Samuel Wales (1748-1794) graduated from Yale in 1767. He was a minister in Milford (1770-1782), and professor of Divinity at Yale (1782-1794). Wales preached this sermon in Connecticut on May 12, 1785.
The Dangers of our national Prosperity; and the Way
To avoid them.
S E R M O N,
Preached Before the
G E N E R A L A S S E M B L Y
S T A T E of C O N N E C T I C U T,
H A R T F O R D,
May 12th, 1785.
By SAMUEL WALES, D. D.
Professor of Divinity at YALE-COLLEGE.
Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? Moses.
Justice standeth afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity
Cannot enter. And he that departeth from evil, maketh himself a prey
And the Lord saw it, and it displeased him. Isaiah.
Justum et tenacem propositi virum,
Non civium ardor prava jubentium,
Non vultus instantis tyranny
Mente quatit folida;--
Si fractus illabitur orbis,
Impavidum serient ruinae. Hor.
At a general Assembly of the State of Connecticut, holden at Hartford, on the 2d Thursday of May Anno Dom. 1785.
ORDERED that the Honourable Roger Sherman, and Pierpont Edwards, Esquires, return the thanks of this Assembly to the Reverend Doctor Samuel Wales, for his Sermon delivered before the Assembly on the 12th inst. And desire a Copy thereof that it may be printed.
A true Copy of Record,
GEORGE WYLLYS, Ses’ry.
DEUTERONOMY VIII. 11, 12, 13, AND 14.
Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments and his judgments and his statutes which I command thee this day:--Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied;--Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
These words contain a divine instruction to the people of Israel, respecting their state of prosperity in the promised land. The instruction is not typical or merely local, but of a moral and universal nature. It may therefore with propriety, be applied to all people in every age, whenever they are in a prosperous state. With singular propriety may it be applied to the people of these United States, who, after the severe distresses of unnatural war and civil discord, are now happy in the blessings of peace and plenty. Let me then request the indulgence of this very respectable auditory, while, in order to apply to ourselves the divine caution of our text, I endeavour,
I. To point out some of those evils which, as a people we have reason to fear in our present national prosperity.—And then,
II. To exhibit, in a very concise manner, that line of conduct which we ought to pursue, in order to secure through the divine favour the continuance of those blessings which we now enjoy.
A political discussion of these points, it is presumed will not be expected nor desired. It is proposed to consider them especially in a moral and religious view. Indeed never should it be forgotten that all the measures of civil policy ought to be founded on the great principles of religion; or, at the least, to be perfectly consistent with them: otherwise they will never be esteemed, because they will be contrary to that moral sense of right and wrong which God has implanted in the breast of every rational being. But to proceed,
I. Let us attend to some of those evils which, as a people, we have reason especially to fear in our present national prosperity. That we have been and still are greatly blessed with national prosperity, I conceive, will not be doubted. We have been often delivered in a most signal manner, both from the secret stratagems and the open assaults of our enemies. Great is the salvation which heaven hath wrought for us in the full restoration of the blessings of peace. The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. He hath given us a very extensive country abounding with the richest gifts of nature. With sufficient ease do we procure all the necessaries, together with most of the conveniences and delicacies of life. Could we procure them with more east or in greater plenty, we should not be in so desirable a situation as we are now. A proper view of all our various blessings will lead us to conclude that we are indeed the most highly favoured people under heaven. God hath not dealt so with any other nation.
But security in happiness is not the lot of humanity. This is equally true of all mankind, whether we consider them as individuals or as united in society. In the midst of all our present public happiness, dangers surround us and evils hang over our heads.
The greatest evil by which we are endangered, and which indeed is the source of all others, is the want of true religion. It is true, the superior blessings which we enjoy are well calculated to promote religion, to promote each of its essential branches, piety and charity. And such affects would those blessings naturally produce, did we improve them as we ought. But through the perverseness of our nature there is much danger that we shall use them for very different purposes. When we are favoured with a profusion of earthly good, we are exceedingly prone to set our hearts upon it with an immoderate affection, neglecting our bountiful Creator from whom alone all good is derived. We bathe and bury ourselves in the streams, forgetting the fountain whence they flow. This is indeed a very disingenuous behavior towards the Father of mercies. It certainly discovers a very sordid disposition, a depraved and contracted mind. Such a disposition, however, is but too natural to man in his present degenerate state.
We are much more inclined to murmur at God’s justice in adversity than to acknowledge his goodness in prosperity; more ready to view God as the author of evil than as the author of good. In the distresses of the late war, though they were most evidently brought upon us by the instrumentality of men, we were nevertheless much more ready to impute them to the hand of God, than we now are to acknowledge the same hand in the happiness of peace, and the other rich blessings of his providence and grace. When our wants are very pressing, we are willing, or pretend to be willing to apply to God for relief. But no sooner is the relief given than we set our hearts upon the gift, and neglect the giver; or rather make use of his own bounty in order to fight against him. The reason is, because we are more inclined to love the creature than the Creator, to be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. On this account, Moses with peculiar emphasis warns the Israelites to stand on their guard against such impiety in the days of their prosperity: Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God.
If we now attend to matters of fact we shall find no reason to think more lightly of the dangers before us. The history of the Israelites shews us that they greatly needed the caution which Moses gave them. Scarcely a prosperous period in their history can be pointed out which was not followed by a decay of piety, and a corruption of morals. This was the case soon after their happy settlement in the land of Canaan. This was the case very frequently in the times of their Judges and Kings. And this was eminently the case with respect to their highest state of wealth and power under the reign of Solomon. The very great prosperity of this happy reign produced very unhappy effects, even upon that wise king, as well as upon his court, and his subjects. The profligacy of his court may be seen in the history of his life: and that the moral state of his subjects was also exceedingly corrupt, appears from their conduct immediately after his death. Even in the good reign of the pious Hezekiah, ingratitude and irreligion were the consequences of success and prosperity. Hezekiah rendered not according to the benefit done unto him: for his heart was lifted up; therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem. 1 The character of Israel, as drawn in the spirit of prophesy by Moses may, with the utmost propriety, be applied to them in every stage of their prosperity. They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation. Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? Is he not thy father that hath bought thee? Hath he not made thee and established thee? But Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked, thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the rock of his salvation. They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. 2
Nor was this pernicious effect of abused prosperity peculiar to the people of Israel. It has, in one degree or another, been common to all people in every age of the world. It has been the case even with the Christian Church. The consequences of outward prosperity have been often more fatal to the Christian cause than those of adversity. Indeed the distresses and persecutions of the Church have often produced a very happy effect in the advancement of true Christianity. Hence that observation in primitive times: “The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church.” But the like happy effect has seldom if ever followed from a state of external peace and opulence. The first great instance of signal prosperity granted to the Christians in the beginning of the fourth Century under Constantine the great, was soon followed by a great loss of fervent piety, and a sad corruption both of doctrines and morals. And the same sad effect has followed from many instances of their prosperity in succeeding ages; particularly from the flourishing state of many protestant Churches since the grand emancipation from the Papal See. Indeed wealth and power have been and still are the great supporters of that man of sin who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped.
Wealth, with its common attendants, idleness and pleasure, were the ruin of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Behold, this was the iniquity of Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters.” 3 These same things were the ruin of mighty Babylon. “Thou that art given to pleasures, said the prophet, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else besides me.” 4 In what a striking manner were these words verified in the day of her fall! The same things brought destruction upon each of the four great monarchies, and upon most of the other states and kingdoms which have fallen, one after another in the successive ages of time. And the very same things have proved ruinous to individuals without number. Surely we have no reason to call the proud, happy, or to look with a covetous eye upon the glare of earthly greatness. Misery lies hid beneath it, and destruction is its usual attendant.
Since then a prosperous state has been so often followed with such an effect both on public communities, and on individuals, have we not reason to fear a similar effect from our national prosperity at the present day? Is it not a sad truth, that since the commencement of the late war, and especially since the restoration of peace, the holy religion of Jesus, that brightest ornament of our world, is, by many less regarded than it was before? And are not sacred institutions of the Gospel more neglected and despised? Are not the friends of Christianity treated with more disregard? Are not infidelity and profligacy of manners, viewed with less concern, and by many considered as matters of trivial consequence? Still, we ought with the highest gratitude to acknowledge the sovereign grace of Almighty God, which has, in some places, been manifested in the support of his own cause. In several of our States he has been pleased to excite in the minds of many individuals, here and there, an unusual attention to divine and eternal things. He saw us unpurified by the furnace of affliction: He saw us disregarding him while he spake to us in the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire. Yet has he been pleased to speak to us not only by the still voice of peace after war, but also by the omnipotent voice of his holy Spirit; inviting us to become the subjects of the Prince of peace, and making numbers in one place and another, as we trust, the actual possessors of that peace which the world can neither give nor take away. To his great name be all the glory ascribed.
But notwithstanding some pleasing appearances of true religion, in several places, we have too much reason to fear that “The unthinking many” are abusing our present prosperity in such a manner as to produce a very different effect. We have reason to fear that they are fast growing into that state of irreligion which has been noticed already. The symptoms and effects of this evil are already too manifest; and will probably continue and increase unto more ungodliness, unless vigorous measures be taken to prevent them. Some few of these evils which may be called symptoms and effects of irreligion I beg leave particularly to mention.
In the first place, One of them which we have much reason to lament and fear, is ingratitude, vile ingratitude both to God and to man. During the troubles of the late war, how ardently did we wish for peace? While our lives and liberties were endangered; while our very existence as a nation, was in doubt; while we were threatened with all the horrors of a crushed rebellion and all the vengeance of a very potent enemy peculiarly incensed against us; how eagerly did we long after that independence, that established liberty and national happiness which we now enjoy? We then saw and felt our need of help from God. While the horrid contest was long doubtful, we acknowledged that the issue must be determined by the sovereign disposer of events. At some periods victory and success were so greatly in favour of our enemies, and our own affairs were, in many respects, so exceedingly embarrassed, that the stoutest hearts were almost ready to fail. At some seasons there seemed to be no way left but To stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. This salvation we sought of him; nor did we seek in vain. His own arm brought salvation. By a series of the most visible interpositions of his providence, he has made wars to cease thro’ the land, and blest us with all that our hearts desired.
But alas! what poor returns have we made to our great Deliverer! Witness our cold hearts and our irreligious lives. How much less inclined are we to return him sincere thanks for these favours now, that we were to ask them of him in the times of our distress? How small are the emotions of gratitude in our hearts, towards the God of all our salvations! And what little honour do we bring to his name by our lives and conversation! With too much propriety may we apply to ourselves these words of the Psalmist: When he slew them, they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their Redeemer. Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant. 5
Nor have we been guilty of ingratitude towards God only; we have been guilty of the same evil towards man. Although this be a less evil than the former, it is nevertheless an evil which we ought to condemn and reform. We are certainly under great obligations to those who have voluntarily taken an hazardous or an expensive part, in effecting our late happy revolution. They have been, under God, the Saviours of our country. They have been instrumental in effecting one of the most happy and interesting events which have taken place in the present age, or in any other. Their merit is certainly great. Yet after all, are they not too much in the situation of the poor wise man, mentioned in sacred writ, who by his wisdom delivered from impending danger, the city in which he dwelt, but was nevertheless soon universally forgotten? Do we gie them that praise, that respect, that reward to which they have a just claim? That we have not yet afforded that reward which they justly claim, cannot be denied. This thought leads me to say,
2. That another particular evil into which we have fallen, and by which we are much endangered, is injustice, injustice to the best and most deserving friends of our country. Those are certainly to be esteemed some of the most deserving friends of the country, who have willingly lent her either their lives or their property in the late important struggle. To such persons we are under obligations not only of gratitude but of justice. Their voluntary sacrifices have, through the divine blessing, purchased for us our lives and fortunes, our liberties, our independence, our peace, and in a great measure, all our temporal happiness.
Whether all who thus served their country acted wholly from disinterested views, is a question which we ought not to ask them, and which, with honour, we cannot ask. That many of them acted from the most generous and patriotic motives, cannot be doubted by a candid mind. The least that we can do for them, according to strict justice, is to afford them a reward equal to the full import of our promises. This, however, with regret be it spoken, has not been done. But in lieu of this, many who have generously loaned their property to the country in the season of her most pressing want and danger, have for a long time been unable to obtain a single farthing either of the principle or of the interest, though both have been long justly due. 6 And whenever any payments of annuities have been attempted, they have been generally, if not universally made in a depreciating medium which immediately annihilated in their hands a very considerable part of its nominal value. In a similar way have we effected most of the payments which have been made to our armies. Indeed as to most of our public securities, there has uniformly been a wide difference between their real and their nominal value. This is a difference which never ought to have existed: a difference manifestly contrary to the nature and claims of justice and truth. And after all, the faithful Soldier who has in the face of the greatest discouragements and dangers persevered in the service of his country to the close of the war, receives a very considerable part of his pay in a paper medium which he is obliged to sell or barter for one eighth part of its nominal value, one half quarter only of the value for which he receives it.
Gladly would I draw a veil over this part of our national conduct, were it possible, and could it be done with propriety. But it cannot be done, it ought not to be attempted. The best and wisest thing which we can now do with regard to this matter, is, to reprobate our own conduct and reform it for the future. Let us not pretend any longer to excuse ourselves by promising and promising that we will do justice to our creditors at some distant period of time. Such promises re easily made and commonly of little worth. Nor do they by any means answer the demands of justice provided they should be hereafter fulfilled. For justice requires punctuality with respect to the time of payment as really as with respect to the sum which is due. A failure in the former of these points, is often more pernicious than in the latter. Let us no longer plead inability in our own vindication. I hope indeed this plea may be made in vindication of some of our past deficiencies, but I fear it can by no means justify them all. It is, at best, but a very dishonourable plea because it is so often used merely as a mask for injustice, and always can be used in one shape or another by those who are unwilling to pay their debts.—As a people, we are not poor, but rich, and have large resources of public revenue. If we are but willing to do justice, and do not needlessly embarrass the hands of government, we shall be under no necessity of defrauding or injuring our creditors. If we cannot immediately pay them the principle of our debt, we can, at least, pay the interest, and thereby at once place our credit on a more respectable footing.
Britain, loaded with a debt more than thirty times so large as ours, and carrying an annual interest larger than our whole debt, nevertheless pays the interest punctually, maintains her credit, and can borrow money from her subjects at pleasure. At the same time her civil list and other annual expenses are far greater than ours even in proportion to her wealth, and perhaps greater almost in the same proportion with her national debt. 7 Whatever difference there may be between her source of revenue and ours, or whatever difference there may be between her and us in any other respect, still with regard to public justice to her creditors, she affords us an example which we ought not to behold without self-condemnation.
Our public injustice is attended with consequences most deplorable and alarming. It exposes us to the high displeasure of that God who from everlasting to everlasting, loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity. It rends to render public fraith contemptible and is highly injurious to our national character. It gives too much countenance to the reproach of our enemies who have stigmatized us with the character of a knavish, faithless people; covering the most iniquitous designs under the garb of liberty and the cloak of religion. It is hurtful to many literary and religious institutions; while the monies which were charitably given for their support are detained and perverted to a very different purpose. It is attended with great cruelty towards widows and orphans, towards the poor and needy, and many other individuals who have suffered extremely for the want of those monies which are their just due, and to which they have an indisputable claim.
The cries of such persons enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabbath. Is not this unjust detention of property, in a particular manner attended with cruelty to the generous Soldier, who has nobly braved fatigues, and dangers, and deaths, for our sake, who has faithfully adhered to our cause while thousands deserted it, while thousands and ten thousands of his brethren perished around him by the horrors of sickness and the sword, and the far greater horrors of British prison-ships, and jails? Who of us would be willing to endure the like fatigues and be exposed to the like dangers for the contemptible reward which we now afford the Soldier? Who would not think himself affronted by the very proposal of so small a reward for so great a service.
This public injustice destroys some of the most important ends of civil society; such as an equal administration of justice, and the security of property. It involves us in some of the worst evils of tyranny and despotism, while we are flattering ourselves with the pleasing names of liberty and independence. It tends to destroy all confidence in the Public, and to create a distrust of Government. For if such a flagrant violation of justice may be practiced in many instances; or what one right have we which is properly secured? If the Public, as a body, will allow themselves, in any one instance, to injure an individual, every member of the Public is in constant danger. For who can tell where the injury will fall next? If one part of our property may be detained from us for a long time, contrary to the plainest promises, without our consent and without any unavoidable necessity; how can we know but that another part may be soon as unjustly wrested from us in the very first instance? In either case the injustice is equally real and equally manifest: and which would be the greater evil of the two, can be determined only by concurrent circumstances. If our property must be taken or detained without our consent, what great choice is there as to the mode, whether it be taken by fraud or by force, whether we be robbed by an highwayman or cheated by a knave? In this latter case we have often the long pain of repeated disappointments, which does not take place in the former.
Further, is it certain that Government will never again want the voluntary aid of individuals, aid which she cannot compel them to yield? Should she be a gain in such a situation what encouragement would individuals have to afford the needed aid? Will they not be ready to fear that all State-policy is founded merely on Machiavelian principles, and that public bodies will practice fraud in order to accomplish their own ends, whenever they can do it with impunity?—Honest minds hope that such fears are groundless, and that some public Communities at least, as well as some individuals, mean to make justice a rule of conduct. If this be the case, let us make it manifest by our own conduct; if it be not the case, let the truth be known, that faithful citizens and honest men may be no longer deceived and duped out of their property. Heu pietas, heu publica fides!
But the most pernicious consequence of our public injustice is still to be mentioned. It has a fatal influence upon the morals of the people at large. It is like the sin of Jereboam the son of Nebat; it makes Israel to sin, and thereby still further provokes the Lord God of Israel to anger. It is a trite observation and a very just one, That example has more influence than precept. And if our public conduct may be adduced by knaves and sharpers, as an example and pretext of injustice, will it not have a greater tendency to promote this evil than all our laws will have to prevent it? Too many are there of that smooth-speaking class of people, who mean to get their living out of others; who, whenever they can run into debt, consider it as so much clear gain; because, forsooth, they can make ample payment by fair promises and soft words, by complaints of the scarcity of money and the hardness of the times. Better payment than this they do not wish to make. The words of their mouths are smoother than butter, but war is in their heart: Their words are softer than oil, yet are they drawn swords. To our reproach and our shame, we are already too much inclined to dishonesty. It is already practiced by too many to the detriment of the Public, and to the ruin of their own true interest both temporal and eternal. Too many motives are there already to this accursed evil, too many are its friends and votaries. For Gods sake let it not have any more. Many even of our religious societies have long conducted as if they thought it no evil to violate the most explicit and solemn covenants with the ministers of religion by withholding from them the stipulated support. If the religious scarcely escape this evil, what may be expected from the ungodly and profane? There is, however, a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness. Let this wise maxim be remembered by us all, and particularly by those very religious people who make high professions of Christianity, and yet at the same time bid defiance to the plainest rules of justice, and trample under foot the most sacred obligations of truth and plighted faith.
3. Another particular evil by which we are endangered, is the want of true patriotism. By true patriotism I mean a real concern for the welfare of our whole country in general. This patriotism is a branch of that extensive benevolence which is highly recommended by our holy religion, and is at the same time most evidently consentaneous to the dictates of sound reason. Genuine patriotism of the best kind, is peculiar to those only who are possessed of a principle of true virtue. Some semblances and imitations of this patriotism are nevertheless to be found in those who are not, on the whole, of a truly virtuous character. Yet even these imitations of pure patriotism have often proved very beneficial in civil society.
While the war lasted our patriotism was eminent and produced the most happy effects. Common danger was a common bond of union, cementing us together. But a this bond has now in some measure ceased, there is danger that our union will not be so great as will be necessary for the general good. There is danger not only that factions will arise in particular States, but that particular States will attempt to pursue their own particular interests without a due regard to the common good, and perhaps in direct opposition to it. But we should remember that these States are, by voluntary and solemn agreement united as one nation, one body, of which each particular State is a member. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you: but the members should have the same care one for another. 8 It will doubtless be necessary not only that individual persons, but also particular States should often give up, in many cases, their own particular interest for the common benefit. To do thus is generous, is wise, is necessary for our existence as a free and independent people. Some generous examples of this kind have been given, and it is to be hoped they will be universally followed. If we are unwilling to act on this liberal scale we shall be in perpetual danger of that evil which our Saviour points out when he tells us, “That every kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. But is brought to desolation.”
It was the want of this extensive patriotism that ruined the States of Greece. A party spirit, a spirit of jealousy and discord prevailed among them, and divisions and wars exposed them for a long time to the invasions of the Persian Empire, and finally subjugated them all to the Macedonian yoke.
If the same spirit prevail among us we have no reason to suppose but it will produce the most unhappy consequences. Human nature is the same in every age, and similar causes will produce similar effects. In this view we may see how much it concerns us to support our grand bond of union, or, in other words, to maintain the rights of our honourable Congress, and even to enlarge their powers, should this be proved necessary for the general good.—
That want of patriotism, of which we speak, produces very different effects in persons who are in different situations of life. It is nearly the same thing with selfishness. It often leads the ambitious and aspiring to seek their own promotion by very improper means. It leads them into a mad pursuit of low popularity, to the violation of honour and honesty and to the neglect of the public good. For not these things, but popular applause and their own advancement in office are the objects of their first concern. And they sometimes have their reward: but a very contemptible one it is. True popularity for the real esteem of the virtuous and the wise, procured by a steady course of benevolent and virtuous conduct, is well worthy of pursuit and is indeed the greatest earthly good that we can enjoy. This popularity is not procured by time-serving, by flattery or any improper compliances. It is seldom if ever gained without a manly opposition, in some cases at least, to popular prejudice and vulgar error. The man who can make it appear that he conscienciously acts from a virtuous principle will command the veneration even of the most unprincipled, and of those who oppose him. But the same of the popular drudge, that same which is gained by low arts of deceiving the ignorant and abusing their prejudices, to the public detriment, is not only unworthy of a Christian, but beneath the character of an honest man. If the same spirit prevail among us we have no reason to suppose but it will produce the most unhappy consequences. Human nature is the same in every age, and similar causes will produce similar effects. In this view we may see how much it concerns us to support our grand bond of union, or, in other words, to maintain the rights of our honourable Congress, and even to enlarge their powers, should this be proved necessary for the general good.—
That want of patriotism, of which we speak, produces very different effects in persons who are in different situations of life. It is nearly the same thing with selfishness. It often leads the ambitious and aspiring to seek their own promotion by very improper means. It leads them into a mad pursuit of low popularity, to the violation of honour and honesty and to the neglect of the public good. For not these things, but popular applause and their own advancement in office are the objects of their first concern. And they sometimes have their reward: but a very contemptible one it is. True popularity or the real esteem of the virtuous and the wise, procured by a steady course of benevolent and virtuous conduct, is well worthy of pursuit and is indeed the greatest earthly good that we can enjoy. This popularity is not procured by time-serving, by flattery or any improper compliances. It is seldom if ever gained without a manly opposition, in some cases at least, to popular prejudice and vulgar error. The man who can make it appear that he conscienciously acts from a virtuous principle will command the veneration even of the most unprincipled, and of those who oppose him. But the same of the popular drudge, that same which is gained by low arts of deceiving the ignorant and abusing their prejudices, to the public detriment, is not only unworthy of a Christian, but beneath the character of an honest man.
This same selfish spirit, when it possesses the minds, of the common people, has this bad consequence, among many others, that it subjects them to an undue influence in the choice of civil rulers. Possessed of this spirit, they will not regard the probity or abilities of the candidates for office; but will be very ready to give their voice for those to whom they happen to be particularly attached by any private and sinister motives; for those by whom they are most humoured in their prejudices and follies; and especially for those who most loudly exclaim against the payment of public debts and most vigorously oppose taxation however just or necessary. All such operations of selfishness, whether in popular demagogues or in the people at large, in whatever shape they appear, tend ultimately to the public detriment and to the encouragement of deceit and dishonesty.
4. A fourth evil by which we are threatened is a disregard of civil Authority. Great is our privilege in choosing our own rulers, and, by them, of making and executing our own laws. But this privilege we are in great danger of abusing, for this strange reason, because it is the effect of our own voluntary act. While the people at large are too ready to yield to this temptation, even rulers themselves are in danger of relaxing too far the reigns of government, thro’ fear of displeasing the people by whom they are chosen to office. But certain it is that no State can be long happy or even answer the most important ends of civil society, unless government be revered and the law obeyed. Tyranny and despotism are undoubtedly very great evils, but greater still are the dangers of anarchy.
Those persons who have the most power in their own hands are in the greatest danger of abusing it. No people on earth have so much power in their own hands as those of the United States. All the powers of government are at their disposal. We ought therefore to be much on our guard against the abuse of this power. The abuse of this power may perhaps produce tyranny or aristocracy; but the proper use of it will be the best way to prevent them both. Never let us forget that the dignity of government and the energy of the law, are essential to the continuance of our public happiness and prosperity. Reason and experience teach us this lesson, while the more special voice of God enforces the same, by commanding every soul to be subject to the higher powers. 9
5. I will only add once more, in the fifth place, that we are in much danger of the evils which arise from luxury and extravagance in our expenses. After all that has been said in favour of foreign trade and foreign luxuries, it still remains a demonstration in politics, that when our imports exceed our exports, the course of trade is against us, and we are constantly growing poor. This, it is to be seared, is our state at the present, especially on account of those very extravagant importations which we have made since the peace. Our very great consumption of foreign luxuries not only impoverishes the country to an high degree, but at the same time, tends directly to enervate both our bodies and our minds, to produce indolence and pride, and to open the door to every temptation and every vice. In this case, as well as many others, experience is a faithful teacher. And if we consult the experience of mankind in every age, and in every part of the world, we shall not find a single instance wherein luxury and extravagance have sub served the true interest of a people. But instances in which they have proved hurtful and ruinous are to be found in abundance. And to Republican governments they have proved more fatal than to others. By cultivating industry, frugality, and a patriotic spirit, Rome extended her conquests wherever she pleased, and was revered as the Arbitress of kings and the Mistress of the world. But by adopting the luxuries of Asia where her arms had proved victorious, she soon enfeebled her true Republican spirit and prepared the way for her own ruin. Let not the same scene be again acted over in America. America has by her noble exertions repelled the force of Britain. But if America persists in her present rage after British gew gaws and foreign luxuries, she must expect the fate of Rome, her ancient predecessor; or at least, that very unhappy consequences will ensue. To prevent these impending evils we need the exertions not only of the sons, but also of the daughters of America. Very great are your influence and importance, my fair hearers, in this respect, as well as in many others. Be assured that economy and frugality with an elegance of dress, on the plan of that modest apparel recommended by St. Peter, would add more grace to your charms and more dignity to your characters than all the tinsel of British ornament, or the greatest extravagance of foreign dress.—
II. It now remains that we exhibit, in a very concise manner that line of conduct which we ought to pursue in order to secure, through the divine favour, the continuance of those blessings which at the present we enjoy.
In the first place, it is, I conceive, sufficiently evident that we ought most earnestly to endeavour after a reformation of those particular evils aforementioned, and at the same time, to use the best means in order to prevent them for the future. We must first cease to do evil or we shall never learn to do well.
In the second place we must use our best endeavours to promote the practice of virtue and true religion.
I will not indeed presume to assert, that God’s conduct towards nations under the gospel, is exactly parallel to his conduct towards the ancient Israelites. They were under a dispensation of grace different from ours, and, for a long time under that peculiar kind of civil government which has been called a Theocracy. National blessings are not promised, and national judgments are not threatened under the gospel in like manner as they were under the law. The gospel being a more spiritual dispensation, its blessings and its curses are of a more spiritual nature, and less obvious to the view of the world. They are designed, in a special manner, to prepare persons for the more full retributions of eternity. This we know is the case with regard to the blessings conferred, and the chastisements inflicted on the children of God. And that this is also the case with regard to the judgments inflicted on the man of sin and his followers, we are expressly told: God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned. 10 Still, this is certain, that by the constitution of nature which God has established, vice tends to the misery, and virtue to the happiness not only of individuals, but of public Communities. The practice of religion must therefore be considered as absolutely essential to the best state of public prosperity, it must be so, unless we may expect happiness in direct opposition to the constitution of nature and of nature’s God. “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” 11 This is the course of nature, this is the voice of heaven, this is the decree of God.
In the third place, we ought especially in the use of all proper means, to pray fervently for the effusions of the divine Spirit.
Without a divine and supernatural influence, true religion will never prevail. This is a doctrine clearly taught in divine revelation and perfectly consonant to the dictates of reason. It has been taught even by heathen Philosophers, such as Socrates and Plato, Cicero and Seneca. It has been acknowledged, in one shape or another, in every nation and in every age. Indeed it may be considered as a doctrine of natural religion. Nor is there anything enthusiastical or unreasonable in this doctrine, any more than there is in that other great doctrine of natural religion “That in God we live and move and have our being.” Divine influence is absolutely necessary both in the natural and in the moral world. All creatures of every kind, from the most exalted Seraph before the eternal throne, to the smallest animal which escapes our sight, are wholly dependent on God. Our souls and all their powers are in his hand, and he can form and incline them at his pleasure, in full consistency with our most perfect freedom of action.
That divine influence which is necessary in order to a pious life we are taught to expect from the operations of the third person in the holy Trinity. We cannot therefore do a more faithful or important service for our country than to pray fervently and perseveringly to the Father of mercies, that he would by the energy of the Holy Ghost, form the hearts of this people to an holy life, and thus “Purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” 12
In the review of our subject, I think we may justly make this reflection: Let us not flatter ourselves too much with an idea of the future prosperity and glory of these United States.
While we thus flatter ourselves, we are in danger of expecting the end without a proper attention to those means which are absolutely necessary in order to obtain it. Young States are like young men; exceedingly apt, in imagination, to anticipate and magnify future scenes of happiness and grandeur, which perhaps they will never enjoy. It has lately become very fashionable to prophesy about the future greatness of this country; its astonishing progress in science, in wealth, in population and grandeur: to tell of Lockes and Newtons, of poets, philosophers and divines greater than have ever yet lived; of towering spires, and spacious domes, of populous towns and cities rising thick throughout an empire greater than the world has ever seen. Such representations may perhaps be beautiful in poetry and declamation, but cannot with equal propriety be admitted, in an unqualified sense, into serious and didactic prose. And true indeed it is, Providence has here laid a foundation for a very flourishing and mighty empire. But although the foundation is laid, the superstructure is not yet finished, nor ever will be, unless we use the proper means. And whether we shall use such means or not, is a matter of very great uncertainty. Foundations for happiness have been often laid where happiness has never followed. This is no less true of States and Kingdoms than of individual persons. It is remarkable that many places which were in ancient times, the seats of mighty States aud empires, and might perhaps have continued with increasing greatness to the present time, had proper means been used, are nevertheless now covered with ruin and desolation, or at best, in a very depressed and miserable condition. What is become of Nineveh and Babylon, and those mighty Empires of which they were the capital cities? What is become of Persepolis, of Antioch, of Jerusalem, of Carthage, of Athens and Sparta? And how wide is the difference between ancient and modern Rome? Had the inhabitants of such places, from age to age, known the things of their peace and pursued them, their glory might have remained to the present day.
If we abuse the signal favours which God has granted us, we have no right to expect that he will favour us in the like manner for the future. Although it be possible we may be a flourishing and happy people, it is equally possible we may be far otherwise. When we have reached the pinnacle of our hopes, it is often connected with evils far greater than the loss of that envied height would have been The fashion of this world passeth away. The greatest worldly good is often succeeded by the greatest evil; the greatest happiness by the greatest misery. Who would have thought, after the happy establishment of peace between France and Britain, twenty years ago, that the late war between Britain and America, with all its attending horrors, could possibly have taken place so soon?
When God gave Israel their request, but sent leanness into their souls, 13 these two things, taken in their connexion, were the greatest curse that could have befallen them. When Jephthah had ended a successful war against the children of Ammon, and thereby become the savior of his country, he seemed to have gained the whole desire of his heart, even all that happiness for which he had most ardently wished. But this same event which made him so happy a man was closely connected with two sore evils which came nearer to his heart and more sensibly affected him, than all his former concerns respecting the Ammonites. It was connected with the mournful affair respecting his only child, and it was the occasion of a very bloody civil war in which, beside others, forty and two thousand Ephraimites were slain with the sword. And thus, as in ten thousand similar instances, the occasion of his greatest happiness was turned into the occasion of his greatest misery.
So, although we have gained that for which we most ardently wished, an happy period to the late war, yet we can by no means be certain but that some far greater evils are now before us. We may be over-run and ruined both for time and eternity by a torrent of vice and licenciousness, with their never-failing attendants, infidelity and atheism. We may be left to destroy ourselves by intestine divisions and civil wars: or we may be visited with such sickness and pestilence as would so produce a far greater destruction than any war of what kind so ever. God has many ways, even in the present world, to punish the sins both of individuals and of nations. He has ten thousand arrows in his quiver, and can always direct any or all of them unerring, to the victims of his wrath. No possible concurrence of circumstances can screen us from the notice of his eye or the power of his hand. Never, never, can we be secure but in the practice of true virtue and in the favour of God.
From long and general custom, it will, I conceive, be expected that I do not close this discourse without some of those addresses which have been usual on the present occasion.
At the first place, I beg leave, with great veneration to address myself to his Excellency our Governor and Commander in Chief.—
May it please your Excellency,
It is with great pleasure we behold you at the helm of government in this sovereign and independent State. While we sympathize with you under the burdens and difficulties of your very important station, we cannot but congratulate you on a variety of circumstances which are peculiarly satisfactory. Highly honourable, in many respects, is the office which your Excellency fills with so much honour. Much dignity is derived to it from its high importance and extensive utility. It has been rendered honourable by a long succession of worthy and eminent characters, who have filled it from one time to another, and particularly by that very illustrious and immortal character, your immediate predecessor in office. Great is the honour of having a place in such a succession as this, and much greater still the honour of appearing in it, as your Excellency does, with a venerable dignity. Connecticut can boast of a number of her sons in the vigour of life, who are equal to the first offices in government. Yet, by the suffrages of a free and discerning people, your Excellency, though far advanced in life, has been raised to the first chair of government. A greater mark of esteem could not have been given; an equal one, probably never was given by this state or by any other.
Very great is the public esteem for those abilities with which the Fountain of wisdom has endowed you, and for that large store of knowledge which you have acquired from a most extensive reading in the various branches both of civil and sacred science. And yet all good men rejoice that you are thus highly esteemed, not merely for your natural or acquired endowments, but more especially for the moral virtues and your sacred regard for the religion of Jesus. May your singular piety and wisdom, your extensive influence and most excellent example, contribute much to prevent those public evils by which we are endangered. This effect in some good measure they have already had, God grant they may have, in a still greater degree, the same happy effect for the future.
We cannot but view your Excellency as a Moses, a Joshua or a Samuel, giving the most important instructions at the close of a most useful life. With painful apprehension of our great loss, and yet with joy in the prospect of your far more exceeding gain, we view you as an Elijah ready to mount the fiery car and ascend to your native heaven, followed with the most eager exclamations of your country: “my father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.” 14 Whenever that time shall come, mournful to us but joyful to you, may a double portion of your spirit descend and rest upon your successors in office and upon all our civil rulers. May your Excellency have, both while with us and when taken from us, all the peace and joy of that holy religion to which you have so devoutly adhered. May the God of all consolation be your support through life and your portion forever. Amen—
May it please your Honours and the Gentlemen of the other house of Assembly.
While prosperity is dangerous to a people in general, it is peculiarly so to those who are elevated above the common walks of life. Honour, power and wealth are attended with strong temptations, temptations which in most instances have proved too powerful for man. Indeed they have been and always will be too powerful for him, unless when he calls in foreign aid, even the aid of almighty grace. They who are possessed of those worldly goods, those envied distinctions, it is to be feared, often have their portion in this life only, and are therefore of all men the most miserable. Hence that ancient objection against the Saviour when here on earth, “Have any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees believed on him?” 15 Hence his own proverbial observation: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” 16 Hence his question to the Jews: “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” 17 Hence we read of those among the chief rulers who, in spite of conviction, refused to confess Christ, because “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” 18 Hence the observation of St. Paul: “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.” 19 But although we thus speak in order to stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance, yet we hope better things of you, venerable Fathers, things which accompany salvation, and things which have a favourable aspect, both on our civil and on our religious concerns.
Singularly happy has Connecticut been, even from the beginning, in a Legislature friendly not only to civil liberty but also to true religion. And this most excellent character, we trust, may with propriety be applied to this present honourable Assembly. May all your public measures and your whole conduct, be a demonstrative proof that our hopes are well founded.
In a particular manner, may your vigourous exertions be directed against those evils by which we are threatened in our present prosperous situation. More especially, may such measures be adopted as shall be well calculated to restore public faith, and to free this State, so far as possible, from the crying guilt of public injustice, which will otherwise be our reproach and perhaps our ruin. In the name of all honest men, let me presume to entreat you, Honoured Fathers, that such measures be not neglected. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. 20 The measures necessary to the exercise of public justice will accord with the judgment of all wise politicians as well as with the judgment of God and of all good men. Such measures may possibly be burdensome, in some degree to the people. But weak or wicked we must have been if we ever hoped to gain the glorious prize of independence, without bearing burdens and particularly a very considerable burden of expense. The prize which we have gained, well improved, will infinitely more than counterbalance all the expenses we have borne or ever need to bear. Every honest man will gladly bear his proportion of such burdens, rather than to transgress the eternal law of righteousness and truth. Every man who has the smallest pretensions to honour or spirit, will willingly bear his proportion, rather than to be guilty of the meanness, the baseness of cruelly defrauding the most faithful servants of the Public, in order to save an inconsiderable expense to himself. Every man who is unwilling to forward those measures which are necessary in order to the exercise of public justice, ought to lie under the imputation of shameful ignorance or a more shameful dishonesty. After all, such measures may perhaps through the weakness of human nature, be unpopular with many and meet with opposition. But should they be opposed by multitudes numerous as the army of Xerxes or the more numerous future armies of Gog and Magog, still, while engaged in the cause of righteousness, we may say as the prophet did when he and his servant were surrounded by a mighty Syrian host: “Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” All the hosts of the Lord in heaven and on earth will support us, while the Lord of hosts himself will be on our side. “For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness, his countenance doth behold the upright.” He has given the strongest evidence in his word and in his works, particularly in the great work of Redemption, given the strongest evidence of his unalterable determination to support the cause of righteousness and truth. Righteousness will finally prevail over iniquity, and truth over falsehood.—Indeed were we designed only for the present world, even then the practice of justice and the other moral virtues, would undoubtedly be the safest and the happiest course not only for individuals but for States and Kingdoms.
In the executive department of Government, it is greatly to be wished not only that impartial justice may be administered, but that it be done with dispatch and with as little expense as may be consistent with the dignity of Government. Unhappy indeed is the case when a legal process is attended with such expense, delay and other embarrassments that one had better lose his just dues than to recover them by a course of law. Not a few instances of this kind have taken place. Can no measures be adopted which may serve to remedy so great an evil?
The University of this State, the education of youth and the advancement of literature, are kindred objects of such eminent importance, that it is presumed they will not pass unnoticed by this honourable Assembly. May you, Honoured Fathers, in your great wisdom and benevolence, adopt such measures with regard to each of them as shall be worthy of yourselves and most conducive to the true interest of the Public. And may all your measures be such as shall evince to the world that you are not only our worthy and faithful civil fathers, but also that you are, at the same time, acting in a far more amiable and honourable character, even that of Nursing fathers to the church of Christ.
I now beg the patience of this auditory, while, with the most affectionate esteem and reverence, I address myself to my fathers and brethren in the sacred character.
Reverend and worthy Sirs,
Although Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, yet is it perfectly friendly to civil government. It requires us to obey and honour civil rulers, and to conduct ourselves as peaceable and useful subjects of the State. By serving God and your generation in this way, much good may be done, and much has been done by the members of your venerable order. Great was your influence and great your merit in producing the late glorious revolution. And although by the temporary losses which most of you have sustained during the arduous conflict and even to the present day, you have doubtless borne more than your equal proportion of the expenses of the war, yet will this burden be considered as trifling when compared with the peace of a good conscience and the salvation of your country.
Your virtuous exertions are now again greatly needed in preventing those evils with which we are threatened in our present prosperous state. No order of men have equal advantages with you, to warn the people against the encroachments of power on the one hand, and the evils of anarchy on the other; and at the same time to instruct them in all those various duties which they owe to civil rulers and to their country.
Let us however, never forget that civil and secular affairs ought to be viewed by us as matters of no more than a secondary consideration. The weightier matters of the law and the gospel ought always to engage our chief attention, our highest concern.
We are Ambassadors for God to a revolted world. In the guilt and wretchedness of this revolt, we ourselves are personally involved. Jesus in extremest agonies both of body and soul, has died for our salvation. He has gone into heaven to prepare mansions of glory for his faithful followers. Hell from beneath is moving to receive the despisers of his grace. Satan and the powers of darkness, in conjunction with the world and the flesh, are plotting the destruction of men. The people of our charge are daily passing the vale of death and receiving the retributions of eternity. The eye of omniscience is continually upon us. He who walketh in the midst of the golden candlesticks and holdeth the stars in his right hand, hath said, “All the churches shall know that I am he which searcheheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.” We watch for souls as those who must gie an account: If unfaithful, an aggravated doom will be our portion: if faithful, we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ in them that are saved and in them that perish. And who is sufficient for these things? What manner of persons then, ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness? With what fervor and fidelity ought we to preach the pure doctrines of the gospel and the unsearchable riches of Christ?—Death will soon put an end to our labours. Let us be animated by the promised presence of our great Lord and Master and by his voice which now speaks to each one of us in particular, saying “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Amen.
Let me now conclude with one word to this whole numerous and respectable Auditory.
Fellow Citizens and fellow Christians,
Great are the benefits of good government. But let us not imagine that these benefits are to be expected by us, unless, as a people and as individuals, we are willing to perform those duties which we owe to our civil rulers and to the Public in general. Unspeakably great are the blessings of the gospel. But let us not imagine that ministers or churches or any power whatever can force these blessings upon us without our consent. They are not, they cannot be ours unless we live as the gospel directs.
We are happy in being now met together in this large Assembly and on this great occasion. But before the next return of this Anniversary, how many, who are now here, will belong to the great congregation of the dead, and be fixed unalterably in their eternal state! Who, where, now in this assembly are the persons thus destined so soon to another world? Perhaps none more likely than the person speaking, were we to form our judgment from apparent symptoms. But if this be the case with him, he is not alone. Others will also travel with him the same dark road of death. And what one individual here present can say that he is not one of this number? Are we all prepared for our eternal state? In that state we shall all soon be found, while other busy mortals, like ourselves, will take our places on this stage of life. And never, never shall we all meet together again, till we meet with the assembled Universe before the tribunal of our final Judge.
The God of all grace enable us so to live that we may at that solemn period, be found on the right hand of our Judge, and, by the sentence of his mouth, have our portion assigned us with a far greater and more glorious assembly than the present; even with the general assembly and church of the first born which are written in heaven; with the spirits of just men made perfect, with an innumerable company of angels, with Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant and with God the Judge of all.—Blessing and honour and glory and power be unto him that sitteth on the throne and unto the Lamb, forever and ever.—Amen.
1. 2 Chron. xxxii. 25. (Return)
2. Deut. xxxii. 5, 6, 13, 16. (Return)
3. Ezek. xvi. 49. (Return)
4. Isaiah xlvii. 8. (Return)
5. Psalm 34—37. (Return)
6. Since the above was written, the author is happy to find that provision has been lately made for the payment of some part of the interest of our national debt, to which debt he here referred. (Return)
7. The national debt of Britain is 280 millions sterling, carrying an interest of L9500000. The national debt of the United States is not far from 9 millions in the same money. (Return)
8. I Cor. 12. 21, and 25. (Return)
9. Rom. 13. 1. (Return)
10. 2 Thes. 2. 11, 12. (Return)
11. Prov. (Return)
12. Tit. ii. 14. (Return)
13. Psalm cvi. 15. (Return)
14. 2 Kings ii. 12. (Return)
15. John vii. 48. (Return)
16. Matt. xix. 24. (Return)
17. John v. 44. (Return)
18. John xii. 43. (Return)
19. I Cor. i. 26. (Return)
20. 2 Sam. xxiii. 3. (Return)