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THE DUTY OF SUBJECTS.
We cannot impress too deeply on our mind a sense of the great importance of a faithful discharge of our obligations to the government under which we live, and which we are bound by so many ties to support and defend. These obligations are numerous; and the Scripture by enforcing them by all the sanctions of religion, strengthens greatly the bands of civil society.
I. Christianity inculcates on subjects the duty of obedience to their rulers. To this I have already adverted, and only again recur to it for the purpose of making a very few additional observations. This duty is enforced by far higher motives, and on much surer grounds, by Divine Revelation, than it is possible for unaided reason to suggest. It commands its disciples to regard the existing authorities, without any inquiry as to their origin, as appointed by
and to give them the prompt and universal obedience due to Him whose will they express, and whose benevolent designs they are intended to promote. It represents governors as the servants of God, and exercising, in the discharge of their office, a power delegated to them by the Sovereign Ruler of all things.
Thus, obedience to magistrates is enjoined by the authority of God ;-an authority which must influence
the conscience, and secure to the ordinances of civil government a faithful observance. A provision is made for the order and stability of society, by making disobedience to lawful authority a sin equal in aggravation to a trespass of the law of God. Christianity binds subjects to obedience by far greater penalties than it is in the power of magistrates to inflict-by the pains of God's displeasure ; and reminds them ou an approaching day, in which they must answer at his tribunal for this part of their conduct.
II. The particular duties which we owe to our rulers, and the manner in which these duties ought to be performed, are specified in the Scriptures. In our obedience to civil magistrates we are there required to have God, his authority, and glory, constantly in view; and to consider them as entitled to our subjection, not because they have greater power than we, but because they are the officers of the King Eternal, and rule by his commission. Unless we view them in this light we wrong him whose servants they are,-just as much as we should wrong the monarch to whose representative we did not render due honour.
Subjects are not at liberty, on account of the vices of their rulers, to forget the dignity and authority of their office. Nor are they in the slightest degree, in consequence of these personal sins, exempted from obedience. Nor are they, on any principle of christian duty allowed to speak evil of them, or to bring railing accusations against them. While they may cautiously and modestly exercise their judgment on the public conduct of their rulers, they are to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. The example of our Lord and Master is in this as in all other respects to be imitated; who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously. Nor are we at liberty, according to the Christian law, even to wish evil in our thoughts to our governors, under a mistaken impression as to the utility of their measures. “ Curse not the king, no not in thy thoughts; for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter*.”
They are enjoined to pray constantly and heartily for their rulers. This duty, I fear, we are apt to discharge as a form, -as a customary petition, which it would be indecent to omit. In what a different light does its importance appear by the language in which it is enforced. “ I exhort,” says the Apostle Paul, “ that first of all, supplications, prayers, and intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.” The disposition of mind required in presenting such supplications before the throne of grace is not less favourable to our own happiness, than it is to the peace and harmony of society.
We owe our rulers gratitude for the blessings which, under Providence, we enjoy by their government. I am satisfied that the spirit of Christianity requires us to cherish this kind and grateful feeling towards the magistracy of our land. How numerous are our mercies and privileges! When we compare our state, as to religious knowledge and civil and religious freedom, with that of the other nations of Europe, have we not abundant cause of thankfulness to Him who has made so great a difference in our favour? A large portion of the world is enveloped in heathen and in Mohammedan darkness; but we live under a government which gives every facility to the progress of christian knowledge, and to the circulation of the Scriptures. In this land, and under the protection of this government, many a scheme of philanthropy, formed for the purpose of sending temporal and spiritual blessings to other nations, has had its origin. To the seditious profligate and the unbeliever there may be nothing in this to endear to them the British isles, and the free and unrivalled government which Divine Providence has placed over them; but there is in this, notwithstanding, much to awaken the patriotic and grateful feelings of all who think aright towards God and towards
We should, I apprehend, be more disposed to cherish grateful feelings towards our rulers did we consider the advantages resulting from any government, even the worst, rather than anarchy. Under every government property is in a greater or less degree protected, and industry encouraged; whereas, from anarchy universal ruin would soon follow. “ It is melancholy, but it is nevertheless true, that men are never so apt to throw off all regard to decency as in the time of some great public calamity, when cities are overturned by earthquake or depopulated by pestilence; for then the law loses its power. In short, we may presume that the disorders incident to the natural state would be so great, that if it were to be at all, it could not be of any long continuance *.”
Were there no restraints on the evil passions of mankind, persons of true piety would suffer more than the unprincipled government of Nero and Diocletian inflicted. They, in particular, have great cause of thankfulness to God for a government which protects their lives and property, which recognises as sacred the rights of conscience, and which forms their safeguard and defence while moving onwards to a better, even an heavenly, country.
Subjects are further bound to put the most candid and charitable construction on the conduct and measures of their rulers. They are men, and are therefore liable, even with the best intentions, to err; and can we expect human beings to be exempted from this liability ? Every government, however excellent, is of human origin ; and, therefore, partakes of the imperfections which attach to whatever is of man's devising and administration. It is a duty which we owe to all men not to judge them rashly, or with asperity; and we owe it more particularly to our rulers as our superiors. That the infidel, whose views of the real condition of man and of his destiny are at variance with truth, should ignorantly impute to his rulers evils which no earthly government can prevent,—that he should array human nature with an imaginary perfection, and attempt to persuade himself and others,
* Beattie's Elements of Moral Science, vol. ii p. 151.