John Alonzo Clark (1801-1843) Biography:
Clark’s father and grandfather were both involved in the American War for Independence, and he was born in Massachusetts shortly after Thomas Jefferson became president. Clark was the youngest of eleven siblings, and grew up as a sickly child. Coming from a long line of relatives who were openly professing Christians (and with two of his own brothers being Episcopalian ministers), he early became interested in spiritual things, aspiring to become a minister. In 1823, he graduated from Union College in New York, and in 1826 became an Episcopal missionary to the state. He then became the assistant rector (or priest) of Christ Church in New York City. In 1832, he accepted the pastorate of a very small congregation at Grace Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Under his leadership, the church grew rapidly, and he also began a number of home churches and actively evangelized from home to home in the community (an activity that was unusual in that day). In 1835, he became pastor at St. Andrew’s Church in Philadelphia, where he worked for two years before his already poor health began to fail even more rapidly. He spent a year in Europe, trying to recuperate (a trip that led to his two-volume work “Glimpses of the Old World”), but the trip did not improve his health. By 1843, he permanently retired from the ministry and died shortly thereafter, having been the author of a number of written works over his lifetime.
A STRICKEN PEOPLE’S CONFESSION.
ST. ANDREW’S CHURCH, PHILADELPHIA,
REV. JOHN A. CLARK, D. D.
May 14, 1841,
On the occasion of the National Fast recommended by his Excellency John Tyler, President of the United States.
HOOKER & AGNEW.
The following Correspondence is inserted merely by way of preface to explain the occasion of the publication of this Discourse.
Philadelphia, May 14, 1841.
REV. AND DEAR SIR:
At a meeting of the Vestry of St. Andrew’s convened immediately after divine service in the morning, the following Resolution was unanimously adopted.
“Resolved, That the Rector be requested to furnish the Vestry with a copy of the Sermon preached by him this morning, for publication; and that the Wardens be requested to make the application.”
In compliance with the Resolution of the Vestry, we respectfully solicit from you a copy of the Discourse for publication.
With great regard we are
Sincerely and truly your’s
LAMBERT DUY, Church Wardens.
Rev. John A. Clark, D. D.
Rector of St. Andrew’s Church.
Philadelphia, May 15, 1841.
C. STEVENSON, ESQ.
LAMBERT DUY, Church Wardens.
I have just received your communication, enclosing a Resolution of the Vestry, requesting a copy of my Sermon preached yesterday morning, on the occasion of our national fast, for publication. The request quite surprised me, as the Discourse which you would thus honour is of the most unpretending character, and was prepared in a very feeble state of health, and without the remotest expectation that it would be desired for publication. I hope the feelings of personal kindness on the part of the Vestry towards me—multiplied and unceasing expressions of which I am happy to record I have continued to receive during my whole connexion with St. Andrew’s Church, a period of six years—I hope their feelings of personal kindness have not prompted them, in this instance, to prefer a request which, if granted, their after and more mature judgment will not approve.
The views I endeavoured to present in my Sermon yesterday, are such as the events transpiring around us have forced upon my attention. I am not aware, however, that there is anything connected with these views, new or original, and I am sure that there is nothing in the mode in which they were presented, deserving the publicity you would give them.
Still, as I am desirous ever to gratify those who have in so many ways sought to promote my comfort, and have uniformly evinced towards me so much personal regard and kindness—if in the honest judgment of the individuals composing the Vestry, it is believed that the publication of the Discourse will be useful, in the smallest degree, in arresting the progress of those national sins, which now unhappily darken and overshadow our land—and in leading the minds of our fellow countrymen to the love and practice of that “righteousness” which alone can “exalt a nation”—it shall be at their disposal.
With great regard, dear sirs,
I am sincerely and truly
Your friend and pastor,
JOHN A. CLARK.
Philadelphia, May 24, 1841.
REV. AND DEAR SIR:
We have received your note of the 15h inst., and laid the same before the Vestry, and we beg leave to assure you that the opinion of the Vestry remains unchanged in relation to the expediency of publishing your Fast-day Sermon. They believe that the views it contains are such as the great majority of the people would do well to hold and act upon; and they are convinced that its publication would tend to the good of those into whose hands it might fall. With these feelings they were induced to request your consent to its publication, and further reflection has served but to increase their desire that this step might be taken.
We are, very respectfully,
Your most obedient servants,
LAMBERT DUY, Church Wardens.
Rev. John A. Clark, D. D.
Philadelphia, June 1, 1841.
C. STEVENSON, ESQ.
LAMBERT DUY, ESQ. Church Wardens.
In consequence of my absence from the city, I have not till now had an opportunity of replying to your second letter, bearing date of the 24h ult., in which the request is still reiterated on the part of the Vestry for my Sermon, preached on the occasion of our recent national fast, for publication. Having already left the matter wholly to the verdict of the Vestry—I herewith send you a copy of the Discourse.
With great regard,
I am, gentlemen, truly
Your affectionate friend,
JOHN A. CLARK.
“Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.”—NEHEMIAH, ix 33.
We are presented, in the chapter from which our test is taken, with the affecting scene of a whole nation congregated in one vast assembly, to observe a solemn national fast. They appear clothed in sackcloth, with earth upon their heads: and among their confessions to Almighty God, whose hand now lay heavy upon them, are the words of our test—Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.
These words seem well suited to the occasion upon which we have assembled, and will naturally lead to a train of reflections in keeping with this day—a day in which a great and mighty nation, in conformity with the suggestion of their chief magistrate, are bowing themselves down in deep humiliation before that august Being whose breath called them into existence, and who in just displeasure has smitten them with the rod of chastisement.
We are assembled here this morning in the sanctuary of God, in compliance with the Proclamation of our present Chief Magistrate, who has recommended to the people of the United States, of every religious denomination, to observe this as a day of FASTING and PRAYER—“and to join with one accord in humble and reverential approach to Him in whose hands we are, invoking Him to inspire us with a proper spirit and temper of heart and mind, under the frowns of His providence, and still to bestow his gracious benedictions upon our government and our country.”1
We may truly say, that “the frowns of God’s providence” are upon the nation:—and glad we are to know, that this truth is recognized and admitted by one who now, by the fiat of that same Providence, sits at the helm of our government. Truly can we take up the sad response, and say—the frowns of God’s providence are upon us. Most emphatically do the words of ancient Judah’s holy seer depict the state of things around us at this moment, when he said, “the land mourneth!” Yes: the land mourneth! It mourneth, because God hath smitten us with the rod of his displeasure. He hath smitten us, not simply once, or twice, but many times; and this in a great variety of ways. Just now again he hath repeated the blow, and stricken us at a point and in a way which justifies the appropriation to ourselves of the strong language of Israel’s pathetic lament—the Lord hath covered us with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel.
And if the inquiry be made—what is our duty at this moment, and under these circumstances? We reply, unquestionably it is to imitate smitten and stricken Israel—to look up and say, to Him whose chastening hand is upon us—“Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.”
The leading idea—the main position—in our text, is the assertion of the entire justice of God in the infliction of judgments upon Israel in the case referred to, and consequently in all cases, and in reference to all nations upon whom he in his wisdom sees fit to lay his chastening hand.
This idea, and the truth it asserts, we shall endeavour to elucidate, and distinctly set forth, in the remarks offered on the present occasion.
Before we proceed to this main position, however, we desire to call your attention to three preliminary considerations, which will greatly tend to illustrate and confirm this position.
1. And first I would remark, that all the nations of the earth are under the control of Jehovah. This idea is necessarily involved in the fact of a divine government, and of an overruling Providence. This idea, with its various ramifications, runs through every part of the divine record. In the test itself there is a distinct recognition of this truth. Why should it be said, that God was “just in all that was brought upon” the Jewish nation, unless all that befell them came from His hand—unless their destiny was under His control? And it is not merely of the Hebrew people, in reference to whom the scriptures affirm that Jehovah exerts a controlling power—but in reference to every people and tribe. It is in this sense that he is emphatically described “THE KING OF NATIONS;” and it is distinctly affirmed that “by Him Kings reign and Princes decree justice.” His ability to control the destiny and to regulate the movement of nations, is described in the most sublime strains by the Prophet—“Behold the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance.” “Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? Hath it not been told you from the beginning? Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth; and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers, that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: that bringeth the Princes to nothing: He maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown; yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth: And He shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble.”
So indisputable is Jehovah’s control over all nations, that in designating Jeremiah to the Prophetic office, who was to predict, as God’s messenger, the fall and rise of many people, he says to him—“See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, and to destroy and to throw down—to build and to plant.”
The idea of this absolute divine control over nations, is still more graphically depicted in a subsequent chapter of the same Prophet—“The word came to Jeremiah, saying—Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there will I cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: So he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying—O house of Israel, Cannot I do with you, as this potter? Saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and pull down, and to destroy it: If that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it: If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them.”
No language could more explicitly assert the absolute control of Jehovah over the nations of the earth than this. They are all in his hand, as the clay is in the hand of the potter. He can mould them as he pleases. He can destroy them when he chooses—and out of their ruins raise up other nations and empires. When the Lord would punish Israel, he employs “the Assyrian” “as the rod of his anger.” But when the king of Assyria would come against Israel contrary to the will of Jehovah, he “puts a hook into his nose,” and “a bridle into his lips,” and “turns him back by the way by which he came.” When God hath any purpose to accomplish, “he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains,” and “all the inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth, see it,” and are moved. When “the nations rush like the rushing of many waters,” “God rebukes them, and they flee far off, and are chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.”
The eternal Jehovah causes “Palestina” to be “dissolved”—“Moab” to “howl”—Damascus to be taken away from being a city, and converted into a ruinous heap”—“the Egyptians” to be “given into the hand of a cruel lord”—“Tyre to be laid waste, so that there is no house—no entering in.”—Yea, adds the prophet, “behold the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.” Do not these statements show the entire sovereignty of God over the nations of the earth? Does not Jehovah most distinctly assert his indisputable control over nations, and kingdoms, and empires, when he says in reference to a wicked prince, “remove the diadem, and take off the crown; I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it to him?” Is not God the Lord of the whole earth, and of all the creatures that move upon it? Is he not the universal, uncontrolled, and uncontrollable sovereign? Are not all creatures in his hand? Unquestionably they are! And as God controls the destiny of individuals, orders their lot, and numbers the very hairs of their heads, in like manner does he control the destiny of nations. The hearts of kings, the deliberations of senates, the issues of war, the wealth and prosperity of nations, are all in the hand of God. Look at the great empires that have risen, and filled the earth with their fame. Where are they now? Swept into oblivion! In the hour of their highest prosperity, God foresaw and foretold their ruin. His decree sealed their fate. The history of Tyre, of Babylon, of Egypt, of Greece, of Rome, and especially of the Jews, demonstrates the truth that all the nations of the earth are under the control of Jehovah. The traveller in the oriental world, whose feet treads upon the dust of Babylon, once “the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of Chaldee’s excellency”—or upon the marble ruins of Gaza—or within the rocky places of Petra—or amid the broken pillars of ancient Thyatira, is constrained to see and feel that cities, and kingdoms, and empires, rise, and flourish, and decay, at the bidding of God. All nations are wholly under his control.
2. Again we remark, that all nations are not only under Jehovah’s control, but under his moral government. Nations have a moral responsibility as well as individuals. God holds them accountable for their conduct just as strictly as he does individuals, and will just as certainly punish them for their sins. Hence, it is said of Israel, “The Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions”2 And again, “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned: therefore she is removed.”3 Nations are punished for national sins. Those are regarded as national sins which pervade the great mass of the people. Those also are accounted as national sins which are connived at, or sanctioned, either by legislative acts, or by the example and influence of individuals who are appointed to govern the nation, or who are the official representatives of the people, chosen or appointed by the nation to enact her laws and to conduct her government.
This, then, is to be distinctly noted: the sins of the great mass of the people—the sanction of wrong on the part of government—and the open depravity of the rulers of any people, all come under the class of national sins. As the moral governor of the universe, and a God of justice, Jehovah must punish these sins. What was the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the Plain—what was the fall of Tyre, and Babylon, and Jerusalem, but an illustration of this very principle—that God holds nations morally accountable to him for their national acts? It was not until the drunken Chaldean king in that night of his fatal revel, as he sat amid his thousand lords, commanded the sacred vessels which had been taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem, to be brought—it was not until those sacred vessels were used as common wine cups by “the king and his princes, his rulers and his concubines,” lifting up their voices in profane songs, “praising the gods of gold and of silver, or brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone”—it was not until this last heaven-daring act of desecration, that the fingers of that mysterious hand came forth and wrote upon the plaster of the wall the doom of the king and the nation. “That very night Belshazzar was slain, and Darius the Median took the kingdom.”
Does not God hold nations morally accountable to him for their conduct as nations? Look at Nineveh! Consider Jonah’s commission! “The word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.” And what was the proclamation tht Jonah was to make? Simply this! “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” Nineveh was an immense city—the seat of a great empire—containing a population among which there were more than sixty thousand of so tender an age that they “knew not their right hand from their left.” These were to be involved in the general destruction. Though individually innocent, yet as a part of the nation, they shared the national guilt, and were to be involved in the national destruction. Within forty days, Nineveh, then flourishing in the zenith of its glory, was to be laid in utter ruins; its doom was sealed; and it was to perish on account of its wickedness. A messenger is sent by the Almighty to proclaim this through its streets—“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed!” Had this message been unheeded, just as sure as God is on his throne that city, like Sodom, would have been whelmed in destruction. But “the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh, (by the decree of the king and his nobles,) saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing; let them not feed, nor drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God; yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” Here we see fully carried out, that principle in the divine government, which Jehovah himself had laid down, and upon which he acts in the administration of that government as it respects nations. “At what instant I shall speak concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and pull down and to destroy it; if that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” You see, therefore, that the divine government under which nations as well as individuals are placed, is a moral government. Sin in nations as well as in individuals, displeases God, and he will certainly empty upon them the vials of his displeasure.
3. Again: I remark that God punishes nations for national sins, by the infliction of TEMPORAL JUDGMENTS. It is only here that they have a corporate and national existence. Individuals, each one for himself, will for their personal sins have at last to meet the retributions of Christ’s judgment-seat. But God judgeth the nations, and awards to them their allotments, while they still have a name and local habitation upon the theatre of this world’s existence.
The instruments which God employs for the execution of his displeasure upon any people whose sins cry to heaven for vengeance, are multiplied and various. He has infinite resources at his command. War, and pestilence and famine, and flame and flood, are all ministers that wait upon his beck. He can, at his pleasure, open the windows of heaven, and break up the fountains of the great deep, to drown a sinful world. He can cause the heavens to empty a deluge of fire upon the cities of the plain. He can turn the waters of Egypt into blood, and send death into every habitation. He can bring up locusts upon the land to eat up every green thing. He can “make the heavens as brass, and the earth as iron.” He can “smite with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew.” He can make the embattled thousands of Assyria, the rod of his anger to punish Israel; and he can send the angel of destruction into the camp of the Assyrians to “punish the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks,” by smiting with the silent withering touch of death, a hundred and eighty-five thousand of his armed warriors in a single night.4 That same God who did such wonders in ancient times, still lives; and still holds the same sway over the nations of the earth. He still abhors sin; and still possesses infinite expedients by which to execute his displeasure upon the nations that cast away his fear, and trample upon his law. God punishes nations now, as he did formerly, for their sins. He punished Israel. Though they were his peculiar people—though they were highly exalted above all other nations, he would not allow sin in them to go unrebuked. When they cast his law behind them, he held them responsible not only as individuals, but as a nation. He therefore brought upon them national judgments. He therefore brought upon them national judgments. He caused them to be carried away captive. He allowed the crimson tide of war to roll over their land. He sent multiplied judgments upon them. He wrested from them their property, and subjected them to a foreign yoke.
Now the position laid down in our text is, that in the infliction of these various judgments, God acts strictly in accordance with the principles of rectitude and justice. The history of the Jews, as far as their case is concerned, most strikingly demonstrates this position. This, at the time they observed the great national fast referred to in our text, they distinctly acknowledged. Their language in their humble confession to Almighty God, was “Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.” God had in all respects acted as a righteous governor. In all the inflictions of judgment upon the nation, he had proceeded no farther than was necessary to uphold his moral government, and to indicate his deep and changeless displeasure against sin.
And what was affirmed of Jehovah in that case, may be affirmed of the divine administration in every case. “Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.”
The great truth asserted in our text, would lose much of its force on this occasion, and the object for which we are assembled in a great measure be defeated, did I not in this connexion call your attention particularly to the undoubted fact, that God has been displeased with us as a nation. During the last ten years he has rebuked us in a variety of ways, and spoken out his displeasure in tones that have been reverberated through the whole land. How solemnly did he speak to this whole nation, when he permitted the Asiatic cholera to be wafted on the wings of the wind across the great deep, and bade it hang like a dark cloud of death over every city in our land! Was not the voice of God in that pestilence! With what awful tread it marched from place to place, filling all hearts with dismay, and sweeping thousands into eternity! And when the moral impression of this awful visitation faded away like “the morning cloud and early dew,” Jehovah again spoke to us in flame and fire. A mighty conflagration was kindled in the very centre of the great mart and metropolis of our land, which no human power could stay, till edifice after edifice, and block after block had fallen, and millions of property had been swept away in one fatal night.5
Since that period, how often, how emphatically, how distinctly, has the Most High spoken to us by tempest,6 and by flood, on the sea and on the land! Since that period, what unwonted scenes have been acted upon our great rivers, and bays, and along our coast! Were not the three combined elements of flame, and frost, and flood, manifestly the ministers of the Lord, and acting in obedience to his word, when in a single night—in a single hour—they became the dread executioners to sweep hundreds from time to eternity; and in the sudden, awful, and bitter bereavement they occasioned, carried grief and mourning through the whole land!7
But, more particularly, and no less distinctly, has God spoken in the silent, noiseless, but deadly blight that has fallen upon our national prosperity. We were prosperous; we were heaping up wealth; thousands were enjoying perfect ease of circumstances a few years since. A wonderful change, however, has come over the land. The wheels of business have suddenly stopped. The sinews of trade have been cut in sunder. The affluent have become poor; men who considered themselves rich, have seen their property melt away like the dew of morning. Individuals who supposed that they had a competence for life, have unexpectedly found poverty staring them in the face. And all this has occurred in a time of peace—when no enemy had been among us to lay waste and destroy—when no civil commotion had occurred to shake the pillars of our government—when everything upon which national prosperity is supposed to depend, seemed auspicious—and at a period when the earth has not withheld her bounties, but has poured forth her productions with unwonted profusion. Now, men may speculate, and theorize, and ascribe this to a variety of secondary causes; but if we are not atheists, if we do not shut out God altogether from the government of the world, we shall see His hand in this. “Shall there be evil in a city,” or a land, “and the Lord hath not done it?” Whatever may have been the proximate, political or natural causes that have brought these disastrous influences upon us, the hand of God has most assuredly been in it. We can read our sin in our punishment. “The Lord hath done that which he had devised.”8
Men, however, did not choose to look at the matter under this aspect. God’s hand was not seen. They looked to secondary causes. Still, however much, and however honestly they differed, in relation to the causes which they supposed had involved the nation in this wide-spread disaster, and borne it down to the very dust in depression; all were ready to concede the fact of the disastrous state in which our country was involved. Various were the expedients devised to roll away this dark cloud of adversity. But among all the propositions which the wise counselors suggested, how few thought or said—“Bring hither the ephod, and let us inquire of the Lord.”9 Men undertook to settle this matter themselves; some in one way, and some in another. A large majority of the nation looked for relief in the elevation of a new and favourite candidate to the Presidential chair. The nation was agitated to its very centre to compass his election. He was proclaimed the successful candidate. He was inducted into office with the accustomed ceremonies, amid assembled thousands of his countrymen. Combining in his character every public and private virtue, all hearts began to be drawn towards him, and all eyes were fixed upon his movements. Every step that he took, seemed to be directed with so much caution, and to proceed from such singleness of heart, that public expectation fastened still more intensely upon him every day, as the agent that was to extricate the nation from all its difficulties. In all this, it is to be feared, men looked not to God, but to human instrumentality. They forgot that it was for their sins that the nation’s prosperity had been cloven down. And, therefore, in the midst of the people’s acclamations of triumph, while the laurels which were hung around their representative head at his inauguration, were still fresh and blooming, God stretched forth his hand, and suddenly touched him with death. No one had anticipated such an event. Of the hundreds that saw and heard him on the day of his inauguration, who thought of his dying before the expiration of his Presidential term? “His eye was bright; his voice was clear; his step was firm; no part of his iron constitution gave signs of failing.” But, one short month was scarcely completed, amid the cares and toils of government, and the news flew through the land—The President is dead!
Now, the point to which we wish to call your attention, is, that in this—that in all that has been brought upon us—God has been rebuking us. He has done right. The pestilence, the flame, the flood, the commercial depression, the fall of our beloved President; all these are to be regarded as so many successive tokens of God’s displeasure against our national sins.
Have we not national sins? Can there be any question in relation to our having “done wickedly” as a nation? No people under heaven ever enjoyed more civil liberty than we. In soil, and climate, and laws, and advantages of education, and religious privileges, God has distinguished us above all the nations of the earth. And yet, what wretched returns have we made to him for all this! What sins and enormities disgrace our land! Go through the whole Decalogue, and see what command has not been openly trampled in the dust by this nation. Some of the Legislatures of our States have scoffingly rejected, and driven out with scorn from their legislative halls, all recognition of God and of his control.10 In how many instances have the legislators of our land, in the very temples of justice, trampled on all laws, human and divine, cherishing and uttering sentiments full of murder and blood! How often have they set at defiance all decency; being notorious for drunkenness, and debauchery, and every evil work! How often have they desecrated the Sabbath, and profaned the name of Jehovah, and scoffed at religion! These things our rulers have but too frequently done. And God has seen it all. This, however, is only a small part of our national guilt.
As in the days of one of Israel’s prophets, so now with great force and truth it may be said, “because of swearing, the land mourneth!” Profanity is one of the crying sins of our land. Go from one end of our country to the other, and all along our rail-roads, and canals, and navigable rivers, and national roads, you will hear one continued volley of profane oaths bursting upon your ears; and that, in utter contempt and defiance of that divine precept proclaimed from the burning top of Sinai, “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” We are not strangers to these things. We can scarcely walk along through a single street of our city, without having our ears assailed with oaths, and curses, and awful profanity. God sees all this, and keep a record of it in the book of his remembrance.
Drunkenness is another sin of our land. Notwithstanding all the laudable efforts that have been made to suppress intemperance, this sin, like a wide spreading pestilence, stalks abroad everywhere through the land; the foul minister of disease, and ruin, and death. In a statistical calculation made recently by an intelligent clergyman of this city, from accurate data which he had collected, it was stated, that the amount paid annually in our country, for intoxicating drinks, exceeded the amount paid out to sustain the government, to sustain all our schools, to sustain the preaching of the gospel at home, to sustain our charitable institutions, and all our missionary operations: that a larger number of persons had been destroyed since the declaration of American Independence, by intemperate drinking, than had ever been called into the field to defend our country in all the several wars in which this nation has been engaged: and that at the present moment, so wide spreading is this evil, if you were to allow twelve hours for each day, there is on an average a drunkard committed to the grave, somewhere in the United States, every six minutes each day, from one end of the year to the other. What an idea does this give us of the extent and frequency of this terrible sin of drunkenness! And does not the Holy One of Israel see and abhor all this? And will he not visit for these things? What does he mean when he says to Israel, “Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine! Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which, as a tempest of hail, and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet.”11
Licentiousness is another of our national sins. Of all the sins that defile the earth, none can be more hateful to God than this! And yet its extent, especially in our large towns and cities, is truly awful and appalling. Were it proper or possible to give statistics here, what startling facts would be brought to light! How many thousands and tens of thousands is this sin yearly hurrying forward to a ruined eternity! And how many who wish to claim high respectability in society, and to be ranked even among the virtuous, give countenance and support to this vice! O, what scenes of pollution does the all-seeing eye of God behold around us on every side! The only wonder is, that having drunk so deep into Sodom’s sin, we have not, ere this, shared its fate.
But I pass on to another point. Among the causes which have operated to involve the nation in great and crying sins, and which have contributed to the utter shipwreck of private character, is the undue love of money, which has pervaded the whole mass of society, and spread its infection through all classes like a fearful pestilence. Men everywhere, in all ranks and stations in society, were “in haste to be rich.” The old paths of patient toil and honest industry were deserted, and new ways devised, by which the object of men’s pursuit could be more speedily attained. Hence, those extensive schemes of speculation, and of wholesale gambling, which in their operation have fallen with suh disastrous influence upon the most safely vested interest in the country. This mania for speculation, not only scattered the fortune of thousands to the winds, but exerted a most deleterious moral influence upon the public mind. It seemed to crush and obliterate the few vestiges of moral sense that had remained in the human mind. This was manifested in a variety of ways. The whole country began speedily to put on a new aspect. Singly, and in masses, men hesitated not to adopt new courses of action. They no longer waited around the gates of justice, but, in many instances, trampled down into the dust all respect for law and authority. The mob undertook to be umpire, and to settle all questions in a summary way, by an appeal to the excited passions of the worst portion of the community. There is nothing that has stained the fair honour of our country with so foul a blot—nothing which has made us so much the sport and by-word of European nations—and nothing, we may believe, which has been more offensive in the eye of God, than the existence and toleration of mobs in this land. Our own city has participated in the guilt, and been the theatre upon which one of these disgraceful scenes has been acted.12
Alas, what elements of depravity are around us! The workings of iniquity are seen under ten thousand varied manifestations. It seems as though the crime and corruption of the old world had been transplanted here, and was springing up with increased vigour on our soil.
Among the sins which are rife around us, we must not forget to mention that of systematic gambling. How many rooms—how many dwellings in this city—are yearly rented for the express purpose of carrying on this nefarious business, and exclusively devoted to this object! And how many individuals are there that calculate to get their livelihood by this system of deliberate robbery!13
Another of the crying sins of our land, is the desecration of the Sabbath. In the early history of this country, there was nothing that ore strikingly characterized those venerable men who cleared away the mighty forest, and planted the first germ of our nation, than their strict and conscientious observance of the Sabbath. They proceeded upon the plain and obvious principle, that they were not to look for success in their various enterprises, unless they feared God and kept his commandments. And to them the Most High acted on that rule of his government, declared by the man of God to Eli, “them that honour me, I will honour.” While our fathers honoured God, the banner of prosperity waved over our country, and we were overshadowed with the blessings of the Most High. But a new order of things for many years past has sprung up among us. The ancient reverence for the Lord’s day has greatly declined. Men have allowed their love of pleasure, and of gain, to urge them on to an utter disregard of the command so sacredly enjoined by the Almighty, remember the Sabbath-day and keep it holy. Where can you now go, and not see crowds around you on every side, trampling this sacred injunction of Jehovah in the dust? And alas, this sin is participated in by almost all classes in society! This disregard of divine authority does not escape the omniscient eye!
Again: So common has dueling become in this country—that it may with great propriety be mentioned as one of our national sins. How long, and by what distinguished names has this barbarous and heaven-daring sin been upheld and practiced in our country! And even to this present moment, how many there are that would contend that it was their privilege to avenge any imaginary or real wrongs they have suffered—by the pistol, or the bowie-knife!
What law of Jehovah has not been set at defiance by the nation? Look around! What acts of peculation, of embezzlement, of high-handed fraud, have been committed, not only by private individuals but by officers of public institutions—by those holding high official stations under government! What dishonesties—what derelictions from the path of rectitude have been practiced—what forgeries have been committed—what developments of depravity—what tales of murder and bloodshed have come to our ears, or have been acted in our very streets! And does not God see and abhor all these?
I might here specify several other national sins that lift up a mighty voice to heaven, calling down upon us the wrath of God.—But I pass over these, and close by remarking, that the greatest of all our national sins is the neglect and contempt with which the gospel of Christ is treated; and the utter disregard which has been manifested to the various and multiplied rebukes which Jehovah hath put forth to recall and reclaim this nation.
Though to all the people of this land, there has been proffered and proclaimed a free and full and everlasting salvation—a salvation purchased by the tears and toil and agony and death of the incarnate Son of God—these riches of infinite grace have been utterly neglected or despised! Of the seventeen millions that form the entire mass of our nation, by far the great majority act and live just as they would if Christ had never come here on the errand of their redemption—had never poured out his precious blood for their salvation! How few in all this land have truly received and truly submitted to the glorious gospel of the Son of God! God’s greatest gift to man—that gift which filled all heaven with amazement—has been scorned and rejected by millions in this land. This, I repeat it, is our greatest sin—the neglect or rejection of Him who came down from heaven for our redemption.
And we have not only closed our ears to the sound of the gospel—but to the voice of God as he has been speaking in his various providences. Who hath heard and regarded his voice? Who, under these various divine rebukes which we have noticed, hath turned from his evil ways and humbled himself under the mighty hand of God! And though God’s long-suffering and forbearance with us have been so distinguished—where shall we find any proper sense of gratitude at all commensurate with the extent of this goodness! Indeed, how few, how very few in all this land have any adequate conception of the goodness of Jehovah to us as a nation! What multitudes and multitudes have set him utterly at defiance!
Now, when you consider the forgetfulness and neglect of God of which this nation has been guilty—when you consider what an immense amount of crime is spread over all this land, and how the depravity of the people has broken forth in every form;—and then, when you consider in connexion with this, that God claims to be the moral governor of this nation, and that he has determined to punish our national sins with national judgments, can you be surprised at what has befallen us? Do you not rather wonder that he hath dealt so gently with us? Who that reflects will not unite with Israel and say—“Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly?”
But we must hasten to a close. Allow me to call your attention in conclusion, to three practical deductions.
1. It becomes us first of all to acknowledge the justice of God in his dealings with us. He has chastened us. We see his hand in the various calamities that have befallen us. It was the Lord that took away our chief magistrate. He took him away on account of the sins of the people. This was JUST on the part of God. We deserved it. Our sins deserved it. “Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.”
2. At this time, we are especially called upon to confess and bewail our sins. Even if we have not personally participated in those national sins to which we have alluded, yet as members of this great national compact, we all share in the guilt, and so we must in the punishment of our national sins. We are bound therefore to confess them before God, and to mourn over them, and seek for pardon, that the divine displeasure shall no longer rest upon us as a nation. How sad it is to remember, that the good old General who had fought for his country so many battles, and had now reached the evening of life, and was garnering up his hopes for heaven, and diffusing happiness by his presence in the domestic circle—had he been left in his happy home might have passed many more years on the earth—but when he was torn from that retirement, and invested with the robes of office, and placed at the head of the nation, then the nation’s sins came upon him, and he was cut down for their sake. We trust he has gone to a world where sin is unknown. But it becomes as none the less to humble ourselves before Almighty God, for those sins which called down this last heavy stroke upon our country.
3. And, finally, it becomes us on this occasion not only to acknowledge the justice of God in all that he has done—not only to confess our sins before the Lord, but to pray and labour for a universal reformation through the land. What will all our confessions, and rebukes, and fasting, amount to, if we go on in sin just as we have hitherto done? Listen to the divine word, “Is not this the fast I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness; to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou over him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” In other words, we are to seek to bring about a great and extended reformation—to roll away that load of sin which presses down this nation, “as a cart is pressed down that is full of sheaves.” For this we are to labour and pray without ceasing. Let us begin with ourselves. Let us embrace if we have hitherto neglected to do so, at once, the Lord Jesus as our Saviour. Let us break off every sin, and seek to have the light of our example such as becometh the gospel of Christ. Let us do wickedly no more, but live as enlightened, free, Christian men, ever remembering that it is “righteousness” alone that will save, preserve, and “exalt” our “nation.”
Let this day be spent by all in prayer. Let us seek the face of the Lord, not only in public but in private. Humble prayer to God is mighty, and it is the duty to which we are now especially called. Let us not fail to call upon God, with one accord, for his mercy and for his blessings. If we—if all thus humble themselves before the Lord—thus call upon his name, we may hope that for the sake of our great Intercessor he will turn, and show mercy upon us, and continue to bless us in all our interests as a nation.
1 The Proclamation of President Tyler, recommending the 14th of May as a day of Fasting, is a document that ought to be preserved—and is couched in the following terms:
“When a Christian people feel themselves to be overtaken by a great public calamity, it becomes them to humble themselves under the dispensation of Divine Providence, to recognize His righteous government over the children of men, to acknowledge his goodness in time past, as well as their own unworthiness, and to supplicate His merciful protection for the future.
“The death of William Henry Harrison, late President of the United States, so soon after his elevation to that high office, is a bereavement peculiarly calculated to be regarded as a heavy affliction, and to impress all minds with a sense of the uncertainty of human things, and of the dependence of nations, as well as individuals, upon our Heavenly Parent.
“I have thought, therefore, that I should be acting in conformity with the general expectation and feelings of the community, in recommending as I now do to the people of the United States, of every religious denomination, that according to their several modes and forms of worship, they observe a day of fasting and prayer, by such religious services as may be suitable to the occasion:—And I recommend Friday , the fourteenth day of May next, for that purpose; to the end that, on that day, we may all with one accord join in humble and reverential approach to Him in whose hands we are, invoking Him to inspire us with a proper spirit and temper of heart and mind, under these frowns of His providence, and still to bestow His gracious benedictions upon our Government and our country.
Washington, April 13, 1841.
2 Lament. Jer. i. 5. (Return)
3 Id. 8. (Return)
4 See Isaiah xxxvii. 36, and also Isaiah x. 12. (Return)
5 In the great fire in New York in 1836, it was supposed that between twenty and twenty-five millions of property were destroyed. (Return)
6 We shall not soon forget the tornado of 1840, that in one moment laid Natchez in ruins; beneath which, so many of its inhabitants were ensepulcherd. (Return)
7 Among the disasters above referred to, we may mention the stranding of the Barque Mexico, on Hempstead Beach, south shore of Long Island, in January, 1837, by which catastrophe one hundred and sixteen lives were lost, many of the sufferers having frozen to death; the burning of the Ben Sherod on the Mississippi river, in May, 1837, by which not less than two hundred persons were buried beneath the flood; the destruction of the Steam Packet Home on Ocracoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina, in October, 1837, in which ninety persons sunk like lead to the depths of the ocean; the loss of the Pulaski off Cape Lookout, on the coast of North Carolina, by the explosion of its steam-boiler, in June, 1838, in which more than one hundred and twenty persons perished; and finally, the awful conflagration of the Lexington on Long Island Sound, during a cold wintry night in January, 1840, in which more than one hundred and thirty souls, hemmed in by fire, and frost, and the devouring flood, were driven from their last hold on life, and engulfed in the dark deep waters. (Return)
8 Lament. Jer. Ii, 17. (Return)
9 I Samuel xxiii. 9. See also Dr. Humphrey’s Sermon on the death of Harrison. (Return)
10 Were we to confine ourselves merely to our own State, we might be furnished with facts that too nearly make up the outlines of this sad picture. There has been no recognition of Religion in the person of a chaplain, in our State Legislature, since the adoption of the Constitution in 1790. Some two or three years since a proposition was made in the Senate to appoint a chaplain, or rather to invite the clergy of Harrisburgh to officiate alternately in that capacity. After a long discussion, the resolution was rejected by a large vote—we believe not less than two-thirds of that body. This was but too manifestly saying we have no need of God, nor of his guidance, in our legislative deliberations. Can we be surprised at the crippled and maimed state of our public financial affairs? Whether men acknowledge it or not, there is a God in heaven that ruleth over all. And we would ask with one of old—“Who hath hardened himself against him and prospered?” (Return)
11 Isaiah xxviii. 1, 2, 3. (Return)
12 We allude to the burning of Pennsylvania Hall. (Return)
13 There are parts of Philadelphia, and those in the very centre of the most peaceable and respectable neighbourhoods, in which within a single stone’s throw, there are said to be not less than twenty of these gambling establishments. (Return)