THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD DISPLAYED IN THE REVOLUTIONS OF THE WORLD
PREACHED IN THE NEW NORTH CHURCH, ON THE LORD'S DAY SEPTEMBER XIX
OCCASIONED BY THE
GOVERNMENT OF FRANCE.
BY FRANCIS PARKMAN,
[ D.D., Harvard, 1807 ]
MINISTER OF THE NEW—NORTH CHURCH.
PRINTED BY SAMUEL N. DICKENSON,
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The following begins the original text:
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SE R M O N.
Daniel ii. 21.—He changeth the times and the seasons; he removeth kings, and he setteth up kings.—Also,
Daniel iv. 17.—This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones; to the intent that the living may know, that the Most High ruleth in the kingdoms of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.
The government of God, in its wide extent and influence, presents to the devout and enquiring mind a glorious subject for meditation, as it is the foundation also of filial trust. Amidst the changes of the world, the rise and fall of kingdoms, or of the rulers of kingdoms, it is alike instructive and consolatory to look from thrones and sceptres, that pass away, to the everlasting God, who fainteth not, and with whom there is no change. It is sustaining, nay, it is a source of holy joy, to look from the rulers and princes of the earth, whose power is but weakness, and whose wisest counsels may be turned to madness, to the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, in whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the life of all mankind; who at his pleasure casteth the mighty from their seats ; and maketh the judges of the earth as vanity; who can cause even the
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wrath of man to praise him, [ Ps, 76:10] and that, which to the eye of flesh seems confusion, and darkness, and calamity itself, to become his ministers of good to mankind. And all this, that the living may know, that the Most High ruleth in the kingdoms of men; that the world may fear before him.
This matter, says the Prophet, who knew the words of God and saw the vision of the Almighty, this matter is by the decree of the watchers, and by the word of the holy ones; that is, by the ordinance of a watchful Providence, and by the command of Him, whose name is Holy. The form of speech here employed, in the plural number, I need not inform, but only remind you, is often used in scripture, as it is the common language of kings, and of them, who are in king’s palaces, to denote royal majesty. I shall not therefore detain you to remark upon the error of those, who have asserted, that by the "watchers" and "the holy ones," are intended the different persons of the Godhead, of which, as they dream, the divine nature is constituted; nor even to advert to an opinion, once prevalent in some portions of the Christian church, that the government of the world was delegated by its maker, to angels, as his ministers.* The ingenious contrivers of this theory have found, in these words, a reference to Gabriel or Michael, and other principalities of heaven, concerning whom, and even their peculiar province in the administration of the universe, they have spoken many things, of which they leave us to admire rather the presumption than the wisdom. It is sufficient for the just interpretation of my text to remark, that the same event, which is here ascribed to the decree of the watchers and
*See Bishop Horsley’s Discourses.
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to the command of the Holy Ones, is in a subsequent verse declared to be the decree of the Most High; and the general sentiment conveyed is, that God himself is the ruler of men; that he disposes at his pleasure of the thrones of the earth; that so the excellence of his government and the perfections of his character may be made manifest.
To the same great end, conspire the designs of God in the spiritual, as well as in the civil world; in the dispensations of his truth, as well as in the course of his Providence. Accordingly, we find the Apostle Paul, in addressing his brethren of Ephesus, and referring to the great revelation, which had been made to the world by Jesus Christ, instructs them, that it was "to the intent"— adopting the very expression of my text—" that now unto the principalities and powers might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God ;" in other words, as by a judicious critic it has been interpreted—that now through the church, or by the light of the gospel, may be known to the rulers, whether of the Jewish or the heathen world, the various wisdom of God in the direction of his heavenly kingdom.
Nor will I detain you to illustrate what a reference to the remarkable history, with which the text is connected, will at once exhibit, that the "matter," or event, here predicted, was the degradation and expulsion from his throne of the king of Babylon, who "in the pride of his heart had lifted himself against God," ascribing to his own power and majesty what was the prerogative only of the Most High. But I may not omit altogether another and a most instructive passage of the same history, that
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his son and successor, Belshazzar, refusing to be instructed by the signal judgments of his house, or by the solemn admonitions bequeathed him by his penitent father, was in like manner driven from his kingdom; and the prophet Daniel was commissioned to declare against him the sentence of condemnation, as it was written in mysterious characters by an invisible hand upon the walls of his palace. "And thou, his son, Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; but hast lifted up thyself against the God of heaven; and the God, in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified. And this is the writing that was written; and this the interpretation of it. ‘Thou art weighed in the balance, and art found wanting. God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it.’"
From the passage, thus connected, I propose to offer a few remarks on the designs of God’s Providence, as displayed in the revolutions of the world; and with particular reference to those wonderful events in the history of a great nation, the tidings of which are yet sounding in our ears.
I. And I remark, in the first place, that the Scriptures present to us the most sublime and instructive views of God, as the great governor of the nations. He is not only our Father, our benefactor, but he is King of kings, besides whom there is no other God. He ruleth in the kingdoms of men, and giveth them to whomsoever he pleaseth; and amidst continual changes in the affairs of men, his throne, established in the heavens, is from everlasting to everlasting. As he disposes, at his pleasure, of the condition of individuals, granting to some privileges,
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which he withholds from others, making some poor and others rich, setting some on high, and leaving others to obscurity, so does he appoint the destiny of nations. We may trace, indeed, a very close analogy in the conduct of his Providence to individuals and to communities. As with the former, some are left in ignorance, and others favored with all the means of knowledge; so in nations, some grope for ages in their native darkness and barbarity, while others, like ourselves, at the earliest period of their history, are not only civilized, but enlightened and free. Some are favored by their climate and soil, rewarding industry, and opening to them the resources of honorable wealth; planted in a " good land," such as was the inheritance of the chosen race, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and hills, wherein is bread without scarceness; while others are compelled to struggle with every natural disadvantage. Regarding them also in their civil relations, you find some doomed not to. ignorance only but to slavery; strangers to the joys of liberty; groaning under a tyranny, not less debasing to the soul, than destructive of social happiness; while others again, as we of this favored people, are blest with equal laws, and with institutions, yielding in themselves a solid foundation for national virtue and prosperity.
If from these more obvious distinctions, we survey the successive history of nations, we shall trace evidences of the same disposing Providence. On one side, you find a people long rejoicing iii the blessings of peace, united in themselves, and honored abroad; while another is the victim of civil discord, or of foreign war. Their country is made desolate, their cities are burnt with fire; their
land, devoured by strangers. In one nation, you see rising up a succession of wise and righteous men, chosen spirits, directed of heaven, diffusing light, and by their wisdom and their virtue blessing a whole people; while another becomes the prey of selfish demagogues or of despotic kings. And if you regard them in their religious privileges,—in one region, you behold shining bright the glorious light of Christianity, bringing peace and joy, with freedom of conscience and the means of salvation, while another is still left in heathen darkness; or if a purer religion has been-revealed, how has it been corrupted by debasing superstitions, by false and monstrous doctrines, by the ignorance, the ambition, or the cunning of priests.
Now, my brethren, amidst all these diversities, the voice of religion confirms the suggestions of reason, and instructs us to acknowledge a disposing providence. Like all the varieties: in the circumstances of individuals, they are intended to promote the most important moral purposes: in the government of God. And though the method may not appear to us, yet like those private afflictions, which for the present are not joyous, as sickness, poverty, bereavement, they shall issue in good. Whatever the benevolent heart may be ready to fear from the ignorance, the violence, the corruption of man, we should never lose our confidence in the manifold wisdom, in the boundless goodness, of our God. We should trust with an unshaken faith, that amidst the devices of man the counsel of the Lord shall stand; and that it shall finally be accomplished in the peace and order of the world.
II. These general sentiments, not less obvious than important, are applicable to all the
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which history has recorded; and I would especially apply them to those signal events, which are even now taking place in the government of a mighty people, which are engrossing all hearts, and of which none, I believe, has heard, or can hear, but with mingled astonishment and joy. I am aware, my brethren, that to subjects so extraordinary, and especially to events, yet undeveloped, we should approach with the caution, which always becomes short-sighted man in his anticipations of the future. For there is danger, lest we should judge before the time, and that amidst the excitement of the hour, our too sanguine hopes may only betray us to a deeper disappointment. Yet in any result, we can never err, while we recognize and adore the majesty of God; and, ceasing from man, we repose on that Providence, which by a glorious union of power and of love, can make all things work for good.
We must indeed lament the ravages of human passion, whether proceeding, on the one hand, from the oppression of power, or, on. the other, from the madness of the people. Nor can we forget the calamities, domestic and social, inseparable from that most awful scourge, with which a nation can be visited—civil discord. As brethren of one family and children of one father, we mourn over those, who generously, in defence of a good, or by constraint, and reluctantly, in a bad cause, have fallen the victims of the struggle, by which this astonishing revolution has been accomplished. But we look through the cloud, and amidst even the cries of the wounded and the tears of the bereaved, we believe, that all shall issue well; in the firmer security of their nation’s peace, in the advancing freedom and happiness of the world.
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1. For, rejoice my hearers, that these great interests— the interests, I mean, of human freedom and happiness, are precious in the sight of God, who loveth the souls he hath made, and forsaketh not the work of his hands. It becomes us to trust, that however for a time they may seem to be forgotten, they are safe in his keeping, and by means, ever at his control, they shall ultimately triumph. The Lord sitteth on high; and in serene and unchangeable majesty directeth all. Though the floods lift up their voice, he is mightier than they. As he stilleth the noise of their waves, so can he still the tumult of the people. And when either the kings of the earth set themselves together, or the people imagine vain things, he can frustrate their counsels and make their diviners mad. He declares himself the avenger of the oppressed, and has sent his Son in the spirit, which is liberty, and with the truth, which sanctities and makes free, for the redemption of the world. Be wise, therefore, 0 ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. For though ye be called gods, ye shall die like men, and fall, ye princes, like any one of the people. And though ye boast, as did the proud monarch of Chaldea, "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God ;" yet shall ye be brought low to the ground, and they that see you, shall narrowly look upon you, because ye have destroyed your land, and because ye have slain your people. Such, my hearers, are the threatenings denounced; and such also, when these are neglected, are the punishments inflicted upon the oppressors of mankind.
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of the observation—how inefficacious may prove the most solemn warnings, and even the severest judgments, of themselves, to teach wisdom. We see, my brethren, that we are in danger of ascribing too much to adversity, when we speak of it as invariably bringing instruction. It comports not with the moral government of God to compel men to be wise; and there are minds so perverse, that they refuse to be instructed. Observation and experience attest, that adversity, like prosperity, may harden the heart, and corrupt the whole man; making him rebellious to his God, and hateful to his fellow-creatures. "Wherefore," says the wise man, "is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it ?" And again "though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet wil1 not his foolishness depart from him." Examples are not wanting—the events of the present day, I repeat, supply them,—that the most solemn instructions, the most awful threatenings, the severest personal calamities may totally fail of their designed effect. It might indeed have been expected, that the unfortunate monarch of France, who, in his own person, is at this moment exhibiting to the world a memorable illustration of the truths I am uttering, would have been admonished by the past calamities of his house and of his own; by a brother, dragged from his throne to the scaffold by an infuriated and barbarous people; by the expulsion of his whole family from the palaces and the possessions of their fathers, their once fair inheritance; by poverty and exile, amidst strangers, in foreign lands, dependants for sustenance and protection, and even life itself, on the charity of princes, and of
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nations, once their enemies; their own kingdom, meanwhile, laid desolate, distracted by civil discord, and drenched in blood. These were the hard lessons, which it pleased heaven to appoint for his instruction; this the school of adversity, in which he was trained; and if sufferings could teach wisdom, then had the monarch of France been wise. He might still have possessed the throne of’ his fathers; and he and his house have gone down to their graves in peace. "But surely," to adopt the words of the Prophet, "these princes of Zoan have become fools," and the counsel ‘of their wise counsellors is brutish and the Lord bath mingled a perverse spirit in the midst of them; and they shall be afraid and fear, because of the shaking of the hand of the Lord, which he shaketh over them;" and because of the word, which hath gone forth against them, Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown; their stock shall not take root in the earth; for he shall blow upon them and they shall wither."
In truth, my brethren, when we survey the history of nations and endeavor to collect the lessons of wisdom, it is adapted to teach, the conviction is almost forced upon us, that misfortune has no tendency to teach princes wisdom. We would not hastily deduce a general inference from a few insulated facts, but are we not left to infer, that there is something in the possession of hereditary power, not only to swell the heart, and to lift a man in vain imaginations above his fellows, but to blind the understanding, and to make him insensible to the monitions of Providence? Accordingly, in those memorable instances, which the annals of England and of France present of restoration to the throne after banishment and
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exile, who may not remark, how little did the restored monarchs profit by the calamities of their house. There is a remarkable analogy in this view, obvious to every attentive reader of history, and lately exhibited with eloquence and truth in the hearing of some of us.
There is an analogy, I say, well worthy of your consideration, between the history of Charles II, the restored monarch of England, and of his brother, James II,—and that of Louis XVIII, the restored king of France, and of his unfortunate successor Charles X—at this very moment, the victim of his own folly, and an exile from the kingdom, the sceptre of which has just been wrested from his hands. Glance for a moment at the history, and you will find in both a signal illustration of the sentiment, which I almost borrow from the lips of the distinguished statesman,* to whom I have adverted.
Charles the First, and Louis the Sixteenth—with many virtues and much in their personal qualities, as in their deplorable fate, to command the sympathy of mankind, were brought, to the block; their lives made a sacrifice to their oppressed and struggling people. Charles the Second, and Louis the Eighteenth, after years of exile, restored each to the throne of his kingdom, when their subjects had been exhausted by civil wars, by alternate anarchy and oppression, were both indeed permitted to live out their days; but in the wild recklessness and profligacy of the former, in the stupid adherence to obsolete notions of prerogative in the latter, who does not perceive of these princes how little they had learnt by their sufferings; and that through the whole course of their reign,
*Hon. Daniel Webster, in a speech on the day of the Centennial celebration.
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they were but laying anew the foundations for the repeated disasters of their house. So that though they saw it not, the successor of each, James the Second of England, and, as at this day, Charles the Tenth, should again be banished from his kingdom, and his name become a proverb and a bye-word to the nations.
pursue it, not less instructive, than it is exact. But, on the other hand, let us rejoice, my brethren, that the lessons which princes have failed to improve, have not been lost upon their subjects. In the singular moderation, with which the people of France, under the guidance of that venerable and illustrious chief, our nation’s friend, and the friend of mankind, whom God has graciously preserved to hoary age, in the freshness of his virtue and strength, as the minister, it would seem, of his beneficent purposes ;—in the wonderful moderation, with which they are seeking the redress of their wrongs and the establishment of an equal government, we trace not only the general improvement, which they have shared with the rest of Europe in all that pertains to the interests of man, but specially the benefit of the instructions, which were forced upon them by their own revolution. Even the horrors of that period will not have been in vain, if they have taught that nation wisdom. It will have been purchased indeed at a costly sacrifice; but probably nothing less than the rivers of blood, that were poured out, the treasure expended, and the unexampled misery endured, in that day of darkness and crime, could have purified or enlightened them. To what but to the warnings of past experience, the bitter recollections
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of former sufferings, combined with the advancing knowledge of the age, is this astonishing moderation to be ascribed? What a contrast, my brethren, does it present, to the lawless passions, the ungovernable fury, the savage cruelties and devastations of only thirty years since! And how is God teaching us, that he can make even such wrath of man to praise him, by converting it into a ministry of a nation’s reformation. Let us devoutly admire and adore it as his gift. It comes from that spirit of the Lord, which, wherever it dwells, gives liberty. We may welcome its presence with that people as the earnest of their success. And let us pray for them, and for the cause of freedom throughout the world, that in the same spirit, in which they have commenced, they may accomplish the glorious work: and that the counsels of the wise and the valiant, and the good among them, may be blest to the establishment of a free constitution, to the security of their rights, to their growing virtue and prosperity as a people.
4. Nor may we doubt, my brethren, of the favorable influence of these events on the cause of pure and undeflled religion. Already are there indications, which authorize the belief, that these struggles for civil freedom shall issue well for the advancement of religious freedom. For there is an intimate, nay, an inseparable connexion between them. Whatever releases men from the despotism of kings, releases also from the still worse dominion of priests. Superstition, usurpation over conscience, and the various forms of corruption in the church are all, as history instructs us, in natural alliance with tyranny in the state. And whenever men are brought to see clearly, and
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to assert boldly their rights as citizens, they will not fail to understand; and, understanding, will maintain the liberty with which the gospel makes them free. May it please God to bestow this blessing on the nation of France!
5. But whatever may be the issue of passing events, let us rejoice, my hearers, that neither the wisdom or the folly, the judgment or the perverseness of man shall defeat the counsels of God. Whatever men may intend or execute—(and here let me speak in the words of a devout observer of God’s Providence, and of a patient sufferer under the persecutions of his countrymen)—" whatever too, men may fail to execute, all their designs and all their actions are subject to the secret influence and guidance of one, who is necessarily the best judge of what will most promote his own excellent purposes. I rejoice in the belief, that the whole human race are under the same wholesome discipline, and that they will all ultimately derive the most valuable advantages from it, though in different degrees, in different ways, and at different periods; that even the persecutors are only giving the precedence to the persecuted, and advancing them to a much higher degree of perfection and happiness. And that they themselves, for the same benevolent purposes, must undergo a severer discipline, than that which they are the means of administering to others."
"With this persuasion," as concludes this excellent writer, comforting his friend under similar calamities to those, which he had himself endured, "with this persuasion, we cannot but regard every being and every thing in a favorable light. Every person, with whom we have any connexion is a friend; and every event of life is a benefit;
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while God is equally the father and the friend of the whole creation.~~*
Let us enter, my brethren, into the intent, that we may enjoy the benefit of these ennobling views. They are necessary to instruct or to console us under every aspect of our affairs; whether in our private interests, or in any sympathies we may feel in public and distant events. More especially in our personal relations, amidst the joys or sorrows of our lot, when the secret of the Most High is upon our habitation, and we are walking in the light of his countenance, or when his rod of chastisement is upon us, in all time of our prosperity or our straits; when we rejoice in the gladness of our nation, or with the weeping Israelites are called to sing of judgment, as in a strange land; let it be our firm conviction and tour heartfelt joy, that the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth; that wisdom and might are his; and that, agreeably to that glorious assurance by his Son, all things shall work together for good to them that love Him. In this confidence, my brethren, and with reference to those great events, which are passing before us, we may join in the worship of the saints, who, in beholding the completion of the divine counsels in the earth, sang the song of Moses and the Lamb, "Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints. Who shall not fear thee, 0 Lord, and glorify thy name, for thou only art holy? All nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest."
*Priestley’s letter to Dr. John Jebb.
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And, lastly, when we perceive, how earnestly the blessings, of which I have spoken—civil freedom and equal government—have been sought by others; by what labors, sacrifices, and sufferings, they have been purchased, let us learn for ourselves to value them as they deserve. "With a great sum," at the hazard of life and all that makes life desirable, do the people of France— as did our Fathers before them, as will ere long the oppressed nations around them—seek these blessings. But we of this favored land may say with the Apostle, "We were free born." Bless God, my hearers, that we sit under our own vines and fig-trees, having none to molest or to make afraid. What has been so long denied to others, is by us freely enjoyed. Brethren, we have been called to liberty. Let us not use our liberty for a cloak of licentiousness, but as servants of God. And let our prayers ascend, as becomes us, to the Ruler of nations and the God of peace, that he would grant, as to us, so also to all men, that being delivered out of the hand of their enemies, they may serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all their days; that the rulers of the world may stand in awe of his majesty, and reverence the rights of their people; that the peaceful reign of Christ may be established in all hearts and in all lands; that so truth may spring out of the earth, and righteousness may look down from heaven.