This election sermon was preached by Rev. Stephen W. Stebbins in Connecticut on May 9, 1811.
GOD’S GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH AND WORLD; THE SOURCE
OF GREAT CONSOLATION AND JOY:
ILLUSTRATED IN A
PREACHED AT HARTFORD, MAY 9, 1811.
STATE OF CONNECTICUT,
BY STEPHEN W. STEBBINS, A. M.
PASTOR OF THE FIRST CHURCH IN STRATFORD.
At a General Assembly of the State of Connecticut, holden at Hartford, in said State, on the second Thursday of May, A. D. 1811.
ORDERED, That the Hon. Mr. Daggett, and Jabez H. Tomlinson, Esq. return the thanks of this Assembly to the Rev. Stephen W. Stebbins, for his Sermon preached before this Assembly at the Anniversary Election, and request a copy thereof that it may be printed.
A true copy of record,
THOMAS DAY, Secretary
PSALM xcvii. 1
The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of Isles be glad thereof.
SEVERAL Psalms preceding this, contain encomiums upon the divine perfections. The Psalmist takes notice of the works of God, both in creation and providence. He represents God to be acting above all, as Creator and Preserver; and then calls upon the heavens to rejoice, and the earth to be glad; because God their Creator would observe the strictest conformity to justice, goodness and truth, in his providential dealings with his creatures. “He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.” Then follow the words of our text: The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of Isles be glad thereof.
It is observed, that the more literal rendering of this verse would be, Jehovah reigneth, the earth shall rejoice: yea the multitude of Isles shall be glad. Under this construction, our text may be considered as a direct prophecy of the coming of Christ; of the conversion of the Gentiles, and of their joy and felicity under his reign. And it leads us, in contemplating the divine government, to view God, both as Creator and Preserver of the world, and as Redeemer and Saviour of the church.
It may not, therefore, be unsuitable to the present occasion, and it is hoped it will not prove uninteresting to this numerous assembly, to notice some things which are either expressed or implied in the text.
In the first place, we will attempt to show what is implied in the assertion, “The Lord reigneth.”
This I take to be an affirmation of the sovereign and universal providence of God, exercised in the oversight, preservation and government of the world. The word reign signifies to rule, or command as a sovereign prince. It is to govern, order and direct. This is the prerogative of one invested with regal power. Whenever we read, either in sacred or profane history, that a king reigned, such a number of years, we understand, that, for that space of time, he exercised supreme authority and command over his subjects. Again,
The word reign sometimes signifies to influence, by presenting motives to the view of the understanding. In this way the affections of the heart are engaged, and the actions of the life are governed. Thus sin is said to have reigned unto death: that is, said to have reigned unto death: that is, it had usurped an unreasonable and destructive power over men. Thus also grace is said to reign: that is, the infinitely free and rich mercy of God takes possession of the hearts of all them who believe, and reigns with benign authority, through the righteousness of mediator unto eternal life. The subjects of this grace are delivered from the dominion of sin; and do earnestly seek to conform themselves to such impressions as are made upon their understandings and hearts by the word and spirit of God. The reigning power of sin is destroyed in them, so that it can no longer influence them as it did before grace was implanted in the heart. All the powers of body and soul are now consecrated to the service of God, and employed as instruments of righteousness to his glory.
Further, To reign also implies the exercise of paternal care and protecting love towards good and loyal subjects. It signifies the execution of an office which has for its object the greatest good of community. Supreme authority should always be regulated by a principle of love. God promised that the kings of Israel should be nursing fathers to the people. By the expression, therefore, the Lord reigneth, we may understand that he rules, governs and orders all the works of his hands; that he directs and controls the thoughts and actions of his creatures; and constantly preserves and upholds them in being. These several acts of the deity, considered together, form the idea of providence, and whenever in the remaining part of this discourse I use the word providence, I would be understood to mean God’s government, direction and preservation of all his creatures.
We will, in the second place, mention some evidences of the truth of the assertion the Lord reigneth.
Notwithstanding human reason boasts of her knowledge of the causes of those effects which every day meet our eye.; and vain philosophy has ascribed to nature and to second causes, the various appearances which we behold in the world; yet the inspired writers resolve all these things into the immediate providence of God. This indeed is the truest reason, the soundest philosophy, and the best divinity. For it is as much the work of divine providence to manage and maintain the stated laws of nature, as it is a work peculiar to God to create a world. As much of the power and providence of God are to be seen in the natural and common occurrences of life, as in the extraordinary and supposed unaccountable events which have sometimes happened. The incomprehensible power and wisdom of God are as conspicuous in the light of the sun, which we every day behold, as in the blaze of a comet, which appears to the inhabitants of the earth not above once in several centuries.
A general providence with regard to day and night, summer and winter, cannot be denied by any who allow the existence of a God of unlimited power and wisdom. If there be such a God, the general and stated course of nature, and all second causes, are ordered and limited by him. Matter has not power of itself to exist or to move, much less has it power to produce with such exactness all the changes and various revolutions which we see in the creation, and which subserve the convenience of man. These must therefore be produced by some intelligent being, which is either God himself, or some other being by him invested with sufficient power and authority to do it; for nothing can happen without the knowledge and permission of that being who is both omniscient and almighty. Whoever allows the Bible to be inspired, and given by God, must confess it is by his appointment, that while the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, day and night do not cease; he must also confess that it is God who directeth all things under the whole heaven. This is what none can with any reason deny; for to deny a general providence is in effect to deny the existence of God.
In regard to a particular providence over all men, and all the various occurrences in the world, I would observe, that the smallest and most minute events are as much under God’s direction and control as the greatest and most stupendous. While the heavens declare God’s glory, and the firmament showeth his handy work, while the wonderful order and harmony in which the heavenly bodies move and are preserved demonstrate an almighty Protector and Ruler, it is no less evident that such a being preserves the several parts of this globe, that he hath set bounds to the sea, that he satisfies the desolate and waste ground, that he causes the bud of the tender herb to open, and that he provideth for the raven his food. All this the God of providence has plainly told us in his word. He is very particular in recounting the objects of his providential care, and even mentions such inconsiderable creatures as to leave no room to doubt that his providence descends to the smallest.
Though God doth according to his will in the armies of heaven above, yet he doth not neglect the earth beneath. Though his hand has fashioned the stars, and his power sustains them in being, yet even a sparrow doth not fall to the ground without his notice; and so particular is his providence, that the very hairs of our heads are all numbered. Even those things which happen according to the stated laws of nature, are ordered and brought about by the providence of God. Though we are so accustomed to the course of nature that we seldom observe and admire the finger of God in it; yet surely, as the Psalmist speaks, “fire and hail, snow and vapor, and stormy wind fulfill his word.” And his providence sometimes works contrary to the ordinary course of nature. Several instances of this kind are recorded in scripture. It was the providence of God which caused the sun and moon to stand still, at the word of Joshua; which influenced the ravens to feed Elijah; and which preserved the persons and the clothes of the three children amidst the raging flames of the furnace.
The providence of God also directs and governs the thoughts of men; for it is written, “The Lord turneth the heart of man, as the rivers of water whithersoever he will.” We are not however to suppose that the Divine Being acts arbitrarily or capriciously; or so as to exclude human freedom: neither are we to imagine that man is independent of God, so as to live and act without his knowledge and sustaining power. Man is not a mere passive being, whose thoughts and affections are mechanical; but he retains his freedom of will, though he is often influenced by motives, which are presented by divine providence. God, who has appointed its proper end to everything, hath also appointed the beginning; and all the means by which that end is attained. The children of Jacob were perfectly free and voluntary, in selling their brother Joseph into Egypt; yet Joseph, speaking to them about it, says, “Ye thought evil against me: but God meant it for good, to save much people alive.” It appeared to have happened by mere chance, that Saul met the prophet Samuel; but the Lord had previously said to the prophet, “To morrow I will send thee a man of the tribe of Benjamin.” We read “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposal thereof is of the Lord.” Though the eleven apostles determined by lot, who should succeed Judas, yet they evidently supposed God’s providence would order the issue. “Thou, Lord,” said they, “who knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen.”
Again, God’s providence preserves every individual. This is an unquestionable fact. God’s governing men, seems in some measure to imply his preservation of them. Innumerable evils lie all around us, and the arrows of death fly invisibly in every place. If the wise and good providence of God did not direct our feet, and uphold our goings, we should meet death wherever we went. Though many actions and occurrences of life may seem accidental to us, it is impossible they should be so to God. His understanding is infinite, and comprehends at one view, not only things past and present, but even those which lie in the remotest depths of futurity. Once more,
The providence of God is conspicuous, and may well be admired, when we reflect upon the great and extensive dispensations of it, which have appeared in our world; in causing the most flourishing countries, and populous kingdoms to be ravaged and depopulated by a small number; in causing the wicked to fall into the pit, which they had made for others; in raising powerful states, from small beginnings, even a few defenceless individuals; in making the knowledge of those accounted wise to prove ignorance and folly, and turning their counsels backward. Instances might be brought in support of each of these particulars, from sacred and profane history, and from our own observation. But enough has been said to prove that an invisible hand guides all the affairs of the world; that an unseen providence sits at the helm of universal government. As that directs, everything on earth happens; as that directs, nature herself obeys; and as that disposes, so are the circumstances of individuals and nations; and such will be the state of the church and of the world.
It is proper to observe in this connection, that although God be the Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth, and so independent that he is not accountable to any for his acts of government, yet he always exercises his authority according to rules of the most consummate wisdom, spotless righteousness, unblemished integrity, and diffusive goodness. He reigns, not by an unreasonable determination of will, or a capricious humor, but by a constitution the most wisely framed, and by laws which are all holy, just and good; so that his conduct may most effectually secure the important ends of his government.
The Supreme Ruler of the world, is stiled the only wise God. He says, “Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding.” This attribute appears with surprising brightness, in God’s government of the world. When the methods of providence are the most unsearchable in the view of mortal man, there is reason to cry out, “O the depth both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” He fully understands the nature and powers of all creatures; the several relations and dependencies of all things, and the fitness of means to their proposed ends. Hence all his acts are according to rules of the most perfect wisdom. All the wheels of his providence are so turned, as to subserve the design of his government in regard to his subjects, and manifest that he who reigneth is “great in counsel.” The Lord also reigns in righteousness. Clouds and darkness may sometimes encircle the ways of providence, yet righteousness and judgment are always the habitation of God’s throne. The Lord is a just God, and can do no wrong to any of his creatures. Nothing can be more opposite to the divine government, than injustice and oppression. There is no iniquity with the Lord, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts. I have already hinted that God is a being of infinite compassion and tenderness. This is an essential property of his government over his people. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. In all their afflictions he is afflicted.” And when he sees it needful to correct them he does it with a father’s hand.
Thirdly, It was suggested at the beginning of this discourse, that our text may be viewed as a direct prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, and of the felicity of the Gentiles under his reign. I would therefore observe, that while God’s government tends to the good of the world, it is especially designed for the direction, support and defence of his church. Jehovah hath given the brightest display of his adorable attributes in the administration of his Son, whom he hath set as king upon his holy hill of Zion. In his regal office, Jesus Christ gives law, and exercises authority; he brings his people to yield a willing and watchful obedience to all his precepts; he affords them his protection, and overrules all things for their good; he restrains and conquers their enemies, and will, at the last day, sit in judgment and pronounce sentence upon the whole rational creation.
To the inquiry, by what means the kingdom of Christ is advanced and maintained in the world, we may reply, that the gospel is the chief instrument in the hands of the eternal Spirit, by which the divine Jesus subdues all things to himself. This gospel was once preached throughout the Roman empire; but its glorious light was soon circumscribed by very narrow limits. Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people. The spreading of Christ’s kingdom in the world was prevented for a long time, by ignorance, superstition and bigotry, which possessed the minds of men. And there are several things which still operate as hindrances to the conversion of sinner, and to the enlargement of Christ’s kingdom in the world, which must be removed out of the way, before the nations of the earth will become the kingdoms of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One of these, is that spirit of discord and division which unhappily prevails among professing Christians. This has prejudiced the minds of many againt Christianity, and led them to conclude that it is not so excellent in its nature, nor so beneficial in its tendency, as its advocates declare. Heathen nations form their opinion of religion, very much from the conduct of its professors. Alas! that this should exhibit so melancholy a picture! Now, before the general extension of Christ’s kingdom in the world, we may conclude that both Jew and Gentile will be united. That variety of opinions, which now divides men into so many sects and parties, shall in a great measure cease, and the happy age of Christianity shall return, in which it may again be said, “The multitude of them that believed, were of one heart and of one soul.”
Another thing which hath greatly hindered the conversion of sinners, is the impurity, sensuality and worldliness of those who are stiled Christians. The unholy lives of Christian professors cast a stumbling block in the way, and harden both Jews and Gentiles in their opposition to the gospel.
Again, Men of corrupt minds have also arisen, by whom some parts of the Bible are represented to be of doubtful authority; and other parts of it are wholly discarded. In this most daring and systematic attempt to withstand the force of light and truth, the sacred code of Christian faith is mutilated and perverted; the divinity of the Son of God the personal existence of the Holy Spirit, with other important and essential doctrines of the gospel, are openly denied; and an impious attempt is made to take away the foundation of hope and safety for perishing sinners, which God has laid in Zion.
But these and all other obstacles in the way of the conversion of sinners, and of the increase of the church, shall in due time be removed. Whatever enemies set themselves to oppose Christ, and his reign, shall surely be vanquished, and utterly overthrown in the end.
I would now observe that there are many prophecies in scripture of the great increase and flourishing state of the church of God, by the conversion and accession of the heathen nations to it. This subject is set forth in such ample and exalted terms, as plainly show that the prophecies have not yet received their full accomplishment. Hence we are led to believe that a day is coming when, through an abundant effusion of the Holy Spirit, the kingdoms of this world shall more generally become the kingdoms of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the Reformation in Germany, the day of gospel light and liberty began to dawn on the nations, and ever since that period there hath been a gradual increase of the light. We have reason to believe that the revolutions which have taken place, within the space of twenty or thirty years past, are probably designed to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus; as the earthquake, the tempest, and the fire, prepared Elijah for “the still small voice, in which God was.” Amidst these commotions which have agitated the nations of Christendom, a missionary spirit hath been excited to an extraordinary degree, and greater exertions have been made to spread the savor of the knowledge of Jesus Christ among all nations, than have appeared at any other period since the days of the apostles. The king of Zion hath sent, and is now sending forth ministers, as heralds to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, to many poor and long benighted nations, for whose souls no man cared. Oh, may a double portion of the spirit rest on the several societies which are formed, and on all gospel ministers and missionaries which are employed, for the purpose of communicating and extending, far and wide, the knowledge of the holy scriptures, and of salvation by Jesus Christ. And may their united efforts and personal labors be crowned with abundant success. “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest.”
The present period is a crisis replete with great events. The Lord of hosts is shaking all nations. And shall Christians be silent, unconcerned and inactive spectators? No; it is our duty to pray for the day “when the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; when the lame man shall leap as a hart; and the tongue of the dumb shall sing. When in the wilderness, waters shall break out, and streams in the desert.”
In the last great conflict between the church of Christ and her enemies, before the church’s peace and rest, the kings of the earth, and the whole world are represented as gathered together for battle. And Christ is represented as riding forth, having on his head many crowns, and on his vesture a name written, “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” This we may well suppose signifies that he is going to that conquest, whereby Satan’s kingdom shall be wholly overthrown, and that kingdom be set up which shall never be moved, and in which all the true friends and loyal subjects of Jesus Christ shall find sure defence, and experience almighty and everlasting protection.
I scarcely need observe that the authority, protection and munificence of our glorious King, demand of us implicit obedience. The faith, which welcomes his salvation, works by love, and ensures a cheerful and conscientious attention to his commands. All the precepts of scripture are either the mandates of Christ our King, to those who rejoice in his government, and share the blessings of his peaceful reign, or they constitute that law which is the ministration of death and condemnation to his enemies.
How greatly then does it concern us to enquire and to ascertain whose government we are under, and who is king over us? Does Christ, or does Satan and the world sway the scepter over our souls? His subjects ye are to whom ye yield obedience. It is but mockery to give Christ the empty titles of Lord and King, while ye give your real service to sin and Satan. This is to imitate the Jews, who bowed the knee to him and cried, hail, master; and then conspired in putting him to death. Then are ye his disciples when ye do whatsoever he commands. May we, my fellow citizens, be found so doing; and then we shall be in perfect safety, amidst all the dangers and calamities of this world, and be received up to a kingdom of everlasting righteousness, peace and joy; when all the enemies of Zion and her king will be brought forth and slain before him. The Lord’s portion is his people; his counsel shall stand; and he will do all his pleasure.
I would now, in the fourth place, show that there is reason to rejoice that the Lord reigneth.
This is evident from a survey of the perfections and government of Jehovah. It is matter of rejoicing to any kingdom or state, that those who are set to bear rule in them, be endowed with wisdom, justice and goodness. Now, the Almighty Ruler of the world is infinitely superior to any created being, in wisdom; he is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works, and his government is perfectly wise and holy, just and good. There is, therefore, abundant reason to rejoice that the Lord reigns, when we view him as the Creator and Preserver of the world; but if we consider him as the Redeemer and Saviour of the church, there is still greater reason to rejoice.
Jesus Christ, the king of Zion, when he appeared upon earth, was not indeed arrayed with outward grandeur, nor surrounded with external pomp, like earthly kings; but on the contrary, he came clothed with humility, and submitted to a state of poverty. Yet it is said by the prophets, “Rejoice, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold thy King cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass.” He appeared indeed, without form or comeliness in the eye of the men of this world; and was despised and rejected by them. But still he is the “Wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.” He rules all worlds with righteousness, and is constituted head over all things for the good of his church.
The mode of administration in Christ’s kingdom, is likewise infinitely superior to any which is practiced among earthly kingdoms. It is not conducted with carnal policy; nor are the subjects of it ever forced to comply with its mandates, contrary to their wills; for the Lord Jesus makes his people willing as well as obedient in the day of his power; he works in them to will as well as to do his good pleasure. He draws them with the cords of love, as with the bands of a man; not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord. The administration of Jesus brings everything into sweet subjection.
The laws of his kingdom are written not only in his statute book, the Bible, but are copied out, by his Spirit on the hearts of his subjects in correspondent principles and affections. Human laws are imperfect, but the Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the statutes of the Lord are pure, making wise the simple. The promises of Zion’s King are likewise exceedingly great and precious. He promises and bestows upon his subjects pardon and peace, righteousness and eternal life. How many and powerful are our inducements to e Christ’s willing and obedient servants; and how strong are the reasons to rejoice in his government and dominion!
I now proceed to some application of what has been said.
1. The Lord reigneth. Let not individuals complain under affliction. God is the Judge of all the earth, and he will do right. His wisdom is sometimes unsearchable by us, but we know that he can never be unrighteous in his dealings with any of his creatures. His mercy is infinite, and all the present afflictions of his people are intended as means of good unto them. Assured of this, we should suffer no murmuring thoughts to arise in our minds though now we may not comprehend the purposes of God, in all dispensations of his providence. Our present views are often too much limited by time and sense, but God’s dealings with men in this world have reference to another state. Hence an afflictive providence, which is painful at present, may occasion our future joy, and prove an introduction to permanent happiness.
2. From a view of the character and end of God’s government it is very justly inferred, “that his church may derive consolation in the darkest seasons. If like the bush which Moses saw at Horeb, she be in the midst of devouring flames, she shall not be consumed. Faithful is the holy one of Israel. He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. Nothing can defeat the purposes of infinite wisdom, rectitude and goodness; but all things are governed in subordination to the divine plan. In this world we behold the distress of nations; we see the church threatened, both by the lukewarmness of her friends and the malice of her enemies; but let us check all anxiety by calling to mind that the Lord reigneth, and that he is the refuge and strength of his people. He will bring good out of evil, light out of darkness, and order out of confusion. The righteous endure affliction but for a short time. They will not long behold the triumphs of the wicked, but will soon rise to dominion, and shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. If we be reconciled to the government of God, we need not fear the power of wicked men and devils.” The Father hath set his king upon his holy hill of Zion in defiance and contempt of all those who say, let us break his bonds asunder, and cast his cords away from us. He governs all events in the manner which may best promote the safety and happiness of his church and of true believers.
3. The preceding observations may serve to remind my fellow laborers in the gospel, of the vast importance of the work to which they are called. Do we sustain the office of pastors and teachers in the church of God; and are we ambassadors of Jesus Christ? Let us remember the dignity, condescension and benevolence of our divine Master. Let us remember the end and design of our office. Let us consider how Paul the great Apostle to the Gentiles and his faithful associates preached and fulfilled their ministry; and also how they had their conversation in the world. They made Jesus Christ the chief subject of their discourses; they endeavoured to extol and glorify him. And they called on men of every rank, as sinners, to accept of his salvation; to submit to his authority, and to become his obedient subjects and servants. They spake and wrote of Jesus Christ in such a manner, as might most effectually enlarge and establish his empire, over the consciences, the hearts and lives of men.
If we, my brethren, imbibe the same spirit which the Apostles imbibed, and make their conduct and manner of preaching, the model of ours, we may hope for the gracious presence of Christ, and that by his Spirit, he will cause the great ends of our ministry to be answered in the reformation of men’s lives, and the eternal salvation of their souls.
In all communications we make to our fellow sinners, we should remember our common mortality. Of our fathers and brethren in the ministry in this state, several have been removed by death during the last year. 1 While we lament the desolations which God is thus making in his sanctuary, let us pray that he would raise up and continue a succession of faithful and laborious, serious and spiritual ministers in all the churches. While we drop a tear at the remembrance of our departed brethren, let the admonition which our divine Master is thus giving us be heedfully regarded. Let us remember that each one of us, who yet survives, is drawing after; as there are innumerable gone before to the land of silence. And let it b considered that Jesus Christ our Lord is witness to all our conduct in this life; he knows all our thoughts, designs and affections, and marks with approbation all humble and benevolent exertions for the advancement of his kingdom in the world.
A question therefore, which with propriety we may put to our consciences, is this: “Have our exertions been suited to the design, and awful responsibility of the trust which our divine master hath committed to us, by putting us into the ministry. If the great head of the church should meet us, and solemnly ask us, “What have you done for the advancement of my kingdom in the world, should we not be filled with confusion, and our faces be covered with blushing? In a short time,” my brethren, “we must have such a meeting, and be called to answer such a question.” We should therefore give all diligence that we may be found of our Judge in peace, and accepted of him in that day. The applause of thousands is but an empty sound, when compared with that of, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord.” All the honors and possessions of this world are lighter than vanity, when laid in the balance with that unfading crown of glory, which every faithful minister of the gospel may expect when the chief Shepherd shall appear.
4. Our subject deserves the most serious attention of our honored rulers; with whom the important public concerns of the state are entrusted. The Lord who reigns in Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, is uniformly revealed in scripture as omnipresent and omniscient. He is represented as a God who searches the hearts and tries the reins of all the children of men; as one who loves righteousness and hates iniquity. His universal presence and inspection are indeed necessary to the present administration of his providential government, and to his righteous distribution of rewards and punishments in the judgment of the great day. It is therefore proper for all of every rank and station often to reflect, that while the Lord sitteth on his throne in the heavens, his eyes run to and fro, throughout the whole earth, and that he will show himself strong in behalf of those whose hearts are perfect before him. It is under his kind and protecting providence that the legislative body of the state is again collected in this city; and that the members of it are here present before God. His eye now seeth them, and will be continually upon them from the commencement to the conclusion of their session. He is, and will be present, both as a critical observer, and a righteous judge.
He beholds, with approbation, those wise and faithful servants who conform to the moral character of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and who make his administration the pattern and standard of theirs. He observes their unwearied endeavours to possess their minds with political wisdom, that they may fully comprehend the duties of their station, and their uncorrupted fidelity in discharging those duties; their careful attention to the removal of every needless burden, and the redress of every real grievance. He sees their solicitude to remove whatever endeavours that it may be impartially administered to all of every rank, and in every part of the community. He observes their vigilance and firmness in causing the laws to be duly regarded and executed the fortitude and steadiness with which they oppose themselves to all evil doers and workers of iniquity; with what zeal and ardor they labor for the suppression of vice and immorality, so utterly ruinous to individuals, and to communities, both from natural tendency, and the righteous judgment of God. He regards their meekness, self-denial and patience; their prudence, paternal affection and public spirit, and that patriotism and god-like benevolence, which animates to the noblest exertions for the public good. He particularly notices, with approbation, the serious reference they cultivate to his all-seeing eye; and the habitual influence which this has upon the temper of their hearts, as well as the discharge of the duties of their stations, and all the duties of life.
The great Governor of the world is also present with those in authority, as a righteous judge. He critically observes the deportment of the whole, and of each individual; and takes cognizance whenever they lose sight of the great end of their appointment. That all-piercing eye, which pervades the universe, and penetrates every disguise, perfectly discerns the character of those who constitute an assembly of rulers over men. He perfectly knows the various views they have, and the different improvement they make of their talents and opportunities. They are raised above their brethren, not that they may shine in affluence, and fare sumptuously every day; much less that they may indulge to inglorious ease and sloth; and least of all that they should pervert judgment and justice; but that having a more extended circle of duty, they may be more extensively useful.
If, however, there are any who neglect the business of their station, who permit their talents to lie by them useless, as though folded in a napkin; if, content with the honors and profits of preferment, they leave the duties of it to be performed by others,. He who stands in the midst of their assembly observes it. If through their delinquency, judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off; if truth falleth in the street, and equity cannot enter, the Lord sees it. If they forbear to deliver those who are drawn unto death, and those who are ready to perish; if they say, behold, we knew it not, doth not He that pondereth the heart, consider it? And He that keepeth their soul, doth not He know it? And shall He not render to every man according to his works?
And now, will not the consideration of the presence of the Lord, in the assembly of political rulers, most powerfully engage them to a conscientious and faithful discharge of their official duties? If their minds are possessed with a lively sense of his immediate inspection, and of their accountableness to him, they will, they must attend to the important affairs which come before them with great solemnity of spirit. Every matter which is suggested or submitted to their consideration will be impartially examined, and nothing will be suffered to pas merely upon the account of its plausible appearance. In every debate the enquiry will be, not what measure will most contribute to my popularity, to secure my present station, or advance me to an higher office; nor what will be most for my personal interest, or the advantage of those with whom I am particularly connected; but what is fit and right in itself; and in the view of my most calm and serious thoughts, and when divested as much as possible of all passion and prejudice. In fine, what will stand the awful trial of the Supreme Governor of the universe, and meet his final approbation.
Faithful rulers, acting uniformly under the influence of this most excellent principle, have the fairest prospect of securing the acceptance and approbation of their fellow citizens, and thereby of protracting the period and enlarging the sphere of their usefulness. But whatever returns are made them by their fellow men, God is not unrighteous to forget their work and labor of love. That peace of his which passeth all understanding shall possess their hearts, and prove their support under every present pressure. And in the nearest views of dissolution, the testimony of their consciences, that they have walked before God with a perfect heart, that they have served their generation according to the will of God, and have had their conversation in the world, in godly sincerity, and as the grace of God teaches, will inspire them with love and gratitude, and cause them to rejoice in hope of glory.
To conclude. Let the whole body of this people be persuaded to approve themselves worthy of rulers of this noble character, by aspiring after an holy conformity to God. And then they may be assured that the Lord who reigns in heaven and on earth, and who has all hearts in his hand, and all events at his disposal, will cause them to possess the blessing.
And now, what remains but that we lift up our hearts to God in heaven, that he would make us a wise, virtuous and holy people, and give us rulers to go in and out before us, who shall indeed be his ministers unto us, and our children for good. And if God will answer us, and make our rulers and this people the willing and obedient subjects of the divine government, we shall be an happy people.
The mountains will bring forth peace, and the little hills righteousness. Our land shall not be called desolate nor forsaken, for the glory of the Lord shall arise and shine upon it. God himself shall arise and save us; and we shall send our praises on high, and sing with the church. “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doth wonderous things, and blessed be his glorious name.” The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of Isles be glad thereof.
1. Rev. Judah Champion, Litchfield; Rev. James Johnson, Weston; Rev. Allen Olcott, East-Hartford, who had been for several years Pastor of the first church in Farmington; Rev. Lemuel Tyler, Preston; Rev. Israel B. Woodward, Wolcott; Rev. Israel Ward, Danbury. (Return)