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PREACHED IN THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST. MARY,
LAMBETH, OCTOBER 25, 1761. '
TITUS iii. 1, 2.
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and
powers, to obey magistrates; to be ready to every
good work: To speak evil of no man; to be no brawlers, but gentle;
shewing all meekness unto all men.
This is the first anniversary of the day, on which we lost, very unexpectedly, a sovereign, under whose just and mild and prudent administration we had lived, in freedom, safety, and plenty, above thirtythree years. The mercy of Providence, unworthy as we are of it, hath filled his place with a most pious and gracious, amiable and respectable prince; who hath hitherto given us cause to hope, from his government, for every thing that we can wish. Our joint thanksgivings have just now, with the greatest reason, been offered up to God for so important a blessing: together with our earnest prayers, which indeed we repeat as often as we assemble here, for his long life and prosperity. But the most acceptable expression of our gratitude will be, to perform, every one of us, diligently the several duties of loyal subjects, that belong to our respective stations. And
these the passage of Scripture, which I have read to you, comprehends so fully, and ranges them in so natural an order, that explaining and enforcing the precepts of it, as they lie there, will give a sufficient view of all that is incumbent on us in this matter.
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates. These phrases have the same meaning: only the variety of them serves to set forth the obligation the more completely, and press it the more earnestly: as indeed there are few, that deserve a greater regard.
Human kind, from early ages, have lived collected into large numbers: and our nature and circumstances plainly require, that we should. We experience an inward propension to assemble and unite:and are by the faculty of speech peculiarly qualified for it. We have many affections, and the seeds of many virtues, planted in us; which a more solitary life would give us very little room to exercise or cultivate: and many wants and necessities belong to our condition, which nothing can tolerably well supply, but an extensive intercourse of man with man. We cannot therefore either improve or enjoy ourselves, as God designed, but in society: and society cannot subsist, without a due subordination of one part of it to another; that is, without government and obedience. The appetites, the passions, the caprices of men, would be always leading them to disquiet their neighbours, if they were not restrained by authority. And a public direction is further necessary, both for defence against external dangers, and for establishing inward order in the community. For even the best-meant endeavours of each particular for the general benefit, would be almost always ineffectual, and often prejudicial, unless they were conducted by the general wisdom.
Then besides, the civil power is eminently useful, by the sanctions of its laws, to what concerns us yet more nearly, the reformation of our morals, and bettering our tempers. For though rewards and punishments have no immediate efficacy to make a change within : yet regulating our behaviour will of course by degrees contribute to mend our hearts. Humari laws indeed cannot extend to all our actions : but to many of the most material they can : putting it out of men's power to do the evil, which else they would, or stopping them short before they are gone far: sav.ing some by fear *, making others wise by experience, extirpating the incorrigible; and obliging every one to set all around him a pattern of innocent and regular living. But then lastly, as a right belief in God, and his various dispensations towards men, promotes, beyond all things, both the virtue and the happiness of mankind; another chief advantage of good government is, that whereas without it, most men would either through ignorance be destitute of religious principles, or by their own folly, or the fraud of others, led into absurd and pernicious ones : it kindly makes provision for them of a rational method of instruction and worship: not obtruding it on them by force, but proposing and recommending it, which will always suffice: and thus they are guarded, at once, from the dreadful evils both of impiety and superstition; and carefully taught to discharge the duties, and bear the afflictions of human life.
Government therefore being so powerfully conducive to the attainment of these most valuable ends, which doubtless our Maker designed to be attained, the establishment of it in the world ought consequently to be regarded, as a most important law of God and nature, directly flowing from the constitution of things. And what reason teaches, revelation expressly confirms : declaring, that the civil power is the ordinamce of God; and they, who exercise it, his ministers of good to men*: from which premises the Apostle's conclusion in the same place is undeniable: Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake t. Whoever then refuses due submission to the authority, which Providence hath placed him peaceably under; though we ought to judge of him as charitably as with reason we can, if he pleads conscience for it; is, at least undesigned, guilty of disobeying the appointment of Heaven, in a matter of the utmost consequence to the good of mankind. I do not, by this, enjoin obedience to whatever power may start up, and maintain itself, in times of public confusion, for a while, by the sword: but to such only, as is fully and quietly settled, and acknowledged by the general consent of the community. Our duty becomes such, in this case, only for the sake of our common good. And therefore, not they, who think they ought, and say they would protect us, but they who can and do, are to be owned and obeyed. The nature of the thing, and the frequent vicissitudes of human affairs, require absolutely, that this be the rule; and all the world have ever admitted it, excepting a handful of persons in our own age and country; who undoubtedly deserve both pity and esteem, so far as they go upon principle; but whose notions, were they to spread, would produce inextricable confusion throughout the earth.
* Jude verse 23.
And very happily Scripture is as clear in this point, as reason. There is no power, saith St. Paul, but of . Rom. xii, 1, 2. 4.
+ Rom. xii. 5.
God: the powers that be, the several governments actually subsisting in each nation, are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God*. Again, St. Peter directs all Christians to submit themselves to every ordinance of man, every human establishment, for the Lord's sake: for so is the will of Godt. And accordingly they did so from the beginning of the Gospel: and amidst as many usurpations and bad titles, in the Roman empire, as the history of any nation hath ever recorded, followed no other maxim, than that of obeying faithfully the authority, to which the wisdom of Heaven, superintending all things, from time to time subjected them. But when persons have owned a government, not only by receiving and claiming the benefits of it, but by taking solemn oaths to it, and joining in public prayers for its preservation ; one or both of which I presume we have all done, these additional ties render disloyalty afterwards, gross perfidy and abandoned profligateness.
We cannot then reasonably doubt, to whom our submission is due: and we can seldom, if ever, doubt, at least in any point that will affect our practice, how far it is to be carried. If our superiors command us to do any thing, which we cannot lawfully, we ought to obey God rather than men f. But otherwise we are to act as they require us: and if they treat us hardly, or manage the concerns of the nation wrongly, we are to bear it with patience. For consider: the affairs of government are always numerous and difficult : sometimes uncommonly entangled and perplexed. They, who manage them, are liable to the same mistakes, subject to the same passions, and exposed to more temptations, than other men. There
Rom. xiii. 1,2 + 1 Pet. ii. 13. 15. | Acts V. 29.