Front Page Titles (by Subject) 31: Elizur Goodrich, THE PRINCIPLES OF CIVIL UNION AND HAPPINESS CONSIDERED AND RECOMMENDED - Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788)
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31: Elizur Goodrich, THE PRINCIPLES OF CIVIL UNION AND HAPPINESS CONSIDERED AND RECOMMENDED - 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 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.”
THE REPUBLIC OF THE ISRAELITES AN EXAMPLE TO THE AMERICAN STATES
Samuel Langdon (1723-1797). A native of Boston, Langdon was graduated from Harvard in the class of 1740 with Samuel Adams. The two young men shared the same political views during the revolutionary and early national periods—which is to say, Langdon was a Whig and a patriot in the sacred cause of liberty. Soon after graduation, Langdon, a Congregational minister, served as chaplain of the New Hampshire Regiment at the taking of Louisbourg (1745), then became pastor of the North Church in Portsmouth, where he served until becoming president of Harvard College in 1774. That tenure was difficult and unpleasant for Langdon, and he was glad to relinquish it in 1780 and return to the pulpit at Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, where he remained during the final seventeen years of his life.
As a confidant of the leading patriots of the region, Langdon well represented the mind of the revolutionary generation in his political sermons. His 1775 election sermon, Government Corrupted by Vice, and Recovered by Righteousness, preached in Watertown, Massachusetts, is a classic; it was reprinted in John W. Thornton, ed., The Pulpit of the American Revolution (1860). Langdon was prominent in securing the adoption of the federal Constitution as a delegate to the New Hampshire state convention in 1788.
The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States was the election sermon for New Hampshire preached in 1788.
I think myself happy that, after reiterated invitations from this honourable court, I am at length permitted by divine providence, though under peculiar difficulties, and in the decline of life, to appear in this place, and speak on this public occasion, when the principal officers of government are to be appointed to their several departments, according to the suffrages of the people. I will endeavor to give due honor to the rulers of the people, while I declare, with simplicity of heart and honest freedom, the admonitions which the great Lord of the universe gives; and offer my best thoughts as to the general administration of public affairs, and the way to secure the prosperity and happiness of a nation.
There is a remarkable paragraph in the sacred writings, which may be very well accommodated to my present purpose, and merits particular attention. You have it in Deuteronomy, IV, 5–8.
Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who shall hear all these statutes, and say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people: for what nation is there so great, which hath God so nigh unto them as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? and what nation is there so great, which hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day.
Here Moses recommends to Israel the strict observance of all the laws which he had delivered to them by God’s command, relating both to their civil polity and religion, as the sure way to raise their reputation high among all nations as a wise and understanding people; because no other nation was blessed with such excellent national laws, or the advantage of applying to the oracle of the living God, and praying to him in all difficulties, with assurance that all their requests would be answered.
As to every thing excellent in their constitution of government, except what was peculiar to them as a nation separated to God from the rest of mankind, the Israelites may be considered as a pattern to the world in all ages; and from them we may learn what will exalt our character, and what will depress and bring us to ruin.
Let us therefore look over their constitution and laws, enquire into their practice, and observe how their prosperity and fame depended on their strict observance of the divine commands both as to their government and religion.
They had both a civil and military establishment under divine direction, and a complete body of judicial laws drawn up and delivered to them by Moses in God’s name. They had also a form of religious worship, by the same authority, minutely prescribed, designed to preserve among them the knowledge of the great Creator of the Universe, and teach them to love and serve him; while idolatry prevailed through the rest of the world: and this religion contained not only a public ritual, but a perfect, though very concise, system of morals, comprehended in ten commands, which require the perfection of godliness, benevolence, and rectitude of conduct.
When first the Israelites came out from the bondage of Egypt, they were a multitude without any other order than what had been kept up, very feebly, under the ancient patriarchal authority. They were suddenly collected into a body under the conduct of Moses, without any proper national or military regulation. Yet in the short space of about three months after they had passed the red sea, they were reduced into such civil and military order, blended together by the advice of Jethro, as was well adapted to their circumstances in the wilderness while destitute of property. Able men were chosen out of all their tribes, and made captains and rulers of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens: and these commanded them as military officers, and acted as judges in matters of common controversy.
But the great thing wanting was a permanent constitution, which might keep the people peaceable and obedient while in the desert, and after they had gained possession of the promised land. Therefore, upon the complaint of Moses that the burden of government was too heavy for him, God commanded him to bring seventy men, chosen from among the elders and officers, and present them at the tabernacle; and there he endued them with the same spirit which was in Moses, that they might bear the burden with him. Thus a senate was evidently constituted, as necessary for the future government of the nation, under a chief commander. And as to the choice of this senate, doubtless the people were consulted, who appear to have had a voice in all public affairs from time to time, the whole congregation being called together on all important occasions: the government therefore was a proper republic.
And beside this general establishment, every tribe had elders and a prince according to the patriarchal order, with which Moses did not interfere; and these had an acknowledged right to meet and consult together, and with the consent of the congregation do whatever was necessary to preserve good order, and promote the common interest of the tribe. So that the government of each tribe was very similar to the general government. There was a president and senate at the head of each, and the people assembled and gave their voice in all great matters: for in those ages the people in all republics were entirely unacquainted with the way of appointing delegates to act for them, which is a very excellent modern improvement in the management of republics.
Moreover, to compleat the establishment of civil government, courts were to be appointed in every walled city, after their settlement in Canaan, and elders most distinguished for wisdom and integrity were to be made judges, ready always to sit and decide the common controversies within their respective jurisdictions. The people had a right likewise to appoint such other officers as they might think necessary for the more effectual execution of justice, according to that order given in Deut. 16. 18, 19—
Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee throughout thy tribes; and they shall judge the people with just judgment: thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift; for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.
But from these courts an appeal was allowed in weighty causes to higher courts appointed over the whole tribe, and in very great and difficult cases to the supreme authority of the general senate and chief magistrate.
A government, thus settled on republican principles, required laws; without which it must have degenerated immediately into aristocracy, or absolute monarchy. But God did not leave a people, wholly unskilled in legislation, to make laws for themselves: he took this important matter wholly into his own hands, and beside the moral laws if the two tables, which directed their conduct as individuals, gave them by Moses a complete code of judicial laws. They were not numerous indeed, but concise and plain, and easily applicable to almost every controversy which might arise between man and man, and every criminal case which might require the judgment of the court. Of these some were peculiarly adapted to their national form, as divided into tribes and families always to be kept distinct; others were especially suited to the peculiar nature of the government as a theocrasy, God himself being eminently their king, and manifesting himself among them in a visible manner, by the cloud of glory in the tabernacle and temple. This was the reason why blasphemy, and all obstinate disobedience to his laws, were considered as high treason, and punished with death; especially idolatry, as being a crime against the fundamental principles of the constitution. But far the greater part of the judicial laws were founded on the plain immutable principles of reason, justice, and social virtue; such as are always necessary for civil society. Life and property were well guarded, and punishments were equitably adapted to the nature of every crime: in particular, murder stands foremost among capital crimes, and is defined with such precision, and so clearly distinguished from all cases of accidental and undesigned killing, that the innocent were in no danger of punishment, and the guilty could not escape. And if we still pay regard to this divine law, which is evidently founded on reason and justice, the modern distinction of manslaughter must be rejected as a popish invention, contrived and added in times when superstition reigned and claimed a power above all laws. These laws were sufficient for a nation which had but little commerce abroad; especially as the oracle of Jehovah might be consulted in all cases of a very extraordinary nature.
Let us now consider the national worship which God established among his people; on which their obedience to the moral law very much depended: for unless they paid constant reverence and homage to their God, agreeable to his nature and will, they would soon break loose from all other obligations to morality.
Now as to their ritual; however contemptible, and even ridiculous, it may seem to men whose ideas are all modern, and who proudly contemn divine revelation; and notwithstanding it is now abrogated by a far more glorious revelation of grace and truth by Jesus Christ; no religious institution could be more perfectly accommodated to those early ages of the world, and the situation of the Israelites in the midst of idolaters, or better prepare the way for the truth and mercy of the gospel. In those ages the minds of men were not sufficiently cultivated to receive that religion which is spiritual and simple, detached from sensible objects, and destitute of worldly grandeur. Other nations worshipped their gods with an endless variety of superstitious rites, a multitude of costly sacrifices, and all kinds of external pomp, which they fancied would be acceptable to deities to whom they attributed the imperfections and even the worst vices of men. Their worship gratified all the senses, was accommodated to every passion and lust, and indulgent to gross immoralities; it not only captivated vulgar minds, but bound the greatest heroes, politicians, and philosophers, fast in the chains of superstition. Therefore it was necessary that the worship of the true God should not be destitute of that splendour which, in those ages, struck the minds of men with awe and reverence. Without some magnificence the best religion would have appeared contemptible in the view of the world; and the Israelites themselves, dazzled with the pageantry of idols, would almost inevitably have been captivated; as, notwithstanding every guard which could be placed about them, we find the fashion of the rest of the world had surprising power over them. But the ceremonies of worship which God commanded his people to observe, were not, like those of the heathen, inhuman, frantic, obscene, varied a thousand ways according to the different characters of their gods; no, but by infinite wisdom they were calculated to promote the knowledge of the divine perfections, and obedience to the laws of righteousness, and give the most encouraging hope in the goodness and mercy of God. The ritual of the Israelites was rational, sober, uniform, plainly intended to exhibit the majesty, purity, and mercy of the eternal king; to humble men before him under a continual sense of guilt; and to assure true penitents of free pardon by virtue of the appointed sacrifices, which were types of that one sacrifice which Christ has offered for the sins of the world. And to render their worship more striking in their own view; and in the eyes of the world, their tabernacle and temple, their priesthood with its ornaments, their solemn assemblies and great festivals, were decent and magnificent beyond every thing seen among the nations around.
How unexampled was this quick progress of the Israelites, from abject slavery, ignorance, and almost total want of order, to a national establishment perfected in all its parts far beyond all other kingdoms and states! from a mere mob, to a well regulated nation, under a government and laws far superior to what any other nation could boast!
It was a long time after the law of Moses was given before the rest of the world knew any thing of government by law. Where kings reigned their will was a law. Where popular governments were formed, the capricious humour of the multitude ordered every thing just according to present circumstances; or their senators and judges were left to act according to their best discretion. It was six hundred years after Moses before the Spartans, the most famous of the Grecian republics, received a very imperfect, and in some particulars very absurd code of laws from Lycurgus. After this feeble attempt of legislation, three hundred years more elapsed before Solon appeared and gave laws to Athens, though a city long famous for arms, arts, eloquence, and philosophy. And it was about five hundred years from the first founding of the celebrated Roman empire, and nearly three hundred years after Solon, before the first laws of that empire were imported from Greece in twelve tables, by ten embassadors sent there for that purpose. But even when that empire had attained the summit of glory, and legislation was carried to great perfection, however well adapted to a government so extensive and complicate their laws might be, they were far from being worthy to be compared with the laws of Israel, as to the security of life, liberty, property, and public morals: and as to their religion, which was from the beginning interwoven with the state, instead of receiving any greater perfection from the increase of knowledge, wealth and power, it only became a more abundant congeries of ridiculous and detestable superstitions. Moreover; when the Roman empire was overwhelmed and destroyed by an inundation of barbarous nations, and many kingdoms were erected in Europe out of its ruins by the conquerors, laws were extinct under the feudal system; the will of the barons was a law for their vassals; and but a few centuries have past since kings began to introduce law into their courts of justice. And now, though legislation has been carried to such perfection in Great Britain, that land of knowledge and liberty, yet in a political and judicial view the laws of that kingdom may be charged with many great faults, which ought not to be copied: particularly, the tediousness, voluminous bulk, intricacy, barbarous language, and uncertain operation of many of them as to equity, ought to be avoided by legislators who wish for an easy and speedy course of justice among a free people. And perhaps our own courts might be so reformed as to prevent cases of inconsiderable value, and easy decision, from rising through all the stages of the law. Against these imperfections good provision was made in the law of Moses, and it might be much for our advantage to pay greater attention to that example.
Upon a review of what has been said, must it not appear quite unaccountable, that the Israelites should so speedily attain to such an height of good policy and legislation, beyond all other nations? Are we not constrained to acknowlege an immediate interposition and direction of heaven? Had the unexperienced multitude been left to themselves to draw up a system of civil and military government for themselves, it would have been entirely beyond their abilities to comprehend so complicated a subject; they must have committed innumerable mistakes, in attempting to introduce and establish it; they would have been in danger of jarring opinions, tumults, and insurrections; and probably before the design could be effected, discouragement and confusion would have forced them to surrender into the hands of despotism. But their God provided every thing necessary for their happiness, and nothing more was left to their own wisdom than to submit to his authority, and adhere strictly to his commands: by this, their reputation among the nations would have been equal to the excellency of their laws.
But now you may say, Why then were they not universally celebrated? Why did not princes and politicians from all parts of the world visit them, to learn maxims of polity from so well regulated a nation? Why did not philosophers come, and enquire into that system of religion and morality which carried virtue to such an height of perfection? Surely a nation, of which all the parts were so firmly cemented, must be strong and formidable: a people, who enjoyed the most rational liberty, and yet were under the most voluntary and absolute subjection to authority, free from all the convulsions and revolutions which frequently arise from the raging folly of the populace, must become famous: a wise and impartial administration of justice, according to the most excellent laws, by which all were kept in perfect security and peace, could not but be admired: and the commerce of a people, whose morals were governed by the best precepts, whose word might be trusted, who practised no kind of fraud, and whose behaviour was always benevolent, sober, prudent, and sincere, must be highly valued by the world. Whereas on the contrary, the Israelites were often weak, distressed, and generally despised and hated by all their neighbours. The plain answer to this objection is—They never adhered in practice either to the principles of their civil polity or religion: but on their practice depended the prosperity and honor of the nation. They received their law from God, but they did not keep it. They neglected their government, corrupted their religion, and grew dissolute in their morals, and in such a situation no nation under heaven can prosper.
Let us view their state, in the first place, under the judges. Tho’ the national senate was instituted for the assistance of Moses as captain-general and judge of the nation, and this was a plain intimation that in all succeeding times such a senate was necessary for the assistance of the supreme magistrate: yet after Joshua and the elders of his time were dead, it does not appear that they took the least care to fill their places. They left all the affairs of the nation to chance, or extraordinary providence, and had no chief commander, except when God in compassion to them in their troubles raised up judges for their deliverance. And as they suffered the general government to drop, we may well think them as careless of the government of the particular tribes. In each tribe, as we have observed, a government ought to have been kept up similar to the national authority, by the elders and prince of the tribe. But we find this remark repeatedly made in the book of Judges—“In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes”—that is in plain terms, there was no authority any where, but every man was left to act as he pleased. No wonder therefore if they were weak in council and war, and exposed on every side to the insults of their neighbours, being unable to unite in their own defence. This neglect of government was wholly inexcusable: for however they might plead, that Moses, and Joshua, and the seventy elders, were of God’s immediate appointment, and that they had no warrant to fill up their places; they could not but know they had an undoubted right to provide for their own welfare, especially when there was so plain an intimation that the same government was to be continued. If they were at a loss what to do, they had the greatest oracle in the world among them, and they ought to have enquired of God, their king, how to proceed and what persons to choose. Nay, they were some times sensible enough of their right to appoint a chief commander, and even to make the command hereditary, as appears by the address to Gideon—“Rule thou over us; both thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son also”—by the choice which the Shechemites made of Abimelech to be their king; and by Jephtha’s bargain with the Gileadites to be their head and captain, if he fought for them against the Ammonites. By all this we may plainly see that the general neglect of government is to be charged as the fault of the people.
And now we cannot wonder if courts of justice ceased, when the higher powers of government were wanting. These courts, which should have been continued in every walled city, dwindled way and came to nothing; crimes were unpunished, and the most abominable vices spread their infection through all ranks. No law was executed to deter men from murders, robberies, rapes, or any other kind of wickedness. This is evident by the case of the Levite whose concubine was abused to death by the mob of Benjamites at Gibeah: the city in general discovered no disposition to do justice upon the offenders; there were no judges near, to whom complaint might be made; nay, it seems the whole tribe were ready to abett the crime rather than punish it; nor was there any authority in the nation to take cognizance of the matter; and therefore the Levite was obliged to take a method, shocking to humanity, in order to excite the indignation of the other tribes, and bring their forces against the Benjamites to their destruction.
We have also good reason to think the military affairs of the nation were not in a much better state than the civil. They could not wholly omit the care of their militia, because they were continually exposed to wars in their own defence. It was necessary to provide officers, and keep up some degree of discipline; but they were very deficient in this respect, especially as to superior command. In almost every battle, against the most contemptible of their neighbours, they were unsuccessful; and were ravaged, plundered, and brought under tribute by all in their turns, and delivered only when God mercifully interposed by raising up a general in an extraordinary way. On an alarm, instead of forming a regular army, they seem to have ran together suddenly from all quarters, without order, as if to stop a conflagration. Such disunited undirected force was never able to sustain a heavy attack, but gave every invader an easy victory.
But that which was the main force of all their disorder and misery, was their neglecting and corrupting that religion which God commanded. As long as those elders lived, who were with Joshua, and had seen all the great works of the Lord which he did for Israel, the people adhered to the worship of the true God as prescribed in the law: but when they were dead, the impressions which had been made by miracles wore off, as is natural; and they grew regardless of the worship of the sanctuary, gave scope to their own imaginations, and soon made a mixture of all the superstitions and idolatries of the heathen with the worship of Jehovah. They kept up no method of religious instruction; and as they grew more and more ignorant, they thought it too inconvenient to travel so often from all parts of the country, to offer sacrifices at the tabernacle, though it was very centrally placed at Shiloh, not much more than eighty miles distant from the remotest towns; but every man chose to worship nearer home: and so they made groves, and built altars for themselves, and soon set up images of Baal, Ashteroth, and other genteel deities which their neighbours worshipped. By these idols, however, they pretended to worship the true God, and brought sacrifices after their own hearts; for they imagined that all kinds of religion came much to the same thing, and whether precisely agreeable to the command or not, would be acceptable, if they were sincere. Thus Micah made images, and procured a priest in his own house, which the children of Dan afterwards took away, and fixed in their new conquered city, in the northern bounds of Canaan, where this idolatry continued until the ten tribes were carried into captivity; and Joash, the father of Gideon, had a grove, and an altar of Baal, for his own family; likewise Gideon himself, though highly honoured of God in being the deliverer of Israel from the Midianites, made an ephod, which was soon the occasion of superstitious worship, and drew him and the people from attending at the tabernacle.
Now by the foregoing view of the general state of the nation during the time of the judges, we may plainly see the reason why, instead of rising to fame by the perfection of their polity, religion, and morals, their character sunk into contempt. But let us see whether they conducted better afterwards, under their kings.
It was their crime to demand such a king as was like the kings of other nations, i.e. a king with the same absolute power, to command all according to his own pleasure. In this view God only was their king, and the head of the nation was only to be his vicegerent. Therefore as they had implicitly rejected the divine government, God gave them a king in his anger; the consequence of which was, the total loss of their republican form of government, and sad experience of the effects of despotic power. Indeed their religious establishment, which had been very much impaired in the days of the judges, was restored, and brought to its greatest glory, by David the most pious, and Solomon the wisest of kings; and during their reigns, the nation gained the height of grandeur; but no national senate was appointed, and the power of the kings continued to be despotic, and so the days of their prosperity were soon over. As soon as Rehoboam ascended the throne he openly avowed the most despotic principles, so that ten tribes revolted, and made Jeroboam their king. Jeroboam, out of policy, to prevent a reunion with Judah by means of the temple worship, placed two calves at the extremities of his kingdom, and persuaded the people to worship God by them instead of going to Jerusalem: and this false worship, together with a multitude of other idolatries introduced by this means, was the religion of the ten tribes, until they were captivated by the king of Assyria, and dispersed and lost among the nations. Nor did Rehoboam pay greater regard to the law of Moses; for he built high-places, and made images and groves on every high hill and under every green tree, and did according to all the abominations of the heathen; and in consequence of this, every kind of vice, and even sodomy, prevailed in the land. From this time the propensity of the people to idolatry increased, so that they readily followed the examples of succeeding bad kings, and it became a very difficult task for the best to make an effectual reformation. Nor is it to be wondered at that false religion so easily gained ground; for the people grew very ignorant: no care was taken to instruct them, in their several cities, in the law of God; but, being without teachers, they were very little acquainted with their own religious institutions. For this reason when good king Jehoshaphat resolved upon a reformation in church and state, after having taken a circuit thro’ his kingdom to
bring the people back to the Lord God of their fathers, he sent out some of his principal officers, with priests and levites, to teach the people in the cities of Judah; and these carried the book of the law with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught them that religion which God commanded by Moses.
It likewise appears by what immediately follows this account of his proceedings, that there had been a long omission of the administration of justice in the cities; that no courts had been kept up by preceeding kings, or such as were corrupt, in which the judges paid little regard to law and equity: for the king
set judges in the land, throughout all the fenced cities of Judah, city by city, and said unto the judges, take heed what ye do, for ye judge not for man but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment:—wherefore now let the fear of Lord be upon you, take heed and do it, for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.
Repeated attempts were made by the few pious kings, to put a stop to the corruption of religion and morals; but all in vain; the people relapsed again and again into ignorance, idolatry, and wickedness: their vices had increased to the utmost degree of enormity in Jeremiah’s time; and their complicated crimes at length brought upon them desolation and a long captivity.
And now let us just take a glance at their general state after the captivity in Babylon. When they returned to their own land they endeavored to conform their religion and government to the mosaic standard; idolatry was entirely purged out; they discovered great zeal for the law of their God and the instituted worship; they appointed a general senate of seventy elders, called by them the Sanhedrin, with a supreme magistrate at the head, for the government of the nation; and while their pious zeal continued they grew and prospered. But, according to the common course of things in the world, religion soon degenerated into mere formality, without proper regard to its principal intention, and became only a shadow of that delivered to their fathers; the affairs of state were badly administered, and the highest honors were gained by favor, bribery, or violence; hypocrisy was substituted in the room of the true fear of God, and the practice of righteousness; all the vices natural to mankind daily increased; and finally they filled up the measure of their sins by crucifying the Lord of Glory, and rejecting his gospel, for which they have been made monuments of the divine displeasure unto this day.
Therefore upon the whole view we see, that the Israelites never attained to that fame and dignity among the nations which their constitution encouraged them to expect, because they took little care to practice agreably to the good statutes and judgments given them by Moses. Their constitution both of government and religion was excellent in writing, but was never exemplified in fact.
And now, my fellow citizens, and much honored fathers of the State, you may be ready to ask “To what purpose is this long detail of antiquated history on this public occasion?” I answer—Examples are better than precepts; and history is the best instructor both in polity and morals. I have presented you with the portrait of a nation, highly favoured by heaven with civil and religious institutions, who yet, by not improving their advantages, forfeited their blessings, and brought contempt and destruction on themselves. If I am not mistaken, instead of the twelve tribes of Israel, we may substitute the thirteen states of the American union, and see this application plainly offering itself, viz.—That as God in the course of his kind providence hath given you an excellent constitution of government, founded on the most rational, equitable, and liberal principles, by which all that liberty is secured which a people can reasonably claim, and you are impowered to make righteous laws for promoting public order and good morals; and as he has moreover given you by his son Jesus Christ, who is far superior to Moses, a complete revelation of his will, and a perfect system of true religion, plainly delivered in the sacred writings; it will be your wisdom in the eyes of the nations, and your true interest and happiness, to conform your practice in the strictest manner to the excellent principles of your government, adhere faithfully to the doctrines and commands of the gospel, and practice every public and private virtue. By this you will increase in numbers, wealth, and power, and obtain reputation and dignity among the nations: whereas, the contrary conduct will make you poor, distressed, and contemptible.
The God of heaven hath not indeed visibly displayed the glory of his majesty and power before our eyes, as he came down in the sight of Israel on the burning mount; nor has he written with his own finger the laws of our civil polity: but the signal interpositions of divine providence, in saving us from the vengeance of a powerful irritated nation, from which we were unavoidably separated by their inadmissible claim of absolute parliamentary power over us; in giving us a Washington to be captain-general of our armies, in carrying us through the various distressing scenes of war and desolation, and making us twice triumphant over numerous armies, surrounded and captivated in the midst of their career; and finally giving us peace, with a large territory, and acknowledged independence; all these laid together fall little short of real miracles, and an heavenly charter of liberty for these United-States. And when we reflect, how wonderfully the order of these states was preserved when government was dissolved, or supported only by feeble props; with how much sobriety, wisdom, and unanimity they formed and received the diversified yet similar constitutions in the different states; with what prudence, fidelity, patience, and success, the Congress have managed the general government, under the great disadvantages of a very imperfect and impotent confederation; we cannot but acknowledge that God hath graciously patronized our cause, and taken us under his special care, as he did his ancient covenant people.
Or we may consider the hand of God in another view. Wisdom is the gift of God, and social happiness depends on his providencial government; therefore, if these states have framed their constitutions with superior wisdom, and secured their natural rights, and all the advantages of society, with greater precaution than other nations, we may with good reason affirm that God hath given us our government; that he hath taught us good statutes and judgments, tending to make us great and respectable in the view of the world. Only one thing more remains to complete his favor toward us; which is, the establishment of a general government, as happily formed as our particular constitutions, for the perfect union of these states. Without this, all that we glory in is lost; but if this should be effected, we may say with the greatest joy, “God hath done great things for us.” The general form of such a constitution hath already been drawn up, and presented to the people, by a convention of the wisest and most celebrated patriots in the land: eight of the states have approved and accepted it, with full testimonies of joy: and if it passes the scrutiny of the whole, and recommends itself to be universally adopted, we shall have abundant reason to offer elevated thanksgivings to the supreme Ruler of the universe for a government completed under his direction.*
Now our part is to make a wise improvement of what God grants us, and not neglect or despise our distinguishing privileges: for the best constitution, badly managed, will soon fall, and be changed into anarchy or tyranny. Without constant care of your families, you will have bad servants, and your estates will be wasted. So we must pay constant attention to the great family, if we desire to be a free and happy people.
The power in all our republics is acknowleged to originate in the people: it is delegated by them to every magistrate and officer; and to the people all in authority are accountable, if they deviate from their duty, and abuse their power. Even the man, who may be advanced to the chief command of these United States, according to the proposed constitution; whose office resembles that of a king in other nations, which has always been thought so sacred that they have had no conception of bringing a king before the bar of justice; even he depends on the choice of the people for his temporary and limited power, and will be liable to impeachment, trial, and disgrace for any gross misconduct. On the people, therefore, of these United-States it depends whether wise men, or fools, good or bad men, shall govern them; whether they shall have righteous laws, a faithful administration of government, and permanent good order, peace, and liberty; or, on the contrary, feel insupportable burdens, and see all their affairs run to confusion and ruin.
Therefore, I will now lift up my voice, and cry aloud to the people; to the people of this state in particular, whom I will consider as present by their representatives and rulers, and the congregation here collected from various towns. Rise! Rise to fame among all nations, as a wise and understanding people! political life and death are set before you; be a free, numerous, well ordered, and happy people! The way has been plainly set before you; if you pursue it, your prosperity is sure; but if not, distress and ruin will overtake you.
Preserve your government with the utmost attention and solicitude, for it is the remarkable gift of heaven. From year to year be careful in the choice of your representatives, and all the higher powers of government. Fix your eyes upon men of good understanding, and known honesty; men of knowledge, improved by experience; men who fear God, and hate covetousness; who love truth and righteousness, and sincerely wish the public welfare. Beware of such as are cunning rather than wise; who prefer their own interest to every thing; whose judgment is partial, or fickle; and whom you would not willingly trust with your own private interests. When meetings are called for the choice of your rulers, do not carelessly neglect them, or give your votes with indifference, just as any party may persuade, or a sordid treat tempt you; but act with serious deliberation and judgment, as in a most important matter, and let the faithful of the land serve you. Let not men openly irreligious and immoral become your legislators; for how can you expect good laws to be made by men who have no fear of God before their eyes, and who boldly trample on the authority of his commands? And will not the example of their impiety and immorality defeat the efficacy of the best laws which can be made in favour of religion and virtue? If the legislative body are corrupt, you will soon have bad men for counsellors, corrupt judges, unqualified justices, and officers in every department who will dishonor their stations; the consequence of which will be murmurs and complaints from every quarter. Let a superior character point out the man who is to be your head; for much depends on his inspection and care of public affairs and the influence of his judgment, advice and conduct, although his power is circumscribed: in this choice therefore be always on your guard against parties, and the methods taken to make interest for unworthy men, and let distinguished merit always determine your vote. And when all places in government are filled with the best men you can find, behave yourselves as good subjects; obey the laws; cheerfully submit to such taxation as the necessities of the public call for; give tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, and honor to whom honor, as the gospel commands you. Never give countenance to turbulent men, who wish to distinguish themselves, and rise to power, by forming combinations and exciting insurrections against government: for this can never be the right way to redress real grievances, since you may not only prefer complaints and petitions to the court, but have the very authority, which you think has been misused, in your own power, and may very shortly place it in other hands. How happy was it for this state, that the insurrection, attempted here two years ago, was so seasonably and with so little difficulty suppressed, when the neighbouring state was brought into such a difficult and critical situation by the distracted populace, and has now scarcely recovered from that violent political paroxism.
I call upon you also to support schools in all your towns, that the rising generation may not grow up in ignorance. Grudge not any expence proportionate to your abilities. It is a debt you owe to your children, and that God to whom they belong; a necessary evidence of your regard for their present and future happiness, and of your concern to transmit the blessings you yourselves enjoy to future generations. The human mind without early and continual cultivation grows wild and savage: knowledge must be instilled as its capacities gradually enlarge, or it cannot expand and extend its sphere of activity. Without instruction men can have no knowledge but what comes from their own observation and experience, and it will be a long time before they can be acquainted even with things most necessary for the support and comfort of the present life. Leave your children untaught to read, write, cypher, &c. teach them no trade, or husbandry; let them grow up wholly without care; and they will be more fit for a savage than civil life, and whatever inheritance you may think to leave them will be of no advantage. But, on the contrary, train them up in the fear of God, in an acquaintance with his word, and all such useful knowledge as your abilities will allow, and they will soon know how to provide for themselves, perhaps may take care of their aged parents, and fill the various stations in life with honor and advantage. Look round and see the growing youth: they are to succeed in your stead; government and religion must be continued by them; from among these will shortly rise up our legislators, judges, ministers of the gospel, and officers of every rank. Can you think of this, and not promote schools, academies, and colleges? Can you leave the youth uninstructed in any thing which may prepare them to act their part well in the world? Will you suffer ignorance to spread its horrid gloom over the land? An ignorant people will easily receive idolatry for their religion, and must bow their necks to the tyrant’s yoke, because they are incapable of using rational liberty. Will you then consign over your posterity to foolish and abominable superstitions instead of religion, and to be the slaves of despotism, when a small proportion of the produce of your labours will make them wise, free, and happy?
Will you hear me patiently a little farther, while I say one thing more of very great importance, which I dare not suppress. I call upon you to preserve the knowledge of God in the land, and attend to the revelation written to us from heaven. If you neglect or renounce that religion taught and commanded in the holy scriptures, think no more of freedom, peace, and happiness; the judgments of heaven will persue you. Religion is not a vain thing for you because it is your life: it has been the glory and defence of New-England from the infancy of the settlements; let it be also our glory and protection. I mean no other religion than what is divinely prescribed, which God himself has delivered to us with equal evidence of his authority, and even superior to that given to Israel, and which he has as strictly commanded us to receive and observe. The holy scriptures are given as the only rule of our faith, worship and obedience, and if we are guided by this perfect rule, we shall keep the way of truth and righteousness, and obtain the heavenly glory. We are now no more at liberty to draw up schemes of religion for ourselves, according to our own deceitful reasonings and vain imaginations, or to comply with the traditions and commands of men, or fall in with the refinements of human wisdom and the fashionable sentiments of the world, than Israel was to substitute modes of serving God different from what he had expressly required. We must believe what the Son of God, who made the worlds, and was sent by the Father with a proclamation of mercy to mankind, has declared to us. He died to redeem men from the servitude of sin, and reconcile them to God that they may be raised to life eternal; and he is appointed to be like a second Moses, the captain of our salvation to conduct us to heaven: to him therefore we must hearken in all things. The principal doctrines of his gospel are quite simple, plain and important. He teaches us that the commands of God reach to the inward thoughts, principles, and affections of the heart, as well as the outward conduct, and are as pure and perfect as the divine nature; that according to the laws of his moral government all men universally are sinners, and must repent in order to obtain mercy; that remission of sins is obtained only by believing on his name, and through his blood shed for us on the cross; that his disciples must receive his word, and obey whatsoever he hath commanded, endeavoring to be holy in all manner of conversation and avoid all the vices and corruptions of the world; that there will be a resurrection from the dead both of the just and unjust; and a day of solemn judgment, when all mankind must give an account of their conduct in this world, and receive their sentence from him whom the Father hath constituted to be the judge; and that in consequence of their sentence mankind will depart into very opposite states; the wicked into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal, the present visible system of nature being then dissolved in flames. In the belief of these plain truths, and that worship and obedience connected with them, the religion of christians consists. As to worship, no multiplied forms, and punctilious ceremonies are prescribed, which only serve to throw a veil over the mind; no certain modes are made necessary; but we must worship God, who is a spirit, in spirit and in truth, by prayer and praise, with love and fear, hope and joy. For such worship christians are united into societies called churches; and are required to assemble every Lord’s day, that they may glorify God with one heart and voice, and be instructed and edified by his word, and the two only ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper; which are very simple, but well adapted to the nature and design of our religion.
The christian religion, therefore, is confined to no particular nation, sect, or denomination; but is designed to call all men to repentance and newness of life; to encourage their hope in the mercy of God, thro’ the only mediator Jesus Christ; persuade them to the most cheerful, persevering obedience; and comfort them, under all the labours and sorrows of the world, and the natural dread of death, with the assurance of a glorious immortality. This religion may be believed and practised, so as to answer the main purposes of it, under the various forms in which christian churches now appear: just as the principal ends of civil government may be obtained under the various constitutions which have taken place in different nations, however one may be much more eligible than another.
Therefore, regard not men who are continually crying up their own sect, and employing their utmost zeal and art to proselyte men to their party: they aim to strengthen themselves by your numbers and purses, more than to save your souls. If any say, lo here is Christ! or lo there! go not after them: for wherever his word abides, there is Christ; in and by his word he is already with us, and dwells in the hearts of believers. Listen to no enthusiasts, who instead of enlightening confound your understandings; and substitute folly, nonsense, and hypocritical grimace, in the room of a clear manifestation of truth and conformity of heart and life to the gospel. Take heed of imbibing the licentious principles of men who affect to render all religion doubtful, by persuading you that every kind of religion is equally acceptable to God if a man is but sincere in it; for this renders revelation useless. Beware of receiving new opinions, which militate with the plain and obvious meaning of the word of Christ, however they may pretend to be clearer discoveries of truth, and more comfortable and beneficial to mankind: but adhere to the written word, taken in the most natural sense, without forced allegories, whimsical constructions, or torturing criticisms; especially hold fast those doctrines which meet your eye in almost every page of the new testament. Read and meditate in the word of God day and night, and diligently attend on the public ministrations which Christ hath appointed in his church; and consider that as a true church where the truth as it is in Jesus is preached, and his plain institutions observed, whatever the particular form or denomination may be, avoiding all contentions and uncharitable separations. Be earnest to procure ministers, who preach the uncorrupted doctrines of the gospel, in all your towns: let none of your parishes continue vacant thro’ indifference, negligence, or covetousness; and never withhold from faithful ministers a comfortable support. When we look round and see so many churches destitute of teachers, contenting themselves in the total neglect of all divine institutions, have we not reason to fear that God is departing from us? And if our religion is given up, all the liberty we boast of will soon be gone; a profane and wicked people cannot hope for divine blessings, but it may be easily foretold that “evil will befall them in the latter days.”
While I thus earnestly exhort you to religion, it must be understood as equally an exhortation to every branch of morality; for without this all religion is vain. That excellent sentence of the wise king ought forever to be in our minds—“Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is the reproach of any people.” Sobriety, good order, honesty, fidelity, industry, frugality, and the like virtues must prevail; public crimes against person or property must be restrained and punished; or a people cannot be happy. Therefore let all maintain rectitude of conduct, and practise every thing virtuous and praise-worthy among their neighbours, and be just and true in all their intercourse and commerce. Unite in assisting the government in the execution of all good laws: and let all the members of the body politic consider that their own happiness depends on the welfare of the whole.
My subject hath lead me into this long and earnest address to the people. But it suggests some things which may properly be addressed to this honorable court. Will you hear me patiently, while with the utmost respect, I say a few words to excite the wise reflections of your own minds.
You will consider that you assemble from time to time as fathers of the large family, which depends on you to take care of its general welfare, and that no local views ought to govern you, nor partial instructions of your constituents bind you to act contrary to the clear conviction or your own minds. You will be cautious of forming parties for any selfish purposes, and of being too hasty in determining important matters, or too slow in your proceedings when business is urgent. In order to form a wise judgment of every thing that comes before you, you are sensible of the propriety of examining things to the bottom, attending patiently to every argument on both sides, and asking conscience, rather than any friend, what ought to be done. Like frugal housholders you will save all unnecessary expences, and take good care of the treasury; but not suffer the faithful servants of the state to be so stinted in their reward as to discourage them from their duty. Lay no grievous burdens on the people beyond their abilities; but take the earliest, easiest, and most righteous methods to reduce and pay off the public debt, unhappily involved in all the perplexities occasioned by boundless emissions of depreciating paper notes. Be liberal, yet frugal in grants of money, according to the exigencies of the public. Let no laws be wanting which good order, and the proper administration of government and justice require; but make no law which establisheth iniquity. And may I propose it, as worthy of your consideration, whether some reformation may not be necessary as to processes in our courts of justice: whether appeals from court to court are not allowed beyond reason and equity, in the plainest cases, and of too trivial value: by which some of our courts are made mere vehicles, justice is delayed, and the law made unnecessarily expensive, tedious and vexatious; and whether some method may not be thought of to determine the judgment of causes in lower or higher courts in proportion to their value and importance. I beg leave to say one word as to religion. With respect to articles of faith or modes of worship, civil authority have no right to establish religion. The people ought to choose their own ministers, and their own denomination, as our laws now permit them; but as far as religion is connected with the morals of the people, and their improvement in knowledge, it becomes of great importance to the state; and legislators may well consider it as part of their concern for the public welfare, to make provision that all the towns may be furnished with good teachers, that they may be impowered to make valid contracts, and that the fulfilment of such contracts should be secured against the fickle humours of men, who are always ready to shift from sect to sect, or make divisions in parishes that they may get free from all legal obligations to their ministers. Perhaps a little addition to the law already in force in this state might sufficiently secure the continuance of religious instruction, enlarge rather than diminish liberty of conscience, and prevent envyings, contentions, and crumbling into parties. Will you permit me now to pray in behalf of the people, that all the departments of government may be constantly filled with the wisest and best men; that his excellency the president may have the assistance of an able and faithful council; that the administration of justice may be in the hands of judges and justices well qualified for their offices, who will not take bribes, or in any manner pervert judgment; in a word, that the constitution established may in every respect be well supported by your care, and that the people may know the blessings of good government by the union of your counsels, and the wisdom of your proceedings. May the Almighty King of kings always be in the midst of you, direct and assist you, impress your hearts with his fear, and grant present and future blessings in reward of your fidelity.
And now if I have delivered words of truth, agreeably to my text; and pointed out the sure way to be a prosperous and happy people; may these things sink deep into your hearts, and be accompanied with the divine blessing! May the general government of these United States, when established, appear to be the best which the nations have yet known, and be exalted by uncorrupted religion and morals! And may the everlasting gospel diffuse its heavenly light, and spread righteousness, liberty, and peace, thro’ the whole world.
A CENTURY SERMON ON THE GLORIOUS REVOLUTION
Elhanan Winchester (1751–1797). A native of Brookline, Massachusetts, Winchester was at first a Baptist and later a Universalist clergyman at churches in Massachusetts and South Carolina, in Philadelphia and London. A remarkable personality possessed of a photographic memory, he became learned in biblical languages and interpretation. During his longest pastorate, at the Baptist Church in Philadelphia (1780–87), he was friends with leading citizens, including Benjamin Rush and John Redman, and his brilliant preaching attracted large crowds. His acceptance of Universalism split the congregation, and he was driven out. He moved to London and remained there until 1794. Again he was successful and moved in the circles of such luminaries as Thomas Belsham, Joseph Priestley, and John Wesley.
Winchester’s family life could be justly considered a darkly troubled one. He married four women, each of whom died within a year or two, and of his eight children seven were stillborn and the eighth lived only seventeen months. A fifth wife made violent attacks upon Winchester. He left her, and England, in 1794, but she followed him to Connecticut, where they lived together again. He died of tuberculosis soon after, at the age of forty-five.
Winchester was a prolific author and for two years in London edited The Philadelphian Magazine. The publications setting forth his theological views were widely read on both sides of the Atlantic. They include The Universal Restoration (1788); A Course of Lectures on the Prophecies That Remain to Be Fulfilled (3 vols., 1789–90); The Process and Empire of Christ (1793), a long poem of 384 printed pages; and A Defence of Revelation in Ten Letters to Thomas Paine (1796), a response to The Age of Reason. In 1796 Winchester published, for use in American schools, A Plain Political Catechism, “wherein the great principles of liberty, and of the federal government, are laid down and explained by way of question and answer. Made level to the lowest capacities.”
The sermon reprinted here was preached in both Canterbury and London in November 1788 (one hundred years after the landing in England of William of Orange) as a century sermon celebrating the Glorious Revolution and the securing of English liberty. In the important political passages of the sermon, Winchester takes the occasion to trace the genealogy of liberty in Britain and America, from the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 to the stirring crescendo reached in the framing of the Constitution of the United States in 1787. He stresses that the American Revolution was a war between the Americans and the British ministry, not the British people themselves. He concludes with an apocalyptic sketch of the end of history, the Second Coming, and the dawn of the Millennium.
Who is like unto thee, O Lord, amongst the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in Holiness, fearful in Praises, doing Wonders?
Exodus xv. 11
This grand and noble song (the first we find in the sacred writings), celebrates a most astonishing event. The children of Israel went down into Egypt, and had there increased from about seventy persons, to near three millions, in two hundred and fifteen years; and though Egypt was greatly indebted to the children of Jacob, especially to Joseph, yet the king and people of the land, forgetting those obligations, and greatly envying the increase of the tribes of Israel, cruelly oppressed them, by causing them to labour without reward; and not content with this tyranny, the cruel Pharaoh ordered their males to be cast into the river, to prevent their increase.
In this time Moses was born and by the special providence of God was brought up in Pharaoh’s court, till he was come to years; when he chose rather to suffer with his brethren, the children of Israel, than to enjoy the pleasures of the court, which the scriptures call the pleasures of sin. For avenging one of his brethren upon an Egyptian, who cruelly beat him, he was obliged to leave the country; and after dwelling forty years a stranger in Midian, God sent him as a special messenger, and leader, to bring forth Israel out of Egypt. He came invested with divine authority, and going to the king in the name of the Lord, demanded of him to let the people go, that they might serve God. Pharaoh refused, and said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? I know not the Lord; neither will I let Israel go.”
The land of Egypt was then visited with ten dreadful successive plagues. God “turned their waters into blood, and slew their fish. Their land brought forth frogs in abundance,” even in the chambers of their monarch. The dust of the land became lice upon man and beast. Divers sorts of flies came at the command of the Lord; such as were intolerable to endure. A grievous murrain came upon their cattle, and the beasts suffered for the sins of their owners. Ashes of the furnace sprinkled in the air became a grievous sore upon man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt. “He gave them hail for rain; and flaming fire in their land: He smote their vines also, and their fig-trees, and brake the trees of their coasts.”
That storm must have been very terrible in a country where even rain itself is unusual; it was threatened to be such as had not been in Egypt, from the foundation of the kingdom till that time. So terrible as to slay whatever man or beast should be exposed to its fury. There was “thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt, since it became a nation.” This dreadful hail smote all men, beasts, trees, and vegetables, throughout the land of Egypt, except such as were housed, and secured therefrom. The next plague that followed was that of the locusts; of which the Psalmist says, “He spake, and the locusts came; and caterpillers, and that without number, and did eat up all the herbs in their land; and devoured the fruit of their ground.”
The next plague was that of a miraculous thick darkness, which for three days and nights covered the land of Egypt, so that “they saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days.”
But the tenth and last plague, more terrible than all the rest, was that of the death of the first-born of Egypt, of which the Psalmist says, “He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them. He made a way to his anger, he spared not their soul from death: but gave their life over to the pestilence. And smote all the first-born in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham.”
What a most awful dispensation was this! in the dead and silent hour of midnight, while the inhabitants of Egypt lay slumbering on their couches, little dreaming of such destruction being near them; the dreadful angel of death, whom the Jews call Samael, went through the land of Egypt, and slew the first-born in every family, from the first-born of the king on the throne, to the captive in the dungeon; no rank was spared; high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, were visited alike with affliction in that sad distressing night. It is no wonder that “Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and (that) there was a great cry in Egypt: for there was not a house where there was not one dead.” Pharaoh and the Egyptians were now as anxious to send the children of Israel away, as they had been before to keep them in subjection; they “were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men.”
So the children of Israel departed from Egypt, just four hundred and thirty years from the call of Abram to leave his native land; and “Egypt was glad when they departed”; for the fear of the Israelites fell upon the Egyptians.
But God, who knew that Pharaoh would repent of letting Israel go, and pursue after them, ordered the people to encamp near an arm of the Red-sea; so that no apparent possibility of escape might be seen; and that if deliverance came, it might be plainly manifest to be the Lord’s doing, and appear marvellous in their eyes. For it may be observed, that when God is about to work a great deliverance for his people, he usually first brings them into a great strait, so that destruction seems inevitable; and this he doth for the glory of his name, that their salvation may appear to be wholly his work, and that all the praise may be given to him alone, and that men may learn to know and reverence him, and acknowledge his hand in all things.
Pharaoh with his six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them, with his horses, horsemen, and his army, overtook the children of Israel, just as they were encamping by the sea; in such a place, that it seemed absolutely impossible for them to escape the enraged and armed Egyptians, who advanced against them with all their force, in a most warlike and terrible manner. Nothing but death or slavery appeared before their eyes; they were equally unable to fight or to fly; they were unarmed, unused to war, and had they been ever so much exercised in warlike arts, and ever so well armed, the mixed multitude of women, old people and children, with the abundance of cattle and goats they had with them, would have rendered them unable to maintain a conflict with a large army of warlike men, prepared to the battle, with horses and chariots in abundance. Neither was it more practicable for them to fly, even upon a supposition that the country had been open; for women, little ones, and droves of cattle and sheep could never march so fast as to escape a pursuing army, mounted on the best horses in the world, and in chariots prepared for war.
But even this was not the case, they had not this chance of escaping; far from having an open country, they were entangled in the land, the wilderness had shut them in; difficulties on the right hand and on the left, rendered it impossible for them to turn off, so as to escape; the red sea before, and the pursuing army behind, overtaking them at the greatest disadvantage, when they were just encamping, increased their distresses, dangers, and fears to the highest possible pitch. Despair seized the host of Israel, the people lifted up their eyes, and saw the Egyptians marching after them,
and they were sore afraid: and cried out unto the Lord. And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in this wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.
This was the language of despair and madness; no hope or expectation of deliverance now remained; they gave up themselves for lost. But Moses, directed by God, said unto the people, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever,” (in any capacity to hurt you). “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” And verily the Lord did fight for them indeed! for he commanded Moses to stretch out his wonderful rod over the sea, and he obeyed; and the Lord caused a strong east wind to blow, and divided the waters of the sea; and in the mean time, to prevent the Egyptians from coming near to distress the Israelites, or even to incommode them in their passage, the Lord removed the cloud of glory that went before the camp of the Israelites, as their light and guide, and placed it between them and the Egyptians; so that it was a cloud and darkness to their enemies, but on the contrary, a bright and glorious light to them: this kept the armies apart, and answered the double purpose of greatly incommoding the Egyptians, while it secured the Israelites; gave them light to pursue their journey, and forwarded them on their way. Is it not astonishing, that the Egyptians, seeing the waters of the sea divided, and this extraordinary cloud placed between them and the Israelites, should not have been deterred from their pursuit? for they must have perceived, that the God who had sent so many plagues upon Egypt, whereby his name and power had been abundantly made known, had taken the Israelites under his protection, and was determined to deliver them, and that he was manifestly fighting for them. But so were they blinded, and hardened, that they ventured to pursue Israel into the sea; and they did not appear to have taken up this plain and obvious consideration, viz. The Lord fighteth for Israel against the Egyptians, till it was too late for them to profit by it, not until the Lord looked through the pillar of fire and of the cloud upon their host, and troubled it; and took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily. Then would they fain have fled, but the time was past; that which they seemed blind unto before, now appeared self-evident; but their knowledge was then unprofitable and tormenting. O, could men learn to be as wise and considerate in the proper season, as they are when it is past, how many difficulties would they escape?
God then ordered Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, that the waters might return again upon the Egyptians; and he did so. “And the waters returned and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them: there remained not so much as one of them.”
This great overthrow of the Egyptians, and deliverance of Israel, are the wonders celebrated in this piece of sacred poetry, which is truly worthy of its excellent composer.
Moses, whether considered as a historian, poet, legislator, judge, general, prophet, or intercessor, whether viewed in his private character, or public life, is one of the greatest and best men that ever existed on earth. His meekness, courage, prudence, humility, benevolence, wisdom, and piety, may stand as an eternal example to all men in high stations, to teach them what they should be, and how they ought to conduct themselves.
This song is a most glorious and triumphant ode, which celebrates the victories of the God of Israel in the most strong and beautiful language. It needs only to be read even under all the disadvantages of a literal translation, to observe very uncommon beauties in it; What then must it have been to have heard it performed in the original language, accompanied with suitable musick, by the many thousands of glad hearts and voices, of those who had not only been spectators, but sharers in the glorious deliverance, which it celebrates in so sublime a manner? But it is time to attend a little particularly to the words which I first read.
Who is like unto thee, O Jehovah amongst the Gods? There is none like the great Supreme, his awful name Jehovah, contains the past, present and future tenses; He is the Being who is, who was, and shall be; He ordered Moses to proclaim his name, Ehejah; that is, I will be what I will be; this none but the most high alone could say, for he hath manifested himself as the Being who is, and the causer or creator of all other beings, who all owe their existence, and continuance to him alone, for as he created all things, so he preserveth all, and all nature adores him.
There is none like him in his self-existence; he only exists of and from, and by himself; all other beings owe their existence to him.
There is none like him, self sufficient, and independent; no created being possesses these perfections in a proper sense, not in the least degree; all are insufficient in themselves, and must be forever dependent upon him the great fountain of existence, both for their being, and well being; for as they could not exist of themselves, so neither can they sustain or support themselves, nor enjoy any felicity, but from him, on whom the whole creation is dependent.
None are like him in his eternity, he is, and none beside him, without beginning, all others had a commencement of existence: he only is without beginning, the first and the last, from eternity to eternity.
Who is like him in his immensity and infinity? not one: none can compare with him in these characters; all created beings are finite and circumscribed, bounded in all respects, both in knowledge, power, and goodness, but he is infinite and unbounded.
God is unchangeable; in this respect, who can compare with him? surely none in the earth or heaven.
“I am Jehovah; I change not.” This God could say, and none but he.
Who is like Jehovah in his omniscience? even the consideration of this perfection, is too much for the highest wisdom of men.
David was astonished at this boundless subject, and cried out,
O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me; thou knowest my down-sitting, and mine up-rising; thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path, and my lying-down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
He was overwhelmed at the thought of God’s omniscience, which equally extends to things past, present, and to come: and includes the knowledge of all his creatures, and all their circumstances, thoughts, words, ways, &c and in a word, his knowledge is infinite, and there is none like him in this.
Omnipresence is another divine perfection, which none can claim in any degree but God; “Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to him,” who is in all places at once, not included in any one place, nor excluded from any: he fills heaven and earth; neither is there any thing hid from him.
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely, the darkness shall cover me: even the night shall be light about me: Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
God is present every where, beholding all things, hell and destruction have no covering to hide them from his face; all things are naked to his eye. O, what a Being is this! and who is like unto him amongst the gods?
His omnipotence is another glorious perfection, in which none may dare to compare themselves with him. He can do whatsoever he pleases, without restriction or exception. The works of creation evidence this abundantly: the heavens, earth, and seas, with all their numberless hosts, proclaim the power of God to be infinite; the heaven of heavens with the innume[ra]ble multitude of angels, all join to proclaim the omnipotence of the Deity. Neither is it by creation alone that the knowledge of this perfection is revealed; the works of Providence declare it.
Who could provide for such a numerous family, as the wide creation contains, but a God all-powerful, as well as infinitely wise? The judgments which Jehovah executeth upon his enemies, and the deliverances which he gives to those who trust in him, have contributed to cause his power to be known, and declared, as much as any of his works. Thus God’s mighty hand upon the land of Egypt, and upon Pharaoh and his host, hath made his power known, and caused his name to be declared through the earth.
And when the children of Israel saw these mighty works, they cried out in the words of my text, Who is like unto thee, O Lord, amongst the gods?
In all these perfections which I have mentioned, there is none like Jehovah. Amongst the gods there is none like him; amongst all the holy angels in heaven, who are called gods, there are none who can compare with him; still less can emperors, kings, princes, nobles, rulers, judges, and magistrates of the earth, those gods below, pretend to be likened unto the Majesty of heaven and earth. But most of all, it is absurd and ridiculous to compare God with the idols of the heathen; he challenges these, with all their adherents to enter the lists with him, either in telling events that are past, foretelling those to come, or bringing any thing to pass, whether good or evil, as may be seen in my Preparatory Lecture upon the Prophecies; and his challenges may be read at large in several prophecies, especially in Isaiah. If none amongst angels or men, the works of his hands, may be compared to Jehovah; how much less idols of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood and stone, the work of mens hands, which neither hear, nor speak, nor see, nor know? “But our God is in the heavens, he hath done whatsoever he pleased. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hand. They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not. They have ears, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not. They have hands, but they handle not; feet have they, but they walk not; neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.” These idols are not even shadows of divinity; they are vanity, wind, and confusion: they are meaner than the meanest of men, viler than the beasts, and therefore would not be worthy to be mentioned in such a discourse as this, had not the nations of the world been generally guilty of worshipping them: and therefore Jehovah deigns to reason with men, and to convince them of the vanity and folly of such conduct.
Well might Israel say, “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, amongst the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness?” Not only the essential attributes of God, which I have mentioned, are such as neither angels nor men can claim, but also his moral character and perfections as holiness, justice, goodness, truth, and righteousness, are such as none can claim but God alone; “there is none good but one, that is, God.” “There is none holy as the Lord; for there is none beside thee.” “The Lord is righteous.” “Justice and judgement are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.” God is indeed glorious in holiness!
So pure is he, that “the heavens are not clean in his sight; he putteth no trust in his saints, and his angels he charged with folly: he is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon iniquity.” The seraphim in his presence continually cry; “Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” He is indeed glorious in holiness; “Holy and reverend is his name.” “Holiness becometh thy house, O God, for ever.” “Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool, for he is holy.” This is the universal language of God’s word and providences; God is holy. Yea, he is glorious in holiness, he shines most superlatively in this part of his character: his judgements against sin and iniquity bespeak his holiness: as the destruction of Pharaoh and his host in the sea; which is celebrated in this song.
So holy is God, that no unclean thing, or person can dwell with him; and therefore we are exhorted, to follow holiness, without which no “man shall see the Lord.”
God is also “fearful in praises; he is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him. For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.”
Though he is to be loved and praised, yet with holy fear and reverence; for he is most holy, wise, and powerful, just, righteous, true, pure, and good; he knows all things, is every where present; his eyes are as a flame of fire; he is jealous for his honour and glory; and will not suffer his holy name to be profaned by the highest personage on the earth with impunity. He will be sanctified by all that approach him. And he is fearful in praises, for the very things for which he deserves praise, are those things which cause his name to be feared and reverenced; as for instance, the judgements brought on the land of Egypt, and on Pharaoh and his host, are celebrated in this song of praise; and yet they were terrible things in righteousness. So that he is the great and terrible God, worthy to be praised, and yet to be feared.
He is farther described in my text as, doing wonders; and I have mentioned some of the wonders which he wrought before the eyes of those who sang this song of praise to his holy name; and if time would permit, I might speak of many more that they beheld; they had bread rained from heaven, during forty years, for their support; and all that time their clothes waxed not old, neither did their feet swell. The bitter waters of Marah were made sweet for them. They had living waters given them out of the flinty rock. They were miraculously provided with food, both bread, and meat; and water in the barren desert; not a few people only, but several millions; not for a few days, but for forty years. They saw many wonders which God wrought, both in judgements and mercies towards them; of which time would fail me to speak particularly. And indeed one of the principal designs of this discourse, is to celebrate some of the wonders which God hath done for this nation in times past; and which are worthy to be remembered, and celebrated with praise and thanksgiving.
In the year 1588, two centuries ago, Philip of Spain (a second Pharaoh for pride and cruelty), thought to have the glory of conquering this kingdom (that had then newly embraced the Protestant religion), and of annexing it to the See of Rome.
At that time Spain was at the zenith of its earthly glory, possessing an extent of empire, on which they boasted the sun never went down.
The rich mines of Mexico and Peru, poured in silver and gold in abundance, into the treasuries of the king of Spain. America had been discovered ninety-six years, and the Spaniards alone had derived any advantages from the discovery. The resources they drew from that country were amazing indeed. But besides plenty of money, which may be called, the sinews of war, Spain, at that time had the best army, and finest navy in Europe; and the greatest commanders of the age, both by land and sea.
Under all these advantages, they doubted not of success in their intended invasion of England; but to make the matter more sure, they kept the expedition as secret as possible; but in the mean time fitted out a most formidable armament, destined to destroy the lives, but especially the liberties of the inhabitants of these isles. The cruel bishop, or pope of Rome, willing to give the greatest possible encouragement to the undertaking, published a bull by which he excommunicated Queen Elizabeth over again, and absolved all her subjects from their allegiance to her: proclaimed a crusade against her, with the usual indulgences; promising the pardon of sins, and an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, to those who should die in this war. And he gave the name of the invincible armada, to this armament; and moreover presented a consecrated banner to Philip, with his blessing; which in those days of superstition, was thought sufficient to ensure success. So confident were they of obtaining an easy victory, that about two thousand volunteers entered into the service; many of whom were noblemen, belonging to the first families in Spain and Italy. And indeed there was hardly a family of rank in those countries, that had not some one or more of its connections on board the fleet. England at that time was so weak, had so small a navy, and no regular army, that the Spaniards expected little or no resistance would be made; and therefore they had agreed how to divide the spoils among themselves; and this made such numbers ambitious to enjoy the triumph.
Thus prepared, the fleet was ready to sail; but just at that time one of their greatest admirals died, and the chief command was given to a nobleman of one of the first families in Italy, but who was entirely unacquainted with maritime affairs. This was the first check to their design, in which the hand of Providence plainly appeared. During this time the inhabitants of England were not idle, but considering their all at stake, property, liberty, and life, made the best preparation they were able, to meet their formidable enemies; and in truth, much better than was expected. The hand of the Lord seemed evident in giving courage, unanimity, and a fixed resolution to defend themselves against their cruel invaders. This preparation was what the Spaniards did not expect, and may be reckoned under the direction of Providence, one of the causes of their defeat.
The fleet set sail in the beginning of summer, but a storm, obliged it to return again into port, considerably damaged. When the news came to England, it was commonly thought that the expedition would be laid aside for that season; and the queen sent orders upon that supposition, to her admiral, to dismiss most of the sea-men, and lay up some of the largest of the ships; but he, more wary, begged leave to retain them all in the service; even though it should be at his own expence.
The Spanish fleet by this time was refitted, and ready to go to sea, and the English admiral sailed out to make discoveries, and by some means found out that the armada had sailed, and he fearing that they would pass by him, hasted and returned up the channel, and waited their arrival. The Spaniards had orders to coast near France, to form a junction with the army, that waited to join them. But at sea they took a fisherman, who informed them, that the English admiral had been out to sea; but hearing that the armada had been driven back by a storm, returned into port, and had laid up his ships. This mistake of a fisherman probably saved this nation; for hearing this intelligence, the commander ventured to disobey his orders, and determined to sail directly to England, and destroy the shipping in the harbours and docks. The English fleet met them, and falling upon their fear, and waiting the events of the night, had the good fortune to take some of their richest store ships, and send them into port. They now, perceiving their mistake, made to the coast of France, when they cast anchor. But the English admiral watched his opportunity, and filling a number of ships with combustibles, set them on fire, and sent them down among the thickest of the enemies battle ships. Terrified at this new appearance, they slipped their cables and would fain have gone out to sea, and returned home, but could not, for the wind was contrary; the English fleet falling upon them in this confusion, took twelve of their largest ships without losing more than one. The Spanish armada had no other way of returning home but going into the North sea, and sailing round the island; the English fleet followed and grievously harrassed their enemies, who were now in the utmost distress, and had thoughts of surrendering at discretion; and it is said the commander in chief had once determined to do so, but was dissuaded by his confessor. However, the event was almost equally fatal to them; for a terrible storm compleated their overthrow, and shameful defeat; many of their ships foundered at sea, and others were wrecked upon the coast of Ireland, and the western isles of Scotland, and not more than half of them ever returned to Spain.
Thus was this formidable armada defeated, without having done the smallest injury to this kingdom, or even landing any troops upon the island. And thus England was miraculously saved from destruction, by the immediate hand of Providence; which was scarcely, ever more visibly manifested in any affair, than in that very great, and singular deliverance of this land, from tyranny, popery, and slavery.
From the year 1588, we pass to the year 1688 (a most important year to this kingdom). Then it was that the king who swayed the sceptre of these realms, a bigotted member of the church of Rome, plotted to overthrow and destroy the liberties of his subjects; and render England again dependent upon the See of Rome. How miserable would the situation of these lands have now been, had he succeeded in his designs! But he that doeth wonders, wrought for his name’s sake, and raised up a glorious deliverer, in the person of William, prince of Orange, stadholder of Holland, and afterwards king of England.
As Cyrus was raised up by God, strengthened and preserved, to give liberty to the captive Jews; so by the same divine hand of Providence, this wonder of a man was called, chosen, strengthened, and encouraged to undertake the dangerous enterprize of making a descent upon this island, not to conquer and enslave the inhabitants, but to give them liberty and happiness.
This day, an hundred years ago, he landed on this island: he was marvellously helped and preserved by God, till he had established and secured the liberties of these kingdoms; which, in consequence of the glorious revolution, we at present enjoy. I need not take the time to follow the valiant hero through all his journies, voyages, fore battles, and remarkable deliverances; many of you no doubt are better acquainted with the history of those times and things, than I can pretend to be.
I will rather demand your attention, while I consider some of the inestimable liberties and privileges we possess, as a fair inheritance in consequence of that event, which we celebrate on this happy day. Among all the liberties with which the inhabitants of these kingdoms are favoured, I shall only mention the following.
I. The liberty of acquiring and peaceably possessing property. This, though by no means the greatest blessing we enjoy, is yet very great. In many parts of the world nothing is more dangerous than for a man to be known, or even thought to possess riches: in those countries none can enjoy the good things of life in peace; property is there precarious, and may be taken away at any time at the command of a tyrant, and it is well if life itself is not in danger. But in this country, property may be acquired, and possessed with safety; persons may have all the security for it here, that in the nature of things can be expected in this fleeting state.
II. Personal freedom and safety may be enjoyed in these kingdoms: we are but in little danger of assassinations and private murders here, while in many countries nothing is more common, than for these diabolical acts to be committed with impunity, and even without any enquiry. Life cannot be taken away here by the will and at the command of a lawless tyrant, as in most parts of the world. A man must be found guilty by his unbiassed peers before he can be put to death. The king may pardon some criminals, but cannot condemn any; he has it in his power in this, as in many other instances to do much good, but is happily restrained by the laws and constitution of this country, from doing any harm to the meanest of his subjects. And this is so far from abridging the rights, and felicity of the sovereign; that he is most happy in this god-like liberty of doing good, like the great Author of nature, but not of doing evil.
We may therefore justly reckon personal security, and trial by juries, among the great and invaluable liberties that we enjoy: as also that slavery or perpetual servitude, is not allowed in these kingdoms; every slave being free, the moment he treads on British ground. And it would be well if it were so in all the British dominions abroad.
III. The liberty and freedom of the press; this may be considered as the great palladium of liberty, and it cannot exist but in a free country: while this remains in a country, there can be no danger of tyranny. Tyrants always aim to abridge, weaken, restrain, or destroy this liberty. They cannot endure it; and hence it comes to pass that in no place where arbitrary government prevails, is this liberty allowed.
And I do not know that the press is wholly free and unrestrained in any part of the globe, save only in the dominions of the king of Great Britain, and the United States of America.
And it was not till after the glorious revolution, that this was wholly the case in these kingdoms; before that time the press was under many restraints; and books were obliged to be licensed, before they could be printed; and at some times nothing could be published but what was according to the views of corrupt statesmen, or arbitrary tyrants. This freedom is of infinitely more consequence than some imagine; for by this it comes to pass, that knowledge is more generally disseminated among all ranks of people, from the highest to the lowest; and thus they are rendered capable of knowing their native rights, of asserting, contending for, and maintaining their freedom: yea, by this knowledge they are rendered worthy of being free, and of enjoying so inestimable a blessing as liberty. If any attempts should be made against the unalienable rights of men, by those in power, they will be much checked, if not rendered wholly abortive, by the unrestrained liberty of the press. Besides all these advantages, the press communicates the means of pleasure and improvement: O, what sublime pleasure may be found in reading well-written productions, which, owing to the noble art of printing, and the freedom of the press, are so plenty and cheap, as to be within the reach of most who choose to employ part of their time in that delightful exercise. And how surprizingly have all kinds of inventions and improvements been propagated, and arts and useful sciences flourished, since the art of printing has been found out; and especially in those countries where the liberty of the press has been free and unrestrained. Add to all, that the very knowledge of salvation, and the means of present happiness, and future felicity, have been communicated to millions of the human race, by this noble art of printing, and glorious freedom of the press. When all these things are considered, it will easily be seen, that the liberty of the press is no small blessing.
IV. The liberty of conscience; this is such a blessing, that mountains of gold, and rocks of diamonds offered in exchange for it, ought to be esteemed as trifles unworthy of a name. Who can look back upon the history of this country, before the revolution, and not exult in the consideration of this privilege inestimable, that the inhabitants of these realms enjoy, in consequence of that memorable event, and the glorious accession of king William to the throne? for he was the illustrious person, that procured the act of toleration to be past, which has been the greatest national blessing that England ever enjoyed. And there is nothing that renders the illustrious house of Hanover so truly great, as the constant attention which the successive kings of that line have paid to the liberties of their subjects; and especially their continuing, enlarging, confirming, and establishing, this beneficent act, and by their influence discountenancing all persecution for conscience sake.
Here we may worship God, according to the dictates of our own consciences; and none to make us afraid. No inquisitions, no instruments of torture worse than death; no faggots, stakes, and flames; no axes, halters, wheels, or racks; no fines, imprisonments, whippings, banishments, or deaths await us, for daring to think for ourselves, in matters of religion. A man once lost his life in this kingdom for saying these words, “I believe my God is in heaven, and not in the Pix,” the place where they kept the consecrated wafers. Another young man, an apprentice, about nineteen years of age, was burnt, because in a dispute with a cunning priest, who laid wait for him, he had inadvertently been drawn in to deny the real presence in the sacrament.
Another man lost his life, only because on Sundays, he used to accustom himself to read aloud in a great Bible that was chained in the church, and the people flocked around to hear him. This was his crime; for which he suffered death. And even since the days of Henry, and those of bloody Mary, though few have been burned for daring to think differently from the church, or dissenting from the religion established by law; yet thousands have been fined, have lost their all, have suffered great penalties, banishments, and imprisonments, have died in dungeons, &c. &c. for no other cause. More than six thousand worthy persons, whose only crime was a tender conscience perished in loathsome dungeons, only in the reign of King Charles the Second. But, blessed be God, the scene is changed; let us forget the past, except so far as the remembrance of the same may cause us to enjoy, and be thankful for the present.
There is but one country in the world where liberty, and especially religious liberty, is so much enjoyed as in these kingdoms, and that is the United States of America: there religious liberty is in the highest perfection. All stand there on equal ground. There are no religious establishments, no preference of one denomination of Christians above another. The constitution knows no difference between one good man, and another. A man may be chosen there to the highest civil offices, without being obliged to give any account of his faith, subscribe any religious test, or go to the communion-table of any church.
We that here are called dissenters, there stand upon a level with the highest dignitaries in the episcopal church. Our marriages are as valid in law as theirs; and we are as much respected as they, if we behave as well: and the members of our churches are as eligible to posts of honour and profit as theirs. And what is the consequence of this equality? Does the episcopal church suffer by it? far from it; she gains. She has in reality prospered more, since this has been the case, than before. She has good bishops, respectable clergy, and many worthy members. She is no longer envied and hated by her sister-churches; far from it; she is respected. Her worthy clergy are better supported now by free contributions, donations, subscriptions, &c than formerly they were by compulsion in those places, where episcopacy was established and supported by law. Unworthy, ignorant and vicious clergymen, of which there were formerly many, are now discarded, and obliged to cease exercising their functions; for none are obliged to hear or support them. And all the people of every denomination, through the United States, enjoy that highest perfection of religious liberty, viz. the choosing and supporting their spiritual guides, in that way which is most agreeable to them; and also the power of rejecting them for immoral conduct. There are no patrons there, none to present to vacant churches; all must be approved by the people to whom they are to minister.
The authority in many places does not even interfere at all, in matters of religion; and in no part of the states, are ministers, or houses, under the least necessity of being licensed by authority; each denomination licensing, calling, and setting apart their ministers to the sacred work, in that manner which they think most fit.
I am of opinion that religious establishments, have generally, if not always, defeated their own designs.
No doubt, Constantine the Great, who first established christianity, had a good intention in the same; but all the darkness that has since overspread the Christian church, the exorbitant power of the popes and church of Rome, all the oceans of blood that have been shed in the contests about religion, between different sects of Christians, the almost total cessation of the progress of christianity, the rise of Mahometanism, the rise and spread of deism, the general contempt into which christianity is fallen; all may fairly be laid at the door of that establishment.
Had the Christian religion been left to itself, armed with its proper weapons, truth and love; had the civil authority never interfered with it at all, but only protected all men in the enjoyment of their equal and unalienable rights, such as life, liberty, property, and the lawful pursuit of happiness; I am of mind, that long ago christianity would have triumphed over all its enemies, idolatry, superstition, ignorance, and cruelty; and would before now have covered the earth, banished paganism, prevented Mahometanism, and infidelity, healed all divisions, convinced the world at large of its divine original; popery and persecution would never have been heard of amongst Christians: the ministers of the gospel would have been burning and shining lights, the churches would have been united in essential things, and those professing christianity, would have been ornaments to their profession.
And I am of the opinion, that if there had never been an establishment in England, or any act of uniformity past, but every one had been left to enjoy full free and absolute liberty of conscience, and the state had made no difference between those who followed the religion of the court and others, but raised, and encouraged all according to their merit and abilities, I fully and firmly believe that if there had remained any different sentiments and modes of worship at all till this time, they would have been nothing in comparison of what they are now. For I argue in this, from the very nature of man, who is an imitative being and is apt to follow those about him, unless compelled so to do, and then behaving as contrary; for the very nature and dignity of man abhors compulsion and restraint.
As a proof of my hypothesis, I need only mention, that where the law does not interfere at all, people generally follow one another, and sometimes where even it is inconvenient, and expensive so to do.
As in learning and speaking the language, practising the manners of those about them, building their houses, having the same kind of windows, chimneys, furniture, &c. eating the same kinds of food, and the same number of meals in a day; as for instance; in places where the people commonly eat four, three times, twice, or but once a day, most follow the same general rule, and those also who come to sojourn amongst them, soon conform to the same way. In generally using the same drink, and in many other ways, men shew that they do not need force and law to cause them to follow one another. But nothing shews people’s abhorrence of singularity more than copying after each other in the articles of dress and amusements, which are frequently very expensive and inconvenient, and what is worse, perpetually changing, yet where there is no compulsion, men of even the most independent spirits, will, through a desire to please, a fear of appearing singular, or from some other cause, clothe themselves like their neighbours; even though it may be inconvenient, expensive, and contrary to what they would choose or desire in their own secret opinions. But though men are so apt to imitate each other when left to themselves, yet where force and compulsion are used, the sense of freedom frequently gets the better of every other consideration, and men dare to appear singular, though pains and penalties await them, where otherwise they would conform to the same customs with their neighbours, without a thought of differing. I will therefore now mention the greatest maxim in politics that was ever delivered, and which deserves to be written in letters of gold, over the doors of all the state houses in the world. The great secret of governing, consists in not governing too much.
Religious establishments, in countries where persecution is allowed, cause people to become hypocrites; in other places they cause many to dissent. They raise envy, strife, contempt, hatred, wrath, and every evil work: give occasion to reproach christianity and its author; rob the church of its life, power, love, and purity; darken, debase, and obscure its doctrines; pervert, corrupt, and change its institutions.
It is true that religious establishments cause the church so established to be rich, grand, honourable, and powerful in the world’s esteem; but at the same time she becomes poor, and wretched, and miserable, and blind, and naked, in her Lord’s esteem; his presence, power, and protection depart from her; she in a sort ceases to be his spouse.
This was evident in the days of Constantine; before that time christianity flourished, conquered its foes, triumphed over all opposition, miracles, and the gifts of the spirit were common; but all this beauty faded like a moth, when once the church was established by law. It was soon filled with unworthy members, idle ministers, and vicious, proud, domineering ecclesiastics of all sorts: And thus its glory departed, and has never wholly returned since.
The genuine love of liberty is, next to benevolence, or the love of God and man, the noblest motive that ever influenced the human mind. And whatever faults, failings, or infirmities the true lovers of liberty, may have in common with their neighbours, there will be generally if not always the absence of the following vices in every breast where the love of liberty dwells.
I.The love of money. This sordid vice, which St. Paul stiles, the root of all evil, can never dwell with the love of liberty. They who love money, will sell their king, country, freedom, their souls and their God for gold. But stop: gold is their God. They, on the other hand, who are lovers of liberty, will part with wealth, and frequently life itself, for the good of their country. The lovers of liberty may be distinguished by their noble contempt of riches, honours, pleasures, &c. when put in competition with their rights and liberties, the freedom of their country, and of mankind.
II. The lust of power is entirely incompatible with the love of liberty; as is evident from the nature of things, as well as the experience of all past ages.
III. Cruelty and revenge, cannot abide in the same breast with that offspring of heaven, the true love of freedom.
The love of liberty makes men noble, brave, generous, kind; it arms them with patience, fortitude, and true valour. But as for those vices which I have named above, they are so contrary to the love of heaven born freedom, that we may set it down for a maxim, never to expect the friend of liberty in the man in whom these, or any of them, have the government of the soul.
As I never shall have a better opportunity, give me leave here to introduce a greater hero on the stage than William the Third; even Jesus Christ, the great deliverer of mankind.
If any should dispute the truth of the historical fact which we celebrate this day, namely, the landing of King William on this island, an hundred years ago, he would be justly laughed at for a very ignorant and incredulous man. But what shall we say of those who, favoured with the means of knowledge, deny the history of the gospel? Surely they are, or pretend to be, the most ignorant and conceited of mortals.
It is as certainly true that there was such a person as Jesus Christ, that he was born in Bethlehem, in the days of Augustus, emperor of Rome, that he wrought miracles, died on the cross, in the reign of Tiberius, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea; that he was buried, and the third day rose again, and on the fortieth day from his resurrection, ascended up on high; I say these facts are as well authenticated, as any historical facts that ever happened in the world. It is no less certain that these things were so, than that William, prince of Orange did, on the 5th of November, 1688, land on this island. If any say that the time when Christ was said to be born, &c. was so long ago, that we cannot be so certain of it, as of things that happened lately. I answer, that what is true now, will be so a thousand years hence; time never can turn truth into falsehood. And it is pretty well worthy of observation, that they who cavil at the gospel history, never hesitate to believe, that there was such a person as Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar, and that the latter made a descent upon this island; though these are more antient things, than the birth of Christ.
It is indeed impossible that any events should be better attested than the life and actions of our Saviour. The four marks that no falsehood ever had, or can have, and which even many true facts want, all meet to confirm christianity.
I. It is necessary that the things done, or said to be done, be such as the senses of men can judge of; such were the actions and sufferings of Christ. And the apostles could say, “That which we have heard and seen, and our hands have handled of the word of life, declare we unto you,” &c.
II. The actions done, must be performed before a number of witnesses; and Christ wrought his miracles, &c. was crucified, and buried, before many evidences; he was seen after his resurrection, at one time by above five hundred; and eleven different appearances of his, after his resurrection, are recorded; numbers saw him ascend; so that all these wonderful things were done openly.
III. It is not only necessary that authentic records of these things should be kept, and histories written by eye and ear witnesses of the several facts, but that certain ordinances should be instituted, and observed in commemoration of them. This is the case with christianity; the history of our Lord’s life, actions, death, &c. was written by those who saw, heard, and attended him through the whole course of his ministry on earth; and who therefore were as well prepared to write a genuine history of those things, as any historians could be to write of King William the Third. And besides, there are many institutions kept up in remembrance of some of these great events. As the observance of Sunday, weekly, in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection, the holy communion of bread and wine, in remembrance of his death.
Good Friday, yearly, in remembrance of the time of his sufferings; Easter Sunday, as the time of his resurrection; Holy Thursday, as his ascension day; and Whit-sunday, as the day of the descent of the Holy Ghost. All these things testify the truth of christianity.
IV. These institutions in order to be standing evidences of the facts, must begin to be observed from the very time when the things were done. And this hath certainly been the case with respect to christianity; there has been an order of men set apart, from that time to this, to declare these great things; sacraments have been used, and days constantly observed in commemoration of these grand events, from the very time when they happened, down to this period. So that we may challenge all mankind to overthrow the external evidence of christianity.
Christ Jesus came into the world, for purposes infinitely more important than those for which William came to England. William came hither to deliver this nation from tyranny, arbitrary government, popery, and slavery; to give, confirm, and transmit down to the inhabitants of these kingdoms, the natural rights and privileges of freemen; which I have briefly considered. Jesus Christ came into the world to save us from the tyranny and bondage of Satan, the world, and our own evil lusts and passions; to give us eternal life, and liberty, with the privilege of being the adopted children and heirs of God; these are greater blessings than earth can bestow, and will not only be of use to us a few days, as the things of time are, but during our whole existence.
William came over here for the benefit of the people of this nation, who were his friends, invited him over, and joined his standard. But Jesus Christ came into the world for the benefit of all mankind, even those who were his enemies; he was hated, despised, opposed and rejected, by his own kindred, according to the flesh; yet still his love and kindness continued to the last towards them.
William did many things for the good of this land; suffered much, and ventured his life for the people of these kingdoms; for which his memory is precious, and ought to be regarded with sincere affection. But O, what love, gratitude and praises, are due to Jesus Christ, who came into the world, and wrought so many works of mercy for mankind? He healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, caused the deaf to hear, gave speech to the dumb, caused the lame to walk, restored the maimed, cast out demons, cleansed the lepers, and raised the dead.
He suffered hunger, thirst, weariness, cold, want, poverty, disgrace, reproach, contempt, slander, temptation, and distress of various kinds: and he not only ventured his life, but actually laid it down for mankind.
William was of a noble family, was a prince by birth, and allied by marriage to the royal family of Great Britain; but Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person; the prince of peace, head over all things, for he created all things, preferred all things, and hath redeemed all things; was in the form of God, yet he humbled himself so as to become obedient unto death, even the accursed death of the cross, the most painful and shameful of all kinds of deaths.
Thus is Jesus Christ infinitely superior to King William, and the blessings of the gospel as much surpass all earthly advantages, as the soul exceeds the body, or eternity time: the certainty of christianity is as much to be depended upon, and is in every respect as authentic as that grand event, the Revolution, and infinitely more important.
Therefore while we remember King William, and what we owe to him, let us not forget Jesus Christ, to whom we are infinitely more indebted.
And while we would wish to abide by revolution principles, maintaining our glorious liberties, so dearly purchased, and constantly abhorring popery and slavery, let us remember the most excellent maxims of christianity, delivered by the mouth of our blessed Saviour, whose morals exceed all others, as much as his character is superior, and his mission more important than other men’s.
He commanded love to God and man, universal benevolence to all, even to our enemies, justice and righteousness towards all, to do to others as we would wish them to do to us; to avoid selfishness, envy, pride, wrath, the love of the world, the love and practice of every sin, to avoid rash judging, a bitter and censorious spirit, slander, reviling, and provoking speeches, and behaviour; to beware of hypocrisy, covetousness, &c. To be faithful, prudent, virtuous, innocent, humble, meek, kind, courteous, compassionate, merciful, sober, generous, patient, and resigned to the will of God.
These are brief abstracts of the morality taught by the Saviour of mankind, and which as Christians we should remember and practise.
What I have more to say at present, is just to notice the events of the present year, and mention some of those great things that may be expected shortly to come to pass.
We are now arrived almost at the close of the year 1788, a year in which great things have been long expected to manifest themselves. Many years have I waited, and I imagine many thousands more, with great expectation, to see what wonders would be wrought at this time; and if the events of 1788, have not been so extraordinary as were looked for, they have been such as deserve notice. Let us look around the world, and see if we can find nothing worth preserving, and transmitting down to future generations.
In England, this has been a remarkable year on many accounts. The nation has enjoyed the continuance of peace, while wars and rumours of wars have terrified many parts of Europe.
This has been a year of blessings to this nation; the season has been so remarkably mild, and plentiful, as the like has scarce ever been known; not only has there been a plentiful crop, but a most excellent season for gathering it in. We have not been visited this year with the wasting pestilence, devouring sword, black famine, horrid tempests, sweeping storms, dreadful fires, earthquakes, inundations, &c. but on the contrary, have enjoyed peace, health, plenty, and prosperity. One alarming event hath indeed taken place here; the present indisposition of his majesty. But, except this, I know of nothing that has happened this year in England, but one continued scene of blessings.
Great events may be expected to arise out of the present war between the Turks, and their powerful opponents, the Russians and the Austrians. Perhaps the return of the Jews to their own land may be one of the consequences.
If we turn our eyes to France, we see the spirit of liberty, which has been asleep, or crushed to death in that kingdom for more than two hundred years, beginning to revive; and what events will follow the general meeting of the states in that empire (a thing which has not been known since the days of Henry the Fourth, of France), time must discover. If the establishment of civil and religious liberty there should take its date from this year, it would be a great and glorious wonder of God, and would cause this season to be long remembered with pleasure.
In Italy we find the power of the pope greatly weakening, and the influence of the See of Rome every where diminishing. In Spain the horrid inquisition falling; arts and sciences flourishing; and such events are taking place through Europe, as will ere long astonish the world.
But one of the greatest and most important events of the year 1788, and which will cause it to be long remembered, has taken place in the United States of America. There a new constitution and settled form of government has been adopted, after being formed deliberately, and confirmed unanimously, in a general convention of the States; then recommended to the people at large, and by them examined, approved, and ratified.
This is such an astonishing event to those who know the situation of the United States of America, that nothing less than a very special Providence, and divine interference could have brought it about. Many instances of the visible protection and goodness of God towards the American states, have appeared from the beginning of the unhappy contest, between them and the ministry of this nation, to the present time; but in no instance has a divine hand so plainly appeared as in the present. God was gracious to them in raising them up friends in this land (and indeed, the people of England in general were far from approving the unnatural and horrid war), also in causing foreign powers to declare in their favour, in raising them up a noble and valiant general (whose name will be transmitted with immortal honour in the historic page, to the latest periods while histories shall be read); in supporting them during a long and expensive war, and in giving them such a glorious peace. But all these blessings and advantages would probably have been wholly lost, had not a solid and effective plan of government been formed and embraced. Their enemies both at home and abroad, waited to see their downfal and ruin; and even their best friends trembled for their situation, and feared their overthrow. Every appearance was truly alarming, and the dangers continued increasing, till at last the very existence of government seemed dubious.
In this distressing situation, recourse was had to a general convention, composed of the ablest persons in all the states, who were chosen by the people at large, to form a plan of government; but when met, they were not invested with power to declare such constitution binding, even after they had unanimously agreed upon it among themselves (which was difficult enough), it was to undergo another severe trial, by being examined by the people at large; and it was not to be in force till nine states agreed to adopt and ratify it. This appeared a very hazardous experiment; but, through the goodness of God, it succeeded well, and eleven states have acceeded to it, several of them unanimously. This new constitution is formed after the model of the British, without its defects; and bids fair to confirm and establish the liberties of the people in those states till the latest period; and I make no doubt, but the inhabitants of that empire in the year 1888, will (if the world continues in the same manner as at present) look back upon this year, with the same admiration, as the people here do upon the year 1688.
The states have certainly enjoyed advantages in framing their constitution, that no other people ever had; they have met in peace, and deliberated, and agreed upon a form of government, suitable to their situation; having the wisdom and experience of all nations and ages before them; as well as their own experience for twelve years; but considering their fallibility, and the possibility of defects, even in this constitution, they have left an opening that the inconveniences, if any are found, may be rectified every fifteen years, if it be judged necessary.
I have taken the liberty of mentioning the affairs of my dear native country, believing that you will rejoice with me in the prosperity of that land; for we have the satisfaction to say, that since we have been in England, we have scarce ever been in company with the natives of this island, but who in general seemed very friendly towards the United States of America. And I hope the affection between the two countries will continue and increase.
Thus far we are come, but who can tell what wonders are about to take place in the world? Those who may live in 1888, will be able to look back upon great events that will then have happened, that are now future. Though I cannot exactly tell you when the following great things will take place, yet they must all happen before the conflagration, according to the prophecies.
The Turkish empire is to be weakened, and by some means the way will be opened, and the Jews will return to their own land.
After they have been there settled some time, their enemies will gather together and ravage their country, come to Jerusalem and take it, will carry half of the people out into captivity; but before they have time to compleat their purpose, the Lord will appear in the air, he will bring the spirits of his faithful servants and martyrs with him, raise their bodies from the dead, change the living saints, who shall be caught up with the raised saints into the air to meet the Lord. Christ shall appear to all the inhabitants of the world, who shall tremble at his presence: the Jews shall look upon him whom they pierced, knowing him by the sears of his wounds, they shall mourn bitterly, and this event shall issue in their long promised conversion. The coming and appearance of Christ will destroy Antichrist, will overthrow and disconcert the enemies of the Jews, who shall fall slain upon the mountains of Israel. Christ will personally descend to the Mount of Olives, from whence he ascended; when his feet shall touch it, the mount shall cleave asunder, towards the east, and towards the west, and half of it shall remove towards the north, and half of it towards the south. The Lord will execute such judgments on the rebellious nations of the world, as shall cause the earth to disclose its blood, and the slain shall lie unburied; the nations who refuse to obey the command of the Lord, to come or send to Jerusalem yearly to worship him, shall have no rain upon their land.
The whole earth shall be as it were devoured with the fire of God’s jealousy, and the wicked shall be destroyed root and branch; all nations that remain shall submit to the Lord; Satan shall be bound, and confined in the abyss; all the twelve tribes being returned and settled anew in their own land, shall become the people of God; the Lord shall reign over them in his holy mount. He will turn to all the people of the earth a pure language, and they shall all call upon the name of the Lord, and serve him with one consent. Then comes that glorious period of a thousand years, when peace, harmony, prosperity, love, and the knowledge and glory of God shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. To that period vast numbers of prophecies allude, as I have shewn in my Lectures upon those which remain to be fulfilled. I cannot enlarge upon these matters here, having already drawn out this discourse to a great length; which I trust you will excuse, in consideration of the vast variety and importance of the subjects upon which I have spoken.
When we consider the great things which God hath wrought already; and those greater things which he hath promised to perform in his own time, we may say in the words of my text, with which I shall conclude:
“Who is like unto thee, O Lord, amongst the gods? who is like thee glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”
[NOTE TO 1996 REPRINTING]While the question of Stephen Case’s possible role in publication of the text following partly remains, the origin of the document now has been established. It is certain that Case is not the author of the pamphlet. Rather, it is an edited reprinting of a chapter bearing the identical title from a volume written a century earlier by Alexander Shields, A Hind Let Loose; or, An historical representation of the testimonies of the Church of Scotland for the interest of Christ… (n. p., 1687), pages 575–633, probably first published in Holland, with its author identified only as “A True Lover of Liberty.” Other editions appeared in 1744, 1770, and 1797. This important and much appreciated information was supplied to the editor by a Pennsylvania reader, James A. Dodson.
[* ]Soon after this sermon was delivered, the convention of the state of New-Hampshire, met according to adjournment, and on the twenty first day of June accepted the proposed general Constitution of government. This being the ninth state which has acceded to this form of national union, it will be carried into effect; and there is no reason to doubt of the speedy accession of all the other states, which are now debating on the important question. May all rejoice in the Lord, who has formed us into a nation, and honour him as our judge, lawgiver, and king, who hath saved us, and will save us from all enemies and fears, if we thankfully receive and rightly improve his great mercies.