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Every reflecting person must also know that the hardships and disadvantages of those things which have been tried are sensibly felt; whereas men in general imagine that situations of which they have had no experience are exempt from grievances; yet they often afterwards find in them 'such as are still more insupportable. Indeed one inconvenience in our present condition naturally impresses our minds with greater force than twenty advantages by which it is counterbalanced: for this is the fault of our rebellious ungrateful hearts in every thing; as well as in that particular which is the subject of our present enquiry.
And here I would for a moment digress from my plan to observe, that numbers seem to think only of the burdens and inconveniences of our present government, without duly estimating the manifold benefits enjoyed under it: but whatever human wisdom may hereafter effect, or, rather, whatever a kind Providence may hereafter confer on some favoured nation, or on mankind in general, the fact is incontrovertible, that no country hitherto, from the beginning of the world, has so long enjoyed such substantial and numerous advantages, with so few real grievances, as Britain has done; though a contrary inference might naturally be drawn from the murmurs and complaints which are made by great numbers. Improvements may no doubt be made by peaceable means: but should great and violent innovations take place, experience will probably shew that evils more formidable than we have hitherto known, will be the unexpected and unavoidable consequence.
THINGS NOT THE DUTY OF SUBJECTS TO THEIR RULERS.
I. 1 HE laws of men ought not to be obeyed when they require those things which are contrary to the commandments of God. "Whether it be right to u hearken to you more than unto God, judge ye." We may indeed be mistaken in our judgment, and our scruples may be groundless; but conscience is our immediate rule of action, and no human authority can justify us in violating its decisions, whatever painful consequences may ensue from adhering to them. Yet we should be open to conviction, and careful in examining the grounds of our opinions; that our errors may be rectified, and our consciences regulated according to the word of God.
II. We must not flatter the persons, vindicate tlw crimes, or subserve the vices, of our superiors. When such complaisance or such services are expected, it becomes a man's duty to renounce the advantages of his situation, and to venture the displeasure of his prince, by a conscientious refusal: and some persons (as counsellors, and ministers of religion) ought on these occasions to express their disapprobation by faithful and plain expostulations.
III. We are not required to renounce the exercise of our judgment in respect of the characters and measures of our rulers. Our private prayers, and several other duties must be regulated by our sentiments in these matters. Nor are we bound to express our approbation of all those things that come to our knowledge; though we should be cautious how we credit the reports that are circulated, or form our judgment by them. In some cases it may be proper for us to express a disapprobation of publick measures; that is, as far as the constitution of the country authorizes our inteference. Members of Parliament, and those who elect them, may in this land properly express a dislike to the measures of government, when they are exercising their distinct privileges: and in some cases it may be very right to concur in petitions for the redress of grievances; provided it be done peaceably, and •without the appearance of a combination to overawe the legislature, or the executive power.
IV. It is not, at all times, necessary or expedient for us to recede from our civil rights, or to wave the protection of the laws against the oppression of magistrates: St. Paul repeatedly insisted on his legal privilege as a Roman citizen; and indeed, the security of his brethren, the welfare of the community, as well as his own exemption from needless suffering, rendered it proper that the attention of the magistrates should thus be directed to those laws which they wantonly violated, while they professed to administer justice according to them. But I can recollect no instance, in which the servants of God protested agains the hardships which they endured, by the execution of subsisting laws, though manifestly iniquitous. V. We may peaceably concur in such alterations in the government, or the publick administration, as are introduced in a legal and constitutional manner, without fraud or violence, for the increase of liberty and security, and for the benefit of mankind. Nay, I apprehend, that we ought to assist in promoting such desirable ends; that is, according to the duty of our station in the community, and no further. But, whatever good may eventually be deduced from violent convulsions and sudden revolutions, when power has been exceedingly abused, so many evils must be done and suffered in effecting them, that a conscientious person would choose to stand at a distance, and leave worldly people to settle such matters as they can: and if he be constrained to shew a preference to one party, according to his deliberate judgment, he should evince a disregard to secular advantages, and set an example of moderation, candour, and love of peace, to those around him. The conduct of our Lord, of his apostles, and of the primitive christians, ‘confirms these inferences from the precepts of scripture: the prophets, under the Old Testament, maintained the same conduct amidst the revolutions in the kingdom of Israel; except when they were especially commissioned from God to oppose the idolatry, or reprove the crimes, of those in authority. Even David, after he was anointed to be king of God’s people, left it to Providence to fulfil the promises made to him: and, when Saul’s treachery and injustice constrained
s him to take measures for his own defence, he repeat. cdly refused to compass his deliverance and advancement, by injuring the person of his cruel persecutor, _- or by allowing his friends to do it: yet this revolution z was expressly determined by the Lord, and was ne: cessary for the welfare of Israel, as well as for the safety of David himself.
It is not here inculcated that the duties of christians are, strictly speaking, different from those of other men; but, that they alone are disposed to attend to their duty, when pointed out to them. The supposition of tyranny and oppression on the one hand, and of faction and interested opposition on the other, implies that most men act from selfish principles, and very few in comparison from a regard to the will of God. This conscientious remnant may, therefore, with exact propriety withdraw from the fierce contests of ambitious, covetous, and designing men, if the duties of their station and the love of their neighbours do not require their interference. Such violent convulsions and struggles for dominion would cease, if men in general were real christians: but as that is not the case, the men of the world have commonly the largest share in conducting publick affairs: and, while we attend to the duties of our station in the church and the community, it is no more required of us to go out of our way to take a part in the contests of princes, senates, or nations, than it is, to turn aside and neglect our business to join in an affray in the street through which we pass.