OF ST. JOHN'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND; LIBRARIAN OF THE GENERAL
THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY OF THE PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH
IN THE UNITED STATES; AND LATELY RECTOR OF
ST. PETER'S CHURCH, N. Y.
IT is with the utmost reluctance that the accompanying Sermon is sent to the press; but it having been the occasion of separation between a Pastor and an interesting and increasing charge, it has appeared needful to submit it to the public
Some errors of manner will doubtless be found which a maturer judgement would correct, but fidelity compels the discourse to be printed as it was preached
The author is not a member of any society in America having for its object the amelioration of the coloured population, nor has he taken part in any public meetings on this topic. He is not opposed to slavery as existing in the United States, but in the world. He has merely stated his views before his own congregation, and, as he conceives, in the discharge of a Christian duty.
The following remarks from "Slavery, by William E. Channing," were not seen by the author until after the preaching of the accompanying Sermon, but they offer so succinctly and forcibly the views which led him to declare his opinions, that he subjoins them.
[iv] "There are times when the assertion of great principles is the best service a man can render society. The present is a moment of bewildering excitement, when men's minds are stormed and darkened by strong passions and fierce conflicts and also a moment of absorbing worldliness, when the moral law is made to bow to expediency, and its high and strict requirements are decried or dismissed as metaphysical abstractions, or impracticable theories. At such a season, to utter great principles without passion, and in the spirit of unfeigned and universal good-will, and to engrave them deeply and durably on men's minds, is to do more for the world than to open mines of wealth, or to frame the most successful schemes of policy."
THANKSGIVING SERMON. PSALM, 107, 8. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness and for his wonderful works to the children of men.
PRAISE is a constant duty, and gratitude a state of mine which, as we are placed amidst circumstances calculated continually to excite it, it should be our habit assiduously to cultivate. The frequent expression of our hearts and lips may well be with the pious Psalmist,--"Blessed be the Lord who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our Salvation." But as of other obligations, so of this of thanksgiving, occasional seasons are presented, at which in a more especial manner we seem called upon for its exercise. Such is the case with us today. It is a standing rule of our church, (in which the orderly presentation to her members of the blessed mysteries and the resulting duties of redemption forms no slight excellency,) to appoint, towards the close of the year, a day in which the mercies which have filled up the hours of the annual cycle, and of our past lives, should be both remembered and acknowledged. Nor is the civil government neglectful in this interesting and important matter. It likewise sets forth a similar observance. Our ecclesiastical power therefore wisely and respectfully defers to the time appointed by the state. Thus, then, on this occasion we meet under the sanction of the two independent authorities. Both the church and the state agree in inviting us to set apart this day for public thanksgivings. And surely if we have reason to rejoice that we are taught by the word of God how [5/6] duly to present our offerings of gratitude before the Most High, it should be no small subject of devout gratulation that we live beneath a government which thus recognises a superintending and beneficent Providence, and permits us to enjoy and to express our religious sentiments, and to unite publicly in the services of the sanctuary.
In his Proclamation, for the observance of the present solemnity, the honourable the Governor of New-York, with great suitableness introduces the blessings which the people have received and are still receiving both collectively and as individuals. I shall pursue a somewhat similar recognition; only premising, that as the interest and happiness of New-York is intimately connected with that of her kindred states, so the history of their mercies may be considered in great measure one.
The first point to which allusion is made by his Excellency is, the general benefits which, as a people, the inhabitants of New-York have enjoyed since the existence of their state as a political community. I shall be excused in extending the thought to the states at large. This, then, has reference to past history and to present circumstances. To the various periods, in short, in which the forefathers of those before me have landed on these shores, or have under various circumstances struggled forward against the difficulties of a new country, and the anxieties of novel political institutions. Two hundred years is in retrospect but a brief period--scarcely the sum of three lives; and yet what has not the blessing of God, and the energy and enterprise of this people, done in two hundred years? If we reflect on the first planting of the colonies; on the insufficiency and danger of all communications with the parent countries; of the hostile tribes, who with natural jealousy watched the white invaders; of the almost interminable forests to be [6/7] subdued; of the contending interests, and the policy, often founded in ignorance, of the nations of Europe which seemed calculated to repress the rising energies of the people,--and then consider the numbers and the influence of America, we may well admire and rejoice. The forest has yielded to the fruitful field; the wig-wam to the pleasant homestead and the vast city; long intervals of desolate land have been made perviable by the road, the rail-track, and the canal. I speak as an Englishman of these things--as one of the many Englishmen, who rejoice in the progress of civilization and science, and who feel a not unworthy pride that their country has shared so greatly in the honour of peopling such a land. I hope the time is advancing in which not so much the place in which we were born, as the principles by which we are ruled, will be the chief point of consideration. I do not mean by this that I am indifferent to the land of my fathers; no: when I cease to love and revere the name of England, I shall cease to be; but I ardently desire that both this nation and all other nations may dissolve those prejudices which arise from districts and territories--and may unite as one grand family in love and peace. At least, indeed, it is high time that Great Britain and America should put away mutual jealousies and unkind sentiments. It was natural that such feelings should arise from the struggle for independence. That object has been gained; and now why should not every affection of our old relations be rekindled, and the mother and the daughter feel again as one people?
An Englishman has much to gratify him in a residence in this country. He has passed over three thousand miles of the dividing sea, he lands in a new hemisphere. If he have ever been on the continent of Europe, though he slept during the whole of the brief passage, he found [7/8] himself on landing amongst foreigners, almost in a new world. As he treads the American strand, he hears his native language spoken, he sees the customs of his youth retained, he finds the literature to which he has deferred, and which has helped to form his character, cherished and approved; he hails as borne by individuals, by villages, by cities, by regions, names familiar as his native hearth, and often calling up associations connected with his proudest fancies. And will not his affections gradually twine round such a people? And will he not desire that the utmost unity shall prevail between his early and his new-found homes? And shall he not point in satisfaction to America, bidding the world behold the offspring of his revered mother, and showing to the ignorant and the oppressed the benefit and the beauty of liberty? And does not America too owe some thing to England, and may she not find cause of thankfulness in looking upon her parent land? Whence is the basis of the principles which form the constitution of this nation? Whence is derived the love of liberty which has distinguished its citizens? Whence, especially, those social arts and that religion to which she is so much indebted for her greatness and success? I know Americans will do the justice to say that Britain has been the nursing cradle of liberty, that she has cherished well the benignant arts, that she has been a refuge and fortress to the genius of Protestant Christianity. The modes of thought in the two countries are in truth daily growing more alike. The principal remaining difference in our modes of government now is, that the one country owns an hereditary, the other an elective, limited chief magistracy. With this exception their polity may be considered one. America is gradually learning the limits essentially necessary to the enjoyment of rational civil liberty, and England as rapidly divesting herself of feudal [8/9] habits and antiquated restraints. [The author does not intend by this to express any sentiment favourable to innovations in the principles of the British constitution, he has not seen any thing abroad to make him suppose that, considering the condition of England and the character of her people, she would be benefitted by fundamental alterations in her polity, either ecclesiastical or civil. The views and habits of other nations probably render other modes of government desirable for them.] So may the countries ever be assimilated, and unite in that great work which seems assigned to them in Providence, and which may well excite their mutual emulation and their utmost energies--the evangelization and civilization of the world. For my own part I always find pleasure in owning that we are all brethren--that Agincourt and Cressy, Poictiers and Blenheim were American victories no less than British; that America has her claim no less than ourselves, to the mighty names of Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, and Barrow, of Shakspeare, Bacon, Milton, Newton, and Locke. Surely such reminiscences should warm our mutual hearts, and fill us with kindly emotions towards each other as we anticipate the future. England is, I believe, like one of her own symmetrical oaks just coming into the vigour of maturity; America like a robust and beautiful sapling growing up beside it. Oh! let us remember that the same intellectual sun must cherish, the same gales of popular fury will shake, the same frosts of ignorance and jealousy will strip the parent and the daughter trees; they are each nourished upon the same blessed soil of Christian liberty--let them be rooted up therefrom, and their spreading boughs and promising beauty shall save then) not an hour.
But while I thus panegyrize this country, and own its generally equal laws and its great freedom, fidelity compels me to pause for a moment, and to speak, however unwillingly [9/10] from this sacred place, of America's situation with reference to the Indian and the African. Do I this in unkindness or in triumph? God forbid! Britain has had but too much share in the expulsion of the one, and in the oppression of the other for her sons, who think justly, to speak otherwise than in humility and sorrow. ["In August following 1620, (says Beverly, the earliest historian of Virginia,) a Dutch man-of-war landed twenty negroes for sale; which were the first of that kind were carried into the country."--p. 35.] We have participated in a common guilt--all that we can do is to make, as far as may be, a common reparation. I hope the wiser modern policy of this country, and at least the Christian sense of the pious in it, will lead them to desire and to make efforts for the preservation and the instruction of the aborigines of the land. Something is being done in this way in the states and territories, as also in the Canadas. Sad were it, and deep the national disgrace, and more fearful the transgression of driving away, or of leaving in ignorance the poor Indian. May a better lot await them--those, alas! who have little cause of gratulation in this day of thanksgiving,--since they sec their land overrun with strangers,--the graves of their fathers violated, and themselves doomed to a precarious life! low greatly in deed have they learnt the vices--how little of the blessings of civilization! How has the banner which bears the inscription of the Prince of Peace, become to them often the token of persecution and of death! If national crimes provoke divine judgements, have we nothing to fear from the avenging Spirit beneath whose eye the savage is not forgotten? Certainly now at length the enlightened and the favoured should arise for their rescue. The Christian church especially has reason to gird herself to the work of their education and improvement. To it must we look for every [10/11] work of consistent and expansive benevolence; for there is no principle of self-denegation, nor of desire for the good of others but in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But this very circumstance of the moral influence of the Gospel will support me in alluding to that other sore evil, the state of the African among us. Did I not look upon the question of slavery as a religious question, I should not consider it within my province to touch upon it. My residence in America has been marked by no interference in political matters. I had but small taste for such wordy strifes in my own country, and deem it becoming in a foreigner to receive with gratitude the general advantages of government, and to keep aloof from the contests of political parties. But while I deprecate interference in such questions, and while, too, I would disown all fierceness of invective, and all unkindness of declamation on every subject, I cannot but deem it allowable in me, as a minister of the cross, to point out, in a spirit of good will and meekness, national sins, and to warn of national judgements. I regard the voluntary tenure of men contrary to their consent in hope less and hereditary bondage as decidedly sinful. I regard the purchase and sale of human beings, the denial to them of the marriage-tie, the forcible separation of parents and children, the compulsory requirement of them to labour without wages, and by the stimulus of the whip, the keeping them in ignorance,--possibly to the ruin of their souls, for the sake of retaining authority over them,--as awful breaches of the rules of justice and mercy. I doubt not there are many benevolent people among the whites of the south. Some I am ever proud and happy to esteem my friends--I speak not therefore against these, but against the system of slavery. But let it not be sup posed that because I have come to America I have been [11/12] seized with a sudden impulse on this question. More than ten years since in England I had fully made up my mind on the point. I esteemed slavery to be to us, the British, (professing as we did, and do, a love of freedom) an equal sin and disgrace. I considered it a blot upon our national flag. I ardently desired with many of my fellow-country men, (though then indeed the subject was by no means so popular as it has since become,) for its extermination; and now I am bold to declare that the conduct of our legislature on this point, considering all the circumstances,--though but an act of tardy justice,--reflects higher honour on the country than any event in her modern history. It is true America is not situated precisely in the circumstances of Britain in reference to this matter. The latter legislated for colonies and had a supreme authority. But there are points in which the people of America can move. The territories of the United States and the district of Columbia are under the influence of Congress--a Congress returned from every part of the union. Surely, then, in these regions the evil might be more and more fully petitioned against. Especially does it appear a dreadful and most ominous fact that Columbia, the place in which meet the Congress of, if we believe what we hear, the freest people on earth, should be the greatest slave-market in America, perhaps in the world. By memorials, then, to the legislature, by the return of men attached to freedom,--universal freedom,--and by the influence of moral suasion, should the disinterested and patriotic citizens of America seek a removal from among them of the oppressive laws. I may be censured for these opinions. I am aware that they expose men to great obloquy, contempt, and even personal danger; but I am satisfied that I am borne out by the spirit of that Gospel which requires us to do unto others as [12/13] we would that they should do unto us; and I am cheered by the consideration that I am only reiterating the sentiments of Washington, and Jefferson, and Franklin, and Jay, and Edwards, of Porteus, and Horsley, and Fox, and John son, and Burke, and Cowper, and Wesley, and Clarkson, and More, and Wilberforce, and Buxton. It is well remarked that if a country desire to form a reasonable conjecture as to what will be in any particular of its conduct the opinion of posterity, the best means it can adopt is to consider the sentiments of enlightened and disinterested foreigners. The whole of the civilized world, I believe I may say, now expects of America that she should cherish the savage, and that she should liberate the slave.
I pass on from this topic--a topic which has, as it were, against my wishes, and perhaps against my friendships and my interests, burst out from my soul. But I would fain that on a day of thanksgiving like the present, all the inhabitants of this fair and widely spread land should rejoice. I cannot bear to think while we are praising God for civil, and religious privileges, for the dissemination of knowledge, and the ingathering of nature's annual bounties, that the sigh of the prisoner, the sob of women beneath the lash, the clank of the chain, and the wail of bereaved children, and separating partners, should be heard. I cannot endure to reflect on upwards of two millions of our fellow-men denied the lights of knowledge, and checked in their efforts to read the word of God--"that truth which maketh free." I cannot satisfy myself that we should be growing rich, and prosperous, and luxurious, while our brethren, merely because their skin is dark, must work unrecompensed and almost unpitied. I cannot comprehend the reasoning, much as I have always loved missionary exertions, by which it is thought to be consistent that we should send missionaries [13/14] not only to the white Athenians but to the tawney Chinese and barbarous Sandwich Islanders, and yet make so little effort for the advancement and improvement of a sixth portion of the population within the limits of the land.
We have indeed great blessings--we are justly called upon for thankfulness. The state of New-York, and her sisters of the north, have put away the sin and impolicy of bondage. But every favour we receive, as it should fill our hearts with gratitude, should likewise excite us to show that gratitude by extending, as far as may be, similar advantages to others. Let us then trace our mercies to their source let us bless the Lord for all his benefits; let us, above all, praise him for the revelation of his redeeming mercy through the atonement of the Saviour, and the sanctification of the Spirit; let us be humbled and penitent at the sense of our unworthiness amidst so many favours; and let us determine, the divine grace enabling us, to show our sense of these things in our holy lives, and by our labours of benevolence. God has given remarkable blessings to America, as he has also to England. A great responsibility devolves upon them--that of seeking the social and religious welfare of mankind. The two most Christian people should be likewise the most united people in them selves and between each other, and the most consistent before all nations. Happy will yet be our mutual destiny if we act in correspondence with our high responsibilities. The candle of the Lord will shine upon us; we shall have peace and comfort. But let us neglect our duties and turn from our obligations--will then privilege save us? Nay; not though we were lifted up to heaven in strength and glory. Let any one read the history of nations, and he will see how they have been visited for their sins! Individuals indeed may expect full punishment in the next world for transgression,--nations are punished here! A single year may turn this country's prosperity into sorrow. Yes, even now, a devastating war may break out which may make men tremble for their homes, and which may give to the slaves, perhaps in violence, that freedom which now is vainly sued for in love and peace.
But I pause--I have forgotten almost that I am a stranger here; I have spoken to you with almost the boldness and certainly with the sincerity with which I used to discourse of sin, national or personal, at home. Forgive me, Brethren, this wrong. Nay, rather accept it as a token of my growing interest in, and attachment towards you and your country. No strong affections are ever either suddenly raised, or suddenly broken. That mind has but a shallow and shifting soil that can very speedily forget, or form regards. As to forgetfulness, or diminution of attachment to my country,--that I hope I shall never know,--but my heart, through the many friendships it has been my happiness to form, has gradually expanded towards America,--and I feel more and more a son among her children. In deed there has ever been to my mind a feature of remarkable interest in the American strand. It is, that America is emphatically the stranger's home. Here do we meet from every tribe and kingdom,--here enjoy, save in the cases I have mentioned, mild laws, and dear liberty. May these privileges ever be held inviolably in tins land,--may they be extended to all classes throughout the earth; and may the great family of man be enabled speedily to unite in one triumphant jubilee, and be found preparing, with glad hope, for a common heaven.