« AnteriorContinua »
which like veins and nerves, give strength and freedom to all its members. The ties of religion, the ties of virtue, the ties of friendship, the ties of commerce, the ties of office, the ties of customs and habits, so long as they retain their proper force, do more to promote the union and happiness of a people, than all their civil laws and constitutions. But it is the nature of vice to affect such fine and tender cords of society, and by dissolving these, to throw the whole body politic into great and fatal convulsions. Intemperance, prodigality, luxury and debauchery, not only violate the laws of religion and virtue, and disturb the peace and harmony of families, but at the same time, set the nearest and firmest friends at variance, dissolve the connexions of trade, and fill the minds of rulers with more concern to supplant their rivals, than to promote the common interest and freedom of their subjects. Vice, by destroying these moral and social ties, effectually saps
the foundation of freedom, and completely prepares a people for the shackles of slavery. For nothing but the rod of arbitrary power is sufficient to restrain and govern a people, who have lost their virtue, and sunk into vice and corruption. Such a people are neither fit to enjoy, nor able to assert and maintain their liberties. They must be slaves.
Vice destroyed the liberties of Greece. Vice subverted the freedom of Rome. Vice deprived the Christian Church of her invaluable rights and privi. leges, and subjected multitudes of the meek and harmless followers of Christ, to all the usurpation and cruelty of the Man of sin. Vice, in these and all other instances, first preyed upon the nerves and sinews, before it attacked the vitals of liberty. But though vice be sometimes slow in its progress, yet in the course of its operation, it never fails to destroy the freedom of a people. No instance, we presume, can be produced, where vice had pervaded all ranks and classes of a civil community, but it finally involved them in slavery and ruin. Whole nations are now living witnesses of this melascholy truth; and the cries and groans of millions are constantly proclaiming to the world, that vice and slavery are inseparably connected. I must still add,
V. It is the nature of vice to provoke the displeasure of God, and draw down his judgments, to complete the ruin of a people. As all nations believe the existence of some Divinity, so they all suppose he is displeased with vice, and disposed to punish it. All the heathen Poets represent vindictive justice as one of the attributes of the heathen deities. And they draw their descriptions of the pagan gods, from the common opinion of the pagan world. It is said, the Athenians recalled their celebrated general Alcibiades from an important expedition, because the night before his departure, he cast public reproach and contempt upon the gods of his country. The men of Athens expected their divinities would blast his enterprise, and ruin their Commonwealth, for such a bold and public act of profaneness. But we, who are Christians, have more than conjecture, we have absolute certainty, that the Governor of the world will severely punish human societies for their public vices. God hath expressly told us, that it is an invariable maxim of his providence, to pluck up and destroy any nation or kingdom, for their incorrigible wickedness. And more than this, he hath given us a particular catalogue of those very vices and corruptions, which have actually awakened his displeasure, and drawn down his judgments upon the nations of the earth. He drowned the old world, for stupidity, violence, and debauchery. He rained fire and brimstone upon
Sodom and Gomorrah, for pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness. He poured the vials of his wrath upon Pharaoh and his subjects, for pride, oppression and cruelty. He extirpated the seven nations of Canaan, for lewdness, incest, and brutal uncleanness. He punished the Israelites, for murmuring and unbelief. He cut off the ten tribes of Israel, for idolatry and rebellion. And in the days of Isaiah, he smote with a scab, the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, for their haughty airs and extravagant dress. In short, we never find a single instance in scripture, where God threatens to destroy a nation or kingdom, but be, at the same time, declares, that their sins are the procuring cause of his wasting judgments. “Evil pursueth sinners.” Every people, therefore, have reason to expect, that their sins will sooner or later find them out, and involve them in ruin and reproach.
Having illustrated the point I proposed, I must now beg every hearer to lay aside all bias and prejudice, and give a candid and impartial attention to what I have still to suggest, in the application of this moral subject.
If it be a truth, that the prevalence of vice directly tends to bring a nation to ruin and reproach; this is certainly a very serious and interesting truth with res. pect to us, who have just taken our rank among the nations of the earth. Doctor Price, whose abilities and friendship demand our particular attention and res. pect, has these just and enlightened observations on our present critical and important situation.
“It is a conviction I cannot resist, that the Independence of the English colonies in America is one of the steps or. dained by Providence to introduce the universal empire of reason and virtue: and I can scarcely be de
ceived in this conviction, if the United States should escape some dangers which threaten them, and will take proper care to throw themselves open to future improvements, and to make the most of their present situation. If this should happen, it will be true of them as it was of the people of the Jews, that in them all nations of the earth shall be blessed. It is scarcely possible that they should think too highly of their consequence. Perhaps there never existed a people on whose wisdom and virtue more depended; or to whom a station of more importance in the plan of providence has been assigned. They have begun nobly. They have fought with suecess for themselves and for the world; and in the midst of invasion and carnage, established forms of govercment favorable in the highest degree to the rights of mankind. But they have much more to do; more indeed than it is possible properly to represent.”
This great politician apprehends we are exposed to dangers. But what dangers can be more alarming than those which arise from the decay of virtue and the corruption of morals? We are young indeed, but very corrupt considering our age. We are like Ephraim of old, who had gray hairs here and there, but perceived them not. The leaven of vice has begun to operate, and unless it be speedily counteracted, it will leaven our whole nation, and blast all our flattering hopes and prospects.
The time was, when we were distinguished among all other nations, for purity of manners. Our Fathers when they came into this land, were strict and rigid in their notions of morality; and even eensured some things as vicious and criminal, which were, perhaps, really innocent and laudable. But alas! how is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!
We are fallen far into the opposite extreme. For near twenty years past, various causes have united their influence to introduce almost every species of vice and corruption among us. War is, always prejudicial to the interests of piety and virtue; especially the war in which we have been lately engaged, which continued so long and which spread so far through the heart of our country. Our army contained a collection of the loosest characters, who being free from their usual restraint, soon corrupted the minds of many, who, when they came into the camp, possessed the principles and habits of morality. Most of our youth were necessarily called in the course of the war, into this corrupt and dangerous school; and, being disbanded at the commencement of peace, they mixed with the mass of the people, and greatly increased wherever they went, the corruption of morals. Besides, during the war, the neglect of schools, the relaxation of government, and the rapid depreciation of a paper currency, afforded new opportunities, and suggested new and strong temptations to vice.
By the united influence of these, and various other causes, we have actually become an extremely corrupt and degenerate people. Isaiah's description of the Jews will apply to us, without the least variation. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot unto the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises, and putrifying sores; they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
It is truly alarming to take a serious and particular view of our prevailing corruptions. The name of God is freely and awfully profaned amongst us. This heinous and unnatural sin which was formerly confined to particular places, and to partioplar persons, is