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A SERMON, PREACHED DECEMBER 29, 1799, IN St. PETER's CHURCH, Salem, THE SUNDAY AFTER THE MELANCHOLY TIDINGS WERE RECEIVED, OF THE DEATH OF General Washington.

By NATHANIEL FISHER, A. M.

PUBLISHED BY DESIRE OF THE TOWN.

SALEM: Printed by THOMAS C. CUSHING, at the Bible & Heart.

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A SERMON.

PSALM cxii. 6.

THE RIGHTEOUS SHALL BE IN EVER­LASTING REMEMBRANCE.

THERE is no passion more deeply and universally implanted in human nature, than that of transmitting our names to posterity, and living, though dead, in the affections of the wise and the virtuous. And great is the wisdom and goodness of God in thus constituting such beings as we are; for this principle acts as a spur and a most powerful motive to great and generous actions. It keeps all the wheels of society in perpe­tual motion, pressing millions of intelligent crea­tures forward, and constantly soliciting them to attend to their various duties, and to excel in their several professions. It is so closely interwo­ven [Page 4] with the love of our being, that it proves the source of our noblest pleasures and of our keen­est pains. But, like all other passions, it has sometimes been perverted, and its influence dis­regarded. Characters have appeared so extremely degraded, and so totally lost to every thing praise­worthy, as to prefer, if we may judge of their feel­ings from their behaviour, an infamous to an honourable distinction. But, however depraved human nature may be in the opinion of some, to excel in wickedness, and with the view of being transmitted to posterity as singularly profligate, has not been the ambition of many. Few have appeared so stupidly insensible to the judgment of the public, as not to be moved, either by its praises, or censures. It is the wish of the peasant, as well as the desire of those who "devise liberal things," and who "by liberal things shall stand," to have a name and a place among the living, though numbered with the dead. And although many of the richest charities, and the most beau­tiful monuments of piety, have originated from the purest principles of christian love; yet, shall we be charged with ingratitude and want of can­dour, [Page 5] when we suggest, that others, equally orna­mental and beneficial to society, have arisen from the natural and pleasing expectation of being re­membered here, as well as rewarded hereafter?

To this grand source of life and enterprise we are indebted for most of the conveniences and ele­gances of life, and for many of the most useful and shining characters that have appeared in the world. The statesman, the sage, the hero, and even the holy man of God, have experienced its efficacy. Indeed, this love of pre-eminence, this vying with each other in the race of perfection, has unfolded the most brilliant talents, and matur­ed the sublimest virtues. It has frequently checked the career of the wicked, when nothing else could have done it, and made those, who would otherwise have been the severest scourges, the most substantial blessings to society.

But, if this principle be so very powerful and beneficial, as it respects things temporal, how much more efficacious must it be, when it embraces things spiritual and eternal! We see that the ob­jects of all our present pursuits are short-lived, precarious, and perishing. All the agreeable and pleasing prospects laid open to us by affluence, am­bition, [Page 6] and sense, are but for a moment in com­parison with those of eternity. If, therefore, it be a laudable desire to aim at transmitting our me­mories to posterity with honour, (and certainly it is,) it must be infinitely more worthy of our most strenuous exertions, to secure a title to those things, which "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man;—the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."

But it is not certain, that this future reward of the righteous, however familiar the doctrine may be to us, is the reward promised in our text. For, as the promises annexed to a virtuous life in the Old Testament are chiefly, if not wholly, temporal, it is more than probable, that the Psalmist did not extend his views so far, but that they were confined to the present life only. However, as he saw that the character of a righteous man was so worthy and truly re­spectable, as to command the esteem and reve­rence of all around him, by "everlasting re­membrance," he undoubtedly intended the most honourable and permanent rewards, of which he had any conception.

[Page 7]By the "righteous," the scriptures often mean no more than a just man; one, who is scrupu­lously exact; who gives to every man his just weight and measure; and who pays the most religious respect to all his engagements. But the character before us is much more lovely and excellent; it is that, which may emphatically be called the GOOD MAN. In the verse immediately preceding the text we read, "A good man shew­eth favour, and lendeth; he will guide his affairs with discretion. Surely he shall not be moved forever." "The righteous," it follows, "shall be in everlasting remembrance." The gratitude of individuals, and the applause of the public, shall transmit the name and the merits of the person endowed with this most "excellent spirit" to the latest posterity.

There is a great difference between these two characters, the just and the good man, though they are often considered as the same. The former is esteemed a safe and a respectable character. But what has the man fallen among thieves, stripped, wounded, and lying in the highway half dead, to expect from it? Not that he will pour wine and [Page 8] oil into his wounds, set him on his own beast, carry him to an inn, and see him taken care of at his own expense; for mercy is no constituent part of this character. Such a man, though just, may be austere; as he pays, so he may exact, the uttermost farthing; he may withhold his bounty, live to himself, and have no "bowels of com­passion" for his fellow creatures. But the good man is not only a righteous man and possessed of all his merits, however respectable they may be, but of many more, even an assemblage of all the most generous and amiable virtues.

But, to return to the rewards of the righteous. Our blessed Lord, through whom "life and immor­tality are brought to light," has given all his faith­ful followers the fullest assurances, that they shall live forever; not only in the remembrance of their fellow creatures, but in the esteem of all the holy angels, and even in the friendship of God himself, by whose example and moral perfections they have formed their tempers. This is an "everlasting remembrance" indeed, beyond which, as it includes everlasting happiness, we cannot extend our desires.

[Page 9]And to animate us all to aspire after these highest and unfading honours, though as social creatures we cannot wholly suspend our desires after others, I shall lay before you the character of the righteous, or good man; on whom they will all, eventually, be publicly and solemnly bestowed.

And here we may observe, that the first and great object of a good man's attention, is the glory of God, and the establishment of his king­dom in the hearts of men. Convinced of the in­timate connexion between vice and misery, and of the beneficial effects of virtue in families, in states, and in the whole conduct of human life; he considers it as his indispensable duty, and as the greatest benefit he can possibly confer on his fellow creatures, to encourage and extend its influence among all orders and ranks of men. Every favourable opportunity he stands ready, and is most heartily disposed, to embrace, to promote the love and practice of truth and righteousness. His desire is, to enrich the minds of all his neighbours and acquaintance with the purest principles of love to God and benevolence [Page 10] to man, and to engage their hearts in the pursuit of every virtue. His time and his talents are all employed in doing good, and all the good he can. Thus he co-operates with the dispensations of Divine Providence, and conforms to the example of God himself, who has done every thing, con­sistent with the freedom of moral agents, to arrest the progress of vice and wickedness; to banish sin and misery from the world; and to establish a kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy upon their ruins. And, by a careful cultivation of this heavenly temper, he goes on "from strength to strength," until he arrives at perfection; when virtue becomes familiar, and its practice easy. And here we may observe, that, although the heart of the good man is thus consecrated to God, and to the service of his fellow creatures, we discover no symptoms of that rash and intemperate zeal by which some have been guided, and which would annihilate the rights of conscience, and stifle the tenderest charities of the gospel. For, although fixed in his faith and mode of worship, and im­moveable in his sentiments of religion, he con­siders the right of private judgment as sacred and [Page 11] unalienable; and, both by his precepts and exam­ple, discovers his entire disapprobation of all those unfriendly and mistaken principles, which limit the grace of God, in favour of the chosen few, to the exclusion of numerous sects and parties. With Saint Peter he perceives, "that God is no respecter of persons; but, in every nation, he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accept­ed with him." His love, therefore, abounds to­wards his fellow creatures, until it overcomes the force of all "idle and nominal distinctions" what­ever. The man of an upright life, and whose conversation is agreeable to the grace of God in the gospel, is cheerfully admitted to all the privi­leges of a christian brother. It matters not where he was born, how he was educated, nor in what form and mode he worships God; for such is the effect of christian charity, that it withholds its affections from no sect nor nation, and from no individual, whose life and conversation are agree­able to the gospel.

Another branch of this great and excellent cha­racter is, firmness of mind, fortitude superior to the most flattering prospects, and to the most [Page 12] powerful oppositions, and which can support itself, in the pursuit and execution of all wise and righ­teous measures, against the imprudent solicitations of friends, the insidious arts of hypocrisy, and even the menaces of tyranny. No change of times, of fortune, or of men, can prevail over his integrity, or lead him to give up his sentiments, and to de­viate from what he conceives to be the line of his duty. In none of his views is he governed either by the praises or censures of the public opinion; and therefore he is always disposed to adopt those measures, which from a cool and dispassionate ex­amination, he is fully convinced are prudent, just, and ultimately beneficial. He will not be dis­couraged by the venality of those, who have not the resolution to countenance and approve of his virtuous exertions for fear of disgrace, and who dare not contradict the general opinion, however apparently mistaken, and prejudicial to the public welfare. He can read disapprobation in the faces of individuals, and meet the frowns of a mis­guided multitude, with a countenance undismay­ed, and an heart that fears no evil. The testi­mony of a good conscience, accompanied with [Page 13] the hopes of futurity, is more than a compensa­tion for all these terrors. Not that he pays no deference to the judgment of others, and is insen­sible to public esteem; but that he is resolved to prefer his duty to all other considerations; and that he never will embrace and recommend a mea­sure repugnant to his reason and conscience, not even for a moment, for all the most flattering pros­pects of riches and power.

Again: A good man, however extensive his me­rits, will be cautious how he mentions them. Knowing the imperfections of our common nature, though favoured with all the superior advantages of birth, titles and fortune, and placed in the most elevated stations of life, he cannot "glory;"—can neither insult nor triumph over the mistakes and errors of his brethren. And if he is obliged to censure their ignorance and follies, it will be with compassion, and not with severity. However ex­cellent his abilities and accomplishments may be, he can discover the merits of those, who move in more humble stations, and can "condescend to men of low estate." He leaves it to others to esti­mate his worth, and to proportion the measure of [Page 14] his fame. As he would not give pain, he avoids breaking in upon the claims of others, and pre­fers none in his own behalf. Without any de­gree of resentment he can bear with ingratitude itself, when appreciating his merits, and pardon the man, who endeavours to lessen his glory. Self-preference has so little influence upon a mind thus elevated, that it can look down upon the mul­titude contending for perfection, with the highest degree of complacency. When he beholds a genuine virtue, no matter how humble the mind and condition in which it was matured, he can select it for his own imitation, and, without pride or envy, acknowledge the merits, and praise the efforts, of all who endeavour to equal or sur­pass him in reputation. The most lavish en­comiums bestowed on the real deserts of others betray in him no symptoms of resentment. The piety and candour of his heart are so generous and pure, that he can "rejoice with them that do rejoice," and give "honour to whom honour is due." And without any invidious comparisons he is disposed most humbly to acknowledge, that "promotion cometh neither from the east, nor [Page 15] from the west, nor from the south;" but that "God is the judge; he putteth down one and setteth up another."

Further: The good man is strongly opposed to every kind of dissimulation. He knoweth not how to flatter. In no part of his behaviour can we discover so much as the shadow of duplicity. The example of the "double minded" man strikes his righteous soul with abhorrence. And indeed, take it "all in all," it is one of the most contemptible, if not one of the most dangerous, characters in society. The good man's faith, piety, and morals, are all sincere. The affec­tions of his heart, whence every thing belonging to true religion derives its value, are all pure and undefiled. Convinced that neither rites nor ceremonies, nor yet all the externals of piety, can be accepted of God as a substitute for that righteousness, which he requires, he considers all the duties of religion as designed to promote moral rectitude;—to enrich our hearts with the sublimest virtues;—and that nothing which does not contribute to this most excellent end is worth contending for; and therefore all his claims to [Page 16] the character of a christian are built upon that faith in Christ which is unfeigned, and "which worketh by love." And this same open and libe­ral principle prevails in all his transactions with mankind. He is a stranger to those pitiful shifts, to which even the most subtle hypocrite is sometimes obliged to have recourse, in order to justify or apologize for his conduct. When self-interest is the prevailing principle in a man, and that to which all others give place, there is no cal­culating upon the deceptions and mischiefs to which the incautious are exposed in all their commerce and connexions with him. The kind­est expressions, the strongest professions of friend­ship, and the most flattering expectations, are all in their favour. But these are soon forgotten, and nothing can be realized, but shame and mor­tification. But as the good man has no interests unconnected with the interests of others, and which may not fairly and openly be promoted, he can have no temptation, either to dissemble or flatter. If he professes himself your friend, his profession will prove sacred and inviolable. You will find him an "Israelite indeed," and shall [Page 17] never suffer through a misplaced confidence. Let his station and office be what they may, he will "keep the faith," and hold fast his integrity till he dies.

Again: The good man endeavours to be perfect, or merciful, as his "Father which is in heaven is perfect." This is a duty of so delightful a nature, and accompanied with so many sweet fruits in the performance of it, that one would imagine no­thing need be said to enforce the practice of it. However, we may observe, that the common happiness of our fellow creatures is by no means a common concern. Thousands are so lost to this godlike propensity, as to live to themselves only: they discover no sentiments of pity and compassion, and do not appear to have any inte­rest in the general welfare of mankind. They never reflect upon the sufferings of those, who have long struggled with the calamities of life, and who are ready to sink under the weight of their burdens; and therefore they have no wine and no oil for their consolation. And yet we can have no doubts, when we attend to "the words of our Lord Jesus," who says, "It is more blessed to [Page 18] give than to receive;" whether he who delights in acts of mercy, and performs them from the purest motives, or he who receives the benefits which flow from this heavenly temper, enjoys the greatest happiness. But, however influenced by these interesting sensations—these tender vibra­tions of a good heart—the merciful man may be, (and no doubt they are the strongest propen­sities of our nature,) yet the state of society, and the duties of his office, may sometimes be such, as to compel him to cut off those who are opposed to the common safety and happiness; but not without bringing home to his own heart a strong sense of their sufferings. Such is the force of this principle, that he is always disposed, when it can be done without injury to others, to pity, to spare, and to save, even the evil and unthankful. He considers the frailty and weakness of human nature, and knows that we all stand in need of favourable allowances and interpositions of mercy. For, however fortunate and independent, no man can say to his brother, any more than the hand can say to the foot, "I have no need of thee." As the indulgence of each cruel and malevolent passion [Page 19] increases the measure of human misery, so the ef­fusions of mercy and compassion lessen the weight of our sufferings. And besides, the good man perceives, that the habit and practice of these precious virtues perfect our nature, and make us like God.

Finally: The good man has the sincerest affec­tion for his country, and thinks no sacrifice that he can offer too great for the promotion of its prosperity and glory. He sees that all are not qualified for places of confidence and distinction, and that his happiness does not depend so much on the station in which Providence has placed him, as on a proper improvement of the talents committed to his care. If, therefore, he is poor, he will be an example of industry and economy; and if rich, of sobriety and charity. Instead of coveting the abundance, or envying the merits, of those whom fortune and the public esteem have rendered more conspicuous than himself, he will "study to be quiet, and to do his own business." He knows it to be his duty, his interest, and his honour, so long as he enjoys the benefit of "mild and equal laws," and is in possession of all the rights [Page 20] of man, to guard and protect the fountain from whence they flow. He feels the worth and influ­ence of a good reputation in himself too much to lead him to "speak evil of dignities," or to listen to the calumnies of those who do. When he meets those who are not ashamed to glory in their vices, and to oppose the righteous and those who are labouring to establish the public welfare, un­daunted by their censures, he will speak, and not keep silence, but rebuke sharply. Neither hopes nor fears can extinguish or lessen the ardour of this glowing and patriotic principle. Even suffer­ings and the deepest ingratitude cannot overcome it, for he looks upon himself as born for the good of the community; and therefore his time, his ta­lents, his ease, and even his life, should necessity require the sacrifice, he is ready to devote to the safety of his country.

Such would be the character of the good man, as far as circumstances [...]mit, even in the hum­bler walks of life; and if we admire the utility and dignity of it in the private citizen, how much more illustrious and extensively useful must it appear when clothed with the authority, and pla­ced at the head, of a great nation!

[Page 21]Here we behold power and goodness united; from which union the righteous have nothing to fear, but every thing to hope. This will be evi­dent, when we attend to his wise and upright administration. For he will "rule in the fear of God," and make it his principal object to pro­mote the interests of his kingdom; and thereby he becomes "a terror to evil doers," as well as "a praise to them that do well." His integrity and firmness are not to be shaken by the voice of the multitude. Superior to all influences of friends and parties, his great and independent mind will not suffer him to patronise any but the meritori­ous and those who are worthy of public confi­dence. Amidst all the intrigues and contending passions of the envious, the disappointed, and am­bitious, he maintains his dignity, and increases his glory. Friends, family, dependents, and every consideration of private interest, are wholly ab­sorbed in the love of his country. Anxious for the happiness of those over whom he presides, he reverences the laws, which he has engaged to sup­port, maintains their spirit, and enforces their authority, against all opposition. In the duties [Page 22] peculiar to each branch of his public character, he is governed by reason, and not by passion; there­fore he is not rash and precipitate, but cool and deliberate, in all his measures. In one word, in the good man, thus clothed with national autho­rity, and moving in the elevated sphere of its first magistrate, we behold the genuine patron of un­adulterated liberty, supported by the unlimited confidence of a watchful and discerning public; vindicating the cause of the oppressed, restrain­ing the insolence of pride and the wantonness of power, and filled with the most godlike senti­ments; the friend, the guardian▪ and the father, of his country; dispensing justice and judgment, with an equal hand, and copying the example of God himself, in his lenity, beneficence, mercy and love.

But you may be ready to inquire, whether such a character, merely human, has ever appeared on earth. Shall we meet with it in the annals of Athens or of Rome? In what history is it to be found? and in what country has it been display­ed? In answer to these anxious and very natural inquiries I shall only observe, that the melan­choly [Page 23] tidings of this day, which are no less affect­ing than true, and which have drawn forth the copious tears of a grateful empire, and display the most expressive tokens of solemn mourning, must convince the world, that such a noble, generous and disinterested character has existed, and has just finished its unexampled race of usefulness and glory.

It is almost needless to observe, that the speak­er was led to these reflections from our common loss in the death of that truly great and good man, who, under God, effected the independence of these United States, and lately presided at the helm of our general government; whose distin­guished talents and illustrious virtues long since engaged the warmest affections of this enlightened nation, and whose resplendent merits excited the admiration, and extorted the praise, of all Europe. And not only so, but "their sound went into all the earth, and unto the ends of the world."

When we reflect on his goodness, his piety, his firmness, wisdom and prudence;—on his modesty, benevolence and candour;—on his incessant exer­tions in the field of glory, his unremitting assiduity [Page 24] in the service of his country, and on the rich and invaluable laurels with which, under God, he crowned her, shall we be charged with enthusiasm, when we affirm, that a more virtuous patriot, a wiser statesman, and a greater general, than GEORGE WASHINGTON, never died. Though dead, he yet speaketh;* and while either private or public gratitude remain, his name "shall be in everlasting remembrance."

And may his superior abilities, clear judgment, and illustrious virtues, like the mantle of Elijah, long rest upon the head of our greatest living bene­factor, his worthy successor.

Now unto GOD, who said unto his anointed ser­vant, Cyrus, "He is my shepherd, and shall per­form all my pleasure," be ascribed everlasting praises, through JESUS CHRIST our LORD.

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