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SINS OF GOVERNMENT,
SINS OF THE NATION.
We are called upon by high authority to separate, for religious purposes, this portion of our common time. The shops are shut; the artisan is summoned from his loom, and the husbandman from his plough; the whole nation, in the midst of its business, its pleasures, and its pursuits, makes a sudden stop, and wears the semblance, at least, of seriousness and concern. It is natural for you to inquire, What is the purport of all this?—the answer is in the words of my text: “ Ye stand this day, all of you, before the face of the Lord.”—Deuteronomy, xxix. 10. You stand all of you, that is, you stand here as a nation, and you stand for the declared purpose of confessing your sins, and humbling yourselves before the Supreme Being
Every individual, my brethren, who has a sense of religion, and a desire of conforming his conduct to its precepts, will frequently retire into himself
to discover his faults; and having discovered, to repentof,--and having repented of, to amend them. Nations have likewise their faults to repent of, their conduct to examine; and it is therefore no less becoming and salutary, that they, from time to time, should engage in the same duty. Those sins which we have to repent of as individuals, belong to such transactions as relate to our private concerns, and are executed by us in our private capacity; such as buying, selling, the management of our family economy, differences arising from jarring interests and interfering claims between us and our neighbours, &c. Those sins which, as a nation, we have to repent of, belong to national acts. We act as a nation, when, through the organ
of the legislative power, which speaks the will of the nation, and by means of the executive power which does the will of the nation, we enact laws, form alliances, make war or peace, dispose of the public money, or do any of those things which belong to us in our collective capacity. As, comparatively, few individuals have any immediate share in these public acts, we might be tempted to forget the responsibility which attaches to the nation at large with regard to them, did not the wisdom and piety of the governing powers, by thus calling us together on every public emergency, remind us that they are all our own acts; and
that, for every violation of integrity, justice, or humanity in public affairs, it is incumbent upon every one of us to humble himself personally before the tribunal of Almighty God.
That this is the true and only rational interpretation of the solemnities of this day, is evident from hence, that we are never enjoined to confess the sins of other people; but our own sins. To take upon ourselves the faults of others, savours of presumption rather than humility. There would be an absurd mockery in pretending to humble ourselves before God for misdeeds which we have neither committed, nor have any power to amend. Those evils which we could not help, and in which we have had no share, are subjects of grief indeed, but not of remorse. If an oppressive law, or a destructive war, were of the nature of a volcano or a hurricane, proceeding from causes totally independent of our operations,—all we should have to do would be to bow our heads in silent submission, and to bear their ravages with a manly patience. We do not repent of a dangerous disorder or a sickly constitution, because these are things which do not depend upon our own efforts. If, therefore, the nation at large had nothing to do in the affairs of the nation, the piety of our rulers would have led them to fast and pray by themselves alone, without inviting us to concur in this salutary work. But we are called upon to
repent of national sins, because we can help them, and because we ought to help them. We are not fondly to imagine we can make of kings, or of lawgivers, the scapegoats to answer for our follies and our crimes: by the services of this day they call
upon us to answer for them; they throw the blame where it ought ultimately to rest; that is, where the power ultimately rests. It were trilling with our consciences to endeavour to separate the acts of governors sanctioned by the nation, from the acts of the nation; for, in every transaction the principal is answerable for the conduct of the agents he employs to transact it. If the maxim that the king can do no wrong throws upon ministers the responsibility, because without ministers no wrong could be done, the same reason throws it from them upon the people, without whom ministers could do no wrong. The language of the Proclamation then may
be thus interpreted :-People ! who in your individual capacities are rich and poor, high and low, governors and governed, assemble yourselves in the unity of your public existence; rest from
your ordinary occupations, give a different direction to the exercises of your public worship, confess-not every man his own sins, but all the sins of all. We, your appointed rulers, before we allow ourselves to go on in executing your will in a conjuncture so important, force you to make a pause,
that you may be constrained to reflect, that you may bring this will, paramount every thing else, into the sacred presence of God; that you may there examine it, and see whether it be agreeable to his will, and to the eternal obligations of virtue and good morals.' If not, the guilt be upon your own heads; we disclaim the awful responsibility.
Supposing that you are now prepared by proper views of the subject, I shall go on to investigate those sins which a nation is most apt to be betrayed into, leaving it to each of you to determine whether, and how far, any one of them ought to make a part of our humiliation on this day.
Societies being composed of individuals, the faults of societies proceed from the same bad passions, the same pride, selfishness, and thirst of gain, by which individuals are led to transgress the rules of duty; they require therefore the same curb to restrain them, and hence the necessity of a national religion. You will probably assert, that most nations have one : but, by a national religion, I do not mean the burning a few wretches twice or thrice in a year in honour of God, nor yet the exacting subscription to some obscure tenets, believed by few, and understood by none; nor yet the investing a certain order of men dressed in a particular habit, with civil privileges and secular emolument;-by national religion I