« AnteriorContinuar »
that if kings rule by an authority from God, it must be our duty to give them honour: in treating of which, I shall endeavour to convince you, that it is also our wisdom, and our interest, as a people.
Our duty is evident from the Scripture; which declares that government is the ordinance of God; that the ruler is the minister of God; that the sword in his hand, is a sword of divine justice; and that the wrath, executed by it, is the wrath of God against those who transgress his laws. Government must therefore be supported, that the laws of God may be executed : and this is one reason why rebellion against government is an offence against God himself, because its tendency is to set us loose from the observation of his laws. That charge of Jehosaphat to the Judges of Israel, is upon all others in the like authority; take heed what ye do, for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord who is with you in judgment. And the same charge will apply itself to the people: “take heed what ye do, for your obedience is not to man, but to the Lord.”
The primitive Christians placed civil obedience among the first articles of social duty; and we cannot refuse to Christian princes that honour which they allowed to heathen emperors. I exhort, said the apostle, that first of all supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men ; for kings, and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. When the enemies of the Christians had no evil thing to say, they endeavoured to make them odious to the state, , as people of suspicious politics, the friends of another king, whose interests were not consistent with those of the empire. But this scandal was confuted by that amiable submission
and quietness which they never failed to observe towards all that were in authority over them.
Our duty, then, is clear from such precepts as cannot be evaded, and such examples as are taken from the purest times of the Gospel, when obedience to heathen persecutors was a trial far more severe to flesh and blood, than the practice of common loyalty to the friends and protectors of Christianity.
The wisdom of adhering to this duty, is the next thing to be considered. And surely it must be the wisdom of men enlightened by the word of God, and blessed with great improvements of science, to proceed on true principles ; to walk in that light which they have, and not to emulate the darkness of heathens, or the confusion and rapine of barbarians. The Scripture teaches us, that there is no power but of God; that, as he is the maker of the world, all the property of the world is originally vested in him ; that kings hold of him; and the people of their kings: and our laws recognize this doctrine, by making all property revert to the crown, upon any act of treason or rebellion. Some embrace another opinion, that there is no power but of the people; which position being contrary to that of the scripture, they cannot both be true. The question about power may easily be solved, if we do but distinguish rightly between physical or natural pouer, and power of authority. It can never be denied, that an armed multitude is superior in physical power to any defenceless man, with all his honours and titles about him; as smoke and ashes, shot upwards from the bowels of the earth, can put out the light of the sun: but in this there is no power of authority; and it may be turned against all the law, and all the reason in the world. A gang of robbers have power over the helpless traveller in the forest, and he is obliged to submit to it at the peril of his life : but still there is no authority; nothing but brutal force; and it matters not how large we suppose the gang to be; for its properties are no more changed by its magnitude, than the properties of a circle, which are always the same. Their power is absolute force; and the authority by which they exercise it, is from themselves, against all the settlements of law, and all the rights of possession. Allow but the force of those two commandments, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not stcal, and then all this sort of power vanishes.
Such, however, is the power of the people ; against which, therefore, every goverynient is armed and defended; and without such a defence, there could be neither property nor security in the world; nothing but violence and rapine, which are sure to prevail, as soon as the people, under some wolvish unprincipled leaders of sedition, attempt tú take power into their own hands. All liberty then takes its flight; the liberty of acting, of speaking, and perhaps of breathing; unless the breath be applied to blow the flames of sedition.
My brethren, let me speak freely to you upon this subject; power is a weapon of so sharp an edge, that mistakes about the nature and exercise of it are perilous indeed, and the bad consequences inexpressible : therefore, as we value our own security, let us always distinguish between power and authority. The storm hath power to blow; the waves of the sea have power to rage; the lightning hath power to strike; the fire hath power to consume; but all this power tends only to destruction : the power which God giveth is for edification, and not for destruction. It is to build up society and preserve it, not to destroy
it. He hath appointed the sun to rule over the day, the moon and the stars to govern the night: all the nations of the earth enjoy light, and peace, and happiness under their dominion, and their authority is confined by a law which cannot be broken. But if we should become so insensible of this blessing, as to argue for a lawless power in the elements, and they were to be let loose upon us in consequence of our mistake; we should then discover, that it is the wisdom as well as the happiness of man, to subinit to the ordinance of God. They are his laws which are executed in a state; and they can be executed by no authority but his own : if by an authority from the people, that would exalt the people into the place of God. Every state must have power of life and death : but no individual hath any such power over himself; and consequently, he cannot give what he hath not: such a power can be communicated only by that God, in whose hand are the lives of all mankind; to whom alone belongs that sword of justice, which is borne by the magistrate : who being the giver, is also the Lord of Lise; and to suppose it otherwise, is to derive power by ascent instead of descent; which is contrary to the order of nature in all other cases whatsoever. Christians, who, according to the doctrine of their religion, derive all power from above, from whence every good and perfect gift cometh, go as high as they can, up to God hiinself: they who derive it from beneath, must go as low as they can, even down to the father of all that tumultuous rage and disorder, which distinguishes the power of the people. When this power is supposed to include authority, it is so contrary to fact, to reason, and to revelation, that it is seldom taken up, but by those, who wish to raise a storm against the state, and en
courage the waves to beat, because they have hopes of plunder from the wreck. Such a power was, indeed, admitted and highly esteemed by those fanciful Greeks and Romans of later times, who, having departed from their ancient principles, were torn to pieces with factions, and amused themselves with a vain search after that philosopher's stone in politics, a constitution where all might govern, and none be governed ; till their balancings and fluctuations produced an arbitrary government, and brought them all under the yoke of military power; the natural consequence of such experiments. When a nation is grown restless with dreams of despotism, jealous of all authority, and agitated with contentions for power, on the ground of natural right against positive law; then we may know that the desolation thereof is nigh; that it must either fall under the lawless power of some intestine faction, or be reduced to the mortificatioa of looking on, while its lands are divided and parcelled out by a foreign force; which hath happened lately in a country of Europe, where liberty was professed, whilst the worst sort of tyranny was practised.
But it is also our interest, as well as our duty and wisdom, to honour the king, and support that power by which we are protected. Government was not ordained to enslave the world, but to preserve the peace of society, to defend the innocent from the violent and injurious, to distinguish and secure property, and to prevent the people from falling a prey to one another, as they never fail to do in times of rebellion.
When the restraint of government binders the will of one man from being a law to another, by maintaining a common rule of action for all, it is the greatest blessing upon earth. There are in every