RT. REV. SAMUEL PROVOOST,
St. George’s & TrinityFast--25th April 1799
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2010
[Transcriber’s Note: this text is my transcription of a handwritten sermon found here in the Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. I have kept all spelling, punctuation and capitalization as I found it in the original.]
Therefore, also now saith the Lord, turn ye even to me, with all your Heart, & with fasting & with weeping & with mourning; & rend your Heart, & not your Garments, & turn unto the Lord your God. Joel ii, 12 &13th.
This pathetick Exhortation was address’d to the Jews when, in the beautiful [1/2] Language of Scripture, the Fire had devoured the Pastures of the Wilderness, the Flame had burnt the Trees of the Field, & the Rivers of Water were dried up. To that People, & on such an occasion, no Advice could be more seasonable--nor is it less so at this moment, to the Inhabitants of this Country.
 We are not, indeed, threatened with Famine as they were; but with the desolating Sword; another of those sore Judgments which God usually inflicts on a guilty Land. Nor have we less Encouragement than they had, to turn unto the Lord, with all our Heart, & with fasting, & with weeping, [3/4] & with mourning--for, is his Arm shortened that he cannot save? or, is he the God of the Jews, & is he the God of the Gentiles also? They were assured by the Almighty himself, that, if they complied with this Injunction, he would send them Corn, & Wine, & Oil. Nor have we less Reason to expect the Removal [4/5] of our Calamities, than they had of theirs, if with equal sincerity, we turn unto the Lord.
Impress’d with a sense of the superintending Providence of God, & in Conformity to the Recommendation of the Chief Magistrate of the United States, we have set a part of this Day for the solemn Purposes of [5/6] fasting, weeping, & mourning & in imploring the Favour & Protection of that Almighty Being, who ruleth in the Armies of Heaven, & among the Inhabitants of this lower O [This appears in the text as a dotted zero, i.e. a zero with a dot in the center. My guess is that he was referring to ‘the world.’]. We have prostrated ourselves before him, acknowledging our Offences as individuals & as a Nation; this, tho’ our bounden [6/7] Duty, will not secure the favour of Heaven, unaccompanied with Penitence & Amendment of Life.
When Men are basking in the Sunshine of prosperity, when the Harp & the Viol, the Tabrel, & Pipe, & Wine are in their Feasts, they are, more than at any other Time, [7/8] regardless of the Work of the Lord, & the Operation of his Hands. It is for this Reason fasting becomes necessary, in order to reclaim them from that Dissipation of Thought, to which they have been accustomed, to more serious & important Reflections; which in an [8/9] ingenuous Mind, will lead to Repentance & Amendment--to effect so important an object, fasting was enjoyn’d by the Great Sovereign of the Universe [The word Great is crossed out in the text.], on his own peculiar People; they, however, frequently perform’d it, only [9/10] to be seen of men, to gain their Applause, or promote their private Views--& in that case, our Sav’r told them, that of men they must expect their Reward--But when this Duty is entered upon, as I presume it is by us this Day, with a meek & lowly Heart, with a due sense of our Unworthiness [10/11] & of our Dependence on the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for all that we have & all that we are, we may expect an Answer of Peace.
The Words of my Text, & the present Occasion, naturally lead me to consider in the 1st place, what is meant by fasting & turning to the Lord--& then to recommend this Duty [11/12] to every one, who hath at Heart, his own Happiness, & the Prosperity of his Country.
In the 1st place then, fasting was enjoyn’d only as a mean to produce Repentance & Amendment of Life--It is therefore necessary, in all our Performances of this kind, to keep this Object in view. Mortification, & a [12/13] sour Severity may be substituted in the Room of Repentance & Amendment--& when it is so, all the fasting in the O [This again appears in the text as a dotted zero, i.e. a zero with a dot in the center. My guess is that he was referring to ‘the world.’], can answer no other purpose than to increase our Guilt, & consequently our Punishment. This Distinction is strongly mark’d in the Text--Rend your Heart, and not your Garments--That rending the Garment was a [13/14] ceremony, by which the Jews were wont to express their sorrow, either for some great Calamity that had befallen them, or was likely to befall them, is evident from sundry Passages of Scripture--nor does it appear from any Part of the sacred Volume [Holy Scriptures is crossed out and replaced with sacred Volume] that it is improper to express our Sorrow on religious Acts [14/15] by the same outward Testimonies as are used on common occasions--But we are reminded, in almost every Page of the Bible, as well as by our own Reason, that it will avail us nothing to wear a Face of Sorrow for Sin, while the Heart is unaffected, or to rest in the Sign, as if that alone were sufficient, [15/16] regardless of the Thing it was intended to signify.
This is the prophets meaning in the Text--this is our Sav’rs meaning in his Sermon on the Mount, & this is what every one of us should consider on the present Occasion. By turning to the Lord, then, with all our Heart, is to be understood [16/17] a serious & unfeign’d Repentance--such a total change of Desires & Affections, as the Scripture calls a new Heart, a new Spirit, & that which renders the person who professes it, a new Creature. It implies not only a turning from the Practice of Sin, but from the Love of it also.
In vain then do we [17/18] fast, in vain do we think we have turned to the Lord, unless we feel a Pleasure in contemplating the Perfections of God, & in performing our Duty to Him, to ourselves & to one another. Without this Pleasure in our religious Performances, we may have indeed, the Form, but never the Power of Godliness. [18/19] Our Resolutions of future Obedience would be transient as the morning Cloud or early Dew--for nothing can be permanent that does not proceed from a right principle. Nature will soon brake through those feeble Barriers our Fears may incline us to erect--& therefore, till that nature be corrected, till [19/20] the Heart itself be changed, no Change of our outward Behaviour, however spurious, can avail to the Purposes for which we are now assembled, or deserve the Name of Repentance. To dwell any longer on a Point so plain & evident [plain & is crossed out in the text], especially before a Congregation [20/21] of well informed Xtians like this, would be useless; it better accords with the Business of the Day to recommend fasting in the Sense in which it has now been considered to all who wish the Prosperity of their Country.
That you are sensible of the Importance of this Duty in order to advert the [21/22] Judgments of Heaven, is evident by your attendance here this Day--that it must be perform’d with Senserity, & in such a manner affect the Heart, as to render us better men, better Neighbours, & better Servants to God, is, I think, sufficiently evident, from what has been said.
 It becomes us on this Day of solemn Humiliation, to look back on the Ways in which Providence hath been leading us since the first Settlement of this Country--in doing this, we are presented with a striking Resemblance between the Children of Israel, & our Fore-Fathers, who, not more than 200 years ago took Possession of [23/24] this Land, then a howling Wilderness--the Israelites were stiled God’s peculiar People, experienced his miraculous Interposition in a Variety of Instances, were conducted by him in a 40 years Journey through the Wilderness, & at length settled in a Land flowing with Milk & Honey. And, did not the [24/25] same beneficent & all powerful Being conduct our fathers over the Atlantic? Preserve them in almost as miraculous a manner from the Beasts of the Wilderness, & men more savage than they. Was it not he who caused the Wilderness to blossom before them like the Rose, & enabled them to leave [25/26] this Land as a heritage to their Children, as it is this Day.
The Israelites enjoy’d not only a pleasant & fruitful Country but a well regulated Govern’t--what Nation is there, said Moses, when expostulating with them, so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is, in all that we [26/27] call upon him for? & what nation is there so great, that hath Statutes & Judgments, so righteous as all this Law, which I set before you this Day? This expostulation may with equal Propriety, be addressed to the Inhabitants of this Country. It is useless to mention [‘It is useless to mention’ is crossed out in the text] for where is the People who are blessed [27/28] with a civil Constitution so wisely calculated as ours, to secure to the meanest Individual his just Rights & equal Liberty to all.--And with regard to Religion--while the Inhabitants of a great Part of the Globe are buried in Ignorance & Superstition, falling down to Stocks and Stones, worshipping the Works of their own Hands, & [28/29] have no other Refuge than these in the Day of Calamity & Distress--we are bless’d with the Religion of Jesus; the glad Tidings of Salvation are continually sounding in our Ears, pointing out to us, the Road to Serenity of Mind here, & Everlasting Happiness beyond the Grave.
Where is the Nation more highly favoured than we are in natural Civil & [29/30] Religious Advantages. It becomes us on this Day of Fasting, Humiliation & Prayer, to ask ourselves what Improvemt we have made of these invaluable [invaluable is crossed out in the text] Blessings? We all know that of him to whom much is given, will much be required--that every Talent committed to our Trust, must be accounted for to the great Sovereign of the Universe--[30/31] who expects a Return in Proportion to the Advantages he hath conferr’d upon us--As then, we have for a Series of Years, been more highly favr’d than most other Countries, the natural Consequence is, that we should be more grateful than they to our most bountiful Benefactor, more kind & beneficent to one another, & in every Respect, [31/32] more virtuous & religious--But can we say with Truth that this has been the case--that our Returns have been in proportion to our Advantages?
To point out to Mankind the faults they are guilty of, & the Aggrevations that attend them, I am conscious is a painful, & at the same Time, an unthankful [32/33] Office--but however painful, however unthankful the Office,--my Duty, both as a Minister of the Gospel, & as a Friend to the Country that gave me Birth--which, like an indulgent Parent hath been lavish of her favours, & in which is contain’d every Thing most dear to me in Life--my Duty, I say, in [33/34] both these Respects, obliges me to be explicit in mentioning some of the crying Sins of the Land, which we have every Reason to think have been instrumental in bringing down, & continuing on us the Judgments of Heaven.--It is a Day of Seriousness, of Calamity, & Distress, let us not then cry Peace, [34/35] Peace to ourselves, when there is no Peace!
At the Head of the black Catalogue of Vices which are prevelant among us, may justly be placed that Spirit of Infidelity, that general Indifference for Religion, which has spread, like an Inundation through the Land. They who honor me, [35/36] says the dread Sovereign of the Universe, I will honor, but they who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. In Defense of this Declaration, how many are there who by the whole Tenor of their Conduct despise their God, renounce their Redeemer, & laugh at the Idea of a future State of Rewards & Punishments? & do not some [36/37] who admit of a Creator, deny his moral Govern’t of the O; [This appears in the text as a dotted zero, i.e. a zero with a dot in the center. Again, my guess is that he was referring to ‘the world.’] rejecting with Scorn who professing to believe in natural Religion, yet speak of Xtianity in the most contemptuous Forms spurning [This entire line since the last closed bracket is crossed out in the original text].
Nor is it improper to mention on this Occasion, the seeming Indifference of even professing Xtians, by which the Advocates of Infidelity are [37/38] encouraged in their Attempts to undermine the Foundation on which the Structure of Xtianity is erected. It must be owned that Religion hath never been any where practised as it ought to have been--But what a remarkable Declension has there been among us, in the Course of a few years! And, [38/39] every Thing indicates its further Declension, though we have frequently been called to Consideration, by pestilential Visitations, & are now threatened with the desolating Sword. If God is, it is certainly criminal to treat him as if he were not. If he has given us a Revelation of his Will, it cannot [39/40] be a light Thing to treat it with Contempt--& if he is the Righteous Governor of the O, [This appears in the text as a dotted zero, i.e. a zero with a dot in the center. Again, my guess is that he was referring to ‘the world.’] he will support his Governm’t by punishing Guilt wherever it is found. If the Guilt be national, we must expect the Punishment will be so too. What Judgments await sinful Nations, & in [40/41] what manner they will be executed, is not for us to determine; all Nature is in the Power of God, & they who offend, & remain impenitent, have every Thing to fear: this, however we may with Confidence assert, that the Time will come when we shall know who were in the Right; they [41/42] who honored God, by a due Observance of his Laws, or they who scornfully forsook him.--we may, indeed, even by a single Glance among the European Nations, now ascertain who are the happiest People, they who continue to respect Religion, or they who have renounced it.
 Having mentioned the alarming Progress of Infidelity as a proper subject for Lamentation & Mourning [& Mourning is crossed out in the text] on the present solemn occasion [solemn is crossed out in the text]--you will not wonder it should be productive of Vices of every Complexion.
Whenever it is fashionable to despise Religion, the Sabbath will of course be neglected--& instead of employing it in solemn Acts of [43/44] Worship, in offering to Heaven, the Effusions of a grateful Heart, & in supplicating the future Bounties of Providence, it will be devoted to Scenes of pleasurable Amusement, if not perhaps Dissipation. Where Infidelity prevails, there will prevail also, every kind of Immorality--Profaneness, Intemperance--[44/45] Disobedience to Govern’t, party Animosities and Contentions--where is that plain, honest Sincerity & Openness, which the Gospel so pathetically inculcates, & for which our Fathers were renown’d? which rendered their mutual Converse delightful, which cemented Friendship, & knit them together in the [45/46] Bonds of Love?--It is gone, to make room for the Refinements of modern Philosophy. In this manner, impiety has always brought down the Judgments of Heaven on States & Kingdoms, & its Smiles have ever attended religious Nations--this Assertion is supported, not only by the History of [46/47] the Jews, in all the Changes their Government underwent, but by the Records of all other Nations--they were all happy & flourishing as long as Religion was respected, but immediately declined, as soon as Vice & Impiety gain’d publick Countenance, & pav’d the Way to their Distruction.
Religion gives us the best [47/48] Title we can have to the Protection of Heaven; without which, our most strenuous Endeavours for the Prosperity [here Peace & Happiness are crossed out in the text and Prosperity inserted in their place] of our Country, are ineffectual, & the Watchman waketh but in vain. Let us then shew our Patriotism in the way which is most likely to prove successful, by repenting our [48/49] Transgressions, by walking in all the Commandments of the Lord, blameless, & by exerting our Influence to promote a general Reformation.
Let us like good Xtians & good Citizens cultivate Unanimity & mutual Affection--banishing from among us all Party Distinctions, & uniting as one People. By such Conduct we shall [49/50] evince our Love to our Country, & by that Love to our Country give the strongest Proof of our Love to our Neighbor--an indispensible Ingredient in the character of a Xtian.
Let us then listen to the Prophets friendly Exhortation, in the Text, and turn with all our Heart, & with weeping, & with fasting & with mourning & rend our Hearts & not our [50/51] Garments, & turn unto the Lord our God. Then may we be assured, that tho’ weeping may endure for a Night, Joy will assuredly come in the morning. That tho’ our present prospects be dark & gloomy, we may still live to rejoice in the Peace, Happiness & Prosperity of our Country. Which God …
St. George & Trinity
Fast-25th April 99.