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By forming into civil society, men do indeed give up some of their natural rights; but it is in prospect of a rich compensation, in the better security of the rest, and in the enjoyment of several additional ones, that flow from the constitution of government, which they establish. Individuals agreeing in certain methods, in which their united force and strength shall be employed for mutual defence and security, is a general idea of civil government. These methods of defence being lawful and right in themselves, must be agreeable to the will of God "who loveth righteousness:" They must please Him who is "a God of order and not of confusion;" as they tend to prevent "confusion and every evil work," which otherwise would prevail, without restraint, among such imperfect
creatures as we are.
The state of things in our world, is evidently such as to render civil government necessary: But for this, life, liberty, and property would be exposed to fatal invasion. The lusts of men, from whence come wars and fightings, would not be under sufficient restraint. Their conduct would be like that complained of in Israel, when they had no king: "Every one did that which was right in his own eyes." Judges xvii. 6. Men would resemble the fishes in the sea, the greater devouring the less. This state of things as fully determines the will of God, who delights in the happiness of his creatures, in favor of civil government, as it could have been done by an express revelation. The voice of reason, in this case, is the voice of God.
But the will of God, as to this thing, is not only deducible from these reasonings: his word of revelation declares it." The powers that be, are " expressly said to be "ordained of God." Civil rulers are called "the ministers of God." And "he that resisteth them," is said to "resist the ordinance of God." Rom. xiii. 1, 2, 4.
But though God's approbation of civil government is so evident; yet he hath not seen fit to point out any particular form of it, in which all men are obliged to unite. This is left as a matter of free choice and agreement. Men have a natural right to determine for themselves, in what way, and by whom they will be governed. The notion of a divine indefeasible right to govern, vested in particular persons, or families, is wholly without foundation; and is, I think, as generally exploded at this day, by men of sober minds, as that of uninterrupted succession in ecclesiastical office, from the apostles of Christ, in order to the validity of Christian administrations.
"The most impartial disquisitions of this matter," saith an anonymous writer, "founded on the common sense and practice of mankind, have long ago convinced the wise and unprejudiced, that no individual, however nobly born, has a right over the
person or property of another, except only from mutual compact, entered into for general benefit; the conditions of which, are as obligatory on the governing, as on the governed parties. No man, in the nature of things, is any way superior or inferior to his fellow-citizens, but on such conditions, as they are supposed to have mutually consented to. It is only to prevent the confusion which riches, interest, or ambition might create, among persons equally qualified, that the sovereignty hath been settled in particular families. It is in regard only to conveniency, that the succession should remain uninterrupted, as long as it can be consistent with the good of the whole. But where this is infringed, dispensed with, superseded, the obligation is cancelled. The people are free, and may either choose a new form of government, or put their old, into other hands."
All nations have not chosen the same form of government: Nor can we determine that any one would be best for all. The different genius, temper and situation of nations and countries, may make different constitutions of civil policy eligible, as different temperaments in human bodies, and the different climates in which they are placed, require different methods of regimen.
The theocracy of the Jews doth not disprove this natural liberty of choice. That was no doubt a signal favor to that people, while it continued; and it was ungrateful in them to be so soon weary of it. Other nations were left to their liberty, to choose such a form of government, as they might think would best answer the end of all government, the public welfare; whether that of monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy; or a mixture of these. It is a mixture of these that our nation hath fixed upon: And this we are ready to think the happiest that can be. We may possibly be prejudiced in favor of it, because it is our own. Indeed we have less reason to think we are, since we have so many testimonies of strangers to its excellency. Besides these testimonies, we have had such proofs of its goodness, as are most convictive, those of experience. By it, "we have enjoyed great quietness, and important favors have been done to our nation."
In this form of government, power and privilege are happily united. They are wrought into its foundation, so that they cannot be separated, but by pulling down the pillars of it. Magistrates cannot exercise their power, without maintaining the rights and privileges of the people: And people cannot enjoy their rights and privileges, without asserting and supporting the power of magistrates. We have reason to be thankful to the great Founder of civil government, that under his influence, our nation hath agreed in this constitution, which hath already contributed so much to its happiness; and the important blessings of which, we hope, will flow down to the latest posterity.
Indeed the best form of government will not render a people safe and happy, without a good administration. More depends on places of public trust being properly filled, than barely on the constitution. A people may perhaps, for a season, be tolerably happy, under the most exceptionable form of government; but can scarcely be so, under the best, when administration is grossly corrupt. Their rights and privileges are very nearly affected, by the character and conduct of their rulers. The advancement of persons to places in government, is therefore a most interesting affair. It requires the serious attention of all, who have a hand in it and it will lead every man of religion, to implore the favor and influence of the supreme Ruler, who putteth down one, and setteth up another.
This leads me,
Secondly, To consider the agency of God, in putting men into, and removing them from places in government.
Promotion, saith the penman of my text, cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. We cannot (as one remarks on the words) "gain it, either by the wisdom of the men of the east, or by the numerous forces of the western isles; or from those of Egypt or Arabia, which lie southward of Judea. The reason why the north is not mentioned, may be because the same word which is rendered north signifies God's secret-place or counsel, from whence promotion doth come." Perhaps no more is intended by this poetical expression, than that the most favorable concurrence of second causes, will not prevail to advance persons in government, without the influence of the first. A truth which none can disbelieve, who admit God's superintendency over all human affairs. A truth, in the faith of which, our own observation may have been sufficient to confirm us. Have we not known some, ready to compass sea and land, and to go from east to west, and from north to south, in pursuit of honor? And yet have they not found it like a shadow, in this respect, as well as in some other, that it hath fled before them with a motion as swift as that with which they have followed it? While they have tried every promising method to climb the slippery hill of honor, all their attempts have been blasted, and blasted in such secret and unexpected ways, as could not be accounted for, but by the agency of Him"who disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise." Job v. 12.
Promotion being denied to the power of second causes, is attributed to that of the first. God is the judge: He putteth down one, and setteth up another.
God is the judge-When several parties contend for the prize of preferment, he determineth it to which he pleaseth, so as best to serve his own purposes. It is not only safe but happy for the
world, that absolute and uncontrolable power should be possessed by a Being of infinite wisdom, invariable justice and boundless mercy. Such power is often ascribed to God, in the inspired writings. "Wisdom and might are his: He removeth kings, and setteth up kings: He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." Dan. ii. 21; Luke i. 52; Dan. iv.
God is the judge of men's qualifications for government, and his "judgment is always according to truth." He knows whom to promote and whom to depose, in order to answer the wise plan of his universal providence. This power God doth not usually exercise in an immediate way, but by the intervention of several second causes; and these are united and combined together in such a manner, as could be done by no understanding but one that is infinite. Sacred and other histories furnish us with instances hereof. The advancement of Joseph to great dignity and power in the Egyptian court, is a remarkable one. A variety of unconnected causes operated to bring this about, unconnected in themselves, but united by Him "whose kingdom ruleth over all." It was by the agency of God, that king Saul was disgraced, and David advanced; an event, to which it is probable, our text has special reference. By this it came to pass, that proud Haman was hanged on the gallows he had made, of fifty cubits high; while Mordecai the Jew, for whom he had prepared the same, was promoted: By this, that haughty Nebuchadnezzar was turned a grazing among the beasts, to teach him that "the heavens. do rule :" By this, that boasting Herod was eaten of worms,
because he did not consider that he was one himself.
The influence of the supreme Governor of the world, in bringing about such events, in later ages, is not less real, though perhaps less evident and immediate. It must be acknowledged in putting down some, and setting up others, in our own nation and land. The fall of that unhappy and misguided king, Charles the First, was an instance of it. So was that ever-memorable event, so happy in its consequences to Great Britain, and to these Colonies, called the Revolution, when king James the Second abdicated the throne, and King William and Queen Mary, of glorious memory, were advanced to it; which made way for the present happy establishment in the house of Hanover. The people of this province, not only shared in common with their fellow-subjects, on the other side of the Atlantic, in the advantages arising from this great change in government, but were particularly happy, in being delivered from the oppressive and tyrannical administration of Sir Edmund Andros. The agency of Heaven in these events, doth not determine the innocence or
guilt of those, who were the voluntary instruments of bringing them about. "Thou couldest have no power at all against me," said our Saviour to Pilate, "except it were given thee from above" John xix. 11. Yet this did not prove him innocent, in "condemning that just one."
The promotion of men to places of power and trust, who either have no talents for government, or are disposed to use those that they have, to wicked purposes, is an event, which may seem hard to be accounted for. "God's judgments are a great deep." This however must be a settled principle with us, "that the Judge of all the earth doth right." His providence is by no means to be impeached. The moral evils which take place, in consequence of such promotions, are not to be charged on him. He may permit such things, to punish a bad temper, either in the persons promoted, or in the people over whom they are set, or in both. should consider it as the primary design of such punishment to reform them; but if they remain incorrigible under it, a fuller display of God's rectoral justice and hatred of sin, will be made in their ruin. "The Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth." Rom. ix. 17. In judgment to Israel, Saul, and several wicked kings, were set over them. "There is (says Doctor Tillotson) a kind of moral connection and communication of evil and guilt, between princes and people; so that they are many times mutually rewarded for the virtues and good actions, and punished for the sins and faults, of one another."
Good men, who have excellent talents for government, and a disposition to use them for the public advantage, are sometimes kept out of place, or suddenly stripped of that civil power with which they had been clothed. This is a chapter in the book of providence hard to be explained. In this way, we have reason to think, God sometimes designs to punish a people's ingratitude to him for a good administration, which they have enjoyed; their unsubmissiveness to it, and abuse of its blessings. He may also intend the advantage of the persons thus displaced, by a dispensation generally grievous enough to them. He may behold their virtue endangered by their elevation: He may foresee that they would not be proof against the temptations of it; and that they would neglect, what to them, as well as to others, is "the one thing needful," the care of their souls. Many have lost ground in religion by advancement, and recovered it by a return to private life.
Having remarked on the agency of God in advancing and deposing men, I go on,
Thirdly, To consider what views they should have in seeking