Fast Day Sermon 1812
August 20, 1812 — Unknown church, President James Madison’s National Fast Day, probably Boston MA
My Respected Hearers,
We have this day assembled in the house of the Lord in compliance with a direction of the head government of this Nation. As specified by proclamation thro’ the medium of the public newspapers, it may be expected by them that we join in fervent prayer for the divine blessing to attend the present war.
But every judicious person must be sensible it is the duty of a wise Nation to seek direction of heaven before they engage in a war. If they do not, but rush into one without seeking direction from him who is the wise ruler and disposer of all events of Mankind, we can have no reason to expect a blessing will attend the undertaking till we have sought out heaven to direct our path. I feel very confident no war can be justifiable in the eye of the God of peace except a defensive one. And when his people are labouring under the yoke of tyranny and oppression, it is the duty of such a people to call on the Lord and be of good courage and commit their cause to him if a just one.
We may expect a blessing will attend us, if we fervently pray [to] him to appear on our behalf, that we would protect us and break us to pieces the power of every cruel and proud oppressor, for wherefore we go we forth except the Lord go with us.
Now if any nation do go forth in a rash manner, not first seeking direction of heaven as to the justness of the cause, it may indeed be called a war of passion, or the rage of men in power. God forbid this nation, as people, should engage in such a war, for which reason I have chosen for our present meditation these words
Numbers, the 22 chap[ter], 12 verse
And God said unto Balaam thou shalt not go with them, thou
shalt not curse the people for they are blessed
I would recommend to you, my hearers, to read the whole of this chapter, when you return to your own houses, that you may take into view the wonderful interposition of divine providence of behalf of this ancient people Israel. Now at that time they, the Children of Israel, were many, and Moab was sore afraid of them, and Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at the time. And Moab was greatly intimidated and sore afraid, on account of the vast number of the Children of Israel, whom it seems had pitched their tents on the plains of Moab, on this side of Jordan, by Jericho. Now Balak, tho’ he was irrupted to a degree of desperation, yet he had not the hardiness or imprudence to wage war agains the Israelites till he had secured Balaam in his interest, as he supposed him to be a prophet, or one versed in divination.
In the first place we shall take notice of the unhappy situation of the Moabites and their poor king Balak, that they could not call on the God of Israel as the God of their Fathers, and they dare not for their cause was a bad one. For it doth not appear that the Israelites made any ware upon them but were quiet in their own tents. But such as the pride of Moab and Balak,
they could not bear to let them go on quietly to the land of Canaan, read Canada, and they must have them routed to gratify their own pride and ambition. And how can it be done, they must needs have recourse to a false prophet, for a righteous one they would not listen to. So they repeatedly sent to Balaam, with the offer of large bribes, to come and curse the people of the most high God. Now we see in the words of our text, God said, go not with them curse them not, for they are blessed. We, my hearers, have reason to hope we are the people of God. Tho’ in many instances we have sinned and come short of his Mercy, yet we have experienced the divine favour towards us in as striking a manner as his peculiar people of old did. Did he not take a most gracious care of our venerable ancestors when they, for the sake of a free enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, forsook their native Land and came into this then howling wilderness? Their cause was a good one, for they sought a place of refuge where they might worship God in truth and uprightness and obtain peace, liberty, and independence for their Children. And heaven never suffered any Balak to prevail against them. Tho’ they were but an handful in number at that time, he scattered the heathen before them. When we have bene oppressed with internal Tyrants, or foreign enemies, this people have always sought refuge in the Lord of hosts and the God of their Fathers; and he has never said to their seed, Seek ye me in vain. When we have sought him with our whole heart, he has always heard our prayers and sent a gracious answer of peace to our country.
Secondly, I shall consider the folly of Balak, and Balaam, in attempting to curse the people whom the Lord pleases to own and bless. Now, my hearers, how wonderfully was the power of the almighty displayed in rebuking the madness of the prophet, and turning his curse so soon to a blessing. The prophet evidently appears to refuse the first offers, or bribes, but finally God permitted him to go on in his career till rebuked by the very Beast that he rode. He could go no further, but this eyes wee opened, and he beheld the Aangel of the Lord. And at the 25 verse we read, and when the Ass sae the Angel of the Lord, she thrust herself against the wall. Andyet, he smote her again, and continued his rage till the Lord was pleased to open his eyes and he was convinced of his folly; and he fell on his face fully ashamed of his guilt in attempting to curse those whom the Lord pleases to own and bless as his people.
Thirdly, I shall consider what a happy people they must be whom the Lord delights to own and bless as his; they may be encouraged to trust in him at all times. Tho’ clouds and thick darkness may hang over them, yet he will point out some way for their escape. Tho’ any Balak, or Balaam, attempt to curse us by an ill judged and imprudent war, if we humble ourselves under his mighty hand, he can and will turn their machinations from the curse of war to peace. War is always a sore judgment to a Nation and never ought to be resorted to, till no other refuge is left to preserve our lives, and Liberty. Then it is our duty to stand fast in the Liberty wherewith God has made us free, and trust in him to deliver us from all our enemies. We, my hearers, of these United States, have ever been peculiar care of a most kind and gracious God. Has he not upheld us, from our first settlement foundered, did not he that raised up a Joshua of old, has he not raised up a Washington in our own remembrance? He can yet save our American Israel.
For if the God of peace bless us, we need not fear the wrath of Man. We have reasons to hope much from the wisdom, and prudence, for the head rulers of this State. We have reason to think heaven directed our choices in a ruler for peace. We have reason to bless God we have yet peace so far, that we are preserved from intestine war among ourselves in tis part of our land. We have reason to bless God for the faithfulness of our Clergy for they are heard to say, almost to a man, peace be within your walls, prosperity in all your dwellings. From these things we may be encouraged and hope the wrath, indication and horror of war will soon pass over if we will take the advice of Isaiah, to God’s own people. When there was great tribulation coming on the land, he saith in Isaiah 26 chap[ter], 20 verse, Come my people, enter thou into they Chamber, shut thy door about thee. Hid thyself as it were for a little moment until the indignation be over past. What a tenderness is here shewed to the people of God, that tho’ there was great evil coming on the city, yet he would protect and save his own. Let me entreat of you, my Christian friends, every one of you, to retire and examine himself, and see, how far we fall short of our duty to God and our fellow creatures. Let us not give way to our angry passions, but let us all consider what we can do for the good of our country and the honour of Gods holy name. Every individual can do something. Much may be done by prayer, for we read the prayer of the righteous availeth much. We, my friends, must be prudent, quiet, and discreet; let not contentions be heard among us. Don’t let party spirit shut your eyes to the truth.
I must be plain and explicit here, for I wish the meanest capacity to comprehend our present situation. For some years past we have been the happiest people on the Globe; we have been blessed with every favour heaven could bestow on a favoured people, but we have done evil in the sight of the Lord. We have gone astray from the living God. We have forsaken the path of our ancestors, we have gone astray from the living God and have worshipped the idols of silver and gold. We have forsaken the path of our ancestors, we have gone astray from the living God and have worshipped the idols of silver and gold. We have made haste to be righ. Our land groans under the Yoke of extortion and oppression and tis for our follies and sinfulness we are now involved in a war, which is indeed a gloomy scene. And as it appears a war of party and the rage of men in power, nothing can save us from intestine animosity but the good sense of the people attended with a divine blessing. For God almighty’s sake, don’t let party spirit prevail among us and destroy all our happiness. Let us bear in mind [that] if we differ in opinion, we also differ in our looks; and we can no more make men think alike than we can them look alike. Our frames, our whole organisation, are so different, tis impossible we should think just alike. But we can all be so far orthodox as to do good to our fellow creatures. We can love and show mercy and walk humbly before God. If we differ in some points respecting religion or politics, we can all bear in mind that our country was settled on the firm basis of liberty, freedom and independence for the free enjoyment of civil, and religious privileges but not licentiousness.
Let us then, my hearers, continue firm in the real interest of our beloved Country. Let us unite in one body for the joint interest of all its members. For we are indeed a very great and numerous people, and the Lord Jehovah will not as yet give us up if we do not provoke him by our sins and follies, which are indeed very great. It behooves us then, my friends, to forsake every evil way. Let me beg of you to begin by paying more regard to family government. If we do not, tis greatly to be feared our Children will not be found walking in the path of our venerable ancestors. We of these New England States have been blessed in a most particular manner in having wise and good Men to rule over us. We now call on all Magistrates to perform their duty, to restrain all profaneness, and debauchery in the land. It is now indeed a crying sin in our land and calls loudly for reformation. Tis reformation alone can save the city. If every one will consider and do his part, we may yet be tht happy people whose God is Jehovah. Be yet encouraged, my friends, for I doubt not we can find ten righteous ones amongst us.
Let us all then join heart and hand and do justly, love and show mercy and put our trust in the God of our Fathers, for he is ever Merciful. I have been Young, tho’ I am now old. And I can say I have never seen the righteous Man forsaken, or his seed. Tho’ reduced to begging bread, the God of Jacob has been their support. Fear not then, my people, tho’ an host should encamp against thee, and Balak and Balaam go forth to curse us with an ill judged war, yet the Lord will take a gracious care of his own people and will meet their enemies in the way. He can turn the curse of war into the blessing of peace. It is our duty to be firm trusting in the Lord, commit all of affairs to him who ruleth among the nations and can turn the hearts of Men from the curse of war to peace. When he sees us fully humbled under his correcting hand, he can, and will, put a stop to Balaam’s career and turn his curse into a blessing and cause him to say in such language as this: tho’ Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold. I cannot go beyond the commandment of the Lord —
Don’t let us rail so much at second cause but look to the great first cause who has permitted the great evil of war in our country. He has been pleased to permit it for our chastisement, for we have indeed been very ungrateful for the mercies we have enjoyed. Turn then, my people, return until the path of your ancestors. Seek the Lord, whilst he may be found, fervently commit the cause of our country and your wholesales to his guidance and protection in and thro’ his beloved son Jesus Christ, who is able to keep what we commit until him, and to his name be adoration and praises.
*Because women were forbidden from preaching, Crocker presented the sermon under the name “Increase Mather, Junior of the Inner Temple.”
Source: “Fast Sermon,” American Antiquarian Society (Worcester, MA), Box 12, Folder 7.
Also: Observations on the Real Rights of Women and Other Writings, by Hannah Mather Crocker, ed. Constance J. Post (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011) pp. 3-10.