—"I sought for a man among them who should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me, for the land, that I should not destroy it."— EZEKIEL xxii. 30.




II. SAMUEL iii. 38.‘—Know ye not that there is a prince, and a great man fallen, this day, in Israel?

THESE words were spoken by king David, on occasion of the death of Abner, the commander in chief of the armies of Israel.

The funeral solemnities being completed, the king's friends invited him to partake of an en­tertainment. But he declined it with the so­lemnity of an oath, on account of the afflictive event of the day, and hereby evinced that his sorrow was deep and abiding. By far too much so, to be dissipated by the formalities of the funeral; however decent and respectful to the dead.

Our text suggests a weighty reason for his conduct, and, implicitly, calls on the nation at large, to mingle sorrows, and join in lamenting the common loss.

The likeness of that event to what now calls forth the general tear from every part of the United States, is sufficiently obvious.

In attempting a religious improvement of this mournful occasion, the following method is pro­posed

  • [Page 6]I. We shall consider what constitutes human greatness, and the means which produce it.
  • II. Trace it to its Divine author.
  • III. Consider the ends of divine wisdom, in raising up great men.
  • IV. Shew how these singular gifts of Heaven, should be received and improved.
  • V. Apply the subject to the present solemnity.
  • VI. Suggest a few thoughts on the improve­ment to be made of the death of the great man whom we, this day, lament.

I. We are to shew what constitutes human greatness, and the means which produce it.

In attending to this branch of our subject, it must be kept in mind, that greatness, when ap­plied to man, is not to be understood in an abso­lute, but in a compartaive sense. Men who are great, when compared with most of their fellow men, are little, in comparison with created be­ings of higher orders.—How little when compa­red with the boundless source of all created ex­istences! In this comparison, the most exalted creature, is like the small dust of the balance. Yea even less than nothing and vanity!

With this, impressed on our hearts, we name the following things as constituting human greatness, and comprising the most essential means to its production.

In general it may be defined, a sufficiency for a course of great and good actions, and the ex­hibition [Page 7] of them, through a series of trials and dangers. We speak of great and good actions, because no character can be truly great, what­ever productions of power, and of understand­ing it may exhibit, if they are not good. We contemplate, with aversion and terror, a Being possessed of great abilities without the will to do good. Great qualities are in no view desi­rable, excepting as the requisite means of pro­ducing extensive good, and, consequently, they cease to be objects of esteem and admiration, when not thus applied.

By good actions we mean those which are de­signed and adapted for the promotion of human happiness, in subservience to the best interests of the moral system. Not a single action, but a course of such actions, constitute a great charac­ter. Because, one single action may have the semblance of a great exertion of virtuous benev­olence, to the imperfect and superficial view of man; and may, however, be educed from prin­ciples which are wholly the reverse. But this can, scarcely, be supposed, in the case of a course, or long continued series of actions ap­parently great and good. We can, indeed, form no conception of good actions, except from their apparent design and tendency.

Those actions which are apparently designed and adapted directly to promote the happiness of a particular circle of rational beings, and to coincide with that of universal existence, we pronounce to be good, and those of an opposite tendency we consider as evil.

[Page 8] A distinction must be preserved in our minds between a good character, and one which is great; a person of small abilities, in the most private walk of life, may uniformly aim to do good, and may merit and possess the character of a good man, with those who know him, but he will never be called great.—Thus it appears that to constitute a great man, there must be a sufficiency for a course of great and good actions, and the exhibition of them, through a series of trials and dangers.—We mention this last cir­cumstance because perseverance in a course of good conduct through such a series, gives much additional evidence of inward sincerity, and unshaken resolution.

A sufficiency for such a course of action is to be understood with the limitation necessary, when applied to all created agents, who are e­qually, and absolutely dependent on the will and power of the great Creator. By this sufficien­cy, we therefore mean those abilities, means, opportunities, and dispositions, which God be­stows on those whom he designs to make truly great.

These things being premised, we proceed to name the following means, or requisites of hu­man greatness.

1. Good natural abilities are essential to the formation of a great character. That the origi­nal capacities of men are extremely diverse, is obvious, however this diversity is to be account­ed for. It is immaterial, to our present enqui­ry, whether it consists in the original constitu­tion of different minds, or is the result of con­nection [Page 9] with different bodies. That a wide and important difference exists, will be admitted. Some men are evidently possessed of powers a­dapted to important stations, and great actions. Such minds readily expand in the field of know­ledge, and have a happy talent in its application.—Others may, indeed, appear to have genius for learning, and become scientific men. But the genius adapted to form a great man, pursues practical knowledge, and applies it to great ac­tions, and without an original capacity of this description, all attempts for human greatness will be vain.

2. Good means for improvement are necessa­ry to form a great man. The progress of the mind, like that of animal and vegetable life, is effected by means. Proper cultivation expands the mental powers and qualifies the man for great and worthy exertions. Much is effected to this object by the wise lessons of parental in­struction, by lenient and steady government, and direction of the unformed principles and manners of childhood and youth.—The know­ledge of books, and men, is highly important, and especially the force of good example. Without these and other similar means of im­provement, the most promising natural abilities may be buried in obscurity, and be lost to pos­terity, and to the world.

An appeal to the state of individuals and of society, under the different degrees of improve­ment will exhibit a distinction between the man of learning and improvement, in cultivated so­ciety and the mere man of nature, the untutor­ed [Page 10] savage, in many respects not less striking, than between that savage and the most sagacious of brute animals.

3. Another requisite to human greatness is a diligent and persevering improvement of the means to excel.

Nothing is more evident than that the best a­bilities and means to form a great man, will utterly fail, unless these abilities are exerted, and the means improved.

The human mind is not possessed of original, or innate perceptions, knowledge must be ac­quired. A superior capacity for its reception constitutes the primary greatness of man; but that capacity unapplied will avail nothing, and means not improved will leave the soul empty. The diligent hand maketh rich, but idleness brings poverty no less in respect to the improve­ments of the mind, than of property. This is a stated law of our nature; established by its wise and beneficent Author. Experience and observation agree with this remark; and the general history of mankind is adapted to con­firm it.

4. A noble ardor of mind for great and good ac­tions. This is not to be found in every wise man. A certain absence of the spirit of exertion, and an immoderate love of ease and indulgence, have prevented many persons of respectable abilities and improvements from effecting any thing con­siderable, either great or good. Great minds, possessed of the ardor which has been mentioned, are far from indifference in the tendency of their actions, and their effects on society.—Destitute [Page 11] of public affection, and governed by private considerations, their apparent interests may inter­fere with that of the public, and they may be­come its most dangerous enemies. But influen­ced by a noble regard to the public, and pla­cing their own felicity in the common good, their ardent spirit of enterprize will be employ­ed to promote it.

They embrace an object truly great, and of immense value. The mind is filled with its weight and importance, and every power is em­ployed to obtain it.

5. Opportunity and occasion for great and good actions must be given, to form the charac­ter of a great man.

Without these the best abilities and improve­ments, connected with an ardent desire to do good, might never effect any thing very interest­ing and important.

This observation will be illustrated and con­firmed by reviewing the accounts of Noah, A­braham, Joseph, Moses, David, Josiah, the apos­tle Paul, and other worthies, in scripture histo­ry, and those of the famed sages, and other great men, of ancient and modern times, in the writings of profane authors, or of such as have appeared in our day.

The deluge, to which the old world was right­eously doomed, gave opportunity and occasion for those great and good actions in Noah, which have perpetuated his name, and "by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith." And similar observations might be made in regard to the rest. [Page 12] It is not improbable that abilities as great and hearts as good may have existed in the private walks of life, which with equal advantages and opportunities, would have merited equal rank in the annals of fame, with those great men whom we justly celebrate.

Even our WASHINGTON, whom we place a­mong the first in human greatness, had the Ame­rican revolutionary war, and consequent inde­pendence, not existed, would he have merited or enjoyed that high distinction to which he now has an indisputable claim!

6. Invincible fortitude and perseverance, are necessary to form a great character.

In a course of great and good actions, there is much labor, vigilance and care. There are many obstacles to be surmounted, difficulties, and dangers to be encountered, and discourage­ments to be sustained. The prospect of success is often clouded, and the best and most labored exertions for the public good are misrepresent­ed and censured.

In circumstances like these, men of but a common share of resolution and firmness, will be discouraged, and never arrive to human greatness.

Hence the necessity of invincible fortitude and perseverance, to form a great man—The candidate for this must deliberately count the cost, at setting out, and in view of the many discouragements in his way, must find that worth and importance in the object of pursuit, which out-weigh them all, and which prepares [Page 13] him to sacrifice every thing for its sake. The man who places his highest enjoyment in human happiness, and the highest perfection of the mo­ral system, and who rests in the unwavering faith of the universal and perfect government of the exalted Redeemer, can feel commanding inducements to engage in the most painful and hazardous enterprizes, for the public good. Amidst the uncertainties of futurity, in regard to himself, he is assured that, as it respects the object of his chief concern, all will be or­dered well, and the final issue will be good. Hence, under the impression of the perfection of divine superintendance, in application to all events, he is confident in God. He resolves with deliberation, and executes with undaunted courage and perseverance.—From the establish­ed law of Heaven, such fortitude and resolution make the fairest prospect of success. Other particulars might be named, as influencing to form a great character, but they would be found to be involved in those already mentioned, or connected with them.

To the superficial view of man, it is indeed requisite that, to form a great character, a course of great and good actions should be crowned with success. But this is not to judge from a direct view of the nature and tendency of actions, but from other events, and those not certainly connected with the actions. Also the ultimate and most important consequences of great and good actions, are often beyond the extent of human view, and wrapped up in futu­rity. Hence the judgement of the quality of actions, formed on their present and visible con­sequences is very uncertain, and in many instan­ces [Page 14] the events which we consider as the conse­quences of particular actions, might, with more justice, be educed from other, and very dif­ferent causes.

These things being obvious, it follows that, however necessary for us it may be to judge of characters, in part, by the apparent consequen­ces of actions, the rule is imperfect, and we are liable to err.—To the all-seeing mind, each ac­tion and character, in itself, is open to view, and the truly great man, is clearly discerned and approved, according to the nature and tendency of his actions, with whatever effects we may view them as connected. In the final adjust­ment of things in the moral system, every great and good action and character will appear in its true light, and the ultimate consequences of such actions will appear to be good. Then the wise, and the righteous, all the great and good, "shall shine forth as the son in the kingdom of their father."

II. Our next object is to trace human great­ness to its divine Author.

The absolute dependence of creatures on their Creator, is so obvious to reason, and that "ev­ery good gift cometh down from the father of lights," is so clearly taught in the holy scrip­tures, and is, on the whole, a truth so nearly self evident, that it is difficult to render it plain­er, or more certain by argument. Insensibility of this truth is not the fault of the understand­ing, but of the heart.

Human greatness we have shown to be the result of good natural abilities—placed under [Page 15] good means for improvement—a diligent and persevering use of those means—a noble ardor of mind for great and good actions—opportunity and occasion for their production—and invinci­ble fortitude and perseverance in a course of such actions.

Is there any one of these which is not the gift of God? However manifest it is that men are generally insensible of the invisible hand which supports them in life, and might be addres­sed in the divine language to Cyrus, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." Yet few will question the truth of the doctrine. A deep and abiding impression of it on our hearts is highly important in the general concerns of human life, and especially in the formation of a great and good character. Without this, all fancied human greatness will vanish in the light of Divine truth, as the mist before the rising sun.

III. We proceed to consider the ends of Di­vine wisdom in raising up great men.

We may reasonably suppose that infinite wis­dom has many particular objects to accomplish by such events, beyond the extent of human comprehension. In the divine operation, many ends are accomplished by one work, in ours, the reverse is true. Many works are necessary for the accomplishment of one end. We men­tion, however, the following particulars, as be­ing evidently comprised in the divine plan, in raising up great men.

1. The benefit of the subject. God is the fa­ther of the whole creation, "His goodness is [Page 16] over all his works," "He doth good to the evil and unthankful, He causes his sun to rise, and his rain to descend, on the evil and the good." But those on whom he has bestowed uncommon talents, and who faithfully improve them, are the objects of his peculiar care. To these he gives the unrivalled pleasure of doing good, and honors them with a great reward. He treats them as his own children. He bestows on them the marks of his peculiar favor. He gives them to see the fruit of their labor, in the felicity of his kingdom, and to be still useful, and to rejoice forever in his love.

2. Another end of God, in raising up great men, is the good of society. From the genuine consequences of the works of God, we may infer his designs, because we know He is never disap­pointed. In every case, his council will stand, and he will do all his pleasure.

But nothing is more evident than that under God, the interests of society are preserved and advanced by the labors of great men, qualified, and promoted to places of eminence, by God, for this end. Such preserve the state from im­pending ruin, defend it from enemies, secure its interests, and advance its prosperity. They are instrumental in giving complexion to the princi­ples and manners of the people at large, of bringing many blessings to their own generation, and conveying them to the children of future times. "Wo to thee O Land when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning. Blessed art thou O land when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength and not for drunkenness."

[Page 17] 3. The benefit of the church of God is anoth­er object of Divine wisdom, in raising up great men.—The truth and importance of this observ­ation are evident from the representations of holy scripture, importing that the complete sal­vation of the redeemed church is a leading ob­ject in all divine operations, and that Jesus Christ is exalted to be "head over all things to the church."—It is evident from the history of the wise and good of all ages. These have devoted their lives to serve the best interests of the church of God. For this, Moses and Joshua, Samuel, and David, lived, labored and suffered.—This has engaged prophets, apostles, and right­eous men of all ages, and nations. For this, they have prayed, labored, and suffered, and gi­ven their names to reproach, and their lives to death.—We add

4. Great men are raised up for the purposes which have been named, that hereby there might be a proper display of all divine perfections, through Jesus Christ, in all worlds, throughout all ages, to the praise and glory of God, forev­er.—This is the apostolic doctrine to the church at Corinth, and, for the same reason, to every christian church and individual.

"All things are for your sakes, that the abun­dant grace, through the thanksgiving of many, might redound to the glory of God"—In this we see a concatenation of objects, the most desirable and important, in which also the less is subordi­nate to the greater, in succession, and all absorb­ed in the expression of Divine fulness, and the everlasting glory of God.

[Page 18] IV. Our next enquiry respects the manner in which a people should receive and improve so singular a favor from God as the bestowment of great men.

1. We answer briefly, they should be received with unfeigned gratitude to God, the giver. With expressions of such gratitude the scriptures abound, we adduce but one. It is the thanks­giving of king David, near the close of life, in a review of the great things which God had done for him and his people.

David blessed the Lord before all the con­gregation, and David said, blessed be thou, Lord God of Israel, our father, forever and ever. Thine O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty, for all that is in the heaven and the earth is thine. Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art ex­alted as head above all. Both riches and honor come of thee, and thou reignest over all, and in thine hand is power and might, and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. Now therefore, our God we thank and praise thy glorious name. [1 Chron. XXIX. 10, 11, 12, 13.]

2. People to whom such men are given, should receive them as great blessings, and respect and honor them accordingly.

They should second their exertions for the pub­lic good, by a prompt subjection to their injuncti­ons, as rulers & magistrates. By using their influ­ence for the promotion of order in society, and they should help them with their prayers—wise­ly [Page 19] improving the privileges they enjoy by their means: giving to God the glory of his goodness in so great a blessing, teaching their children to respect the interests of society, and to revere the rulers and the laws.—And lastly, they should hold such important characters, as the gift of God, and be prepared to honor him by humble submission, when he shall see fit to remove them.

V. We proceed to apply the subject to the present solemnity.

That a great man is fallen in our land, is the unanimous voice of that solemn sadness which pervades the union.

To present him truly to the present, and fu­ture generations, will be the honorable, but ar­duous task of the historian. The recollection, however, of the following sketches, seems to be due to his memory at this time.

He was born on the 11th of February 1732. Though descended from respectable parents, his same rests not on the merit of his progenitors. By the death of his eldest brother, he came to the possession of the family estate, which was ample, and might, perhaps, have influence to bring him more early into public view. Hav­ing completed his education, under a domestic tutor, agreeably to the custom in that part of the country. About the age of twenty-one, he was intrusted with public business, by the govern­ment, important in its consequences, and attend­ed with much danger. This he executed to the satisfaction of his employers. The following year (1754) he was appointed to the command [Page 20] of a post, near the spot of ground where the town of Pittsburgh now stands. Attacked in this position by a vastly superior force of the enemy, after his ammunition was nearly exhausted, he extricated himself and his little army, from this perilous situation, in a manner which did him great honor.—In the year 1755, he marched with his regiment, under General Braddock, to attack the French who had occupied the post just mentioned, and were in force, and after the de­feat and death of that unfortunate General, he saved the remainder of the army, with great mil­itary address.

About this time he was marked out, in a pub­lic discourse, by something like a prophetic spirit, as the future support, and saviour of his country.§

After the peace of 1763, the field for military achievments was not open. But on the com­mencement of our troubles with Great-Britain, he was a representative in Congress in the year 1774, and 5, and when a decision of the dis­pute, by an appeal to arms, became inevitable, he was appointed by congress to the chief com­mand of the forces raised, and to be raised, for our defence. The dignified modesty with which he accepted this appointment, was a pledge of that fidelity, wisdom and fortitude, which mark­ed his official conduct through the war.

History will relate the events of this arduous conflict, and the numerous and unequalled diffi­culties, hazards and discouragements, which he had to encounter, and the unshaken fortitude [Page 21] with which he sustained them, till eight revolv­ing years of distress and slaughter, endured with unabating firmness by our army, and our citizens, and the subjection of two British armies by our forces, induced the government of Great-Britain to despair of success, and agree on terms of an honorable peace.

The treaty of peace being ratified, we next find our beloved General bidding an affectionate farewell to his army, fraught with salutary and seasonable counsels, which did great honor to his understanding, but still more to his heart. Ha­ving disbanded the army, he appeared before the President of Congress, in a full session of the mem­bers, and with a solemn and affectionate dignity, which admits not of description, but which no­ble minds can feel, he resigned his commission to the president; and retired, as a private man to his seat at Mount Vernon, there designing to spend the remainder of his days in sweet retire­ment, and the pure joys of domestic harmony.

The public exigencies however soon called him from his beloved retirement, and we find him presiding in the convention of 1787, which formed the happy constitution of our general go­vernment. When that constitution appeared and was adopted, the eyes and hearts of the friends of order, through the union, were fixed on WASHINGTON, to preside in the new government. He was accordingly elected, without a dissenting voice. Having determined to accept the ap­pointment, he left his beloved retirement, in the spring of the year 1789, and proceeded to New-York, where Congress was convened. The ex­pressions [Page 22] of respect which were paid him by all classes, in the various places through which he passed were unequalled. Among which those at the bridge of Trenton will be long remembered.

When he arrived at New-York, and offered himself to receive the legal qualifications of his high office, the scene was unutterably mov­ing. In an open gallery, in the view of many thousands of admiring spectators, the President advanced with a slow and solemn pace, laid his hand on the holy volume, and swore to the faith­ful discharge of his high office, while the tears of uncorrupted patriotism plentifully watered his venerable cheeks. A general acclamation of the joyous spectators succeeded. Had not the irresis­tible flow of the tender passions precluded utter­ance in many, it would have been universal.

Having filled the office of President of the U­nited States, for the constitutional term of four years, he reluctantly accepted a second unani­mous election to the office, which he filled, [...] second time, with no less wisdom and philan­thropy than the first.

Previous to a third election, he published his resignation, his fixed purpose of retirement, and last advice to the citizens of the United States, full of patriotism, full of wisdom.

In 1798, the exigencies of the public calling for his aid, he was appointed, by President A­dams, to the command of the armies of the Uni­ted States. Which appointment he accepted, as he had all others, as a gratuitous service to his country, and added another proof to the many [Page 23] already given, of the purity and disinterestedness of his patriotism. The happy influence, on the public mind, of this last testimony of affection to his country, is fresh in your memory.

With painful sensibility I close this narration with relating, that, on the 14th of December 1799, at 11 o'clock at night, after an illness of 24 hours only, this man of incalculable worth, was removed from us forever.—He died as he had lived.—He resigned his breath with the ser­enity becoming a great and good man.

VI. It now remains that we suggest a few thoughts on the improvement to be made of the mournful event we are contemplating.

1. We are called to humble thanksgiving to the God of grace who raised up this great man in our land, at such a time, and endued him with those distinguished accomplishments, which furnished him for the important part, he was called to act, in the American revolutionary war, and in the subsequent events.—That wis­dom more than human, and integrity incorrup­tible, marked his path, has been often observed. It has been the opinion of many wise heathens, that eminently wise and good men were the pe­culiar care of heaven. The holy scriptures a­bundantly support this sentiment.—In our WASH­INGTON it is illustrated and confirmed.

The preservation of a life so important, through so many dangers, to so late a period, is a wonder of divine mercy to be ever remem­bered and gratefully acknowledged. His influ­ence on our army to prevent it from disbanding, [Page 24] in seasons of extreme distress and irritation, and his successful exertions in the introduction of that constitution of government, which is the salva­tion of our country, as well as the wisdom, rec­titude, and success, of his administration, as Pre­sident, were of God, and to Him be the glory.

Great will be the influence connected with the character and example of the first President of the United States. What man of worth, and desi­rous of honest same, who shall succeed him, will have the boldness to counteract the system of administration which he adopted?

2. Let us submit with the deepest humility to the righteous stroke of God's anger, in this mourn­ful event.

God is righteous, He has punished us far less than our iniquities deserve. It becomes us to accept the punishment of our sins, and by deep repentance, and humble supplication, to seek his favor on our land, on our government, and es­pecially on the President of the United States. In celebrating the virtues and achievments of WASHINGTON, we are not to be insensible, or un­mindful of the good hand of our God on us, in giving him a successor whose abilities and virtues do honor to his office, and promise much good to the United States.

Let us unite in humble supplication to the throne of grace that much of the spirit of Elijah may rest on Elisha, and that our union may be blessed with an uninterrupted succession of Presidents, each of whom, in abilities, virtues, fi­delity and success, shall be a WASHINGTON.

[Page 25] 3. We are loudly called to stand in our lot for the support of our happy constitution, and the present wise and good administration of go­vernment.

Great are the prospects of the American Re­public. But it has many adversaries in its own bosom, and still more in Europe. French philo­sophy, atheism, and disorganization, will exert their utmost, to effect the prostration of our reli­gion, and the demolition of our order and gov­ernment.

Our Republic is yet new; it is far from having attained the stability of riper years. And these sons of Zeruiah will be too hard for us, if we slumber over the inestimable trust committed to us by Heaven.

Unless the Lord be on our side, when men of this description rise up against us, they will swal­low us up quick. But through him they shall be disappointed. The snare shall be broken and our souls delivered. Let us ever commit the United States to the guardianship of Him, who never slumbereth nor sleepeth. And let us di­ligently teach our children to fear and serve him, to imbibe the principles of true religion, order, morality and good government; to prac­tise them all their days, and transmit them to their children, that the generations to come, may be wise and happy; and that religion, and good order may flourish in the American Repub­lic to the latest posterity.

[Page 26] 4. Our subject teaches us the vanity of man as mortal, and our great concern, to be prepa­red for death and to meet the retributions of eternity.

If wisdom, honor, greatness and worth, united, will not deliver from death. If there is no dis­charge in this war, we are taught not to "put our trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help." But in the living God. Let us commit ourselves, our families, and our country, to his gracious protection and guid­ance. Let us serve our generation by the will of God. And let us unite in thankful praises to the God of all grace, that although our fathers are dead, and WASHINGTON, our friend, our protector is dead, yet Jesus Christ our Almighty Redeemer still lives, and shall never die. But is the same yesterday, and to day, and forever,—AMEN.

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