Page images
PDF
EPUB

even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace*. Witness again his peremptory command, even after he had been crucified there, that repentance and remission of sin should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem t. The same heroic sympathy his great Apostle St. Paul expresses, after the severest usage, in the strongest manner, for his brethren, his kinsmen, according to the flesh, declaring solemnly before Christ and the Holy Ghost, that he had great and continual sorrow and heaviness in his heart on their account I. He hath not indeed exhorted the Christians, whom he favoured with his Epistles, to the love of their several countries : for they were all under one dominion, and designed by Providence to remain so. He hath not exhorted magistrates to study the welfare of those, over whom they presided : for there were no believing magistrates; and it might have been deemed presumptuous, and ill intended, if he had laid down directions for others; or foretold explicitly so soon, that the Gospel would come to have authority on its side. But he hath sufficiently, though obliquely, intimated to rulers, what their office requires of them: and urged private subjects most convincingly and awfully to such behaviour, as will render communities quiet and flourishing.

Love of our country therefore is an undoubted Christian duty. And we shall both be directed and encouraged in the performance of it, if we consider, as the text leads us,

I. Wherein the public welfare consists.
II. How we are to express our regard to it.
III. What advantages will flow from expressing it

as we ought. Luke xix. 41, 42. + Luke xxiv. 47. Rom. ix. 1, 2, 3.

1. Wherein it consists. Now plainly the happiness of any society is that, which the persons, who compose it, do or may enjoy in it. And therefore wide extent of dominion contributes nothing to the happiness of a state: for such unwieldy bodies are seldom or never kept long in good health. Much less is military glory the point to be had in view, any farther than is needful to secure a peaceable possession of all important national rights. For such a purpose, war is lawful: and they, who hazard their lives in it, worthy of high honour. But in all cases it is accompanied with dreadful evils : of which we are apt to consider the heavy expence, as if it were the only one; and forget the sufferings, and miserable deaths, of such multitudes of human creatures, though every one of them is a murder committed by the authors of this calamity: besides the innumerable distresses of relations and friends, the devastations, inhumanities, and wickednesses of every kind, which never fail to be its attendants. Then if the event of all should turn, as God grant it always may, to the disadvantage of the aggressors, here is much mischief brought on their neighbours, only to bring more on themselves. Or suppose their success be ever so great, the injury done by them will be great in proportion : they will receive little real good from it, and have paid very dear for that, even in this world : and in another, God will take effectual care, that no one shall have cause to rejoice in having broken his laws, and used his creatures ill.

The next pre-eminence, commonly imagined to constitute the prosperity of a state, is that of wealth; and its usual source, commerce. Now undoubtedly riches are a valuable instrument, both of common defence, and separate enjoyment. But then they are also a dangerous incentive to luxury and debauchery: by which persons grievously distress themselves, their families, their acquaintance, the public, in many ways, alas! but too well known. And many, whom affluence doth not immediately seduce into gross vices, it leads however to indolence and ignorance, to the admiration of trifles and follies, and thence to the neglect, and afterwards the contempt and ridicule, of virtuous and prudent conduct. This wrong taste being once formed, high honours and pompous appearances are thought necessary by some; the idlest gratifications and vanities, by others : the means to procure and support them must be found : and when their incomes fail, as the largest, with such management, will fail; they must supply the defect by any baseness or iniquity, that they can; at least any such, as general practice, in a time of general corruption, makes a shift to keep in tolerable countenance. This example in the upper part of the world is followed of course by the lower : their industry lessens, their expences increase, their principles are depraved, they and their families ruined; they seek for relief in fraud, violence, or intemperance, and plunge themselves by each deeper in misery. Even of the regular and diligent, the home labour is much of it employed on things useless or hurtful; the foreign trade, in importing superfluities. This procedure must as necessarily impoverish the public, as it must any single person, or number of persons : for the whole number of them is the public. And in such circumstances, whatever present show of strength and plenty there may be, is fallacious : like the over-full and florid look of a diseased body, caused by too indulgent regimen; and under the superficial appearance of redundant health, betraying to the skilful evident symptoms of the most fatal distempers, already begun, if not far advanced.

Another thing, constantly and justly mentioned, as a main ingredient in political happiness, is liberty: an invaluable privilege; but often misunderstood, and still oftener abused. Absolute liberty, to do what we will, is absolute power. If one alone, or a

ew, have this, the rest are in slavery: if all have it, the whole must be in confusion. Liberty therefore, in order to preserve it, must be restrained by law, in whatever cases the exercise of it may affect others. . And regulations by authority are necessary, not only to prevent mutual encroachments, but to ascertain each person's claims and expectations; and to instruct every one, what he is to do, and what to avoid, for the common benefit. Now legal provisions for these ends ought to be just and equitable, suited to the state of things, known and fixed. And those, which a nation makes for itself by its chosen representatives, are so very much the most likely to have these properties; that living, as we do, under a constitution purposely contrived for making, on every occasion, such as we want, is the greatest of civil blessings, provided we turn it not, by our fault, into a

curse.

But to prevent this, besides care and impartiality in framing laws, there must be a general observation of them: else they were enacted in vain. Even such, as are in their nature the most variable, must be observed while they last. For not only the total neglect of them will frustrate their beneficial intent, and open a door to yet worse irregularities; but the

partial, besides having this unhappy effect in its degree, will introduce a very dangerous kind of inequality: good subjects must be losers by their obedience, and bad ones gainers by their transgression.

Still more essentially doth the common welfare consist in the practice of such rules of conduct, as are in themselves, and therefore always, obligátory: in abstaining from violence, fraud, promiscuous lewdness, intemperance, extravagance; in performing carefully the proper business of our several stations ; in providing diligently what is needful for ourselves, and those who belong to us; in relieving the poor with prudent bounty; in behaving with respect to superiors, with condescension to inferiors, with friendliness to equals, with peculiar affection to those, whom either nature or voluntary ties have united to us more closely: these are the main things, on which social happiness depends. A nation may be small and weak and poor;

and

persons who compose it, may enjoy their being very comfortably. But however great and powerful and rich it is, folly and wickedness will bring misery on each particular; which, put together, is general misery: and will besides gradually weaken and dissolve the whole. For the principal supports of a state, confessedly are, the numbers, and health, and strength, and industry, and probity, and concord, of the several members of it: all which good morals promote, and bad undermine.

But as human laws, in multitudes of instances, cannot punish, and much less prevent, the breach of moral obligations : the chief security of regard to them, in any society, must proceed from reverence of the divine laws. And as the precepts of Christianity are vastly more determinate, accompanied with

yet the

« PreviousContinue »