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Delivered on the day of the Annual Fast, in Massachusetts, April 7, 1805
2 CHRONICLES xxiv, 15, 16. But Jehoiada waxed old, and was full of days when
he died; an hundred and thirty years old was he
when he died. And they buried him in the city of David, among
the kings, because he had done good in Israel, both toward God, and toward his house.
TILIS venerable priest lived a long and useful life. He spent all his days in promoting the cause of God and the good of civil society. By a faithful discharge of his sacred office, during six successive reigns, he exercised a powerful influence over the hearts and consciences of both rulers and subjects, and, in that way governed their public and private conduct. It is said, “Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest." appears from the representation in the text, that all classes of the people in the kingdom, were deeply sen. sible of the great benefit, which they had derived from his public labors and instructions. For they buried him in the city of David, among the kings, because he had done good in Israel.” Some have conjectured, that these words were a part of an Epitaph put upon his tomb; but whether they were or were not, they express the high sense, which the nation entertained of his eminent usefulness in his sacred profession. There is nothing singular in this ancient opinion concerning the utility and importance of religious instructors; for
the same sentiment has generally prevailed in all ages of the world. Accordingly, this will be the leading idea in the present discourse: That it has been the common opinion of mankind, that religious instructors are very useful in civil society.
To set this subject in a clear light, it will be proper to show in the first place, that this has been the common opinion of mankind; and in the next place make it appear, that this opinion is well founded.
I. Let us consider the common opinion of mankind, respecting the usefulness of religious instructors, in civil society.
We may easily learn the opinion of the world upon this subject, by their uniform and immemorial
prac. tiee. The Jews have always had an order of men, to teach the duties and perform the ceremonies of their religion. And though Christians have been greatly divided in their religious sentiments and modes of public worship; yet they have universally agreed, to support religious teachers. If we now turn our thoughts to the heathen world, we shall find, that they have all gone into the same practice. The Egyptians were the first, or next to the first nation, who formed themselves into civil society, and laid themselves under the restraints of civil government. And as early as the days of Joseph, they certainly had religious instructors among them, who were treated with peculiar marks of respect. The sacred historian tells us, that when the seven years famine prevailed in the land to such an extremity, that the people in general were constrained to sell their persons as well as their property, to procure sustenance, the priests were exempted, and “had a. portion assigned them of Pharaoh, and did eat their portion which Pharaoh gave them.” Profane history assures us, that the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks Occa.
and Romans, all had their teachers of religion. And when Julius Cesar first carried his arms into Britain, he there discovered the Druids, who were considered and treated as a sacred order of men, by the Britons. Nor do we find by the best accounts, that there is at this day a nation on earth, who have not some form of religion, and some men to perform religicus offices. Now, this immemorial and universal practice of mankind, in maintaining religious teachers, is a strong evidence, that they have considered them as very useful in civil society. For no nation have ever been so much attached to their religion, that they would be willing to sacrifice their temporal interests to support it. All civil communities, therefore, in maintaining religious instructors, have always acted upon the principle, that they are a body of men really useful and necessary in civil society. If any people viewed their religious teachers as useless or burdensome, they would either suppress, or banish, or destroy them. This has been sufficiently demonstrated by the late conduct of a great nation, who, in a day of infatuation. looked upon their priests as a burden to society, and who accordingly either banished or destroyed the whole order. Human nature has been the same in all ages and in all nations. They never would, therefore, have suffered religious instructors to live among them, , and much less have respected and supported them, if they had not really considered them, as instrumental of promoting their interest in this, as well as in a future state. This general practice of mankind speaks louder than words, and proclaims it to have been their general opinion, from the earliest antiquity to the pres. ent day, that those who teach the doctrines and duties of religion are useful in civil society.
The next and principal thing proposed is,
11. To make it appear that this common opinion of mankind, respecting religious instructors, is well founded.
The common opinion of the world is generally just. They seldom form a wrong judgment of those things, which come under their own observation and experience. It is hardly conceivable, that they should be united, for ages, in any sentiment which is not founded in truth. It is true, in arts and sciences, the mass of mankind are not competent judges; but in respect to the character and conduct and infludnce of any set or order of men, with whom they are intimately acquainted, they are capable of forming a just and impartial opinion. They may know by experience, whether they have derived advantage, or disadvantage, from their public professional employment. There have been in all ages those who practised the healing art; and though mankind have often suffered by the ignorance and presumption of the unskilful, yet taking the whole profession together, they have always agreed in opinion, that they are highly useful in every human society. The same general opinion has ever been entertained of civil rulers. Though some have cruelly oppressed and tyrannized over their subjects; yet no nation have disbanded, after forming into civil society, on account of the injustice, oppression, or tyranny of those, who have abused their usurped, or delegated power.
This is an infallible evidence, that civil communities have always been agreed, that civil rulers are of great importance to the public. And all nations have been as well agreed, that religious instructors are useful in civil society; for they have as long and as universally approved and supported this order of men, as they have any other professional characters. There is, therefore, as good ground to
conclude that their common opinion, in this case, is well founded, as in the case of physicians and civil rulers. In all these instances; they have formed their opinions upon the evidence of universal observation and experience. And if their opinions in these instances are wrong, how is it possible, that they should ever be rectified? How can they have higher evidence against their opinions, than they have always had in favor of them? If the observation and experience of ages past have confirmed their opinions, how can suture observation and experience refute them? This opinion, therefore, which mankind in all ages have formed, respecting the usefulness of religious instructors, rests upon a broad and firm foundation, which can never be shaken.
But, however just and conclusive this argument may be, in favor of the truth under consideration; yet I shall chiefly insist on another, to be drawn from the duties, which the ministers of religion ought to teach, and from the motives, by which they ought to enforce all their religious instructions.
1. It belongs to those in the sacred office to inculcate the duties, which rulers owe to their subjects. When God first appointed civil magistrates, he prescribed their qualifications, and enjoined upon them a faithful discharge of the important trusts reposed in them. He directed his people, in the choice of their civil officers, “to provide able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness.” And he said by the mouth of David, “he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” Though he allows men to be clothed with civil power, and to bear the sword of justice; yet he does not release them from those moral obligations to obedience and fidelity in their elevated stations, which result from their relation