A Sermon Preached before His Excellency Francis Bernard, Esq.
An Election Sermon, Massachusetts, 1766
Little is known about Edward Barnard (1720-1774). Like most of his clergy contemporaries, he was a graduate of Harvard College. He was ordained the pastor of the First Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1743. The ordination sermon was preached by one Thomas Barnard, a relative and a Harvard graduate and Congregationalist clergyman, and a pastor of the church at Newbury—John Barnard (1690-1757) was Edward’s father. Edward had several sermons and, apparently, some poetry published, but otherwise was unknown in public print. His reputation, a reputation worthy of selection for the annual election sermon, seems to have been derived from his unpublished preaching, social standing, and local ministry. His 1773 sermon, delivered the year prior to his death, to the annual ministerial convention was published, another demonstration of his esteem amongst his contemporaries. Otherwise, our memory and interest of Edward Barnard is limited to the election sermon in view, preached before the general assembly in 1766. As his dates indicate, Barnard died before the war for independence. But his sermon, in particular, was historically significant in hindsight.
For it was this election day, in 1766, that Samuel Adams was re-elected to the house of representatives as the top vote getter amongst six candidates, along with Thomas Cushing, James Otis, John Hancock, and other patriots of the subversive “Monday Night Club,” which John Adams was also known to frequent even in those early days. All, and many besides, were present for Barnard’s oration—countless more read the printed edition. More importantly, the hated and ill-enforced Stamp Act (1765) had just been repealed.
Adams addressed governor on behalf of the house a few days later (June 3, 1766) celebrating the repeal of the Act in question, echoing themes in Barnard’s sermon: “When we look back upon the many dangers from which our country hath, even from its first settlement, been delivered, and the policy and power of those, who have to this day sought its ruins, we are sensibly struck with an admiration of Divine goodness, and would religiously regard the arm which has so often shielded us.” Adams went on to assure the governor that the house had not succumbed to “private resentments” or “popular discontent,” but rather was devoted to the “common good.” On the contrary, “[I]t has ever been our pride to cultivate harmony and union, upon the principles of liberty and virtue, among the several branches of the legislature, and a due respect and reverence for his Majesty’s representative in the province [i.e., the royal governor].” Much of the rhetoric in the letter from the house appears now, in retrospect, to be lip service, but it should, in the first instance, be read in accordance with the election sermon that proceeded and, therefore, hopefully earnest.
Jumping backward about a month prior, Barnard’s text was Nehemiah 5:19: Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people. The exegesis and application of that text follows below. Per usual, additional commentary on the sermon may be found in the Forum section. Comparatively, the sermon is not long, clocking in at a mere 39 pages, a little over 6,000 words. Its prose is more readable than sermons of a century prior. It will, I trust, enrich the reader, not least of which for historical reasons given the sermon’s timing aforementioned. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar have been lightly edited to this end.
An acquaintance with the history of past ages will lead us to observe, that a common method of the exaltation of a people, hath been by a succession of men of eminent abilities and influence. A great genius appears at their head and forms a general scheme of institutions and laws. This being adopted, active spirits follow, who carry it into execution, and the community swiftly ascends to the height of prosperity.
Even Israel taken under the peculiar tutelage of Jehovah thus arose to a flourishing state. Moses, by divine direction, gave them the rudiments of civil and ecclesiastical polity. Joshua, by the same influence, led them over Jordan, and fixed them in the destined inheritance.
In a way somewhat similar may we well suppose a people emerging from the depths of distress to regain their national character. Patriots, perhaps of different qualities, exert themselves in turn, agreeable to their circumstances, ’till they make a respectable figure as in the former period of their existence.
An illustration of this we have in the case of Judah restored to Palestine and the rights and privileges of their fathers, after their residence in a strange land, and subjection to a foreign yoke, for seventy years.
During so long a term, when the public offices of religion could not be regularly performed, when they were conversant with the superstitions of gentilism, and the manners of masters upon whom they were entirely dependent, it is scarce possible but that the knowledge of divine truth must be greatly lost, the ardor of devotion cooled with many, their spirits broken, and a generous public temper well-nigh extinguished.
Let us view these exiles going to a desolate country, and a capital in ruins, with intention to possess and improve their ancient patrimony, rebuild their city, set up the worship of God upon the Hebrew ritual, and settle the civil administration to advantage; at the same time despised and hated by their neighbors, and retarded as much as possible in every salutary projection.
These things considered, nothing can be clearer than the vast importance that they should have wise men for pilots to direct them, men of goodness and intrepidity, to animate them to every arduous undertaking.
Accordingly, a gracious God not only favored them with his prophets to instruct and support them, but rulers to lead and protect them, and forward the enterprises to which they were called—first Zerubbabel and Joshua, under whom the temple was built, and altar for daily sacrifice; then Ezra a scribe well instructed to the kingdom of heaven, who restored the scripture to its primitive purity, and dissolved those interdicted alliances which weakened their attachment to their religion and country.
But Jerusalem yet laid defenseless, enormities in part remained.
The full accomplishment of the merciful intention of heaven towards that afflicted people was reserved for Nehemiah.
This man held a lucrative post† in a court the center of the wealth and glory of Asia and had an intimate access to the mightiest monarch then living. But surrounded with affluence and honor, he mourned for Zion. His countenance betrayed a troubled soul to his master, who understanding the cause, gave him liberty of absence for a term, invested him with a public character in Judea, and sent mandatory letters to his officers bordering thereupon to assist him.
His arrival to Jerusalem was like the light of the morning which dissipates the incumbent gloom and invigorates nature. Every heart was revived, every hand employed. Present with them the walls went up, and the city filled with inhabitants. By his incessant care and labors grievances were redressed, and all things regulated in such a manner as to render them easy and happy.
This is the lover of his nation, whose words I have read. Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.
Language this consonant to the principles of reason and revelation. Natural religion dictates that God is good, and a lover of righteousness. The sacrificial services of the temple as instituted for particular cases, or pointing to the promised Savior, while they implied guilt, gave assurance that it was consistent with the rectoral holiness of God to have respect to imperfect virtue. Nothing therefore is here expressed but what is agreeable to a justness of thought, to a due humility of mind.
This passage as uttered by a ruler in Israel, suggests to us some things of importance, suitable to the occasion of our present assembling.
I. We may take notice of the ground of this request in the text to God. II. The request itself as connected with it.
WE are in the first place to take notice of the ground of this request to God. According to all that I have done for this people.
This naturally leads us into some reflections upon civil government, its design, and the proper steps whereby it is pursued. But the subjects have been handled with so much copiousness and accuracy in this desk, that they must be but transiently touched upon.
It hath pleased the creator of all things to implant in mankind a desire of happiness in the continuance of being, and accessions to their enjoyments. This may be deemed a kind of instinct, which urges them without any rational arguments to ward off an injury, or take hold of an offered advantage; and is an engine of providence, whereby they are impelled to action, and the human species is preserved. To this the Father of spirits hath super-added reason, to direct it in its operations into a track consistent with the welfare of others, and most adapted to a proper end.
In the present state this principle gaining an undue ascendancy over the intelligent powers is apt to excite men to the impetuous pursuit of personal interest, to the oppression of the weaker. The proportion of an attainable good is moreover as the means of arriving to it. Many can effect more than one.
Considering then the incapacity of individuals to defend themselves from the rapacious, or to reach that degree of good they might in a collective view, they are led to union. Union for these ends supposes rules framed in subserviency to them. Occasions are continually rising for the amendment of general rules, or additions to them, and particular cases occur which it is not possible at once to provide for. So a standing legislature is erected. Laws without execution are as none, therefore there must be an authority to see them take effect. This seems the natural course of things.
The exterior strength of a community, it’s internal safety and advantage, present necessity, or security for time to come, and a variety of adventitious circumstances, have their weight in the model of government, and therefore it differs according to the light in which either is viewed.
Surrounded by formidable adversaries, a people may choose to give to someone a kind of dictatorial authority for their defense. Israel vexed with the frequent eruptions of their neighbors desired a king to judge them and fight their battles. Property gives influence, and founds a sort of claim to rule, and a large interest connected with that of the public seems to render the possessor worthy of confidence. Therefore, hath the sole dominion been committed to a certain number. Equality of property, a quiet situation, or perhaps painful experience of the ill effects of unlimited sovereignty, have introduced a popular jurisdiction, the society at large reserving to themselves the final determination of matters which concern them.
However each of these may answer good purposes for a term, yet singly they are liable to exception. The supreme legislative and executive power lodged entirely in the same hands uncontrolled, tends to tyranny. A government altogether popular by reason of an infinite diversity of particular interests, dissonant opinions, and formal consultations of the whole body, is slow, uneven, and liable to convulsions, and subversion. [For this point, Barnard cites Johann Gottlieb Heineccius, A Methodical System of Universal Law: Or, the Laws of Nature and Nations (1738), available here; no particular section is invoked by Barnard. Heineccius was a famous German jurist and theologian at Halle. Barnard likely would have read George Turnbull’s (1698-1748) translation of and commentary on Heineccius. The point is that almost no one cites Heineccius as an influence on the Protestant political theology and legal thought of the late eighteenth century, but here he is in a Congregationalist election sermon in Massachusetts in 1766.]
Happy are those whose political plan allows such prerogative as is sufficient to the vigor, uniformity, and dispatch, of public measures, but at the same time with such restrictions, as that the liberties of the subject are safe, and by a wise mixture of the several powers which alone become pernicious, renders them highly beneficial.
Government originating from the law of self-preservation properly directed, and being the basis of public happiness, we may easily collect the methods to be prosecuted in consequence.
From hence ’tis evident that the constitution claims the first attention of such as are in the legislative capacity.
Though the weakness of human understanding, fundamental principles may possibly be productive of ill consequences. Through a corrupt bias false deductions may be made from maxims true and excellent, which practiced upon will be highly detrimental. It should therefore be their care within their line to correct mistakes of either kind; for if the foundations are out of course what shall the righteous do?
An equitable constitution on the other hand, the subserviency of which to general utility experience demonstrates, is to be strenuously maintained. The balance of power in a mixed government is no empty theory. The destruction of it is terrible. The revolutions of Rome in former days we need not recur to in proof of this. British records will inform us of the abolition of the ancient system, the calamities thence ensuing, so severely felt as to induce a return to it with as much zeal as it was rejected. It lays with rulers to preserve this ballance, (every inclination of which is in a double proportion) by a scrupulous adherence to the duties of their department, and the seasonable check to the violation of prescribed limits.
It is likewise evident that the whole community should fall under the equal eye of rulers—that their concern should be exercised for all. Rival-ship there often may be between the several parts of society and struggles for immunities and privileges. Constituents may expect that those whom they elect prove their advocates in prejudice to others. But such particular respect is a perversion of the great intention of government, oftentimes rendering the condition of some, of many, worse than if they had remained in a state of nature, by tying them down under public sanction to what in that state they might have prospect of relief from. Necessary burdens are to be adjusted to the different capacities of bearing them, and advantages to be alike open to everyone properly qualified to improve them.
It is equally evident that what concerns the welfare of the state is a proper object of human laws. Provision therefore is to be made for the support of those who serve the public agreeable to the places they sustain—for defense from, and opposition to, the unwarrantable encroachments of enemies—for the determination of contested rights, necessary to peace and order—for the encouragement of agriculture, manufactures and commerce, from whence are derived wealth and plenty—for the suppression of immorality, in its native tendency as well as by the righteous providence of God pregnant with ruin—for maintaining social worship, so friendly to that impressive sense of divine things whereby the solemnity of an oath (the grand instrument of government) is kept up, and adds to the force of civil authority that of conscience—for promoting the interests of learning, which softens a natural ferocity, assists in the arts and business of common life, capacitates for great undertakings, and with which (notwithstanding the exclamations of ignorance, enthusiasm, or a narrow spirit,) religion and liberty are closely united.
To the efficacy of authoritative decrees to these purposes ’tis necessary that they be dictated with as much precision as possible, so as to be easy of application—that the rewards and punishments annexed should be suited to the circumstances and prevailing passions of those for whom they are framed, and a freedom of access be ever preserved to the tribunals of justice.
Hence, finally, the true use of executive power is readily perceived. It is the energy and influence of the legislative—the legislative put forth into act. Those therefore who are vested with it are never at liberty to dispense with laws—are ever to make them their rule of conduct, and to their utmost, endeavor a concurrence with the spirit and design of them.
With this general idea of civil government coincides the word of inspiration, when it assures us that the ruler is the minister of God for good—a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil, attending continually upon this very thing. With this coincide the common sentiments of antiquity. The kings of the Gentiles (some of the successors of Alexander particularly) chose to be called benefactors, when they reversed the character. Pagan deities were at first earthly heroes—good rulers who laid themselves out for the benefit of mankind. Whether they had an apotheosis in gratitude for what they did here, or as best qualified to superintend affairs below, or as an incentive with their successors to an imitation, it shows the sense of mankind upon this head.
The other thing which comes under consideration is the request to God. Think upon me my God for good.
This in connection with the latter clause is worthy of distinct remark, as containing seasonable and weighty hints, viewed in a diversity of lights.
We may understand it as an implication of a ruler’s governing aim at the approbation of Heaven in his administration.
The favorable regards of God cannot be conceived to be extended to any whose habitual conversation in the world he dislikes, and therefore cannot fitly be applied for by those who have not made it their main care to please him. Such a sanctification of God in the heart by the influence of his spirit and truths as shall give the supremacy to his approbation, is of vast consequence to rulers, having a prodigious efficacy with them in the special business to which they are called.
Perfect wisdom hath made nothing without design. The faculties of the minds of men are for improvement, the talents given them for use in some particular sphere. The disposal of circumstances, and adaptedness [sic] of talents thereto, point out this sphere. Hereby industry is recommended in every station, and the command proclaimed as with an audible voice from heaven, Occupy ’till I come.
Without subjection to the will of God the ruler cannot enjoy his smiles. Seriously and deeply affected herewith, he gives all diligence (never content merely with the honors and emoluments of a place) that his mind may be furnished for exalted service. He will therefore carefully examine the best policy of states, the causes of their grandeur and declension, attentively survey his own country, it’s situation, connections, and manners, investigate the foundation of laws, and their true sense, by intense thought, and the study of the most judicious writers upon the subject, and converse with the remoter branches of knowledge (according to opportunity) which throw light upon what he is more nearly concerned with. He rises early, and sits up late, deliberating upon the public safety. Contemplation and reading are for active duties, and the treasures of wisdom laboriously acquired are freely expended for the good of society. The senate complains not of his absence, or the seat of judgment. He proposes, supports, objects, determines, and executes, and strains every nerve in the fulfillment of his trust.
Under a firm persuasion that the righteous Lord loveth righteousness, desireth truth in the inward parts, and that in his favor is life, he engages in every momentous transaction with solemnity of spirit, is exceeding cautious that he does not pervert judgment nor consent to anything merely for its plausible appearance. Whatever comes before him passes under a severe scrutiny; assenting hereupon to its rectitude it is received and prosecuted. He is not a wed into compliance disagreeable to the convictions of his mind by menaces from any quarter.—The fear of man bringeth a snare, but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord, maintains due respect to him, shall be safe from the prevailing power of such a temptation. Tenacious of a well formed purpose, secular arguments of no sort are sufficient to warp him, he pursues it with an inflexible stability. Constituted guardian of liberty, it is ever before him, and dear to him above any earthly enjoyment. He is ready to all just means for it’s preservation, even to the laying down his life if called for in providence: But never will he abuse the venerable name through precipitancy of passion, and for the gratification of any personal sinister views.
Incompatible with this persuasion is an habit of intrigue and dissimulation, —every subtle evasion of right, and those artifices which create confidence and ruin dependents. It leads to fairness of expression and behavior—to account obligations sacred and a punctual conformity.
The greatest may have some avenue whereby they are accessible to the crafty and designing. A latent vanity not easily subdued renders adulation too palatable. Sucking in the luscious draught, the ruler (as well as others) may be intoxicated with the poison. Not so if he loves the praise of God more than of man. This is an effectual antidote against its baneful influence. —This closes the ear to the artful panegyrics of the fawning parasite.
It must be confessed that other principles besides this we have been considering may carry the ruler into a channel of duty in many instances beneficial to a people. The enquiry is whether any short of this is sufficient to carry him through the whole course of allotted duty.
Natural benevolence—a disposition to serve mankind and to serve them gracefully at once charms us, and we are ready to presage much good when this is the characteristic of a ruler. But a little attention will convince us that it is often accompanied with a certain indolence, averse to that close application which forms the great, the vigilant, the active patriot, and involves in it that desire to please which tends to an indiscriminate treatment of all, and a flexibility which is sometimes prejudicial. Religion gives vigor and compactedness [sic] to this amiable spirit; by this aided and exalted, it brings forth fruit equal to the most sanguine prospects.
Sense of honor hath been much extolled, and is not without its advantages in high life. But if all which is meant by it is a regard to decorum of behavior as it comes under the observation and judgment of the world, ’tis too stinted, too fluctuating always to be depended upon. This is consistent with private vices, which by a kind of fatality draw on such as are more flagrant, and widely mischievous. Ages differ in their taste, none are free from corruption, and a compliment to that we live in may betray into a violation not of received, but real propriety of conduct.
Affectation of parade—of shining in august assemblies, and being accounted pillars of the state, prompts at times to exertions, the good effects of which a community sensibly feels. But how will this operate in the day of trial, when fame and duty come into competition, and a resignation of the former is plainly incumbent? What but a principle of piety will produce the costly sacrifice?
Apprehensions of the intrinsic excellency of virtue, nice ideas of moral beauty, are worthy of the mind of man, and have their attractive influence. But abstract notions only seem fitter for pure intelligences, than those who dwelling in houses of clay have passions perpetually applied to by a thousand sensible objects. To look in the critical hour to God whose favour and friendship are of infinite importance, will be likely more to warm the heart, and excite the springs of action, than the finest speculations of this kind.
Admitting then that in many instances these principles have been beneficial in their consequence, still this must have the preeminence, as an incentive to more extensive goodness, and the proper result of which is a consistent and uniform character.
This clause connected with the latter may import the ruler’s consciousness of integrity in office, and his appeal to God on behalf of it.
Mankind with understanding, judgment, and memory, are capable of recollecting the past temper and conduct, and comparing them with some rule—the divine law. Conformity or disagreement herewith begets satisfaction or uneasiness in review, especially as relative to the final determination of the character and state by God the judge of all. What reverence is due to conscience, whose power is alike exercised in absolving or condemning the great and the small? How much should we prize his friendship, how fearful left we exasperate him?
The ruler is not always exempt from the censure and resentment of the world. Melancholy beyond description is his case if the reproaches of conscience are joined with those of a people—when deserted by man, he cannot look up to God with comfort, for the voice of conscience is the voice of God. But censure and resentment are not confined to those only that are culpable. Sometimes they fall upon the upright; through misapprehensions, jealousies attendant upon a warm passion for liberty, heavy burdens and disappointments fermenting the spirit, or under some particular malevolent influence. Moses was faithful in all God’s house; but for an extraordinary divine interposal he would have suffered from those for whom he so fervently pleaded.
If Israel is deemed an exception to the rest of mankind let us look elsewhere. The Athenians were the most polite and sensible people on earth; quick in discerning merit, and ready to embrace it. Yet those for whom they ordained public honors, by reason of unfortunate events in which they had no share, felt the weight of their displeasure. Even Aristides, by the superior interest of a powerful adversary, endured the severity of Ostracism, wishing as he relinquished his country that it might never want him. Now when such a disastrous lot befalls a faithful ruler, leading him to a solemn retrospect, vast indeed must be his happiness with the testimony of conscience in his favor. He hath that within which is far more than a balance to what he feels from without, (though that must be painful) he hath a joy unspeakable, which no man can take from him.
But supposing such a day as this never to happen, yet mortality is the end of all men. Rulers are styled gods as in an elevated station, but they must die like men. Lying upon the bed of death that serious reflection is scarce avoidable which a crowd of business and splendid scenes prevented in some. How distressing must be that period, to one who for long time hath lost fight of his errand, and perverted the ends of his divine appointment, oppressed with guilt peculiarly accumulated? On the contrary what transports are at this season the portion of him, who hath exercised a conscience void of offence, whose applause reaches to the latest moments? Remember O Lord, as once a Jewish monarch, says he, (as supposed upon the verge of life) how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight, and smiles in the pangs of dissolving nature.
This clause may be understood as denoting a ruler’s faith in and hope of the gracious rewards of futurity agreeable to his services.
However important the dispute may be concerning the intimation of future happiness in the old testament, ’tis needless to enter upon it now. Suffice it at present that the Jews in fact believed and were actuated by it.
Eternal life is the free gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, but a gift appropriated to those who possess a temper devoted to his service and glory, and bestowed according to their assiduity in his work. Agreeably our divine prophet hath represented mankind as servants, betrusted with pounds or talents—something improvable, and distinguished as they gained by trading.
What restraint is the faith which is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen from predominant worldly ambition and avarice, prolific sources of venality and corruption! We judge of the value of things very much by comparison, and the prospect of obtaining them. In nature and duration the blessings above far surpass any thing below. While they are at a distance the superiority does not appear in a striking light, but brought near to the soul how is every enchanting object here diminished! Still does the estimation increase when there is strong consolation through grace of an heirship to them.
With this faith and hope who among the sons of the mighty can burn with restless desires of mounting higher in the scale of human glory, indifferent to any methods of advancement however base or unworthy? Incongruous herewith is an insatiable greediness of wealth, an unbridled appetite to the wages of unrighteousness. The crown which fadeth not away reserved in heaven, and a fair reversionary inheritance in the kingdom which cannot be moved, being objects upon which the mind is fixed, temptations from this world must lose their strength.
That God is not unrighteous to forget the work, and labor of love shewed towards his name and people, being deeply imbibed in the heart, is a powerful impulse with a ruler to unshaken perseverance in duty.
By patient continuance in well doing,—with a zeal unabated by resentment, undismayed by difficulties, he seeks for the sublime honor, the immense treasures of immortality. If his work is attended with embarrassments very exercising, discharging it with fidelity ’tis enough that this work is with the Lord and his reward with his God;—that God who with unerring rectitude weighs the actions of his servants, with all the enhancing circumstances attending them, and will award a fate accordingly, in that day when the kings of the earth, and great men, shall in their united nature stand before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive a decisive sentence for eternity.
Such are the sentiments which arise in contemplation upon this text of sacred scripture, which should be wrote in deep and lasting characters upon the hearts of every one that ruleth over men, and upon which the general temper and tenor of action ought to be formed. Concurrence with the justness hereof our honored fathers in an open manner declare, by coming into the temple this morning, that the weighty affairs which are to be transacted may be introduced by the word of God and prayer.
How great is the privilege by which civil rulers are distinguished by God, while they have it in their hands above most others to do good to his people?—a privilege this with which the external badges of greatness, the tokens of submission and respect justly belonging to them, or the most ample revenues annexed to their office, are not worthy to be compared;—a privilege augmented according to the elevation of dignity.
The chief magistrate of this province hath eminent advantages to serve this people. With pleasure we own his capacity, and rely upon his disposition to improve it for this purpose. May his Excellency continued at the head of administration be guided by divine counsel, assisted to the discharge of the duties of his station, meet with the acceptance of those over whom he hath authority, the smiles of his master under whom he acts, and what is infinitely more the commendation of his supreme judge.
Through the tender mercy of our God upon us the day is returned wherein the elective power vested in two branches of the legislature for our benefit is to be improved. The subject upon which I have been treating points out their duty in the choice of his Majesty’s Council. So great a trust as is lodged in this part of the General Assembly, most certainly ought to be reposed in such as manifest an high opinion of the kind ends for which government is instituted, and their value of a place in it for the exercise of a benevolent public spirit,—who in addition to political wisdom, discover a mind impressed with a sense of religion, which will render them impregnable to any attacks upon their virtue, inspire them with heroic fortitude in every exigency, and an unshaken resolution to spend and be spent in the execution of the charge devolved on them. In the choice of such the whole community is greatly interested. Solicitude that these have a seat at the Council Board will possess each one upon whom it depends, who is desirous of the answer of a good conscience towards God, and of giving up his account with joy. Fully persuaded of the critical inspection of the most High, and impartially consulting the monitor within, we trust the heads of our tribes will so act this day, as that they and we may rejoice together,—they in remembrance of their uprightness, we in the blessings derived from it.
May God be present with the Assembly of the mighty through the year, instructing his servants in the things of our peace, and inclining them with one heart and one soul to pursue them.
The burdens of faithful magistrates are at all times heavy, but have been greatly increased in the months which have passed over us. Serious persons anxious for themselves and offspring, have not been unmindful of the perplexing cares of their rulers, nor without desires that they might be directed and sustained.
Under our sorrows and distresses, we have not been without consolatory prospects, and those upon whose hearts the prosperity of Zion hath laid, while they have poured out tears unto God, have revolved in their minds such things as have mightily supported them.
Our fathers melted when they parted from their native country,—as leaving a parent, and taught their offspring to esteem it as a mother. Dismissed from her bosom they and we have been afflicted in all her afflictions, and triumphed in her prosperity. No event hath happened to her which we have not sensibly felt. Looking upon her always as our mother country, we have looked upon ourselves as children,—of the same family. Our connection therefore with her hath led us into dependance of seeing peace in her peace.
At a distance from the throne, with duty to our Sovereign, we have confided in him, to give us favorable audience, and extend his paternal concern to the remotest parts of his dominions,—a Sovereign who taketh pleasure in the happiness of his people.
The wisdom of a British parliament, regard to equity—to the welfare of the nation throughout, must always incline to a review of every important affair as more light is offered—to allow due weight to the representations that are made, to the arguments which are proposed.
With such considerations hath the disquietude of our minds been much allayed, our ultimate trust being still in the hope of Israel and the savior thereof in the time of trouble.
We have waited for thy salvation O God as they that watch for the morning.
The mercy of the Lord hath been upon us according as we have hoped in him. God hath spoken in his providence, saying, let there be light, and it is light; we see it and are glad. May God be duly acknowledged, whose goodness is unfailing. May our warmest affections flow to our King, and his government! May those who have generously interested themselves in our behalf be had by us in everlasting grateful remembrance!
While every eye sparkles with joy, and every mouth is opened in mutual congratulations, how natural is it in a fulness of spirit, to anticipate the blessings concomitant with privileges freely enjoyed,—to look forward to a distant day? We behold the wilderness blossoming like a rose, under the cultivation of the hand of industry. We behold our commercial interests flourishing, —the land of our original pouring in her ample stores upon us, for convenience and delight, we making as ample returns, to the increase of her strength and opulence. We behold a race of princes proceeding from the illustrious House which now reigns, ruling over Great-Britain and her American colonies, ’till these colonies and Britain are no more.
BUT in the midst of our transports let us think soberly. Indulging high expectations of seeing the good of God’s chosen, we ought to remember that liberty,—the best civil privileges which can be imagined, by no means necessitate the happiness of the subjects. With these alone, with these misimproved [sic], we do but dream of becoming great and glorious.
If when that is removed which so greatly oppressed our spirits, intestine heats should prevail, and everything be made matter of sharp dispute, if we should crumble into parties, each one striving with vehemence for the mastery, if crowned with prosperity we should grow proud in heart, and forget God, and make proficiency in extravagance, luxury, and every vice dependent upon plenty, how sad would be our condition? This (I was going to say) would be like children, to throw away what we now seem so much pleased with; happy if no more than children we were responsible for our conduct. But the expression is not strong enough. This is more than merely to neglect the proper improvement of the gifts of God, —’tis turning them against our supreme benefactor, and perverting the means of happiness to our aggravated ruin. Rejecting the counsel of God against ourselves, we cannot look for anything but destruction to advance like an irresistible whirlwind, and that when we call, God should refuse to hear, —that he should laugh at our calamity, and mock when terror invades us.
But we hope better things,—that our liberty will be used by all ranks and orders, as the servants of God, that in love we shall assist and support one another—that henceforth we shall serve God in truth, and with a perfect heart, considering what great things he hath done for us.
The truths which have been expatiated upon this morning as agreeable to my text, are not unapplicable to a people. The design of civil administration being the welfare of communities, it is clear that unlimited submission, —submission in all cases, cannot be duty. It is as clear that when in the general administration this design is kept in view, and prosecuted, respect and subjection are due to those concerned in it. If rulers are to have habitual regard to the approbation of heaven, the dictates of conscience, and future blessedness, so should those in inferior stations. The civil distinctions which subsist here among men, although necessary to the well-being of the world, are yet but small, compared with that moral and probationary light, in which all mankind are to be considered as standing upon a level.
If these things are suitably digested we shall be led to that temper, and conversation, which forming the general character, cannot fail to make us happy.
May God imprint them upon our hearts, and fulfil to us his ancient promises, delivered in the noblest strains by the enlightened prophet, with which I close.
O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.—For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron: I will also make thine officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness.—Thy people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.
Image Credit: “The Repeal-or the Funeral Procession for Miss Americ-Stamp,” Benjamin Wilson (London, 1766).