The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of
by John Witherspoon
In the first place, I would take the opportunity on this occasion, and
from this subject, to press every hearer to a sincere concern for his own
soul's salvation. There are times when the mind may be expected to be more
awake to divine truth, and the conscience more open to the arrows ofconviction
than at others. A season of public judgment is of this kind. Can you have
a clearer view of the sinfulness of your nature, than when the rod of the
oppressor is lifted up, and when you see men putting on the habit of the
warrior, and collecting on every hand the weapons of hostility and instruments
of death? I do not blame your ardour in preparing for the resolute defense
of your temporal rights; but consider, I beseech you, the truly infinite
importance of the salvation of your souls. Is it of much moment whether
you and your children shall be rich or poor, at liberty or in bonds? Is
it of much moment whether this beautiful country shall increase in fruitfulness
from year to year, being cultivated by active industry, and possessed by
independent freemen, or the scanty produce of the neglected fields shall
be eaten up by hungry publicans, while the timid owner trembles at the
tax-gatherer's approach? And is it of less moment, my brethren, whether
you shall be the heirs of glory of the heirs of hell? Is your state on
earth for a few fleeting years of so much moment? And is it of less moment
what shall be your state through endless ages! Have you assembled together
willingly to hear what shall be said on public affairs, and to join in
imploring the blessing of God on the counsels and arms of the United Colonies,
and can you be unconcerned what shall become of you for ever, when all
the monuments of human greatness shall be laid in ashes, for "the earth
itself, and all the works that are therein shall be burnt up."
Wherefore, my beloved hearers, as the ministry of reconciliation is
committed to me, I beseech you in the most earnest manner, to attend to
"the things that belong to your peace, before they are hid from your eyes".
How soon, and in what manner a seal shall be set upon the character and
state of every person here present, it is impossible to know. But you may
rest assured, that there is no time more suitable, and there is none so
safe as that which is present, since it is wholy uncertain whether any
other shall be yours. Those who shall first fall in battle, have not many
more warnings to receive. There are some few daring and hardened sinners,
who despise eternity itself, and set their Maker at defiance; but the far
greater number, by staving off their convictions to a more convenient season,
have been taken unprepared, and thus eternally lost. I would therefore
earnestly press the apostle's exhortation, 2 Cor 6: 1-2... "Behold, now
is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."
Suffer me to beseech you, or rather to give you warning, not to rest
satisfied with a form of godliness, denying the power thereof. There can
be no true religion, till there be a discovery of your lost state by nature
and practice, and an unfeigned acceptance of Christ Jesus, as he is offered
in the gospel. Unhappy are they who either despise his mercy, or are ashamed
of his cross. Believe it, "There is no salvation in any other." "There
is no other name under heaven given amongst men by which we must be saved."
Unless you are united to him by a lively faith, not the resentment of a
haughty monarch, the sword of divine justice hangs over you, and the fulness
of divine vengeance shall speedily overtake you. I do not speak this only
to the heaven-daring profligate or grovelling sensualist, but to every
insensible, secure sinner; to all those, however decent and orderly in
their civildeportment, who live to themselves, and have their part and
portion in this life; in fine, to all who are yet in a state of nature,
for "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God". The
fear of man may make you hide your profanity; prudence and experience may
make you abhor intemperance and riot; as you advance in life one vice may
supplant another and hold its place; but nothing less than the sovereign
grace of God can produce a saving change of heart and temper, or fit you
for his immediate presence.
While we give praise to God, the supreme Disposer of all events, for
his interposition in our behalf, let us guard against the dangerous error
of trusting in, or boasting of an arm of flesh. I could earnestly wish,
that while our arms are crowned with success, we might content ourselves
with a modest ascription of it to the power of the Highest. It has given
me great uneasiness to read some ostentatious, vaunting expressions in
our newspapers, though happily, I think, much restrained of late. Let us
not return to them again. If I am not mistaken, not only the Holy Scriptures
in general, and the truths of the glorious gospel in particular, but the
whole course of providence, seem intended to abase the pride of man, and
lay the vain-glorious in the dust.
From what has been said you may learn what encouragement you have to
put your trust in God, and hope for his assistance in the present important
conflict. He is the Lord of hosts, great in might, and strong in battle.
Whoever hath his countenance and approbation, shall have the best at last.
I do not mean to speak prophetically, but agreeably to the analogy of faith,
and the principles of God's moral government. I leave this as a matter
rather of conjecture than certainty, but observe, that if your conduct
is prudent, you need not fear the multitude of opposing hosts.
If your cause is just, you may look with confidence to the Lord, and
intreat him to plead it as his own. You are all my witnesses, that this
is the first time of my introducing any political subject into the pulpit.
At this season, however, it is not only lawful but necessary, and I willingly
embrace the opportunity of declaring my opinion without any hesitation,
that the cause in which America is now in arms, is the cause of justice,
of liberty, and of human nature. So far as we have hitherto proceeded,
I am satisfied that the confederacy of the colonies has not been the effect
of pride, resentment, or sedition, but of a deep and general conviction
that our civil and religious liberties, and consequently in a great measure
the temporal and eternal happiness of us and our posterity, depended on
the issue. The knowledge of God and his truths have from the beginning
of the world been chiefly, if not entirely confined to those parts of the
earth where some degree of liberty and political justice were to be seen,
and great were the difficulties with which they had to struggle, from the
imperfection of human society, and the unjust decisions of unsurped authority.
There is not a single instance in history, in which civil liberty was lost,
and religious liberty preserved entire. If therefore we yield up our temporal
property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage.