A Sermon, Delivered in the Universalist Church, Southold, L. I.
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Delivered in the Universalist Church, Southold, L. I.
July 5th, 1840.
BY REV. J. K. INGALLS, PASTOR.
(Published by request.)
"And the Lord shall be King over all the earth."
Zach. xiv. 9.
There are few days which call not to mind that another year has flown; which leave not, a twelve month farther in the past some event, the recollection of which is associated with feelings if lively interest. We believe it important that we give to these events, as their anniversary shall return, a few reflections; that we, profiting by he experience of the past, may derive knowledge which shall be serviceable for future years, and by observing the progress which truth and liberty have made in days gone by, look forward with assurance to the time when oppression shall case and righteousness shall be universal.
It is good, occasionally, to stop in our onward career, wherein is sought the wealth, the fame, and the power, which but for a moment can be ours, and turn our attention to the times which were; to look back by the aid of history's light, and behold there, the first germs of that plant, which has wrought such wonders in the religious and political world, and which we believe is calculated at length to emancipate human nature from all tyranny, political, spiritual or mental.
Of all the events which are yearly brought to recollection, few, with the American, is more important than that which gave his country birth-the anniversary of which with yesterday passed away. The earth in its ceaseless flight, has made three score and five revolutions around the great centre of light and heat—sixty-rive years lave been numbered and departed, since a nation, spurning the galling chains which tyranny and forged, proclaimed to the world their determination to be free—to govern themselves.
It is not our intention to dwell particularly upon any incident in the history of the cause of freedom, for we consider it the same in all ages; and oppression, although it may have varied in different periods, or in different lands, in the fetters which have bound the body, or trammelled the mind, we believe is still the same.—That it all has its seat in the selfishness of the human mind; the narrow view which sees not the interests of mankind, as in harmony with our own. It is this, and not the spirit of christianity which has made religion a powerful ally to arbitrary power; which has imposed on the mind fetters that failed to secure the body, and perpetuated the thraldom which has made "earth's countless millions mourn." To this should be traced all the oppression which has existed in the church, and the existence of all government which has not for its object the good of the whole, or claims sovereign power independent of the people's will. It is not, therefore, simply because that on this day we became an independent nation, that we look back with pride and satisfaction, and hail it as the "birthday of freedom," but because we believe it a link in that chain of successive causes which shall ultimately emancipate the world.
Oppression, in some form, is nearly as ancient as the history of man. The first inhabitants of the earth were doubtless tillers of the soil, or like Abel, "keepers of flocks." Even in this primitive mode of life, a little might have entered, but it was when they began to task their invention, to contrive instruments for the destruction of the beasts of the forest, that the idea seems to have been suggested, of subjugating and making each other tributary. When successful in their hunting excursion, the mind of the hunters naturally reverted to their superiority over the husbandman; and the excitement of the chase, and their familiarity with scenes of blood and strife, rendered them fit instruments to attempt the conquest of their race. From hunting beasts they came to hunt men; and thus early was the profession of arms made use of to raise tribute from the people. Immense strength and great animal courage soon made individuals conspicuous in this business; and these were chosen, as soon as the advantages of combination were understood, to lead their bands. Thus at a glance we have a view of the rise of kingly power, which has so long claimed the servile obedience of mankind; and since the cause which produced it has ceased, it has received support from various other sources, too numerous to receive particular attention, but among which perverted religion has been a most prominent one. Superstition nan ever been called to the aid of arbitrary power, and where ignorance has left the minds of the people a prey to its fears, that power has been absolute; and it is only when they have become informed that they have possessed power sufficient to break the chains with which the cunning of the designing minions of tyranny have secured their obedience.
This was clearly illustrated in the cane of our rupture with Britain. The thunders of the church were not wanting to awe us into submission.— We were told that our service of God would not be acceptable unless we yielded ourselves servants to the king, who ruled by Divine right; and for a while it was a matter of conscience with some whether it would not be an act of moral transgression to question the prerogative of majesty, and to declare ourselves independent. But thanks to the light shed by science, philosophy and true religion upon the world, the people were first becoming enlightened.
"Ah," says the incredulous, "science and philosophy have done much; but we have been in the habit of supposing religion to be arrayed on the side of oppression." Are you not aware that where Christianity never was known tyranny in a more aggravated form bus been exercised, and that, us much as we may lament the oppression which exists in professedly christian lands, that it was not the cause which first introduced it? I do not deny that, in its deformed condition it may be, and has been made subsidiary to the perpetuation of arbitrary forms of government. But I believe, take it as it is, as it has been even in its most corrupted days, that it has rather advanced the cause of civil freedom. Yea I believe that true liberty had never been known, had not the principles of Christianity been first understood. Show me a nation of people, who, without the aid of revelation, have ever broke away from the bounds with which custom and power have enslaved them I Do you point to Greece and Rome? What had they deserving the name of freedom? True they were not subjects, for a time, of single tyrants, but what was the condition of the common people, when they were most republican? Slaves the most abject Do you refer to France, who with her political freedom decreed, "there is no God? Alas! there was no foundation for the superstructure, and it became the prey of aspiring ambition, and it fell.
But there had been laid for the liberty of the American people a basis deep and sure; not by those alone who figured in the revolution, but those who had lived before them, even the first settlers of our country. And by those, too, who were not the rejectors of revelation, but devoted and exemplary christians.
Among those who have exerted a salutary influence on the destinies of our country is Roger Williams, the founder of the state of Rhode Island. In England he was an ordained clergyman of the established church. For the liberality manifested in this station he became the object of severe persecution, and was forced to leave his native land, and flee for shelter to the new world. Immediately after his arrival in the colony of Massachusetts, his new doctrines of government excited the jealousy of those who themselves had fled from oppression; and the patriot, the philanthropist and the christian was banished from among them. It is interesting to observe with what clearness he maintained his positions. There was a law at that time in the colony, against which he inveighed, that every man should not only aid in maintaining worship, but that they should, attend upon it, whether in accordance with their views or not. "No one should be bound," says Williams, "to worship or maintain it, against his own consent." "What," exclaims his opposers, "is not the laborer worthy of his hire? "Yes," he replies, with perfect calmness, "of those who hire him."
To avoid a transportation to England, he determined to seek a shelter in the wilds of Naragansett. Of their chief he purchased a tract of land which was called Rhode Island, and with a few individuals went to take possession. He came through the domains of his oppressors, and it length reached its boundary, the clear, deep stream of the Seekonk river. He hailed its waters with the joy which breaks through clouds of sadness; such as we might suppose the Hebrews of old to have felt, when first the prospect of the promised land burst upon their view. These waters bore his little bark to its destination ; and as he reached the shore of his new territory, he raised his voice to heaven in thanksgiving, and pledged himself that here should be a home for the persecuted and oppressed. And as one who saw with prophetic view the destiny of our country, he here laid the sure foundation of all liberty, in liberty of conscience.
"Williams," says a historian of the present day, "was willing to leave truth alone in her own panoply of light, believing that if in her ancient feud with error, the employment of force should be entirely abrogated, the chance for her success would be greatly advanced." It may be asked where he derived those principles winch must be acknowledged to have exerted so great an influence in the cause of liberty. Let him answer, and he will tell you that he learned them from the gospel of Jesus.
We might also refer to Wm. Penn, and Lord Baltimore, both of them christians, one a Quaker and the other a Catholic, who founded Pennsylvania and Maryland, upon similar principles, although neither seems to have come at once upon the broad ground occupied by Williams.— We believe that to these three men America is more indebted for her freedom, than to the deeds of Washington, Green, and La Fayette; or to the writings of Hamilton, Paine and Jefferson.
It may be thought time that we make allusion to our text. It must have been deemed, by all my hearers, as a reference to the extension of the gospel kingdom; and the only use we intended to make of it was to show that christianity and republicanism were not opposites, but similar in their principles, and having as their end the destruction of all arbitrary power, and giving perfect liberty to mind and person. Christianity teaches that there is "one God," and that all mankind "are brethren." Who, that has read the precepts of the gospel, can find there any thing to favor usurpation? Who does not see there the abolition of all arbitrary power, the equality of all God's rational creation? "Be ye not called rabbi, for one is your Master, and all ye arc brethren." "Whosoever would be chief among you let him be your servant." This is the exact doctrine of republicanism.
Christianity, when its principles shall become universally adopted, will effect universal emancipation. For here, that selfish power, which we remarked in the commencement had been the cause of all oppression, is subdued, and when all shall have obeyed them, then shall "the Lord be King over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord, and his name one." Of course there can be no other king, for he will not give a portion of his glory to another. Before Christ shall deliver up the kingdom to his Father, he must have "put down all rule and authority and power. For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet."
Let us now look to the probable results of the general adoption of republican doctrines.— The same as with Christianity, the destruction of all tyranny, the banishment of all oppression from the world. And this could be effected without renouncing our obedience to the King of kings. Nay, we believe that liberty shall never be known to all, until all shall have entered the " perfect law of liberty," and be governed by its golden precepts. He who has entered this law, would never oppress his brother, and, with respect to himself, he is already free, whatever may be his condition in life. It is he alone who can personify the poet's fancy of a freeman. Him,
- "No gold can buy, no monarch can corrupt;
- No faction crush, no storm annihilate
- His spirit midst confusion flouts unharmed;
- Just like the father, on the azure wave.
- Let wild commotion rouse the angry deep,
- And crested surge, in rolling mountains blaze;
- It bounds from billow on to billow, nor
- E'er sinks beneath the warring strife of winds;
- Nor in the mingled elements is lost;
- But, on the wild wings of the tempest,
- Mounts the skies to wander 'mong the stats."
They are assimilated in another respect, by being advanced by the general diffusion of knowledge. By this is the spread of the gospel promoted; by this is the mind prepared for the reception of its holy truths; and by this are we lead to practice its righteous precepts, and to prize justly its sublimity and moral tendency. I know that the dawnings of modem science have been laid hold of by the enemies of Revelation to destroy our faith in its teachings; but the moment that they have assumed the form of truth, they have been wrested from their grasp by the champions of religion, and wielded, not only in its defence, but to the utter demolition of the very foundations of modern infidelity.— Such has been the case with chemistry, phrenology, geology and astronomy. And such we believe will be the case with every science which coming ages shall unfold. The gospel is a revelation of the goodness and love of God; and what can science over bring to light that shall not ascribe universal benevolence to the great Creator of heaven and earth? "Whoso," saith the Psalmist, "is wise, and observeth these things, (that is, the order and perfection of his government, and the wondrous works of his creation,) even they shall understand the loving kindness of the Lord."
And knowledge is the only thing, upon which freedom can depend for permanency and support. It gave us liberty; but unless the people shall continue to be informed, it will prove evanescent. It is a want of knowledge which makes abject bondage regarded as a sacred duty by the victims of tyranny. Ignorance, is but another name for slavery. We boast a free government, and just and equal laws; but how long our government shall be free and our laws just, depends upon the uniform intelligence of the people, and not upon the wisdom, honesty, or good disposition of our law-givers. It is here that true freedom exists, and only here; and while our country can boast this, we may defy the powers of earth to enslave her. But, if the time shall ever arrive, when the attainment of knowledge shall be neglected, we may bid adieu to the bright hopes we have cherished for the success of her free institutions; they shall moulder and crumble into dust; the fostered bird of liberty shall mount upward with a shriek, and fly far away, to find a resting place in some other land. The ignorant man is the fit tool of servitude. It is the weakness and imbecility of ignorance, and not the wealth and power of their oppressors, which keeps millions of our fellow citizens in bondage. Freedom can be enjoyed by none, until they can prize its worth, and then the shackles of oppression will be burst in sunder. Take from the freeman his knowledge, and he is a slave; give it to the slave, and he is emancipated.
In a thousand ways, we might trace the similarity between the doctrines of the gospel, and the principles which called forth the Declaration of Independence; and their manifest, yea, inevitable tendency towards personal and national freedom; but enough has been said to direct the hearer to the subject, and he can follow out the system of illustration to any length he pleases.
Did time permit, we would like to enter upon a defence of the principles of popular government; and, especially, the stand which has been taken by most of the States, with respect to religious toleration; in which they have followed the example of the illustrious Williams, the first legislator in the world who held inviolate the freedom of the mind<ref>Maryland was settled two years before Rhode Island, but her Charier was not entirely free from intoleration. Pennsylvania was not settled till nearly half a century afterwards.</ref>;* but it does not.—We will,however, briefly notice an indirect objection, sometimes brought against religion, which asserts that multiplicity of sects is the only safeguard of freedom—that, if any single sect should gain the supremacy, liberty would be endangered. We deny this conclusion, so far as it relates to the doctrines of the gospel. Where they have been corrupted by man, and where blindness has attached to their lovely appearance, the horrors and distortion of pagan superstition, we grant they may, we contend they must, subvert both civil and religious freedom; but we will not admit, what can never be proved, that Christianity, as taught and practised by Christ and his apostles, would lead, in the least degree, to usurpation and tyranny.
That, which approaches to heathen mythology, which clothes, in a robe of mystery and terror, a God of love, may cause its votaries to claim dominion over the minds of their fellow men; they who believe that he delights in the infliction of ceaseless anguish, in casting down the unbeliever to writhe in immortal flames, may deem it their duty to usurp the control of the conscience; they may, with the Catholics in their persecutions of the Albiginses, think it an obligation they are under to their God of vengeance, to send the heretic "through material fires, to those which are immaterial and eternal;" but they who believe in a God of infinite goodness, that he hath purposed in the dispensation of the fullness of times to gather together in one, all things in Christ, and that the unbelief of some, shall not make the faith and purpose of God without effect, have no motive to such conduct. And we believe, (deem us not a bigot,) that, though this should become the universal faith of Christendom, the cause of rational liberty would be but aided in its progress.
We look, then, upon the cause of freedom, and the cause of religion as the same; not only as harmonizing with, but dependent on each other. And, we hail the returning anniversary of our nation's independence, because we esteem it an era in the advancement not only of civil, but religious and intellectual liberty. It is welcomed as a bright assurance of the rapid approach of the time when "the Lord shall be king over all the earth," when righteousness shall be loved by all, and man be governed by the law of love.
It has been said, that an absolute monarchy would be the best government in the world, were the monarch but perfect. This, so far as it relates to man, is not a supposable case, but we can attribute absolute perfection to God, and as he is impartial, as with him, "there is no respect of persons," there must be an equality among the subjects of his government; which can not attach to any form of government among men. And we believe the time advancing, when man shall bow to no power, but a power omnipotent, acknowledge no king but the King of heaven; when no sceptre shall be swayed in all the earth, but that which rules creation, and homage paid to none, but "the universal Father." This shall be the triumph of religion and of freedom. This the effectual reign of that Sovereign, who "cometh to execute judgment in the earth—to judge the world in righteousness, and the people with his truth." When people shall learn truth and practice virtue, and knowledge be universally diffused.
To this, we see the reforms, in systems of faith, rapidly tending; and we love to cherish the memory of freedom's birth-day.in our land, as one of the mightier strides, towards the universal liberation of mind. The cause of political shall aid the cause of religious emancipation, shall co-operate with the reign of Christ in the subjugation of all things to God, in putting down all rule and all authority and power; in delivering mankind from all bondage and corruption, and establishing the universal empire of liberty and truth.
- "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth;
- Make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise—
- Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof;
- The world, and they that dwell therein.
- Let the floods clap their hands:
- Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord:
- For he cometh to judge the earth:
- With righteousness shall be judge the world,
- And the people with equity."
Joshua King Ingalls, “A Sermon, Delivered in the Universalist Church, Southold, L. I.,” Universalist Union 5, no. 41 (August 29, 1840): 641-644.