The Nation’s Progress,
Licentiousness and Ruin,
Delivered on the Evening of the
Annual Fast in Massachusetts,
April 7, 1836.
By John Gunnison,
Pastor of the Union Evangelical Church
Of Amesbury and Salisbury.
“Their rules of life,
Defective and unsanctioned, prove too weak
To bind the roving appetite, and lead
Blind nature up to God.” Cowper.
Printed by J. Caldwell,
Psalm XXII: 23.
The Kingdom is the Lord’s; He is the governor among the nations.
Psalm II:9. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.
These sentiments are but dimly recognized, either by the rulers or the ruled of this world. That the world belongs to God–that He made it–that He governs it–and that He will dispose of it, are facts seldom presenting themselves, in all the impressiveness of their vast reality, before the great mass of human minds. It is true men do not–they dare not–in so many words deny the rightful dominion of God; yet they do virtually exclude Him from his own kingdom. By enacting laws, and cherishing principles, and setting examples, in direct contrariety to the divine law, rulers ask, in language by no means equivocal; “Who is the Lord, that we should obey Him?” –and by following out his spirit in their allowed practices, the great mass of men say, “There is no God!”
Now here we detect the specious machinery of atheism. The simple fact that men deny their obligations to God, or attempt unrighteously to cancel these obligations, shows beyond doubt that they deem themselves their own masters, created for their own gratification, with a perfect right to live exclusively to themselves. Yet, notwithstanding the universality of this practical atheism, “The kingdom is the Lord’s, and He is governor among the nations.” This is God’s world. He made it. He preserves it, and to his righteous disposal it must ultimately submit.
“Why then do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? Why do the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, let us break their bands asunder, and let us cast their cords away from us? He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall have them in derision. He shall speak to them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.”
It would seem that the fact of God’s rightful authority should have exerted, ere this, a constraining influence upon the world which he has made. Such however is not the result. It has been true in all time that men are “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” If we survey the first sinner, upon his expulsion from paradise, or mark the malice of Cain, or the ambition of Nimrod; or if we trace down in all its length the mighty stream of generations past, we perceive the same features, and the same proofs of practical atheism, in the great mass of men, of every period and of every clime.
The idolatry of the Canaanites, the abominations of Israel, he tyranny of Ahab, the cruelties of Nero, the fires of the Inquisition, and the blasphemies of Voltaire and Paine, although standing out as monitory way-marks in the “course of time,” are by no means extraordinary exhibitions. They serve indeed as beacons for us to gaze at and as facts to converse upon and occasions from which wrongfully to infer our own virtue, and to congratulate our own age and country upon the refinement of intellect–the reign of liberty–and the influence of religion–when, in sober truth, the same great outlines of oppression, idolatrous love to the world, atheism, and unblushing sin, in all their essential elements, live and operate in our own bosoms–expand by our firesides–give complexion to our social interviews–pollute our sanctuaries– bask beneath the tree of liberty and assume the control of our national and state legislatures.
In confirmation of these remarks, it seems needful only to survey the existing state of the public mind and the public morals in our own land.
From the morals of a community may always be inferred the virtue or licentiousness of public sentiment; and on the other hand, the public mind is always a true index of the public morals. That era of anarchy and misrule which changed the most populous cities of France into a modern Golgotha, by the sacrifice of not fewer than three millions of human beings upon the altar of cruelty and lust, did not at once burst forth, without having been preceded by the state of mind and morals, in perfect accordance with all the fatal transactions of that dark period.
Previous to the out-breaking of the French Revolution, it is a well-known historical fact, that the public mind had become notoriously licentious. It is true, that a “form of godliness” was sustained; nor is it less true, that atheism was openly avowed by many, and secretly cherished by more, whose place and whose privilege it was to give form, and force, and character to the public mind.
Licentiousness of sentiment, therefore, may justly be regarded as the pioneer which preceded and effectually prepared the way for the abolition of God’s sabbath–the prostitution of His ordinances, and the entire reign of terror which ensued. And is not similar licentiousness of sentiment now a marked, and by no means a happy feature of our national mind?
The Press, in these States, is an engine of immense power indeed, with some qualification, may it not be denominated the presiding genius of our law, religion, and liberty? What then is the general character of the American press? Is it, or is it not anti-Christian? In reference to the great mass of periodicals devoted to politics, may it not justly be asserted, that their influence, in this point of view, is bad, decidedly bad? To profit, or party, or popularity, most of them are manifestly pledged; wholly irrespective of those eternal obligations which bind all men to act for God and virtue. And what shall be said of scores even, among those nominally devoted to the advancement of God’s kingdom? Is it not their direct tendency to undermine the deep and everlasting foundations of the gospel? It cannot be denied, that to a considerable extent, through the press, the public mind is infected with the spirit of a religion, which not only fails of recognizing God as the moral Governor of the world, and contemplating man as a lost and guilty being, whose only refuge from “the wrath to come” is in the cross of Christ–but a religion which commends itself to the worldly, the careless and the profane, by casting a false garb over the deep depravity of the heart–by trifling with sin, and sneering at accountability and a “judgment to come.” “Christ and the Church!” was the motto of our puritan fathers; but this perverted public sentiment leaves God, and Christ, and holiness, and the Church altogether in the back ground. And have not the magistrate and the preacher aided the press and contributed their full share in this deterioration of public sentiment?
Whether the multitude range themselves under the undisguised banner of infidelity, or embrace a system claiming affinity with the scriptures, the operation of one and the same spirit seems widely prevalent. This spirit manifestly seeks to deny, evade or explain away the great distinguishing doctrines of revelation–to keep the awful attributes of God out of sight–to hurl conscience from her throne–to blot out accountability–to reduce heaven and hell and holiness to the mere imagery of a disordered brain, and with one sweeping stroke, to prostrate all those cardinal truths which alone can exert a redeeming influence upon fallen man.
There was a period in our history, when the public sentiment (especially of New England) contemplated man, not as the mere creature of time and chance and reason; but as a being of eternal destination–a subject of God’s moral government–most strongly bound to recognize the law of his Creator and to live for eternity, his final abode. Then, appeals were made, both by the magistrate, the preacher, and the press, to the moral obligation and the living conscience of men.
Then, instead of eulogizing the all-sufficiency of reason, and man’s native purity, and God’s indulgent tenderness toward sin; instead of speaking with complacency of the imperfection of the scriptures, and the innocent frailties of human nature; and the trifling importance of vital godliness–public sentiment recognized distinctly through all its mediums, the “desperate wickedness” of unrenewed hearts; the personality and office word of the Holy Ghost; the vicarious sufferings of “God manifest in the flesh;” the supremacy of the scriptures; and the indispensableness of that new-birth, without which none can see God in peace.
Then, God the Creator, God the Lawgiver, God the Governor and God the Judge, both in the world of matter and the world of mind, was acknowledged; and the elements of man’s spiritual and accountable being were aroused and put in motion by appeals to his actual state, in relation to those everlasting truths revealed in the scriptures.
And what was the result upon the Puritans themselves, and their immediate descendants? Why (to borrow the language of a certain writer, not far from a century subsequent to the landing of the pilgrims) –“The name and interest of God has been written upon us, in capital letters, from the beginning. How did our fathers entertain the gospel from the first, with all the institution thereof! How much of “holiness to the Lord; was inscribed upon all their ways and [email protected] and how do we reap the fruits, in the good influence of our pious rulers, and the practice of morality, and the enjoyment of peaceable times!” Near the same period, a member of the British Parliament, in a speech before that body, said– “I have lived in New England seven years, and all that time I never heard one profane oath; and all that time I never saw a man drunk in that land.”
Now when we wander back through by-gone periods, and contrast the purity of that “olden time” with the corruption of the present, how can we avoid the conviction, that, in the language of Moses to Israel, “Of the Rock that begat us we are unmindful; and have forgotten God, that formed us?” That “we have provoked him to jealousy with new gods, and sacrificed to gods which came newly up, which our fathers feared not?” How can the fact be well concealed that a spirit of practical atheism is not only pervading the domestic circle, but diffusing its baneful influence through the press, and the pulpit, the court of justice, and the hall of legislation?
Is it not obvious that the face of society now exhibits many of those dark presages which ushered in the death-struggle of liberty, religion and law in revolutionary France? Who can fail of perceiving, in “the signs of the times,” a marked contempt of those statutes of eternal righteousness, laid down in the great law-book of heaven? Is it not easy to detect in many features of our political economy and the administration of our civil government, a tacit denial of God’s right and God’s agency, and the great principles of God’s government amongst men?
Instead of making, as did the Puritans, God’s word the polestar and chart of legislative rule and legal enactment, is it not undeniable, that selfishness, reckless of consequences, often binds in fetters of adamant the decisions of the Judge–the doings of State legislatures, and the acts of Congress?
Time was, when for arresting with a bold and fearless hand, the current of death in its fatal sweep over the community, a worthy citizen could not have been personally abused, legally prohibited the liberty of speech, fined, and condemned to solitary imprisonment; and the reckless ruffian exculpated from the due rewards of his deeds, and virtually commended for personal insult and brutal force! In the better days of New England, such an act of palpable disregard to righteousness in high places would have eclipsed her glory, and darkened the promise of her brightening hopes.
But now, such a transaction may command public applause; and in perfect keeping with the spirit by which this is prompted, the system of retailing strong drink at the corner of every street, and in almost every dark receptacle of sin, is legalized, and guarded and watched over, and invested with energy and power, and progress, by those august bodies, which are entrusted with the guardianship of the commonwealth, and solemnly pledged to act for the public good. It would seem that the iniquitous system of “rum-shops and ruin,” which has so long obliterated the fear and counteracted the truth of God; and preyed upon the very vitals of our communities; I say, it would seem that this ruinous system should have failed ere this to command the influence of legislative enactments, and the fostering guardianship of the law.
Indeed, it is matter both of astonishment and mortification, that in such a land, and at such a day, the cause of distillers, drunkards and criminals can be vindicated by the majesty of the statute book! Yet such is the fact; and the position (of some at least) of our constituted authorities, in relation to the distillery and the dram-shop, is such, in the judgment of sober charity, as to exclude the moral government of God and the accountability of man altogether from the public mind! And how shall it be accounted for? Why truly, “the powers that be” seem, at least in this respect, moved and influenced by that greater power, denominated in scripture phrase, “the God of this world.” Fear of public odium–love of sensual indulgence, or self-interest, in some one or other of its numerous forms, appears to have perverted the judgments–blinded the perception, and eradicated from the ethics of our rulers, those eternal principles of righteousness, which only can “exalt a nation.” And thus it comes to pass that in instances, too numerous, both the maker and the executor of the law sacrifice the interests of two worlds upon the polluted and polluting altar of selfishness.
In fact, the publicly legalized and cherished manufacture and sale of intoxicating drinks, with its associated sisterhood of vices, affords fearful indication that the death-struggle of virtue is about being witnessed; and that Jehovah is suffering us as a nation, to strengthen ourselves “against the Almighty;” and to rush madly “upon the thick bosses of his burning buckler.”
Associated with this sin and invigorated by the atmosphere of a lax religious sentiment, is the open and allowed and legalized desecration of God’s sabbath.
It is ours, not only to witness in the common walks of life, the transaction of secular business–the idleness– the labor, and the sport, which, from the gray-headed to the little child, alarmingly mark the Lord’s day; but also, to see our national legislature lay reckless hands upon that sacred institution, by employing scores of thousands in conveying the mails, discharging the duties of the Post Office, drilling at military stations, and attending to secular business, in various other departments of the general government; and thus giving the whole country a precedent for travelling, boating, gambling, horse-racing, or whatever else may suit their own convenience or profit, or pleasure on that day, with the sanctification of which is entwined the very life of our country’s welfare. And it might with propriety be added, that the personal example of our rulers, from the highest to the lowest, with few exceptions, indicates in this respect, the prevalence of an infidelity, the sad story of which will probably be read by coming generations, in the gone-by glory and departed worth of this once favored land. Here again we can but perceive marked forgetfulness of God, rebellion against His laws, and a tacit denial that “the kingdom is the Lord’s; that he is Governor amongst the nation’s.”
An additional feature of the same degeneracy may be seen in the gross, growing, and disgraceful violation of the seventh commandment; under which, to say the least, every city, and village, and considerable town groans and becomes infected with the elements both of literal and spiritual death. This “body of sin” has filled our moral atmosphere with pestilential vapors; and in conjunction with infidelity, intemperance and sabbath breaking, consigned to the grave and a hopeless eternity.
“Tis a vortex insatiate, on whose giddy bosom,
The victim is whirl’d, till his senses are gone;
When lost to all shame, and the dictates of reason,
He lends not an effort to ever return.”
How many have found its ‘end as bitter as wormwood;” and mourned “at last, when their flesh and body are consumed!” and yet it is tolerated by the laxity of public religious sentiment. The prevailing skepticism, in regard to God’s government and God’s truth, gives it countenance; and the pulpit, and the press, and the ruler have forborne to portray its hideous features, and to hang out for the benefit of the young and unsuspecting, such beacons as should effectually deter them from that pathway which leads “down to hell.” And hence, it has continued to extend its ravages and multiply its victims, and increase its pollutions, in our nominally Christian communities–in which even, there has seemed to be too little virtue to check its onward march! Nevertheless, “Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience!”
“Whoremongers and adulterers, He will judge!”
To the foregoing it were well to add, in all their deteriorating attitudes, and disgraceful mobs, the deliberate assassinations, the gambling, the perjury and bribes, which in most parts of the country, stalk forth at noon day. But time forbids. Justice, however, demands the introduction of one other, and peradventure, the chief of this sisterhood of harpies, who have already commenced their prey upon our body politic; and are rapidly bearing off in their foul talons, the guards of liberty, the restraints of law, and the sanctions of religion. I allude to American Slavery. “That we have in the midst of us more than town millions of human being in servile bondage, is a fact suited to awaken the deepest solicitude and the most fearful apprehension.” This simple fact of itself is a caricature upon all the institutions of our boasted democracy; it gives the lie to our constitution; and holds us up to the world as a nation of hypocrites and oppressors! Such is the attitude in which it inevitably places these United States.
Nor is it amongst the least of the alarming features of this great national sin, that it finds a congenial atmosphere in the capital of this falsely-called “asylum of the oppressed;” and beneath the very eye of the constituted guardians of liberty!
Think of the spectacle. On the one hand, imagine the American eagle proudly towering above the nation’s dome, the ensign of equal rights; and on the other, –perchance within the very shadow which this proud ensign casts upon the distance–scores or hundreds of human beings, lacerated by the lash, groaning beneath the chain, or being bought and sold like beasts of burden! And those too, MEN, to whom equally with ourselves, not only the Constitution, but the God of nature, has guaranteed the “inalienable rights” of “life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness!” A spectacle sufficiently ludicrous one might suppose, to ensure its suppression, even were it not attended with superlative guilt. But alas! When we enter the halls of Congress; when we listen to the sentiments advanced by many of those legislators who lay high claim to patriotism, devotion to the cause of liberty, and even deference for the bible, we can be tremble for our political ark. There, in the legitimate spirit of despotism, we hear the right, and even the virtue of slavery asserted. Here, in too many lamentable instances, we see a disposition to sacrifice upon the altar of lust and licentiousness, whatever is valuable in our bill of rights, and whatever is obligatory in the law of love. It is a dark omen–that Columbia, the seat of government, the alledged strong-hold of liberty, the focus of equal rights, should after all be the greatest slave market perhaps in the Christian world, is a fact pregnant with the most fearful evils. The “mischief” however, thus “framed by law, and proceeding from the throne of iniquity,’ terminates not with the sacrifice of the flesh, and blood, and souls of nearly three millions of immortal beings; but like the poisonous effluvia from the fabled bohon upas, it impregnates the whole atmosphere of our republic.
Witness its influence in the interception and robbery of the United mail; the cold-blooded murder of guiltless citizens, without the privilege of trial by jury; the various attempts to interdict the freedom of the press; and by lawless mobs and brute force, to aim a fatal blow at free discussion, and liberty of speech! It is not, then merely the wrongful oppression of degraded millions, which is involved in the natural results of this great moral outrage; but all the rights and immunities for which the Pilgrims suffered, the Puritans prayed, and the Patriots bled; all that is dear in our social compact; all that is valuable in our privileges of citizenship; all that is to be prized in our religious, literary and political institutions; stands or falls inevitably with the great question of American slavery, in its present aspects and bearings. Yes–let the unobstructed influence of this crying sin, with its legitimate legion of moral maladies and physical tortures, continues to go forth and finally preponderate–and the knell of this republic will soon have tolled–our halls of legislation will be transformed into theatres of violence and blood–our Constitution scattered to the winds–our sanctuaries demolished–and evils “without a precedent, without a number, and without a name,” overwhelm us, as did the deluge the antediluvians, or the fire the guilty cities of the plain.
Without, therefore, attempting to describe the numberless evils, the cruelties, the unbridled licentiousness, the extreme degradation of morals, the ruin of souls, and the numerous and nameless lesser sufferings and sins of which slavery is directly or indirectly the prolific source; I would merely ask, do not the facts alluded to in this connexion, show undeniably that our nation has forgotten that God who has threatened to judge the oppressor? –That we practically claim the kingdom as our own–and impiously ask, “Who is Lord over us?”
Howbeit, such is the spectacle which our country at present exhibits. These are the great features of its moral character and its political aspect. Such is the cloud, surcharged with blackness and pregnant with the lightnings of heaven, which is now intercepting the rays of our sun, and stretching athwart our national horizon! It is not however, there mere demanded surrender of civil rights–it is not the prospective entombing of liberty and law alone, which admonish us of the coming catastrophe, in a voice of thunder; but those interests which are vastly more valuable–which will outlive time and chance and change–the interests of the imperishable spirit, the untold and imagineless joys or woes of an approaching ETERNITY, call upon us to AWAKE! And is there no redeeming principle? May not the threatening calamity be strayed? Not surely by casting a false and fallacious garb over the existing state of things. The elements of anarchy and sin can never be palsied and rendered powerless by the siren song of safety. You might as well hope to arrest the tornado by dint of argument, or to lull the ocean to repose with the sound of the violin. No–the seeds of iniquity lie deeply imbedded in the human soul. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” In the power and the purity of vital godliness, therefore, exists our last hope. A return to the primitive views of God’s character and the sublime, and spiritual and purifying truths of God’s word, holds forth the only bright promise either for “the life that now is or that which is to come.” Here must be the starting place, the source, and the sanction of all genuine reform. The gross, and willful, and bewildering errors, in regard to God’s righteous government and man’s moral being, which have so widely gone forth, must be counter acted by those scriptural truths, which urge the broad and spiritual and unyielding demands of the divine law–which waken up convictions of sin, solicitude for salvation, and thirst for holiness, in the heart forgetful of God and careless of its immortal destiny. Not until then, will the deceitful gains and the gaudy gayeties of this passing world fade away before the Saviors’ Cross. Not until then, will the sense of a present and presiding God constrain and hollow-hearted statesman, and the unrighteous judge, and the aspiring demagogue, to act in reference to that day, “when every work shall be brought into judgment, with every secret thing!” indeed, not until then, will “peace on earth and good will” abound, and man’s emancipated spirit, “like the waters of a peaceful pool, reflect the image of heaven.” But whilst he continues to imbibe the elements of any system which deprives God of his holiness–the transgressor of his guilt, and sin of its malignity; so long will man think upon and live for himself alone. So long will he forget his moral ruin, and the imperishable spirit, and God his Judge, and eternity, his final abode. So long will he seek only the world that he dwells in, the vanities that encompass him around, and those “fleshly lust that war against the soul.” Until the bible, as understood by Paul and the Pilgrims shall become the “citizen’s directory and the statesman’s manual,” bribery, and intrigue, and management will preside at our elections; and instead of having our “officers peace and our exactors righteousness,” the wicked will rule–sin will stand forth with brazen front in the hall of legislation, the seat of justice, and the sanctuary of God–and the land will mourn.
So long, it must be expected, that “the house” which “is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death” will continue to send forth its putrefactive influence; diffusing rottenness and corruption through the land–while drunkenness, perjury and murder flourish within and around it.
So long, that Sabbath will be used as an engine of Satan, in the unrestrained pursuit of sin. It will be appropriated to human convenience of interest, a legalized, and established and frequented entrance-way to perdition.
So long will rulers legislate, and advocates plead, and judges decide for distilleries and dram shops, and ensure an incalculable amount of wrong and ruin to the community.
So long will human flesh and blood and souls be held in unrighteous bondage– the institution of marriage derided–separation of parents and children enforced–a vast system of incest and pollution cherished–and liberty, and right, and religion despised and trampled in the dust, until “the land spew us out, as it spewed out the nations that were before us.”
And now, my brethren, it remains for the watchmen upon Zion’s walls; and for “the church of God which He has purchased with his own blood,” to decide in no small measure whether our country shall still be borne down, and palsied, and petrified by this mighty pressure of sin, until He who “is Governor among the nations, shall “break us with a rod of iron, and dash in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Did the prayer of Abraham avail for polluted Sodom? Might “ten righteous” have saved the guilty cities of the plain? What then may not the thousands of Israel, by deep humiliation, repentance, and intercession before God, accomplish for our sinning, sinking land? “Behold, thus saith the Lord, return ye everyone from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. But if ye will not return, I will pluck you up, and leave you desolate.” Let, therefore, the neglect of God and profanation of His sabbath, the lewdness and intemperance, oppression and pride, and practical atheism which now abound, be tolerated, and cheered and cherished, by the rulers and the ruled, but for a while, and the sad crisis of our destiny will have fully come.
“Behold, saith the Lord, it is written before me, I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense, your iniquities into your own bosom!” and what can shield us against the righteous retribution of Jehovah? Where are the cities, and states, and kingdoms of antiquity? Babylon? Ninevah? Tyre? Egypt? Carthage? Could their walls, or treasures, or armies withstand the visitation of the Almighty? “Like a potter’s vessel,” they are “dashed in pieces” –like a passing meteor, they have faded from the horizon of human sight! And thus must it be inevitably in relation to ourselves, “whenever God takes off his restraining hand,” and suffers lewdness, and lust, and infidelity unchecked to fill the sail, and guide the helm, and drive furiously upon the hidden rocks below! Then–in the characteristic language of an eminent writer–“the reign of chaos will return. The waves of our unquiet sea, high as our mountains, will roll, and roar, and dash, from West to East, and from South to North, wrecking the hopes, and upturning the deep foundations of all that we hold dear! Who then would thrust out our ship from her moorings, in a starless night, upon an ocean of storms, without rudder, or anchor, or compass, or chart? The elements around us may remain; and our giant rivers and mountains; our miserable descendants also may multiply and vegetate, and rot, in moral darkness and putrefaction, –But, the American character, and our glorious institutions, will go down to the tomb, and our epitaph will stand forth a warning to the world–Thus endeth the nation that despised the Lord!”
Here, then, o ye people! “Be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.”