This sermon was preached by Levi Hart in Connecticut on May 11, 1786.
THE DESCRIPTION OF A GOOD CHARACTER ATTEMPTED
AND APPLIED TO THE SUBJECT OF
JURISPRUDENCE AND CIVIL GOVERNMENT.
D I S C O U R S E,
ADDRESSED TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE
G O V E R N O R,
AND THE HONOURABLE
L E G I S L A T U R E
IN THE STATE OF
C O N N E C T I C U T,
H A R T F O R D
G E N E R A L E L E C T I O N,
May 11th, M.DCC.LXXXVI.
By LEVI HART, A. M.
Pastor of a Church in Preston.
“But Jehoida waxed old, and was full of days when he died.—
And they buried him in the City of David, among the Kings:
Because he had done good in Israel, both towards God and towards
His house.” 2 Chron. xxiv. 15, 16.
At a General Assembly of the State of Connecticut, holden at Hartford, on the second Thursday of May, A. D. 1786.
ORDERED, That Mr. Benjamin Coit, and Col. Jeremiah Halsey, return the Thanks of this Assembly to the Reverend Levi Hart, for his Sermon delivered at the General Election on the 11th Instant, and request a Copy thereof that it may be printed.
A true Copy of Record,
George Wyllys, Sec’ry.
An Election S E R M O N.
Ecclesiastes, x. 1.
Dead flies cause the ointment of the Apothecary to send forth a stinking savor: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.
It is hoped that the feelings of none in the assembly will be wounded by the introduction of this maxim, which may seem unpolished; when it is considered that it was penned by a person of the first character for discernment: who was also the chief magistrate of a great kingdom, and under the superintending influence of the Holy Spirit. King Solomon made choice of the wisdom requisite for his important station, and God graciously gave him his desire. 1 From that wisdom, improved by long experience, and directed by supernatural influence, he was eminently qualified to give proper instruction to persons of every condition in life: both as it consisted in general maxims, and in the application of them to particular cases.
The passage before us contains a general principle, applicable to a variety of particular characters. It will apply to all who are distinguished for supposed worth, and respected by mankind on that account: to all who are in stations of eminence, where their accomplishments are conspicuous, and their faults, if they have any, are not hidden. These are the possessors of that wisdom and honour, which is compared to the precious ointment of the apothecary: that good name which is even more valuable than precious ointment. A little folly, however, in a character so conspicuous, and exalted, will tarnish its beauty, and diffuse an ill favour through the sweet perfume. 2
As the maxim in the text is fitted to such an extensive application, to persons of eminence in the several classes of society, it requires our serious attention on the present occasion.
A discussion of the subject is proposed in the following manner.
I. A description of a reputable character, or good name, will be attempted.
II. The destructive influence of folly, when mixed with such a character, will be considered.
III. An application of the general maxim to particular characters, will conclude the discourse.
I. A description of a good name, or reputable character, will be attempted.
The comparison of a good name, to the precious ointment of the apothecary, is implied in the text and other sacred passages. 3
From an institution in the antient Mosaic writings we learn that an holy anointing oil was to be made, by a mixture of the most excellent spices, with the pure oil of the olive tree. With this precious ointment, the priests, the tabernacle, and its utensils were to be anointed, as a consecration to the particular service of God. 4
This holy oil which was not to be imitated, or been applied, except for the purposes, and in the manner specified in the institution, was evidently designed to represent the excellent nature of true religion, and of the Holy Spirit, in his sanctifying influences on the hearts of men.—Those best accomplishments of the human mind—as here is, in these, a combination of the most amiable qualities composing the character of the man of God.
A like mode of expression is used, by the inspired psalmist, to illustrate the mutual and harmonious affection of brethren, dwelling together in unity—and the happy influence of that affection. 5 Finally, the excellent qualities and unequalled glories of the divine Messiah, are represented under this same metaphor. 6
The idea of running through the several representations is, obviously, the same. A variety of individual objects, excellent in themselves, united and combined, in such a manner as to constitute one complete object. In which the beauty of each is, not only preserved, but exhibited, with superior advantage; by its connection with the rest, in such a manner, as to heighten the perfection of the whole.
This is true with regard to the beauty of all complex objects. It consists in the due proportion of each part, to the use for which it is designed—to its various relations, and to the whole. This will appear by an application of the observation to objects confessedly beautiful, in the various productions of nature and art. In these last, we are, sometimes, agreeably entertained and improved, by viewing the displays of human sagacity. But, in the first, we are struck with pleasing and devout astonishment, at their inimitable beauty and grandeur. And, by the perfection discernible in his various works, from the most simple and minute, to the most complex and magnificent, we are led “to look through nature, up to nature’s God.”
The beautiful, the exact gradations, and proportions, by which they are constituted and directed, impress the devout philosopher with the deepest reverence for the Most High, and lead him to acknowledge that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy works” 7 —and that “in wisdom he hath made them all.” 8
But we must not indulge in these general reflections, but confine our attention to that particular species of beauty, which constitute a good character. Are material and inanimate objects beautiful, intelligent creatures must be capable of that which is far greater, and more perfect—in proportion to the superior nature of the soul. This beauty of the mind, is what renders man worthy of esteem, and by which he obtains the approbation of the wise and good.
It is worthy of notice, that the perfection of the precious ointment, referred to in the text, consisted in the excellent quality of its several parts, and their due proportion to each other. In like manner, a good name is the result of a composition of mental excellencies, fitly proportioned to each other, and to their object.
Human perfection may be summed up in the excellent qualities of the understanding, and the heart. All our perceptions and knowledge belong to the former, and all emotions, affections, and determinations, to the latter. The beauty of the understanding consists in its susceptibility of those perceptions, by which we are furnished with the knowledge requisite to our place and station: or, in their actual existence. The other essential branch of human perfection is comprised in affections corresponding to our perceptions: or, in the qualities of the heart. If these are proportioned, to a proper knowledge of the objects of perceptions, it forms that amiable and worthy character, which comports with the nature and dignity of man—as he is related to his present and future self, to his fellow creatures and to his Creator.
The duly proportioned knowledge of the objects of human perception, may be styled the natural beauty, or perfection, of man; and the corresponding affections of the heart, that which is humane, domestic, civil, moral, or evangelical: according to the qualities or relations of the objects, on which they terminate. And the opposite to these, are the deformity of the understanding and the heart. The beauty, or perfection of the heart, is evidently of the greatest importance. Without this, the finest accomplishments of the understanding are of little worth—Yea when connected with a heart, altogether deformed, they constitute a character, utterly unworthy. And that deformity is even increased, in consequence of its connection with superior knowledge. For, it is the language of reason and revelation that, “to him who knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin.”
By suitable exertions of the heart, the perceptions, and knowledge of the mind, are applied to their proper use, and rational existence is both honorable and happy. But this can be asserted, with the strictest propriety, of those affections and exertions only, which are of the moral, or evangelical kind. The others, which have been mentioned, have obtained the name of virtues, or perfections, on account of their coincidence with particular objects. A virtuous husband, friend, citizen or ruler, is denominated from his acting agreeably to those relations: without any respect to what he is, in regard to his more extensive connections. And, it is very supposable, that a person may be eminent in one, or more, of those particular virtues, and yet be utterly deformed, or vicious, in respect to his great and important relations, as the creature of God, a rational and immortal being.
From hence it appears that though certain affections may be beautiful, in a separate view, and as proportioned to particular objects, or relations—the character, possessed of them, may be exceedingly deformed, on the whole: in consequence of an opposition of heart, to its more extensive and important connections. And those particular attachments, though agreeable in a subordination to superior affections, serve to heighten the deformity of the character, in a different connection. As we see men, eminent for some of the private virtues, often the most inveterate and dangerous enemies to the state: when they are destitute of public affection, and consider the interests of their particular connections, and that of the public, in opposition.
In like manner, a person may be possessed of many of those agreeable qualities, which are denominated virtues, and yet, through the influence of private affection, he may be opposed to the honour of his Creator, and the interest of his fellow creatures. And those very attachments, so agreeable and useful, when subordinated to public affection may be subservient to that opposition, and greatly enhance it. But that coincidence of affection, and exertion, to our great moral objects and relations, which obtains the name of moral virtue, or perfection in rational beings who have never transgressed, and is evangelical virtue or holiness in man, as corresponding to the gospel revelation of salvation.—That, is truly excellent, both as it is proportional to our most extensive relations, and involves a proper affection to all particular objects, considered in themselves, and as subordinate to the whole.
Were we to apply these general principles to particular characters, the evidence would appear to be still more decisive. The great law of religion, in reverence to our duty to God, our Creator, is summed up in that reverential and practical affection, which is proportioned to our utmost ability. In relation to our fellow men, we are to love our neighbours as ourselves—their happiness being of equal importance with our own. For the same reason, the less good is to give way to the greater, the private to the public, and the interest of all finite, created beings, should be subordinated to the infinite and uncreated Original of all. To man, as related to his present, and future self, it is the voice of reason and revelation—“Do thyself no harm.” He is directed to seek that happiness, which comports with the dignity and importance of his existence as a man.—A happiness consisting in union to his Creator, and to his fellow creatures.
Thus, the great principles of reason, and revelation, form a most beautiful and harmonious system. And the man, who is practically conformed to them, is possessed of the excellent qualities constituting that good character, which is represented by the precious ointment, and is declared to excel it.
If we consider the Christian religion, as a scheme adapted to the case of lapsed creatures, we shall find a no less beautiful harmony in its several parts—to their respective objects, to each other, and to the whole.
This divine system is constituted of two great branches. The first, is a supernatural revelation of the way of pardon and salvation for sinners of mankind, through the mediation and atonement of Christ; who is “God manifest in the flesh.” An atonement every way suitable to the perfection of God, both as it exhibits the original excellence of his character and government, and prepares the way for the fullest manifestation of them, to the rational creation, in the actual recovery, and salvation, of sinners.
The other branch, of the Christian revelation, contains what man is to believe and do, in reference to this revelation—the whole train of Christian graces, and exertions, which correspond to his condition as a sinner, to his relations to God, as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier and Judge—to mankind, and to his own present and future existence. These, fitly expressed, in a life of Christian holiness, form the character of “the man of God, furnished to every good work.” Each of these is excellent in itself, and as connected with the rest. And all of them, collectively viewed, and raised to their proper standard, form the Christian for that state of perfection to which he is redeemed; and prepare him to fill a place in that church of the first-born, of which he is a member.
So little cause have the opposers of Christianity to reject it, as a scheme unworthy of God, and repugnant to the dictates of reason and philosophy. It was, long since, observed by a great master of reason, that “true and deep philosophy always leads men to a profound administration of the first cause.” It may be added, that this profound admiration will be abundantly increased by a proper view of that great first cause, as displayed in the Christian revelation. It is minute philosophy only which leads men to reject this divine system.
We now proceed to the next branch of our subject.
II. To consider the destructive influence of folly, when mixed with a good name.
That we may understand the force and propriety of the comparison implied in the text, it may be proper to observe, that one essential excellence of the precious ointment referred to, consisted in its fragrant and reviving smell. 9 The destructive influence of the dead fly, consisted in its taking away the sweet savour of the ointment, or in causing it to smell disagreeably. By its putrefaction a poisonous, as well as offensive, quality was also diffused through the composition. And as this sweet and refreshing ointment, would become disagreeable, and destructive, by the mixture of the dead fly-so the most respectable character may loose its lustre, and be covered with disgrace, by the mixture of folly.
That the representation may be more fully understood, it may be farther observed, that the term folly, as used by this inspired writer, is not restrained to its primary signification, to denote a destitution of rational perceptions, or an imbecility of intellect—Persons of this description cannot be supposed to be in reputation for wisdom and honour.
It will likewise appear, by an examination of the passages where this and other like terms are used, that they are especially designed to express the quality and character of those who neglect the proper application of their intellectual powers, or use them for opposite and destructive ends. In this sense the term folly is to be understood in the passage before us.
Once more, it must be remembered, that the character mentioned, in the text, is supposed to be eminent. It belongs to such as are “in reputation, for wisdom and honour.” The assertion might be illustrated by an application to particular instances, of the mixture of folly, in a character otherwise reputable. The expressions of a bad heart reproach the most exalted station. And, folly is the reverse of that wisdom which is the honour of a virtuous character, in the various applications of the expression: some of which have been named already.
A person possessed of, even the best, intellectual accomplishments, but the reverse of what he ought to be in the several relations of human life, and his connections in society, is destitute of the whole train of virtues; and his character sends forth an offensive favour. This will be evident in real life: it is true of a husband and father, destitute of conjugal and paternal affection—a nominal patriot, void of public spirit—a judge, under the blinding influence of the love of money—and a rich man, destitute of compassion and liberality to the poor. Men, destitute of the virtues suitable to their particular conditions and relations, and under the influence of the opposite vices, are the objects of just abhorrence, in proportion to their opportunity to be useful, to the eminence of their abilities and stations.
This truth will be still more obvious by applying it to the great moral objects, and relations, of man. By a single fault, the mot awful ruin is diffused through the human race. In place of that holy affection, to the Most High, and to our brethren of mankind, which is suitable to our nature and relations, and is our highest perfection; selfish propensities have the dominion in the human heart, and “all men seek their own.” This is the general source of ruin to mankind. From hence, as their proper fountain, proceed, the private and public quarrels, the cruel wars and slaughters, which have filled our world—all the oppressions and persecutions which, under various pretences, have spread desolation through the earth. The wide-spreading ruin has diffused itself through all ages, all nations, and classes of mankind. It has infected all degrees of society, from the meanest cottages, to the most magnificent empires.
The history of past ages, and kingdoms, will attest the truth of these observations, and general experience will confirm them. This dead fly, with its malignant infection, enters the retirements of domestic quiet, and disturbs the sweet enjoyment of its tender friendships; and, in many instances, utterly destroys them. It even sets a man at variance with himself, and the conflict usually issues in his falling a prey to this baneful passion. To this must be traced, suicide itself, that most unnatural of all the crimes of wretched mortals.
Finally, this sets man at opposition to his Maker, and leads him to reject the proffered grace and salvation of the gospel, procured and offered by the great Redeemer—and thus to plunge himself into the most aggravated, and remediless ruin. But for this, how happy were the lot of men! United to their Creator, to each other, and to themselves; possessed of intellectual, and other endowments, sufficient for the sublimest pursuits and enjoyments, in a reciprocation of benevolent exertions, and in united reverential love and obedience, to the fountain of good.
But it is time to dismiss this gloomy side of human nature, and of our subject, and proceed to the concluding branch of it.
III. In an application, of the general maxim, to particular characters.
The present joyful anniversary, and this respectable assembly, invite us to apply the subject to the interesting concerns of jurisprudence and civil government. The gentlemen of the two houses of Assembly, are the persons pointed out in the text, elected to their respective places of honour and reputation, by the unpurchased, unsolicited votes of the freemen of the state.
In a constitution like ours, nothing but distinguished merit can be a recommendation to public office. It is those, who are thus chosen, who are in reputation for wisdom and honour. Happy indeed! If no dead fly be ever found in this venerable “assembly of wise men.” In the present application of the subject, we have only to shew, that each branch of the legislature, and administration, must be composed of men equal in ability, and rectitude of disposition, to the importance of their stations.
As the object of government is the good of society, it is natural to remark, that the rulers of a state should have a thorough knowledge of its interests, on the whole. A superficial reasoned in politics, is a very bad statesman. Such an one will often pursue some trifling interest of the state, real or imaginary, to the neglect and hazard of its greatest, and most lasting emolument.
If I rightly apprehend the nature of our constitution, the honorable members of the Upper House of Assembly, beside acting as assistants to his Excellency, are representatives of the state, at large. To these, in particular, it is given in charge “that the commonwealth receive no damage.” The gentlemen of the Lower House, stand in much the same relation to their respective corporations, as the honourable council, to the whole state. In legislation and government, the interest of each corporation is to be regarded individually, and as connected with that of the state—in such a manner as to constitute a common good, in which each town and, as far as possible, each individual, shall find it to be his interest to unite. This common good of the state, must also be pursued in a manner coinciding with the interest of the confederacy at large.
The members of the House of Representatives ought to have a good acquaintance, at least, with the respective interests of their own corporations, and to know how to promote them by the wisest means, in consistence with the common good of the state. The honourable members of the Council should have a still more exact and extensive knowledge of the public interest, in its several branches, as they are guardians to the whole state—and should know how to secure and promote its welfare, so as to produce the greatest quantity of good, to each branch, and to the whole. And, as shall most exactly coincide with the interest of the United States—and bear a friendly aspect to the good of society, and mankind, at large.
It is the part of the accomplished legislator to investigate the best interest of each class of society, and rise, by just gradations, in his plans and system, from parts to the whole; till he fix a common good, comprising the welfare of his subjects, as a body, and this, in consistence with the interest of mankind. Such may the legislature of Connecticut be, and adopt the wisest plans to promote its true interest, and to advance the present and future happiness and glory of the United States; as a confederate republic, acting on the great theatre of the world, ranking with other nations, and having, in various respects, a common interest with them; and, involving the happiness, or misery, of the many unborn millions who are to succeed us; and fill our extensive territory with flourishing settlements: whose it will be to complete the glorious fabric of liberty and equal government, founded by the wisdom of our venerable senators, and cemented by the blood of our sons and brothers.
Such, and so great, are the events connected with the present day. It is even an era pregnant with the fate of a world! Where then, it will be asked, is the wisdom, not more than human, which is equal to the importance of legislation and government, in founding this rising empire? In this, however, as in other branches of practical knowledge, though the highest degree of perfection cannot be obtained, the man who would deserve to be in reputation for wisdom and honour, must climb the lofty steep of knowledge, in his profession, with unabating assiduity, and approach, as near as possible, to the unattainable height.
The other accomplishment of the good legislator, and which renders him worthy of the highest respect, is exertion for the public interest, proportionate to his abilities. Without this, the greatest skill in jurisprudence and civil government, will be vain. Indeed, knowledge, however necessary, derives its importance from its connection with exertions, for the good of society. And, unconnected with a disposition to such exertions, in a ruler, it may produce consequences—fatal to the state. The public man must be like the excellent Centurion, who had the testimony of the Jews that he loved their nation.—Or, like the celebrated Emperor who, when a single day had passed without any particular instance of beneficent exertion, lamented saying, “I have lost a day.”
Who can sufficiently revere the venerable patriot, whose life is devoted to the service of his country, and of mankind?—From a determination of the human mind, which is universal, this character has been the admiration of all nations, and classes of men. “Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness.” 10 Here is full scope for the collected wisdom and virtue of our venerable Assembly! And, with what inviting favour will those ever honoured names be perpetuated to posterity, through all generations, whose wisdom and virtue, whether in the council or in the field, have fixed the basis, for the future greatness of this empire of freedom!
Among these, and at their head, we behold, with thankful praise to the great Preserver, safe from the perils of the war, “The Hero who redeemed our land!”—From the midst of ten thousand dangers, restored to the bosom of peace, and domestic felicity—Above the wish for other honours than those which his distinguished virtue has secured.—Happy in the safety of his country, like the parent clasping his dear child, just snatched from the jaws of death.
What is all the tinseled greatness of haughty monarchy, compared with the meek majesty, the sweet and dignified serenity of that heroic breast! Softened with the most tender sentiments of humanity! Conscious of his own successful efforts, and of the grateful, the affectionate, acknowledgements of the nation, which he was born to save. How much better is the name he has obtained than that of sons and daughters! Present and future generations will glory in the relation, and lisping infancy will be fond to call him father.
Such are the sweet rewards of distinguished merit.—May those which are far greater and more lasting attend the illustrious Washington.—May he be the care of heaven, the highly favoured subject of the King of Kings.—May he grow old in conscious peace with God, and the sweet sensibility of Christian consolation. Long may he bless mankind, and honour the Redeemer; till, matured with age and piety, and satisfied with this life—sweetly, and without a parting groan, he shall drop what was mortal, and ascend to glory.
Such are thy charms, O virtuous philanthropy!—May the venerable assembly of the wise men of Connecticut, feel thy sweetness, and diffuse thy lustre!
The subject opens an extended field, for useful and entertaining reflections, which will readily occur to the feeling mind, and shall not, therefore, be particularly named. It remains that the discourse be concluded with respectful addresses to the characters in the Assembly, distinguished by reputation for wisdom and honour.
Duty, and inclination, require that our first acknowledgement be paid to the Chief Magistrate of the State—
May it please your Excellency,
I congratulate my fellow subjects and myself, on the preservation of your important life, to this joyful anniversary.—If to be in reputation for wisdom and honour be a felicity—If to have received the testimonies of your country’s high respect, for a long course of succeeding years—If to be called, by the public voice, to various, constant and important services—gradually ascending in the scale of honour and usefulness, and to be finally placed in the chair of government—If to be placed in it, in the evening of life, and in a tempestuous season, when superior wisdom and virtue was most sensibly requisite, to guide the state.—And, if to have been successful in administration—If any, or all of these, are agreeable reflections, your Excellency will partake with your affectionate people, in the joys of this day.
You are happy, Sir, in the independence and prosperity of your country, and in a review of your own large hare in the troubles, and success, of the important revolution. May I not add—It is no trifling honour to stand on the lift of fame, and exist in the historic page, as the first Magistrate of Connecticut.—On the same column with that distinguished catalogue of worthies, who have filled the chair—down, from the venerable first Winthrop, to his Excellency, Governor Trumbull. 11 —Who, after having conducted us through the dangers and distresses of the war, with great hour to himself, and usefulness to the public, preferred an honourable quietus, from public service, that he might be at leisure to improve his acquaintance with that world, where the honours conferred by mortals fade away, but the man who has faithfully “served his generation” shall receive an unfading crown of immortal glory.
Alas! that such a treasure of wisdom and virtue is removed from our world! Too soon, by far too soon for us, and for mankind. But, for himself, the most proper season; his hoary head being crowned with glory, as a man of letters, a statesman and a Christian. Blessed be the Father of Spirits, that notwithstanding the breach occasioned by his death, we are still happy in a train of worthy characters, possessed of like accomplishments, who catched his mantle as it fell, and whose patriot virtues will bless mankind. 12
Your Excellency will pardon this momentary digression, on account of the solemn and weighty occasion.—I have only to add, that, great as your honour and felicity are, in the respects which have been named, were this all, you could not be pronounced happy on the whole. Blessed be God, your prospects are not bounded by time, but open into immortality.—That, while your Excellency is treading the downward steep of life, you can look back on its several stages, devoted to God and spent in his service, and in doing good to men—and look forward with calm serenity, and joyful confidence, in the great Redeemer, to an admission into the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.
It is our heart’s desire and prayer to God for your Excellency, that you may be supported under the weight of public cares, and declining years; that you may continue to be blest, and to bless mankind; that the Christian consolation may be your joy; that, in some future period, being old and full of days, you may be honourably interred—your country’s tears mingling with those of your own family, and bedewing your venerable herse. And that you may receive a distinguished portion among the redeemed, through Christ Jesus.
The subject now invites the attention of his Honour the Lieutenant-Governor, the honourable Council, and House of Representatives.
Through the good hand of our God upon us, in the peace of 1783, our freedom and independence are recognized, by the British court.—We rank among other nations.—Have an immense territory, extending through a variety of climates.—A wide field is opened for the cultivation of the arts of peace—An opportunity for perfecting and perpetuating the most happy constitution of government, in the federal union. And, by the divine blessing on proper civil and military discipline, we shall be secure from the attacks, or, at least, from the ravages of an enemy.
What remains then, but that we take the cup of salvation, and call on God—thankfully accept his inestimable blessings, and improve them—to be happy ourselves, and to leave the invaluable inheritance to posterity? To this we have motives the most numerous and weighty, but above all, we owe it to that omnipotent goodness—that God of grace, “who ruleth in the kingdoms of men, and giveth them to whomsoever he pleaseth,” and who hath caused his tender mercy to triumph over all our unworthiness.
That we may enjoy the proffered blessings, much is yet to be done.—The various and complicated interests of the state are to be fixed and secured.—The energy of government, enfeebled by the revolution, and other causes, is to be restored—the principles of the union improved, and confirmed—the public credit established—and the whole system of the finances placed on a wise and respectable footing.
Among the many subjects which will engage at the attention of the legislature the following deserve particular attention. That, in the weighty subject of legislation, whatever statutes may be requisite, should be founded on principles of private and public justice and utility, combining, as far as possible, the interest of individuals with that of the public.—Laws, should be plain, simple, and but few:--Would rulers wish to govern well, they will not attempt to govern too much.
Your honours will not be unmindful of the vast importance of the executive branch. In particular, that your Judges are men of the first character, for wisdom, and unbiased rectitude of heart—well acquainted with the laws of the state, and with the principles and spirit of law in general. And, who are exemplary for those virtues, which give energy to their determinations.
As the same course of external conduct, which flows from a heart animated by the spirit of true religion—and, as such, is evangelical to the well being of society:--In this last view it is proper to observe that the manners of the people must be formed by education and government. Admitting that an exact determination of the boundaries between the rights of conscience, and of the magistrate, may be difficult, in some cases—the most important and practical principles, on this subject, are extremely plain; and are admitted by the most enlightened, of every denomination, as essential to good order and happiness in society. Your honours, sensible of the importance of the general principle, will apply it in your wisdom for the good of this people.
Among the many vices, which tend to the ruin of individuals and society, perhaps none are more fatal than those of needless lawsuits, and the intemperate use of strong drinks. The expense of these destructive practices is the least of their evils; but even this is not inconsiderable. It would be easy to shew, were it needful, that the useless consumption of time and money, in these social vices, far exceeds the whole cost of supporting civil government, and the public worship of God. But were this all, it would be comparatively, trifling.—What is of, almost infinitely, greater importance is the destruction of virtue and good manners; which is hereby effected, in individuals, in families, and the public. “Who hath wo? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contention? Who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes?—They who tarry long at the wine: they who go to seek much wine.”—At the last it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder.” 13
Your honours will be happy if you can save this people from that gulf of ruin. We rejoice that our rulers so generally remember the excellent maxim, which king Lemuel received from his mother. “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings, to drink wine, nor for princes strong drink: lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. 14
The interests of education, and literature in general, are humbly recommended to this honorable Assembly. The University in the state, under the auspices of a gentleman whose praise is far extended in the religious and literary world—flourishing in numbers, in literature and reputation—is, however, exposed to many inconveniences; especially from the want of proper edifices to contain the students under the eye of the executive authority, and funds to support some additional professorships. The paternal attention of this venerable Assembly, is requested to that important institution; where so many of us have received our education: in which we have a common interest, and where we wish that our sons may be united as a band of brothers, in treading the delightful paths of science, and forming for public usefulness—when we shall sleep in the dust of death.
Your honours are no strangers to the present alarming state of public credit, and the pressing necessity for the adoption of decisive measures to restore it. That our foreign and domestic creditors must be satisfied is not problematical—it is certain. Our national character is at stake, with all the invaluable blessings of freedom and independence. In vain have these been purchased, at such an expense of blood and treasure, unless our national credit be supported.
This is a subject no less important than difficult. It is easy to foresee what will not succeed, but hard to determine what will. An attempt to remedy the evil by a new emission of paper currency would, no doubt, come under the former description, and be making bad worse. Our public securities, of every denomination, are of this kind, possessed of all the recommending qualities which could attend a new paper currency, destitute of a fund for its redemption. But, like the thin ears, and lean kine, in the dream of Egypt’s king, they have already devoured the fat and full ears of gold and silver with which our country abounded at the peace in 1783—and they are nothing better but are, continental money excepted, such as were never seen in all the land of America for badness.
This, however, is not the fault of any class of men, whether rulers or subjects, but of the times. It is the result of a combination of circumstances attending the late revolution, in connection with the imperfection common to man. How to remedy the evil is the question.—The collected wisdom of this Assembly, and of the united Republic, will be strenuously, and, we trust, successfully, employed in devising means to restore our credit, as a state and nation.—These, it is not the province of the speaker to suggest: but it is easy to observe, that our resources are not inconsiderable. Beside our unlocated lands, a future revenue of immense value, the fruits of a well directed industry and economy.—Our advantage for ship-building, for trade, and, especially, for the fishery.—With other sources of private and public wealth may be directed in such a manner as to fix, and perpetuate, the public credit.
Your honours would be happy if you could devise some better expedient, than has yet been adopted, for the gradual, but total abolition of slavery; and, in the meantime, protect the friendless Africans among us from abuse, on the one hand, and, on the other, secure society from injury by improper and ill-timed manumissions.
During the first stages of the late war, amidst the terrors of impending slavery on ourselves and posterity—much was said, and something done, in favour of the blacks. But the measures, then adopted, are evidently inadequate, and attended with consequences unfriendly to society, and to them. In each of these views, the subject calls for public attention: but, immediate danger being past, it engages little notice.—And, not a few of the citizens of the United States are returning, “like the dog to his vomit.” To that dreadful infraction of the law of nature and of God, the practice of stealing their brethren of the human race, and selling them. While many British subjects and some of the first dignitaries of their established church, are pleading the cause of those friendless and oppressed strangers, with a nobleness of sentiment, and ardour of zeal, which do honour to their profession and to humanity. 15
Could your honours do anything effectual, however the interested and unfeeling might oppose, humanity would approve, with the most friendly ardour. The lovers of truth and goodness would assist you with their prayers. The blessings of many, ready to perish, would come on you. Heaven would approve, and the good favour of your excellent name would be diffused through all generations.
That I be not further tedious, may the spirit of wisdom guide the present session of the legislature. May you do much service for your country, and return home, with that deserved reputation for wisdom and honour which is far better than the most precious ointment.
The venerable Clergy will now be pleased to suffer the affectionate address.
Much respected Fathers and Brethren,
Though we have no share in legislation and government, a large field is open, in which we are to diffuse the sweet perfume of that most fragrant composition, the Christian religion, which we are to preach to others, and practice ourselves. Nothing is more obvious than that the spirit and institutions of the gospel bear a friendly aspect to society and government. And that, in such a manner, as is true of no other religious system:--for no other, teaches its votaries to place their felicity in the public good, and to think and act on the extended scale of the most perfect general happiness. But Christianity not only teaches, but inspires its subjects with this truly noble liberality of sentiment and affection of the divine glory, and of the felicity of God’s kingdom. And, surely, a heart thus dilated with public affection, cannot fail to exert itself for the good of society.
We are to teach our people “the whole council of God,” as it respects doctrinal, experimental, and practical Christianity.—But let it suffice, on the present occasion, to observe, that we must “put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, shewing all meekness to all men.” 16
By instruction and example, we are to shew them the way to exhibit the amiable beauties of pure Christianity, in the exertions of well directed benevolence and public spirit, and a becoming discharge of all the relative duties. From us, they should learn the sweet pleasure of domestic virtue and religion, in all its branches. And how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. Society is constituted of families, and from them, it receives its complexion.—In this way let us teach our people to reverence the laws, the rulers, and judges of the state. And, above all, to reverence our great Creator and Redeemer, and imitate his goodness—to be fathers to the poor—the friends of strangers—to wipe the tear from the orphan’s eye—and cause the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
Solicitous that the people of our charge, may be ready to every good work, and wise to salvation—we shall not only teach them by word and example, but bear them on our hearts at the throne of grace; and, we shall not be unmindful of each other, and the churches of God. May I not add that, while we pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into the harvest, we should be of one mind among ourselves as to the introduction of probationers, and the settlement of pastors—that they are workmen who need not to be ashamed—persons eminent for piety, literature, and all ministerial accomplishments. The faithful minister wishes to live in his successors, in the evangelical work.—May we have this animating prospect.
Blessed be God that to us, is this grace given to preach among our fellow sinners, the unsearchable riches of Christ. Happy, indeed, if we obtain mercy to be faithful and successful!—Thus shall the precious ointment of pure Christianity, exhibited in our doctrines and our lives, diffuse a most delicious perfume, and be “a sweet savor of Christ unto God”—sweeten our way through the labours and trials of life—not forsake us in the solemn hour of death, and render our joys pure and complete in a better world, when we meet each other, and those of our dear flocks, who have profited by our ministry.
The least of you all felicitates you, and himself on the great mercy of having received part of this ministry.—He heartily wishes you the divine presence, and abundant success, together with increasing harmony in all the branches of Christian truth, “till we all come in the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” 17
Finally, all who are present this day are invited to “take the cup of salvation and call on God”—with thankful praise for all his mercies to us, and to our fathers, and wisely to improve them by a practical compliance with the duties of their relations to society, to mankind, and to themselves.
Above all, let us receive the cup of gospel salvation, presented through the great Redeemer—by a hearty compliance with all the institutions of Christianity. Then shall the sweet perfume of “the anointing from above” diffuse its reviving influence through every breast, and we shall know, in some degree on earth, “how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”—And this happifying knowledge will be perfected in the world of perpetual harmony:--where all the redeemed from among men shall join in receiving the cup of salvation, and in saying, “thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.”
1. I Kings, iii. 5-12. (Return)
2. Text and Chap. vii. 1. (Return)
3. Ecclesiastes vii. 1. (Return)
4. Exodus xxx 22-38. (Return)
5. Psalm cxxxiii. (Return)
6. Psalm xlv. 6, 7, 9. (Return)
7. Psalm xix. i. (Return)
8. Psalm civ. 24. (Return)
9. Cant. i. 3. (Return)
10. Ecclesiastes x. 17. (Return)
11. The following list of venerable names who have presided in Connecticut, from the first institution of government, will not be ungrateful to those who review, with thankful pleasure, the divine goodness to the State—in the distinguished accomplishments of those who have ruled over it.
A voluntary government was instituted in January 1639. The Honorable Messi’rs Hopkins and Haynes presided, alternately, from that time till 1652. And the latter was Governor till 1658. He was succeeded by the Honorable Mr. Winthrop, who, in 1661, was agent for the Colony at the Court of King Charles the second, and obtained the Charter—From that time the accession of Governors will appear by the following table.
Governor Winthrop, 1662 Governor Law, 1742 (Return)
Governor Leet, 1672 Governor Wolcott, 1751
Governor Treat, 1680 Governor Fitch, 1754
Governor Winthrop, 1696 Governor Pitkin, 1766
Governor Saltonstall, 1707 Governor Trumbull, 1769
Governor Talcott, 1724 Governor Griswold, 1784
12. This great man was called from our world on the 17th of August 1785, aged 74. A more particular account of his life and character is omitted here, as the public is already possessed of it in an excellent Discourse, at his Funeral, by the Rev. Mr. Ely, of Lebanon. (Return)
13. Proverbs, xxiii. 29-32. (Return)
14. Proverbs xxxi. 4, 5. (Return)
15. Beside many other publications, the reader is desired to consult, a pamphlet entitled, “The case of our fellow creatures, the oppressed Africans, respectfully recommended to the serious consideration of the Legislature of Great-Britain, by the people called Quakers.” And, the Bishop of Chester’s Sermon before the Society for the propagation of the gospel in foreign parts, at their anniversary meeting in February, 1783, published by order of the society. As the members of that society are numerous and respectable, the publication of the Sermon is no small indication of the humane sentiments which are prevailing in Great-Britain, on this subject. (Return)
16. Titus iii. 1, 2. (Return)
17. Ephesians iv. 13. (Return)