Leonard Withington.

The blessings of our institutions, and our obligations to continue them. : A discourse, preached in the First Congregational Church, Newbury, Fast Day, April 7, 1853. online

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Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe blessings of our institutions, and our obligations to continue them. : A discourse, preached in the First Congregational Church, Newbury, Fast Day, April 7, 1853. → online text (page 1 of 2)
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FAST DAY, APRIL 7, 1853.



No. 29 Market Square.



The Blessings of oor Institutions, and our obligations to continue them.




FAST DAY, APRIL 7, 1853.

-y y^YV-J <^



No. 29 Market Square.





Daily Evening Union Press, Newturyport.

Rev. Leonard Withington, D. D.

Dear Sir : — We desire to express to you our sincere thanks
for the Sermon delivered in your church on the afternoon
of Fast Day. We cordially sympathize with you in the enlarg-
ed views — the grateful and patriotic sentiments — so forcibly
stated and so richly illustrated in that discourse ; and we would
respectfully ask of you a copy for publication.

With great regard and esteem, we are, Dear Sir,
Your Obedient Servants,

Step. W. Marston,
Daniel Colman,
s. mulliken,
Jacob Stone,
Jeremiah Colman.
Newbury, April 8, 1853.

Gentlemen : — I have received your partial request, and com-
mit the Sermon to the mercy of its friends and the severity of its
enemies, if such there be. The gist of the discourse lies in the
last paragraph under the first head. That I have not encoun-
tered a vague fantom will be evident to all who peruse the
speeches and speculations of the late Hon. J. C. Calhoun of
South Carolina — a man of great penetration — great political con-
sistency, and, as' I believe, of great honesty ; — but a man whose
powers and virtues make his authority more dangerous when it
supports a wrong principle. I believe that the experience of two
centuries in New England, after all abatements and exceptions,
goes to confute the first grand postulate of his social system.
Yours, truly, , L. Withington.

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Boston Public Library





Our partiality to ourselves often prevents us from dis-
cerning the most obvious truths. The wide ocean may
be concealed by a mist, and the sun himself emits his hght
in his meridian glory in vain around the sluggard's couch,
unawakened by his beams. The mental eye is more apt
to be closed than the natural, and we are very reluctant
to learn the lesson which we have no delight in knowing.
That we owe many duties to the social system of which we
are a part, is alike the dictate of morality and religion.
Society does not stand on its own base like a stone temple
where each block is pressed into its place by the superin-
cumbent weight of all above it, and supported by all below
— it is a collection of voluntary minds, each having its
place and all having their duties— we must be active in
its support — we must own Its laws — we must feel a love
for the general welfare — we must bring our contributions
to the general store-house, and we must learn not to sep-
arate our private welfare from that of the community to
which we belong.

As the man that has reached the top of the mountain
has a far purer air and a wider prospect than he involved
in the mists of the vale below — so that country which has,

through effort, reached the high&su point of civilization, is
far purer and happier than that which still lingers in bar-
barism and ignorance. We should ever be mounting the hill.
Improvement is the blessing and duty of man. Growth is
life. It is a responsibihtj which rests on us all. But the
tendencies of selfishness are not toward improvement.

We are bound to honor a parent from the relation itself
and from the ordinance and command of the supreme
parent. But how much more is this duty enhanced when
we recollect a thousand favors needed — a thousand favors
received. The lake Genessaret pours the waters of the
Jordan down its winding channel on its southern side ; but
then it receives them in turn from the north. Freely it
receives and freely it communicates.

When our Saviour uttered the words of our text, he was
about to send his Apostles to the lost sheep of the house of
Israel, who were to go and preach the prelusive gospel ;
that is — the gospel as far as then developed. They were
to 'provide neither gold, nor silver, nor Brass in their purses;
nor scrip for their journey, nor two coats, nor shoes, nor
yet staves. The first offering of the Gospel was to be
free — without money and without p)rice. The meaning of
the word/rge, may be — that, though the Gospel must cost
something, yet the difference between the price and the
value of the thing offered is so great, so immense that it
may well pass for nothing. If the express-man were to
bring you a trunk of California gold, you would hardly
call the quarter of a dollar which you paid for the car-
riage an equivalent for the immense value. The Gospel,
though it comes to us through our exertions and sacrifices,
yet it may be truly said — to be without money and without

My application of the text this day will be to a kindred
subject. We belong to the community in which we dwell.
We are drops in a stream, leaves on a tree—component

parts of one great whole. Societj has done something for
us ; we owe it something in return. The star that shines
over your journey when you travel by midnight, will con-
tinue to shine without your care so long as it is embraced
in a cloudless sky. But if you enjoy a lamp you must
replenish it with oil. We have certainly received very
much from the community in which we dwell — New Eng-
land and its institutions. Not the sunny islands of the
Pacific sea — not the climes of Araby the blest — not the
ever-bearing fields watered by the rich sluices of the Nile
— not the realm of India or Ceylon — can afford such moral
blessings as the icy soil of New England. Vigor breathes
in all her gales, and the blessing of God is written upon
her rocka.

Freely have ye received, freely give. The text natu-
rally divides itself into two parts. I. A consideration of
what we have received from the institutions of our country ;
and IL The obligation it lays us under to support and
improve, if possible, the institutions from which we have
derived so much benefit.

I. "We have received much. We are citizens of the
freest nation on earth. A combination of circumstances
very rare, have made New England a peculiar country.
With us self-government is not only a passion but a habit ;
and, for many centuries, causes have been at work to
make us capable of what we enjoy. The laws, customs,
schools, institutions, religions, habits of our land, are not
the work of a day, but the slow growth of teaching ages.
They are like the soil we tread, where we see that one
layer of earth has been deposited after another, and its
present fertility is the accumulated gift of time. Our
fathers came from England. They were of Saxon descent.
Though England is a monarchy, she has the most republi-
canism in her composition of any nation beyond^ the Atlan-
tic. The aristocracy there was a very gradual one ; — it

was diffused power — it was shaded off by slow degrees into
the commonality, from which it was constantly recruited.
Many of the great land-holders were without a title of
nobility ; and then there were a set of small land-holders
called yeoman, very numerous in former ages ; and still
farther, a tenant there was always regarded as an indepen-
dent man ; a man of pecuhar rights ; he might sue his
Lord and the courts were always favorable to him.* There
prevailed trial by jury, and finally England and Scotland
soon became Protestant countries ; they read the bible,
judged of its mighty doctrines, and learned to bow with
complete submission to no king but the king of Zion. Thus
a gracious providence prepared the way for that sacred
trust which man in his weakness and ignorance is so apt to
abuse. Suppose yourself standing at the mouth of a river,
where its waters meet the sea, and you wonder at their
abundance — you ask if they ever can fail. You are told
that they drain a whole county of its floods — the showers
of a vast surface — the snows of distant mountains supply
the never ceasing stream. It has had acres and miles for
its preparation. Thus it is of our institutions — God has
been for ages planting the roots and preparing the way.

It would be to tell an old story to relate how this conti-
nent was settled. Our fathers dissented not only from
Rome but from the church of England. They were driven
from their native land — they left the streams and breezes
that murmured around their native cottages and came to
settle this western wilderness. They were thrown on their
own resources. It would be almost impossible to enumer-
ate the various causes which combined to prepare the
felicity of a self-governing people. The hard chmate —
the rough soil — the trees to be cut down — the long winters
— the fierce savages — the dangers of a midnight alarm —
the strict industry and temperance enforced by their con-

*See Smith's Wealtli of Nations, book 3d, cliap, 2d,

■^litlon — tlie admirable proportion between the literary and
laboring population — the distant power to which they could
always appeal in the danger of anarchy — a power which
they hated to call in, and which, from that very circum-
stance, had a silent influence — all these blessings and many
more — combinations never before seen on earth — prepared
the way to make a free, a sober and a moral people. Self-
government became a habit, before we knew its value.
We planted and cherished the tree for its shade, and lo !
it was unexpectedly bearing fruit. We blundered into
blessings ; and, though some were foreseen and sought,
many — many more were providentially found. As the
Mormons when driven from Illinois, Avandered over the wil-
derness and finally fell into the valley of the salt lake best"
fitted for them — so our fathers were guided, as if by some
guardian angel, through briars and thorns, which only
served to make the land of promise more safe and more
sweet. All favored that peculiar prosperity we now enjoyj
and are taught to consider our greatest blessing.

Happiness is no abstraction. It is something fit-
ted to us- — something we must be prepared for ; the
tortoise finds it in mud — the bee among the flowers and
the bird on. the tree. It is the perfection and perpetuation
of our taste, our habits and our cultivated nature.

Our dear native land has given us much. She is a kind
mother and she has rocked us in her rough and deal-board
cradle ; she has sung her songs over our earliest sleep.
She knew what blessings she had to impart and she knew
how to prepare us for them. What difierent beings you
are from being born in Massachusetts — in Essex county —
on the banks of the Merrimack — from what you would
have been had you drawn your first breath among the
Bushmen of Karroo, or the dark skins of the Fejee Islands^
I can speak for one — a thousand recollections press upon
my grateful memory. I found a school ; a social library ;


a sabbath ; a weekly habit of assembling to hear sermons ;
though born to labor, I was nursed to thought ; and I
can never forget those sweet forms of Christian ameliora-
tion which charmed my infancy and made life a blessing.
! my dear native land — thy streams are sweet because
they flow by the sanctuary. They murmur to the songs of
Zion. Thy flowers are beautiful because they remind me
of the school-house where I was first taught to read. Thy
hills are pleasant because they look down on the steeple.
The ocean that lashes thy eastern rocks is majestic, because
it wafts the improvements without the imperfections of the
old world, to thy welcome reception. Even thy pastures
and barren sands that tinkle to the sheep and the cow-
bell, are delightful because they need and command that
skill which can turn floods on the dry ground and make
the wilderness blossom as the rose. 0, New England —
dear New England — asjlum for the wretched — pride of
thy sons and joy of the whole world — the faltering tongue,
that would bemoan thy imperfections, shall speak thy
praise. Thou hast given us much. Thou art our mother ;
our nurse — our refuge and our home. If I forget thee,

Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If

1 do not rememher thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of
my mouth ; if I 'prefer not Jerusalem to my chief joy. Out
of Zion the perfection of beauty Cfod hath shined. There I
found my cradle and there may my surviving kindred dig
my grave.

Perhaps a concentrated idea may more impress us.
Take the Putnam school as an example. — Here is a plain
man, born among us whom nobody supposed to be a phi-
lanthropist, or a reformer. But he has struggled with
diSiculties, his own experience having taught him the value
of education, his wants have suggested the means of sup-
ply, and he leaves a legacy which embalms his name in the
hearts of bis fellow citizens as long as a ^ood education


shall be the best gift that charity can below upon her pro-
tected sons. Write on his simple stone that he was a wise
man ; write more, that he was a generous man ; and write
again still more, that he was both generous and wise.

Perhaps, after all, I have not given you the brightest
diamond Xew England has given us in her fillet of precious
stones. What is it ? We are so cautious and distrustful that
we never fully believe a social principle until it is verified by
experience. The ship of Ericsson has removed all doubt
by actually accomplishing her voyage. Objection retires,
Now in our land — in our hard Northern region we have
shown by the lapse of two centuries that it is possible for
an energetic people to till their own soil and yet support
their own institutions. Labor and thought may go together.
It is not necessary to have a degraded class. The forms
of feudalism are not necessary to the public improvement,
or the public felicity.* This lesson, fully carried out and
long perpetuated, will be of immense value to an incredu-
lous world. It is indeed an old lesson — Moses taught it.
A man must be an inattentive reader of his Bible not to
see that it is the involved design in those old Jewish laws.
The sinewy arm that works must go with the sober mind
that thinks. The jealousy of power — the iron chain of
mingled fear and aggression — the groans of poverty — the
luxuries of the palace purchased at the expense of the
privation of a thousand cottages — the tyranny that fears
while it terrifies, and the submission which crouches while
it prepares the blow, — all these things are superfluous —
they are self-inflicted tortures. Give man the deep prin-
ciple that comes from his nature and the bosom of God —
first train him and then trust him, and all is comparatively
safe. Society in the eastern world so naturally falls into

*Aa objection -will occur here to some minds ; it will be said that slavery was in New
England until after the reTolutionary war. True, but to such a small extent as not to
affect the certainty of the experiment


a different mode, and when joii have once put on the
chains, it is so hard to take them off — the lower people in.
Egypt — in Naples — in Turkey and even in France appear
so utterly incapable of exaltation — that our example to the
contrary becomes vastly important. This lesson our
northern states have taught to conviction — taught by ex -
perience — our habits are their miracles ; and for this pre-
cious collateral of a freed Gospel, we should learn to bless-
God, and keep it that we may bless him. It is his
richest gift. But it is time to pass to the

II thing — The obligation it lays us under to support and
to improve, if possible, the institutions from which we de-
rive so much benefit.

The text but echoes a principle deeply ingrained in our
nature. The earth that receives the heat and the dew
returns them in fragrance back to Heaven. Freely have
pe received, freely give. For, in the first place, though no
good were given, it is our duty to love and benefit all man-
kind. Wherever there is a sensitive nature to suffer, it is
the yearning of true virtue to afford it relief. God himself
has set us his example. Jesus Christ did not wait to re-
ceive some benefit from man before he left the skies for
our relief. Our miseries were enough to move him. There
is a prior obligation resting upon all active natures — not
merely to return benefits but to begin them. Nay, we are
bound to relieve the evil and unthankful just as our heav-
enly Father sejids his rain uj^on the just and imjust.
Were we born on the most barren island and surrounded
by the most barbarous population — it would be our duty to
raise and exalt the most hopeless spot in creation ; but 2d,
when good is given, it certainly increases the obhgation to
return it. Then common gratitude combines with original
virtue to spread the blessings we have received. And
when the benefit is beyond all estimation— when gold and
silver are dross and dust compared with it— how does our


responsibility swell in magnitude to go and do likewise !
Think how much you owe to the fact that you Avere born
in New England ; you might have been born a Jew, a Ma-
homedan, a roving Tartar ; you might have been kneeling
before the throne of Persia, or been the victims of African
slavery ; your birth in New England made you a free
man ; a man, a Christian. You grew up among our in-
stitutions, and have received all their blessings. Our
Bible instructed you, our schools taught you, our Sabbaths
called you to repentance and our Fathers' God spread his
mantle over you. In no quarter of the world, probably,
■would you stand such a chance for temporal and eternal
happiness as in New England. Now will you deem her
institutions a burden ? Will you not perpetuate the forms
of social life that have exalted you from degradation and
almost lifted you to Heaven ?

It is well known to Christians because it is deeply felt in
their own experience, that an additional obligation to love
and serve God comes from the fact that we are redeemed
by Christ. We were originally bound not to break the law
of God. We were bound to obey it when not a gift was
bestowed upon us but existence and itself. But after trans-
gression and aftei' the terms of pardon we are doubly
bound to repent, return and obey. So with regard to the
social system. We are bound to support and improve it
when we first enter its protecting shade. But after we
have shared its benefits, the obhgation constantly increases.
At first it is a duty, and afterwards a debt. Even the
discontented prophet felt for the withered gourd that pro-
tected him from the sun.

In the 3d place, we owe to man this return. We owe
it as social beings. On some of the desolate islands in
Boston harbor, and all along the coast, there were formerly
erected houses by the humane society, with fuel, tinder,
flint and matches, so that, if any sailor TYas wrecked on


them, he might kindle a fire and find the means of pre-
serving life. Now suppose yourself wrecked in some storm
on one of these islands, and suppose yourself preserved by
one of these houses. Would it be right for you, when you
had done with it, to pull it down and burn it up ? would it
not be rather an impulse of feeling previous to all calcula-
tions of duty, to multiply these Bethesdas, these houses
of mercy, that every victim of the stormy sea might
find a shelter and temporary home. If we measure our
duty to our country by the magnitude of the blessings she
has given us, how great must be our public spirit, how
great our toils and sacrifices for her support !

4thly. But man is only the agent of God. God meets
us through man. He is impersonated in man. Verily I
say unto you, in as much as ye have done it unto one of the
least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Re-
markable words, involving a great principle. The blessings
of God come to us in a peculiar way. They seldom drop
directly from his hand — they come to us by humbler
agency. That terrible doctrine, predestination, meets us
first in a soft and bland way. Your birth in New England
has shaped your whole character. The place, the hour,
the mother that rocked your cradle, your relatives, your
associates, the books you read, the schools you attended j
what an immense influence they have had in shaping your
character and linking it with yjur destiny 1 Yet who ap-
pointed these things ? You could not pause on the thresh-
hold of existence and be consulted on these events so
deeply connected with your happiness. As you received
from God these blessings in this remarkable way, so you
must return them to him through a similar channel. He
selected a sunny spot where you should be born ; he sur-
rounded it with all the flowers of a modern Eden ; there
he fixed his tent and there he poured his blessing. He
has made others the ministering angels to you^ and he calls


upon you to be a ministering angel. the deeds of mercy
are hardly the foretastes, but they are the privileges of

But lastly, consider the lasting nature of the benefits re-
quired and imparted in this interchange of love. When a
man makes a feast and spreads a luxurious table, his gifts
are a momentary gratification and are soon forgotten.
These are the gifts of the eternal one, they never fade or
pass away. Their efiects survive the temporary scene in
■which they take place. I remember that an old philoso-
pher says our gifts should be, mansura*, such as will
long remain— not flowers that fade, but diamonds which
will sparkle as long as the sun shall shine. It is our duty
to make the road to eternity as little dangerous as is pos-
sible in this world of snares and pitfalls. In other lands,
it is all darkness ; lions roar around its hedges and serpents
hiss in its dust. But of our happy land we wish to say —
" And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall
be called The way of holiness ; the unclean shall 7iot pass
over it ; but it shall be for those : the wayfaring men,
though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there,
nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be
found there ; but the redeemed shall walk there. And the
ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion tvith
songs and everlasting joy upon their heads ; they shall
obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall
flee aivay.""

Does any question what I mean by these returns we
owe to our native institutions. I mean a warm and hearty
public spirit, a heart that beats for every good deed. The
man that pays his taxes cheerfully and wishes to see the
school house, the church and the sanctuary flourish, and
after he has made all his sacrifices, if we may so call them,

*S«e Seneca, De Beneficiis, lib. 1 Chap, 12,


is willing to say, conscious of the immense superiority of
the purchase over the price, that they have come to him
freely, certainly so from God — he is the citizen.

Perhaps some may say, in our humble station in private
life, little can be done to benefit the land. We can only
pour drops into the sea. Well — drops make the ocean. It
is this private influence that is wanted most. It is the most
efficacious part of the contribution and the most scarce in
the market. No lack of candidates for those deeds, which
may be seen of men and which men are sure to reward.
Think of the woman that poured her Alabaster-box on the
Saviour's head. She was a reality — seen of God and
praised as soon as seen.

Piety is practice ; religion is benevolence. We know
the value of the cloud by the water it drops on the droop-
ing vegetation. And it is an incitement to action that we
can, through the Gospel, burst the bounds of all precedents
and bear man to a level of improvement and felicity which
the Past has never known. History is not our only guide.
Even if our experiment should fail and our lovely New
England with all her institutions be swept away by a tide


Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonThe blessings of our institutions, and our obligations to continue them. : A discourse, preached in the First Congregational Church, Newbury, Fast Day, April 7, 1853. → online text (page 1 of 2)