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their illegal exactions upon the people, crying—“Mas. ter, what shall we do?” John, who knew their character, strikes boldly at their capital vice; charging them by their hope of salvation and their dread of ruin,“ exact no more than what is appointed you” by law; for how shall you begin to be good, till you cease to be unjust?
Last of all came the soldiers, * “ demanding of him likewise, saying—and what shall we do? He said unto them do violence to 110 man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages."
Such are the words which were recommended to me as the subject of this discourse. And had I been left to my own choice, I could not have selected any more suitable to my purpose. For being delivered by divine inspiration, on a most important occasion; namely, when the soldiers themselves earnestly requested to know, by what means they might escape the threatened fire of God's wrath, and obtain salvation through the Messiah, we may be sure they imply in them the fundamental parts of the Christian Soldier's Duty; so far at least as relates to that particular character.
I shall therefore proceed upon them, in their natural order. With diffidence, however, I enter upon my subject. I know
you to be men of distinguished understanding; conscious of the dignity of your own character, and of the glorious cause wherein you are engaged. And nothing but your own express desire, could give me courage to offer
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my thoughts concerning any part of your duty. But, being invited thereto, I shall proceed to the utmost of my abilities, as far as the time will permit. And, whatever may be the execution, I can safely say that I bring with me a heart zealous for the public—and regardful of you!
First, then, the Christian-Soldier is to “ do vio. lence to no man.”
There are two sorts of violence which a soldier may be guilty of. One is against those who are lawfully vested with command over him. This is commonly stiled Mutiny, and is a crime of the most atrocious nature; seldom to be expiated but by the Death of the offender. And as God is a God of order, it must be peculiarly odious to him.
Another sort of violence, which a soldier may be guilty of, is against his fellow-subjects. This is that violence more immediately meant in the text; the original word there, signifying the shaking or terrifying a man, so as to force money from him through fear. This we find expressly forbid by the spirit of Christianity, under pain of forfeiting the Salvation of God. And we may glory to say, that it is also forbid by the mild spirit of the British constitution!
Our Soldiery are armed by the laws of their country, and supported by the community; not to command, but to serve it; not to oppress, but to protect it. Should they, therefore, turn their sword against those from whom they derive their authority, and thus violate the just rights even but of one Freeman, who contributes to their support—what a complica.
tion of guilt would it imply? It would be treachery! It would be ingratitude! Nay, it would be parricide!
As for the tyrants of mankind, let them (belying heaven and pretending an authority from God) lead forth their armed slaves to plunder, to harass and to destroy those to whom they owe protection! Let them fill those lands with violence and blood, which they ought to fill with blessing and joy!“Verily I say unto you they shall have their reward.” For, believe me, such actions are odious to heaven, repugnant to the gospel; and God will certainly avenge his own cause!
Happy for us, we rejoice under milder influences! Our gracious Sovereign, through a long and prosperous reign, has never in any instance, offered violence to the rights of his subjects; nor permitted it in his servants. The commanders placed over us, in our present distress, have signalized themselves as patrons of justice and lovers of Liberty. Though appointed over great armies, among a people long accustomed to profound peace, jealous of their privileges, and some of them even unreasonably prejudiced against all force and arms; yet they have happily reconciled jarring interests, and, with all possible care, supported the military, without violating the civil, power.
As a signal instance of the harmony arising from this conduct, it will be but justice to mention you, gentlemen, whom I have now the honour to address. You have been among us for many months. Most of you were at first but a raw unformed corps; and, from the manner of your being quartered out in small parties among the inhabitants of this city, distur
bances might have been expected. But quite the reverse has been the case. No deeds of violence have been offered. No complainings have been heard in our streets. Your conduct has done honour to yourselves, and to those who have the command over you.
All I shall add, then, on this head is, to beseech you, by your hopes of the Gospel-promises, to persevere in the same dutiful inoffensive behaviour towards your fellow-citizens, in all parts of your future conduct. And, as you can never be led to deeds of violence by any authority appointed over you, let it never be said that your own choice or rashness enģaged you in them; so as to subject you to the severe and shameful punishments denounced against them, by the laws of your country in this world, and by the Gospel of Christ in the world to come.
Thus I have endeavoured to give the true meaning of the words “ do violence to no man.” I know there are some who affect to understand them in a more unlimited sense; as containing a general pro. hibition of all force and arms whatsoever. But, in this, they are neither warranted by scripture nor reason. Nay, the very reverse is evident from the text itself.
The soldiers, whom Saint John addresses, received wages for fighting and bearing arms against the enemies of their country. He expressly enjoins them to be content with those wages. But this he never would have done, if the service, which they performed as the condition of the wages, had been that identical violence, which he so strongly prohibits in the former part of the verse. They must indeed be very bold, who can charge the Spirit of God with such a contradiction!
But the fact is, that—to support justice, to maintain truth, to defend the goods of Providence, to repress the wild fury of lawless invaders, and by main force, if possible, to extirpate oppression and wickedness from the earth, has never been accounted vio. lence in any language or country. On the contrary, it is duty to the public, and mercy to thousands!
If society is of God's appointment, every thing essential to its subsistence must be so too; for he that ordains the end, ordains the means. But how shall society subsist, if we are to submit to the unrighteous encroachments of every restless invader? If we are tamely to be plundered, tortured, massacred and destroyed by those who covet our possessions? Has God given us His Gospel, endowed us with reason, and made us fit for society, only to put us in a worse condition than the roaming savage, or the beast of prey?
We all allow, in common cases, that a public robber
may be subdued by force or death, if other means fail. We grant also that those who invade private property may be compelled to restitution at the bar of justice. But if independent states have injured us, to what bar shall we cite them? Who shall constrain them to appear at our summons? Or, if they should appear, who shall oblige them to abide by the sentence? Open force, then, must be the dernier resort. And strange it is that those who are often so litigious in cases of private right, should affect to be the most