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degrees of power exercised by its rulers; none of which were lessened or increased by the divine law, but all pronounced to be the ordinance of God; and obedience was exacted, under penalty of disobeying him, the original of all power : for he that resisteth, resisteth the ordinance of God, &c.
But since the nature of obedience is no where determined by the law of God, while the practice of it only is commanded, some other rule there must be to judge of the extent of our duty. This shown to be the measure of power and authority : whatever the prince can lawfully command in that, the subject is bound to obey. The things which are God's must be rendered unto God; and therefore no divine law can be superseded by the command of any earthly power : we must obey God rather than man, and be content with the lot of them who suffer for well-doing. But to reason abstractedly on the power of princes is a sign of weakness and of a troublesome temper : custom and the law of the land are, in each country, the highest reason : otherwise the gospel, which was intended for the law of all nations and people, could not have commanded obedience to the present powers, so different in form and authority,
Obedience is primarily due to God, the fountain of all power. Where God did not so visibly interest himself, as in the Jewish dispensation, but committed the reins of government to earthly princes, the making of laws for the external order of the world was remitted to their authority; and therefore the gospel, though infinitely more perfect than the law, gave us no system of laws, either for civil or ecclesiastical government. Of obedience there are two parts, the external and the internal : the former is that in the due performance of which the beauty and order of the world consists, and is therefore the proper care of its governors. The same holds in religion, which is the service of God: there are duties in which none are concerned but God and our own souls; such as faith, repentance, &c. But God requires also an external and visible worship from us, in which order and decency are required, but not determined ; and therefore they must be left to the jurisdiction of those to whom we are answerable for our outward behavior in all things.
The second instance of obedience is to honor and reverence our governors; a duty which we owe to all our superiors in proportion to their dignity and office. Next to him, whose very name cannot be taken in vain without guilt, are the supreme powers on earth, great though the distance be: to them we owe respect, according to the Apostle's rule, to render honor to whom honor, fear to whom fear is due. Two things have a right to honor and respect; personal virtue, and public character; which, when happily joined together, are to be accounted worthy of double honor; but when separate, are not to be defrauded of their due portion. Example of St. Paul, who corrected himself when he had spoken rudely to the high priest.
The third instance of obedience is in defending the persons and government of our princes. Mutual defence is the end of all government. Protection in life and fortune is the right of every subject; this he may lawfully expect from his prince, and so is bound to him, in the like duty of defending his person and government, whenever occasion requires it. When men entered into civil society, they resigned all their private rights and interests to the public good; and therefore the public happiness is to be preferred before our own: the prince bears the person of the commonwealth ; by him the public lives and acts; therefore his life is sacred, and to be defended with zealous devotion. To maintain the established form of government is the first and highest duty of men acting in society: to remove the ancient landmarks of power and obedience tends to the ruin of all government, and is an injury to the prince and his vested rights, as well as disobedience to his power.
Second head considered : viz., how inconsistent with the obedience required is the practice of those who are given to change.
No government was ever so perfectly formed at first, as to answer all occasions, the wisdom of man not reaching far enough to view all possible varieties of circumstances: therefore it is necessary for the public good that there should be a power lodged somewhere, to adapt old laws to present circumstances, or to those which may arise hereafter. To change thus is an act of lawful power, and therefore falls not within the charge of the text. But then the most necessary changes must be promoted and perfected by lawful authority, or else they lose their good quality ; for no change can be so beneficial, as the usurpation of lawful authority is injurious : to seek public good by such means is like the curing of a distemper by destroying the patient.
To view with pleasure the factions and disturbances of a kingdom, having in prospect our own advantage, is the part neither of a good man nor of a good Christian ; and to encourage seditious principles in others, though it may be done without danger, cannot be without guilt: such practices have nothing in them appertaining to honor or obedience to the prince.
The authority of the prince is as much concerned in maintaining the honor and order of God's service, as of his own; and the noblest character that belongs to princes, is that of nursing fathers and mothers to the church of Christ, the peace and order of which is at once the splendor and security of a government: therefore the advice of the text must be extended to the government of the church as well as of the
And the occasion of this solemnity gives good reason for this application; the alterations intended and practised on the church having had no little influence in the barbarous treason which was perpetrated towards the state.
There must be in the church, as in the state, a power to change whatsoever by experience is found unfit for the end designed ; and to effect this is their duty in whose hands the power is lodged : nor can changes so effected ever be to the blemish or dishonor of the church. But when men dislike without reason, and obstinately condemn whatever has been settled by authority; when they disclaim all the power and the acts of the church ; either their ignorance must be invincible, or their guilt unpardonable.
The reason of all changes ought to be very plain and apparent; since to change is the effect and sign of weakness; and to change often always breeds contempt. To press for alterations when most things in an establishment are owned to be good, and all tolerable, is not the effect of much judgment. If want of perfection be a reason to change, this reason will last for ever, since all the laws of the church are not of divine institution.
In matters of religious government, strange to say ! every man thinks himself a competent judge of what is fit to be obeyed, though he pretends not to the same discretionary power in state affairs; as if the case were not the same in both instances; and as if obedience in all things lawful and honest were not of like necessity in both.
The common people are led to esteem men who act thus, because they appear to suffer for their opinions, forfeiting advantages and worldly interests by not complying with the establishment, while rewards are open to the obedience of others; and as long as men are weak enough to be misled, and the errors of some are profitable to others, there will be no end of dissensions; and should the restlessness of men once break in on the constitution, the event only could show where it would end.
To what extremes the humor of men once set on change will run, the mournful occasion of this day's solemnity is a sufficient proof. The actors in those troubles thought of nothing less, when they began, than the event that succeeded. The good of the public and of the king was the pretence; and they never left off seeking it till they had ruined the public, and brought the royal head to the scaffold. With the same success the purity of the church was promoted; which ended in its utter subversion, and the blood of a great prelate.-Character of Archbishop Laud.-His case might deserve more to be lamented, did not that which followed bury all private injuries and resentments.-Character and death of King Charles I.-Reflexions thereon. It is a hard case if princes have no right to the allowances that are made to all besides : harder, because by their high station they are more exposed to the view of the world, and are obliged to live by the opinion of those who are not always wise enough to judge, or to let it alone. The privilege too, which extends to the lowest cottager, of choosing his own friends, is not without murmuring allowed to kings ; nor may they stoop to the innocent and harmless enjoyments of life. Every step men take, by which they rise in the world, is an abridgment of their innocent liberty, and binds them to a stricter self-denial; for there is a natural envy in men, which loves to see the honor and dignity of high station qualified with trouble and anxiety.
Those however who are distinguished by the advantages of birth and education, should be above the common prejudices and sordid passions of the vulgar; thinking themselves obliged, both in honor and duty, to pay a steady obedience to the established government: this point enlarged on.
It is through the goodness of God to us, that after so many convulsions we still enjoy our ancient government; that there is still life and vigor in the religion and liberty of England; a goodness that on our part demands the utmost return of gratitude; which can in no way be so acceptably shown, as in the worthy use of the blessings we enjoy. Concluding observations.