Imatges de pÓgina

public grievances, of exorbitant taxes, of acts of cruelty and oppression, of tyrannical encroachments upon the ancient or stipulated rights of the people, and should be consulted whether it were lawful to revolt, or justifiable to join in an attempt to shake off the yoke by open resistance; I should certainly consider myself as having a case and question before me very different from the former. I should now define and discrimi. nate. I should reply, that if public expediency be the foundation, it is also the measure of civil obedience; that the obligation of subjects and sovereigns is reciprocal; that the duty of allegiance, whether it be founded in utility or compact, is neither unlimited nor unconditional ; that peace may be purchased too dear ; that patience becomes culpable pusillanimity, when it serves only to encourage our rulers to increase the weight of our burthen, or to bind it the faster ; that the submission which surrenders the liberty of a nation, and entails slavery upon future generations, is enjoined by no law of rational morality: finally, I should inftru& the inquirer to compare the peril and expence of his enterprise with the effects it was expected to produce, and to make choice of the alternative, by which not his own present relief or profit, but


the whole and permanent interest of the state was likely to be best promoted. If any one who had been present at both these conversations should upbraid me with change or inconsistency of opinion, should retort upon me the passive do&rine I before taught, the large and absolute terms in which I then delivered lessons of obedience and submission, I should account myself unfairly dealt with. I should reply, that the only difference which the language of the two conversations presented was, that I added now many exceptions and linitations, which were omitted or unthought of then ; that this difference arole naturally from the two occasions, such exceptions being as necessary to the subject of our present conference, as they would have been fuperfluous and unseasonable in the former. Now the difference in these two conversations is

precisely the distinction to be taken in interpreting those passages of Scripture, concerning which we are debating. They inculcate the duty, they do not describe the extent of it. They enforce the obligation by the proper sanctions of Christianity, without intending either to enlarge or contract, without considering indeed the limits by which it is bounded. This is also the method in which the same Apostles enjoin the


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duty of servants to their masters, of children to their parents, of wives to their husbands :

Servants, be subject to your masters. '

Children, obey your parents in all things.” “ Wives, submit yourselves unto your own hulbands.” The same concise and absolute form of expression occurs in all these

precepts; the same silence, as to any exceptions or distinctions; yet no one doubts but that the commands of masters, parents, and husbands, are often so immoderate, unjust, and inconsistent with other obligations, that they both may and ought to be resisted. In letters or differtations written profeffedly upon separate articles of morality, we might with more reason have looked for a precise delineation of our duty, and some degree of modern accuracy in the rules which were laid down for our direction : but in those short collections of practical maxims which compose the conclusion, or some small portion, of a doctrinal or perhaps controverlial epistle, we cannot be surprised to find the author more solicitous to impress the duty, than curious to enumerate exceptions.

The consideration of this distinction is alone fufficient to vindicate these passages of Scripture from any explanation which put upon them, in favour of an unlimited passive obe


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dience. But if we be perınitted to assume a
fuppofition, which many commentators proceed
upon as a certainty, that the first Christians pri.
vately cherished an opinion, that their conver,
fion to Christianity entitled them to new immu-
nities, to an exemption as of right (however
they might give way to necessity) from the au-
thority of the Roman sovereign, we are fur-
nished with a still more apt and satisfactory in-
terpretation of the Apostles' words. The two
passages apply with great propriety to the refuta-
tion of this error; they teach the Christian con-
vert to obey the magistrate " for the Lord's

fake,"_" not only for wrath, but for con-
“ science lake;"_" that there is no power but
“ of God;" -“that the powers that be,"even the
present rulers of the Roman empire, though hea-
thens and usurpers, seeing they are in possession
of the actual and necessary authority of civil go-
vernment, are ordained of God;” and, conse-
quently, entitled to receive obedience from those
who profess themselves the peculiar servants of
God, in a greater (certainly not in a less) degree,
than from any othess. They briefly describe
the office of civil governors,

" the punishinent “ of evil doers, and the praise of them that do " well;" from which description of the use of


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government, they justly infer the duty of fubjection, which duty being as extensive as the reason upon which it is founded, belongs to Christians no less than to the heathen members of the community. If it be admitted, that the two Apostles wrote with a view to this particular question, it will be confessed, that their words cannot be transferred to a question totally different from this, with any certainty of carrying along with us their authority and intention, There exists no resemblance between the case of a primitive convert, who difputed the jurisdiction of the Roman government over a dilciple of Christianity, and his who, acknowledging the general authority of the state over all its subjects, doubts whether that authority be not, in some important branch of it, so ill conAtituted, or abused, as to warrant the endeavours of the people to bring about a reformation by force. Nor can we judge what reply the Apostles would have made to this second question, if it had been proposed to them, from any thing they have delivered upon the first; any more than, in the two consultations above described, it could be known beforehand what I would say in the latter, from the answer which I gave to the former.


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