Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER III.

DUTIES INcUMBENT OS US TO OUR RITLEKS, AND IN RESPECT OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT.

I. MINISTERS are charged "to put" the people in "mind to be subject to principalities and powers, and "to obey magistrates;"* not only "for wrath," or the dread of punishment from man, " but also for con"science' sake;"f ar)d "to submit to every ordinance "of man for the Lord's sake, whether it be to the "king as supreme, or to governors as sent by him;— "for so is the will of God. "J These precepts evidently require obedience in all things consistent with a good conscience: and the supposition, that they only enjoin subjection to equitable laws, absurdly implies that every person is a competent and constituted judge of the equity and reasonableness of all the laws of his country, and may determine for himself whether they are obligatory upon him or not! Now self-love alone will influence most men to complain of those laws, as unjust and grievous, which interfere with their eager pursuit of wealth, distinction, or indulgence: so that

* Tit. ill- 1. t Rom. xiii. 5. \ 1 Pet. ii. 13—17.

this one position, if universally reduced to practice, would subvert all government, and annihilate ever)' ex. crcise of coercive authority. What parent or master Could rule his own household, if his children and servants might determine without appeal which of his eommands were reasonable and obligatory, and which "Were not? This would not only destroy all subordination, but would render society like an inverted pyramid; constituting all the inferior relations, law-givers, and judges over their superiors, who must previously enquire of every individual what commands he would choose to obey!

Indeed this political notion admirably accords with the religious principles of such persons as exalt their own reasonings above divins revelation, make their scanty comprehension the measure of the mysteries of the Godhead, and their weakness the standard of his omnipotence: who attempt to improve the word of God by their vain conjectures, and presumptuously sit in judgment on his laws, decrees, and dispensations; as if He were accountable to them, not they to Him. But all, who reverence the word and the authority of the Lord, may surely perceive the fallacy of such a mode of reasoning, as tends to invert the divinely constituted order of things, throughout the whole creation.

The government, rulers, and laws, which subsisted when these precepts were given; the hardships to which the primitive christians were exposed from them; and their meek, submissive conduct combine in demonstrating that such vague limitations were never intended. But if obedience be required even to corrupt magistrates and oppressive laws, in the general course Vol. HI. 3 S

of things; and if disobedience in such circumstances imply rebellion against the command and providence of God; no doubt they must be still more criminal who disobey such rulers as are, upon the whole, equitable and gentle, and such a system of laws as is salutary and beneficial—because they are not perfectly impartial or unexceptionable.

II. We are required to submit to the providence of God, as to the form of government established over us, while it actually subsists. It has been shewn that we may, according to the duty of our stations, concur in peaceably introducing salutary alterations; and it may be added that when changes have taken place, whether they accord with our sentiments or not, we ought to yield obedience to those advanced to authority, as far as-other obligations will admit of it. But it cannot consist with submission to the providence of God, to attempt the illegal and molent subversion of any existing government: in thus " resisting the pow"er, we resist the ordinance ot God." It is true that in mixed governments (such as ours is) one part of the constitutional legislature may legally resist the encroachments of the" other: thus christians, in the capacity of senators, may regularly oppose those measures of t;he executive power which they deem injurious to the community. Nay, in some circumstances one part of the legislature may be engaged in hostilities against the other: in this case, " unresisting submission "to the powers that be" does not require us to abet the injustice, tyranny, or violence of any branch of the government: nor docs it at all decide to which of them our subjection is due. A peaceable neutrality is most

advisable in such circumstances, if it can be maintained; or even the office of peace-maker if a man have sufficient influence, but if it be indisputably manifest on which side truth and justice lie; if a man be constrained to shew which party he favours; or if he deem himself bound in conscience to take an active part, from love to his country and to mankind: he will find it requisite to watch his own heart very carefully, to repress every selfish and malignant passion, and to follow after and inculcate moderation, lenity, and forgiveness of injuries. But even this extreme case differs widely from a violent, officious, andj'actious opposition, in toto, against an united subsisting government; which must always involve rebellion against the providence and command of God.

When Israel rejected the Lord in rejecting Samueh their sin did not consist in prefering monarchy to the authority of judges, but in want of submission to the will of God, from a vain desire of being like the nations of the earth. They despised their peculiar blessings, deemed their trivial grievances intolerable, and fancied that a change of government would vastly add to their felicity. And had the nation, after the advancement of David's family to the throne, insisted in the same manner on a republican government, because some nations prospered under that form; their rebellion against God would have been the same, their caprice, discontent, and ingratitude would have merited similar rebukes; and perhaps they would have obtained their choice as their punishment.

In general, it is our duty to submit quietly to the existing government, so long as it subsists entire, and is able to protect us: but in civil contests this general rule becomes very difficult in the application: yet sober reflection, a tender conscience, an upright heart, and a dependance on divine teaching, will render a man's path plain before him from day to day: and the comprehensive brevity of scripture did not admit of particular rules being given lor all such exempt cases. Nor would I be positive that the command of " un"resisting obedience to the powers that be," will admit ©f no further exception many possible circumstances. The iron rod of cruel oppression may be so severely felt that a whole nation, as one man, may be roused to an united opposition to it, and the ruling party then becomes a mere faction in the state. But it is not to our present purpose to inquire whether, in this case, a conscientious man be absolutely forbidden to concur in promoting the revolution, for which the unanimous .voice of a nation calls aloud.—This, we may confidently affirm, is not the case, or like to be, in these kingdoms: as nothing but extreme tyranny, to which no legal remedy can be applied, ever reduces matters to such an extremity: and in all other circumstances at least I apprehend, the rules laid down will be found scriptural. Indeed, there is scarcely a general precept concerning relative duties, in which common sense, and a deep acquaintance with the scripture, would not constrain us to allow of an exception, in some conceivable circumstances. It is posbible that a parent may act in so infatuated, profligate, or cruel a manner, that obedience, in things not absolutely sinful, might be injurious to him, his son, and the whole family: yet this does not absolve children from their obligations to obedience in ordinary circumstances, even though

« IndietroContinua »