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vituperation and resistance to the law, in advising and conspiring to throw vexatious obstacles in the way of its execution, and in counselling to perjury in the jury-box,* and to rebellion even with force and arms!-to resistance with assassination and blood !! |
In this state of the public mind, I have thought it to be my duty to consider on this day of public thanksgiving, our religious obligations as American citizens.
I have not selected this theme, because I have any, the least, suspicion that there is attached to this congregation, a single person, who is in need of rebuke for disloyalty to his country, or in any particular danger of being led away from his duty as a citizen, into violent opposition to its laws. You have not been under the instructions of this pulpit so long, that at this late day, you are to learn for the first time your obligations, or to be called as from an opposite course of thought and action to the practice of law-abiding citizens.
But is it not fit that we should be put in remembrance even of what we knew before, confirmed in sound doctrine, and encouraged in
meet also to consider such truths as may serve to set at rest the minds which are possibly perplexed and doubtful in view of the alleged conflict between the duty we owe to God and the laws that are framed by human legislation ?
* Theodore Parker, in a sermon at Boston, + New York Independent.
The Word of God has laid down certain injunctions on this point, which at once indicate our duty as men and the duty of ministers of the gospel in reference to the instruction of their hearers and the subject-matter of their instruction. For example :-addressing Titus, a young minister, the Apostle Paul charges him, to "put his hearers in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.” (Titus, iii. 1.) Is it necessary here, in view of such a charge, to enter into pice distinctions between some narrow definition of the appropriate sphere of ministerial duty, and the wide field occupied by the multiform relations of social and civil life ;---as some men have drawn the distinction, and would forbid us to overstep the line within which they would restrain us from intermeddling with the great public questions to which the moral principles of the gospel are applicable? It is true indeed, that the influence of the pulpit is sometimes invoked and welcomed, when its teachings happen to fall in with the views of those, who, upon other occasions, are ready to rebuke its interference, because then, its teachings happen to be adverse to some other views of the same men. And it is true too, that the pulpit may be perverted, to themes which have no relation to its grand design, to partisan and factious purposes, to the support of wicked rebellion on the one hand, and on the other, to sycophantic and slavish subserviency of wealth and
power. But this is a perversion, and is widely different from its just and commanded instructions on those questions which comprehend the application of the great truths of the gospel to the moralities of life and the relations of mankind to each other as neighbours and friends, as parents and children, as masters and servants, and not less, as citizens, subjects and rulers. The Word of God has laid down the great principles of duty pertaining to these several relations, and has specifically enjoined us to “teach and exhort these things." And this is to be done, with due reference to the occasions and circumstances in which we are placed, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear,—whether the scriptural views we are bound to inculcate fall in with the current of public opinion and favour, or run counter to it. And, in regard to those who “ teach otherwise, " fomenting disobedience and rebellion, in these very relations, we are told that they are “proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness.” Could any description be more characteristic of some of the teachings of our own times, on this very point ? And we are explicitly commanded to have no fellowship with such, and to give them no countenance : for this is the injunction which binds us farther,—“FROM SUCH WITHDRAW THYSELF." (1 Timothy, vi. 1–5.)
It is but fulfilling a specific duty then, incumbent on the ministry as such, if, as best I may be able, I put you in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates.
But this precept of the Word of God is not the only one bearing upon this point. I have quoted it rather as a sufficient vindication of the ministry for teaching the obligations under which we are, even in the highest relations of civil life. And as to those obligations themselves, which we are to inculcate, we have even fuller expositions than the brief, but comprehensive injunction on which I have just been dwelling. We are not left, either as hearers or as teachers, to the abstract notions, selfish reasonings and fanciful theories of men,ourselves or others, -as to what the will of God is in this matter. How largely does the Apostle Paul set forth this duty of obedience in his own instructions to the Romans. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou, then, not be afraid of the power ? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain : for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience®
sake.” (Rom. xiii. 145.) It may not be unsuitable to adduce alongside of this injunction of Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, the corresponding injunction of Peter, the Apostle to the circumcision : “ Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men : As free, and not using your liberty
for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” (1 Peter ii. 13-16.)
Here, then, we have the will of God-the highest authority in the universe. He commands obedience to civil government; because it is his ordinance ; because its purpose and operation are beneficent to the law-abiding. Resistance to government is rebellion against God. The freedom of the Christian is not to be perverted into a cover and false pretense of conscience for wicked deeds in the factious resistance of lawful authority. The honour of the gospel is promoted by that submission to government which silences the slander that Christians are turbulent. Obedience is to be rendered not merely from temporal considerations of hope or fear of the human authorities, but from conscience acknowledging the authority of God, and out of the regard which His servants owe to Him.
There was sufficient reason in the circumstances of the times when these precepts were uttered, for