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were peaceable, happy, wealthy and prosperous, changed on a sudden into discontented insurgents. A wild spirit of independence prevailed; and, by the just judgment of God upon a profligate mother, and untutored children, succeeded; for a fatal precedent and encouragement to other wicked, discontented people. Much sooner than we could have expected hath the contagion spread itself to a neighbouring country; and what is very striking, and hath been generally noticed, the same person whom they employed against the peace of this government, is the leader in their own disturbances. Their situation, by all true accounts, hath been dreadful and lamentable; as that of every nation must be under the like cir, cumstances. While the laws are in force, a man's house is his castle; and his life, and fortune, and character, are secured to him: but when a lawless multitude is afloat, the best members of society are at the mercy of the worst. Every man is a convict, when his enemy is his accuser, judge, and executioner. There are no rays of mercy from a throne to save the head of the unhappy victim from being made a spectacle upon a pole; no lawful force to protect his stores from being plundered, his lands laid waste, his buildings burned and demolished.
Now when we hear these things, what are we to think of them? We have teachers at home, who are glad of what hath happened; who inform us, that these are the efforts of freedom; that murders and massacres are among the sacrifices proper to such an occasion; i. e. due to the idol of liberty, that Moloch which must be worshipped with human sacrifices; and that they hope to see the same incendiary spirit extend itself to other peaceable countries of Europe: in other words, they hope to see distress of nations with
perplexity; encouraging the sea to rage, and the waves to roar and toss themselves, and exceed the just bounds which God hath appointed. If these evils should spread, and the like infatuation should prevail in other nations, the whole habitable world would be a theatre of desolation, a field of blood. The evils arising from such experiments are endless; the good to be expected from them is of a very equivocal nature; and the method of obtaining it is very unpromising. If the philosophical politican, from what we know of him already, were to model nations to his own wish, the world would be in a very vain, ignorant, corrupt, and, in many respects, a very miserable state. If all the jewels of imperial authority were thrown into the fire, nothing better than a calf would come out of it.
Popular tumult and division were the curse of the heathen world for many ages, when false liberty was become the object. The apostle St. Paul describes them full of envy, murder, and debate* : which was certainly the case with the republics of Rome and Athens. They were troubled with that proud, restless jealousy of power, which threw them into perpetual convulsions. To the abolition of kingly government they gave the specious name of liberty, and pronounced a state free, if it had no king : not considering that the many may be tyrants as well as a single person, and that nothing can make a people free but the exercise of such a power as restrains them from making a prey of one another. When the Romans put down their kings, they laid the foundation of a much greater and more extensive tyranny: and the celebrated orator of Rome, a professed admirer of republican government, lived to see such effects of Rom. i. 29.
it, as made him confess, in plain terms, that no king ever grasped at such tyrannical power as was effected by the popular magistrates of Rome*. The history of that people, for five hundred years, presents us with a scene of faction and disorder, proceeding from bad to worse, and degenerating into proscription, murder, and massacre; which he who sees and considers, will never believe that the republican form was given to any people for a blessing. And the delusion of mind they were all under, at the same time, is worth your observing. It is found, by experience, that the cry of liberty arises commonly from the thirst of power; and that the same spirit, which is outwardly patriotical, is inwardly tyrannical. So it happened with these. For while they dreaded power in their own magistrates, and were always providing against it, they held it by a supposed charter from heaven, that all other nations were made to be their slaves; and, instead of paying taxes from their own property, they were eating up the substance of other people, and filling their treasury with the money drained from conquered provinces, whom they kept tributary to themselves; or with the spoil and plunder seized from them in war. It was the declared object of these lovers of freedom, to make themselves the arbiters and proprietors of other men's liberties, and bring them under absolute subjection. It is boasted of by one of their own historians, with what
* Verbum mihi deest, Quirites, cum ego hanc potestatem regiam appello: sed profectò major est quædam. Cic. de Lege Agraria, Orat. II. § 14.-Renovabo illud quod initio dixi-regnum comparari, libertatem vestram funditus tolli. § 10.-They were using their interest for the establishment of a law, which would have put the lives and fortunes of the citizens, and the sale of the public lands, into their own absolute power for five years.
great labour, and how many bloody battles, they had brought free nations to the Roman yoke, and taught them to be slaves*. These are his very words.
The expedient to which the lower order had recourse for securing themselves from the oppression of the nobility, raised up that new set of tyrants, who were for ever troubling the state with some new sedition +, and for whom, according to the testimony of Cicero himself, the power of royalty was not great enough.
The providence of God used this hardy, warlike people as a scourge to other nations; and so they appear under a great and honourable character: but their own false principles produced such domestic misery, as did justice in every age upon their own pride and ambition. And thus, high as they were, they found a way of bringing themselves down to a level with the nations whom they despised as barbarians.
The case of this people is very remarkable, and, if considered, may give us some light into the ways of Providence. For when God was about to reform the world by the introduction of the Gospel, he restored imperial government at Rome, where it seemed impossible for it to take effect against the violent prejudices of the people. He opened their eyes to see the miserable fluctuations in their former government, and the very people, who had abhorred the idea of royalty, became so fond of it, that no Christian flatterers ever came up to them. In consequence of
• Liberas gentes, ideo impatientes jugi, multo labore, nec incruentis certaminibus, servire docuerunt. Flor. Hist. lib. ii. cap. 17.
+ Seditionum omnium causas tribunitia potestas excitavit, quæ specie quidem plebis tuendæ, cujus in auxilium comparata est, re autem dominationem sibi acquirent. Ib. lib. iii. c. 13.
this wonderful work of Providence, the Gospel knows of no such government as a commonwealth. In the New Testament, kings as supreme, and those who were sent by kings, as the Roman governors of the time then were, are pointed out as the proper objects of civil obedience. But as the world draws toward its end, and God is about to destroy it, He, who turned commonwealths into kingdoms, may turn kingdoms into commonwealths; and that time may now be approaching.
I may be thought to overstrain the sense; but it is more agreeable to the context to suppose, that the powers of heaven which shall be shaken, signify the powers of government which shall be unsettled and removed from their old foundations. The powers in the natural heaven, the sun and the moon, which rule over the day and the night, are emblematical of empire and government upon earth*. And besides this, the Scripture admits of no power amongst men, but what is given them from above: and in that sense also is the power of heaven. This power has long been disregarded by some, while its existence is denied by others; and the object with all libertines is, to shake it, and cast it down, and shut it out of the world, and leave nothing but the power of the people; which, if it be taken for the power of authority, is a thing consistent neither with religion nor common sense.
We are fallen into times, when the doctrine of the
Our late Bishop Newton, who was deeply versed in the language of prophecy, having quoted Isaiah, xiii. 9, 10, and Ezech. xxxii. 7, 8, and Joel ii. 30, 31, in order to illustrate this very passage concerning the shaking of the powers of heaven, observes very justly, " In "the prophetic language great commotions and revolutions upon earth "are often represented by commotions and changes in the heavens." Dissert, on the Prophecies, Vol. II. p. 305.