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TRUE SOURCES OF NATIONAL PROSPERITY.*
ISAIAH, 33: 6.-Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy
times, and strength of salvation ; The fear of the Lord is his treas
This chapter begins with an elegant apostrophe to Sennacherib, king of Assyria, reproaching him as the ambitious and unprovoked disturber of the peace of nations. The prophet next makes a devout address to Jehovah, expressing confidence in the divine government, and hope of the delivery and security of his people, notwithstanding the menaces of an insolent and imperious adversary.
The text is thought to be directed to Hezekiah, then the monarch of Judah, and is thus rendered by Bishop Lowth :
Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times ; the possession of continued salvation ; the fear of Jehovah, this shall be thy treasure.
The terms, wisdom and fear of God, as frequently used in Scripture, are synonymous. The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom. But, as both occur in our text, it is rational to conclude, that by the latter, is signified an ability to accomplish desirable ends, by a judicious choice and arrangement of means. This ability, though often found in connexion with knowledge and piety, is not to be confounded with either. The fear of God directs men to aim at the purest and noblest ends. For the accomplishment of these, wisdom makes a selection from those various means, which knowledge has provided.
Preached at the Annual Election, Mass. May, 1814.
The doctrine inculcated by our text is, therefore, that the permanent prosperity of a nation is best secured by a union of knowledge, wisdom, and the fear of God.
After having endeavored to illustrate this proposition, we shall consider, in what way these qualities can be most effectually promoted.
To elucidate the proposition, we observe, first, that by science, a nation is enabled to profit by the advantages of its natural situation. It avails little, that the soil of a country is rich, if the art of cultivation is unknown to the inhabitants. It avails nothing, that her shores are capable of being connected with every climate, through the medium of intervening seas or oceans, while science has never taught the construction of vessels, nor the art of directing them. Without this knowledge, there is comparatively little use in the rivers, by which a country is intersected; nor can the advantages of them be fully realized, till all vincible obstacles to navigation are actually overcome, and neighboring streams are made to unite their waters.
The fearful train of disorders, which makes such extensive and perpetual devastation on the happiness and life of man, is found capable of being arrested or enfeebled by the use of those mineral or vegetable substances, which the liberality of nature produces; but of which it is the province of science to discover the virtues, and the just application. It is in vain, that remedies are provided for human sufferings, or sustenance for human life, while the plants or minerals, which contain them, are permitted to remain undistinguished in the bosom of the forest, or buried beneath the surface of the earth. How inexpressibly might the sum of human misery have been lessened, had the science of medicine, among all the nations of antiquity, been advanced to its present state ! What enormous waste of life has been annually made for many centuries, by a disorder, the easy prevention of which is matter of recent discovery! The sciences of chemistry and mineralogy, lately introduced into our country, and now cultivated with so much ardor and success, cannot fail, by their influence on medicine, agriculture and the arts, to pro
duce consequences of great national importance. The nature of man on the one side, and of soils and climates on the other, remains the same in every age. It is knowledge—it is cultivation that produces the change. To this are we to ascribe it, that in our own country, where, two centuries ago, wild beasts and savages were contending for the empire of an unmeasured desert, there are now civil institutions, commerce, cities, arts, letters, religion, and all the charities of social and domestic life.
Secondly-in wisdom and knowledge is implied a right understanding of the nature and design of civil society. A community possessing these qualities, will consider government as a benevolent institution, resulting from the social nature of man, and conducive not less to his liberty, than to his security. They will adopt a form of government, not only good in itself, but adapted to the local and relative situation of their country, and to their own genius and character. Whatever constitution may be preferred, they will never accede to the doctrine, that the people were made for their rulers; but will rather consider the latter as the honored depositaries of power, originally inherent in the people, and voluntarily relinquished by them, on condition of its being used for their benefit. They will, by consequence, believe themselves in possession of a right, either to resume the power, or else to demand the accomplishment of the conditions, on which it was conferred.
Thirdly-whatever civil compact they may see fit to adopt, an enlightened people will not trust themselves to calculate, with minuteness and confidence, the greatest degree of political prosperity that may be enjoyed, nor the least degree of restraint that may be necessary. It will not escape them, that no human foresight can extend to all emergencies, which a series of years may produce; and that time may develope, in any political constitution, traits, either more or less valuable, than were apparent to its original authors. It is a well known truth in mechanics, that the actual and theoretical powers of a machine will never coincide. Through the flexibility of one part, the rigidity of another, and the roughness of a third, the result may disappoint
those fond hopes, which seemed to rest on the firm ground of mathematical calculation. The judicious artist will not, however, on this account, be willing to reject, as worthless, a structure of splendid and complicated mechanism, of solid materials, in the formation of which, much labor, experience and ingenuity have been employed.
It is a remark, not less important because frequently made, that an indifferent constitution may be so administered, as to render a nation happy, and that, without a good administration, the best political institutions will fail of accomplishing that purpose. Now, as the manner in which government will be administered in any nation, can never be foreseen, a discerning people will not confidently anticipate, as their perpetual portion, the highest degree of prosperity which their form of government seems calculated to secure. Nor will they fix their eyes so intensely on the evils which may be felt at any period, as to forget the imperfection of all human establishments, and that, under a new form of government, may be concealed important disadvantages, which experience alone can bring to light. Rejecting alike the character of inconstancy, turbulence, and despondency, they will neither tamely yield to abuses, nor subvert their political institutions on account of them.
Fourthly—as an enlightened people will know how to value their rights, they will place those in office, who, by their ability, knowledge, and integrity, are entitled to such distinction. To obtain their suffrages, it will not be enough, that a man professes his attachment to order, religion, or liberty. He must have more solid ground, on which to establish his claims to public favor. In knowledge and wisdom is doubtless implied a spirit of discernment. To enjoy the confidence of a wise people, there must therefore be a consistency of character, a uniform regard to moral principle and the public good. They will clearly perceive, that the civil interests of millions cannot be secure in the hands of men, who, in the more confined circle of common intercourse, are selfish, rapacious, or aspiring. An enlightened regard to self-interest and a religious sense of Vol. JI.
responsibility, will in this case, lead to the same practical result. In exercising the right of freemen, the man of religion experiences no conflict between his duty and his inclination. Towards the dishonest, profane, ambitious and profligate, he feels
“ The strong antipathy of good to bad.” He has no wish to behold, arrayed in robes of office, men, whose largest views do not extend beyond the limits of mortal life, and whose deportment and conversation indicate neither love nor reverence for the Author of their being.
In very popular governments, where the elective franchise is widely extended, it is, doubtless, impossible that candidates for public office should be personally known to all, whose suffrages they receive. How generally soever knowledge is diffused, all the members of a large State cannot be brought within the sphere of mutual observation. In this case, resort must be had to the best sources of information. But it should not be forgotten, that a portion of the same intelligence and virtue, required in rulers, is necessary in giving information concerning candidates. An honest and well-informed freeman will rely on none but honest and well-informed witnesses.
Fifthly—a nation distinguished by a union of wisdom, knowledge, and the fear of God, is morally certain of having its government well administered, not only for the reason just assigned, but because the tone of morals, existing in such a nation, will operate as a powerful restraint, if, by any casualty or deep dissimulation, persons of yielding virtue should be placed in office.
Public opinion constitutes a tribunal, which few men, and least of all, those who are in pursuit of popular favor, will dare to set at defiance. It is scarcely possible, that a people, truly wise and virtuous, should have a government badly administered. Whenever the majority of a community complain of their rulers, they implicitly utter reproaches against themselves, for having placed their destiny in the hands of men, with whom it is insecure. If their reproaches are long continued, it is good proof that their own morals exhibit no very striking contrast