Elijah Parish (1762-1825) graduated from Dartmouth in 1785. He was the pastor of a Congregational Church at Byfield (1787-1825). This Thanksgiving sermon was preached by Parish on November 29, 1804.
B Y F I E L D,
ON THE ANNUAL THANKSGIVING,
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS,
Nov. 29, 1804.
By Rev. ELIJAH PARISH, A. M.
PASTOR OF THE CHURCH IN BYFIELD.
Prov. xxix. 2.
WHEN THE WICKED BEARETH RULE, THE PEOPLE MOURN.
He that rules a nation has incalculable influence on their opinions and morals. He commands the respect of those around his person, and the veneration of the multitude. Every class of people are affected. Officers of state receive the first impressions, who communicate them to their friends; they are gradually conveyed down to the hewer of wood and drawer of water. Yet, in the opinion of many, it is of no importance whether a ruler be a religious or a wicked man. Such persons need to be informed that the history of nations, and the oracles of God, declare, that when a wicked man beareth rule the people mourn. Whether he rule under the title of Sultan, Emperor, King, Governor, or President, the effect is precisely the same.
The text naturally leads us to mention some of the reasons why the people mourn, or have cause to mourn, when a wicked man beareth rule.
I. The people have cause to mourn when the wicked beareth rule, for it is an evidence that they are wicked.
A wicked ruler is the natural punishment of a wicked people. God did not place a wicked Saul on the throne of Israel till the people had become wicked. He sent them an Ahab in a season of great apostacy. Jeroboam was their king when they were ripe for idolatry, and crimes of blackest hue. The remark applies with peculiar force to an elective government. None but a wicked man can prefer a wicked ruler. Goodness is always delighted with goodness. If a whole nation prefer a wicked man, it demonstrates the wickedness of the nation. As fever and plague prove the malignity of the atmosphere, so the wickedness of the government proves the wickedness of the people. God does not send a wicked ruler to a good people; he never did.
Here then is ample cause for public mourning when the wicked beareth rule. It proves that the nation have forsaken their God. When a Jeroboam or a Pharaoh administers the government, we may infer that the religious character of the people is correspondent. Dark is the mind, cold and malignant the heart, which does not mourn in view of such a melancholy prospect—a nation wandering in error and guilt.
II. The people mourn when a wicked man beareth rule, because he confirms and increases the depravity of the nation.
The depravity of a ruler as spontaneously descends to the people, as the rivulet runs down the hill. The influence of a ruler powerfully tends to beat down all opposition, and to give a tone to the public mind in unison with his own. The first office of a nation in the hands of a wicked man is like a vast, noxious lake, bursting its barriers, overflowing all the springs and rivers of the country, communicating its own malignity wherever it extends.
Some tribes of men have called their rulers Suns; and suns they are if wise; the world is darkness or light, as they are good or bad men. In a thousand ways the ruler produces a character in the nation like his own. Every page of history demonstrates this fact. The example of a wicked ruler makes wickedness fashionable; vice lifts her face from the dust; she lays aside her blushes, and boldly shows herself in public. Does he neglect the worship of God, profane the Sabbath, ridicule the sacraments, and deride the Saviour; how many imbibe his spirit, imitate his conduct, borrow his dialect, and multiply his blasphemies!
By electing to office bad men, by covering them with splendor, and loading them with honors, a ruler may give impunity to crimes, and reputation to vice. As the towering Andes diffuse “intolerable cold” in the torrid zone, so a wicked man in the seat of authority spreads immorality and irreligion in the soundest part of the community. The son of Nebat made Israel to sin, and every wicked ruler may make his people to sin.
Is it not here cause for the people to mourn? Is it not matter of grief and distress to see a people wading in guilt, and sinking deeper and deeper in the fatal abyss? If those already wandering from God, and duty, and forsaking their own mercies, are encouraged and animated to pursue the dangerous course, if the tender glow of benevolence warm the heart, if the man call himself the brother of man, will he not drop the tear of compassion, as such a scene opens before him? It is a political axiom of other times, “When the vilest men are exalted, the wicked walk on every side.”
III. The people have reason to mourn when the ruler is wicked, because they lose that immense influence, which a good man would exert in favour of morals and piety.
The happy effects of a pious ruler on the morals and religion of a country exceed all calculation. As the angel from heaven strengthened the holy Prophet of Bethlehem in his agony in the garden; so a pious and upright ruler comforts and encourages his faithful and good people. When the righteous are in authority the people rejoice.
How salutary was the reform of good Josiah, when his subjects were sunk in idolatry and profligate wickedness! To effect this reformation he himself travelled through the principal cities of his kingdom. By his example, by his devout conversation, and by his authority, he bore down all iniquity. He cut down the groves of the idols; he threw down their altars; he burned the bones of the false prophets; he punished gross crimes; he renewed covenant with God in a most public manner; his people joined with him in the solemn oath to God. By his personal influence he produced a general reformation through the land. Such was king Josiah; such have been other kings. All this is lost, lost, and more than lost, when the wicked beareth rule. It is then as if the sun, refusing to refresh and cheer the world, were to set on fire the dwellings of men, and wrap the fields in devouring flame. Would not every man mourn and tremble at such a prospect?
IV. The people ought to mourn when the wicked beareth rule, because it may be expected, he will oppress and persecute the best members of the community.
It is from respectable authority, “As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear, so is a wicked ruler.” Gravitation will cease, before a wicked ruler and a good people will cordially unite. Who was the king who “did not obey the voice of the Lord;” “who rejected the world of the Lord?” It was Saul, who butchered “fourscore and five priests, the ministers of the Lord.” Who was the king “that stretched out his hand with scorners; that was glad at the wickedness of the people?” “It was he, who devoured the Judges.”
The faithful minister, and the upright judge, are obnoxious to a wicked ruler: their ruin may be expected as soon as public opinion will permit. But too impressive are such reflections. When a wicked man beareth rule, the people may in silence mourn, lest they should see the day when terror shall be in every heart, and distress in every countenance.
V. The people have cause of mourning when the wicked ruleth; for then probably the faithful ministers of religion will lose much of their influence, and others will betray the cause they had engaged to support.
Being men of like passions with others, the teachers of religion are too often disposed to float down the current of depravity with the people. Like others, they desire the friendship of the great and powerful: therefore, “when wicked men bear sway,” they are strongly inclined to drop the silver trumpet of the gospel, and strike an unison with the corrupt administration. In the best association there was a Judas. How fatal must this be to the religious interests of the nation! The fountains of instruction are polluted and poisoned; the streams, expected to convey life and health, are channels of moral disease and death. How lamentable the state of morals and religion, when the ministers of religion, instead of reproving and condemning vice and infidelity in every mode and form, apologize for a wicked ruler, assuring the people that a hardy infidel is as desirable a magistrate, as a pious Christian; that true religion has no concern with civil government! Would those fathers commit the education of their daughters to a learned highwayman? What concern has uprightness of character with the fine arts?
When such apostles form the public mind, what must be the discipline, and what the doctrines, of the Church? Such a priesthood is sometimes the produce of an irreligious administration. When Ahab was king, the prophets of Baal were four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, while the faithful prophet cries to God, “The children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword, and I, even I alone, am left, and they seek my life to take it away.” Yes, in the worst of times some have faithful stood, undaunted stood, as a rock of the billows, or the hill of storms. Some have declared the truth from their miry dungeons, or have gone into the lion’s den, or the burning, fiery furnace, or have been sawn asunder, rather than suppress a single syllable of divine truth. Daniel was the same in the Academy of Babylon, as in the land of his nativity; the same in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, as among the captives of Israel. Still the prospect is deplorable. As the pilot’s voice is lost in the howlings of the storm, so the most serious warnings are disregarded when wickedness is arrayed with power. When the ruler’s voice condemns the heaven-taught seer, then the multitude cry, Crucify him, crucify him. They bid defiance to the thunders of Sinai, and repel the enchanting strains of Calvary. So are the pastors of the flock allured from their duty, or disregarded, if they found the alarm, when a wicked man beareth rule. Will not the people mourn?
VI. When a wicked man beareth rule, it is proper the people should mourn, because there is then evidence of the approaching judgments of Heaven.
This doctrine is taught in the history of ages; it is taught in the book of God. The Prophet says, “Then there was a famine three years;” a terrible calamity; and some great evil must have been the cause. The cause was found in their wicked ruler. The Lord answered David, “It is for Saul and for his bloody house.”
We read in 2 Kings, “Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, therefore thus saith the Lord, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle.” Again we read, that “the Lord turned not away from the fierceness of his great wrath, because of all the provocations of Manasseh with which he had provoked him.” Years had passed away; Manasseh was dead; a most excellent ruler had succeeded; the people were probably hoping their sufferings were past; yet their calamities burst upon them, as an overwhelming deluge. In the second reign after, the people were carried into captivity for the sins of Manasseh, or for the sins they had themselves committed, under the influence of his example. Egypt’s plagues, and Canaan’s woes, give the same warning lesson to nations. The twelve standards of Israel were invincible while they obeyed God as their king. But in the reign of their first wicked ruler, after a series of disasters, their army is defeated; their king falls on his sword; the enemy take his carcass, set up his head in their temple, and hang his body on the walls of their city. So irresistibly do the judgments of God follow the elevation of a wicked man to the government of a nation. Must not the people mourn in view of their own danger, “when the wicked beareth rule?”
From these remarks the following reflections occur:—
1. The people of this Commonwealth have great reason to rejoice and be thankful.
The righteous are in authority; it is the duty of the people to rejoice. For the purity of his morals, for the uniformity of his religious walk, our First Magistrate is distinguished. As a man of God he is a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well. As an officer in the church of Christ, he gives authority to virtue, and honor to the Christian name. This day of gladness he stands conspicuous on the catalogue of our mercies. Our fields have yielded their expected harvest; our pastures have been cheerful with flocks and herds; the voice of health has cheered our dwellings; our cup has overflowed with plenty; our children as olive plants have encircled our tables; our privileges are continued, the gospel sounds, and a righteous man bears rule. “Be glad and rejoice in the Lord; eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart.”
2. If a wicked ruler be such a cause of mourning, then it is duty for every man to exert his influence to prevent the elevation of such an one to the first office of the nation.
“It is the law of the Lord;” the law of the Lord cannot be violated with impunity; “it is the law of the Lord, that thou shouldest provide, out of all the people, able men, such as fear God; men of truth.” He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God; for it is an abomination for rulers to commit wickedness. Almost every man may give his suffrage for the first magistrate in a nation. If you have performed this duty in such a manner as will tend not only to elevate a man of talents, but one who is friendly to our holy religion, you have done well; your conscience may rest in peace, whatever may be the final result. But if there be a man who has given his suffrage in such a manner as will tend to raise one to the first office of the country, who is unfriendly to our religion, his guilt is of a crimson color. He has lifted his hand to pull down a train of calamities on himself and country.
3. If the people mourn when the wicked beareth rule, then have not the people of the United States reason to mourn?
The thought is serious, is melancholy, is distressing, but is, alas! too easily confirmed. Therefore, though oppressed with high veneration for the first office of the country, penetrated with profound respect for public opinion, tremblingly alive with the impressions of that decorum justly demanded of public teachers, and as ardently desirous of approbation from those in authority as is consistent with benevolence to man, we infer that the people of the United States have reason to mourn. For evidence we shall not rely on the un contradicted assertions of our public gazettes, however probable and well authenticated they may be. Though in some instances time and place, and names of persons, are mentioned, with every circumstance calculated to produce belief, yet we entirely discard such evidence. Possibly it may not be true. We shall be more certain than if we appealed to eye-witnesses for evidence of what we intend to establish. We shall appeal to testimony which cannot be false.
In a book entitled, “Notes on the State of Virginia,” bearing the name of the First Magistrate of the United States, which he has never disavowed, and which therefore we may consider as certainly his work, in page 28 1 and onward he says, “Near the eastern foot of the North mountain are immense bodies of Shift, containing impressions of shells in a variety of forms. I have received petrified shells of very different kinds from the first sources of the Kentucky. It is said that shells are found in the Andes in South America, fifteen thousand feet above the level of the ocean. This, saith he, is considered by many, both of the learned and unlearned, as a proof of an universal deluge.” Then he adds, “To the many considerations opposing this opinion, the following may be added. The atmosphere and all its contents, whether of water, air, or other matters, gravitate to the earth; that is to say, they have weight. Experience tells us that the weight of all these together never exceeds that of a column of mercury of 31 inches height, which is equal to one of rain water of 35 feet deep; but as these waters, as they fell, would run into the seas, the superficial measure of which is to that of the dry parts of the globe as two to one, the seas would be raised only 52 ½ feet above their present level, and of course would overflow the low lands to that height only. In Virginia this would be a very small proportion even of the champaign” or level “country, the banks of our tide waters being frequently, if not generally, of a greater height. Deluges beyond this extent then, as, for instance, to the North mountain, or to Kentucky, seem out of the laws of nature. But within it they may have taken place to a greater or less degree.”
Here are frank, open and bold denials of revelation. An universal deluge is one of the principal facts of revelation. The Old Testament gives its history. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ repeats the fact. If the deluge can be disproved, revelation must indubitably fall. What confidence can be placed in Moses or Jesus Christ, if the flood, which they declare took place, was a tale invented by one, and repeated by the other? Yet our Ruler declares, that a deluge beyond “a small part of the level country of Virginia seems out of the laws of nature.” Deluges within this level region, he says, may have taken place, but they could not reach to “the North mountain, or to Kentucky.” He says, that “History renders probable some instances of partial deluges in the country lying round the Mediterranean sea.” He believes there was a deluge in the low lands of Egypt and Armenia 2300 years before Christ, one in the low lands of Attica 500 years later, one in the low lands of Thessaly 300 years later still. “But such deluges as these,” he frankly acknowledges, “will not account for the shells found in the higher lands.” He therefore makes another effort to account for the shells found on the highest mountains, without granting the truth of the universal deluge.
“A second opinion,” he says, “has been entertained, which is, that the bed of the ocean, the principal residence of the shelled tribe, has, by some great convulsion of nature, been heaved to the height at which we now find shells, and other remains of marine animals.” But he instantly deserts this battery erected against revelation, as untenable, and acknowledges that “we may venture to say that no fact has taken place, either in our own days, or in the thousands of years recorded in history, which proves the existence of any natural agents, within or without the bowels of the earth, of force sufficient to heave to the height of fifteen thousand feet such masses as the Andes.” The shells, therefore, still remain, like the handwriting before Belshazzar, and urge him to some other expedient to drive them from their post, as witnesses of an universal deluge. In this dilemma he consults with Voltaire. He tells us that “Voltaire has suggested a third solution of this difficulty; that in the space of eighty years a particular spot, in Touraine, had been twice metamorphed into soft stone, which had become hard when employed in building. In this stone, shells of various kinds were produced, discoverable at first only with a microscope, but afterwards growing with the stone.” But here he finds no satisfaction, for he confesses that Voltaire has not established even the fact; he confesses “he has not left it on ground so respectable as to have rendered it an object of inquiry to the literati of his own country.” That is, the assertion of Voltaire was so palpably false, that no man of science inquired whether there was a possibility of its truth. “Abandoning this fact, therefore,” he says, “the three hypotheses are equally unsatisfactory, and we must be content to acknowledge that this great phenomenon (the shells) is as yet unsolved.” Observe, my friends, this declaration, full of meaning, full of evidence that the writer disdains the authority of revelation. He says, “the three opinions are equally unsatisfactory.” One of them is the rising of the mountains from the bottom of the sea. This he acknowledges has no facts to prove it. The other, rocks and shells growing out of the ground, he says, is not respectable enough to be an object of inquiry. The third is that of the Bible, an universal deluge. This he rejects, because all the water of the atmosphere would raise the ocean only 52 ½ feet. These three, he says, are equally unsatisfactory. That is, revelation is no better than an opinion, not supported “by any facts in our own days, or the thousands of years recorded in history,” or the bare assertion of Voltaire, which was totally disregarded by his own friends. So our great Ruler in despair leaves the subject, adding, “There is a wonder somewhere; ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth, who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong,.” Surely here is a melancholy conclusion of his elaborate inquiry.
The points in debate are evident. The Bible says, “The waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth, and all flesh died that moved upon the earth.” The deluge was, therefore universal.
Our Ruler says, it is “probable” that “partial deluges” have taken place “in Egypt,” and other “low lands.”
The Bible says, “The high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered, and the mountains were covered.”
Our Ruler says, “Deluges beyond this extent (a small proportion of the level country in Virginia) as, for instance, to the North mountain, or to Kentucky, seem out of the laws of nature:” for “if the whole contents of the atmosphere were water, the seas would be raised only fifty-two feet and a half above their present level.”
In a very brief manner we shall notice a few other passages in unison with this.
In page 169, our Author says, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.”
This sentence is not quoted on account of its proving any theory; for, in fact, it proves nothing but the careless impiety of the pen which traced it. This is precisely what we have undertaken to demonstrate. Still we may ask, is it no injury in a society of Christians to have men avow themselves pagans and atheists? Does it not tend to unhinge and destroy all social order? Would any Christian parent with his children educated where men make a god of every thing but God; or where in their hearts and words they banish God from the universe? Do not such “neighbors” grieve, and distress, and “injure,” good men? Do they not harden and render bad men worse? Are they not infinitely injurious to society? We submit the question to every person, who has a mind to think, or a heart to feel.
In page 171, speaking of religion, our Author observes, that Pennsylvania and New-York had long subsisted without any religious establishment. He adds, “They flourish infinitely. Religion is well supported, of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough……all sufficient to preserve peace and order.”
Were all the languages of Babel at once to pour forth their hatred of religion, could they furnish one phrase expressive of more disdainful irony, of more cold hearted contempt, than the phrases, “all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and order?” The Christian religion then is a cunning fable, a political bugbear “to preserve peace and order!”
Finally: In page 108, speaking of the different languages of American savages, our Author observes, there are twenty radical languages in America for one in Asia. He then asserts, that “for two dialects to recede from one another till they have lost all vestiges of their common origin, must require an immense course of time, perhaps not less than many people give to the age of the earth.” Here is a sneer at revelation, the Bible making “the age of the earth less” than it is in the opinion of deists. 2 He then adds a bolder denial of revelation. “A greater number of those radical changes of language,” he says, “having taken place among the red men of America, proves them of greater antiquity than those of Asia.” This bold and unnecessary denial of revelation must have given the author great credit among the opposers of Christianity. They saw of a certainty that he was assisting them “to crush” the Son of God. He does not hide the hand which gives the stab. Scripture fully asserts, that the families of Adam and Noah settled first in Asia; the languages of that country, therefore, according to scripture, are the most ancient; but our Ruler says, the American languages are the most ancient; that there is a fact, which “proves them of greater antiquity than those of Asia.” Does not this prove that the people of the United States ought to mourn? He that beareth rule, believes not the word of God. He rejects the authority of revelation. If any man take from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take his part from the book of life.
Thus we have heard the Ruler of the people deny the doctrine of an universal deluge, which prepared him to deny the greater antiquity of the languages in Asia, which are, however cautiously expressed, two direct denials of revelation. In unison with such a theory he declares, that polytheism and atheism openly avowed do “no injury” in society; that all “religions are good enough,” which “preserve peace and order.” Here our examination shall close. The controversy is not with us; we simply state facts. The controversy is between Scripture and the “Notes on the State of Virginia;” between the holy God and Mr. Jefferson.
4. If the evils of a wicked ruler be so great, then the subject imperiously demands the attention of the Gospel Minister.
He is a “watchman;” if he see an enemy, and give not warning, he is responsible for all the consequences. He is a “shepherd;” it is his duty to guard his flock from every danger. Can he then be silent in view of the greatest danger? Is silence consistent with the faithful discharge of duty, when he sees the evidence of a general depravity, when he sees a cause operating to increase that depravity? Can he be silent while observing the loss of that religious influence which attends the administration of the wise and good, while he sees the sword of oppression forming in the hands of power, while he hears the stern voice of instruction melting away into the soft notes of adulation, while he sees the angry cloud of divine judgments ready to burst on his native land, on his beloved people? Does not the minister, who remains silent in this situation, betray his important trust? Is he not false and faithless to the people of his charge? To lift the warning voice,
“His own engagement binds him fast;
Or, if it does not, brands him to the last
What Atheists call him—a designing knave,
A mere church juggler, hypocrite and slave.”
He eats the bread of his people, he drinks of their cup, he is warmed with their apparel, and yet like a traitor is dumb in the most awful crisis of their affairs. He has given himself to them by covenant and by oath, and yet he is silent while he sees the cloud gather, the lightning flash, and hears the thunder roar. Is he not a perjured wretch, and justly covered with infamy, while he sinks in the common ruin? Accordingly on account of their wicked rulers the ancient prophets denounced the woes of God on the people. Therefore the general attention given to this subject by gospel ministers, instead of being a reasonable article of charge, entitles them to our confidence and gratitude. Their numerous warnings will be so many everlasting records of their integrity and faithfulness.
The theme we have contemplated is solemn, and as alarming as it is solemn. The minds of men seem remarkably swayed against their former opinions, their habits, their interest, and their safety. Is it possible that we should sigh for revolution, that we should revolt from the salutary institutions of our renowned fathers; those institutions, which have diffused light, and felicity, and social order, and pure religion; which have elevated us to wealth and glory? Does not such a restless spirit in us forebode approaching calamities? In another part of the land almost a million slaves strengthened by new importations, roused by the success of their brethren, cannot long be idle. Their daggers thirst for blood, and their limbs tremble with revenge. The woes of the islands will doubtless be known on the main; the soil, which has been moistened with the sweat of the slaves, will probably be drowned in the blood of the masters.
These to some are, doubtless, as the dreams of a visionary, or the effusions of a melancholy spirit. Some perhaps rejoice to see the pure morals and serious religion of other times banished from society; they rejoice in a new order or things, new opinions, and new manners. They rejoice to see the wicked in authority. But have not the fatal effects of such an event been candidly shown from the word of God? Is it possible to doubt their reality? Will ye then weigh the subject in the balance of truth? Will ye seriously look forward to the final consequences? Have ye hearts to rejoice in these evils, or will ye, must ye, finally mourn with the people? Reflecting then on the present time, the influence ye are exerting, will not every thought be anguish, and every word a lamentation of self reproach? Do ye not already hear a voice from the tombs of your fathers, terrible as truth, and awful as eternity?—
”Ye baptiz’d infidels,
Ye worse for mending, wash’d to fouler stains;
Rouse from your dreams ere desolation comes:
Why make us blush for our apostate heirs?
Why barter genial suns, and Sharon’s flowers,
For wandering meteors, and tempestuous storms?”