I have been much edified by some things which appeared in print, respecting the present stale of our country, especially by those which have been directed against what may with propriety be called political self-righteousness. I am persuaded this is a sin which cleaves closer to men, and even religious men, at the present time, than most of us are aware of; and that we are more in danger from it than from almost all our national sins put together.
I have heard it said in conversation, when the sins of the nation have been mentioned as a ground of fear, True; but we are not so bad as our enemies. Mr. Robert Hall, in his fast sermon lately published,* has shown, with great force of evidence, the folly of this way of speaking. “The thing itself,” considering our religious advantages, he observes, “is very doubtful, and, if it were otherwise, it has been common with the great Disposer of events to punish a nation that has had a portion of true religion in it by one that has been utterly irreligious, though afterwards he has poured out his wrath upon the latter.”
I have heard it still more frequently said, “The Lord has many praying people in this country; surely therefore he will not deliver us up.” A praying people may indeed avert the Divine judgments; but if we trust to the efficacy of our prayers, we shall be more likely to bring them upon us. This notion has been well combated by another correspondent; and my soul unites with his in trembling for the consequences of our religious self-complacency. Alas, our navy and our army, it is to be feared, will too generally trust in themselves; but let not them that fear God do so too. Our brethren in distant countries may hope the best of us; the good minister at Berlin may be allowed to mention “the numbers whose prayers continually rise to God in this country;” but we must not depend upon them ourselves, for this will render them of none effect.
There is a passage in that admirable book, the “Holy War,” which I could scarcely ever read without tears. When Mansoul, in the day of her distress, had drawn up a petition to Emmanuel, a question arose, by whom it should be sent. “Now,” says the writer, “there was an old man in the town, and his name was Mr. Good-deed, a man that bore only the name, but had nothing of the nature of the thing. Now some were for sending him; but the recorder, Conscience, was by no means for that; for, said he, we now stand in need of, and are pleading for mercy; wherefore, to send our petition by a man of his name, will seem to cross the petition itself. Should we make Mr. Good-deed our messenger, when our petition cries for mercy? Besides, quoth the old gentleman, should the prince now, as he receives the petition, ask him and say, What is thy name? and nobody knows but he will, and he should say, Old Good-deed, what think you that Emmanuel should say but this: Aye, is old Good-deed yet alive in Mansoul? Then let old Good-deed save you from your distresses.—And if he says so, I am sure we are lost; nor can a thousand old Good-deeds save Mansoul.”
We subscribe to all this in matters which respect our eternal salvation, but it is no less applicable to things of time. Instead of religious people flattering themselves with the idea of being the bulwark of their country, it becomes them to take heed lest they prove the contrary. Though the religious people in a nation may, by their interest with Heaven, be its greatest blessings; yet there are cases in which they may prove the reverse. To Paul was given, not only his own life, but the lives of all them that sailed with him; but Jonah had well nigh been the destruction of those that sailed with him. God does not look for those things, as I may say, from the ignorant and ungodly, as he does from them that know him. It is their province to stand between God and their country; but if they be loose, light-minded, vain, or worldly, what is to be expected? We may declaim against the wickedness of the slave trade, and many other things; but are there not with us, sins against the Lord our God?
Thus spake the Lord by his prophet: “The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy; yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. And I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none. Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them: I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath,” Ezek. 22:29–31.
God’s ancient people were compared to a vine, and their country to a vineyard: this vine was cultivated with great care and expense, and a hedge of defence was set about it. But when he looked that it should bring forth grapes, it brought forth wild grapes. What was the consequence? “Go to, saith the Lord, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up: and I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down,” Isa. 5:5. If God’s vine bear no fruit, the wall that protects it may be expected to be broken down on its account; and thus our unfruitfulness may not only dishonour God, and injure ourselves, but render us a curse to our country.
I write not thus to promote dismay. I have never for a moment been the subject of such a feeling, but to cut up, as far as may be, self-righteous hope, and to excite that humble and holy trembling which becomes sinful creatures, whether in respect to this world, or that which is to come.
Excerpt from “Thoughts on Civil Polity,” in Miscellaneous Tracts, Essays, and Letters.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 675–677). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.