Project Canterbury

A Collection of Sermons on Several Subjects and Occasions, Particularly on the Festivals and Fasts of the Church of England.

By Adam Gordon.

London: Printed for John Stockdale, 1796.


1 Peter ii. 15, 16, 17.

For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.—As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men, love the brotherhood, fear God, honour the king.

ONE hundred and forty five years are now elapsed, my brethren, since that memorable exertion of lawless power, which produced the shocking, and unprecedented event, the anniversary of which, we are assembled this day to commemorate, according to the pious order of our church.

When the wicked have dominion, we cannot be surprized at the dreadful effect of their councils. There is a fair field, it is true, afforded us this day, to enlarge upon the infamy of this most cruel tragedy! and if we were to yield to the full force of the natural indignation, which must arise in every humane mind, on contemplating the wickedness, and miseries of this horrid transaction, it would be an easy matter to fill you with abhorrence at the character, and proceedings of the age, which [35/36] this woefully dishonorable period of our history. But as no good can be derived from raking in the ashes of iniquity; as several generations of men have passed since this event; and God, in mercy, has followed this grievous visitation with the blessings of national unanimity, and prosperity; as the contrivers and perpetrators of this outrageous violence, are gone to judgment, and the wounds of the land have been long since healed; and particularly, as this is neither a proper place, or opportunity for party dissertations, or political invectives, I shall chiefly confine my remarks, (after a short and suitable introduction) to the examination, how far the instruction contained in the words of my text, is profitably applicable to the business of this day, and what religious improvement may be derived from them, to loyal subjects, obedient in all things to God’s holy ordinances, for conscience sake.

As to those whose leisure, education, and station in life, afford them means to study, and judge of past historical events, and the several interesting revolutions of their native country, they are at liberty to form opinions as the light of nature, reason, and religion directs them to decide. All that I conceive necessary for your information on this occasion, or proper in my capacity to deliver, shall be comprized in as short a detail as possible. According to the regular method I usually follow in my discourses to you, on stated seasons, I shall be justified in affording you a general view of the act, on which account, the church requires this day to be solemnly observed. Many, in this humble [36/37] congregation, are probably ignorant of the leading circumstances of the whole transaction, and indeed from the ungrateful and irreligious conduct of a careless age, too many (neglecting any longer to pay the least respect to remembrance of any of God’s former visitations, or deliverances) are consequently but lightly concerned about the appointments of the church and state, in these respects.

We may collect from the general history of mankind, that the cause of all worldly discord and national revolutions, originates in the imperfections and errors of human nature. There is no permanency in sublunary affairs. All states have ever had their gradual advancement to a certain pitch of perfection, and prosperity, and generally, from that period, have discovered a tendency to decline. Like the frame of the human body, however good the constitution, a seed of certain destruction doth often lurk in the nobler parts, which, in course of time, demolishes the whole fabric.

It seems to be in the order of divine Providence, that different forms of government should proceed under such natural and secondary influences, as supply a trial of national gratitude under prosperity. urge them to repentance and reformation, as their unmerited successes decrease; and thereby leave them, like individuals, just objects of punishment for the abuse of their respective advantages, and, in the end, accountable for their final misfortunes.

When contending principles have been long at work, either in the animal or political body, they usually terminate in some sudden, and terrible effect, [37/38] which brings on a crisis, frequently to the dissolution, but sometimes to the purifying, and preserving, of the disordered system. But though the Almighty Director, by his controuling power, can command ultimate good from present evil, yet the whole tenor of his positive precepts, condemns the commission of direct transgression, through a precarious or favorite prospect of bettering our situation in any shape.

The history of the unfortunate Prince whose martyrdom we celebrate this day, affords a very memorable example of the mixture of failing and virtue, which marks the character of the best of men, both in private, and public stations. The prejudices of his education, and the many difficulties he had to encounter, through the previous engagements of the preceding reign of his father, and in which he was encouraged to proceed, on the commendable principle of its being a religious, and national cause, [The war in favour of the prince Palatine] excite our generous pity for the severity of his fate, no less than our admiration, at she magnanimity of his deportment, when all was lost, and his high condition so degraded.

When we view him involved in a war without the adequate means of pursuing it; connected with obnoxious persons, whom early attachment had rendered it very difficult to desert; without able commanders to conduct his enterprises; and harrassed by a rising, and popular faction, whose object was the total subversion of the established form of [38/39] government, in church, and state; and these growing misfortunes secretly and powerfully assisted by the insidious contrivance of a foreign enemy; when we reflect upon the further disadvantages he laboured under, from an alliance of the tenderest tie: whose religious tenets would naturally excite suspicions, and furnish the most malevolent suggestions, in a party so violently bigoted to a contrary persuasion; we cannot be surprized, that so many jarring interests, and discordant principles, should seed commotion, and supply a very arduous conflict for any one, beset by such variety of very critical, and perplexing circumstances.

Whatever might be the faults and errors of this Prince’s temper, and political conduct, on one hand, or the laudable motives, and patriotic efforts of his opposers on the other, in the early stage of these affecting troubles, the event proved, past all contradiction, that the latent object of the latter, was directed by very different motives from national happiness, or valuable reformation. The most violent opposers of the reprobated mischief attending despotic power, at length discovered a desire of the most lawless usurpations, in their own conduct; and, under the pretence of correcting grievances, they entirely destroyed the constitution, depriving it of its religion, parliament, and king, and substituting in its stead, a government of force, commanded by an usurper and a tyrant: one who could vindicate the murder of his lawful sovereign, for having employed the precedents of the prerogative, but himself made no scruple entirely to remove the very [39/40] pillars of the state, and actually wished, and strove, to be elected to the very office, he before had pleaded virtue in abolishing. Such hypocrisy was greatly aggravated by the mask that covered its foul proceedings: viz. purity of religion, which was the ostensible motive for every act of violence.

It is no uncommon thing in every age, and quarter of the world, to read of the untimely fate of kings, through various plots, and meditated assaults, of implacable and ambitious enemies; but the execution of Charles the first, is the only instance we have on record in any christian country, of a sovereign being formally condemned, and publickly sacrificed by the sentence of his subjects. In those days, in truth, the deed was received with horror, and reproach, by every other nation; but recently, the similar tragedy has been renewed in the untimely fate of a neighbouring monarch: and it is very [40/41] observation, that the principles which actuated the prevailing party in the close of our civil wars, are perfectly congenial with the spirit that commenced, and still supports the french revolution. In our country these turbulent disturbers of the world’s peace, were nominated INDEPENDANTS, [41/42] because they openly reprobated every kind of civil, or religious subordination, and maintained that all men, not only were equally qualified for the public exercises of the ministerial function, whether by prayer or exhortation, but also for venturing to assert, the justice of a fancied equality, to which all were born alike. To these succeeded a still more violent denomination of reformers, who styled themselves, with great propriety, LEVELLERS. They protested against all other governors but Christ, and declared that all ranks of men should be reduced, without exception, to one degree, and EQUALITY be universally acknowledged in titles, and estates. Now this is the very same description of insurgents, who have demolished all the ancient distinctions of society, m a neighbouring nation, and laid violent hands on every inheritance, and property possessed by any of superior orders. The french levellers, differ only in this particular, that instead of pretending to qualify their injurious plunders by the deceitful submission to Christ alone, they have actually renounced all manner of dependance on that holy name, and defend their tyrannical proceedings on the dictates of mere human reason, and avowed infidelity. At a time when so much iniquitous art is employed by the agents of these rebellious, and unnatural tyrants, to introduce the fame miseries in this happy country, I judged it might not be unprofitable to give you a short character of the principles and practices of these modern republicans, as far as they agree with the fanatical projects of the deluded populace in former times, among ourselves.

[43] From the peculiar manner of king Charles’s death, and his fortitude in supporting the gross indignities inflicted on him, this ill fated Prince was called a martyr. The word implies a witness dying for the truth of any thing; in which sense, the Apostles, who laid down their lives in defence of Christianity, were styled martyrs to the cause of Christ their Master. And as the king would not acknowledge the authority of the tribunal which summoned him to trial, in that it was illegal, according to the established, and fundamental principles of the constitution, he therefore might be justly called the martyr of a cause, where the rights of parliament, the religion of the country, and the life of its chief magistrate, were at stake, and overset by an armed force, and lawless power.

From the retrospect to these sad times in our own country, and the deluge of misery which at present overwhelms the french people, we are taught some very useful lessons. First, to cultivate moderation in our principles, and conduct, and to be gratefully content, with the benefits and blessings we enjoy: secondly, to learn wisdom from the calamitous circumstances attending both these dire events, which prove the fatal consequences that ever have attended a military democracy; a form of government that necessarily must abound in cruelty, and injustice.

Tyranny of any kind, is insupportable to human nature, but every person of unprejudiced judgment, and peaceable disposition, will readily allow, that a limited power in ONE, must be less dangerous to the real blessings of general liberty, than an [43/44] incontroulable authority in numbers. Nay the evil of an absolute monarchy, doth not extend its injurious influence, so universally and severely, as when despotism is thus distributed, and delegated to censure, arrest, and judge, as private opinion, and perhaps self interest, shall determine needful. When the interests of all are actually united against one individual, it is an easy matter to check, and prevent any threatening mischief, but when judicial power is exercised at the discretion of the several members of an unsettled government, oppression may reach to the obscurest corner, triumph over the most innocent, and spread all the horrors of tyranny throughout a country. Of this we have indisputable proof in the nature of the present government in France. Every member of the convention is a despot; every commissioner, or deputy from that body, has unlimited power to exercise his will upon all, and every thing, he pronounces necessary for the benefit of the community at large. In the boasted cause of liberty, or with the ensnaring promise of equality, men are compelled, or tempted, to quit every thing most dear to them, and hazard their own lives in the destruction of their countrymen. They are hardened to scenes of the greatest cruelty, and injustice, and are only prevented from wresting the power out of the hands of their employers, by a policy founded on conscious timidity, and crime, and at once the most ungrateful, and barbarous, that was ever regularly practised: viz. the immediate destruction of a commander, whether unsuccessful through misfortune, or from his valour likely to [44/45] become popular, and dangerous of course, to the prevailing faction of the day.

Who can avoid perceiving what opportunities of violence are afforded to turbulent and prejudiced minds, intrusted with such authority? God forbid, we should ever experience such a test of liberty in our land! It must be considered by every man in his senses, as the most grievous visitation of the divine displeasure, instead of the blessing many would madly promise from it. I require you only to examine the various exertions of this species of power in different parts of France, to judge of the truth and misery of this representation.

Thus have I afforded you a sketch of the times when this unprecedented, and afflicting event took place; as likewise of the present troubles in a neighbouring nation, that we may take warning by their distress, and not provoke a similar chastisement of our sins. Upon the whole, though doubtless, one ostensible cause of the extremity to which measures were urged in former days, might be an injudicious exaction of ancient laws, and precedents, opposing the favorite opinions connected with certain religious tenets, which were beginning to prevail in this country, about that period, and which were imported from government’s possessing those peculiar principles; though these, I say, might unite to produce the secondary causes of all the future contests and distractions in this country; yet, after all, we must ever resolve events of such tremendous consequence into the will of the Supreme Director. We cannot but view them as [45/46] engines of his displeasure; as awakening chastisements for the ungrateful provocations of an iniquitous people: and such awful visitations should terribly warn us to correct our manifold and heavy trespasses against our heavenly Benefactor; to deplore our fins of omission, and commission, and lead us to a becoming sense of the rich, the various, and the unmerited blessings we still enjoy.

In this obscure corner of the kingdom, I shall hardly risk censure (as aiming at court favor) if I mention one essential instance of our national happiness. The virtuous and exemplary character of the Prince that fills the throne of this realm, evinces the favor of Heaven towards us, in an eminent degree. I need not quote scripture to prove the value of such a blessing to any people; I trust all present arc possessed of sufficiently grateful and loyal sentiments to acknowledge it of their own accord. It is a maxim in our political system, “that the King can do no wrong;” but it is a still more glorious eulogium of his exalted station, to affirm with truth, that our gracious Sovereign wishes none. This is a fact that universal testimony must establish; and we may safely add, that since the reign of Edward the Sixth (of pious memory), no Sovereign of these kingdoms has ever been more exemplary in every article that ought to attach respect from a loyal, flourishing, and Christian people; and as is his due, and our bounden duty, towards none, have hitherto, more frequent, and distinguished proofs been given of general, and unfeigned affection.—Let us be firm in cherishing all becoming allegiance [46/47] to our Prince, and obedience to the laws of the land, and those appointed to dispense them.—Let us be unanimous among ourselves, and faithful in our respective stations, and with the blessing of God we shall be able to defy all foreign opposition, or intestine discord. It is long, now, since the just prerogative of the crown, and the indisputable rights of the people, have been so accurately ascertained, as happily to prevent such fatal jealousies, as heretofore have sown the seeds of popular fury, and fermented public animosity throughout the land. We have nothing to fear in this reign, but the effect of our private, and public vices. Licentiousness, and extravagance, have always produced abundant and dangerous votaries for innovation, and disorder, in all states. Let us beware lest, being full, we grow remiss in religious concerns, and forget the God who has so long distinguished us by every species of prosperity, and comfort. If we are not a free people in every valuable sense of the expression, both civil and religious, there exists no such state on earth. We do not boast a merit indeed, in the liberty of robbing and murdering one another with impunity: but we are free to all the valuable purposes of human happiness. In full conviction, therefore, of this important, and indisputable privilege of Christian subjects, I shall close my present address, with such a suitable application from the words of St. Peter, which I have fixed upon to direct our duty as members of Christ’s true Church, as will sufficiently inform, and guard us in a right course of conduct, and furnish some profitable [47/48] points for your remembrance on this particular occasion. And these I shall render as short as possible, having extended, in the historical part of my discourse, beyond my first intention.

The will of God is, (saith the Apostle) that by well doing we should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. We must take one thing for granted, my brethren, in this exhortation; and which indeed no Christian can deny; and that is, that they arc foolish, and consequently ignorant men, who reject the precepts and authority of divine Revelation; or, as it is most truly called, the will of God. Now the will of God is expressly declared, in abundant passages of the records concerning it, that respecting our behavior as a Christian people, we should be subject to the higher powers, not only for peace, but also for conscience-sake. You must plainly perceive, therefore, that it can never be consistent with this precept, that men should exert their ingenuity, and abuse their talents, in stirring up strife, and embroiling the country to which they belong. On the contrary, by well doing, that is, by being obedient to God’s word in all Christian humility, forbearance, and good works, we are to put to silence the vain arguments of such restless and ignorant men as despise those injunctions of holy writ, because they will not believe, nor be led by them; and most desperately foolish must all such be, since the scriptures contain nothing but what is consummate wisdom, and calculated for man’s greatest happiness, both in time, and eternity.

[49] Further; we learn from the Apostle’s exhortation in this passage, that it is the will of God we should be free; but at the fame time, we are slot to use our liberty for a cloak of maliciousness: not to make religion a mask, or covering, of every thing most opposite to its genuine spirit. If, therefore, we try the transactions of those former unhappy times, and the conduct of the actors on the stage of political affairs, by the strict principles of this rule, I think it will appear, that though our country had certainly a right to maintain its Christian privileges as a free state, yet the men who pretended to the most purity in those days, did not employ their liberty of debate entirely as the servants of God should do, and with no maliciousness, but on the contrary, the pages of history most dreadfully inform us, of much private rancour, and ambition in their designs, instead of proving themselves true servants of God, which only can be testified, by universal charity and good will; by the love of peace, and holiness of life, and conversation. Again: we may next inquire, whether they were more remarkable for honoring all men, that is, for paying respect to those to whom honor, and tribute, to whom tribute is due? If this had been the case; rather than have encouraged rebellion against their lawful Sovereign, and thereby involved the land in all the horrors of a civil war, they would have exercised the moderation which will ever mark the strictly Christian character, and employed the several happy means which human wisdom would have dictated, to accommodate the threatening opposition between [49/50] Prerogative and Privilege. Further; surely they could not be said to love the brotherhood, when they persecuted bitterly all those who differed from them, (not allowing even for mutual prejudice of education;) whereas, had a Christian spirit prevailed amongst them, it would have constrained them to be gentle, and forgiving to others, on the same principle they would themselves have wished to be considered, if at the mercy of a superior power. Further; the gospel spirit, (which these men pretended zealously to imitate) extends even to the love of enemies; that is, to a generous treatment of them. Now those they persecuted unto death, could not be justly reckoned any further such, than as having naturally imbibed the principles of their forefathers, they were inclined to construe their’s, the side of truth. The other side could have no better plea. And had the leaders of the Revolution, been actuated by Christian principles, it would have dictated that consistent usage of their brethren, which under similar influence, they would have looked for, had their object been defeated. From their very different conduct in neglecting this prime quality of Christian discipline, we may fairly and fully condemn them of not having the fear of God before their eyes; for none can be said to fear God, who in abundant instances, transgress those laws he hath presented to them in his holy volume, for the improvement of their virtue, and to recommend the imitation of that divine pattern, which the Redeemer hath set to all men; namely, that as a proof of their love to Him, they should love one another. For the certain [50/51] consequence of fearing God, is avoiding all such violent measures as must inevitably displease him, and render us rather servants of Belial, than of God.

To conclude. It is almost superfluous to put the question, whether men of this description honoured the King, with which becoming duty the Apostle winds up his pastoral counsel to all who wish to testify their real love of freedom; that is, freedom from all iniquity, spiritual and temporal; freedom from a rebellious, vindictive spirit, and consequently, freedom from the rigour of the laws, which such misconduct merits; in short, freedom, from the load of sin and wretchedness, to which the, yielding to the suggestions of the Evil Spirit, will always subject the ungodly.

To the chief Magistrate of any state, honor hath been always due, and paid, by every community, even of barbarian, much more of civilized policy. The office of a King, is that expressly mentioned in this, and many other parts of Holy Scripture, to which becoming reverence is to be paid; and for whom, prayers and supplications are to be offered up. And though through human fallibility, or the evil counsel of their ministers, their conduct should appear exceptionable, still I apprehend no precedent can be found in any Christian code; no positive law of covenanted justice, that can warrant the depriving them of life, and hastening their eternal sentence, by the partial decision of their subjects, upheld by lawless power. Let us then, my brethren, endeavor to shew our zeal for God’s glory by an uniform obedience to all his laws, by [51/52] submission under every trial, whether of a public, or domestic nature, remembering that we are sent into this world merely as probationers of subjection to his appointments; to perfect such a temper of humility, meekness, and forbearance; to obtain such a freedom from licentiousness, and oppression of every kind; and to follow those rules which his Gospel holds out for that end; that finally through this temporal discipline, we may arrive at the liberty of the Sons of God, and enjoy to all eternity, the recompence of our faithful observance of his Commandments. God grant, such salutary and bounden duties may continually mark the conduct of all present, by the grace, and for the sake of the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be ascribed all praise and power, for ever and ever. Amen.

Project Canterbury