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ness and ignorance, but the age in which this glorious event took place, was distinguished by wisdom, science, and literary pursuits. The minds of men throughout the East were in expectation of some better instruction than they had ever had in religious matters. In such an age, and when the affairs and minds of men were in such a state, the Son of God appeared and the Christian Dispensation was founded.
May we not, then, indulge the pleasant contemplation that infinite wisdom and goodness, by a series of remarkable events, is preparing the way for the extension of that heavenborn, glorious, and benevolent religion, which consists in truth, righteousness, and peace—a religion most friendly to true freedom and happiness in the present world, and secures eternal felicity in a future and more refined state of existence. A moment's reflection will call up to view a series of singular providences which claim our most devout attention. Reasoning upon moral, as upon natural things, what a beautiful analogy shall we find among all the operations of Divine Providence!
The sun, the glorious luminary of the day, comes forth from his chambers of the East, and, rejoicing to run his course, carries light and heat and joy through the nations to the remotest parts of the West, and returns to the place from whence he came. In like manner divine truth, useful knowledge, and improvements appear to proceed in the same direction, until the bright day of science, virtue, pure religion, and free government, shall pervade this western hemisphere. The inspired writers, we have already seen, delight to speak of the propagation of Christianity, under this figure, as proceeding from the rising to the setting sun until incense shall be offered to the true God in every place. The Divine counsels, opened to us by the events of time, give us just ground to believe that one great end God had in view in the original discovery of this American Continent, and in baffling all the attempts which European Princes have made to subject it to their dominion, and in giving us the quiet possession of it as our own land, was that a new Empire should be called into being—an Empire new, indeed, in point of existence, but more essentially so, as its government is founded on princi
ples of equal liberty and justice. Never before was the wisdom of an Empire collected in one* august assembly, for the purpose of deliberating, reasoning, and deciding on the best mode of civil government. Never before had a people an opportunity of adopting and carrying into effect, a constitution of government for an extensive consolidated body, which was the result of inferences from the experience of past ages and sober reasoning on the rights and advantages of civil society. It may be emphatically said that a new Empire has sprung into existence, and that there is a new thing under the sun.
By the Constitution now established in the United States, religious as well as civil liberty is secured. Full toleration is granted for free inquiry, and the exercise of the rights of conscience. No one kind of religion, or sect of religion, is established as the national religion, nor made, by national laws, the test of truth. Some serious Christians may possibly tremble for the Ark, and think the Christian religion in danger when divested of the patronage of civil power. They may fear inroads from licentiousness and infidelity, on the one hand, and from sectaries and party divisions on the other. But we may dismiss our fears, when we consider that truth can never be in real hazard, where there is a sufficiency of light and knowledge, and full liberty to vindicate it. Such is the genius of the religion of Christ, that, wherever it is embraced in sincerity and simplicity, it exalts human nature, and makes us just what we ought to be in every condition and relation of life. It displays its excellencies by directing the faith and practices of men in the way that leads to their real happiness; it regulates the passions and animates us to the most virtuous and noble conduct. In a word, it carries its own reward with it—for inspiration has declared that “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and that which is to come.”
While, therefore, the minds of men are so far enlightened and improved as to form just conceptions of things, and to
* The Convention which met in 1787 and formed the Constitution of the United States.
divest themselves of human prejudices, they will discover an intrinsic excellency in sincere religion that will command respect—that will recommend it'to every man's conscience. On the other hand, it is a religion that will bear the strictest scrutiny. Not that it admits of mathematical demonstration ; this is a kind of evidence that every well informed mind must see to be inconsistent with a religion suited to the nature and present condition of mankind; but it is supported on such evidence as admits of moral certainty. It is founded on the fulfillment of prophecy, the working of miracles, the testimony of its enemies, the protections of Providence, and its own intrinsic excellencies above any other religion in the world. It is in its own nature worthy of God and suited to man. It is a comment on natural religion, and consonant to every principle of reason. It makes discoveries of the most interesting importance, and nowhere else to be found, for it “ brings life and immortality to light.” Whence, then, can the Christian dispensation be in danger? Only from ignorance and prejudice, the two great enemies of civil and religious liberty.
But such is the present state of things in this country, that we have just ground to hope that religion and learning, the useful and ornamental branches of science, will meet with encouragement, and that they will be extended to the remotest parts of the American Empire. Under the conduct of a kind Providence, we see settlements forming in the American wilderness, deserts turning into fruitful fields, and the delightful habitations of civilized and christianized men. Here we behold a country vast in extent, mild in its climate, exuberant in its soil, and favorable to the enjoyment of life. We this day literally see the fulfillment of the prophecy in our text gradually advancing, incense offered to the most high God in this place, which was lately the dreary abode of savage barbarity. Here may the Gospel be preached to the latest period of time; the arts and sciences be planted; the seeds of virtue, happiness, and glory be firmly rooted and grow up to full maturity.
The liberality of the hand of nature in this part of the globe seems to have distinguished it from almost all others. Where shall we find a greater assemblage of the necessaries, conveniences, and delights of life than this country is capable of yielding? Where can they be obtained with less effort and toil? But let it be considered that this alone by no means insures solid enjoyment and rational happiness. It is the wise and judicious improvement we make of these natural advantages that will secure happiness. Dissipation, luxury, and vice are the almost inseparable companions of ease and plenty. Hence, it has often been observed that the inhabitants of this part of America can not be a happy people, because the country is so favorable to idleness and vice. But I will venture to affirm that, on the same account, it is equally favorable to the highest degree of human happiness attainable in this life. It has been observed of civil governments that, “that which is best administered is best.” Though this may not be strictly true, yet the maxim may be applied with equal propriety in the present case. It is certain that the greatest and best natural advantages may be so perverted as to render us less happy than if we were destitute of them. But permit me to assert, as my fixed opinion, and I think it is free from any professional prejudice, that the pure religion of the Gospel, flowing uncorrupted from its sacred sources, rational, moral, and divine, together with civil liberty and the cultivation of the arts and sciences in their various and extensive branches, must lay the foundation for rational and solid happiness in any country. And as the bounties of nature and Providence are improved to the promotion of these purposes, in the same proportion general happiness will be diffused.
To promote the civil and social happiness of a new settlement, too early attention can not be paid to the cultivation of the principles of religion and the habits of virtue. It is the most favorable opportunity that can possibly offer. When habits become fixed, they are not easily eradicated, whether they are good or bad. We, indeed, bring our habits of thinking and acting in some degree with us, but a new state of things, new objects and prospects, new connections, views, and designs, throw them loose about us. And this is the moment for serious attention and reflection. Let us be upon our guard against every thing that is base, vicious, or dishonorable, and endeavor to cultivate all the virtues of a religious and social
life. It is true that temptations to vices which are ruinous to society are not so strong at present as they probably will be hereafter. For the same reason, we ought now to pay the strictest attention to ourselves; to revere the hand of Providence that has hitherto protected us, and is now holding out the prospect of future blessings. It becomes us, as intelligent and dependent beings, to devote ourselves to the service and honor of Him from whom every blessing flows.
We are now engaged in an undertaking important in its nature, which we hope will prove great and honorable in its consequences. But we need the smiles of Heaven, and without these all our hopes will prove abortive. “ Happy is that people whose God is the Lord.” It is really very instructive to observe among the ancient heathen nations how careful they were to perform religious rites, and to make offerings to their gods whenever they engaged in an important enterprise; and it would be too bold for us to determine that the zeal and sincerity which they exercised in these religious ceremonies, though they mistook the object, was entirely useless to them, or that it was not approved and rewarded by the searcher of hearts. It seemed to be a dictate of reason, and what reason taught them it teaches us; and our superior advantages enable us to correct their mistakes,—to worship the true God, and confide in him in such a manner as is now known to be his will.
Religion ought never to be made a political machine, but while it is preserved perfectly free from such a prostitution, and is improved to the great designs of its institution, it affords the greatest aid to civil government, and has the most happy effect on society. Where the Gospel has its genuine effect it inspires the soul with the most noble sentiments, restrains every turbulent passion, and induces a propriety of conduct in every situation in life. The sum total is comprehended in love to God and man. When these effects are produced, every purpose of civil government is answered, and the sword of justice lies quiet in its scabbard, peace and security to society is obtained. But such is the present state of human nature, and such the designs of Providence, that these desirable effects can not be obtained without religious