This is a fast sermon preached by Eliphalet Gillet (1768-1848) in Hallowell, Maine on April 25, 1799. This national fast day was proclaimed by President John Adams. The text of the sermon has been updated to reflect modern spelling and grammar.
Hallowell, April 25th, 1799.
The Day Appointed
By Eliphalet Gillet, A. M.
Pastor of the Church in Hallowell.
NUMBERS, xvi. 14.
”Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.”
To administer government, whether civil or ecclesiastical, in such a manner as not to give offence, is peculiarly difficult. The meekness of Moses was proverbial; and yet it did not shield him from the tongue of slander. His designs were presumed to be unfavorable to the people, and his measures criminated as the height of usurpation. The opposition began by secret murmurs against his administrations, and afterwards broke out into open rebellion. At the head of these malcontents were Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The opposition was formidable—the mutinous spirit pervaded all ranks; and it must necessarily have issued in the subversion of their government, and the prostration of civil and religious order, had not the Lord miraculously interposed. For there were embarked in this iniquitous cause “two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown.” [Numbers 16:2]
They had, it seems, by some Paine or Godwin who was among them, been infatuated with the visionary idea of an “Age of Reason,” and of unrestrained “Liberty and equality.” This so possessed their minds that they could not yield submission to the constituted authorities, even though they were of divine appointment. In their wild career they had lost sight of the excellence and necessity of subordination in society. And they were far from rendering honor to whom honor was due. “They gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift you up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” [Numbers 16:3] Moses went out and expostulated with them. He entreated them to canvass the matter coolly, and see whether they were not actually gathered together against the Lord. “For what is Aaron, says he, that ye should murmur against him?” [Numbers 16:11] But their passions were too violent to be reasoned with, and they were too impatient of restraint to suffer either God or man to rule over them. They reply with a zeal that borders upon desperation—“Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us.” [Numbers 16:13] Their ULTIMATUM is then subjoined, “Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.” From this passage of scripture, in its connection, we are naturally led to speak of
A spirit of insubordination may be considered in two respects
1. In reference to God, and
2. In reference to civil government.
In reference to God, there can be no longer danger of there ultimately overthrowing His government, because He has all power in His hand. This sinning angel found by fatal experience, when thrust out of heaven, and “reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.” [Jude 1:6] This our first parents found, when banished from the Garden of Eden, and condemned to till a soil which “brought forth thorns and thistles.” [Genesis 3:18] This the Israelites found, when slain in the wilderness for their murmurings, or sold to their enemies for their idolatry. And indeed this all mankind have found, in the troubles and calamities of life, which come in consequence of sin, and rebellion against God. “Sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death, with its numerous trains of evils, hath passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” [Romans 5:12] It is a melancholy truth that there is by nature, universally, in man a total submission to the law of God. “They are not subject to His law, nor indeed can be. [Romans 8:7] The law is holy, just and good,” [Romans 7:12] but they are under the dominion of sin, and cannot serve two masters. This spirit is not only universal; but it is a dangerous spirit. It exposes men to condemnation. It subjects them, if persisted in, to eternal death.—For almost six thousand years, God has proclaimed His few, comparatively, in every age, have yielded to His solicitations. He has given up His own Son as a propitiation for their sins: so that God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. —-And he committed the word of reconciliation to the apostles, and their successors in the gospel ministry, who are ambassadors for Christ, and who are praying the world, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God. Still the “world lieth in wickedness.” [1 John 5:19] Well might God say, as in Isaiah 15:2,3, “I have spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts: a people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face.” And Proverbs 1:26,27, “I also will laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear cometh; when their fear cometh as desolation and their destruction as a whirlwind.”
But our subject leads us more particularly to consider the danger of a spirit of insubordination to civil government.
I wish here to be understood, as meaning a good government—calculated for the benefit of those who contribute to its support. There have been tyrannies and usurpations, both in church and state, which ought to be resisted and which every good man would feel in duty bound to resist, even unto blood. He must have an obdurate heart who can shut his ears against the cries of the oppressed; and a want of resolution who can forbear to redress their grievances even though at the peril of life. The ancient exploded doctrine of non-resistance in every situation is as inconsistent with the well-being of society as the equalizing principles of infidel philosophy so current at the present day.
But when a good government is opposed and resisted, the consequences are serious. There is danger both in reference to the government itself and those who endeavor to counteract its operations. When Moses heard the rebellious language of Korah and his company, “he fell upon his face.” [Numbers 6:4] He viewed it as portending evil to the Commonwealth of Israel. And so indeed it terminated. For the anger of the Lord went out against those who had mutinied, “and the earth opened up her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.” [Numbers 16: 32-34]
One of these two consequences generally follows an opposition to government; either an entire suspension of law and justice, or a more rigid administration. The reason why the Israelites felt neither of these consequences was the immediate interposition of God in cutting off the adversaries. Now the suspension of law, or the subversion of government is in itself a very great evil, and warrantable only in cases, of imperious necessity. Anarchy is worse than almost any kind of government. Even the arbitrary measures of Charles I and the oppressions of that day were exceeded by the anarchy and confusion, or perhaps more properly speaking, by the despotism, which accompanied the temporary subversion of the monarchy. So that, in certain circumstances, where there is a real evil, a remedy injudiciously applied may be worse than the disease. But however a body politic, that is disordered in its functions, may justify a hazardous regimen; the suspension of the operation of a good and equal government must be matter of regret to all who wish for “liberty with order.” Government is the good man’s security. It guarantees his property and his peace. It is like a city which hath “gates and bars.” And he might as well think of hating his own flesh, as to hate that which nourisheth and cherisheth it. The penal consequences of a good government do not affect righteous men, but the lawless and disobedient. The ends which it has in view are a restraint upon wickedness, and the advancement of the general good.
But, suppose the government maintain its ground against all encroachments and a check is put to every aspiring faction; the evil does not end here. An additional burden is laid upon society; the public expenditures are necessarily increased; and the peaceable share with the restless the bitter fruits of their ill-judged labors. Every tumult, which calls forth the arm of authority for its suppression, is a draught upon the public treasure. And not only so but it has a tendency to cause the cords of government to be drawn tighter to prevent, in the future, similar events. This seems to be a necessary consequence. Government must have energy enough to secure the ends and designs of it. People must give up so great a portion of their natural liberties and privileges as to enjoy the remainder in tranquility and peace. And it must be obvious to everyone, that the more a spirit of insubordination prevails, the more our liberties must be curtailed, in order to give efficacy to the administration. If therefore a nation would live free—if they would relinquish the smallest portion possible of their natural rights and privileges, they must put on the “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” [1 Peter 3:4] They must not, like Korah and his company, fly into a passion because they despair of the first offices of state or because they are called upon to support that government which is the guardian of their dearest treasures.
I now proceed to mention the means by which a spirit of insubordination is excited.
First, The spread of irreligious principles.—Irreligion made war in heaven. And it is the source of war and contention on earth. If the Holy Scriptures can be brought into disrepute and no longer considered as the law of our actions, much is done towards the subversion of a government founded in justice and administered by wisdom. Because our religion inculcates obedience, “not only for wrath but conscience sake.” [Romans 13:5] Our religion inculcates a quiet, pacific disposition. And a good government cannot be resisted without a very different temper of mind. Where the principles of irreligion are deeply rooted in the soul, you will find a uniform opposition to every kind of punishment under the divine government. They declaim warmly against the idea of God’s vindicating the honor of his law by chastising the rebellious. And hence they renounce the Governor of the universe in His true character and paint to themselves a Being who is reconciled to them in their courses of iniquity. Such principles necessarily operate against restraints and punishments under human authority. The idea of a day of judgment and a state of retribution is very efficacious in promoting not only piety towards God but order, peace, and harmony in the world. Irreligious principles may be necessary to the support of tyranny or oppression. It cannot well be carried on unless the leaders have drunk deep in this spirit. But they are the bane of good government. They unhinge every connection in society. The tenderest ties in families are dissolved, and this influence extends to the great family of the nation.
It is a common observation, and erroneous as it is common, that principles have no influence upon practice: and therefore it is of very little importance what persons believe. Paul judged very differently. “Shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness: and their word will eat as doth a canker.” [2 Timothy 2:16-17] An irreligious principle is like gangrene in the soul. It taints the whole system. The man, like Ahab, sells himself to work wickedness. He becomes a fit instrument for the service of those who wish to sacrifice their country in hopes of rising upon its ruins. And until such instruments are multiplied, the prostration of those establishments, which promote order and peace and secure the public good, can never be accomplished. It is the bulk of mankind that bring about great events. It is not a few visionary philosophers, immured [imprisoned] in their closets, that can do it. I mean, not by their own strength. But fatal experience proves they may by the dissemination of irreligious principles. If they can debauch the public mind and bring people to think they ought to be under no restraints, either human or divine, the work is almost fitted to their hands. They can then, by an imperceptible exertion, guide the multitude in their own way and accomplish their most atrocious purposes. “Behold the ships which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about by a very small helm, whithersoever the governor lifteth.” [James 3:4] After the principles of infidelity are sown, and the roots of bitterness begin to spring up, they systematic votaries of faction and discord look upon the victory as obtained. They have little else to do than to bear away the spoil.
The false prophet, Balaam, was “wiser in his generation than the children of light.” [Luke 16:8] He saw that it was in vain to curse Israel so long as they remained true to the principles of their religion. But if he could call them off to idolatry and cause them to bow the knee to the gods of the Moabites, he looked upon his atrocious designs as accomplished. He justly viewed it as no difficult task to curse a people that had brought down a curse upon themselves. The Scribes and Pharisees pursued the same measures in procuring the crucifixion of Christ. They would persuade the multitude not to adhere to his doctrines of religion. “Have any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees believed on him.” [John 7:48] And after they had proscribed his religion, and by their hypocrisy made it appear that his principles were hostile to the public good, they had the voice of the multitude at their command, whenever they wished to cry, “Crucify him, crucify him!” [Matthew 27:22; Mark 15: 13-14; Luke 23:21; John 19:6]
I have dwelt the longer upon this head from the consideration that our eternal as well as temporal interest is involved in it. The principles of irreligion unfit the mind for the service of God here or for His glory hereafter. They unfit us for usefulness in our day and generation and deprive us of that continual feast, which is served up by a “conscience void of offence towards God, and towards man.” [Acts 24:16] They lie at the bottom off all those crimes, which have blackened the pages of history; and their pernicious influence is too frequently visible in seas of blood. They cause different nations to encroach upon each other’s rights and privileges. They cause brothers to fall out by the way. And they cause a man to fall out with himself. Nothing but infidelity could inspire a man with rashness enough to precipitate his own death or, I might say, with more propriety perhaps, with too much cowardice to live. “The ravages of Alexander, were probably less injurious to the human race, and less guilty before God, than the ravages of the moral world by Hume or Voltaire.” 1
Secondly, Another mean of exciting on opposition to government is the perversion of that most salutary principle that “Men are born free and equal, and 2 have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights.” 3 Because one man has no natural to tyrannize over another, it does not follow that persons may not surrender a portion of their original and natural privileges for the sake of security and peace. Suppose men naturally possess an equal right to exercise authority or, which is the same thing, that there is no inherent right in any—a truth essential to all free governments, and suppose further, that which never takes place, that property, strength, and wisdom, were in equal measure bestowed, it would not disprove the necessity of inequality and subordination, when they enter into civil society, and cast in their influence and energy into one common stock, for their better security against unjust encroachments. “Everybody politic is formed, in the first place, by a voluntary association of individuals, who have entered into a mutual engagement; and, in the next place, by a social compact, in which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws, in one uniform manner, 4 for the common good; 5 that THE RIGHT IN THE PEOPLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE LEGISLATURE IS THE BEST SECURITY OF LIBERTY, AND THE FOUNDATION OF ALL FREE GOVERNMENT.” 6 Were power equally vested in every individual of a nation, they would be in no posture of defense. In order for the accomplishment of any beneficial purposes there must be a head, and he must have authority and power enough, under constitutional limitations, to guide the whole body. Much of the strength of a nation depends on concentrating its energies. The scattered rays of the sun afford but a feeble heat, but collected by burning glass, their operation is visible. An equality, therefore, is absolutely impossible. It is a thing entirely visionary under any kind of government. Whoever is vested with authority, as the minister of justice, whether for a longer or shorter space of time, whether by hereditary right or by the suffrages of his fellow citizens, is, for the time being, from the nature of his office, above the people, and they are necessarily in a state of subordination—of subordination to laws, and to men, only as they are the appointed guardians of those laws.
And this to many a “sore evil under the sun.” [Ecclesiastes 5:13] The language of Korah and his company was, “Ye take too much upon you.” And why? Was there any oppression? Was there any extortion? Had Moses and Aaron iniquitously invaded the property of the people, and ground the faces of the poor? Moses appeals to God. “I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.” [Numbers 16:15] Nay, they do not so much as accuse them of any such thing. They were rather deemed guilty of the unpardonable presumption of fulfilling the duties of their station—a station above those who were private members of the Commonwealth. “Seeing all the congregation are holy, say they, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; wherefore then lift you up yourselves above the congregation of the lord?” Why should one man be lifted above another, in order to exercise authority? Why not administer government in such a manner that there should be a perfect equality? Or, in other words, why not govern us without any government at all? And this is a state which desperate characters would rejoice in, who have everything to gain and nothing to lose by inverting the order of things, and who long to riot in the spoils of their fellow-men, without fear of those punishments which their crimes deserve, and to which god and wholesome laws subject them.
Thirdly, Another mean of exciting an insubordination to government is suggesting that the restrictions under which we are placed, and the burdens which are laid upon us are unnecessary and, at the same time, entirely arbitrary. This was the method Satan took to excite our first parents to revolt from God. He did not openly attack the divine government. This might have shocked them and frustrated his diabolical purpose. But he slyly insinuated that some things were wrong. They were under certain restrictions, which were of no benefit, and which prevented them from the enjoyment of a great portion of happiness. “Yea, hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” [Genesis 3:1] It is hardly credible. And of this tree, more especially. He might as well have forbidden you every other tree in the garden. This tree, you see, is good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise. And God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, instead of dying as ye suppose, your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. They yielded to his solicitations, and a strange kind of gods they found themselves transformed into. They knew good and evil, it was true: they knew the worth of good by its loss, and the misery of evil by suffering it.
This mode, however disingenuous, is calculated to ensure success. For we are apt to think we could bear any kind of burden better than that which is laid upon us. Though we would not exclaim against every kind of restraint and think every burden unjust, yet we may be easily made to feel that those we have to struggle with are, in their nature, the most insupportable, and must certainly have arisen from the negligence or, what is worse, the caprice of those who enjoined them. Resistance against such measures, therefore, may be thought a duty instead of a crime because it has a tendency to cause those in authority to bethink themselves and amend their ways. Which leads me to observe,
Fourthly, That another mean of exciting insubordination is weakening the confidence of people in their rulers. Certain among the children of Israel, when they saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount, gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, “Up, make us gods which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, we wot not what has become of him.” [Exodus 32:23] After persons can be induced to think and speak lightly of the ruler of the people, they have but a step further to go to contemn his authority. They will soon call upon Aaron to make them a “golden calf.” Anything but their present rulers will be acceptable. In their frenzy they will pass by wisdom, experience and integrity, as well as forget a long list of past services, and marshal themselves under some leader who has courage enough to embark in the storm or too little discernment to see the danger. Those therefore possess great power in causing opposition to constituted authorities, who can weaken our confidence in reference to their characters or public measures. This is a poison which, though gradual, is effectual. Nothing more certainly answers its end. It deprives the ruler of weight and prepares the public mind to withstand his operations.
Fifthly, Ascribing all calamities to the bad management of those in authority is another mean of exciting opposition to government. It is very wrong for people, when their sins have brought down the judgments of God upon them, to lay them to their rulers account and say, as Ahab did to Elijah, in the time of the famine, “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” [1 Kings 18:17] “Thou hast not brought us,” say the discontented Israelites to Moses, “into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards.” [Numbers 16:14] And what was the reason? Was it not their persevering obstinacy and unbelief? Yet they could complain of Moses being about “to kill them in the wilderness.” [Numbers 16:13] This is a dangerous fire when once kindled because there is enough fuel to keep it burning. There are calamities and evils enough under the best of governments to bring those who are in authority into disrepute if they must all be laid to their charge. When the rain of heaven is withheld or the public treasury exhausted by the depredation of lawless men, it is very easy and very popular for persons to rise up and exclaim against the management of the rulers. It is very easy for them to report concerning the best of rulers and, in such circumstances, not difficult to give it currency, that they are aspiring after their own aggrandizement and are very prodigal of the public wealth. And that if the present characters were displaced, and they allowed to succeed them, there would immediately be a retrenchment of the expenditures, and the public would be served for one half of the present revenue. But those public services, my hearers, which through a love of pre-eminence are to be given away, are always to be suspected. Men who zealously seek offices are not always those who fill them with most honor to themselves or with most profit to the nation.
Lastly, Professing an unusual degree of respect for the liberty and the happiness of the people has ever proved a most powerful and successful mean of exciting opposition to the administration of government. If a person is considerably exalted by office, by property, or by influence; and has the address to make us believe, when he attacks the administration, that he has much more regard to our happiness than he has to his own, he becomes a fit engine for the destruction of government. His efforts shake the pillars of the edifice and, unless timely checked, will end in its ruin.
Those who rose up against Moses and Aaron did it not so much on their own account, if we may credit their assertions, as they did on the account of those who were below them. For these, they sighed in the most pathetic manner. A fight of their calamities pierced them to the heart. “Wilt thou put out the eyes of these men?” It is not our own cause we are pleading. Being princes in the assembly, men famous in the congregation, we do not so sensibly feel your oppressions. But so long as the yoke of tyranny is upon the necks of these people, “we will not come up” nor submit to your authority. And many were credulous enough to believe them. Hence they rallied round their standard in the true spirit of anarchy: and never left them till a sense of their own danger awakened them. When the earth clave asunder and swallowed them up, then they fled, and cried, “Lest the earth swallow us up also.”
Absalom, in his endeavors to usurp the kingdom of his Father David, made use of the same hypocritical pretensions. As he was the king’s son and most tenderly beloved, he had no grievances of his own to complain of; but he was very much affected for the grievances of the people. “He rose up early and stood beside the way of the gate; and it was so that when any man that had a controversy came to the king for judgment, he called unto him, and said, see thy matters are good and right, but there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee. Absalom said moreover, oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice. And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand and took him and kissed him.” [2 Samuel 15:2-5] These soothing arts did not fail of success. The greater part of the whole nation cried, “God save king Absalom.”
The histories of Greece and Rome furnish numberless instances of the same nature; where addresses to the passions of people have issued in a victory over their reason and a sacrifice of their happiness. Cromwell, in England, had a most passionate regard for the liberties of the people. This stimulated him with much violence against the reigning monarch. It was this that led him to the determination not to leave him so long as his head remained on his shoulders. And as soon as this important object was accomplished, he took the reins of government into his own hand, and under the gentle title of protector, exercised the most arbitrary sway they had ever felt since the Norman Conquest. And we have still more recent instances in the regicides of France. Out of a pure, disinterested love for the people, they have filled the streets of their cities with rivers of blood, If such characters think they have the good of mankind in view, they “know not what spirit they are of:” [Luke 9:55] and those who put confidence in them will find them, as Egypt was to Israel, a “reed that will pierce through their hand.” [Isaiah 36:6]
In addition to all the evils we have to encounter at home we are exposed to danger from the Punic faith of the Republic of France.
Or, as the President has well expressed it in the Proclamation, “The most precious interests of the people of the United States are held in jeopardy, by the hostile designs and insidious arts of a foreign nation.” Our danger arises from the consideration of our being “too slow of heart to believe” [Luke 24:25] they are inimical [unfavorable] to us, and inimical to all those institutions which are calculated to promote the glory of God and the good of mankind. They may be the most humane, the most benevolent, and the most religious nation in the world: but if so, the tree is not known by its fruit. The grapes are certainly the grapes of Sodom and the clusters are the clusters of Gomorrah. If they gain an ascendency over us, farewell to that subordination which is necessary to our peace, liberty, and happiness; and farewell to that reverence which is due to God and to the religion of Jesus.
In the beginning of their struggles, their object was in some measure concealed; but we no longer “see through a glass darkly.” [1 Corinthians 13:12] Nothing less than the subjugation of all nations can satisfy their rapacity. The ambition of these modern Caesars and Alexanders has no line of demarcation but the horizon. It is a gigantic, colossal monster that is bestriding the universe. Fraternizing the Hollanders, subjugating the Geneveans, and massacring the Swiss 9 was considered by them only as a Prologue to the tragedy they designed to act upon the great theatre of the world. And hitherto it has been a very moving tragedy. Each Act has presented no imaginary Scenes of the sacking of kingdoms and slaughtered nations weltering in blood. “Instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united: for in their anger they have slain men, and in their self-will they have dug down walls. Cursed be their anger for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel.” 10 If the destruction of America does not swell the catalogue of their enormities, it will be prevented, under God, by our union, by our submission to the laws, by our support of the constituted authorities, and by our adherence to the blessed religion of the Gospel.
It may be said, however, Though the nation by whom our interests are considered as held in jeopardy has, in time past, treated us roughly and though, as one of her own poets 11 hath said, she meant to “fleece” us, yet her language now towards us assumes a different tone. To which I would reply in the words of the Mantuan bard,
“Timeo Gallicos et dona ferentes.” 12 [“I fear the __ even when they bear gifts.”]
Their words are softer than oil, yet they are drawn swords. 13
Charity hopeth all things, but it will be early enough to give full credence after their works manifest it. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” [Matthew 7:16, 20] Should they ever become “clothed and in their right mind,” [Mark 5:15; Luke 8:35] a door is open on the part of America for a friendly negotiation.
Happy for the cause of Zion, that amidst the concussion of nations and shaking of empires, One rules over all, who is able to bring light out of darkness, and order out of confusion, and to make even the wrath of man praise him. To this Almighty Being may we look for divine grace, to prevent s from going in the way of Cain, or running greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, or from perishing in the gainsaying of Korah. AMEN.
* Originally posted: Dec. 26, 2016.