REV. THOMAS GALLAUDET,
ST. ANN'S CHURCH, NEW YORK,
THE NATIONAL FAST DAY,
Thursday, September 26th, 1861.
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST.
MY BELOVED BRETHREN,
I must acknowledge with all sincerity that as your pastor, one duly appointed to instruct you and lead you in the path of duty, I have never felt greater diffidence in attempting to speak to you than upon the present occasion. The great question in my mind is, what shall I say to you, that, by God’s blessing, shall result in doing you any permanent substantial good, as citizens of a country now, alas, in a most unsettled condition. If I shall succeed in setting forth a few thoughts that shall be in keeping with the solemn services of the day, and that shall prove to be topics of earnest meditation, I shall be satisfied.
The only way to derive any practical benefit from the observance of this National Fast, is, to have a clear conception of what have been our national sins and then to probe our own hearts to find out how far we are responsible for them either by positive disobedience or simple indifference in relation to the arrangements of the Infinite, the God of nations as well as of individuals. Having done this, God grant that with genuine repentance for whatever our consciences may convict us, we may, for the future, be more watchful in relation to the discharge of all our duties as citizens, and in relation to our influence upon others.
The sin which lies at the very root of all our national sins, i. e., the sins committed by the decided [1/2] majority of the people composing this nation, is one which the greater proportion of religious Teachers will probably fail to touch upon today--simply because their education has been defective. It is the sin of practically considering citizenship in the United States of America to be of more importance than citizenship in the kingdom which is not of this world--of the kingdom which is composed of individuals taken from all nations and fitly joined together by Baptism in the mystical Body of the Son of God--of the kingdom which outranks all earthly governments--even the Christian Church--the only organization in which persons can be trained to be good citizens under the earthly governments which God has placed over them. This sin has, doubtless, in multitudes of cases, been committed ignorantly; but all departures from divine arrangements begun and carried on from whatever motive must eventually end in destruction. A nation cannot enter upon the course to lasting, genuine prosperity until the large majority of its citizens acknowledge the infinite superiority of divine to human arrangements. It is not enough for a nation to acknowledge God in a general, undefined way. To be permanent, to be happy, it must, in some clear and distinct manner, recognize the incomprehensible Being, whom we call God, as the Divine Jehovah, revealing Himself to mankind through the incarnation of the second person in the Godhead--the Eternal Son--and founding that simple, yet sublime, organization which has for more than eighteen centuries been the Mother of all the really good and great citizens which the nations have had.--What! shall the great God of Heaven and Earth make known through his Son the way in which he would have his [2/3] children walk--and that nation expect to prosper, whose citizens, in almost countless numbers, turn their backs upon divine arrangements.
The more we think of this matter, the more clearly will it seem to us that no nation can look forward to complete success until it formally recognizes its dependence upon God through Jesus Christ, the founder of that spiritual organization which was intended, through the atonement wrought out by its compassionate head, to make men better citizens. When we come to really think of the whole subject in this light--to say that this course would interfere with the rights of conscience in relation to religious belief--is to say that the whims and notions and fancies and conceits and isms of finite man are of more importance than the clearly defined revelations and positive institutions of the infinite God. There need be no formal connection between the Church and the State--there need be no interference with the civil rights of those who could not see God in Christ--there need be no persecution of the citizen who does not see fit to be a Christian, but he must simply understand that for the nation his puny will is not to unseat from the throne of the universe the Infinite Jehovah, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Under the deadly influence of this grand national sin of elevating human arrangements above divine, what multitudes of men--many of them endowed with splendid natural abilities--have risen to places of political trust and power and influence with poisoned hearts, setting pernicious examples, uttering pernicious doctrines, thus leading millions to the commission of all those sins, which are now by the common consent of all who profess to have any religion, considered to be national, considered to be the [3/4] ones which are now drawing down from God the punishment which the nation deserves.
Turning their, backs upon the divinely appointed pathway--which, alas, has been so often obscured by human pride and self-conceit--how easily has the nation, as a whole, slidden into the sin of practical infidelity. The people have put their confidence in men rather than in God’s superintending providence. In all the political questions which have from time to time deeply excited this nation, how few have perceived that they have been settled, after all, by God’s overruling power! How many have attributed this settlement directly to the influence of such and such leaders of contending parties! Thank God we have had a few noble-minded Christian statesmen who have manfully sought to drive back these waves of infidelity and have stood nobly at their posts, pointing to the God of nations as using them for his instruments; but, alas, the majority have acted differently. Though God in infinite mercy had regard to the ten righteous men in Sodom and continued to settle question after question which arose in the progress of this wonderful country, still national infidelity remained in the ascendant, increasing rather than diminishing. At last all eyes were turned to the great subject which had been gradually looming into view from the very birth of the Republic, i. e. the subject of slavery.
Men became so much engrossed in the views of party leaders in relation to this matter, that they forgot that God could settle it in due time for the best, either bringing slavery to an end or relieving it from those evil tendencies which seemed almost inseparable from the simple question of merely holding human beings under a kind, patriarchal restraint. Upon this [4/5] subject, I suppose, more than upon any other, down-right infidel, impious views have been advanced by leaders in every section in the land. Men of the most radical views inflamed the public mind, north and south till it seemed well-nigh forgotten from the Chief Executive downwards that it was better to put confidence in God than in man. It was in relation to slavery that multitudes of extreme men, both north and south, put forth the most blasphemous and outrageous doctrines. The day of forbearance was over, and as nations have no future existence but must be punished here, God has permitted slavery to bring upon us the deadly curse, the demoralizing horrors of civil war. And now, while the hand of God is heavily pressing upon the nation for its sin, how sad it is to see the people still putting their confidence in earthly leaders. It is this or that General upon whom the hopes of the nation depend.
Brethren, on this solemn day, when so many of the faithful, in all parts of the country are praying, (aye, even in yonder misguided States, containing some of our dearest friends, there are, I doubt not, many doing it secretly), let us, as we bow in deep humiliation before our Creator, beseech Him that he will not raise his mighty hand from off this nation until the people have learned to humble themselves under his rule, till this people have resolved to turn away from all the national sins which cluster around infidelity, i. e., profanity, sabbath-breaking, dishonor to parents, murder, licentiousness, bribery and corruption, slander, covetousness, intemperance, selfishness, extravagance, love of display and the like. Yes, let us pray earnestly that God, having mercifully condescended to administer to this nation the correction which its crying sins demanded, [5/6] will not spare his hand, will let disaster after disaster have their full and perfect course, till the people of this whole country--the thirty-four States and various territories which God in his providence formed into one nation--turn away from their madness and learn to be still before the living God. Thus shall the national storm at length pass away. Thus shall the central government, undergoing perchance some constitutional reconstruction to be better suited to the new circumstances in which it will find itself, be placed upon a firmer basis, and the people, smiling under the heavenly rainbow, springing its graceful arch from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, shall say, what a blessed thing is peace.
Let us devoutly pray that as the nation rises from the low regions of infidelity and consequent degrading sin, and beholds, under the smiles of God, the government gradually re-established in its integrity throughout the land, rendering this grand military display again unnecessary, the people may really feel the influences of self-sacrificing, whole-souled devotion to their duty as citizens, that the best and wisest men may be put in the offices of public trust--thus the nation, having been brought down to the valley of humiliation and become a by-word and a hissing amongst so many--may be exalted to the glorious position of having the model government of the earth.
Brethren, let us for a few moments in conclusion take the whole matter of the nation's sins and the nation's discipline at the hand of God, home to our own consciences. We form such a minute fraction of the thirty millions which go to make up the United States of America, that we have often yielded to the temptation that it would make but little difference whether we [6/7] failed to do our duty as citizens or not. We have withdrawn into our families, into our daily routine of individual duty, into the privileges and blessings of our beloved church, and left unscrupulous politicians, Bible-defying essayists, monomaniac reformers to light the fires which have been permitted by the Holy One to spread into this present, raging, national conflagration. The best evidence of thorough repentance is a down-right change of life. Let us, then, as we are stirred by the impressive associations connected with this day's solemn services, resolve, that, God being our helper, we will with new energy take hold of the duties of good citizens; that we will be as thoroughly in earnest as patriots as in any other relation of life. I hope we shall all have grace enough to say that upon the whole, whatever may be our opinions as to the faults of past administrations or the present, we are ready to sustain the government under which God has placed us, and that, when its authority shall be again established, we will, to the best of our ability, see that under the constitution and laws, exact justice shall be done to every citizen, in whatever part of the country he may live. Let not the dear wives and mothers and daughters and sisters of this and other Christian congregations think that they have nothing to do in making prosperous this country, of which they are citizens, as well as those who are called to present themselves at the ballot-box or to put forth physical strength at the call of the government. The influence of the women of our land is so indescribably powerful over husbands and sons and fathers and brothers, that if entirely exerted in the right direction it would do as much as anything towards raising [7/8] this nation from the terrible condition into which, for its sins, God has hurled it.
Brethren, as we bow before God to-day, in public and in private, oh, let us be grateful, devoutly grateful, that what we believe to be the Church of Christ, the Church of our dearest affections, had no direct agency in bringing our country to its present unhappy state. The Churchmen of this land have moved on, until recently, in most brotherly agreement. Its conservative members, bishops, clerical and lay delegates from dioceses covering the length and breadth of the land met only two years ago and transacted all the important business of the Church, in perfect love and harmony, at the very city which is now connected with such sad associations, the Capital of the State which gave us the God-fearing Father of his Country. If the members of this Church are all true to their position, who knows but that she, the only religious body in the country which has not come into open collision upon the vexed subject which has been the means of so much discord, may be instrumental in lighting again the genial fires which shall warm into mutual love the hearts that are now estranged, and in giving to the nation such high-souled conservative statesmen as shall be able to settle, under the guidance of Jehovah, all the difficulties which now have such a threatening aspect. Oh, God, hear the prayers which have ascended from so many faithful hearts bowed down this day, for the sins and sorrows of our beloved country, and grant that through these terrible strifes, this nation may be cured of its infidelity and all its clustering sins, and thus, at length, be exalted to the fulness of thy special favor, through Jesus Christ our Lord.