Front Page Titles (by Subject) 30: Nathanael Emmons, THE DIGNITY OF MAN - Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788)
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30: Nathanael Emmons, THE DIGNITY OF MAN - Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788) 
Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805, 2 vols, Foreword by Ellis Sandoz (2nd ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). Vol. 1.
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THE DIGNITY OF MAN
Nathanael Emmons (1745–1840). The youngest of twelve children, Emmons lived nearly a century and spent fifty-five of those years as pastor of the Congregational Church in Franklin, Massachusetts, on the border of Rhode Island. He was a Yale graduate and studied theology with various ministers, including Nathan Strong and John Smalley. Given to tobacco-chewing, he was “a plump little man, with a squeaky voice, and a sharp tongue.” But despite his unimposing appearance, he was a superb preacher and an educator of over one hundred other preachers. His sermons were marked by their intellectual pungency, and he summed up the art of preaching in the axiom: “Have something to say; say it.” He was a deeply committed Calvinist, a fervent patriot during the Revolution, and a Federalist afterward. Sensing diabolical significance in the rise of the Jeffersonian Republicans to power, he preached his noted “Jeroboam” sermon, comparing the new President to the man “who made Israel sin.”
A cardinal figure in the rise of a “New Divinity” following Jonathan Edwards the elder, Emmons ranks in this respect with Samuel Hopkins, Joseph Bellamy, and Jonathan Edwards the younger. Emmons’s theories grappled with Edwards’s doctrine of the will and came down to a single proposition: “the divine influence upon the heart, in producing volitions, does not imply compulsion on the part of God, nor destroy liberty on the part of man” (Works , 6:712). Bruce Kuklick, in Churchmen and Philosophers: From Jonathan Edwards to John Dewey (Yale, 1985), observed: “The New Divinity and the [American Founders’] philosophy of the state shared the vocabulary of republicanism” (p. 60).
Shew thyself a Man.
1 Kings 2.2
David closed the scene of life, with that propriety of conduct, and that composure of mind, which at once displayed the beauty of religion, and the dignity of human nature. When the time of his departure drew nigh, he had nothing to do to prepare for death, but only, like other pious and illustrious patriarchs, to converse with his friends, and to give them his last and best advice. And, as he had, some time before, committed to Solomon the care of his family and government of his kingdom; so he felt a strong and ardent desire, that this beloved son, in whom he had reposed such important trusts, should appear with dignity, and act a noble and worthy part upon the stage of life. Accordingly he called him into his presence, and with equal solemnity and affection, addressed him in these memorable words, “I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man.” This appellation sometimes signifies the dignity, and sometimes the meanness of our nature. Job makes use of it to express our meanness and turpitude in the sight of God. “How can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman? Behold, even to the moon and it shineth not, yea the stars are not pure in his sight. How much less man that is a worm, and the Son of Man which is a worm.” But Isaiah employs this same appellative to represent the dignity of human nature, when he calls upon stupid idolaters to “remember this, and shew themselves men.” So here, David in his dying address to Solomon, “shew thyself a man,” evidently means to use the term in the best sense, and to urge him to act up to the dignity of his nature, and the end of his being.
Agreeably therefore to the spirit and intention of the text, the subject which now properly lies before us, is the dignity of man. And, I hope, the observations which shall be made upon this subject, will do honour to our nature in one view, and pour contempt upon it in another, and so lead us all into a clear and just apprehension of ourselves, which is the most useful, as well as the most rare and high attainment in knowledge.
The dignity of man appears from his bearing the image of his Maker. After God had created the heavens and the earth, and furnished the world with a rich profusion of vegetive and sensitive natures, he was pleased to form a more noble and intelligent creature, to bear his image, and to be the lord of this lower creation. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” This allows us to say, that man is the offspring of God, a ray from the fountain of light, a drop from the ocean of intelligence. Though, man, since the fall, comes into the world destitute of the moral image of God, yet, in the very frame and constitution of his nature, he still bears the natural image of his Maker. His soul is a transcript of the natural perfections of the Deity. God is a spirit, and so is the soul of man; God is intelligence and activity, and so is the soul of man. In a word, man is the living image of the living God, in whom is displayed more of the divine nature and glory, than in all the works and creatures of God upon earth. Agreeably therefore to the dignity of his nature, God hath placed him at the head of the world, and given him the dominion over all his works. Hence says the Psalmist, “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, yea the beasts of the field; the fowls of the air; and the fish of the sea.” How wide is the kingdom of man! how numerous his subjects! how great his dignity!
God has, besides, instamped a dignity upon man by giving him not only a rational, but an immortal existence. The soul, which is properly the man, shall survive the body and live forever. This might be argued from the nature, the capacity, and the desires of the human mind, and from the authority of the wiser heathens, who have generally supposed the soul to be a spiritual and immortal principle in man. But, since the heathen moralists might derive their opinion from a higher source than the light of nature, and since every created object necessarily and solely depends, for continued existence, upon the will of the Creator; we choose to rest the evidence of this point upon the authority of the sacred oracles. Here indeed we find the immortality of the soul sufficiently established. Solomon saith, “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” And, in another place, after describing the frailty and mortality of the body, he adds, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” Agreeably to this, our Lord declares that men are able to kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. And God has told us that he will, at the last day, separate the righteous from the wicked, and fix the latter in a miserable, but the former in a blessed immortality. Hence immortality appears to be the common property and dignity of the human kind.
The creatures and objects, with which we are now surrounded, have but a short and momentary being. One species of insects, we are told, begin and end their existence in twenty-four hours. Others live and flutter a few hours longer, and then drop into their primitive dust. The larger animals, which people the air, the earth, and the sea do, day after day, in a thick and constant succession, die and dissolve in their own elements. And even the whole material system will, after a few ages, either by the immediate hand of God, or by the gradual operation of the laws of nature, be rolled together as a scroll, and tumbled into one vast and promiscuous ruin. But we shall survive all these ruins and ravages of time, and live the constant spectators of the successive scenes of eternity. And this renders us infinitely superior, in point of dignity and importance, to all the objects and creatures, whose existence expires with time.
The dignity of man also appears, from the great attention and regard, which God hath paid to him. God indeed takes care of all his creatures, and his tender mercies are over all his works: but man has always been the favorite child of Providence. God, before he brought him into being, provided a large and beautiful world for his habitation; and ever since the day of his creation, he has commanded all nature to contribute to his support and happiness. For his good, he has appointed the sun to rule the day, and the moon to rule the night. Into his bosom, he has ordered the earth and the sea to pour all their rich and copious blessings. And for his use and comfort, he has given the fowls of the mountains, the beasts of the forests, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. He has also given his angels charge over him, to keep him in all his ways. Accordingly they have appeared from time to time, to instruct him in duty, to deliver him from danger, to bring him good tidings, to attend his dissolution, and to convey his departing spirit to the mansions of rest. But, the most distinguishing and most astonishing display of the divine mercy, is the incarnation and death of the Son of God for the salvation of man. By the incarnation of Christ, our nature was united with the divine, and the dignity of man with the dignity of Christ. Hence all the sufferings, which Christ hath endured on earth, and all the honours, which he hath received in heaven, have displayed the dignity of man. And for the same reason, the dignity of man will be eternally rising, with the rising honour and dignity of Christ.
But, we must furthermore observe, that the large and noble capacities of the human mind, set the dignity of our nature in the clearest and strongest light. Let us therefore consider, in this place, several of these with particular attention.
First, man hath a capacity for constant and perpetual progression in knowledge. Animals, indeed, appear to have some small degree of knowledge. “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib.” But, as all the lower species are destitute of the power of reasoning, or the faculty of arranging and comparing their ideas; so they are totally incapable of enlarging their views, by intellectual improvements. The bee cannot improve her skill, nor the ant her prudence, by observation or study. All their knowledge is the mere gift of God, which he bestows upon them without any application or exertion of theirs.
But, man is capable of improving in knowledge as long as he enjoys the means or materials of improvement. Indeed he has power to improve the smallest stock forever. The faculty of reason, with which he is endowed, enables him to proceed from one degree of knowledge to another, in a constant and endless progression. The grounds of this are obvious. As a certain chain, or connection runs through all branches of knowledge; so the acquisition of one degree of knowledge facilitates the acquisition of another, and the more a man knows, the more he is capable of knowing. And, as all the powers and faculties of the mind brighten and expand by exercise; so a man’s capacity for improvement increases, as the means and thirst for improvements increase. Accordingly the path of knowledge, has resembled the path of the just, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. One generation have been improving upon another, from age to age. And the improvements and discoveries of the last and present century are truly surprizing, and justify this grand and bold description,
But to show that reality in this case surpasses description, let me here mention Solomon, that great man, who is addressed in our text, and whose astonishing improvements in knowledge are recorded by the pen of inspiration, for the encouragement, as well as the instruction of all future ages. “And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men: than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about. And he spake three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowls, and of creeping things, and of fishes.” The children of the east country were the Chaldeans, who, after the flood, made the first advances in astronomy, philosophy and other abstruse sciences. Next to them the Egyptians turned their attention to learning, and soon outrivalled all other nations in literary fame. Solomon therefore surpassed all the priests and poets, all the physicians and historians, and all the naturalists, philosophers, and astronomers of the two most antient, and most refined nations in the world. What an exalted idea does this exhibit of his wisdom and learning! And, as we must suppose that he made these improvements by reading, by observation, and study; so he stands a lasting ornament of human nature, and a perpetual monument of man’s capacity for constant and endless advances in knowledge.
Secondly, man hath a capacity for holiness as well as knowledge. The horse and mule which have no understanding, and indeed all the lower animals, are utterly incapable of holiness; and even omnipotence himself, to speak with reverence, cannot make them holy, without essentially altering the frame and constitution of their natures. But man is capable of holiness. His rational and moral faculties both capacitate and oblige him to be holy. His perception and volition, in connection with his reason and conscience, enable him to discern and feel the right and wrong of actions, and the beauty and deformity of characters. This renders him capable of doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. In a word, this renders him capable of every holy and virtuous affection. And, as he is capable of growing in knowledge, so he is capable of growing in grace, in a constant and endless progression. What a dignity does this give to man, and how near does it place him to principalities and powers above! This leads me to observe,
Thirdly, that man hath a capacity for happiness, equal to his capacity for holiness and knowledge. Knowledge and holiness are the grand pillars which support all true and substantial happiness; which invariably rises or falls, accordingly as these are either stronger or weaker. Knowledge and holiness in the Deity are the source of all his happiness. Angels rise in felicity as they rise in holiness and knowledge. And saints here below grow in happiness as they grow in grace, and in the knowledge of holy and divine objects. Of this, we have a beautiful and striking instance in Solomon. View him at the dedication of the Temple, when he fell upon his knees, and lifted up his hands and his heart to God, and poured into the ear of the divine Majesty the voice of prayer and supplication, the voice of joy, of gratitude and praise. How near did he approach to God! how high did he rise in felicity! how much did he anticipate the joys of the blessed! And, if we now follow him to the Temple above, where his views, his affections, and his joys are incessantly enlarging; we may form some faint conception of that amazing height, to which man is capable of rising in pure and divine enjoyments. What a vessel of honour and dignity will man appear, when all his capacities for knowledge, for holiness, and for happiness, shall be completely filled! And to all this we must add,
Fourthly, that man hath a capacity for great and noble actions. Of this, we might find numerous monuments, if we had time to survey the land of Shinar, where Babel, Babylon, and Ninevah stood; or the land of Egypt, where so many grand and costly pyramids, tombs, and temples were erected; or the famous cities of Greece and of Rome, where the nobler efforts of human power and genius, have been still more amply displayed. But, the bounds of this discourse will allow us only to mention a few individuals of our race, who, by their great and noble exertions, have done honour to human nature. Noah, the second father of mankind, saved the world from total extinction. Joseph preserved two nations from temporal ruin. Moses delivered the people of God from the house of bondage, and led them through hosts of enemies and seas of blood to the land of promise. David settled the kingdom of Israel in peace; and Solomon raised it to the summit of national glory. Paul, in spite of pagan superstition, laws and learning, established Christianity in the heathen world. Luther, by the tongue and pen of controversy, brought about a great and glorious revolution in the christian church. Newton, by his discoveries in the material, and Locke, by his discoveries in the intellectual world, have enlarged the boundaries of human knowledge, and of human happiness. And, to name no more, Franklin in the cabinet, and Washington in the field, have given independence and peace to America. But greater things than these remain to be done. The kingdom of Antichrist is to be destroyed, the Mahomedans are to be subdued, the Jews are to be restored, the barbarous nations are to be civilized, the gospel is to be preached to all nations, and the whole face of things in this world, is to be beautifully and gloriously changed. These things are to be done by the instrumentality of man. And by these, his capacity for great and noble actions, will be still more illustriously displayed. Thus the image, which man bears of his Maker, the immortal spirit which resides with him, the distinguishing favours, which he has received from the Father of mercies, and all his noble powers and faculties, unite to stamp a dignity upon his nature, and raise him high in the scale of being.
It now remains to make a few deductions from the subject, and to apply it to the happy occasion of our present meeting.
First, we may justly infer from the nature and dignity of man, that we are under indispensible obligations to religion. Our moral obligations to religion are interwoven with the first principles of our nature. Our minds are so framed, that we are capable of knowing, of loving, and of serving our Creator; and this lays us under moral obligation to worship and obey him. Nor is there one of our race, who is incapable of feeling his moral obligations to religion. Only draw the character of the Supreme Being, and describe his power, wisdom, goodness, justice, and mercy, before the most ignorant and uncultivated savage; and, as soon as he understands the character of God, he will feel that he ought, that he is morally obliged to love and obey the great Parent of all. He will feel himself under the same moral obligation to pay religious homage to God, as to speak the truth, or to do justice to man. Every man in the world is capable of seeing that the worship of God is a reasonable service. Religion therefore takes its rise and obligation not from the laws of politicians, nor from the ignorance and superstition of priests; but from the immutable laws of nature, and the frame and constitution of the human mind. Hence it is utterly impossible for men wholly to eradicate from their minds all sense of moral obligation to religion, so long as they remain moral agents, and are possessed of common sense.
And, as man is formed for religion, so religion is the ornament and perfection of his nature. The man of religion is, in every supposable situation, the man of dignity. Pain, poverty, misfortune, sickness and death, may indeed veil, but they cannot destroy his dignity, which sometimes shines with more resplendent glory, under all these ills and clouds of life. While the soul is in health and prosperity; while the mind is warmed with holy and religious affections, the man appears with dignity, whether he is in pain, or in sickness, or even in the agonies of death. But, atheism and infidelity, with their evil offspring, serve more than all other causes put together, to defile the nature, and sink the dignity of man. This appears from the black description, which the great apostle Paul has drawn of those nations, who liked not to retain God in their knowledge. “They changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things. They changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator. They dishonoured their own bodies by the most mean and infamous vices. And they became of a reprobate mind, being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.” These are things which defile the nature, and degrade the dignity of man.
And these too are prejudicial to all learning and mental improvements. These debilitate the mind, cloud the imagination, and cramp all the noble powers and faculties of the soul. These degraded the Alexanders, the Pompeys, and the Cæsars of the world, below the human kind. Had they been influenced by truly virtuous and religious motives, their great exertions would have done honour to human nature, but now they have stained the glory of all flesh. Nay, even a declension in religion hath left indelible stains upon the brightest characters recorded in sacred story; I mean Noah, David, and Solomon. Solomon was at the height of his glory, when at the height of religion; but when he declined into vice and idolatry, he fell into shame and disgrace, and lost that dignity, which had filled the world with his fame.
Now there is nothing that can wipe off from human nature these blemishes, and restore the dignity of man, but true religion. That charity which seeketh not her own, that love which is the fulfilling of the law, is the essence of religion and the bond of perfection. This cures the mind of atheism, infidelity and vice. This fills the soul with noble views and sentiments, and directs all its powers and faculties to their proper use and end. This exalts the dignity of human nature, and spreads the greatest glory around any human character. This rendered Noah superior to Nimrod, Moses superior to Pharaoh, David superior to Saul, Solomon superior to Socrates, Daniel superior to the wise men of Babylon, and Paul superior to Plato, and all the sages of the pagan world. “Happy is the man who findeth religion: For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire, are not to be compared to her. Length of days are in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is the man that retaineth her.” Let us all then put on this rich and beautiful ornament, and shew ourselves men.
Secondly, this subject may help us to ascertain the only proper and immutable boundaries of human knowledge. I mean such boundaries of our knowledge, as arise from the frame and constitution of our nature, and not from any particular state or stage of our existence. Our rational powers, it is often said, are limited, and therefore all our intellectual pursuits and improvements must be equally limited. This is doubtless true in a certain sense, but not in the sense in which it is generally understood. It appears from what has been observed in this discourse, concerning the powers and faculties of the human mind, that men are capable of making constant and eternal progression in knowledge. The only bounds therefore that can be set to their intellectual improvements, must be such as have respect to the kinds, and not to the degrees of their knowledge. There are, indeed, certain kinds of knowledge, which men are totally incapable of understanding; but these are only such kinds of knowledge, as require more than created faculties to understand. For, whatever kinds of knowledge any created beings are capable of understanding, men are also capable of understanding, though with more difficulty, and less rapidity. As Newton knew nothing, which any man is now incapable of knowing, in a certain time, and under certain circumstances; so there is nothing, which any intelligent creatures now know, that men are incapable of knowing, in a given time, and under proper advantages. The truth is, rationality is the same in all intelligent beings. Reason is the same thing in God, in angels, and in men. As men therefore bear the image of God, in point of rationality; so they possess all the rational powers and faculties, which bear any analogy to the divine intelligence; or, which can be communicated to created beings. Accordingly angels are superior to men in the same sense, and perhaps nearly in the same degree, that Newton was superior to most of his own species. As Newton had no rational power or faculty peculiar to himself; so angels have no rational powers or faculties which are not common to all intelligent creatures. Every man therefore is capable of learning all that any man, or any intelligent creature has learned, or can learn. Hence the only natural and necessary distinction between angels and men, and between one man and another is this; that angels are capable of acquiring knowledge more easily, and more swiftly than men; and some men are capable of acquiring knowledge more easily, and more swiftly than others. And this difference between angels and men, and between man and man, to whatever cause it may be owing, will probably continue forever; and forever keep up a distinction in their knowledge and improvements for the time being.
Now this being a settled point, we may easily, perhaps, fix the proper boundaries of human knowledge, or determine the proper subjects of human enquiry. It is a caveat given to men, but especially to inquisitive men, not to pry into things above their measure. This caveat, undoubtedly, in some cases, may be very proper and necesary; but generally, I imagine, it is not only needless but absurd. For, unless men attempt to pry into things which surpass created powers and faculties, I do not know that they transgress the boundaries of human knowledge. There are some things, which, in a moment, we know cannot be understood by creatures. And there may be many others, which, by a little attention, we may perceive come under the same predicament. All therefore that divines and metaphysicians, as well as philosophers have to do, in order to know where to begin, and, where to end their researches, is only to determine whether or not, the proposed subjects require more than created abilities to investigate them. If they do require more than created abilities, it is vain and absurd to proceed: but if they do not, we have the same grounds to proceed, that men have ever had, to attempt new discoveries.
Thirdly, this subject gives us reason to suppose, that men, in the present state, may carry their researches into the works of nature, much further than they have ever yet carried them. The fields of science, though they have been long traversed by strong and inquisitive minds, are so spacious, that many parts remain yet undiscovered. There may be therefore room left in divinity and metaphysics, as well as in philosophy and other sciences, to make large improvements. The large and growing capacities of men, and the great discoveries and improvements of the last and present century, give us grounds to hope, that human learning and knowledge will increase from generation to generation, through all the remaining periods of time. Men have the same encouragements now, that Bacon, Newton and Franklin had, to push their researches further and further into the works of nature. It is, therefore, as groundless, as it is a discouraging sentiment, which has been often flung out, that all the subjects of divinity, all of human inquiry, are nearly exhausted, and that no great discoveries or improvements, at this time of day, are either to be expected or attempted. The present generation have superior advantages, which, with capacities no more than equal to their fathers, may enable them to surpass all who have gone before them in the paths of science. Let this thought rouse their attention, and awaken their exertions, to shew themselves men.
Fourthly, the observations, which have been made upon the noble powers and capacities of the human mind, may embolden the sons of science to aim to be originals. They are strong enough to go alone, if they only have sufficient courage and resolution. They have the same capacities and the same original sources of knowledge, that the antients enjoyed. All men are as capable of thinking, of reasoning, and of judging for themselves in matters of learning, as in the common affairs and concerns of life. And would men of letters enjoy the pleasures of knowledge, and render themselves the most serviceable to the world, let them determine to think and judge for themselves. Their progress may perhaps, in this way, not be so rapid; yet it will be much more entertaining and useful. When I say their progress may not be so rapid, I mean with respect to those only, who possess moderate abilities; for as to those of superior powers, they will make much swifter progress by going alone out of the common, beaten track. The way to outstrip those who have gone before us, is not to tread in their steps, but to take a nearer course. What philosopher can expect to overtake Newton, by going over all the ground, which he travelled? What divine can expect to come up with Mede, Baxter, or Edwards, while he pursues their path? Or, what poet can hope to transcend Homer and Milton, so long as he sets up these men as the standards of perfection? If the moderns would only employ nature’s powers, and converse freely and familiarly with nature’s objects, they might rise above the antients, and bear away the palm from all who have gone before them in the walks of science.
Fifthly, what has been said concerning the nature and dignity of man, shows us, that we are under indispensable obligations to cultivate and improve our minds in all the branches of human knowledge. All our natural powers are so many talents, which, in their own nature, lay us under moral obligation to improve them to the best advantage. Being men, we are obliged to act like men, and not like the horse or the mule which have no understanding. Besides, knowledge, next to religion, is the brightest ornament of human nature. Knowledge strengthens, enlarges, and softens the human soul, and sets its beauty and dignity in the fairest light. Learning hath made astonishing distinctions among the different nations of the earth. Those nations, who have lived under the warm and enlightening beams of science, have appeared like a superior order of beings, in comparison with those, who have dragged out their lives under the cold and dark shades of ignorance. The Chaldeans and Egyptians, as well as the Greeks and Romans, while they cultivated the arts and sciences, far surpassed, in dignity and glory, all their ignorant and barbarous neighbours. Europe, since the resurrection of letters in the sixteenth century, appears to be peopled with a superior species. And the present inhabitants of North-America owe all their superiority to the aboriginals, in point of dignity, to the cultivation of their minds in the civil and polite arts. Learning has also preserved the names, characters, and mighty deeds of all antient nations from total oblivion. A few learned men in each nation, have done more to spread their national fame, than all their kings and heroes. The boasted glory of Britain is more to be ascribed to her Newtons, her Lockes, and her Addisons, than to all her kings, and fleets, and conquerors.
But the cultivation and improvement of the mind is more necessary for use, than for ornament. We were made for usefulness and not for amusement. We were made to be the servants of God, and of each other. We were made to live an active, diligent, and useful life. As men therefore we cannot reach the end of our being, without cultivating all our mental powers, in order to furnish ourselves for the most extensive service in our day and generation. Knowledge and learning are useful in every station; and in the higher and more important departments of life, they are absolutely and indispensibly necessary.
Permit me now, therefore, my hearers, to suggest several things, which may serve to excite you to improve your minds in every branch of useful knowledge, which, either your callings, or your circumstances require.
I am happy to congratulate you, my country-men, that we live in an age, which is favourable to mental and literary improvements. In the present age, our country is in a medium between barbarity and refinement. In such an age, the minds of men are strong and vigorous, being neither enfeebled by luxury, nor shackled by authority. At such an happy period, we have come upon the stage, with the fields of science before us opened but not explored. This should rouse our dormant faculties, and call up all our latent powers in the vigorous pursuit of knowledge. Those, who have gone before us in these pursuits, have only set us an example, and facilitated our progress, without damping our hopes, or forbidding our success.
Again, we live under that form of government, which has always been the friend of the muses, and parent and nurse of arts. It was while Greece and Rome were free, republican states, that learning there sprang up, flourished, and rose to its height; and enrolled their names in the annals of fame. Liberty, which is the birth-right of man, and congenial with his nature, ennobles and exalts the mind; inspires it with great and sublime sentiments; and, at the same time invites and encourages its highest exertions, with hopes of success and the promises of reward. For, in free republics, where liberty is equally enjoyed, every man has weight and influence in proportion to his abilities, and a fair opportunity of rising, by the dint of merit, to the first offices and honours of the state.
Another motive to improvement, you will allow me to say, may be taken from your past singular and laudable efforts to cultivate and diffuse useful knowledge in this place. It is now more than thirty years, since this single and then small congregation collected a very considerable parish-library, in order to improve their minds in useful and divine knowledge. This was such an effort to promote mental improvements as, I imagine, cannot be easily found in this country. The benefit of this library you have all perhaps more or less experienced; and, to its happy influence owe, in a measure, your general character as a religious and intelligent people. May this consideration have all its weight upon you, since our Lord hath said in the parable of the talents, “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance.”
In this respect, how wonderful the smiles of Providence upon you! Whose heart doth not glow with gratitude for the auspicious occasion which hath now brought us together! How great our obligations to God for the unmerited and unexpected favour of a rich collection of books now received, as a mark of respect of the first literary character in America, his excellency President Franklin! This well chosen and very valuable library, while it sets the divine kindness in a high and engaging light, lays you under the strongest ties of gratitude to improve the means of cultivating your minds for the service of God and of your fellow-men. Should you second the views of that great man, and build upon the broad foundation which he has generously laid, you may enjoy ample advantages, in point of books, to improve your mental powers, and furnish yourselves for usefulness in all your various stations and employments of life. Nor can you neglect or abuse such advantages, without drawing upon yourselves the reproach of the world, and which is infinitely more, the reproach of your own consciences. Be entreated then to improve to the best advantage, every price put into your hands to get wisdom.
There are three grand sources of knowledge before you, nature, men, and books. Attentively read each of these great volumes.
Read nature, which is truly an original author. King David, studying this large and instructive volume, which filled his mind with the noblest views and sentiments, broke forth in a rapture of praise, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handy work. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.”
Read men. “For as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.” This volume David perused and digested in the court and camp of Saul, where human nature, with, and without a veil, was very visible to his critical and discerning eye.
But the design of this discourse more directly leads me to urge the reading of books in particular. These are a grand magazine of knowledge, and contain the learning and wisdom of ages. But, you must know, that books are a peculiar fountain, from whence may be drawn either sweet waters or bitter, the waters of life, or the waters of death. For this reason, you will allow me here to advise you, to take heed how you read.
And, in the first place, read with caution. A person may be undone by a single volume. Nothing contains such secret and fatal poison as books. Though they profess a kind and friendly intention, yet they often bite like a serpent and sting like an adder. Be careful what books you read. There are many, which the young and inexperienced at least, should totally avoid. In this particular, if you are wise, and faithful to yourselves, you will endeavour to obtain and follow good advice.
Read with judgment. This is, in every view, indispensibly necessary, in order to read to advantage. This will enable you to discover and ascertain the main object of your author, which will be a key to all he says in the various parts and branches of his subject. This will help you to distinguish truth from error, good sentiments from bad, and sound reasoning and strict demonstration, from mere conjectures and bold assertions. But if you read without judgment, you will be in danger of imbibing error as well as truth, of always believing the last author you read, and of never having any fixed and settled sentiments of your own.
Read for use and not for amusement. The time is worse than thrown away, which is spent in reading for amusement, without any particular end or object in view. We should be careful how we take up a book, especially if it be an entertaining one, with which we have no particular concern; for it will require a considerable effort of the mind to throw it aside, and if we do not throw it aside it will steal away our time, and prevent our being better employed. Almost any book, if read for use, may be of advantage. We may read amusing, and, even corrupting books to advantage, if we read them in order to make a good use of them. The bee can suck honey from the same flowers, from which other insects suck poison. But we may read all our lives to very little purpose, if we read every book which happens to fall in our way for amusement and not for use. We should always read with reference, either to our own particular profession, or to the particular state and situation of our own minds. When we read with either of these objects in view, we shall be apt both to understand and digest what we read. There is great and singular advantage in reading proper books at a proper time, when we really stand in need of them. This is of the same happy tendency, as eating and drinking at the proper seasons, when it serves to nourish and strengthen, instead of clogging and surfeiting the body.
Read with patience. Many authors are both prolix and obscure in conveying their ideas; and after all, have much more chaff than wheat in their writings. In reading such, we must go over a great deal of ground in order to reap a small harvest of ideas. It is difficult, however, for any man to treat any subject in a method entirely new. We must expect therefore to find many common and familiar thoughts in every author, which we must patiently read, if we would properly come at those which are more new, entertaining and instructive. And for this reason it is generally best perhaps, if authors are of any tolerable size, to read them through, with patience and attention. This is but justice to them, and prudence to ourselves.
Read with confidence. In our first essays after knowledge, we are obliged, by the laws of our nature, to depend upon the assistance and instruction of others, and in consequence of this, we are apt to feel, through life, too great a sense of our own weakness and imbecility, and to despair of going a step further than we are led. This, however is very unfriendly to all improvement by reading. We ought therefore to feel that we are men, and place a proper degree of confidence in our own strength and judgment. We ought to fix it in our minds that we are capable of improvement. Such a confidence in ourselves as this, will embolden us to read with a view not only of understanding, but of improving upon the authors we read. Very few authors have exhausted the subjects upon which they have treated, and therefore have generally left us ample room to improve upon what they have written. And by reading with this view, if we fail of improving upon those we read, we shall, however, more clearly and fully understand their meaning, and more thoroughly make their ideas and sentiments our own.
Yet, at the same time, every one should read with humility. Reading, more than any other method of improvement, is apt to puff up the mind with pride and self-conceit. For, persons of reading are very prone to estimate their knowledge more according to the number of books which they have read, than according to the number of ideas which they have collected and digested. And so are ready to imagine, that they have engrossed to themselves all knowledge; though, in reality, they have not read enough, to learn their own ignorance. This should teach us to take the poet’s advice.
Nor is pedantry peculiar to those only, who begin to read and study late in life; for it is too often found among those, who have enjoyed a regular and liberal education. Do not physicians and attorneys, by reading a few books in divinity, sometimes fancy themselves masters of that sacred and sublime science? And, on the other extreme, do not divines, by reading a few books in law and physic, sometimes fancy themselves masters of those two learned professions? But this is rank pedantry. It is an easy matter to gain a superficial acquaintance with the general objects of science; but it is a laborious task to acquire a deep and thorough acquaintance with any single branch of knowledge. It is easy to know something about every thing; but it is difficult to know every thing about any thing. If men of reading would collect the whole stock of their knowledge, and the whole force of their genius more to a point, and aim to be complete masters of their own professions; they would become at once, much less pedantic, and much more useful to the world. Many men of real abilities and learning, have defeated their own usefulness, by attempting to know, and to do too much.
In the last place, read prayerfully. “If any of you lack wisdom, says the Apostle, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” This Solomon found to be true, by happy experience. “In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon, in a dream by night; and God said, Ask what I shall give thee. And Solomon said, Thou hast shewed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father; and I am but a child; I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart; to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies, but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and understanding heart.” It was Dr. Doddridge, I think, who never used to take up a new book to read, without an ejaculatory prayer for divine influence and direction. This example is worthy of universal imitation. Let us therefore always accompany our essays after knowledge with a humble and prayerful spirit; and then we may hope to read and study with safety and success.
To all these directions, I might now add, diligence and perseverance, which always have had, and always will have, a mighty influence, in all the great things done by mankind. But I shall only add a few words to those, who are very immediately and deeply interested in the things which have been said in this discourse.
This subject calls upon parents in particular, to shew themselves men. You are, my respectable hearers, men in years, be men also in virtue, in religion, and in understanding. Let the dignity of man appear in all your conduct, and especially in your conduct towards your children. Let them see the dignity of human nature exemplified before their young and attentive minds. They are every day, and every hour, watching your conduct, and looking up to you for example and instruction. Take heed, that none of your words, none of your actions, none of your pursuits, be unworthy of men. But, let all your conversation and behaviour be such as your children may follow with propriety, with safety, and dignity. And while you are teaching them by example, teach them also by precept. Give them good instruction; and for this purpose, provide them good instructors. These are of great importance to your children, whose progress in knowledge, will generally bear a very exact proportion to the abilities and fidelity of their teachers. The education of children has always been an object of great attention among all wise nations, and especially among all wise and good parents. Let this then be the object of your attention. Consider the dignity of man. Consider the worth of the soul. Consider the rich and invaluable treasure put into your hands. Consider how much the dignity and happiness of your children both in time and in eternity, depend upon your care and fidelity. And let the ties of nature, the authority of God, and your own solemn vows, engage you to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and to cultivate and embellish their opening minds in every branch of useful and ornamental knowledge. Admit not the thought, that such little, such weak, and to appearance, such useless creatures, are of small importance; but remember that they are men in miniature, and may, one day, surprize the world with their dignity. When a young prince is born, all the kingdom feel the importance of his education, and are anxiously concerned to have the ablest instructors employed, to form him for great and noble actions. But you have more than princes, even young immortals, committed to your care, whose powers and capacities, whose dignity and importance, will astonish you, at the great day, if not before. How happy will that parent be, who shall then be found to have been faithful to his children! “He will then join, as a celebrated writer observes, his virtuous offspring in the habitations of the just, and there see them rise up and call him blessed. But if a parent neglects his duty to his children; if he sets before them an example of irreligion, and suffers them to grow up loose and unprincipled, he may expect that their blood will be required at his hands, and he should tremble to think of that period of retribution, when probably they will curse him for that negligence which has ruined them.”
Finally, let this subject awaken the attention of the youth, to the dignity of their nature and the end of their being. My dear young friends, you will soon be called to act your various parts upon the stage of life. You are now the hope of your parents, of your pastors, and of your country. The eyes of the world are upon you. Be entreated then to cultivate all your noble powers, and to shew yourselves men, in whatever departments of life, divine Providence shall place you. Piety and knowledge will prepare you for a useful and honourable life, and for a peaceful and triumphant death. Let these then be the supreme objects of your pursuit. Early consecrate all your time and all your talents to the service of God, and of your fellow-men. Seek for knowledge, as for silver, and search for it, as for hid treasures; and sacrifice every object which obstructs your pursuit of it. “Through desire a man having separated himself, says Solomon, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.” If you would make progress in learning, and rise to any distinguishing degrees of knowledge, you must separate yourselves from the vanities of youth, and devote those vacant hours to mental improvements, which, too many of your age trifle away in folly and vice. In particular, flee youthful lusts, which war against both the body and the mind. Shun that all-devouring monster, intemperance, by which so many strong minds have been cast down and destroyed. Avoid bad company and unmanly diversions, which are an inlet to every vice. Hold in steady contempt, beaus and fops, those butterflies which live upon the filth and dregs of the earth. Diogenes walking the streets of Athens at noon-day with a lanthorn in his hand; and being asked, as he intended to be, what he was searching after, tartly replied, “I am looking for men.” A severe satire upon the luxury and effeminacy of that once manly and virtuous people. The dignity of man appears in the ornaments of the mind, and not in those of the body. Seek therefore to adorn and embellish your minds both by reading and observation, and your gifts and abilities will make room for you, and bring you before great men. You have peculiar advantages and encouragements to animate you to great and noble exertions. Therefore set your mark of intellectual attainments as high as you please, and, according to the common course of events, you will, by uniformity, diligence, and perseverance, infallibly reach it. Your generous benefactor hath set you an example, as well as given you the means of intellectual improvements. That great man, in the morning of life, was surrounded with uncommon difficulties and embarrassments, but by the mere dint of genius and of application, he surmounted every obstacle thrown in his way, and by his rapid and astonishing progress in knowledge, he hath risen, step by step, to the first offices and honours of his country, hath appeared with dignity in the courts of Britain and of France, and now fills more than half the globe with his fame. Keep this illustrious example in your eye, and shew yourselves men.
THE PRINCIPLES OF CIVIL UNION AND HAPPINESS CONSIDERED AND RECOMMENDED
Elizur Goodrich (1734-1797). One of the stalwarts of the established order, a fine scholar, and able preacher, Goodrich was pastor of the Durham, Connecticut, Congregational Church from his ordination in 1756 until his death. He was a Yale graduate, and when he and Ezra Stiles received the same number of votes for president of that institution in 1777, Goodrich exerted himself to ensure Stiles’s selection. He was an excellent biblical scholar and an accomplished astronomer and mathematician.
Goodrich was a leader in the fight for liberty from the Stamp Act crisis onward, writing on the subject of religious liberty in Connecticut and vigorously opposing a British threat to send an Anglican bishop to America. He argued that participation in the Revolution was a religious duty.
The election sermon reproduced here is regarded as one of his finest. It was preached to Governor Samuel Huntington and the legislature in Hartford on May 10, 1787, on the eve of the convening of the Philadelphia Convention.
Jerusalem is builded, as a City that is compact together.
Psalm cxxii. 3.
Jerusalem was a city, defended with strong walls, the metropolis of the kingdom of Israel, and the capital seat of the Hebrew empire. It’s inhabitants were not a loose, disconnected people, but most strictly united, not only among themselves, but with all the tribes of Israel, into a holy nation and commonwealth, under Jehovah their king and their God. And as Jerusalem was the place, which he was pleased to honour as the seat of his royal residence and government, it was most truly the city of the great King. Hence both by divine appointment, and the common consent of the nation, it was established as the local centre of communion in all the privileges of their civil and sacred constitution. There were the thrones of judgement, the thrones of the house of David, and the supreme courts of justice, and of the public administration: There were the Levites, waiting in their courses, and the priests, ministering in their offices, before the Lord: There was the testimony, the ark of the covenant, the temple, and the solemn services of religion: And there all the tribes and sceptres of the people, assembled three times in the year, to present national homage to Jehovah, their king and their God.
In all these respects, whether Jerusalem be considered in a natural, civil or religious view, its strength and beauty consisted, in being builded “as a city, that is compact together.” Hence the psalmist’s affection for Jerusalem expressed in this psalm was not a meer partial and local fondness; but had in view, and was excited by the most noble objects. These were the exaltation of Jehovah, the king and God of Zion—the honour and happiness of the nation—the preservation of the true religion, and the peace and best good of all the tribes of Israel. Religion therefore, and public spirit were united in the ardent affection of the pious Israelites, toward Jerusalem, which they preferred above their chief joy.
We have also a Jerusalem, adorned with brighter glories of divine grace, and with greater beauties of holiness, than were ever displayed, in the most august solemnities of the Hebrew-temple-worship; and presents, to our devout admiration, gratitude and praise, more excellent means of religion and virtue, peace and happiness, than ever called the attention of the assembled tribes of Israel. We enjoy all the privileges of a free government, the blessings of the gospel of peace, and the honours of the church of God. This is our Jerusalem.
The safety and preservation of it depend, under God, on the friendly agreement of its citizens in all those things, necessary for its honour and defence, happiness and glory. Without this agreement, it cannot be “builded as a city, that is compact together.” There will be no peace within its walls, nor prosperity within its palaces: It can have neither strength or beauty, nor administer protection to its inhabitants; but it will be as a city broken down, and without walls.
The text therefore, and the great occasion, on which we are assembled in the house of God, justify a discourse on the great principles and maxims, of civil union—the importance of a good, public administration, to answer the great ends of government—and the necessity of the joint exertions of subjects, with their rulers, in promoting the public peace and happiness.
I am then, in the first place, to point out some of the great principles and maxims, which are the foundation and cement of civil union and society.
The principles of society are the laws, which Almighty God has established in the moral world, and made necessary to be observed by mankind; in order to promote their true happiness, in their transactions and intercourse. These laws may be considered as principles, in respect of their fixedness and operation; and as maxims, since by the knowledge of them, we discover those rules of conduct, which direct mankind to the highest perfection, and supreme happiness of their nature. They are as fixed and unchangeable as the laws which operate in the natural world.
Human art in order to produce certain effects, must conform to the principles and laws, which the Almighty Creator has established in the natural world. He who neglects the cultivation of his field, and the proper time of sowing, may not expect a harvest. He, who would assist mankind in raising weights, and overcoming obstacles, depends on certain rules, derived from the knowledge of mechanical principles applied to the construction of machines, in order to give the most useful effect to the smallest force: And every builder should well understand the best position of firmness and strength, when he is about to erect an edifice. For he, who attempts these things, on other principles, than those of nature, attempts to make a new world; and his aim will prove absurd and his labour lost. No more can mankind be conducted to happiness; or civil societies united, and enjoy peace and prosperity, without observing the moral principles and connections, which the same Almighty Creator has established for the government of the moral world.
Moral connections and causes in different circumstances produce harmony or discord, peace or war, happiness or woe among mankind, with the same certainty, as physical causes produce their effect. To institute these causes and connexions belongs not to men, to nations or to human laws, but to build upon them. It is no more in the power of the greatest earthly potentate to hinder their operation, than it is to govern the flowing and ebbing of the ocean.
The great and most universal principle and law of rational union and happiness, is the love of God and of our neighbour: This in the moral, is like the great law of gravitation and attraction in the natural world; and its tendency in human society, is to universal good. The first maxim derived from it, is that divine precept in the gospel, “whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye also the same unto them.” Hence religion and virtue are the great principles on which the happiness of human societies must be built; and from these principles must be derived the knowledge of all laws, which determine the order of that benevolence, we owe to one another, and point out the means of attaining the greatest good.
If this were a state of so much innocence and perfection, that the law of reason and of love directed and influenced all the views and actions of mankind, there would be no necessity for the coercion of civil government. But in the present depraved state of human nature, the various dispositions and differing pursuits, the jarring interests, and unruly passions, the jealousies and misapprehensions of neighbours would spoil their harmony and good agreement; and, when disputes arose, there would be no common judge, to whom they might refer their differences; but every one would be an avenger of his own wrong: This would soon end in a state of hatred and war; and destroy all human peace and happiness. To prevent this mischief, and to secure the enjoyment of rational liberty, which summarily consists in the unmolested privilege and opportunity of “leading a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty,” is the great end of the institution of civil society and government.
The end therefore, and nature of civil government imply that it must have for its foundation, the principles and laws of truth, justice and righteousness, mercy and the fear of God; or it can never advance the happiness of mankind. For that mankind by uniting into society, and putting themselves under a common government, can promote their true interest, otherwise than by observing these laws, is as contrary to reason as, that a machine may be of great and beneficial use in human life, when its whole construction is contrary to all the principles, by which the world of nature is actuated and kept together.
There can be no beneficial union among the members of a community, where these great principles of righteousness and truth integrity and the fear of God, are not maintained, both among themselves, and towards all mankind. Any number of men, confederated together in wickedness and injustice, can have no strength, but what they derive from being faithful to one another. Such a combination may exist among robbers and pirates: but their agreement ought not to be dignified by the name of civil union: it ought rather to be esteemed a wicked conspiracy against the rights of mankind, which can never be justified by number, nor on any pretence of public good.
These moral principles and connections are moral laws, not only, as they point out a fixed order of events respecting moral ends, in which view the meer politician, who has no fear of God before his eyes, may consider them; but to the enlightened and religious mind, they are moral laws, in a higher sense—laws of our creator, for the conduct of our life and manners. They cannot therefore be transgressed, without offending against his will and authority—without incurring guilt in his sight, and rendering ourselves obnoxious to his wrath and displeasure, as the great and righteous governor of the world.
The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes behold, his eye-lids try the children of men. The Lord trieth the righteous; but the wicked and him that loveth violence, his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone and an horrible tempest. This shall be the portion of their cup. For the righteous Lord loveth the righteous, his countenance doth behold the upright.
If we can find what are the laws and rules, which men, as rational creatures, must observe, that they may arrive at the greatest happiness and perfection of their nature, these are the laws which they must observe, when united in political bodies, in order to promote the common good of society. The same virtue and integrity, truth, justice and honour, which we venerate in a private character, must be found in the public administration, and generally prevailing among a people, or a state, cannot be united, peaceful and happy in itself, and respectable in the world.
Hence in all well regulated civil communities, laws of natural, universal and unchangeable obligation hold the first rank: They are such fixed means of union, peace and happiness, that no other can or ought to be substituted in their room. It may however be observed, that the force of civil society cannot extend to all laws of this kind; but only to such upon the observation of which the common quiet of mankind entirely depends. To do to our neighbour as we would that he should do to us is one of the plainest dictates of reason, and a law of universal equity and obligation. It comprehends the whole of social duty, and extends to kindness, humanity and mercy, as well as to truth and justice. But although it is the great rule of our conduct and the bond of society, it cannot in its whole extention have the force of a civil law in commonwealths. Controversies about the violation of it would be perplexed and intricate: Litigious suits would be infinitely multiplied: The good and virtuous would be deprived of the most valuable part of their character: and the state would be torn with intestine division and discord.
But, tho’ all the laws of nature cannot be enforced with civil sanctions, yet every righteous state adopts those, which are necessary for the preservation of the public peace, and for an equal and impartial distribution of rewards and punishments. The good and virtuous, who are influenced to do well out of reverence to God, and sincere love to mankind, must be protected and encouraged; and the wicked and disorderly, restrained by the dread of punishment. The great laws of justice must be armed with a civil force, and never allowed to be transgressed with impunity. Such, for instance, is that statute of Jehovah, the God and king of Israel, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness; in judgement, in mete-yard, in weight or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have.” This law must be admitted into every civil state; but, that it may have force in society, the public standard must be fixed; the most convenient weights and measures, determined; the manner of their being tried, ascertained; and an awful penalty annexed to transgression. These are circumstances, which are not determined by the law of nature; but must be adjusted by civil regulations suited to the condition of particular commonwealths.
The principles and laws of justice are fixed and unchangeable—they depend not on human authority; but the particular regulations, by which they have force in society, as civil laws, not being determined by the law of nature, may be changed, when they are found inconvenient and hurtful to the community. Hence the legislative authority of a state, extends to the repealing of old, as well as the making of new laws.
Nevertheless, great care should be taken in framing laws, that they may be suited to the peculiar state of a people, and have an equal and uniform operation for the public good. New and different circumstances require new and different regulations in society, fitted to the occasions which produce them: But the fundamental laws, by which a people are compacted together, like the laws of the natural world, must have a fixed consistence and duration. Such, in general, are laws relating to personal liberty, the privileges of the subject, and the powers of the magistrate—to private property and the execution of justice—to the punishment of evil-doers and the preservation of the public peace—to marriage, education, religion, and the rights of conscience—to the public forms, and order of government—and to the revenues and taxes, by which the state is supported. Frequent changes even in the external appendages, much more an unfixedness in the laws, and a want of stability in the public administration, diminish the energy and dignity of government, and will be attended with uneasiness and discord.
I shall only add, that as the best and most useful laws can be of no use, unless subjects be trained up and educated in a manner of living conformable to them, every wise state will pay great attention to the education of children, and to all such regulations, as are necessary for the instruction of the people in the principles of piety and virtue. The best security men can have, of living together in harmony and love, is from the prevalence of true religion, and a due regard to the will and authority of the supreme being. Religion and virtue, are the strongest bond of human society, and lay the best foundation of peace and happiness in the civil state.
I proceed, in the next place, to consider the importance of a good public administration of government, to the peace and happiness of a people.
All the qualifications of a good administration may be summed up in two heads, the ability and faithfulness of those, who are intrusted with the weighty concerns of the state: To one or the other of these two things may be referred, whatever can be desired or expected in a good ruler. These qualifications are of the highest importance, in every administration. A free people, under God, may justly put confidence in such an administration, and not find themselves disappointed, as they must unavoidably be if they commit themselves into the hands of weak or wicked men. The former, though they mean never so well, are unable to do good; the latter may improve their great talents, to do mischief: Neither of them are fit to be intrusted with the great affairs of state. Who, on the one hand, would willingly trust his whole interest to the power and disposal of a man of the greatest abilities, but destitute of honour and conscience; or on the other hand, who would undertake a dangerous voyage, on the boisterous ocean, under the command of the most upright and honest man, who had no knowledge of the art of navigation, nor any acquaintance with the seas. In common affairs no honest man will undertake any business for which he knows he is unfit, though he should be solicited to do it: The same should be observed by men, invited to serve the public. When a people have raised men of weak abilities to posts of honour, it may seem hard to neglect them; and it must, indeed, be ungrateful, if in any good degree, they maintain the dignity of their stations, and advance the public good; and especially, if the posts they hold, were unsought, and conferred without solicitation. Nevertheless it should be considered, that those, who undertake the affairs of the public, are as answerable for their abilities, as the soldier for his courage, when he inlists into the service of his country. The safety of the public is to be preferred to the honour of an individual.
Here I might delineate more fully the character of an able and faithful administration; but I will not enlarge, and shall say only in a few words, that the principal lines of it, are knowledge, wisdom, and prudence, courage and unshaken resolution, righteousness and justice, tempered with lenity, mercy, and compassion, and a steady firmness of public measures, when founded in wisdom and the public good, together with inflexible integrity, the fear of God, and a sacred regard to the moral and religious interests of the community. These are the great characteristics of an administration, which will procure respect and confidence; and has the best tendency to promote the happiness, union and strength of a people, and to render them as a “city, that is compact together.”
If a virtuous people venerate rulers of this character, and unite their endeavours with them in advancing all the noble ends of society, they will have the fairest prospect of peace and prosperity; which was the last thing, I proposed to be considered.
Let the first object, exciting the attention of a free people, be the character of those, whom they introduce into public offices; and, the next, that they reverence the worthy magistrate, support him in his office and dignity, and shew a ready obedience to the laws of the state.
Not only may a people be delivered into the hands of tyrants, as the rod and scourge of heaven for their impiety and madness; but through their own folly, “children may be their princes, and babes rule over them.” Such a “people shall be oppressed every one by another, and every one by his neighbour.”
Happy the free and virtuous people, who pay strict attention to the natural aristocracy, which is the institution of heaven; and appears in every assembly of mankind, on whatever occasion, they are met together. Happy the people who have wisdom to discern the true patriot of superiour abilities, in all his counsels ever manifesting a sincere regard to the public good, and never with a selfish view attempting to deceive them, into hurtful measures; and happy the people who distinguish him from the designing demagogue, who, while he sooths them in their vices, and flatters them with high notions of liberty, and of easing their burdens, is plunging them into the depths of misery and bondage.
How idle are all disputes about a technical aristocracy, if people disregard that divine injunction, given by Moses, to the free electors of Israel, when he was about to appoint some assistants in government. “Take ye wise men and understanding and known among your tribes” for their great abilities and good deeds, “and I will make them rulers over you.”
Such an aristocracy is founded in merit and designed by the God of government and order, to direct a free people in the choice of their judges and public magistrates. Riches are so far necessary as to raise the judge and counsellor above the temptation of transgressing for a piece of bread, nevertheless this aristocracy is derived from merit and that influence, which a character for superiour wisdom, and known services to the commonwealth, has to produce veneration, confidence and esteem, among a people, who have felt the benefits, and enjoy the advantage of being under so happy a direction.
This influence of character in the language of the Roman republic, was called Auctoritas patrum, and the veneration paid to it by the people, Verecundia plebis. It is essentially necessary in all good governments, but especially the life and spirit of a happy, free and republican state, which subsists on the virtues of its citizens, and can never, while any sound wisdom is left to direct the public choice, by design commit the civil administration into the hands of men destitute of political abilities, or who are the patrons of vice.
It is therefore, of the highest importance to the being, happiness and peace of free republics, to shew a fixed and unalterable regard to merit in the choice of their rulers: The next thing is to discover a deference and submission to authority, obedience to the laws, a spirit of righteousness and peace, and a disposition to promote the public good.
Honour and respect are due to rulers: The order and good of society require external marks of distinction, and titles of eminence to be given them. This is due to their office; an honour paid to the institution of government; but there is a further honour due to them, when they are faithful in executing the trust committed to them, and direct all their actions to advance the true interest of the state. In this view, good rulers alone can be honoured, because they alone deserve esteem and respect. We owe obedience and subjection to all rulers in the execution of their office, according to the laws of the land; but, as to cordial affection, veneration, esteem and gratitude, these are due only to the worthy magistrate; and the debt will be paid by all virtuous citizens, although he should be blasphemed, arraigned, and condemned by the factious and discontented; who wish that there should be no righteous government in the world.
If we wilfully transgress the laws of society and resist the just commands of civil authority, we do an injury not so much to the magistrate, as to the community, and expose ourselves to the high displeasure of Almighty God, whose authority is above all human constitutions, and can never be annulled by the decrees of kings and nobles, the consults of senates, or the joint consent of a people.
This is the sentiment of a great and good man, who well knew the rights of human nature, and the privileges of a subject, which he had the courage to plead before kings and magistrates; I mean the apostle Paul, who, illuminated with the knowledge of christianity, and inspired with the benevolence of the gospel, the slave of no party, in the greatest transports of zeal, spoke only the words of truth and soberness. The doctrine he delivered was not the effect of servile flattery and shameful cowardice: It proceeded not from the spirit of fear, but of love and a sound mind: It is so expressed as at once to declare the great end of civil government, the duty of the magistrate, and the reasonableness of the subjects obedience. It contains both an effectual guard against supporting tyranny and oppression, and a most serious and solemn warning against lawless rebellion, anarchy and confusion: It is delivered as a divine injunction upon christians, in a letter to the saints at Rome, and is profitable for all ages, and especially reasonable for the present.
Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of God. The powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist shall receive judgment to themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wouldst thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou dost evil, be afraid, for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath, upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake. For, for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom, to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
When a constitutional government is converted into tyranny, and the laws, rights and properties of a free people are openly invaded, there ought not to be the least doubt but that a remedy consistent with this doctrine of the apostle, is provided in the laws of God and reason, for their preservation; nor ought resistance in such case to be called rebellion. But who will imagine, that God, whose first law, in the world of nature and reason, is order and love, has commissioned men of a private character, with a lawful power, on every pretence of some public mismanagement, to inflame and raise the multitude, embroil the state, and overturn the foundations of public peace.
Civil society can exist no longer, than while connected by its laws and constitution: These are of no force, otherwise than as they are maintained and defended by the members of the commonwealth. This regular support of authority is the only security, a people can have against violence and injustice, feuds and animosities, in the unmolested enjoyment of their honest acquisitions: Hence the very end of civil society demands, that the orders of government be enforced; the fountains of justice, kept open; the streams, preserved pure; and the state, defended against all internal and foreign violence. These ends can never be attained, under the most excellent constitution and laws, but by means of an able and faithful administration, and the concurring zeal and assistance of all good and virtuous citizens.
Although some exclude religion and the profession and worship of the gospel from having any concern in the happiness of civil society and in the choice of rulers among a free people, yet without religion, a people happily united in all other respects, want the bond, most essentially necessary to preserve the union, and to excite every one to faithfulness in his station.
The chief glory of the gospel is, that it opens the way of salvation to a fallen world, and contains the words of eternal life: And were not this its great and distinguishing excellence, it would be of so much less importance to mankind, as the concerns of eternity are greater than those of time. It does every thing for our happiness in this world, which can be effected by the most excellent precepts of morality, and by instructing us in all the duties, we owe to God, our neighbour and ourselves: At the same time, it binds us to the most unremitting diligence and perseverance in all good works, by the solemn account we must give to our righteous judge, for all the deeds done in the body.
The blessed gospel is therefore the best privilege which a people can enjoy; and were its precepts duly observed, the civil state would be in the best order, and in the most excellent condition. Persons of all ranks, according to their abilities, would be blessings to the community. The foundations of our Jerusalem would be laid with polished stones, and the city of our habitation be built up without the noise of saws and hammers. The stone would not cry out of the wall of public fraud and oppression, nor the beam out of the timber answer it; but our officers would be peace, and our exactors righteousness; our walls would be called salvation and our gates praise, and no wasting violence and destruction would be heard in our borders.
Having pointed out the principles and maxims, on which civil union and happiness depend, and considered both the character of a good administration of government, and what is required of the subjects and citizens of a free state, I proceed to address and exhort the several orders of men present, that in their several places they use their best and most faithful endeavours for promoting the public peace and prosperity, that this and the United States, may, after the model of Jerusalem, be “builded, as a city that is compact together.”
In the first place, duty requires, that with the greatest respect and reverence the public exhortation be addressed to his Excellency, Governor Huntington, the chief magistrate of this free state.
May it please your Excellency,
While I congratulate my fellow-citizens, on the return of this joyful anniversary, I beg leave to address your Excellency, with the honours of the day, and the thanks of a grateful people for all the peaceful blessings of your administration.
The many faithful and important services rendered to your country, in the most difficult and interesting affairs of this and the United States have distinguished you with honour, among the patriots of America—enrolled your name, in the immortal list of those great and noble personages, who in the most heart-searching times, sealed the independence of America, adventured to sit at the head of the national council—and added you to the bright constellation of the illustrious statesmen and governors of this free commonwealth.
How different is the station of a chief magistrate in a free government, who lives in the hearts of the people, from that of the arbitrary despot, who has many slaves, but not a loyal subject? All seem to adore the tyrant, and tremble at the least motion of his eye, while they sigh for a change; and at the first blow, the idol is pulled down, and trampled under foot. The confidence and esteem of a virtuous and free people are derived from known and approved merit, and have a lasting foundation. The chair of state is marked with this motto, for the best and the worthiest citizen.
I sincerely wish your Excellency, the most pleasing satisfaction, in the esteem, veneration and gratitude of your citizens; but I persuade myself, you look to an higher source of joy, and to a greater witness of integrity, than the most unanimous approbation of a sensible and grateful people: I mean the witness of conscience, appealing to the great searcher of hearts, that in the whole of your public conduct, and in all the private walks of life, you have considered yourself, as the servant of the most high God, and devoted all your abilities, ultimately to the honour and service of the eternal king.
This is that rectitude of intention and endeavour, which is able to give calm peace through all the changing scenes of life, and all the uncertainties of earthly greatness; and even in the view of approaching death, and the prospect of the appearing and kingdom of our Lord JesusChrist. It cannot therefore, fail of affording your Excellency serene joy, while with an unreproaching heart, you look round on the assembled commonwealth; and with an unruffled mind, meet the great event of this day.
Should the providence of God, and the voice of this free people continue your Excellency in the first seat of government, I would with the deepest humility and respect, honoured sir, beseech and even charge you, in the presence of the supreme judge and this great congregation, to look to the grace of the eternal Jehovah, that you may be furnished for, and be found faithful in the high employment. You will not think it beneath your exalted dignity, to be exhorted by one of the meanest of Christ’s servants, to acknowledge the infinite source of wisdom, in all your ways, and to ask the direction of heaven, in all your paths, that truth and integrity may ever guide you; and righteousness and mercy be the girdle of your loins.
I am persuaded, that the peace and happiness of this, and the United States, cannot be built up and established, but upon the maxims I have pointed out and recommended. You, sir, are a master-builder on the walls of our Jerusalem: Let not these walls be daubed with the untempered mortar of injustice, jealousy and discord; but may they be cemented by the uniting principles of justice, benevolence and public spirit.
The post assigned your Excellency, in divine providence, is high and honourable, the employment, great and weighty, the objects in view, beautiful and glorious, and the motives, such as may well inspire a noble and generous breast, with the warmest zeal, the most unshaken fortitude, and the most unremitting perseverance, in the most faithful endeavours, to answer the great ends of the exalted station, you hold in this commonwealth. Some of these objects, motives and ends are the exaltation of Jehovah, the king and governor of the universe—the high importance and dignity of government, the great foundation of peace and quiet—your own honour in being furnished by God with great abilities of eminent usefulness—the loss or preservation of public liberty, and the rights of a free people, on which depends the happiness of thousands, or the misery of millions, the cause of religion and virtue, and the consequences of them on the present and eternal interests of mankind—the peace and best good of civil society, and the honour and safety of this, and the United States, and finally the joys or the sorrows of that great and glorious day, when dignity and power will be no defence; but the highest potentate, and the meanest slave, will stand without distinction before the supreme and eternal judge, and receive the solemn, and decisive sentence from his mouth.
These, sir, are weighty considerations, which I humbly address to your constant attention, that under the influence of them, you may be found faithful, and meet the final approbation of your Lord. In the weight of government, you will be encouraged and assisted by good men and virtuous citizens; whose continual and earnest prayer will be, that the blessing of Almighty God may attend and render your administration successful for the honour of God, the advancement of piety and virtue, the true interest of this and the United States of America, and the general good of mankind.
May your Excellency long live, the ornament of your country and the church of Christ. May you be happy in the consciousness of faithfully serving God and your people; and have the unspeakable joy of beholding them safe, virtuous and free. And, when the supreme Disposer of all events, shall dismiss you from the services of this world, whether you shall then be in public life, and the chief magistracy over this people, or free from public cares in the serene retirements of a peaceful old age, may you experience the solid supports of the christian hope, share in the rewards of grace, and shine with unfading glories, in the kingdom of the Redeemer.
Let the public exhortation in the next place be acceptable to his honour, Lieutenant-Governor Wolcott, the honourable councellors, and the respectable representatives of this state.
How happy will it be if the magistrates and representatives of this state shall enter upon public business, with a noble spirit of true patriotism, having no narrow and private interests at heart; but seeking the good of our Jerusalem, build it up on the great foundations of truth and righteousness. Then peace will be within our walls, and prosperity within our palaces.
A selfish and contracted spirit in any member of society is a great blemish; but in a chief ruler—in a senator—in the representative of a free people, it is vile—it is odious, and unpardonable. Let this spirit be banished from public counsel; or it will destroy all harmony of sentiment, and lead into the narrow by-paths of private ambition and self-exaltation: The builders will not understand each other’s language; scenes of confusion ensue, and the public resolutions shew more the complexion of party-attachment, than the public good.
If the leaders of a people are not united in the great maxims of government, and maintain not steadiness in the public administration, the people never will, nor can be easy. And when a community is rent by the animosities and different views of their principal leaders and citizens, a republic is verging towards an ochlocratical state, in which the prevalence of a party, is no sure token of truth. In this situation, justice may be overborne by the violence of misguided passion, blind to the true interest of the people and, the best means of safety. An Aristides through envy, was banished by his citizens; and Cicero, the friend of liberty, of the laws and constitution of his country, for his wise and vigorous measures, in defeating and crushing the Catalinarian conspiracy and rebellion, under the administration of a furious tribune was driven from Rome: But, when the fire of party had subsided, and the people were recovered to their senses, they recalled him, with every mark of public honour; and stiled him the father and preserver of his country; an honour never before conferred, on a Roman citizen.
Never was union in counsel and in public exertions, more necessary in America, than at the present day. If we improve the advantages, which Providence has put into our hands, we may be a great and flourishing people, happy and united among ourselves, and our name be respectable among the nations. But, if we forget the God of our salvation, and neglect the means of virtue and religion, with which we are favoured above any people on earth—if we are divided, and contend about every plan devised for strengthening the national union, and restoring the national honour and safety—if the several states, losing sight of the great end of the confederation, are influenced by meer local and partial motives, and if, in their respective and distinct jurisdictions, they forsake the paths of righteousness, we shall become the scorn and contempt of foreign nations, a prey to every bold invader; or fall by intestine divisions, till we sink into general ruin, and universal wretchedness.
If any one doubt this, let him consult the history of nations, and especially of Israel: Let him look into the book of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. There, the Hebrew prophet and mourner appears a man of sorrows, and compacted with griefs: He breathes in sighs, and speaks in groans: Complicated scenes of horror and distress strike all our senses, while we hear the lamentations of his broken heart, mourning the ruins of Jerusalem, the cruel slaughter, and captivity of the people, the desolation of the temple, and that “from the daughter of Zion, all her beauty” was “departed.”
I therefore, persuade myself, gentlemen, that in full confidence of your zeal for the public good, I may with all deference and freedom, recommend to your attention, the honour and safety of the confederate republic, as being of the same importance to the happiness and defence of the several states, as the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem, were to the several tribes of Israel.
If the national union, by concentrating the wisdom and force of America, was the means of our salvation from conquest and slavery—if the existence, liberty and independence of these states, and their national character, importance and glory depend still upon their united firmness and strength—if this union be necessary for the decision of controversies, which might otherwise engender wars among themselves, and be the only probable means of their safety and defence against foreign nations—and if without it, the American commerce and intercourse can never be respectable, safe and extensive in the various parts of the world—If these things are true, which I leave, gentlemen, to your own consideration, certainly there are no objects of greater magnitude and importance, more loudly calling the attention of America, than the national union, the necessity of supporting the national honour, and to give the federal government energy at home, and respectability abroad.
I would, gentlemen, beg leave to ask, whether to neglect the great interest of the whole, and to imagine that each state can singly preserve and defend itself, be not as absurd, as if several men, at an amazing cost, should lay a costly foundation, and erect the mighty frame of a most magnificent palace; and then, before the expence be paid, from a fondness of finishing, each one, his own room, and of enjoying the pleasures of his separate apartment, they should fall into such contention and division, as not only to leave the frame neglected, uncovered and exposed to continual decay and ruin, but the whole undertaking liable to that curse, pronounced in the book of God. “Wo unto him, that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbours service without wages, and giveth him not for his work.”
I own, gentlemen, I am concerned for the national honour and happiness; and were I to consult only my own feelings, I might hold up to your view, the dying languors of the national union, as foreboding ruin, division, or some dreadful convulsion, to these states. But perhaps, my fears are grounded not in the state of the nation, but in the want of an extensive knowledge of public affairs. You will, however, give me leave to hope, that the greatest attention will be paid to all just and reasonable measures, for supporting and maintaining the liberty and glory of the American states, and republic.
I only add, gentlemen, on this subject, my most sincere prayer, that heaven would guide all your deliberations, and collect and unite the wisdom and patriotism of America, in the proposed convention of the states, in some just and equal system of federal subordination, effectually securing the internal liberty and sovereignty of the states, and giving such dignity and authority to the federal government, that it may be the means of securing the peace, and prosperity of the whole, and the benefit of it reach to the most distant ages, and increase from generation to generation to the latest posterity.
I persuade myself, gentlemen, you will have a watchful regard to the rights and privileges of this people; and in all reasonable ways, ease their burdens and relieve their sorrows. You are too well acquainted, to need any information of the uneasiness, discontent and complaints, which prevail in the state. I will not presume to say, how far, these complaints are without any just foundation—how far, they arise from the real distresses and burdens of the times—how far, they are founded in any real, or supposed mistakes, in the public administration—or how far they have been nursed and cherished, by men of power and influence; whose office required them, to quiet the voice of murmuring, instead of inflaming the public, in order to answer their own ends, and procure self exaltation, or to prevent that of others. But, from whatever different and opposite sources, these complaints arise, you cannot do your people more essential service, than to apply the most faithful counsels and prudent means, for the removing and healing [of] them.
If any of the evils the people suffer, have been occasioned by their own imprudent conduct, you will nevertheless pity them; and afford all the relief in your power. This is to act the part of a kind and tender father, who would not by unreasonable severity, push his children on to ruin and despair. But, though you pity and study to relieve them in trouble, you must not support them in vice and disorder. As a faithful physician will sometimes use palliatives, but will never gratify a sick patient to his distruction: So as far as may be consistent with the great rules of righteousness, you will suit the public conduct to the infirmities of the people, but you cannot consent to measures of iniquity, which will work ruin and misery to the state.
Hear all the equitable petitions of the people; but should they ask you to be unrighteous, stop your ears: Be merciful and compassionate; but maintain a conduct consistent with the dignity, faith and honour of government, and with those fixed rules and everlasting maxims, by which it is to be administered. It is a day, in which trimmers and time-servers are very unfit to direct the affairs of state. I wish, none such may be found among the honourable personages, whom I now address. If any of you, gentlemen, for acting the dictates of an upright conscience, should fall under the displeasure of the people, you will have infinitely greater support and consolation in the rectitude of your own minds, than the highest applause fellow-mortals can give. Superior dignity and virtue, in these circumstances of trial, appear to the best advantage, and shines with the brightest lustre; and will meet the approbation of the great judge in the presence of an assembled world. The frowns of a misguided, and the resentments of an ungrateful people, cannot bend the true patriot to meanness; nor the loss of honour and public station, tempt him to iniquity, and to consent to such measures, as in his fixed opinion and judgement, will end in public shame and ruin.
Remember, gentlemen, that while you are examining the rights of individuals, and their claims on one another, or on the public, you drop the character of legislators, and should act by the same fixed rules of law and equity, as the judge on the bench. In causes of a judicial kind, your high character of sovereignty will not excuse an arbitrary decision, or denial of justice, any more than the same may be excused in the lowest executive court. In granting favours, you have only to consider, whether they are equitable and consistent with the good of the community; but in doing justice, you have no sovereign discretion. No wise man thinks his life and estate safe in the hand of a tyrant, bound by no restraint of law: Excuse me, gentlemen, when I add, that the discretion of a popular assembly acting by no fixed and known rules of equity, is a different expression, but the same in effect, as the arbitrary will of a despot. Sovereign power should never be perverted to acts of unrighteousness: Let not therefore the notion of omnipotence, and of being above controul, insensibly insinuate itself into your deliberations, and lead to a different determination, from what you would give in a different character.
With deference to your high stations, I am warranted with all freedom to assure you, in the fear of God, the almighty and eternal Judge, that the consideration of not being accountable to an higher court on earth, should be one of the most forcible motives, to engage you to the greatest uprightness and impartiality, not only between subject and subject, but especially the subject and the public. Remember, that as in this world, there is an appeal from a lower to an higher court, so when the most sovereign and uncontroulable court on earth, gives an unrighteous sentence, and wickedly perverts judgment, there is immediately entered in the high court of heaven, an appeal, which, in the great day of general assise, will be called, and must be answered. Then you, my honourable auditors, and all the kings and judges of the earth shall appear, and give an account for your conduct, while you acted in the character of gods, on earth.
I have not pointed out, wherein the difficulties and embarrassments of the present day consist; nor what political measures are best to extricate the people from them: These things, gentlemen, belong to you, and demand the exercise of your superior wisdom and prudence; but I am confident of the real advantage of those principles and maxims, I have insisted on as the great foundation of the happiness and strength of civil society. In this, I think, I have kept within my own limits, and can therefore with an humble freedom, commend them to your attention and consideration. To you it belongs to build upon them, and to improve all your dexterity, zeal and authority to compact us together. To you we look to heal our wounds, to appease our disquiet, to rectify our disorders, and to apply those bands and ligaments, which shall hold us together, and prevent our dissolution and ruin. This is the righteous expectation of God, and the desire and hope of all good men. Be not like the ten spies, who brought up an evil report of the good land of Canaan, and discouraged the hearts of their brethren: but like Joshua and Caleb, who endeavoured to still the people with the assurances of good hope, that under God they were able to surmount the difficulties before them.
Notwithstanding the darkness of the present day, and the public difficulties we labour under, be of good courage, and the Lord be with you: Though the earth and it’s inhabitants be dissolved, hold up the pillars thereof; and never let this state be removed from the foundations of righteousness and truth. If these foundations have by any means received a shock, and seem to be in a tottering condition, let your wisdom and courage give them stability. If the pillars of public faith and justice, judgment and equity have been bent and twisted, like the limber osier, give them that strength and firmness, that they may hereafter stand unshaken as the aged oak: and let this people, and all the world know, that you mean to be a righteous legislature; and wish to rule over a righteous people.
I shall add only in a few words, that while in all other ways, you endeavour the good of this people, and expect from them a reverential regard for magistracy, and a peaceable behaviour in the state, you will, gentlemen, appoint men of virtue and religion to all important offices of executive trust: And be yourselves the best examples of righteousness and the fear of God. Shew yourselves friends to religion and virtue—to the church of Christ, and the worship of God—to the ministers of the gospel—and to the great and important interests of education and learning in the state: By this you will do honour to yourselves, and essential service to your country, merit the esteem and gratitude of good men, and meet the approbation of God. If religion and good manners be legible, not only in your laws, but in your lives, rendering you conspicuous for piety and mercy, justice and sobriety, your authority will be strengthened, and your administration supported. The attractive force of your examples, will engage your people to that behaviour, which is necessary to the peace and prosperity of the state; and the endeavours of good citizens will be united in procuring and advancing the noble and beneficial ends of society. Thus you will be the lights of the world, the ornaments of mankind; and having with eminent usefulness served your generation according to the will of God, may you finally enjoy the rewards of faithful servants.
The public exhortation and address now turns itself to the ministers of the gospel.
My fathers and brethren,
We are members of civil society, equally interested in it’s peace and prosperity, with the rest of our fellow-citizens; and especially “because of the house of the Lord our God,” we are bound “to seek” it’s “good.” The immediate ends of the magistracy and ministry are different, but not opposite: They mutually assist each other, and ultimately center in the same point. The one has for its object the promotion of religion and the cause of Christ; the other immediately aims at the peace and order of mankind in this world: Without which, there could be no fixed means of religion; nor the church have a continuance on earth, but through the interposition of a miraculous providence, constantly displayed for its preservation. Hence the church of Christ will have no fixed residence, where there is no civil government, until he, whose right it is, shall take to himself his great power, and reign king of nations, even as he is king of saints.
How thankful then should we be for the ordinance of civil government, which is a token of divine forbearance to a guilty world; and will continue till the designs of the christian ministry, are accomplished. How many have no higher conception of the christian ministry, and the wisdom and goodness of God in appointing it, than as relating to this world? Hence, while they pride themselves in civil privileges, and perhaps, allow the morality of the gospel to have some good influence on the happiness of society, they have no idea of the glory of the christian scheme of salvation, and despise the gospel, the ministry and the church of God. And yet, were it not, that the gospel might be preached, and the church have a being on earth, civil government would cease among men.
To preach the gospel of the Redeemer, to open his salvation, to explain and urge his precepts, and to represent the motives of the religion taught by him, together with the administration of the ordinances, which he hath appointed, are the immediate end; and the peculiar work of the christian ministry. This is the part, my fathers and brethren, assigned to us, on the walls of our Jerusalem; and whoever is faithful in this divine employment, will at once advance the temporal and eternal interests of mankind.
To this work, therefore, let us attend with all diligence and faithfulness, and use our utmost endeavours to promote the designs of redeeming love, in recovering sinful, guilty and miserable men, to the image and favour of God, in bringing them to a life of holiness, and to the practice of all righteousness and virtue. In doing this, we shall be the happy instruments of advancing the best good of society, by leading them to the diligent practice of all the duties of the social and christian life; and render them, most useful in their respective places: But, more especially, we shall be happy, in being made instruments, under the sacred influence of our divine Lord, of plucking them from the jaws of destruction, and the power and tyranny of Satan, of raising them to the greatest dignity and perfection of their nature; and of preparing them for the new Jerusalem, the city of our God, “wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
While we look to our civil fathers for their kind countenance and protection, it will be our constant care to strengthen and encourage them, in the great and weighty concerns of government, by our prayers, by our public instructions, and by our examples, not only of civil subjection and obedience, but of all virtues, which adorn the christian profession and ministry, and conduce to the peace and prosperity of the commonwealth.
In this let us strive to excite, and unite all our endeavours. What is more necessary, than union among the ministers of Christ? What gives the enemies of religion more advantage, than the discord, which has prevailed among christians? Or what stabs the cause of the Redeemer, with deeper wounds, than the contention of his ministers? Let us not look to the coercive power of the civil sword, to heal these wounds; but to our divine and almighty Saviour, to give us one heart and one way; and let us study his gospel, which contains not only the doctrines we are to teach, and the duties we are to inculcate; but the most forcible motives of mutual love, kindness and forbearance. If we drink at this pure fountain of benevolence, and imbibe the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus, it will cleanse away our envy, pride and ambition, the great sources of ministerial contention. We shall love one another, and strive together in our endeavours, and in our prayers for the success of the gospel, and the peace of churches.
Brethren, our time is short: Our fathers many of them are gone: Every year makes breaches upon our order. May God sanctify the heavy strokes of the year past, upon the churches, and the ministry, that we may be quickened to greater zeal and diligence in our important work. He that is faithful to the death, shall receive the crown of everlasting life and love, in the kingdom of our heavenly Father.
An address to the numerous audience present, on this joyful occasion, shall conclude my discourse.
Friends and fellow citizens,
A constitution of government, which gives a people the liberty of choosing their own rulers, and of being governed by laws, established by common consent, while they make a wise use of it, is a privilege more valuable, than the gold of Ophir, and of greater importance to public happiness, than the rich mountains of Peru. What shall you do to render this privilege a blessing to the present age, and hand down the joys of it to future generations? Make it your constant aim to choose able and faithful men, who fear God and hate covetousness, to be your rulers; honour and encourage them in all their endeavours to make you a virtuous, prosperous and happy people, and apply yourselves with diligence to your own business, that in your several stations, you may contribute to the public good.
The burden of government at all times, and especially at the present, is very great. We may so behave as to render it far greater and more difficult, by our misconduct and disorderly practices; and prevent the best fruits of the most wise and righteous administration. We may discourage the hearts and slacken the hands of the most worthy magistrates, by an unruly and discontented spirit, and by an opposition to all their designs for the public good. How many endeavour to enervate and avoid the force of the most wholesome laws of society; and use every art to make the people discontented, and to promote factions in the state.
I think it my duty on this solemn occasion, to warn my fellow citizens, against all such vile and wicked practices, which tend to the ruin of magistracy, and the destruction of peace and order. I wish, my fellow-citizens, all had a due sense of the high importance of civil government, and the protection afforded us by the laws of our country. Whatever security and peace, we enjoy by day or night, at home or abroad, in the house, in the field, or by the way, are by means of civil union and society. Without this bond, and the restraint of civil institutions, no one would be safe in his person or property. The weak would be continually exposed to the oppression and injustice of a more powerful neighbour. Civil government therefore, well constituted, and impartially administered, is one of the most important blessings, a gracious God has bestowed upon a guilty world; and the laws and constitution of our country are our best inheritance, which we should defend at the hazard of our lives and fortunes.
If any real or supposed grievances should arise in a republic, they may be examined and redressed, without having recourse to arms, and opposing the government of the people, in the hands of the constitutional authority of the state. Good rulers will esteem it an honour that the public conduct should be examined, and the errors of administration rectified: And if rulers appointed by the people abuse their authority, they may be displaced. A republic has the means of redress within itself; and cannot be oppressed, but by its own fault and neglect.
But while in a free government, the public conduct is open to inspection and discussion, there is a great difference between the reproof of friendship, and the reproach of an enemy; much more between personal slander and abuse, and a candid examination of public mistakes and grievances, that they may be rectified and redressed. The latter is the right of the people and may be encouraged; the former is to be detested, nor can its venom be hidden or justified, under the cloak of public good. Its tendency is to introduce an imbittered party-spirit, and to promote factions and disturbances: It savours, not of that wisdom from above, pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy, but of that which is earthly, sensual, devilish: It is not a cement, having the least tendency to add strength to the foundations, beauty to the walls, or peace and prosperity to the palaces of our Jerusalem.
I sincerely condole with my country, under the heavy burden lying on the people. If a considerable part of this burden has been brought upon ourselves by imprudent conduct, we ought not to complain to our rulers, and think ourselves hardly used, if the foundations of justice be not removed for our sakes. If any part of it be occasioned by unnecessary expences in government, and by salaries and rewards, too lavishly bestowed on those, who serve the public, we have right to complain, and to expect redress. And if the claims of any men on the public, or other burdens in the state, be unjust, we may boldly apply to our rulers for relief: For to execute judgement, to do justice, to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke, is the great end of their institution and office: Surely then, a righteous legislature will hear all our reasonable complaints, and ease our sorrows.
But if these burdens are just, the price of our liberty, and of all the privileges which we enjoy, what can our rulers do, but encourage us to be a righteous and industrious people, and contrive the best, most easy and effectual measures for discharging the public debt? They cannot deny that we have had an army—hired soldiers, and carried on a long and expensive war, in which through the signal interposition of a wonder-working Providence, we have been gloriously successful—that we are indebted to France, Holland and Spain, in sums to a large amount—and that thousands of our citizens have lent their substance and treasure to this and the United States; many of whom are distressed by the public failure. They cannot create silver and gold: But supposing, it were in their power to furnish a full and rich store of these articles, for which we might sell and mortgage our estates, would not this be the ruin of the greater part of the debtors in the state, and of many other citizens, now in flourishing circumstances? But, it will be said, they can emit a bank of paper money, the benefit of which was experienced in former times. A mighty benefit; a blessed privilege, indeed, if it be on such a sinking foundation, that the dishonest taking advantage of its depreciation may defraud their creditors, and live and riot on the simplicity of their neighbours, and the spoils of public faith. Would it be right, my fellow-citizens, to force such a medium into the hands of the people, against their will and consent? A tyrant may compel his vassals for gold or silver promised, to take lead, tin, wood or stubble: But this would be esteemed in an eastern despot no better, than open and bare faced robbery. Such a thought ought not to be entertained of the righteous legislature of a free people, who enjoy the bible, in which we are taught, that whoever expects to be an inhabitant of the heavenly Jerusalem, though he sware to his hurt, changeth not. If this bank of paper-money be on a sure foundation, and have a currency, equal to gold and silver, the question returns, how shall we obtain it, unless we earn it, or pledge our estates for the redemption of it? In the first method, we might as well obtain silver and gold; the latter is big with ruin to thousands, and would tend to discourage the frugality, industry and economy, which begin to have so promising an appearance; and must be the means of freeing us from the great embarrassments we are under.
A sudden plenty of money, would not help us; nay it would do us hurt, unless it were obtained in that way, which would encourage those virtues in society, which are the strength, the happiness, and beauty of a people. These are industry, honesty, frugality, and the reciprocal acts of friendship, kindness, and mercy, which arise from the dependencies of one upon another. Had we a thousand tons of silver dispersed in this state, in such manner as should check the growth of those virtues, it would be truly the root of all evil, and dispose us to such a conduct, that in a few years, this mighty sum would vanish and the people become reduced to a more wretched state of indigence and want, than before: The years of plenty would soon be over, and there arise a louder cry for the suspension of public and private justice, than has ever been heard in America.
I cannot my fellow-citizens but flatter myself, that the necessity of the times has begun to work for its own relief, in a way conducive to the public good, and the virtue and peace of the people. Agriculture is more encouraged and attended to—the herds and flocks of large and small cattle are increasing—wool and flax are more prized—home-manufactures begin to be thought necessary—the distaff, the wheel and loom are becoming more fashionable—the shops of trifling baubles and gewgaws are less crouded—suits at law diminished—a general spirit of industry is more prevalent, and patience and perseverance seem only necessary to crown the work.
But to close this discourse and address; let us my friends and fellow-citizens, faithfully attend to our true interest and safety, in all those ways which are pointed out in wisdom and the circumstances we are under. Encourage your rulers in building up our Jerusalem, on the strong foundations of truth and righteousness—maintain in your hearts and conduct, those principles and maxims of love, benevolence and goodness, which will render you a united, happy and prosperous people. Let God be honoured, and the grace of the Redeemer exalted; the sabbath sanctified; the worship and ordinances of the Lord’s house, maintained: The pious and virtuous education of the rising generation, religiously regarded; and a firm and inviolable adherence to the laws and institutions of Christ, manifested by all orders and ranks of men. Then virtue and peace, righteousness, mercy and the fear of God, will flourish; and every member of the community, will be found fixed in his proper place, and discharging the duties of it.
This is that peaceful and happy state, which King David so earnestly desired might be the portion of Jerusalem, and make it a joy and a praise in all the earth. Let his holy and pious wish be the language of all our hearts: “Pray for the peace of” our “Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee: Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces: For my brethren and companions sake, I will now say, peace be within thee; because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek thy Good.”