Joseph Willard (1738-1804) graduated from Harvard College in 1765 and served as a tutor at the College until 1772. He was ordained in November of 1772 at First Congregational Church in Beverly, Mass. In 1780, he was one of the founding members of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was elected President of Harvard in 1781 and served until his death in 1804.
Delivered at Boston
December 11, 1783,
The Religious Society
in Brattle Street,
Under the Pastoral Care
The Rev. Samuel Cooper, D.D.
The Rev. Joseph Willard, A.M.
President of the University in Cambridge.
Psalm CXVIII, 27.
God is the Lord which hath showed us light; bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.
This is a Psalm of David; and it appears to have been penned by him, in the way of grateful acknowledgement to God, for some remarkable deliverance, which He had granted him from the hands of his enemies, who had been almost ready to destroy him, and over-run the kingdom of Israel. “All nations compassed me about, says he, but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them. They compassed me about; they compassed me about like bees, they are quenched as the fire of thorns; for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them. Thou hast thrust sore at me, that I might fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.” Thus was he delivered from the hands of his enemies, and he gives the glory to God—to that God upon whom, he tells us, in a verse proceeding, he had called in his distress; and he is desirous that he should be praised. “God is the Lord, says he in our text, which hath showed us light; bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar”; i.e. As the omnipotent Lord appeared for us in our days of darkness—in our times of trouble, distress and danger, and hath caused light to shine upon us—hath made a way for our escape, and hath granted us salvation, let us be grateful to him—let us show our gratitude by offering him sacrifices of thanksgiving—let us bring our victims, for this purpose, to the altar, and there keep them bound, ready to be offered to God, to show our gratefulness and the joy of our hearts. Such was the exhortation of David to the people of Israel, when God had showed peculiar favors to him and them; and, in similar circumstances, a people, at this day, should consider the exhortation as directed to them. And in treating upon this text we shall show, that when God has remarkably interposed for a people in their days of darkness or calamity, and granted them light, or signal deliverances and favors, they ought to offer to Him a tribute of thanksgiving and praise.
God is the Lord, says David, which hath showed us light. This implies that he and his people had been in darkness. And here we may observe, that darkness and light are frequently used in a metaphorical sense, in the Holy Scriptures. Darkness is put for trouble, perplexity and calamity. Thus Joel speaking concerning the famine and other judgments under which the Israelites labored, calls the season, “A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness.” And Zephaniah prophesying of the judgments of God, which were coming upon Judah, says concerning the time when they should fall upon them, “That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” These and many other passages make it evident that darkness is sometimes used in the Holy Scriptures metaphorically for trouble and calamity; and it is with propriety thus used. In days of public calamity how distressing is sometimes the prospect? Which way soever we look, trouble and melancholy appear, and gloom is apt to seize upon and overwhelm the mind as darkness in the night involves the body.
We find light in the Holy Oracles spoken of in an opposite sense. It is put for prosperity and serenity of mind, or joy. And when God is mentioned as interposing for his people and removing their troubles and calamities, he is said to give them light, and they are spoken of as enjoying light. Thus, when God made a way for the Jews to be delivered from the wicked devices of Haman, and to be saved from that destruction, in which their enemies were ready to involve them, it is said that they had light and gladness and joy. Many such days had the children of Israel, while they continued to be a nation. After they had been involved in darkness they saw light; they had their troubles removed; and from adversity, through the goodness and mercy of God, they emerged to prosperity.
If we read their history with any attention, we shall find that they had many dark days. Their troubles and calamities were sometimes exceeding great; and they seemed to be threatened with destruction. The greatest scourges they had were generally their enemies, who, when they revolted from God were permitted to make war upon them, and oftentimes to reduce them to abject circumstances and great distresses. These were to them seasons of great gloom and darkness, and they sometimes knew not which way to turn. But when they repented, God interposed for them and granted them deliverance, whereby the clouds were dispersed and light shone upon them. And in whatever way they had light after their darkness it was God who was the Author of it.
David openly acknowledges God to be the Author of the deliverance that he and his people had, from the hand of their enemies, as celebrated in the Psalm from which we have taken our text. Like a man of true wisdom, he perceived the divine government—he saw the providence of God concerned in the important events that took place in his affairs; and as became a man of sincere piety, he freely spoke of it and gave glory to the Ruler of the world; and all who think with propriety and are men of real religion will join with David, and will allow, that God’s hand ought to be acknowledged, in all great and happy events which concern them.
We have enough to convince us, that God is the Governor of the Universe, and doth his pleasure in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. He hath almighty power, infinite wisdom, the strictest justice, and unbounded goodness; he is therefore able to rule in the best manner. Were we to argue only from what reason should dictate to us concerning such a Being, we must be convinced that he would rule in the best manner, if he should undertake the government of the world; and the same reason would dictate to us, that such a Being would not leave it without government: None could be equal to the undertaking but a Being of infinite perfections. God therefore must direct in all or the whole would run to confusion.
God’s providence and government are treated of in the plainest manner, in the Sacred Oracles. By them we are informed that He hath set up his empire among the children of men, and that He disposes of all things concerning them, as he pleases. He is represented as directing the concerns both of individuals and communities or nations. He orders what respects the outward circumstances of each one of us; and as to what concerns nations, he speaks to build and to plant them—and He speaks to pluck up, and to pull down and to destroy.
There are proofs, innumerable proofs of a superintendency over the affairs of men, which they cannot but be sensible of, if they open their eyes and reflect in the least. Such facts must arise to view as must fully convince every unprejudiced mind of providence. Oftentimes are events entirely contrary to human plans, and even to the most sanguine expectations. Men fail, when they appear to be upon the eve of carrying their purposes into execution, and their expectations perish. Sometimes men are as unexpectedly successful in their undertakings. They have been driven to attempt things, in which human probability has been entirely against them, and yet they have carried their attempts into execution. Thus are men taught, that there is Power above who orders and directs in all the affairs of the children of men. This has so often been the case with respect both to individuals and communities that he must be obstinately blind who does not see it.
God sometimes fulfills the desires of the children of men, without any human instrumentality. Thus, by a series of miracles wrought in Egypt, he caused the king of Egypt to let the children of Israel go out of his land, where they had for a long time been groaning under the most cruel bondage. And by working a miracle, he pated the red sea, when the king of Egypt with a large army pursued the Israelites; and after the Israelites had marched through and escaped, he caused the sea to return upon the Egyptians, who followed them, whereby they were all drowned; and thus was a most wonderful and memorable deliverance wrought for his people. In a like miraculous manner, God granted deliverance to the Samaritans, after they had been for a long time besieged by the army of Benhadad king of Syria, and had endured the rigors of famine. The sacred historian tells us, 2 Kings viith chapter, that, The Lord made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of a great host, and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us. Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life. As remarkable a deliverance God gave Hezekiah from the army of Sennacherib king of Assyria. He had greatly distressed the land of Judea, and by his army and threatenings had thrown Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem into much consternation. He boasted what he would do to the kingdom of Hezekiah, and spoke blasphemous words against the God of heaven. But the Almighty soon blasted his purposes. His angel went out, and in one night smote in the camp of the Assyrians, an hundred fourscore and five thousand men; and Sennacherib, without attempting anything farther, returned to his own land. This memorable account we find in 2 Kings xix, and in Isaiah xxxviii. These are a few instances of many that might be produced from sacred Writ, where God, in the most remarkable manner, interposed and granted salvation to his people, without human means; so that the glory could not but be entirely ascribed to him.
But the hand of God does not always appear so immediate and conspicuous, in those great and happy events which a people sometimes experiences; yet his providence may be seen in them; and though human means may have been made use of, the finger of God may still evidently appear in bringing about what takes place. A number of instances favoring this position, may be found in the sacred pages, respecting the children of Israel, which there is not time to mention, but which those conversant with their bibles may easily advert to.
There never has been a nation for whom God has so miraculously interposed, in their days of darkness, as he often did for the children of Israel; and scarcely ever is his providence marked with such very signal footsteps. Yet divine interpositions for other nations have sometimes been so evident, that he must have been willfully perverse who has not owned them. They have sometimes appeared to be upon the brink of ruin; everything has seemed to be fast tending to their overthrow; they have been so enveloped in darkness, that almost ever mind has been filled with gloom, and has presaged the saddest events: But a series of prosperous circumstances have ere long taken place; every undertaking has been smiled upon; ways and means have unexpectedly been found for them to reinstate their affairs, and a train of successes has attended all their operations. Everything has turned out so contrary to human appearances and expectations, that none but an atheistical mind could resist the evidences appearing for the interposals of a divine providence. Even Heathens have remarked such interposals, and have highly celebrated them; and surely it would be a disgrace to those, who are favored with the knowledge of the true religion, when they see such remarkable events taking place, or which have taken place, not to acknowledge the hand of Him who rules in heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and who orders things as it best pleases Him. And they who are interested in events, which have been graciously overruled to their advantage and happiness, would conduct entirely unworthy the benefits they have received, should they not acknowledge that they are indebted to the providence of God for them. A humble sense of their dependence upon Him ought to possess their minds, as well when they have received favors, as when they are in want of them. And it is highly provoking to God, when men entirely arrogate that to themselves, for which they have been indebted to his blessing and the success which he has granted to their endeavors, and they have reason to fear lest he should withdraw his favors. But they who have a sense of their obligations to God, for the light and prosperity which they enjoy, and with grateful hearts acknowledge it, may hope that he will be further merciful to them, and will grant them all needed salvation.
Gratitude to God always becomes the children of men, who are continually receiving benefits from his hand; and it in a peculiar manner becomes them, when they have received any signal favors. This was the temper of David, as we find in our text. As the Lord had showed him and his people light, he exhorts to bind the sacrifice with cords unto the horns of the altar. He was ready to offer a tribute of praise to the God of his salvation himself, and to lead others to do the same. This is a conduct which all ought to pursue.
God has been pleased to endue us with passions and affections, as well as reason; and when we see particular actions or modes of conduct, we not only reason upon them, but we immediately feel ourselves impressed with the idea of their propriety or impropriety. When we perceive a malignant temper in any one of our fellow creatures, and see him manifesting it by malevolent actions, not only does our reason tell us that his temper is evil and his actions wrong, but we immediately feel ourselves impressed with the idea of his vileness; and indignation arises in our breasts against him. On the contrary, when we see one of our fellow creatures of diffusive benevolence, who shows the goodness of his heart by frequent acts of kindness and beneficence, and who delights to make all those who are around him happy, our hearts must be immediately impressed with a love of his character; unless we are devoid of the common feelings of the human heart; and if we have been benefitted by him, we shall not only love his character, but, shall feel gratitude enkindled in our bosoms.
Shall we feel thus disposed towards one of our fellow men, in whose character there is benevolence and goodness, and can we see remarkable manifestations of the goodness of God towards us, and not have our hearts deeply impressed with gratitude and thankfulness to Him! None can possibly bestow upon us such favors as God, but all must in acts of goodness fall infinitely short of him; and shall any feel more grateful to a fellow creature, who bestows a few favors, than to that infinitely good Being, who loads us with benefits, and to whom we are obliged for disposing others to do us good? Did men but seriously consider from whence all their mercies flow—that it is God to whom they are indebted for the blessings they enjoy, they could not but feel highly grateful to him. A grateful mind must always be acceptable to God; all therefore should be solicitous that their mind be thus disposed; and if they are truly grateful to him they cannot but be ready to offer him a tribute of praise, and to conduct in such a manner as to glorify him.
To live as God requires is the most substantial praise that men can pay him. This shows that they have a proper sense of their obligations to him, and are studious to glorify him: All therefore should endeavor so to order their whole conversation and conduct, that a tribute of praise may be daily ascending from them, and they may lead a life of thanksgiving. But particular exercises of praise and thanksgiving are a mean of promoting such a character in ourselves and others. They have tendency to excite sentiments of love and gratitude to God, and to lead men to study what His will is, that they may conform thereto.
David in our text, sensible of his obligations to God speaks of offering him sacrifices. There were sacrifices of thanksgiving appointed under the Mosaic dispensation. These we read of in Leviticus vii. The Israelites were directed to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to testify their gratitude for the favors they received from God; and if these sacrifices were attended with grateful hearts, they were acceptable to him.
Jewish sacrifices, we all know, have long since ceased, but there are ways in which Christians may offer to God sacrifices of thanksgiving. They may have days appointed to meet together at the house of God, to attend to discourses of his goodness and mercy, to sing his praises, and to offer their thankful acknowledgements for his favors, before the throne of his grace. And if they thus meet together, with hearts deeply impressed with a sense of divine benefits, and sincerely join in these acts of worship, they glorify God and are accepted by him.—They also offer him the sacrifice of thanksgiving, while they temperately partake of the bounties of his providence, and at the same time have their affections engaged to him for his blessings. And they who are in circumstances of ease of affluence may offer to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving, by imitating him in his bounty, and bestowing favors, with a true spirit of charity, upon those who are in circumstances of indigence.
But omitting what might be further offered upon this head, I shall now proceed to the improvement.
From what we have heard, let us all be excited to keep in our minds a realizing sense of the providence of God, as continually directing human affairs. And at a time when there are any great and signal benefits, in which we with others are concerned, let us show that we are properly impressed with a consideration of our being indebted to God.
It becomes us to acknowledge a divine providence, when we are partakers of peculiar favors; for however the blessings we enjoy may appear to have been in any measure procured by ourselves, or by any of our fellow men, we or they are but second causes. God is the first cause, and without him nothing can be brought to pass. In all signal blessings, therefore, let us gratefully acknowledge him, and we may hope at all times to have his favorable regards, and those mercies that we farther stand in need of. And, under great and happy events in which it becomes us to rejoice, let us endeavor that our joy may be under proper regulations.
We should enjoy with cheerfulness the prosperity that God is pleased to allot to us; and when we meet with peculiar deliverances and favors, especially of a public nature, in which not only we, but multitudes of our fellow men are concerned, we may be particularly joyous; only we should guard against everything that would not become us as men and as Christians. And we should in a particular manner be glad in the Lord, who is our divine Benefactor. Let us with sincerity pay our tribute of thanksgiving to him, and make our gratitude known by striving to live as well as speak his praises—joining the sacrifice of a pious and Godly conduct to the offerings of our tongues.
Let us now consider what has been offered, as it respects the occasion of our being together at this time.
We are called together by our Rulers, this day, to celebrate the loving kindness of God as it appears in those great things which he hath done for us. And in order that our gratitude may abound, in those happy circumstances in which we now find ourselves, let us take a retrospective view of the state of our affairs, in this land, for some years past. We shall indeed be able but just to glance upon many things; but we shall see sufficient to fill our minds with adoring thoughts of the great Governor of the world, and the highest gratitude to him for his unspeakable benefits.
We have had days of darkness as well as seasons of light. How gloomy was our situation, for several years before the late war, when Great Britain was endeavoring to lay upon us burdens difficult to be borne, and which, if we had submitted to them, would have sunk us to a very abject state. We had to contend with artful men, and those bent upon carrying their purposes, at all events. But in the midst of these glooms God gave us some light. He early raised up those among us, who had wisdom to detect the plots of these men, and firmness to oppose their measures, so that we did not fall that easy prey to them, which they had expected. They took one method after another, to put the shackles upon the inhabitants of this land; sometimes by artful, at other times by violent measures; but there were always found those among us, who could traverse their designs; and though the blessing of God, upon the exertions of our worthy and steady Patriots, the enemies of our Zion were never able to carry these their destructive plans into execution.
How dark was the prospect, when the port of this Metropolis was shut up by a cruel act of the British Legislature, as a punishment for opposing their unjust measure? Soon after which, the Government of the Province was essentially altered, and made a King’s Government, that the people might be brought to humiliating submission; and to reduce them the sooner to this, a military Governor, with a considerable military force, was placed among us. Gloom sat upon the countenances of all but a few, and we trembled for the event of these things. “But though we were perplexed, we were not in despair—though we were persecuted, we were not forsaken.” Many who had appeared Patriots, continued firm in their country’s cause; and God granted a remarkable union of the inhabitants of this land. This Metropolis found friends, through the Continent, to help her under her distresses—this Province found others disposed to make her cause a common one; and by their united counsels they made a glorious stand against the hand of oppression. Thus did light break forth from darkness. Our enemies, who had thought by rigorous methods to intimidate us, were chagrined at finding so determined a spirit of opposition to their schemes, and they were plunged into difficulties which they knew not how to surmount.
But the most trying scenes were still to come. On the memorable 19th of April 1775, hostilities began, bloodshed commenced, which led on to that train of events, which have astonished the world. But how dark was the aspect when war had thus commenced between Great Britain and the inhabitants of her then Colonies! In this Province the war began; and we could not tell how far we should be aided and supported by our sister Colonies, in this last appeal to heaven. But God, who has the hearts of all men in his hand, surprisingly inclined them to aid us; and the determination became general, to withstand the hand of oppression, to the last extremity. Those in this Province, who with so much patriotism and bravery turned out to repel the enemy, at the commencement of hostilities, were soon joined by their brethren, from other parts, so that it was not long before we had a large army collected, and a General at the head of it, in whom entire confidence was placed; and thus heaven appeared to smile upon us in the midst of our distresses. And we had this further happiness, that the Council of the United colonies harmonized in their measures, and strenuously pursued whose plans, which, they judged, would best conduce to secure the liberty and felicity of the people. But although we had thus some light, yet there were dark clouds which could not but give us uneasiness. Our army was for a good while in a very fluctuating state. At the same time, they were almost destitute of everything necessary to carry on a war, while our enemies were well furnished. Yet, God ere long gave us some signal advantages against them, particularly in the ever memorable battle of Bunker-Hill, enabled us to circumscribe them within very narrow bounds, and prevent them from ravaging the country. And after they had been in possession of our Capital, for some months, He was remarkably with us, in driving them from the important post. And how wonderful were the smiles of providence upon us, in procuring those military articles we stood in need of! All the efforts of our enemies to prevent our supply proved abortive. When we were in the greatest straits, some of the enemy’s vessels laden with military stores and clothing, fell into our hands—we soon became able to manufacture military stores for ourselves, in large quantities—foreign ports were opened to us, and freely supplied us with whatever we stood in need of; so that all the endeavors of our enemies to force us into a compliance with their unjust measures, by putting it out of our power to oppose them, for want of arms and military stores, were entirely frustrated.
In the summer of 1776, so large was the British force, both by sea and land, at New York, that human probability was, that they would carry all before them. Yet, the Fathers of our country, our intrepid Patriots did not despair of our affairs; and when they found that all addresses to the throne for justice were unavailing, and there appeared the most determined spirit to oppress this people, deprive them of their invaluable liberties and bring them to abject submission, they nobly dared as it were in the face of the royal fleets and armies, to assert their freedom, declare their independence on that power which was thus injuriously treating them, and to rank themselves among the distinct nations of the earth. This step the people at large had previously authorized the great Council of the States to take, if they should think it expedient; and they have never had reason to repent that it was taken. Such a measure, taken under such circumstances, must immortalize the memory of the then inhabitants of this country, and particularly, of that band of intrepid patriots, who proposed the measure and openly published it to the world, under the signature of that distinguished Patron of liberty, who has ever stood forth to assert its glorious cause, even in times of the greatest hazard.
After this memorable transaction, in the course of the summer, the enemy gained many advantages over us; and in the autumn our affairs wore an extremely dark aspect. Our army was reduced to an handful of men, compared with that of our enemy. But our Commander in Chief, who has ever shown with peculiar lustre in circumstances of difficulty, through the blessing of providence upon his arms in the winter, revived the drooping spirits of his countrymen. His splendid and successful actions of Trenton and Princeton gave a new turn to our affairs; and large recruits soon joined our little army. Our enemies were disappointed in their expectations, and greatly chagrined; and we had light and joy, after great darkness and perplexity.
During the course of the war, God remarkably prevented the ruin of our cause by British gold, when employed for that purpose. A remarkable instance of his kindness we had in the detection of Arnold, one of our Major Generals, in his ungrateful, vile and treacherous designs and plots. Had he succeeded in these designs, such a blow would have been given to our affairs, as we should have severely felt; and the consequences might have been fatal to our cause. But the Lord disappointed him.—While we view, with the utmost contempt, detestation and abhorrence the abandoned traitor, purchased with the enemy’s gold, let us consider, with the greatest gratitude, the footsteps of the providence of our gracious and divine Benefactor, by which his atrocious plots were brought to light and frustrated, when they were upon the point of being executed; and to him be the glory of all!
The military events, after the last mentioned actions of Trenton and Princeton, were various; and to give a minute detail would now be tedious and improper. Our defensive and offensive actions were sometimes signal. Witness Red-Bank, Stony-Point, Monmouth and several other places. But the successes that attended our arms, in two instances, were so important in themselves and so momentous in their consequences, that I cannot forbear briefly describing them.
The first instance I refer to, is the capture of General Burgoyne and his army, at Saratoga, by General Gates and his forces. How gloomy was the prospect, sometime before the event? When our forces were abandoning their strong holds, and leaving all to the enemy.—The enemy, at the same time pursuing, and slaying and taking prisoners many of our soldiers—Numbers of towns, in the northern department, lying open to the ravages of the British troops and to the cruel depredations of the savages—Multitudes fleeing from their habitations and leaving their substance, to escape the sons of violence; and scarcely knowing where to retire—The enemy flushed with success, penetrating into the country, and threatening to over-run that quarter like an overflowing flood! At that time we were ready to think that all these things were against us; and we trembled for the event. But it was not long before we saw that God meant all for good. Many of our militia were inspired to take the field, in their country’s cause. We soon met with great success at Bennington, against a large division of the enemy; after which, they lost ground in every quarter. Their main body was prevented from advancing, by our army, which daily augmented, by great numbers, who voluntarily took the field. Large divisions of the enemy’s army were attacked and repulsed; and the whole, soon after, fell into the hands of our brave General and his troops.
When the news of this capture reached Europe, it filled the minds of our enemies with dismay; and it happily made way for our alliance with the French nation, from which we have received the most important advantages. From that period, the inhabitants of these United States have appeared to the nations of Europe of much higher consequence than before, and their cause of far greater moment. And the example of France induced others, particularly the United Provinces in the Netherlands, to favor our struggles for securing our independence.
The other memorable instance of success was at York Town in the autumn of 1781. Several of the first months of that year afforded us very unfavorable prospects. When the spring opened, we had but a small army in the field, and our enemies were making great progress in the southern States. At the time that General Green was appointed for, and sent to that department, he had almost every difficulty to contend with. When he began his campaign he had but a very small army. But by his merit and enterprising spirit he soon collected a considerable force, and engaged Earl Cornwallis, the enemy’s commander in chief in that quarter. The contest was obstinate, notwithstanding our forces were inferior in numbers; and although the enemy kept the ground, yet they suffered so severely and were in such circumstances, that they were soon obliged to leave it to our army, which was in the neighborhood, and was ready to meet them again, in a few days after the battle.
Our General and army marched to South Carolina, while the enemy proceeded to Virginia, with a full expectation of adding that State to their southern conquests, which they thought secure to them. But their expectations were eventually disappointed, in every quarter. Our arms, by the smiles of a kind providence, were crowned with the most happy success in the Carolinas, and one important post after another fell into the hands of our brave General and army.
When Earl Cornwallis had arrived in Virginia, he found there the brave Marquis la Fayette to oppose him, but with so small a force, that he was able to make but little head against him. The British General, therefore, greatly distressed the people of that State, and the prospect for a time, was in that quarter, very unfavorable to us. But after a while the prospect brightened. Our illustrious and generous Ally the King of France, who had, the year before, sent us a considerable fleet and army, did, on this emergency, furnish these States with a powerful armament, to cooperate with us against the British forces. And what was the event? The united arms of America and France, by the blessing of heaven succeeded according to our wishes. The British fleet severely shattered, and driven from the Chesapeake by the French, and unable to relieve their General, returned to port with disappointment and loss. Our illustrious General and Commander in Chief, with the allied army, approached the enemy, who were strongly fortified, but with such vigor and resolution was the siege prosecuted, that the Earl was soon reduced to the necessity of capitulating, and submitted to such terms as were imposed—terms, indeed, less humiliating and severe than he, who had constantly marked his footsteps with devastation and cruelty, had any right to expect; but not too lenient for the noble and generous mind of a Washington to give—a mind, which has ever compassionated the unfortunate, though by their conduct they have oftentimes been undeserving of pity.
This glorious event was the finishing stroke to the offensive war of the Britons in America. Our enemies were convinced, that to prosecute the war any father would be but to plunge themselves into greater disgrace and wretchedness. Through the year 1782, therefore, there were no military actions among us, worth notice; and negotiations for peace were more thought of than preparations for war. And happily, in the beginning of the present year, peace was settled, and the independence of these United States was acknowledged by Great Britain; and our Plenipotentiaries gained, by the treaty, everything for us that our most sanguine expectations could promise us. Such a great and important revolution in the cause of freedom, and completed in so few years, is not to be found recorded in history; and it must ever appear an event as astonishing as it is important.
I have briefly related these things, my hearers, not to inform of anything new, but to stir up the mind by way of remembrance, and to bring many important things into one point of view, that we may the better see the divine footsteps, and be led to adore that God, who has safely conducted us through the difficulties we have had to sustain, has given us a name and rank among the nations of the earth, and firmly established our freedom.
Freedom! How pleasing is thy name, how grateful to those who have so long been struggling in thy cause! The inhabitants of the United States, who not long since, were ingloriously dependent upon another power, have now the direction of their own affairs; and from that true spirit of liberty, which so eminently distinguishes them, we have everything to hope. Methinks, I see the firmest and most distinguished Patriots, and the wisest and most just Legislators, in long succession, blessing the land. Under their patronage and encouragement, methinks I see agriculture carried to great perfection, by the wisdom and industry of this people, and trade and commerce so extended and improved, as to be highly to the emolument of these States. Methinks I see science flourishing, and improved to the highest degree, under the fostering hand of liberty. Methinks I see virtue and piety encouraged by all ranks of men, and the gospel of Jesus Christ having free course among us; and religious knowledge, and religious liberty, charity and Catholicism eminently prevailing, and this land becoming in all respects, the glory and the joy of the whole earth. Methinks I see the interests of mankind essentially promoted, by our glorious and successful struggles, and the benign influences of our freedom extending far and wide.—But whither am I carried in these pleasing presages? I forbear.—God grant, that expectations so delightful to our minds may never be blasted!
Methinks, my hearers, we cannot take a review of the great and momentous events, respecting these States, which we have been considering, without seeing the interpositions of a divine providence, in the most conspicuous manner, in bringing us out of darkness into marvelous light; and I must think, we all say in our hearts, “If it had not been the Lord, who was on our side, when men rose up against us: Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us. Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul. Then the proud waters had gone over our soul. Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us a prey to their teeth. Our soul is escaped, as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we are escaped.”
Great thanks are due to many, both in the civil and military line, who have exerted themselves to carry us happily through the war, in which we have been engaged in the support of freedom, and to secure the independence of these States. But whatever obligations we are under to our Patriots, still it is to God that we must give glory; and while we remember them with gratitude, as we ought always to do, let us principally be joyful in the rock of our salvation, and praise God for raising up of our fellow men to be such extensive blessings to us.
We mutually feel pleasure, my brethren, under prosperous events, in which we are concerned; and we ought not to suppress our pleasure, at such times, but only give it a proper direction. Did we not feel pleasure and joy when providence bestowed peculiar favors upon us, or were we immediately to labor to suppress every pleasurable sensation, at such a time, we should want a great stimulus to gratitude to the hand from whence we receive the mercies we enjoy. To be joyful, therefore, under such circumstances, is not only allowable, but is also a duty; and not to be moved would be greater proof of stupidity than of piety. The wise man says, “In a day of prosperity be joyful;” and we are authorized to it, by examples of good men, recorded in the word of God. But while we give outward demonstrations of joy, let us take care that we do not run into levity and vanity, into extravagance, luxury and excess; but in all our expressions of joy, on this happy occasion, let us conduct agreeably to the rules of reason and religion. Let us indulge to nothing that would jostle out of our minds a sense of the obligations we are under to God; but let us preserve a grateful regard to the providence of that Being, from whom comes every good and perfect gift; and who is the Author of all the happiness we enjoy or can expect. And let us strive to have our joy so operate, that through the blessing of God it may promote in our souls a true love to Him, and a sincere desire to please and obey Him. Thus should we all endeavor to improve the remarkable blessings God has bestowed upon us, and so to rejoice in the Lord that we may be furthered in our way to that blessed world, were there is joy unspeakable and full of glory.
But as God’s hand ought to be acknowledged with gratitude and thankfulness, in all such important events as we have been considering, so it ought also to be, in those things in which it does not appear so conspicuous to us, because they are more common. When the inhabitants of a Community enjoy great health and plenty, they are indebted to God therefore. In him we live move and have our being; and he upholds us from day to day. All diseases are under his direction and control. He can send them upon us, or restrain them, as he pleases. The state of the air may be salubrious or pestilentious, adapted to promote health or to impair it. There may be many other things, which may act as external causes, and may subserve or destroy it. But still, nothing can take place without the permission or direction of God, who is the health of our countenance. To him therefore be the praise and glory, for that health which the inhabitants of this land have, for the year past, enjoyed; and may we all show our gratitude to him, by improving our health in his service.
As God has savored us with remarkable health, so he has given us kindly seasons, and has blessed us with great plenty, filling us with food and gladness. This his goodness demands our grateful acknowledgements; and we ought to make it our great concern, to improve the bounties of his providence, in such a manner, that we may thereby honor and glorify him. May they who have ability be ready to show their gratitude to God, by assisting the poor, and extending their bounty to those who are objects of charity. The poor we have always with us; and they who have a sufficiency of this world’s goods should consider themselves God’s Almoners, and should be ready to expend something feed the hungry and clothe the naked, remembering what St. Paul has said, “To do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
We have great reason of thankfulness that we have a good Government, and that our Rulers are such, that under their administration we may lead quiet and peaceable lives. And God be praised, that since the last anniversary, we have had so few internal difficulties among us, and that there is so general a disposition to promote good order.
Above all things, my brethren, let us be thankful to God, that he hath continued to us the precious privileges of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us strive with the greatest care to improve these privileges aright, which will be the most substantial proof that we are truly grateful for them.
God is calling upon you, my brethren, to consider the importance of improving these privileges, by his present afflictive providence, in interrupting the public services of your justly beloved and valued Pastor, who has, for many years, labored among you in word and in doctrine. While that eminent servant of our Lord Jesus Christ shall be detained from this his sanctuary, may you reflect how you have received and heard. May you consider how you have improved under his ministry. As far as it has had a due influence upon you, may you be grateful to God who has blessed it. If it has not been improved by you as it ought to have been, may you be humble and penitent, and resolve, relying upon divine grace, that you will for the future be more attentive to the great and momentous truths of the gospel.
Notwithstanding you are partakers of the public joy, which is diffused enough through the land, yet it cannot but be damped, by what you feel as a religious Society, on account of the sickness of your excellent Pastor; and in this regard it is with you a day of darkness. I feel you concern—I heartily condole with you under this afflictive dispensation of providence, and consider myself as deeply interested. May a life so eminently useful and valuable be precious in the sight of God. May he graciously restore him to health and to distinguished serviceableness among this people of his beloved charge—to the University of which he is so excellent and beneficial as Governor, and to the public, which he has greatly serve, and which would very sensibly feel his loss.
Blessed be God who is in any measure giving light and hope. May that goodness which is begun be perfected. May the darkness soon be entirely dispelled and perfect day appear. May your Pastor be raised up, and be continued to be a burning and shining light in this golden candlestick, as he has heretofore been, and even to increase in luster; and may you for a long season rejoice in his light.
Finally, that we may all walk agreeably to the light of gospel truth in this world, and that we may finally be received to the world of eternal light and glory above, may God of his infinite mercy grant, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.