Thursday, April 13, A.D. 1815;
ESPECIALLY FOR THE RESTORATION OF THE
Assistant Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York.
No. 160 Pearl-Street.
Since this Sermon was printed, intelligence has been received of the extraordinary elevation of the individual whose sudden depression appeared the signal of repose to troubled Europe. It may be the design of the righteous Governor of the universe, in permitting this astonishing revolution, still further to scourge the nations. This apprehension adds force to the sentiment contained in the following Sermon; and more powerfully urges upon us the duty of cherishing those public virtues which alone can secure to a people the favour of the Most High, and avert the judgments of his providence.
PSALM cxliv. 15. Happy are the people that are in such a case; yea, blessed are the people who have the Lord for their God.
THE Lord God omnipotent reigneth, and doth according to his will, in the armies of Heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. When he giveth peace, who can give trouble? and when he hideth, who can behold? None can stay his hand, or say unto him, what dost thou?
Blessed, then, surely, are the people who have the Lord for their God.
Yes, my brethren, the truth, demonstrable by reason and Scripture, that the Most High ruleth [3/4] over the nations, chastising them by his judgments, or exalting them by his mercies, leads to the important conclusion, that the foundation for the permanent prosperity and happiness of a nation can be laid only in the Divine favour. Transgression must be punished, except where repentance interposes; or the throne of the universe is not filled by a righteous Sovereign.
Nations exist only in this world, and national iniquities therefore can in this world only be punished.
Mark how this truth has been exemplified! Sodom and Gomorrah, those corrupt cities, sunk beneath the burning showers of Divine wrath. The land of Canaan, no longer able to endure the dreadful iniquity of its inhabitants, vomited them forth, a prey to the sword of the Israelites; the executioners of Heaven's justice. In their turn, this rebellious people, who forsook. the Lord their God, and plunged in all the idolatry and corruption of the nations whom God had destroyed before them, were scourged by famine, by pestilence, by the sword; and, carried into cruel bondage, at length became dispersed throughout the world; the standing memorials of the righteous indignation of the Sovereign of the universe against a sinful people. Where are the nations whom God employed [4/5] as the ministers of his vengeance on the rebellious Israelites? They, also, arrogant, sensual, corrupt, when they had answered the purposes of God's sovereign providence, were swept from the earth; and the names of those who once made the world to tremble, now live only in the silent pages which have recorded their splendour, their crimes, and their destruction.
You need not search the awful records of the days that are past. Those which are before us will tell a tale that shall make the ear to tingle. We have seen a nation throw off the government of God. We have seen them, vengeful and implacable as the fiends of hell, counsel, as in Pandemonium, to hurl the Eternal from his throne. And we have seen them. scorched by that wrath which they bad defied--every domestic tie torn asunder--every social comfort blasted. We have seen the tide of vengeance rolling over them. And when in God's righteous providence they were sufficiently punished, we have seen them, under the control of a mighty Spirit, become the ministers of wrath against other nations who were sunk in superstition, in sensuality, and in crimes. The tide of vengeance rolled over them, and left the deepest traces of desolation, where infidelity had most extensively prevailed.
 Wonderful the last scene of this awful drama! The mighty Spirit, who said in his heart, I will ascend into Heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; he who "smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke," is stopped. As with a bridle in his mouth, and with a hook in his nose, he is brought back. He withers, and sinks, as if struck by the arm of the Almighty. The grave from beneath is moved to meet him at his coming; it stirreth up the dead for him, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they speak concerning him, Art thou become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us? How art thou fallen from Heaven, Son of the Morning? How art thou cast down to the ground which didst weaken the nations?
It is impossible not to hear the lesson which these awful scenes inculcate, that the Almighty will, sooner or later, punish a nation for its crimes.
Brethren, have not we felt this lesson? Were we not eminently distinguished as a nation by privileges and blessings? Will the most arrogant among us venture to say that we made a suitable improvement of our privileges; that there were no vices and crimes distinguishing us as a people which called for punishment? The rod of God's [6/7] anger was laid upon us; and, assuredly, it was deserved. War, one of his sore judgments, desolating the path of private enjoyment, was marching with rapid stride over the ruins of public prosperity. We have felt the stroke of God's righteous providence. But he hath said to the angel of judgment--It is enough. He hath said to the troubled waters over the face of the whole earth--Peace. He hath staid on our shores the last murmuring of their angry waves. And now we utter a song which hath long been banished from the agitated earth--"He maketh wars to cease in all the world--The Lord hath given to his people the blessing of peace."
What is the security for the continuance to us of this inestimable blessing? What is the security for the continuance to us of all the mercies and privileges which we enjoy? The favour of him who ruleth in Heaven and in earth. For "blessed only are the people who have the Lord for their God."
What then are the means by which we may secure the favour of the eternal Jehovah? What are those public virtues most conducive to the prosperity of a nation, and which effectually tend to secure to a people the favour of the Most High?
 We answer,
ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE. SUBMISSION TO THE GOSPEL OF HIS SON.
I. PUBLIC SPIRIT---as opposed to selfishness in all its various operations.
To selfishness in the pursuit of wealth.
To selfishness in the employment of wealth; and,
To selfishness in the exercise of political rights.
There is no passion more debasing than the selfish love of gain; than the pursuit of it merely for its own' sake, or on account of the personal advantages which it will bestow on its possessor. No generous or honourable feelings can live in the bosom where this inordinate passion has struck its deep and baneful roots. If it degrades and contracts the individual, it will degrade and contract, where it generally prevails, the national spirit; rendering it incapable of rising to extensive and noble views, or to deeds of generosity and splendour. Where the selfish love of gain predominates, the national character is mean and sordid. Public spirit necessarily becomes extinct, where each individual of the community feels no other passion, and knows [8/9] no other object, than personal aggrandisement. If, then, it is essential to individual nobility of spirit, it is most certainly so to elevation of national character, that the love and the pursuit of wealth should be regulated, not solely by a reference to the selfish gratification which it brings, but by a supreme regard to those objects of general benevolence and of public good, which it confers on its possessor, the high honour and the exalted pleasure of promoting. Degraded, indeed, will be our country, should its citizens ever become enslaved by that love of gain which known-no other object than selfish gratification--For they will, then, most certainly, be characterised by that
Selfish employment of wealth, which is utterly incompatible with public spirit.
There is no maxim more plain, than that each individual lives not for himself alone, but for the general benefit of that community to whose laws and protection he owes the enjoyment of life, of liberty, and of property. The public, therefore, have a claim upon the wealth of each individual as far as may be necessary to the general honour, safety, and happiness. And where selfish views and selfish gratifications have extinguished that public spirit which interests every individual in the general honour and welfare, and which prompts [9/10] him freely to devote a liberal proportion of his wealth to all those plans of science, of religion, and of benevolence, by which the public prosperity and happiness are advanced, that nation may prolong a feeble and joyless existence, but will never attain that honour and felicity to which disinterested public spirit alone can elevate a people.
It is further essential to the prosperity and happiness of a nation, that public spirit should extinguish all selfish views in the exercise of political rights.
The citizen should know no object but the good of his country--rib' passion but for its honour. Public spirit should elevate him above that selfishness, which would engage him in the arts of intrigue and the cabals of faction, in order to attain consequence or station. No scene can be more disgusting, and none to a patriotic mind more dismaying, than those political contests, where freemen, instead of calmly and disinterestedly exercises g their political rights in reference solely to the best interests of their country, are arranged, in hostility to each other, under the banners of faction. Utterly disclaiming, as inconsistent both with my duty and my feelings, all allusion to particular men or measures, I would earnestly impress the general truth (and general political truth alone should be [10/11] inculcated from this sacred place), that the nation, the great mass of whose citizens are made subservient to the selfish views of conflicting political parties, is not destined to be long free, flourishing, or happy.
II. VIRTUOUS HABITS are essential to the prosperity of a nation.
Virtuous Habits, as opposed to
Indolence--to luxury--and to licentiousness.
No nation was ever flourishing or happy, whose citizens were not distinguished by industry--by that industry which, steadily and vigorously pursuing some useful occupation or profession, leads to individual opulence and comfort, and to national strength and prosperity. Singularly favoured in this respect is our country. The innumerable avenues which it opens to wealth are crowded by its industrious and enterprising citizens, whose ingenuity in every useful art is equal; led only by their zeal and perseverance.
Happy will they be if their energies are not palsied, nor their virtue corrupted, by the baneful influence of luxury--not that luxury which, employing wealth in the execution of ornamental and useful projects, sends it abroad to animate and to [11/12] fertilize the nation--not that luxury which, making wealth, within the bounds of moderation, subservient to personal and social gratifications, expands, and refines, and exalts society--but that luxury which makes wealth tributary merely to splendour and to sensuality--that luxury which, engaging all classes of the community in the dangerous contest of ostentation, often ruins the individual in fortune, where it does not corrupt him in morals; and which invariably unnerves the public strength, and effeminates, debases, and destroys the public virtue.
For in the train of luxury is licentiousness--that licentiousness which dissipates and debauches the higher classes of society, and plunges the lower into, the sinks of profligacy and vice---that lice'''. tiousness which knows no laws but those of appetite, and no idol but sensual gratification. A. licentious people can never preserve their freedom, nor their prosperity. They will, in the first instance, be flattered and cajoled by those ambitious leaders who will afterwards enslave them, and rule them with the only rod that can keep in subjection a vicious people, the rod of arbitrary power. The profligate citizen is the enemy of his country, who is forging its chains. And, still more tremendous consideration, he is preparing it for the scourges [12/13] of the Almighty. For a licentious people will always disregard that
III. RIGHTEOUS DOMINION OF GOD, the acknowledgment of which alone can secure to a nation his favour.
"He is the Governor among the nations. He sitteth in the Heavens, and his kingdom ruleth over all." It is not possible that this world can have sprung of itself from chaos. It is not possible that man, intelligent, moral, looking to Heaven, owes his origin to chance. The world, man must have had a Maker, intelligent, powerful, good. And the Maker of the world must necessarily be its Governor. The dominion of God over the universe results from his perfections, and from his character, as its Creator. But if he has erected his throne of dominion, will he permit the nations whom he rules to disregard or to insult it? This would be the surrender of his authority, and the establishment of rebellion. "The Lord reigneth--stand in awe of him, all ye that dwell in the earth."
This dominion is to be acknowledged by a nation in all her public acts: Mindful that it is the Lord who "disappointeth the knowledge of the [13/14] crafty, and taketh the wise in their own cunning; that in his hand is power and might; and that he giveth strength unto all;" the counsellors of a nation must look to him for wisdom, and they that go forth to the battle, to him for strength. "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."
"Promotion cometh neither from the East nor from the West: but God is the Judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another." The blessing, and protection of him who watcheth over, and ruleth the destinies of nations, must be invoked by that people who would escape those awful inflictions, which, sooner or later, scourge every community that refuses to acknowledge the dominion of the Sovereign of the universe. In the time of danger and adversity they. are to humble themselves under his mighty hand, and turn from their sins by unfeigned repentance; for thus he saith by the mouth of his Prophet--"At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them." In the seasons of public deliverance and mercies, let the thankful and dependant [14/15] acknowledgment ascend--"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the praise. Thou hast saved us not for our own righteousness, but for thy great mercies." But let the people whom the Lord hath saved and delivered from the hand of the enemy--let the people to whom he hath given a heritage, "blessed of heaven above, and of the deep that lieth under," to whom he hath given "statutes that are good," and for whom, and for whose fathers he hath "done great things, whereof they rejoice," let them remember the decree of the Eternal--"At what instant I shall speak concerning a kingdom; and concerning a nation, to build and to plant it, if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them." Hath Jehovah spoken, and shall he not do it? Brethren, the only security for the privileges and the blessings which we enjoy, is in the acknowledgment of God's righteous providence, displayed by the reverence and fear of his holy name, and by obedience to his commandments and laws.
It is his commandment that we believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ--it is his commandment that we honour the Son, even as we honour the Father--it is his commandment that we worship [15/16] and obey that holy King whom he bath set upon the hill of Zion, to whom he bath given the utmost parts of the earth for a possession.
A people, therefore, can secure the blessing and the favour of the Lord of Hosts only
IV. BY HUMBLE AND HOLY SUBMISSION TO THE GOSPEL OF HIS SON, THE LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST.
Individual infidelity, individual rejection of him whom the Father bath sent, must answer for its guilt in the world which is to come. But when infidelity pervades the mass of a nation--when a whole people rise up and say, We will not have the Lord to reign over us--when in impious league they stand up, and take counsel together against the Lord, and against his Anointed--oh! that people are ripe for the judgments of the Almighty. The vials of wrath are preparing to empty upon them. Look back but as to yesterday, and behold!--A people literally take counsel against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying in the very words by which inspiration had characterised the purpose of impiety--Let us break their bond's asunder--let us cast away their cords from us. And, behold!--Did not he who sitteth in heaven laugh them to [16/17] scorn? Did he not speak to them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure? Did he not rule them as with a rod of iron? Did he not break them in pieces, as a potter's vessel?
Be wise, O ye Kings--be instructed, ye that are judges of the earth--have understanding, O ye people, and know that Jesus Christ is set upon a throne which is for ever and ever; that unto him every knee is commanded to bow, and every tongue to confess--they who "make war with him, he shall overcome, for he is the King of kings, and Lord of lords."
Submission to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as to its moral effects, is essential to the prosperity of a nation. This Gospel alone can make rulers a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well. This Gospel alone can make the people subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. This Gospel alone, by its divine motives and aids, can cherish among a nation "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report;" and thus this Gospel alone can carry order, virtue, peace, and felicity, through all the diversified paths of social and domestic life. Believer in Jesus! by thy humble submission to [17/18] his Gospel, thou dost save thy soul; and thou art promoting, at the same time, the salvation of thy country! Lover of thy country! in rejecting the Gospel of Christ, or acting contrary to its spirit and its precepts, thou art preparing wrath and misery for that country!
Each individual should remember that the public spirit, and the virtuous habits, which are essential to the prosperity of a nation, must be found in its citizens. He who knows no idol but self, pursuing and employing wealth only for the gratification of his avarice or his sensual passions; who carries into his public conduct, views selfish and ambitious; who wastes his time in indolence, his property in luxury, and employs both to the purposes of licentiousness; above all, who impiously throws off the government of God--and, in his unholy life, practically denies the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, is not only a bed man, but a bad member of the community; planning (unknown perhaps to himself,) its destruction, its misery, and its ruin. Brethren, let us save our own souls, by humbly obeying hint whom the Father bath sent; and thus let us contribute to secure for our country the favour of the most High God.
But individual example alone will not do--we [18/19] must labour to extend religion and the Church by our talents, our time, and (here alas! is the sacrifice the most painful, and the most reluctant) our wealth. Brethren, while we respect and guard the rights of others, we must labour to extend the Church of our Redeemer in that form which we believe the most pure, primitive, and most in unison even with our civil institutions; that [19/20] form which it exhibits in the doctrines, the ministry, and the worship of our own religious communion. [On this subject the author refers to the following extract from a Sermon, preached by him, before the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in May last. "And here we first recognise the important principle, involved indeed in the very nature of all good government, that all orders of men erected by the laws should have a voice in framing them. Accordingly, no act in our Church, not necessarily involving a point of divine institution, has the force of law, until it has received the sanction, under the forms of the constitution, of her Bishops, her Clergy, and Laity. "We notice also the conformity of our ecclesiastical to our civil constitutions, in the division of power in the exercise of leglisation; the Bishops of the Church constituting one house, in General Convention, and the Clerical and Lay Deputies another, with co-ordinate and equal powers. All the advantages of deliberation, of experience, and of security to individual rights, of which, by this arrangement, our civil constitutions boast, are secured in the organization of our Church. "We notice a similar conformity and further excellence, in the unity of her executive head; her Bishops being vested by the very nature of their office with the executive authority--And thus are secured that vigour, that decision, that promptness, and, at the same time, that responsibility, and, of course, that fidelity, which it would be impossible to secure, at least in an equal degree, were the executive power of our Church entrusted to large and popular assemblies. "In like manner, though from the nature of his office, the Bishop is the ultimate judiciary tribunal, yet he can inflict no public censure, and no punishment but in the due course of law, by which a knowledge of the charges against him, the means of defence, and a trial by his peers, are enjoyed by every individual. "Apart then from the divine institution of the ministry, we have cause of boast respecting the Order of our Church, that it exercises the powers of government agreeably to the principles of right and justice, and of those forms of civil polity, on which experience has impressed the stamp of wisdom."] We of this Church have great responsibility. Our Fathers have handed to us, through the good providence of God, a form of doctrine, Church order, and worship, pure, Apostolic, and primitive. And, as individuals, what efforts have we made to extend it? We are deficient, I was going to say, in that pious liberality, which, in consecrating freely a large proportion of its stores to the service of God, consecrates them to the best temporal as well as eternal interests of mankind. We are deficient---But this is not the time to enlarge on a theme, which, I should have done violence to the warmest feelings of my heart, if I had failed, on this occasion, to bring, for a moment, before you.
Brethren--we live in a most eventful period of the world. Wars and :revolutions have rolled the tide of misery and desolation through the fairest portions of the globe. It seemed as if provoked by the impiety and crimes with which the earth groaned, the Eternal had said to the angels of destruction, Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is [20/21] ripe. It seemed as if he were about to shake the Heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. It seemed as if the sun would be turned into blackness, and the moon into blood--as if the great and terrible day of the Lord were come. We beheld the tremendous scene. At a distance we beheld it---we panted in the agony of terror, lest the flood of desolation should roll hither. Its remotest waves had reached us--when he who sitteth on high, said, Be still. The Lord hath given rest to the warring nations--the Lord hath given to a troubled world the blessing of peace.
Known only to him, whose counsel is sure, are the destinies of the nations of the earth, and among them, of our country. It is not for me to presume to open the scenes of futurity. But there is one ground of confidence which no terror can shake. HE WHO PUTTETH HIS TRUST IN THE LORD SHALL NEVER BE MOVED. He need not fear--the Lord of Hosts is with him--And though the Heavens shall pass away; though the elements shall melt; though the earth shall be burned up; there is a New Heaven and a New Earth, in which shall be his portion for ever.
Blessed are the people who have the Lord for their God.