Imatges de pÓgina
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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 refilted. In letters or differtations written professedly upon separate articles of morality, we might with more reason have Icoked 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 may be put upon them, in favour of an unlimited passive obe

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dience. But if we be permitted to assume a fuppofition, which many commentators proceed upon as a certainty, that the first Christians privately cherished an opinion, that their converfion to Christianity entitled them to new immunities, to an exemption as of right (however they might give way to necessity) from the authority of the Roman sovereign, we are furnished with a still more apt and satisfactory interpretation of the Apostles' words. The two passages apply with great propriety to the refutation of this error: they teach the Christian convert to obey the magistrate “ for the Lord's s fake,”—“ not only for wrath, but for con“ fcience lake;"_" that there is no power but “ of God;"_"that the powers that be,"even the present rulers of the Roman empire, though heathens and usurpers, seeing they are in possession of the actual and necessary authority of civil government, are ordained of God;" and, consequently, 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 others. 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 cwo 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 carry ing along with us their authority and intention, There exifts no resemblance between the case of a primitive convert, who difputed the jurisdiction of the Roman government over a difciple of Christianity, and bis 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 conAituted, 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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The only defect in this account is, that neither the Scriptures, nor any subsequent history of the early ages of the church, furnish any direct attestation of the existence of such disaffected sentiments amongst the primitive converts. They fupply indeed some circumstances, which render probable the opinion, that extravagant notions of the political rights of the Christian Nate were at that time entertained by inany profelytes to the religion. From the question proposed to Christ,"Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar?” it

may be presumed that doubts had been started in the Jewijl schools concerning the obligation, or even the lawfulness, of submission to the Roman yoke. The accounts delivered by Jofepbus, of various insurrections of the Jews of that and the following age, excited by this principle, or upon this pretence, confirm the presumption. Now, as the Christians were at first chiefly taken from the fews, confounded with thein by the rest of the world, and, from the affinity of the two religions, apt to intermix the doctrines of both, it is not to be wondered at, that a tenet, so flattering to the self-importance of those who embraced it, should have been communicated to the new institution. Again, the teachers of Christianity, amongst the privileges which their

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religion conferred upon its profilors, were wont to extol the “liberty into which they were call

ed,”- -"in wliich Clirist had made them free.” This liberty, wliich was intended of a deliverance from the various servitude, in which they had heretofore live, to the domination of finful passions, to the superstition of the Gentile idolatry, or the incumbered ritual of the Jewish dispensation, might by fome be interpreted to signify an emancipation from all retraint which was imposed by an authority merely human. At least they might be represented by their enemies as maintaining notions of this dangerous tendency. To some error or calumny of this kind, the words of St. Peter seem to allude : “ For so is the will of God, that with well-doing

ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish inen: as free, and not using your liberty for

a cloak of maliciousness (i. e. fedition), but as " the servants of God.” After all, if think this conjecture too feebly fupported by testimony, to be relied upon in the interpretation of fcripture, he will then revert to the considera. tions alleged in the preceding part of this chapter.

After fo copious an account of what we apprehend to be the general design and doctrine VOL. II. M

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