« VorigeDoorgaan »
liberty our religion confers on us, and endeavour to improve it.
To recapitulate and apply what hath been said, give me leave to conclude with an observation or two. In the first place, to be hindered from doing such things as may hurt ourselves is, in no sense or propriety, an encroachment on our liberty ; for no one thinks his liberty infringed by being debarred of that which he does not desire; and no one desires that which will do him more harm than good, in which case it is said to hurt him on the whole, provided he foresees the overplus of evil it threatens him with. And even when he does not, if he is convinced the authority that forbids it does, he will think it no detriment to his liberty to have an evil prevented, wherein, as he did not foresee it, he might have involved himself.
In the next place, to be enjoined that which is good for us, is no diminution of our liberty, whether we be sensible of its expediency or not; for if we are, then the commandment, falling in with our judgment and desire, can be no encroachment on the freedom of our will. And when we are not sensible the commandment enjoins that which is beneficial to us; I mean, when we know not this of ourselves; we may be convinced of it by our knowledge of his equity and goodness, who imposes it; which brings it under the same rule with a commandment, the tendency whereof we know of ourselves to be beneficial.
Now, we are neither to act like a conceited child, who refuses what his parent desires him to take, because he does not see the good of it; nor like a froward one, who refuses what he knows is good, and actually desires, merely because he is bid to take it, out of a notion, that it is slavish to have what we know to be good imposed on us by authority. If the law is general, although it may be intended principally, or only, for the weak and wicked ; yet he who is otherwise cannot think it slavish to conform, because he sees its general use.
We can have hardly a temptation to think our liberty curtailed by any of the injunctions laid on us by revealed religion, but what may arise from our ignorance of the connexion between the injunction and our happiness. But if we have reason to believe the former is the will of God, our
suspicions, as to that connexion, must be wholly groundless. We know so little of natural connexions, that there are but few cases wherein we can safely say, this can or cannot, be the cause of that. But as all the powers of nature are known to God, and as he can supernaturally annex his graces or assistances to what means he pleases, we may be sure all means of his appointment must be efficacious, though we do not, cannot, see how. Fasting is in itself a thing morally indifferent; but if God should enjoin it, and we by experience should find it, when religiously practised, exceedingly conducive to the reduction of our inordinate affections, and to the ardour of our devotions, we ought to think it equally conducive to our liberty, on the supposition that a heart warm only to God, enjoys the highest freedom, though we cannot see, how effects so purely spiritual are produted by a cause altogether corporeal. In like manner, the being sprinkled with water, or the receiving of bread and wine, are things perfectly indifferent in themselves, as to our souls; yet may be so applied to religious purposes, and so connected with God's grace, as to produce by methods wholly inconceivable to us, such happy effects as it would be high presumption in us to hope for, without the promise and appointment of God.
Whom now, or what are we to obey; for obey we must, as we neither are, nor ever can be, absolutely independent? Shall we, in order to be free, associate with the libertine, who fies to infidel haranguers, as he does to lewd women; and to irreligious books, as he does to a bottle; who goes a whoring after loose principles, and fuddles his understanding with the sweet poison of unbelief; who thinks it freedom to wallow in stupidity and corruption, as long as an insensible conscience can give countenance to his gaiety? What, in the name of common sense, is liberty, if this is not slavery? Does liberty consist in a total subversion or extinction of reason? Is it an irretrievable servitude to lust and passion ? If it is, then the worst man is always the most free ; and he only is at liberty, who ought to lie for ever in chains. Let us not if we have any affection for liberty, join ourselves to such a slavish crew. Let us not be frightened at the name of government; nor, because passion and appetite have in themselves no tincture of order or government, imagine we shall be free under their influence. Although such masters cannot rule, they can conquer, they can captivate, they can torture and oppress. Any one of them, if indulged to an excess, will turn a tyrant; that is, a governor, without a rule to govern by.
No: let us voluntarily give the reins to him who made us, because we know he is gracious; or, at least, prudently, as men who have a just apprehension of his power. Him we must either obey for his goodness, or fear for his indignation. Our subjection to him depends not on our will; but our obedience he leaves to our own free election. Since we 'must be subject, ought we not also to obey ?' But why should we deduce our duty from our subjection ? Is it not perfect freedom to serve him? Is it not joy and rapture to please him ? Are we so mean-spirited as to stoop to the service of the creature, who were born for that of the Creator; or so stupid as to call this slavery, and that freedom? We only want a little grandeur of soul to fill us with disdain for the pitiful masters, that may have hitherto usurped a dominion over us, and with a just indignation at ourselves for having meanly crouched to a servitude, every way infamous and shameful. This will be sufficient to make us shake off the despicable yoke. If to this we add a little true ambition, it will teach us to look upward, and aim our services at an object, infinitely amiable and excellent, infinitely great and glorious; whom to serve is not only liberty, but honour and grandeur. And, for our encouragement, there is no master, whom it will be so much in our power to please, if inclination be not wanting; because his yoke is easy, and his burden light;' because he loves us,' and because he hath promised to assist us..
Let us, therefore, humbly apply to him for the aids of his Holy Spirit, that, strengthened by his all-powerful grace, we may be delivered from the slavery of sin, and raised to the service of him, who is the Lord of lords, and the King of kings, the only eternal and adorable God; to whom be all service and duty, all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now, and for evermore. Amen.
RELIGION NECESSARY TO CIVIL SOCIETY.
I Pet. 11. 17.
Fear God. Honour the king. Though these, considered in themselves, are two distinct and independent precepts; yet they seem to be so connected in this place by the apostle, that the latter may be looked ypon as the consequence of the former; not only because it is placed immediately after it, and therefore, for coherence' sake, must be supposed to be some way deducible from it; but because it follows in the nature of things. The king can never hope to be effectually honoured, where God is not feared; and therefore the apostle bids us, a little above, 'submit ourselves to every ordinance of man' (i. e. every law imposed on us by proper authority) for the Lord's sake;' to whom belongeth all power, and whom if we duly fear and reverence, we cannot but obey those who act under him, and share his power in this world.
Agreeable to this, is that passage in chap. xiii. of the Epistle to the Romans, where St. Paul bids' every soul be subject to the higher powers ;' for this reason, because
there is no power, but of God;' and because he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God ;' and 'they that resist, shall receive to themselves damnation.' It is for this reason that we must needs be subject, 'not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake.'
It cannot be denied, that the Christians of the first age had reasons, peculiar to themselves, for honouring the king, and obeying the civil magistrate ; such as, to prevent persecution ; and to shew the world, that they did not intend to stir up rebellion under pretence of introducing a new religion. These, no doubt, the two apostles had in view, when they delivered the precepts already cited; especially St. Paul, who was then writing to such converts to Christianity as lived immediately under that power, which it would have been most scandalous and most dangerous to provoke.
But, besides these, they intended chiefly to apply our religion to the assistance and preservation of civil government in general ; commanding all Christians, by virtue of their faith in Christ, as they feared God, and expected to be judged by him, to honour and obey the king, i. e. to observe the laws, to preserve the peace of society; and to submit patiently to whatsoever the supreme governor should think proper to lay upon them.
This was putting their civil obedience upon the same footing with their religious; and teaching them to make the whole strength of their Christian principles as useful to the state in this life, as they were to their souls in order to the next. This was backing their reverence of the king with their fear of God, and threatening eternal damnation to rebellion.
This doctrine, thus strongly inculcated, intimates also to us the true origin or basis of civil power, which is God. He is the sole owner and proprietor of all power, particularly of the civil. “By him kings reign, and princes decree justice. He is the Lord of lords, and King of kings.' Through whatsoever channels of election, compact, conquest, or hereditary right, the civil power is derived, from this its only source, it still belongs to God, and must be accounted for to him. Now, that which the absolute supremacy of God thus authorizes, the nature of man renders perpetually necessary. Considered in himself, and without respect to God, as his supreme governor, he can neither subsist in society, nor out of it. How can a creature, so crooked and so untoward as we are in our dispositions, so corrupt and wild by nature, converse together with safety? And how, on the other hand, can creatures, so infirm and helpless as each of us is by himself, subsist apart from the rest of mankind ? Our natural wants call us together, indeed, with a voice as pressing as necessity can make it; but, at the same time, selfishness, lust, pride, resentment, with a large train of violent appetites, and fierce desires, in a manner forbid all commerce with one another. It is in vain to deny, that the present nature of man, before it is moulded into a better form