« FöregåendeFortsätt »
love their people. This duty is frequently set forth in Scripture by the figurative titles which are given them. They are called heads of the body politick, of which the people are members. They are called fathers, and of course their people are considered as children. And they are also called shepherds. These titles undoubtedly teach, that there is an intimate union between rulers and ruled, and that the former ought to feel a tender regard for the good of the latter. And they ought always in the exercise of their offices to be ruled by this principle. Hence, rulers, who make their supreme object, self-aggrandizement, either in exalting their name by schemes of ambition, expensive and disastrous to their people; or in increasing their property, by bribery, peculation, or oppression, do not discharge their duty, but on the contrary sin against God. The prophet Ezekiel spake of this principle of self-aggrandizement actuating rulers, as one of the grievous sins of the Jews, which provoked God to send desolating judgments upon the nation. “ Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain.” Ez. xxii. 27. And Moses in the choice of rulers was directed to select men, “ hating covetousness.” Ex. xviii. 21.
But self-aggrandizement, and not the public welfare, has doubtless often been the object of men, in seeking and accepting offices, even to the supplanting by their mean and wicked arts, others who acted from principle, and filled their stations with wisdom, diligence and fidelity. This principle of regard to the public good, and not private aggrandizement, ought to influence public officers, in every department of state, whether legislative, executive, or judiciary. Actuated by this principle, they ought to frame wise and good laws, and to administer them with fidelity and equity.
What a ruler ought to be, we are informed in the Scriptures. The advice of Jethro to Moses, with which advice, this great and divinely inspired lawgiver complied, was, “ Thou shalt provide out of all the people, able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness ; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, and ruIers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” Ex. xviii. 21.
From this text we learn, that ability or wisdom is one important trait in the character of a good ruler. The necessity of this qualification to fit a person to be a ruler, especially in the higher and more important and difficult offices of state, must appear to every intelligent person. The duties which rulers have frequently to perform are complicated and difficult, and therefore require an accurate knowledge of the springs of government, and of the operation of causes under all their variety of circumstances, as they have existed in other ages, and nations of the world ; and it is a great mistake that every honest man is fit to be a ruler, and to fill the important offices of state. Honesty or integrity is an important and necessary qualification; but there are other qualifications equally important and necessary. Ifa ruler be weak or ignorant, however honest he may be, he is not fit to fill the offices of government. On this point the saying of the wise man is applicable.“ Wo to thee, O land, when thy king is a child.” Eccl. x. 16. This wo must be pronounced on account of the incapacity of a child. Many who are grown to years of maturity are children in knowledge, and equally incapable of governing.
Another qualification of a good ruler is, that he fears God. This we have seen from the text already quoted from Exodus. Thou shalt provide out of all the people, able men, such as fear God.” The same is taught in other passages. David said_“ The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear God.” 2 Sam. xxi. 3. And in the history of the pious king Jehoshaphat we find that in appointing officers under him, he followed this rule. " He set judges in the land throughout all the fenced cities of Judah. And said to the Judges, take heed what ye do : for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you ; take heed and do it. And he charged them, saying, thus shall ye do in the fear of the Lord, faithfully and with a perfect heart.” 2 Chron. xix. 5-9. The importance of rulers being actuated by the fear of God, further appears from the duties which the Scriptures enjoin upon them, to the right performance of which, the fear of God is requisite. And the same is proved by the history of nations, which have enjoyed the light of revelation ; and
especially by the history of the nations of Judah and Israel. We uniformly find in these nations, that when their rulers feared God, things generally went well, and the people were prosperous and happy. But when the rusers, and especially the supreme rulers were wicked, vice was gradually diffused among all orders of the people; the nation declined in prosperity ; and oftentimes severely suffered. Agreeably to this the Psalmist remarked : “ The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted;" Ps. xii. 8.
Again, as we learn from the text quoted from Exodus, rulers ought to be “ men of truth, hating covetousness. That is,'men of fidelity, actuated by a sincere fear of God, and regard to the public welfare; and not, while they make good professions, by an ambitious and covetous desire to aggrandize themselves. Such are the qualifications which, according to the Scriptures, rulers ought to possess.
The Scriptures also inform us what are the duties of their station.
Both in making and administering laws, it is their duty to be a terror to evil-doers, and for the praise of such as do well. Prov. xx. 26, we read ; “A wise king scattereth
the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.” Also 1 Pet. ii. 14 ; “ 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.” And in the chapter from which our text is taken; “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.
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.” From these texts it is evident, that it is the duty of rulers to discountenance and punish the wicked, and to encourage the good. This they may and ought to do by enacting laws against vice : by setting themselves a virtuous example; and by exercising their authority for the encouragement and protection of the virtuous, and the discountenancing and punishment of the wicked.
Again, in administering the laws, rulers ought to do strict justice impartially, without respect of persons ; and especially they ought to attend to the cause of the poor
when they are oppressed. This is frequently enjoined in the Scriptures; as in the following passages. I charged your judges at that time, saying, hear the causes between your brethren; and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great ; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God's ;" Deut. i. 16, 17. • Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee; and they shall judge the people with just judgment. Thou shalt not wrest judgment ; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift;" Deut. xvi. 18, 19. " If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous and condemn the wicked;" Deut. xxv. i. 6 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked ? Defend the poor and fatherless : do justice to the afflicted and needy: deliver the poor and the needy : rid them out of the hand of the wicked ;" Ps. Ixxxii. 1-3.
Again, the Scriptures teach that rulers should be diligent in the discharge of the duties of their office. Of this we have a proof in our context. “They are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing."
II. We proceed to consider the corresponding duties of people towards their rulers,
1. People ought to desire and pray for good rulers ; and in a government like ours, where the rulers are chosen by the people, the latter ought to be careful to elect to office men who answer to the description of what the Scriptures declare rulers ought to be ;-men who fear God, who will rule, feeling that they are God's ministers, and accountable to him for the faithful discharge of the duties of their office, whose characters are known, who have knowledge and wisdom to govern aright, who will not be diverted from what their judgment teaches to be the path of duty, by the love of gain, the fear of man, or desire of popular applause, who will not bear the civil sword in vain, but be a terror to evil-doers and a praise to such as do well, and who will devote themselves diligently to the duties of their office. Christians with the Bible in their hands, in which God has declared that ru
lers ought to be such characters, certainly cannot doubt, that where they have the choice of rulers, they ought to seek for such characters, and when they can be found, conscientiously to give their suffrages to them.
But brethren have we not reason to fear that these evident christian duties are too little regarded, even by professing christians ? And especially that the point whether a candidate for office fears God or not, is too little attended to ? Is is not a fact that even christians frequently suffer party considerations to outweigh the will of God made known in his word ? Many professed christians practically renounce the authority of God in civil affairs. Brethren these things ought not so to be.
2. Another duty of people is, to be subject unto the powers that be : to submit to the government of those in authority, and render a ready obedience to the laws. A good christian must be a good citizen, and an obedient subject. The command of God in our text is; “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers :" And in our context, we read; “Wherefore ye must needs be subject. Whosoever resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God.” And it is added, “ They that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” And i Pet. ii. 13-15; it is commanded, “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 so is the will of God.”
The motive to this obedience should be a regard to the authority of God. We are to obey as rendering obedience to the Lord, and for conscience sake. This motive is mentioned in our text ; " for there is no power but of God : the powers that be are ordained of God.” Government is an ordinance of God. And hence the apostle draws the inference in a following verse : “Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath; but also for conscience sake.” And the apostle Peter enjoined, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake;" 1 Pet. ii. 13.
This obedience is to be rendered to the powers that be, whether the rulers are our choice or not. When in the providence of God, they are placed over us, we are, on christian principles, bound to be subject. And our obedience is to extend to every ordinance. Whether the