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EXODUS xxxii. 6.
And the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up
The account which we have of the descent of the Lord upon mount Sinai, when he gave the law to Moses, is most awfully sublime. The scene described is without a parallel; yet bearing some resemblance to what will take place when God shall come to judge the world,
The people were thrown into consternation, and even Moses said, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has informed us, I exceedingly fear and quake. Moses was called up to the top of the mount to receive his instructions; and the two tables of the law, and continued there fasting for forty days. In his absence, the people grew weary of waiting for him, and the business to which they were called was too spiritual for their gross conceptions, and desires. They, therefore, pretended that they knew not what was become of Moses, and called upon Aaron to make them gods to go before them.
If any opposition was made by Aaron to this clamorous demand of the multitude, it was too feeble, and too unworthy of him to deserve a place in the records. By requiring the golden ear-rings to melt down to make the calf, which was to be the object of their worship, he imposed indeed upon them an act of self denial, wh he might hope would frustrate their design. But that he proceeded with
out any reason which would justify him, appears from the miserable account which he gave of the matter to Moses.
After the molten alf was formed, and the stupid idolaters had cried out, These be thy gods 0 Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt! Aaron built an altar before it, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord. This was a very acceptable proclamation, and the people readily complied with it, bringing their burnt offerings, and their peace offerings; and having offered sacrifice to the idol, they closed the business by indulging in feasting and sport, according to the representation of our text.
In this condition of things, Moses was ordered down from the mount; saw the calf, and the dancing; and to express the indignation which he felt, he cast the tables out of his hands, and broke them both at the foot of the mount. The consequences of this wicked idolatrous proceeding were very dreadful; for about three thousand fell by the hands of the Levites, who were commissioned by God as the executioners of his vengeance.
Human nature has never varied essentially, since the introduction of sin. It comported well with the sensual character of the Israelites, to have an object of worship which they could see; and a worship which required no homage of the heart; but which might unite with, and be followed by any animal indulgences, to which they might incline. Though we do not bring our burnt offerings, and peace offerings, to present a sacrifice to a molton image; if we follow nature for a guide, we are better pleased with external service, than with internal; with toleration, than with strict rules of religion; than with that commandment which is holy, and just, and good.
The Psalmist has told us, that it is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord. Adopting this sentiment, the first settlers of New England introduced the custom, which has been handed down to us, of observing a day of Thanksgiving, as well as a day of Fasting, annually, to be appointed by the Executive of each State. As New England is allowed to be vastly superior to the other parts of the country, in respect to morals, and religion, this castom may be viewed as having had its infiuence in making it so; and where thiş
custom has not been adopted, but sneered at, benefits may have resulted from it, by means of the connexion of the States and the intercourse of the people.
But if days set apart for thanksgiving, poorly as they have been observed, have been productive of good; what would have been the sum of good produced, had they been observed by all, as we hope and trust they have been by
More regard, perhaps, is usually had in the preparation of the banquet, and in the use of it to the gratification of the appetite, than to the glory of him whose bounties are spread profusely on the table; and though public worship is attended by some, dancing, riding, racing, gambling, drinking, shooting, and things of the like kind, are by many, thought to be indispensable employments, for the rest of the week. Whether it is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord in this way of performing the service, it is submitted to you to decide. We know that when the Israelites, in the instance under consideration, pretended to keep a feast to the Lord, his anger was most terribly manifested towards them for mingling idolatry, and festivity, with his worship.
Let us shun their evil example. Let us keep a feast to the Lord. We have nothing to do here, at this time, unless we can render unto God thanksgiving. Motives to this business are abundant and too numerous to be all mentioned; and too often brought into view, to allow of much novelty in their exhibition.
It has been repeatedly said from high authority, but it is no less a truth on that account, nor less deserving of grateful recollection, that the lines are fallen to us in pleasant places and that we have a goodly heritage. The soils of our country are various, and the climates; the productions are of many kinds, and abundant; the accommodations for intercourse, and traffic, are extraordinary; the means of subsistence, and of knowledge, are within the reach of all classes of the people; and the civil, and religious institutions, with which we are favored, would probably appear to advantage, in comparison with the best that can be found.
It is about two centuries since this land began to be peopled from Europe. How generally has war been there, and how small a proportion of the time has this land been deprived of the blessings of peace? Who has made us to differ? He certainly who builds up, and throws down, at his pleasure; and who holds in his hand the reins of universal government. Perhaps, from all our wars, some good has resulted.
By the war of the revolution, we know our independence was effected. In our independence we greatly glory, whether properly disposed or not; and every year, we celebrate the great event, much as we differ in political opinions. The war which raised us from dependant colonies to an independent nation, has ever been pronounced, with a very few dissenting voices, a necessary war; and being necessary, it was prospered; and being prospered, it was glorious: though the expense was great, both of treasure, and of blood.
For the war which preceded that of the revolution, there was sufficient reason; and for the result of it, we have great cause to be thankful; as has appeared more of late years than at any previous period.
This year has witnessed the interposition of Providence in our behalf, to deliver us from a war which multitudes, if not most of the people, considered unnecessary; unjust; and impolitic: and which rulers; and subjects; those who made it, and those who made opposition to it, rejoiced to see brought to a close.
For the peace which we now have, we have been called upon to keep a national Thanksgiving; and that by the voice of him who led his council to the declaration of wat. So great was the blessing, in the estimation of our chief magistrate, and of the two houses of congress; that they could not wait for the time to arrive, when the State Executives, according to their custom, where there has been any such custom, would issue their proclamations, calling upon the people to render thanks to God for his mercies, including peace in the catalogue.
Such an unexpected change took place in European affairs, after our late war commenced, that it was hardly to be expected; and indeed, it was not much expected here, by the government or the people, that such a treaty of peace could be obtained as that a remnant should be saved to us, either of interest or of honor.
The nation with which we were contending, powerful against a world in arms, was much more to be dreaded when left without a single foe but ourselves; and we had reason to calculate, that the common principle of selfishness would induce her to a continuance of hostilities with us, when revenge was so easy, and her gain, and our loss, so certain.
This seems to have been the calculation of those who entertain the most unfavorable opinion of the English nation and the English government; and even those who ever thought, that the war was reluctantly begun, and reluctantly prosecuted, on the part of the nation, lately styled our enemy, had their fears, lest the principle of rectitude should prove too feeble, and ineffectual, in the councils of a triumphant and aspiring people, to admit of terms upon which even a truce could be settled.
Is it within your recollection that a peace has ever been established between two nations at war when the advantages of one over the other were so many, and so great? Has the Power which we have been in alliance with, and which was long so formidable in Europe, in one instance, done a thing of the like kind? There is but one way of accounting for an event so welcome as peace was to all; and so beyond the expectation of all, as that was when it took place. The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; as the rivers of water, he turneth it whithersoever he will. If we do not adopt this sentiment, and apply it to explain this affair, we have a mystery in the fact before us. Until we can believe that water, whose natural course is downward, will, taking its own direction, run from the valleys to the tops of the hills, we cannot, consistently, suppose, that a nation, or a government, actuated by nothing but a selfish principle, will, in any case, act against itself. We must either suppose the president's call upon the people to keep a day of Thanksgiving to be without any meaning, or, we must conclude him to be impressed with the belief that the hand of God was visible in bringing the contest to a termination.
But how was the hand of God visible in this business? Can he have an agency in human affairs, except by acting