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Preached before the Queen at St. James's, Jan. 30, 1704,
being the anniversary of the Martyrdom of King Charles the First.
PROVERBS, CHAP. XXIV.--VERSE 21.
My son, fear thou the Lord and the king; and meddle not with
them that are given to change.
The fear of God and of the king are joined together in Scripture, to show the dependence one has on the other. The only lasting foundation of civil obedience is the fear of God; and the truest interest of princes is to maintain the honor of religion, by which they secure their own. The advantage of religion to all public societies and civil governments is so plain and visible, that some have suspected it to be the only end of religion ; which they allow to be an excellent contrivance of state, a proper remedy for the turbulent humors and passions of men; and though we acknowlege nobler and better ends of religion, which respect another world; yet we must, with thankfulness to its divine Author, own it to be excellently adapted to the temporal felicity of private men and public societies ; •Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is the reproach of any people.'
If we look into the history of former times, we shall find the first symptoms of ruin and destruction have appeared in the dissolute lives of the people, and a general contempt of sacred things. Irreligion naturally tends to disorder and confusion ; for all civil and moral duties are founded in the principles of religion; which once overthrown, nothing remains but pure force and power to restrain the unruly appetites of men : a way of governing neither safe to the prince nor easy to the people, and therefore can never last long. Duties which flow from fixed and settled principles, must always be the same; the obligation arising from them unalterable; from the practice of which will follow order and regularity. But interest and passion are in continual motion, and liable to infinite changes ; and men who steer by them, can hold no steady course of action, but must be given to change,' as often as they are out of humor, or think the present state of things not proper to serve their turn. Therefore nothing but a religious sense of our duty to God and to our governors, his ministers on earth, can keep us constant and upright in our obedience. · Fear God and the king, and meddle not with them that are given to change.'
I shall not consider the duty of fearing God any farther than as the obedience due to our superiors on earth is included in it; and shall therefore confine myself to the following par- ' ticulars; to consider,
First, what obedience to our governors is enjoined by the law of God.
Secondly, how inconsistent with this obedience the practice pf those men is, who are given to change.'
First, what obedience to our governors is enjoined by the law of God.
Obedience is seen chiefly in three things : 1st, in submission to the laws and commands of our princes.
2dly, in honor and reverence to their persons and government.
3dly, in defending them, when any danger threatens them or
The first and principal instance of obedience is submission to the laws and commands of our princes. To determine the original of civil power, or how the prince's right to the obedience of the subject first began, is neither easy nor at this time necessary. But whatever the original of government has been, or on what account soever lawful authority has been gained ; on the same, obedience becomes due. At the time our Saviour appeared in the world, various were the forms of government
in it, and different the degrees of power that were exercised by rulers over different countries; none of which were either lessened or increased by the divine law, but all pronounced to be the ordinance of God; and obedience to all exacted under the penalty of disobeying God, the original of all power and authority. For he that resisteth, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.'
But since the nature of obedience is no where determined by the law of God, but only the practice of it commanded; some other rule there must be to judge of the extent of our duty. As in moral virtues, the light of nature and right reason inform us what is temperance, sobriety, and the like ; and therefore these virtues are commanded in Scripture, and in most cases men left to their natural notions of good and evil, to distinguish between the virtue and the vice; so likewise must the acts of obedience, which the law of God commands, be explained and defined by some other rule. When the Jews put that captious question to our Saviour, • Whether it were lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar or no;' he gave no new directions, but judged them out of their own mouths by the known rules of government; for they having owned the coin of the country to bear Cæsar's image and superscription, a manifest token of their' subjection and his sovereignty; he determined, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's.' Agreeable to which is the Apostle's rule, Tribute to whom tribute is due.' Our Saviour took it not on him to determine the civil right of Cæsar; but the right appearing, obedience and compliance he commanded. The rights of princes are not determined in Scripture; and therefore in questions of right the Scripture is no rule.
The measure then of power and authority must be the rule of obedience; whatever the prince can lawfully command, the subject is bound to obey. The things which are God's must be rendered unto God;" and therefore no divine law, declared either by the clear light of nature or express revelation, can be superseded by the command of any earthly power. Which, whenever it is the case, we must obey God rather than man; and be content with the lot of them who suffer for well-doing. To reason abstractedly on the power of princes is a sign of weakness, as well as of a troublesome temper. Custom and the law of the land in each country are in this case the highest reason ; under which regulations the power of all princes is lawful and reasonable. Were it otherwise, the gospel, which was intended for the law of all nations and people, could not have commanded obedience to the present powers, which were in form and authority vastly different.
All obedience is primarily owing to God, the fountain of all power; and should it please him to take on himself the personal government of nations, as he did sometime of the people of the Jews, all other power would cease of course. In the Jewish government the laws of civil and ecclesiastical polity were di. vine ; being established by God when he took on himself the external government of that people. But where God did not so visibly interest himself, but committed the reins of government to earthly princes; the making laws for the external and visible 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; which under the law were ordained by God, (not as supreme Governor of the world, but as the immediate and visible Governor of the Jews ;) but under the gospel are left to princes, who are appointed by God to be the visible governors of the world; and therefore all visible and external order is their proper care and business. Of • obedience' there are two parts; the external and internal. The external consists in the outward conformity of our actions to the rules and principles of virtue; the internal, in the sincerity and purity of the heart. The government of the world is not concerned in the internal part; for if men act as if they were honest, the peace and outward order of the world will be secured, though their hearts are perverse; and therefore the judgment of this, God, as he alone is able for it, has reserved to himself. The exter. . nal part of obedience' is that, in the due performance of which the beauty and order of the world consists; and therefore this is the proper care of the governors of the world. The same holds in religion, which is the service of God: there are duties which none are concerned in but God and our own souls;
such as faith, repentance, and the like; the virtue of which is internal, of the heart. But God requires likewise an external and visible worship from us, in which outward order and decency are required,' but not determined, and therefore must be left to their jurisdiction, to whom we are answerable for our outward behavior in all things. How far mistaken then is the zeal of those who decline subinitting to the orders of the church, because they are of human appointment ! Whereas being ordained by a lawful power, they have so far the stamp of divine authority, as to make disobedience to them a sin against God.
The second instance of obedience is to honor and reverence our governors; to think with respect, and speak with decency of their persons and governments. This duty we owe to all our superiors, in proportion to their dignity and office. If we look up to the fountain and original of all power, the
GOvernor of the world; his ' name,' even • to mention in vain, shall not be held guiltless. Next to him, though the distance be great, are the supreme powers on earth, to whom we owe the greatest civil' respect and reverence; according to the Apostle's rule, to render honor to whom honor, fear to whom fear' is due; whose names or persons to treat with contempt, is want of decency as well as duty. Two things have a right to honor and respect ; personal virtues and public characters; 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. When St. Paul, provoked by the unjust usage of the high-priest, returned him a rude answer; being informed what place he held in the commonwealth, he corrected and excused his error; I wist not, brethren, that he was the high-priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.'
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; which as he may lawfully expect from his prince, so is he bound to him in the like duty of defending his person and government whenever occasion requires. When men entered into civil society, they