Imágenes de páginas

ernment. This representation we believe to be erroneous. Civil government does indeed commend itself to man on the ground of utility, but it rests upon a far deeper foundation.

Our belief is, that civil government is founded on the will of God, manifested in his works, in his providence, and in his word. In his works, God is the teacher of government. The planet on which we live, is strictly obedient to law; so are the floating vapors, and so are the flowing waters. If law binds all other subjects of God's power, is it reasonable to suppose that his rational creatures are exempted? God is also teaching us the same truth in his providence. We may be convinced from the history of mankind, that their Maker designed them to live under some form of government. There has been experience enough to prove, that nothing good or truly great can be secured to the human race, without law to regulate their intercourse. And law is the language of government. We may subscribe to the noble character which is given of it in the well known words of Hooker: "Of law there can be no less acknowledged, than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world; all things in heaven and earth do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempt from her power. Both angels and men, and creatures of what condition soever, though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy."

But if the voice of God in his works and providence is in favor of government among men, it is still more fully and distinctly so in his revelation. In the Old Testament, Jehovah not only institutes civil government, but enjoins obedience to it as a relig ious duty. "I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard to the oath of God." In the New Testament, there are the same principles, accompanied with such explanation as suits the more perfect dispensation of the divine will. Jesus, our great teacher and example, was subject himself to the civil powers; and commanded his disciples to "render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's." His inspired apostles inculcated the same sentiments, and under circumstances which made them exceedingly impressive. They lived at a time, when the disciples of Christ were exposed to great hardships in consequence of the wicked character of their rulers; and when sanguinary edicts were promulgated for the very purpose of destroying Christianity.

To submit to those powers with a pious spirit, required great forbearance. The apostles, therefore, were careful to lay down the rule of the gospel on this point with clearness and force. The Holy Spirit was, through them, speaking to every age and nation on a most important Christian duty. Although, under our republican government, where the rights of worship are respected, it would seem less necessary to insist on obedience to the civil authorities, yet events are continually transpiring which are fitted to direct the eyes of the Christian citizen to the divine testimony respecting his duties. We have reason to rejoice, that this testimony is so explicit. We transcribe the following as a sample:

"Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whoso ever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist, shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing, ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God."

We are clearly taught by these Scriptures, that civil government is ordained of God; that to submit to it cheerfully is the duty of all men; that the divine displeasure will follow disobedi ence; that obedience, on the part of the followers of Christ, will best impress the minds of men with the excellence of the Christian religion; that whenever men disobey rulers under pretence that liberty requires it, they abuse liberty for wicked purposes, wearing it as a cloak of maliciousness. Living under the new dispensation of God, we are left more than his ancient people were, to a sober discretion as to the choice of different kinds of government. It is government itself, without regard to its specific character, which is the ordinance of God. And as government is open to improvement, it is, of course, subject to great changes, even to the extent of revolution. If it becomes so intolerable, that moderate changes cannot supply the needed remedies, the majority of VOL. II. 6*

numbers and the supreme power may rise and decree a sudden, total and revolutionary change. In this event, the new form of government, which arises, is that to which God commands us to yield obedience. It is our duty to submit to the actual civil power, however wicked or oppressive. If it enjoins what the Christian thinks inconsistent with the will of God, and if all his lawful efforts are insufficient to remove such iniquitous injunctions, it then becomes his duty to obey God, rather than the magistrate. But it still remains his duty to bear whatever penalty is affixed to a departure from the laws of his country. Cases of this kind are not unknown. The Christian child may not commit murder even at the command of a parent; and yet no one can infer from this, that parental authority is not based on the Word of God. No magistrate can compel the Christian to violate his conscience; but if he administers a law which requires such violation, the servant of Jesus must patiently submit to the penalty of that law. In the view of Infinite Wisdom, the advantages of civil government are so great, that for the sake of them, we must submit to personal sacrifices.

This doctrine is quite different from that of the "divine right of kings." It leaves the details of political administration to the honest application of the teachings of the Bible, and to the ever varying progress of society. It is uninfluenced, on the one hand, by a profane contempt of all established usages; and, on the other by that doating fondness for time-hallowed customs, which closes the eyes upon the path of improvement. We may apply to the form and administration of government the sentiment of Bacon: Antiquity deserveth that reverence, that men should make a stay awhile, and stand thereupon; and look about to discover which is the best way; and when the discovery is well taken, not to rest there, but cheerfully to make progression."


There are many practical lessons of the highest moment, which may be derived from the doctrine of the sacred oracles: and we much mistake, if the state of the country does not require that they be earnestly pressed upon the public mind.

We here see the solemn position in which the great Ruler of the nations places those who hold offices under the civil governmentThey are responsible, in a subordinate sense, to the people to whom they are the ministers of God for good. But a deeper and more dread accountability attaches to them from the very fact that

they are the ministers of God. They are bound by their oaths not to bear the sword in vain: to be a terror only to evil doers, and an encouragement and praise to them that do well. The pious Judge Hale, set it down among the things to be kept in perpetual remembrance, that, in the administration of justice, he was entrusted for God, for the king and the country. Would places of civil trust be so eagerly sought, if men seriously considered, that according to the execution of that trust, they will be approved or condemned in eternity?

It appears from our subject, that civil officers ought to be treated with the greatest respect and deference. They are representatives of the law which we are sworn to obey, of the government under which we live by the appointment of God. If the people hear their rulers spoken of with contempt, their confidence in government is undermined. If any wish to see the general prostration of good order, they have only to encourage, to the proper pitch, the practice of holding up our rulers to public scorn. Indeed the fruits of such a practice are already beginning to be reaped. They appear like the grapes of Sodom and the clusters of Gomorrah. Hardly should we suppose, from what we constantly hear in society, that the precept, "Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people," is found in the gospel, as well as in the law. Yet it is even so. If we are cursed with wicked magistrates, they have indeed a fearful account of their own to render unto God; but it will be our condemnation, if we do not treat them with respect. So long as they wear the badges of office, they are to be exempt from obloquy. This is the will of God, that we may prevent the injury to Christianity, which would arise from the custom of "speaking evil of dignities."

We learn further from our subject, what is required of us, when we wish to rectify the errors and abuses of government. In the correction of errors, and in the redress of wrongs, we should employ no other methods than the gospel allows. As good citizens, we are not prohibited from exertions to change for the better the administration, provided we obey the laws of the government. Nay, we are even permitted to modify and amend the government itself; but not to aim at its overthrow. The former process may be sometimes less congenial to our ardent feelings, than the latter; but it has the high recommendation of being that which Christ has marked out for his followers. In England, some of the greatest

political changes, have been effected without the effusion of blood. Under the American constitution, we are furnished with all the means of improving the government, which can be reasonably desired. An anti-christian spirit alone can drive us to the employment of others. Unless the subject shall be generally regarded in this religious light, the horrors of mobocracy will ultimately prevail in our land. All the plagues of the future world are as applicable to the lawless demagogue, as they are to the drunkard, the liar, or the profane swearer. Every man who attempts to demolish property and destroy life, ought to be made to feel, that the pretence of "resisting wrongs which the law cannot reach," will not shield him from the wrath of heaven. We must resound in the ears of every ambitious disorganizer, and every ruffian band, the words of Paul: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist, shall receive to themselves damnation."

Nor do we feel that we are taking too serious a view of the great subject before us, when we press upon all Christians, the duty of praying much for their rulers. In perfect agreement with his expressed sentiments, Paul says: "I exhort therefore 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 quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty." How suitable to invoke the blessing of God upon that government which is his ordinance, and upon those rulers who are his ministers. None but He can give the requisite wisdom and probity to those who bear rule. If half the strength which is wasted upon other expedients, were spent in prayer to heaven for the wise administration of government, we should see far less to lament, and far more in which to rejoice. They who are in the habit of praying earnestly for their rulers, will, of course, be more deeply versed and thoroughly interested in scriptural views of government. The same authority, which requires them thus to pray, requires them also to discharge all the offices of the Christian patriot. We do not advocate the propriety of plunging into the vortex of party spirit. We would stand upon higher ground, and take a broader survey of Christian duty. We. would consider, that, to a great extent, under our form of government, the rulers are as the people. If the trees of our political forest ask for the reign of the bramble, then the bramble will

« AnteriorContinuar »