoting peace on earth and good will to men. Let it be our boast, that we have found out the untrodden path of national glory, which consists in diffusing happiness, in encouraging everything, which shall tend to the present or future welfare of the members of the community.
Godliness will keep rulers from framing unjust laws, and from violating in their own persons, the laws they have made. When legislators themselves disregard the laws they have enacted, the discordance of their example and their official conduct must have a most pernicious influence on society. On the contrary, if by their practice they enforce obedience to the laws, their example will co-operate with legislative provisions, and greatly conduce to the public welfare.
Godliness will induce magistrates, to whom is entrusted the administration of the laws, to preserve the fountains of justice pure. They will hold the balances with a equal, impartial hand; and no prejudice, nor passion will induce them to pervert judgment.
Pious rulers will be opposed to state establishments of religion, and to the impositions of creeds. They will leave religion, where Christ and his Apostles left it, to be propagated by the force of argument and persuasion, and not by the authority of civil government. They will not assail the liberty of these independent churches.
As godliness will preserve rulers from those measures, which are injurious to society, so it will lead them to seek the promotion of the public good.
They will give the people the benefit of their pure examples. Their veneration for the holy scriptures, their regard to the sacred institutions of religion, their affection for the faithful ministers of the gospel, their fear of God and constant sense of accountableness to him will give a lustre to their characters, which will shine around them.
They will legislate in obedience to God, for the good of the people. They will frame wise and just, and not oppressive laws. They will adopt measures for the general welfare, and not for the advantage of a few.
True religion is not only of happy influence on rulers to make them the greatest blessings to society; but it is equally important among the great body of the people in order to the security of national happiness. Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. Knowledge, morality, and piety diffused through a nation are a sure pledge of its welfare; while ignorance, profaneness, and impiety forebode its destruction.
Such is the importance, and usefulness of the principles and practice of true religion in the hearts and lives of rulers, and the people in order to national happiness. Lo, this is the way; let us walk therein, and we shall find rest to our souls. Nor can I think of any other course we can take for the restoration of peace and unity, after we have been so long rent by divisions, but by the restoration of living, vital religion. True godliness only can ever make us one again, and as we cannot meet on the ground of uniformity of sentiment, we must meet on that of mutual love, which may exist amidst a discordancy of views. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. Without the exercise of this mutual affection, nothing can restore our lost peace.
It is to the principles of true godliness, that we owe the present happiness of our country. These principles brought our first fathers here. The seeds of virtue, which they early planted, have grown, and yielded us their descendants a rich harvest of blessings, which we hope will be continued to our posterity. Our literary institutions have enriched our land with the most exalted and virtuous characters; and it must be our desire, that they may train up our youth in sentiments of respect for our republican form of government, that they may be abundantly useful to our country, and may receive the most liberal encouragement from the legislature.
Though for the present our ships are shut up in our harbours to preserve them from capture by European powers; yet do we enjoy national happiness in a remarkable degree. The general face of our country proclaims, that this is not the abode of wretchedness. Survey the cattle upon a thousand hills and the abundance, which everywhere exists, and say if this be a land of poverty and want? The temples for the worship of God, convenient and elegant, which have been multiplied through the country, are not the monuments of our departed glory; nor do we find evidence of our approaching ruin in the neglect of ministerial support. With but few exceptions where a party spirit has sprung up, pastors are sufficiently supplied for by their flocks.
It is true the ministers of Jesus Christ are not held in such high veneration and awe, nor considered such infallible oracles of truth, as they were formerly. It will be well, if the people will search for the truth with their own eyes, and if they look upon their teachers only as their helpers.
Another proof of our general happiness is the mutual charity, and general harmony, that subsists among different sects of Christians, who are all one in Christ Jesus. It was not so with us fifty years ago. We stood aloof and at a distance from each other. If we were not chargeable with oppression and persecution, if we did not withhold from each other the blessings of social intercourse, nor deprive each other of equal privileges, yet we well remember that churchmen, Baptists, and others differing from us, were excluded from a participation in the services of this day. But godliness has brought us nearer together, and is producing that union, which we in vain look for from any other source.
In addition to these things; the formation of various benevolent nd religious societies, and the flourishing state of religion in various places, exhibit to us some evidence of our growing felicity.
The abolition of the slave trade, that infamous traffic in human blood, is very honourable to our country. We have not stopped, where our fathers left us. We have put an end to persecution for conscience sake. Our jurisprudence has been greatly improved; education has much advanced; colleges and schools have been multiplied; and the pleasures of social life have been increased. If new improvements can be made in the administration of government, or if new discoveries can be made in religious truth, the fear of innovation ought not to impose restraints.
But our happiness is not unmixed. Amidst the great variety of our blessings, there is much to deplore. The gold in some respects has become dim, and the most fine gold is changed. As riches have poured upon us, we have become extravagant and luxurious. The holy Sabbath is not sufficiently sanctified by us according to the rules of our holy religion. Immoralities show themselves in various shapes, and much needs to be corrected.
Will it be improper, while speaking of subjects of lamentation, to allude to the violence of party spirit among us? Wherever there has been a violation of truth, or outrage, let it be condemned; and if men of a party spirit have opposed their rulers without charity, and without regard to the public good, and under the cloak of religion have violated the principles of religion, we may be assured they have not been actuated by the gentle, humble, holy spirit of the gospel, and have made vain pretences to godliness.
We believe that the administration of our general government has been correct, and that the President of our country has for many hears employed his talents in pursuing the public good, and that he has displayed in his life many virtues honourable to his character. We believe that his unshaken regard to the civil and religious liberties of his country, and his wisdom in giving a constitutional direction to our government, and his pursuit of a course of measures best adapted to our prosperity and glory, give a lustre to his character, which no length of time will obliterate. Believing this, and as we know it to be the duty of a people to respect their rulers, we must express disapprobation of all instances, wherein opposition has been shown to what is considered as right, and wherein there has been any violation of a Christian duty.
It is to the gospel of Christ so early planted in this country, to its sacred principles, to its influence on the consciences of men, to its spirit formed in their hearts, and to the smiles of divine providence, that we owe all our blessings, and all the joys of this day. True godliness inspires a regard to the public good, and it was from a regard to the general good, that our constitution of government was formed; and it is owing to the intelligence and virtue of the people that its principles have been preserved, notwithstanding any design of altering its spirit. Our republican form of government depends for its continuance upon the public opinion and the public morals; and it is necessary that the public opinion should be enlightened and not debased by corruption, by luxury, by covetousness, love of pleasure, pride, by desire of conquest and the loss of all sense of honour; and it is necessary that the citizens should be actuated by principles of true godliness. So long as this is the case, we shall remain the envy of nations, and the glory of all lands.
The fathers of our happy republic, his Excellency the Governor, his Honour the Lieutenant Governor, the members of the Council, Senate, and House of Representatives of Massachusetts will accept of our respect and honour. Elevated to places of trust by the people, they repose confidence in your virtue and patriotism, and expect you to be governed by the principles and spirit of the gospel of Christ. The foundation of the noble edifice, on which you stand, is the public opinion expressed in the constitution. As you have assisted in laying the foundation of our state and national governments, and in raising the superstructure, we trust you will not suffer the goodly edifice to fall into ruins. If a rude hand should attack the building, we must look to you to repair its breaches.
At this solemn crisis of national danger and suffering, may He, who giveth wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to men of understanding, direct your counsels, and inspire you with that wisdom, fortitude, and energy, which the public safety may require.
While the whole country is in suspense, and our national government resting on the only peaceable measure of security, awaits the issue of events, we rely on you to provide against those dangers, which threaten this part of the union.
We trust the honoured fathers of Massachusetts will give their efficient support to the general administration, while it seeks the security of the rights of our citizens, and is endeavouring to preserve our commerce from being destroyed by the enemies of our country. The people of Massachusetts confide in you to support our national government in the wise measures, which it adopts, for the safety of our maritime wealth; and in its endeavours to bring hostile nations to a sense of their injustice towards us, and their outrages upon us. We can have but one voice in the final result, and that voice will be, OUR TRADE SHALL BE FREE, OUR COUNTRYMEN SHALL BE PROTECED ON THE OCEAN.
It can never be, that as an independent nation we should be opposed to principles and measures which have for their tendency the protection of our maritime rights.
If the God of Israel is with us to protect us and save us, we need fear no evil. Strong is the Lord of Hosts, and having the eternal God for our refuge we must be secure. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe.”
May true godliness, may private and public virtue overspread our land; may our civil rulers be ever under the sacred influence of religion; and may the people generally be actuated by its principles. Then we shall have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for our walls and bulwarks. Our peace wil be as a river, and our righteousness as the waves of the sea.