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as to convey our ideas, to inform any of their duty, and engage them to practise it, we have our reward. May the Governor of the Universe, the God of order, condescend to write the doctrine on all our hearts !
I freely confess, my brethren, I never read the text without emotions of pity. Pity that such writers as St. Paul, pity that such a wise and well written period as this, naturally so conducive to the good of society, should be so perverted and misconstrued as they have been by self-interested expositors! In the times of our ancestors, in the days of despotism, thousands and tens of thousands have been expended in hiring pens to pervert, or in rewarding them for perverting, the sacred oracles of God, and thus St. Paul has been converted into a conspirator against the rights of mankind, and made to affirm, that those Britons who resisted the unconstitutional polity of a Stuart, that such protestants as refused to practise the superstitions of a popish prince, should receive to themselves eternal damnation. What could be done in the dilemma, into which some of our former kings had brought themselves? Either the bible must be taken away from the people, or the people must be taught that it spoke a language suited to the views of their rulers. But God forbid we should think St. Paul an enemy to civil and religious liberty! He derived his sentiments of government from the most just and humane of all rulers, and he was an inconvertible divine, for his gospel was in all countries and at all times yea and Amen. In order to give you a just notion of his doctrine, we shall lay down three propositions, and explain them as we go on. ration upon unnecessary subjects. Mankind are left here to the use of their reason, and reason is sufficient on this article without revelation, as we have seen in many pagan governments.
I. The Apostle speaks in the text of GOVERNMENT, not of governors. This is the true key of the thirteenth of Romans, and with this the whole period, that has been read to you, softly opens to the hand of a child. Let every soul be subject to civil government—there is no government but of God-the governments that be are ordained of God. Whosever therefore resisteth government, resisteth the ordinance of God-Wilt thou have nothing to fear from government? Do that which is good, and thou shall have praise of the same.
That this is the meaning of the apostle is evident, I think, from the following considerations. First, the propositions laid down in the text are not true of all civil governors : but they are all both true and useful, if applied to government itself. Let us try one or two for example.
Wilt thou then not be afraid of the ruler, Nero? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of Nero. Paul knew better than to affirm this: but take the words in the other sense, and they contain a truth of excellent use. Wilt thou then not be afraid of government ? Do that which is good, and thou shalt enjoy the benefit of government: perhaps share the honours of it.
Thus again, The powers that be are ordained of God. The Apostle could not mean to affirm, that
the civil governors then reigning in the world had
Of all, who have taught the divine right of any mode of government, surely those foreign declaimers, who affirm the divine right of absolute monarchy, are the most unhappy of mankind in the ehoice of their arguments. They leave the ground of christian action, the new testament; they appeal to maxims of Jewish polity long since abolished, and involve themselves in the difficulty of reconciling ancient Jewish history to their own notion, They could not choose a book less to their purpose, as it would be easy in a multitude of instances to shew.
We are then to suppose St. Paul speaking of civil government in general. The powers that be are ordained of God, is as much as to say, civil government in every country, let it be vested where it may, is agreeable to the original design of the wise Creator, who formed mankind for society, and disposed them so as to render order and government necessary. Observe a family. The children have wants: but no means of supplying them. The parents have power to supply those wants, and are disposed to administer to the children. Look into a manufactory, that employs ten thougand persons. One thousand are formed capable of comprehending and performing only a small inconsiderable part of the labour of the work; an, Other thousand are equal to another narrow circle,
they form the next link in the chain: but there is one man who seems to have as much soul as providence has bestowed on all the rest; he comprehends the whole, and is therefore naturally formed to arrange, dispose, direct and govern all. The same may be said of a general and his army, an admiral and his feet, a prince and his people, and hence arise the noble works of all sorts, that cover the earth, and the moral obligations that unite man to man. Indeed genius without strength would be a source of misery, as strength without skill would be a weight of mischief. The distribution, that providence has made of wisdom to one, patience to another, courage to a third, strength to a fourth, fancy and fire to this man, corrective coolness of judgment to that, and so on, affords a full demonstration that reciprocal aid was originally intended to be established by the Creator, that the subordination of some and the superiority of others were first principles of creation, and consequently that he who resisteth civil order and government, resisteth the ordinance of God; just as the man, who revels through the night, and sleeps all the day, resisteth, as far as he can, the ordinances of heaven, * that is, the order of darkness and light established in the heavens by the Creator of the world.
Of this conformity to order the apostle was a passionate admirer, and of this he speaks in the text. In the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians he treats of the order and
Jer. xxxiii. 25.