Nathanael Emmons (1745-1840) graduated from Yale in 1767. He was the pastor of a church in Franklin, MA (1773-1827), where he also trained fifty-seven men for ministry. This sermon was preached by Emmons in Massachusetts on the state’s day of fasting on April 9, 1801.
DELIVERED ON THE
ANNUAL FAST IN MASSACHUSETTS,
APRIL 9TH, 1801.
BY NATHANAEL EMMONS, D. D.
PASTOR OF THE CHURCH IN FRANKLIN.
A DISCOURSE, &c.
2 Kings xvii. 21.
And they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king; and Jeroboam drave Israel from following the Lord.
In reading the history of nations we commonly meet with some memorable events, which had peculiar influence upon their rise, progress, declension, and final ruin. Such events, whether recorded in sacred or profane history, are of all others the most entertaining and instructive. The first memorable event in the history of the Jews is the calling of Abram the father of the nation. The second memorable event is the descent of Jacob and his family into Egypt. The third memorable event is the return of the children of Israel to their own land. The fourth memorable event is the introduction of kingly government, under Saul the son of Kish. And the next memorable event is the accession of Jeroboam the son of Nebat to the throne of Israel. This strange and deplorable event laid the foundation for a train of national calamities, which have continued from that day to this; and how much longer they may continue we pretend not to be able to determine. For the admonition and instruction of all future ages God has been pleased to record the character and conduct of Jeroboam, together with the fatal consequences of his impious reign, with great particularity and plainness. The sacred historian never loses sight of the baneful effects of his administration, from the twelfth chapter of the first book of Kings to the seventeenth chapter of the second book of Kings, which contains the words of our text. Here his history terminates with the account of the captivity and dispersion of the once happy people whom he corrupted and destroyed.
It is the design of the present discourse,
I. To draw the character of Jeroboam before he was king.
II. To represent the state of the nation when they made him king.
III. To inquire how it came to pass that they did make him king.
IV. To show what methods he employed, after they had made him king, to drive them from following the Lord.
I. The character of Jeroboam, before he was king, deserves particular attention.
He early discovered some of those distinguishing natural and moral qualities, which formed him for the extraordinary part which he finally acted on the stage of life. His natural genius was sprightly, bold, and enterprising, which he evidently cultivated, notwithstanding the peculiar disadvantages and embarrassments which attended his education. Thou he lost his father in his youth, and was left to the care of his mother, who was a widow; yet, by the mere dint of his brilliant talents and close application, he recommended himself to the notice and patronage of his wise and sagacious sovereign. We read, “Jeroboam was the son of Nebat, an Ephrathite of Zereda, Solomon’s servant, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow woman. And the man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valour; and Solomon seeing the young man that he was industrious, he made him ruler over all the house of Joseph.” His appointment to such an office, by such a penetrating prince, is an infallible evidence of his popular talents and pleasing address. These excellent and amiable accomplishments, had they been properly directed to the public good, would have rendered him a great blessing to the nation.
But it appears from his history, that a base, turbulent, ambitious spirit led him to prostitute his find abilities to the vilest purposes. Whether his ungovernable disposition were owing to the unhappy circumstance of being deprived of paternal instruction and restraint, or to a native malignity of heart, it certainly prompted him to disturb the peace of society, and oppose the best form and administration of government. For, though Solomon highly favoured him, and put him into a lucrative office in one of the principal tribes of Israel, yet he conspired against his royal master, and became a ring leader in sedition. His business of collecting the public taxes in the tribe of Ephraim and Manassah gave him a peculiar opportunity of tampering with the people, and of instilling into their minds the most absurd prejudices against the king and his public measures. He could easily persuade the unthinking multitude that they were unreasonably loaded with taxes, and that they ought to do themselves justice, by overturning the government. Having, in this or some other way, widely diffused a disloyal and rebellious spirit among the people, he presumed to throw off the mask, and appear in open opposition to the best of princes. It is expressly said, “He lifted up his hand against the king. And this was the cause that he lifted up his hand against the king: Solomon built Millo, and repaired the breaches of the city of David his father.” Here it is strongly intimated that Jeroboam complained of oppression, and that he made this complaint with a view to destroy his sovereign, and eventually seize his throne. This was a most bold and daring attempt in a young man, for which he deserved to be treated as an ungrateful and detestable traitor. Accordingly the king “sought to kill Jeroboam;” but, by some means or other, Jeroboam fled into Egypt, and remained there until the death of Solomon.
This seems to have been the most fatal period in Jeroboam’s life; for whilst he lived in that land of idols he totally apostatized from the religion of his country, in which he had been early initiated, and became a gross idolater. He was certainly of the seed of Abraham, and probably born and educated in Jerusalem, where he received the seal of circumcision, and usually attended all the religious institutions which God had appointed. These things must have made deep impressions on his young and tender mind, which he could not easily nor instantly eradicate. It must have required strong and repeated efforts to disbelieve what he had once firmly believed, and to despise what he had once inwardly revered. Hence, it is to be presumed that he gradually apostatized from the religion of his country. Whilst he lived in Jerusalem, where all the tribes of Israel statedly repaired to worship the only living and true God, it is probable he treated sacred and divine things with apparent decency and respect. But after he removed from the seat of true religion, to take the charge of the house of Joseph, he had a fair opportunity of neglecting those religious duties, and of renouncing those religious principles, which laid a painful restraint upon his corrupt inclinations and pursuits. He was, no doubt, an infidel at heart, while he was sowing the seeds of sedition, and plotting to ruin his king and country; but, for political reasons, he might not openly avow his infidelity until he fled into Egypt, to escape the hand of public justice. Having taken this desperate step, and exchanged a land of moral light for a land of moral darkness, neither his interest nor his reputation required him any longer to conceal his sentiments; but all the circumstances in which he was placed conspired to form him a complete, confirmed, and avowed apostate. He could do nothing more gratifying to the Egyptians than openly to conform to their religion, and renounce his own. And a man of such a corrupt and intriguing disposition as he was, would not hesitate a moment to sacrifice his God, his religion, and his eternal interest, to answer his political views, and effectually secure popular influence and applause. He could not have lived among a more dangerous people than the Egyptians, who were then the most noted nation in the world, for learning, magnificence, superstition, and the grossest idolatry. Hence his residence in Egypt prepared him to return to his native country a more bitter enemy to the God of Israel, and a more malignant oppose of all his sacred rights and institutions, than any pagan priest of Egyptian philosopher. Such was the ominous character of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, before he reached the object of his wishes, and was placed in the first seat of government. I proceed,
II. To represent the state of the nation, when a base and unprincipled majority raised him to supreme power.
His two immediate predecessors were great and illustrious princes, who reigned long and prosperously. David was a mighty man of war, who subdued the enemies of his country, enlarged the boundaries of his kingdom, and, when he died, left his people in the enjoyment of perfect peace. Solomon, his son and heir, was a wise and peaceful prince, who employed all the resources of his noble and capacious mind in refining, enriching, and strengthening his kingdom. He built a beautiful and magnificent temple for the residence and service of God. He instituted the best regulations for the decent and devout performance of public worship. He built, and repaired, and fortified a great number of cities, and made ample provision for the general defense of the country. He raised a large navy, and enriched both himself and his people, by an extensive and lucrative commerce. Silver and gold were, in his days, as plenty in Jerusalem as stones in the street. By promoting the interest and happiness of his people, he attracted the notice and admiration of the world. We are told, “Judah and Israel dwelt safely every man under his vine and fig-tree, from Dan even unto Beersheba, all the days of Solomon. And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.” The children of Israel never enjoyed so much peace and prosperity in any period of their national existence, as they enjoyed during the glorious reign of Solomon. And when he ceased to govern the nation, he left them in a more free, flourishing, and happy situation, than any other people then in the world. Such was the state of things when Jeroboam the son of Nebat ascended the throne of Israel.
Let us now inquire,
III. How it came to pass that ten tribes out of twelve should raise such an impious and dangerous man to royal dignity.
Jeroboam had not the least claim to the crown, either by birth or by merit. He was the son of Nebat a servant: he had acted the part of a traitor, and he had fled his country to escape the punishment which he had justly deserved. Besides, Rehoboam was the proper heir to the throne of his father, and had arrived at the most proper age to take the reigns of government into his hands. How, then, should it ever enter the minds of the nation to make choice of the son of Solomon’s servant to reign over them? The answer to this is easy – Jeroboam the son of Nebat had long been a man of intrigue. He had secretly employed every artifice to prejudice the people against the former administration of government, and had openly presumed to lift up his hand against the king. All this he had done before he fled into Egypt; and it is extremely probable, that during his residence there he kept up a secret and traitorous correspondence with the disaffected in Israel, and only waited for the death of Solomon to return and seize his throne. It is certain, however, that as soon as Solomon expired his disaffected subjects immediately sent to Egypt for Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and set him up as the rival of Rehoboam, the proper heir to the crown. Let us read the account of this extraordinary conduct. “And Solomon slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead. And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king. And it came to pass when Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was in Egypt, heard of it, that they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying, Thy father made our yoke grievous; now, therefore, make the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee. And he said unto them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed.” So far Jeroboam succeeded in his designs. He had long been preaching and acting sedition. And he found upon his return from Egypt, that he had actually thrown the people into a strong delusion, by making them really believe that they had been cruelly oppressed under the reign of Solomon. He also perceived that the major part of the nation were ready to join with him in opposing Rehoboam, who had given him three days to employ all his political skill to rob him of his subjects. This precious opportunity he undoubtedly improved to the best advantage, to prepare himself and his friends for the next meeting; the result of which completely answered his highest expectations. “So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed. And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel, and spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not to them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel. So Israel departed to their tents,” and made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king.
It is now easy to see how this subtle and aspiring man obtained the suffrages of the nation in his favour. It was through his own intrigues, which deluded and infatuated the ten tribes. He actually made himself king by disaffecting the people to the administration of his predecessor; and he caused this disaffection by basely misrepresenting the wise measures of that wise and excellent ruler. He might have justly complained of Solomon’s idolatry and deep declension in religion; but he made no such complaint, because he knew it would not answer his purpose. He, therefore, made a more popular objection, and loudly exclaimed against the intolerable burden of public taxes. These, indeed, had been uncommonly high; but no higher than the public good had required. Though Solomon exacted large sums from the people, yet he applied the money he raised to the most public and beneficent purposes. And while he saw it necessary to lay heavy taxes upon his subjects, he pursued, at the same time, the wisest and best measures to enrich the nation, and enable them to contribute largely to the national prosperity and happiness. Under such circumstances the people had no just cause of complaining of public expenses, but ought to have approved and admired an administration which made them extremely rich and prosperous. And had it not been for the false and artful misrepresentations of Jeroboam and his accomplices, the whole nation would have, most probably, been quite easy and contented under the government of the wisest prince that ever swayed a royal scepter. Hence it appears to have been primarily owing to a political delusion, brought about by Jeroboam himself, that the ten tribes were so unwise as to make choice of him, instead of Rehoboam, to govern the kingdom.
It now remains to show.
IV. What methods Jeroboam the son of Nebat employed to corrupt and destroy the people who had given him his power.
It is a melancholy truth that he did “drive Israel from following the Lord,” and involve them in a series of calamities, until they were dispersed and lost among the nations of the earth. There is something so extraordinary and so instructive in this part of Jeroboam’s conduct, that it deserves the deep attention of both rulers and subjects.
Conscious of having raised himself to the first seat of government, by corruption and delusion, he felt the absolute necessity of cherishing and promoting these destructive evils, in order to maintain his ill-gotten power and influence. Accordingly we are told, what it is natural to believe, that he was greatly afraid that the people would first kill him, and then return to Rehoboam, from whom he had caused them to revolt. Hence he was determined to “drive Israel from following the Lord,” and effectually prevent their ever returning to the house and worship of God in Jerusalem. This appears from the account we find in the text and context, “And they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king: and Jeroboam drave Israel from following the Lord, and made them sin a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them; until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets.” According to this representation Jeroboam was instrumental of corrupting not only that generation who made him king, but their children, and their children’s children, until they were completely ripened for ruin.
The natural cause of moral corruption in the body politic is from the head to all the members. Accordingly we find that Jeroboam corrupted all the people of Israel, from generation to generation, by corrupting all their kings and princes. It appears from the history of the kings of Israel, that they were all corrupted, and became corrupters, by following the pernicious example of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Nadab, his immediate successor, imbibed his spirit, imitated his conduct, and lost his life. Baasha “walked in the way of Jeroboam, and made the people of Israel to sin.” Zimri and Elah resembled Jeroboam in their character and conduct. Zimri died “for the sins which he sinned in doing evil in the sight of the Lord, in walking in the way of Jeroboam.” Omri “wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him. For he walked in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sin wherewith he made Israel to sin.” Ahab “did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.” Ahaziah “did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father, and in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” Jehoram “cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin; and departed no therefrom.” Jehu “departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” Jehoahaz “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom.” Jehoash “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord; he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin; but he walked therein.” Jeroboam, the son of Jehoash, “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord; he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” Zechariah “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done; he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” Menahem “did that which was evil in the signt of the Lord; he departed not all his days from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” Pekahiah “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord; he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” Pekah “did evil in the sight of the Lord; he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” Thus Jeroboam the son of Nebat “drave Israel from following the Lord,” not only through his lifetime, but for near two hundred and fifty years after his death. He corrupted twenty kings in succession, and almost all their subjects. And though his reign was comparatively short, yet he did more to corrupt and demoralize a virtuous and religious people than can be easily described or conceived.
The question now is, What methods did he employ to “drive Israel from following the Lord?” His character and conduct before he came to the throne will not admit of the supposition of his acting ignorantly or inadvertently. And it appears from his history, that he exerted all his talents to devise the most effectual means of extinguishing every spark of true religion and virtue in the minds of his subjects. Here, then, it may be observed,
1. That he prohibited the worship of the true God, by substituting in the place of it the worship of graven images. The inspired historian gives us a particular account of this bold and impious method to banish all true religion and morality from his kingdom. “And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David. If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto the Lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Wherefore the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought you out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one in Dan.” This was taking advantage of the corruption of human nature. Mankind must have some religion, and they naturally prefer any false religion to the true. If Jeroboam had prohibited all religion, he would have displeased his people, and alienated their affections from him. But by instituting idolatry, which was a corruption of true religion, he exactly hit the ruling passion of the children of Israel, who were perpetually fond of the idols of the heathens, and took the most artful and effectual method to wean them from the house and worship of the true God in Jerusalem.
2. He appointed new times as well as new places of public worship. These two measures were intimately connected, and calculated to render each other the more effectual. To change the days as well as the places of religious worship, had a direct tendency to distinguish Israel from Judah, and to draw a lasting line of separation between the two kingdom. His policy clearly appears in what the sacred historian says concerning his appointment of new holy days. “And he made an house of high places, and ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah.” The general similarity between this religious festival and that of divine institution, was designed to favour the customs and habits of the people, which could not be easily and safely disturbed; while the dissimilarity of the month and of the day of the month, would answer all his purposes, without raising the least opposition to the measure. These two steps suggested another, and naturally led him,
3. To make new appointments to office. As his darling object was to corrupt and destroy the true religion, so he discarded the regular and faithful priests of the Lord, and appointed others to supply their place, who were attached to his person and cause, though of the vilest character and of the meanest condition. It is repeatedly said, “He made priests of the lowest of the people, who were not of the sons of Levi.” And it is added, “This thing became sin unto the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.” It was a profane and presumptuous act in Jeroboam to despise and reject those whom God himself had appointed to minister in holy things; and it deserved the severest marks of the divine displeasure. This he knew; but he was resolved to shake every sacred as well as civil officer from his seat, rather than to lose his own. We are not, indeed, informed whom he appointed to stand around his person, and assist him in the administration of government; but who can doubt whether he did not display the same corruption of heart in appointing the officers of state which he had displayed in appointing the officers of religion? He sought nothing but his own interest; and this required him to raise such men to places of power and influence, both in church and state, as would heartily approve and promote his design of spreading religious error and delusion through all the tribes of Israel. These were the public measures which he employed “to drive Israel from following the Lord.” But it must be further observed,
4. That he enforced these measures by all the weight and influence of his own example. It appears, from his character and conduct in early life, that he possessed, in a high degree, the art of captivating and corrupting all sorts of people with whom he conversed. And when he was clothed with the ensigns of royalty, his power and opportunity of corrupting his subjects greatly increased. He became the standard of taste, and the model of imitation. His sentiments and manners became a living law to his subjects. In his familiar intercourse with all around him, he undoubtedly seized those soft moments, which were the most favourable to his malignant design of seduction. This he could do without departing from the dignity of his station; but it appears that he did more than this, and even stooped to mingle with the priests, and “to burn incense upon the altars of the golden gods of his own making.” He was such an apostate from the true religion, and such a bigot to idolatry, that he esteemed nothing too low, nor too mean to be done, that would serve to eradicate every moral and religious principle from the minds of the people. Hence it is natural to conclude, that he did more “to drive Israel from following the Lord,” by his personal example, than by all the other methods he employed for that impious purpose. And, indeed, his example is oftener mentioned than any thing else, as the fatal cause of corrupting and destroying the people whom he governed. High and low, rich and poor, princes and people, are said “to walk in the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” It is certain, however, that his loose and irreligious example gave peculiar weight and authority to his idolatrous institutions and his partial appointments in church and state, and largely contributed “to drive all the tribes of Israel from following the Lord,” and eventually to plunge them in perpetual ruin.
2. The character and conduct of Jeroboam plainly teaches us what a dreadful scourge wicked rulers may be to their subjects. We can no where find the character of an hypocritical and unprincipled sovereign so fully delineated as in the history of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. He is not only described before he came to the throne, and while he was in the exercise of supreme power, but he is represented as deceiving and destroying multitudes for ages after his death. And as the inspired historian drew such a large and lively portrait of his character on purpose to instruct, so it is extremely full of instruction. Who would have thought of ascribing the idolatry of twenty kings, and the degeneracy of a whole kingdom, during twenty reigns, to the conduct of one man, had not God, who perfectly knew the extensive influence of his example, expressly told us that he was the primary cause of such an amazing train of national calamities? How happy were the twelve tribes of Israel when Jeroboam the son of Nebat began to reign? David and Solomon had exerted all their power, wisdom, and piety, to strengthen, enlarge, enrich, refine, and reform the nation. They had been the happy instruments, under God, of rendering the Hebrews he most virtuous, the most religious, and the most happy nation on earth. But how soon did Jeroboam the son of Nebat reverse the scene, and completely blast all their bright and rising prospects! He designedly drave them from following the Lord, and cruelly deprived them of that magnificent temple, which they had expended so much labour and treasure to erect. He put a final period to their hearing the public instructions of their public teachers, and to their observing those religious institutions which God had appointed for their spiritual benefit. He set them an example of that gross idolatry which exposed them to the frowns of God in this life, and to his everlasting displeasure in the life to come. He divided the nation, destroyed the peace of his own subjects, and involved them in all the horrors of war. He dried up the sources of national wealth, and entailed poverty, meanness, and reproach upon the ten tribes to the latest generation. This is a true but shocking picture of a ruler who fears not God, nor regards man. It appears, from fact, that such a ruler is capable and disposed to destroy everything that a nation holds most dear and valuable in this world or the next. And the more happy a people are when they fall under the power of such a depraved and unprincipled tyrant, the more they have to lose, and the more they have to suffer as long as his authority or his influence shall last.
3. It appears from the intriguing character described in this discourse, how easily any people may be led into civil and religious delusion, by artful and designing politicians. The people of God, one would have supposed, were proof against every species of delusion, especially in the days of Solomon, who instructed, as well as governed, them with superior wisdom and integrity. Besides providing them with sacred teachers, he even condescended to give them the best civil and religious instruction himself. This we learn not merely from his general character, but from the particular account which the writer of his life has given us of his superior talents, and of the extensively useful purposes to which he applied them. He says, “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sane that is on the sea shore. And he spake three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five.” Though many of his songs and proverbs are lost, yet those which have come into our hands we know are full of civil and religious instruction. Where can we find the duty of rulers and of subjects more clearly exhibited, or more strongly enforced, hat in his writings? His proverbs contain the practical wisdom of ages, and convey to persons of all characters and conditions the most useful information, in the most striking and familiar manner. A great statesman said, “Let me compose the ballads for a nation; and let who will make their laws.” His meaning is, that whatever be the instruction, whether good or bad, which is most easily and most universally circulated among the mass of the people, will have the greatest influence in forming their sentiments and governing their practice. If this observation be just, then, while Solomon made the songs and proverbs for the people of God, they enjoyed the best advantages of gaining civil and religious information; and in that respect were especially guarded against civil and religious delusion. But it appears from the history of Jeroboam, that he could easily seduce this intelligent and well informed people. When he first appeared in public, he had the address to poison the sentiments of Solomon’s subjects, and to alienate their affections from him. When he was more advanced in years, and more acquainted with human nature and the arts of intrigue, he so completely blinded and deluded the ten tribes of Israel, that they unanimously made him king, and sacrificed all their political happiness to gratify his avarice and ambition. And when he had thus led them into one political error after another, his infidelity pushed him on to throw them into a greater and more fatal delusion. Having easily intrigued them out of their government, he as easily intrigued them out of their religion, and plunged them into the grossest idolatry. But the house of Israel are not the only people who have been made blind to their private and public good by artful politicians. The Romans, at the zenith of their learning and refinement, were equally unable to stand before the arts of seduction. How often did aspiring, eloquent, and designing men, raise popular commotions and insurrections, and take the advantage of political delusions, to seize the reigns of government? Though the Romans viewed themselves as connoisseurs in politics, yet all their political knowledge was totally insufficient to guard the weak side of human nature, and to prevent them from falling into the greatest political delusions. There is a natural propensity in mankind to oppose law and religion, and therefore their eyes, and ears, and hearts, are always open to those base politicians, who promise to free them from such painful restraints. What astonishing delusions have prevailed, and are still prevailing in France, and in many of the states and kingdoms of Europe? How have the Jeroboams of the present day succeeded in spreading political and religious delusions among the most enlightened nations? And who can tell when or where these delusions will end? Human nature is the same in America as in all other parts of the world. We are no less exposed to be carried down the current of delusion than others were, who have been overwhelmed and destroyed.
4. It appears from the character and conduct of Jeroboam, that corrupt rulers will always aim to corrupt the faithful ministers of religion. No other men are so intimately connected with the great body of the people, and have such favourable opportunities of pouring instruction into their minds, and of conversing with them under all circumstances of life. And whether it be a favourable or unfavourable aspect upon the public good, it is a certain fact, that wise and faithful ministers have a larger share in the respect and confidence of the people in general, than those of any other character or profession. Of course they have more influence in forming the religious opinions, the common habits, and even the political sentiments of the subjects of governments, than many of those who are immediately concerned in public affairs. Besides, religion of any kind, whether true or false, takes a stronger hold of the human mind, and has greater tendency to govern the actions of men, than any theoretical knowledge in any of the arts or sciences, or in any of the pursuits and concerns of the present life. The public teachers of religion, therefore, must necessarily be able, in many ways, to weaken the hands, and obstruct the designs of corrupt rulers. And it naturally follows, that they will endeavour, by all means, to corrupt those who minister in holy things. This we find clearly illustrated by the conduct of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who drave Israel from following the Lord. He felt himself under a necessity of corrupting, or of deposing the clergy. A number of the sons of Levi were so sincerely attached to the true religion, and so heartily opposed to idolatry, that they could not be corrupted; but chose rather to be deposed from their office, and flee into the kingdom of Judah, than to lend their influence to promote his impious measures. But he soon found means to corrupt the whole body of the priests, and bring them entirely over to his own views; which, above everything else, firmly fixed him on the throne of Israel. The corrupt and unprincipled leaders in the late revolutions in France, have exactly imitated Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and pointed their peculiar vengeance against all the clergy in the kingdom, who would not unite with them in spreading civil and religious delusions through the world. But here it is proper and striking to remark, that they have taken much larger strides than Jeroboam ever did; for he substituted a false religion in the room of the true; but they have attempted, and used all the means in their power, to extirpate all religion, whether true or false, and to introduce universal infidelity or skepticism. And it is always to be expected, that when the rulers of a nation apostatize from the religion in which they were educated, that they will endeavour to destroy it, and, if possible, corrupt the public teachers of religion, and allure or drive them into their irreligious and demoralizing schemes. Should atheists or infidels fill the seats of our own government, the preachers of the gospel would be greatly exposed to their frowning or smiling influence. And even now there are some in power who begin to frown upon those ministers who dare to speak against their bold and impious exertions, to break the bands of religion and morality, and open the door to universal licentiousness.
5. We learn from the character, conduct, and history of Jeroboam, that it is the duty of the public teachers of religion to bear public testimony against all attempts of those in authority to destroy the religion and morals of the people. Who will deny, that it was the duty of prophets and priests to preach against the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin? He was ruining himself and his subjects, by an open and avowed opposition to the God of Israel, and to all his sacred institutions. Such conduct called aloud upon the public teachers of religion, to warn both Jeroboam and his people of their great criminality and danger. They could not answer it to God, who put them into office, nor to the souls committed to their care, if they neglected or refused to bear solemn testimony against corrupters and those who were corrupted. Accordingly we find, that the faithful prophets and priests did boldly reprove and admonish Jeroboam and those who walked in his steps. They cried aloud, and spared not, to show the prince and the people their transgressions, and to forewarn them of the just judgments of God, which eventually fell upon them. While Jeroboam was in the presumptuous act of sacrificing to the idols he had made, the Lord sent a prophet to reprove his wickedness, and to predict his future punishment. “And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Beth-el: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar! Thus saith the Lord, Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the Lord hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out. And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which cried against the altar in Beth-el, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying Lay hold on him. And his hand which he put forth against him dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him. The altar was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the Lord.” Such was the fortitude and fidelity of one prophet in reproving the apostate Jeroboam; and it appears that other prophets were no less bold and faithful in reproving him and his followers in idolatry, until the wrath of God came upon them to the uttermost. For we are told, “The children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them, until the Lord removed them out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets.” These faithful ministers of God ceased not, though at the hazard of their lives; to reprove the kings as well as people of Israel, who walked in the ways of Jeroboam, and forewarned them of the fatal consequences of their shameful apostacy. Is not this a noble example, and well worthy of perpetual imitation? Should any now rise into power who possess the spirit and imitate the example of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, would it not become the ministers of Christ to imbibe the spirit and imitate the example of those who boldly reproved that profane and impious corrupter of Israel? It is as true now as it was in the days of Solomon, that “righteousness exalteth a nation; and that sin is a reproach to any people.” The religion of Christ has been the glory and the happiness of our nation; and it would argue extreme unfaithfulness in the ministers of the gospel in these days, should they, for the sake of pleasing some, and for the fear of displeasing others, hold their peace, and suffer vice and infidelity to destroy our religion and government, without uniting their efforts, to prevent such deplorable evils? They are set for the defence of the gospel; and let them only be wise and faithful in the discharge of their duty, and they may safely confide in God, to wither the hand that shall be stretched out against them.
6. The nature and effects of Jeroboam’s conduct show us what we have to fear, should our civil rulers embrace and propagate the principles of infidelity. We have not so far lost our virtuous and religious habits, but that wise and virtuous rulers might, under Providence, restrain us from total declension and apostacy. But if those who fill the chief offices of state should openly renounce God and religion, it is difficult to see, why they should not as easily and as universally corrupt our nation as Jeroboam did the ten tribes of Israel. And who can say, that men in power may not catch the spirit of the times, and follow the example of Jeroboam, or rather that of the late apostates in Europe? We are becoming more and more connected with those infidel nations, whose politicians and philosophers are the bold patrons and preachers of infidelity. This mutual intercourse affords a peculiar opportunity to try the whole force of their infatuating philosophy upon us in America. And it is beyond a doubt, that our rulers are the most exposed to their fatal delusions. What is there, then, to forbid our apprehensions, that those in the highest places of power may be corrupted, and actually apostatize from the religion of their country? And should they happen to apostatize, what could hinder them from “driving our nation from following the Lord?” Here lies the greatest danger to which we are at present exposed. Could we only maintain our religion and virtue, and stem the current of moral corruption, we should have ground to hope for future prosperity; but if the rulers of our land should renounce the Bible and all the doctrines and duties taught in that sacred volume, we should have nothing to expect, but that the whole nation would be finally corrupted and destroyed.
7. It appears from what has been said in this discourse, that civil and religious delusions are the great evils which more especially call for our humiliation and mourning this day. Though we have been uncommonly happy and prosperous under the late administration of government, yet the people have loudly complained of public men and public measures, and, by a majority of suffrages, placed the supreme power in different hands. And though we have been favoured with the light of divine Revelation, and been well instructed in the doctrines and duties of Christianity, yet many individuals, in various classes of men, have renounced their former faith in the inspiration of the scriptures and in the existence of God, and become open and zealous proselytes to the cause of infidelity. These strange and disastrous events must have been brought about by the arts of seduction. And the same men who for the sake of subverting religion and government, have employed their artifice to promote civil and religious delusions, will wish and endeavour to increase them, to answer the same selfish purposes. These great and prevailing delusions are much to be lamented. They are not innocent errors, but national iniquities. They display the depravity of the heart, rather than the weakness of the understanding. God was highly displeased with Jeroboam for deluding Israel, and highly displeased with Israel for being carried away with his delusions. And he must be no less displeased with the deceivers and the deceived in our nation. Hence we have abundant reason to bewail the great and fatal delusions which are every day and every where prevailing among us. We ought to lament that any should cast off fear and restrain prayer before God, and actually disobey all human and divine laws; but we have much more cause to lament that so many should deny the existence of God, disbelieve the first principles of religion and virtue, strike at the foundations of government, and not only practice, but justify universal licentiousness. These are sins of the first magnitude in a land of gospel light, and are, of all others, the most alarming at the present day. God may justly expostulate with us as he did with his people of old. “What iniquity have your fathers found in me that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain? Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the Lord, and with your children’s children will I plead. For pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods? Which are yet no gods; but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens! At this.” Let all the friends of God sigh and cry for the abominable and fatal delusions which threaten us with the heaviest calamities that ever fell upon an ungrateful and apostate nation.
8. This subject teaches us the propriety and importance of praying for a general effusion of the divine Spirit. Without this we have no ground to expect to be reclaimed from our deep declension. The best defenses have been written in favour of our religion and government. The wisest measures have been adopted to open the eyes of the nation to see and pursue their best interests. An alarm has been sounded from the press and from the pulpit, to awaken the deluded from their delusions. But it seems that the light which has been exhibited has served to increase the blindness of the blind; and the alarm which has been sounded has served to diminish the fears of the deluded. Hence it appears that our national disorder lies in the heart, which bids defiance to all human exertions. The effusion of the divine Spirit is our only source of hope. Our present situation resembles the situation of Israel in the days of Jeroboam. No means nor motives could remove their delusions. While prophet after prophet admonished the corrupters and the corrupted, they still remained obstinate and bent to backsliding. God could have effectually reclaimed them by the influence of his Spirit; but it does not appear, that he ever poured out his Spirit upon Israel after they yielded to the delusions of Jeroboam. But Judah, who never totally revolted, he frequently reformed, and, for that purpose, sent down the influences of his Spirit to change their hearts. And if God intends to save our nation, he will remove our delusions by the same divine influence. In this way he can easily confound the designs of the enemies and corrupters of Christianity, and make even them the willing and active instruments of promoting the cause which they are attempting to destroy. It is, therefore, the special duty of this day of humiliation and prayer, to seek the outpourings of the Spirit. But who are prepared for this duty? Not infidels. They wish not to be undeceived. Their deception is their castle. They perfectly despise prayer, and the great and glorious object of prayer. Not the immoral. They dread all restraint, and especially that restraint which arises from the genuine convictions of the Spirit. Not mere moralists. They feel no need of a divine influence upon themselves or others. Who, then, are prepared to pray for the special operations of the divine Spirit? They are only real Christians, who have seen the plague of their own hearts, and who believe the deep depravity of human nature. Such persons as these have the spirit of grace and supplication. And is there not a remnant of such characters among us, who sigh and cry for our national declension and apostacy? The effectual fervent prayers of these righteous persons will avail much. Let these, therefore, stand in the gap, and cry mightily to God to pour out his Spirit, and save our nation from both temporal and eternal ruin. Amen.