An Election Sermon
by Simeon Howard, A.M.
Sermon preached to the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, in Boston, June 7, 1773

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free." ( Galatians V:I)

Mankind are generally averse to innovations both in religion and government. Laws and constitutions to which they have been long used, they are fond of retaining, even though better are offered in their stead. This appeared in the Jews. Their law required a burdensome and expensive service: christianity set them free from this law. Nevertheless, many of them were desirous of continuing the observation of it, after they became christians; and of having the gentile converts also submit to it. Accordingly there were some Judaising teachers who endeavoured to persuade the Galatians to this submission. The Apostle, therefore, in this epistle, particularly in the immediately foregoing chapter, asserts and proves, that christians have nothing to do with the ceremonial law of the Jews, they being freed by Christ, from this burden. And then as an inference from what he had said, and by way of admonition to the Galatians, he subjoins the exhortation in the text; stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.

But though the words originally refer to that freedom from the Jewish law which the gospel confers on the church of God; yet the reason of the inference holds good in the case of any other real and valuable liberty which men have a right to: So that this observation is plainly deducible from the text: viz. that it is the duty of all men to stand fast in such valuable liberty, as providence has conferred upon them.

This observation I shall endeavour, by the help of God, to illustrate and improve: In order to which, I shall shew:

  • What I intend by that liberty in which men ought to stand fast.

  •  
  • In what way they ought to stand fast in this liberty, or what they may and ought to do in defence of it.

  •  
  • The obligations they are under to this duty.
  • After which, I shall subjoin some reflections, and apply the subject to the present occasion.
    I am to shew what is intended in this discourse by the liberty in which men ought to stand fast.
      Though this word is used in various senses, I mean by it here, only that liberty which is opposed to external force and constraint, and to such force and constraint only, as we may suffer from men. Under the term liberty, taken in this sense, may naturally be comprehended all those advantages which are liable to be destroyed by the art or power of men; every thing that is opposed to temporal slavery.

      This liberty has always been accounted one of the greatest natural blessings which mankind can enjoy. Accordingly, the benevolent and impartial Father of the human race, has given to all men a right, and to all naturally an equal right to this blessing.

      In a state of nature, or where men are under no civil government, God has given to every one liberty to pursue his own happiness in whatever way, and by whatever means he pleases, without asking the consent or consulting the inclination of any other man, provided he keeps within the bounds of the law of nature. Within these bounds, he may govern his actions, and dispose of his property and person, as he sees thinks proper. (See Locke on Government) Nor has any man, or any number of men, a right to restrain him in the exercise of this liberty, or punish, or call him to account for using it. This however is not a state of licentiousness, for the law of nature which bounds this liberty, forbids all injustice and wickedness; allows no man to injure another in his person or property, or to destroy his own life.

      But experience soon taught that, either thro' ignorance of this law, or the influence of unruly passions, some were disposed to violate it, by encroaching upon the liberty of others; so that the weak were liable to be greatly injured by the superior power of bad men, without any means of security or redress. This gave birth to civil society, and induced a number of individuals to combine together for mutual defence and security; to give up a part of their natural liberty for the sake of enjoying the remainder in greater safety; to agree upon certain laws among themselves to regulate the social conduct of each individual; or to intrust to one or more of their number, in whose wisdom and goodness they could confide, a power of making such laws and putting them in execution.

      In this state, the liberty which men have is all that natural liberty which has been mentioned, excepting what they have expressly given up for the good of the whole society; a liberty of pursuing their own happiness, governing their actions, and disposing of their property and persons as they think fit, providing they transgress no law of nature, and keep those restrictions which they have consented to come under.

      This liberty will be different in different communities. In every state, the members will, probably, give up so much of their natural liberty, as they think will be most for the good of the whole. But different states will judge differently upon this point; some will give up more, some less, though still with the same view, the publick good.

      And every society have doubtless a right to act according to their own judgment and discretion in this matter, this being only an exercise of that natural liberty in which all are found.

      When a society commits to one or a few a power to govern them, the general practice is to limit this power by certain prescribed rules and restrictions. But sometimes this is omitted, and it does not appear from any act of the people, but that the power, with which they have intrusted their rulers, is unlimited. In this case common sense will tell us that the power granted to rulers is to be limited by the great end and design of society and government; and he must be destitute of common sense, who does not know that this is the general good, the happiness and safety of the whole society. So that though a people should, through inadvertency, neglect to prescribe any bounds to the power of their rulers, this power would nevertheless be limited, and they would be at liberty to refuse submission to such restraints or laws, as were plainly inconsistent with the public good.

      There are some natural liberties or rights which no person can divest himself of, without transgressing the law of nature. A man cannot for instance, give up the liberty of private judgement in matters of religion, or convey to others a right to determine of what religion he shall be, and in what way he shall worship God. A grant of this nature would destroy the foundation of all religion in the man who made it, and must therefore be a violation of the law of nature; nor would he be obliged to abide by it, if in consequence of it, he should be required to act contrary to the dictates of his conscience. Or should a man pretend to grant to others a power to order and govern all his actions, that were not of a religious nature, so that in all cases he must act agreeable to their direction; this would be inconsistent with that submission which he owes to the authority of God, and his own conscience. The grant would be in itself void, and he would, notwithstanding, be at liberty to act according to his own conscience, though contrary to the command of those to whom he had made so extravagant a donation.

      Should therefore the legislature of a state make laws requiring the subjects to do things immoral, and which they knew to be so, such, for instance, as were apparently destructive of public happiness, though it was in consequence of an express grant of unlimited power, the subjects would be at liberty to refuse obedience, and not violate conscience or destroy their own happiness. So that only such laws of society as are not plainly inconsistent with the end of society, or, in any other respect, inconsistent with the law of nature, the eternal laws of morality, can restrain and limit the natural liberty of those who belong to it.

      It is to be further observed here, that states or communities, as such, have naturally the same liberty which individuals have in the state of nature: but this liberty is restrained, in some measure, by what are called the laws of nations, which are certain rules, that by a tacit consent are agreed upon among all communities, at least among those who are accounted the polite and civilized part of mankind. These, nations are not at liberty to violate.

      What has been said may be sufficient to shew what that liberty is in which men ought to stand fast. ln a state of nature it is all that liberty which is consistent with the law of nature, under civil government, it is all which is consistent with the law of nature, and with such restrictions as they have consented to come under consistently with the law of nature and the end of society: and when we consider one independent state in reference to another, it is all that natural liberty which is consistent with the laws of nations.

      And whatever share men enjoy of this liberty, we may properly say in the words of the text, that Christ has made them free with it: since after his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of the Majesty on high, all power in heaven and in earth was committed to him, and he now sits, and is to continue at the head of God's providential government, till he hath put all enemies under his feet, after which, he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father--that God may be all in all.

    I am in the next place to shew in what way men are to stand fast in their liberty, or what they may and ought to do in defence of it. All that now remains is to offer some reflections, and apply the subject to the present occasion.
      What has been said may serve to caution all against invading the liberty of others:-Whoever does this, obliges others to resist him: he puts himself into a state of war with them and is justly liable to all the evil which their necessary self-defence may bring upon him, And though he may think that his power is so great, and their's so little, that he can be in no danger from their resentment, the event may convince him of his mistake. Men, who have a just sense and value of liberty, will sometimes do wonders in its defence.

      "They have great odds
      Against the astonish'd sons of violence,
      Who fight with awful justice on their side."
      (Thompson. )


       


      Oppressors may indeed for a time, be successful and overcome all opposition, yet it seldom happens that they persevere in their injurious practice, without meeting with such resistance as causes their mischief to return upon their own heads, and their violent dealings to come down upon their own pates: It is an old observation, that few tyrants descend in peace to the grave. If therefore, the laws of God will not, a regard to their own safety, should restrain men from invading the rights of the innocent.

      If it be so important a duty for men to resist encroachments upon their liberty, then it cannot be improper for the christian minister, to inculcate this upon his hearers; to exhort them to be watchful over it, and ready to oppose all attempts against it. This is so far from being improper, that it is, I humbly conceive, his indispensible duty. Nor can I see how he could answer it to God or his own conscience, if, when he thought his country was in danger of being enslaved, for want of a proper sense of, and opposition to the approaches of tyranny, he should neglect to point out the danger, and with
       


      . . . "honest zeal to rouse the watchmen of the public weal."

      (Pope)


       


      It is readily owned, that designedly to spread false alarms, to fill the minds of people with groundless prejudices against their rulers, or a neighbouring state, to stir up faction and encourage opposition to good government, are things highly criminal, and whoever does thus, whatever character he may wear among men, is in reality a minister, not of Christ, but of the devil, the father of falshood, confusion and rebellion. But to shew people their real danger, point out the source of it, and exhort them to such exertions as are necessary to avoid it, are acts of benevolence becoming every disciple, and especially every professed minister of Christ.

      Since the preservation of public liberty depends so much upon a people's being possessed of the art of war; those who exert themselves to encourage and promote this art, act a laudable part, and are intitled to the thanks of their brethren. Upon this account, the company, which is the occasion of this solemnity, deserves to be esteemed honorable, though its institution were much less ancient than it is. And as this society has in former days furnished many brave men, who died worthily in defence of our country; so, from the spirit which at present prevails among the gentlemen who compose it, we doubt not but it will furnish others, whenever there shall be occasion for it. How far this institution, by exciting in others a spirit of imitation or emulation, has been the occasion of the present general attention to the military art among us, I pretend not to say: But whatever be the cause, it must give pleasure to every friend of public liberty, to see this people so generally engaged in military exercises. This argues a manly spirit, a sense of liberty, a just apprehension of its danger, a resolution to stand fast in it, and, as far as any thing in our power can do it, promises freedom to our country. We are not, I hope, insensible that peace is a great blessing, and, in itself, ever to be prefered to war; nor unthankful to Him who ruleth among the nations, the God of peace, for the enjoyment we have had of this blessing for a number of years past. But we have little reason to expect, however ardently we may wish, that this country will always be the habitation of peace. Ambition, avarice, and other unruly passions have a great hand in directing the conduct of most of the kingdoms of this world. British America is already become considerable among the European nations for its numbers, and their easiness of living; and is continually rising into greater importance. I will not undertake to decypher the signs of the times, or to say from what quarter we are most likely to be molested. But from the course of human affairs, we have the utmost reason to expect that the time will come, when we must either submit to slavery, or defend our liberties by our own sword. And this perhaps may be the case sooner than some imagine. No one can doubt but there are powers on the continent of Europe, that would be glad to add North-America to their dominions, and who, if they thought the thing practicable, would soon find a pretence for attempting it. The naval power of Great-Britain has been hitherto our chief security against invasions from that continent. But every thing belonging to the present state, is uncertain and fluctuating. Things may soon be in such a situation with Great-Britain, that it will be no longer proper for us to confide in her power, for the protection of our liberty. Our greatest security, under God, will be our being in a capacity to defend ourselves. Were we, indeed, sure that Great-Britain would always be both able and willing to protect us in our liberty, which from present appearances, we have little reason to expect, it would be shameful for so numerous a people as this, and a people of so much natural strength and fortitude, to be, thro' inattention to the art of war, incapable of bearing a part in their own defence. Such weakness must render them contemptible to all the world. British America, especially the northern part of it, is by its situation calculated to be a nursery of heroes. Nothing is wanting but our own care and application to make us, with the neighbouring colonies, a formidable people. And religion, honor, patriotism, and even self-love, all unite in demanding from us this application and care. This people, it may be presumed, will never of choice, keep among them a standing army in time of peace:

    Virtue, domestic peace, the insulted walls of our State-House, and even the once crimsoned stones of the street, all loudly cry out against this measure. But every well-wisher to the public, should countenance and encourage a military spirit among our militia through the province.

    Our political Fathers have it in their power to do much for this end; and we have a right to expect that, out of faithfulness to God and this people, they will not neglect it. From the countenance which his Excellency and the honorable Council shew to the military transactions of this day, we would gladly hope, that, they in conjunction with the other branch of the legislature, will, in this way, as well as others, prove themselves to be God's ministers for good to the people.

    It is also in the power of persons of rank and fortune, in their private capacity, greatly to promote this cause by their example and otherwise. It is highly absurd, though not uncommon, that those who have most to lose by the destruction of a state, should be least capable of bearing a part in its defence. Riches are frequently the main temptation to war. Where a people are all poor, there is little danger of their being invaded: So that there being men of affluence among a people, is often the cause of their being obliged to defend themselves by the sword. It is therefore especially their duty, as well as interest, to do what they can to put the people into a capacity of defence. When they spend their time in idleness, effeminating pleasures, or even in accumulating riches, to the total neglect of the art of war, and every measure to promote it, they act unbecoming good members of society, and set an example highly prejudicial to the community.

    Whereas when gentlemen of fortune, notwithstanding the allurements of pleasure on the one hand, and the fatiguing exercise of a soldier on the other, exert themselves to acquire and promote the military art, they are an honor to their circumstances, and a blessing to the public: Their example will have great influence upon others; and, other things being equal, such men will be most likely to fight valiantly in defence of their liberty, whenever it shall be necessary. By such a conduct, they shew their regard to their country, in a way that will probably be much more beneficial to it, than merely talking, writing, or preaching in favor of liberty. And it ought to be esteemed as no inconsiderable evidence, among many others, of a public, truly patriotic spirit in the honorable gentleman (The Hon. John Hancock, Esq;) who leads his Excellency's company of Cadets, that he has so chearfully endured the fatigue of qualifying himself to be a good officer, and, by his generous exertions in conjunction with their own, rendered his company an honour to the town, to their commanders and themselves. This company in general, is indeed an example of what I was urging; of gentlemen of easy circumstances giving proper attention to the art of war, and is on that account the more respectable and important. . . . May this spirit still revive and prevail through the province, till this whole people become as considerable for their skill in arms, as they are for their natural strength and courage. The gentlemen who are engaged in acquiring this art will remember that the true end of it is only defence; that it is to be employed, not to destroy, but to protect and secure the liberty and happiness of mankind; not to infringe the rights of others, but to defend their own. While, therefore they endeavor to resemble such men as Alexander and Caesar in military skill and valour, they will detest the principles from which they acted, in invading and distressing inoffensive people. For though they have been honored with the name of heroes, they were, in reality, public robbers and murderers.

    They will also remember that the most desirable liberty, and which we should be ready to defend, is that of a well governed society, which is as essentially different from that licentiousness, which is without law or government, as it is from an absolute subjection to the arbitrary will of another. This is the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free; to which he has given us a right. While, therefore, these gentlemen will be always ready to stand forth in defence of true civil liberty, whenever they shall see her assaulted, and be properly called upon; they will never on any consideration be prevailed with, to employ their arms for the destruction of good government, by aiding either tyranny on the one hand, or licentiousness on the other.

    But above all they will remember, that religion is the main concern of man, and a necessary qualification for a good soldier. This, beyond any thing else, inspires with the love of liberty, with fortitude and magnanimity, and this alone can enable them to meet death with a rational composure and tranquility of mind, which is an enemy before which the bravest soldier must fall at last.

    To conclude: This whole assembly will bear in mind that there is another and more valuable kind of liberty, than that to which the foregoing discourse more immediately relates, and which, at this day, so generally employs our attention and conversation; a liberty, which consists in being free from the power and dominion of sin, through the assistance of the divine spirit, concurring with our own pious, rational and persevering endeavours. Whatever our outward circumstances may be, if we are destitute of this spiritual liberty, we are in reality slaves, how much soever we may hate the name; if we possess it we are free indeed: And our being free in this sense, will give us the best grounds to hope for temporal freedom, through the favour of heaven; and, at length, gain us admission into the regions of perfect and uninterrupted liberty, peace and happiness.

    Quantcast