Editor's Note: Samuel McClintock (1732–1804). A graduate of the College of New Jersey in Princeton and pastor (ordained in 1756) of the Greenland, New Hampshire, Congregational Church, McClintock (also written "Mcclintock" and "MacClintock") spent his life in that post, except for periods as chaplain during the French and Indian War and with the New Hampshire troops during the Revolution. (He was present at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775.) McClintock was awarded an M. A. by Harvard in 1761 and a D. D. by Yale in 1791. He had a keen mind and was a fine preacher, a number of whose sermons were published.
The sermon reprinted here is of interest because it was preached on June 3, 1784, at the beginning of the new government under the recently adopted constitution of the state of New Hampshire.
McClintock and his first wife (Mary Montgomery of Portsmouth) had fifteen children in the first sixteen years of their marriage. Three of their sons died fighting in the Revolution. Although he pursued the deists and infidels with zeal during the 1790s, McClintock thereafter became a strong supporter of Thomas Jefferson (a novelty among New England Congregational ministers) because, he said, he saw the country being ruled by a "junto of little tyrants . . . a proud domineering aristocracy." In Jefferson he saw "a great man of great, and distinguished abilities . . . now placed in the chair of government, who all along has shewn himself the friend . . . of the natural rights of man" (James McLachlan, Princetonians, 1748–1768 ).
Honored and respectable Audience, It is with diffidence I appear in this place, on the present great occasion, before such an assembly. Nothing, besides the respect I owe to the supreme legislative of this state, could so far have overcome the sense of my own insufficiency, as to induce me to comply with their invitation. Your candor will make a favourable allowance for the imperfections which your discernment will perceive, while I attempt to offer some observations suitable to the occasion, from Jeremiah XVIIIth, 7–10th.
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down and to destroy it: If that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it: If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them.
The being and providence of God are the great principles of religion, which as they are conformable to the light of nature and reason, have obtained the general consent of mankind in all ages. It is not more evident from the visible works of creation that there is a God, who made all these things, than it is from the course of events in this world that they are under the direction and government of a wise, good, holy and powerful providence. By this natural conviction of the superintendence of the Deity over the affairs of this world, the pagan nations were led to consult their gods, and seek to them for direction and assistance, when they were engaging in affairs of great and public concernment, and to offer to them public thanks when their enterprizes were successful. And do they seek to them that are no gods? shall not a people then who are enlightened with the beams of divine revelation, in which the character and perfections of the true God, the necessary dependence of all creatures on him, and the government of his providence over all events, are so clearly taught, acknowledge him in all their ways, if they would expect that he will direct their paths? How becoming is it that we should render unto him in a public manner, the most devout ascriptions of praise for the great things he hath done for us, in delivering us from the cruel hand of oppression, and the impending miseries of abject servitude, crowning our arduous struggle in defence of the rights of human nature, with triumphant success, in the acknowledgment of our independence and sovereignty, and giving us the singular advantage of framing a constitution of government for ourselves and our posterity? If we should neglect to render due praise to him on such a great occasion, the heathen would rise up in judgment and condemn us for our impiety and ingratitude: For, though they were ignorant of the true God, and by reason of this their natural blindness, became vain in their imaginations, and changed his glory into the likeness of corruptible man, and of four-footed beasts, and creeping things; and in consequence thereof, practiced a multitude of idle superstitious ceremonies, suitable enough indeed to the character of their gods—I say, tho' their worship was false and erroneous, yet it was founded in a right principle—a conviction of a supreme power upon whom they were dependent, and who they believed governs and directs all human affairs—a principle so deeply imprinted in their hearts, that the habits of vice were not able wholly to efface the impression.
To men whose practice says there is no God—who view the events of time merely as effects of natural causes, of blind chance, or fatal necessity; and in the pride of reason, conceit that their own wisdom is sufficient to manage the affairs of states and empires, religion must appear an idle superstition; but to those who are convinced of the important truth taught in the words now read, the sovereign dominion of God over the nations of the earth, and the necessary dependence of all things on him, nothing can appear more rational than to seek to him on whom they depend, and in whose hand is the disposal of their circumstances, for direction in all their undertakings; more especially in affairs of public and national concernment, such as the present occasion, when a constitution of government is to take place, which in its operation may essentially affect the interest and happiness of present and future generations.
The Jewish nation, in consequence of renouncing their dependance on God, disregarded the threatnings of those desolating judgments which were coming upon them, and confiding in their numbers, their wisdom, the strength of their walls and the sanctity of their temple, set at defiance the attempt of the king of Assyria; but their hopes were vain. They were ripe for ruin. God had determined to punish them for their sins by delivering them into the hands of that monarch, to suffer the miseries of a long captivity in Babylon; and no human wisdom or might could frustrate his design. He had sent his prophet to them with repeated messages, to warn them of their danger, and caution them against trusting in the vain words and assurances of the false prophets; but they refused to obey his voice, and persisted in their own ways. In opposition to their vain confidence, God teaches them in the context his sovereign power over them, to exalt or abase them, by a significant emblem—the power of the potter over the clay to make one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor. O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord: Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel. The text contains a farther explication of this instructive emblem. When God is spoken of in this and other scriptures as repenting of the good or evil he thought to do to a people, upon a change in their character, it is not to be understood in the same sense as repentance in creatures, which always implies sorrow for what they have done, and a change in their thoughts and purposes. In this sense, God cannot repent. It is inconsistent with the perfection of his nature. He speaks of himself in these words, after the manner of men. And the meaning is, that he changes and varies the conduct of his providence toward nations, according to their moral character. When he threatens to pluck up and destroy a sinful nation, if they turn from their evil ways, he will avert the threatned destruction; and on the other hand, when he intimates, by events of providence, his intention to build and plant a nation or kingdom, if they forsake the paths of virtue, and do evil, he will withdraw from them the tokens of his favor, and withhold the blessings he was ready to bestow. This is entirely consistent with the plan of the divine government, and the unchangeable purposes of the infinite mind.
Two things are principally taught in the text[:]
Ist. That God exercises a sovereign dominion over the nations and kingdoms of this world, and determines their rise, growth, declension and duration—and
IId. That his sovereign power is invariably directed by perfect and infinite rectitude; in plucking up and destroying, and in building and planting them, he treats them according to their moral character.
God is an absolute sovereign. He presides with an uncontrouled sway over all the nations of this earth, and orders all the events, changes and revolutions by which they are either exalted to power and dignity, or brought to dishonor and ruin. By a turn of the wheel of providence, he can form a people into a respectable and happy, or a mean and contemptible nation; more easily than the potter, of the same lump, can make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor.
Agreeable to which, his sovereign power is expressed by the prophet Isaiah, in this beautiful language—all nations, before God, are as the drop of the bucket, or the small dust of the ballance, as easily plucked up or destroyed, or built and planted, as the former is wiped by a touch of the finger; or the other blown away with a breath of air. That sovereign word which gave existence to all things at first, continually supports their being, and gives efficacy to all the secondary causes of the growth and prosperity, or the decline and ruin of nations and empires. When he speaks and intimates his design by favorable events of providence, to plant and build up a nation, things are so ordered that there is a concurrence of causes to promote this end. Their public counsels are directed by wisdom, and their enterprizes crowned with success; they are prospered in their agriculture, commerce, manufactures, and all their undertakings—happy in their union at home, and respectable among their neighbours, for their wisdom, virtue, and magnanimity. And when, on the contrary, he determines to destroy an impenitent nation for their sins, no human wisdom, counsel or might, can prevail to frustrate the execution of his threatnings; but they are so infatuated, that even the methods they take to support their tottering state, serve to precipitate their ruin. Thus he increaseth the nations and destroyeth them; he enlargeth the nations and straitneth them.
This sovereign power of God over the nations of the earth, was manifested in a convincing manner, in his dispensations toward that favorite people whom he chose for himself, to preserve the true religion amidst the false worship and superstitions that reigned in the world, and to be a figure of the nations of the redeemed. His almighty hand was signally displayed toward them in a series of unusual and miraculous events; in delivering them from the house of their bondage, preserving them in the wilderness for the space of forty years, giving them possession of, and planting them in the land of Canaan, oftentimes bringing them low for their iniquity, and then upon their repentance, delivering them from the hand of their enemies, and restoring them to their former prosperity, by means altogether inadequate to such effects, and which afforded the clearest evidence of the interposition of divine providence. The Almighty arm was made bare in his dispensations toward them.
But in the common method of his government over the nations of the earth, God brings to pass his designs by means and instruments, and as it were, conceals himself, in his immediate operations, behind the scene of nature; so that we are apt to overlook the power that actuates all the parts of the system, and to ascribe effects to their immediate causes, which in reality are nothing more than effects of the first cause, and produce their effects by his continual influence on them. What is called the course of nature is only the continual operation of God on this visible system of things, producing the events we behold in a uniform manner, according to certain laws which he hath established; so that these common and ordinary events by which nations are blessed or chastised, are in reality as much effects of his power as miracles are; and to this, we are constantly taught in the sacred pages to ascribe them. And even reason would lead us to the same conclusion; for what power is there in nature equal to such effects? What but an almighty hand could have kept this system of nature, these amazing bodies of matter, the sun, moon and stars, revolving in their appointed courses through so many thousands of years, with the most exact order and regularity and without the least interference of their spheres? and to what but this can we ascribe numberless events to which their visible and immediate causes are inadequate, or which come to pass contrary to all rational grounds of probability? In a human view, the voluntary actions of free agents, and the events which depend on them, seem to be wholly in their own power; yet we are taught that the hearts of men are in the hands of God, their thoughts, counsels and designs are so entirely under his controul, that they are often led by a secret influence on their minds to pursue a course of conduct quite different from that which they had chosen. A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps. Even the proudest and mightiest of mortals who are raised above all human restraints, and seem to have it in their power to act as they please, are as much under his controul as the horse we govern by the bit and bridle, or the fish in whose mouth the hook is fastened, is under our command. I, saith God, speaking of the proud king of Assyria, who boasted of his irresistable power, I will put my hook in thy nose and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest. There was nothing in the wars and victories of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus, but what seemed to be the effects of natural causes. They were prompted by a lust of power and a love of vain glory, and seemed to gain their victories by superior skill and numbers, but at the same time they were instruments in the hand of God, to accomplish the designs of his providence; the former to punish the nations, and in particular his own people, for their wickedness, and the latter to deliver them from their long captivity, and restore them to their own land.
Thus the sacred scripture leads our views up to God as the first cause, the fountain of all life, power, and motion, and the author of all the events and revolutions which take place in the nations and empires of this world. It is God who does all these things by the influence of his providence, whatever means and instruments may be employed in their accomplishment.
The present glorious revolution in this land affords a striking proof of the truth we are considering. The divine hand hath been so signally displayed in the events and occurrences which have led to it, that those who are not convinced of the government of providence over the affairs of nations by what has passed before them in these late years, would not have been persuaded if they had been eye-witnesses of the mighty works which God wrought in the midst of his peculiar people. For though the events were not strictly miraculous, yet they were truly marvellous, and so circumstanced, that they never can be rationally accounted for without admitting the interposition of providence. The greater the disproportion between the means and the effect, the more evident is the divine power: And surely there has seldom, in any case, been a greater disproportion between the means and event, than in the present one. Hardly any people were ever less prepared to enter the lists with such a great and powerful nation. War was not our object or wish: on the contrary, we deprecated it as a dreadful calamity, and continued to hope, even against hope, that the gentler methods of petitioning and remonstrating might obtain a redress of grievances. The war, on our part, was not a war of ambition, but a justifiable self-defence against the claims of an arbitrary power, which was attempting to wrest from us the privileges we had all along enjoyed, and to subject us to a state of abject servitude. In this light it was viewed by the nations of Europe, and even by some of the most illustrious characters in both houses of the British parliament, who, in their public speeches, have justified our resistance, and acquitted us from the guilt of the blood that has been spilt.
It was after we had been treated with repeated insults and injuries—after our dutiful petitions had been rejected with contempt—after the British administration had held up the high claim of authority to make laws, binding us in all cases whatsoever; the plain language of which was, we have authority and power to do with you as we please; and if you will not quietly submit, and deliver up your earnings to support us in our luxury and extravagance, and be hewers of wood and drawers of water for us, we will lay waste your country with fire and sword, and destroy you from under heaven—it was after the sword had been drawn, and blood shed on the plains of Lexington, and on the fatal Bunker-hill, so that no alternative remained, but either absolute submission or open resistance—it was, I say, after all this, that the representatives of the people in Congress chose the latter, declared for independence, and relying on the justice of their cause, and the aid of the Almighty, resolved to support it by force of arms. At that time our contest with Britain appeared, from a consideration of the difference between their circumstances and our's, as unequal, as that between the stripling David and the giant of Gath; and the improbability of our success as great, as that he with a sling and stone should overcome that proud and mighty enemy, cloathed with armour from head to foot.
They were men of war from their youth. They had regular troops, used to service, who had signalized their valour on the plains of Minden, and the heights of Abraham, commanded by able, experienced generals, amply furnished with all the terrible apparatus of death and destruction, and aided by mercenary troops, who had been bred to arms, and were versed in all the stratagems of war—add to this, they had a navy that ruled the ocean, and regular resources to supply their demands—on the other hand, we were inexperienced in the art of war, and had neither disciplined troops, nor magazines of provision and ammunition, nor so much as one ship of war to oppose to their formidable fleets, nor any regular resources, nor even so much as the certain prospect of any foreign aid—besides, all the civil governments were dissolved, and the people reduced back to a state of nature, and in danger of falling into anarchy and confusion. From this comparative view of their strength and our weakness, to what can our success be ascribed but to that omnipotent hand which directed the stone from the sling? The several steps which led to this great event, cannot be rationally accounted for from any other cause. Among these the general union of the people throughout these states is not the least remarkable.
That people so widely seperated from one another by their situation, manners, customs, and forms of government, should all at once be willing to sacrifice their private interests to the public good, and unite like a band of brothers, to make the cause of one state, and even of one town, a common cause; and that they should continue firm and united amidst the greatest discouragements and the most trying reverses of fortune.
That an army of freemen, voluntarily assembling at the alarm of danger—men who had been nurtured in the bosom of liberty, and unused to slavish restraints, should be willing to submit to the severity of military government, for the safety of their country, and patiently endure hardships that would have overcome the fortitude of veterans, following their illustrious leader in the depths of winter, through cold and snow, in nakedness and perils, when every step they took was marked with the blood that issued from their swoln feet, and when they could not be animated to such patience and perseverance by any mercenary motives, was a rare spectacle, and for its solution must be traced to a higher source than mere natural causes—in a word, the hand of providence evidently appeared in the various incidents and secondary causes which concurred to secure to us success.
In raising up, at the beginning of the contest a group of noble patriots to counteract the political manœuvres of the British administration, and expose to view their dark designs to enslave this country, and who with peculiar strength of argument and power of persuasion, so ably defended the cause of their country, as to engage the attention and approbation of all Europe, and gain immortal honor to themselves—in bringing on the stage a great military character, the American Fabius, to take the command of our armies, endowed with those qualities which in a peculiar manner fitted him for such a command, at such a time and in such circumstances—in overruling things, so that the very instruments of war which had been prepared for our destruction, should fall into our hands when they were most wanted, and be turned against the enemy in our own defence—in disposing the heart of the illustrious monarch of France to aid and assist us in our virtuous struggle—in sending divisions into the councils of the enemy, disconcerting their measures, and discovering their secret plans, at the critical moment, by a concurrence of incidents which no human wisdom could have foreseen—in the repeated signal instances of success, particularly the capture of two of the best armies of the enemy, in which we had a convincing demonstration that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that the victory was of the Lord; and finally, in disposing the enemy to acknowledge our independence and sovereignty, and to withdraw their fleets and armies.
By this revolution, we are not only delivered from the calamities of a long, expensive and bloody war, but may now sit quietly under our own vine and fig-tree, without any to make us afraid, and every man is left at full liberty to pursue the means of opulence and happiness, without the danger of being deprived of the fruits of his industry by the hand of rapine and violence, which is ever the case of those who are either the subjects of arbitrary power or exposed to the ravages of war. By this revolution, the rights and privileges of men in a state of civil society, are secured to us; and we have the precious opportunity, which few nations have ever enjoyed, to take up government on its first principles, and to chuse that form which we judge best adapted to our situation, and most promotive of our public interests and happiness. America seems like a young heir, arrived to mature age, who, being freed from the restraints of tutors and governors, takes the management of his estate into his own hands, and makes such laws for the regulation of his domestic affairs, as he judges will be most conducive to establish peace, order and happiness in his family.
The form now to take place, though the best that could be obtained, where so many were to be consulted, no doubt has its defects, which time and experience will discover better than any speculations, and for the amendment of which, express provision is made in the constitution itself—its excellencies are apparent, and justly entitle its worthy framers to the honorable appellation of fathers of their country. Were it necessary, I might shew with what precision the rights belonging to men in a state of society are defined in the Declaration of Rights, and the life, liberty and property of the subject guarded with a jealous care against oppressive power—how the sacred rights of conscience are secured from human impositions, and equal liberty allowed to all denominations of professing christians, and equal protection promised to them so long as they demean themselves good subjects, by which the many headed monster, persecution, is excluded from our state. I might show how the several powers of government are nicely adjusted, so as to have a mutual check on each other, and despotic power guarded against by keeping the legislative, judicial and executive powers, distinct and seperate, an essential arrangement in a free government; and how the impartial execution of the laws is provided for by the independent situation of the judges; but it is needless to be particular before such an assembly.
Hail the auspicious day that sees our inestimable privileges established on such a foundation! It affords a peculiar satisfaction, on this occasion, to find the man chosen to fill the chair of government, who at the beginning of the late contest espoused the cause of his injured country, who nobly sacrificed his domestic ease and private interest to the public good; and with unshaken firmness and resolution persevered in his virtuous efforts till success has realized his hopes. His election to the office of chief magistrate by the free suffrages of the people, as it is a demonstration of their sense of superior merit, confers a much greater honor than that of an hereditary crown—may the Almighty take his excellency under his holy protection—may he still preside with wisdom and dignity in his exalted station, and after enjoying the deserved approbation of his country for meritorious services, be raised to immortal honors in the kingdom of God. It heightens the joy of the day to see the other important branches of government supplied with such a number of respectable characters. May the honorable the Senate and House of Representatives be directed by supreme wisdom to such measures as will most effectually promote the best interests of their constituents, and particularly in the choice of the most suitable persons to fill the vacant seats of government. It is to be presumed out of such a number of chosen men, there can be no difficulty in making the right choice.
Happy people! if you have wisdom and virtue to improve the advantages now presented to you, under a free government and the administration of wise and faithful rulers, you may go on for ages to come increasing in your numbers and improvements, so as to become the greatest and most powerful empire that ever rose on the face of this earth. There will be no occasion to make war upon your neighbours, to enlarge your boundaries, and it will ever be contrary, as we are situated, to the principles of true policy.
That vast extent of territory comprehended within the limits of the United States, situated under every climate, is capable of containing a countless number of inhabitants, and the rich soil, which wants only the hand of industry to subdue and cultivate it, of producing all the necessaries and comforts of life in the greatest abundance for their support. If the people in these states double their numbers every twenty-five years, supposing them to be three millions at present, according to this calculation, a century hence, they will be increased to forty-eight millions, even without the accession of any foreigners. Imagination already anticipates with pleasing wonder the future prosperity and grandeur of these rising republics. It sees the wilderness changed into a fruitful field, and the desert blossoming as the rose; populous towns and cities rising to view in those vast tracts of uncultivated soil, which hitherto have been the haunt of beasts of prey and savage men. It sees the commodities of every other country flowing into our harbours with every tide, while our store-houses are crowded with the various productions of our own. It sees science flourishing under the refreshing shade of the tree of liberty, and the encouragement of a wise and patriotic government, and Locks and Newtons making new discoveries in the laws of nature, and the latent powers of the human mind, rising to a degree of perfection hitherto unknown; and, which is the most joyful part of the scene, it sees the benevolent religion of the divine Saviour extended far and wide, and christian churches planted where satan's seat now is.
How charming the prospect! But it is to be considered, that its being realized, depends on the practice of that righteousness which alone exalteth a nation; for, It is laid down in the text, as the rule of the divine government over the nations of the earth, to deal with them according to their moral character. Tho' God is an absolute, yet he is a holy and righteous sovereign. Such is the perfection of his nature, that he never can do any thing but what is fit and right. That the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from him. Perfect justice is the invariable rule of his government over the nations. As to individuals, all things come alike to all, and there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked in this present world; the recompence of their doings is reserved for a future state, in which every one shall receive according to the deeds done in the body: But with regard to nations, God hath always made a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, and in plucking up and destroying, or building up and planting them, has ever treated them according to the rule of justice laid down in the text. This would appear with abundant evidence from a review of the history not only of the Jewish nation, but of all other nations that ever have existed. When God commissioned his people to exterminate the nations of Canaan, it was because they had filled up the measure of their iniquity, and it was the crying sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, that brought down upon them the exemplary vengeance of heaven. While virtue was the character of the citizens of Rome; while they practised temperance and sobriety, justice and honesty, and maintained a reverence of the laws and a sacred regard to their promises and treaties, they were prosperous and happy, and from small beginnings rose to be a mighty people. They were not more revered for their valor than for their wisdom and virtue, but as soon as venality and corruption crept in among them their decline was rapid. After the conquest of Asia, the luxuries of the east entered Rome in triumph, and the vices of the conquered soon effected that which their arms could not do—it produced an entire change in the public state and manners, so that a people who had been celebrated for their virtue and courage, became effeminate and luxurious, and sold their birth-right for a mess of pottage; and even the Roman senate, which had resembled an assembly of gods, became dupes to the tyrant, and the mere echo of his arbitrary edicts. It was the wisdom of their laws and the virtue of their citizens, that raised the free states of Greece to such importance, and made them superior to the whole force of Asia, and it was their departure from that virtue, and falling into the contrary vices, that proved their ruin. In a word, the history of all nations and ages, shews that public virtue makes a people great and happy, vice contemptible and miserable. This is the constitution of God—the immutable law of his kingdom, founded in the infinite perfection of his nature, so that unless God should change, that is, cease to be God, we cannot be a happy, unless we are a virtuous people. In absolute governments, the principle of honor may in some measure supply the place of virtue, and there may be the shew of public happiness and grandeur, while the people are really in a state of slavery; but as virtue is the basis of republics, their existence depends upon it, and the moment that the people in general lose their virtue, and become venal and corrupt, they cease to be free. This shews of what importance it is to preserve public virtue under such a constitution as our's, and how much it becomes all who have any regard to the good of their country, and of posterity, and who wish the scenes of future happiness and grandeur, which present themselves to the imagination, may be realized to do every thing in their power, to promote that virtue upon which this depends. This is more especially the duty of rulers, as the end for which they are cloathed with power is, that, that power may be employed for the good of the people—to protect their lives and interests—to make wise and salutary laws, for the regulation of their public affairs, to administer justice with impartiality, and to promote those virtuous sentiments and dispositions among the people, which are the surest foundation of their true happiness and glory. The benevolent design of the institution of civil government, the duty of rulers, and the benefits to be expected from their administration, are represented in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, under the beautiful and significant emblem of a tree, whose top reached to heaven, and its branches to the ends of the earth, and afforded both food and protection to the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the air. "Can there, as one says, be a more just and instructive idea of sovereign power? whose true grandeur and solid glory, does not consist in that splendor, pomp, and magnificence which surrounds it; nor in that reverence and exterior homage which are paid to it by subjects; but in the real services and solid advantages it procures to nations; whose support, defence, security and asylum it forms, both from its nature and institution, at the same time it is the fruitful source of terrestial blessings of every kind; especially to the poor and weak, who ought to find beneath its shade and protection, a sweet peace and tranquility not to be interrupted, or disturbed; whilst rulers sacrifice their ease, and experience alone those storms and tempests from which they shelter all others."
Rulers, by the very design of their institution, are ministers of God for good to the people; and their situation gives them a peculiar advantage to promote this benevolent design. They are placed on high, like a city set upon a hill: The people look up to them as their fathers, guides and guardians, and confide in their wisdom to devise the best means to alleviate their burdens, to promote their interests, and perpetuate their happiness; and when their authority is exercised with justice and moderation, their example has a leading influence in forming the public taste and manners: They are the head of the political body, which moves, animates and guides the members in their motions. From all these considerations, people have a right to expect that their rulers, to whom they have delegated their authority for this express purpose, will do all in their power to promote their interests and happiness. Before I conclude, I will take the liberty briefly to mention some things which it is in a more especial manner the duty of rulers to promote, as the surest means of establishing their own authority on a firm basis, lengthening the public tranquility, and realizing those future scenes of felicity and grandeur, the prospect of which lies before us.
1st. As religion has a manifest tendency to promote the temporal as well as eternal interests of mankind, it is the duty of rulers to give all that countenance and support to religion that is consistent with liberty of conscience. And it is perfectly consistent with that liberty and equal protection which are secured to all denominations of christians, by our excellent constitution, for rulers in the exercise of their authority to punish profane swearing, blasphemy, and open contempt of the institutions of religion, which have a fatal influence on the interests of society, and for which no man, in the exercise of reason, can plead conscience; and by their example, to encourage the practice of those things which all denominations allow to be essential in religion. Even on the supposition that the christian religion were, as its enemies would insinuate, a cunningly devised fable, yet as its genius and precepts are so friendly to civil government; as it contains a system of the most pure and sublime morality, and enjoins on its professors in the most express manner, and by the most powerful sanctions, subjection to the powers that are ordained of God, it would be sound policy in rulers to give all possible countenance and encouragement to this religion as the means of strengthening their own hands; and to treat it with neglect and contempt, and teach the people by their own example to do so likewise, would be undermining their own authority; cutting off the branch on which they themselves stand; for when men have cast off the fear of God, it is a natural consequence, that neither will they regard man. The religion of Christ, where it has its proper influence on the hearts and lives of men, will not fail to make the best rulers and the best subjects. It is unnecessary to enlarge before rulers, one requisite qualification in whom is, that they are of the protestant religion: They will surely encourage and promote their own religion.
2d. However much men may differ in their religious sentiments, all, even the vicious themselves, are agreed in condemning vice, and approving of virtue; and universal experience shews that the certain tendency of the former is to bring ruin upon a people, and of the latter to make them great and happy. It may then justly be expected from those who are the fathers and the guardians of the people, and who according to the design of their institution, are to be a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well, that they will do every thing in their power, both by their authority and example, to encourage and promote the practice of those public virtues among the people, industry, œconomy, frugality, obedience to the laws, a reverence of solemn oaths (the bond of civil society and security of life and property) public spirit and love of their country, with which our prosperity and happiness are closely connected: and that they will discountenance and suppress, by all possible ways and means, the opposite vices, luxury, dissipation, extravagance, gaming, idleness and intemperance, which lead to certain ruin, and have already made such an alarming progress as forebodes that this new empire will not be of long duration, at least in its present form, unless they are restrained by some effectual expedients. They are the diseases of the political body, which prey upon its very vitals, and by certain, tho' insensible degrees, bring on its dissolution. They call for speedy and efficacious remedies.
In absolute governments, where the power is lodged in the hands of one, or a few, the constitution may be maintained, tho' the people are grossly ignorant and corrupt, because they have no concern in the affairs of government. They are governed by brutal force, and are mere machines which move only as they are moved by an exterior power; but in free governments, where all supplies originate with the people, and the authority delegated by them to their rulers, is revocable at their pleasure, it is essential to existence and to the public welfare, that people should be virtuous, and entertain just ideas of the relation and mutual obligations between them and their rulers, and the common interest they have in the good of their country. It is of great importance they should be sensible that their country is not the land where they were born, or the soil they possess, but the great body of the people of which they are members, and the laws and constitution under which they live—that the people are their people—the laws their laws, which they have consented to be govern'd by, and the rulers their rulers, to whom they have solemnly promised obedience and subjection, in the exercise of lawful authority; and that as in the natural, so in the political body, its prosperity and happiness depend on the wisdom of the head, the soundness of the vitals, and the activity and regular exercise of the members in their several places—such sentiments generally diffused among a people, will engage them to obey from a principle of duty, and will make them ready and chearful in contributing their support to measures calculated to promote the public good—they will prefer the welfare of their country to their chief joy. It was this principle of public spirit and love of their country, which was cultivated with a religious care, from their earliest age, in the citizens of Sparta, Athens and Rome, that produced such astonishing efforts of heroic virtue. This leads me to add,
3d. The education of youth in useful knowledge and the principles of virtue, being essential to the preservation of a free government, and the public welfare, should be a main object of every wise government. The faculties of the human mind, in their natural state, are like precious metal in the ore, which must be refined and polished by the hand of education to make them useful. Knowledge is not only necessary in rulers to qualify them to fill public posts with dignity and reputation; but also in the people to make them good subjects. A wise and knowing people will think it no less their interest than duty to support government and yield obedience to the laws; whereas the ignorant being governed wholly by their passions, are dangerous subjects of any government, especially a free one. They are mere machines, and ever liable to be excited by an artful designing demagogue, to such acts of violence and outrage, as have sometimes brought the public to the brink of ruin. Witness the frequent revolutions in the Ottoman government, where sometimes a sultan is deposed and strangled by a sudden insurrection, while the grand seignior sits trembling in his palace. It would then render a most essential service to the public, and be a happy mean of securing to distant posterity the blessings of that free and wise government we are placed under, if rulers would take effectual measures for the instruction of the rising generation in useful knowledge—posterity will rise up and call them blessed.
But surely I need not dwell on this subject before such an assembly, as all wise men are sensible of the advantages of knowledge. The worthy framers of our constitution have expressed their sense of it, when they say, that "Knowledge and learning generally diffused through a community are essential to the preservation of a free government," and when they add, that "it shall be the duty of the legislators and magistrates, in all future periods of this government, to cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries and public schools."
4th. It is of the last importance to the honor of a nation, to maintain the public credit and the faith of solemn treaties inviolate. The credit of a nation as well as of individuals, depends on their punctuality in fulfilling their engagements. What but this enabled Britain, under such an enormous load of national debt, to raise supplies to carry on the late expensive war? No other nation, nor even their own citizens, will trust a people in their exigencies, who have often violated their promises, and defrauded their creditors. Public credit is of a delicate nature, easily destroyed, but with difficulty retrieved. Nothing fixes a deeper and more lasting mark of infamy on a nation than their breach of public faith. It was this made Carthage a by-word among their neighbours, so that Carthaginian faith became a term of reproach to signify a faithless perfidious people. It is devoutly to be wished that we may be saved from that infamy, by a punctual fulfilment of the promises of the public to individuals, and a sacred adherence to the faith of treaties and the articles of confederation, that our enemies may be disappointed of their hopes from our intestine divisions, and convinced that we have virtue to preserve, and wisdom to improve, the inestimable blessings we have defended by our valour. At the same time that the honor and credit of a nation depend on their preserving the public faith inviolate; it is to be remembered that treaties and alliances between nations, being founded on their mutual interests, are like a rope of sand, easily broken; and we are not to expect they will be regarded any longer than it is for the interest of the contracting powers to observe them: We must therefore, under providence, depend for defence against foreign invasion, and the security of our liberty and privileges, on the wisdom and firmness of our councils, the public virtue of citizens, the good order of our finances, and a well disciplined militia.
If rulers and people would unite in their endeavors to promote the things that have been mentioned, it would infallibly secure the future happiness and glory of this new empire.
The Almighty Ruler of nations and kingdoms sets before us this day, life and death, blessing and cursing, and leaves it to ourselves which we will chuse. Altho' true religion, the religion of the heart, consisting in faith and love unfeigned, and a real conformity to the divine character, is necessary in all who on good grounds would hope for eternal life; yet those who are wholly destitute of this religion, have it in their power to practice, on natural principles, that virtue, which according to the constitution of the divine government over nations, will ensure their temporal prosperity and glory.
While we are obedient and do that which is right, we have the highest assurance that our tranquility shall be lengthened, and the increase of our happiness and glory like the light of the morning; but if we do evil and fall into the vices and corruptions that have ever brought ruin on other nations, we may assuredly expect that we shall meet with their doom. Our situation, and the constitution of our government makes this warning peculiarly necessary.
Young states, like young men in the vigor of life, by their exertions attain to wealth; and exorbitant wealth begets luxury, dissipation, and those other vices which bring on their ruin. Republics, in their very constitution, are shorter lifed than other governments: their foundation being laid in virtue, when the body of the people become corrupt, the enemy takes advantage while they are lull'd into a fatal sleep on the soft lap of pleasure, to bind them with the cords of absolute power; so that when they awake, like Sampson, too late, they find themselves deprived of that in which their strength lay. This was formerly the fate of the Roman commonwealth, and is at present the case of Venice and the United Netherlands. All empires have had their period, and without doubt our's, like them, will also be lost in the lapse of time. We would fain place that event at a distant period. We cannot but hope that the Almighty has designed America as the stage on which he will make the most illustrious displays of his power and glory—let us unite our endeavors for its accomplishment. Let vice in every form be discountenanced, that, as ashamed, it may hide its head, and genius, merit and virtue, be encouraged and rewarded. Let wisdom guide our public councils, and equity and moderation mark our public measures. Let us guard against a spirit of discord, the bane of society; and laying aside those personal prejudices which have arisen from the opposition of sentiments and interests in the late contest, endeavor to cultivate peace and to strengthen the union among all the members of the state, that our moderation may be known to all men. Let us with a conscientious care preserve the spirit of the constitution, and guard against whatever would be an infraction of the social compact between the rulers and the people. It would be a glaring inconsistency, after people have chosen a form of government, and delegated authority to rulers to exercise the several powers of that government, to form combinations within the state in opposition to their own laws and government. It would be pulling down with one hand what they build up with the other, and setting up a government within a government, the greatest absurdity in politics. While on the one hand we reject the doctrine of passive obedience and nonresistance, and with a jealous eye watch the motions of those in power; let us on the other hand, equally guard against a spirit of faction, that from selfish motives would overturn the foundations of government, and throw all things into confusion.
The citizens of a free state should learn to think on a large scale. This would guard them against the designs of the selfish and interested. They should rise above that contracted spirit which centers all the views and pursuits of men in their own private seperate interest, or that of the little circle with which they are immediately connected. They should consider themselves as members one of another, and the particular state to which they belong, a member of the great national body, composed of the United States, and upon this principle, study to promote the general good of the whole; in which also their own safety and happiness are involved. Instead of weakening they should do every thing in their power to strengthen the hands of rulers, and to support them in the exercise of lawful authority.
Government is necessary, and must be supported; and it ought to be a humiliating consideration that the necessity and expences of this divine institution, is founded in the corruption and vices of human nature; for if mankind were in a state of rectitude there would be no need of the sanctions of human laws to restrain them from vice or to oblige them to do what is right. They would be detered from the former by a sense of its deformity, and led to practice the latter by a view of its intrinsic beauty. But in the present disordered state of our nature there would be no safety of life or property without the protection of law. A state of nature would be a state of continual war and carnage. The weak would be devoured by the strong, and every affront avenged with the death of the offender. Even under the best governments, we see the human passions often break through all the restraints of law in acts of violence and outrage! which shews what reason we have to be thankful to God for that excellent Constitution we live under, and how incumbent it is on every one who is a friend to the order, peace and happiness of society, or who even regards the safety of his own life and property, to support and maintain it.
To conclude—it is matter of solid consolation and exalted joy to the friends of God and religion, amidst the darkness and imperfection of this present state, that all human events are under the direction of an infinitely wise, good, holy and powerful providence, and are subservient to the peculiar kingdom of the Mediator, and uniformly working together to bring it to that state of perfection and glory for which it is designed. It is delightful to observe, how all things from the beginning of time, in the four great monarchies that rose in succession, that of the Babylonians, that of the Medes and Persians, that of the Macedonians, and that of the Romans, were disposed by divine providence to prepare the way for the coming of the Mediator, and the introduction of his kingdom; and how the kings and rulers of the earth in those enterprizes, in which they were actuated by pride and vain glory, were only instruments in his hand to accomplish the predictions of his holy word respecting his church and people, though they meant not so, neither came it into their heart. The design of God in all his dispensations and in all events that have come to pass in every age, has been to serve the interest of the Redeemer's kingdom. And this, doubtless, is his design in the present revolution. It may be to prepare the way for the accomplishment of glorious things spoken of Zion in the latter days which remain yet to be accomplished. All power in heaven and on earth is given to Christ as mediator for the church; and is invariably exercised by him to promote her interest.
Let Zion rejoice that her King reigneth and is governor among the nations, and sovereign of universal nature; so that no weapon formed against her shall prosper, but all the designs and attempts of her malicious foes shall be over-ruled to promote her interest, happiness and glory. This stone which was cut out of the mountain without hands, has already smote the feet of the image in Daniel's vision, which represented the four monarchies before-mentioned, and broken them in pieces; and this stone shall finally become a great mountain and fill the whole earth, when all the glory and magnificence of earthly kingdoms shall vanish away as the illusions of a dream when one awaketh. May we be built by faith on this tried precious corner stone which God hath laid in Zion for a foundation, and be found diligent and faithful in the duties of our several stations, that so through his mercy and the merits of the great Redeemer we may be approved when we shall appear before him in judgment, and be finally admitted to the joys and glories of that kingdom that cannot be moved, in which peace and righteousness reign forever, Amen.
What respects his excellency President Weare, was omitted in the delivery of the sermon, his excellency being absent. It is now inserted in the publication, as a small tribute of gratitude to one, who has deserved so well of the public.