Samuel Dunbar (1704–1783). After obtaining two degrees from Harvard College, in 1727 Dunbar settled, and was to remain, at the First Church in Stoughton, Massachusetts. An animated and forceful preacher, Dunbar was at odds with the revivalism of the Great Awakening and maintained the Calvinist orthodoxy of his mentor, Cotton Mather. “Inasmuch as he believed there was one, and only one, redeeming way to worship God, he preached outspokenly against Jewish dogma, Catholic grace, Antinomian morality, Arminian ecumenical salvation, and Deistic rationalism. In general, he preached against any organization that upheld free will and ignored or downplayed the concepts of original sin and the doctrine of the elect” (Bryan R. Brown in American Writers Before 1800, p. 491). He wrote over 8,000 sermons in his long career but published only nine of them, including an artillery sermon in 1748, the election sermon of 1760 reprinted here, and the convention sermon of 1769.
In 1755 Dunbar served as chaplain with the troops at Crown Point in the British victory over the French at Lake George. He was called the Son of Thunder by his funeral eulogist, the Reverend Jason Haven, because he had powerfully supported the patriot cause in the Revolution.
This election sermon was preached before Governor Thomas Pownall, the lieutenant governor, the council, and the house of representatives of Massachusetts on May 28, 1760. The brackets in this sermon indicate text that was omitted in delivery.
And the Spirit of God came upon Azariah, the son of Oded. And he went out to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin, The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.
2 Chron. XV. 1, 2.
The occasion of this divine message to King Asa, and his army, was the compleat victory, which, thro’ help of God, and in answer to humble, believing prayer, they had very lately obtained over the huge and formidable army of Aethiopians, who had invaded their territories. Asa, as a wise and martial prince, led forth his army to put a stop to their progress, and set the battle in array: and, as a godly and religious prince, sought to God for help and success. He led them into the field of battle to fight; before the battle, he led them to the throne of grace to pray, to obtain mercy, and find grace to help them, in this time of need and danger. He lift up a cry to God, e’re he gave the shout for the battle: That battle, that work is begun well, and like to succeed well, which is prefaced with holy, humble prayer. Asa cried unto the Lord his God: It was a cry of faith, rather than of fear. His prayer was short, but fervent; a prayer of faith, effectual and prevalent: it entred into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, found a gracious acceptance, and obtained divine help. God fought for them; and by them; gave their enemies a total overthrow. Thro’ faith and prayer, out of weakness, they were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, and put to flight this vast army of aliens.
Something similar have been the exercise, the practice, and the experience of the people of God in these British American provinces and colonies. Envious and ambitious enemies made encroachments upon our king’s territories, and erected several strong forts in them, to enable them to keep what they had got, and to win more. To oppose their further progress, and to drive them off from their unjust possessions, we mustered, and sent forth our forces; and our gracious sovereign, pitying us, sent brave troops to assist us; but we, not trusting to an arm of flesh, not to our numbers nor strength, not to our sword nor bow, like godly Asa, cried to the Lord our God; we fasted and wept, and made supplication to him; and, blessed be God, he turned not away our prayer nor his mercy from us; but has maintained our right, and given us a series of signal successes.
King Asa, and his victorious army were now returning in triumph, from the field of battle, to Jerusalem, laden and enrich’d with the spoils of their enemies: doubtless greatly affected with the goodness of God, for the victory they had won: their tho’ts might be much employed as to the advantages, they should make of it, to the kingdom. Perhaps they might also be too much disposed to applaud themselves and one another, for their skill, and bravery, and success, and so take to themselves that glory, which was due to God: however these things were, God sent a prophet to meet them, and to deliver them a message from him.
The manner of the prophet’s address was plain, and earnest, and authoritative: he used no pompous titles of honour, no fulsome compliments, no ceremonious congratulations, nor flattering applauses. He came upon a more important errand, and with a holy zeal and vehemency delivered it: nor did he in a mean servile manner, beg leave to speak, or savour to be heard: but, coming in the name of God, and with a message from him, he demanded their reverent attention: Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. When God speaks by the mouth of a prophet, it becomes the greatest men, the highest in dignity and power, to attend with the deepest humility and reverence, to hear what God the Lord has to say unto them: considering that, how high soever they are above other men, they are infinitely more beneath the most high God: nor should they take it in disdain, if God’s prophet, at such a time, give them not those honorary titles, which other men do.
The message was partly monitory to them of their duty and interest: The Lord is with you, while ye are with him, and if ye seek him, he will be found of you: and partly minatory; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you: and partly memorative, to call afresh to their minds, that, before the battle, they were with God, in humble fervent prayer, and in the battle God was with them by his providence and power: before the battle they sought God, in the battle God was a present help: they prayed, God heard; they believed, and were established, were prospered: the victory they had gained, was owing more to God’s presence and blessing, than to their prowess and swords. From the experience they had had of God’s being with them, in the way of mercy and help, while they were with him, in the way of duty and trust, he shewed them what their duty and interest still were, even still to be with God, and he will still be with them. Their enemies were worsted, either fled or destroyed: there was no more war in the land: yet still they needed the divine presence and blessing, to direct their national affairs, and to prosper their public concerns: he let them know, that the continuance of God’s gracious presence with them, depended upon their dutiful presence with him: and assured them from God, that so long as they should be with God, God would be with them; but withal assured them, that if they forsook God, God would in like manner, forsake them. As they behaved towards God, in respect of duty and obedience, God would deal with them, in respect of the ways of providence.
This divine message, I humbly conceive, is seasonable, and instructive to us, in our circumstances, as it was to them, in their’s.
The experience, which we, the Lord’s people, in this land, have had, of the happiness of engaging and enjoying the presence of God with our armies, should make us careful not to forfeit it by any sinful departure from God; and conscientious in our abiding with God, that he may still abide with us. Still we have need of the divine presence and help: we have not yet put off the harness, nor has our land rest from war. Again our troops are gone forth, and we may expect to hear of garments roll’d in blood. The presence of God is as necessary for the success of our arms this year, as it was the last: and if God go forth with our armies, they will be prospered.
As to the expert, the indefatigable, the magnanimous general, who led on his valiant army to battle last year; and that under the greatest disadvantages, and with the utmost difficulty and hazzard, but with an invincible resolution and courage, and a superior conduct, against the vastly greater number of his enemies; and who quickly scattered destruction among them, put them to the rout, and chased them before him: this super-eminent general, the glorious Wolfe, can be with us no more; he greatly fell in the last and conquering battle, and died in the bed of honour, fighting like an hero, in the service of his king, and in the defence of his subjects. But tho’ Wolfe, the dear, the brave, the bold, leader of his troops, can no more stand in the front of the battle, nor give his orders, nor by his words and example, fire their spirits, and make them undaunted, amidst the terrors and tumults of the fight; yet God lives, and still we may have his favourable presence; this is infinitely more, infinitely better: this made our slain general, such an every way accomplished one: this can raise up, and give us other generals, of equal skill and conduct, of equal zeal and fidelity, of equal fortitude and success. And if God be with our troops, we may hope he will: yea, blessed be God, he has: tho’ one is taken, another is left: a general who enjoyed the presence of God with him, in the reduction of Louisbourg, the pride and trust of our enemies, a general, whose very name struck such terror into them, the last year, that they quickly abandoned their strong forts, at his approach, and betook themselves to inglorious flight—Amherst, the wary, the valiant, the victorious, is still left unto us.
The presence of God is equally necessary and beneficial, for the governour, as the general; for the court, as the camp; for the field of husbandry, as the field of battle; in peace, as in war; and for the wise and successful management of affairs at home, as abroad: and our enjoyment of it turns upon our being with God.
There are two heads of discourse before me; viz. 1. That the presence of God with his people, is their only safety and happiness. 2. That their enjoying the presence of God with them, depends upon their being with God.
I.The presence of God with his People, is their only safety and happiness.
The presence of God may be considered, as his natural and essential presence: this is general and universal, absolutely necessary for upholding in being, all creatures, in all worlds. In respect of this, God is the God of all the earth, and has the absolute ordering and disposing of all things, in the kingdoms of men, according to his own will, with sovereign dominion, and irresistible power. Or, as his glorious, and majestick presence, which is peculiar to the heavenly world: there God dwells in the habitation of his holiness, and sits upon the throne of his glory: angels standing in his presence, & doing homage: or, as his judicial, vindictive presence, by which the damned in hell are punished with everlasting destruction, from the glory of his power—or, as his spiritual, gracious presence: which is peculiar to his church and saints in this world: this accomplishes for them, the everlasting purposes of his grace and mercy in Jesus Christ, and blesses them with all spiritual blessings, in heavenly things in him—or, as his special providential presence, which also is peculiar to his professing people: in respect of this, he is with them, sometimes in judicial dispensations, correcting them for, and recovering them from their degeneracies from him, and the ways of holiness: and sometimes in merciful dispensations, prospering them in their public concerns, and giving them all outward blessings richly to enjoy: health in their habitations, plenty in their substance, peace in their borders; and in case of war, success to their arms.
This favourable providential presence of God with his people, considered as a people, is that presence of God, which the text more especially, if not only, relates to. This God vouchsafes to them, for the sake of Christ, the great mediator, thro’ whom he comes nigh to them, and they are made nigh to him.
The safety and peace, the prosperity and happiness of God’s people, depends wholly upon this presence of God with them. This performs many great and distinguishing acts of kindness and mercy for them: for where God is thus with his people, he is for them, espouses their cause, consults their welfare, and promotes their happiness. His right hand, and his arm, and the light of his countenance, do great things for them, because he has a favour to them.
This presence of God with his people preserves them in their greatest sufferings & dangers: when like a bush on fire, flames threaten them with immediate destruction, they are not consumed: but according to the greatness of God’s power and pity, he preserves them, when to themselves they seem appointed to perish. By this, the three Jewish worthies were preserved, in the midst of the burning fiery furnace; and Daniel in the lions den; in the mount the Lord is seen.
This delivers them, in their lowest and most desperate circumstances. When they are surrounded with difficulties and dangers, and reduced to the greatest streights: when they have neither wisdom to contrive, nor power to effect, any way of escape, but, as to any visible means, all hope of being saved is gone; now is God’s times to work: Now will I arise, saith the Lord, and set them in safety. Providence wonderfully steps in, and opens a door of hope and help to them. So it did for Israel in delivering them from Egyptian bondage: then God went forth for the salvation of his people: yea, he rode upon his horses and chariots of salvation, made speed to help and save them. Miraculous appearances and operations of providence, for the deliverance of God’s oppressed, endangered people, may not now be expected; yet God has very strange and unthought of ways, to accomplish deliverance for them: as we see, in the deliverance of God’s people, from their Babylonish captivity, and also in the days of Esther.
This lays restraint upon their envious and malicious enemies: sometimes upon their spirits; tho’ they envy them their enjoyments, and would fain deprive them of them, they cannot find an heart to do it. Thus tho’ the enemies of Israel coveted the good land, God had given them, yet when all the males went up to the feast of the Lord, to Jerusalem, and left their borders exposed to their incursions and depredations, God put such a restraint upon their spirits, that no man then desired their land. When a man’s, when a people’s, ways please the Lord, he maketh even their enemies to be at peace with them. Sometimes upon their tongues; that not so much as a dog shall move his tongue against them: as Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, tho’ hired with great rewards, could not curse Israel—and sometimes upon their hands; tho’ they seemingly have them in their power, and are provoked enough to destroy them, and have resolved to do it, yet their hands are, as it were, bound; they cannot execute their bloody purposes. So, when the sons of Jacob, treacherously and cruelly murdered the Shechemites, the terror of God was upon the cities round about, that they should not pursue after them, nor avenge themselves upon them.
This defeats the mischievous plots and devices of their enemies against them. When their enemies conspire their ruin, and dig deep to hide their counsels; and when they imagine, they have brought their matters to bear, and are confident of their success, providence lays rubs in their way, and frustrates their machinations: their deep-lay’d plots, and long laboured schemes prove abortive: and God’s people escape, as a bird out of the snare of the fowler. Thus Haman’s plot for the destruction of God’s people, ended in disappointment: and so did the horrible, the hellish powder-plot in the English nation, intended to blow up at once, and in a moment, the king and Parliament: when it was ripened, and just upon the point of execution, it was strangely discovered, and timously prevented. Yea, Providence often brings that mischief, upon the enemies of God’s people, which they devised and intended against them: they are snared in the work of their own hands, and their designed mischief returns upon their own heads. So Haman handfell’d the gallows, he had prepared for Mordecai.
This supplies them, with the comforts of life, so that they want no good thing. This gives them rain in due season and measure: makes their fields, such as the Lord has blessed, to yield their fruits in plenty; so that their barns are filled with substance, their presses burst out with new wine, and their garners are full, affording all manner of store; they have plenty, variety, dainties. If at any time they seem to be cut short, and fear want of bread, and cleanness of teeth, the good providence of God finds out ways for their supply, and prevents them with the blessings of goodness. It was a wonderful work of God, for Israel in the wilderness, a land not sown, that for forty years together, they had supplies brought them, from day to day.
This directs them in all their darkness, and points out to them, the path of duty, the way of safety. When in some critical conjunctures, they are wholly at a loss, and, like Jehoshaphat, know not what to do; when they are perplexed in their minds, and hem’d in on every side with difficulties and perils, and can see no way to surmount, or escape them, providence, by some unexpected turns, opens a new scene, and shews them plainly the way, wherein they should go. God often gives his people direction, as to their present duty and safety, by an uncommon coincidence of things in providence; so that whoso is wise, and observes them, may understand the loving-kindness of the Lord. So God guided his people in the wilderness, and led them in a right way, in all their removes.
This protects them, from all enemies and dangers, and is as a wall of fire, round about them, to keep them from harm. When their enemies confederate against them, unite their counsels to deceive them, and their forces to destroy them, and thunder out their boasts and threats to terrify them; and when they themselves are sensible of their own inability to withstand, or defeat them, and, according to human view, must fall sacrifices to their rage and cruelty; then God repents him for his servants when he sees they have no power: then providence undertakes for them, interposes, and powerfully protects them: their enemies are scattered in the imagination of their hearts, and their hands are not able to execute their purposes and threats: So God defended Jerusalem from the numerous army, and proud threatnings of the Assyrian monarch. So God saved England in former days from the formidable Armada of the Spaniards, and the last year from the threatned, and perhaps really intended, invasion of the French: and but a few years ago, he saved New-England from the powerful armament of their French enemies, who came into these American seas. The ancient famous cloud, the symbol of God’s presence, served to Israel, for protection, as well as direction. God’s presence is to his people, a sun and a shield; a shield to defend them, as well as a sun to comfort and direct them.
This gives them success, in all their affairs. Success doth not constantly follow the probability of second causes. The Race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Oft-times the best human counsels are turned into foolishness, the wisest measures are disconcerted, the greatest preparations brought to nothing, and the cunningest politicians befooled; while on the other hand, weak and contemptible means are prospered, and the most improbable, meet with the greatest success. This is entirely owing to the divine governing providence. But when God is present with his people, he orders all things well for them, and prospers all their lawful undertakings. The smiles of God upon them, make every thing flourishing—God’s presence makes their land healthful, their fields fruitful, their merchandize gainful, and their armies successful: as in this last instance, we see by the great victory Asa obtained over his enemies—and may see in the repeated victories of our English fleets and armies, over our French enemies—and in the admirable success of our arms, in this quarter of the world, by the reduction of so many of the strong and important fortresses of our enemies, and even of their capital city.
This repairs the ruins, brought upon them, by the judgments of providence. When God’s professing people forsake him, apostatize from his worship, and live in a presumptuous disobedience to his laws, it is necessary, for the vindication of the righteousness and holiness and honour of the divine government, that God testify his displeasure against them, and punish them, with judicial dispensations. And when he doth this, he often breaks them with breach upon breach, till he brings them very low. But he means not to make a full end of them, but to renew them to repentance, and to recover them from their declensions. When therefore they repent, and turn to him that smites them, he becomes to them a repairer of the breaches, and a restorer of paths to dwell in: and builds them up, as he had pluckt them down. Thus did he to his ancient people: he raised up the tabernacle of David, that was fallen, and closed up the breaches thereof, and raised up the ruins thereof, and built them as in the days of old. So did he by the great city, London, when, an hundred years ago, great part of it was laid in rubbish by devouring flames—so did he by this great town, Boston, when, near forty nine years since, this part of it, and the meeting-house, which stood in this place, and the town-house, and many other buildings along this street, on both sides of it, were laid in ashes. God being graciously present with his people, the ruins in a few years were repaired, and that with great advantage and splendor—and so will he again the dreadful desolations, made in it by the late fire, if he be graciously present with them.
This turns all the evils they meet with into real kindnesses to them. Providence has a vast reach, and by seemingly contrary methods, promotes the good of God’s people: and when they are ready to say, all these things are against us, they are meant for good, tend to it, and terminate in it. So the Lord being with Joseph, all the hard things he met with, were the direct way to his future preferment and greatness. So God sent some of his people into captivity, in the land of the Chaldeans, for their good. So the repeated disasters we met with, in the beginning of this war, have been over-ruled for our advantage. God brings his people low, in order to exalt them the higher.
Finally, This favourable providential presence of God with his people, builds his house, and appoints the ordinances of his worship, among them. Where God is with his people, and walks among them, he sets his tabernacle among them, as he did among his people Israel. He institutes symbols of his gracious spiritual presence with them, to be means of keeping up a spiritual communion with him, and of conveying spiritual blessings to them; that so the common blessings of providence may be sanctified to them, by the special blessings of grace.
These are some of the special providential favours, which God bestows upon his people, according to their varied circumstances, when he is graciously present with them. Upon a review of them, who will not say with the renowned Jewish lawgiver, What nation is there so great, who has God so nigh unto them in all things that we call upon him for? Happy art thou, O Israel, who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and the sword of thine excellency? And with the devout king of Israel, Happy is that people, that is in such a case; yea happy is that people, whose God is the Lord. What wise people would not desire to be, and to continue, such a happy people? to know the means, and use them, to be such?
This brings me to the second head of discourse, viz.
[II.] That God’s people’s enjoyment of this favourable providential presence of God with them, depends upon their being with God.
The text assures us, that this is the only way to this felicity: The Lord is with you, while ye are with him, and no longer; for if ye forsake him, he will forsake you. Their obediential presence with God is the only condition, the only qualification of God’s gracious providential presence with them.
All men, even they, who know not God, and are without God in the world, are yet with God, i.e. in his presence, under his inspection, and the government of his providence. They are encompassed with the divine immensity, and in God they live, and move, and have their being. But as God’s presence with his people signifies something more, than his essential presence, and universal providence, even his voluntary, chosen, and gracious presence, so their presence with God, signifies something else, and something more, than this natural and necessary presence with him, even their voluntary, chosen, and dutiful presence. Their presence with God must correspond to his presence with them, be as a kind of counterpart to it; and answer to it, as the wax to the seal.
As God’s being with his people is his being for them, taking care of them, and dispensing favours to them; so their being with God, is their being for God, owning his cause, pursuing his interest, doing his will, and advancing his glory. God’s gracious providential presence with them performs great acts of favour for them, and their obediential presence with God, lies in performing religious duties to him. It implies in it, their keeping covenant with God. Their covenant relation to God constitutes them his peculiar people: and brings them into a state of nearness to him; for they, that are strangers from the covenant, are afar off from God: and their keeping covenant with God, being stedfast in it, abstaining from all sins forbidden, and doing all required duties, believing all revealed truths, and walking in all the commandments & ordinances of the Lord; and in all designing his glory, is their being with God. So also is their eying God in all providential dispensations. When they look thro’ second causes, and above visible instruments, and see the sovereign providence of God in all events, and adore the divine wisdom & goodness, power and righteousness, truth and faithfulness, in them, and compose themselves to a behaviour, comporting with them, they are with God. When they express a dutiful submission to, and a fiducial dependance upon God in all their wants, and fears, & dangers: when they maintain a prayerful frame of spirit, seeking of God the supply of their wants, direction in their streights, deliverance from their dangers, protection from their enemies, and other judgments, success in their enterprizes, and a blessing upon their labours: when they excite themselves to a thankful praising God for all his benefits: when they endeavour a wise and good improvement of all God’s dealings towards them: and when they conscienciously walk in obedience to his commands: then may they be said to be with God, and not to forsake him.
God’s people being thus with him, God will be with them. Not as if their being with God merited his being with them. By no means: for after all, they are unprofitable servants: and there are so many sinful imperfections attending them, in their abiding with God, such as, distrust and impatience, carnal confidence and undue dependance upon themselves or others, or means, neglect of humble believing prayer, or of holy thankful praises, that God might justly withdraw from them, and deny them his gracious presence. But, these infirmities notwithstanding, his people may humbly hope for his presence & blessing; for God is not strict to mark iniquity, where he sees sincerity.
This hope they may build upon the gracious promise of God: the text carries the emphasis of a promise in it: and God expresly promised his people, that if they would walk in his statutes, and keep his commandments, and do them, i.e. if they would be with him, he would walk among them, and be their God: i.e. would be graciously with them. This promise God has ever made good to his people: they ever found that, when they were with God in the way of duty, God was with them in the way of providential mercy: and God will not now suffer his faithfulness to fail.
Besides, the great concernment of God’s glory secures his favourable presence with them, while they are with him. Should God forsake his people, while they keep near to him; should he deny them the blessings, and load them with the judgments, of providence, while they are faithful in his covenant, and stedfast, and unmoveable, and always abounding in works of obedience to him; the wicked world would take occasion to blaspheme his name, as well as insult his people. They would say, Where is now your God? and upbraid them with his want of love to them, or care of them, or power to help them. Therefore, for the glory of his great name, he will not forsake them, while they abide with him. God’s glory is his supreme end; and the advancement of this is the great design, he is carrying on in the world.
What remains is an application; which I shall attempt, by way of address to several orders of men amongst us. My incapacity for, as well as my unacquaintedness with, polite, courtly address, and its unsuitableness to my function, and the sacred desk, will, I trust, obtain an easy pardon, for my plainness of speech; and the example of our prophet, I conceive, will justify me in it.
As your Excellency is, as yet, in the first and chief seat of government over us, justice and decency require me, in the first place, to direct an address to you: an address of a minister of Jesus Christ, reminding of duty, and exciting to it.
It was the providence of God, which advanced you to the exalted station, you are now in. God is the judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another; he removes one, and replaces another. You are indeed greatly indebted to the king, for his royal favour and commission, but more to God, for the king’s heart was in the hand of the Lord. God, by his special providence, was with you in your exaltation: and from the addresses of both houses of the last assembly, and from the addresses of the freeholders and merchants of this metropolis, in which they bear public, and most honourable, testimonies to your Excellency’s administration, in respect of the wisdom and integrity, the clemency and tenderness of it, and of your constant views to the public good, and the spirited and successful measures you have taken to promote it; and of your tender care of our trade; we gather, that God has been with you in your administration, as he was with young King Solomon, to give you a wise and understanding heart, to rule and judge his people: and from the favour you have found in the sight of the king, in your preferment to a more advantageous command, we see, that God is still with you. Oh, doth not this favourable providential presence of God, which you have so evidently enjoyed, lay you under the strongest obligations to be, and to abide with God, in all the duties of religion, and in all the important affairs of your government?
Duty and gratitude to the king’s majesty, for his repeated royal favours to you, worldly policy, and self-interest, oblige you to be often with him, by your letters, to his great ministers, to know his royal pleasure, to receive his instructions and orders, and to acquaint him with the state and affairs of his subjects. Do not duty and gratitude to the most high God, for providential favours to you; and do not spiritual wisdom, & your best interest, equally, at least, oblige you to be with him, for the continuance, and increase of political and divine wisdom, for the right management in your high office, & great trust, and for procuring his blessing to your self, and your administration? Sir, you are equally God’s minister, as the king’s governour.
Our gracious sovereign, like godly King Asa, is with God, as we gather from his royal pious proclamations: with God, in humble supplications, to implore his blessing & help: with God, in thankful praises, to give him the glory of his favours: and we see that God is with him, as he was with Asa, in the remarkable success, he hath given to his fleets and armies, and the great victories, which by them he has obtained over his proud enemies, in one part of the world and another. This pious example of the king, is worthy the closest imitation of his representative.
Your relation to us, as our governour, will soon cease: but you will need the divine presence, for a worthy and successful conduct, in the government you are appointed to; especially as it is embarrass’d with peculiar difficulties and dangers from perfidious and bloody Indians. Would you have the gracious presence of God go along with you, and abide with you; you must then be with God.
If you are with God, acknowledge your dependence upon him, put your trust in him, supplicate his direction and blessing, and design his glory: God will be with you, to support you under the public burdens, to guide you by his counsel, to make you faithful in your trust, to defend you from enemies, if any you have, to prosper your administration, to make you acceptable to the king, and to your people; to think upon you for good, and to reward you for your faithful services to his people. God’s presence with you will add lustre to your dignity; this will command reverence to your person, and obedience to your government. And what is infinitely more and better, than even this gracious providential presence of God with you, if by faith and prayer, and a holy life, you are with God, God will vouchsafe to you, his gracious spiritual presence, and bless you with spiritual blessings: and when you die out of this world (for tho’ you are an earthly God, you must die like a man), he will, thro’ the merits of Christ, receive you into his immediate glorious presence in heaven, and bestow inconceivably higher honours on you there, than ever he did in this world: he will set you upon a more glorious throne, & crown you with a richer crown, than even your royal master himself is now possessed of.
[But it is fit, and safe to be told the worst, as well as best: therefore permit me, sir, in patience, and without offence, to add, what our prophet said to a great king, his own king, and a godly king; if you forsake God, which God forbid, he will forsake you: if you neglect and reject him, he will do so by you; and make as light account of you, as you can of him. Yea, and as was threatned to a great prince, tho’ you were the signet upon his right hand, he would pluck you thence, and cast you off for ever; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it, and spake it to the chief ruler of his people; Them that honour me, I will honour: and they, that despise me, shall be lightly esteemed. Wherefore, let king David’s advice, or rather charge, to his royal son and successor, be acceptable to you, and his arguments, have their due weight: And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart, and a willing mind; if thou seek him, he will be found of thee, but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.]
Your removal, excellent sir, from this seat of government, will be in a short time: The ancient form of blessing was, The Lord be with thee. A greater blessing we cannot wish you, than that God’s presence may go with you, when he carries you hence. This blessing we wish you, this day, out of the house of the Lord.
In the next place, I shall offer an address, to the honourable, his majesty’s council, and the House of Representatives; and that with a like plainness of speech.
God, in his providence, has devolved upon you a great share, as of the honours, so of the cares and burdens of the government: you are as the eyes and hands of this people, to see and to act for them. You are entrusted with our most valuable priviledges, civil and religious: and, according to your management of them, we are like to be a happy or miserable people. Very important therefore, is your trust and your work; and requires superior intellectual and moral endowments for the faithful discharge and performance of the same. Will you not then be with God, who saith, counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: with God, who giveth wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding. It was the wisdom, honour and safety of Judah, that Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints. It will be no less your’s, to be and to do so to.
You are piously beginning the great affairs of the year with God, in the religious exercises of his house, into which you have called us. Your care must be to be with God in the court-house too; or your being with him here will be but base hypocritical flattery, and an affront to that God, who will not be mocked.
Would you be with God in the elections of the present day, you must, according to your best judgment, choose such as God will approve. As to us your subjects, you are at liberty to choose into the king’s council whom you please: not so as to God. He has given you the character of those, that shall rule his people, and a charge to make choice of such: you are therefore bound in conscience to God, as well as honour to the king, and fidelity to this people, to do your best to elect such; and to provide out of all the people, able men, men of sense and substance; such as fear God; men of virtue and piety; men of truth, hating coveteousness; men of fidelity, generosity, and a public spirit: for the God of Israel has said, and the rock of Israel spake; he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.
If, in the elections of this day, you have no regard to the intellectual powers, moral characters and qualifications of men: if from fear or favour, from party spirit or any sinister views, you knowingly make choice of those who want them; you will forsake God, and act without, or rather against, him; and give him just occasion to complain of you, as of his people of old; they have set up kings, but not by me, not by my direction and order, nor according to my will: they have made princes, and I knew it not: I approved it not. In this case, can you expect God’s gracious presence with you? and if you forsake God the first day, and in the chief business of the day; and which has such an interesting influence upon all the succeeding businesses of the year, will it not bode ill to you, and to your people? But we hope better things; and that, as you are, now, and here, beginning with God, you will abide with him thro’ the important elections of the day; and also thro’ all the future sessions of the year; and that in the great & weighty affairs, that come before you, you will seek to God for that knowledge, that will make you understanding in the times, and enable you to know the true interests of your people, and the best methods to promote them; and for that fidelity and resolution, that will embolden you to pursue them, and for the divine blessing to prosper them.
Should you, from a vain conceit of your own wisdom and sufficiency, forsake God, and ask neither his counsel nor blessing; or do it only in a formal, customary, complimental manner; you may justly fear, that God will forsake you, turn you over into the hands of your own counsels, leave you to the darkness & lusts of your own minds, mingle a perverse spirit in the midst of you, suffer parties to be formed, dissentions to prevail, and passion, self-interest, and a party spirit, rather than reason, justice, and a public spirit, to influence and govern you. In this case, your counsels will be carried headlong; and, in all probability, be extreamly prejudicial, if not fatal, to the common-wealth.
God will be with you, in your assemblies, whether you be with him or no: judicially, if not graciously. He will be an inspecter, an observer, a judge. However unaccountable you may be to your people, you must give account to him. Bear it in mind then, and act under the solemn realizing thought of it, that God standeth in the congregation of the mighty: He judgeth among the Gods.
Would it not be tho’t, without the limits of my present call, I would, in a few words, address the honourable the judges in our courts of judicature, and the honoured the justices in our towns and counties.
The names, the estates, the liberties, and even the lives of the subjects, are deeply interested in your judgments: high is your office, awful is your work: and in some cases, attended with peculiar difficulties, perhaps temptations. You need not only the laws of the land for your directory, but wisdom, fidelity and courage, to make a right and just application of them. You are to hear the cause of your brethren, and to judge righteously, between every man and his brother; not to respect persons in judgment, but to hear the small as well as the great; and not be afraid of the faces of men; for the judgment is the Lord’s. You must take heed, therefore, what you do; for you judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore be you with God, and let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Put on righteousness, and let it cloath you, and your judgment will be as a robe, and a diadem: your greatest comfort, your brightest ornament. God will own and honour you; men will fear and reverence you. But if you forsake God in the judgment, and judge after the sight of your eyes, respect persons and not causes, receive bribes, use partiality, justify the wicked, and condemn the righteous, you will be an abomination to the Lord, and the abhorrence of his people.
Remember, sirs, that tho’ now you sit upon the bench, you must one day stand at the bar. If you have been with God in the judgment, and studied to do justice, to discountenance vice, and to encourage vertue, you will be acquitted in the great audit day; and Christ, the judge, will confer inexpressible honour upon you; will take you to be assessors with him, and you shall judge the world, yea angels. But, if you have forsaken God, and been unjust judges, wo unto you, a more severe & tremendous sentence will be past upon you, than you ever past upon the most flagitious criminal. Now therefore, be instructed, ye judges of the earth, and serve the Lord with fear.
The text leads me particularly to address the gentlemen of the military order and life: but, as they have willingly, and generously offered themselves, to the service, and defence of their country, and are gone to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord, against the mighty, and to jeopard their lives in the high places of the field, I forbear—only let our hearts be towards them, our good wishes follow them, and our fervent prayers be to God for them.
My reverend fathers and brethren, will not, I trust, take it amiss, if, upon this occasion, one of the least, and most unworthy, of their order, presumes, by a word of address, to stir up their pure minds by way of remembrance; notwithstanding we expect a sermon to morrow: for even we have need of line upon line.
My fathers and brethren,
God, in his providence, has seperated us, from the congregation of his people, to come near to him, to stand before him, and to minister in the holy things of his house. To us are committed the oracles of God, the ministry of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and the charge of precious souls: And who is sufficient for these things? Of all men in the world, we have need to be with God, and to give our selves to prayer, imploring his spirit, to give us a spiritual understanding in the mysteries of the gospel, & to lead us into all truth: his presence, to animate us in our holy work, and to carry us above all the discouragements we meet with, from the carnality and unbelief of our own hearts, from the temptations of satan, from the little visible success of our labours, from the unkindness of our people, and from the oppositions of an ungodly world: his help, to support us under our burdens, and to strengthen us to make full proof of our ministry: and his blessing upon our labours, that we may preach so, as to save our selves, and them that hear us. We had need be with God in our preaching, that we deliver to our people none other things than what we have received from the Lord, and plainly taught in his word; that we keep back nothing that is profitable, nor shun to declare the whole counsel of God: and that we do not offer to the Lord that which cost us nothing, nor utter rashly before him, the sudden, undigested conceptions of our minds. We should be with God in our lives, and like Noah that antediluvian preacher of righteousness, walk with God, and be exemplary in faith and purity, and all the vertues of a holy life; that all may take knowledge of us, that we have been, and are with God. If we are thus with God, we may hope, he will be graciously present with us, to assist, instruct, encourage, and succeed us, in our ministerial work. We have that gracious promise of our divine Master to rely upon, and plead, Lo, I am with you always: and when we have served our generation, according to his will, and are not suffered to continue by reason of death, he will take us into his immediate presence in glory; for he has said, Where I am, there also shall my servant be: and having, thro’ grace, been instrumental of turning many to righteousness, we shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars for ever and ever.
But, if we forsake God, become strangers to prayer, and ashamed of the gospel of Christ, and the religion of the Bible: if we trust to the strength of our own reason, and the imaginary greatness of our learning; and preach for doctrines, the unscriptural conceits of our own brains, or the erroneous notions of others; if we corrupt the word of God, and preach another gospel; if we neglect or mislead the souls committed to our charge; and, by the badness of our lives, contradict and frustrate the end of our ministry, we have reason to fear, that God will forsake us utterly; and abandon us to the giddiness and wildness of our own fancies, to the blindness and pride of our own natural reason, to a reprobate mind, and to the delusions of satan: and that, having been wandring stars, the blackness of darkness for ever will be reserved for us; and that, in that outer darkness, we shall have our miserable portion, but just punishment, and be the subjects of a greater damnation.
Finally, I would address a word to this whole people: Hear ye me, all Judah and Benjamin: hear this all ye people, and give ear all ye inhabitants of the land: and, if I might do it without presumption and offence, I would use the pathetic words of Moses; and set your hearts to all the words, which, from God’s word, I testify among you this day; for it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life. Your peace & safety, your prosperity and happiness, your life, your all turns upon it: The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; if ye seek him, he will be found of you, but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.
If ye be with God, become a praying and religious people, acting up to your covenant relation and engagements to him, walking in all holy obedience to his laws, and attendance upon his worship and ordinances; God will be with you, and give you the tokens of his gracious presence, in providential mercies. The name of your land will be Jehovah Shammah, the Lord is there. God’s presence with you, will be your surest defence, your highest glory, your truest felicity. This will derive a blessing upon all your labours, husbandry, merchandize, fishery, & whatever you set your hands unto—and upon all your enjoyments. This will make your governour a Nehemiah, seeking your prosperity; this will give you wise & faithful rulers, skilful and upright judges, zealous and godly magistrates; and will make your officers peace, and your exactors righteousness: this will give you holy & orthodox ministers, pure and peaceable churches, learned & flourishing academies; and, in time of war, valiant soldiers and victorious armies. Yea, if you are indeed religiously with God, he will afford his gracious spiritual presence with his word and ordinances; this will make you a holy, as his providential presence will make you, a happy people. Then your righteousness will go forth as brightness, and your salvation, as a lamp that burneth: they’ll be conspicuous and comfortable.
But if you forsake God, cast off your dependance upon him, and refuse subjection to him: if you apostatize from his truths and ways and worship; if you disregard his interest & glory, God will forsake you; you will become the people of his wrath, and may fear, he will write Lo-ammi upon you, disown you, reject you, break down the hedge he has set about you; and open a gap for ruinous judgments to rush in upon you; that as he has loaded you with benefits, he will heap mischiefs upon you. Wo unto you, if God depart from you; with him goes all good. Sinning Judah and Benjamin at length found it so; and so may you too.
To prevent then the misery of a departed God, and to enjoy the blessedness of a graciously present God, Oh be ye with God! And, because this people have backslidden from God, with a grievous backsliding, are become loose in their principles, and vicious in their lives; a people laden with iniquity; Oh return to God, by a hearty repentance, and thorow reformation, and abide with him, in the ways of obedience, that God may abide with you, in the ways of mercy. Then his salvation will be nigh unto you, and glory will dwell in your land.
To conclude. Let us all, let persons of every order and condition, realize it, that the gracious presence of God with us, is the one thing needful, the all-comprehending blessing: and, by a conscientious walking with God, let us engage it with us. The presence of God makes heaven itself such a holy and blessed place: the more of God’s presence we have with us, the more like heaven will it make our land, in point of true holiness and true happiness—let us then, with Israel, deprecate, God forbid, we should forsake the Lord: and with them deliberately resolve, Nay, but we will serve the Lord; and with Solomon, earnestly pray, The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers; let him not leave us, nor forsake us. Amen: And let all the people say, Amen.
Return to “Called Unto Liberty” Home Page.
Used with the permission of Liberty Fund. The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.