Continued from here:
Read of a later day, travel among the scenes of profane chronicles, if you would see, that national vice is national suicide. Stand upon the moldering ruins of a thousand cities, once great and fair, and seek, - you will seek in vain, - for trace or even site of many others; and ask where are they, and why have they vanished from the earth? Roam through the desolated territories of empires, once splendid and mighty, and, as you brood over the gloomy vestiges of their decay, cannot find an inhabitant for many a mile, where throngs were loud and busy once, ask yourself, if integrity, industry, humanity, temperance, piety, and purity were rife there, when the besom of destruction came to sweep a tomb under those wide-spread ruins.
Thus history or travel will conduct you over the globe, and everywhere teach the same salutary lesson. They will point to empire after empire, and dynasty after dynasty, shriveling and shrinking with the imbecility of moral corruption; and it is not more sure, that the palaces of their pride, and the monuments of their perverted might, are crumbling into dust, than that other empires and other dynasties, now treading in their steps, will follow them to decay and desolation. O that our beloved land may be wise from the lesson! And the lesson is more pertinent under our republican polity, than under any other. If righteousness exalteth a nation, and sin is a reproach and ruin to any people, most speedily of all must it prove so to a people without the restraints of a strong government. Liberty and licentiousness roll trippingly off the tongue together; they flow, unseparated, from the lips of many, with easy alliteration and commonplace proverbialness, as if they were almost the same thing, or one inevitably followed the other. But, if it does, it is as commonplace a maxim of history, that it will follow it speedily to ruin. Liberty licentiousness, - it is the tritest of proverbs, - cannot coexist lastingly. The free people is the last that can afford to be vicious. The slave may throw off the restraints of virtue, and yet be kept in order by the restraints of despotism. But, when a freeman does not govern himself, he is ungoverned, so to speak, and careering to perdition; like the uncurbed wild ass of the desert, rushing to the precipice he tosses his head too high to see.
Therefore, every immoral republican is a traitor and conspirator against his government, as much as if, being the subject of a king, he pointed a dagger against his life. He is spreading stratagems and snares for the feet of his sovereign; for public virtue is his sovereign. He is seeking to blind, and deafen, and lame, and cripple, and make wholly inefficient, and worse than inefficient, he is seeking to corrupt, into tyrannical wantonness and cruelty, the most beneficent monarch that ever sat upon a throne.
So that you see, my brethren, in addition to every other motive for being good Christians, patriotism should be one. After we have turned away from the voice of God; after we have steeled our hearts to the claims of him who died upon Calvary, the just for the unjust, the he might bring us to God; after we have besotted our minds to act the fool's part of blindness to our own interest; there is yet one appeal which may not be lost upon our generosity, one
consideration that should be sufficient; public spirit, the love of our country. Its welfare is resting on our individual virtue. For as drops of water make up the ocean, and grains of sand constitute vast continents, so the personal character of the humblest individual among us adds something, for weal or for woe, to that national character, by which the land of our love, the government which has cherished us, will stand or fall. Our native soil, the scene of our happy childhood, the land of our fathers, the land where we have enjoyed so much, where we expect so much, and from which the world expects so much, shall it realize these expectations? Shall it become, as has been so fondly anticipated, the glory of the nations, has the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth, showing what man can do with unshackled energies and faculties ripely developed in the wholesome air of liberty? Or shall it be one more byword and mockery of the aspirations and pretensions of freedom.
Think of this, when tempted to any wicked or base act. Above all, think of it when tempted to into any of the peculiar and besetting snares, and betraying exaggerations and caricatures of liberty; to vicious license, to lawlessness and recklessness of restraint, to inebriate zeal, party prejudice, bigoted factiousness, mob-rioting, passionate reviling of the powers that be, or the powers that are to be, and all bitter or mercenary partisanship. Remember, when tempted to any of these, you are tempted then to disappoint so many noble souls, the lovers of their kind, in every quarter of the globe, the enthusiasts for the advancement of the human race to a pitch of excellence and enjoyment yet unrealized, but the guaranty for which they look for in the great experience of self-government now trying on these shores.
The old world may be said to be leaning, with feverish anxiety, over the ocean to catch every symptom of the success or failure of his experiment. Have pity on the last hopes on man. Let it not be said again, as it was by the dying Brutus, after he had sacrificed all to realize a patriot's dream; "O virtue, I have worshipped thee as a reality, and found thee but a shadow." Let it not be said, again, as it was by the noble-hearted Madame Roland, as, on her way to the guillotine to lose her head for continuing a virtuous enthusiast for freedom amidst the herd of vicious, she passed under the statue of Liberty; "O Liberty, how they have played thee! What crimes have been committed in the name!" Ay, how it has been played in the world, historianized, juggled! What crimes have been committed, what crimes have not been committed, in its sacred name? It is assuredly the cloak of boundless evil, when not guarded with most scrupulous probity; for the best things, corrupted, always become the worst. The precious diamond may be blackened into a worthless coal. The sweet name of liberty has become a sound of ill omen and nauseous associations to many of the readers of history, from want of virtue in its votaries. Patriotism has been characterized as the last resource of a villain. Revolutions, said Napoleon, are not made with rosewater; but it were well if blood, and seas of it, were the dearest price paid. Moral corruption is what renders revolutions worse than vain.
Our fathers have made one more trial, knowing that past failures were from want of Christian principle, and that they had settled these shores expressly in obedience to Christian principle, and therefore they might hope. In faith and prayer they struggled; for they felt, that with God all things are possible in the cause of righteousness, and they hoped their children would feel this too. From the first, they set out with the idea of making this community that happy people, whose God is the Lord, - a Christian nation, - what the world had never yet seen, but what all its experience concurred in testifying it must seem or it would never see the amount of prosperity man is capable of attaining on earth. A Christian people! Not merely a sober, industrious people, without religion, if such could be expected, but distinctively a Christian people. Bright and glorious idea, far-seeing wisdom, true friends, and see its kingdoms prospering at this time just in proportion as they come near realizing this idea, other elements of their greatness being the same. Begin from the effete East, and come to the infant West. The nominally Christian are more thriving than the Pagan Mahometan; the Protestant than the Catholic; the praying and Bible-reading, than the ceremonial and formalist; and, so long hypocrisy could be kept out, that people would prosper most, who should require, as the settlers of these New England colonies did, that none but members of the church should be rulers in the state. Such a regulation is a bait for hypocrites, a trap for the consciences of the ambitious, and, therefore, it is not to be enforced after the primitive virtues of the settlement have been corrupted. But, is there were not fear of hypocrisy, verily and indeed happy would be that people, with whom God was effectively their Lord through the strict observances of such a rule. Then might we see such a phenomenon as a Christian people.
As it is, let us, - and it seems more incumbent on us than on any nation that lives in the sun's more expressive, than as a mere geographical term. When we are called a Christian nation, let us allow more the meant, than that we are not savages or barbarians, or only semi-civilized, as all those nations are in which Christianity is unknown. Christian should be more than European or American, as distinguished from Asiatic or African. It should be more than latitude and longitude; more than eastern or western, northern or southern; more than tropics and zones, equator and ecliptic, arctic or antarctic.
And how can we make a Christian nation? To become so, must be an individual, not a collective act. Legislation cannot do it, if legislation would. Resolves of majorities, in caucus or in Congress, in towns or by states, or even unanimous votes, is not the way to affect it. The simple and sole process is for each person privately to resolve, for his single part, no influence in legislative deliberations, no political name or fame whatever, - nay, the shrinking woman and child, whose deliberations look not beyond the homestead, or who can legislate only over their own hearts, - these can add a stone, as truly as the mightiest statesman or the loudest demagogue, to build up the national temple to the Lord. Public opinion is the life-breath of our own government, and therefore to Christianize that, we have but to Christianize ourselves. O what it is ye may achieve! No such power as this is possessed by the subjects of any government but yours. They cannot regenerate their sovereign. They cannot even pray for his conversion with hope, the assurance, of the prayer being granted if sincere, which may warm your breasts.
And is there a consideration of earth or heaven, that is not present and potent to move us to this prayer? Pour it out to God, if righteousness would have but the promise of the life that now is. If a majority of the citizens were sincere followers of Jesus Christ, is it not evident, the councils of this nation would be wiser and mightier, its progress more glorious, its dominion even more potent than any the world has ever seen? The day when it shall be resolved, that the same evangelical principles shall govern states that govern churches and gospel professors in their private relations, would be the true jubilee of freedom. That will be the mind's and the soul's declaration of independence. That will be breaking every yoke at length from body, and heart, and spirit. Thenceforth slavery, in any form, would be but a tradition and a name; whereas now it is the commonest of conditions, and to the mass liberty is but a name; for he that serveth any sin is the slave of sin. That day will come, when the people choose.
Choose it, resolve it, O my brethren, as the first of civil duties. Whatever your party predilections, sacrifice them all for the party of righteous men. Support no administration, and oppose none, but one the ground of moral principle. Go with them as far as Jesus Christ would go, and no further. Read the constitution by the light of the Gospel. The Savior be your paramount leader.
And now I see his communion table before me this day, and I fear all that has been said will seem out of keeping with its solemn associations; so desecrating, as I began with intimating, seems any allusion to the politician's trade. But let me hope I have not spoken all in vain. Follow it in the spirit in which you come here to the house of the Lord himself. You are performing a solemn act of worship then, if you feel it aright. You should enter upon office, you should deposit your vote for office, with a religious sense of accountableness, like that which makes you so serious when you handle the emblems of the Savior's body and blood.
Approach his table because you would be good citizens, among the other reasons of the act; because you love, and you serve and save, your country; because you would have it long free; because you would be truly free yourselves. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. If his Son shall make your free, ye shall be free indeed. Where he is not the deliverer, men may clamor, and boast, and carouse, and with bacchanalian revelry call themselves free but they are the bondmen of corruption, the thralls of Satan. O be ye, unlike them, the freedmen of the Lord, whose service is perfect freedom.