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SERMON CXIV,

THE LAW OF GOD.

THE DECALOGUE.

THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT.

DUTY OF SUBJECTS.'

HONOUR

FATHER AND THY MOTHER, THAT THY DAYS MAY UPON THE LAND WHICH THE LORD THY GOD GIVETH

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EXODUS XX. 12.

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In the last Discourse I considered, at some length, the duty of rulers. I shall now go on to examine that of subjects. As a free government is that with which alone we have any practical concern, my observations will be especially referred to a government of this kind. All subjects have, indeed, many duties in common; but there are some which are peculiar to men living under despotic dominion. These I shall not think it necessary to particularize.

Every free government is more or less elective. The privilege of choosing those who are to govern them, is, to every people possessing it, a blessing of inestimable importance ; and, like other blessings, brings with it the corresponding duties. Out of it particularly arises

1. The great duty of free citizens, which is to elect always, as far as may be, rulers possessing the several characteristics mentioned in the preceding Discourse : such as are sincere, just, benevolent, disposed to respect the laws of their country, pious, exemplary, industrious, and thus prepared to select for subordinate offices, whenever vested with the power of selecting, men of the same character.

That such rulers are agreeable to the will of God, and that he has required all Rulers to be such, cannot be questioned. No more can it be questioned, that one great reason why he has required them to be of this character, is the establishment, in this way, of the happiness of the people whom they rule. In every ordinance of this nature God has directly consulted the happiness of his creatures, and has undoubtedly chosen the very best means of accomplishing it. The establishment of national happiness then demands indispensably, that rulers be of this character. But, in the case supposed, the people themselves elect their rulers. They are therefore bound, indispensably, to elect such, and such only, as are agreeable to the will of God, as unfolded in his word; such, and such only, as will contribute directly to the establishment of public happiness.

Every people ought to remember, that in this case the magistracy is of their own creation ; that just such men are introduced into it, as they please ; and that if they are not men of wisdom and virtue, the electors are the sole and blameworthy cause. In the very act of electing weak and wicked men to places of magistracy, they testify publicly to God and the world, that they choose to have weak and wicked men for their rulers. All the evils of a weak and wicked administration of government are, therefore, chargeable, in the first instance and in the prime degree, to themselves only. By what solemn obligations then are they bound to take the most effectual care that those whom they elect be men of acknowledged wisdom and virtue! To choose men of the contrary character is to rebel against the known will of God, to sport with their own happiness, and to hazard that of their posterity. The only part of this subject about which a question will be raised, and the part about which no question can consistently, either with the Scriptures or common sense, be ever raised, is the declaration, that a ruler ought to be a virtuous man. To the question concerning this subject the Scriptural answer is short. “As a roaring lion, and a raging bear; so is a wicked

VOL. IV.

L

ruler over the poor people. This, it is to be remembered, is the decision, not of Solomon only, but of God. Common sense, directed by its own unerring rule of experience, has regularly given the same decision ; and mustered before the eyes

of mankind a long host of tyrants and public plunderers, of profligate legislators and abandoned magistrates, whose names have been followed by the hisses, and loaded with the execrations of mankind. Virtuous rulers, on the contrary, have always, unless in times of peculiar violence and prejudice, been seen and acknowledged to be public blessings. Indeed it may be doubted whether the general proposition now under consideration was ever seriously questioned by a sober man. All the doubts concerning it, all the opposition which it has met with, seem to have arisen in seasons of party and dissension ; from the wish to carry some favourite point, or the desire of advancing to place and power some favourite person.

In the preceding Discourse I have illustrated this subject, in a summary manner, from the political history of Judah and Israel, recorded in the Scriptures. This illustration, corresponding exactly with every other of the same nature, and in the light and conviction which it communicates, totally snperior to them all, deserves to be resumed in this place, and to be insisted on particularly ; much more particularly, indeed, than the present occasion will permit. Every virtuous prince of Judah was regularly a public blessing; beloved of his people; devoted to the advancement, and sedulously engaged in employing the means of accomplishing the actual and extensive advancement of their happiness; the acknowledged object of peculiar Divine favour; the cause, in this manner, for which peculiar blessings descended on his nation; and the honourable instrument of producing a sudden, general, and important reformation, not only in his court, but throughout his kingdom. Whenever such a prince ascended the throne, piety and morality immediately lifted up their heads, and began to find friends, to exert their influence to abash vice, to silence murmurs, to diminish sufferings, and to create, what they always create, public and individual happiness. Such princes also regularly appointed, so far as it was in their power, men resembling themselves to the subordinate offices of government; and thus stationed public benefactors in every corner of their country. For all these reasons, their names, as a sweet memorial, have been wafted down the stream of time with distinction and honour, and have commanded the esteem of every succeeding generation. Such rulers were Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Deborah, Samuel, David, Solomon, before his declension, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, and Nehemiah. Such also were the brave and virtuous Maccabees. I shall only add, that these rulers strenuously defended the country which they governed.

Take now the reverse of this picture. The wicked princes, to whose dominion these nations were at times subjected, blasted both their virtue and their happiness. Ahaz, Manasseh, Amon, and the three last kings of Judah, were malignant and affecting examples of this truth. Weak, as well as wicked, these princes ruined their people at home, and provided no means for their defence against enemies abroad. With an unobstructed and terrible rapidity, the nation which they ruled slid down the steep of declension, and plunged suddenly into the gulph at the bottom.

Still more instructive is the account given us concerning the kings of Israel. Of Jeroboam, the first of these princes, the most dreadful of all characters is communicated to us in this remarkable declaration; that he sinned, and made Israel to sin. A polluted and profligate wretch himself, he converted all around him into profligates; and began a corruption of religion and morals, which, extending its baleful influence through every succeeding age, terminated in the final ruin of his country. The evils introduced by him operated with a commanding and universal efficacy ; and they were cherished and promoted by Nadab his son, Baasha his múrderer, Elah his son, and Zimri his murderer; and by Omri, Ahab, and every one who followed them. By their pestilential example, and under their deadly influence, the nation became abandoned. Truth, justice, and piety sighed their last farewell to the reprobated race, and took their final flight. A nuisance to the world, and an object of the Divine abhorrence, the unhappy nation became lost to every hope of recovery, and was finally given up as a prey to the Assyrian, at that time the general scourge and destroyer of mankind.

It is impossible for any people, with its eyes open, to wish for such rulers as these. When it is remembered, that this testimony concerning evil rulers is the testimony of God himself; that the same causes will always produce the same effects; and that evil rulers were no more injurious to Israel, than they will be to every other people, governed by them; it is plain, that no people can elect such rulers, without assuring themselves, that in this very act they are accomplishing their own ruin. A nation which elects wicked rulers, it ought ever to be remembered, is chargeable, not only with the guilt of being corrupted, as Israel was, but with the additional and peculiar guilt also of originating the means of its own corruption. It not only becomes wicked, but makes itself wicked, by giving to evil men the power and influence which enable them to spread the plague of vice through every part of the political body. What man of common sense and sober reflection can consent to make himself chargeable with these evils ? But it

may be said, that those who elect will often be unable to distinguish virtuous men from such as are not virtuous. I answer, that churches of Christ are also unable to make this discrimination with certainty ; yet, wherever they are faithful and vigilant, they find no serious difficulty in keeping themselves, to a good degree, pure, and safe from gross and unhappy mixtures. I answer farther, that a steady, regular aim, on the part of a whole nation, or other body politic, to choose virtuous rulers, and none but such as are virtuous, will ordinarily accomplish this invaluable purpose. Should it fail in any instance, the nation will still have done its duty. As to extreme cases, such as those in which no virtuous man can be found to fill the office contemplated, they must occur so rarely, as hardly to require rules of direction. It will always be in the power of a people to select from the candidates the best man; and such a selection will undoubtedly answer the demands of duty in a case of this nature. The true difficulty does not lie in our inability to determine who are virtuous men, nor in their want of the proper qualifications for office; but in the want of a fixed and general determination to choose them, in our defective estimate of the importance of virtue to public office, in our preference of other qualifications to this, in party attachment, in personal favouritism, and in gross and guilty indifference to the public good. All these are deplorable prejudices, and palpable crimes; miserably weak, as well as dangerously sinful; fraught with innumerable

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