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Israel, that thou teach them the good way, wherein they should walk. If thy people go out to battle against their enemy, whithersoever thou shalt send them, and shall pray unto the Lord toward the city which thou hast chosen, and toward the house that I have built for thy name, then hear thou in heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause."
PROVERBS XIV. 34.
Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.
THERE are many propositions, which, though they be reasonable and true in themselves, and acknowledged to be so, make very little impression upon our minds. They glide through our thoughts without effect, and without leaving a trace behind them. Yet, the self-same propositions, when they are brought back to our reflection by any experience, or by any incident that falls under our observation-especially any in which we ourselves are concerned-shall be found to have a weight, a justice, a significancy in them which they never appeared to possess before. This seems to be the case with the words of Solomon which I have now read to you. That "righteousness exalteth a nation" is one of those moral maxims which no man chooses to contradict. Every hearer assents to it; but it is an assent without meaningthere is no value or importance or application perceived in the words. But when such things happen as have happened; when we have seen, and that at
our doors, a mighty empire falling from the summit of what the world calls grandeur to the very abyss and bottom, not of external weakness, but of internal misery and distress, and that for want of virtue and of religion in the inhabitants, on one side probably as well as on the other, we begin to discover that there is not only truth, but momentous instruction in the text, when it teaches us that it is "righteousness which exalteth a nation." It is virtue, and virtue alone, which can make either nations happy or governments secure.
France wanted nothing but virtue; and by that want she fell. If the fairest region of Europe, if a numerous population, if the nominal wealth which arises from the money of a country, if large foreign possessions, if armies and fleets, if a splendid court and nobility, could have given firmness to a state, these were all possessed by her to a degree which hardly, I believe, any other nation could pretend to. Her fate, therefore, is, and ought to be, a standing lesson to the world that something more than external prosperity is necessary; and that something is— internal goodness and virtue.
I know not how I can employ the present solemn occasion, and the still more solemn admonition which the transactions that have lately gone on, and are still going on in the world, ought to convey to us, better than by illustrating the assertion of the text-that it is by the people being good, and by that alone, that any country can be happy, or any government safe.
And first of all, I would observe to you, that whatever new opinions have sprung up in France-and of some of which they have learnt the effects by sore experience the wisest men of the last age, in that very country-men also firmly and boldly attached to public liberty-have said this: that the principles of Christianity are more favourable to good government than any principles of any philosopher or politician can be. For the celebrated French writer to whom I allude, after stating exactly what sort of a principle was suited to a monarchy, what to an aristocracy, and what to a republic, concludes by declaring that although there be principles proper to each form of government, the principles of the Christian religion, so far as it prevailed, are better, more useful, and more effectual than them all.
And in my judgement our author, in saying that, has said no more than what reason will bear him out in.
The true Christian must be a good subject; because having been accustomed to fix his eyes and hopes upon another world, a future state of existence, "a more abiding city," "a tabernacle not of this building," his first care concerning the present state of things is to pass quietly and peaceably and innocently through it. Now this is the very disposition to be desired in human society; it is the disposition which keeps each man in his station, and what is more, keeps him contented with it. A man upon whom Christianity hath shed this temper can
never wish for disturbance, because he cannot wish to have that calm and even course of life broken up, by going on soberly and peaceably in which, he feels himself doing his duty, and feels from thence the highest of human satisfaction-that he is gradually making himself ready for, and advancing towards, his reward in heaven. He will not have his progress stopped, his journey interrupted. I will not say that no case of public provocation can happen which would move him; but it must be a case clear and strongit must be a species of necessity. He will not stir until he see a great and good end to be attained; and not indeed a certain, because nothing in human life is so, but a rational and practicable way of attaining it. Nothing extravagant, nothing chimerical, nothing in any considerable degree doubtful, will be deemed a sufficient reason with him for hazarding the loss of that tranquillity for which he earnestly, for himself at least, desires to pass the days of his sojourning here upon earth. Then as to all ambitious, aspiring views, which are the great annoyance of public peace and order, they are killed and excluded in the heart of a Christian. If he have any ambition, it is the silent ambition of pleasing his Maker: if he aspire to any thing, it is the hope-and yet even that a humble and subdued hope of salvation after his death. That religion, therefore, by its proper nature generates in the heart a disposition, though never adverse, but always friendly to public order and to good government, inasmuch as public order cannot be maintained