Sermon 5 (posthumous works)
Fast Day Sermon.
[I am indebted for the following sermon to David Gillespie, Esq. of Mountquhannie. His father was one of the principal heritors in the parish of Kilmany, and many memorials survive at once of his early appreciation of the character and talents of his minister, and of Dr. Chalmers' grateful sense at the time and affectionate remembrances ever afterwards of the kind attentions of his heritor. It could not have been possible for any one to have listened to this sermon without emotion. There were chords in the heart of its humblest hearer which it must have caused thrillingly to vibrate. But Mr. Gillespie was one of the very few hearers of it who could estimate its literary merits. Struck with these, he solicited a copy of it - the only one now remaining, the original not having been preserved. It fixes its own date: reference occurs in it to the Thanksgiving Day which, in the summer of the preceding year, was appointed to be observed in acknowledgment of the general peace secured by the treaty of Amiens. That treaty was signed in March 1802. The war broke out again in May 1803, and Thursday, the 20th day of the October following, was, by public appointment, observed throughout Scotland as a Fast-day, not only on account of the renewal of hostilities between this country and France, but mainly because of that threat of invasion which Buonaparte hung over England, and by which the heart of the whole island was convulsed. It must have been upon this occasion - only a few months, therefore, after Dr. Chalmers settlement at Kilmany - that this sermon was preached.]
PSALM XXVII. 3.
"Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident."
It is not my object to enter into any political discussion. The situation of the country is I believe forced upon us by the necesity of circumstances. It is a situation from which the most sincere and anxious efforts of Government could not have relieved us. It is a situation which I ascribe to no misconduct of Ministers - to no want of vigour or of sincerity - to no injurious encroachment on our part on the rights and privileges of other countries. It is a situation which I ascribe to the insolence of a haughty and resentful ambition - of an ambition which no sacrifice can appease - of an ambition which grasps at universal empires, and threatens to erect its throne over prostrated liberties of Europe. At all events, it is a sitution to be deplored. Our own country may become the theatre of blood and of violence. The widows and orphans attest the numbers who have fallen in the past. Think, not that the voice of pity will soften the destuctive career of the invader. You have nothing to expect from the cannibal banditti of France: they have breasts of iron; they are hot from the plunder of other countries, they are trained to carnage and desolation; they have been taught to rejoice in the outcry of massacre, and to fly like bloodhounds to those towns and villages which their generals have marked out for destruction.
A year is scarcely elapsed since we were called upon to commmemorate an event of such grand and obvious importance - so eminently conducive to the interests of millions that the friends of humanity rejoiced, and Christians sent up to the throne of mercy their acclamations of gratitude, and in the transports of riotic enthusiasm forgot the interests and the virulence of party. Such was the event we had then to commemorate- not the delusive splendours of victory - not the phantom of national glory which serves to dazzle but not to exhilarate - not the glare and triumph of conquest to amuse a giddy and unthinking multitude. It was something more substantial - more felt in its operation on the interests of the country - more diffusive of its benefits through the walks of life and of business - more joyous to homes and to families. It was the re-establishment of peace among the nations. It was a respite from those evils which had desolated the unhappy regions of Europe.It was an end to the calamities of war, and to the restless anxiety of parents and of friends, who implored the protecting hand of Providence over the scenes of danger.
In describing the miseries of war, shall I present to your imaginations scenes to which Britain has long been a stranger - contending armies met upon the awful work of death - men unknown to each other bent upon mutual destruction - the earth bathed in the blood of thousands - and the cries of the wounded mingling with the shouts and the exultation of victory? Shall we walk over the fields of the slain, and survey the victims of a lawless ambition? One whom the romantic visions Of glory had allured from the house of his fathers - who resigned all the comforts and endearments of home at the call of honour - his career is run; no more shall he gladden the hearts of his friends by the tidings of his welfare. Heedless of the event, they cherish the fond hope of his return; but he has breathed his last afar from the abode of his infancy, without a friend to soothe his departure, or to protect his expiring moments from the cold blasts of midnight. Who can detail the pains and sufferings of a military life - now surrounded with the infection of an hospital - now pining in the famine of a siege - now tossed on the fury of the tempest - now languishing in the solitude of a prison? Who does not shudder at the destructive progress of an invading army? Galled with difficulties - inflamed with resistance-aroused by the blood of their fellow-companions to the stern purpose of revenge. Nor age can disarm their fury - nor beauty arrest their violence. The sword spreads its desolations among the families; the land is filled with the houses of mourning; the sounds of joy are for years extinguished, and the seats of industry converted into the abodes of silence and grief.
We are not yet relieved from these fearful apprehensions. The haughty and uncontrollable despot of France has not agreed to suspend his ambition, or to cease from troubling the repose of mankind. The nations of Europe hailed the approaching steps of peace with the acclamations of transport; but they have scarce had time to breathe from the toils and the fury of contention. The dire effusion of human blood has not been able to restrain the insolence of power - to control the vindictive fury of war - or to humble the lofty pride of ambition. But it is an ambition which shall not prevaiL We trust in the unanimous resistance of a great and a high- spirited country. We trust in the integrity of our cause. We trust in the valour of our countrymen: they will not fear to die in the animating cause of patriotism. We trust in the wisdom of our statesmen: they will blow the trumpet of war with the voice of irresistible eloquence. We trust in the skill of our commmanders: they will inspire us with confidence, and lead us on to emulation and to victory.
The best security that a Government can enjoy is in the hearts and sentiments of the people. In this point of view so alarming as it was at the commencement of the French Revolution. An unbridled licentiousness threatened the order and the security of social life.A perverted system of morality went far to exterminate the reign of justice. A contempt for the sacred institution of religion hardened the sensibilities against every amiable and tender impression. But experience has at length dispelled the magic of speculation. Its votaries have been forced, though reluctanct, to acknowledge that the delusions of fancy had led them astray, and that they erred in denouncing those virtues which have supported the prosperity of ages. Even the enlightened philosophers of the modern school look back on the extravagance of their former principles as the inexperience of enthusiasm and folly, and are heard to revere the home-bred maxims of their forefathers, though unaccompanied with the charms of novelty, the splendour of eloquence, or the magnificence of system.
From the recollection of past scenes there is a lesson we would wish to impress on all countries and on all people - lesson recommended by the awful sanction of experience - a lesson written in the blood of thousands; the danger of heedless inovation, the fury of an irritated populace, though originally excited by best of motives, and directed to the best of purposes. Who is there so seduced by the hypocrisy of profession as to look back with an approving eye on the whole progress of the French Revolution - on the disgraceful scenes of cruelty which were conducted under the semblance of patriotism and public zeal - on that murderous spirit which actuated the rulers and expended its fury on the innocent victims of injustice? Who is there so deluded by the modern systems of virtue as to suppress his abhorrence at their flagrant violations of truth, at their wanton invasion of a harmless and unresisting people, at that refined insincerity of character which, amid the praises of liberty and the ardent declamations of humanity and feeling, is directing all its efforts against the independence of an outraged country? Alas! how much they have suffered, and how far they are behind us in all that conduces to the substantial prosperity of a nation - in stability of government, in the purity of its justice, in a quick and enlightened impression of the rights of man, in the energy of the public voice, and in contempt for oppression. In the pure administration of justice, in the progress of sentiment and character, in the individual reformation of a people, we discover a more substantial security against the infringements of rights, than in all the parade of constitutions, and in all the mockery of forms. Why fight for a republic - since the insolence of power will ever be able to establish the reign of despotism over a timid and an ignorant people, and all the authority of laws will be unable to restrain it. Why rejoice in the blood of kings - since a watchful and enlightened public will ever restrain the abuses of power, though emblazoned in all the splendour of titles, and supported by all the jurisprudence of antiquity.
Let us never despair of the future improvement of mankind; let us never relax in our efforts to hasten the reign of perfection. But let us direct these efforts aright - not by instruments of violence, not by arousing the fury of a vindictive and as yet unenlightened populace, not by infringing on the sacred rights of property, not by trampling on the distinctions of rank. There is a certain point in the progress of national improvement which renders the degradation of a country impossible, and accelerates all its future advances in light and in liberty. That point we seem to have gained. It consists in the perfection of the national character - a perfection which renders it respectable in the eye of the rulers, and gives an energy to its opinions sufficient to resist every flagrant violation of justice or freedom. Let us never despair of the unfailing efficacy of knowledge in conducting to the proudest summits of national felicity. Let every improvement be effected, not by the tumults of sedition or the agitations of party, but by the silent and progressive labours of instruction. Let us direct our efforts to the improvement of individual character, as the most solid and substantial foundation for prosperity, to remove those prejudices in which ignorance invloved the understanding, to dispel those unhappy and malignant impressions which separate the different orders - above all, to diffuse the admiration of virtue by the charms of our private example. These will secure to the Government of Britain the obedience of a free ,and a willing people, who know how to yield a ready acquiesoeace in the restrictions of a just and useful authority, and to sacrifice the petty competitions of interest and opinion to that unanimity which is the boast and protection of a country.
The situation of the country calls aloud for the unanimity of its inhabitants. We are not called upon to defend any particular order of men. We are not called upon to defend the principles and views of any party. We are not called upon to defend the possessions of the wealthy, or the rank of the noble. It is to defend ourselves. It is to defend the country from massacre: it is to defend it from the insolence of a brutal and unfeeling soldiery. Let it not be said that this is the cause of the great or the wealthy. That cottage which shelters you from the blasts of winter, should be as dear to you as the stately palace is to the chieftain who resides in it. That little garden which you cultivate for the use of your family, should be as the acres of an extensive domain are to its lordly proprietor. I have undergone several of the varieties of fortune. From the dependence of a child I have arrived through intermediate steps of preferment to a comfortable sufficiency of circumstances. When occupying the humbler situations of life, I felt the same interest in defence of the country that I do at present, the same attachment to the cause of civil and religious security, the same contempt for oppression, the same stubborn and unbroken spirit of independence, the same opposition both to domestic tyranny and to the determined ignominy of a foreign yoke. True, I had little to lose - but that little was all that belonged to me. It supplied all the stores of my enjoyment. It filled up the measure of my humble and unambitious desires; and had it fallen a sacrifice to the rapacity of an invading army, it would have afflicted me with equal severity as the destruction of the house which I now occupy, of the land which I now cultivate, of the emoluments of the office which I now exercise - an office to the duties of which the remainder of my days may probably be consecrated. Let it not be said that you have no interest in the defence of the country. You may live in a straw-built shed, and have an equal interest with him who triumphs in all the magnificence of wealth, and is invested with the proudest honours of nobility. You may have children whose infancy you have protected, and to whose manhood you look forward as the support and consolation of your declining years. You may have parents whose age requires your protection; for even age will not soften the cruelty of your relentless enemies.
Let it not be said that discussions like these are a prostitution of the dignity of the pulpit, or an impertinent deviation from our official character to lend the authority of our profession to the aid of party, or to employ it in strengthening the yoke of despotism over an enslaved and persecuted people. I hope in God there is not a man among us who would not willingly renounce the smiles of the great and the patronage of power, rather than concur in supporting the measures of an arbitrary and oppressive Government. We come forward not in the spirit of an accommodating policy. We come forward because it is the dictate of our own hearts, and the dictate of our own opinions. We come forward because we conceive it to be the duty of every good man in the present critical and alarming circumstances of the country. We come forward because it is the cause of patriotism. It is the cause of civil and religious liberty. It is the cause of that Christianity that has been transmitted to us from our ancestors, and that we have been taught from our infancy to cherish and revere. Some of you may have heard of Lavater; he was a clergyman of the once free and independent country of Switzerland. He was one of the most eminent literary characters of his age. He had a mind formed for the profoundest investigations of science, and a heart animated by that mild and generous benevolence which the faith of Christianity inspires. He was at first a keen supporter of the French Revolution; he defended it by his writings, he hailed it as the commencement of a grand era - when liberty, and science, and virtue would expand their triumphs and erect an omnipotent empire. But the picture was soon changed. A few years had scarcely elapsed when he saw through the magic that had bewitched him. His own country was invaded by the French troops and fell a prey to the most unexampled atrocities. In his retreat he wrote a pamphlet which I have myself seen.* He here discovers all the ardour of his patriotic mind, in the exclamations of disappointed benevolence, and in the afflicting regrets with which he contemplates the ruin of his countrymen.
Let us not tremble at the dangers which surround us. Let us not be afraid though an enemy should encamp against us. What, in the name of Heaven ! - is it for us to resign our lives and our liberties to the insolence of lawless ambition! Is it for us to surrender those sacred privileges which were cemented by the blood of our ancestors! The pulse of a Briton beats high in the cause of independence. A contempt for oppression is the proudest sentiment of his heart. He has sucked it in from his infancy; it glows even in the humblest retreats of poverty; it enobles the lowest retirements of life. Amid the shocks of misfortune he sustains the dignity of an unbroken spirit; he rejoices in his conscious importance, not as a favourite of fortune, not as the lordling of an extensive domain who exercises the reign of caprice over a tribe of dependents, not as the child of hereditary grandeur who can appeal to the honours of a remote and illustrious ancestry - he rejoices in his importance as a man - as a man whose rights are revered by the laws of his country, and whose virtues will be hailed by the voice of an applauding public. In a country such as this we have nothing to fear from the insolence of power; for it must submit to the severity of an impartial justice. In a country such as this we have nothing to fear from the corruption of our tribunals; for they feel that they are under the control of public opinion, and that all the splendour of official importance is unable to protect their injustice from the frown of a generous and enlightened people. In a country such as this we have nothing to fear from the efforts of sedition; for our common interests engage us to oppose it, and to control the violence of its deluded votaries. In a country such as this we have nothing to fear from the frenzy of revolutionary violence; for in the experience of our present blessings the unanimous sense of the people would rise to resist it. In a country such as this we have nothing to fear from the oppressions of an arbitrary Government; for our rulers have learned to respect the energy of the public voice, and feel that their best security is in the hearts of their subjects.
And shall such a country turn pale at the approach of an invader? Shall its patriotism wither and die in the hour of danger? Will it surrender that venerable system of law that has been created by the wisdom of ages? Will it surrender that throne which has been adorned by the private virtues of him who holds it? Will it surrender that Christianity which has been transmitted to us from our ancestors, and which we have been taught from our infancy to cherish and revere? Will it surrender those fields which the industry of its inhabitants has enriched with the fairest stores of cultivation? Will it surrender its towns and villages to destruction? Will it surrender its inhabitants to massacre? Will it surrender its homes to the insolence of a brutal and unfeeling soldiery? No. Let the invader attempt it when he may, he will attempt it to his destruction. The pride of an indignant country will rise to overthrow the purposes of his ambition, and the splendour of his past victories will be tarnished in the disgrace that awaits him.
If true to ourselves we have nothing to fear from the insulting menaces of France. And can I for a moment cherish the disgraceful supposition - can I for a moment suppose that there is a man among us who would suffer his mind to be enfeebled by the cowardly apprehensions of danger? Can I for a moment suppose that there is a man among us who, in the present alarming circumstances, would prove false to the cause of his country? I would sooner open my door to the savage and murderous banditti of France than admit such a man into my confidence. Against an open enemy I can guard my, he warns me of my danger; he throws me into a posture and I bid defiance to his rage. But the case is with these insidious and designing men who lurk in country. They are snakes in the grass. They are asps of malignity whom we cherish in our bosoms. They capable of vilating the most sacred oaths, and betraying the most tender of friendships. Under the mask of patriotism they mediate their designs of treachery; and that country which, if firm and united, would bid defiance to the combined hostility of Europe, is delivered up a prey to all the horrors of insurrection. But I am satisfied that no such spirit exists in our neighbourhood. I am satisfied that the breast of every man who now hears me is animated by a feeling of the purest patriotism - that the breast of every man who now hears me feels the proudest disdain that France or any power under heaven insult our independence, and threaten to invade the peace of our dwellings.
May that day in which Buonaparte ascends the throne of Britain be the last of my existence; may I be the first to ascend the scaffold he erects to extinguish the worth and spirit of the country. May my blood mingle with the blood of patriots; and may I die at the foot of that altar on which British independemce is to be the the victim. The future year is big with wonders. It may involve us all in the horrors of a desolating war. It may decide the complexion of the civilized world. It may decide the future tranquillity of ages. It may give an awful lesson to ambition; and teach the nations of Europe what it is to invade the shores of a great and a high-spirited country.
* The pamphlet here alluded to is in all likelihood the one entitled "Remonstrances addressed to the Executive Directory of the French Republic against the union of Switzerland. Dy John Caspar Lavater. London, 1798."
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