Obedience to the Laws of God
The Sure and Indispensable
Defense of Nations
Ashbel Green, D.D.
Second Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia
Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin, the Lord is
with you while ye be with him. And if ye seek him he will be
found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.
(2 Chron. 25:2)
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Ashbel Green ( 1762- 1848) served as President of the College of New Jersey ( now Princeton University) from 1812 to 1822. His father, Jacob Green, a Presbyterian pastor, played a significant part in the American Revolution, councelling with Washington, that being one of the more prominent tasks he performed. Ashbel also served, with action seen in the militia in New Jersey area campaigns. Later educated at Princeton under John Witherspoon, he delivered the Valedictory Address to an audience consisting of Washington, Congress ( in session here) and the ministers of Holland and France in 1783.
What is remarkable, despite his high standing in society, is his continued service as a minister of the gospel to all the community after leaving the presidency, in particular those of African ancestry. Most notably was the Green's decision to free a slave girl given to Mrs. Green. Betsy Stockton, remained with the Green's as a paid worker, saving her money and gaining an education at the Green's. Miss Stockton later utilized both to good ends, serving as a Christian missionary in Hawaii. Ashbel helped her work with his own gifts, and published her accounts to him of her missions work in the Christian Advocate Magazine, where they were greatly admired. (Ref. : Life of Ashbel Green, 1849 pg. 326 ). It is hard to find a greater example of real life faith.
Dr. Green also served as a central figure in the foundation of Princeton Theological Seminary, a move of truly global import. It was here that the U.S. Foreign Missions program came to fruition, with Princeton men proceeding forth to all parts of the globe.
The sermon featured here is similar in nature to our 1815 Brockway Election Sermon (Conn.), also available at the Willison Center. Green's work, is stellar in communicating the concept of the ultimate safety of any country is found in the citizen's personal faith in the God who reveals Himself in the Bible. Trusting in military might alone has its limits, and history clearly paints a picture of nation after nation falling, sometimes instantly. May we read and apply his whole counsel, as the lesson of September 11 makes painfully clear we also have not circumvented his thesis "Obedience to the Laws of God, the Sure and Indispensable Defense of Nations". There is no guarantee "our mountain stands so strong , it cannot be removed." May we return as individuals across the nation to our only ark of safety.
The following begins the original text:
Theproclamation of the nation’s Chief Magistrate states that it is "a season of difficulty and danger" to our common country. That such is the fact, no one will deny. No one who seriously contemplates our national situation can forbear to confess that on every hand dangers threaten and difficulties beset us. To anyone who should suggest a sure, practical, and easy plan for maintaining our honor and preserving our civil and religious rights, it would be acknowledged that every ear should listen, and every heart offer a tribute of thanks.
A prophet of Jehovah offers this very plan. The sacred herald proclaims it to us in this hour as really as he did to the favorite people of heaven in ancient times. As really as he then said, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin, he now says, "Here ye me, rulers and people of America, the Lord is with you while ye be with him; if ye seek him, he will be found of you." This is the sure plan for national defense and prosperity, For if God be for us, who can be against us! (Rom. 8:31). What wisdom can contend with omniscience? What power can resist omnipotence? Associate yourselves, 0 ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, 0 ye of far countries; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together and it shall
come to nought; speak the word and it shall not stand; for God is with us (Isa. 8:9-10).
Nay more, the plan of the prophet is not only effectual; it is the only one that can be effectual. The same veracity that gives the comfortable assurance on one condition connects it with an awful alternative on another. "If ye forsake God, he will forsake you." If, forgetful of your dependence upon Jehovah, you violate his laws and are contemptuous of his ordinances, his protection and favor will be taken from you, and then cometh confusion and every evil work (Jas. 3:16). Left to yourselves, you will speedily become the prey of your enemies or work out your own destruction. Vain will be all your devices, feeble all your powers, and unavailing all your exertions. For there is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord (Prov. 21:30). His hand will find you out, and with just displeasure will seal your final ruin.
The nation that adheres to the laws of God shall be protected and prospered by him, but the nation that forsakes and disregards those laws he will destroy. In discussing this doctrine, it will not be necessary to give a separate treatment to its contrasted parts. More advantage may be derived from considering the nature of obedience and disobedience, and of the benefit or injury that results from them.
First, let us consider what is that adherence or obedience to the divine law that ensures to a nation the protection and blessing of heaven, and from which we may also see that deficiency or disobedience on which the threatening is pronounced. The obedience is described by
being or remaining with God and by seeking him. In this, it is implied that a nation pay general and sincere regard to those laws and obligations of duty which the light it possesses shows to be of divine institution and sanctioned by divine authority. Reason and scripture evince the justice of this demand in the clearest manner. If reason remonstrates against the iniquity of requiring men to obey laws of which they have had no knowledge, and to walk by light that they have never seen, she equally enforces their obligation to obey every equitable law with which they are acquainted, and to act agreeably to the best information they have received. In other words, it is one of the plainest dictates of reason that men should be answerable for their improvement for the advantages they possess.
Accordingly, we find that inspiration expresses this principle thus, That servant which knew his Lord’s will and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:47-48). Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin (Jas. 4:17). This rule must be as applicable to nations as to individuals, for of individuals nations are composed. Let us apply it, then, to the case before us and see what will be its result as it relates to the Heathen, Jews, and Christians.
Of the Heathen nations, the account given by unerring truth is as follows: The wrath of God is revealed from
heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20). And again, When the Gentiles which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the law written upon their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another (Rom. 2:14-15).
From this it appears that the Heathen nations, though destitute of a revelation, had still so many advantages from the light of nature itself as to render them inexcusable when they violated the great principles of duty either to God or man. To acknowledge the existence, the providence, and many of the perfections of God, to be sensible of their dependence on him in all their concerns, to realize their indebtedness to him for all their enjoyments, to confess to him their guilt and unworthiness, to implore his favor, and to deprecate his displeasure was a service that even in their circumstances might reasonably be demanded of them. The law also, which was written on their hearts, or discoverable from natural reason, was sufficient to teach them the duties of justice, truth, humanity, and benevolence toward each other. How little of all this was actually found among those nations is well known to those who are acquainted with the melancholy history of their moral and religious state. But the rule of their duty, as far as they showed any color or degree of conformity to it in their external conduct or national character, was the divine mercy and condescension treating them as coming within the con-
dition in which protection and prosperity in this world are promised and bestowed. But when all regard to the moral and religious principles that have been recited became extinct among them as a people, then they subjected themselves to the threatened penalty.
To the Hebrew nation, the knowledge of the true God was clearly revealed. The unity and spirituality of his essence; the infinity, eternity, purity, and holiness of his nature and attributes; his creation and his absolute and immediate government of the world; his moral laws; and his purposes of grace and mercy toward penitent sinners— these were manifested to his people in the fullest, most unequivocal, and most impressive manner. Their national polity itself was a theocracy, or mode of government in which God sustained to them not only the common relation of supreme governor of the world, but also that of a civil chief. He dictated all their political institutions; he presided over the administration of them; and with a view to preserve them against falling into that ignorance of himself, that idolatry, superstition, and immorality that characterized and degraded all the other nations of the world, as well as to be a shadow of good things to come, he instituted a complicated ritual of ceremonial observances and temporary regulations. These advantages laid the Jews under higher and more numerous obligations to moral and religious purity than any other nation then existing.
It was also incumbent on them to regard with sacred exactness even those ceremonial rites that had been enjoined by divine authority with the most wise and benev-
olent intention. While they walked agreeably to these advantages and institutions, they might be said to abide with God and to seek him. When they departed from these, they were said to forsake him. The observance of these things is precisely the ground of the promise given in 2 Chron. 25:2—the promise of the divine presence and protection with all its happy consequences. Their departure from the rule of duty subjected them to the threatened dereliction and displeasure of God, with all its ruinous effects.
Under the Christian dispensation, we have still a new accession of light. In addition to the knowledge of God and of his laws and designs, which the ancient Hebrews possessed, we have a bright display of the very method in which his purposes of mercy toward our fallen race are fully carried into effect. He who spake unto them by the prophets hath, in these last days, spoken unto us by his son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world (Heb. 1:1-2)—who is Immanuel, God with us. By him, we have received the atonement. We are distinctly informed that, he was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we may be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21). We are assured that by faith in him, we are justified without the deeds of the law (Gal. 2:16). To us it has been declared by divine authority that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father , and that he that honors not the Son, honors not the Father who sent him (John 5:23).
We have received information more distinct than has been given under the Mosaic economy of the mission and
work of the blessed Spirit of God, emphatically called the Comforter. We are told that man dead in nature in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) can be saved only by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5). The spirituality and extent of the divine law is more completely unfolded to us than to the Jews, and the doctrines more powerfully inculcated that without holiness, no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). The obligations to benevolence, charity, meekness, kindness, forgiveness, and every good work are most powerfully enforced. Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel. A future judgment is plainly revealed, and the states of eternal happiness and misery—which await the righteous and the wicked—are clearly and strikingly set before us.
It must be immediately seen that this system of information originates many peculiar obligations and duties, which could not be binding or incumbent on those who Were destitute of it. And therefore the nation that is blessed with the knowledge of this system will then, and then only, come up to the condition on which the promise of protection and prosperity is founded, when it pays some suitable regard to the leading principles this system contains. When those principles are generally and notoriously violated, the solemn declaration that God will forsake such a people immediately becomes applicable.
Let it be understood and remembered that in speaking of the virtues and vices of nations as causes of prosperity and adversity, I always consider the distributive justice of God as deciding the destiny of each by its relative
advantages, its relative knowledge of moral and religious truth, and that practice that is consonant or contrary to it.
This is to show how totally void of force is a favorite remark of infidel writers on this topic. With much apparent triumph, they reproach the advocates of Christianity for representing national prosperity as any way connected with a regard to the Christian religion, and they adduce the prosperous condition of some pagan countries—both in ancient and modern times—as proof positive of the justice of the reproach. But the allegation is no proof at all. Those nations never were under obligation to conform to the same standard we are bound to regard. But it will be seen that when they actually and generally departed from what was their rule of duty, they were uniformly destroyed. But to say that a nation of Christians may with impunity become Pagan while a Pagan nation could not with justice be required to regard Christianity is an assertion that does no honor to the sagacity or candor of its authors. It is to say that they who possess the most advantages may safely act like those who have enjoyed the least. The Heathen possess one degree of information, we another. They are dealt with by their own measure, we with ours. This is strictly the principle of justice.
It may be observed that no nation fully conforms to the rule that has been specified as marking the line of duty. And it may be asked, What is that measure of conformity that will secure the benefits of the promise? God alone is competent to answer this question with precision and as it relates to particular cases. He gives no account of any of his matters (Job 33:13). In some instances, his mercy may forbear with nations after considerable defection, and in others his justice may take speedy vengeance. While the guilty are never punished until they deserve it, equity is not violated in waiting longer for the reformation of some
than others. This exercise of sovereignty, this limited variety in his dispensations, is seen in all the administrations of God. The most wise and important purposes are answered by it. Presumption is restrained on the one hand, and despair is prevented on the other. The entire freedom of human action is also preserved by this order. The mind of man is left to that full exercise of judgment and choice, and that natural operation of desire and prosperity, which render him most completely accountable for his actions.
From this cause it will come to pass that the method in which nations are treated will appear somewhat irregular. In some cases, the virtuous will appear to suffer, and the vicious to be triumphant. A semblance of contradiction will hence arise to this doctrine. Yet, as will be shown more fully in its place, it is only the semblance and not the substance of opposition that will thus be produced.
Still Left us is a critereon of judging in a sufficiently exact way. It still remains a perspicuous truth that when a nation is characteristically pious it will be ultimately protected, and that when it becomes characteristically impious, it will be fast hastening to destruction. In proportion as it approaches to the one or the other of these extremes, it has reason to hope or to fear. When rulers of a nation recommend Christianity by their practice and example; when they discover a reverence for it by enacting and executing laws for the suppression of vice and immorality; when—without infringing on the rights of conscience—they encourage true piety by countenancing those who profess, practice, and teach it; when God, his providence, and our accountability to him are recognized
and the honor due his Son is rendered on suitable occasions and in public acts; when the moral laws of God relative to man as well as to himself are truly regarded by those whose station renders it a sort of representation and expression of national sentiment; and when the principles of piety and morality are generally and effectually taught and inculcated on the people at large as to influence the public mind—this, I would say, is a performance of duty to secure to a nation the benefits of the divine promise.
But when those who preside over a people deny the very being, attributes, and providence of God, or when there is a studied omission of every idea that refers to his government, or to our dependence on him; when through a hatred of Christianity it is disavowed, despised, and laughed at, and in the most contemptuous manner trampled under foot; or when through pusillanimity or impious policy a country conceals its attachment to the religion of Jesus; or when the profession of attachment is only a thin veil of hypocrisy; when the leading men of a nation flagrantly and shamelessly violate every moral law, and when the people at large love to have it so and are rapidly assimilating to the same corrupt standard—then they subject themselves to the divine denunciation and are treading on the brink of destruction.
God will not protect a righteous or destroy a wicked nation by any miraculous exertion of his power or in any other way than by using those means and the operation of those causes that are naturally calculated under the guidance of his providence and best adapted to produce
such an effect. When nations in the early stages of the world could not be fully instructed by experience in the principles of divine government because time for this experience had not yet been afforded, and so that the most impressive proofs of this truth might be furnished to all future times, God did indeed work miracles of salvation for the people who feared and served him, and miracles of destruction on those who departed from his laws. But as these examples are now furnished and held up to our view as sure indications of what we are to expect from the same source of justice from which they flowed, and as abundant experience has shown what is the settled order of the divine dispensation, miracle is not to be expected because it is not necessary. There have been some instances in every age both of the deliverance and destruction of nations in which divine intervention has appeared but little short of miraculous. Such events, however, are not to be reckoned on, though they may sometimes occur. In general, if God intends to preserve a nation, he will either dispose others to be at peace with it, or he will stir up its inhabitants to a rational, vigorous, and united exertion of their strength and means to defend themselves; and there he will bless and crown their success.
If he forsakes a nation, he will leave it to infatuated measures, to divided counsels, to supineness, to discord, treachery, and treason; or he will counteract its efforts and thus effectually accomplish his designs of vengeance. Peace, health, and plenty will be blessings flowing from his favor; sword, pestilence, and famine will be the messengers of his wrath. Sometimes his hand will be invisible, and sometimes conspicuously displayed; but in either case its operations will be sure and irresistible whether to defend or to destroy.
The principles of human nature and society offer strong and conclusive evidence of this truth. These principles have been so often and so clearly explained and am plied to this subject that nothing seems capable of being added to what must already be familiar to you; and, notwithstanding, as the conclusions deduced from them have been lately denied by a daring spirit of innovation and infidelity, I think it proper to treat the subject historically and to show the theory we maintain is incontrovertibly supported by fact. In pursuing this design, we assume it a principle that the plan of Providence or divine government is uniform in its execution, so that what has happened in all times past may be expected to happen in all times to come. Atheists and infidels may deny that the course of human affairs is under the direction or providence of God, but even they cannot deny with any shadow of truth or candor that nations have actually stood or fallen by the test in question, nor can they easily resist the belief that the future will resemble the past.
Let the Heathen, Jewish, and Christian nations pass in review before you, and you will find their prosperity or their adversity meted to them by the measure we have examined. What was it that produced the most ancient and most awful desolation and extinction of nations that the history of the world records? God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually—And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created, from the face of the earth, both man and beast, for the earth was filled with violence: And God looked upon the earth and behold it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth (Gen. 6:5,7,11-12).
Let every believer in revelation mark the cause that inspiration here assigns for bringing the waters of a flood on the world of the ungodly. Let him mark and remember that it was for general corruption and impiety; and let this be in his mind, the attestation of unerring truth, that at least in one, and that the most conspicuous of all instances, God forsook and destroyed the nations, even all the nations of the earth, because they have forsaken him. Let it also be remembered that this happened in the infancy of the world for the express purpose that it may be warning to every succeeding generation of men; and that no reason can be given why God should not be as much displeased with impiety now as then, nor why he should not punish the people who are guilty of it, though for wise reasons, he may not use a miraculous but an ordinary method of chastisement.
But examples of the same importance multiply upon us in perusing the sacred records. Why was it that the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, and overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of those cities, and that which grew upon the ground (Gen. 19:24-25)? It was because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah was great, and because their sin was grievous (Gen. 18:20)—Because nameless deeds of wickedness were perpetrated there, and ten righteous persons could not be found as the salt of the earth to qualify its corruption and to extinguish the fire of heaven. What was the cause of the destruction of the Canaanite nations, whom the Lord drove out before the children of Israel? Was it the mere arbitrary pleasure of Jehovah to destroy them that he might make room for the settlement of his chosen people? Such is the favorite but false representation of infidels. Hear the account of Scripture, and observe that it is held up as a warning to
the Israelites themselves: Defile not yourselves in any of these things, for in all these the nations are defiled that I cast out before you. And the land is defiled; therefore, I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall, therefore, keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor the stranger that sojourneth with you For all these abominations have the men of the land done which were before you, and the land is defiled (Lev. 18:24-27).
Why was it that the awful voice from heaven said to the proud King of Babylon, 0 King Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken—the kingdom is departed from thee; and they shall drive thee from men and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field! (Dan. 4:31-32). It was that he might know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdoms of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will (Dan. 4:17)—And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, why doest thou (Dan. 4:35)? Why was it that to the son and successor of the haughty monarch, the appalling, unconnected self-moved hand came forth and wrote on the wall of his palace Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin—God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it; thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting: Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians (Dan. 5:25-28)? It was because he had not humbled his heart in the contemplation of his father’s doom, but had lifted up himself against the Lord of Heaven— had profaned the vessels of his sanctuary—and the God in whose hand his breath was and whose were all his ways he had not glorified—Therefore, in that night was Belshazzar the King of the Chaldeans slain, and Darius the Mede took his kingdom (Dan. 5:23, 30-31).
These instances found in Holy Scripture are so pointed and powerful that the aid of enforcement would but encumber them. But observe that they all relate to Heathen nations, to nations that had no special revelation—had nothing but those great principles of religion and morality which the light of nature or the report of tradition taught to guide them in the path of duty. And for the violation of these you have heard their destiny.
But if leaving the testimony of the sacred we resort to that of profane history itself, we shall find the same account. When a heathen nation regarded in any tolerable degree the principles of religious and moral duty, then they were most prosperous, and when they wholly departed from these, they were speedily destroyed. Religion and morality, mistaken and imperfect as they were among pagans, were still their strength and security, and a disregard to these always preceded their dissolution. The truth of this is recognized by their own writers. The fact was so evident and notorious that it forced itself on observation, precluded denial, passed at length into one of those settled maxims of which there is neither doubt nor controversy, mingled itself with all their public instructions, and was regarded as essential to all their political institutions. The most learned and eloquent of the Roman philosophers and orators accounts for the superiority of the Roman state in language such as this: "We exceed not the Spaniards in number, nor the Gauls in strength, nor the Carthagenians in subtilty, nor the Greeks in arts, nor the Italians and Latins, who were the original inhabitants of this country, in natural strength of mind; but it is in piety
and religion, in discerning that all things are directed and governed by the immortal gods, that we have excelled all the nations and people of the earth" (Cicero).
Even a father of the Christian church has this remark: "That God would not give heaven to the Romans because they were Heathen, but he gave them the empire of the world because they were virtuous" (Augustine). A writer of a far different character makes an extravagant assertion: "That for several ages together never was the fear of God more eminently conspicuous than in the Roman republic" (Machiavelli). But he is strictly correct when he says, "That religion produced good laws, good laws good fortune, and a good end in whatever they undertook."
Nor are these observations less applicable to other nations of heathen antiquity. Consult the rise and fall of the Assyrian, the Persian, and the Macedonian empires, or of the free states of Greece. You will find that their political prosperity waxed or waned very much by the measure of their religions and moral character. Their religion was absurd and their morals comparatively impure, but the degree of rectitude and purity they possessed was their safety, and the contrary was their bane. I do not hold them up as objects to be envied or as examples to be imitated. They became eventually the curses and scourges of the world; but they became so by their degeneracy, which proved their own destruction in the end.
In regard to the Hebrew nation, no man who has read his Bible can be ignorant that it stood or fell by the rule that has been given. Its whole history is and was intended
to be little else than the history of the doctrinal truth here maintained. When the people served the Lord of their fathers with a perfect heart and with a willing mind (1 Chron. 28:9); when they did justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with their God (Micah 6:8), then they had rest. Or if their enemies intended to injure them, one man chased a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight (Deut. 32:30).
On the contrary, when they forgot the Lord and walked after the imagination of their own evil heart, then they experienced every sore and destructive calamity, until at length they were completely removed from their own land, subjected to the most humiliating captivity and bondage while their country was ravaged and rendered desolate for 70 years. This is but a single instance among innumerable passages in which the general truth stated here was brought in the most striking manner to their remembrance. Read Leviticus 26. You will there find specified at large the promises and the threatenings that the whole of their subsequent history demonstrates to have been strictly fulfilled.
But the most awful example that the Jews offer to the world is the punishment they received after their rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah and the persecution of his apostles and disciples. Josephus, who was an eyewitness to what he records, gives such an account of the overthrow of their temple, city, and nation as has not its parallel in the annals of the world. It was accompanied by the most awful and manifest displays of divine indignation insomuch that Titus, the Roman emperor, confessed that it was the hand of God rather than his own military prowess that effected their destruction. From that time to the present, the Jews have been vagabonds over all the earth, furnishing a monument and miracle of the divine displeasure.
If we fix on the histories of Christian countries, we shall find it still confirming the fact asserted, that when they have conformed to those principles of religion and moral duty that constitute the rule of their obedience to God, they have been protected and prospered; and when they have thrown aside a regard to these, they have been blasted and cut off.
It was not until three centuries after the birth of our blessed Lord that any state professed a national attachment to the Christian religion. During this whole period, however, the light of that religion in all its purity was diffused over many countries and rendered them, in degree, responsible for conformity to it. The consequences of refusing to be guided and influenced by it were awful indeed. The whole region of Asia Minor and of ancient Greece, where the most flourishing Christian churches were planted by St. Paul, have long since experienced the fulfillment of the threatenings that the beloved apostle was commissioned to denounce. Not only have the inhabitants of that region been deprived of the gospel that they abused, but under the Mohamedan power they have sunk into the most gloomy political bondage. Slavery and wretchedness have been brooding over them for more than a thousand years.
A similar fate was reserved for the Roman empire. Long had its impieties and prostrate morals been portending its fall. But when the bloody and relentless persecutions of the followers of Jesus were added to its other crimes, the vengeance of heaven could no longer be delayed. Gibbon, whose prejudice would not suffer him to learn from it the truth of the Christian system, intimates that there is a reason to believe that in a space of about 15
years, "war, pestilence, and famine consumed the moiety of the human species."
Under Constantine the Great, the Roman empire became Christian; and then her political power and internal happiness had a short revival. But in a revolution of a few years, the corruption of Christianity debased and degraded the worship of God, rent and divided and dishonored his Church, and admitted of licentiousness in principle and immorality in practice. Then desolation entered Like a flood. An inundation of barbarians broke in upon the empire, razed it to the foundations, massacred its inhabitants, swept away every monument of grandeur and every achievement of art and every comfort of life— so much so that this p eriod has obtained the appellation of the dark ages, and furnishes but scanty documents of its own history.
To such a length did barbarism and ignorance proceed that for several centuries there was scarcely a term in the language of Europe by which literature or learning could be expressed. This was the period in which all the abominations of anti-Christ reigned without control. It was the period, too, in which human misery was at its height. During its continuance, several of the plagues and vials of wrath predicted in the apocalypse were emphatically poured out.
The impostor Mohomet arose, and with sword and rapine extended his power and established his superstition over a fourth part of the then discovered globe. The spiritual infatuation of the princes and nations of Europe carried on the Crusades for a series of years to dispossess the infidels of the holy land. These Crusades beggared and depopulated the countries whence they proceeded, while oppression, rapacity, and violence at home filled the cup of sorrow to the full.
To recount the sufferings of those who bore the Christian name and subjected it to reproach by their follies, hypocrisies, impieties and vices during this period would carry me far beyond the proper bounds of this discourse. At length, a glorious reformation began to dawn on the benighted and miserable nations. And then began also an amelioration of their political state. To this reformation, as the fundamental and most efficient cause, has been owing the literary improvement, the civil happiness, and the general superiority of Europe over all the other people of the earth. Its influence was by no means confined to those nations that were active in promoting it, but was greatly extended to those that contended against it. Power, tyranny, and superstition were obliged to relax their demands and to assume a milder tone to prevent the extension of that which they equally hated and feared.
We see, then, that the general aspect of the Christian history confirms our position. But let me call your attention to the origin of that happy state of society that our own country has experienced ever since our forefathers formed political establishments in it. Can anyone deny that those establishments owe their excellence to the piety and morals of their original founders? It is impossible to deny it. To Christianity, in its genuine spirit, we have certainly been indebted for those civil institutions and those excellent social dispositions and habits that have rendered our country the envy of the world. These we cannot change but to infinite disadvantage, and if we are careful to maintain them, they will be our everlasting glory and defense. Our defense they have certainly been in time past. From the first settlement of these states until the present, the signal care of heaven in preserving us from all machinations of our enemies has been such as to confound unbelief itself.
Often has the safety and salvation of our country been dependent on circumstances that no human means could manage or control, and on discoveries that no human wisdom can make. In all these cases, when standing on the brink of destruction, the good providence of God has interposed and saved us. This he did so that it would seem as if it were only necessary that we should be in imminent danger, in order to see a wonderful interposition of the divine hand to deliver us from destruction. God of his mercy grant that the impieties that now prevail may not change his dispensations toward us!
But, after all, will not history demonstrate that some nations distinguished for religion have suffered under the attacks of others and that some distinguished for irreligion have prospered? It would be sufficient to remind you that, as in all dispensations so in this one, it is expected that there will be some appearances that seem to be exceptions to a general rule, which we must resolve into the sovereignty of God, or into our imperfect views and knowledge of his designs. Such appearances ought by no means to weaken the influence of the general rule or to diminish our care to walk agreeably to it. But though this might be a sufficient answer to the inquiry, and though there may be some real need for it, yet I am persuaded that there is much less occasion for such remarks on this subject where the ways of God are concerned.
The conformity of nations to the standard that ensures protection is often very imperfect, while yet the fear of God and obedience to his laws are considerably regarded. In these circumstances God may afflict to a cer-
tain degree with a view to reform and not to destroy. If reformation take place, the correction is withdrawn and his favor returns. We are assured that if a nation seek the Lord, he will be found of them. But if reformation do not take place, chastisement will continue and increase until at length the people who prove incorrigible will be finally destroyed. This accounts for the appearance. It shows that the divine blessing is not only conferred on obedience, but is proportioned to it. But my recollection does not serve me for a single instance in which a nation was ever totally destroyed that made any plausible pretension to religious and moral purity. On the contrary, a number of small European states have been almost miraculously preserved when contending for real liberty and religion, against the most powerful and impetuous nations of the earth.
Different, I know, has been the effect of the struggles of some of those nations lately to preserve their very existence. They have been carried away like dust before the whirlwind. But what has been the cause? Examine it well, and you will find the doctrine I inculcate very powerfully supported by the result. You will find that the punishment inflicted on these nations has been most wonderfully proportioned to the measure of their previous and notorious hypocrisies, impieties, and immoralities.
But have not impious and immoral nations been blessed and prospered? It may even be supposed that this point has already been yielded in a measure when it was suggested that the conquerors of the earth have frequently been distinguished by a disregard to everything sacred. Such a conclusion, however, does not follow with justice
from the premises whence it is drawn. Why may not God for the purposes of chastising those whom ultimately he intends to save confer success on the unlawful enterprises of wicked nations as he does on those of individuals, and yet in both cases, be only preparing the way for the final and more awful ruin of the transgressors? That he may do this is not only possible but in some instances certain. There cannot be two grosser errOrs than to believe that military success is always a mark of the divine approbation, and that the conquest or extended dominion always secures happiness and prosperity to a conquering nation
As to the first, which is a favorite idea with some, that military success is a proof of divine approbation, I would beg of those who cherish the delusion to consider where it will lead them. It will lead them unavoidably to maintain that Alexander and Caesar, that Goths and Vandals, that Turks and Tartars have been the most distinguished favorites of heaven. For in military success, none has been equal to these. No, military success is by itself no proof of the divine patronage. God may use a nation as the rod of his anger to chastise the guilty, and then he may break and burn it and make its destruction a useful warning to every beholder.
We are assured by scripture that he did so with the Assyrian empire of old. Nay, he has done it in every age, and it is his usual method of procedure. Military success in a merely defensive war may be evidence of the divine favor; but in every other case, if we judge from experience, the presumption is against the victor. Neither is conquest and dominion a proof that the conquering nation is truly prosperous. A few of its distinguished chiefs may acquire fame and wealth while the mass of its inhabitants are wretched in the extreme. It happens thus remarkably at present with that nation of Europe that is subduing oth-
ers and threatening us. Is it really prosperous? Are its citizens happy? Have they, while they have been ravaging and subduing other kingdoms, possessed true national felicity among themselves? No, assuredly—Fear and anxiety, convulsion and terror, massacre and blood, the destruction of arts, of property, of all domestic enjoyment, of all religious and moral and social principles, of all that renders existence not a curse have reigned in the midst of them with infernal triumph.
It is even true that among all the nations they have conquered, rendered tributary, pillaged, partitioned, bartered and trafficked away, not one has suffered more than themselves. The volcano that has poured desolation in burning torrents on every circumjacent region has still glowed most intensely at the center of its force, and there, in its bowels and crater with the most rapid and energetic fury, it has tortured, transmuted, and consumed every useful material that heaven, nature, art, or accident has offered to its touch.
The scene with this nation is yet unclosed; and I grant the conclusion that its fate will subvert the doctrine I indite if its catastrophe be not an illustrious display of the divine indignation. For in the most shocking and avowed atheism, in the most marked contempt of all the dictates of religion, it has exhibited a specimen that has not been witnessed before. But that this nation is doomed to peculiar judgments I have no more doubt than of the truth of God. And I should feel that I acted as a traitor to my sacred trust if, when the successes of this nation are held up as a contradiction to the word of life, I should hesitate to make this avowal, and to make it publicly.
Perhaps some will be ready to remark that the prosperity which accompanies a national observance of the divine laws is owing to the natural influence that religious
and moral observances have to produce this desirable effect. Be it so; this influence I do not deny but maintain. But remember that this natural connection between piety and prosperity, vice and ruin, is still the appointment of God, and even with this plan is his order maintained, as much as if it had been for every particular case in which its effects are felt. Scripture and experience do concur in teaching that beside this natural connection, God does often and especially interfere by his providence, both to preserve and bless those who obey him, and to destroy those who reject and despise his laws.
It may be objected, finally, that the representation given goes to unsettle an important principle that has generally been understood to belong to the Christian system, namely, that the present is a state of probation, and not of retribution. A short answer to this would be that whatever doctrine is established by facts is not responsible to theory for its consequences, and that all that has been said is but an appeal to undeniable experience. But I will never answer thus where Christianity is even supposed to be implicated by it; its dictates are eternal truth. I grant that the doctrine I advocate requires some explanation in regard to this point. I am confident it may be given in a manner that shall be perfectly satisfactory to every candid mind, and even illustrative and confirmatory of the doctrine itself.
The concession has already been made that righteous nations may experience partial and temporary sufferings, and that those of an opposite character may obtain some temporary, or rather, apparent advantages. This will be a call for the faith and patience of pious men who may
suffer in the general calamity, and may teach them to look forward to that better world where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.
But in reality, the doctrine which teaches that men are not to look for rewards or punishments in this life, though true and important when judiciously applied to individuals, is often mistaken even in its relation to them, and when applied to nations and considered as a general principle, is not true at all. It is only in this world that communities as such have an existence or character. In the world to come the whole of our race will appear as individuals, and not as communities. If, then, any retribution be awarded to nations, it must be in the present state and not in that which is to come. But it appears to be of the highest importance in the moral government of God that national character should be the subject both of his favor and of his frowns; and this, consequently, must be experienced in the present state. It accordingly does take place in fact, and is generally to be expected.
It should also be considered that the established connection between virtue and prosperity, vice and ruin, is much closer and more powerful in relation to communities than to individuals, and draws after it a present retribution as an unavoidable consequence. It is, indeed, the general tendency of virtue to produce happiness, and of vice to beget misery in every individual who practices one or the other. But in a vicious society, a virtuous man will suffer in many ways from his unavoidable connection with wicked associates. In a virtuous society, on the contrary, a vicious man has many enjoyments and derives many advantages, merely from the circumstance that the mass of the community is not like himself. They form, as it were, a barrier around him, and their goodness is the food on which his vices live and prey. But when the
greater part of the individuals of a community come to possess this character, that is, when a nation as such becomes abandoned to vice, there is no longer any suitable tie by which it can be held together, and every salutary source from which safety and happiness can proceed is dried up.
Without religion there can be no obligation of an oath, no sufficient sanction to a promise, and consequently no rational and solid ground of confidence—no operative and universal motive to truth, fidelity, and integrity either in the intercourse and transactions of individuals with each other, or in their engagements to the public. Without morality all regard to the happiness and claims of others, to public and private justice, to parental authority, to filial duty, to conjugal fidelity, to temperance, to chastity, sympathy, charity and humanity is wholly destroyed or left to rest on the airy principle of honor, or the dangerous foundation of personal inclination. Man becomes a selfish, sensual brute. And when the component parts of a nation are of this description, it is impossible that they should remain united except by the most powerful compulsion. Civil liberty cannot exist at all in such a community. Society must either be dissolved entirely or assume a state and form that is a greater evil than dissolution itself.
On the other hand, where religious and moral principles in their vigor and purity pervade the great body of individuals in a state, every social tie is strengthened, every part of the community draws toward the good of the whole, society is easily governed because it requires but little governing, civil liberty may be extensively enjoyed, and all the happiness of the social state will be fully realized. So intimately is religion and morality connected by the divine constitution with the safety and prosperity of nations. And it will be manifest to everyone who pur-
sues the clue here given, that just in proportion as the religious and moral system of a nation is pure, in that proportion will it tend to promote the public safety and happiness. And consequently, the Christian system, as the purest of all, is the best of all—the best of all for communities as well as individuals—having the promise of the life which now is, as well as that which is to come (1 Tim. 4:8).
Three Deductions from This Argument
Firstly, we may learn from what has preceded how totally devoid of truth is that darling principle of modern unbelievers, that a nation may be as happy without religion as with it. This is a mere antithetical hypothesis and speculation, not only unsupported by any experience, but in direct hostility with the experience of all nations, in all ages of the world. It is one of the most daring, extravagant, and unaccountable chimeras that ever entered the head even of a metaphysical infidel. Nothing but the most inveterate hatred of God and his laws could ever have given it birth. Yet it has been, and with many who are not destitute of influence I fear it still is, a tenet for which they have a peculiar fondness.
They endeavor to give it currency by professing to separate religion from morality, to be advocates for discarding the former, and warm contenders for retaining the latter. But that morality can exist without religion is as destitute of proof and probability as the whole position is without this qualification. No nation has ever yet existed where this phenomenon of morals without religion has made its appearance; and there is no reason to believe that it is even possible from the very nature and structure of the human mind. Infidels first endeavor to exclude
gion from the state that they may give the name of morality to any set of principles they may choose to adopt, and that thus, in the end, they may fully accomplish their wishes by getting rid of both. Be warned that without religion and morality harmoniously united we are an undone people. Without these our civil liberty and social happiness cannot possibly be preserved. Let us esteem these our principal and most essential defense.
Secondly, viewing the religious and moral state of our country in connection with this subject, we may see how urgent is the call for humiliation, fasting, and prayer. If God deals with nations according to their relative light and advantages, then where he has given much, he wili always require the more. This is a truth of most solemn importance to the people of America at this time. Our advantages, in point of religious and moral information, have been second to those of no people upon earth; and our circumstances for carrying this information into practice are superior to those which any other nation now enjoys. Has our improvement, then, been in any measure answerable to our privileges? Is our moral and religious state at present such in any degree as our circumstances demand? Every serious and candid mind penetrated with grief will answer, No! It is a most melancholy fact that we have greatly forgotten and departed from the Lord God of our fathers. Of the arm that has so often and remarkably defended us in the hour of distress—that so lately and marvelously prospered us when we contended for our independence—we have been unmindful.
We have returned base ingratitude for the favors of heaven we have experienced as a nation. We have abused in the service of sin those civil and religious privileges that God from the first bestowed upon us, and that he has all along continued to us. There has certainly been a loss and
not an increase of piety and morality in our country since our late revolution. Infidelity does most awfully abound among all descriptions of people from the highest to the lowest. Profaneness of every description most lamentably prevails. The ordinances of God’s day and hour are neglected, deserted, and despised. His word is openly ridiculed and his Son treated as an impostor. A dissoluteness of manners and morals is fast spreading like a deadly leprosy among the people at large, and far beyond any former example.
In these circumstances, we are threatened with a war from the most powerful, the most active, and the most insidious nation upon earth—a nation that has already proved a scourge to many others and that appears to be permitted by God to effect its designs for the express purpose of chastising this guilty age—this age of infidel reason. What is the language of this situation? It undoubtedly is this: "God hath come forth against you for your iniquities—your conduct toward him is changed for the worse; tremble, lest his toward you should change likewise. Turn unto him speedily, Lest his anger consume you."
Let our opinion be what it may for second causes, manifest it is that God has a controversy with us. For some time past he has given us intimation of his displeasure, but now he has, as it were, set himself in array against us. Let us then truly humble ourselves before him. Let us repent in his presence and mourn our land-defiling iniquities. Let us rent our heart and not our garment, in very truth, to plead with him in secret and in public to turn us from our sins and to turn his anger from us. Let us entreat for this, sensible that we are pleading for our very existence, and pray, that God would pour out his Holy Spirit upon the people to convince them effectually of sin and to turn them effectually to himself. Let us pray that he would
bless the rulers of our land and make them examples of real religion and sound morals, that he would dispose them all, instead of countenancing and encouraging vice and infidelity by practice and profession, to set themselves against it as that which will destroy both them and those they govern if it proceed much farther.
Let us resolve in God’s name and strength to act as well as to pray, so that those who have power be conjured to use it for him from whom all power is derived and to whom they must solemnly account for the manner in which they employ it. Let each of us in our proper places and stations be earnest, resolute, and persevering in promoting the work of reformation. Let us each reform himself and endeavor to set an example purer than heretofore of true religion and of the discharge of every moral, social, and relative duty. Believe it, the serious hour has come. Reformation or severe chastisement is just before us. But if we will turn unto the Lord in the manner recommended and will at the same time "play the man for the people and cities of our God" by unanimity and strenuous exertion in the cause of our country, we have nothing to fear. God will be found of us if we shall seek him. He encourages repentance and reformation by the kindest and most gracious promise. If we in very deed put our trust in him and act as those who do so, let the world rise in arms against us, still we shall be safe. As therefore we love our country, our souls, or our God—as we regard the happiness of time or of eternity—let us be on the Lord’s side that he may be on ours.
Finally, let us be thankful for the past experience we have had of the divine mercies. Until now we have been preserved in peace while most other nations have been at war. And though we have not been without correction, yet light indeed has been its strokes in comparison with our
sins. Countless and peculiar favors are still continued to us—domestic happiness and enjoyment, health and comparative plenty, the means of knowledge and information, a spirit of growing concord, and above all the precious gospel of the Redeemer and the sweet heavenly hope that it inspires. These mercies, preserved to us when we have so little deserved them should swell our hearts with the humblest and liveliest gratitude. And let this gratitude be expressed in leading us truly to our heavenly Father. Then we shall be safe in this world and happy in that which is to come. Amen.