Zebulon Ely (1759-1824) graduated from Yale in 1779. While at school the British were approaching the city and Ely was sent to fire at them with some other students, he narrowly avoided capture by the British. Ely was a tutor at Yale (1781-1782), and a pastor of a church in Lebanon, CT (1783-1823). This sermon was preached in Connecticut on May 10, 1804.
THE WISDOM AND DUTY OF MAGISTRATES.
PREACHED AT THE
MAY 10TH 1804.
BY ZEBULON ELY, A. M.
PASTOR OF A CURCH IN LEBANON.
At a General Assembly of the State of Connecticut, holden at Hartford, on the second Thursday, of May, A. D. 1804—
ORDERED, That the Honorable William Hill-House, and Hezekiah Ripley, Esquires, present the thanks of the General Assembly to the Rev. Zebulon Ely, for his Sermon, delivered at the Election on the 10th instant, and request a copy thereof that it may be printed.
A true copy of Record,
Samuel Wyllys, Secretary.
AN ELECTION SERMON.
PSALM II. 10, 11, 12.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little: blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
HAPPY for us who possess and acknowledge Divine revelation, the sacred volume contains a portion of instruction suited to every occasion. That now read, it is thought, will not be judged unsuitable to the present anniversary. Happy will the speaker be, if, in the view of its great author, he may be enabled to treat it with propriety. And happy will be the hearer who cordially receives the instruction.
The psalm evidently refers to the Messiah. It begins with a description of his treatment by the heathen, together with the vain imaginations of the people in general. It points out the opposition of kings and rulers, their impatience of the restraint the holy religion of Jesus would lay upon their lusts, with their vain and impious attempts to burst in sunder its sacred bands. It paints in lively colors the derision, in which, Jehovah, highly enthroned in heaven, would hold them, and his unalterable decree to uphold his Son as king of Zion. It declares the rich and glorious portion the Father had designed to bestow upon him, and the omnipotent sway he should maintain over his enemies.
The words of the text are then introduced. They contain an exhortation to kings and great ones of the earth, pointing out their duty with respect both to the Father and the Son, or with respect both to natural and revealed religion. They are exhorted to receive instruction from the Father of lights, to serve the Lord with fear, with sacred awe, with filial reverence of his adorable majesty; and to rejoice in their exalted stations if they do rejoice in them, with trembling, lest through unfaithfulness to their trust, they should fall into the pit.
They are exhorted to embrace the Son as altogether worthy their regard, but, under the slightest tokens of his displeasure, so mighty is his power, they perish from the way of duty and safety, of holiness and happiness in which they ought to walk.
All who repose confidence in him are then pronounced blessed, for he is able to save unto the uttermost.
The instruction contained in the passage may be summed up in the following observation, viz.
It is the wisdom and duty of kings, judges, and of all in authority among men, how exalted soever their stations may be, to serve the Lord and be the friends of Jesus.
It cannot be the design of the text to point it out as their wisdom and duty exclusively, for it is most manifestly the wisdom and duty of all. All men, of whatever rank, condition or station they may be, are bound to serve the Lord; and so soon as they have opportunity to become acquainted with the gospel, they are bound to embrace the Saviour. Since this is the wisdom and duty of all, so of course it must be the wisdom and duty of kings, &c. It seems to be enjoined on magistrates in the text because they had been particularly brought into view in the context, and because from their high stations, through that pride and folly natural to the human heart in its present corrupt state, they might be in danger of losing sight of their dependence and obligations and so of pleading an exemption from the Divine service. Other reasons for this exhortation may be mentioned in the sequel. Surely nothing but pride and folly can lead men so to mistake their standing, their true interest and happiness, since the most exalted, not only of earthly but of heavenly created potentates, must be entirely dependant on Jehovah and owe themselves wholly to their Maker. To plead an exemption from His service therefore is to lose sight of their dependence and obligation as creatures; and such is the nature of his service that to desire to be excused from it, is to prefer bondage to liberty. His faithful servants in all ages can testify that in keeping as well as for keeping, his commandments, there is a great reward.
In farther attending to the subject I shall endeavor, through Divine assistance, to shew what is implied in serving the Lord and being the friends of Jesus; illustrate this to be the wisdom and duty of all in authority among men; and lastly inquire more particularly why this with similar exhortations in scripture is addressed to magistrates.
I. I am to shew what is implied in serving the Lord and being the friends of Jesus.
I join these together because they are joined in the text, and because, under the light of the gospel, they are in their own nature, necessarily connected. Those who truly serve the Lord, living under the light of the gospel, cannot fail of being Christians. Natural and revealed religion are perfectly harmonious, so that a genuine subject of the former, cannot fail of embracing the latter. It is a deception to suppose that men may be good men, that they may be the willing and acceptable servants of the One living and true God, and at the same time reject the gospel. It is in vain to plead that although they cannot admit the evidence of Divine revelation, yet they may possess good hearts, and so perform their duty as to find acceptance with their Maker and Judge. It is a truth capable of rational demonstration, that “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father,” and “that no man speaking by the spirit of God calleth Jesus Accursed.” As the Son is the brightness of the Father’s glory, so revealed religion is perfectly consistent with natural religion, as far as the latter goes. It is hence manifest, that every good man, having the means of knowledge, must be a believer.
These things are not said to cast any personal reflections, or unnecessarily to give pain. Indeed it is charitably to be hoped that in this venerable assembly there is not an individual who would avow the character of an infidel. But should this be the case, as such may obtrude themselves among the sons of God, these things are said to prevent a deception into which they and others may be liable to fall. It is indeed extremely manifest, that whatever specious appearances of virtue, piety and benevolence such may be put one, they are but appearances; they can have no solid foundation.
These things being premised I proceed to shew what it is to serve the Lord and be the friends of Jesus. This implies
1. Supreme love to God.
Love is the fulfilling of the law, the substance of all genuine obedience. As Jehovah is infinitely the most amiable and glorious object in the universe, so it is most reasonable that he should require the heart, the whole heart. Jealous for the glory of his great name He cannot endure a rival. He must have the first place in the affections or he will have no place there. From a view of the perfect moral excellence of his character, or from a sense of the beauty of holiness, the heart must be conquered, the affections sweetly captivated and the desires of the soul go forth after God as the supreme good. The devout breathings of such an one, a magistrate too of the first eminence, are thus expressed, “Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none on earth I desire beside thee. As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God.”
When the heart, the fountain of all moral agency, is thus right with God; when it exercises sweet complacency in his holy character; his holy law, his righteous and perfect government; then obedience will follow of course. Then it will afford pleasure, it will be as meat and drink to keep the commandments of God. To the same purpose the apostle John observes, “This is the love of God that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous.” Love makes all service for the beloved object delightful. Hence arises the liberty of the children of God. Whatever service is pretended to be rendered to the Lord, so long as the heart is withholden and some idol is suffered to usurp his place, it is not that service which can be acceptable to Him who regardeth not the outward appearance, but looketh directly at the heart.
Suffer me just to observe that with this love, evangelical faith and repentance are necessarily connected.
2. That we make the Divine word the rule of our faith and practice.
Since God hath given us his word to this end, we cannot serve him unless we receive and treat it as a complete rule in these respects. In regard to those doctrines which are termed mysterious, they are to be received on the credit of Divine testimony as the highest evidence. To pretend to bring them to the bar of human reason, is to abuse reason; for there can be no plainer dictate of that noble faculty than this, that “God is greater than man”—that our wisdom is folly compared with his infinite understanding.
Besides, should not a revelation from heaven contain mysteries, unsearchable depths, it would not be analogous to the works of God.
The rules given us in scripture to regulate our practice, must surely be observed, or our service can never be acceptable. Those rules are most excellent, they are perfect. They point out our duty, or delineate that conduct which is beautiful and proper, in all relations and circumstances.
They point out our duty as men, as rational accountable creatures, which is summarily comprised in loving God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves.
They point out our duty as sinners in a state of probation, which summarily consists in repentance towards God and in faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.
They point out our duty in all our natural, ecclesiastic and civil relations.
Our text in connection with the occasion, naturally leads us to pay some more particular attention to the last.
Be it then observed, and ever remembered, that the scriptures contain most excellent rules for kings, judges and all in authority among men; and for all their subjects. Surely there are none, however elevated their stations may be, who will disdain to receive instruction from the word of Divine wisdom; unless they are under the dominion of that pride which goes before destruction, and that haughty spirit which precedes a fall.
The advice which the prince and priest of Midian gave to his son-in-law the Jewish law-giver, respecting the choice of rulers, contains a general and excellent description of that character which they should be ever studious to maintain. They should be “able men such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness.” A weak or a wicked ruler is a great judgment on any people. “Woe to thee O land when thy king is a child.” If a ruler be not a man of ability he is liable to become the tool of a party, and of course to sink the dignity of his office. Or if he be willful and obstinate, too wise to be advised, from his precipitate and injudicious measures, great calamity must ensue. If he be a man who doth not fear God and reverence the adorable Immanuel, his measures in connection with the influence of his example, must be expected to operate as poison, diffusing their baneful effects through the community and extending from one generation to another. To demonstrate the truth of this observation by experience, I need only refer you to the instance of Jereboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. Leading the body of the people astray from the worship and service of Jehovah, the pernicious influence of his authority and example, is traced by the inspired penman through the reign of no less than twenty succeeding monarchs. It is extremely obvious that the example of men in high stations is calculated to have the most powerful influence. People in common, naturally look up to their rulers and feel themselves supported by high authority while they imbibe their sentiments and tread in their steps. A ruler who renounces his allegiance to the Supreme King takes the most effectual method to undermine his own authority and introduce disorder in his government. The fountain head of moral influence being thus poisoned, the streams must of course partake of the corrupt tincture.
That a ruler should be a man of truth must be indispensibly requisite to the dignity and usefulness of his high station. How debasing in such an one is prevarication! If his speeches and practice disagree, if he study ambiguity of expression and be guilty of duplicity, what confidence can be placed in him. How detestable is such unfair dealing in one whose words and conduct should all be marked with simple verity; to the end that he may not be misunderstood and that public faith may rest on a firm basis.
That a ruler should be a hater of covetousness is requisite to render him amiable and respectable, a public blessing instead of a scourge. If a covetous spirit have dominion over him, he will be insatiably grasping for himself and his dependants. He will be given to oppression and tyranny. His measures will tend to impoverish and not to enrich a people. But if he be a hater of covetousness, instead of self-aggrandisement and the emolument of a favorite few, his object will be to promote the true interest of the people at large; and every reasonable private sacrifice which he can consistently make to this end will be made by him with pleasure. Around such a ruler the world will smile, and people will rise up and call him blessed. How exquisitely beautiful is the description of such an amiable and dignified character by the pen of inspiration. “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.” Would you behold such a character in real life, look to Job that worthy prince of the east. “When I went out to the gate through the city, when I prepared my seat in the street; the young men saw me and hid themselves; and the aged arose and stood up. The princes refrained talking, and laid their hand on their mouth. When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me; because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing of that was ready to perish came upon me; and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness and it clothed me; my judgment was as a robe and a diadem. I was eyes to the blind and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor; and the cause which I knew not I searched out. And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth.”
Would you behold another luminary of similar luster, look to Moses. How eminently, how faithfully and under circumstances most trying did he serve a numerous, but an ungrateful, rebellious people! How entirely was he devoted to their service, and how gloriously did a regard for their welfare, raise him above all private or party views! For all his laborious and eminent services, what compensation from them did he ever receive? Not that I would insinuate that a public officer should not be honorably rewarded, but these thoughts are suggested to display the noble spirit of a ruler who hates covetousness.
Should I bring the subject home to ourselves, to our own age and nation, might I not point you to that great American leader, who nobly refused any stipends, for his arduous, indefatigable labors; through a long, hazardous, bloody and successful conflict?
Again, good rulers are described by the apostle as not wearing the sword in vain, as a terror to evildoers and a praise to them that do well. Good rulers, by their authority and example, will awe and restrain the wicked, reward and encourage the righteous. When such men are in place, integrity is held in repute and the sacred rites of religion are respected. On the other hand, when bad men are exalted, the wicked walk on every side. Vice comes forth from its dark recesses—Impiety assumes a brazen front, and infidelity dares to blaspheme!
From these with many other descriptions and examples of worthy rulers in sacred writ, those who are exalted to high offices may find their duty most judiciously delineated. By consulting these they will perceive how they are to act their respective parts, so as to claim the honor and reward of faithful servants of the Most High.
Serving the Lord and being the friends of Jesus implies,
3. That we make the glory of God and the good of mankind our supreme and ultimate end.
Acting as rational creatures, as moral agents, some object must be uppermost in our minds, take the lead in our affections, and govern our practice. This object must be either some private, partial good, or it must be the good of the community. By the latter is to be understood the same as the glory of God and the good of mankind. To make any private good our great object, or ultimate end, is to serve ourselves and not the Lord. It is to serve diverse lusts and vanities—It is to be in bondage to sin and Satan. The example of our Saviour and of his followers is directly the reverse. His spirit we must possess and his example we must imitate, or we never can make good our claim to the endearing and honorable character of his friends. Such was his zeal for the glory of God that it is said to consume him. Such were the riches of his good will to men, that for our sakes he became poor that we through his poverty might be rich. These objects combined induced him to leave the realms of glory, to assume our nature, and to go through such an astonishing scene of humiliation and suffering. His friends have each a portion of the same benevolent spirit, and to tread in his steps must ever constitute their felicity and glory.
Those who do thus, who give the all-glorious God their hearts, who make his word the rule of their faith and practice, his glory and the good of mankind their end, they are the servants of the living God, they are the friends of the Saviour. I am
II. To illustrate this to be the wisdom and duty of kings, judges and of all in authority among men, how exalted soever their stations.
To this end the following things may be observed.
1. They cannot possibly place their affections on an object more worthy.
Some objet or other must possess the throne of the heart, the first place in the affections. This object must either be the Creator or the creature. Between these, what an infinite disparity! What object, what creature on earth or in heaven, is worthy to be compared with Jehovah! Look to the Sun, that early and extensive object of idolatry, and it shineth not, compared with the glorious lustre of his character. It is but a beam of his glory. Look to the saints above and holy angels, perfect in his likeness—Truly, they are glorious, but what is their glory compared with His! What is a ray to the Sun!—a drop to the Ocean! Less are all the resplendent luminaries surrounding the throne above, compared with the Father of glory.
Would then the rulers and great ones of the earth shew themselves elevated in their minds as they are in their high stations, let them make it appear that their affections are supremely placed on that Being who is infinitely exalted above every other in the universe.
2. The wisest men and highest potentates on earth can have no better rule than the word of God.
However they may be distinguished by their abilities natural and acquired as well as by their exalted stations; if possessed of that wisdom which is from above, they will realize their need of divine teaching. This will qualify their dignity with the humble docile temper of little children. Candidly perusing the sacred scriptures, they will readily perceive that the system of Theology which they contain, is worthy of God—as much superior to the inventions of men as the heavens are above the earth. While the systems of the most learned heathen are evidently fraught with fable and folly, perusing the sacred oracles they will devoutly exclaim, “a God, a God appears!”
The system of Ethics contained in the scriptures will approve itself to their enlightened understandings as most excellent. The moral rules which they contain are indeed perfect. They point out the path of the most beautiful propriety and extensive usefulness in every condition of life. They shew us how to conduct so as to command respect, and insure happiness.
Hence rulers of every description, whether acting in a legislative, judiciary, or executive capacity, will do wisely to consult the sacred oracles. Enacting laws they will never lose sight of the Divine moral law, and as far as circumstances compare, be guided by the jurisprudence of Israel.
3. Can the greatest men act to a nobler end than the glory of God and the good of mankind?
Every intelligent and wise agent must propose to himself some end of action, nor will he be satisfied with an inferior end, when one more worthy presents itself. Kings and great ones of the earth, to support the dignity of their high stations, should surely act to the noblest end. This can be none other than the glory of God and the good of mankind. Setting up the general good as their great and ultimate object, disdaining to be governed by sinister ends, by selfish motives, they will have the honor and sublime satisfaction of acting in concert with all holy beings. Suffer me to observe.
4. Kings, judges and all in authority among men, however elevated their rank are accountable to God, under his government, subject to his laws. It must therefore be their wisdom and their duty to serve him. They are officers whom the Supreme Ruler, the King of kings, hath in his providence appointed as his subordinate gents, whom he hath called up to high stations, to move in enlarged spheres that they may be more extensively useful. The authority with which they are invested, together with the powerful influence of their example, constitute a great talent with which they are entrusted and for which they must render an account.
Men compared with men, creatures compared with creatures, may claim rank and precedence one of another to a high degree; but compared with the divine majesty, the most exalted must take their place at his foot-stool. And though there should be no power on earth to call them to an account, yet to Him they must be accountable for their every action. They must be strangely deluded by a subtle adversary and a deceitful heart, yea they must be foolishly intoxicated by the pride of life, to imagine the Divine laws are not as obligatory on them as on the meanest of their subjects.
5. By faithfully serving the Lord and being the friends of the blessed Jesus, they will taste the purest pleasure and enjoy the most exalted satisfaction this side of heaven.
Acting to the same end with the blessed God himself, He will make them drink of the river of his own pleasures. They will be little emblems on earth of the great benefactor above, and in a sense, gods among men. As the great benefactor above is continually doing good to countless millions, so they will be diffusing their benign influence through their respective spheres. Respected and beloved like our Washington of immortal memory, they will possess a treasure in the hearts of men of more value than thousands of gold and silver.
Compare the pleasures of wise and virtuous rulers with the pleasures of those who know not the Lord and will not serve him.
Those who are thus placed in exalted stations are generally supposed to have the good things the earth affords at their command. Supposing they have power which they gladly abuse, of consuming the choicest bounties of kind providence upon their lusts, riot and wanton in scenes of festivity and debauchery—Or supposing from their power to gratify the more malignant passions, such as avarice, ambition and revenge, they not only sacrifice the rights, the liberty, the property, the happiness and the lives of individuals and families, but lay whole province waste, desolate flourishing cities and spread devastation far and wide; what are their pleasures, sensual and infernal, compared with the pleasures of those in similar high stations, who fear God and keep his commandments? Who imitate the example of the Supreme Ruler in his government, doing all the good in their power, praising and rewarding those who do well, punishing the wicked, relieving the distressed, being fathers to the fatherless, and causing the widow’s heart to sing for joy? Possessing the benevolent spirit of Him who went about doing good and treading in his beautiful steps, having the confidence, respect and good will of the people, and beholding the happy fruits of their labors; how sweet must be their reflections! Verily, the difference in the enjoyment of these two opposite characters, the benevolent Christian Ruler and the haughty selfish, cruel despot, is like that between brutes and rational creatures. Or rather, between saints and sinners, holy angels and devils.
6. By faithfully serving the Lord and being the friends of Jesus, they will entitle themselves to an ample reward in the world to come.
They will be found among the distinguished, the happy few of the mighty and noble who are called. They will have the rare honor of being crowned in both worlds. They will share largely in the triumphant honors and joys of the last great day. Placed on the right hand of the King, they will have the unspeakable and glorious satisfaction of being thus addressed by Him, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” To each one will He say, “Well done good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Thus removed to higher spheres of usefulness, hey will shine s stars of eminent magnitude in the celestial firmament forever and ever.
III. Let us inquire more particularly why this with similar exhortations in scripture, is addressed to magistrates.
Why are they especially exhorted to serve the Lord and prove themselves friendly to the Saviour? Are their souls more precious than the souls of others, who sustain no such high and honorable office? This is hardly to be supposed. May not the reason be this? Are they not thus addressed by the inspired penman, on account of the regard they owe to their fellow creatures, to those more especially over whom and for whose benefit, they are called to exercise authority? The people are not made for magistrates, but magistrates for the people. It is a sentiment in which all the understanding and genuine friends of liberty will be agreed, that the civil ruler is vested with power, not to aggrandize himself, his own family, connections or party; but to promote the common weal, the good of those to whom his authority extends. For a ruler, how exalted and honorable soever the sphere may be in which he is called to move, to view the people as made for him, and to treat them with a view to self-emolument, is the very spirit of tyranny, ought to be carefully guarded against and eradicated if possible. The contrary sentiment is founded on the second great immutable branch of the Divine moral law, which requires every man to love his neighbor as himself. In conformity with this pure principle the civil ruler is bound to have as much more regard to the good of the community than to any private or partial good, as the former exceeds the latter in magnitude. Hence it is so highly incumbent on those clothed with authority to be good men. The higher the authority with which they are vested, the more important is it that they should be good, because they have so much more power to do good or hurt. The happiness of a people so much depends on a wise and righteous administration, that magistrates have motives to be good peculiar to themselves, and therefore are particularly addressed. For them to be irreligious and immoral is far more criminal than for other men, on whom, little, comparatively speaking, is depending. If they are good, the benefit is small, and if they are wicked, the evil is small, compared with what it is in the case of the ruler. The ruler moves in an extensive sphere, and wide is the spread of good or evil by him occasioned. The consideration of the following particulars may sufficiently illustrate this point.
1. Religious rulers will naturally care and consult for the good of the people. To hold that it is immaterial what the religious principles of a ruler are, or whether he have any or not, is preposterous. One might as well deny all connection between cause and effect through the whole moral world. Or one might as well say, that a man may be a very good man and at the same time a very bad man—that a man may be altogether contracted within himself or wrapt up in a party and at the same time prove as great a blessing to a people as though he were truly benevolent. If it be true that “all men will walk, everyone in the name of his god,” it must surely very materially affect the best interest of a people, whether a ruler be a votary of Jehovah the God of Israel, or of Bacchus, Venus or the Gallic goddess of reason.
Rulers who bear the image of that God whose moral character is all summed up in love, instead of plotting mischief on their beds and devising how they shall render the advantages of their stations subservient to their carnal ends; will be prayerfully exercising their thoughts how they shall magnify their respective offices by promoting the highest good of the community. This they will be disposed to do without noise and ostentation. They will have no occasion or disposition to amuse the people and cover sinister designs with the lullaby of liberty and equality. Conscious of their own integrity they will leave their actions to declare the real sentiments of their hearts, and willingly be judged by their fruits.
2. Religious rulers will enact good laws and execute justice impartially.
In enacting laws they will respect the constitution as the palladium of their rights. They will consult the sacred oracles as containing the fundamental principles of all good government. They will wisely consider the particular circumstances of the people, and they will look to the Father of lights for direction.
In the administration of justice they will be inflexible. They will respect no man’s person. They will disdain a bribe.
How vastly important it is for rulers to be wise and good men on these two accounts, a little consideration will shew. Unrighteous laws and an unfaithful administration of justice tend to unhinge all good order and throw everything into confusion.
3. Wise and good rulers will employ the force of their example for the good of the people. They will consider it as highly incumbent on them to walk in an exemplary manner, not merely for their own sake, but for the sake of the thousands, it may be, millions who are looking up to them. Being so conspicuously exalted, how vastly important must it be that their light should shine. The example of such dignified characters, operates on the common people as a fascinating charm. Since mankind are naturally corrupt, as they have a strong bias to evil, to irreligion and immorality, when their rulers set the example and take the lead in that way, their destruction, according to the usual course of things, is inevitable. If men placed on the eminence of authority who are supposed to have enlarged views, as they ought to have, are known to embrace sentiments unfriendly to the worship and service of Jehovah; it will have a most powerful tendency to leaven the whole lump, to propagate infidelity through the nation. If they indulge themselves in licentious habits, in scenes of intemperance and debauchery, what numbers emboldened by their example, will smoothly glide along the slippery paths of ruin, hardly suspecting themselves in danger.
On the other hand, if men in high stations are known to be the friends of religion, if they are ready to acknowledge God on all occasions, laying themselves low at his foot-stool, if they profess to believe in the scriptures as a revelation from heaven, a complete rule for our faith and practice; it will have a most powerful tendency to bring religion into repute, it will support and encourage its friends and advocates among all ranks, and it will lay powerful restraints on the wicked. On this account then is very great propriety in addressing the exhortation in the text to magistrates.
4. Such a government must meet the approbation and blessing of heaven.
On the character of such rulers, heaven will look down with a smile of complacency. Those who thus honor the God of heaven, the God of heaven will delight to honor. As it is the pleasure of the Supreme Ruler in all proper ways to manifest his love of righteousness and his hatred of iniquity, so he will delight to own and bless the people of such a government. For it is to remembered, as empires and nations as such exist only in this world, so if the high and holy One ever manifest his approbation or disapprobation of their ways, it must be done in the present state.
Let the dispensations of providence towards empires and nations in all ages of the world be examined with respect to this matter, and on that issue let the weight of the argument rest. If it doth not appear that they have generally been blessed or frowned upon according to the character of their rulers, if they have not been blessed when the government hath been friendly to religion and good morals, and in proportion as they have been thus friendly; and if they have not been frowned upon when it hath been otherwise, then this powerful motive for rulers to be good will readily be given up.
There is not time on this occasion to traverse the history of empires. To attempt it would be a trespass on the patience of this audience at large, and a disparagement of the information and good judgment of a number most highly respectable. Suffer me just to refer you to the history of that people recorded in sacred writ, with which a Christian assembly must be supposed to be best acquainted. When a wise and good king was placed on the throne of Israel, one who feared God and believed in the promised Messiah, did not things go well with them, did not the Lord appear to delight to shower down his blessings upon them? On the contrary, when an impious and immoral character was thus exalted, did not heaven frown, confusion and misery ensue?
It hence appears that good rulers are the great medium through whom God conveys his blessings to a people, and that wicked rulers are the rods of his anger, the staff of his indignation. If then the favor of heaven be important to a people, it is of importance that they have good rulers. If a people can be guilty of the amazing stupidity, folly and madness of setting up a government independent of Jehovah (as indeed we have seen in our day) then let them if they please appoint rulers who neither fear God nor regard man. But let them not be surprised when the consequences overtake them, consequences which mock all description—terrible as a storm of vengeance from heaven.
In the review of our subject we cannot but felicitate ourselves, that hitherto since the first settlement of our state, we have been so generally blessed with wise Christian rulers. Our governors, counselors, representatives, judges and those elevated to high stations, have generally professed themselves the disciples of the blessed Jesus. And to the glory of God and the good of mankind they have made it appear that their profession was not an empty name. Firmly believing all scripture to be given by inspiration of God, and to be profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; they have embraced its mysterious and glorious doctrines, not being ashamed of the cross of Christ: and they have had respect to its sacred and perfect rules of practice. From supreme regard to the glory of the Divine lawgiver and the good of the people, they have viewed it their duty to enjoin the religious observance of the Lord’s day, and to make provision for the support of gospel worship and order. They have been convinced to use the words of revered authority, that “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensible supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure; reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Under rulers convinced of the truth of these sage maxims, we have been peculiarly happy, and of this happiness under God we must view them as the prime instruments. In their laws they have respected the Divine law, in their lives, the Divine rule, and powerful has been the force of their example. It is devoutly to be wished we may ever continue to have such rulers. Our salvation indeed depends upon it. Should men of contrary principles, men who fear not God and contemn the gospel of his son, gain the ascendancy in our public affairs and fill the various departments of state; the great pillars of human happiness being removed, a wide spreading ruin must be expected to ensue, a ruin which in addition to all its temporal calamities, with respect to millions of individuals, must extend to the remotest ages of the world to come.
To guard against such evil and to lengthen out our tranquility as far as possible, let all who have the right of suffrage, make a wise use of that inestimable privilege. Let us be guarded against a spirit of party, cabal and intrigue, of pride and ambition, remembering that modesty is ever attached to merit, and that those best qualified for office, are to be sought out instead of thrusting themselves forward. It is well known to have been a trait in the political character of the people of New-England, that for a man to manifest a strong desire for office and to put himself forward as a candidate, has had a direct and powerful tendency to defeat his purpose and sink him in the estimation of the public. It is painful to notice the danger we are in of losing this distinguishing, this honorable political trait. It is in the power of the freemen, by maintaining the unbiased freedom of their suffrages, and by exercising that right with discretion, to prolong its preservation. And surely it behoveth those who call themselves Christians and hope to obtain the approbation of the supreme Judge in the great day, seriously to consider, how they can act in character and maintain their loyalty to the King of kings, in promoting those who are destitute of the requisite qualifications of good rulers as pointed out in the scriptures.
Those who fill the most honorable stations will suffer the word of exhortation from the royal preacher and sweet psalmist of Israel. It is a king and one of the most excellent of kings who, in the text, addresses kings and others in high stations. And this he doth, not in his own name, but in the name, by the authority of the King of kings. The substance of his exhortation is that they serve the Lord and be the friends of Jesus. Ever keeping this in view, they will act in character, adorn the high stations they fill, and diffuse blessings on the world around them, in proportion to their respective abilities and the enlarged spheres in which they move.
While our highly respected political fathers and beloved Christian brethren thus magnify their offices, those of us who have the honor to serve at the altar, will not cease to pray for them, and in the stations in which we are placed, we will stand as sentinels for their good and for the good of the public. Thus co-operating like Moses and Aaron, may we not confidently hope that our American Israel will present a brazen front to her enemies, supported by the mighty God of Jacob.
Do I engage too much on your behalf my reverend fathers and brethren? It is evident I do not. The part you acted in the late great revolution, and the character you have uniformly supported, warrant the assertion. Our sacred rule teaches us to obey magistrates, to render to Ceasar the things that are Caesar’s, and where it is rightly understood and duly observed, it never fails to make good faithful subjects. With rulers, such as have been described our hearts are united. Our views and our endeavors, however the subtlety of the serpent by his agents, may seek to divide us, are generally the same. We wish, by all proper means, to promote the glory of God and the best interest of mankind. While they are called more immediately to consult and act for the secular temporal interest of the people, we have their spiritual immortal concerns directly in view. While we cannot but disapprove an heterogeneous mixture of civil and ecclesiastical power, and condemn the policy which makes religion a state engine for the purpose of subjugation; we approve the idea which makes civil government an handmaid to religion, and cannot but account it a favorable omen, when kings become nursing fathers and queens nursing mothers to the church. A sweet and harmonious union of church and state to promote the general good, must meet the full approbation of heaven. May we, my reverend fathers and brethren, ever act in character, so as to have the entire confidence and powerful aid of all wise and good rulers. May we be enabled to act our part worthily in this day of trial. And may we be quickened by the late repeated and solemn admonitions of God’s holy providence in the removal of one and another of our fathers and brethren in the ministry, whose praise is in the churches. While we deplore the loss of four in this and one in a neighboring state since our last anniversary, let us endeavor to realize that we must soon follow. Let a weighty sense of the high responsibility of our holy office duly affect us; and God of his infinite mercy grant, that we may be prepared to give up our accounts with joy and not with grief.
Beloved citizens, of the commonwealth, we will not yet despair. We will fondly hope that the gracious Providence which hath brought us hitherto and wrought such wonders for us, will still continue to watch over and protect us. He who saith to the proud waves, hitherto shall ye come and no farther, is able to restrain the wrath of man. He who overthrew Korah and his company, is able as suddenly to check their successors. The time will at length come, and there is reason to apprehend it is not far distant, when Jannes and Jambres shall proceed no further.
But whatever, dear Christian brethren, may be the fate of our state and nation, of this one thing we rest assured, that as Christ lives the church shall live also. Consequently with all who sere the Lord and prove themselves the friends of Jesus, we know it will be well. With them it will be well when the empires of this world shall crumble to ruins, and be blown away like chaff before the wind! With them it will be well when the earth shall be dissolved and the elements melt with fervent heat! With them it will be well when time shall be no more.
Finally, with them it will be well while the smoke of the torment of the wicked shall ascend up for ever and ever. Amen.