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On Civil Liberty, Passive Obedience, and Non-resistance - Bruce Frohnen, The American Republic: Primary Sources 
The American Republic: Primary Sources, ed. Bruce Frohnen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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On Civil Liberty, Passive Obedience, and Non-resistance
Jonathan Boucher (1738–1804) was an Episcopal minister and tutor to, among others, the stepson of George Washington. A loyalist, or “Tory,” who believed the colonists had no right to rebel against the acts of Parliament, Boucher preached non-resistance to an increasingly hostile audience until 1775 when, fearing for his life, he returned to England. In 1797, he published thirteen of his sermons against colonial resistance under the title A View of the Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution. The sermon reprinted here, the twelfth in the series, was given as an answer to a 1775 sermon preached on the same subjects and biblical texts by a Reverend Duché.
On Civil Liberty, Passive Obedience, and Non-resistance *
Galatians, ch. v. ver. 1
Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.
It is not without much sincere concern that I find myself thus again constrained to animadvert on the published opinions of another Clergyman, of great worth and amiableness of character—a Clergyman whom I have the pleasure to know, and who, I believe, is not more generally known than he is beloved. If his opinions had been confined to points of little moment, and on which even mistakes could have done no great harm, I could have been well contented to have let this pass down the stream of time, with a long list of similar patriotic publications, without any animadversions of mine. But if what he has published, even with good intentions, be, as I think it clearly is, of a pernicious and dangerous tendency, (and the more so, perhaps, from it’s being delivered in the form of a sermon,) I owe no apology either to him, or to any man, for thus endeavouring to furnish you with an antidote to the poison which has been so industriously dispersed among you.
To have become noted either as a political writer or preacher, as some (who at least are unacquainted with my preaching) are pleased to tell you I now am, is a circumstance that gives me no pleasure. I was sorry to hear the observation; not (I thank God!) from any consciousness of my having ever written or preached any thing, of which (at least in point of principle) I have reason to be ashamed; but because it is painful to reflect, that it should have fallen to my lot to live in times, and in a country, in which such subjects demand the attention of every man. Convinced in my judgment that it is my duty to take the part which I have taken, though I cannot but lament it’s not having produced all the beneficial consequences which I fondly flattered myself it might, I dare not allow myself to discontinue it. The time, I know, has been, when addresses of this sort from English pulpits were much more frequent than they now are. Even now, however, they are not wholly discontinued: sermons on political topics, on certain stated days, are still preached, and with the authority of Government. This is mentioned to obviate a charge, that I am singular in continuing this practice; as it proves that such preaching is not yet proscribed from our pulpits. That a change, indeed, in this respect, as well in the principles as in the conduct of modern preachers, has taken place among us, is readily confessed: but that it is a change for the better, has no where yet been proved. A comparison of the 30th of January sermons of the present times, with those of our older Divines, might suggest many not uninteresting reflections: but as it is no part of my purpose to seat myself in a censorial chair, I enter not into the disquisition; but shall content myself with cursorily observing, that if the political sermons of the present day be more popular than those of our predecessors, it is owing, too probably, to their being also more frivolous (not to say more unsound, and less learned) than such compositions used to be.
But, without being influenced by the principles or the practices of other preachers, I must, for myself, be permitted to think it incumbent on me to watch and attend to circumstances as they arise; such, more especially, as nearly concern the welfare of the people committed to my charge. In any such politics as do not touch the conscience, nor trench upon duty, I hope I neither feel nor take more interest than mankind in general do: but there is a sense in which politics, properly understood, form an essential branch of Christian duty. These politics take in a very principal part, if not the whole, of the second table of the Decalogue, which contains our duty to our neighbour.
It is from this second table that the compilers of our Catechism have very properly deduced the great duty of honouring and obeying the king, and all that are put in authority under him. Reverently to submit ourselves to all our governors, teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters, is indeed a duty so essential to the peace and happiness of the world, that St. Paul thinks no Christian could be ignorant of it: and therefore, when he recommends it to Titus as a topic on which he should not fail frequently to insist, he supposes it would be sufficient if his converts were put in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, and to be ready to every good work. This, however, is as direct and clear a commission for a Christian minister’s preaching on politics, in the just sense of the word, on all proper occasions, as can be produced for our preaching at all on any subject. Let me hope, then, that I now stand sufficiently vindicated as a preacher of politics (if such an one I am to be deemed) by having proved, that, in thus preaching, I do no more than St. Paul enjoined: all I pretend to, all I aim at, is to put you in mind only of your duty to your neighbour* .
It is, however, not a little mortifying to the few friends of the good old principles of the Church of England yet left among us to observe (as it is impossible they should fail to observe) that offence is taken, not so much because some of us preach on politics, as because we preach what are called unpopular politics. Preachers who are less anxious to speak right, than smooth things, are now hardly less numerous among us, in proportion to our population, than such men were among the puritans in the last century: and their discourses are not only preached, but published, “at the request of battalions, generals, and commanders in chief.” But, wo unto that people who studiously place temptations in the way of the ministers of God to handle the word of God deceitfully! and wo unto those ministers who are thus tempted to cause the people to err, by their lies and their lightness!
Let me humbly hope, then, that, whilst I thus continue to plead in behalf of Government, I may continue to experience the same indulgence which those persons do who speak against it. The ground I have taken, I am aware, is deemed untenable; but, having now just gone over that ground with great care, I feel a becoming confidence that I shall not easily be driven from it. The same diligence, the same plain honest course of proceeding which I have taken, will, I trust, produce the same effects with all of you, who, not being yet absorbed within the vortex of party, are still happy in the possession of minds open to conviction. With no others do I presume to argue. That I am persevering in the pursuit of this unpopular course, I readily own; yet I feel I want spirits to enter on any such discussions with those persons among us, who, settling controverted points with their hands rather than with their tongues, demonstrate with tar and feathers, fetch arguments from prisons, and confute by confiscation and exile.
To find out the true and precise meaning of any passage of Scripture, it is in general necessary to know the circumstances of the writer, and his end and aim in writing. St. Paul, the author of my text, was deeply involved in that very natural but perplexing dispute which soon arose among the first converts, and even among the Disciples, concerning the observance of the ritual services; and how far they were, or were not, obligatory on Christians. There are few of his writings, in some part or other of which this great question does not come forward. It evidently runs through the whole of this epistle to the Galatians, as well as through this particular verse.
The Jewish zealots (like their ancestors in the wilderness, who ever and anon murmured for want of the flesh-pots in Egypt) were perpetually troubling the infant church on the subject of this question. It became our Apostle, then, diligently to labour after the removal of this difficulty. This he undertakes to do; and very satisfactorily obviates the difficulty by a comparison of the two dispensations, the former of which he proves to have been a yoke of bondage when put in competition with that perfect law of liberty now promulged to the world. The law of Moses was no doubt well contrived and adapted to the singular circumstances of the people to whom it was given; yet, when a revelation still better adapted to the general circumstances of mankind was made known, it was a most unaccountable instance of folly and perverseness in that people to wish to be again entangled in a yoke which neither they nor their forefathers were well able to bear. Emancipated as they now were from so burthensome a service, it was to act the part of madmen still to hug their chains.
Freely offered, however, as the Gospel of uncircumcision now was to the Jew first and also to the Gentile, it behoved the latter also (who, as well as their brethren of the law, were called unto liberty) to stand fast. It is true they were not, as the Jews were, made free from the servile observance of days, and months, and times, and years; to which they had never been subjected. But there was another kind of subjection or slavery, not less oppressive, from which they were now released; I mean the slavery of sin. Heretofore they were the servants of sin; but now, they were no more servants, but sons; and if sons, then heirs of God through Christ. Admitted to this blessed privilege, and no longer the children of Hagar and of Ishmael, but of Sarah and of Isaac, the exhortation is with great propriety addressed to them also: Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free.
As the liberty here spoken of respected the Jews, it denoted an exemption from the burthensome services of the ceremonial law: as it respected the Gentiles, it meant a manumission from bondage under the weak and beggarly elements of the world, and an admission into the covenant of grace: and as it respected both in common, it meant a freedom from the servitude of sin. Every sinner is, literally, a slave; for, his servants ye are, to whom ye obey:—and the only true liberty is the liberty of being the servants of God; for, his service is perfect freedom. The passage cannot, without infinite perversion and torture, be made to refer to any other kind of liberty; much less to that liberty of which every man now talks, though few understand it. However common this term has been, or is, in the mouths chiefly of those persons who are as little distinguished for the accuracy as they are for the paucity of their words; and whatever influence it has had on the affairs of the world, it is remarkable that it is never used (at least not in any such sense as it is elsewhere used) in any of the laws either of God or men. Let a minister of God, then, stand excused if (taught by him who knoweth what is fit and good for us better than we ourselves, and is wont also to give us more than either we desire or deserve) he seeks not to amuse you by any flowery panegyrics on liberty. Such panegyrics are the productions of ancient heathens and modern patriots: nothing of the kind is to be met with in the Bible, nor in the Statute Book. The word liberty, as meaning civil liberty, does not, I believe, occur in all the Scriptures. With the aid of a concordance I find only two or three passages, in two apocryphal writers, that look at all like it. In the xivth chapter and 26th verse of the 1st of Maccabees, the people are said to owe much gratitude to Simon, the high-priest, for having renewed a friendship and league with the Lacedemonians, confirmed the league with the Romans, established Israel, and confirmed their liberty. But it is evident that this expression means, not that the Jews were then to be exempted from any injunctions, or any restraints, imposed upon them by their own lawful government; but only that they were delivered from a foreign jurisdiction and from tributary payments, and left free to live under the law of Moses. The only circumstance relative to government, for which the Scriptures seem to be particularly solicitous, is in inculcating obedience to law-ful governors, as well knowing where the true danger lies. Nevertheless, as occasion has lately been taken from this text, on which I am now to discourse, to treat largely on civil liberty and government, (though for no other reason that appears but that the word liberty happens to stand in the text,) I entreat your indulgence, whilst, without too nicely scrutinizing the propriety of deducing from a text a doctrine which it clearly does not suggest, I once more adopt a plan already chalked out for me, and deliver to you what occurs to me as proper for a Christian audience to attend to on the subject of Liberty.
It has just been observed, that the liberty inculcated in the Scriptures, (and which alone the Apostle had in view in this text,) is wholly of the spiritual or religious kind. This liberty was the natural result of the new religion in which mankind were then instructed; which certainly gave them no new civil privileges. They remained subject to the governments under which they lived, just as they had been before they became Christians, and just as others were who never became Christians; with this difference only, that the duty of submission and obedience to Government was enjoined on the converts to Christianity with new and stronger sanctions. The doctrines of the Gospel make no manner of alteration in the nature or form of Civil Government; but enforce afresh, upon all Christians, that obedience which is due to the respective Constitutions of every nation in which they may happen to live. Be the supreme power lodged in one or in many, be the kind of government established in any country absolute or limited, this is not the concern of the Gospel. It’s single object, with respect to these public duties, is to enjoin obedience to the laws of every country, in every kind or form of government.
The only liberty or freedom which converts to Christianity could hope to gain by becoming Christians, was the being exempted from sundry burthensome and servile Jewish ordinances, on the one hand; and, on the other, from Gentile blindness and superstition. They were also in some measure perhaps made more free in the inner man; by being endowed with greater firmness of mind in the cause of truth, against the terrors and the allurements of the world; and with such additional strength and vigour as enabled them more effectually to resist the natural violence of their lusts and passions. On all these accounts it was that our Saviour so emphatically told the Jews, that the truth (of which himself was now the preacher) would make them free * . And on the same principle St. James terms the Gospel the perfect law of liberty.
In the infancy of Christianity, it would seem that some rumour had been spread (probably by Judas of Galilee, who is mentioned in the Acts †) that the Gospel was designed to undermine kingdoms and commonwealths; as if the intention of our Saviour’s first coming had been the same with that which is reserved for the second, viz. to put down all rule, and all authority, and all power. On this supposition the apparent solicitude of our Saviour and his Apostles, in their frequent and earnest recommendation of submission to the higher powers, is easily and naturally accounted for. Obedience to Government is every man’s duty, because it is every man’s interest: but it is particularly incumbent on Christians, because (in addition to it’s moral fitness) it is enjoined by the positive commands of God: and therefore, when Christians are disobedient to human ordinances, they are also disobedient to God. If the form of government under which the good providence of God has been pleased to place us be mild and free, it is our duty to enjoy it with gratitude and with thankfulness; and, in particular, to be careful not to abuse it by licentiousness. If it be less indulgent and less liberal than in reason it ought to be, still it is our duty not to disturb and destroy the peace of the community, by becoming refractory and rebellious subjects, and resisting the ordinances of God. However humiliating such acquiescence may seem to men of warm and eager minds, the wisdom of God in having made it our duty is manifest. For, as it is the natural temper and bias of the human mind to be impatient under restraint, it was wise and merciful in the blessed Author of our religion not to add any new impulse to the natural force of this prevailing propensity, but, with the whole weight of his authority, altogether to discountenance every tendency to disobedience.
If it were necessary to vindicate the Scriptures for this their total unconcern about a principle which for many other writings seem to regard as the first of all human considerations, it might be observed, that, avoiding the vague and declamatory manner of such writings, and avoiding also the useless and impracticable subtleties of metaphysical definitions, these Scriptures have better consulted the great general interests of mankind, by summarily recommending and enjoining a conscientious reverence for law whether human or divine. To respect the laws, is to respect liberty in the only rational sense in which the term can be used; for liberty consists in a subserviency to law * . “Where there is no law,” says Mr. Locke, “there is no freedom.” The mere man of nature (if such an one there ever was) has no freedom: all his lifetime he is subject to bondage. It is by being included within the pale of civil polity and government that he takes his rank in society as a free man.
Hence it follows, that we are free, or otherwise, as we are governed by law, or by the mere arbitrary will, or wills, of any individual, or any number of individuals. And liberty is not the setting at nought and despising established laws—much less the making our own wills the rule of our own actions, or the actions of others—and not bearing (whilst yet we dictate to others) the being dictated to, even by the laws of the land; but it is the being governed by law, and by law only. The Greeks described Eleutheria, or Liberty, as the daughter of Jupiter, the supreme fountain of power and law. And the Romans, in like manner, always drew her with the pretor’s wand, (the emblem of legal power and authority,) as well as with the cap. Their idea, no doubt, was, that liberty was the fair fruit of just authority, and that it consisted in men’s being subjected to law. The more carefully well-devised restraints of law are enacted, and the more rigorously they are executed in any country, the greater degree of civil liberty does that country enjoy. To pursue liberty, then, in a manner not warranted by law, whatever the pretence may be, is clearly to be hostile to liberty: and those persons who thus promise you liberty, are themselves the servants of corruption.
“Civil liberty (says an excellent writer † ) is a severe and a restrained thing; implies, in the notion of it, authority, settled subordinations, subjection, and obedience; and is altogether as much hurt by too little of this kind, as by too much of it. And the love of liberty, when it is indeed the love of liberty, which carries us to withstand tyranny, will as much carry us to reverence authority, and to support it; for this most obvious reason, that one is as necessary to the being of liberty, as the other is destructive of it. And, therefore, the love of liberty which does not produce this effect, the love of liberty which is not a real principle of dutiful behaviour towards authority, is as hypocritical as the religion which is not productive of a good life. Licentiousness is, in truth, such an excess of liberty as is of the same nature with tyranny. For, what is the difference betwixt them, but that one is lawless power exercised under pretence of authority, or by persons vested with it; the other, lawless power exercised under pretence of liberty, or without any pretence at all? A people, then, must always be less free in proportion as they are more licentious; licentiousness being not only different from liberty, but directly contrary to it—a direct breach upon it.”
True liberty, then, is a liberty to do every thing that is right, and the being restrained from doing any thing that is wrong. So far from our having a right to do every thing that we please, under a notion of liberty, liberty itself is limited and confined—but limited and confined only by laws which are at the same time both it’s foundation and it’s support. It can, however, hardly be necessary to inform you, that ideas and notions respecting liberty, very different from these, are daily suggested in the speeches and the writings of the times; and also that some opinions on the subject of government at large, which appear to me to be particularly loose and dangerous, are advanced in the sermon now under consideration; and that, therefore, you will acknowledge the propriety of my bestowing some farther notice on them both.
It is laid down in this sermon, as a settled maxim that the end of government is “the common good of mankind.” I am not sure that the position itself is indisputable * ; but, if it were, it would by no means follow that, “this common good being matter of common feeling, government must therefore have been instituted by common consent.” There is an appearance of logical accuracy and precision in this statement; but it is only an appearance. The position is vague and loose; and the assertion is made without an attempt to prove it. If by men’s “common feelings” we are to understand that principle in the human mind called common sense, the assertion is either unmeaning and insignificant, or it is false. In no instance have mankind ever yet agreed as to what is, or is not, “the common good.” A form or mode of government cannot be named, which these “common feelings” and “common consent,” the sole arbiters, as it seems, of “common good,” have not, at one time or another, set up and established, and again pulled down and reprobated. What one people in one age have concurred in establishing as the “common good,” another in another age have voted to be mischievous and big with ruin. The premises, therefore, that “the common good is matter of common feeling,” being false, the consequence drawn from it, viz. that government was instituted by “common consent,” is of course equally false.
This popular notion, that government was originally formed by the consent or by a compact of the people, rests on, and is supported by, another similar notion, not less popular, nor better founded. This other notion is, that the whole human race is born equal; and that no man is naturally inferior, or, in any respect, subjected to another; and that he can be made subject to another only by his own consent. The position is equally ill-founded and false both in it’s premises and conclusions. In hardly any sense that can be imagined is the position strictly true; but, as applied to the case under consideration, it is demonstrably not true. Man differs from man in every thing that can be supposed to lead to supremacy and subjection, as one star differs from another star in glory. It was the purpose of the Creator, that man should be social: but, without government, there can be no society; nor, without some relative inferiority and superiority, can there be any government. A musical instrument composed of chords, keys, or pipes, all perfectly equal in size and power, might as well be expected to produce harmony, as a society composed of members all perfectly equal to be productive of order and peace. If (according to the idea of the advocates of this chimerical scheme of equality) no man could rightfully be compelled to come in and be a member even of a government to be formed by a regular compact, but by his own individual consent; it clearly follows, from the same principles, that neither could he rightfully be made or compelled to submit to the ordinances of any government already formed, to which he has not individually or actually consented. On the principle of equality, neither his parents, nor even the vote of a majority of the society, (however virtuously and honourably that vote might be obtained,) can have any such authority over any man. Neither can it be maintained that acquiescence implies consent; because acquiescence may have been extorted from impotence or incapacity. Even an explicit consent can bind a man no longer than he chooses to be bound. The same principle of equality that exempts him from being governed without his own consent, clearly entitles him to recall and resume that consent whenever he sees fit; and he alone has a right to judge when and for what reasons it may be resumed.
Any attempt, therefore, to introduce this fantastic system into practice, would reduce the whole business of social life to the wearisome, confused, and useless task of mankind’s first expressing, and then withdrawing, their consent to an endless succession of schemes of government. Governments, though always forming, would never be completely formed: for, the majority to-day, might be the minority tomorrow; and, of course, that which is now fixed might and would be soon unfixed. Mr. Locke indeed says, that, “by consenting with others to make one body-politic under government, a man puts himself under an obligation to every one of that society to submit to the determination of the majority, and to be concluded by it.” For the sake of the peace of society, it is undoubtedly reasonable and necessary that this should be the case: but, on the principles of the system now under consideration, before Mr. Locke or any of his followers can have authority to say that it actually is the case, it must be stated and proved that every individual man, on entering into the social compact, did first consent, and declare his consent, to be concluded and bound in all cases by the vote of the majority. In making such a declaration, he would certainly consult both his interest and his duty; but at the same time he would also completely relinquish the principle of equality, and eventually subject himself to the possibility of being governed by ignorant and corrupt tyrants * . Mr. Locke himself afterwards disproves his own position respecting this supposed obligation to submit to the “determination of the majority,” when he argues that a right of resistance still exists in the governed: for, what is resistance but a recalling and resuming the consent heretofore supposed to have been given, and in fact refusing to submit to the “determination of the majority?” It does not clearly appear what Mr. Locke exactly meant by what he calls “the determination of the majority:” but the only rational and practical public manner of declaring “the determination of the majority,” is by law: the laws, therefore, in all countries, even in those that are despotically governed, are to be regarded as the declared “determination of a majority” of the members of that community; because, in such cases, even acquiescence only must be looked upon as equivalent to a declaration. A right of resistance, therefore, for which Mr. Locke contends, is incompatible with the duty of submitting to the determination of “the majority,” for which he also contends.
It is indeed impossible to carry into effect any government which, even by compact, might be framed with this reserved right of resistance. Accordingly there is no record that any such government ever was so formed. If there had, it must have carried the seeds of it’s decay in it’s very constitution. For, as those men who make a government (certain that they have the power) can have no hesitation to vote that they also have the right to unmake it; and as the people, in all circumstances, but more especially when trained to make and unmake governments, are at least as well disposed to do the latter as the former, it is morally impossible that there should be any thing like permanency or stability in a government so formed. Such a system, therefore, can produce only perpetual dissensions and contests, and bring back mankind to a supposed state of nature; arming every man’s hand, like Ishmael’s, against every man, and rendering the world an aceldama, or field of blood.—Such theories of government seem to give something like plausibility to the notions of those other modern theorists, who regard all governments as invasions of the natural rights of men, usurpations, and tyranny. On this principle it would follow, and could not be denied, that government was indeed fundamentally, as our people are sedulously taught it still is, an evil. Yet it is to government that mankind owe their having, after their fall and corruption, been again reclaimed, from a state of barbarity and war, to the conveniency and the safety of the social state: and it is by means of government that society is still preserved, the weak protected from the strong, and the artless and innocent from the wrongs of proud oppressors. It was not without reason, then, that Mr. Locke asserted, that a greater wrong cannot be done to prince and people, than is done by “propagating wrong notions concerning government.”
Ashamed of this shallow device, that government originated in superior strength and violence, another party, hardly less numerous, and certainly not less confident than the former, fondly deduce it from some imaginary compact. They suppose that, in the decline perhaps of some fabulous age of gold, a multitude of human beings, who, like their brother beasts, had hitherto ranged the forests, without guide, overseer, or ruler—at length convinced, by experience, of the impossibility of living either alone with any degree of comfort or security, or together in society, with peace, without government, had (in some lucid interval of reason and reflection) met together in a spacious plain, for the express purpose of framing a government. Their first step must have been the transferring to some individual, or individuals, some of those rights which are supposed to have been inherent in each of them: of these it is essential to government that they should be divested; yet can they not, rightfully, be deprived of them, otherwise than by their own consent. Now, admitting this whole supposed assembly to be perfectly equal as to rights, yet all agreed as to the propriety of ceding some of them, on what principles of equality is it possible to determine, either who shall relinquish such a portion of his rights, or who shall be invested with such new accessory rights? By asking another to exercise jurisdiction over me, I clearly confess that I do not think myself his equal; and by his consenting to exercise such authority, he also virtually declares that he thinks himself superior. And, to establish this hypothesis of a compact, it is farther necessary that the whole assembly should concur in this opinion—a concurrence so extremely improbable, that it seems to be barely possible. The supposition that a large concourse of people, in a rude and imperfect state of society, or even a majority of them, should thus rationally and unanimously concur to subject themselves to various restrictions, many of them irksome and unpleasant, and all of them contrary to all their former habits, is to suppose them possessed of more wisdom and virtue than multitudes in any instance in real life have ever shewn. Another difficulty respecting this notion may yet be mentioned. Without a power of life and death, it will, I presume, be readily admitted that there could be no government. Now, admitting it to be possible that men, from motives of public and private utility, may be induced to submit to many heavy penalties, and even to corporal punishment, inflicted by the sentence of the law, there is an insuperable objection to any man’s giving to another a power over his life: this objection is, that no man has such a power over his own life; and cannot therefore transfer to another, or to others, be they few or many, on any conditions, a right which he does not himself possess. He only who gave life, can give the authority to take it away: and as such authority is essential to government, this argument seems very decidedly to prove, not only that government did not originate in any compact, but also that it was originally from God *.
This visionary idea of a government by compact was, as Filmer says, “first hatched in the schools; and hath, ever since, been fostered by Papists, for good divinity.” For some time, the world seemed to regard it merely as another Utopian fiction; and it was long confined to the disciples of Rome and Geneva, who, agreeing in nothing else, yet agreed in this. In an evil hour it gained admittance into the Church of England; being first patronized by her during the civil wars, by “a few miscreants, who were as far from being true Protestants, as true Subjects.” Mankind have listened, and continue to listen to it with a predilection and partiality, just as they do to various other exceptionable notions, which are unfavourable to true religion and sound morals; merely from imagining, that if such doctrines be true, they shall no longer be subjected to sundry restraints, which, however wholsome and proper, are too often unpalatable to our corrupt natures. What we wish to be true, we easily persuade ourselves is true. On this principle it is not difficult to account for our thus eagerly following these ignes fatui of our own fancies or “feelings,” rather than the sober steady light of the word of God; which (in this instance as well as in others) lies under this single disadvantage, that it proposes no doctrines which may conciliate our regards by flattering our pride.
If, however, we can even resolve no longer to be bewildered by these vain imaginations, still the interesting question presses on us, “Where,” in the words of Plato * , “where shall we look for the origin of government?” Let Plato himself instruct us. Taught then by this oracle of Heathen wisdom, “we will take our stations there, where the prospect of it is most easy and most beautiful.” Of all the theories respecting the origin of government with which the world has ever been either puzzled, amused, or instructed, that of the Scriptures alone is accompanied by no insuperable difficulties.
It was not to be expected from an all-wise and all-merciful Creator, that, having formed creatures capable of order and rule, he should turn them loose into the world under the guidance only of their own unruly wills; that, like so many wild beasts, they might tear and worry one another in their mad contests for preeminence. His purpose from the first, no doubt, was, that men should live godly and sober lives. But, such is the sad estate of our corrupted nature, that, ever since the Fall, we have been averse from good, and prone to evil. We are, indeed, so disorderly and unmanageable, that, were it not for the restraints and the terrors of human laws, it would not be possible for us to dwell together. But as men were clearly formed for society, and to dwell together, which yet they cannot do without the restraints of law, or, in other words, without government, it is fair to infer that government was also the original intention of God † , who never decrees the end, without also decreeing the means. Accordingly, when man was made, his Maker did not turn him adrift into a shoreless ocean, without star or compass to steer by. As soon as there were some to be governed, there were also some to govern: and the first man, by virtue of that paternal claim, on which all subsequent governments have been founded, was first invested with the power of government. For, we are not to judge of the Scriptures of God, as we do of some other writings; and so, where no express precept appears, hastily to conclude that none was given. On the contrary, in commenting on the Scriptures, we are frequently called upon to find out the precept from the practice. Taking this rule, then, for our direction in the present instance, we find, that, copying after the fair model of heaven itself, wherein there was government even among the angels, the families of the earth were subjected to rulers, at first set over them by God: for, there is no power, but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. The first father was the first king: and if (according to the rule just laid down) the law may be inferred from the practice, it was thus that all government originated; and monarchy is it’s most an-cient form.
Little risque is run in affirming, that this idea of the patriarchal origin of government has not only the most and best authority of history, as far as history goes, to support it; but that it is also by far the most natural, most consistent, and most rational idea. Had it pleased God not to have interfered at all in the case, neither directly nor indirectly, and to have left mankind to be guided only by their own uninfluenced judgments, they would naturally have been led to the government of a community, or a nation, from the natural and obvious precedent of the government of a family. In confirmation of this opinion, it may be observed, that the patriarchal scheme is that which always has prevailed, and still does prevail, among the most enlightened people * : and (what is no slight attestation of it’s truth) it has also prevailed, and still does prevail, among the most unenlightened † . According to Vitruvius, the rudiments of architecture are to be found in the cottage: and, according to Aristotle, the first principles of government are to be traced to private families. Kingdoms and empires are but so many larger families: and hence it is that our Church, in perfect conformity with the doctrine here inculcated, in her explication of the fifth commandment, from the obedience due to parents, wisely derives the congenial duty of honouring the king and all that are put in authority under him.
It is from other passages of Scripture, from the nature of the thing, from the practice of Adam, and from the practice of all nations (derived from and founded on this precedent) that we infer that Adam had and exercised sovereign power over all his issue. But the first instance of power exercised by one human being over another is in the subjection of Eve to her husband. This circumstance suggests sundry reflections, of some moment in this argument. In the first place, it shews that power is not a natural right. Adam could not have assumed, nor could Eve have submitted to it, had it not been so ordained of God. It is, therefore, equally an argument against the domineering claims of despotism, and the fantastic notion of a compact. It proves too, that there is a sense in which it may, with truth, be asserted, that government was originally founded in weakness and in guilt: that it may and must be submitted to by a fallen creature, even when exercised by a fallen creature, lost both to wisdom and goodness. The equality of nature (which, merely as it respects an ability to govern, may be admitted, only because God, had he so seen fit, might have ordained that the man should be subjected to the woman) was superseded by the actual interference of the Almighty, to whom alone original underived power can be said to belong.
Even where the Scriptures are silent, they instruct: for, in general, whatever is not therein commanded is actually forbidden. Now, it is certain that mankind are no where in the Scriptures commanded to resist authority; and no less certain that, either by direct injunction, or clear implication, they are commanded to be subject to the higher powers: and this subjection is said to be enjoined, not for our sakes only, but also for the Lord’s sake. The glory of God is much concerned, that there should be good government in the world: it is, therefore, the uniform doctrine of the Scriptures, that it is under the deputation and authority of God alone that kings reign and princes decree justice. Kings and princes (which are only other words for supreme magistrates) were doubtless created and appointed, not so much for their own sakes, as for the sake of the people committed to their charge: yet are they not, therefore, the creatures of the people. So far from deriving their authority from any supposed consent or suffrage of men, they receive their commission from Heaven; they receive it from God, the source and original of all power. However obsolete, therefore, either the sentiment or the language may now be deemed, it is with the most perfect propriety that the supreme magistrate, whether consisting of one or of many, and whether denominated an emperor, a king, an archon, a dictator, a consul, or a senate, is to be regarded and venerated as the vicegerent of God.
But were the texts usually appealed to on this topic more dubious than (we bless God!) they are, the example of the Christian legislator may, at least to Christians, well stand in the place of all precepts. There are not many questions, in which the interests of mankind are more nearly concerned than they are in ascertaining their duty as subjects. It is therefore very improbable, that the Saviour of the world should have left the world in the dark, in an affair of so much moment: but that he should have misled his followers, and that Christians should have been exposed to the hazard of becoming bad subjects even through the inadvertence of their founder, it is little less than blasphemy to suppose. We are therefore deeply interested to find out, if we can, what it was that our Saviour really thought, said, and did, in the case; and for what purpose.
It is readily acknowledged, that his history (in which alone his laws are contained) does not dwell copiously on the duties of sovereigns and subjects. This appearance of inattention, we may be assured, was not permitted without design: nor, in fact, is our duty on this point (any more than it is in others) the less forcibly inculcated by our having been left to find out the precept from his practice. On one point, however, of great moment in this discussion, the gospel history, when properly understood, is full and decided; viz. that every thing our blessed Lord either said or did, pointedly tended to discourage the disturbing a settled government. Hence it is fair to infer the judgment of Jesus Christ to have been, that the most essential duty of subjects with respect to government was (in the phraseology of a prophet) to be quiet, and to sit still. Yet, had he judged of questions of this nature as we do, he certainly did not want motives to induce him to excite commotions in the government of Judea; and such motives too as (according to human reckoning) are highly meritorious and honourable. At the time when he was upon earth, his country groaned under an unjust and most oppressive bondage. It had just been subdued by a people, whose chief motive for over-running the world with their conquests was a lust of dominion: and it was as arbitrarily governed, as it had been iniquitously acquired. The Jews, it is true, were not then eminent, at least as a nation, for their virtues: but they were not chargeable with that “un-Roman spirit,” as one of our orators expressed himself, or (to borrow the congenial phraseology of another) that “degeneracy of soul,” which led them tamely to submit to their oppressors. A general opinion prevailed in the nation, that the expected Messiah would deliver them from this galling vassalage; that he was to be, not a spiritual, but a temporal, prince—a prince who should restore to Israel the supremacy, of which the Romans had deprived it—who should reign in all secular pomp and power in the throne of David—and, having subdued the rest of the world, make Jerusalem the seat of an universal monarchy. The very name given to him imports royalty and sovereignty: and he really was the legal heir to the crown of Judea.
In support of this assertion, it is to be observed, that the Jews had two ways of tracing their genealogies, by a kind of double descent; the one natural, the other legal. The natural descent was when a person, by natural generation, descends from another; the legal, when one not naturally descended from another, yet succeeded, as nearest of kin, to the inheritance. St. Luke deduces the natural line of Christ from David; and shews how Christ, by Nathan, is the son of David, according to the flesh, by natural descent: whereas St. Matthew deduces the legal line of Christ also from David, shewing how Christ, as Solomon’s heir, and lawful king of the Jews, succeeded, as nearest of kin, to sit upon the throne of David his father: and the Evangelist is so satisfied with the legality of this genealogy, that he calls Christ, “the born king of the Jews,” that is to say, the person who was their king by birth * . The Jews themselves could name none of their nation who was nearer than he was. None of them ever produced any legal exception against him; and therefore, whilst a large party, convinced of the validity of his title to the throne by birth, wished to confirm it by election, and to make him a king, all that the friends of the Power who was in possession, or his enemies, could do to defeat his claim, was to get the Romans on their side, by artfully insinuating that the best of all titles was that which had been obtained by conquest: hence, their cry was, We will have no king but Caesar!
Add to this—It is well known that in no instance whatever did our Saviour give greater offence to his countrymen than he did by not gratifying them in their expectations of a temporal deliverance. For this opinion of his title to the throne was not taken up at random; nor only by a few persons, merely to serve some bye-ends of their own. The idea pervades his whole history. It was one of the chief grounds of the enmity of his countrymen towards him, and the only plausible pretence on which he could be arraigned. And, notwithstanding his repeated declarations that his kingdom was not of this world, yet it was on this account that at last he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter.
When it is asserted that Christianity made no alteration in the civil affairs of the world, the assertion should neither be made, nor understood, without some qualification. The injunction to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, is no doubt very comprehensive; implying that unless we are good Subjects, we cannot be good Christians: but then we are to render unto Caesar, or the supreme magistrate, that obedience only to which God has given him a just claim: our paramount duty is to God, to whom we are to render the things that are God’s. If, therefore, in the course of human affairs, a case should occur (and no doubt such cases do often occur) in which the performance of both these obligations becomes incompatible, we cannot long be at a loss in determining that it is our duty to obey God rather than men. The worship of idols, as well as sacrifices and auguries, certainly entered into, and made a part of, the civil policy of ancient Rome. Temples dedicated to a variety of false deities were under the peculiar care of the Senate. The office of Pontifex Maximus, or High Priest, was annexed to the title of Emperor. Now, surely, it was the intention of the Founder of Christianity, and it is the natural tendency of it’s doctrines, to produce some alteration in things of this sort. In Mahometan countries, a plurality of wives is allowed by law: in many countries still Pagan, the worship of images is enjoined by the State: in several parts of Africa, parents who are past labour are, by the laws of the land, exposed by their children to be torn in pieces by wild beasts: and even in so civilized a country as China, children are thus exposed by their parents, with the sanction and authority of the laws. Would Christianity endure such shocking outrages against all that is humane, moral, or pious, though supported by Government? It certainly would not: for the spirit of St. Paul, when he saw the city of Athens wholly given to idolatry, was so stirred in him, that, for disputing publicly with certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics, they carried him unto Areopagus; where, far from shrinking from his duty, he openly arraigned all the people of Athens, of being too superstitious. This charge he founded on his having seen an altar with this inscription, To the unknown God; which yet was not set up contrary to law. Sundry improprieties, sanctioned by legal authority, were censured by Christ himself. Was it not by virtue of his regal power that, as one having authority, he cast the buyers and sellers out of the temple; who yet were there, and pursuing their usual callings, with the public permission? Still, though they certainly were not restrained by any idea that all interference with the civil affairs of the world was contrary to Christianity, it no where appears, that either our Saviour, or any of his apostles, ever did interfere with the affairs of any government, or the administration of any government, otherwise than by submitting to them. Yet, let it not be said, that he who could have commanded more than twelve legions of angels, wanted power or means to have resisted, and with effect, that pusillanimous Roman governor, who, from the basest of all motives, gave sentence, that a person in whom he declared he found no fault, should be put to death, merely to gratify a senseless, malicious, and clamorous multitude. Let it not be said, that his pretensions to sovereignty were either romantic or dubious: a great multitude of his cotemporaries and countrymen, being in number about five thousand, thought so favourably of them, that they would have set him on their throne in that way by which alone we are now told authority over a free people can properly be obtained, viz. by the suffrages of the people. To assert his claim de jure against those who held it de facto, they would fain have taken himby force (that is, no doubt, in opposition to the Romans and their adherents) to make him a king. That he was not restrained from gratifying these natural wishes of so large a number of his impatient countrymen, by any apprehensions of his being evil-spoken of, as a pestilent fellow, one who perverted the people, forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself was king, may very rationally be inferred from his having submitted to no less unmerited aspersions with invincible fortitude: and his yielding at last to the ignominy of the cross, proves that he was not to be deterred from doing any thing which he knew would redound either to the glory of God, or the good of man-kind, by the dread of any calumnies, or the terrors of any sufferings * .
His constant discouragement, therefore, of a scheme so well calculated not only to promote his own elevation, but to emancipate his country (had he estimated either worldly grandeur, or the condition of subjects under government, according to our ideas) would have been inconsistent with that love to mankind which he manifested in every other action of his life. The only rational conclusion, therefore, that the case will admit of, is, that he thought it would be better, both for Judea in particular, and for the world in general, that in the former case the people should not be distracted by a revolution, and in the latter that there should be no precedent to which revolutionists might appeal: his words were not meant to bear merely a local and circumscribed, but a general and extended application, when he directed his followers to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s: his practice was conformable to this precept; and so would ours be, were we but practically convinced that it is enough for the disciple to be as his master, and the servant as his lord. As Christians, solicitous to tread in the steps in which our Saviour trod, the tribute of civil obedience is as much due to our civil rulers, even though they should happen to be invaders like the Romans, and though, like Herod, the ministers of government should chance to be oppressors, as the duty of religious obedience is a debt which we owe to the King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Nor let this be deemed a degrading and servile principle: it is the very reverse; and it is this it’s superior dignity which proves it’s celestial origin. For, whilst other doctrines and other systems distract the world with disputes and debates which admit of no decision, and of wars and fightings which are almost as endless as they are useless, it is the glory of Christianity to teach her votaries patiently to bear imperfections, inconveniences and evils in government, as in every thing else that is human. This patient acquiescence under some remediless evils is not more our duty than it is our interest: for, the only very intolerable grievance in government is, when men allow themselves to disturb and destroy the peace of the world, by vain attempts to render that perfect, which the laws of our nature have ordained to be imperfect. And there is more magnanimity, as well as more wisdom, in enduring some present and certain evils, than can be manifested by any projects of redress that are uncertain; but which, if they fail, may bring down irretrievable ruin on thousands of others, as well as on ourselves: since to suffer nobly indicates more greatness of mind than can be shewn even by acting valiantly. Wise men, therefore, in the words of a noted philosopher, * will “rather choose to brook with patience some inconveniences under government (because human affairs cannot possibly be without some) than self-opinionatedly disturb the quiet of the public.” And, weighing the justice of those things you are about, not by the persuasion and advice of private men, but by the laws of the realm, you will no longer suffer ambitious men, through the streams of your blood, to wade to their own power; but esteem it better to enjoy yourselves in the present state, though perhaps not the best, than, by waging war, endeavour to procure a reformation in another age, yourselves “in the meanwhile either killed, or consumed with age.”
This long enquiry concerning the divine origin and authority of government might perhaps have been deemed rather curious than useful, were it not of acknowledged moment, that some dangerous inferences which are usually drawn from the contrary opinion should be obviated. One of these dangerous inferences it seems to have been the aim of the sermon now before me to inculcate. Government being assumed to be a mere human ordinance, it is thence inferred, that “rulers are the servants of the public”: and, if they be, no doubt it necessarily follows, that they may (in the coarse phrase of the times) be cashiered or continued in pay, be reverenced or resisted, according to the mere whim or caprice of those over whom they are appointed to rule. Hence the author of this sermon also takes occasion to enter his protest against “passive obedience and non-resistance.”
It really is a striking feature in our national history, that, ever since the Revolution, hardly any person of any note has preached or published a sermon, into which it was possible to drag this topic, without declaring against this doctrine. It seems to have been made a kind of criterion or test of principle, and the watch-word of a party. For, it cannot well be said, that the circumstances of the times, or the temper of men’s minds, either lately have been, or now are, such as particularly to call for these studied and repeated protestations. What is not less remarkable is, that whilst the right of resistance has thus incessantly been delivered from the pulpit, insisted on by orators, and inculcated by statesmen, the contrary position is still (I believe) the dictate of religion, and certainly the doctrine of the established Church, and still also the law of the land.
You are not now to learn my mind on this point. As, however, the subject has again been forced on me, let me be permitted again to obviate, if I can, some fresh misrepresentations, and again to correct some new mistakes.
All government, whether lodged in one or in many, is, in it’s nature, absolute and irresistible. It is not within the competency even of the supreme power to limit itself; because such limitation can emanate only from a superior. For any government to make itself irresistible, and to cease to be absolute, it must cease to be supreme; which is but saying, in other words, that it must dissolve itself, or be destroyed. If, then, to resist government be to destroy it, every man who is a subject must necessarily owe to the government under which he lives an obedience either active or passive: active, where the duty enjoined may be performed without offending God; and passive, (that is to say, patiently to submit to the penalties annexed to disobedience,) where that which is commanded by man is forbidden by God. No government upon earth can rightfully compel any one of it’s subjects to an active compliance with any thing that is, or that appears to his conscience to be, inconsistent with, or contradictory to, the known laws of God: because every man is under a prior and superior obligation to obey God in all things. When such cases of incompatible demands of duty occur, every well-informed person knows what he is to do; and every well-principled person will do what he ought, viz. he will submit to the ordinances of God, rather than comply with the commandments of men. In thus acting he cannot err; and this alone is “passive obedience,” which I entreat you to observe is so far from being “unlimited obedience,” (as it’s enemies wilfully persist to miscall it,) that it is the direct contrary. Resolute not to disobey God, a man of good principles determines, in case of competition, as the lesser evil, to disobey man: but he knows that he should also disobey God, were he not, at the same time, patiently to submit to any penalties incurred by his disobedience to man.
With the fancies or the follies of the injudicious defenders of this doctrine, who, in the heat of controversy, have argued for the exclusive irresistibility of kings, merely in their personal capacity, I have no concern. Such arguments are now to be met with only in the answers of those equally injudicious, but less candid, opposers of the doctrine, who (as though there were any gallantry in taking a fortress that is no longer defended) persist to combat a phantom which, now at least, may be said to be of their own creating. In the present state of things, when a resistance is recommended, it must be, not against the king alone, but against the laws of the land. To encourage undistinguishing multitudes, by the vague term of resistance, to oppose all such laws as happen not to be agreeable to certain individuals, is neither more nor less than, by a regular plan, to attempt the subversion of the government: and I am not sure but that such attacks are more dangerous to free than to absolute governments.
Even the warmest advocates for resistance acknowledge, that, like civil liberty, the term is incapable of any accurate definition * . Particular cases of injury and oppression are imagined: on which arguments are founded, to shew that mankind must be determined and governed, not by any known and fixed laws, but “by a law antecedent and paramount to all positive laws of men;” “by their natural sense and feelings.” These unwritten, invisible, and undefinable “antecedent laws;” this indescribable “natural sense and feelings;” these “hidden powers and mysteries” in our Constitution, are points too refined and too subtle for argument. Indeed it can be to little purpose to argue, either on resistance or on any other subject, with men who are so weak as to declaim, when it is incumbent on them to reason.
Without any encouragement, mankind, alas! are, of themselves, far too prone to be presumptuous and self-willed; always disposed and ready to despise dominion, and to speak evil of dignities. There is, says a learned writer † , such a “witchcraft in rebellion, as to tempt men to be rebels, even though they are sure to be damned for it.” What dreadful confusions and calamities must have been occasioned in the world, had such strong and dangerous natural propensities been directly encouraged by any positive law! It was surely, then, merciful and wise in the Almighty Ruler of the world, to impose on his creatures the general law of obedience without any exceptions. A non-resisting spirit never yet made any man a bad subject. And if men of such mild and yielding tempers have shewn less ardour, than many others do, in the pursuit of that liberty which makes so conspicuous a figure in the effusions of orators and poets, it can be only for this reason, that they think it is precisely that kind of liberty which has so often set the world in an uproar, and that therefore it would be better for the world if it were never more heard of ‡ . If they are mistaken, their mistakes are at least harmless: and there is much justice, as well as great good sense, in Bishop Hall’s remark, that “some quiet errors are better than some unruly truths.”
When, not long since, a noted patriot * declared, in his place in Parliament, that he knew no difference between a revolution and a rebellion, excepting that in the former an attempt to alter the form of government succeeded, and in the latter it did not, the sentiment was objected to as licentious and seditious. Yet, on the principles of the advocates of resistance, he said no more than he might easily have defended: nor am I sure but that (notwithstanding the pains which the public men of that period took to guard against such an inference, in their debates on the word abdication) on these principles the promoters of the revolution itself, emphatically so called, must submit to the imputation of having effected it by resistance. It was clearly a successful revolution. If, then, this was the case as to the revolution, how, it may be asked, did it differ, in point of principle, either from the grand rebellion that preceded it, or either of the subsequent rebellions for the purpose of restoring the abdicated family? and how, on the same principles, can we condemn the murder of the father, and vindicate the expulsion of the son?—Mr. Locke, like many inferior writers, when defending resistance, falls into inconsistencies, and is at variance with himself. “Rebellion being,” as he says, “an opposition not to persons, but to authority, which is founded only in the constitution and laws of the government, those, whoever they be, who by force break through, and by force justify their violation of them, are truly and properly rebels.” To this argument no one can object: but it should be attended to, that, in political consideration, it is hardly possible to dissociate the ideas of authority in the abstract from persons vested with authority. To resist a person legally vested with authority, is, I conceive, to all intents and purposes, the same thing as to resist authority. Nothing, but it’s success, could have rescued the revolution from this foul imputation, had it not been for the abdication. Accordingly this great event has always hung like a mill-stone on the necks of those who must protest against rebellions; whilst yet their system of politics requires that they should approve of resistance, and the revolution.
The resistance which your political counsellors urge you to practise, (and which no doubt was intended to be justified by the sermon which I have now been compelled to notice,) is not a resistance exerted only against the persons invested with the supreme power either legislative or executive, but clearly and literally against authority. Nay, if I at all understand the following declaration made by those who profess that they are the disciples of Mr. Locke, you are encouraged to resist not only all authority over us as it now exists, but any and all that it is possible to constitute. “Can men who exercise their reason believe, that the Divine Author of our existence intended a part of the human race to hold an absolute property in, and an unbounded power over, others marked out by his infinite wisdom and goodness as the objects of a legal domination never rightfully resistible, however severe and oppressive?” It might be hazardous, perhaps, for me, even under the shelter of a Scripture phrase, to call these words great swelling words; because they are congressional words. That they have excited a very general panic, and many apprehensions of a real impending slavery, is no more than might have been expected in a country where there is literally “absolute property in, and unbounded power over, human beings.” How far this was intended, I presume not to judge. But, involved and obscure as the language (in which these extraordinary sentiments are couched) must be confessed to be, the declaration certainly points at all government: and it’s full meaning amounts to a denial of that just supremacy which “the Divine Author of our existence” has beyond all question given to “one part of the human race” to hold over another. Without some paramount and irresistible power, there can be no government. In our Constitution, this supremacy is vested in the King and the Parliament; and, subordinate to them, in our Provincial Legislatures. If you were now released from this constitutional power, you must differ from all others “of the human race,” if you did not soon find yourselves under a necessity of submitting to a power no less absolute, though vested in other persons, and a government differently constituted. And much does it import you to consider, whether those who are now so ready to promise to make the grievous yoke of your fathers lighter, may not themselves verify Rehoboam’s assertion, and make you feel that their little fingers are thicker than your father’s loins.
Be it (for the sake of argument) admitted, that the government under which till now you have lived happily, is, most unaccountably, all at once become oppressive and severe; did you, of yourselves, make the discovery? No: I affirm, without any apprehension of being contradicted, that you are acquainted with these oppressions only from the report of others. For what, then, (admitting you have a right to resist in any case,) are you now urged to resist and rise against those whom you have hitherto always regarded (and certainly not without reason) as your nursing fathersand nursing mothers? Often as you have already heard it repeated without expressing any disapprobation, I assure myself it will afford you no pleasure to be reminded, that it is on account of an insignificant duty on tea, imposed by the British Parliament; and which, for aught we know, may or may not be constitutionally imposed; but which, we well know, two thirds of the people of America can never be called on to pay. Is it the part of an understanding people, of loyal subjects, or of good Christians, instantly to resist and rebel for a cause so trivial? O my brethren, consult your own hearts, and follow your own judgments! and learn not your “measures of obedience” from men who weakly or wickedly imagine there can be liberty unconnected with law—and whose aim it is to drive you on, step by step, to a resistance which will terminate, if it does not begin, in rebellion! On all such trying occasions, learn the line of conduct which it is your duty and interest to observe, from our Constitution itself: which, in this particular, is a fair transcript or exemplification of the ordinance of God. Both the one and the other warn you against resistance: but you are not forbidden either to remonstrate or to petition. And can it be humiliating to any man, or any number of men, to ask, when we have but to ask and it shall be given? Is prayer an abject duty; or do men ever appear either so great, or so amiable, as when they are modest and humble? However meanly this privilege of petitioning may be regarded by those who claim every thing as a right, they are challenged to shew an instance, in which it has failed, when it ought to have succeeded. If, however, our grievances, in any point of view, be of such moment as that other means of obtaining redress should be judged expedient, happily we enjoy those means. In a certain sense, some considerable portion of legislation is still in our own hands. We are supposed to have chosen “fit and able” persons to represent us in the great council of our country: and they only can constitutionally interfere either to obtain the enacting of what is right, or the repeal of what is wrong * . If we, and our fellow-subjects, have been conscientiously faithful in the discharge of our duty, we can have no reason to doubt that our delegates will be equally faithful in the discharge of theirs. Our Provincial Assemblies, it is true, are but one part of our Colonial Legislature: they form, however, that part which is the most efficient. If the present general topic of complaint be, in their estimation, well founded, and a real and great grievance, what reason have you to imagine that all the Assemblies on the Continent will not concur and be unanimous in so represent-ing it? And if they should all concur so to represent it, it is hardly within the reach of supposition that all due attention will not be paid to their united remonstrances. So many and such large concessions have often been made, at the instance only of individual Assemblies, that we are warranted in relying, that nothing which is reasonable and proper will ever be withheld from us, provided only it be asked for with decency, and that we do not previously forfeit our title to attention by becoming refractory and rebellious.
Let it be supposed, however, that even the worst may happen, which can happen; that our remonstrances are disregarded, our petitions rejected, and our grievances unredressed: what, you will naturally ask—what, in such a case, would I advise you to do?—Advice, alas! is all I have to give; which, however, though you may condescend to ask and to regard it, will neither be asked, nor accepted, by those who alone can give it great effect. Yet, circumscribed as our sphere of influence is, we are not wholly without influence; and therefore, even in our humble department, we have some duties to perform. To your question, therefore, I hesitate not to answer, that I wish and advise you to act the part of reasonable men, and of Christians. You will be pleased to observe, however, that I am far from thinking that your virtue will ever be brought to so severe a test and trial. The question, I am aware, was an ensnaring one, suggested to you by those who are as little solicitous about your peace, as they are for my safety: the answer which, in condescension to your wishes, I have given to it, is direct and plain; and not more applicable to you, than it is to all the people of America. If you think the duty of threepence a pound upon tea, laid on by the British Parliament, a grievance, it is your duty to instruct your members to take all the constitutional means in their power to obtain redress: if those means fail of success, you cannot but be sorry and grieved; but you will better bear your disappointment, by being able to reflect that it was not owing to any misconduct of your own. And, what is the whole history of human life, public or private, but a series of disappointments? It might be hoped that Christians would not think it grievous to be doomed to submit to disappointments and calamities, as their Master submitted, even if they were as innocent. His disciples and first followers shrunk from no trials nor dangers * . Treading in the steps of him who, when he was reviled, blessed, and when he was persecuted, suffered it, they willingly laid down their lives, rather than resist some of the worst tyrants that ever disgraced the annals of history. Those persons are as little acquainted with general history, as they are with the particular doctrines of Christianity, who represent such submission as abject and servile. I affirm, with great authority, that “there can be no better way of asserting the people’s lawful rights, than the disowning unlawful commands, by thus patiently suffering.” When this doctrine was more generally embraced, our holy religion gained as much by submission, as it is now in a fair way of losing for want of it.
Having, then, my brethren, thus long been tossed to and fro in a wearisome circle of uncertain traditions, or in speculations and projects still more uncertain, concerning government, what better can you do than, following the Apostle’s advice, to submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake; whether it be to the King as supreme, or unto GOVERNORS, as unto them that are SENT by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well? For, so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men: love the brotherhood: fear God: honour the king.
[*] Preached in the parish of Queen Anne, in Maryland: in answer to a Sermon, on the same text and same subjects, by the Rev. Mr. Duché, preached and printed in Philadelphia in 1775.
[*] A very vehement protest against political sermons in general has lately been delivered by a person of great eminence in the political world, which (though aimed perhaps only at one individual Divine, yet being general, and, as such, equally affecting the loyal and the disloyal preacher) it would be unpardonable in the writer of a volume of political sermons to pass over wholly without notice.
. . . “Politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement. No sound ought to be heard in the church, but the healing voice of Christian charity. The cause of Civil Liberty and Civil Government gains as little as that of Religion by this confusion of duties. Those who quit their proper character, to assume what does not belong to them, are, for the greater part, ignorant both of the character they leave, and of the character they assume. Wholly unacquainted with the world, in which they are so fond of meddling, and inexperienced in all it’s affairs, on which they pronounce with so much confidence, they have nothing of politics but the passions they excite. Surely the church is a place where one day’s truce ought to be allowed to the dissensions and animosities of mankind.”—Reflections on the Revolution in France, p. 14.
The whole force of this striking passage seems to rest on the term politics being understood in it’s vague and vulgar acceptation, and merely as referring to the wrangling debates of modern assemblies; debates which, far too often, turn entirely on the narrow, selfish and servile views of party. The term has been, and in such a disquisition ought to have been, used in a much more extended and more dignified sense; comprehending all that long list of duties which every man owes to society in it’s public capacity. Every man is at least as much concerned to be a good subject, as he is to be a good neighbour: and so far is a preacher from being chargeable with being guilty of “a confusion of duties,” or of “assuming a character which does not belong to him,” that he acts strictly within the line of his profession, when he explains, as well as he is able, and enforces on the people committed to his care, their public as well as their private duties. Such politics are, literally, the “healing voice of Christian charity.”
For weak and wicked politics, whether in or out of the pulpit, no plea is here offered: I would humbly suggest only, that, as the Clergy are far from claiming to be more enlightened than others on these topics, there seems to be no reason for supposing that they are less so. Their “unacquaintance with the world, and inexperience in all it’s affairs,” even admitting the fact, cannot fairly be esteemed a disadvantage to them: and their habits of study and reflection are certainly in their favour. So far have English Divines in general been from giving any countenance to “the dissensions and animosities of mankind,” that in their writings chiefly (which form a large portion of English literature) are any effectual checks to these foul passions to be found: and so little, in general, have they merited the character of being “ignorant,” either as Divines or Politicians, that men of the first-rate abilities might easily be named, who have distinguished themselves in both capacities. Who is he that will take upon him to say, that the late Dean of St. Patrick’s, or the present Dean of Gloucester, were either unlearned Divines, or shallow Politicians?
The peremptory tone with which we of the Clergy are so often interdicted from meddling with politics in our pulpits, has long appeared to me to be more dictatorial than, as the free subjects of a free government, it is incumbent on us to bear. We, surely, are not less at liberty than other men to use our own discretion: nor can it, I bless God! with any shew of justice, be objected to the Clergy of the Church of England, that they have ever in general either preached or written any such politics as are hostile to the interests either of good government or good men.
This is not the first time that Statesmen have shewn an unaccountable jealousy of the Clergy’s interfering in political disquisitions. At the accession of the present Family, wishing to discountenance all investigations of their title to the throne, and most afraid of the Clergy, it is said, some eminent infidel writers were employed and paid by Government expressly to write against religion, not because the King’s ministers either disbelieved or disliked religion, but because they thought it the most likely means to draw the attention of the Clergy off from politics, and in confidence that their answers would be a sufficient antidote to the poison of the infidels. It is believed that, in the public offices, proofs might be obtained of individuals receiving pensions for writing both against and for religion.
[*] John, ch. viii. ver. 32.
[†] Ch. v. ver. 37.
[*] . . . . “Multo esse indignius in eâ civitate, quae legibus teneatur, discedi à legibus: hoc enim vinculum est hujus dignitatis quâ fruimur in republicâ; hoc fundamentum libertatis; hic fons aequitatis. Mens et animus, et sententia civitatis posita est in legibus. Ut corpora nostra sine mente, sic civitas sine lege, suis partibus, ut nervis, ac sanguine et membris uti non potest. Legum ministri, mâgistratus; legum interpretes, judices; legum denique idcirco omnes servi sumus, ut liberi esse possimus.”—Cicero Orat. pro A. Cluentio. sect. 53.
[†] Bishop Butler, in his Sermon before the House of Lords, January 30, 1740.
[*] “This, which is commonly affirmed, that the end of government is the good of the inferiors, must be understood cum grano salis. For, from this principle, misunderstood, some have collected that because the end is above the means, and more noble, therefore subjects are above their governors; and so may call them to account for their mis-government, and judge, and punish, and remove them, if they see cause. From which false collections, made by seditious and turbulent persons, infinite troubles, confusions, rebellions, and desolations, have followed. We must know, therefore,
“First, That, to procure the good of inferiors, is indeed the duty of superiors, and one end why God committed the people to them; but not the sole or principal end of their authority. For, princes receive their power only from God; and are by him constituted and entrusted with government of others, chiefly for his own glory and honour, as his deputies and vicegerents upon earth: for, they are his ministers, Rom. xiii. So that the principal end of their government is the advancement of God’s honour, who is the supreme King and Lord of all the world: and therefore, if they fail in the performance of this trust, they are accountable only to him, who entrusted them; and not to the people, whom he hath put under them, and whom he never authorised to call them to account, but to appeal to him only.
“Secondly, It is not generally true that all government is only for the benefit of those who are governed: for, some government there is merely for the benefit of the superior; as that of a lord or master over his servants.”—Bishop Andrews on the Commandments, 1650, folio 331.
The learned Mr. Selden observes of the maxim, Salus populi suprema lex, that “there is not any thing in the world more abused. For, we apply it as if we ought to forsake the known laws, when it may be for the advantage of the people so to do: whereas it means no such thing. For, it is not salus populi suprema lex est, but esto; it being one of the twelve tables. And after divers laws made, some for punishment, and some for reward, then follows this, i.e. In all the laws you make, have a special eye to the good of the people.”—Table Talk, p. 40.
That most famous casuist, Bishop Sanderson, also says, “There is no man will deny, that the safety of the people, i.e. of the whole community, as that word comprehends the king together with the subjects, is the supreme law. But, that the safety of the people, i.e. of the subjects, the king being excluded, is the supreme law, there is no man will affirm it, unless he be a fool, or an impostor; a fool, if he doth believe what he himself saith—and an impostor, if he doth not believe it. But, if any man will seriously look into the original of this aphorism, I do believe he will easily grant that it ought more precisely to be understood of the safety of the prince, than of the safety of the subjects. This saying came to us from the Romans, and was then used by them when their republic did flourish most of all under a popular state. And there is no wonder that the people’s safety was the supreme law with them, with whom the people themselves were the supreme power. In the judgment, therefore, of those wise ancients, who were the first authors of this aphorism, the safety of the people was the supreme law of the people in a democracy, but of the king in a monarchy.”—Cases of Conscience, Lecture the 9th, § xvii. p. 330. edit. 1660.
[*] The present government of France, having largely experienced the folly and the danger of being consistent in pursuing this system of equality to it’s full extent, have now abandoned it; but so, however, as still to make a shew of it’s being retained. They now, very justly, thus define their principle: “L’egalité consiste en ce, que la loi est la même pour tous, soit qu’elle protège, soit qu’elle punisse.” Art. 3. Droits. But, after all the pomp and parade they have made about the liberality of their reforms, what is there in this more liberal than all mankind, in all ages, have thought and said, when they drew Justice blind, and balancing her even-poised scales; or indeed more liberal than we find more pointedly expressed in the well-known clause of our own Magna Charta? “Nullus liber homo capiatur, vel imprisonetur, aut dissosietur de libero tenemento suo, vel liberis consuetudinibus suis, aut utlagetur, aut exuletur, aut aliquo alio modo destruatur: nec super eum ibimus, nec super eum mittemus nisi per legale judicium parium suorum, vel per legem terrae. Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus, aut differemus rectum aut judicium.”—Magna Charta, sect. 35.
[*] Grotius’s definition of the supreme magistrate, or “summa potestas,” whether vested in one or in many, is, that it is “solius Dei imperio subditus.” This agrees with that of our Church; which describes our supreme magistrate, or sovereign, to be “next under God, supreme, over all causes, persons, &c.” Now, on the principle of those who, without rejecting Grotius’s definition, found government on compact, and derive power mediately from God, and immediately from the people, these strange consequences must follow; viz. that this supremacy is, and is not, “next under God;” that it is superior and inferior, above and below the people, supreme and dependent.
[*] Plato, of Laws, book iii.
[†] “To him that shall diligently read the Scriptures, it will be plain and evident, that the Son of God, having created our first parents, and purposing to multiply their seed into many generations, for the replenishing of the world with their posterity, did give to Adam for his time, and to the rest of the Patriarchs and Chief Fathers successively before the Flood, authority, power, and dominion over their children and offspring, to rule and govern them; ordaining, by the very law of Nature, that their said children and offspring (begotten and brought up by them) should fear, reverence, honour, and obey them. Which power and authority before the Flood resting in the Patriarchs and in the Chief Fathers, because it had a very long extent, not only for the education of their said children and offspring whilst they were young, but likewise for the ordering, governing, and ruling of them afterwards when they came to man’s estate; and for that also it had no superior power or authority over or above it on earth appearing in the Scriptures: although it be called either patriarchal, regal, or imperial, and that we only term it “potestas regia;” yet, being well considered how far it did reach, we may truly say that it was in a sort “potestas regia;” as now, in a right and true construction, “potestas regia” may justly be called potestas patria.
“If any man shall therefore affirm, that men at the first, without all good education or civility, ran up and down in woods and fields as wild creatures, resting themselves in caves and dens, and acknowledging no superiority over one another, until they were taught by experience the necessity of government; and that thereupon they chose some among themselves to order and rule the rest, giving them power and authority so to do; and that, consequently, all civil power, jurisdiction and authority was first derived from the people and disordered multitude; or either is originally still in them, or else is deduced by their consents naturally from them; and is not God’s ordinance, originally descending from him, and depending upon him,—He doth greatly err.” “Placet eis.”—Bishop Overall’s Convocation Book, MDCVI, cap. 2. can. 2.
[*] “To fathers within their private families Nature hath given a supreme power: for which cause we see, throughout the world, even from the first foundation thereof, all men have ever been taken as lords and lawful kings in their own houses.”—Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity, book i. p. 20.
“From earliest times the people were accustomed to look up to one family, as presiding over national concerns, religious equally and political; by an hereditary right partaking, in public opinion, of divine authority.”—Mitford’s Hist. of Greece, vol. i. p. 64.
It is the general sentiment of Homer, that Jupiter hath entrusted the sceptre and the laws to kings, that he may govern by them: just as it is the prevailing sentiment of the Scriptures, that, through God, kings reign, and princes decree justice. The passages are innumerable, in which Homer calls kings the shepherds and fathers of their people. Referred merely to Homer, the opinion of those etymologists who derive πΑτηρ from τηρεω—ut de Deo sit, ο το πΑν τηρων de homine verò, ωφ τουφ ωΑιδΑφ τηρων, though unusual, is by no means to be scorned. Homer’s common phrase for kings, as fathers, is, πΑτηρ ωφ ηπιοφ ηεν; intimating, that the authority of kings was of the genuine and legitimate kind. i.e. paternal; or strict, yet tender.
“Aristotle’s opinion on this point is, that the power of government did originally arise from the right of fatherhood; which cannot possibly consist with that natural equality which men dream of: for, in the first of his politics, he agrees exactly with the Scripture, and lays this foundation of government. The first society, saith he, made of many houses, is a village, which seems most naturally to be a colony of families, or foster-brethren of children and children’s children.”—Filmer’s Patriarcha, p. 28.
That the Romans also (at least in the early period of their history) considered government as patriarchal, or as derived from, and analogous to, that of fathers over children, is probable from Romulus’s having given the name of patres and patricians to those citizens, to whom the chief share of power was allotted.
[†] “Le gouvernement Chinois nous rappelle celui des patriarches. L’autorité que ceux-ci avoient sur leur famille, l’empereur de la Chine l’exerce pleinement sur ses sujets. Tout annonce d’ailleurs, que la gouvernement patriarchal est le source du gouvernement monarchique, pris dans toute son etendue.”—Description de la Chine, par M. l’Abbé Grosier, tom. ii. p. 1.
“Their government and their laws” (viz. those of some savage tribes of Africans) “appear to have been originally of the patriarchal kind, where the elder of every family was priest and judge.”—Matthews’s Voyage to Sierra Leone, p. 73.
“The word Mungo, which the Europeans translate King, signifies only Head-man: and he is always addressed by the title of Fasiè, or father.” Ibid. p. 74.
A more striking testimony in favour of the universality of the opinion, that government is indeed (as was said of John the Baptist) not of men, but of God, could not well have been given, than has been given by the elegant historian of America. It is the more striking, and more forcible, from it’s not having been so intended: for, certainly, nothing could be farther from Dr. Robertson’s thoughts than it must have been to give any countenance or support to an unpopular obsolete doctrine, espoused by Filmer, and run down by Locke.
“The dominion of the Incas, though the most absolute of all despotisms, was mitigated by it’s alliance with religion. The mind was not humbled and depressed by the idea of a forced subjection to the will of a superior; obedience paid to one who was believed to be cloathed with divine authority, was willingly yielded, and implied no degradation. The sovereign, conscious that the submissive reverence of his people flowed from their belief of his heavenly descent, was continually reminded of a distinction which prompted him to imitate that beneficent power which he was supposed to represent. In consequence of these impressions, there hardly occurs, in the traditional history of Peru, any instance of rebellion against the reigning prince; and among twelve successive monarchs, there was not one tyrant.”—Robertson’s History of America, vol. ii. p. 310, 4to edit.
The intelligent reader is requested to compare this pleasing account of this sensible, good, and happy people, with the same author’s description of their fiercer and more heroical brethren of the North, who were distinguished by a rampant spirit of liberty; or, as our gentler author (softened no doubt by the mild spirit of whiggism) is pleased to term that spirit, “the pride of independence, impatience under any species of restraint, and a disdain to acknowledge any superior.”—Ibid. vol. i. p. 404.
As the idea of a patriarchal government adopted in this Discourse is now very generally rejected, chiefly on the authority of Mr. Locke’s answer to a treatise on the subject by Sir Robert Filmer; and as that book is now antiquated, and, where known at all, known only through the medium of the answer to it; and as also I have lately perused the book, and did not find it deserving of all that extreme contempt with which it is now the fashion to mention it, I could not easily reconcile to myself the neglect of this opportunity to recommend it to my readers also to peruse the book, and to judge for themselves.
The chief point in debate between these two authors relates to “the beginning of Political Societies,” or the origin of Government. Filmer’s opinion is, that every human being is born the political subject of some other human being; that infants, the moment they are born, are the natural subjects of their parents; and that the State, or supreme power of any country, is the parent, or in the place of a parent, to all who are born within it’s jurisdiction, entitled to their allegiance, but bound to provide for their guardianship and protection. Mr. Locke’s very different opinion is, that all men being born free, equal, and independent, no one could be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent. And that nothing short of the consent of a number of free men, capable of a majority to unite and incorporate into a society, ever did, or could, give beginning to any lawful government in the world. My opinion on both these points has been briefly, and perhaps unsatisfactorily, but very sincerely, delivered in the body of the sermon: to which, as I am not now engaged to write either a direct answer to Mr. Locke, or a defence of Sir Robert Filmer, all that I am solicitous to add, is, that my opinion is the same that it was, as to this point, two-and-twenty years ago.
Mr. Locke, with a great shew of candour, treats Filmer pretty much as controversial writers in general treat their opponents. Even in his preface, and before it was possible he could have shewn that his censures were well founded, unmindful of his own excellent rule, that “railing should not be taken for arguments,” he endeavours to excite a prejudice against the author, by rudely taxing him with “glib nonsense.” There are, no doubt, in several of Sir Robert Filmer’s Treatises, many weak things; for, he does not appear to have been an author by profession—of course he was not so careful in the selection either of his arguments or his style, as more experienced writers usually are, and as no doubt he ought to have been. Many are the imperfections of this nature which his answerer has detected, and exposed with very little remorse: whilst he passes over, without noticing, or at least with a very slight notice, those parts of the Treatise he answers, which alone are of great moment, and which (it is believed) are unanswerable. The leading idea, or principle, of Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha is, that government is not of human, but divine origin; and that the government of a family is the basis, or pattern, of all other government. And this principle, notwithstanding Mr. Locke’s answer, is still (in the opinion of the author of these sermons) unrefuted, and still true. Some weak arguments, which were unwarily used to defend it, were indeed very satisfactorily refuted: this, however, proved no more than that the answerer was strong only where the first writer was weak.
It is allowed, that the author of the Patriarcha entertained some very extravagant notions on monarchy, and the sacredness of kings: and (what is perhaps still less pardonable) some disparaging and unjust opinions respecting the supremacy of law. On these points his cooler antagonist, who was a bigot (if a bigot at all) to more popular opinions, attacks, and even ridicules him with success. This success would have been greater, had it not been tarnished by many ungentleman-like sneers, which were ever and anon thrown out, on the knight’s having been a courtier. This was a low artifice, which Mr. Locke should have disdained; and which, whether he disdained or no, he would probably have forborne, had he recollected that, in the age of Sir Robert Filmer, the being a courtier was a truly honourable distinction.
And all that he has written, as well as all that has been written concerning him, shews, that Sir Robert Filmer, though certainly not so careful and close a reasoner as Mr. Locke, was neither less learned, nor of a less elevated and liberal mind. He was also, if not a profound, yet a fair, candid, and gentlemanly writer. Nor should it be omitted, because it is much to his credit, that he appears to have been actuated by two as noble and as dignified sentiments as can warm the human breast; I mean, loyalty and piety.
Mr. Locke had the good fortune to enjoy a pre-eminent reputation for political wisdom longer than most men who have degraded great abilities by employing them to promote the temporary purposes of a party. Till the American war, he was looked up to as an oracle: and the whole nation implicitly pinned their faith, in politics, on his dogmas. But, when that great controversy between the Parent State and her Colonies came to be agitated, men were under a necessity of examining, thinking, and judging for themselves. One consequence of their doing so was, that the high degree of infallibility, which, till then, had been ascribed to the name and the works of Mr. Locke, was greatly lessened. At length, in 1781, Dr. Tucker, the celebrated Dean of Gloucester, wrote a Treatise (and one of the best he ever did write) on purpose to “consider, examine, and confute the notions of Mr. Locke and his followers, concerning the origin, extent, and end of civil government.” Since that time writers in general venture to read Mr. Locke, as they do other authors, without being overawed by the unmerited popularity attached to his name. One of the last, and not least eminent of our political writers, boldly calls him (yet not with more freedom than justice)—“that arch propagator of wild conceits, that wholesale fabricator of fantastical systems of polity, (accuse me not of political blasphemy!) John Locke, who had scarcely given birth to this shapeless abortion, when he crushed it at a stroke, by proving the impossibility of it’s existence. He was compelled to acknowledge, that the coming into society upon such terms would be—only to go out again.”—See a Letter to the Hon. Tho. Erskine, by John Gifford, Esq. p. 56.
Mr. Locke, however, and his followers, in presenting these principles to the public in their most popular form, have the demerit only of having new-dressed principles which are at least as old as the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. In the unhappy reign of the first Charles, those principles were industriously revived and brought forward with great zeal: and there is hardly a principle or project of any moment in Mr. Locke’s Treatise, of which the rudiments may not be traced in some of the many political pieces which were then produced. In a collection of “Original Papers relative to the History of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay,” which Governor Hutchinson had printed, but which were never published, I find the following passages; containing, if I mistake not, the very essence of Mr. Locke’s system. The Paper, from which these passages are taken, is intitled “Libertye and the Weale Publick reconciled, in a Declaration to the late Court of Elections at Newtown, the 17th of the 3d Month, 1637.” In this declaration Liberty is thus defined: “That the people may not be subjected to any lawe, or power, amonge themselves, without theire consent: whatsoever is more than this, is neither lawful nor durable, and insteade of libertye, may prove bondage, or licentiousnesse.” This is farther defended from some exceptions made by Mr. Vane, afterwards Sir Henry Vane, thus: “It is clearly agreed by all, that the care of safety and wellfare was the original cause or occasion of common weales, and of many families subjecting themselves to rulers and lawes: for no man hath lawfulle power over another but by consent; so likewise, by the lawe of proprietie, no man can have just interest in that which belongeth to another, without his consent.”
[*] See Matth. ch. ii. ver. 2.
[*] This extreme reluctance of the Jews to pay tribute to any Foreign Power was sanctioned by their religion: for, in Deuteron. ch. xvii. ver. 15. they are expressly enjoined to choose a king from among their brethren, and not a stranger. It was natural, therefore, that they should regard the paying tribute to the Romans as a badge of slavery; and natural also, that they should very generally dislike the publicans, who were the persons appointed by the Romans to collect such tribute. Judas the Gaulonite, taking advantage of this national prepossession, with the avowed purpose of shaking off this yoke, excited an insurrection: and so numerous were his adherents, that even after they were crushed as a civil party, they seem to have existed as a religious sect, under the name of Zealots. Persons of this order appear to have acted as public censors, or as societies for the reformation of manners; and, as such, were sometimes called The Just. Of this order, it is probable, those persons were, whom the Chief Priests and Scribes employed to watch and to take hold of the words of our Saviour: and therefore the expression in St. Luke, ch. xx. ver. 20. which should feign themselves just men, would be more accurately translated, if rendered, who feigned themselves, or pretended to be, the Just; that is to say, of the order of the Just. Jesus Christ himself was accused of being of this order; because, as it was alleged, he forbade the people to give tribute unto Caesar. To this circumstance of his being of that sect, which originated in his country of Galilee, the wife of Pilate may be supposed to have alluded, when she sent to her husband, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that Just Man!
[*] The Marquis of Halifax confesses, that the right of resistance, which yet he contends is the life and soul of our Constitution, cannot be defined:
“It is,” he says, “an hidden power in the Constitution, which would be lost if it were defined: a certain mystery, by virtue of which a nation may, at some critical times, be secured from ruin; but then it must be kept a mystery. It is rendered useless when touched by unskilful hands: and no people ever had or deserved to have that power, which was so unwary as to anticipate their claim to it.”
[†] Dean Sherlock, in his Case of Resistance.
[*‡] To men of plain sense, who (having no party purposes to serve) in any controverted question are anxious only to find the truth, it is wearisome to have, instead of a fair attempt to illustrate or clear up any of the great difficulties which embarrass, and must for ever embarrass, the subject of government, in all political discussions, this one unvaried topic of declamation for ever dinned in their ears. But it is particularly irksome to find such stale and thread-bare sophistry adopted and brought forward by so elegant and classical a writer as Lord Lyttelton.
In his first Dialogue of the Dead, he makes Hampden say, “It is a disgrace to our Church to have taken up such opinions; and I will venture to prophesy, that our Clergy must in future times renounce them, or they will be turned against them by those who mean their destruction. Suppose a Popish king on the throne: will the Clergy then adhere to passive obedience and non-resistance? If they do, they deliver up their religion to Rome: if they do not, their practice will confute their own doctrines.”
By having taken no care to refute these sentiments; and by the artful compliment thus paid, at the expence of their predecessors, to the Clergy of his day, who, he was well aware, had pretty generally renounced what he affected to prophesy they would renounce, it is too evident this noble author was not unwilling to have them regarded as his own.
There must be a total subversion of every thing that relates to our present Constitution, before we can again have a Popish king on the throne. But, should the Almighty (as a punishment for our great sin in not being sufficiently thankful for the blessing of having long had our throne filled by a mild and patriotic race of Protestant kings) see fit once more to permit a Popish monarch to sit on the throne, God forbid the Clergy should not adhere to doctrines enjoined by the law of the land, by the authority of their Church, and by the word of God! Had the noble historian forgotten, or did he only affect to forget, what part the Clergy of the Church of England did in general take when (themselves being Protestants) there actually was a Popish king upon the throne? The seven bishops whom James the Second committed to the Tower, and whom King William deprived for not renouncing King James, did, in neither of their opposite trials, “renounce the doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance:” yet neither “did they deliver up their religion to Rome, nor confute their own doctrines by their own practice.” So far from this, no one circumstance contributed so much to defeat the mad purpose of this bigoted monarch to introduce Popery into the kingdom, as the objections made to it by these persecuted bishops: and unless the principle of resistance may be promoted by an exemplary recommendation of non-resistance, their doctrines were not confuted by their practice. The conduct of these memorable men, on this memorable occasion, is not only a very satisfactory illustration of the true principles of this much misrepresented doctrine, but a complete vindication of it.
Had he been so disposed, Lord Lyttelton might have seen a cloud of witnesses in favour of these exploded doctrines among our older divines. There is a very interesting catalogue of them, together with extracts evincing what their sentiments on this point were, in the history of Sacheverell’s trial. He might also have seen, and he is inexcusable if he did not see (and perhaps still more inexcusable if, having seen, he did not learn more from) a most masterly Sermon on Passive Obedience, by Bishop Berkley. I hope I shall neither be regarded as dictatorial, nor unreasonable, in expressing an earnest wish, that no one may hereafter presume to shoot these random arrows against this venerable doctrine, till he has read and considered, and is also able to answer, this Discourse by this eminent Prelate.
[*] Mr. Wilkes.
[*] “Our Assemblies are the true, proper, legal guardians of our rights, privileges, and liberties. If any laws of the British Parliament are thought oppressive; or if, in the administration of the British government, any unnecessary or unreasonable burthen be laid upon us, they are the proper persons to seek for redress, and they are the most likely to succeed. They have the legal and constitutional means in their hands. They are the real, not the pretended, representatives of the people. They are bodies known and acknowledged by the public laws of the empire. Their representations will be attended to, and their remonstrances heard.” —See “A View of the Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies, p. 25, by A. W. Farmer;” that is, by the late Bishop Seabury of Connecticut.
The fate of the excellent author of this well-written piece, and several others of not inferior merit under the same signature, might well discourage any man who attempts to serve the public, if animated only by the hopes of temporal rewards. When a missionary in the service of the Society for propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts, whilst the revolt was still in it’s infancy, he wrote several seasonable pieces, adapted to the capacities of the people, under the assumed character of a Farmer. They were generally acknowledged to have done much good. But, being attributed to another Gentleman, he alone derived any personal advantage from them: for, to him the British government granted an handsome pension, whilst the real Author never received a farthing. All the return that all his exertions procured for him, was imprisonment, persecution, and exile. By this country he was neglected and abandoned; and by that which gave him birth, disowned: though a man of such transcendent abilities as would have been an ornament and a blessing to any country that had seen fit to patronize him. At length, thankful to be forgiven, he was permitted to return to his native country, where, as the bishop of Connecticut, he was supported by an humble eleemosynary pittance contributed by a few private friends in England; and, in February 1796, died as unnoticed as he had lived. Farewell, poor Seabury!—however neglected in life, there still lives one at least who knew thy worth, and honours thy memory!
“His saltem accumulem donis, & fungar inani
See an Account of his Consecration in Scotland, in Mr. Skinner’s very valuable Ecclesiastical History of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 683. See also the Obituary of the Gentleman’s Magazine, p. 442, for May 1797.
Before the troubles, the University of Oxford was pleased to confer on him the honorary degree of D. D.; and in 1793 he published, at New York, two volumes of Discourses, which are such as might have brought credit to any Prelate in any age and in any country. Books of any kind, however, (and, perhaps, Sermons least of all,) not being in much demand in America, he wished to have had them republished in England; and for that purpose furnished the Author of this Volume with six more Discourses, in MS. to be added to them. But, such is the obscurity, or possibly the unpopularity, of a man of unquestionable learning and piety, that no Bookseller has yet ventured to undertake the work.
[*] “Humanity cannot be degraded by humiliation. It is it’s very character to submit to such things. There is a consanguinity between benevolence and humility. They are virtues of the same stock.”—Burke’s Two Letters, 1796, p. 27.