day of Public Thanksgiving.]
"What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows now, in the presence of all his people."--Psalm cxvi. 12. 13 and 14.
IT is not known on what occasion this Psalm was composed, but it is evidently the thanksgiving for some spiritual or temporal deliverance.
The first verse of the text is a question which ever grateful heart repeats, and which we have met to-day, called by the united voices of the Church and State, to answer.
I. The benefits we have received from God.
II. The suitable return we ought to make for them.
I. We are authorized by the text to assume that the Lord God is the giver of every good gift, and it is well that we have met to-day to acknowledge Him.
That He supplies us, from day to day, with food convenient for us, is as strong a proof of His care and love, as though he should rain down manna [3/4] out of heaven. If we were accustomed to be supplied as the Israelites were in the wilderness, like them we should soon forget the hand that feeds us. Were the earth to be strewed every morning with provision for the day, we would soon become as unmindful of our God, as we are now, when seedtime and harvest fail not, and the rain and the sunshine descend on both the evil and the good. So thankless is the human heart, that though ten lepers are cleansed yet, but one returns to give glory to God. It is well, very well, therefore, to be called together in the temple of God, when the sense of His spiritual mercies is fresh, and when our store-houses are groaning with the burden of his blessings.
The past year has been abundant with the fruits of the earth, commerce has flourished, manufactures have steadily advanced, health has cheered us, and our homes and hearths have been sacred from the invader.
Nor should we forget the progress of that mechanic art which has conquered the ocean and brought together the old world and the new into neighborhood nearer even than parts of our own continent, linking the kindreds of men into one great family, and multiplying the means of diffusing the Gospel among all nations.
The Church has not been unmindful of her mission, and has abundant cause, even while she deplores her lukewarmness and guilt, to bless God for his favor and goodness and long suffering. In [4/5] our own Diocess, while there is a vast deal to humble, us to our knees for divine mercy and forgiveness, there is much also to inflame our gratitude. New churches have been built and many organized; and a steady progress in religion is the witness of the Lord's continued blessing on his ministry and Gospel. We ourselves, as a parish, have participated in His Divine favor, and you may expect to behold a small company who, having faith in a crucified Saviour, will be confirmed by the laying on of hands of the chief minister. One hundred and twenty persons have been added to the communion of the parish in the last sixteen months, and others are yet in a course of instruction preparatory to union with the Church. Great, my brethren, as our various blessings are, there is not one blessing which so decidedly indicates the divine favor as the conversion of a sinner to God. For this great end the Son of God stooped to earth, died on the cross, ascended to his Father, and ever lives to make intercession. For this end the Spirit of God proceeded from the Father and the Son, and moves on the hearts of men. For this end, the world is sustained, the Church defended, and the ministry perpetuated. And as we are admonished in the proclamation that calls us here to-day to render especial thanksgiving for God's unspeakable gift of a Saviour, so let us rejoice that his salvation has been made available to some, in the midst of much weakness and trembling, but through the purchased and vouchsafed influence of the Holy Ghost.
 To recount all the mercies that as a nation and as a church, and as individuals, we have received from God, is impracticable; they are as the sand for number. Yet I would not omit the mention of afflictions, designed as chastisements and as means of our sanctification. Some of us have experienced these under various shapes. They came in disguise, hidden under the inscrutable sovereignty of God; but faith tells us, and we trust experience in many cases confirms the truth, that our afflictions are real and substantial mercies. If they loosen our hold on time and sense, if they convey to the Christian the knowledge that he is a stranger and a pilgrim on earth, if they elevate his thoughts and entwine his affections to the things of eternity and make him more dependent on God, there is no doctrine clearer than this, that afflictions are mercies. And though the heart-strings are wrenched and social comforts wrecked; though an eye is plucked out or a hand is cut off; yet, if the soul is made more ready to soar on the wings of faith and hope to her home in the bosom of her Saviour and her God, the thanksgivings of eternity will recite our bereavements as the chief of the blessings we received in this world.
While we are calling to mind the mercies enjoyed, it will not be amiss to admonish you of our abuse of some of them,--abuses which, unless reformed, are likely to convert our blessings into curses. Our national sins are pride, self will, and covetousness, and our freedom is misused to an excess of [6/7] licentiousness. We are, as a people, blessed in the possession of civil and religious liberty. With regard to civil freedom,--I judge from a studious comparison of the polities of different Governments which I made in former days,--no nation possesses a larger measure than these United States. The experiment of a great people binding themselves by a written. constitution in which all that is essential to government is ordered, and all that is valuable in liberty, is secured, has been attempted under the scornful eye and evil wishes of tyrants, and before the earnest gaze of patriots and of friends. It has been executed by three generations of freemen, amidst every variety of vicissitude in war and in peace, in prosperity and distress. Our liberties, accordingly, are restricted and bounded by constitutional laws. Throughout our civil polity are checks and balances, limitations and restraints, that hedge us in and shut us up to certain paths and specific enjoyments. The Law stands above us, and deals out to each citizen his proper measure of liberty, prescribing reciprocal rights and obligations, and thus securing to every citizen of the Republic his due proportion of happiness, and prohibiting all obtrusion upon the privileges of others. The peculiar feature of our government, that which makes it free, is, that it is a government of law, which the people themselves have made for themselves and their children. Their only sovereign, under the great God whom they profess to acknowledge, is the sovereign law. Now, the tendency of our [7/8] generation and of our age is to disregard the law. The maxim that "the voice of the people is the voice of God," is true only, 1st, when the voice does not contradict God's voice in the Bible, and, 2d, when this voice of the people is lawfully uttered. Assuming that nothing is designed or expressed contrary to the Bible, then the next condition must be fulfilled, before the voice of the people can be urged as authority; it must be duly uttered; uttered from the constituted tribunals of the constitution. Any law is binding upon the conscience until the law be lawfully changed. I may object to the constitution of our State, but I have no right to contravene its provisions, until they are regularly and constitutionally revoked or altered; and if I have no right to take the law into my hands, neither have you neither have the majority, nor even the whole commonwealth promiscuously assembled. The law must be altered lawfully, and in the mode prescribed by the constitution, and until then, it is supreme and sovereign. It were far better to suffer oppression, than to violate this cardinal principle, for it is this which secures our lives, our liberties, and our pursuit of happiness. For the barriers of our will being one by one overthrown, lawlessness will rush in like a flood, and bear us on the roaring waves to ruin.
Accordingly, we should deplore and censure those tumultuous and illegal mobs which have disgraced our land and laid violent hands on our citizens. We should frown indignantly on those [8/9] disorganizing societies which erect themselves as the institutions of our country, and impeach those who exercise their vested rights. We should set our faces like a flint against the presumption and vanity of an individual, or any number of individuals who withstand the operation of the law, and we should cultivate in our own breasts respect and veneration for this sovereign which, as freemen, we have crowned, and to which, as subjects, we owe allegiance. Be loyal, be faithful to established laws, and you will be freemen; otherwise, with all our proud boastings of independence, we shall be slaves.
If you use your liberty as a cloak of maliciousness, and not as servants of God, if you believe that freedom consists in doing as one pleases, if you transgress the bounds prescribed by the civil constitution, you are not only injuring others, but committing social suicide on yourselves, for the weapons you are sharpening are two-edged, and will destroy your own liberties by the very act which trenches on the freedom of others.
Among the particular instances of the abuse of our liberties, is the extravagant use of the freedom of the press.
I speak not of any party, nor as a partisan. I speak on this subject as a patriot, as a minister of the Gospel, as a watchman who is bound to observe the signs of the times, and to give the people warning.
And therefore I say the abuse of the freedom of the press is a national sin.
 I will not stop to eulogize this bulwark of liberty. It is enough to say that on many accounts it is a blessing that calls forth our devoutest gratitude to God. The press is an engine which men must fear, for it can hurl kings from their thrones; but it may also subvert the liberties of a republic, when its voice does not echo the Gospel voice from the pulpit, and teach obedience to God and to law. When it manifests no respect for character, for right, and for truth, then the days of our civil freedom are numbered. Now the heat of party is ever stirring up the foul elements of a wicked heart, and the press has poured them forth in a torrent. It is common to read reciprocal charges of falsehood made by antagonist prints; and it is notorious that one code of morals is practised by the press and another in society, and that which would stigmatize an individual to utter, is thought not disgraceful in him to print. And so the press, which ought to be the very mirror of truth, is likely to become the engine of falsehood.
There are, we all know, honorable exceptions to this alarming charge. Let them be praised and honored for the noble dignity they have assumed, and for the courage that dares not tell a lie, nor slander character, nor utter a blasphemy. But O! if the press abuse its freedom by circulating scurrility and impiety, the people will be so thoroughly infected, that right, and justice, and liberty, and religion, will be soon despised, subverted, and trodden down.
It is no apology that the public appetite demands [10/11] the excitement of invective. The public taste is cherished by indulgence, its appetite is whetted by every new supply from the press; and so the press makes the meat it feeds upon, and the more copiously it furnishes such food, the more ravenous will be the morbid appetite for its malignant flavor. Let the press, therefore, cease to pamper a public lust it has so largely encouraged; and so far as we are concerned, let us, my hearers, discountenance the evil. Two things we should always bear in mind in every discussion: first, not to ascribe motives to another; and, secondly, not to attack personal character. Personalities are invidious. Motives are secret. We cannot pronounce on motives with certainty, and character is too precious and sacred a thing to treat with levity. Leave these with God, and wait for the judgment day for the only true revelation of the thoughts, motives, and dispositions of men.
Let principles be discussed largely, but temperately and with charity. Let abuses be courageously but gently exposed. Let the printing press be as free as air, but let it be also as pure as air; else the liberties which we are called on to-day to be thankful for, will be torn from a corrupted and wicked people.
Religious liberty is yet another of our prized blessings. It is the glory of America and the Protestant Church. And O! when we remember the galling chains that Rome fastened on our Anglican fathers, and the dismal shroud which she cast over [11/12] the world, we may well rejoice in the light and freedom which we enjoy. The triumphant effort which burst the fetters of spiritual thraldom and hurled them at our oppressors, and the success which attended the publication of God's Word, at the reformation of the Church in England, were the mightiest achievements recorded in the annals of modern times. And the freedom of conscience, which God's word enjoins and our civil constitution protects, ought to fill us with gratitude, and incite us to the determination to serve God with that liberty with which Christ has made us free. Yet this very freedom is abused extravagantly. It is tortured into a right to believe nothing. It is made an apology for unbelief and misbelief; never has the arch enemy seized so cunningly on the weapons of God and turned them against our own souls, as on this, which is the boast of our Church and country. Liberty of conscience derives its authority originally from the Bible, not from any human statute. It is enjoined of God, that "every man be fully persuaded in his own mind, and be ready to give an answer to him that asks for the faith that is in him, with meekness and courtesy."
It is enjoined on us to let no man judge us in this matter of faith; to our own master each one standeth or falleth. The Saviour himself did not judge any in his humiliation on earth, but declared that the word which he has spoken, "the same shall judge us in the last day." Hence every man is bound to judge of truth by the word of God; and [12/13] it is an encroachment on this freedom for any to be lord over God's heritage, and to force matters of faith on the conscience, and this freedom of conscience our forefathers have incorporated in our civil charters, and thus have republished what God before ordained. But think you, my hearers, that by this enactment God has legalized infidelity? Suppose ye that it is indifferent to Him who has so skilfully constructed the scheme of salvation, whether sinners receive it or not? Has the precious blood of the Royal Son been spilt in vain, by giving men licence to tread it under foot!
Yet our liberty of conscience is, by some, thus misconstrued, and it is a popular answer to the messenger of Christ, who urges repentance, faith, baptism, and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, to say, I have a liberty of conscience in this matter. Trouble me not with religion and religious rites. O, this is licentiousness, not liberty--this is slavery, not freedom--it is making our chartered liberty of conscience to signify a liberty to have no conscience. Instead of giving a reason for the faith that is in us, we are prompted by this perversion of our powers, to avow and practise infidelity without remorse and without blushing.
Now, my dear hearers, you and I have especial cause for thanksgiving in the enjoyment of a Church Constitution which is a strong barrier to the uneasy spirit of fanaticism and infidelity. To churchmen it is no recommendation that a project or an opinion is new. Our sympathies are with the venerable, the [13/14] long-tried. We abhor innovation. We are essentially conservative. We believe that a revelation cannot be improved by man. And although we are by no means repugnant to, but solicitous for, the advancement of society along the old paths of truth and principle, yet we are not promoters of rash experiments, either in politics or in religion. We believe the faith once delivered to the saints is most productive of the liberty with which Christ hath made us free. So that, on the whole, as no improvements are likely to be made in a revealed religion which was given by inspiration of God, we are content to adhere to the Church which comes down to us from the beginning, whose creed is of the apostles (whose prayers are of the. Fathers), and whose government is of Christ. Whatever is evangelical in doctrine is taught in her liturgy, and whatever is pure in morality is enjoined in her offices. As it is, therefore, wo and shame to the churchman who is not a holy Christian, and confusion to the minister who does not boldly preach what the Church inculcates--the truth, as it is in Jesus.
For these blessings, brethren, we are called on today to thank Almighty God. And while we invite the tossed Christian, who is in search of the Church of Christ, to cast his lot among us, and seek shelter in the ark of God, our refuge, we are determined, as we are ready to prove all things, to hold fast that which is good. We will oppose, chiefly by our example, innovations in settled order both in Church [14/15] and State; while in both we will allow a charitable and scriptural latitude for differences of opinion--tempering discipline by justice, and justice by kindness.
H. And now what shall we render to the Lord for all his benefits towards us? Let us take the cup of salvation, call upon the name of the Lord, and pay our vows now in the presence of all his people.
The Psalmist looked in vain for any other return which he could make to the Lord God. He had nothing which He had not received. His wealth, his mind, his religion, his country--all were the gift of God. His very thankfulness was bestowed upon him freely, graciously, for nothing. He bent his gaze through the vista of the past. he turned his prophetic eye to the opening future--his vision compassed the wide expansive horizon of the present, and he discovered the impossibility of creature merit, and so he resolved to show his gratitude by taking new mercies, and paying his vows by a holy obedience.
My Christian brethren, you can make suitable returns to God in no other way. He asks of you no mighty achievement. He is not a man that you can exalt him, nor a creature whose wants you can supply. He is the infinitely happy, eternal, almighty God. He opens his hand and fills all things living with plenteousness, and so loves you that he has freely given us His Son, and with Him salvation.
Express your gratitude, therefore, by taking the [15/16] cup of salvation anew, and paying your vows in the midst of this temple, and before the world, by a devout and holy obedience to the precious Saviour.
There are some among you who have found that Saviour precious to your souls during the last year, and this is your first public thanksgiving to God for the unspeakable benefits of his grace. It is to you a day of solemn joy indeed. How different are your prospects from the last year's! Then the grave bounded your hope of happiness--now destinies of boundless glory crowd eternity; then there was a fearful looking for of judgment--now salvation and endless thanksgiving in heaven. O! what can you render but the homage of a grateful heart, and the obedience of a ready faith and gushing affection! You can only take the cup of salvation, be instant in prayer, calling on the name of the Lord, and faithfully paying your covenant vows to him who redeemed you with blood!
Yet, fellow-Christians, we who enlisted under the banner of the cross years gone by, are not without special benefits in the continuance of the spiritual and temporal blessings we prize. Let us, then, strive daily to grow in grace. Let the unction from the Holy One be fragrant in our lives, that our example may attract to the fountain of salvation the thirsty souls who are panting in our very midst. And let us put the cup of salvation into their hands, and lead them to the source of happiness, that they also may drink with us and live
Let us all likewise remember the poor, and the [16/17] destitute, and the afflicted, and pour oil into the wounded heart, and make the widow and the fatherless bless us.
And you who have never yet taken the cup of salvation--never made or (if you have made them) have never paid your vows to God, have you no return to make for his benefits towards you?
If it be true that nothing but your salvation will be acceptable to God, why are you neglectful? Why are you spending your money for that which is not bread, and laboring for that which satisfieth not? Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. O! linger no longer in the ways of sin--come to Jesus--take salvation--pay your covenant vows in the midst of the people at the altar of God. Then shall ye begin to render the only thanksgiving--the only return for the benefits with which Divine Love has burdened you.
When God bestows, if we despise,
The heaviest guilt upon us lies,
Mercy abused brings down from God,
The heaviest vengeance of his rod.
And now let us therefore join with the glorified and the thankful in ascribing blessing and honor and glory and power and thanksgiving to Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever.