A Sermon on the Day of the Commencement of the Constitution Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

XXXth Jeremiah, 20, 21 Ver.

Nothing can be more applicable to the solemnity in which we are engaged, than this passage of sacred writ. The prophecy seems to have been made for ourselves, it is so exactly descriptive of that important, that comprehensive, that essential civil blessing, which kindles the lustre, and diffuses the joy of the present day. Nor is this the only passage of holy scripture that holds up to our view a striking resemblance between our own circumstances and those of the ancient Israelites; a nation chosen by God a theatre for the display of some of the most astonishing dispensations of his providence. Like that nation we rose from oppression, and emerged “from the House of Bondage”: Like that nation we were led into a wilderness, as a refuge from tyranny, and a preparation for the enjoyment of our civil and religious rights: Like that nation we have been pursued through the sea, by the armed hand of power, which, but for the signal interpositions of heaven, must before now have totally defeated the noble purpose of our emigration: And, to omit many other instances of similarity, like that nation we have been ungrateful to the Supreme Ruler of the world, and too “lightly esteemed the Rock of our Salvation”; accordingly, we have been corrected by his justice, and at the same time remarkably supported and defended by his mercy: So that we may discern our own picture in the figure of the antient church divinely exhibited to Moses in vision, “a bush burning and not consumed.” This day, this memorable day, is a witness, that the Lord, he whose “hand maketh great, and giveth strength unto all, hath not forsaken us, nor our God forgotten us.” This day, which forms a new æra in our annals, exhibits a testimony to all the world, that contrary to our deserts, and amidst all our troubles, the blessing promised in our text to the afflicted seed of Abraham is come upon us; “Their Nobles shall be of themselves, and their Governor shall proceed from the midst of them.”

This prophecy has an immediate respect to the deliverance of the Jews from the cruel oppressions of the king of Babylon. Their sufferings, when they fell under the power of this haughty tyrant, as they are represented to us in sacred history, must harrow a bosom softened with the least degree of humanity. They give us a frightful picture of the effects of despotic power, guided and inflamed by those lusts of the human heart with which it is seldom unaccompanied. Can we forbear weeping for human nature, or blushing for its degradation, when we view either the sufferer or the actor in such a scene; the relentless oppressor, or those who are “sore broken in the place of dragons”? What can be more pathetic than the description of it given by the same prophet who gave the consolation in our text[?]

How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people? How is she become as a widow: she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces? She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she hath none to comfort her; her friends have dealt treacherously with her. Judah is gone into captivity; because of affliction, and because of great servitude, she findeth no rest. Her mighty men are trodden under foot; her young men are crushed; the young and the old lie on the ground in the streets—Mine eyes do fail with tears; my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured on the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people.

Such are the fruits of lawless and despotic power in a mortal man intoxicated with it: Such desolations does it make in the earth—such havock in the family of God, merely for the sake of enlarging it’s bounds and impressing its terror on the human bosom. It often, indeed, claims a divine original, and impudently supports itself not barely on the permission, but the express designation of him “whose tender mercies are over all his works”; though it exactly resembles the grand adversary of God and man, and is only a “roaring lion that seeketh whom he may devour.” To plead a divine right for such a power is truly to teach “the doctrine of devils.” It covets every thing without bounds: It grasps every thing without pity: It riots on the spoils of innocence and industry: It is proud to annihilate the rights of mankind; to destroy the fairest constitutions of wisdom, policy and justice, the broadest sources of human happiness: While it enslaves the bodies, it debases the minds of the offspring of God: In its progress it changes the very face of nature, it withers even the fruits of the earth, and frustrates the bounties of our common parent. “Before it is the garden of God, behind it is a desolate wilderness.” . . .

When a people have the rare felicity of chusing their own government, every part of it should first be weighed in the balance of reason, and nicely adjusted to the claims of liberty, equity and order; but when this is done, a warm and passionate patriotism should be added to the result of cool deliberation, to put in motion and animate the whole machine. The citizens of a free republic should reverence their constitution: They should not only calmly approve, and readily submit to it, but regard it also with veneration and affection rising even to an enthusiasm, like that which prevailed at Sparta and at Rome. Nothing can render a commonwealth more illustrious, nothing more powerful, than such a manly, such a sacred fire. Every thing will then be subordinated to the public welfare; every labour necessary to this will be chearfully endured, every expence readily submitted to, every danger boldly confronted.

May this heavenly flame animate all orders of men in the state! May it catch from bosom to bosom, and the glow be universal! May a double portion of it inhabit the breasts of our civil rulers, and impart a lustre to them like that which sat upon the face of Moses, when he came down from the holy mountain with the tables of the Hebrew constitution in his hand! Thus will they sustain with true dignity the first honours, the first marks of esteem and confidence, the first public employments bestowed by this new commonwealth, and in which they this day appear. Such men must naturally care for our state; men whose abilities and virtues have obtained a sanction from the free suffrages of their enlightned and virtuous fellow citizens. Are not these suffrages, a public and solemn testimony that in the opinion of their constituents, they are men who have steadily acted upon the noble principles on which the frame of our government now rests? Men who have generously neglected their private interest in an ardent pursuit of that of the public—men who have intrepidly opposed one of the greatest powers on earth, and put their fortunes and their lives to no small hazard in fixing the basis of our freedom and honour. Who can forbear congratulating our rising state, and casting up a thankful eye to heaven, upon this great and singular occasion, the establishment of our congregation; our nobles freely chosen by ourselves; and our governour coming forth, at the call of his country, from the midst of us?

Behold the man, whose name as president of Congress, authenticates that immortal act, which, in form, constitutes the independence of these United States, and by which a nation was literally born in a day! See him, who had taken too early and decided a part, and done too much for the liberties of America, to be forgiven by it’s enemies! See him, whose name, with that of another distinguished patriot, was expressly excepted from a British act of grace, and upon whose head a price was virtually bid by those who meant to enslave us: Behold this very man, declared by the voice of his country, “the head of the corner” in our political building; the first magistrate of this free commonwealth. It was not in the power of his fellow-citizens to give an higher testimony how well they remember the generous and important services he has already rendered to his country, and how much they confide in his disposition and abilities still to serve it.

May God Almighty take his Excellency and the other honourable branches of the government, the lieutenant-governour, the council, the Senate, and House of Representatives into his holy protection, and unite them in measures glorious to themselves, and happy to their country! Vested as they are with particular honours, they have a painful preheminence: Their distinctions call them to the most weighty and important cares, at a time when the administration of public affairs is attended with peculiar difficulties. They need therefore the gracious direction and assistance of the “blessed and only potentate,” which, in this solemn assembly of rulers and people, we jointly and devoutly implore.

The people of a free state have a right to expect from those whom they have honoured with the direction of their public concerns, a faithful and unremitting attention to these concerns. He who accepts a public trust, pledges himself, his sacred honour, and by his official oath appeals to his God, that with all good fidelity, and to the utmost of his capacity he will discharge this trust. And that commonwealth which doth not keep an eye of care upon those who govern, and observe how they behave in their several departments, in order to regulate its suffrages upon this standard, will soon find itself in perplexity, and cannot expect long to preserve either its dignity or happiness.

Dignity of conduct is ever connected with the happiness of a state; particularly at its rise, and the first appearance it makes in the world. Then all eyes are turned upon it; they view it with attention; and the first impressions it makes are commonly lasting. This circumstance must render the conduct of our present rulers peculiarly important, and fall with particular weight upon their minds. We hope from their wisdom and abilities, their untainted integrity and unshaken firmness, this new-formed commonwealth will rise with honour and applause, and attract that respect, which the number and quality of its inhabitants, the extent of its territory and commerce, and the natural advantages with which it is blest, cannot fail, under a good government, to command.

From our present happy establishment we may reasonably hope for a new energy in government; an energy that shall be felt in all parts of the state: We hope that the sinews of civil authority through its whole frame will be well braced, and the public interest in all its extended branches be well attended to; that no officer will be permitted to neglect the duties, or transgress the bounds of his department; that peculations, frauds, and even the smaller oppressions in any office, will be watchfully prevented, or exemplarily punished; and that no corruption will be allowed to rest in any part of the political body, no not in the extremest, which may spread by degrees, and finally reach the very vitals of the community.

Righteousness, says one of the greatest politicians and wisest princes that ever lived, “Righteousness exalteth a nation.” This maxim doth not barely rest upon his own but also on a divine authority; and the truth of it hath been verified by the experience of all ages.

Our civil rulers will remember, that as piety and virtue support the honour and happiness of every community, they are peculiarly requisite in a free government. Virtue is the spirit of a republic; for where all power is derived from the people, all depends on their good disposition. If they are impious, factious and selfish; if they are abandoned to idleness, dissipation, luxury, and extravagance; if they are lost to the fear of God, and the love of their country, all is lost. Having got beyond the restraints of a divine authority, they will not brook the control of laws enacted by rulers of their own creating. We may therefore rely that the present government will do all it fairly can, by authority and example, to answer the end of its institution, that the members of this commonwealth may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness as well as honesty, and our liberty never be justly reproached as licentiousness. . . .

Categories: History