John Witherspoon shocked the national pulpits with preaching ‘Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men’ in 1776. This sermon should shock, rock and cause pulpits to stumble while the people repent and find this as a call to action as Joab said in 2 Sam. x. 12. “Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly for our people and for the cities of our God, and let the Lord do that which is good in his sight.” To this, Witherspoon writes in his first conclusion to the hearers and readers:
‘…what I have here in view is to point out to you the concern which every good man ought to take in the national character and manners, and the means which he ought to use for promoting public virtue, and bearing down impiety and vice. This is a matter of the utmost moment, and which ought to be well understood, both in its nature and principles. Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue. On the other hand, when the manners of a nation are pure, when true religion and internal principles maintain their vigour, the attempts of the most powerful enemies to oppress them are commonly baffled and disappointed. This will be found equally certain, whether we consider the great principles of God’s moral government, or the operation and influence of natural causes.’ – page 15
I have mentioned this sermon in past programs. In light of last week, I was bothered as to why Madison would reject his foundational Orthodox teaching under Witherspoon for the humanism and secularism of Locke and Voltaire. The personal answer of Madison is no where to be found. We learned last week and from many historians that Madison was private in his theology. Yet, as Koty revealed last week, Madison provided great insights of his beliefs by his writings and rhetoric during the Constitutional Convention and beyond.
As I delve into The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, it is obvious that the seemingly tragic events and political mayhem is out of control. The enemies of Liberty are devouring all that is good, righteous, just and Constitutional. You will learn, if you do not already know, that all things are in the control of Providence. As Witherspoon will present, when the godless are dominant and in leadership, vile occurrences happen.
Beyond Madison – The Dominion of Providence
As a friend always say, ‘People act according to what they deeply believe.’ We will leave Madison as an example of how we all are in reference to that statement. Which, leads me to what we all, especially those in the political and patriot movements most often forget: The Dominion of Providence.
In our modern times, say over the last 100 years, pastors have flitted with the idea of Divine Providence and God’s Dominion but only a few have made a strong case for this doctrine in any manner such as Witherspoon opens his sermon with:
The doctrine of divine providence is very full and complete in the sacred oracles. It extends not only to things which we may think of great moment, and therefore worthy of notice, but to things the most indifferent and inconsiderable; “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing,” says our Lord, “and one of them falleth not to the ground without your heavenly Father”; nay, “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.[”] It extends not only to things beneficial and salutary, or to the direction and assistance of those who are the servants of the living God; but to things seemingly most hurtful and destructive, and to persons the most refractory and disobedient. He overrules all his creatures, and all their actions. Thus we are told, that “fire, hail, snow, vapour, and stormy wind, fulfil his word,” in the course of nature; and even so the most impetuous and disorderly passions of men, that are under no restraint from themselves, are yet perfectly subject to the dominion of Jehovah. They carry his commission, they obey his orders, they are limited and restrained by his authority, and they conspire with every thing else in promoting his glory. There is the greater need to take notice of this, that men are not generally sufficiently aware of the distinction between the law of God and his purpose; they are apt to suppose, that as the temper of the sinner is contrary to the one, so the outrages of the sinner are able to defeat the other; than which nothing can be more false. The truth is plainly asserted, and nobly expressed by the psalmist in the text, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.”
With this opening, I will delve into as much Of the sermon as I can but I will leave it to you to read the full 21 pages. Since the majority of folks will shy away from reading. My intent in the newsletter will be to give you Witherspoon’s Conclusions. From these you will have to go capture the full content.
Conclusions: Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men
1. Suffer me to recommend to you an attention to the public interest of religion, or in other words, zeal for the glory of God and the good of others. I have already endeavored to exhort sinners to repentance; what I have here in view is to point out to you the concern which every good man ought to take in the national character and manners, and the means which he ought to use for promoting public virtue, and bearing down impiety and vice. This is a matter of the utmost moment, and which ought to be well understood, both in its nature and principles. Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue. On the other hand, when the manners of a nation are pure, when true religion and internal principles maintain their vigour, the attempts of the most powerful enemies to oppress them are commonly baffled and disappointed. This will be found equally certain, whether we consider the great principles of God’s moral government, or the operation and influence of natural causes.
What follows from this? That he is the best friend to American liberty, who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country. Do not suppose, my brethren, that I mean to recommend a furious and angry zeal for the circumstantials of religion, or the contentions of one sect with another about their peculiar distinctions. I do not wish you to oppose any body’s religion, but every body’s wickedness. Perhaps there are few surer marks of the reality of religion, than when a man feels himself more joined in spirit to a true holy person of a different denomination, than to an irregular liver of his own. It is therefore your duty in this important and critical season to exert yourselves, every one in his proper sphere, to stem the tide of prevailing vice, to promote the knowledge of God, the reverence of his name and worship, and obedience to his laws. (Read all of point 1 on pages 15 to 17 at the link.)
2. I exhort all who are not called to go into the field, to apply themselves with the utmost diligence to works of industry. It is in your power by this mean not only to supply the necessities, but to add to the strength of your country. Habits of industry prevailing in a society, not only increase its wealth, as their immediate effect, but they prevent the introduction of many vices, and are intimately connected with sobriety and good morals. Idleness is the mother or nurse of almost every vice; and want, which is its inseparable companion, urges men on to the most abandoned and destructive courses. Industry, therefore is a moral duty of the greatest moment, absolutely necessary to national prosperity, and the sure way of obtaining the blessing of God. I would also observe, that in this, as in every other part of God’s government, obedience to his will is as much a natural mean, as a meritorious cause, of the advantage we wish to reap from it. Industry brings up a firm and hardy race. He who is inured to the labor of the field, is prepared for the fatigues of a campaign. The active farmer who rises with the dawn and follows his team or plow, must in the end be an overmatch for those effeminate and delicate soldiers, who are nursed in the lap of self-indulgence, and whose greatest exertion is in the important preparation for, and tedious attendance on, a masquerade, or midnight ball.
3. In the last place, suffer me to recommend to you frugality in your families, and every other article of expence. This the state of things among us renders absolutely necessary, and it stands in the most immediate connexion both with virtuous industry, and active public spirit. Temperance in meals, moderation and decency in dress, furniture and equipage, have, I think, generally been characteristics of a distinguished patriot. And when the same spirit pervades a people in general, they are fit for every duty, and able to encounter the most formidable enemy. The general subject of the preceding discourse has been the wrath of man praising God. If the unjust oppression of your enemies, which withholds from you many of the usual articles of luxury and magnificence, shall contribute to make you clothe yourselves and your children with the works of your own hands, and cover your tables with the salutary productions of your own soil, it will be a new illustration of the same truth, and a real happiness to yourselves and your country.
I could wish to have every good thing done from the purest principles and the noblest views. Consider, therefore, that the Christian character, particularly the self-denial of the gospel, should extend to your whole deportment. In the early times of Christianity, when adult converts were admitted to baptism, they were asked among other questions, Do you renounce the world, its shews, its pomp, and its vanities? I do. The form of this is still preserved in the administration of baptism, where we renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh. This certainly implies not only abstaining from acts of gross intemperance and excess, but a humility of carriage, a restraint and moderation in all your desires. The same thing, as it is suitable to your Christian profession, is also necessary to make you truly independent in yourselves, and to feed the source of liberality and charity to others, or to the public. The riotous and wasteful liver, whose craving appetites make him constantly needy, is and must be subject to many masters, according to the saying of Solomon, “The borrower is servant to the lender.” But the frugal and moderate person, who guides his affairs with discretion, is able to assist in public counsels by a free and unbiassed judgment, to supply the wants of his poor brethren, and sometimes, by his estate and substance to give important aid to a sinking country.
I implore you to read this sermon and then act according to the convictions of your mind and soul.
TO JONATHAN TRUMBULL.
[MS., Samuel Adams Papers, Lenox Library.] PHILAD Oct 16 — 78
Mr Sherman was so obliging as to give me the perusal of your Letter to him, and I am happy that Congress as a Body concurs with you in the Sentiment therein containd; having passd a Resolution by a great Majority expressing their Sense that true Religion & good Morals are the only solid Foundations of publick Liberty and Happiness.
TO MRS. ADAMS.
[MS., Samuel Adams Papers, Lenox Library] PHILADE Novr 13th 1780
I have been anxious, lest our Countrymen should misjudge in the Choice of their first Governor. They are grateful; and I was affraid that from the Goodness of their Hearts they might be indued to give their Suffrages for a Man, who, they might conceive had done them eminent Services in other Stations, without a due Consideration whether he possesses those excellent Qualities which should characterize and dignify their chiefe Magistrate. Our present Governors may probably stamp the moral as well as political Character of the People. I shall most heartily rejoyce, if the “Abilities and disinterested Zeal” of the Gentleman called to fill the Chair prove adequate to the strong Expectations of my fellow Citizens in Boston, expressd in their late Vote of Thanks.
TO JOHN SCOLLAY.
[MS., Samuel Adams Papers, Lenox Library; a portion of the text, with modifications, is in W. V. Wells, Life of Samuel Adams, vol. iii., pp. 114, 115.]
PHILADE Decr 30 1780
Our Government, I perceive, is organizd on the Basis of the new Constitution. I am affraid there is more Pomp & Parade than is consistent with those sober Republican Principles, upon which the Framers of it thought they had founded it. Why should this new AEra be introducd with Entertainments expensive & tending to dissipate the Minds of the People? Does it become us to lead the People to such publick Diversions as promote Superfluity of Dress & Ornament, when it is as much as they can bear to support the Expense of cloathing a naked Army? Will Vanity & Levity ever be the Stability of Government, either in States, in Cities, or what, let me hint to you is of the last Importance, in Families? Of what Kind are those Manners, by which, as we are truly informd in a late Speech, “not only the freedom but the very Existence of Republicks is greatly affected?” HOW fruitless is it, to recommend “the adapting the Laws in the most perfect Manner possible, to the Suppression of Idleness Dissipation & Extravagancy,” if such Recommendations are counteracted by the Example of Men of Religion, Influence & publick Station? I meant to consider this Subject in the View of the mere Citizen. But I have mentiond the sacred Word Religion. I confess, I am surprizd to hear, that some particular Persons have been so unguarded as to give their Countenance to such kind of Amusements. I wish Mr —— would recollect his former Ideas when his Friend Whitfield thunderd in the Pulpit against Assemblies & Balls. I think he has disclaimd Diversions, in some Instances, which to me have always appeard innocent. Has he changd his Opinions, or has the Tendency of things alterd? Do certain Manners tend to quench the Spirit of Religion at one time & are they harmless at another? Are Morals so vague as to be sanctified or dispens’d with by the Authority of different Men? He does not believe this. But I will not be severe, for I love my Friend. Religion out of the Question for the present. It was asked in the Reign of Charles the 2d of England, HOW shall we turn the Minds of the People from an Attention to their Liberties? The Answer was, by making them extravagant, luxurious, effeminate. Hutchinson advisd the Abridgment of what our People called English Liberties, by the same Means. We shall never subdue them, said Bernard, but by eradicating their Manners & the Principles of their Education. Will the judicious Citizens of Boston be now caught in the Snare, which their artful, insidious Enemies, a few years ago laid for them in vain? Shall we ruin ourselves by the very means, which they pointed out in their Confidential Letters, tho even they did not dare openly to avow them?
The references for today are embedded in the Newsletter.