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might we attempt to prove from the language of our Lord, recorded in the sermon on the Mount *, that resistance to an injury in our persons and property is unlawful, and thus to subvert the foundation on which the necessity of magistracy rests, the punishment of evil-doers, who inflict such injuries. prudent in the Apostle not to enter into any question relating to the right of resistance in some extraordinary cases; as those cases are comparatively few, and as the justest decisions which could have been given on that subject might possibly have been misrepresented, to his own detriment and that of the Gospelt."
The inspired teachers, then, are to be understood as enforcing, by all the sanctions of religion, obedience to rulers. Christians are not, because they are Christians, and the subjects of a kingdom which is not of this world, exempted from obedience to civil government; nor are they, in virtue of their being Christians, deprived of their native rights as men, and as citizens, Whether they ought, in every case, to insist upon these rights, whether this conduct would be ornamental to their profession, or conducive to the progress of the Gospel, and to the advancement of their own best interests, are different questions.
But we can no more argue justly in favour of an unlimited passive obedience from the words of Scripture, “ Let every soul be subject to the higher powers,” and from similar expressions, than we can in support of unlimited servitude and submission from such precepts as the following. “ Servants, be sub
* Matt. v. 39, 40. † Doddridge.
ject to your masters. Children, obey your parents in all things. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands." If there be occasions when the commands of masters may be lawfully resisted ;—when children ought to decline obedience to the injunctions of their parents,—when wives are not bound to submit to their husbands, on what ground are we to believe that unlimited passive obedience is a duty ? If exceptions to the general rule be implied in one case, why should they not be so in the other.
It is clear that cases may be supposed in which obedience to rulers ceases to be a duty, and in which we ought to obey God rather than man. We owe the God who made, and who redeemed us, supreme love and obedience; and the solemn declarations which the Saviour has made to his disciples point out the obligations of steadfastly adhering to all his commandments. “ He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Should governors, then, ask their subjects to do what is opposed to the will of God, or even to the law of the land, they ought not to be obeyed. With these exceptions, let every soul be subject to the higher powers;" resistance to thein is most criminal.
If it be alleged, by way of objection to the view which I have now taken, that the primitive Christians, during the three first centuries, obeyed, and passively submitted, except in the single instance of religion, to the laws of the governments under which they lived,
however tyrannical and unprincipled—I may remark in reply, that the fact is to be accounted for, not by the supposition that their being Christians divested them of their rights as citizens, but by the circumstance of which they were fully aware, that they promoted, in this way, the glory of God, illustrated the efficacy of the Gospel, and were instrumental by their gentleness and their sufferings in its rapid promulgation.
In respect to their gentleness, self-denial, and readiness to suffer according to the will of God, I think they are a pattern to true Christians in every age. Nothing appears to me more unseemly than that such persons should be the abettors of a political faction; or, that they should not always be distinguished as the quiet, disinterested, and patriotic, in the land. “ Had the primitive Christians explained the Apostle's doctrine with so many exceptions, and limitations, and cautions, as numbers do at present, and acted accordingly; and had Christianity assumed that political aspect which it has generally borne in latter ages, nothing but a constant succession of miracles could have prevented its extirpation.”
ON THE DUTY OF RULERS.
CHRISTIANITY strengthens the bonds of civil society by defining the duties which rulers are enjoined to practise, and enforcing the obedience which subjects are commanded to render.
With regard to the first particular, the duties of rulers, it speaks both in direct terms, and by implication. It does not, indeed, notice the comparative merits of the different forms of civil polity; nor inform us which is most conducive to the improvement and happiness of mankind. It does not determine whether the sovereign power should be in one or in many, or in what manner it ought to be divided in its exercise. On these, and on several other points connected with civil government, it is, for obvious reasons, silent. But it is just as hostile to tyranny and oppression in the ruler, as it is to licentiousness and insubordination in the subject. It does not tolerate vices in one class of society which it forbids and condemns in another. Every undue stretch of power is wrong because it goes beyond that limit which the source of all authority, the Supreme Moral Governor of the world, has delegated to his servants ;-because it tends to subvert the true interests of society, and the ends of just government ;-because it is at variance with the law which enjoins us to do unto others as we would wish others to do unto us; and because it is expressly forbidden by the sovereign Judge, at whose tribunal all must give an account.
Christianity is so far from countenancing any thing unjust, or arbitrary, or oppressive in governors, that it severely reprobates it, and reminds them that they also have a Master in heaven. It tends to counteract, by the spirit which it cherishes, the moral evils which naturally flow from a diversity of rank and of circumstances, by fixing our chief attention on those virtues and attainments which alone will avail us in eternity;
it teaches the insignificance of mere earthly elevation; and by placing the monarch and the lowest of his subjects on the same level in the worship of Him before whom all outward distinctions vanish, it is favourable to that humility of mind which in his sight is of great value. Thus, it teaches those who are elevated by rank and office, that their elevation is designed for the public good; that all, whatever be their external circumstances, ought to regard each other as members of the same family, as accountable at the same tribunal, as inheriting the infirmities of the same fallen nature, as requiring the same almighty Saviour to redeem them, and as needing the same consolations and hopes in life, and in looking forward to eternity.
I cannot here even enumerate the qualifications and duties of rulers: I shall merely suggest some of the most prominent.
I. The ruler of the people should be a man that fears God. If it be the duty of all to love and reverence God, and supplicate his favour, and entertain a sense of their dependance upon him, it is especially the duty of him who is elevated from a private to a public station, and who requires the divine assistance to enable him to discharge his numerous obligations. This is the only sure pledge that his talents, however splendid, will be employed beneficially; and that in place of seeking the advancement of his own interests, he will sincerely aim at promoting the real good of the public and of the country. Nor is it visionary to expect that God will render pious rulers eminent blessings to the people whom they govern.