Hosea Hildreth.

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SB 55 73D










THESE DISCOURSES were* written during an engagement
to supply the pulpit at BARRINGTON. With some abridge-
ment and corrections, they are now published, in the hope
of contributing something towards strengthening what re-
mains of religious institutions in the State.

To the SOCIETY AND PEOPLE for whom these Discourses
were prepared, and to the CITIZENS OF OTHER TOWNS,
destitute of a regular and educated ministry, they are
very respectfully inscribed by the

April 9, 1824.


LUKE, XII, 48.

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much re-

OUR best security for the performance of duty, consists in
a deep sense of our being accountable to God. A variety
of considerations may have great influence in restraining
us from conduct, which would impair the confidence, or
incur the displeasure of our fellow men ; but no person
will go boldly and sincerely to his whole duty, without a
settled conviction, that his conduct is matter of record, and
that he must one day give an account of the deeds done
in his body. Under the influence of such a conviction,
the conscience becomes a constant and lasting principle,
" and will hold a man fast, when all other obligations will

Our duties result from the relations we sustain to our
Common Parent, to one another, to the present and the
future world. Among the important relations we sustain
to one another, is that of fellow citizens of the same town ;
and among our important duties, are those, which grow
out of this relation,

In this Discourse, I shall lead you to consider the nature
of the trust, reposed in you as citizens of the same town,
and the duties, which this trust enjoins.

I. As townsmen, my friends, much is given to you. You
are intrusted with privileges, which were procured at the
expense of much toil and suffering ; privileges, that have
been sealed to you with the blood of many, who were

Town governments, as we enjoy them in New-England,
are of New-England origin. No such governments ever
existed on the other side of the Atlantick. The very
title of Selectmen, as a title of office, was first used in this
country. Your privileges have descended to you, as an
inheritance ; and, in order to estimate rightly their value


and design, you ought frequently to trace back your his-
tory, and the history of your fathers. You ought seriously
to weigh the grand motives and views, which produced
the settlement of New-England.

At^the end of twenty years from the landing of the Pil-
grims on the Rock of Plymouth, there had arrived in New-
England about twenty one thousand souls. After this pe-
riod, more people left the country, than came into it.*
These twenty-one thousand, therefore, are properly con-
sidered as our ancestors, as the Fathers of New-England.
Now it is a fact, as notorious as it is important, that they
came to this country, with the express design of procuring
for themselves the enjoyment of civil and religious liber-
ty, and of transmitting the same to posterity. The emi-
gration of the Fathers was produced by the civil and ec-
clesiastical oppressions of the mother country ; and they
looked upon New-England, as an asylum prepared by Pro-
vidence, where they might maintain the worship of God,
and enjoy the blessings of equal laws. Spiritual privileg-
es, however, in their estimation, far exceeded all others ;
and were placed by them as much above temporal privi-
leges, as by us they are placed below them. The leading
motives and views of the New-England Fathers, are well
and truly stated by Mr. John Higginson, in a sermon, deliv-
ered before the General Court of Massachusetts in 1683.

" When the Lord stirred up the spirits of so many of his
people," said Mr. Higginson, " to come over to this wilder-
ness, it was not for worldly wealth, or a better livelihood
for the outward man. The generality of the people that
came over, professed the contrary ; nor had we any ra-
tional grounds to expect such a thing in such a wilderness.
Though God hath blessed his poor people here, and there
are, that have increased here from small beginnings to
great estates ; yet these are but additions ; they are but
additional mercies. It was another and a better thing,
that we followed the Lord into the wilderness for. This
is never to be forgotten, that New-England is a planta-
tion of religion. And if any man amongst us make religion
as twelve, and the world as thirteen, let such an one know,
he hath neither the spirit of a true New-England man ; nor
yet of a sincere Christian."

" This was and is our cause that Christ alone might
be acknowledged by us as the only head, Lord and law-


fiver in his Church ; that his written word might be ac-
nowledged as the only rule That only and all his insti-
tutions might be observed and enjoyed by us, and that
with purity and liberty, peace and power." Mr. Higginson
urged the duty and necessity of union and charity. "For
there is not," said he, " any one duty more pressed by our
Saviour and his Apostles, than this of a holy and close un-
ion among those, who profess his name. The best of men
may err ; and there being divers measures of light and
grace, there cannot but be different apprehensions in some
things. And therefore, where there is not so full an a-
greement as is to be desired, it is our duty to forbear one
another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the
spirit in the bond of peace." " This," he added, is the
chief interest of New-England, the matter of the greatest
importance in itself, and of greatest concernment unto us.
Whatever may be said of our interest in other respects,
yet we may be sure, that here lies our predominant inter-
est and cause ; and the great end for which we came into
this wilderness, and continue in it."*

The extracts, which I have now given, while they state
the leading objects and views of the New-England Fathers,
speak also the language and sentiments of the worthiest
portion of the New-England people in 1683. They speak
the language and sentiments of the worthiest portion of
the people of New-Hampshire at that time. It is true, the
people here laboured under great disadvantages ; they
were of a mixed character ; and religious privileges were
not so highly and generally prized, as in other parts of
New-England. Still your Fathers did by no means neglect
them. They expressly acknowledged the duty of main-
taining the publick worship of God and publick instruction
in religion and morality. They reserved lands for the
support and encouragement of the gospel ministry. If
you examine the charter of your own town, you will find,
that lands were reserved by it for these purposes ; and
the duties enjoined of erecting a House of worship, and
supporting a minister. The same duties are strongly in-
culcated by the present Constitution of this state. Its> lan-
guage is to this effect that morality rightly grounded on
evangelical principles, is the only proper foundation of
obedience to the laws that religion is absolutely essential
to the support of good government.

* Mather's Apology.

Such, my friends, were the language and sentiments of
those, who have gone before you, and who have transmit-
ted to you, in common with other towns, all the privileges,
which the friends of religion and liberty, could ask or de-
sire. They believed, that " godliness is profitable unto
all things, having promise of the life, that now is, and of
that which is to come." They believed that the temporal
prosperity of towns, is intimately connected with their
moral and religious welfare ; that the most effectual means
of preserving habits of industry and sobriety among a
people, are the regular observation of the Sabbath, and a
regular attendance on the institutions and ordinances of the
gospel. So far were they from considering the support
of ministers as tending to poverty, that they regarded it
as one of the best means of promoting their interest even
in this world. A ministerial tax in their days was no such
frightful, or burdensome thing, as in our day it has come
to be. They looked upon well principled and well edu-
cated ministers, as worthy of support. They considered,
that the " Lord himself had ordained, that they who preach
the gospel, should live of the gospel ; and that a fixed and
permanent support by taxation according to property, was
not only the easiest, but the most likely to secure the ser-
vices of men of education and character. They believed,
(and their principles have since been verified) that publick
instruction committed to illiterate men, tended not only to
degrade the ministerial character, but to vitiate the pub-
lick taste. They did not esteem a preacher the less, for
having had a regular and liberal education ; nor were
their ears offended at the sound of a written discourse.
The doctrine, " that ignorance is the mother of devo-
tion," they well knew, was no doctrine of Protestants.
They honoured knowledge. They honoured an enlight-
ejied, as well as pious ministry.

Of late years, indeed, it has been the habit of many, to
ridicule our Fathers, or to hold them up to scorn ; to
bring forward their failings, and to keep their virtues out
of sight. Of late years, attempts have been made to render
their institutions odious to the rising generation. Much
has been said and written about " law religion" and the
" standing order ;" as though no order ought to stand ; or
as though our towns could not prosper, while the law gave
them the power of maintaining the institutions of the
Fathers, even if they were united in the measure.

But I have looked upon these things, not as symptoms
of growing knowledge and virtue amongst us ; not as evi-
dences of progress in true liberty ; but rather as symptoms
and evidences of the downward course of society ; and as
foreboding little for the benefit of those, who are to come
after us. I have looked upon these things as just causes
of sorrow to all who " possess the spirit of true New-Eng-
land men." I have no doubt, my friends, that many of
you have viewed these things in a light very similar ; that
you have regarded them as attempts, rather to pull down
and destroy, than to " strengthen the things that remain."

But notwithstanding all that has been said and done per-
taining to the institutions of religion, it still remains true,
that you are intrusted with most important privileges. It
lies with you to say, whether or not, your town affairs shall
be conducted with order, fairness and economy ; whether
your schools shall be nurseries of virtue, as well as of
useful knowledge ; whether the Sabbath shall be reli-
giously observed, and the publick worship of God, respec-
tably maintained among you ; whether your town shall
present the pleasing aspect of a people, advancing in all
those attainments, which render a people respectable and
happy. It very much lies with you to say, what shall be
the character of your posterity ; what rank and standing
your town shall have among her sister towns, when your
heads shall be laid low in the dust. Under God, my
friends, these things still lie with you. They constitute a
most important. trust ; and they justify me in saying, that
much is given to you. Your conduct as a body politick,
or as members of religious society, involves consequences,
unspeakably important to you and your children, and to
the cause of good morals in this section of the State.

II. Let me now request your attention to the duties,
which the trust reposed in you enjoins. Unto whomso-
ever much is given, of him will be much required."

You, my friends, are intrusted with the welfare of this
town. You are bound then to consult its welfare. In
your civil concerns, all private and party feelings should
be suppressed. Every voter should come to the town-
meeting with the purpose of acting with the same regard
to integrity, and to the welfare of the town, as though he
were about to perform the last act of his life. Every
voter should act under the conviction, that he is account-
able to a higher power, than that of man, for the vote he


gives, for the measures he supports. If this consideration
had its due weight with a majority of voters, I am per^
auaded, the business of our towns generally, would be
conducted with much greater unanimity, and much greater
advantage to the publick interest. It is a melancholy
spectacle to see a town divided against itself. In such a
situation, no town ever did, nor ever can prosper. In
your civil affairs, therefore, you will study the things that
make for peace ; the things that make for good order ;
the things that may make a favourable impression on the
young men, who from year to year are coming forward to
act as voters. You will consider your example as impor-
tant to the rising generation ; and adopt no means to carry
favourite measures, which as good fathers and good men,
you cannot conscientiously recommend to your own sons.
You will set an example of moderation and candour ; an
example of true love for the honour of your town.

It belongs to you as legal voters, to raise money for the
support of schools. Generous provision by law is made
for this purpose. You are under legal obligation to raise
a considerable sum ; but if this sum prove inadequate to
the just claims of your youth, you are under moral obliga-
tion to enlarge it. In providing schools for your children,
you not only afford them the means of becoming respecta-
ble and useful in life ; but you provide for supporting
the government of your choice ; for the security of your
property, and of your neighbour's property ; for the
tranquillity and happiness of mankind. It is a maxim of
our government, that one of its essential pillars is know-
ledge ; that without the diffusion of a good portion of in-
telligence among the people, this government cannot be
maintained. Popular ignorance may do for other govern-
ments, but it cannot do for ours. To speak of ignorant
republicans, would be just as absurd, as to speak of enlight-
ened slaves. But my friends, your concern with schools
does not end with raising money for their support. The
manner in which the money is expended, is of still greater
importance, than the sum which is raised. You should
pay particular attention to the qualifications of those, whom
you employ to form the minds of your children. An igno-
rant teacher is little better than none : an immoral teacher
is much worse than none. The teacher even of a com-
mon school, ought to be a person of respectable informa-
tion. He ought to be one^ who is given to reading and

fond of knowledge. He ought in fact, to know a great
deal more, than he expects to impart to his pupils ; other-
wise, he cannot be apt in teaching even those things, which
his pupils may wish to learn. Especially, should every
teacher of youth be a person of sound morals. He should
be one, whose general deportment and conversation will
have a tendency to raise and improve the character of his
pupils. Consider, my friends, what treasures you commit
to the care of your schoolmasters. You commit to them
the instruction of those, who are to bear up your names,
when you shall be sleeping in the dust. You assign to
them the high duty of forming the moral and intellectual
character of those, who, in a few years more, will consti-
tute the heads of families and the pillars of society in this
place. Will you not then be attentive to the qualifications
of the teachers you provide for them ? Will you not seek
for them such teachers as are worthy to bear a part in
training up those, to whom the dearest interests of society
will so soon be committed ? Will you not take great pains
to bring forward a well informed and virtuous race, to fill
the places of their fathers, and to be ornaments to their
families and town ? If any anxieties, pertaining to this world,
are virtuous, they are the anxieties we feel for our chil-
dren ; for their education, connexions, and standing in so-
ciety. If we have no anxieties like these, we must be
unnatural indeed ; we must be destitute of the feelings of
parents. These anxieties, however, are common to us
all ; but it is only through a careful provision for the in-
tellectual, moral and religious education of our offspring,
that we can hope to verify the proverb, " children's chil-
dren are the crown of old men, and the glory of children
are their fathers."

It belongs to the legal voters of this town, to determine
the great question of supporting among them the regular
ministrations of the gospel. It belongs to you, my friends,
to determine, whether the God of your fathers shall here
be statedly and unitedly worshipped ; whether you will
statedly and unitedly come together to inquire for a right
way for yourselves and your little ones ; that is, whether
you will avail yourselves of the benefits, which a regular
ministry would bring to you ; or whether you will forsake
the assembling of yourselves together, (as the manner of
too many already is,) or go on with your present very
scanty means of moral and religious instruction. The


question of a regular support of the gospel, is a question
essentially connected with your character and prospects
as a people ; a question, which you are bound to decide
with reference to another day, when all your conduct will
be judged by him, who has already said, " unto whomso-
ever much is given, of him will be much required."

I am aware that a recent law of the State has taken
from you what townsmen anciently considered one of their
dearest rights, the right of providing as a town, for sup-
porting the institutions of religion. Were every voter in
town heartily attached to the same order of Christians,
you could not call a town-meeting, and legally vote one
dollar toward building a house of worship, or supporting
a minister. But still there is a way in which you may
enjoy, and legally enjoy, religious worship and instruction.
You may associate as members of religious society, and
support just such order as you agree to support. And if
this institution of your fathers, or any other religious in-
stitution, is to be supported here, it is natural to expect,
that it will chiefly be done by those who are voters in
town affairs. And I beg you to be assured, that I consider
myself as addressing those, who have a duty to perform
in relation to this subject ; that I consider myself as ad-
dressing reasonable men and conscientious men, who will
not shut their eyes against the truth, and absurdly imag-
ine, that because they have, for many years, neglected
their duty, they may therefore continue to neglect it.

The language of the existing law concerning religion is
this : You may support any religious institutions, or none
at all, just as you please. But the Constitution of the
State and the law of God speak a very different language.
If you will take the trouble of reading the sixth article of
the Bill of Rights, you will find, that, while it very pro-
perly guards the rights of conscience, it solemnly asserts
the duty of supporting religious institutions. I trust I need
not take up your time in shewing, that the Bible incul-
cates the same duty. I trust you will all admit the truth
of these two propositions. First, that no government, de-
pending on publick opinion, that is, no free government,
can be supported without piety and good morals. And
secondly, that piety and good morals cannot be cherished
and maintained in the community, without publick instruc-
tion. For my part, I should expect, that mankind at large,
would just as soon understand reading, writing and arith-


metick, without schools or teachers ; as become religious
or moral, without publick instruction. I never heard of a
virtuous people, who had not such instruction. Now,
if you admit the truth of my two propositions, how can
you possibly avoid the inference, that it is your duty to
support the institutions of religion in this place ? You are
indeed bound to support them, by your regard for the
government under which you live. You are bound as
good citizens, to adopt the best and most obvious means of
preserving in your town an orderly, sober, industrious race
of men ; a race of men, worthy to enjoy, and capable of
maintaining a republican form of government. If you can
do this without regularly supporting the " publick worship
of the Deity, and publick instruction in religion, piety and
moraliy," you possess a secret, which your fathers never
dreamt of; and you will authorize the conclusion, that hu-
man nature is different here from what it is in all other
parts of the world. But the truth is, my friends, if you
would be an enlightened and moral people, you must take
the same steps to this end, which the wise and good part
of mankind have ever found to be necessary. This end
can be attained by no other steps.

The influence of stated religious worship and instruc-
tion is visible, not only in the good order of towns, but in
the relative value of real estate. Look through Christen-
dom, and you will find, that towns, where the institutions
of religion are well supported, compared with towns in
which they are in a great measure neglected, have a de-
cided advantage in the value of their farms ; and this ad-
vantage constitutes a fund, much larger than is requisite
for the support of the gospel. The quality of the soil
and local advantages do not determine the entire value of
farms. It is a serious truth, that the character of the in-
habitants, their disposition and habits in relation to schools,
to the Sabbath, and to the institutions of religion, are tak-
en into the account. This is true of every farming town
in New-England ; and it always will be true, while there
remains among us a vestige of good principle. So that
you are furnished even with pecuniary motives in favour
of supporting the gospel ; and so true is it, that godliness
has promise of the life that now is. I would not recom-
mend a shew of religion for the sake of worldly advan-
tage. This certainly would be very wrong. But I
would recommend, that you seriously consider the iati-


mate connexion that subsists between the spiritual and
temporal welfare of mankind. You cannot direct me to
any numerous community on the face of the whole earth,
comparatively distinguished for piety and good morals, and
not, at the same time, comparatively distinguished for tem-
poral prosperity.

I might now offer to your consideration the purely re-
ligious motives which should induce you to support the
preaching of the gospel. I might speak of the impor-
tance of the means of grace, as connected with salvation.
But I have time only to observe on this topick, that the
preaching of the gospel is the great instrument, which
God, in every age of the church, has made use of to con-
vert and save the souls of men.

There are several apologies for neglecting, or refusing
to support the institutions of religion, which in our desti-
tute towns are more or less urged, and which deserve to
be considered. One of these apologies is this : The peo-
ple are so divided, that the support of a minister is imprac-
ticable. Now, my friends, wherever division consists in
want of kind and good feelings, it is manifestly criminal in
itself, and cannot justify the neglect in question. It shews
that religion and morality are low, and that publick wor-
ship and instruction are very much needed to bring about
a better state of things. And I know of nothing so well
calculated to create, and cherish, and keep alive the
friendly affections among a people, as the habit of meet-
ing one another in the solemn assembly, where all are re-
minded of their personal frailties and sins, and taught to
exercise a spirit of forgiveness one toward another. What
can you imagine more likely to counteract the spirit of
wrath, and clamour, and evil speaking, than frequently as-
sembling yourselves together, in the more especial pres-
ence of Him, whose offspring you are, and whom you are
to remember as your common parent ? The mere coming
together, in an orderly and decent manner, and seeing one
another, has a happy influence in cultivating friendly dis-
positions. By frequently meeting in this way, you acquire
an interest in one another's welfare ; you feel like breth-
ren, having a common interest to promote. And if you
come together with the prayer in your hearts, as well as

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Online LibraryHosea HildrethTwo discourses to townsmen. .. → online text (page 1 of 3)