« AnteriorContinua »
make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord !” Matt. xxv. 21.
Finally. Our subject suggests the duty of a people to their rulers. Rulers and subjects are correlate terms; they cannot subsist separately. If God sets some in the place of rulers, and invests them with a power to govern, he certainly appoints others to the place of subjects, and makes it their duty to submit to government. People are bound to regard the will and agency of God in clothing persons with civil authority. When they do so, they will obey “not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake ;” (Rom. xiii. 5.) and treat them according to the nature and design of their offices, and their fidelity in the discharge of them.
It is incumbent on a people cheerfully to support civil government. This is not to be viewed as the part of charity and generosity, but of justice. The support of those, who employ their time and talents to serve the public, should be made easy and honorable. Those who diligently attend to the duties of their stations, have care, labor and anxiety enough : People should not increase these, by withholding from them an adequate reward for their services. This would tend to dishearten them, and to weaken their efforts for the public good.
A respectful treatment of their rulers is also the duty of a people. It is an apostolical injunction, that we “render honor to whom honor is due.” Rom. xiii. 7. It is due to those, who are raised to important seats of government. We should pray for them. We should treat their persons with veneration and esteem. We should speak of them, and to them, in decent and respectful language. To act contrary to this, is to weaken the springs of governinent, and to encourage those to “ speak evil of dignities," who are already 100 much inclined to do it. “ It is written, thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.” Acts xxiii. 5.
A people are in duty bound to submit to their political fathers, in every thing lawsul. If they refuse this, they frustrate the design of God and men, in clothing them with this character ; and government is at an end. Submission is enjoined on a people, by several of the inspired writers. The passages in which it is so, have been often quoted, on occasions similar to the present, and are I trust too well known to need repeating at large. Rom. xiii. 147. They have by some been made to prove too much. They are no doubt to be understood with some limitation.
• He is the minister of God to thee for good,” says St. Paul, of the civil magistrate. This implies, that so far as he pursues the end for which God placed him in office, he is to be obeyed. Nor should small instances, in which we imagine he fails of this, be looked upon sufficient ground for refusing submission. These may arise rather from human frailty, than any settled disposition in him to abuse his power. But when he uses his authority for purposes just the reverse of those for which it was delegated to him—when he evidently encroaches on the natural and constitutional rights of the subject—when he tramples on those laws which were made, at once to limit his power, and defend the people—in such cases they are not obliged to obey him. They are guilty of impiety against God; and of injustice to themselves, and the community, of which they are members, if they do: For his commands interfere with those of the supreme Ruler, and overthrow the foundations of government, which he hath laid. “We must obey God rather than man." Acts v. 29.
The doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance, which had so many advocates in our nation, a century ago, is at this day, generally given up, as indefensible, and voted unreasonable and absurd. The unreasonableness and absurdity of it, hath indeed been proved by some of the greatest reasoners of our age.
“Wheresoever law ends," says the great Mr. Locke, “ tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another's harm. And whoever in authority exceeds the power given him by law, and makes use of the force he bath under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed as any other man, who invades the right of another.”—“ Here, it is likely," continues he, “the common question will be made, Who shall be judge, whether the prince or legislature act contrary to their trust? This, perhaps, ill-affected and factious men may spread among the people, when the prince only makes use of his just prerogative. To this, I reply : The people shall be judge ; who shall be judge whether his trustee or deputy acts well, and according to the trust reposed in him, but he who deputes him, and must by having deputed him, have still a power to discard him, when he fails in his trust? If this be reasonable in particular cases of private men, why should it be otherwise in that of the greatest moment, where the welfare of millions is concerned ; and also where the evil, if not prevented, is greater, and the redress very difficult, dear, and dangerous ? "
There may indeed be danger that ill-disposed men—men disaffected to government in general, will “use this liberty," which the God of nature hath given us, “ for an occasion to the flesh,” to gratify the disorderly lusts of it; and so to disturb the peace of the society, of which they are members. But this is not a sufficient reason why we should discontinue our claim to it.
Subjects will, however, find it to their advantage to suffer great inconveniences, rather than to rise up against men in authority. They are not to expect an administration without faults. Small faults should not be remarked on with bitterness, or magnified with
all the power of invention. This would increase the burden of government, already heavy enough on those, who are faithful in discharging the duties of it; and tend to discourage those from taking a part in it, who are best qualified. A generous readiness to make every kind allowance for what may be amiss in others, is perhaps one of the rarest qualities in the world : It is however a very necessary one, in the several connections of society, and particularly in that between rulers and people.
If any thing hath been suggested in this discourse, which may serve to lead rulers, or people, into a better understanding of their duty, and to animate them to diligence and fidelity in discharging it, the design of our assembling in this house of worship is not lost. I will suppose you possessed of every instructive sentiment that hath been suggested, if any such there hath been, and therefore shall not make a recapitulation of what hath been said, in the way of particular address.
Inattention to the duties of their stations is inexcusable in all orders of men. It becomes criminal and dangerous, in proportion to the importance of these duties. The public welfare greatly depends on the fidelity and vigilance of civil rulers.
It is I hope with sincere gratitude to God, that we see this anniversary. The public transactions of it, Honored Fathers, we look upon to be very interesting to this people. We have been seeking to the Fountain of wisdom, for guidance and direction to be afforded to you, in them. To-day you exercise an important privilege of our happy constitution, that of choosing gentlemen to sit at the council board; who are not only to constitute one branch of the legislature, but “ to the best of their judgment, at all times, freely to give their advice to the governor, for the good management of the public affairs of this government.” This is a privilege on which the happiness of this people not a little depends. It was always dear to our fathers, and is so to us. By it we have the great satisfaction of seeing the council consist of men from among ourselves, whose interest is the same with that of the people ; and who are under all conceivable obligations to seek their welfare. This is a privilege secured to us by royal charter ; on which security, I trust, under God, we may depend, for the continuance of it down to the latest posterity. A privilege which we have not forfeited ; and God forbid we should, in any future time, be guilty of such conduct, as might render it just to deprive
us of it.
What we enjoy by charter, is not to be looked upon barely as matter of grace; but, in a measure at least, of right. Our fathers faithfully performed the conditions, on which charter privileges were granted. To do this they passed through a scene of hardships, labors and sufferings. These were productive of great advantages to the mother country. Our charter privileges are those of Englishmen; those of the British constitution ; as our form of government, in this province, is an image in miniature of that of our nation.
The appointment of the governor, and commander-in-chief, is by the province charter, which we wish never to see vacated, reserved to the crown. In this we acquiesce : We indeed consider it as preferable to annual elections by the people.
Both the other branches of the legislature, we have the liberty of choosing. We hope the good people of this province have acted, with due consideration, in the choice they have made of persons to represent them, in the present assembly; and that all who are to be concerned in the elections of this day, will be influenced by motives, truly religious and patriotic. It is not wealth*-it is not family-it is not either of these alone, nor both of them together, though I readily allow neither is to be disregarded, that will qualify men for important seats in government, unless they are rich and honorable in other and more important respects. This province bath had men, and such I doubt not there are still among us, in whom all these qualities are happily united. But in the first place, and before all other things, you should regard wisdom and integrity, understanding and religion, as qualifications for the business of government. If you aim to choose men thus qualified, you are “workers together with God,” who is the fountain of all promotion. If you give your suffrages for those, whom you know to be of a contrary character, you are chargeable with nothing less than a voluntary opposition to the will of Heaven. A serious thought, with which, we wish to have your minds deeply impressed.
It is always important to have wise and faithful rulers. It is peculiarly so, when the state of a people is difficult and perplexed. None can doubt ours being such, at the present day. All must agree in this, however different their sentiments may be, as to the immediate occasions of our troubles. Mutual confidence and affection, between Great Britain and these colonies, I speak it with grief, seems to be in some measure lost. I trust nothing of our loyalty to the best of kings, or of our readiness to yield
* When L. Quintius Cincinnatus was created Dictator, riches were not by the generality of the Roman citizens thought necessary to preferment. His estate was å farm consisting only of four acres of land: He was at plough when the deputies came to him from the senate, to acquaint him of his promotion. Wherever wisdom and virtue were found in a person, though destitute of a fortune, he stood fair to be advanced. And yet there were a few among the Romans even in that day, as there is a greater number among us in this, who are well described by Livy, when he says" Opere pretium est audire, qui omnia præ divitiis humana spernunt; neque honori magno locum, neque virtuti putant esse, nisi effuse affluant opes.”
obedience to the due exercise of the authority of the British parliament, is lost. People indeed generally apprehend some of their most important civil rights and privileges to be in great danger; and that several of them cannot be enjoyed under the execution of certain acts, lately passed in the parliament of Great Britain. How far these apprehensions are just, is not my province to determine. Nor shall I pretend fully to point out the political causes of our unhappiness; or the steps which are necessary to be taken, for the redress of our grievances.
This matter more immediately belongeth to you, our honored fathers. If we suffer by being misrepresented to our most gracious sovereign, or to his ministry, it is your part to remove the burtful influence hereof, in such ways, as you shall think inost proper and decent. It is yours, to set the temper and conduct of this people in a just light before the throne. It is yours, to carry their cries, and tears, and humble petitions thither. It is yours, to plead their cause, with “right words,” which “ are forcible," and“ words of truth,” which must, which will prevail.
The ministers of religion will unite their endeavors, to investigate and declare, the moral cause of our troubles. We should endeavor, my reverend fathers and brethren, and I trust we have been endeavoring, to direct the eye of our people to the hand of God, in the evils which are come upon us, and which threaten us. « Is there any evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?" Amos iii. 6. Are not these calamities to be viewed, as tokens of the divine displeasure against us, on account of our sins ? Is it not a day, in which we ought to "cry aloud and not spare, to show our people their transgressions and their sins ?” Isa. Ivü. 1. Should we not most importunately call them to repentance and reformation, as the only way, in which we can expect the removal of our difficulties ? It hath probably been the fault of this people, in these days of darkness and doubtful expectation, that they have fixed their thoughts too much on second causes, without duly regarding the first—that they have been too ready to censure the conduct of others, without making proper reflections on their own. Hath not God reason to complain of us, as be did of Israel, in a day of calamity ; “I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright. No man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done?” Jer. viii. 6.
The prospect at this day is indeed dark : The darkest part of it arises from the decay of religion, and the prevalence of wickedness among us. Is it not too evident to be denied, that “ iniquity greatly abounds,” and that “the love of many" to God and religion, “is waxen cold?” Must we not own that by our sins, we have forfeited all our privileges, into the hands of God; though I trust not, into the hands of men ? And are not many