DELIVERED IN THE
CHAPEL OF YALE COLLEGE;
ON THE DAY OF
THE ANNUAL THANKSGIVING:
NOVEMBER 29, 1827.
BY ELEAZAR T. FITCH.
Videte ne, ut illis pulcherrimum fuit tantam vobis imperii gloriam reliquenre, sic vobis turpissimum sit, illud quod accepistis, tueri et conservare non posse.—Cit.
TREADWAY AND ADAMS
CHRONICLE OFFICE, PRINT.
Ye are blessed of the Lord which made heaven and earth.
In his song of thankfulness, the Psalmist thus congratulated happy Israel. On the day when he composed the song, he beheld the descendants of that ancient patriarch in their prosperity:–a nation, preserved from the dark idolatry of the gentiles; happy in the possession of the lands of Palestine and in the enjoyment of the instruction, protection and favor of Jehovah; and among them, the sons of Aaron, blest with the permission of presenting their national and individual offerings of penitence, devotion and gratitude on mount Zion. The prosperity of his brethren and companions, filled his heart with joy; and induced him thus to remind them of the lovingkindness of God. Crowned with the riches of earth and of heaven, they were called upon to trace their blessings to that God who is the Maker, Proprietor, and Lord and Disposer of both worlds: “Ye are blessed of the Lord which made heaven and earth.”
Yet the eye of the sacred poet rested not simply on the prosperity of Israel at that day, blest with the benefactions of God. His object was to excite and fix the grateful confidence of the nation upon the God of their fathers—the help and the hope of Israel. Their present blessings he regarded, as so many testimonies of what the goodness of God had been towards his servants in past ages, and as so many pledges of what his goodness would still be towards them and their offspring should they continue to place their grateful confidence in him, their supreme benefactor. They were reminded that they stood on an eminence of prosperity between the fathers and posterity: and that the God from whom had originated their gifts was now present in Zion, demanding, by all his goodness until that hour, their grateful confidence, in order that he might watch over their possessions still, and transmit them, augmented, to succeeding generations. “O Israel, trust thou in the Lord….O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord….Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord….The Lord hath been mindful of us. He will bless us….He will bless them that fear the Lord, both great and small. The Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children.”
From this address to Israel, which breathes the truth and fervency of heavenly inspiration, we learn, that, in their prosperity, God demanded of them their grateful confidence in order to perpetuate their blessings. The sentiment is one, indeed, which runs through the history of all the revelations addressed to Israel: that if they presented to God the aspect of an obedient and thankful nation, he would continue and multiply his blessings on the land; but that if they were stained with national ingratitude and rebellion, he would banish them and their children from their privileges, and scatter them into the corners of the earth, an eminent example of punishment to all nations:–which he did, when the priests and the people, before Pilate, ungratefully rejected him in the person of his Son, and he made them, for it, a monument of his indignation in every nation of the earth by their desertion and exile.
The general sentiment is worthy of our attentive consideration, that, in the day of national prosperity, gratitude to God is demanded as the necessary means of securing its perpetuity.
You will expect me, on this occasion, to illustrate this sentiment in the application which it has to ourselves: and this I shall attempt to do, under the following particulars:
- The goodness of God to this nation;
- The gratitude which he demands in return; and,
- The connection of the claim with the continuance of our national prosperity.
I. Let us contemplate the goodness of God to us as a nation.
I will not attempt the boundless detail which would open before me, were I to enter upon a particular enumeration of all the blessings, worldly and spiritual, which the Lord of heaven and earth has conferred upon this people. I will rather survey the whole under one or two aspects which may exhibit, more clearly to us, his exceeding great goodness. Let us contemplate, then, the bounty of God in the greatness of the privileges he has freely conferred on us, and his watchful care in maturing them for our possession.
The bounty of God is manifest in the greatness of our privileges.
Survey, for a moment, our worldly advantages. Fixed on a soil of great variety and fertility; bordered in its whole extent by the ocean, and intersected, in every part, by vast and navigable rivers; embosoming resources, immense and as yet but partially explored; enjoying the suns and skies of every variety of climate; separated far from the polluting and jarring elements of the Eastern hemisphere; this nation has every possible advantage for the enjoyment of worldly peace and prosperity. And that prosperity it highly enjoys. Even in her youth, she is already adorned with most of the internal improvements of the old world, and has added to them important inventions of her own. Through the whole extent of her coast and on the margins of her noble rivers, she has established her populous and busy marts; that vie in elegance and wealth with foreign cities and far surpass them in their rapidly increasing prosperity. From her hills and vallies, she annually rolls into these confluent marts, the products and fabrics of trade, to the amount in value of more than a hundred millions; yet leaving the granaries of the farmer full, and permitting, as does no other nation, the laborer to detain enough in his possession to furnish himself and his household with the necessaries and luxuries of life. She has filled her hundred harbors with ships, and sent them forth, with the fleetness of the wind, on every sea and to every nation, to collect the treasures of the deep, or bear the treasures of both sea and land to other marts: till her tonnage competes with that of the most favored commercial nations, and her navy, the protectress of her commerce, rivals theirs. And she collects a revenue which, for the lightness of its burthen and its competency, may well render her the envy of nations perplexed with enormous expenditure, and impoverished with oppressive taxation.
View, next, our civil privileges. This, is the dwelling of freedom. This, the home of liberty. Exiled from other lands, she here has found a resting place. Nor is the freedom which marks our institutions of government a mere word, suited to swell a thoughtless declamation. Go ask the Turk, by what tenure he holds his possessions, his personal liberty, his life: and he will tell you by the will of a Pacha, or the Grand Seignor. That is despotism; tyranny. The yeoman of this favored nation will tell you that he holds them by the will of God and unalienable right; that they are secured to him by his fellow-citizens, in a written bill of rights and constitution of authority which no power, legislative, judicial, or executive can violate. That is freedom: power emanating from the citizens; regulated by open compact, in which the majority, through their agents, protect the individual in his just rights, and restrain and punish offenders for the good of the whole. This is our shield in the house and by the way; our shelter of repose, through every innocent occupation and enjoyment; the bond of confidence, in our social intercourse and commutations; the incentive to enterprise, in every branch of honorable gain or preferment. In what nation, unless in the fatherland of our ancestors, will you find the citizens thus treated by government as being equal in their rights; left free in their intercourse with one another; or permitted to aspire to more elevated conditions than those of birth? If you doubt your superior privileges, go hold as tenants of European lords; surrender your freedom of speech to the jealous espionage of kings; and subject the liberty of your persons to the gendarmerie of power.
Look, next, at our literary privileges. Vain were it indeed for us, in the infancy of our literary institutions and means, to boast a supremacy over the older institutions of Europe, with their distinguished patronage, their immense libraries, and their vast apparatus for scientific experiment and research. We can only assert that we are advancing towards rivalry. Yet this nation is fast rearing the edifice of her literary fame. She is rapidly multiplying her men of science and letters, and infusing into them the keenest ardor of research. Her writers, her orators, her poets, are already commanding the respect of other nations as well as elevating the genius of her own children. But on this survey, it is my joy as an American to recognize that diffusion of privilege which, rather than accumulation, characterizes our happy country. Our institutions of learning are not designed for a select few: but, in the form of the college, academy and school, they are diffused through the several States, and bring the means of knowledge to every village and to the doors of almost every hamlet in the nation: and from the free and unshackled press, channels of instruction and intelligence are opened to the whole population through which knowledge is constantly circulating. How rare is that phenomenon at least in New-England, that is so common in other nations;–an adult who cannot read! Yes: you may travel to an obscure cottage on some distant mountain, apparently secluded from all intercourse with the surrounding world; and yet its inmates shall show you, that they hold communion, in their thoughts, with every part of this nation, in her minute interests; with South America, in her revolutions; with Greece, in her struggles; with Europe, in her developing policy. Yes, that they hold converse with the dead of past ages; and they will tell you of the fall and rise of empires; or inspire you with the sentiments of illustrious writers. The traveler who visits us from foreign nations, acknowledges, with surprise, this happy diffusion of knowledge and intelligence: for he leaves a peasantry at home shut out from the avenues to learning—as ignorant, almost, of what is passing on the wide theatre of the world, as the cattle that graze upon the domains of their lords.
Survey, again, the religious privileges which enrich this nation. These in their very nature are heavenly privileges. They elevate man as a spiritual being. They resemble him to the moral image of his Maker and the angels. They bring him into communion with God on earth and prepare him for that communion in more exalted stations in eternity. And how richly are they enjoyed here! Not only in the volumes of divine truth, that are on the shelves of our habitations, and constantly spread before individuals and families the ways of present and eternal happiness; not only in those temples which elevate their spires towards heaven from the spacious cities and thousand villages of our territory, and weekly open their portals of praise and instruction for the pilgrim to eternity: but in that religious freedom and toleration which dawns on us as on no other nation, and leaves the friends of piety an open field for their benevolent labors; and in the presence of the Spirit of God in our churches, with his most signal gifts;–our last and best hope of elevating a triumphant standard against the irruptions of ungodliness.
We have thus far surveyed the bounty of God in the profusion of his gifts: let us now contemplate his watchful care over their preparation and transmission.
On the opening of the seventeenth century, but a little more than two hundred years since, the fast territory which now embraces the population of these United States, was one immense forest; broken only by the silent bosom of the lake or the lonely pathway of the river; inhabited by the savage and his game. At that time Great Britain claimed authority over it; disputed in the title, only by the States General of Holland. By all in that nation, it was regarded with great interest: by the king, as an accession to his dominions; by the capitalist, as a source of profitable investment; and by the adventurer, as a scene of hardy and industrious enterprise. Divided into North and South Virginia, and held by the two companies of Plymouth and London by patent from the king, it was prepared for the introduction upon its soil of the adventurous colonist who, from any motives, might choose to fix his residence here and plant the germ of a rising empire.
A colony of Englishmen under the auspices of Sir Walter Raleigh, first landed as settlers on South Virginia. To North Virginia, the Puritans, exiled from their native land, or harassed in it, came; bearing in their breasts the sacred love of liberty and religion. These latter adventurers, (I confine myself to these, for their history is briefly the history of all, and soon merges itself in that of all,) these adventurers, while their ship was yet hovering on the coast, and before they disembarked, appointed a day of thanksgiving to that God who had conducted them safely across the ocean, and formed on that day a civil compact with each other that they should be ruled by the majority,–in which latter act they founded the liberties and union of a representative republic. When they landed, the germ of all our present prosperity lay concealed in their little society. Theirs was the spirit of hardy enterprise, the desire of virtuous liberty, the regard for knowledge, the attachment to religion, which was to be developed on the theatre of this nation, and to mark the character and bless the destiny of a numerous posterity—the effects of which we feel at this day in those peculiar privileges which the God of heaven and earth has secured to us as our fair inheritance.
But what is the history of the transmission? Go back and survey the adventurers, landed upon an unexplored coast, on the eve of a bleak and desolate winter, with a vast ocean on one side separating them forever from their former homes, and on the other a boundless forest filled with savage beasts or with men as wild and savage. They are to unlock the stores of temporal wealth which the God of the whole earth had concealed beneath these vallies and mountains. They are to protect, extend, and perpetuate those principles of civil and religious freedom which the God of heaven had inspired in their breasts. Yet at what toil, with what privations and sufferings, through what perils and dangers; to be endured and surmounted, only by the guiding and protecting care of Heaven! To God they commit their infant interests: and go forth, strong in heart and vigorous in nerve, to the perilous encounter. They fell the forests: they build their houses; they erect their sanctuaries; they sow their plantations; and over their harvests they raise their pious thanksgivings.
But the day of adversity soon comes. Famine, pestilence, war,–those scourges, terrible to nations abundant in resources and sympathies for lightening the evil,–were to be encountered, in their most appalling forms, by these few and feeble adventurers. The native tribes, who at first welcomed them to a residence in the territory, soon regarded their increasing prosperity with envy, were jealous of their power, and coveted their wealth. Nor was it difficult to find pretences for justifying their hatred, or occasions for venting it in the cruelties of war. Who has not read of those days of distress, when (it might be said almost literally) every village was a garrison, and every householder, a soldier; when every heart was filled with terrors by day and alarms at night; when the gun was become the most necessary of implements, and was a constant companion at the plough, by the fireside, and in the sanctuary? Or why should I relate the story of those Indian wars which terminated in the desperate battles which, under the guidance or instigation of Philip the brave, spread carnage and woe through New-England; the grand struggle for mastery—the crisis of destiny to the colonies and the aboriginal race? The blood of our fathers then flowed for us freely; and in that day of fainting and sorrow, the God of all power declared himself on their side, the helper of those that trusted in him and the destroyer of their foes. Nor in closing this series of warfare in triumph over the Indian tribes were they restrained from acknowledging the favor of God in conducting them to it, by the reflection that their cause had been unjust. “I can clearly say,” the pious governor Winslow observes, in a letter written at the time, “that before the present troubles broke out, the English did not possess one foot of land in this colony, but what was fairly obtained by honest purchase of the Indian proprietors.” The planters had protected them in their rights, by their laws; and had attempted to introduce them to a friendly participation in their own privileges. And it is a record cheering to us, as we weep over this downfall of the aboriginal race, that, at the time of the war of Philip, more than twenty towns of Indians had united with our pilgrim fathers in acknowledging the One God and Savior of nations.
But another crisis of peril was to arise with the colonists: nor in that hour were they less signally favored with the guardian watchfulness of God. They were now to encounter a powerful foe in the nation that gave them birth. Though the ties of kindred pleaded against a war so unnatural, and their inexperience was to cope with valor often tried on the field of battle and crowned with triumph; yet they saw in their liberties what was dearer to them than all they might risk in the contest. Embarking their lives and fortunes, they launched forth upon the perilous enterprise. Strong in the justice of their cause, they disowned their allegiance to their former fosterland; and called upon God to watch over their destinies through the coming, dark, eventful struggle. The note of war was sounded; the veteran troops of Europe were upon our territories; and the blood of our patriot fathers was poured forth as the price of our liberties. At this crisis of destiny, the Lord watched over our birthright. He secured to us our inheritance.
Nor do I fear the imputation of Puritanism when I acknowledge thus the goodness of God in conducting this nation up through past perils to its present height of prosperity. A Puritan ancestry is my pride. Puritan principles are my hope and my joy. I would blush rather for the American who, through inattention to the history of his country or fear of the imputation of prejudice, should prove himself so unworthy of his privileges as not to respond cordially to the grateful declaration of Washington, after he had achieved the independence of his country and resigned his military commission, when called to take the chair of chief magistracy: “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men, more than the people of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
I have dwelt too long perhaps on this part of the subject. But the goodness of God toward us in conferring upon us the peculiar blessings we enjoy, and in transmitting them to us with so much care from our fathers, is worthy of a frequent and an attentive consideration. We should dwell upon it, until it affect our hearts. The survey presents to us impressive evidence, that the Lord of heaven and earth is our highest benefactor. He is seen to be with us, deserving and claiming our pious gratitude. To this thought I would now advert: and consider,
II. The gratitude which he demands in return.
Now it cannot be that the Lord, who holds in his hands all the riches of heaven and earth and who dispenses them so freely in his providence, should ever seek to be enriched gain by gifts which men can offer, or to be gratified with the flatteries of their tongues. He does not seek literal repayment. He simply asks to be acknowledged in the benefactions he has made, and to be trusted in for future, with hearts duly alive to his unbounded goodness; in order that he may consistently carry forward the works of lovingkindness that he begins. His object, like that of every good being, is to do good. He therefore seeks in men that preparation of heart which is implied in a grateful sense of his supreme goodness; which will fit them to receive, without abuse, his future favors. That was the return he sought of Israel, for the favors bestowed on that once happy but now desolate nation: and it is that, which he demands from his nation, for the goodness in which he appears before us at this day as the Guardian of our infant interests, the Giver of our present blessings, and the Promiser of increasing prosperity in years to come.
This return for his goodness involves in it, more especially, our grateful acknowledgment of what he has done and our supreme trust in him for future prosperity.
Our grateful acknowledgment of what he has done. In the lyric ode which contains the text, the Psalmist, rejoicing in the prosperity of Israel, began his strain of devotion, with a public and grateful acknowledgment of their indebtedness to God. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.” Such open acknowledgment, God demands from this nation. Not a merely formal acknowledgment: as if we could crowd our praise into one set day of thanksgiving and go and riot on his bounties and delight ourselves in his gifts, in a forgetfulness of him, during the other days of the year. Not a thoughtless acknowledgment: as if we might bring him the offerings of our lips and feelings, and trust to discover reasons for our thankfulness afterwards. The acknowledgment which he demands of the American citizen is an enlightened and ardent one:–that which springs from intelligent and studious minds awake in some measure to the true extent and source of our national blessings; and from warm and grateful hearts which feel how much we owe to his goodness, and carry the feeling with them through the enjoyment, the intercourse and the duties of life. There have been many in this nation in the past periods of its history who have made this intelligent and heart-felt acknowledgment of divine goodness: and presented to God the offering of thankful and obedient hearts. They have borne the sentiment with them from the closet to the family, the social circle, the popular assembly, the bench of justice, the senate, the chair of chief magistracy: and they have united in devoutly expressing it in the sanctuaries of God. There are many such, we would hope, at this day—the salt of the land to preserve it—the breath of the land to revive it;–and it is to add to their number and secure unto himself a grateful nation, that God appears before us at this day reminding us of his gifts and of his high and imperious claims.
But more especially does he demand of us supreme trust in him for our future prosperity. This was the demand which he made on Israel through the Psalmist. “O Israel, trust thou in the Lord. O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord.” And this demand is now brought to our consciences with no less power by the voice of his providence. He calls us to put our trust in him as the supreme, the only source of our future prosperity. The trust which he requires is not that formal trust, which lifts up the voice to him for aid, but goes away and seeks all its joys and resources in his gifts: not that idle trust, which sleeps in inaction, and waits for God to perform both our duties and his promises. It is the heart-felt trust which enthrones him over our affections and subjects our lives to the guidance of his commandments, and which believes, from the testimonies of his goodness with which he surrounds us, that he is ready to bestow prosperity “on them that fear him, both great and small.” It is the active trust that engages cheerfully in the duties or the conflicts through which his guiding hand directs us as the avenues to prosperity; and which, like Israel, labors, endures privation, encounters enemies, when called to it by the cloudy and fiery pillar of his guidance. This is the trust which he demands of American citizens at this day when, more than ever, we are in danger of withdrawing our confidence from him and reposing in the rich gifts that form our inheritance. He stands before us as the Author of all our prosperity; and asks that we submit ourselves to his future guidance:–that we welcome him to preside over us with his authority and dwell with us with his word and institutions and Spirit of grace, that we come around him, each in our various stations, and cast upon his care the temporal and spiritual interests of the nation, waiting as obedient servants to receive and fulfill his orders. Was ever a claim more just, ore pure and disinterested, more worthy of our attention? To this claim, multitudes have gratefully responded in this nation. In the days of past peril and adversity, our fathers trusted in him and were delivered; and in this critical day of our prosperity, when we are threatened with no less dreadful but more insidious enemies, there are many who look to him alone as the supreme hope of the nation. And it is to add to their number and secure to himself a people gratefully submissive, whom he may conduct to increasing prosperity in years to come, that he reminds us at this day of his gifts: “Ye are blessed of the Lord which made heaven and earth.”
We are now come to the remaining thought:
III. The connection which the claim has with our national welfare in time to come.
Now that the prosperity of this country can be perpetuated, only by placing, as a people, our grateful trust in God and complying with the claims imposed upon us by his goodness, will, I think, be manifest from the following considerations.
1. We can in no other way secure the favor of God upon the destinies of the nation.
The Most High ruleth over the kingdoms of men. In his hand it is to plant and build, and to pluck up and destroy. Who can doubt this, that believes there is a God and that he created the heaven and the earth. Surely, he is Lord over the domains of his own creation; and will perform his righteous pleasure among the nations. Nor does it ever enter into his purposes to treat them without regard to their conduct. For the truth rests on the foundation of his essential goodness, and it has been fully attested in his revelations to Israel and by his conduct in the earth, that he will not cast off the people who put their trust in him; and that, though he bear long with those that refuse and rebel, he will not forget to punish. And shall we be exempt from the general laws of his providence? Can this nation withdraw itself from his domains? Can it change the nature of his purposes of government? Or, if he come forth to punish, can it avoid feeling the terror of his indignation?
Truly a weighty responsibility devolves upon us. God who has been the deliverer of our fathers and has brought us into their inheritance with many added gifts, has come, demanding of us the acknowledgment and trust of grateful hearts, in order that he may continue to us, and to those who come after us, our rich inheritance. Unlike the critical times of our nation’s adversity, this is the crisis of her prosperity. The issues dependent, are most weighty; and are to be felt in the joys or woes of the many millions who are coming forward to occupy the bounds of our habitation. If we put our trust in God; if the sentiment be broad and deep in the nation; no doubt he will go with us in favor and perpetuate his heavenly and worldly gifts with us and our children, and “increase them more and more.” But if we withdraw our confidence from him; if we ungratefully merge the thought of his goodness in our own worldliness and pride and lust; the scourges of vengeance are in his storehouse, and he will no doubt draw them forth for our punishment. It is only for him to withdraw from us the heavenly gifts of his grace, and convert our worldly gifts into snares of destruction; it is only for him to commission the evils of famine, pestilence, anarchy and war to pass through the land; and we and our children shall feel the tremendous scourging of his rod.
But the question whether we respond to the demand of God or not, has a most manifest connection with many of the secondary sources of our safety or danger;–a connection which must be conceded, even by him who is so hardy as to deny that God has a direct agency over the destinies of nations. I proceed, therefore, to remark on the connection of our gratitude with our prosperity:–
2. That it is the only means of maintaining a healthy tone of moral sentiment in the nation.
Need I show you how necessary a pure state of private and public morals is, to the welfare of a people? Vices are the scourges of those who practice them; they contaminate those who are in their vicinity; they carry distress and mourning into the relations of life and society; and they embitter the possession of every gift of God. What woes does that nation embosom in itself that is corrupted in its own sins? A nation in which neither the fear of God, respect for an oath, nor regard for a future state, stand as barriers against crime or securities for truth and justice? And if such shall ever become the fate of this nation generally, that her inhabitants, casting off the fear of God and man, are openly defiled with every pollution and crime, she will need no foreign enemy, she will need no domestic intriguer, to render desolate her joys. With her own vices shall she be crushed, and perish in her sins; and her name be placed on the catalogue of nations that have been whelmed in this vortex of ruin.
How then shall we rescue our country from so tremendous a fate, and preserve the fair possessions God has given us, uncorrupt to other generations? On what secondary resources can we rely to strengthen in the minds of our citizens and of rising generations the obligations to chastity, temperance and self-government; and to truth, justice and charity in their intercourse with one another? Can we trust to the bonds of self-interest? But the one who has surrendered himself to sin, has already relinquished his best interests in time to his lusts: and how shall he, by this consideration alone, be withdrawn from his wickedness; or others be restrained from rushing upon the same mad career? Can we trust to the influence of reputation? But the law of honor sinks or rises with the men who enact it: and it is facile enough to accompany society down into all those vices which degrade, torment, and destroy. No; it is the law of God only that can sustain a healthy tone of morals in a community: a perfect, unbending standard of purity, enforced by his own eternal sanctions.
And in order that God may address his law to us and our children with power: it is for us gratefully to subject ourselves with all our interests to him as our Lord. Only as we thus put our trust in him, shall we walk in his commandments before our fellow-citizens; and carry into our various stations in society the quickening and purifying power of godly precept and example. On this will depend our support of those institutions and ordinances of his which shall weekly remind our inhabitants on every hill and vale, that there is a God who demands their homage, and who will, through Christ, accept their heart-felt offerings. All real strength for awakening a high and solemn sense of obligation in any community, for stemming the tide of corruption, or for saving those who are exposed to it; must lie, as a secondary source, in hearts devoted to God. For what shall it avail that the word of God is in our hands, if the flame of devotion be extinguished from our hearts: and our citizens, as neighbors, as heads of families, as magistrates, neglect their high and sacred duties; and breathe, from their stations of influence, the deadly contagion of vice?
If we look over this nation and mark, with an impartial eye, the varying state of its morals, we shall not want evidence to show how intimately dependent these are on the state of piety and religion. There are some happy and bright spots of moral verdure, and many dark and fearful ones of sterility and desolation, presenting themselves to us on such a survey: which, alike exemplify this truth, and stand forth to us the harbingers of peace or the beacons of danger, that call upon us, most loudly, to put our trust in God in this day of our prosperity, and secure to the generations that come after us a home and heritage of joy and not of woe. But,
3. The religious gratitude and trust of this nation is the only means of securing an inviolable bond of union among our citizens.
Need I illustrate the necessity of firm union in this Federate Republic, in order to our true happiness? One in our origin, one in our language, one in our past perils and present prosperity; it can never seem desirable to break our peaceful fellowship, and divide into different, jealous, jarring nations. At least, if the day should ever arrive in which a division would be expedient or necessary, it is desirable that these States should then separate from each other in peace and as brethren. But such a division, made in harmony and love, is not the division to which we are most exposed, or which could most affect our peace. Nor is it that cool and honest difference of opinion which good men may entertain and express respecting particular men and measures connected with the government, which, kept within the bounds of moderation, serves but to surround our rulers with a salutary vigilance. But it is the divided and dividing feeling of ambition and selfishness,–the spirit of faction—that bane of republics. It is that spirit of sectional jealousy and variance which inflames the passions of one part of a country against another: or that spirit of party which runs through a whole nation, enkindling alienations among all its citizens, separating neighborhoods and households into ranks of hostility. Every intelligent patriot is aware that this constitutes one of the most threatening sources of danger to our republic. For, faction, once wild and ungovernable, unchains the furies of anarchy and blood to roam on their work of desolation; nor will they, when loosed, surrender themselves, or the melancholy wrecks of the nation they have desolated, except to the victorious arm of the unfeeling despot.
Where then, under God, is our safety? Where is that bond which shall preserve us, in our various pursuits and opinions, on terms of fraternal confidence and fellowship? Does it exist in the written constitution of our country, which so nicely adjusts and balances the various exercises of authority in our national government? But what is that instrument, without the concurring voice and hearts of the citizens? Does it lie in our common possessions and privileges, transmitted to us from our fathers? Alas! faction may desolate the fairest heritage; and divided hearts will spoil the joys of the most beauteous dwelling! It must be some higher bond, that will lift us above our selfish passions; that will instill into our hearts the forbearance and kindness of true charity; that will give us joy in the prosperity of each other and sympathy in trial; and that will rally us around our common privileges, as one man, against every enemy that would invade so fair a heritage. That bond is the piety which puts her grateful trust in God. There never was, and never will be, a firmer bond to unite men on earth in brotherly kindness. Let there be diffused in this nation the deep and pervading sentiment that we owe all our privileges to God; let the eye of trust from all parts of our common country be directed to him as the only efficient protector and guardian of our weal; and our cemented hearts shall be bound in holier ties to one another and to our common possessions. They who thus devoutly bear the welfare of their country before God, will feel that the interests around which they are stationed are sacred; and their hearts will be as one to guard the trust.
Nor is this mere theory: it is fact;–seen in the history of our Puritan fathers when, casting their common privileges on the protection of God, their hearts were knit together in confidence as the heart of one man. And if we survey our nation at this day of our prosperity, we may easily discover what elements of division or of union there are abroad in it, which are to decide her future destinies. There stands the demon of discord, instilling the selfishness that forgets the common good in contests for sectional interests and for power and patronage in the government. There hovers the angel of union, inspiring the love of the common good, which, far stronger than the petty partialities it may feel for its own limits or its own favorite, maybe safely relied on in the hour of trial;–infusing those spiritual charities which unite the hearts of the most distant members of the republic in weeping and prayers and offerings for the spiritual good of every part of this nation and of other less favored nations of the earth. Here behold we the pledges of our future union and strength, or the preludes of our future division and ruin; accordingly as we trust, or ungratefully reject, the guidance of the God of our fathers. United before his throne and around the previous privileges that are deposited with us for posterity, we shall be strong. To every foreign foe, we shall present the rampart of united hearts; impenetrable, like the firm cemented rock that forever repels the dashing waves. And within our borders, from one extremity of the nation to the other, ten thousand wakeful eyes shall guard the common interest, to detect and awe every domestic intriguer. This unity of pious trust in God, no question of state policy or of election to office in the government, will ever be able to sunder. But if we ungratefully withdraw our hearts from God; if we foster pride and selfishness and ambition and every element of faction and anarchy, and become loose to each other as the sands of Zahara; then farewell to that union which was founded in the piety of the Pilgrim exiles, and cemented with the blood of our fathers! We shall lose the boon that was handed to us, and bequeath a sad inheritance to our children. In vain shall these hills and vallies smile upon them; for the rich gifts which blessed their fathers shall be embittered to them by faction, or rent from them by unrelenting despotism.
But in illustrating the influence which our national gratitude must have upon our national prosperity, I would remark once more:
4. That it is the only means of insuring the necessary sacrifices and exertions for the welfare of the nation.
No one who attentively surveys this nation will allow, that we can neglect to make active exertions for its welfare and yet hope to bequeath our inheritance, unimpaired, to other generations. We are called to the work of supporting those social, civil, literary and religious institutions which now bless the nation and form the hope of a future age, and we are to remove the evils which already exist in the nation: or time alone will do the work of ruin. This double task lies on our hands: and it must be performed, in order that our privileges may pass safely over those who come after us.
But in supporting our institutions,–which, more than in any nation, are cast upon the spontaneous efforts of the people,–what will secure the cheerful giving, the labors and sacrifices of our citizens? Take, for instance, the institutions of religion, which form the key stone of all the others. Where, if our citizens ungratefully forget God, will be found the persons to continue these:–to build our houses of worship and support the ministers and ordinances of religion? Custom, fashion, self-interest may prompt to these exertions awhile; but they are soon relinquished, or the institutions themselves perverted, if the true spirit of piety is gone. But the work of supporting them is not confined to places where they have already had an existence: they are to be extended to desolate places. And it is in this aspect, that a work of great magnitude is presented to the American citizen. Our territory is broad; washed by those distant oceans that divide the world. Our population is extending with a rapidity unprecedented in the annals of time. Over the vast valley of the Mississippi, it is the destiny of this age, if any,–and from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, of the next,–to extend our free and happy institutions. The work is to be met now:–or, the tide of population will extend far beyond the presence of our religious institutions or their influence. A loud call is here presented for benevolent care over the interests of this growing empire: and where shall it meet a cheerful response, but in the hearts of those citizens who gratefully welcome God to be the guardian of this nation, and who humbly wait on him to know and fulfill their allotted duties?
But a greater demand is made on the benevolence of the American citizen than is involved in supporting and extending the happy institutions of his country: evils exist that must be encountered and removed, if he would not surrender its prosperity. Beside the evils of vice and faction, to which I have already adverted;–which seem to be rolling up, every day, a more dark and portentous cloud over our prospects:–there exists, in the slave population of the South, an evil that is to be met and removed now; or that fair portion of our beloved nation is subjected, at no distant day, to all the horrors of a servile war. This is no pleasant theme. Would to God the occasion for it did not exist. But there is no concealing the evil. There is no resisting the calculations which show its rapid progress, if something be not speedily done, to the fatal catastrophe. The ties of kindred, country, humanity, religion, plead that the nation come forward to the work of removing the evil a one man. Its removal will require the exercise of great forbearance, patience and charity between the slave holding States and the others; as well as the unwavering decision of the whole that the work shall be done, and their untiring energy in the prosecution. The crisis has come. We are to seal our destiny. The evil is to be removed now, or we are to groan under its scourges. We are now to do our utmost, or despond ever afterwards. If the South and the North now unite as the brethren of one common country, and as friends of the enslaved Africans, and commit their undertaking to him who has hitherto conducted the destinies of this nation in kindness; there is hope that we may yet blot this stain from our annals, and avert this impending scourge from our country. But if the North will reproach and refuse her aids and sympathies, and if the South will be jealous and refuse her assent and co-operation; if they will not unitedly come before God and commit to him the issues of the cause, waiting on him in their appropriate duties; our hope is gone, and we or posterity shall smart for our injustice towards man and ingratitude towards God.
I trust these considerations are sufficient to show you, how essential it is to our continued prosperity as a nation, that we fulfill the obligations which we owe to God for his kindness.
And now, could I cause my voice to resound through this nation, I would call upon all its inhabitants to review what God has done for their fathers; to survey, studiously, the privileges they are now enjoying at his hands; to contemplate the blessings which he proffers to their acceptance for posterity: and urge them, by these affecting testimonies of his goodness, to accept with devout hearts his guidance, committing themselves and the interests around which he has stationed them as guardians, unto him who delights to show mercy from generation to generation. “O Israel, trust thou in the Lord. O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord. Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord.”
What sacred motives invite the citizens of this republic, to walk in this only path of prosperity!
The Lord of heaven and earth is with us, asserting his imperative claims. These claims we must face on another day of retribution. And how will we bear the stigma of ingratitude in that day, when the Lord shall appear in his glory and confound us before witnessing men and angels?
The world is before us, presenting its claims. Here the experiment is happily begun whether a nation may not perpetuate its existence and prosperity with free institutions; and the people who groan in bondage, or sigh for more liberal measures in other nations, look hither for sympathy and encouragement, and for the dawning of a brighter day. They watch anxiously the issues of an experiment which is the world’s last hope for the success of freedom. If we are so unfaithful as to alienate these blessings from our land, and cause God who has conferred them to withdraw from us in indignation; if, I say, the experiment fails in our hands; what despondency must weigh down the hearts of all the friends of freedom in the earth! They will reproach us with their doom, as they descend into a dark and hopeless night of despotism. And our shame shall be recorded on the annals of the world, as an ungrateful republic which thrusted from her the richest boon of heaven.
Posterity appear before us, urging their claims. We hold in trust the privileges of their birth-right. If we alienate the precious trust, how will they reproach our memories that we robbed them of their inheritance! They will pass through these cities and villages, the minions, it may be, of despotic power; and the chains of their servitude will be rendered more galling, as they reflect:–“These were the homes of our pilgrim fathers, and they were free. Here lived that degenerate race who lost their pleasant heritage, and left us, outcast and friendless orphans, to suffering and woe.”
My friends, enlightened piety is, under God, the hope of this nation. Let the sentiment be deeply engraven on your hearts, that the American citizen must honor the God of his fathers, if he would effectually consult the welfare of his country. And to you who are preparing for important influence and are soon to enter upon responsible stations in this community, the subject is addressed with peculiar force. With you, are soon to be deposited the hopes of other generations. If you, and the generation who are rising upon the stage of life with you, shall, in your various stations, wait on God and fulfill your appointed duties; the God of our fathers will bless you. Jehovah shall dwell in the land, its glory and defence. Iniquity shall retire at his presence, with her train of deformity and crime. The hearts of all shall be blessed with unity and joy. And from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the unnumbered millions yet to inhabit this continent, shall rejoice in inheriting the rich legacy of your institutions.
Is this picture of prosperity, too bright to realize? Indeed, we fear. The heathen republics of Greece and Rome, and the infidel republic of France, are already recorded on the page of history, the eternal monuments of failure. But the Spirit of Holiness, as was predicted by prophets of old, is now on his way to universal conquest. With hope we look to him to retain and multiply his triumphs with us, and record his name on the living tablets of this nation forever.
The bright paternal smiles of deity.
Then, my loved country, would thy soil be known.
The hallowed and the blest, the truly free,
And every evening hour a nation’s worship see.”