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ON THE COMMERCIAL REVULSIONS OF 1837.*
When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.—Isaiah xxvi, 9.
VAIN would be the attempts of mankind to instruct each other, were they not assisted by the providence of Almighty God. They act upon each other only by the force of language, by the power of abstract truth. They act as the interpreters of nature and of Providence, or are the medium of conveying to mankind that annunciation of universal religious truth, which is contained in the Scriptures. From all this the careless may turn away unmoved, or the skeptical may deny it altogether. And useless would it all be, did not the Almighty himself come forth to proclaim his own truth, and vindicate his own laws. But he speaks to mankind by something more powerful than mere words. He speaks to mankind by events, which,
* Delivered the next Sunday after the suspension of the banks.
like his own thunder, hush the world to reverent attention, and impress upon it convictions, which the most thoughtless can not shun, nor the most obdurate shake off. Indeed, God has so arranged the world, that the common course of events shall be perpetually teaching man wisdom. He can not err, either in judgment or morality, without finding that God has set a bound which he can not pass over, without encountering some friendly monition to turn back into the straight path of sobriety and virtue. Mere idleness even, and unprofitableness can not escape. The idle man, who may imagine that, if he be doing wrong at all, he is so slightly transgressing the will of God, that he is nearly or quite innocent, soon discovers, by monitions more emphatic than those of reason or religion, that he is violating the unchangeable laws of his being. He comes to feel at length both mind and body sinking into a state of disease. A pale and sickly hue creeps over the whole world, and makes existence as insipid as it is useless.
As it is with individuals so it is with communities. Pain, in the dispensation of Divine Providence, is not so much punishment as it is admonition. There is nothing vindictive in the divine character. Punishment is God's strange work. "He does not willingly grieve or afflict the children of men." Pain is intended to direct
the attention of the mind to the suffering part, to bring the reasonable nature to reflection on the causes of disquiet. By that means the mind is made wiser, and as all good or evil arises from the mind, the fountain of evil is cleansed, and the streams that issue from it become pure, and dispense, wherever they run, life, and peace, and joy. As no individual can for a long time pursue a mistaken course, without receiving some admonition from the hand of God, which is calculated to bring him to reflection, so there can be no disease in the body politic without pain, without calling the attention of the public mind to the origin of the disorder, and suggesting its appropriate remedies. But, in so vast a body, this can not happen without a great convulsion. The voice of God is heard in some mighty event, and, as when he speaks in the thunder, there is silence and deep thoughts in the hearts of men. "Then sealeth he their instruction." Then is the moment for profitable reflection. For a while, at least, things are seen in their true light. Then is the season for the convictions of truth to be so deeply imprinted upon the mind, as never to be forgotten, nor obscured, by other times and other circumstances.
Such are undoubtedly the teachings of Divine Providence, in the calamities which are now sweeping over this land. "God's judg
ments are abroad in the earth, that the inhabitants of the world may learn righteousness." He is now, by events which can not be passed over nor resisted, turning the attention of this nation to the great subject of WEALTH, its accumulation, its uses and abuses, its value, and its uncertainty. Let us endeavor to give an interpretation to this voice of Providence, and apply to ourselves the heavenly wisdom, which it communicates. The political bearings of this subject we pass over, as being foreign to this place and this occasion. We speak only of the moral instruction which the present state of things conveys.
This has been, with great propriety, called the commercial age. Even that fact speaks well for the progress of mankind. The spirit of commerce is certainly a better spirit than has ever prevailed before. The genius of all preceding times has been that of war. War has dissipated what industry has accumulated. No sooner has prosperity dawned upon a people than it has inspired them with the spirit of domination and conquest. From mere lust of power, wealth has equipped and sent forth armies to subjugate barbarous nations, and to overrun uncultivated solitudes; or their treasures have made them the coveted prey of their more warlike and ambitious neighbors. The ancient prophecy of better times seems now
at length to be fulfilling, "when men shall beat their swords into plough shares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and the nations shall learn war no more." Nay, the spirit of commerce seems to be driving out the spirit of war. So intimate are nations becoming, and so bound to each other by the ties of interest, that the angry and ambitious passions are kept down by the fear of loss and the love of gain. Wealth has erected herself a throne higher than the kings of the earth, and she says to the swellings of their pride and revenge, though not in the name of God, or religion, or humanity, yet in the name of Mammon, "Peace, be still." Her standing armies are sent forth, not for the purposes of destruction, or to build useless fortresses, or to consume the fruits of the earth in idleness, in vain show, or superfluous discipline, but to cut new channels for trade; not to destroy life, but to increase it a thousand fold; not to tread down the harvest, but to spread it over boundless tracts hitherto uncultivated. "The desert and solitary places are glad for them, and blossom as the rose." Has not the world reason to rejoice in the transfer of the sceptre from war to wealth? Is it not one step gained in human progress, and does it not speak better things for the future?
In no nation upon the face of the earth, perhaps, has this commercial spirit been more