This sermon was preached by Chauncey Whittelsey (1717-1787) in Connecticut on May 14, 1778.
The importance of religion in the civil
Preached before the General Assembly
On the Day of the Anniversary Election,
May 14th, 1778.
By Chauncey Whittelsey, A. M.
Pastor of the first Church of Christ in New-Haven.
At a General Assembly of the Governor and Company of the State of Connecticut, in America, holden at Hartford, on the second Thursday of May, A. D. 1778.
ORDERED, That Samuel Bishop and Eneas Munson, Esq’rs, return the Thanks of this Assembly to the Rev’d Mr. Chauncey Whittelsey, for his Sermon delivered before the Assembly on the 14th Instant, and desire a Copy thereof that it may be printed
A true Copy of Record,
George Wyllys, Sec’ry.
An Election SERMON.
II SAM. 23. 3, 4.
“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;--and he shall be, as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass, springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain.”
THESE are here recorded, as some of the last words of King David, who could say, v. 2. “The spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was on my tongue.” The very solemn introduction used in the text “The God of Israel said, the rock of Israel spake to me,” demands universal silence, and the serious attention of all, but especially of those, to whom the following observation has a peculiar reference, “He that ruleth over men, must be just, ruling in the fear of God.”
The fear of God in the sacred writings usually signifies a religious character in general, or that principle of action, that regard to Deity, which produces a truly religious character and conduct: and thus the expression is to be understood, in our text.
The salutary influence of civil government, under the administration of men of such a character, is here beautifully represented, “by the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds,” and by the smiling appearance of the vegetable world, upon clear shining, after a rain. What more striking or beautiful Images could have been used?
This passage therefore very aptly leads to the consideration of the importance, and very salutary influence of religion, or the true fear of God, in those, who are entrusted with the administration of civil government.
A discourse upon any topic of civil policy is rarely to be expected from the sacred desk; but with propriety, and therefore with a decent boldness, may the fear of God be recommended, and urged upon all, by a minister of the religion of Jesus Christ, tho’ he be one of the most undeserving.
The worth, and salutary influence of religion, of the true fear of God, to everyone, who is the subject of it, is much greater, than my abilities would suffice, fully and justly to describe. It sanctifies and ennobles every office and every employment, in private or in public life. It is the source of the most refined delight, and truest honour, in this world, and it leads to complete felicity and immortal honour in the life to come. No less just, than beautiful is what elegant representation in the book of Job. “Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? The depth saith, it is not in me, and the sea saith, it is not with me. It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the onyx, or the sapphire. No mention shall be made of pearls; the price of wisdom is above rubies. The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it, neither shall it be valued for the purest gold. Whence then cometh wisdom? And where is the place of understanding?” It is added—“God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof. And unto man he said, The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.” 1 Thus, God being Judge, who cannot err, religion, or the fear of the Lord is man’s true wisdom, and of inestimable value, to everyone, that possesses it. It has the most happy tendency to render him comfortable in himself, and a blessing to others, whatever his station in life. But it is, in many respects, of peculiar importance, in those who act in any public and difficult station, and particularly, in the civil Ruler.
Very weighty, many times, are the burdens, that are laid upon the shoulders of the civil Magistrate, arduous the duties of his office, intricate and perplexed the causes of public concern, in which he is called to judge, and to act. Now there is a support under the burdens and trials of life, and an animation to the performance of numerous and difficult services, arising from the principles of religion and a genuine regard to Deity, which nothing else can yield; and which indeed is much better and more fully known by experience, than from any of the most accurate and labored description.
Take a view of the story of a number of great Characters, of godly and renowned Rulers of God’s ancient people, from Moses to Nehemiah: To them, under all their burdens, services and dangers, a firm belief of the great principles of religion, and an habitual attention to God, was indisputably of unspeakable benefit. Thro’ faith, they performed their great exploits, and were animated to the various and arduous services of their respective stations, and were supported, when their spirits were ready to sink. By faith they could adopt, under apprehension of the most threatening calamities, that triumphant language, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” 2 Such was the language of the pious Psalmist of Israel.
Hear another celebrated ancient, when breathing out the genuine spirit of religion, and manifesting its strong and salutary influence; who, tho’ not a civil Ruler, yet sustained an important public character. When he knew, that he was surrounded with perils on every side, and that sufferings and trials of various kinds awaited him, he could express himself in that truly heroic manner, “ 3 None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear to me, so that I may finish my course with joy, and discharge well the office, with which, it has pleased the Lord of the universe to entrust me,” Such was the mighty influence of the great principles of religion, firmly believed, upon the mind of the apostle Paul. Nor was this peculiar to him, as an Apostle; by the same influence, the civil Ruler may be rendered superior to every hardship, to every danger, and thus may be made more eminently useful.
That is to anyone the most valuable possession, which best promotes his happiness and usefulness; true religion and the fear of God is indisputably that possession. This sanctifies both natural powers, and all acquirements to the most noble purposes; this unites duty and interest, and renders happy in serving God, and doing good. And this presents the most animating prospects of future felicity, sufficient to inspire an heroic fortitude, in the face of the greatest dangers.
But the great importance of religion, or the true fear of God, in civil Rulers, and its tendency to render them blessings in their places, and the people happy under their administration, will be evident from the following particular observations.
Which leads me to notice some of the advantages of religion, of the true fear of God in the civil Ruler, to the people, the community, by which he is entrusted, and whose welfare he should seek and promote.
1. Religion is the most sure and fruitful source of a genuine public spirit; which is justly reckoned one of the very essential qualifications, with which a civil Ruler should be adorned. It is a public spirit that mainly distinguishes the good Ruler, who is a blessing to his people, from the Tyrant, who is a curse to the world.
By a public spirit, I mean, not the contracted patriotism of the ancient Romans; who, under pretence of love to their own little country, claimed a right to oppress and enslave the rest of the world, at their pleasure.
A genuine public spirit implies a disposition, a readiness to forego ones private interest and personal ease, for the benefit of others, for the public good; but authorizes no inquiry or oppression. It coincides therefore with that charity or love, so strongly enjoined by the Christian Law; and it may be cultivated to the best advantage, under the influence of the great principles of religion, especially of the Christian institution.—He that has just sentiments of God, and a supreme, governing regard to him, even to that Being, who is the great Monarch of the universe, and whose glorious character is Love, and who so loved the human race, that he gave his only begotten Son to seek and promote their everlasting good, he will have in his breast and heart, a most fruitful principle of genuine patriotism. It will be his aim and study to do good, and, if he sustains a public character, to promote the public weal.
Among all the instances of a truly great and noble spirit, a spirit of the most exalted patriotism and disinterested goodness, that ever was recorded, there is none to be found that may be compared with that of Jesus our Lord: He, when he was in the form of God, laid aside the glory he had with the Father, and took upon him the form of a servant, for the sake of doing good; and, when he had spent his life in doing good, willingly submitted to the sharpest sufferings, and most acutely painful and ignominious death, for the same great and noble end. With what propriety then, and how forcibly does the Apostle recommend to every Christian Believer, a public spirit from this great and divine example. Phil. 2. 4, 5. “Look not everyone on his own things, but everyone also on the things of others; let the same mind be in you, which also was in Christ Jesus.” What zeal then, what vigorous exertions in doing good may not a supreme regard to Deity, and a becoming attention to such a divine example, justly produce?—What a happy influence must religion have, especially under the Christian institution, upon the mind and conduct of the civil Ruler?—
2. The principles and motives of religion afford the strongest incitements to fidelity and diligence, in the discharge of any public trust, that is undertaken. The truly religious man conceives himself bound by the law of his God, to be faithful, and accountable to him for his conduct. And a sense of the obligation that hence arises, will have a more certain, powerful and permanent influence upon him, than the most solemn oath upon a man of a different character.—Besides, to fidelity and diligence in the discharge of a public trust, religion proposes the most noble and animating rewards; not the applause of mortals, or a wreath of fading laurel, but the open approbation of the supreme Parent, the plaudit of the celestial Choirs, and a crown of glory, that will never fade.
I am sensible, it is not religion alone that fits a man to be a civil ruler; other qualifications are also necessary.—But—
3. Religion, or the true fear of God obliges, and will strongly prompt the man, that is called to manage the business of the public, to seek earnestly these other qualifications, that are necessary, or useful. And in this pursuit, as well as in the discharge of his Trust, the pious Ruler has one peculiar and very great advantage, viz.—
4. He will with humble confidence seek for assistance and direction from the great, the inexhaustible fountain of grace and wisdom. This is one rational and excellent means of gaining knowledge, and of maintaining right action and a useful conduct. For however regardless the generality may be of God, we are all constantly dependent upon him; “the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” 4 And we are assured, that whoever “lacketh wisdom,” and wants direction, if he sincerely “asks it of God, who giveth liberally and upbraideth not, it shall be given him.” 5
5. I may add, that the character of a people depends not a little, upon the character, the example and influence of the civil Rulers, the leading men of the State: The virtue of a people affords the best security of their privileges and prosperity under the overruling providence of God.
And finally, the special smiles of heaven ordinarily attend that people, whose Rulers, and chief men, are such as truly fear God, men of real piety. This observation is abundantly supported by the history of the Children of Israel, from the days of Moses to the times of their dispersion. When their chief men, whether Judges or Kings, did that which was evil, iniquity abounded, and some public calamity soon took place. But if their leading men were virtuous and religious, this usually had a happy influence upon the whole body of the people; and procured the special protection and smiles of heaven: And the same God still governs the world.
It is then of the utmost importance to a State, that it have virtuous and religious, as well as, able men, men fearing God, to rule over them, and manage their public affairs. Such Rulers will surely aim at the public good—will feel the most powerful obligation and strongest incitements, to fidelity, and to the most vigorous exertions for the public good, when requisite—will be most likely to maintain a firm, undaunted mind in critical and stormy seasons, and to guide the helm, with a steady hand.—And under the administration of such Rulers, the people will have the best grounds to hope for, and expect the direction and blessing of the supreme Potentate, on whom all good depends.—With reason therefore, when righteous and godly men are in authority, the people may greatly rejoice.—
Hence we are naturally led to reflect, with gratitude, upon the distinguishing goodness of God towards this Colony or State, from its beginning down to this day; his distinguishing goodness in providing for this people, and raising up and setting over them, such a succession of pious and godly Rulers; who under the influence of the great principles of religion, and the fear of God, have fought diligently the public weal, and been eminently useful in their day. What Province, State or Kingdom, from the beginning of the world, to this time, has been, in this respect, more highly favoured, than Connecticut? I know not any. And hence this has been one of the most happy provinces, upon the face of the earth. On such a day as this, how fitting to pay a tribute of praise to the God of Heaven, not only for our civil Liberties, but also for our upright, godly and faithful Rulers.—Further—
We hence learn, that in the choice or appointment of civil Rulers, special regard should be had to their religious characters. Superior talents, and an acquaintance with ciil policy, may enable a man to do much good in a public station, and are therefore to be desired, and are highly requisite in a civil Ruler. But they equally enable him to do much hut, if integrity, if religion and the fear of God is wanting. The great difference between the holy Angels, and apostate Spirits is of the moral and religious kind, arising from the different regard they pay to the supreme Parent.
We hence infer also, that it is of no small impotence, that the fear of God, and a religious disposition be early instilled into the minds of those, who are designed and are training up, for public service, in the State, as well as in the church of God. Without this, the most learned education will be essentially deficient.—I am not insensible that religion in general, and the Christian religion in particular has been treated even with banter and ridicule by some British Authors of note. But it is to be observed, that their political Creed is as erroneous and absurd, as are their religious Sentiments. As they appear not to revere the God of Heaven nor to believe in Jesus Christ, so they seem to disregard the great end of forming civil Societies, (viz.) the good of the individuals of the community, collectively considered; and they only study the means by which the Chiefs of a Society may aggrandize themselves, at the expence of their neighbours, without respect to the will of God, or the principles of equity and humanity. Such sentiments, whether concerning religion, or civil policy are destructive to the State as well as the Church of God; and they therefore disqualify for public service. Again,
From hence we may collect, that in the present very critical situation of affairs, and considering the many great and very interesting public events, that have taken place of late, it is, at this day, especially requisite that or leading men, our civil Rulers, be virtuous and godly, as well as men of ability, steadiness, and fortitude. In such a day as this “our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth,” and who an easily frustrate the counsels of the wisest Ahithophel, and bring to nought the devices of the crafty, and who already hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.—
In the rise, and in the whole progress of the unnatural controversy between Great-Britain, and the now United Independent American States, the hand of God has been, I must think, very conspicuous.-When we consider the remarkable union of thirteen disconnected, and many of them distance provinces, and the spirit, which burst forth like a flame, nearly at the same time, in all parts of the land; when we consider the weak, defenceless and unprepared state of the country, when hostilities were first commenced, and in what an unexpected manner, and how quick, a supply of military stores was obtained; when we consider the mighty force, that has come against us, both by sea and land, and the success that has attended our young troops, and even our militia (reckoned by the enemy but a feeble folk) in many warm encounters, with European regular forces; when we consider the little, the very little progress, that our enemy has made, toward accomplishing their injurious design, in three successive campaigns, and the total reduction of their northern army toward the close of the last campaign, who can refrain his astonishment, and adoration of the supreme invisible hand, that rules the world.
Strange was the want of wisdom, of human policy in the famous Politicians of the British court, that they should adopt those measures, that gave rise to the controversy. Upon them, the ingenious Dr. Price, in a pamphlet published in London more than two years ago, has this reflection, “I fancy, I see in those measures something, that cannot be accounted for, merely by human ignorance, I am inclined to think, that the hand of Providence is, in them, working, to bring about some great ends.” What would that ingenious author think, what would he say at this day?—What ends the Dr. had reference to is evident from what follows, a little after, “In America, says he, we see a number of rising States, in the vigour of youth, inspired with the noblest of all passions, the passion for being free—and animated by piety.”—Would to God, that the animation of piety was as strong and universal, as the passion for liberty.—
At this day the prospect evidently is, that a new Empire, under the providence of God, is now rising up, in this western world; a prospect, which from the beginning of he controversy, has from time to time, grown brighter and brighter. Of what importance is it, that this new Empire be founded with wisdom, and that they, who are entrusted with the management of public affairs, have a governing regard to God, and to the principles and interests of virtue and piety?—This might be attended with the most happy consequences, and have a very salutary influence thro’ all the United American States, and to the whole Empire, for generations to come.
By all the remarkable events above mentioned, by the rise, the progress and the present state of this great and interesting controversy, we are admonished, in very emphatic language, “that the most High ruleth in the Kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will.” 6 And are not all the Gentlemen, who are concerned in the management of our public affairs, and who have had a full acquaintance with the astonishing circumstances of those great events, laid under peculiar and very strong obligations to revere, honour and serve that God, who has done such great things for us, and on whom we are still dependent?
We are contending with a great and powerful nation; the unhappy controversy still subsists; tho’ we are hoping, and with longing expectations, waiting, for a speedy and happy issue. But what is in the womb of Providence we know not; our most raised expectations will end in disappointment, unless Heaven continue to smile upon us, and favour our cause. We still need direction from on high, and the blessing of Almighty God; of what importance then that our ways should please the Lord; that our leading Men should be men of seriousness and piety, men fearing God; that so from their example and influence, religion and virtue may be propagated, thro’ all ranks of people; then shall our peace be as a river, and our righteousness as the waves of the sea.
The chief Magistrates of this State, and the Heads of our tribes, that are here assembled, will therefore permit me (tho’ unworthy the task) a particular application, and an humble address to them, on this great occasion.
And in the first place, may I with proper deference, address his Excellency, the Governor of this State.
May it please your Excellency—
For the many good deeds, done to this State, thro’ your providence, and especially for your vigorous exertions and unwearied attention to the public weal, in this time of peculiar difficulty and danger, I without hesitation, express the sincere thanks of this whole Community, at the head of which the Lord our God has set you.
Among all your accomplishments for public service, your religious character is by no means, the least distinguishing or important.—You have experienced, I doubt not, in the great and arduous business of your station, and amidst the storms of the present day, the happy influence of an habitual regard to Deity, of daily intercourse with heaven, and of a firm confidence, thro’ a divine Mediator, in the providence and grace of God: the happy influence whereof, may you experience still more and more.
Thence, under all the various and difficult services to which you are called, you will not, Sir, you cannot, be disheartened; but will persevere, with steadiness and joyful hope, unto the end. Doing good and being useful is angelic, yea it is a divine employment. Gabriel is a ministering spirit; yea Jesus, to do good, spent, and willingly laid down, his life.—
By means of the many changes and commotions, that take place in the world, and by means of the operations of individuals in their places, a grand plan, formed by the supreme Parent, with consummate wisdom, is carrying on, to final accomplishment. From the dictates of inspired prophecy, we understand, that events of peculiar importance, in the execution of that grand plan, are nigh at hand, and perhaps, at this very day, beginning to take place. A thought this, that will fire your soul, Sir, with sacred ambition, and cause your breast to glow with gratitude to him, who has called you up, to act so significant a part, at such a day.
Altho’ this life is tempestuous, the voyage is short; and by how much the more difficult and dangerous, the greater the gains, to those, who steer by the religion of Christ, and arrive at the haven of safety.
How ample the rewards, how splendid the crown, that the religion of Jesus proposes and ensures to the faithful servant! Rewards already received, by what numbers of pious Rulers of this State, whose names are justly recorded in the annals of fame! With whom to associate in the high and noble employments of heaven, (what an animating thought!) will be your Excellency’s incessant aim: nor will you fail of the glorious reward, thro’ the grace of the gospel, on which, you ground your hopes. For he hath said, whose word is sure, “Be thou faithful unto death, and thou shalt receive a crown of life.”—Amen—
His Honour the Deputy Governor and the Honorable Counsellors of this State will suffer, with proper respect, a brief address.
May it please your Honours—
By the providence of God, and by the voice of a free People, you have been called to act in stations of chief dignity and importance, in one of the happiest provinces upon the face of the earth; whose prosperity and happiness (under the smiles of heaven) has mainly proceeded from the virtue and piety of its leading men, its civil Magistrates. And does not this thought, and the remembrance of many of your Predecessors in office, whom you have known, strongly urge you to pay a steady, serious and sacred regard to the God, and the religion, of your Fathers; that so you may, like them, maintain the distinguished reputation and lustre of the State, and be followers of those Worthies, who, thro’ faith and patience, are gone to inherit the promises.
To be the servants of the Great King of heaven and earth, and to do good to your fellow-men, in the stations in which you are placed in the providence of God, is the truest and highest honour, you can enjoy, on this side heaven, and is a course, that leads direct to those honours, that will be immortal. Actuated therefore by these truly worthy and noble aims, you will never disdain, or be ashamed to be thought men of serious piety, who revere and worship the living and true God, and are the Friends and Advocates of the religion of Jesus. Thus will you honour yourselves, and the high offices you sustain, and most surely promote the public weal. Thence, when dead, your names will be mentioned with respect, and your happy influence may continue, while you are reaping the rewards of immortal honour—Amen.—
The Honorable House of Representatives, who are men of influence in our several Towns, and, as it were, Heads of our tribes, will candidly receive a short address, from an honest, tho’ an unworthy advocate for religion and the public weal.
Important is the trust reposed in you, by your brethren. May I not say, they have put their liberties, their property, the comfort and the lies of their dearest connections, and of themselves, into your hands? The weight of such a trust, you, I doubt not, very sensibly feel: in the discharge whereof, especially in the present situation of our public affairs, there is great need, not only of integrity, but also of wisdom, application and firmness of mind. Of these very necessary qualifications, religion and an habitual regard to God, will be, (as you have heard) the surest and most fruitful source. Religion will excite you to seek in all proper ways, that knowledge and understanding, which is needful, and in particular, to ask daily and with fervent desires, direction from the fountain of wisdom: This will prompt you to consider whatever difficult matter of public concern, may lie before you, with engaged attention, and to confer and debate with one another thereon, with coolness and candour. This will influence you, to give your voice with uprightness, and to acquiesce and unite in the conclusion, and with a spirit of resignation to leave the issue, with the divine disposal. And how can public affairs be conducted in any better manner, by dependent, imperfect beings?
When dispersed, and returned to your several places of abode, thro’ the State, your influence, Gentlemen, to suppress iniquity, and to encourage that religion, to promote that righteousness, which God has said, exalteth a nation, or a people, may be great, and of the most salutary consequence. And thus, by acting your parts, under the influence of religion, both in public and in private life, you may be the happy instruments of saving your country, and at the same time securing to your posterity the richest of earthly blessings, and to yourselves an ample reward (not indeed in this momentary life, but) in that life and state, that will never, never end. Gentlemen, may God Almighty thus honour and reward you all—Amen.—
As a considerable number of the Ministers of Christ, and Pastors of Churches are here present, if not the occasion, yet the subject, that has been handled, and the very critical state of our country, will warrant a short address to them from one, who tho’ he might say, methinks, with much greater propriety, than Paul, “less than the least of all Saints,” yet earnestly wishes the spread of religion’s salutary influence, and the welfare of his country.
My Dear Brethren—
The interest of religion, the interest of that cause, for which our divine Redeemer died upon the cross, and the care of the Churches of Christ has been in an especial, and very solemn manner, committed unto us. Our sacred, as well as civil privileges, the cause of the Churches of Christ, and the interest of religion, is, if I mistake not, nearly affected with the contest of the present day. Should we not therefore, out of love to Christ, and concern for the interest of his religion, and the welfare of our people, exert ourselves, with vigour, in our places, especially to inculcate the fear of God, and promote that spirit of serious religion, which will secure the protection of the God of Heaven, and be the surest means of preserving our civil and religious rights? And will we not encourage the hearts and strengthen the hands of our civil Rulers, in this so critical and threatening a day, and be mush and earnest in prayer to God for them, and for the revival of religion, and the restoration of peace to our land? May we each one so discharge the great and good work, to which we are called, that when the chief Shepherd shall appear, we may receive a crown of glory, that shall never fade.—Amen.—
Finally, since religion is the truest wisdom, the richest treasure, the brightest ornament, and the best defense, may the spirit of the Lord be poured out upon all the people, that so pure religion may again flourish in the midst of us, and glory and happiness fill the land. AMEN and AMEN.
1. Job 28. 12, &c. (Return)
2. Psalm 46. 1, 2. (Return)
3. Acts 20. 24. (Return)
4. Jer. 30. 23. (Return)
5. James 1. 5. (Return)
6. Dan. 4. 17. (Return)