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´╗┐Title: Sermon, Deliviered Before His Excellency Edward Everett, Governor &c. on the Anniversary Election, January 2, 1839
Author: Hopkins, Mark
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sermon, Deliviered Before His Excellency Edward Everett, Governor &c. on the Anniversary Election, January 2, 1839" ***

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Transcriber's note:

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BY MARK HOPKINS, D. D. President of Williams College.


Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

                                             SENATE, JANUARY 3, 1839.

  _Ordered_, That Messrs. Filley, Quincy, and Kimball, be a Committee
  to present the thanks of the Senate to the Rev. MARK HOPKINS, D. D.
  for the discourse yesterday delivered by him, before the Government
  of the Commonwealth, and to request a copy thereof for publication.


                                            CHARLES CALHOUN, _Clerk_.


Acts v. 29.


Man was made for something higher and better, than either to make, or
to obey, merely human laws. He is the creature of God, is subject to
his laws, and can find his perfection, and consequent happiness, only
in obeying those laws. As his moral perfection, the life of his life,
is involved in this obedience, it is impossible that any power should
lay him under obligation to disobey. The known will of God, if not the
foundation of right, is its paramount rule, and it is because human
governments are ordained by him, that we owe them obedience. We are
bound to them, not by compact, but only as God's institutions for the
good of the race. This is what the Bible, though sometimes referred to
as supporting arbitrary power, really teaches. It does not support
arbitrary power. Rightly understood, it is a perfect rule of duty, and
as in every thing else, so in the relations of subjects and rulers.
It lays down the true principles, it gives us the guiding light. When
the general question is whether human governments are to be obeyed,
the answer is, "He that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance
of God." "The powers that be are ordained of God." But when these
powers overstep their appointed limits, and would lord it over the
conscience, and come between man and his maker, then do we hear it
uttered in the very face of power, and by the voice of inspiration, no
less than of indignant humanity, "We ought to obey God rather than

It has been in connexion with the maintenance of this principle, first
proclaimed by an Apostle of Christ eighteen hundred years ago, that
all the civil liberty now in the world has sprung up. It is to the
fearless assertion of this principle by our forefathers, that we owe
it that the representatives of a free people are assembled here this
day to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences,
to seek to Him for wisdom in their deliberations, and to acknowledge
the subordination of all human governments to that which is divine.

Permit me then, as appropriate to the present occasion, to call the
attention of this audience, 1st. To the grounds on which all men are
bound to adhere to the principle stated in the text; and

2d. To the consequences of such adherence, on the part, both of
subjects, and of rulers.

       *       *       *       *       *

I observe, then, that we ought to obey God rather than men, because
human governments are comparatively so limited and negative in their
bearing upon the great purposes, first, of individual, and second, of
social existence.

The purposes for which man was made, must evidently involve in their
accomplishment, both his duty and his happiness; and nothing can be
his duty which would contravene those purposes. Among them, as already
intimated, the highest is the moral perfection of the individual; for
as it is by his moral nature that man is distinguished from the
inferior animals, so it is only in the perfection of that nature, that
his perfection, as man, can consist. As absolute perfection can belong
only to God, that of man must be relative, that is, it must consist in
the proper adjustment of relations, and especially in the relation of
his voluntary actions to the end for which God designed him. This is
our idea of perfection, when we affirm it of the works of man. It
involves, mainly, such a relation of parts as is necessary to the
perfect accomplishment of the end in view. A watch is perfect when it
is so constructed that its motions exactly correspond in their little
revolutions with those of the sun in the heavens; and man is perfect
when his will corresponds in its little circle of movement with the
will of God in heaven. This correspondence, however, is not to be
produced by the laws of an unconscious mechanism, but by a voluntary,
a cheerful, a filial co-operation. It is this power of controlling his
faculties with reference to an ultimate end, of accepting or rejecting
the purpose of his being, as indicated by God in the very structure of
his powers, and proclaimed in his word, that contradistinguishes man
from every inferior being, and gives scope for what is properly
termed, character. Inferior beings have qualities by which they are
distinguished, they have characteristics, but not _character_, which
always involves a moral element. A brute does not govern its own
instincts, it is governed by them. A tree is the product of an agency
which is put forth through it, but of which it is not conscious, and
which it does not control. But God gives man to himself, and then sets
before him, in the tendency of every thing that has unconscious life
towards its own perfection, the great moral lesson that nature was
intended to teach. He then causes every blade of grass, and every
tree, to become a preacher and a model, calling upon him to put forth
his faculties, not without law, but to accept the law of his being,
and to work out a character and a happiness in conformity with that.
It is, as I have said, the power which man has to accept or reject
this law of his being, the great law of love, that renders him capable
of character, and it is evidently as a theatre, on which this may be
manifested, that the present scene of things is sustained. Not with
more certainty do the processes of vegetation point to the blossoms
and the fruit as the results to which they conspire, than does every
thing in the nature and condition of man indicate the formation of a
specific, voluntary, moral character, as the purpose for which God
placed him here. But this purpose is not recognized at all by human
governments, and we have only to observe the limited and negative
agency which they incidentally bring to bear upon it, to see how
insignificant must be their claims when they would come into conflict
with those of the government of God.

I observe then, first, that human governments regard man solely as the
member of a community; whereas it is chiefly as an individual, that
the government of God regards him. Isolate a man from society, take
him beyond the reach of human government, and his faculties are not
changed. He is still the creature of God, a dweller in his universe,
retaining every thing he ever possessed that was noble in reason, or
grand in destiny, and in his solitude, where yet he would not be
alone, the government of God would follow him, and would require of
him such manifestations of goodness as he might there exercise--the
adoration of his Creator, resignation to his will, and a temperate and
prudent use of the blessings within his power. Indeed, so far as
responsibility is concerned, the divine government considers man,
whether in solitude or in a crowd, solely as an individual, and
produces an isolation of each as complete as if he were the only
person in the universe. God knows nothing of divided responsibility,
and whether acting alone, or as a member of a corporation or of a
legislature, every man is responsible to him for just what he does as
a moral being, and for nothing more. The responsibility of each is
kept disentangled from that of all others, and lies as well defined in
the eye of God, as if that eye were fixed upon him alone. The kingdom
of God is within man, and there it is, in the secret soul of each,
that the contest between light and darkness, between God and Satan is
going on, and in the struggle, in the victory or the defeat, he who
walks the city is as much alone as the hermit in his cell. It is over
the thoughts of man, his affections, his passions, his purposes, which
mock at human control, that the government of God claims dominion; it
is with reference to these, and not to the artificial index of
appearances which we set to catch the eye of the world, that the
register of Heaven is kept. On the other hand, how very few of the
moral actions of man can human government reach, how imperfectly can
it reach even these! It is only of overt acts, those which it can
define, and which can be proved before a human tribunal, that it can
take cognizance; and its treatment even of these can never be adjusted
to the varying shades of guilt. It has no eye to reach the springs of
action. It may see the movements of the machinery above, perplexed,
and apparently contradictory; but it cannot uncover the great wheel,
and look in upon the simple principle which makes character, and sets
the whole in motion.

But I observe again, that human governments are not only thus limited,
but are also chiefly negative in their influence upon the formation of
individual character. There is, indeed, a positive and widely
pervading moral influence connected with the character, and station,
and acts, of those who are in authority. This cannot be too
prominently stated, the responsibility connected with it cannot be too
carefully regarded; still this influence is entirely incidental, and
is the same in kind with that exerted by any distinguished private
individual. Human governments have also positive power to furnish
_facilities_, as distinguished from _inducements_. They can authorise
and guard the issue of paper money, to give facilities to men of
business; they can lay down rail-roads, thus opening facilities to the
spirit of enterprise, and calling out the neglected resources of the
State; they can too, and our fathers did it, construct and keep in
repair the _rail-roads of the mind_, thus giving facilities to the
poorest boy in the glens of the mountains to come out and be an honor
to his country. Still, human government is chiefly a system of
restraint for the purpose of protection. Its object is to give equal
protection to all in using their faculties as they please, provided
they do not interfere with the rights of others. It does not propose
to furnish inducements, but to enable men to live quiet and peaceable
lives, while they act in view of the great inducements furnished by
the government of God.

In saying this, I do not undervalue the benefits conferred by human
governments, but only assign them their true place. The office
performed by them is indispensable. They are the enclosure of the
field, without which certainly nothing could come to maturity; but
they are not the soil and the rain, and the sunshine, which cause
vegetation to spring up. These are furnished by the government of God,
which is not only a system of restraint and protection, but also, and
chiefly, of inducements to excellence. Into the ear of the humblest of
its subjects it whispers, as it points upward, "Glory," "Honor,"
"Immortality," "Eternal Life." It is parental in its character, makes
us members of a family, gives us objects of affection, and by its
perfect standard of moral excellence, and the character of God which
it sets before us, it purifies and elevates the mind. Without a God to
whom he is related and accountable, man has neither dignity nor hope.
Without God, the universe has no cause, its contrivances indicate no
intelligence, its providence no goodness, its related parts and
processes no unity, its events no convergence to one grand result, and
the glorious spectacle presented in the earth and the heavens, instead
of calling forth admiration and songs, is an enigma perplexing to the
intellect, and torturing to the heart. Seen in its connexion with
God, the universe of matter is as the evening cloud that lies in the
sunlight, radiant, and skirted with glory; without him it is the same
cloud cold and dark when that sunlight is gone. Without God, man is an
orphan; he has no protector here, and no Father's house in which he
may hope for a mansion hereafter. His life is at his own disposal, and
has no value except in relation to his personal and present enjoyment.

On the other hand, as the idea of God is received, and his relations
to the universe are intimately felt, unity and harmony are introduced
into our conceptions of that which is without, and acquiescence and
hope reign within. Nature, as more significant, becomes more a
companion. Her quiet teachings and mute prophecies, her indexes
pointing to the spirit land, instead of being felt as a mockery, are
in accordance with the best hopes, and the revealed destiny of man.
Life, too, assumes a new aspect. A common destiny is set before all,
and the consciousness of it runs as a thread of sympathy through the
race. The poor man is elevated when he sees that the principle of duty
may be tried and strengthened in his humble sphere, as well as in
those that are higher, and his labor becomes a cheerful service done
with good will from the heart. Every duty to man becomes doubly
sacred as due also to God, and the humblest life, pursued from a
conscientious regard to his will, is invested with an unspeakable
dignity. It is indeed, I may remark, this view of life that furnishes
the only possible ground of equality. Men are upon an equality only as
they are equally upon trial in the sight of God, and nothing will ever
reconcile them to the unavoidable inequalities of the present state,
but the consciousness that their circumstances were allotted to them
by Him who best knew what trials they would need, and whose equal eye
regards solely the degree in which their moral nature is improved by
the trial. When this is felt, there is, under all circumstances, a
basis for dignity without pride, for activity without restlessness,
for diversity of condition without discord.

And not only the aspect of life in the relations of men to each other,
but its end also is changed. The moral nature assumes its true
position, and, acting in the presence of a perfect law as its
standard, and of a perfect gospel as its ground of hope, the idea of
true liberty dawns upon the mind. This consists in the coincidence of
the affections and inclinations with correct principle. It is only
when the internal constitution of a reasonable being is in harmony
with the law under which he acts, that he is conscious of no
restraint, and knows what true freedom is. The chief value of what is
commonly called liberty, consists in the opportunity it gives to use
our faculties without molestation for the attainment of this. This is
that glorious liberty of the sons of God, of which the Scriptures
speak. It is not a mere freedom from restraint which may be abused for
the purposes of wrong-doing; and become a curse, merely making the
difference between a brute enclosed and a brute at large; but it is,
in its commencement, the resolute adoption of the law of conscience
and of God as the rule of life; in its progress, a successful struggle
with whatever opposes this law; in its completion, the harmonious and
joyful action of every power in its fulfilment. This is the only
liberty known under the government of God. He who knows it not is the
slave of sin. He who struggles not for it, is in a contented bondage
of which physical slavery is but a feeble type. The perfection of this
liberty is only another name for moral perfection, which, as I have
said, is the great end of the individual; and as the direct motives
and means for the attainment of this are furnished only by the
government of God, it is evident that "We ought to obey God rather
than men."

Having thus spoken of the effect of human government upon man in his
individual character, I now proceed to inquire, whether it is equally
limited and negative in its bearing upon him in his social condition.

And here I remark, that it is only incidentally that human government
is necessary to man as a social being at all. Society was before
government, and if man had retained his original state, it might,
perhaps, have existed without it till the end of time. Man is
constituted by his Creator a social being; he has faculties to the
expansion and perfection of which society is requisite, but he has no
faculties the necessities of which constitute him a political being.
There must be politicians, just as there must be farmers, and
merchants, and physicians, that they and others may enjoy social life;
but social life is corrupted when politics enter largely into it. It
is not sufficiently noticed, that it is through social institutions
and habits far more than through political forms, that the happiness
or misery of man is produced. It was not from the oppressions of the
government, but from a corrupted social state, that the prophet of old
wished to flee into the wilderness. It was because his people were all
adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men, because every brother
would supplant, and every neighbor would walk with slanders. Such a
state of things may exist under any form of political organization. It
may exist under ours. Men may be loud in their praise of republican
forms, and yet be false, and unkind, and litigious; they may be
indolent, and profane, and sabbath breakers, and gamblers, and
licentious, and intemperate. Yes, and there may be neighborhoods of
such men, and the place where they assemble nightly, hard by a banner
that creaks in the wind, may be the liveliest image of hell that this
earth can present. I certainly know, and my hearers are fortunate if
they do not know, neighborhoods in this land of liberty and equality,
where the only use made of liberty is to render families and society
wretched, and where the only equality, is an equality in vice and
social degradation, which no man is permitted even to attempt to rise
above without constant annoyance. Better, far better, is family
affection, and kind neighborhood under a regal, or even a despotic
government, than such liberty as this.

Government then is not an end, but a means. Society is the end, and
government should be the agent of society, to benefit man in his
social condition. The extent to which it can do this will depend on
its form, and the power with which it is entrusted. Absolute power,
which should be used for this purpose, is generally abused.
Considering itself as having interests distinct from those of the
people, it too often seeks to keep them in a state of degradation, and
to appropriate to itself the largest possible share of those blessings
which ought to be equally diffused. "Get out of my sunlight," said
Diogenes to Alexander the Great: "Get out of my sunlight"--cease to
obstruct the free circulation of blessings intended for all, might the
people say under any arbitrary form of government ever yet
administered. Still, such a government, when under the direction of
wisdom and benevolence, has power to produce great social and moral
revolutions for the good of mankind. Such a revolution was commenced
by Peter the Great, and his measures, though necessary, were such as
none but an absolute monarch could have adopted. Aside from
christianity, the judicious exercise of such a power is the only hope
of a people debased beyond a certain point. The King of Prussia can
maintain a better and more efficient system of schools, than any
republican government. He can provide qualified teachers, and can
compel the children to attend.

But when, as in this country, government is the direct agent of
society, when it is so far controlled by the people as to secure the
majority at least from oppression, being merely an expression of the
will of that majority, it can have no power to produce moral and
social reformations. Laws do not execute themselves, and in such a
state of things they cannot be effectually executed if the violation
of them is upheld by public sentiment. In such a case, when vices
begin to creep in, and the tendency of things is downwards, we must
have a force different from that of the government; we must have
_moral_ power. Here religion comes in, and must come in, or "the
beginning of the end" has come. The intellect must be enlightened, and
the conscience quickened, and moral life infused into the mass; the
good and the evil must commingle in free conflict, and public
sentiment must be changed. When this is done, when patriotism, and
philanthropy, and religion, have caused an ebb-tide in the flood of
evil that was coming up over the land, then government may come in,
not to carry forward a moral reformation by force, but to erect a
barrier against the return of that tide. It can secure what these
agents have gained. It can put a shield into the hands of society,
with which it can, if it pleases, protect itself against that
selfishness and malignity which always lurk in its borders, and which
moral influence cannot reach. If, for example, polygamy were
established among us as it is among the Turks, a government like ours
could do nothing for its removal. But religion could awaken a sense of
obligation, and statistics could point out the number of poor women
and uneducated children thrown by it for support mainly upon those who
had pledged themselves to be the husband of one wife, and christian
and philanthropic effort might show that it was injurious to
individuals, and families, and the state; and then a law might be
passed, as there has been, to defend society against this evil.

This inefficacy of our government to produce moral and social
reformations should be well understood, because it throws the fearful
responsibility of maintaining our institutions directly upon the
people, where it must rest. A government originating in society, can
have but slight ground to stand on in resisting its downward tendency.
That there is in society such a tendency, all history shows. As
nations have become older, they have invariably become more corrupt.
They have never reached that point in general morality at which men
cease to corrupt each other by associating together. Such a tendency,
not counteracted, must be fatal to republican governments, for
republican government is self-government, and as the internal law
becomes feeble, external force must be increased; and accordingly we
find that every people hitherto, have either been under regal power
from the beginning, or have, in time, reached a point in corruption,
when that power became necessary. Republican government then, is not
so much the cause of a good social state, as its sign. It can never be
borne up, with its stars and stripes floating, upon the surface of a
society that is not strongly impregnated with virtue. Take this away,
and it goes down by its own weight, and the beast of tyranny, with its
seven heads and ten horns, comes up out of the troubled waters. Here
is the turning point with us. All depends upon the influences that go
to form the character of our people. Those who control these
influences will really govern the country. To this point we turn our
eyes anxiously. At this point we look to legislators to stand in their
lot, and do what is appropriate to their station. At this point we
look especially to fathers and mothers, the guardians of domestic
virtue.--Those waters will be sweet that are fed by sweet springs. We
look to christian ministers, to enlightened teachers, to patriotic
authors and editors, to every good citizen. If there ever was a
country in which all these were called upon to do their utmost, this
is that country; if there ever was a government that was called upon
to second in every proper way the efforts of these, this is that
government. To all these we look; but our trust is only in the
influences they may bring to bear from the blessed gospel of Christ,
from the government of God. "We ought to obey God rather than men."

       *       *       *       *       *

I have thus shown, as fully as the time would permit, though far too
briefly to do justice to the subject, the grounds on which we ought to
obey God rather than men. These are to be found in the relation of the
divine, and of human government respectively, to the ends of
individual, and of social existence. But the occasion on which the
text was uttered, a subject having directly refused obedience to
rulers lawfully constituted, will lead us to consider the effects of
the principle of the text when acted upon by men in those relations in
which civil liberty is directly involved--in the relations of subjects
and of rulers. What then will be the effect of an adherence to this
principle on the part of subjects, as such?

There is a tendency in irresponsible power to accumulate. It first
gains control over property, and life, and every thing from which a
motive to resistance based on the interests of the present life,
could be drawn. But it is not satisfied with this. Nothing avails it
so long as there is a Mordecai sitting at the King's gate that does
not rise up and do it reverence. It must also control the conscience,
and make the religious nature subservient to its purposes.
Accordingly, the grand device of the enemies of civil liberty, has
been so to incorporate religion with the government, that all those
deep and ineradicable feelings which are associated with the one,
should also be associated with the other, and that he who opposed the
government should not only bring upon himself the arm of the civil
power, but also the fury of religious zeal. The most melancholy and
heart-sickening chapter in the history of man, is that in which are
recorded the enormities committed by a lust of power, and by
malignity, in alliance with a perverted religious sentiment. The light
that was in men has become darkness, and that darkness has been great.
The very instrument appointed by God for the deliverance and elevation
of man, has been made to assist in his thraldom and degradation. When
christianity appeared, the alliance of religion with oppressive power
was universal. In such a state of things, there seemed no hope for
civil liberty but in bringing the conscience out from this unholy
alliance, and putting it in a position in which it must show its
energies in opposition to power. This Christianity did. It brought the
conscience to a point where it not only might resist human
governments, but where, as they were then exercised, it was compelled
to resist them. This appeared when the text was uttered, and there was
then a rock raised in the ocean of tyranny which has not been
overflowed to this day. The same qualities which make the conscience
so potent an ally of power, must, when it is enlightened by a true
knowledge of God and of duty, and when immortality is clearly set
before the mind, make it the most formidable of all barriers to
tyranny and oppression.

By thus bringing the moral nature of man to act in opposition to
power, and by giving him light, and strength, and foothold, to enable
him to sustain that opposition, christianity has done an inestimable
service, and has placed humanity at the only point where its highest
grandeur appears. At this point, sustained by principle, and often in
the person of the humblest individual, it bids defiance to all the
malice of men to wrest from it its true liberty. It bids tyranny do
its worst, and though its ashes may be scattered to the winds, it
leaves its startling testimony, and the inspiration of its great
example to coming times. The power to do this, christianity alone can
give. No other religion has ever so demonstrated its evidences to the
senses, and caused its adaptations to the innermost wants of the soul
to be felt, as to enable man to stand alone against the influence of
whatever was dear in affection, and flattering in promises, and
fearful in torture. Other religions have had their _victims_, who have
been led, amidst the plaudits of surrounding multitudes, to throw
themselves under the wheels of a system already established; but not
their _martyrs_, who, when duty has permitted it, have fled to the
fastnesses of the mountains; and when it has not, have stood upon
their rights, and contested every inch of ground, and met death
soberly and firmly, only when it was necessary. When this has been
done by multitudes it has caused power to respect the individual, to
respect humanity; and while christianity was wading through the blood
of ten persecutions, it was fighting more effectually than had ever
been done before, the battles of civil liberty. The call to obey God
rather than men met with a response, and it is upon this ground that
the battle has been opened in every case in which civil liberty now
exists. It is upon this ground alone that it can be maintained.

I deem it of great importance that this point should be fully and
often presented, because it is vital, and because there are constant
attempts made to obscure it. Whatever elevates the individual,
whatever gives him worth in his own estimation and that of others,
whatever invests him with moral dignity, must be favorable both to
pure morality and to civil liberty. Hence it is that these are both
incidental results of christianity. They are not the gifts which she
came to bestow--these are life and immortality. They are not the white
raiment in which her followers are to walk in the upper temple; but
they are the earthly garments with which she would clothe the
nations--they are the brightness which she leaves in her train as she
moves on towards heaven, and calls on men to follow her there. These
belong to her alone. Infidels may filch her morality, as they have
often done, and then boast of their discoveries. But in their hands
that morality is lopped off from the body of faith on which it grew,
and produces no fruit. They may boast, as they do, of a liberty which
they never could have achieved. But under its protection they advance
doctrines and advocate practices which would corrupt it into license.
Their only strength lies in endeavoring, in the sacred name of
liberty, to corrupt the virtuous, and to excite the hatred of the
vicious against those restraints without which liberty cannot exist,
and society has no ground of security. "Promising liberty to others,
they are themselves the servants of corruption." Liberty cannot exist
without morality, nor general morality without a pure religion.

The doctrine thus stated is fully confirmed by history. The
reformation by Luther was made on strictly religious grounds. He found
an opposition between the decrees of the Pope and the commands of God,
and it was the simple purpose, resolutely adhered to, to obey God
rather than men, that caused Europe to rock to its centre. In the
train of this religious reformation civil liberty followed, but became
settled and valuable only as religious liberty was perfected. It was
every where on the ground of conscience towards God that the first
stand was taken, and in those countries where the struggle for
religious liberty commenced but did not succeed, as in Spain and
Italy, civil liberty has found no resting place for the sole of her
foot to this day. It is conceded even by Hume that England owes her
civil liberty to the Puritans, and the history of the settlement and
progress of this country as a splendid exemplification of the
principle in question, needs but to be mentioned here.

In speaking thus of the resistance of christian subjects to the
government, perhaps I should guard against being misunderstood. In no
case can it be a factious resistance. It cannot be stimulated by any
of the ordinary motives to such resistance--by discontent, or passion,
or ambition, or a love of gain. In no case can it show itself in the
disorganizing, the aggressive, and in a free government, the suicidal
spirit of mobs. Christians have in their eye a grand and a holy
object, and all they wish is to go forward, without violating the
rights of others, to its attainment. In so doing they set themselves
in opposition to nobody, but merely exercise an inalienable right, and
if others oppose them, they must still go forward and obey God, be the
consequences what they may.

       *       *       *       *       *

We will now consider, as was proposed, the effect of an adherence to
the principle of the text on the part of rulers. This becomes
appropriate from the peculiar form of our government, and the relation
which the rulers hold to the people. Rulers have indeed, in all
countries, need to be exhorted to obey God, but when their will is
supreme, and their power is independent of the people, there can be no
propriety in exhorting them to obey God rather than men. In this
country, however, this principle needs to be enforced upon
legislators and rulers quite as much as upon the people, perhaps even
more. It is at this point, if I mistake not, that we are to look for
the danger peculiar to our institutions through those in authority. In
other countries the danger is from the accumulation and tyrannical use
of power. With us, limited as is the tenure of office, there is little
danger of direct oppression. The danger is that those who are in
office, and those who wish for it, will, for the sake of immediate
popularity, lend the sanction of their names to doctrines and
practices, which, if carried into effect, must destroy all government.
How is it else that mobs should often escape with so little rebuke?
How is it else that we hear such extravagant and disorganizing
doctrines maintained in regard to the rights of a majority respecting
property, and their power to set aside any guaranties of former
Legislatures? Certainly the people are the fountain of power. They
establish the government, they have a right to alter it; but when it
is established, the state becomes personified through it, and its acts
are to be consistent. When it is established, it _is_ a government, it
has authority, it becomes God's institution, and those who administer
it are to obey God rather than men. Wo to this country, when the
people shall become to those in place, the object of adulation and of
an affected idolatry. Wo to this country, when the people shall cease
to reverence the government as the institution of God because it is
established through them; when they shall suppose that it is in such a
sense theirs, that they can supersede its acts in any way except by
constitutional forms.

There is also another reason why the principle of the text ought to be
especially regarded by the rulers of this country. So far as a nation
can be considered and treated as a moral person, its character must be
indicated by the acts of its rulers. Accordingly, we find that under
every form of government, God has made nations responsible, as in the
natural course of things they evidently must be, for what is done by
their rulers. But if this is so in monarchical governments, where the
agency of the people is so little connected with public acts, much
more must it be so in one like ours. Here the rulers represent the
people more immediately. They indicate in the eyes of the world, the
moral condition of the people, and hence the peculiar responsibility
of those who act under the oath of God in making and administering the
laws of a representative government. If it can ever be required of God
to vindicate his administration by the treatment of any people, it
must be of one whose government is thus administered.

I observe then that the principle of the text should be adopted by
rulers, because it furnishes the only broad and safe basis of
political action. The adoption of this principle I consider the first
requisite of a wise, in opposition to a cunning and temporizing
statesman. Statesmanship, as distinguished from that skilful
combination of measures which has for its object personal advancement,
consists very much in a perception of the connexion there is between
the prosperity of states, and the accordance of their laws and social
institutions with the laws of justice, and benevolence, and
temperance, which are the laws of God. The laws of God are uniform.
The general tendencies which he has inwrought into the system will
take effect, and nothing, not shaped in accordance with these can
stand. Now it is an attempt to evade the effect of these tendencies by
expedients in particular instances and for the sake of particular
ends, that has been called statesmanship; while he only is the true
statesman who sees what these tendencies are, and shapes his laws and
institutions in accordance with them. The mere politician, if I may so
designate him, perceives the movements which take place in the
different parts of society relatively to each other, and is
complacently skilful in adjusting them to his purposes, but he fails
to see that general movement by which the whole is drifted on
together, and which is bearing society to a point where elements that
he had not dreamed of will be called into action, and where his petty
expedients will become in a moment, but as the barriers of sand which
the child raises upon the beach, when the tide begins to rise.

"I tremble for my country," said an American statesman, in a sentence,
which, though awfully ominous in the connexion in which it was
uttered, does equal honor to his head and his heart, "I tremble for my
country when I remember that God is just." In that sentence are
involved the principles of that higher statesmanship before which the
expedients of merely expert men dwindle into nothing. He knew not how,
or where, or when, the blow might fall; but he knew that there was
always a joint in the harness of injustice, where the arrow of
retribution, though it might seem to be speeding at a venture, would
surely find its way. The higher movements of Divine Providence include
the lower. Sooner or later all particular, and for a time apparently
anomalous cases are brought under its general rules, and he has read
the history of the past with little benefit, who has failed to see how
the giant machinery of that Providence, in the intermediate spaces of
which there is ample room for the free play of human agency, takes up
the results of that agency as they are wrought out, and applies them
to the execution of its own uniform laws, and the accomplishment of
its own predicted purposes. These purposes, as declared by those
divine records whose prophecies have now become history, were often
such as no human sagacity, looking merely at second causes, could have
anticipated, such as no human power then existing could have effected.
Still, they were wrought out in conformity with that higher, and
uniform, and all-encompassing movement with reference to which he who
stands at the helm should guide the state, but to ascertain which, he
must not take his bearings from the shifting headlands of
circumstances, but must lift his eye to those eternal principles which
abide ever the same. On this subject there is written upon the walls
of the past a lesson for statesmen that needs no interpreter. Look at
Babylon. Who is it that stands before its walls, and utters its doom?
It is a despised Jew. And who is he that walks in pride upon those
walls, and as he points to that mighty city as the centre of
civilization and power, as combining every advantage of climate and
of commerce, mocks at that doom? It is a politician of those days. The
voice of the prophet is uttered, and it seems to pass idly upon the
wind. The eye of sense sees no effect. No clouds gather, no lightnings
descend. But that voice was not in vain. The waters of desolation
heard it in their distant caves, and never ceased to rise till they
had whelmed palace and tower and temple in one undistinguished ruin.
Even now that voice abides there, and hangs as a spirit of the air
over that desolation, and the Arabian hears it, warning him not to
pitch his tent there, and the wild beast of the desart and the owl and
the satyr hear it, and come up and dwell and dance there. Look at
Jerusalem. Who is he that stands upon mount Olivet and weeps as he
looks upon the city, and assigns, as the cause of his tears, that he
would often have gathered her children together as a hen gathereth her
chickens under her wings, but she would not? Ah! what political Jew
would have thought of _that_! He would have turned his attention to
the purposes of governors and the intrigues of courts. Into his
estimate of the causes that might affect the prosperity of Jerusalem,
the moral temper of the nation as indicated by its rejection of Jesus
of Nazareth, would not have entered. And yet, it was from this
rejection, even in the way of natural consequence, from the want of
those moral qualities which only a regard to his teachings could have
produced among them, that the destruction of the Jews resulted.
Nothing else could have destroyed their fool-hardy confidence in God,
or have allayed those fiendish passions which led contending factions
to fill the streets of the city with dead bodies even in the midst of
the siege. But they would not have his spirit; they would not have him
to reign over them, and we know that from the moment the words dropped
from his lips, "Your house is left unto you desolate," that was a
doomed city, and no political skill could have deferred the horrors of
a siege and of a final overthrow, such as was not from the beginning
of the world, no, nor ever shall be. And not only from Babylon and
Jerusalem, but from the grave of every nation buried in antiquity,
from Nineveh, and Tyre, and Edom, and Egypt, there comes a voice
calling upon rulers to be "just, ruling in the fear of God." The true
cause of their destruction was the attitude which they assumed towards
the will, and worship, and people of God.

It is from these moral causes, between which and the result there is
no immediate, nor, to the superficial eye, perceptible connexion,
that I fear most for the stability of our institutions. It is when the
sun is shining most brightly, and the face of the sky shows, it may
be, not a single cloud, that the elements of the tornado are ascending
most rapidly; and it is when men are in prosperity and in fancied
security that they become presumptuous, and that a disastrous train of
causes is silently put in motion, as resistless as the tornado. Upon
this point of security, the eye of the true statesman is fixed. It is
here that he sees the danger and provides against it; while the mere
politician knows nothing, and sees nothing, till he begins, when it is
too late, to see the lightnings, and hear the thunders of embodied

Can, then, the rulers of this country, in disregard of the warnings of
all past time, with a full understanding of the claims and of the
controlling agency of the great moral principles of God's government,
go on in obedience to men rather than God, and make laws in disregard,
or defiance of his will? If so, then, from the reciprocal influence of
rulers and people, our experiment of self-government would seem to be
hopeless. Then _must_ God scourge this people as he has scourged
others. Then are the untoward symptoms of the present time, but as the
white spot that shows the leprosy. Then will the altar of liberty
decay, and the fire upon it will go out, and there will be heard by
those who watch in her temple, as of old in the desecrated temple of
God, the voice of its presiding spirit saying, "Let us go hence," and
that temple, towards which the eyes of the nations were turned with
hope, shall become the haunt of every unclean thing, and shall only
wait the hand of violence to leave not one stone upon another that
shall not be thrown down. In view of such consequences, I cannot but
feel that the solemn words of our Saviour are as applicable to
Legislators and rulers in their public, as in their private capacity.
"And I say unto you, my friends, be not afraid of them that kill the
body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will
forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him which after he hath killed,
hath power to cast into hell, yea I say unto you, Fear him."

       *       *       *       *       *

To His Excellency the Governor, these sentiments are addressed, as
putting him in remembrance, as he stands upon the threshold of a new
official year, of that which ought ever to be uppermost in the mind of
the Chief Magistrate of a Christian people, of the paramount authority
of God, and of the necessity there is that all human legislation
should coincide with the principles of his government. It is a great
and a sacred trust which the people of this Commonwealth commit to
their Chief Magistrate, and they expect it will be used in the fear of
God, and for the good of this whole people. That trust is in tried
hands, and we rejoice in the belief that it is safely deposited.
Especially, may I be permitted to say, does it give me pleasure to
welcome to the chair of state one in whose civic wreath literary
honors are entwined, and who can forget the toils and lay aside the
dignities of office, to cheer the young scholar on his way. Long may
our literary institutions continue to raise up those who shall add to
the dignity of office, the grace of learning, and the sanctity of
private virtue; and who, while they devote their labors more
particularly to the good of their own State, shall be regarded as
belonging to the Union and to the world.

To His Honor the Lieutenant Governor, to the Honorable Council and
Senate, and to the assembled Representatives of the people, the
sentiments of this discourse are addressed, as the descendants of
those who showed in the hour of peril, that they feared God rather
than men. Following their example, you have come up, as you are about
to enter upon your responsible duties, to present, in this venerable
house, thanksgivings and supplications to the Lord God of our fathers;
and to do homage in the name of the Republic, to His Institutions.
This is well. But that Republic expects of you that you will imitate,
not merely in form, but also in spirit, the bright examples that are
set before you, that you will act from principle, that you will "obey
God rather than men." So doing the Commonwealth will be safe, for it
is the simple wisdom of goodness, that alone is truly wise.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sermon, Deliviered Before His Excellency Edward Everett, Governor &c. on the Anniversary Election, January 2, 1839" ***

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