Sermon – Election – 1814, Massachusetts

 

A Sermon Preached at Boston, At the Annual Election, May 25, 1814

Jesse Appleton – 05/25/1814

sermon-election-1814-massachusetts

A

Sermon

Preached at Boston,

At the

Annual Election,

May 25, 1814.

Before

His Excellency Caleb
Strong
, Esq.

Governor,

His Honor William
Phillips
, Esq.

Lieutenant Governor,

The Honorable Council,

And the

Legislature of Massachusetts.

By Jesse Appleton, D.D.

President of Bowdoin College

 

Commonwealth of
Massachusetts.

House of
Representatives, May 26th, 1814.

Ordered,
That Benjamin Green, of Berwick, R.D. Dunning, of Brunswick, and Rev. Aaron
Kenne, of Alford, be a committee to wait upon the Rev. Dr. Appleton, and
present him the thanks of the House, for the ingenious, learned and appropriate
Discourse, pronounced by him, before His Excellency the Governor, and the two
branches of the Legislature of Massachusetts, on the 25th inst. And
to request of him a copy for publication.

Timothy
Bigelow, Speaker.

Isaiah, XXXIII: 6.

Wisdom and knowledge shall
be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation; the fear of the Lord
is his treasure.

This chapter begins with an elegant apostrophe to Sennacherib, King of Assyria,
reproaching him, as the ambitious and unprovoked disturber of the peace of
nations. The prophet next makes a devout address to Jehovah, expressing
confidence in the divine government, and hope of the delivery and security
of his people, notwithstanding the menaces of an insolent and imperious
adversary.

The text is thought to be directed to Hezekiah, then the monarch of Judah, and is
thus rendered by Bishop Lowth.

Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times;

The possession of continued salvation;

The fear of Jehovah, this shall be thy treasure.

The terms, wisdom and fear of God, as frequently used in scripture, are synonymous.
The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom. But, as both occur in our text, it is
rational to conclude, that, by the latter, is signified an ability to
accomplish desirable ends, by a judicious choice and arrangement of means. This
ability, though often found in connection with knowledge and piety, is not to
be confounded with either. The fear of God directs men to aim at the purest and
noblest ends. For the accomplishment of these, wisdom makes a selection from
those various means, which knowledge has provided.

The doctrine, inculcated by our text is, therefore, that the permanent prosperity
of a nation is best secured by a union of knowledge, wisdom, and the, fear of
God.

After having endeavored to illustrate this proposition, we shall consider, in
what way these qualities can be most effectually promoted.

To elucidate the proposition, we observe, first, that, by science, a nation is enabled to profit by the advantages of its natural situation. It avails little, that the soil of a country is rich,
if the art of cultivation is unknown to the inhabitants. It avails nothing,
that her shores are capable of being connected with every climate, through the
medium of intervening seas or oceans, while science has never taught the
construction of vessels, nor the art of directing them. Without this knowledge,
there is comparatively little use in the rivers, by which a country is
intersected; nor can the advantages of these be fully realized, till all
vincible obstacles to navigation are actually overcome, and neighboring streams
are made to unite their waters.

That fearful train of disorders, which makes such extensive and perpetual
devastation on the happiness and life of man, is found capable of being
arrested or enfeebled by the use of those mineral or vegetable substances,
which the liberality of nature produces; but of which it is the province of
science to discover the virtues, and the just application. It is in vain, that
remedies are provided for human sufferings, or sustenance for human life,
while the plants or minerals, which contain them, are permitted to remain
undistinguished in the bosom of the forest, or buried beneath the surface
of the earth. How inexpressibly might the sum of human misery have been
lessened, had the science of medicine, among all the nations of antiquity,
been advanced to its present state! What enormous waste of life has been
annually made for many centuries, by a disorder, the easy prevention of which
is matter of recent discovery! The sciences of chemistry and mineralogy,
lately introduced into our country, and now cultivated with so much ardor and
success, cannot fail, by their influence on medicine, agriculture and the
arts, to produce consequences of great national importance. The nature of man
on the one side, and of soils and climates on the other, remains the same
in every age. It is knowledge ˙ it is cultivation, that produces the
change. To this are we to ascribe it, that in our own country, where, two centuries ago,
wild beasts and savages were contending for the empire of an unmeasured desert,
there are now civil institutions, commerce, cities, arts, letters, religion,
and all the charities of social and domestic life.

Secondly in wisdom and knowledge is implied a right understanding of the nature
and design of civil society. A community possessing these qualities, will
consider government as a benevolent institution, resulting from the social
nature of man, and conducive not less to his liberty, than to
his security. They will adopt a form of government, not only good in itself,
but adapted to the local and relative situation of their country, and to their
own genius and character. ˙ Whatever constitution be preferred, they will
never accede to the doctrine, that the people were made for their rulers; but
will rather consider the latter as the honored depositaries of power,
originally inherent in the people, and voluntarily relinquished by then, on
condition of its being used for their benefit. They will, by consequence,
believe themselves in possession of a right, either to resume the power, or
else to demand the accomplishment of the conditions, on which it was conferred.

Thirdly whatever civil compact they may see fit to adopt, an enlightened people
will not trust themselves to calculate, with minuteness and confidence, the
greatest degree of political prosperity, that may be enjoyed, nor the least
degree of restraint, that may be necessary. It will not escape them, that no
human foresight can extend to all emergencies, which a series of years may
produce; and that time may develop, in any political constitution, traits,
either more or less valuable, than were apparent to its original authors.
It is a well known truth in mechanics, that the actual and theoretical powers
of a machine will never coincide. Through the flexibility of one part, the
rigidity of another, and the roughness of a third, the result may disappoint
those fond hopes, which seemed to rest on the firm ground of mathematical
calculation. The judicious artist, will not however, on this account, be willing
to reject, as worthless, a structure of splendid and complicated mechanism, of
solid materials, in the formation of which much labor, experience and
ingenuity have been employed.

It is a remark, not less important because frequently made, that an indifferent
constitution may be so administered, as to render a nation happy, and
that, without a good administration, the best political institutions will
fail of accomplishing that purpose. Now, as the manner, in which government
will be administered in any nation, can never be foreseen, a discerning
people will not confidently anticipate, as their perpetual portion, the
highest degree of prosperity which their form of government seems calculated to
secure. ˙ Nor will they fix their eyes so intensely on the evils,
which may be felt at any period, as to forget the imperfection of all
human establishments, and that, under a new form of government, may be
concealed important disadvantages, which experience alone can bring to light.
Rejecting alike the character of inconstancy, turbulence, and despondency, they
will neither tamely yield to abuses, nor subvert their political institutions
on account of them.

Fourthly as an enlightened people will know how to value their rights, they will
place those in office, who, by their ability, knowledge, and integrity, are
entitled to such distinction. To obtain their suffrages, it will not be enough,
that a man professes his attachment to order, religion, or liberty. He must
have more solid ground, on which to establish his claims to public favor. In
knowledge and wisdom is doubtless implied a spirit of discernment. To enjoy
the confidence of a wise people, there must therefore, be a consistency of
character, a uniform regard to moral principle and the public good. They will
clearly perceive, that the civil interests of millions cannot be secure in
the hands of men, who, in the more confined circle of common intercourse, are
selfish, rapacious, or aspiring.

An enlightened regard to self interest and a religious sense of responsibility,
will in this case, lead to the same practical result. In exercising the right
of freemen, the man of religion experiences no conflict between his duty and
his inclination. Towards the dishonest, profane, ambitious and profligate, he
feels

       “The strong antipathy of good to bad.Ó

He has no wish to behold, arrayed in the robes of office, men, whose largest views do not extend beyond
the limits of mortal life, and whose deportment and conversation indicate
neither love nor reverence for the Author of their being.

In very popular governments, where the elective franchise is widely extended, it
is, doubtless, impossible, that candidates for public office should be
personally known to all, whose suffrages they receive. How generally so ever
knowledge is diffused, all the members of a large state cannot be brought
within the sphere of mutual observation. In this case, resort must be had to
the best sources of information. But it should not be forgotten, that a portion
of the same intelligence and virtue, required in rulers, is necessary in giving
information concerning candidates. An honest and well ˙ informed freeman
will rely on none but honest and well ˙ informed witnesses.

Fifthly a nation, distinguished by a union of wisdom, knowledge, and the fear
of God, is morally certain of having its government well administered, not
only for the reason just assigned, but because the tone of morals, existing in
such a nation, will operate as a powerful restraint, if, by any casualty or
deep dissimulation, persons of yielding virtue should be placed in office.

Public  opinion constitutes a tribunal, which few men, and, least of all, those, who
are in pursuit of popular favor, will dare to set at defiance. It is scarcely
possible, that a people, truly wise and virtuous, should have a government
badly administered. Whenever the majority of a community complain of their
rulers, they implicitly utter reproaches against themselves, for having placed
their destiny in the hands of men, with whom it is insecure. If their
reproaches are long continued, it is good proof that their own morals exhibit
no very striking contrast with the morals of those, whose profligacy they
condemn. In popular governments, the virtues and vices of rulers must flourish
or wither with those of the people.

Again. A union of wisdom, knowledge, and the fear of God, will contribute to the
prosperity of a nation by increasing its power.

That a nation, degenerate in its morals, may, however, be formidable by its
policy and physical strength, is not to be questioned. But, if ignorance is
joined to the want of virtue, we cannot doubt, that its imbecility will be
equal to its wretchedness. Let the same nation become both well ˙
informed and virtuous, and the augmentation of power will be incredible. In a
wise and virtuous state, the citizens will cherish mutual confidence. This
confidence will be a bond of union, not only between the people and their
government, but between the different between the different orders and members
of the community. In such a state, rulers will act, not for themselves,
but for the nation; nor will the people indulge a spirit of restless
innovation, murmuring, or faction.

“Virtue, in a society,Ó says a profound writer, “has a tendency to procure superiority
and additional power, whether this power be considered as the means of security
from opposite power, or of obtaining other advantages. And it has this tendency
by rendering pubic good both an object and an end to every member of the
society; by putting every one upon consideration and diligence, recollection
and self government, both in order to see what is the most effectual
method, and also in order to perform their proper part for obtaining and preserving
it; by uniting a society within itself, and so increasing its strength; and
what is particularly to be mentioned, uniting it by means of veracity and
justice. Power in society, by being under the direction of virtue, naturally
increases, and has a necessary tendency to prevail over opposite power, not
under the direction of it, in like manner, as power, by being under the direction
of reason, increases, and has a tendency to prevail over brute force.Ó

A state of things is here supposed, it may be objected, which is wholly ideal;
since the world, from its commencement, has produced nothing resembling
it. This is, indeed, true. But, if it is true, that a state would be extremely
powerful, were it entirely virtuous, its power must, by consequence, be
proportionate to its virtue.

A nation, but faintly resembling that, which has been imagined, would, indeed, be
far less than others likely to experience civil discord and foreign wars. Without
cool deliberation, and a solemn conviction of responsibility, it would not gird
on the harness. But, proceeding with reluctance, and under the impulse of duty,
it would, if circumstances should not only justify, but require the
measure, act with the more determined valor. Like the judgments of heaven, its
displeasure would be slow and righteous, but irresistible. The people,
that do know their God, shall be strong and do exploits.

Further. Wisdom and virtue tend directly to the stability of a government, as they will
prevent both the necessity and the general desire of a revolution. The
necessity of such an event, in any nation, implies a high degree of corruption
in its rulers. The desire without the necessity indicates, with no less
certainty, a depraved, restless, and turbulent people. It is evident, that
a moral and enlightened people will not be factious: nor will an administration
of this character be oppressive. It is a melancholy and mortifying truth, that
all human things tend to degeneracy. To check this tendency, in any political
establishment, knowledge, generally diffused and actively employed, in connection
with a religious regard to the public welfare, may be effectual. Moderate
evils, not easily remedied, will be patiently endured. Tranquility and prosperity
may thus be the growth of ages and centuries. But, where there is not enough
either of knowledge or moral principle to discover or correct abuses, as they
occur, the mass, by constant accretions, will become enormous, and produce
eventually the atrocities and sufferings of a revolution.

A well informed people know the advantages of the civil, compared with the savage
state. They know, that where there is civil society, there must be law, and
that law implies restraint. They will consider partial restraint, as a moderate
price, at which to purchase the rich blessings of order and safety. From a
religious people, civil government, so far as it is of a moral nature, can
never incur opposition. The restraints of morality they are bound to
observe by stronger obligations than those, which arise from any human
authority. On their hearts the words of a divine law are deeply inscribed. They
abstain from moral disorder, out of regard to this law, which extends
equally to the savage and the social state; to every condition indeed, and to
every part of the universe, where there are human, or even intelligent
beings.

Knowledge and wisdom tend no less to the stability of a government, by opposing
despotism, than by avoiding anarchy. Where the minds of a nation are left free,
an arbitrary government can never be established. While the spirit of a people
is unsubdued, by which I mean, when it is under no confinement but that, which
arises from reason and religion, obstacles, numerous and powerful, will be
planted in the road of an aspiring despot. There is no communion ˙ there
is no congeniality between that intellectual and moral elevation, implied in
the character of a people, distinguished for knowledge and the fear of
God, and that ignorance, corruption, and debasement, involved in quietly
surrendering to human caprice, those rights which our creator designed, as the
unalienable accompaniments of a rational nature.

To illustrate and exemplify these remarks, we need only refer to the early history
of our own country. Those illustrious men, who, under God, directed the earlier
destinies of New England, were distinguished for the character, of which we
have been speaking. They were equally remarkable for their love of liberty, and
their hatred of anarchy and misrule. They could, without complaint, forego the
indulgences and elegancies of life; they could look unappalled on a vast,
stormy, unfrequented ocean; they could plant themselves and families, in a
wilderness rendered hideous by every danger; they could submit, with invincible
fortitude, to toils and privations; ˙ but their noble minds could not
endure the spirit of civil and religious bondage. How well they
understood both the rights of the people, and the rights of government, appears
from the following words of one of their chief magistrates. “There is a
liberty of corrupt nature, which is inconsistent with authority, impatient of
restraint, and the grand enemy of truth and peace; and all the ordinances of
God are bent against it. But there is a civil, moral, federal liberty, which
consists in every one’s enjoying his property, and having the benefit of the
laws of his country, a liberty for that only, which is just and good; for this
liberty you are to stand for your lives.Ó

The fear of God tends to the stability of a nation, by ensuring the divine
protection. If no human being either enters the world or leaves it; if no plant
of the field either vegetates or decays; if no sparrow falls to the ground
without our heavenly Father, can all the parts of that vast and complicated
machine, denominated a nation, continue their relative positions, and discharge
their various functions without the same counsel and agency? All nations are
before him as nothing; they are accounted as less than nothing and vanity. At
what time I shall speak, saith Jehovah, concerning a nation, and concerning a
kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down and destroy it, if that nation,
against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the
evil, which I thought to do unto them. And at what time I shall speak concerning
a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it do evil in
my sight, I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.

This language expresses not merely the manner, in which God dealt with the Jewish
nation, over which he maintained a government peculiarly retributive; but the
course of his providence in general. There are two ways, in which these
declarations are rendered effectual. In the first place, such is the
divine constitution, that vice brings immediate punishment to a state, by
rendering it discordant and feeble. Such is the essential and immutable nature
of vice, as to blast the best hopes of society, and to weaken the bonds, by
which it is held together. Virtue, we have seen, tends to union, strength, and harmony. It is obvious, therefore, that God protects an upright nation by its uprightness, and demolishes and
ruins an im≠moral nation by its profligacy.

In the second place, it should be considered, that the prayers of the righteous
come up, as a memorial before God. This sentiment is not peculiar to revelation,
but may be considered, as universal among those, who believe in a
superintending providence. God hath never said to the seed of Jacob, seek ye me
in vain. But, that the prayers of a nation may be heard and graciously
answered, it is necessary that they be offered with uprightness of character.
If the Lord will not hear an individual, who regards iniquity in his heart,
neither will he accept the sacrifices of a vicious community. Agreeably to
this, when the kingdom of Judah had become inattentive to the moral requirements
of God, they were not encouraged to expect any favorable answer to their
prayers. When ye spread forth your hands, saith Jehovah, I will hide mine eyes
from you. When ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of
blood.

If national prosperity is the sum of happiness enjoyed in a nation, it
evidently depends on something more, than either the constitution of
government, or what is strictly comprehended in the administration of it. Where
both of these are good, there is, indeed, a strong presumption, that the people
will be happy. Still it is not certain. No inconsiderable part of the real
world of our earthly existence consists in the safety and purity of domestic
intercourse. Were all the happiness, hence resulting, destroyed, it is, at least,
questionable, whether the remaining would be the better part. Now, though a bad
government is likely to contaminate the mass of a nation, and infuse a kind of
pestilence into the intercourse of neighbors, and even of individuals belonging
to the same family; yet that state of happiness, which is the opposite of this,
will not necessarily result even from a union of good laws and good rulers. In
order to this, there must be general knowledge, but especially a high sense of
moral obligation. While the ties of morali≠ty cannot be made to fasten on
the conscience, social intercourse will be rendered precarious by falsehood and
selfishness; friends will be perfidious; neighbors will be
unkind and contentious; and all the joys of domestic life will be embittered.
Knowledge, however salutary in conjunction with correct moral feelings,
is, without them, wholly inadequate to diffuse either happiness or safety
through the more private departments of life. In the time of Pericles, Greece
was not happy, because there was nothing in her religion, which could
operate, as a principle of moral life. And Rome became dissolute, because she
received from Athens, at the same time, both her literature and her
manners. In the age of Julius and of Augustus, both public and private vices
had become enormous, and extensively propagated. Such likewise was the state of the Jews, when, in the midst of good instruction, they rejected the fear of Jehovah. The want of
religious feeling was apparent in all the business and intercourse of life.
Every thing was gloomy and full of danger. Take heed, every one of his
neighbor, and trust not to any brother; for every brother will utterly
supplant, and every neighbor will walk with slanders. They have taught their tongues
to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity.

From all, which precedes, it has become sufficiently obvious that, in order to
experience the full effects of the best political institutions, a previous
foundation must be laid in the minds of those, who compose the state; and that
wisdom, knowledge, and the fear of God, are the precious materials, of which
this foundation is to be formed. The promotion of these will, therefore,
demand the attention of all the enlightened members of the state, but
especially of those, concerned in its government. If it is important to
enact laws for the suppression of vice, it is undeniably more important to
prevent or exterminate, if possible, those corrupt propensions, which lead to
it. The police officers of a distempered city are but ill employed in directing men to fumigate the
streets and markets, if no care be taken to clear the ground and purify the
atmosphere, from which the contagion is communicated.

These intellectual and moral qualities, so essential to the permanent prosperity of a
state, can be promoted extensively in no other way, than by education,
early begun and judiciously prosecuted. The youth in a community have, long
since, been compared to the spring. The loss of these would be like striking
out from the year the vernal months. If there be no vegetation in the opening
year, what shall support life during the time of autumn and winter? Or what if
there be a luxuriant vegetation, but no salutary or nourishing plant? What if
thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockles instead of barley?

That education may do much, both for the intellectual and moral improvement of
a nation, cannot be, called in question. If the Spartan discipline was fund
adequate to its object, during many centuries, though it counteracted some of
the strongest affections of our natures; if parental, filial, and even conjugal
tenderness could be extinguished or smothered under a political constitution,
which formed but one family of a whole state, what might not be done by pursuing,
with perseverance, a plan of education, concerted with just views of the human
character, and under the influence of that glorious light, which Christianity
has shed on the destiny of man!

The active powers of the soul must either be suppressed or directed. If they
are suppressed, their possessor loses, in a considerable degree, his rank in
the moral world. If they are not suppressed, they must he directed by knowledge
and moral principle.

The importance of early instruction was felt by the wisest nations of antiquity.
“What,Ó says an author, speaking in the name of the Grecian sages, and
profoundly versed in their writings, “What are the solid foundations of the
tranquility and happiness of states? Not the laws, which dispense the rewards
and punishments; but the public voice, when it makes an exact
retribution of contempt and esteem. The laws, in themselves impotent, borrow
their power solely from manners. Hence results, in every government, the
indispensable necessity of attending to the education of children, as an
essential object, of training them up in the spirit and love of the
constitution, in the simplicity of ancient times; in a word, in the principles,
which ought ever after to regulate their virtues, their opinions, their
sentiments, and their behavior. All,
who have meditated on the art of government, have been convinced that the
fate of empires depended on the education, given to youth.Ó

This subject did not escape the notice of the Athenian legislator. Solon
enacted a number of laws, relating particularly to education. In
them he specified both the time, at which youth should receive public lessons,
and the character and talents of the masters, who should instruct them. One of
the Courts of Justice was to superintend the observance of these regulations.

At Sparta, it is well known that education was every thing. Children were scarcely
introduced into the world, when they were subject to a course of discipline,
applied equally to the mind and the body. Lycurgus would have his laws engraved
on the hearts of the citizens; and, to effect this, he endeavored so to direct
the education of youth, that his institutions might be to them, as a law of
nature.

“In the rising ages of Rome,Ó says the learned Kennet, “while their primitive
integrity and virtue flourished, the training up of youth was a most sacred
duty. But, in the looser times of the empire, the shameful negligence of
parents and instructors, with its necessary consequence, the corruption and
decay of morality and good letters, struck a great blow towards dissolving
that glorious fabric.Ó

The same general principle is distinctly recognized in that constitution, which was
divinely bestowed on the Jewish nation. These words, which I command thee this
day, saith Moses, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently
unto thy children; and shall talk of them, when thou sittest in thine house,
and when thou walkest by the way; when thou liest down, and when thou risest
up.

If such be the importance of education, may I not be indulged for a few moments,
in considering the most obvious ways, in which it may be promoted?

At the head of these, we cannot hesitate to place parental or domestic
instruction. In his children, the parent beholds those, who are to become
members of the state, and to act, in a sphere of greater or less extent,
on its political and moral interests. He is forming their character at an age,
when their dispendance is absolute, and resistance impossible. The first development
of the mind is made under the domestic roof, and in the presence of those, who
are most interested to observe it. It depends on the knowledge and
fidelity of parents, whether their children shall be seasonably taught the
being, perfections, and government of God, or be permitted to spend the
earlier part of their existence in ignorance or contempt of him, from whom they
received it. On the same knowledge and fidelity in parents will it depend,
whether the first notions, which children form of the Supreme Being, shall
coincide with reason and scripture, or be
the monstrous birth of a distempered imagination; whether the more gentle
affections shall be cultivated, or the wilder passions be permitted to rage and
mingle in defiance of restraint, either from prudence or religion.

Every family is a nation in embryo. Civil society originally consisted of families;
and so it does still. By forming habits of obedience, intercourse, and beneficence,
while under parental government, young persons become qualified to move in
a more enlarged sphere, and to discharge duties of more extensive importance.
In this manner are now forming throughout this commonwealth, a set of
mechanics, a yeomanry, military characters, merchants, divines, legislators,
and judges; all those, in fine, who shall compose the body politic, when
we, who are now living, shall be covered with the clods of the valley.

In view of this subject, I am irresistibly led to contemplate the primitive
character of New England. In relation to those, who, by planting civilization
and religion on those shores, transmitted to us this fair inheritance,
the language of inspiration may be well used; when thou wentest after me in the
wilderness, in a land, that was not sown, Israel was holiness to the Lord, and
the first fruits of has increase. In almost every dwelling was there both an
altar and a church. Then began men to call on the name of the Lord. The child
was early engaged in the worship of Jehovah, to whom he had been consecrated by
a Christian ordinance. From the lips of maternal piety and love, he
imbibed the lessons of heavenly wisdom. By a father’s authority, guided
and softened by the spirit of religion, his aberrations were reclaimed, and
virtuous habits were aided and confirmed. It was a scene, which angels
delighted to witness! The Bible, the Sabbath, and the sanctuary, were objects
not only of veneration, but of affection. Together with the love of truth and
probity, they formed a strong attachment to rational freedom; a character,
remarkable for solidity, decision, and independence. They knew both how to
appreciate their rights and to defend them. They knew what was expected
from children, of whose parents it could be emphatically said, that they “feared
God, and feared nothing else.Ó

2. Next in importance to family instruction, is that of common schools. No friend
to his country can ever be indifferent to this source of information. Large ri≠vers
may be of great utility in fertilizing, within certain limits, the
adjacent fields. But the country in general is to be enriched and
moistened by smaller streams. By the institution of schools, knowledge is
diffused over a whole nation. Its streams are carried to every house and to
every cottage. They may be tasted alike by children of wealthy, and by those of
indigent parents. Nothing can be more consistent with republican principles,
nothing more essential to such a government, than this equal and universal extension
of knowledge. To a benevolent mind it is highly gratifying to reflect, that, in
a large community, there should be scarcely a child under the hard necessity
of passing through life in profound ignorance. No man is in a situation so
elevated, as to justify an inattention to such an object.

The advantages, resulting to the public from school education, will obviously
depend much, not only on the knowledge, but also on the morals of those, who
are employed to give instruction. Parents can scarcely do their children a more
material injury, than to place them under the care of a profane, intemperate,
or licentious teacher.

3. Academies, or schools of a public nature, are useful, just in proportion to the
fidelity and accuracy, with which they teach the principles of morality,
science, and classical literature. And perhaps it may deserve the attention of
an enlightened legislature, to determine, whether a moderate number of these
establishments, with endowments competent steadily to maintain able
instructors, would not as effectually sub ˙ serve the interests of
knowledge, as to give to a great number, an existence, painful,
precarious, and intermitting.

4. In the next particular, we have doubtless been anticipated. The happy
consequences resulting to society from more extensive literary establishments,
such as colleges and universities, have been so generally observed, as to
render it unnecessary to offer either detail or proof. It has been a thousand
times mentioned, and ought never to be forgotten, that our ancestors were
the friends of learning, as well as of liberty and religion. The university in
this vicinity, originally dedicated “to Christ and the church,Ó stands as a
durable monument of the enlarged views entertained by the fathers of New
England. How well they judged as to the influence of knowledge, in giving
stability both to the church and the commonwealth, will appear doubtful to no
one, who examines the long list of civilians, military commanders, or
religious instructors, who, in different periods of our country, have defended
its liberties, formed its political constitutions, or corrected its sentiments
and morals. Of these illustrious names, he will find a large proportion in
the catalogues of our older seminaries.

These views, I well know, are familiar to the audience, which I have the honor
to address; to a legislature especially, which, recently by an act of
noble munificence, gave public evidence of the interest, which it feels in the
“advancement of literature, piety, morality, and the useful arts and
sciences.Ó

But, of all kinds of knowledge, none is so important to human beings, as that, which
relates to God, to their own present duty, and future prospects. No instructions
are like his, who spake from heaven. Wherever the gospel is preached with
clearness, and with a becoming mixture of zeal and knowledge, the eternal
difference between virtue and vice is openly displayed; sensibility of
conscience is preserved, and its decisions respected; the general tone of
morals is raised; and vice, if not suppressed, is constrained to avoid observation
and seek retirement.

In Christianity, the mind is assailed by motives,
such as could not be drawn either from the stores of philosophy or from any
other system of religion. A world is here opened on the imagination, absolutely
without bounds or limits. The rewards of virtue and the punishments of vice are
declared, by the Son of God, to be of such duration, as accumulated ages and
millions of ages cannot diminish. The objects of this retribution are human
actions in connection with motives and dispositions. Now, can it be, for a
moment, doubted, that the public preaching of such a religion throughout a
nation, is calculated to arrest the progress of vice, to enliven moral
feelings, to diffuse a general spirit of sobriety, and to create habits of deliberation,
and religious forecast? But, if the advancement of good morals, by which
the execution of laws is infinitely facilitated, be a fit subject of legislation,
so must be every institution or practice, which most powerfully tends to such
an issue. If ancient legislators were so thoroughly convinced of the value of
religion in civil government, as to originate or countenance false pretences to
revelation, how much does prudence, as well as duty, require a Christian state
to support a religion, which in truth descended from heaven!

It has now, we hope, been sufficiently shown, not
only that the permanent prosperity of a nation is best secured by a union of
knowledge, wisdom, and the fear of God; but that the education of youth is, under
divine providence, the most powerful means of effecting this union.

In view of this subject, shall I be permitted
briefly to address His Excellency, the chief magistrate of this Commonwealth?

At a crisis, when acknowledged talents, long experience
in public affairs, unshaken integrity, conciliating and cautious manners,
joined with decision of character, were qualities, infinitely important in one,
who should be selected to preside in our government, we recognize, with devout
thankfulness, the gracious hand of Almighty God, in again directing the public
attention to your Excellency, and in directing your Excellency to consider the
voice of the public, as the indication or duty. We rejoice to witness, in the
supreme executive of our state government, a rich assemblage of those
republican and Christian virtues, which shone with so benign a luster, in the
purer ages of our country.

In the midst of those scenes and duties, which are
connected with an office so highly responsible; while there are a thousand
interests to regard, and a thousand temptations to resist; while, on the
one hand, there are solicitations to repel, and, on the other, provocations
to pass by and forgive, your Excellency, perhaps, needs not to be reminded,
that there is scarcely a poor man among your constituents, whose situation, in
regard to spiritual improvement, is less favorable, than your own. We implore
for your Excellency a large supply of the spirit of Jesus Christ, that, when
all human beings shall appear, as trembling suppliants, before the Divine
Tribunal, it may be your glory, not that you have been frequently called
to preside over a free state, but that, by divine grace, you have been enabled
to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

His honor, the Lieutenant Governor, will please to
accept our respectful congratulations, that the second office in the gift
of the people, has been again bestowed on him, in testimony of their high
regard for the virtues of integrity, public spirit, and patriotism.

Notwithstanding the length of this discourse, I do
entreat the attention of the Council, the Senate, and the House of
Representatives, to a subject, intimately connected with the welfare of this
state, and of our common country. War is one of the severest calamities,
by which the Sovereign of the universe dispenses punishment to guilty nations.
The evils of our present condition are too sensibly felt by men of all
descriptions and sentiments, to render a minute delineation of them, either
expedient or necessary. As to their origin, it is attributed, by a portion of
our citizens, to partial, feeble, and ill ˙ judged policy in our
national administration; by the rest, to an absolute necessity, resulting from
the aggressions of a powerful and imperious nation. On this subject, it is not
my present design to offer any opinion. I have no
wish to add fuel to the flames of party zeal, which already rage with a heat so
intense, as threatens o dissolve our political establishments. Wherever may exist
the immediate occasion of our unhappy condition, the ultimate cause is to
be sought in our national character. The spirit of vice has diffused a deadly
contagion throughout every state in the union. The infection is not unknown in
this northern extremity, once so pre≠eminently the abode both of private
and of public virtue. The holy Sabbaths of God are extensively violated by men
of all conditions in life, and of all political creeds. As temptations to this
sin have been recently multiplied, the evil has become enormous and
intolerable. The habitual profanation of sacred things, but especially of the
divine name and attributes, is as general as it is impious and demoralizing.
The dae≠mon of intemperance is stalking through our country, wasting our
property, consuming our health, and de≠stroying our best hopes, both from
objects of earth, and from those beyond the skies. The morals of men hang
loosely about them, and are too frequently thrown off whenever an assault is
made by individual or party interest.

On this subject, I make a respectful, but solemn
appeal to the honored legislators of the Commonwealth. Do you believe,
that any state, community, or nation can be powerful, tranquil, and permanently
happy, if their morals are extensively depraved? Would not the most alarming
depravation of morals result from a general disbelief of the Christian religion?
Would the happiness of families, would property or life be secure in a
nation of Deists? If Christianity is the most powerful guardian of morals,
are you not, as Civilians, bound to give it your support and patronage? Do you,
in the least, question whether the institution of the Sabbath has an extensive
influence in bringing to the view of men their dependence on God, the extent
and purity of his law, the soul’s immortality, and a day of judgment? Is it
doubtful, whether that reverent regard, with which this day was treated by our
ancestors, was nearly connected with those habits of integrity, industry,
sobriety, and moderation, for which they were so remarkable? Have not the
general profanation of God’s name, and the inconsiderate use of that language,
in which he has been pleased to express the sanctions of his law, a direct
tendency to impair the influence of those sanctions, and to dissipate the fears
of profligate men?

Probably there was never a time, since we became a
nation, when the crime of perjury had become so frequent, as at present. This
is the legitimate off spring of other sins, to which we have been long accustomed;
and to those, who are acquainted with the human character, it can produce but
little surprise. When the witness, the complainant, or the accused adds to his
promise of uttering nothing but the truth, these words, so help me God, he
does, indeed, imprecate on himself the divine anger, if his testimony
should be designedly false. But imprecations of a similar import, he has used,
perhaps, a thousand times without feeling his responsibility, or realizing the
solemnity of an oath. That individual, therefore, especially if placed
in a commanding station, who swears profanely, or violates the Sabbath, does
much towards demolishing the foundations, on which civil society is supported.
He breaks up the fountains of the great deep; the waters will rush out from
their caverns, and overflow the earth. Whoever may be the immediate authors of
our present sufferings, certain it is, that in order to our obtaining the
blessings of permanent and solid prosperity, a reformation mast be effected in
our national character.

The Greeks, with good reason, inveighed against the
ambition of Philip. Nor with less reason were the patriots of Rome alarmed at
the daring measures of Caesar. But
neither did Philip nor Caesar impose a yoke on the necks of a free people. In
both cases, the people were enslaved by their passions, and by the unrestrained
depravity of the heart. Liberty was not immolated either at Chaeronea or
Philippi. She had been long declining; and those places only witnessed her
dying struggles. It is the immutable purpose of God, that a people, destitute
of moral principle, shall be neither free nor happy. We may, therefore, consider
Jehovah, speaking to us, as he once spake to Israel. Put away the evil of your
doings from before mine eyes. Cease to do evil and learn to do well. Them, that
honor me, I will honor: and they, that despise me, shall be lightly esteemed.

In making this appeal to the venerable guardians of
the state, I do not suggest the idea of multiplying laws for the suppression of
those vices, which have been mentioned. If the laws, now existing, were
executed, the evil would soon be suppressed. If they can be executed, and are
not, it is evident, where rest the responsibility and the guilt. But, if our
national character has so degenerated, that magistrates would not be supported
in executing the laws; if the torrent is so heavy and rapid, as to overwhelm
the civil authority then is immediate reformation our only hope. Considering
the numbers, which compose this legislative body, the talents, wealth, and
character, which it embraces, its influence, if concentrated on a particular
object, would be incredibly powerful. There is scarcely a town or
plantation in the Commonwealth, which is not here represented. That you have
popularity and influence in your respective towns and districts, is evident
from the places of honor, which you now hold. You are, therefore, the persons
to engage in this work of reform. You may unquestionably do much. And, permit
me to say, that when God gives means and ability, there is something, which he
will require us to give in return; I mean an account of the manner, in which we
use them. Nothing, at present, is better understood, than systematical
operation. Our political contentions have taught us to carry this art to high
perfection. Let there be the same union of zeal and system to suppress vice,
and to revive the habits, the spirit, and piety of our forefathers, which is
discovered in bearing down a rival interest, and your names will be forever
recorded, as the honored instruments of perpetuating the union, and of
achieving the salvation and glory of your country.

THE END

 

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By | 2017-03-17T09:34:28+00:00 December 25th, 2016|Categories: Historical Sermons|0 Comments