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being subject for conscience sake, to what his conscience forbids, is absurd. When the commands of men plainly contravene the law of God, that we must obey God, rather than men, there can be no question. On this point, every person must be his own judge. He is bound, no doubt, to judge with candor and care, not mistaking the dictates of passion or prejudice for the will of God; still, his own sense of the divine law must prevail. But, with this single exception, we are as much bound to submit to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake, as on this point we are bound to dissent. To say, as many do, that we are bound to obey only the equitable laws of government, is a position which tends to the subversion of government. For as every person must be his own judge respecting the wisdom and equity of the laws, so by this supposition, he is to decide for himself, which of the laws shall be obligatory upon him. If he thinks any of them to be unreasonable or unjust, (and the selfish desires and passions of men are enough to convince a multitude, that whatever restraints are laid upon their cupidity are unreasonable and unjust,) he is, of course, released from all obligation to obey them. This is, indeed, to invert the order of things, to elevate the inferior relations over the heads of the superior. It is to send those whom God has ordained to be a terror to evil-doers, to inquire of those whom they are to govern, which of the laws they consider it just and proper for them to obey, before they convict them of crime in transgression. What parent could govern his household in this manner? Indeed, the assumption, that those who are the subjects of law are to be decided in their conduct by their own views of the reasonableness of the laws, is inconsistent with the very nature of government. When the laws are unjust, those who, like ourselves, live under an elective government, have a remedy. They have their share of constitutional power for the repeal of such laws. But until repealed, the most unjust and oppressive laws, provided only, that they require nothing inconsistent with a good conscience, are no less obligatory, and to be no less exactly obeyed by us, than the most wise and salutary.
If it be so, how wrong must be all combinations of men to sustain each other in violation of law. This is not only to impugn the particular law violated, but it is an attempt to overawe the power on which depends the efficacy of all law, and to lay open society to the unrestrained will of the licentious. The physical strength of a community is always on the side of the people. The rulers are few and weak in the comparison. How then is the authority of law sustained? Why do not the mut
titude rise in their might, to burn and kill at their pleasure, notwithstanding the laws? Some are prevented by moral principle, but the greater part are restrained by a reverence for authority, growing out of the custom of submission and the established influence of law in the community, together with a fear of the personal consequences of resistance. Let this restraining power be taken off from the minds of men ; let that acquiescence in law, which grows out of the general custom of submission, cease; and that fear of consequences, which a sense of individual weakness inspires, be dispelled ; let the discontented learn to question whether or not they shall submit to offensive laws, and presume on their power, by combining together to overawe the authorities of the state; and there is an end of all order, security, or subordination, in the community: just as in a family, successful resistance of parental authority in a few instances, is the destruction of government there. The consequences cannot terminate in the prevention of an odious measure, nor in the putting down of an offensive individual, which, perhaps, may be all that was at first intended. The government itself is destroyed or weakened, and all the interests which it was ordained to protect, are proportionably exposed to the will of the depraved. The protection of law is every man's birth-right. None can innocently deprive him of it. It is the very essence of civil liberty
Is that tyranny, which subjects our lives, our peace, our personal freedom, to the will of a despot? And is not that a worse tyranny, which puts all things into the hands of an infuriated multitude; which, often as we displease those who are around us, exposes our persons, our families, and our property, to their assaults, with no remedy? Be it so, that we have not suitably respected their wishes; that we have done wrong; that we deserve punishment : still, we have a claim to the adjudication of law; trial by jury, a hearing of our accusers face to face, an opportunity for our defense and an impartial decision in the established course of justice, are our inalienable right; and the power which wrests it from us, leaves the best man in the community, in the best acts of his life, no security. It is to prevent this, that government is ordained of God; and whoever resists, even by individual acts of intentional transgression, and much more by joining in combinations for the express purpose powering the law, resists the ordinance of God.
From the same principles it obviously results, that we are conscientiously bound to pay the full amount of taxes required of us for the support of government. “For this cause," (" for
conscience sake,”) “pay ye tribute also." Rome exacted of her provinces an annual tribute. The payment of this, involving as it did an acknowledgment of subjection, was particularly offensive to the Jews. The question of its lawfulness agitated the nation, as we know from the proposal of it on one occasion to our Savior; and doubtless it afterwards occasioned scruples in the minds of Jewish christians. But the apostle, with no hesitation, enjoined on them the duties of paying both tribute and custom, as required by the laws. He insisted on their doing this as an act of obedience to God. He considered them as being “dues”—a debt which in strict justice they owed for the protection which the government extended over them, and which, therefore, they ought to pay as cheerfully and conscientiously as any other debt. With what force, then, does this obligation lie on those of whom are required no tribute or custom to a conquering power, but only the taxes incurred in supporting the government, and maintaining the privileges under which they live. No debt can be more strictly due, as a matter of common honesty, than this; and all evasion in the payment of it, whether by keeping back from the list what the law requires to be entered, or by making such a disposition of property as to avoid a due proportion of the assessment to be made, or in any other way, common as it may be among men who bear the christian name, cannot be reconciled with christian probity. It is disingenuous-it often involves prevarication-and it always throws on those who are too conscientious or high-minded to submit to such artifices, a disproportionate burden. Government must have the requisite amount; and consequently, he who withholds a part of his quota, obliges his conscientious neighbor to pay it for him. However unjust, excessive, or partial a tax legally imposed may be, we are not authorized on that account to refuse or evade the payment of it. To assert, that we may, is to assume, that every individual has the right to judge, in his own case, over the law, and not until he has pronounced it just and equal, is he under obligation to obey; an assumption, manifestly, subversive of government. Doubtless legal methods of relief from partial and unjust requisitions may be adopted ; but however unjust they may be, no relief which is not strictly legal, will a good conscience permit any one to attempt. There was tribute money demanded of Christ for the service of the temple, which he, as the Son of him to whom the temple belonged, ought not to have been required to pay; yet to avoid the scandal of not bearing bis share of public burdens, poor as he was, he performed a miracle to comply
with the demand. So, for the credit of the gospel, as well as out of regard to law and justice, should his followers be exact and cheerful in this particular.
It is also our duty to honor our rulers. The command to honor the king, is as express and absolute as the command to honor father and mother. It even stands in connection with the command to fear God; and, indeed, the civil magistrate of whatever name, or grade, is to be revered by us as standing, for the purposes of civil government, in the place of God-his vicegerent-clothed with his authority, and hence honored by the Spirit of inspiration with his name. “I have said ye are gods,” we read in one of the Psalms, "and all of you children of the Most High.” On this account it is, that those false pretenders to the christian name in the primitive churches, who proudly reviled the magistracy of their day, are marked with terms of such decided reprobation. As in the second epistle of Peter: “But chiefly them that walk after the flesh, in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government; presumptuous are they, self-willed; they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas the angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not against them a railing accusation." And in the epistle to Jude: "Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities: yet Michael, the arch-angel, when contending with the devil, he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, 'the Lord rebuke thee.' But these speak evil of those things which they know not. Wo unto them !” If such rebukes were due to those who despised government, and spoke evil of dignities, when rulers were notoriously vile and oppressive, and the church was groaning under a cruel persecution by their hands, how inexcusable must such conduct be under a government fraught with such blessings to those who are under it as our own.
We, indeed, are not required to renounce the exercise of a sober judgment, in respect both to the characters and the measures of our rulers; and in an elective government like ours, where the people are so directly concerned in the knowledge of these, it is often proper for us to express our judgment; but this should always be done in a manner, and with a spirit, consistent with the respect due to their authority as the ministers of God. The obloquy, derision, and invective, so common in our country, for the purpose of holding up the characters and authority of rulers to reproach, certainly cannot be reconciled with the respect and deference which God requires to be rendered to them; and are suited only to destroy the efficacy of the laws, and dissever the bonds of society. When, as it was in Israel, the child behaves himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honorable, we may be certain, that the social edifice stands trembling on its foundations.
Moreover, we are required to pray for our rulers. As the captive Jews were to pray for Babylon, that in the peace of the city they might have peace, so christians were required by the apostles to pray for kings, and all in authority-heathen, tyrants, and persecutors, as they were—that they might lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty. They were to do this as an expression of their good will towards them, before him who would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth, and in the expectation, that he who is higher than the highest, would influence them to the adoption of salutary measures, or over-rule their bad de signs for the best ends. That for such reasons, as well as on account of its direct influence upon our hearts, the duty rests on us with full weight, there can be no question ; and were it more frequently and heartily performed, while there would be less disposition, there would also be less occasion, for virulent invective and bitter complaint.
By these observations we are led to point out certain false and dangerous principles, that are abroad in the community.
Among these is, The maxim, that the people are the source of power.—The people in this country, and in all free governments are, indeed, the medium of civil power. They form the constitution of this our government, and elect their own rulers. Still, it is the doctrine of Paul, and it will be found equally the dictate of sound reason and common sense, that the power to govern, is not originally in them; but, that all power is of God, and the powers that be are ordained of God;" and hence results the vitally important conclusion, that rulers are accountable for the exercise of their power, not so much to the people, as to God.
Much has been said about a social compact, as the source of civil power. Mankind have been supposed to have agreed together, that they would individually relinquish certain personal rights, in consideration of their receiving certain social privileges. According to this theory, they consent to be governed by the majority, agreeably to certain constitutional rules, and to pay their due proportion to the support of government, in consideration of the protection and other advantages to be derived from society as thus constituted. Hence it is said, come all the powers of rulers, and all the obligations of the people.