This Thanksgiving sermon was preached by William Hazlitt in Hallowell, Maine on December 15, 1785.
15 December, 1785.
By William Hazlitt, A. M.
Psalms cvii. 8.
O that men would praise the Lord, for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.
When the voice of those, to whom the people have committed the reins of government, the dictate of true wisdom, and is immediately connected with our own most important interests, it should always meet our cordial wishes, and be esteemed a manifestation of their good will towards us.
But, nothing can be more rational, nothing can be more amiable, and ornamental to us, than an affectionate gratitude to our Great Creator.
Nothing can be more rational, than that we should now assemble, to commemorate our dependence, to direct our thoughts to the fountain of all our mercies, to adore the God of all wisdom, and grace, for all his blessings bestowed upon us, to praise his name, and be joyful in him; and, at the same time, to humble ourselves in his fight, under a sense of our own unworthiness, to lament that we have so far departed from him, to supplicate his clemency and reconciliation, and earnestly to devote our remaining live to his service.
The Psalmist, and his nation, upon whom he called to unite with him, in so pious and laudable an exercise, have every reason to give thanks to the Lord, for his goodness, and everlasting mercy, and for the marvelous communications of his love, to them in particular.
They were the Redeemed of the Lord, whom he had redeemed out of the hand of the enemy, and gathered out of all lands, to show forth his praise. They had wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way. They had found no city to dwell in. hungry, and thirsty, their fouls sainted in them.
But, though their frequent rebellions might have led them to expect the contrary, when they cried to the Lord in their trouble, be delivered them out of their distresses. He led them forth, by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation.
It was, therefore, infinitely becoming them, when they reflected on the days that were past, to be aroused to their duty, to remember and worship, to love and obey, their Creator and Redeemer, whilst their anointed Ruler, expressing his own devout wishes, and interesting himself in the universal happiness, lifted up his voice to Heaven, and said, O that men would praise the Lord, for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.
Every living thing receiveth good from the hand of God. The whole human race are his offspring, his continual dependents, and beneficiaries, all whose enjoyments are unceasingly streaming down upon them, from the boundless ocean of his benevolence. They all, therefore, should repeatedly celebrate his wonderful works, and praise him their refuge and strength, and the author of every good, and perfect gift.
But, the people of these United States are so peculiarly circumstanced, that, if they considered the deliverances which have been wrought for them, the mercies they have experienced instead of judgments, and all their various obligations without number, they should be proportionably, and singularly excited, to offer to god their devoutest acknowledgments of praise, and to make their light shine with so glorious a lustre, that others may learn from them, and, likewise, glorify our Heavenly Father.
But, that your duty may be the more forcibly urged upon you, let us, first, take a transient review, of the great goodness, and wonderful works, of our Almighty Benefactor and Friend, towards you.
Hence, let us be led to consider what an immense debt of gratitude you owe him, and what is that conduct, therefore, which may justly be expected from you.
You, like the children of Israel, are the redeemed of the Lord, whom he hath redeemed out of the hand of the enemy.
Your ancestors, in search of liberty, fled form the cultivated fields, and the proud and flourishing cities of Britain, and traversed a wide, and tempestuous ocean, compared with which the Red Sea might be called an insignificant stream.–They, afterwards, wandered thro’ the wilderness in a solitary way, and had no certain dwelling place, whilst they were surrounded with wild beasts, roaring through the forests, with men almost as wild as they, with numerous tribes of venomous serpents, and had to contend with all the inclemency’s of the changing seasons, without any other covering than the vaulted Heavens. Yet, they were protected. They multiplied, and spread. They converted and trackless desert into fruitful fields and gardens. And, from an inconsiderable party, they are now become Thirteen Independent States.
You, their descendants, have reaped the benefit of their toilsome labors. You are, in many respects, highly favored beyond them. You have grown in strength, as the years of time rolled on. Your flocks, and your heads, have spread over the hills, and valleys. Your storehouses are filled with the fruits of the earth. You lie down in peace, and rise up in safety, in comfortable habitations. Your cities continue increasing, and new ones rising along you extensive coasts. Your merchants visit all the quarters of the globe. And, each of you can fit, under his own vine, and under his own fig tree.
You should, farther, consider the divine benefits which you have individually experienced. You have been all raised out of nothing, by Omnipotent power and good ness. Your Great Creator hath nourished, and brought you up like children. You are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his fold. He hath defended you, hitherto, from the snares of death. He hath visited you, in sickness, and in health. He hath smiled upon you, in prosperity. He hath refreshed you, in adversity. He hath made you forget the labors of every day, by sweet slumbers in the night. He hath awakened you every morning, to renew the pleasure of your active enjoyments. Whilst you were forgetful of Him, he was present with you for good. And, notwithstanding your transgressions, you are still, not consumed, but preserved in the exercise, of your rational and moral powers, and, every moment, surrounded, with his loving kindness.
Let us, again, review the benefits, which have flowed down upon us, since the beginning of this year, that is, now, drawing to a close. Who hath supported us? Who hath fed the springs of our lives, spread our tables for us, and shielded us from all the dangers we have escaped, through the whole of this period?
Let us compare this year with many of the years which are past. Let us look back, to those many, successive, gloomy years, when an infernal war, with all its dreadful train of horrors, spread carnage, and desolation, thro’ the land; when every man was afraid of his neighbor; when the number of the slain, was daily increasing the number of disconsolate widows, and orphans, bereaved of their protectors, and piercing the Heavens, with their cries; when he, who sowed his field, knew not but he sowed it for the lawless soldier, who, after slaughtering him, might riot on the fruits of his labors; when, after shutting the doors of your houses, as it were his night, you knew not, who should sleep in them, the next night, when various calamities were continually crowding upon you; when your absent friends were likely to expire, with the swords of the enemy sheathed in their bowels; when famine often stared you in the face, and all your liberties, and privileges, seemed to stand upon the cast of a die.
Contrast, with these calamitous scenes, your present situation. Behold sweet peace returned to your borders. Behold the tyrant, and oppressor fled. Behold all the instruments of war converted into implements of husbandry, your swords into plowshares, and your spears into pruning hooks. Behold him, who soweth, and him who laboreth, secure that they do not labor in vain. Behold your families sit smiling around you, without any dread of the enemy, or avenger. Behold yourselves, not only taking your rank amongst the nations, but safe from every future, hostile invasion, unless it be your own faults. And, shake off their slumbers. Wonder at your forgetfulness. Resolve to act like men.
Again, consider how the successive seasons have smiled upon you. You have had the early, and the latter rain. Your meadows have been clothed with grass and your fields with corn. The spring has vegetated; the summer has matured; and the harvest has ripened, the various productions of the earth. And, though you may remember some extraordinary years, which, in some places, and, in some particular instances, have yielded a more abundant increase; yet, you must acknowledge, that you have not only enough for your own consumption, but much to spare for the supply of other nations, to whom the nations, to whom the Heavens have been as brass, and the earth as the burning sands, and who are, now, looking to you, in the tone of supplication, to compassionate them, and their children, and give them bread to eat.
Consider, also, the great riches, which you have drawn out of the ocean–the remarkable success, with which, we learn from authority, you fishery has been crowned. This, is one of the greatest sources of wealth a nation can enjoy; and this is, as it were, at your very doors. Whilst some nations have no such advantages. Whilst those of some nations dare not even catch the fish that abound in their own rivers. You are without control, in this respect. You can, in a few weeks, supply your own families, and, at the same time, load a multitude of ships for foreign markets, and receive in return either gold, or silver, or such luxuries as you may prefer to these two much desired metals.
Consider, again, that though death is always making his inroads amongst us, and, though some of you have felt severely the breached made in your families, by this king of terrors; you have not, however, been bereaved of all your friends. You have not been visited with the sweeping pestilence, which, in Smyrna, and in other parts of the earth, has extinguished whole families, cut off three fourths of the inhabitants, and, at times, not left a sufficient number of the living, to bury the multitude of the dead.
And, consider, whilst other nations have been visited with tremendous earthquakes, which, have rent the rocks, divided the hills, made the ground roll under houses with all their inhabitants. And, whilst other nations have been terrified with thundering volcanoes, or visited with desolating hurricanes, which, besides alarming their fears, and destroying some of themselves, and in the midst of riches; you have been exempted from such calamities. The earth has been at rest, under you. The Heavens have been at peace, above you. The great Lord of the Universe hath spared you, and been very gracious to you.
But, particularly, consider the immense riches of the Divine Goodness, with which you are favored, by the Christian Revelation. This is a sufficient counterbalance to all the possible evils, that can befall us in this transitory world. For, this giveth access to the Divine Majesty, free and welcome access to his throne of Grace. This unfolds to us all his glorious perfections, and represents Him to us in the captivating dress of love–reveals Him our merciful Heavenly Father, our God in Christ Jesus, reconciling us to himself, and calling to us, to fly from death, and receive the blessed crown of Eternal Life. This gives rest to the weary, and heavy laden, joy to the mourners, liberty to the captives, light to those who fit in darkness, hope and pardon to all returning sinners, makes us victorious over death, and the grave, and opens to our view a bright, approaching world of Everlasting Day, where we shall have no pain, nor sorrow, nor sickness, nor any other source of anguish of spirit, but a fullness of joys unceasing, and unspeakably glorious. There, we shall meet all our friends, never to part more, there we shall be united with all the spirits of the just made perfect. There we shall continually behold, the face of our Benevolent, and Universal Father. And, there, we shall live, and reign, with Christ Jesus our Lord, forever.
The blessings of the glorious Gospel, are, therefore, such, as may reconcile us to all events, and make us indifferent what afflictions await us, whilst we can joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
But, we are not only favored with the Gospel itself; we are, likewise, favored with the inestimable privilege of examining it for ourselves, and, independently of the inventions of corrupt priests and politicians, and of all human authority whatever, of walking in that pure light with which it surrounds us.
Whilst the people, of some other nations that are called Christian, have no access to the Gospel, are never allowed to look into it, are obliged to depend on vague, and lying reports concerning it, and , instead of it, to receive a system of fable and imposture, which was fabricated in the darkest ages; you, on the contrary, have this rich treasure, in your own hands, and in your own language. You can search it by night, and by day, and continually refresh your minds with the review of all its heavenly doctrines. And, whilst you are, thus, enabled, to form your own judgment of every doctrine, you, also, have the privilege, however widely different your sentiments, of openly professing and vindicating them, and of worshipping God, according to the unbiased dictates of your own consciences. And, thus, you are in the way of gradually dispersing all superstitious darkness, and of continually improving in divine knowledge, of growing in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, until you at length attain perfection, unawed by the terrors of the arm of flesh, and having no temptation to prevaricate, or act the hypocrite.
Once more; you should, also, call to mind, and distinguishing civil privileges which you enjoy, which, though less than the dust of the balance, when compared with those derived from the Gospel, are notwithstanding very estimable, and should be regarded as a great blessing from God.
Whilst many other nations, are groaning under the yoke, and trembling at the nod of the successive tyrants who oppress them. Whilst some of them have no security of their lives, or properties, and those of high rank amongst them, may be stripped of all their possessions in a moment, may be sent chained to the public works, or imprisoned, and murdered, or sold like sheep for the slaughter, at the arbitrary mandate of the reigning chief, without any accusers, judges, or jury. Whilst others who are more happily circumstanced, are subject to hereditary princes, whom they cannot choose, and whom they cannot banish from their thrones, whatever be their crimes, or, in whatever bloody, and expensive wars they obstinately involve them. It is your happy lot, on the contrary, to govern yourselves, according to your pleasure. Your Rulers go forth from amongst yourselves, are annually removable at your pleasure, and are not your masters, but your servants. You are subject to no foreign jurisdiction. You make your own laws. You levy your own taxes. You can go where you will, and do what you please–Acts of injustice, oppression, and violence, the toleration of which would be equally inimical to you all, are the only things, which you cannot do with impunity. none of you can command another, without his own consent. None of you can seize upon the property of another. The life of the poorest man, is as sacred as the life of the richest. You are all mutually engaged, to vindicate all the equal rights, and privileges of each individual. You are all, in short, equal fellow citizens, without any preeminence one above another, except what superior industry, or singular merit, will necessarily acquire, or what is voluntarily conferred for the good of the whole. And, whilst you are possessed of a happy constitution, you have the power, at the same time, as new lights break out upon you, to remedy all its defects, and to go on improving it until the end of time.
Consider, then, your situation, and circumstances, and then say, Hath not the Lord our God done great things for you?
Consider his general providential care of you, and all the unmerited blessings, which have been poured down upon you. Consider the many deliverances, that have been wrought for you, and that you now have sweet peace in all your borders. Consider the fruitful, and healthy seasons of the passing year, and the variety of enjoyments which have accompanied them. Consider your exemption from agonizing famine, from desolating hurricanes, and from other overwhelming calamities, which have been already recited. Consider all your civil and religious liberties, and especially the riches of the divine grace in the Gospel, where you have life and immortality brought to light, and every possible joy that can refresh the heart of man. And, then, reflect, what an immense debt of gratitude you owe your Almighty Benefactor and Friend, for all his great goodness, and wonderful works, towards you.
Let us, next, consider the returns we have made, and the returns which we ought to make, to the Great Lord of the universe, our Omnipotent Guardian, and out most Merciful Redeemer.
Every being should be grateful for the benefits he receives. Even the ox, knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib.–All the works of God demand our praise. And, praise is the natural language of the human heart. We should praise our Great Original, for life, and health, for peace, liberty, and abundance, for the refreshments, and consolations of every moment. Our fouls should especially praise, and magnify his Holy Name, that we are not appointed to wrath, but to obtain salvation by Jesus Christ, an everlasting salvation in the Heavens.
If you, the, have recorded all the divine benefits in your hearts; and, if the thought of them has uniformly produced in you, an affectionate gratitude, and an holy obedience. If you have been truly thankful to the Supreme Governor, for his refreshing showers, and fruitful seasons, for your repeated escapes from various impending dangers, and tragically calamitous scenes, and for the extension of daily accumulated mercies. If you have walked worthy the high vacation, wherewith you are called; and are now determined evermore to approve yourselves the grateful beneficiaries of his providence, to walk together as brethren, and, in all respects, to live, the life that you now live in the flesh, according to the faith of the Son of God;–then, may you raise your hymns of praise with joy, cast all your cares, and burdens upon him, who will never leave, nor forsake you, and humbly look forward, with faith, and hope, to his everlasting loving kindness.
But, on the other hand, if whilst you have experienced successive mercies, you have been the more unthankful and unholy. If you have forgotten the source of all your blessings, whilst they were plenteously poured down upon you. If you neglected to adore your Protector whilst He was shining upon you with the light of his countenance. If you murmured, whilst in the possession of health, and peace, and abundance. If you allowed yourselves in the practice of profane cursing, and swearing, and the most horrid blasphemies, whilst you were receiving good at the hand of God. If you undervalued that liberty, for which you fought, and for which many thousands sacrificed their lives. If you made it a cloak for licentiousness. Or, if the principal use which you made of it, was to foment, and encourage party divisions, or to throw off all civility, and indulge a surly rudeness towards those, who had not injured you. And, if you despised the goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering of God. If you abused the riches of his Grace. If you threw contempt upon the blessed Gospel. If you preferred the conceits, and contradictory creeds and concessions of men, to its pure, and heavenly doctrines. If you deserted the house of prayer, whilst your friends, and acquaintance, were there calling upon God. If you slighted his public worship, and spent the day of the Lord, in a slothful indolence, instead of devoutly prostrating yourselves at his footstool. If, also, you have been railing against your neighbors, and sitting in judgment upon their opinions, whilst you should have been reforming yourselves. And, if, instead of embracing the Gospel, as a perfect revelation, which is fully able to make us wise unto salvation, you have been in search of other revelations; and, as if Jesus Christ were the minister of sin, have given a loose rein to your various appetites, and passions, that his grace might abound. Then, you may wonder, that you are not as Sodom and Gomorrah. And, the, instead of glorying in your advantages above other nations, and imagining, on this account, that they are greater sinners, you should rather learn this lesson, that you must perish unless you repent.
Let us, now, then, endeavor to impress upon our minds, all the wonderful works of God towards us, and to offer to Him our suitable acknowledgments of praise.
Let us say, that we have sinned, and confess our unworthiness before Him. Let us say, that our sins have rendered us unworthy the blessings we have received, and prevented that improvement of them, to which they were all calculated to lead us.
Let us, therefore, cast away from us all our transgressions, whilst we humbly implore the Divine forgiveness, and resolve to sin no more.
Let us show, that we truly value our civil and religious liberties, by continually improving them to our growth in every excellency, and perfection, by cherishing the love of truth, of justice, of mercy, of universal benevolence, and brotherly love, and by avoiding all oppression, and wrong, and protecting all others, in the possession of all those privileges, which we claim, and enjoy ourselves. Let us, particularly, consider, how deplorably wretched we should have been, without the light of the glorious Gospel. And, let us be all gratitude for this light of Heaven, delight in it, and walk in it to the mansions of bliss. Let us search the scriptures as our rich treasure. Let us apply all their doctrines, and promises to our hearts. Let us learn from them, to watch, and pray, against temptation. Let us learn from them to overcome the world, and its lusts. Let us learn from them, not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Let us learn from them to be sober, and temperate, to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things, and whether we eat, or we drink, or whatever we do, to do all to his glory, and to be continually rising from this flying scene to an inheritance in the Heavens. And, thus, let our whole lives be a perpetual hymn of praise, to the God of all goodness and love.
You should, also, learn, as members of this particular state, to do everything in your power, to promote the general happiness. You should discountenance all measures, that tend to anarchy and confusion, or that lay the foundation of party, inflammatory divisions. As you are all brethren, you should not be actuated, by partial motives, but pray for the equal prosperity, and glory, of the whole Commonwealth. You should aid those in power, to establish more and more a perfectly righteous government. You should encourage industry. You should reward integrity. You should frown upon the oppressor. You should discountenance every vice. You should approve yourselves the exemplary patterns of every branch of righteousness. You should acquaint your children, and all your domestics, with the Holy Scriptures. You should teach them, obedience, humility, piety, and such a love of their country, as is not inconsistent with the love of the whole human race. You should inculcate upon their minds, the nature, importance, and all the advantages of public worship. And, as literature advances knowledge, as knowledge increases virtue, and as virtue produces, and diffuses happiness, the education of youth should be an essential object of your earnest attention. You should teach your children to read, before you teach them to work. You should give them all the knowledge in your power. You should encourage public schools, and endow them in such a manner, as shall lead you to expect, that they will be filled with able masters. You should cherish your University, and, as much as lieth in you, accelerate the general culture, and the daily advancing progress of the whole circle of the sciences.
At the same time never losing sight of the Glorious Gospel, as transcendently more valuable than all the riches, and honors of this present world, you should promote, to the utmost, the most unbounded religious free enquiry, that pure Christianity may be separated from all those corruptions and dross, which have been blended with it, and which have so greatly obscured its lustre, and that, shining forth, in its original splendor, it may speedily procure universal admiration, captivate all the hearts, and influence all the affections of all the children of men, and crown them all with honor, and glory, everlasting.
Thus, you will exhibit a lovely pattern to all your brethren of the neighboring states. You will draw them, to the vindication and practice of all that is excellent. You will rejoice, and benefit, the whole world of mankind. And, whilst you are, in the best manner, securing and increasing, all your mutual. Temporal, interests, you will be laying a foundation that can never be moved, you will be rising to a kingdom, which will endure, after the Heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and after all the revolutions of this world, shall be remembered only, as a dream of the night.
But, once more, as members of a state, independent in itself, yet, at the same time, bound in solemn confederation with many other states, you should labor to have this union more firmly cemented, and established upon the most solid basis.
Each of these states, has its peculiar local advantages, which should not excite the envy of any particular state, but the great joy of the whole.
You should all be considered as one family, which will ever grow in greatness, in proportion to the felicitating circumstances of each individual.
There should, therefore, be no clashing of interests, no jealous surmisings, no variance, or discord, amongst you the enemy of any particular state, and he, who would aggrandize any particular state, upon the ruins of any other, should be considered as universal enemies.
You should all rejoice together, in the reciprocal advantages, and prosperous labors of one another. You should all be as a city upon a hill, to enlighten the rest of the world.
No one should circumvent his neighbor. No one should enrich himself enrich himself, to the detriment of his neighbor. No one should see his neighbor in distress, or any calamity coming upon him, without giving him all that succor, which he himself would wish, and expect, in the same circumstances.
In short, you should all draw the same way, and set an example of justice, and benevolence, to the whole world. You should rejoice with those, who do rejoice, and weep with those who weep. You should be continually improving your several constitutions, and modeling all your laws, according to the dictates of sound wisdom. And, you should not only not strive with one another, not only render to one another every service; but, you should clasp all the children of men in an affectionate embrace, and, whilst you teach them all brotherly love, and become a wonder in the earth, at the same time, be the delight of your Father, who is in Heaven.
Upon the whole, as the redeemed of the Lord, his distinguished beneficiaries, and highly favored children, possessing health, and peace, and liberty, surrounded with a multitude of mercies, daily experiencing the riches of the Divine forbearance, and long suffering, and, at the same time, called to Eternal Glory, by Christ Jesus, be prevailed upon to cherish a grateful sense of all your obligations, and to walk worthy of the character of men, and Christians.
Suitably humble yourselves before the Great Lord of the universe, whilst you revolve in you minds all the successive overflowing’s of his goodness, and all your acts of ingratitude, and disobedience; and, adoring his mercy, implore his pardon, and say, that you will sin no more.
Be ashamed, that you have ever been forgetful of his benefits, that you have ever taken his Holy Name in vain, that you have ever thrown contempt upon his worship, that you have ever treated one another differently from what you would be treated yourselves, that you have ever departed from the least of those delightful commandments which have been communicated to you. And, henceforward, become pure and holy, celebrate his perfections, supplicate, and praise him with all your hearts, increase in knowledge, and spiritual wisdom, abound in all goodness, render every possible service to another, rejoice in the growing happiness of all your brethren around you, and be continually advancing to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. And, whilst you yourselves, thus praise the Lord for his goodness, and are perpetually rising to still greater perfection, and bliss, expand your benevolent wishes to the most distant nations, and pray that the whole earth may become one temple, and that all those beings which it contains may learn the voice of praise, and altogether rejoice before the Lord forever.
Go farther still. Traverse in imagination, the vast infinitude of the boundless universe, and pray that the whole may become one glorious theatre, resounding with his praise, all men, and all angels, forming one chorus, and saying, HALLELUJAH, THE LORD GOD, OMNIPOTENT REIGNETH.
Thus, you will lay the best possible foundation of increasing worldly prosperity and greatness, and of eternal felicity. You will be blessed, and your children after you. Successive generations, led by your examples, will be improving in every grace and virtue, and rising to glory, and honor. All the evils, which at present attend you, for your good, will be removed. The Heavens will smile upon you. The earth will be replenished with greater riches. The seasons will become more temperate, and fruitful. Your corn, and your wine, and your oil will increase. Your flocks, and your herds, will spread over the downs, in innumerable multitudes. Your families, will multiply, and enlarge their borders. Your fame, will spread from the East to the West. You will have the honor, of founding, and building up an empire, more glorious, and durable, than any the world has ever seen. And, after having finished your joyful course on the earth, protected, and applauded, by the Universal Sovereign, you will be received into everlasting habitations, into unchanging mansions of love, and peace, and bliss:–Yours will be an inheritance, which is incorruptible, and undefiled, and which fadeth not away, reserved in Heaven for you, through our Lord Jesus Christ.