Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826) graduated from Yale in 1783. He started a school for women in New Haven in 1783 and was a tutor at Yale for a short time in 1786. Morse was a preacher for a church in Medway, GA (1786-1786) and in Charlestown, MA (1789-1820). This Thanksgiving sermon was preached in Massachusetts on November 29, 1798.
PREACHED AT CHARLESTOWN,
NOVEMBER 29, 1798,
Designed to illustrate some parts of the Discourse; exhibiting
proofs of the early existence, progress, and deleterious
effects of French intrigue and influence in the
By Jedidiah Morse, D.D.
Pastor of the Church in Charlestown.
And Moses told his father-in-law, all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel.
The history of the Hebrews, which was penned under the direction of the Holy Ghost, and makes a conspicuous part of the Old Testament Scripture, was intended for the instruction and admonition of mankind in all future ages. It is, indeed, a history of the dispensations of Divine Providence towards man, in almost all that diversity of circumstances in which nations have existed. Whatever be our situation as a nation, whether we be at peace or at war, in prosperity or adversity; in harmony or at variance among ourselves, serious and constant in our worship and service of the true God, or in a state of declension, idolatry, and general licentiousness of principles and manners, we may learn from some part of this history what it our duty, and what treatment we have to expect from the righteous Governor of the world. The history of Divine Providence proves its consistency and uniformity. What has been, will take place again in like circumstances. With God there is no variableness or partiality. Moses and Jethro, in the passage before us, have left us an example of our duty this day. By the special interposition of Heaven, and the instrumentality of Moses and Aaron, the Hebrews had been released from their Egyptian bondage, miraculously conducted over the Red Sea, and had triumphed over their enemies the Amalekites, who had declared war against them, and were now encamped at Rephidim. Here Jethro, from Midian, met Moses, his son-in-law, bringing with him his daughter, the wife of Moses, and her two sons. This, doubtless, must have been a joyful meeting, for Jethro was not only respectable as the Prince of Midian, but a wise and pious man, skilled in the science of government, as appears by the excellent judiciary system which he suggested to Moses, and a devout worshipper of the true God. Besides, Moses had lived in his family in great harmony and friendship, for forty years.
After mutual congratulations, Moses embraced the opportunity of rehearsing to “his father-in-law all that the Lord had done for Israel’s sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, ‘Blessed be the Lord who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods; for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly, he was above them.’ And Jethro took burnt-offerings and sacrifices for God; and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law, before God.”
We have here an account of a regular Thanksgiving. Let it serve us for a model on the present occasion. A history of the divine goodness, of signal deliverances particularly, is given; corresponding joy, acknowledgements, and gratitude are expressed, and a convivial feasting before God crowns the whole. In this natural order let us proceed in the celebration of this anniversary Thanksgiving.
The principal business of the Preacher will be a rehearsal of those acts of Divine Goodness which, at this time, claim our particular notice and gratitude. And because the proclamation contains a comprehensive and well-arranged summary of these topics, and respect is due to the wisdom and judgment of our civil fathers, I shall pursue the order and train of reflection which they have suggested for our direction.
1. The earth, the past year, under the smiles of Providence, has yielded to industrious husbandmen a plentiful increase. A partial drought has indeed, in some instances, disappointed their expectations. In general, however, we have a competent supply of all, and an abundance of most, of the necessaries and comforts of life.
2. Our Fisheries, which furnish employment, subsistence, and wealth, to many of our fellow-citizens, and which are a fruitful nursery for seamen, so much needed for navel defense in the present posture of our public affairs, “have been prospered.”
3. Our Commerce, interrupted and embarrassed as it has been by those swarms of pirates, authorized and unauthorized, which have infested the ocean and captured our property to a large amount, to the ruin of many, the serious inconvenience of multitudes of others, and the incalculable injury of mercantile credit- our commerce, I say, notwithstanding all these very unpropitious circumstance, “has in many instance been attended with success.” When we consider what has been our defenseless situation, and the disposition and means of our enemies to ruin our trade, we shall find cause to be thankful for partial success, and shall admire the goodness of Providence in not suffering our enemies to cut off all our foreign commerce, and to depredate even our coasting trade. This was evidently within their plan, and must, in a little time, have been accomplished to the extent of their wishes, had not the defensive measures, under Providence, adopted and vigorously pursued by our government, arrested their progress and defeated their designs. In this view we have to be thankful to God this day, for our infant Navy. If commerce be a blessing to our country, a Navy, competent to its protection, in such times as these, must likewise be considered as a blessing. Already its utility appears, in the security which it gives to our trade, and its consequent revival within a few months past. From the prevalence of a Naval spirit in all our seaports, fair hopes are entertained that these means of national defense will be soon increased to such an extent as to put an effectual stop to the depredations of violent and unprincipled men on the sea, to protect our independence and liberties, and cause us to be duly respected by all foreign nations. This agreeable prospect, afforded us by the smiles of Divine Providence on the measures of our government, should cause our hearts to rejoice and praise God this day.
4. In such tumultuary times as the present, when so great a part of the world is in a state of war, insubordination, and anarchy, and torn by bloody intestine divisions, to be permitted to enjoy uninterrupted “order and tranquility,” is a blessing which ought most gratefully to be recognized. This is a blessing with which, under the Divine Protection, we have been favored. A difference in political and religious opinions, indeed, unhappily exists among us. Party zeal and animosities have in some instances, marred our happiness. Prejudices have too often blinded the eyes of the mind against the perception of truth. But, God be praised, these differences have not yet been suffered to rife so high as to burst the bonds of society, and rage in civil war and bloodshed. Hitherto it has been a war of words—of words however, , too often calculated to bring on a more ferocious contest. The heat of the battle, we would hope, is past; prospects of union brighten as the knowledge of facts is extended, and we confidently hope for increasing harmony and peace.
5. Health is a blessing at all times inestimable. Its value, if possible, is increased in our estimation in seasons when our neighbors and fellow-citizens are deprived of it, and by thousands fall victims to loathsome and contagious disease. The enjoyment of uncommon health, while mortal pestilence spreads havoc and distress all around and very near us, demands a tribute of special and unfeigned gratitude. Let us not this day forget, my brethren, that this has been our favored lot in this town; nor be unmindful of what, in consequence, we owe to Him, who has directed the destroying angel to pass by so many of our dwellings. While we humbly thank our God for his goodness and forbearance in withholding from us deserved chastisement, let us mourn with our fellow-citizens, who have felt the rod of correction, either in their own sickness, the death of relations, or in the loss of the means of subsistence; and rejoice with them, in that, through the goodness of God, they are now restored to health, to their houses, and various occupations. Let us always remember that to be sincerely grateful for, and duly to improve past blessings, are the best methods of securing their continuances.
6. “Through the goodness of God, we continue to enjoy Constitutions of Civil Government well calculated to secure and maintain our rights, civil and religious.”
In nothing are we, as a people, more highly distinguished among the nations of the earth, than by the enjoyment of the rare blessing of good government. With the advantage of the theories and experience of all past ages, a selection, by our free choice, of our wisest men, have formed for us, and we have deliberately and peaceably adopted a Constitution, which is deservedly the admiration of the most enlightened part of mankind. Never, probably, was a government framed by men, better adapted to the situation, opinions, and habits of a nation, or more perfect in theory, more excellent in practice; whose powers were better defined, and balanced; which guarded more effectually against the encroachments of despotism on the one hand, and of anarchy on the other, or which required of its subjects a smaller sacrifice of their liberty and property in order to secure the protection of the remainder, than the Federal Constitution. A trial of almost ten years, under singular disadvantages, has proved its excellence and strength; and procured for it the affections and the confidence of a large majority of the nation. Amidst convulsions and embarrassments, singular in their kind and extent, it has afforded us a great national prosperity, security, and respectability. This Constitution may be considered t as the great anchor, which under Providence, has hitherto saved us from shipwreck, amidst the political storm which now rages all over the world, which has overturned, in rapid succession, all the republics of Europe, and has caused us, not without reason, to tremble for our safety , freedom, and independence. Never had a government, in its infancy, to struggle with enemies so numerous, insidious, and formidable, as have assailed ours since its establishment. Never was the integrity and firmness of any administration put to the test by so many means, both fair and treacherous, as ours has been, for these six years past. Yet blessed be God, the machinations of our enemies have hitherto been defeated; the councils of our Ahithophels have been turned into foolishness; and among the blessings which we called upon gratefully to recognize this day, we may still reckon that of a free and independent government.
To enhance, in our estimation, the value of this blessing, and to increase our vigilance in preserving it, it may be proper, in this place, to point out some of the various ways in which it has been endangered, and the probable consequences of its subversion. I shall not indulge on these fruitful topics in that latitude which they would naturally admit.
I observe, in the first place, that our free Constitution has been endangered by our vices and demoralizing principles. Vice is hostile to freedom. A wicked people cannot long remain a free people. If, as a nation, we progress in impiety, demoralization, and licentiousness, for twenty years to come, ad rapidly as we have for twenty years past, this circumstance alone will be sufficient, without the aid of any other cause, to subvert our present form of government. In this case, the people would not bear, quietly, as much freedom as we now enjoy. We know that men yield to the restraints of good government with increased obstinacy as they advance in wickedness. With difficulty, even now, are the wholesome laws of our country executed on the guilty. Many of our laws indeed, against vice and immorality, those particularly against profane swearing, debauchery, gaming, and Sabbath-breaking, are but a dead letter. There are no attempts made by magistrates, in some places, to enforce them against offenders. If this be the case now, what are we to expect when the votaries of vice shall be multiplied, and become even more bold and lawless than at present?
Among the vices which have more particularly endangered our government, we may reckon a selfish spirit, an insatiable ardor to get rich. This spirit has engendered speculation, fraud, embarrassments, and bankruptcy. These are all unfriendly to freedom, patriotism, order and good government. An avaricious man will always sacrifice the public good to private interest. If we would preserve our freedom against the machinations of its enemies, we must all be vigilant and active in our respective spheres, and liberal in our contributions of labor and property, for its support. A man that prefers his own private ease and his money to the public good, in these critical times, is no patriot.
For the reason already mentioned, that is, because vice is hostile to freedom, our Constitution has been endangered by the spread of infidel and atheistical principles, in all parts of our country. Truly alarming has been the increase of such principles within a few years past. These are so many tares sown among us by an enemy, which threaten to overtop and root out the wheat. They form a sorrowful proof to us of the truth of that divine maxim, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Such principles are certain death to morals, freedom, and happiness. Where they flourish and predominate, there is despotism and slavery of the worst kind, and wickedness and misery in all their most hideous forms. It is to be lamented that the effects of these principles are growing more and more visible among us, in the corruption of morals, and the neglect and contempt of the sacred institutions of religion.
The increase of luxury, extravagance, and dissipation, among us has proved not a little detrimental to the interests of freedom and good government. These vices have often proved the bane of republics. The Romans, while they cherished the republican virtues of industry, frugality, and patriotism, prospered, and brought almost the whole world under their subjection. But immediately after their conquests, they suffered themselves to be corrupted by pride and luxury. The inhabitants of the rich Asiatic countries who had submitted to the Roman yoke, in turn conquered their conquerors, by their riches and voluptuousness. Let us remember that like causes produce like effects, and learn wisdom from the fatal experience of other nations.
A spirit of insubordination to civil authority is another vice which has endangered the existence of our government. Having a Constitution and rulers of our own choice and highly deserving our respect and confidence, and laws framed by our own representatives, there cannot be even a plausible reason alleged to justify disrespect and disobedience. Still, however, our ears have been filled with reproaches against our rulers; their characters have been libeled; every means have been used to bring them into disrepute, and to impair the public confidence in them. The laws of the land have despised and set at defiance. Faction has been bold and open-mouthed. The minority have refused to yield quietly to the voice and decisions of the majority, a circumstance indispensable to the existence of “liberty with order.” No community can attain the ends of society, which are peace, security, and happiness, unless government be respected and the laws obeyed. The effects of despotism and tyranny are extremely calamitous and distressing; but still more to be dreaded are those of anarchy.
The United States are now making the experiment of a free government under the fairest advantages. Remote from the quarrels of Europe; educated under forms of government, and institutions, civil, literary, and religious, highly favorable to virtue and freedom; our rulers all from among ourselves, and in general composed of our wisest and best men; with a country situated in the climate of freedom, between the extremes of heat and cold; exposed neither to the idleness and effeminacy of the South, nor to the severe hardships and scanty subsistence of the North, with a necessity laid upon us of so much labor as is necessary to the existence of freedom—If under all these peculiar advantages, we cannot support a free, republican form of government, the world must give up the highly-valued and long fought-for blessing as unattainable, as too precious a favor for Heaven to bestow on guilty men.
I would to God the people of the United States could all be impressed with the high importance of the experiment we are now making for the world, and would unite in a resolution to reform their vices, to stifle and bury their animosities, to conciliate their differences and learn to reverence and obey the Constitution, the rulers, and the laws of their own creation. Unless something like this shall soon take place, one or other of these consequences may be easily foreseen, either a voluntary increase of the powers of Government, sufficient to preserve order and respect for the laws, or revolution, anarchy, and military despotism. But,
2. The blessings of good government have been most imminently and immediately endangered by foreign intrigue. From this source have arisen our greatest perils. This bane of our independence, peace, and prosperity, has been operating in various ways, for more than twenty years past, in insidious efforts to diminish our national limits, importance and resources; in keeping alive national prejudices; in attempts to prevent our having an efficient government; in artful stratagems to diminish and weaken the powers vested in the Executive; to destroy the “checks and balance,” and to consolidate the distinct and well-defined powers of the three branches established in the Constitution; in frequent interferences in the management of our national concerns; in fomenting divisions among us, and in patronizing and circulating publications calculated to cherish and increase them; by calumniating our Rulers; misrepresenting their measures, and exciting murmurs, prejudices, and direct and open opposition against the laws. In all these, and many other ways too numerous to detail, had foreign intrigue discovered itself among us, and attempted to check our national growth, and to deprive us of the blessings of a free and independent government. It was by intrigues and artifices, like those we have mentioned, that all the Republics of Europe have been prostrated at the feet of France. It was in the same way that the free states of Greece were ruined, and their liberty lost. The French appear to have acted the some part towards their neighbors, and are now acting the same part towards us which the Persians formerly did towards the Greeks. Let it be remembered, that they are copying successful means- means which will prove as fatal to us as they have to others, if they are not resisted. The following passage, from Rollin’s Ancient History, is too remarkable not to be here recited as a solemn warning to us. If we will obstinately refuse to profit by the experience of past ages, or from recent examples, we may read our destiny in the history of the fourth age of Greece, and of the more recently ruined Republic of Europe.
“The principal cause of the declension of the Greeks, was the disunion which rose up among themselves. The Persians, who had found them invincible on the side of arms, as long as their union subsisted, applied their whole attention and policy, in sowing the seeds of discord amongst them. For that purpose, they employed their gold and silver, which succeeded much better than their steel and arms had done before. The Greeks, attacked invisibly, in this manner, by bribes secretly conveyed into the hands of those who had the greatest share in their governments, were divided by domestic jealousies, and turned their victorious arms against themselves, which had rendered them superior to their enemies.
“Their decline of power, from these causes, gave Phillip and Alexander opportunity to subject them. Those princes, to accustom them to servitude the more agreeably, covered their design with avenging them on their ancient enemies. The Greeks gave blindly into that gross snare, which gave the mortal blow to their liberty. Their avengers became more fatal to them than their enemies. The yoke, imposed on them by the hands which had conquered the universe, could never be removed; those little states were no longer in a condition to shake it off. Greece, from time to time, animated by the remembrance of its ancient glory, roused from its lethargy, and made some attempts to reinstate itself in its ancient condition; but those efforts were ill-concerted and as ill-sustained by its expiring liberty, and tended only to augment its slavery; because the protectors, whom it called in to its aid, soon made themselves its matters: so that all it did was to change its fetters, and to make them the heavier.” 1
The latter part of this picture strongly resembles the present condition of the once free and happy states of Holland, Switzerland, and Geneva. God be praised, this day, it does not resemble that of these American States. Our civil Constitutions, our Independence, and liberties, still remain to us entire and unimpaired, blessings of incalculable worth, in defiance of all their assailants. Our escape hitherto has been effected, under Providence, by means of a wise, firm, and dignified administration of our government, supported by the enlightened and ardent patriotism of the people, seasonably manifested, with great unanimity, from all quarters of the Union, in patriotic addresses, in a voluntary tender of military services, and liberal means for naval defense. These exhibitions of wisdom, energy, union, and patriotism, while they reflect glory on our country, and are pledges of our security, have raised our national character among foreign nations, and have caused America to be looked to, in these convulsive times, with inquietude, as the last resort of persecuted liberty and happiness.
When we reflect on the portentous and threatening aspect of European affairs, the hostile attitude of so many nations, and the storm that has been thickening over our heads, and ready to burst upon us; and when we consider what will be the probable salutary influence of the late unparalleled nave victory in the Mediterranean, on the affairs of our own country, of Europe, and of the world, we ought not, this day, to withhold our gratitude to God, for this event. 2 When a gigantic, colossal power, which is influenced and restrained by no principle of religion, justice or humanity, is diminished, and deprived of the means of robbing mankind of their liberty, their property, and their lives, it cannot but rejoice the heart of every good man.
7. Among the favors of divine Providence, which we are called upon, by our civil Fathers, gratefully to remember, is that “at a very interesting period of our public affairs, the important life and usefulness of the Chief Magistrate of the Union have been continued.” Concerning a man, who was born and brought up among you; who has grown old in his country’s service; who has risen, under your own eyes, through all the grades of office, to the highest in the gift of his fellow-citizens; whose moral, religious, and political character are well known, concerning such a character, it is needless for me to say much. Nothing that I can say, I apprehend, will heighten the esteem of his friends of diminish the prejudices of his enemies. For myself, I cannot forbear observing, that I consider it a one of the most prominent evidence of the Divine Goodness to our country, that the “life and usefulness” of this great and good man have been preserved. His talents, his long experience, his profound knowledge of the policy and intrigues of European nations, his unimpeached integrity and intrepid firmness, have been, under God, of infinite service to our country. That bold and decisive policy which he has adopted and pursued, and in which, happily, he has been supported by Congress and the People, has, I verily believe, been the means of favoring our constitution. In the present critical situation of affairs, a man and his office could not be better united, than Mr. Adams and the Presidency of the United States.
Like Israel, at the period described in our text, we are in wilderness. Our greatest dangers, we hope, are passed. Still, however, trials and dangers of magnitude await us. Insidious enemies lurk on every side. There are Balaams, who, if they are not permitted to “curse us” to our enemies, are artful and wicked enough to suggest expedients to corrupt our morals and our principles, and thus prepare the way for our ruin. Thus situated, and with such prospects before us, let us be thankful that God, in his great goodness, has raised up, and preserved to us, a Moses to preside in our councils, and a Joshua to lead our armies. Will God long preserve to us the benefit of their talents and influence, and continue to direct, support, and comfort them in the duties, and under the cares and anxieties of office, the hatred and malice of foreign enemies, and the ingratitude and murmurs of the discontented, and the reproached and calumnies of the wicked and abandoned part of our own citizens.
In the catalogue of our blessings, by far the most valuable remains to be mentioned, and that is,
8. And lastly, our holy religion. “Notwithstanding our past impenitence (says the Proclamation) we are still indulged with the Christian religion; a religion so conducive to the happiness of man in the present life, whilst it supports the hope of the believer in a happy and glorious state in the world to come.”
This blessing is annually recognized in the Proclamation, and always claims our highest notes of praise. But at a time when secret and systemic means have been adopted and pursued with zeal and activity, by wicked and artful men in foreign countries, 3 to undermine the foundations of this religion and to overthrow its altars and thus deprive the world of its benign influence on society, and believers of their solid consolations and animating hopes; when we know that these impious conspirators and philosophists have completely effected their purposes in a large portion of Europe, and boast of their means of accomplishing their plans in all parts of Christendom, glory in the certainty of their success , and set opposition at defiance; 4 when we can mark the progress of these enemies of human happiness among ourselves, in the corruption of the principles and morals of our youth; the contempt thrown on religion, its ordinances and ministers; in the increase and boldness of infidelity, and even of Atheism; 5 when we reflect, moreover, on our own “impenitence,” our ingratitude for, and abuse of this greatest of blessings; when we take into view all these things, our thankfulness today for the continuance of the Christian religion and tis ordinances among us, should be unusually ardent. The worth of valued blessings is realized and increased, when they have been undeservedly continued or endangered by the artifices of designing enemies.
That we may realize how great a blessing we possess in the Christian religion; how highly we ought to value this precious treasure; how vigilantly to guard it, and how resolutely to defend it against every attack, secret or open, indulge me in a few observations on its intrinsic excellence, and its benign effects in promoting human happiness. On a subject so extensive, so fruitful, so universally interesting, and which has been so often, so ably, and so eloquently handled, it is difficult to be concise, and impossible to be original.
The Christian religion is the gift of God to man, and is in all respects worthy of its glorious and perfect Author. It exhibits the divine character in a view calculated, at once, to command our highest reverence, love, and confidence. Is doctrines and precepts, the sentiments of devotion which it inspires and cherished, and the morality which it inculcates, its threatened punishments and promised rewards, are all consonant with the perfections of God, and adapted to the nature and condition of man. It “originated in the misery of mankind, which it is the intention of divine grace, by its means, to remove, and for which, as being the contrivance of infinite wisdom, it furnishes a complete and effectual remedy.” It is applicable only to sinners. For innocent beings, such a Gospel as ours would be neither necessary nor suitable. Sin, of whose origin, nature, effects, and final consequences, our Bible alone gives a satisfactory account, had involved the world in spiritual ignorance, darkness, and misery, and concealed from the sinner’s view the path to God and to happiness. Christianity “gives light to them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and guides our feet in the way of peace.” It reveals a divine and mighty Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who visited this world, to bless mankind with “the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins”; who left us a perfect “example that we should follow his steps.” It makes known to us that crucified Jesus, who “came to give his life a ransom for many,” and by his death to make expiation for human guilt; in whom “God is reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” It asserts, explains, and substantiates the interesting doctrines of the resurrection of the dead, of future and everlasting rewards and punishment; of “life and immortality”; doctrines of incalculable importance to the purity of morals, and the well-being of society. These are some of those truths which are peculiar to Christianity, and which render it infinitely superior to every other system of religion, and a blessing of inestimable value to the human race. 6 All other systems leave mankind in the dark in respect to the true character of God, the nature of sin, the method of pardon, true morality, and a future state. The deduction of the wisest philosophers, unaided by revelation, can yield to the anxious inquirer only a glimmering light on these subjects, and “a tremulous hope founded on probability. The Sun of Righteousness alone illuminates the path to life and glory. A single ray from Christ, the great Fountain of spiritual light, is of more use to lead a sinner to God, than all the torches lighted up by reason or fancy of all the sages of ancient or modern times.”
Christianity sheds a most benign and salutary influence on society. It “teacheth us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” It prohibits the indulgence of those appetites and desires only, which cannot be satisfied without injuring the rights and impairing the happiness of other. It is highly friendly to genuine liberty. The knowledge and practice of the “truth as it is in Jesus,” makes us free indeed. The sublime views which this Religion gives us of the perfections of God, his goodness, his hatred of injustice and tyranny; the knowledge it affords of the dignity of man, and of the magnitude and glory of his prospects, have a natural tendency to elevate his soul, and inspire him with a love of freedom. It eradicates narrow and selfish feelings and prejudices, and inspires with that “modest pride” and that “noble humility,” which lead us to expect, and even to demand, the possession of our own rights, and at the same time to be equally zealous in securing the rights of others.
All the true interests of mankind indeed, in regard to both worlds, are essentially promoted by Christianity. It is a “religion,” said the celebrated Montesquieu, “which, while it seems only to have in view the felicity of the other life, constitutes the happiness of this.” 7
To describe in detail all the various ways in which Christianity blesses mankind, would very far exceed the limits proper for a single discourse. I will only say, in the comprehensive and eloquent language of a modern divine, that “In proportion as Christianity, in its peculiar doctrines, is known and believed, it meliorates the condition of men in this world, and secures to them felicity in the next. It softens and humanizes mankind. It civilizes the barbarian, humbles the proud, meekens the resentful, expands the heart of the selfish, and sanctifies the impure. It smoothes the rugged path of life by the amiable tempers which it inspires, by the gentle influence of its precepts, and by the heavenly consolations which it pours into the soul; while it opens to view, those delightful prospects of the divine favor and felicity, which alone can mitigate the gloom of adversity, and cheer the “dark valley of the shadow of death.” – By the faith of the Gospel, the whole soul is subjected to Christ, who triumphs over men to bless them, whose gentles sway is true felicity; for the conquests which he makes are deliverances from guilt and misery, and the glorious career which he pursues in subduing men “to the obedience of faith,’ is everywhere marked, not like that of other conquerors, with blood and desolation, but with light life, with liberty and joy.” 8
These are fruits peculiar to genuine Christianity. If its professors have not always brought forth these fruits, it is either because they have held the truth in unrighteousness, or have had the form without the power of godliness, or denied and opposed its essential doctrines; or because they have degraded it by superstition, corrupted it by errors, or have employed it only for purposes of state. The truth, as it is in Jesus, is blameless. It would be absurd to charge it with the vices which it condemns, or with the miseries which it is its chief design to alleviate and remove.
Seeing them we are blessed with such a religion, a religion so well adapted to enlighten a dark world, possessing efficacy to sanctify and comfort the sinner’s heart, and every way suited to the wretched state of fallen man, how thankful should we be this day for its continuance among us; that we are permitted to enjoy its ordinances without any to molest of make us afraid! How diligently and zealously should we cherish its principles, defend its doctrines, and obey its precepts, exhibiting their fair fruits in our lives! How anxious should we be, in this age of bold infidelity, by all means in our power, to multiply the disciples of this excellent religion, and particularly to transmit it, pure and uncorrupt, to our posterity. Can he be a friend to his fellow-creatures who hates Christianity, who opposes its progress, who seeks its subversion, ridicules its ordinances, and vilifies its teachers? Will not every good man, who is acquainted with the nature, design, and effects of this religion, wish most ardently that it may be universal and perpetual? You will not fail, my brethren, this day, in concert with the multitude of our fellow-citizens, assembled for the same purpose, to offer unfeigned thanksgiving to God, for this chief of all his blessings, that the Christian Religion, so contemned and hated by some, so slighted and neglected by many, so often abused even by its professors and friends, is, notwithstanding, still continued among us; that its Sabbaths remain unstricken from our calendars, and its ordinances are upheld and attended by respectable numbers; that it still proffers to us its rich treasures of wisdom, strength, and comfort for this life, and opens to us the gates of New Jerusalem above, the city of the living God.
In view of the various goodness of God which has been set before us in the foregoing Discourse, let us offer to God corresponding gratitude and praise. For this purpose expressly was this day appointed. To celebrate it to this end is no less our privilege than our duty. To pervert it to licentious feasting, and vain and thoughtless mirth, is as injurious to our own souls, as it is affrontive of the authority of our civil Fathers, and displeasing to God. Let our joy be that of sober, reflecting, thankful Christians, and our feasting be “Before God” as in his presence, and with hearts lifted up to him in fervent praise for all his gifts.
The religion, whose excellencies we have attempted to display, abounds in precepts and encouragement to the duty of almsgiving. It holds up kindness and beneficence to the poor, as one of the brightest ornaments of the Christian. I know, my brethren, your laudable desire to be clothed with this ornament; and it is instead of a thousand arguments to prompt you to consider and relieve the poor among you. You need no persuasion to the performance of a duty, which, from long habit, seems to have become natural to you. 9 I have only to ask, that you take heed to give from suitable motive, and to be clothed with all other Christian virtues; and God will assuredly bless and prosper you in this life, and a last admit you to his kingdom, so will you ever be with the Lord.
[Appendix not included.]
1. Rollin’s Anc. Hist. vol. ix. P. 178. (Return)
2. The official account of this victory arrived in Boston the evening before the day of Thanksgiving. (Return)
3. Professor Robison and the Abbe Barruel have given satisfactory proofs of a regular conspiracy against the Christian religion, of which Voltaire was at the head. The Monthly Reviewers, who are not disposed to give more credit than is due to these writers, admit that “the conspiracy of the philosophers (it should be philosophists) against the Altar,” or Christianity, “is satisfactorily established, in the first volume” of the Abbe Barruel’s work.
One method adopted by these antichristian conspirators to advance their designs, has been, to write and publish books, artfully calculated to discredit Christianity, and ascribe them to the deceased authors of reputation, and in this way to avail themselves of their influence. For instance, a book entitled, “Systema de la Nature,” or “The System of Nature,” an insidious and blasphemous work, was written by some one or more of these conspirators, and published under the name of M. Mirabaud, one of the forty members of, and perpetual secretary to, the French Academy. In the Life of this celebrated Academician, the authors of the Dictionarie Historique say, “After the death of this author, a course of Atheism was published in his name, under the title of Systema de la Nature. It is superfluous to remark, that this insolent philippic against God, (which has been also attributed, but perhaps rashly, to an academician of Berlin), is not the work of Mirabaud.” Concerning this book, the authors of the British Critic say, “Sincerely and deeply do we regret that views of gain, or designs of a still darker nature, should suggest an attempt to circulate in this country, those poisons, the operation of which has been so truly fatal in the place [France] where they originated. There is but too much reason to apprehend, that these are all but parts of one great plan, to attack, by all possible means, the principles of truth and religion.” – Let Americans be on their guard! (Return)
4. M. Volney, a French philosophist, who lately spent several years in America, I am credibly told, when in Boston, in the spring of 1797, expressed himself highly gratified at the progress of the principles, political and religious, of the French revolution. “England,” (said he) will be revolutionized; the same spirit will run through Italy and the German States, and all the enlightened parts of Europe, and then (he added, with the highest exultation), Christians will be put in the back ground. Already has it received its mortal blow. The revolution (meaning, no doubt, to include its religious and moral, as well as political effects) will go over the whole world. It does not depend on the continuance of power in the present hands at Paris. Its progress is irresistible; and it will proceed until it has changed to the face of every society on earth.” – These opinions were uttered in a manner which indicated, that he thought them neither new nor disputable. The gentlemen who heard this conversation, and gave me this information, are of the first respectability. One of them, much conversant with foreigners of distinction who have visited this country, adds, that he “had been accustomed to hear similar sentiments from almost every Frenchman he had conversed with since the summer of 1792;” and that he had “lately been told, that the Directory and their friends in Paris openly maintain these opinions, and say, particularly, that if they should be cut off, and a million others, by any irregular movement of the revolution, it will nevertheless and governed on any other principles than their own;” that is, they mean to wage war upon society in general, till every part is revolutionized, and conformed to their standard. Accordingly we find that France treats as enemies all who will not consent to be her dupes, and conform to her detestable revolutionary schemes. Whenever he profess friendship, it is only to gain the opportunity of administering her poisons, which are far more destructive than her sword. If we love our holy religion, and our country, and regard the welfare of our posterity, let us shun the philosophists of Europe, and their hosts of emissaries in America, and discard and detect there baneful principles.
“What,” says an intelligent American gentlemen, in a letter to his friend in Boston, dated at Havre, Nov. 24, 1793, “What do our good folks think of dethroning God, burning the Bible, and shutting up the churches? The decadi (the new Sabbath) before I came here, they burn the Bible in the public square, pulled down the images of Jesus and Mary in the churches, and filled the niches with those of Reason and Liberty. Marat is the god of the day. The most licentious writings daily issue from the press upon former religious objects.” (Return)
5. The probably existence of Illuminisin in this country was asserted in my Fast Discourse of May last. The following fact, related by a very respectable divine, while it confirms what is above asserted, shews that my apprehensions were not without foundation.
“In the northern parts of this state (Massachusetts0 as I am well informed, there has lately appeared, and still exists under a licentious leader, a company of beings who discard the principles of religion, and the obligations of morality, trample on the bonds of matrimony, the separate rights of property, and the laws of civil society, spend the Sabbath in labor and diversion, as fancy dictates; and the nights in riotous excess and promiscuous concubinage, as lust impress. Their number consists of about forty, some of whom are persons of a reputable abilities, and once, of decent characters. That a society of this description, which would disgrace the natives of Caffraria, should be formed in this land of civilization and Gospel light, is an evidence that the devil is at this time gone forth, having great influence, as well as great wrath.” [See a Sermon on “the Dangers of the times – especially from a lately discovered Conspiracy against Religion and Government. By Rev Joseph Lathrop, D.D. of West Springfield.”]
Here is certainly the fruit if not the root, the practice if not theory, the substance if not the form of Illuminisn. (Return)
6. To be convinced of the superior excellence of our religion, we need only look to those countries where the Gospel has never been preached, or where it has been contumeliously rejected, and its institutions abolished; and contrast their situation, in a moral and social view, with that of those nations who enjoy the light, receive the doctrines, and support the ordinances of the Gospel. (Return)
7. Spirit of Laws, book xxiv. Chap. iii. (Return)
8. See a Discourse before the Edinburgh Missionary Society, 1796. (Return)
9. There is annually, on the day of Thanksgiving, a collection for the poor; and the liberality of the inhabitants of this town, on these and other like occasions, is highly exemplary, and forms an amiable trait in their character. (Return)