Rector of St. George's Church, in Hempstead.
Hempstead, 24th June, 1801.
THAT BROTHERS David R. F. Jones, John M. Smith, and Jonah Hallet, be appointed a Committee to wait on our Rev. Brother SETH HART, with the thanks of this Lodge, for his Sermon delivered to the Brethren this day, and to request a Copy of the same for the Press.
Extract from the Records. (Attest)
S. SMITH, Secretary.
MAT. V. 16.--LET YOUR LIGHT SO SHINE BEFORE MEN, THAT THEY MAY SEE YOUR GOOD WORKS, AND GLORIFY YOUR FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN.
BEFORE the Almighty Architect had begun his work of creation, all perfection was centered in himself, unknown and unenjoyed by others. Thus, viewing the subject as relative to creatures, all was perfect darkness. But the diffusive goodness of the Deity would not suffer it thus to continue. In the exercise of wisdom he planned the material world, and designed the bright ornaments which were to decorate the beauteous fabric which his powerful hand should raise. Yet in the incipient stage of his creative work, while the earth was without form and void; darkness was upon the face of the deep. But God said, Let there be light, and there was light. That luminary of the heavens, whose genial warmth and enlivening rays impart a vivifying principle to the elements of this terrestrial globe, and quickens the increase of life upon its surface, was spoken into exigence, and appointed to his station, when the Lord God had formed man [5/6] of the dust of the ground, and had breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul, the effulgent rays of solar brightness, bursting in through those windows which were made for the admission of light into the temple of his body enabled him to fee and know the things around him, designed to be subservient to his use.
Thus, man, as possessed of animal life and sensation, enjoyed, in common with other creatures, this blessing of natural light, issuing from the great Fountain, through the medium of that resplendent orb which (nines on all, and seems to be the principle by which he is made to live, and rendered capable of improving and enjoying the further displays of divine goodness. And this may be considered the first degree of light imparted to the human race, as the means of comfort to them, and the object of their grateful acknowledgment.
But the bountiful author of human nature stopped not here.--In the exercise of his creative power, he so formed man after his own image, as to render him a proper subject of that brighter effulgence of the divinity, the light of reason: by the powers of which he became, through the divine appointment, lord of this lower world; and was permitted to take his rank but a little lower than the angels, and be crowned with glory and honor.
And still further to distinguish him as the favorite of heaven, God saw fit to illuminate his mind by such repeated revelations of his will, [6/7] as might direct his steps m the way of duty here, and in the road to happiness hereafter. First to Adam in the garden, in which he placed him; and afterwards at various times to such as were made, either by divine or human appointment, rulers or instructors of the people--Patriarchs, Prophets, &c. Through them, God saw fit to communicate, and by them mankind, especially the Jews, were taught many things which the light of reason alone would not have discovered. By frequent warnings they were made to know and feel their dependance on the true God, for life and its enjoyments; were made acquainted with the transgression of their and our first parents, and the lost state of all succeeding generations of men, without the interposition of divine goodness in effecting their restoration to the favor of heaven.--By special commands, they were from time to time taught their duty to God and their fellow-men; and through the prophetic illuminations they were enabled to discover the faint glimmerings of that light, which was afterwards to burst forth and unfold to the astonished world, the infinite goodness of God, in the way and means of grace and salvation--Still the gloom of comparative darkness hung over the world, and ignorance and doubt perplexed the minds of men, until the sun of righteousness arose, and beamed forth the last and brightest effulgence of divine light. The birth of Christ opened a new scene to the view of all nations. At his approach the sons of men were visited by angels, and the glory of the Lord shone round [7/8] about them. A resplendent star, emblematical of his heavenly brightness, the brightness of the father's glory, went before him, and pointed out the place of his nativity. In his birth he displayed that spirit of humility, which led him, for the love of men, to leave the brightness of his father's glory, and become incarnate. In his infancy and childhood he waxed strong in the spirit, beyond measure was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. In his preaching he taught the mysterious doctrine of man's redemption through his mediation, and the conditions on the part of man, by which may be obtained the benefits of his salvation. In his life he exemplified the duties which he taught, and exhibited in himself a pattern of all the active and passive virtues which he enjoined on his followers.--And even in his death, shewed the practicability of that mod difficult duty, of loving our enemies; for he prayed for his murderers.--And when he had overcome the sharpness of death, he rose triumphant over death and the grave, and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
And as the dispensations of light, through the providence of God to men, recorded in sacred writ, were designed and intended to enlighten the understandings, and influence the conduct, not only of those to whom they were immediately made, but of all succeeding generations--so are we to confider ourselves as being blessed with all the light which has been shed abroad in all past ages; and under the strongest obligation [8/9] to fulfil that righteousness which our Saviour taught, and to yield a willing obedience to the various precepts which he gave to those who were blessed with his immediate presence.
The sum of this duty is expressed in my text:--Let your light so shine before men, that they seeing your good works, may glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Though this was said by our blessed Saviour to his immediate disciples, at the close of his short sermon on the mount; it is equally addressed to us who are now on the face of the earth, enjoying the Divine favour in our various ranks and stations. We are first to confider what our light is, and next to enquire what we are to understand by making our light to shine before men.
I might here lead your minds through the flowery field of philosophy, in describing the beauties of nature in the starry heavens and on the earth, as displayed to our view by the light of the Sun, which we enjoy in common with the whole animate world; and in pointing out the symmetry and just proportion, the harmony and order, the regularity and wonderful economy, which the Almighty Architect hath rendered visible in the works of his hands; and which we fare enabled so clearly to discover by the exercise of that light of reason which hath so elevated man above the brutal race. But I shall content myself with observing that whatever we behold in the natural world, thus pleasing to the eye, or satisfactory to the mind, it becomes us to [9/10] consider that God is the author of all; and the giver of those faculties by which we discern, and of the means by which we enjoy, the pleasing prospect. While we behold the progress of civilization among men; the social compact progressing on, step by step, from its incipient rudeness; but a line advanced before the savage state of wild barbarity, to that just refinement which is consistent with rational liberty, and productive of the best temporal good to society; assisted by gradual advancements, even to a state of seeming perfection, in the arts; and the boundless stretch of human genius in scientific researches; all is to be attributed to the powers of that reason which, as the candle of the Lord, shines bright in the nature of man.
But when we extend our view still further, and behold with the eye of faith that glorious immortality which awaits the righteous; by the prospect of which, the minds of men are relieved from that cloud of ignorance and darkness, and the burden of that doubt and fear with regard to futurity, which for four thousand years hung over the world; it is the light of revelation by Jesus Christ which thus speaks peace to the fouls of men; 'tis the ever blessed gospel of that Divine Saviour of mankind, which adds all needful strength to our weak reason, and like a leading star, allures us on in the path of perfect duty through this world of trial, to the enjoyment of endless and unsullied bliss beyond the grave.
These are the lights which have been dispensed to mankind in different ages, and these, my friends, [10/11] are ours. It now becomes our duty as men, and as Christians, to let these lights shine forth before men, in the manner and for the purpose expressed in my text. The way in which our lights may be made to shine is, by good works; and the purpose to be answered is, that God may be rendered glorious in the view of his creatures. As inhabitants of this earth, in common with the rest of the animate creation, it becomes us to adore the great and beneficent author of all things, with that placid contentment and peaceful composure which they are peculiarly calculated to inspire. As men, endowed with reason, it becomes us to use our best endeavours to kindle up and encrease this light from the early dawn of infantine discernment, to the bright flame of philosophic understanding, and the exalted pitch of manly wisdom, and to exercise our faculties, when thus improved, in adding art to nature, and in improving the state of things from their native rudeness, to that refinement which they are found capable of, and which is calculated to furnish the children of men with proportionally greater means, and more frequent opportunities of comfort in the enjoyment of life. But when we confider ourselves as Christians, favoured with the light of revelation in its highest splendor, it becomes us to aft worthy of so Divine a blessing, by doing those good works which may entitle us to the benefits of Christ's coming. And these good works are so clearly pointed out in that code of precepts which our Saviour [11/12] published, that he who runs may read. And to recommend those precepts to our obedience, they are founded on the best principles of philosophy, and calculated to assist the weakness and aid the necessities of our nature.
If we diligently search the scriptures and look into the nature of the Christian system, we shall find it founded on perfect reason, and calculated for the promotion of the greatest possible good. The religious doctrines and moral precepts contained in it, constitutes general code of rules for the government of our natural passions and appetites, and the regulation of our conduct in life, forbidding every vice, and inculcating every virtue. And tho' there may be found an apparent contradiction in the letter of the Gospel, yet in the true spirit of it there is a perfect harmony. Every precept is evidently founded upon the fame principle of goodness and justice, and invariably tends in its nature to the fame noble ends, the happiness of the creature, and the glory of God the Creator. It is calculated to promote the happiness of mankind by enlightening the darkness of our nature with a knowledge of divine truths; and so regulating the lives and conversation of men, as shall tend to promote the peace and good order of society, and the health and welfare of individuals. And it is equally calculated to induce men to glorify their Father who is in Heaven, by displaying the divine attributes in the moll pleasing and majestic colours; by discovering the power, wisdom and justice of [12/13] God, operating towards all his creatures, in perfect conformity to the principles of goodness and natural reason.
If the precepts of our Saviour and his disciples were strictly observed by all mankind, all evil, towards each other would be suppressed in the very bud. There would be neither malice nor hatred, envy nor ill will, among men. Neither pride nor ambition, avarice or contracted selfishness, would ever disturb the peace of society. No jealousy of power, no spirit of revenge, would ever endanger the safety or enjoyment cither of life or property. Every discordant passion of the human heart would then yield to that short command, that we love one another. We mould then be ever ready to do to others as we would that they mould do to us. Instead of wars and fighting, all would be peace and harmony among nations. Instead of private quarrels and dissentions, we should taste the uninterrupted sweets of friendship and social agreement in society. And instead of lying, theft and murder; with the almost infinite train of lesser crimes which spring from human depravity, we should find truth, honesty, mutual love and every virtue. We mould then suffer no injuries from each other, but such as would be involuntary and accidental. And that mutual fear, jealousy, and distrust, which now disturb society, and are the greateft bane to human happiness, would give place to the happifying influence of mutual confidence in each others' friendship.
 If mankind were universally to observe the precepts of the gospel in the government of their appetites, the bounties of Providence would be then improved as they ought to be, for the support of nature, and the promotion of health and happiness among men. Instead of gluttony and drunkenness, we should see temperance and sobriety. Instead of idleness, dissipation, poverty, and disgrace, we should see industry, oeconomy, competence, and honor. And instead of sottish stupidity, and lingering chronic pains, old age would more generally be crowned with deserved comfort; and more likely to enjoy the blessings which spring from strength of mind, and health of body.
And if the passions of men too were thus regulated by gospel precepts, instead of dejection, peevishness, and murmuring, we might behold one universal scene of cheerfulness and calm contentment with the allotments of Providence. Instead of rioting, debauchery and lewdness, mankind would be regular, virtuous and modest in their behaviour. And instead of suffering under the lashes of distressful adversity, the human race might, so far as is consistent with the imperfections of all created things, continually bask in the calm sunshine of ease and prosperity.
The passive virtues of temperance and chastity, patience, meekness and humility, gratitude and contentment are kindly recommended by our divine teacher, and enjoined upon us for the purpose of restraining our appetites and passions, [14/15] lest they lead us on to those excesses which are naturally calculated to destroy our health and usefulness, and disturb the peace and happiness of society.
But doing good to others in the exercise of the active, social virtues, seems to be more particularly the object of the injunction in my text, and the way in which our light must be made to shine before men, if we would be, in the greatest possible degree, instrumental of God's being glorified by others. And this duty of doing good to others is to be considered in a two-fold view. First, as it relates to the great body of the people who are bound together in the social compact--citizens of the same country, and members of the fame general government with ourselves.--And secondly, as it relates to individuals of the human race.
In the first case it behoves every one to let his light shine forth reflected from such good works as are calculated to improve the state of society in general, and increase the happiness of mankind. Or such as are calculated to promote the interest and welfare of the community in which he lives, and of which he is a member. This includes all useful improvements in the sciences and arts, and the investigation and making known all needful and important truths, natural and moral, civil and religious, whereby the condition of the world shall be tendered more comfortable and convenient; the minds of men more enlightened, and their feelings more [15/16] refined. It includes that general duty which is incumbent on all, of every rank, station and condition, to be industrious and prudent, temperate and frugal, in the execution of that work which becomes their portion in this busy world; whereby the talents committed to them may be made to gain other talents, for their own enjoyment, and the means of enjoyment to others. It includes also the sum of duty which we owe to civil government; in rulers and judges of the people, that they act constitutionally in all their administrations, that they discharge the important trust reposed in them, with integrity and uprightness, that they watch over and guard the interest and happiness of their faithful subjects with parental care and manly firmness; and that they execute the laws with impartial justice and sympathetic tenderness. In subjects, that they yield a willing and cheerful obedience to the good and wholesome laws of the state and country in which they live; that they be peaceable and quiet in the enjoyment of their equal rights and privileges; that they discountenance and refill the evil machinations and base intrigues of the restless and factious; and readily unite and lend their individual aid in forming the strong barrier of national strength, for the support of the constituted authorities, and the defence of their country's rights.
In the second case, as it relates to individuals of the human race, we are called upon to cultivate the finer feelings of the human heart, [16/17] benevolence and kindness, sympathy and love, by which we may be led, not only to wish the prosperity and happiness of our neighbours and acquaintances, but actively to lend them aid, so far as may be in our power, in procuring the blessings of life; by which virtuous principles of the heart we may be induced with liberal hand to relieve the distressed; to give support and comfort to the feeble and afflicted; and to defend and secure the just rights of the poor oppressed, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and in prison, be eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, friends to the poor and fatherless, and in imitation of our Divine Master, as we have ability and opportunity, always go about doing good.
And these active virtues ought ever to be accompanied by gentleness, patience, forbearance, meekness and humility; whereby our manners will be obliging and inoffensive, our conduct easy and familiar, and our company and conversation agreeable.
While we make our light to shine forth in works thus good in themselves, and thus calculated for the promotion of happiness among our fellow-men, we shall evince our wisdom and virtue by obedience to the precepts of our Divine master, and be happily instrumental of that important purpose being answered, which is pointed out in my text; that others seeing our good works, and rightly judging them to be the fruits of Divine light, and Christian obedience, may be persuaded to give that Glory which is justly [17/18] due to our Father who is in Heaven, for thus illuminating the minds of men with wisdom from on high, and crowning our distinguished state with the resplendent brightness of the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
Thus shall we by wisdom engage the respect and esteem of our fellow-men, and secure to ourselves the best claim to happiness in this world; and by being instrumental through the influence of good example, of turning many to righteousness, become entitled to the exalted privilege of shining bright as the firmament, and as the stars for ever and ever.
I shall now apply the subject more particularly to the present occasion, in a few observations addressed to the Masonic Brotherhood here present.
It is with pleasure I improve this opportunity of addressing myself to you. Tho' I do not presume on being able to teach you any thing new; yet ardently as I wish for the happiness of mankind, and especially the honor and respectability, the prosperity and permanent felicity of our ancient order, I flatter myself with the hope that by exciting your attention to some important duties, I may render you some real service.
As Brethren of the human race, and members of the great society of mankind, we are sharers with them in the fame general blessings, and subjects of the fame general rules of morality and religion. The natural light of the world which shines on others, shines on you. In the [18/19] scale of rational wisdom, you may, I hope, justly claim an exalted rank: and the light of revelation shines upon you, as upon others in this happy land, with resplendent brightness. As men, and as christians, therefore, it behoves you equally with others, to let your light shine forth in such good works as may reflect honour on human nature, and render glorious in the view of man, the great Father of our spirits, and fountain of all light and knowledge.
But as every class and society of men are under a necessity of acting in a manner confident with their professions, and the rules of their order; if they would support the dignity which they assume, and be thought worthy the character which they claim; so are we, my brethren, under obligations more extensive in degree, and peculiar in kind: for in the circle of our society, we boast of light which they who are without cannot enjoy. And tho' we do not publish to the world the mysteries of the royal art; yet we boldly assert that the principles on which the institution is founded, are perfectly consistent with the best philosophy, morality and religion; and that its great design is, to improve the heart, and regulate the lives and conversation of its members. It behoves us then to endeavour assiduously to persuade others that our pretensions are justly founded, by being more stedfast and uniform in the practice of those exalted virtues, which dignify the man, and exalt the christian character.
Our social compact lays on us an additional [19/20] obligation to imitate our Supreme Grand Master who is the author of peace, and lover of concord, by being constant in the exercise of brotherly love, beneficence and truth; and by interesting ourselves more feelingly in the peace, order and welfare of the human race: because the cultivation of these best of principles in the breast, and the increase of these best of blessings in the world, are the openly avowed, and professed objects of the Masonic institution. And especially at this time, when by the pen of a ready writer unfolding to the view of men, the irreligious tenets, the base intrigues, and inhuman designs of false philosophy, our ancient order is made the subject of suspicion, jealousy and fear; lest under the veil of Masonic secrecy, may be concealed treason against the rights of man, and the God of Heaven; it greatly behoves every one who is true and faithful to let his light so shine forth in good works, as shall evince the integrity of his heart, and the truth of his pretensions; that our united and uniform display of the social virtues, and our unshaken attachment to the rules of religion, morality and good government, may root out all jealousy from the minds of our fellow men, and convince them that we do not conceal the dagger of assassination, under the garb of professed philanthropy, may convince them that we are not a dangerous cabal of unprincipled illuminati; but lovers of truth and sincerity, peace and good order; and the real [20/21] friends of mankind. And we may very justly confider that it is now a favourable time to display our virtues to advantage: For, as the blazing taper shines brightest in a dark night, so will virtue appear mod charming in a licentious age.
"How far the little candle throws it's beams!
"So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
Let truth be made the rule of all our actions. This is the basis of all Masonic virtues. To be good men and true, is part of the first great lesson we are taught. It is not sufficient that we walk in the light, unless we do the truth. Let hypocrisy and deceit ever give place to sincerity and plain dealing among the brethren: this will ensure to us the blessing of harmony and love both within and without the lodge; will render us amiable in the view of men, and acceptable to that great Being, unto whom all hearts arc open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.
I would particularly recommend also the virtue of temperance. This virtue has many powerful arguments in its favour. For as we value our health, wealth, reputation, family and friends, our general character as men, as christians, as members of society in general, and as Free-Masons in particular, all conspire to call on us for the exercise of this virtue. May we avoid not only what is in itself evil, but whatever has the appearance of impropriety; that the tongue of the slanderer may be struck dumb, and malevolence disarmed of its sting. And especially on [21/22] our feast days, when the eyes of men are upon us with the spirit of criticism, let us be temperate in our meats and drinks, and regulate our passions, our conversation and deportment by the rules of civility, decency and good order; "so that while the bright effects of enjoyment and hilarity shine forth in the countenance, and altho' appearances may be a little more sprightly than ordinary, it may not be called licentiousness and dissipation; but to every candid observer may appear like wisdom in good humour."
"Thus will our pleasures be never embittered by ungrateful reflections; but produce a serene and lasting composure of mind, while they flow not like a torrent which descends with noise and impetuosity; but like a peaceful river within its own channel, strong without violence, and gentle without dullness."
I will not enlarge further in pointing out the duties peculiarly incumbent on the Craft. But as it is a professed principle of the order, and particularly suitable to the celebration of this feast, I comprise them all in that of charity or true brotherly love. This is the new and greatest commandment. All others are summarily comprehended in this. It is the fulfilling of the law; a necessary qualification for the Celestial Lodge where the Supreme Architect of the Universe presides, who is love.
By the exercise of this general virtue we shall be led to the practice of every particular duty. For "charity suffereth long and is [22/23] kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly; seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked; thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things; believeth all things; hopeth all things; endureth all things: charity never faileth." From this Godlike source will proceed streams of benevolence and beneficence which shall gladden the hearts of all within our reach. Hence a conformity to the divine temper may shine forth conspicuous in all our conduct; in relieving the distressed, supplying the wants of the needy, comforting the disconsolate, forgiving the injurious and spiteful, and, in short, in doing good, as we have opportunity, to all men.
But especially let us live in drift amity and fraternal love with all true and faithful Brethren; that our hearts and tongues may join in concert, whenever we are led to say with the royal Psalmist, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."