A Good Ruler in the Emerging

Trilateral Center


A Good Ruler in the Emerging

Trilateral Center

    When Jonathan Belcher of Massachusetts was commissioned governor of that colony as well as of New Hampshire on December 13, 1729 (see The King Commissions Governor Jonathan Belcher), the New England newspaper later commended the new governor for his wisdom, his faithfulness, and his respect for the people's liberty (see Governor Jonathan Belcher, Champion of Civil and Religious Liberty). After decades of British-born governors, sent over from England to lord it over the twin colonies, the people of Massachusetts and New Hampshire were ready for a governor who wasn't eager to push an imperial agenda. Not only was Governor Belcher "one of them", descended from a line of Massachusetts stock going back to the colony's first Puritan founders, but he also was known as an honest, pious man, sincerely devoted to Jesus Christ and to the advancement of His kingdom above personal worldly interest.

    The people of Massachusetts, facing twin threats of the loss of their colony's charter (a blow to their civil liberties) joined with the potential submersion of their religious liberties underneath a tidal wave of tightly-controlled Church of England hierarchy, welcomed Belcher with open arms as the savior of their Christian commonwealth. The New England newspaper literally rejoiced in anticipation of the new governor's arrival. Jonathan Belcher had rescued the happy commonwealth's liberties and had protected its Christian churches from encroachments made by religious overlords. Determined to be fair and impartial to Church of England and congregational churches alike, Governor Belcher looked forward to the day when sectarian strife would end and Christians would live together in love and harmony as one Body of Christ, as Christ had prayed for. This was in keeping with the Governor's belief that whereas a good ruler should promote Christianity in general, he should prefer no sect or party above another. This was the proper view of "separation of church and state", a view that has been nearly lost in modern America.

    Dr. Benjamin Colman (1673-1747), a leading congregational minister of his day, destined to become a future leader of the eighteenth-century religious revival called the Great Awakening, together with other well-respected ministers in Boston, enthusiastically welcomed Jonathan Belcher as the best choice the king possibly could have made to be New England's governor. Comparing Belcher's appointment to the dawning of the sun dispelling dark clouds of uncertainty hanging over the colony, Colman exulted in the thought that at last a ruler with Christian values would govern Massachusetts. It was Colman's dream, and the happy dream of his fellow ministers, that Jonathan Belcher, of all people, should be appointed their governor, for he was their dear friend and a friend to all true Christians. Colman believed in the Biblical mandate to choose government officials who revered the Lord and followed His laws--and such an official was Jonathan Belcher.

    Sent to Great Britain's Court of St. James to persuade King George II and Parliament not to deprive Massachusetts and Connecticut of their charters (the colonies' constitutions), Jonathan returned home in triumph. He convinced the British court that any accusations made against those colonies by persons prejudicial to American liberty were unfounded, and as a result the king agreed to leave the colonies' charters, together with the people's political and religious liberties, intact. Jonathan demonstrated his ability to follow through and carry out the "good ruler" concept, the Biblically-based idea of what a government official should be.

    Thus Jonathan was sincere when he responded that he accepted the governorship not from self-interest, but from a genuine desire to aid his country, seek its good and the welfare of its people, and promote as much as possible, God's kingdom on earth by favoring Christian churches and (then-Christian) Harvard College. Like Solomon, who prayed for wisdom upon becoming a king, Governor Belcher prayed for God to give him an understanding heart, one able to discern between good and bad. Repeating Solomon's words, and pledging to encourage Christianity, good order, and trade, Jonathan Belcher reiterated his true beliefs, expressing his desire to live up to the characteristics of a "good ruler". It was a view of government Benjamin Colman also shared.

    Colman repeated the governor's own beliefs right back to him when that minister preached a sermon commemorating Governor Belcher's arrival in August, 1730. (See The Arrival of Governor Jonathan Belcher and Ministers' Address to Governor Jonathan Belcher.) Entitled Government the Pillar of the Earth, Colman's sermon contained the words Colman knew his friend would enjoy hearing.

    Colman's theme was this: Government is the pillar of the earth, and God is the pillar of government. The governors and rulers of the earth were God's representatives, and were pillars because history and world events turned upon their actions. Even the actions of one bad ruler could make a difference in world history.

    Christians knew that human nature, by itself, was but a weak reed; rulers needed to depend on God in order to stand and conduct government in a right manner. The definition of good government was one that followed God's laws of mercy and justice, with a correct balance between the two. Any ruler who treated his neighbor as himself and looked out for the good of others was following God's law and thus was a good ruler. Conversely, any government that didn't promote God's values and follow God's law was bad government. And any ruler who followed his own selfish interest to the exclusion of the interests of the people, contrary to God's law, was a bad ruler. Thus "government the pillar of the earth" was a metaphor describing a government official's obligation to maintain impartiality and justice.

    Unlike the current view in some segments of American society regarding "separation of church and state" (that the state should never foster or encourage religion), the Early American view, and hence Governor Belcher's view, of church-state relations was that the good ruler had an OBLIGATION to support and encourage the existence of, and relationship between, government and Christianity. To have a government without Christian values and Christian officials was unthinkable. Thus contrary to some current-day practices, Early American government was NOT hostile to Christianity at all; rather the opposite! Governor Belcher considered it part of his duty to promote Christian values. He believed that government functioned at its ideal level only when it was administered by a good ruler. According to Early American Christians Benjamin Colman, William Cooper (1694-1743), and John Webb (1687-1750), who preached election sermons during the time period of Jonathan Belcher's governorship (including The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate), a good ruler acted like Christ in carrying out his daily political and legal functions. His deeds were Christ-like, and he ran his government the way Christ would run it, so that the government on earth mirrored the Government of Christ.

    "Good ruler" was a title pertaining to anyone in authority; by a "ruler" was meant a governor, legislator, judge, or magistrate. The good ruler was just and upright, a person of integrity, honesty, and the courage to put those qualities into practice. He was also a true Christian, not a hypocrite who professed Christ with his lips but didn't act out the principles of Christ in his life. Rather, he was a man who truly cared for the advancement of God's interests in the world and acted according to the principles God wrote in his heart. He was frank and candid, eager to keep his conscience clean. Moreover, the good ruler was impartial and fair, administering the same justice to all regardless of self-interest, wealth, rank, or influence. A man possessing those qualities was necessarily wise, for respect for God's values was wisdom itself.

    Whereas ideally, good rulers were selected because they possessed the necessary moral qualifications, Early Americans realized that some rulers were chosen for worldly reasons, without regard for their moral views, but rather because they promised to promote the views of a particular party or set of men. Here was the point where the goodness of colonial government could go awry. If the chosen rulers were bad, God would take away their wisdom; the rulers would become spoiled and would spoil the government system. The bad ruler would betray the people's religious and political liberties and even overturn the work of previous good rulers.

    Thus, the state of a colony and its people was determined from the nature of its rulers. And it was such a decline of society that Jonathan Belcher tried his best to prevent. His whole life was spent trying to promote God's values among Christians and society in general. (See, for example, the Proclamations of Governor Jonathan Belcher, Governor Jonathan Belcher Promotes Christianity and Morality, Governor Jonathan Belcher, Champion of Civil and Religious Liberty, Governor Jonathan Belcher Promotes Free Trade and Commerce, Poems about Governor Jonathan Belcher, Governor Jonathan Belcher and Harvard College, Governor Jonathan Belcher: Founder of Princeton University, and The First Biography of Jonathan Belcher.) That's why he was a Christian governor. That's why he was one of the leading Christians of early modern times. That's why he is a Christian hero--an example for us to follow him insofar as he followed Christ.

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