John Quincy Adams to the American Bible Society
Fellow-citizens of the American Bible Society, and of this Assembly,—In taking the chair awarded to me as the oldest Vice-president of the American Bible Society, I deem myself fortunate in having the opportunity, at a stage of a long life drawing rapidly to its close, to bear at this place, the capital of our national Union, in the Hall of Representation of the North American people, in the chair of the presiding officer representing that whole people, the personification of this great and mighty nation, to bear my solemn testimonial of reverence and gratitude to that Book of books, the Holy Bible.
Thirty-five years have passed away since, in the State House at Boston, the capital of my native commonwealth, I became a member of the Bible Society; and although I have followed, with a deep interest, their continual exertions and the various fortunes of their success in distributing this Book, I think I have never been able to attend another meeting of the society from that time to this. Since that time one generation of mankind has passed away—another has arisen. In the midst of the painful and perilous conflicts inseparable from public life, and on the eve of that moment when the grave shall close over them forever, I may be permitted to indulge the pleasing reflection that, having been taught in childhood the unparalleled blessings of the Christian gospel, in the maturity of manhood I associated with my brethren of that age, for spreading the light of that gospel over the face of the earth, by the simple and silent process of placing in the hands of every human being who needed, and could not otherwise procure it, that Book, which contains the duties, the admonitions, the promises, and the rewards of the Christian gospel. It ie a soothing consolation to my last hours, that, having so long since associated in this cause with the fathers, I still find myself associated in it with the sons; that it has in the interval been perseveringly and unceasingly prosecuted with intense ardor, with untiring assiduity, and with animating and eminent success. In contemplating what may be termed the life and adventures of one whole generation of the race of man, the only member of the animal creation susceptible of the perception of good and evil, of virtue and vice, of right and wrong, there are in this, as there have been in all former ages, observing and reflecting men, especially in the decline of life, prone to depreciate the moral and physical character of the present age, and to glorify the past. Far more pleasing, and I believe more correct, is the conclusion, that the race of man, in his fallen estate, is placed by successive generations upon earth to improve his own condition and that of his kind; and that this book has been furnished him, by the special providence of his Maker, to enable him, by faith in his Redeemer, and by works conformable to that faith, to secure his salvation in a future world, and to promote his well-being in the present. If this be true, the improvement of successive generations of men in their condition upon earth, and their preparation for eternity, depends in no small degree in the diffusion and circulation of this volume among all the tribes of man throughout the habitable globe This is the great and exclusive object for which, in the last generation, this society was instituted. The whole Book had then existed upward of eighteen hundred years ; and wherever it had penetrated and heen received, it had purified and exalted the character of man. Reposing upon three fundamental pillars, the unity and omnipotence of God, the Creator and Governor of all worlds ; the immortality of the human soul, and its responsibility to that Creator in a future world for all the deeds done in the present; and the system of morals, embracing in one precept the whole duty of man upon earth—Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; and [thou shall love] thy neighbor as thyself.
The Bible carries with it the history of the creation, the fall and the redemption of man; and discloses to him, in the infant born at Bethlehem, the Legislator and Savior of the world. The faith in him and in his divine mission is inseparably connected with the performance of his will, and that will is all comprised in the song of the angels at his birth—Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
In whatever region of the earth, in whatever condition of the human being this blissful sound first salutes his ears, the depravities of his nature fall before it; the selfish and the rancorous passions which had absorbed his soul and ruled his conduct under the impulses of hatred and revenge, sink within him into impotence; he bathes in the waters of Jordan, and rises cleansed from his leprosy, in the freshness and vigor of health, and the purity of benevolence and mercy.
Such has been the progress of the gospel wherever the Bible has been carried and suffered to be read. In the mysterious providence of God, its influences have been counteracted by the spirit of evil in all its thousand forms, throughout a long succession of ages. Its advancement has been slow; its victories desperately contested ; its triumphs subjected to cruel vicissitudes; its war against the world, the flesh, and the serpent, a perpetual, never-ceasing struggle. Yet its march has been uniform in purifying and ennobling the moral, the intellectual, and the physical condition and character of man.
To circulate and distribute among great multitudes of men, in every quarter of the globe, this blessed volume, was the purpose for which this society was instituted. One generation of mankind has since passed away.
The secretary of the society is now present, and will give an account of their labors, their success, and their prospects. I trust they will prove to the satisfaction of this assembly that, by their labors, the human being of this age is, on the whole, wiser, better, happier than the human being of the last.
That by the success, of those labors they will be cheered and encouraged to perseverance in them, by the emulation of the present age to contribute their aid to the progress of human wisdom, virtue, and happiness, from age to age, till that consummation of human felicity promised in this book, when—
The wolf, also, shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the failing together; and a little child shall lend them.
[From Samuel Hanson Cox, Interviews: Memorable and Useful; from diary and memory reproduced, New York, 1853, pp. 270-73.]