1Pe_2:13-17. 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. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
THE great duty of a Christian minister is, to exalt the Saviour, and to call men to submit to his government. But we must not imagine that this is neglected, when our minds are led to the consideration of human governments, and the duties we owe to them: for there is a manifest connexion between the two subjects; the latter being, in reality, a branch of the former. We cannot truly submit to Christ, unless we yield obedience to all his laws—to those which relate to our conduct in civil life, as well as those which are given to regulate the inmost workings of our souls towards God. And we should be essentially wanting in our duty as Christian pastors, if we did not take occasion, especially from the interesting events of this day [Note: The Coronation of George the Fourth, July 19, 1821. But it might be applied to the King’s Accession, or 30th of January.], to open to you a subject of such great and universal importance. The words which I have read will lead me to shew you,
Our duty in relation to civil government—
Civil government is an ordinance of God—
[It is called, in my text, “an ordinance of man:” and so it is, as far as relates to the particular form of government established in any particular kingdom. In some countries absolute monarchy is established: in our own, a limited monarchy. In some, there are republics; in others, the power is vested in an aristocracy. In fixing the precise mode in which the affairs of any nation shall be administered, the agency of man has been altogether employed: God having never interposed by an authoritative mandate from heaven, except in the case of the Jewish people. The history of our own nation sufficiently informs us, that the changes which take place in human governments are the result of human deliberation, or of human force. Yet, in its original appointment, civil government proceeds from God himself. He has ordained, that man shall not be left in the state of the brute creation, every one independent of his fellow, and every one at liberty to follow the bent of his own inclinations, without any regard to the welfare of others: but that power shall be vested in some for the good of the community; and that every one shall be responsible to that power for his own conduct, as far as the welfare of the community is concerned. St. Paul expressly tells us, that “there is no power, but of God; and that the powers that be, are ordained of God [Note: Rom_13:1.].”]
To it we are to submit, “for the Lord’s sake”—
[Power must, of course, be delegated to a great variety of persons, and in different degrees: and to it, in whomsoever it is vested, or in whatsoever degree, we are to yield that measure of submission which the laws require. We owe allegiance, primarily, “to the king, as supreme;” and, subordinately, to all other classes of magistrates or governors, who are appointed by him for the exercise of his authority in their respective jurisdictions. The obedience which we are to pay may be rendered more easy, or more difficult, by the personal character of him who exacts it: but it is due, not to the man, but to the office; and therefore it must be paid, even though the man who executes the office may be far from deserving the homage he requires. If only we recollect that Nero was the governor of the Roman empire at the time that the Apostle wrote his epistle to the Church at Rome; and that towards him, notwithstanding his great cruelty and his bitter persecution of all who bore the Christian name, the Apostle required all to shew the utmost reverence and submission; we shall see that there is no room for any person to withhold allegiance from the reigning monarch on account of any thing that there may be offensive in his personal character. The words of the Apostle are most decisive on this point: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers; for there is no power, but of God: the powers that be, are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power,” even though it be exercised by a very Nero, “resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation [Note: Rom_13:1-2.].” Nor does this observation extend to the supreme governor alone; but to all, according to the measure of authority that is vested in them: and it is not only from fear of their displeasure that we are to render them this homage, but “for conscience’ sake [Note: Rom_13:5.],” or, as my text expresses it, “for the Lord’s sake.”]
How “the Lord” is interested in our performance of this duty, will appear, whilst we consider,
The grounds and reasons of it—
We are bound to yield submission to civil government because of,
Its being altogether of God’s appointment—
[The institution of government is from him, as has already been shewn. Moreover, the power that is exercised by earthly governors is God’s authority delegated to men, who are constituted his vicegerents upon earth. It is not man therefore, but God, whom we are called to obey: it is God, I say, in the person of the civil magistrate [Note: Num_16:11. 1Sa_8:7. with. Rom_13:4.]. We are to “submit” ourselves to man; “for so is the will of God:” and, in rendering to man the service that is due, we are to consider ourselves, not as the servants of men, but “as the servants of God.”
What need we further than this, to evince the indispensable necessity of submitting to civil government, and of obeying implicitly the laws which are enacted by the constituted authorities of the realm? If we are to obey God in the duties of the first table, so are we in those of the second also: and if, “for the lord’s sake,” we are to submit our-selves to the religious ordinances of God, so are we, with equal readiness, for his sake, to submit ourselves to every civil ordinance of man.]
Its conduciveness to the public welfare—
[Though authority may not always be exerted for the best ends, it is committed to men solely with a view to the public good. It is ordained for the restraining and “punishing of evil-doers,” and for the protection and “benefit of those who do well.” I need not occupy your time with shewing how great a mercy it is to under an equitable and active magistracy, who are engaged in enforcing the observance of the laws. Let us suppose only that the law were suspended through the land for the space of three days, and that every one were left to follow the bent of his own will without fear and without restraint: what misery, even during that short space of time, would pervade the whole kingdom! What scones of rapine, and violence, and lust, and cruelty, would pervade the whole country [Note: An awful picture of this state, when there was no king in Israel, “but every one did that which was right in his own eyes,” may be seen in Jdg_17:5-10; Jdg_19:1-2; Jdg_19:22-30; Jdg_20:1-48; Jdg_21:1-25. A juster picture cannot be conceived.]! Who would not be crying out for the restoration of legitimate authority, and bless God the very moment that he was permitted once more to experience the benefits of civil government? Who would not then feel happy in discharging his duty to that government, by a just payment of tribute and of custom, for the support of the legitimate authorities, and of the public weal? Then should we need no arguments to prove, that partial restraint is universal liberty; and that true freedom can be found only in such an exercise of our powers, as will consist with the freedom and happiness of all around us.]
Its tendency to recommend religion—
[God has special respect to this; as we should have also: “It is His will” that we should fulfil this duty, “that by well-doing we may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” The Jews were generally considered, and with great justice too, as averse to civil government, especially as maintained by heathens. They had received a civil code from God himself: and they could not endure that any thing should be withdrawn from it, or added to it. They had also been under a Theocracy [Note: 1Sa_12:12.]; even their kings being, as subordinate magistrates, appointed by him. They judged, therefore, that all other authority was an usurpation; and they were ready at all times, if possible, to throw off a foreign yoke. This being the known character of the Jews, (though it was in direct opposition to the command which God himself had given them, to “seek the peace of the cities to which they should be carried captive, and to pray for them [Note: Jer_29:7.],”) it was supposed that the same character attached to them after they became Christians, and that, in fact, it was the habit of the whole Christian world. It was in vain that Christians denied this imputation: their enemies were ignorant, wilfully ignorant, of their principles; and continued, in spite of all remonstrances, to load them with this reproach. ‘Now,’ says the Apostle, ‘it is the will of God that you should cut off all occasion for this calumny; and though you cannot hope to convince “ignorant” people, who do not know, and “foolish” people, who will not learn, yet you may, “by well-doing, put them to silence;” and so “muzzle
.]” their ignorance and folly, that they may not be able to open their mouths against you.’
This should be an object near to the heart of all the Lord’s people; and they should labour to accomplish it, “for the Lord’s sake.”]
After viewing your duty in this light, you will be prepared to consider,
The manner in which it should be performed—
It should be performed,
With integrity of mind, as unto the Lord—
[Christians were “free,” and had a right to assert their freedom. But, from what were they free? from obedience to civil magistrates? from those bonds which hold all society together? No: God forbid. They are, in these respects, under the same restraints as all other people under heaven. But, as Christians, they were free from the yoke of bondage, to which they had been subject in their Jewish state; and the command of God to them was, “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage [Note: Gal_5:1.].” In like manner, those who had been converted from heathenism were freed from the various superstitions which, under their former state, they had been bound to observe: and though they should be under heathen governors, yet were they absolved from all allegiance to them in this respect, being now placed under the higher authority of God himself. Daniel, and the Hebrew Youths had done well in resisting the authority that would have kept them from honouring the true God, or have compelled them to transfer his honour to any created object. And the Apostles, when forbidden to preach in the name of Jesus, did well in answering, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you, more than unto God, judge ye [Note: Act_4:19.].” The same liberty is transmitted to us also [Note: That Christians are free from guilt and condemnation, and from the power of sin, is all true; but nothing to the present purpose.]: and from whatever quarter a command may come, to omit what God enjoins, or to do what he forbids, our answer must be, “We ought to obey God rather than men [Note: Act_5:29.].” But we must be careful not to make this liberty of ours “a cloak for wickedness,
.]” and, under pretence of asserting our Christian liberty, to withhold from our civil governors that reverence which is their due. This is an observation of vast importance. There is in the human mind a restlessness and impatience of controul: there is also a proneness to enlarge or contract the bounds of duty, and the consequent demands of conscience, according as interest or inclination may bias our minds. Who does not see this as exhibited in others? and who has not reason to suspect this, as harboured in himself? I am well aware that this is a delicate subject, and especially when promulgated amongst persons who live under a free constitution, and have been taught to venerate the very name of liberty with an almost idolatrous regard. But the caution is the more necessary, on that very account: for, in proportion as we are tenacious of liberty, we are in danger of transgressing the bounds which God has prescribed, and of deluding ourselves with an idea, that we are only exercising the rights of British subjects, when we are, in fact, indulging a restless and factious spirit; a spirit, which, if it were opposed to us, we ourselves should be the foremost to condemn: for there are no persons more ready to cry out against the exercise of liberty in others, than those who are most clamorous for the maintenance of it in themselves. Let the Apostle’s caution, then, be well received, and duly attended to. We are all concerned to “know what spirit we are of,” and to do that only which God himself will approve: and let me not be thought to be advocating the cause of a party, whilst I declare what is really and truly the mind of God. We are greatly exposed to self-deception in this matter. And we have seen it prevailing, to a very awful extent, in this kingdom, not only at the time of the French revolution, but at more recent periods. We have seen religious persons uniting with those who were openly regardless both of God and man, and with an unhallowed zeal countenancing the most lawless proceedings. Surely, if the true character of God’s people be, that they are “the quiet in the land [Note: Psa_35:20.],” these persons would do well to consider whether they are not carried by a partyspirit beyond what Christ or his Apostles ever practised, or ever sanctioned, and whether they would not honour their profession more by attending to the caution given them in my text. And I the rather say this, because religion has of late been grievously scandalized by the departure of multitudes from Christian duty in this particular.]
With an harmonious attention to all other duties—
[In all Christian duties there is a perfect harmony: no one of them is in any degree opposed to any other. In the pursuits of earthly men, it is necessary to check one propensity, in order to indulge another. A man who is ambitious, and yet covetous, must sacrifice, in a measure, his love either of honour or of wealth; because the line he must pursue in the prosecution of the one, must impede him in the pursuit of the other. But the Christian, in the performance of his duties, finds no such counteracting influence: he may serve God in the utmost perfection, and yet not be defective in any duty which he owes to man. Let no duty then be neglected: but, as all are compatible with submission to civil government, so, if performed in their proper manner, they will all contribute to advance, rather than obstruct, the best possible execution of our social obligations.
“Honour all men.” There is no man who does not claim at our hands a measure of respect. Those who excel in wisdom and goodness are doubtless entitled to a larger share. But even the most unworthy object is not to be despised; forasmuch as he was “made after the similitude of God [Note: Jam_3:9.],” and has been redeemed by the blood of God’s only dear Son, and may, for aught that we know, become a child of God, and an heir of his eternal glory.
Yet, doubtless, we must with a more especial affection “love the brotherhood.” The saints, to whatever nation or sect they belong, ought to be dear to us: for with God there is no respect of persons: there is neither Jew, nor Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free; but all are regarded as one in Christ Jesus [Note: Gal_3:28. Col_3:11.].” They are all members of his mystical body, yea, “members one of another [Note: 1Co_12:12. Eph_4:25.]:” and though we are to “do good unto all men,” there is a special obligation upon us to do good unto “them that are of the household of faith [Note: Gal_6:10.].” Towards the world we should feel a love of benevolence: but towards the saints, a love of complacency. We are united to them in the closest bonds; and should “love them with a pure heart, fervently” and intensely [Note: 1Pe_1:22. the Greek.].
We must “fear God” also. Our regards must not he confined to man: they must soar upwards to God; and be fixed on him supremely. We must love man; but not fear him: whereas God must be the object both of love and fear. Nothing under heaven must induce us to displease him. All the creatures in the universe are to be withstood, if they enjoin what is contrary to his revealed will: for his commands are of paramount obligation; and life itself must be sacrificed rather than the least of them be violated by us. If, however, so painful a necessity arise as that of disobedience to an earthly governor, we must shew clearly, in the whole of our conduct, that our opposition is the offspring, not of a contentious mind, but of a pious regard to superior authority.
Together with all this, we must “honour the king.” Whatever is good in him, we must delight to applaud: and, if there be any thing in him of human infirmity, we must readily cast a veil over it, and make due allowance for the temptations with which he is surrounded, and for the weaknesses of our common nature. Viewing him as God’s representative, we must honour him in our hearts; and be ready to shield him against every adversary, and to concur with him in all his endeavours for the welfare of his people. If he appear disposed to exceed the powers which are assigned to him by law, we are not to indulge in strains of querulous invective: for even “against the devil himself would not Michael bring a railing accusation; but temperately said, The Lord rebuke thee [Note: Jude, ver. 8, 9.].” And, if an archangel so restrained the emotions of his mind, much more should we, who are expressly enjoined “not to despise dominion, or to speak evil of dignities.” Whatever methods of redress the constitution prescribes, we may certainly use: but we should use them, not in a spirit of clamourous opposition, but in the spirit of Him “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously [Note: 1Pe_2:23.].”
In a word, we are to maintain an harmonious regard to all our duties; compromising none, forgetting none. We must be conscientiously intent on all; “rendering unto C
sar the things which are C
sar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s [Note: Mat_22:21.].”]
I cannot close this subject better than by desiring you all devoutly to unite with me in the following prayer—
“Almighty God, whose kingdom is everlasting, and power infinite, have mercy upon the whole Church; and so rule the heart of thy chosen servant * * * * * our king and governor, that he, knowing whose minister he is, may above all things seek thy honour and glory: and that we, and all his subjects, duly considering whose authority he hath, may faithfully serve, honour, and obey him, in thee, and for thee, according to thy blessed word and ordinance, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”