Evan Johns (1763-1849) was born in Wales and emigrated to the United States in 1801. He was selected as the pastor of the First Congregational Church of Berlin, CT in 1802 and served until 1811. He became pastor of the Congregational Church of Canandaigua, NY in 1817.
The Happiness of American Christians
On Thursday the 24th of November 1803.
By Evan Johns
Pastor of a church in Berlin.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity religion and morality are indispensible supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.
A THANKSGIVING SERMON
Happy is that people that is in such a case; yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord Psalm CXLIV. 15.
“Through the good hand of our God upon us we are, once more, assembled to contemplate the various benefits, conferred upon us by divine providence; to cultivate sentiments of gratitude, and to present, to our liberal Benefactor, that homage, of which he is worthy. An exercise this, at once, rational and delightful; an exercise which, if we engage in it heartily, cannot fail to promote our happiness; since the feelings of gratitude are, in themselves, pleasant, and at the same time a source of contentment. Should we properly discharge the duty now before us, we shall, not only act the part of Christians, but also, become more respectable as citizens; and lay a foundation for that harmony, without which, the highest external privileges will never secure even our temporal happiness. To have the mind ever attentive to existing evils, and forgetful of actual good, while it involves the basest ingratitude to God, is to furnish ground for the most serious disunion. It is to keep alive those embers which when supplied with but a moderate quantity of fuel, never fail to break out into a devouring conflagration.
Permit the preacher, then, to act in character as a minister of the Prince of peace. Surely, no one on the present occasion will charge him with going out of his province, though he should advert to some topics of a political nature – topics not adapted to foment a factious spirit; to gratify or chagrin a party, as such; but to promote that complacency of soul, essential to self enjoyment. “Happy is that people, that is in such a case; yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord.”
Happily for us, the subject matter to which the text naturally leads us, is applicable to the United States at this time; but particularly so, to the State in which we live.
In the first place we have “no breaking in:” we are not annoyed by foreign invasion.
Many of my hearers know, by experience, by what a sore evil it is for a people to have their country the seat of war. They, who have been active in a state of warfare, can never forget the SCENES, which it presents, and the EFFECTS, of which it is productive. They must remember the pangs of distress, mutually experienced when they were separated from their friends, uncertain whether they should, ever, meet again. They can easily recollect the feelings they had at the moment of departure from the domestic roof – feelings, which must have been painful, though their breasts should have been animated, in the highest degree, by patriotism. They will call to mind, how they felt, when about to face a formidable enemy on the field of Battle; as well as when engaged in the work of Death: - the scenes of carnage which their eyes beheld; and the groans, which, notwithstanding the thunder of War, pierced their ears : - the fatigue they experienced, even when Victory was perched on their banners; but more particularly, the evils attendant on a hasty retreat before a pursuing Enemy: - how trying it is, in such circumstances, to encounter the inclemencies of the weather; and to experience the attacks of wasting Disease.
The bad EFFECTS which a state of war produces on morals must be fresh in their recollection, now the business of education was neglected, the Sabbath, in many instances, a time of hurry and bustle, the House of God, in a measure, deserted, and violence practiced by wicked individuals, glad to throw off the restrains of the civil Law. They must know that, an Army, tho’ under the strictest discipline, is a School of irreligion, where habits of licentiousness are acquired; where he who was a libertine in secret, throws off the mask, and becomes the open Advocate of principles baneful to the happiness of Man. They must know that, habits principled people, who have opportunities to gratify their avarice at the expense of the Public: - habits which, long afterwards, continue to prey on the Community. To paint all the evils of War is not practicable. They are numberless. War is one of the greatest scourges with which Heaven, in its wrath, punishes a people. But, with this sore judgment, we are not visited. Our Territory remains in peace at this very remarkable period, when a great part of what is called the civilized World, suffers the Horrors of War, of which the flames after having been suppressed for a very short season, soon bursting forth with increased violence.
How thankful ought we to be to Divine Providence for casting our lot in a Country separated, by a wide Ocean from the European World; and, consequently, exempt from the danger, to which otherwise, we should have been exposed! May the people of the United States, ever, make a wise use of their advantageous situation. May they never permit European transactions to foment among them a Spirit, in the least degree, favoring of Faction. Let us carefully avoid even the Language to which civil animosities have given rise in a remote quarter of the world. Be it our study to frown on those, who would introduce, into our happy Land, that Spirit which has spread such desolation in distant parts. Keep your eye fixed on the welfare of your country; and never suffer yourselves to be agitated by designing men, to whatever Party they belong.
It is natural to presume that, Parents will cheerfully follow the line of conduct marked out; since, in a state of peace only, “their Sons will be as plants grown up in their youth,” not liable to be cut down by the sword of Violence, before they attain the maturity of Manhood. In a state of peace only, not amidst the tumults of War can their “Daughters be as cornerstones, polished after the similitude for a Palace;” well educated, so as to have their Manners correct; brought up under the influence of Religion so as to have their Morals untainted by Vice. Young People, surely, will be advocates for the doctrine, here inculcated; because, in the absence of War only, can they enjoy the charms of mutual society and, advantageously, form the most important connection in life. The Husbandman will, readily, approve of what is recommended; since, by the continuance of Peace only, can he, with any certainty, expect to avail himself of his “strong oxen to labor” for his advantage, that, his “Garners may be full, affording all manner of store.”
Such being the happy state of our Country, let me, again, call on you to present to Heaven the Incense of gratitude.
Our Country is happy in another respect. “There is no breaking in,” – no invasion of Liberty and Property.
Fully represented, by persons of your own choice, deputed for a short period, at the expiration of which they return to the mass of people. You have every security against the enacting of laws prejudicial to your interest. Under such a Constitution of things your Liberty cannot be invaded. It stands on the firm basis of a purely representative Government. Nor is there any danger of your Laws being improperly administered; since your Executive and your Magistrates are, annually, reappointed by yourselves, or your Representatives; and therefore, must feel themselves habitually, responsible to the Public for their official conduct. Any misconduct in their Office would be their undoing. To continue in Office, by reappointment, those who have been faithful in the discharge of their duty is a wise maxim, which, by prescription, is, in a manner, become the Law of the State. By observing that Rule, the most effectual means are taken to join the advantage of the experience with that of talent’ and to preclude the uncertainty which must arise from a frequent succession in such Offices. Surely, more dependence can be, rationally, placed on those, whose skill and integrity have been tried, than on others, of whose ability and uprightness you have had no experimental proof. This mode of acting, also, while it makes the Officers, in question, sensible of their responsibility, gives them a manly independence, in the discharge of their duty; assured that while they behave well they shall not be supplanted by intriguing Place-seekers.
Thus, it appears that, your liberty, political and personal, in secure; shielded by a full representation in the Legislature, and an equal administration of the laws. As evident is it that your Property is safe. It cannot be taken from you without your consent, either in your own persons, or in the act of your Representatives. What a striking contrast between your situation and that of those Countries where the reverse of all this obtains: where the Enjoyment of the most important rights depends on an arbitrary act of the will!
Your only danger is from YOURSELVES. As long as you cultivate Virtue and acquire the knowledge competent to the proper management of your affairs, you are safe. But should you lay aside all respect for the Institutions of you Forefathers; - should you cease to watch over the education of youth; - should you give yourselves up to gambling, idleness, and dissipation; - should you lend a credulous ear to designing Demagogues, - to men professing great concern for the people, while eagerly pursuing their own advantage only’ your Ruin will be the speedy and certain consequence. Such Conduct as this is the Rock on whish Republican Governments, of former ages, have made shipwreck. Information and Virtue alone can preserve you. Let every individual act, as if the future state of his Country, and the happiness of posterity, depended on himself alone.
Let us proceed to consider a third particular in which our Country is eminently happy. There is “no going out:” none are banished or harassed into voluntary Exile.
The experience of our Forefathers, by whom this Country was first settled, in this respect, differed widely from ours. To enjoy, in security and without molestation, the most sacred rights, they were obliged to leave their native land, - to immigrate to this western world, then a savage wilderness. With the difficulties they had to surmount, and the hardships they were obliged to endure, you cannot be unacquainted. You need not be told of the dangers which met them at every step of their progress in this Country, presenting nothing but the wilds of nature, where all was gloomy and frightful. “The forests were dark and tangled; the meadows were overgrown with rank weeds; and the brooks strayed without a determined channel.” In the meantime cruel Savages, ever hostile to strangers, roamed through the Territory and claimed it as their own. Even, within the memory of some persons now living, such was the state of things in the district where we reside. To settle here was deemed a most formidable undertaking, by those, who lived but a few miles distant. But the scene is now changed. The wilderness is become a fruitful field; and you are surrounded, not with the necessaries of life only, but also with many of the elegant accommodations so important to the happiness of civilized man. Population rapidly increases, and every possible encouragement is given to the exertions of Industry. Hence, the hand of the diligent cannot fail to make him rich, if he be prudent and temperate. Thus, while, to the present hour, in other parts of the world, many are obliged to turn their backs on their native spot, you have it in your power to live in ease and security, within your Township. In the recollection of what were the circumstances of you Forefathers, may we not say to you, “other men labored, and ye are entered into their labors?” Let me repeat it: to make you as comfortable in your circumstances as is desirable for mankind, nothing is necessary but good Conduct on your part. Shall we survey the good which we enjoy and not acknowledge the hand which bestows it? Shall we not, rather, make the Language of the devout Psalmist our own?
“Thou hast brought a Vine out of Egypt; thou hast cast out the Heathen and planted it; thou preparedst room before it; and didst cause it to take root and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it; and the boughs thereof were like the goodly Cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river.” From the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi and the Western waters, of what a Territory are American Citizens the absolute lords!
If any persons, among you leave the district which gave them birth; it is not because they are harassed at home, but because the most extraordinary encouragement is held forth to their industry elsewhere; or because, in those parts, which, as yet, have a very defective population, they can acquire possession of land upon very easy terms. To a person, who has witnessed the evils which sorely oppress a large portion of the human race in the Old world, a scene like this in the New, must, if he have a spark of benevolence, afford the most genuine pleasure.
Permit the preacher to lead you to the contemplation of a fourth circumstance which marks you happy state. “There is no complaining in your Streets:” there is no perversion of Public Justice, - no invasion of the rights of conscience.
Are not your equitable laws righteously administered? Are not your “Judges as at the first and your Counselors as at the beginning”? Yes, your laws are accurately defined by men of integrity and professional talents; and points, in contest, are referred for decision to your Peers, - Jurors chosen impartially from yourselves. Thus provision is made, on the one hand, for the conviction and punishment of the guilty criminal; and, on the other, for the acquittal of the innocent: a provision of such long experience has proved the salutary effects. No one can suffer in his person, his property, or his reputation, through the capricious or interested decision of a Despot. Nor can I overlook the comparatively small Expense with which justice is administered; so that, the poor, as well as the rich, may obtain their rights. Would God that, through human depravity, this circumstance were never an encouragement to commence vexatious and unnecessary Law-suits! The character of man, however, must be entirely changed; so as to render the existence of law unnecessary, before this can be rationally expected.
As for the rights of conscience among you, they cannot with truth be said to be violated. Is not every one at full liberty, in the manner which he prefers to worship God? You have no exclusive establishment. You have no religious articles drawn up in scholastic language imposed on you by human authority. The Magistrate does not sentence you to everlasting damnation, if you refuse to subscribe to his religious Creed. You are not subjected to civil disabilities for Nonconformity to a mode of worship. Any peculiarity of religious opinion does not lower you in the estimation of a majority of your fellow Citizens, provided your manners be inoffensive, and your morals pure. Avery slight acquaintance with those Countries, where exclusive Religious Establishments have long obtained, would convince you, that the reverse of all this is there experienced. Under a genuine Religious Establishment, though you should contribute liberally towards the support of religion in the manner approved by your Conscience, you would be compelled to pay one tenth part of your whole produce, to maintain the form of religious worship preferred by the Chief Magistrate. There, permission to worship God without violating your Conscience, you would find regarded as a mighty favor. And though you should happen to approve of the established mode of divine worship, you would have no influence whatever in the choice of your religious instructor. Though his talents were of the meanest kind, his learning contemptible, his doctrine no better than pagan Morality, his habits indolent, and his morals vile; you would be compelled to contribute a tenth of your produce towards his support, during the term of his natural life. This is the nature of Religious Establishments. I am, thus, particular, because I would not have you err so grossly as to apply the phrase religious establishment to a state of things to which it is not at all applicable.
“Happy is that people whose God is the Lord:” happy is that people among whom legal support is given to Christian instruction; or whose Legislature give patronage to the Gospel.
To many persons, I am aware, the existing law, in regard to religion, is very obnoxious. If any such be present, they are requested to hear, with candor, what the preacher is about to advance on this branch of his subject. Will it not be granted, that, Christianity is favorable to the temporal happiness of mankind? I presume that, none will contest this, but such men as are, at once, “wicked and unreasonable.” All who have but a moderate acquaintance with the New Testament, the love, meekness, forbearance, and gentleness there inculcated; the temperance, the equity the benevolence and the probity it enjoins; the powerful motives by which its lessons are enforced, motives the best adapted to sway the human heart; will readily acknowledge that, the Gospel of the Prince of peace is the most powerful engine which can be employed to promote the happiness of man in this world; even on the supposition (if it can be made for a moment) there were not future state of retribution.
But not to enlarge on this topic, let us appeal to fact, and facts are stubborn things. Is it not true, that, where Christianity has existed in any degree of purity, for a length of time, it meliorates the character of THOSE, who have no true religion? What has introduced that urbanity of manners, peculiar to modern Christendom? What gave rise to the striking contrast between the civilized part of the world now, and the most renowned nations of antiquity, in the article of POLITENESS? I boldly aver it is Christianity. It is not a notorious fact, that, when it was fashionable in France to exclaim against all Religion, there were seen not only the triumph of Licentiousness, but a visible degeneracy in the Manners of the people: - that, they, for a time divested themselves of the politeness, which used to distinguish them as a nation; and became, in the same proportion slovenly in their dress? To prove the truth of the same position, permit me to call your attention to a striking fact, notice by Sir George Staunton in his account of Lord Macartney’s Embassy to China; a country where Christianity never prevailed. At a certain place, He informs us, where an immense concourse of people eagerly pressed to see the English strangers passing along the road, many had stationed themselves on the Barges navigating the Canals. There, a man, unfortunately, fell into the water; and was seen in a drowning state, while his hat floated on the surface. But the Bystanders were not disposed to rescue him, while greedy to secure the hat. Would the least improved class of people in these States or in England; would an American or British sailor though habitually drunken and profane, have acted thus? No. He would have instantly lunged into the water to relieve the distressed. Upon what principle can we, rationally, account for this difference of character, if not on that of the remote or indirect influence of Christianity?
It is remarkable that, poor people, when under the influence of Religion, exhibit a neatness and cleanliness in their person and habitations, to be, in vain, looked for among the irreligious in the same circumstances. This is so evidently the case that four medical Gentlemen, at Norwich in England, not remarkable for their Christian zeal, declared, in the social circle, that they instantly knew whether a family were religious, on their entrance into a Patient’s apartment. Religion, they said, where it existed, infallibly indicated itself by the exercise of foresight, and a certain comfortable appearance not to be seen elsewhere. Are not my hearers ready to testify that, their observations are to the amount? – that, those who pay a steady regard to the institutions of Religion appear in their persons and houses, to much greater advantage, than those who neglect religious duties?
We ought, also, to remember that law is but a feeble barrier against iniquity of every kind, if not supported by the influence of Religion upon Conscience. Let those determine on this point, who have visited certain parts of the United State, where Religion is very feeble or very limited, in its effects; or rather where its influence has never been felt. They will confirm every observation of the Preacher.
I could mention to you examples of Parishes in this State, where the people have been obliged to borrow money, when inattentive to religious order; but, in their turn, have been able to advance loans, after a steady attendance on the Institutions of the Gospel. Christianity, then, powerfully tends to the temporal happiness of man.
That the rights of Conscience are not infringed by any law of this state, as already, appeared. But, here, let me advert to a principle which no one will be hardy enough to controvert. IT IS A DUTY INCUMBENT ON THE CIVIL LEGISLATURE TO EMPLOY ALL MEANS APARENTLY ADAPTED TO ENSURE PUBLIC ORDER AND PRIVATE SECURITY. On this immovable foundation stand your School-laws. And those persons, whose care the Welfare of the State is committed, have a right to consider our places of worship in the same point of view: Schools where lessons of morality are given without which the Community cannot prosper. What is man, come to mature years, but a grown up Child? The hackneyed argument employed against the institutions of our Forefathers, if it prove anything, proves too much; that is, it proves nothing. It would annihilate all the provision made for the education of our Children, consign us to a state of general barbarism, and, soon, make us bow the neck, ingloriously, to the yoke of Despotism. A state of ignorance and licentiousness would, in a very short time, convert the plausible, fawning Demagogue into an oppressive and cruel Tyrant. Hence, the friends of our religious Institutions are the most powerful supporters of liberty; and the persons, who would abolish the laws in question, whether they know it are not, are the enemies of their Country; and, were they to prevail, would prove the Pioneers of Despotism. Shall we not, therefore, most cordially comply with what the Proclamation recommends by praising God “for the moral and social Institutions wisely adopted by our venerable Forefathers; and that their influence continues to operate in a valuable degree”?
“Happy is that people whose God is the Lord”
The things already asserted to are so many realities; but realities which pertain to this world only. In the meantime, we are bound for ETERNITY. Far be it from us, therefore, to view religion in no other light, than as a source of present advantage. You may be so trained up, and have such habits established, as to be respectable as Citizens, while destitute of the grace of God. You may be under effectual Restraints, through a Christian education, so as to be preserved, at least, from flagrant misdeeds; while the heart remains unchanged, and you continue at enmity with God; in a true state of variance with that Being into whose hands it is a fearful thing to fall. The observance of the best order, in this life, will not fit you for Heaven; those regions whither purity alone shall enter.
The Lord cannot be said to be your God in the most important sense, compared with which, all other considerations are as the small dust on the Balance unless your hearts are the temples of the Divine Spirit. All your advantages will not avail you, if destitute of faith in Christ, operating effectually within you, as a living principle, in the mortification of sin, and in the cultivation of that temper which distinguishes the Christian. Without this, though you should be exalted to heaven, like Capernaum, you shall be brought down to Hell: without this, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of Judgment than for you: without this, your residence in this favored country will occasion a dreadful increase in misery in the End. This is the most important concern; and we are constrained to address you in the plainest language, and in the most solemn tone. Woe unto the Minister who flatters his people.
But there are those among you, whose God is the Lord in the most important sense; - on whose hearts the divine law is written by the finger of the Holy Spirit; and with whom God has made an everlasting covenant well ordered in all things and sure. Happy the persons who are in such a state. They have acquired the knowledge which is the most useful, the most necessary, and the most noble. They are rescued from then most alarming situation; and there is no longer “a dreadful sound in their ears.” They are raised from the most degraded state of bondage, and have had conferred upon them liberty of the most glorious kind. They are partakers of a truly solid peace: their minds are animated by the most glorious hope, - the most exalted expectation. They have a certain promise of unerring guidance on the most important occasions. Through the medium of the divine word and ordinances; by prayer and meditation; and in the contemplation of nature; they have intercourse with God.
“They feel his name their inmost thoughts control,
And breathe an awful stillness through the Soul.
They read his name emblazon’d high
With golden letters on th’ illumin’d sky.
Nor less the mystic characters they see
Wrought on each flower, inscribed on every tree.
In every leaf that trembles to the breeze,
They hear the voice of God among the trees.
With him in shady solitudes they walk;
With him in busy crowded cities talk.”
To them adversity itself proves advantageous; - Death has no terror, but opens an avenue to immortality. For them is reserved the most glorious inheritance, of which the human imagination cannot form an adequate conception. “Happy is the people that is in such a Case.”
Let me ask you whether this be your condition? Have you no evidence of it? And are you, nevertheless, easy about the great concert? Is it possible? Yes: you are, habitually, secure; though conscience, at times, denounce against you, beforehand, the judgment which will overwhelm the Workers of iniquity. “What meanest thou O sleeper? Arise and call upon thy God.” Then, should your life be spared another year, twelve months hence, you will have an additional subject for praise and thanksgiving: - that, you have been visited with spiritual day; that, though lost you are found, though dead, you are alive again. Then shall you enjoy the bounty of providence with double relish. Otherwise , your “table will become a snare to you; and that, which should have been for your welfare, a trap.”