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PROPOSITIONS CONCERNING CIVIL GOVERNMENT AS THE
ORDINANCE OF GOD. ,
1. IT is the evident doctrine of scripture, that government is the appointment of God, to be a restraint on man's selfishness, and to preserve a measure of order in the world, notwithstanding human depravity. Rulers are, therefore, called “God's ministers for good “ to those that do well,” and “revengers, to execute " wrath on evil doers."-So that government, as it subsists among men, is in fact both a consequence, and a demonstration, of our fallen state; and the inconveniences resulting from the abuse of it should be patiently endured, because we are sinners. The corrtroversies concerning the origin of government, as the “ ordinance of man,” though important in poli ticks, are in this respect of no consequence: for God as the Author of our rational nature, and the supreme Ruler of the world, is the Fountain of all subordinate authority; by whatever second causes he hath been
pleased to confer it. It is his revealed will that there should be rulers armed with power to enforce obedi. ence: his providence hath concurred with his word by establishing and maintaining government throughout the earth: and, though coercive power originated from sin, yet in the present state of human nature, its advantages are so many, that the worst form of government, and administered in the worst manner, is preferable to entire anarchy, for the people at large.
II. The scripture does not prescribe any particular form of government as of divine right and universa obligation. Regal or imperial authority was most common when those precepts were penned that relate to this subject; and therefore that is generally mentioned: yet they may be equally applied to other established forms; nor do they seem absolutely intended to decide that regal authority is in all cases most eligible. Yet on the other hand, when the Lord by Samuel shewed Israel. the manner of kings,'* he contrasted the monarchs of the earth with those holy men whom he had immediately appointed to judge his chosen people: not monarchy itself with other forms of government, as established in the ordinary course of human affairs. Man's reason and self-love suffice for the regulation of such matters; and the divine decision of this question would in many cases have increased the embarrass. ment of conscientious persons. So that they, who have attempted to prove, from Scripture, the exclusive divine right of any one form of government, have in different ways prejudiced men against the truth, and
I Sam. viii. .
furnished a pretence to those who refuse “ to be sub“ject to principalities and powers.” .
III. The established form of government in every country is, for the time, of divine authority; by whatever method the power hath been acquired, and whatever may be the conduct of the rulers. That, which in one sense is an “ ordinance of man,” is, in another sense, “ ordained of God,” for “ there is no power “ but of God.” He hath appointed government, and his providence determines who shall govern: and it should be carefully noted that when the inspired apostles gave these instructions, Nero, that monster of ini. quity, filled the imperial throne. The way, in which the Roman emperors obtained their dominion, the use which they made of it, and the character of the reigning prince, were as exceptionable as possible: yet even such powers were for the time “ ordained of God;"! doubtless as a righteous judgment on the guilty nations: and though proper remedies may (as we shall see) be applied to such evils, yet in the mean time submission to God's appointment is required of us; and we should always prefer suffering to sin.
IV. The scripture every where leads us to expect that many things will be reprehensible in the conduct of rulers. They have the same evil nature as their subjects, with far more to inflame their passions, and to prompt to self-indulgence: and, as they are placed in the most conspicuous station, it cannot be surpris. ing that objections may justly be made to many parts of their private character,or publick administration: for who could endure so seyere a scrutiny, as is now generally made into their conduct and measures? So that Vol. III.
when revolutions take place, one sinner succeeds another in the post of temptation and observation; inordi. nate self-love continues to produce it's effects, and mur. murs and clamours are soon excited; as every man acquainted with human nature might have foreseen.
Indeed, if rulers were perfect in wisdom and justice, their equal administration would counteract the selfishness of multitudes; and the ambition or avarice of men, more distinguished by abilities than integrity, being disappointed, they would soon devise methods of ex. citing discontent: even as the laws and providential dispensations of God himself are far from giving satisfaction to mankind. But as matters now stand, unless the selfishness of many such persons were in some measure gratified, and they were thus engaged to support the existing government in every country for their own emolument, it would soon be subverted by the combined force of ambition, avarice, designing faction, and ignorant discontent, however prudent and equitable it were: for disinterested patriotism is a very rare thing indeed, at all times, and in all places. When this had produced a revolution, the prevailing party must take the same method of supporting their authority, or else it would be speedily subverted, and perpetual convulsions would be the inevitable conse. quence: for did not interested motives attach multi. tudes to the party of the rulers, a vast majority would always oppose their measures, from envy of their pre. eminence, or hope of wresting it out of their hands. So that a government, conducted in a manner that seems in speculation perfectly right, can only be ideał, so long as men in general continue ambitious, covetous, designing, and selfish.