« AnteriorContinua »
and accepting places in government. I here mention seeking places, for I do not imagine that all kinds and degrees of this, are to be condemned; though the character of seekers, in general, is a very odious and invidious one. Importunity in a candidate for promotion, is a presumptive evidence that he is unfit for it. Men of the best qualifications have generally disdained those low arts and intrigues, by which some have made their way into places of power. It is hard to say what can be more base and wicked, than the conduct of those, who attempt to rise by the help of adulation and bribes, unless it be that of those who hearken to them, and become the tools of their pride and ambition. That temper, however, deserves to be denominated a false modesty, which makes men always decline preferment, when it comes in their way; or avoid those offices which require great abilities, when they know themselves to be possessed of them. Hereby they may be chargeable with hiding talents which they ought to improve for the public good.
But all men's endeavors to rise in government, should be such as they have reason to think God approves; such as they can with sincerity recommend to his blessing, and wait on him to succeed. If this is not the case, they are in effect fighting against God. They ought not to seek, nor even to accept, such offices as they know they cannot discharge, in a good measure answerable to the nature and importance of them.
God is the judge-You should be able to look up to him in confidence, that he approves every step you take in the way to posts of honor; and with a willingness to be disappointed, if in his unerring wisdom he sees you to be unfit for them; and that your success would operate either to the damage of the public, or of yourselves. Such a serious regard to God, as the fountain of all power, would shame men of virtue and modesty, out of those base methods, by which, it is to be feared, some are seeking after promotion.
Men indeed are generally partial to themselves: They think their accomplishments greater than they are. Under the influence of this partiality, some may with honest simplicity solicit, and enter into, such departments in government, as they can by no means fill with dignity, and to the satisfaction of the public. This evil is to be guarded against by those, whose part it is to introduce men into office.
The rules to be observed by such, is the
Fourth thing to be considered. They should act with great fidelity and caution. This fidelity and caution is necessary, both in superior magistrates, in their appointments, and in the people, who choose persons into office. The business is of a very interesting nature; in doing it they should consider themselves as
instruments in the hand of God, and therefore bound to consult his will, and to govern themselves by it. This teaches them to promote men according to their apparent merit; and not to be influenced by private connections, and prospects of personal advantage. The public prosperity greatly depends on your faithful discharge of your duty in this respect. You are accountable to God for the manner in which you discharge it. You are bound, as you will answer it to Him, to consider the qualifications of candidates for places in government, and to promote such, and such only, as you think in some good measure possessed of them.
What these qualifications are, I have not time particularly to consider. Two of the most essential, and in which most others may be included, I shall briefly mention-Wisdom and Religion.
No small degree of wisdom and knowledge is necessary to constitute a good ruler, whether he fills a place in the legislative, or executive part of government. Solomon, when advanced to be king over Israel, prayed for a wise and understanding heart: God approved his petition as seasonable, and gave a gracious answer to it. Wisdom is not only necessary for kings, and for persons in the highest seats of government, but proportionable degrees of it, for those who hold subordinate places. Rulers are compared to light, which, by a familiar metaphor, signifies knowledge. "The heads of the tribes of Issachar," chosen to represent their brethren on a certain important occasion, are expressly said to be "men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do." 1 Chron. xii. 32.
Government is by no means safe in the hands of weak and ignorant men, how good soever their intentions may be. When such men have the management of our public affairs, what can we expect but that they run into confusion and disorder?
Nor is it every kind of knowledge that will qualify a man to govern. He must be acquainted with men, as well as things; otherwise he will be in continual danger of being imposed on, by the subtlety and address of designing men around him. He will confide in those who are not to be trusted, and make those his counsellors, who will take pains to lead him astray. It is the character of the supreme Ruler, that "he is a God of knowledge, by whom actions are weighed." 1 Sam. ii. 3. Rulers among men, should have skill to form a due estimate of the actions of persons, under all that coloring which they lay on them. If they have not, how can they approve and reward those that have a salutary influence on the public? How can they disapprove and counteract those of a contrary nature ?
Rulers should not only be acquainted with the natural rights of the people, which are the same under every form of government, but also with those which originate from the constitution of the
country where they live; that they may be tender of both, and able to defend both. They should know how to state the bounds of their own authority, and of the rights of the people; that while with firmness they assert the former, they may not infringe on the latter. Wisdom is necessary to direct them in all that variety of business, to which their stations call them; which variety I cannot now further consider.
Religion is the other qualification which I mentioned, as necessary to the character of a good ruler. He must be a man of religion, who discharges the duties of a magistrate with fidelity. By a man of religion, I mean one that is a true fearer of God, one that is in a good measure sanctified by his grace, formed to the temper recommended by the gospel of Christ, and sincerely endeavors to act up to those rules of piety and virtue, which are therein prescribed.
Piety towards God is the only basis, on which a proper conduct towards men, can stand firm and steady against those blasts of temptation, to which all men are exposed; and which beat on those that are in elevated stations, with peculiar violence, as storms do on a house that stands on an eminence. "He that fears not God, will not regard man," will not regard him with that tender concern for his prosperity, and that sincere endeavor to promote it, which the laws of religion require. True patriotism (for such a thing no doubt there is, though many may be strangers to it, who are fond of the name) hath its foundation in religion. A vicious man hath no settled principle of action. He is ruled by selfish passions. To gratify these, he will sacrifice his conscience; he will trample on law, when he can do it with impunity; be will betray his friends; he will sell his country; having first "sold himself to work" all these kinds of "wickedness."
Directly the reverse of this, is the tendency of religion, when it is pure and undefiled. It regulates the passions; it enlarges the mind; it fills it with noble, and benevolent designs; it leads men to enterprise great things for the public good; it drives away the mists of prejudice and temptation, which are so apt to obscure the path of duty; it inspires a noble fortitude and resolution to pursue the end of government, though it should lead through a scene of painful opposition; though the best intentions should be misconstrued, and the most important services go unrewarded.
Now those that are concerned in promoting men to public stations, are bound to have great regard to their virtue and religion. For "the God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me-He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God." 2 Sam. xxiii. 3. King David determined to act on this principle in calling men to office under him. shall be upon the faithful in the land: He that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me." Ps. ci. 6.
God, who is the judge, and who never errs in judgment, hath plainly intimated the necessity of the two leading qualifications for rulers, which I have mentioned-and not barely mentioned, but a little enlarged upon, as this head of discourse hath a particular aspect on the public transactions of this day. And are you not under the most solemn obligations to regard the will of God in promoting men? When you do so, you are workers together with him in the matter: When you do not, you set yourselves in opposition to him; and if he suffers you to succeed, it will no doubt be in judgment to you, and to the land.
Fifthly. This subject instructs those who are advanced to places of power and trust, how they should behave, and presses fidelity on them by the most serious motives. They are to consider themselves as promoted by God, and accountable to him for their conduct in public life. God is the judge: He putteth down one, and setteth up another.
Rulers ought always to look on their authority as derived to them. They are not originally possessed of any. This consideration should make them humble. It should give a check to a proud and haughty spirit; if, at any time, they find such an one ready to prevail. It should guard them against an overbearing tyrannical behavior. They should frequently make the reflection of the apostle; What have we that we did not receive? And if we received it, why do we boast?
They should consider their authority also as limited by the Author of it; and that, both as to degree and continuance. God putteth down, as well as raiseth up. The triumphing of wicked rulers, who abuse their power in ways of pride and oppression, is generally short. To one of this character, the remark of the ancient sage concerning a hypocrite may be applied; “Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish for ever:-They that have seen him, shall say, Where is he?" Job xx. 6, 7. When a virtuous people are oppressed, they may carry their complaints to God, in humble confidence, that he will not long "suffer the rod of the wicked to rest on the lot of the righteous." Ps. cxxv. 3.
The consideration that their promotion cometh from God, should make rulers careful to improve it in a way, the most agreeable to his will, that they can. They do this, when they faithfully pursue the ends of government; when they studiously imitate the supreme Ruler of the universe, "the sceptre of whose kingdom is a right sceptre." Legislators do this, when they are solicitous that all the laws they enact, be just and good, correspondent to those of the supreme Lawgiver. And those that execute the laws, when they act in their offices with steadiness and impartiality, that they may be a terror to evil-doers, and a
praise to them that do well. All those who are vested with authority do this, when they have a tender concern for the rights and privileges of the people, and endeavor to preserve them entire and inviolate-when they feel for them under all their burdens; and "in all their afflictions are afflicted"-when they construe their conduct into the most favorable sense it will bear-when they are ready to pass by, and excuse as many faults and offences as will consist with the regular support of government-when they are willing to lose something of the severity of the magistrate, in the tenderness of a father-In a word; when in their administration,"mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other." Psalm lxxxv. 10.
Rulers should use their influence in an especial manner to promote religion. This they should do, not only by rewarding virtue, and punishing vice; but by what is often more influential, their own pious and good example. People in the lower classes in life, have a peculiar fondness to imitate those that are in stations of eminence and dignity. This would operate for the general good, were "great men always wise," virtuous, and circumspect, in their conversation. The morals of a people are greatly affected by those of their rulers. Religion flourished or declined in Israel very much according to the disposition and practice of their kings. Solomon observed, that "if a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked." Prov. xxix. 12. Vices receive a currency from the example of princes, as money doth, from their image and superscription. If magistrates are eminently pious and good, they are lights in the world, which, shining before others, induce them to "glorify our Father who is in heaven," by a correspondent practice of piety and goodness. But if they are vicious, they are like baleful comets, that spread plagues and desolations through a land, by their malignant influences.
God is the judge, says our text. Rulers should always consider him in that character. To him they are accountable for their conduct. I say not indeed that they are not, in some sense, accountable to men. The power of government is by God, the original source of it, lodged in the people. By them it is delegated, under divine Providence, to certain of their brethren, to be improved for the common good. When therefore they prostitute it to oppress and enslave, in direct contradiction to the ends of government; the people have a right to call them to account, and to take out of their hands the power which they have so abused.
But they are especially to consider themselves as accountable to God. They should remember that he now acts the part of a judge, so far as by his impartial eye to survey all their counsels, designs, and actions. They should consider him as always present