The following is an election sermon preached by Willard Child in Vermont on October 11, 1856.
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
STATE OF VERMONT:
OCTOBER 11, 1856,
REV. WILLARD CHILD, D. D.,
OF CASTLETON, VERMONT.
PRINTED BY ORDER OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY.
Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives, That the thanks of the General assembly be tendered to the Reverent Willard Child, D. D., for his Election Sermon, and that the Secretary of State be directed to request a copy of said Sermon for the press, and to cause one thousand copies of said Sermon, when procured, to be printed for the use of the General Assembly.
In House of Representatives, Oct. 11, 1856.
Read and adopted.
NORMAN WILLIAMS, JR., Ass’t Clerk.
In Senate, Oct. 11, 1856.
Read and adopted in concurrence.
R. C. BENTON, Jr., Ass’t Sec’y.
The four Psalms, with which the book is concluded, are believed to have been written after the restoration of the Jews from their long captivity, and the re-building of their temple and the re-establishment of their religious service under Nehemiah and his compatriots. They breathe a fervent spirit of gratitude and joy, unmingled with the mournful strains with which many of these wonderful compositions are saddened. They celebrate the power, and wisdom and goodness of God, as manifested in the kingdom of Nature, yet often recurring with deeper delight to the more precious revelation of his character and ways to his peculiarly favored nation. In the psalm of the text, the writer sings in lofty strains the glory of that only living and true God, who controls the seasons of the year, and all material elements, and makes them subserve the wants of all his creatures; yet the intelligent reader cannot but observe how he is attracted to the truth, and how fondly he broods over it, that this great Being, who is so mighty in counsel and so wonderful in working, is eminently the God of Israel; and, in the language of a recent commentator, “will work spiritual changes corresponding to these natural phenomena, for the benefit of the people whom he has entrusted with the revelation of his will.” But if such were the views and feelings of the Jew, with his incomplete revelation, and his system of worship, which was chiefly only the shadow of good things to come, how much more should similar views and feelings be cherished by a people who are blessed with the full-orbed revelation, and the spiritual worship of the Christian dispensation;–a dispensation in which ‘life and immortality are brought to light,” and not the consecrated hierarch alone, but every worshiper, permitted, through “the offering made once for all,” by Jesus his great High Priest, to enter himself “the most holy place,” and draw near to God in full assurance of faith. The following statement, then, is plainly derived from the text, and, I trust, will not be deemed inappropriate to the occasion which has assembled us before God in this house of prayer: The highest privileges and richest blessings of any people, are found in the possession of the word of God, and the institutions, instructions and ordinances of a pure religion. This proposition, obviously warranted by the text, will be sustained and enforced by every just view we can take of the character, condition, relations and prospects of man. And a due consideration of its significance may fully justify the propriety of the course you have adopted, as the rulers and legislators of a commonwealth, to signalize the commencement of your offices and duties by an act of homage to that religion, which is the fountain-light of our best knowledge, and the sure guardian of our dearest interests, for this world and that which is to come. It is no unhallowed union of church and state, injurious to both, but the fit acknowledgment of wise and good men, that for the right discharge of their official duties they need that wisdom which cometh from above, and that for the state, whose welfare they are sacredly bound to promote, the blessing of God is the only effectual provision: that “except the Lord keepeth the city, the watchman waketh in vain.” For the confirmation of the statement proposed as the theme of discourse at this time,–
I. Let us look, first, at man in his social and civil relations; and see how, for the perfection of all these, and to ensure the realization of their highest blessings, the truths and institutions and influences of religion are indispensable. It is not difficult to show, by decisive historic proof, that for our civil freedom, and those institutions of popular government in which we rejoice, we are directly indebted to religion. Our popular institutions of civil government were the gift of religion to the state. The wisdom and instincts of religion revealed their conception and produced the longing for them, and the purifying influences of religion prepared a people by whom they could be realized. An infidel historian has been compelled to record, that the great principles of freedom in the English constitution owe their existence to that noble body of earnest religious men, who were derided by their enemies as “puritans,” a name now widely honored among the nations. From these men came our own pilgrim fathers. And be it forever remembered, that their great object in coming hither, was freedom to worship God according to the high behests of a religion which they regarded as paramount to all the considerations relating to the duty and the destiny of man. Their establishment of free political institutions, the freest the world has ever seen, was a corollary to their main proposition. That proposition was not human, it was divine; it was not earthly, but heavenly. It was freedom of conscience,–freedom to learn, and do all the will of God, without human dictation or human restraint. And the wisdom which guided them in ordering their civil and political affairs well—better than the world had ever seen before,–was an emanation from that wisdom which made them wise unto salvation. They were wise in the things of earth and time, because they reverenced “the word, and the statutes and the judgments” which the Lord had given unto them, and, guided by such a heavenly light, they considered all the things of time in their relation to the things of eternity. Such was the way in which our blessed heritage was prepared and transmitted to us, and only in this way can it be preserved and freed from the formidable dangers which now oppress it, and be handed down to bless the thronging generations that shall come after us.
“Sons of sainted pilgrim sires,
Guardians of their altar fires,
Hold the truth that made them free,
Hold their faith and purity.”
“They were sent to free the mind,
Heavy burdens to unbind,
Nobly they discharged their trust,
Peace and honor to their dust.”
“By their tears, their toils, their cares,
Martyr struggles, wrestling prayers,
We, beneath our spreading vine
And our fig-tree now recline.”
“Sons of sainted pilgrim sires,
With a zeal that never tires,
Tread the path your fathers trod,
Serve the Lord, your Father’s God.”
We have indeed a great and goodly land—a land “flowing with milk and honey,” with a fullness of tide such as Canaan in its palmist days never knew. But “man doth not live by bread alone. By every “word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.” And we have marvelous mechanical inventions. What were the swift ships, and swift dromedaries of the old Hebrew, to the storm-wind velocity and lightning speed with which we traverse land and sea? But though man may yoke his car to the storm-wind or to the lightning, he cannot so overtake his highest good, even for this world, and much less for another. By other means must that be reached than by any discovery or application of the powers of nature, or any perfection of mechanical inventions.
We are certainly in possession of the freest political institutions which have ever been known on earth. And we talk full often, and I fear too boastfully, of our superiority to other nations in this regard. We foster thus, it is to be apprehended, a selfish and vain-glorious spirit, instead of that humble gratitude which acknowledges the Divine giver of our privileges, and ensures to us their continuance, with His favor to crown them all. And often, it seems to me, the very nature of these free political institutions is misunderstood or forgotten, and they are thought of and spoken of, as if they had in themselves an inherent living energy to work out their results and secure our well-being. But what, in truth, are all the institutions of freedom but open and unobstructed channels for the utterance and action of the general sentiments of the people? And what if the people become generally corrupt? What, if unscrupulous ambition, unchecked covetousness, and wanton and brutal self-indulgence become lords of the ascendant, and the ruling spirits of the hour,–what then will be our boasted free institutions? Like other mere channels, they can only give free course to the flood that is poured into them from the fountains, having no power in themselves to determine whether that flood shall be the water of life, bearing health and gladness to all the people, or whether it shall be the torrent of woe and death. The ballot box and universal suffrage are doubtless mighty instruments, but they are instruments which ignorant and bad hands can use, as well as wise and good. And if ignorance and vice predominate, may not then the ballot box become a terror and a curse? Can we rely on the collisions of unmitigated selfishness neutralizing each other, and ensuring the dominion of that law, “whose voice is the harmony of the universe?” “The voice of the people is the voice of God,” only when the people are informed and actuated by the spirit of the Lord. If the mind and conscience and heart of the people are not educated to intelligence and goodness, then our institutions cannot be maintained, and it would not in such a state of things be best that they should. Then we should be compelled to invoke the aid of brazen gates and bars to hold in stern check that very freedom in which we now exult.
And is there any agency, on which we may securely rely, to give the needful knowledge and integrity to a great and rapidly growing people? Where are we to look for the conservative influences that shall save us from following in the way of those free states which have grown great, and rich, and luxurious, and wicked, until they were strangled by their own vices, and smothered by their own corruptions? Let all due honor be given to the literary institutions of our land, and especially to our noble system of free schools, designed to give the means of education to all the children of our land; to the poorest and lowest not less than to those by fortune more favored. Let them be perfected, and let them be perpetual. Every wise statesman will place it among his chief cares to give to our system of free education for all the people every excellence and advantage of which it is capable. He will regard that as suicidal parsimony which withholds any needful and possible expenditure of money or of effort for the accomplishment of such an end. Mr. Webster once eloquently said, in describing the vast military power of Great Britain, “the beat of her morning drum follows the rising sun “around the globe.” But there is a power more benign, more honorable and more mighty, than that of navies and armies. And let ours be the boast, abjuring alike the false glory, and all the murderous accompaniments of “the spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife, and all the pomp and panoply of war,” that far as our republic extends, the morning school-bell summons the myriads of our happy children and youth to their richly provided and well disciplined schools. But while we foster with generous care, let us not idolize our system of school education. Let us not depend upon it for that which it will certainly never accomplish. If “knowledge is power,” be it ever remembered that it is, in itself merely, equally the power of good or of evil. What is knowledge in the hand of the bold bad man but a mighty engine to be wielded for a villain’s ends? To another agency besides that of the mere school, to another power than that of such an education, must we look for an enlightened conscience, and a renovated heart, safely and happily to guide the energies and shape the destinies of a self-governed nation. That power is the Bible, setting forth the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and rendered quick and powerful by the spirit of God in awakening the conscience and renovating the heart. The lessons of history and the character of man duly pondered, would clearly show that the school itself had its origin in, and must depend mainly for its continuance and perfection upon, a religion which puts a Bible into every man’s hand, and strives by all means to have him make that book “the man of his counsel and the guide of his life.” It was the men who braved the dangers of a wintry ocean and the horrors of a New England wilderness “to seek a faith’s pure shrine,”—freedom to worship God after the dictates of their own conscience,–who built the school house next to the house of God, and honored the good school master next to the faithful minister of Christ. We are now the possessors and guardians for the generations who shall throng after us, of a broad and fair heritage, prepared by the wisdom and toils, and sacrifices not without blood, and blessed by the prayers of those more deeply learned in the school of Christ. If we would have it go well with us and with our children, we must profit by their heaven-taught wisdom and experience. True religion seeks not the protection and support of rulers and legislators, it asks no human enactments to enforce its behests, but it offers itself as a hallowed protection and support to all men in all conditions; and if its behests have due reverence, it will “bind our princes” in bonds which will be ornaments of glory upon them, and “teach our senators” a “wisdom” which conflicts not with the wisdom which is from above, and which therefore commends itself to every man’s conscience in the fear of God. This is the one great palladium of our safety,–mighty alike to give strength to a healthy conservatism, and energy to all needful reforms. This will ensure the enactment of good laws, and their faithful execution, and that sacred loyalty in the people, which identifies self-respect, and earnest regard for our neighbor’s well-being, with the spirit of obedience to the government of the state. We are now, as a nation, subjected to the severest trial which we have ever experienced. Various elements of evil are developing themselves with peculiar malignity and power, and thoughtful men, who love our government and feel that the cause of human freedom, as connected with popular institutions, is deeply involved in the issue of our experiment, have sometimes trembled for the result. Such men know that the combinations of selfishness cannot always be depended on to adjust our increasing difficulties. Nothing, I believe, can effect this but the power the conscience and the heart of the nation can be so controlled as to constrain the putting away from us of all that conflicts with the laws of eternal justice, and at the same time to constrain the needful concessions when points of mere interest are in question, then the Lord will be our God, and we shall be a light to the nations. Otherwise we shall fall like Lucifer, and our example, instead of being the elevating hope of the oppressed, will be a by-word and a hissing among the nations, and the tyrant’s strongest argument and most impregnable defence.
When we look at man in his more intimate social relations, the truth receives increased confirmation that the richest blessings of any people are found in the possession of the word of God, and the instructions and ordinances of a pure religion. What is to give us that earthly paradise—that only bliss of man which has survived the fall,–a pure and happy home? Legislation cannot do it. The mere intellectual culture of the school can by no means achieve this end.—Nothing can do it but that religion, with its heavenly revelations, its solemn worship, and its affecting sanctions, which the word of the Lord and his statutes and judgments ordain. It is this religion presiding in every dwelling-place, and making all there feel that the favor of God is life, and his loving kindness better than life, which will make all the inmates,
“Each in his proper station move
And each fulfill his part,
With sympathizing heart,
In all the cares of life and love.”
There the Bible will proclaim to listening ears and reverent hearts—“Husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and ye wives see that ye reverence your husbands.” “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” “Honor thy father and mother,” &c. “And ye parents, provoke not your children to wrath lest they be discouraged, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” “Servants obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service, as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God. And what service ye do, do it heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for ye serve the Lord Christ.” “Masters give unto your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that ye also have a master in heaven.” Nothing but this could have prepared those delightful pictures of family piety which adorn that charming book—“Henderson’s tour in Iceland.” It was this which furnished the Ettrick Shepard with the matter for those descriptions of most sacred and touching beauty found in his sketches of the highlands of Scotland. It was this which furnished all the elements of that loveliest of Burns’ poems, which the world will never let die. It was this which prepared and moved the Christian patriarch, reverently to uncover his hoary head, and lead his family in the high praises of God, in the sweetest of Scotia’s holy lays. It was this that taught the old patriarch to seek for himself and for all his family around him the lessons of eternal wisdom, in the old family Bible. It was this which inspired the Christian patriarch, the husband and the father, kneeling to commend to the wisdom and care of Heaven’s high King, himself and the dear objects of his love. Well might the poet, awed by the spirit of his theme, exclaim,–
“From scenes like these old Scotia’s grandeur springs,
That makes her loved at home, revered abroad.”
But to the existence of scenes like these, every thoughtful man must know that the Kirk of Scotland, with its plain and faithful preaching, and its solemn worship and ordinances, was indispensably needful. And then in other important relations of society, beyond the family circle, on which the happiness of man greatly depends, on no other agency can he rely to ensure their proper working, but on the Divinely appointed and Divinely blessed institutions of religion. The kind and trustworthy physician, the honorable lawyer, the honest mechanic, the good neighbor, and the faithful friend, all these are schooled and disciplined, as a general truth, only in the hallowed precincts of the sanctuary. This truth has forced itself, in part, upon the conviction of even some intelligent infidels, and led them to give their countenance and patronage to religious institutions. Happy for them on to a profounder view; that, having seen the adaptation of our holy religion to the present wants of man, they had marked duly this convincing proof of its divine origin, and laid hold for themselves of its everlasting blessings, instead of being contented to glean only “the blessings which it scatters on the field of time, on its march to immortality.” As surely as man is a sinner, and as God is just, no other agency can create, and adjust, and guard from fatal injury, “the thousand ties which bind our race in gentleness together,” but the divinely appointed institutions and influences of the religion of Christ. “Here, before God, and in view of judgment and its eternal retributions, the rich and the poor meet together,” and feel that “the Lord is the Maker of them all.” And here, if anywhere, or ever, they learn the lessons of that “love,” which “worketh no ill to its neighbor,”—that “charity,” which “is the bond of perfectness.”
And then again, where but in the word of the Lord, with its statutes and its judgments, is man to find refuge and consolation in the sorrows of earth, which embitter the present, and darken all the future? God has written it as the destiny of man, and all will see its fulfillment, “if a man live many years and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they also shall be many.” The lightest and the gayest heart will be made heavy and sad, and from the sturdiest spirit will be wrung the wail, “Man was made to mourn.” No human wisdom, vigilance or labor can avail to avert the destiny. The legions of evil are around us, the bow is bent, the arrow is drawn to the head, and the shaft will ere long quiver in each heart. Now the God of all consolation, in pity to man in his peril and sadness, has given him the sanctuary, which his word with its statutes and judgments ordains, as his refuge. Here the nature and end of all affliction is expounded. And while the heart is awed by the conviction that it is no accident—no plant of bitterness springing spontaneously from the soil of earth, but God’s own appointment,–it is also soothed by the assurance that it is the Divine method of bringing the blind, by a way that they know not, to rest in his bosom. Out from the sanctuary, angel voices send forth the cheering strains,
“Come ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
Come, at the shrine of God fervently kneel,
Here bring your wounded hearts,
Here tell your anguish,
Earth has no sorrow which Heaven cannot heal.”
“Joy of the comfortless, light of the straying,
Hope when all others die, fadeless and pure,
Here speaks the Comforter,
In God’s name saying,
Earth has no sorrow which Heaven cannot cure.”
But there are higher and more momentous relations pertaining to man than those which concern earth and time; and when these are contemplated, the word of the Lord, and his statutes and judgments, are at once revealed as man’s grand want. We are accountable to God, and shall soon pass away from earth, and all its sorrows, and all its joys, to judgment. Earth is no home for the generations of men; and if any regard it as such, they will wrong themselves with a mighty error, which will soon become irretrievable. Since all the places which now know us will soon deny us, and welcome other occupants, to be disposed of in turn in quick succession, while we have departed to other joys or sorrows, great and eternal, we need other oracles than those which the wisdom of this world can offer, and another discipline than that which would teach us how to treasure its wealth, acquire its honors, or luxuriate in its pleasures. We want to be so trained as to meet death’s inevitable hour with peace and hope, and to render our account with joy to the Judge of all. With such an account and its retributions in prospect, how trivial are all the pursuits and interests of earth! Do my ways please God? Will heaven at last welcome me home? These questions disclose the infinite worth of the word of God, and the ordinances of religion. Here all men are gathered together in view of that which is the grand concern of all. On that hallowed day especially, which hushes the din of business, and calls man into audience with God, the man of business is reminded that he has an interest claiming his attention of infinitely greater moment than anything to which earth can summon him—his interest in the great salvation. Here buoyant youth,
“Whose pulses mad’ning play,
Wild drive them pleasure’s devious way,”
are met with the solemn warnings of life’s great issues,–death, judgment and eternity. And here the worldly wise man is called to the solution of the mighty problem,–“What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”—And, in a word, all are here called to estimate aright the significance of man’s earthly life, as a problem for eternity. And here we have disclosed to our view what clothes the word of God and the ordinances of religion with infinite dignity, and exalts to the highest our estimate of their importance:–the grand concerns of a spiritual life. They testify of the great salvation which God has provided in the face of all people. This is their direct and great subject and end. It is not that men may be favored with the best governmental institutions, and rejoice in a prosperous commonwealth; it is not to spread over domestic relations a banner of love, nor to consecrate the fellowship of good neighborhood, nor to guard and adorn an earthly paradise, nor even to soothe the sorrows of man’s mournful lot on earth. Not any of these, nor all of these combined, constitute the chief end for which God hath written unto men the great things of His word, and hallowed and blessed for him the Sabbath, and encompassed him with the instructions and warnings and promises of the sanctuary. It is that man may be a partaker of the great salvation. Man is a guilty and ruined creature, and a new relation must be established between him and his Maker, by the pardon of his sins and the renewal of his nature after the image of God, or Heaven can never know him. If this be so, what a dreadful impertinence is everything which would divert man’s chief attention from the great question of salvation; and what madness is in his heart who does not set this question before him in all his ways. But a voice sounds from the word of the Lord and his statutes and judgments, to convince men of sin, of righteousness and of judgment; to warn man that death is ever but a step from his path, and to adjure him, in the name of his pitying God and Redeemer, not to neglect the great salvation. But even those who have drawn near to God in the inner sanctuary, who are aroused to a thorough earnestness in working out their salvation, are still beset in their new spiritual career with formidable difficulties. The world is still around them with its thronging temptations, and their long unresisting subjugation to the law of sin has endowed temptation with frightful power. Often vigilance begins to slumber, the strenuous purpose falters, the bright visions of faith wane, and they are tottering to a fall. But they enter the sanctuaries of the Lord, and light from on high breaks upon them, and a purer atmosphere encompasses them. Their temptations are unmasked; keenness of sight is renewed to the eye of faith; and hope again exults in her heavenly aspirations. Here culminate the influences of the word and statutes and judgments of the Lord, in admonishing the Christian disciple to hold fast that which he has received, that no man may take his crown; in nerving him to fight the good fight of faith, that he may lay hold on eternal life; in keeping him assured that he can be made a partaker of Christ only by holding fast the beginning of his confidence steadfast unto the end; in a word, in training the child of God to be made meet to be a partaker of the heavenly inheritance in his Father’s presence for eternity.
Views, like those which we have now been considering, have doubtless influenced the Chief Magistrate, and the Gentlemen of the Senate and the House of Representatives of this Commonwealth, to the religious appointment and observances of this day. You thus express, honored Rulers, your conviction that every man, in all the relations he sustains, and in all his present and his eternal interests, owes allegiance to the word, the statutes and the judgments of the Lord, and that upon them he is to depend for the guardianship of his well being. You reverence Him who has declared—“Them that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed;” and of whom his prophet also has proclaimed, “the nation and the kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.” May He, whose favor is life and whose loving kindness is better than life, vouchsafe a gracious acceptance of your worship, and grant you wisdom and grace in the discharge of your responsible duties to the State, and may his blessing prosper all the interests of our beloved Commonwealth, and delivering our nation from all its perils and oppressions, establish us in justice and in peace. May this broad land be the home of freedom, and the dwelling place of a people whom God has blessed, for thousands of generations. And may that religion, which is the best, the only effectual guardian of our social and civil institutions, and all the dear interests dependent upon them, be to us personally a light to guide and cheer our way through this earthly life, and when the shadows of earth are changed for the realities of eternity, may it be to us a preparation for our welcome reception,
“High in salvation and the climes of bliss.”