The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate
"Surely no one can doubt whether the foundation of civil government is laid in Divine institution....": With those bold words, this election day discourse demonstrated the Christian background of Early (Colonial) America. The discourse was publicly delivered in front of Governor Jonathan Belcher and the two branches of the Massachusetts legislature (the Council and House of Representatives) on May 28, 1740--the day for the election of the Massachusetts councilors. The discourse, delivered near the end of Governor Belcher's governorship of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire, was written by William Cooper (1694-1743), who was the associate pastor of the Brattle Street Church, the other pastor being Dr. Benjamin Colman (1673-1747), who had delivered the election discourse Government the Pillar of the Earth at the beginning of Jonathan Belcher's governorship in 1730. Both sermons were written by good friends of Governor Belcher, and both represented his own public policy, also: That a good ruler is the Christian ruler.
Since, taken together, these two discourses span ten years, they show that Governor Belcher encouraged Christianity at the beginning of his governorship, and he still promoted Christianity at the end of his governorship. Note that Cooper's discourse was printed by the government printer at the request of the Massachusetts legislature. This discourse's rhetoric, with its focus on the liberties of the people and resistance to tyrants, set the stage for, and started Massachusetts down the path toward, the rhetoric used during the American Revolution. And this rhetoric was based on the Bible! Later, Cooper's son, Dr. Samuel Cooper (1725-1783), also a pastor of the Brattle Street Church, became a noted patriot who promoted the American Revolution. Governor Belcher heard Samuel Cooper preach in 1751 and enthusiastically approved of him. This public policy added to the Christian background of Early America--the background for the U. S. Constitution's First Amendment.
Notable in William Cooper's discourse--in a section advocating religious freedom--was the phrase "the free exercise of His holy religion". The concept of the "free exercise of religion" showed up later in the "Free Exercise" clause of the First Amendment. So the religious freedom William Cooper and Governor Belcher both advocated was the free exercise of religion--the very right later written into the United States Constitution's First Amendment by a United States founding father. Furthermore, William Cooper did not view promoting Christianity as "establishment of religion"; to the contrary, he thought "CHRISTIAN magistrates must employ their power for the advancement of Christ's kingdom". William Cooper's view of "establishment of religion" was this: "...nor may he [the ruler] extend his power to force article of faith or modes of worship on the consciences of men... ." In other words, the government couldn't force worship. But Cooper strongly disapproved of the notion that freedom of religion meant freedom FROM religion: "Yet we must not run into the other extreme and say that the magistrate has nothing to do in matters of religion," he said. This probably was also the view of the framers of the United States Constitution.
Cooper even actually said
that civil rulers should encourage Christianity and that they should publicly
proclaim the Name of Christ (in public prayers or otherwise): "As they rule
by Christ, so they are obliged to rule for Christ, and
therefore to protect and encourage the practice of His holy religion..."'
"THEY should openly profess the religion of Christ, publicly espouse His
cause, and zealously promote it as far as ever their authority and influence
should reach... ." In his view, government shouldn't even be neutral when
it came to promoting Christianity: "THERE is a war carried on in this
world, between the rightful king and the usurping god of it--between Christ and
Satan--and whoever stands neuter [neutral], magistrates, who are Christ's
officers, must not. If they do, they are traitors to His crown and government...
." Cooper also called for public prayer in all Massachusetts courts. This
was NOT separation of church and state!]
"Surely no one can doubt
whether the foundation of civil government
is laid in Divine
"...Government is from God
as the Author of nature."
"THE BIBLE, therefore, which
is the great statute book of Heaven, must be consulted by the rulers of a
people, and they must frame their administration by the general laws there laid
"TRUE indeed, the care of
souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, nor may he extend his power to force
article of faith or modes of worship on the consciences of men---for conscience
is exempt from every jurisdiction but Christ's. Yet we must not run into the
other extreme and say that the magistrate has nothing to do in matters
"As they [civil rulers] rule
by Christ, so they are obliged to rule for Him, and therefore to
protect and encourage the practice of His holy religion..."
"THEY [civil rulers] should
openly profess the religion of Christ, publicly espouse His cause, and zealously
promote it as far as ever their authority and influence will reach, and should
strenuously set themselves against everything that is opposite to His
"Whatever the 'wise men
after the flesh' may think, the rules of religion steadily pursued by those
entrusted with the public affairs of a people, will be found to conduce more to
the true ends of government, than all the maxims of carnal policy."
"What we have spoken of the
Divine institutions of government, you all understand
to be meant of government itself,
and not of any particular form or model of it--for one is no more appointed by
God than another, but every people are left to judge for themselves, to frame such a
Constitution as may best answer the ends of government for them, and to alter and change
that, too, at discretion, and by common consent."
"We have been saying, GOD
has in kindness to men appointed that they should be governed by men; yet, He
has been too good and kind to leave them to be governed by men according to
their arbitrary will and pleasure. The end of government is the public peace and
safety; when therefore this is neglected, and the ordinance of government only
made an engine of tyranny and oppression; when the Constitution is subverted,
the liberties and properties of the people invaded, their religion and laws made
a sacrifice to the superstition, ambition, or covetousness of the prince that is
over them;...every man is under higher and earlier engagements to the community
in general than he is to the supreme magistrate [ruler]."
"They [rulers] must
not...persecute His [Christ's] saints, silence His ministers, hinder the free
exercise of His holy religion, or do anything that may obstruct the work of the
"The rules of obedience laid
down in the Gospel oblige none to submit to unlawful impositions."
"And though GOD has not
prescribed any one form of government in Scripture, yet He has therein given
general rules to be observed by all that are in government. The civil
magistrate's commission is thus limited by the great Monarch of the world: 'He
that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God' (2 Samuel
"And that they [rulers] may
not be unmindful of the duties of their station, He has appointed another order
of men to be their faithful and humble monitors: I mean, the ministers of
religion. For ministers are as truly the magistrates' teachers, as magistrates
are their governors. And as we must put our people 'in mind to be subject to
principalities and powers, to obey magistrates' (Titus 3:1), so we must put
magistrates in mind to be subject to the Lord Jesus Christ and use their power
in a subserviency to the interests of His kingdom."
[rulers] must employ their power for the advancement of Christ's kingdom."
"And it is our great
pleasure and happiness this day that we can address our Governor in Chief
[Jonathan Belcher] as one who has openly chosen the LORD to serve Him... .
Suffer me then, SIR, to remind you, that you publicly devoted yourself to the
service of the exalted Son of GOD when you had just entered the world in
superior outward circumstances and advantages, and it was great pleasure to your
own and your father's friends, and the friends of religion, then to observe it,
from the hopes it gave them that Christ and His people here would afterwards
have much service from you, by the will of GOD...."
"The honor of Christ and His
interest are very much concerned in Your Excellency's [Governor Belcher's]
conduct and administration. Religion is not in such a state at this day, but it
needs the example of the greatest among us to render it more reputable and
honorable. But while Your Excellency [Governor Belcher] is seen to pay a solemn
regard to the day of GOD, to attend with reverence and devotion upon His public
worship, and to live in the practice of those private and public virtues which
adorn the Christian character, this will go far to prevent its
[Christianity's] falling into further contempt and neglect."
"And here, I think we should
be ungrateful to GOD and Your Excellency [Governor Belcher] if we did not
acknowledge the countenance and encouragement which the religion of the country
has received, under Your Excellency's administration, from your example and
---- William Cooper, The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate (1740)
THE HONORS OF CHRIST DEMANDED OF THE MAGISTRATE.
A SERMON PREACHED IN THE AUDIENCE
OF HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR, THE HONORABLE THE COUNCIL AND REPRESENTATIVES OF
THE PROVINCE OF THE MASSACHUSETTS BAY IN NEW ENGLAND. MAY 28, 1740. THE DAY FOR
THE ELECTION OF HIS MAJESTY'S COUNCIL THERE.
By William Cooper, A.M.
Pastor of a Church in Boston.
Boston, N. E.: Printed by J. Draper, Printer to His Excellency the Governor and Council,
for J. Edwards and H. Foster,
At a Council held at the Council Chamber in Boston in Thursday, the 29th day of May, 1740.
Ordered, That Jacob Wendell and Richard Bill, Esqrs., give the thanks of this Board to the Rev. Mr. William Cooper, for his sermon preached yesterday before the General Assembly, and that they desire a copy thereof for the press.
Attest. Simon Frost, Dep.
Psalm 2:10-12: "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."
This anniversary day which is now returned upon us may very well be called a "day which the Lord hath made" (Psalm 118:24), inasmuch as He has given us the happy occasion of it by putting our fathers [in their current positions] and continuing us in the possession of those invaluable privileges [the right to elect government officials], the exercise whereof is the proper business of the day. And if we, and our people, do not rejoice and show ourselves "glad in it" with a religious as well as civil joy, our stupidity and ingratitude will be an evidence [of] how unworthy we are of the favors of Heaven wherewith we are distinguished.
We again see the princes, the legislators of the people, even the people of the God of Abraham, gathered together, not only in the State House to dispatch the public business, but [also] in the Lord's house to pay Him their public homage and to learn their duty to Him "by inquiring in his temple" (Psalm 27:4). And since "the shields of the earth do belong unto God", it is fit He should in this way be exalted by them.
Our present rulers desire this public day may continue to wear the garb of religion, not only out of custom and in conformity to the practice of their ancestors, but, we trust, from a sense of duty and because they inherit a good measure of the same spirit of piety and devotion which was the distinguishing glory of the fathers of our country.
I know Your Excellency [Governor Belcher] and the honorable Councilors, who have ordered me into the sacred desk [the pulpit] on this great occasion, don't expect...from me either an address of compliment [empty flattering] or a lecture in politics, both of which are as distant from my genius [talents] as they would be disagreeable to my character. That which you have called me to, as a Gospel minister, is to direct you from the Word of God and remember [remind] you of your duty as Christian magistrates [rulers], which I shall accordingly endeavor, by Divine help, with all fidelity and a proper deference. And I don't know how I can better do this than from the solemn passage I have just read [which means this]: If then you [have] come together to "hear what God the Lord has to say unto you", the message brought you in His Name, by the unworthiest of His ministers, is this: "Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the SON lest He be angry, etc."
The Psalm of which this text is the close, is a prophetic discourse [about] the Kingdom of the Messiah. It foretells the opposition which would be given to that kingdom when it [would] be set up in the world. Though the laws of this kingdom and the administration of it are [in] every way suited to make the subjects [of it] easy and happy, and the nature of it is such that if it did universally obtain [prevail], it would make the kingdoms of this world resemble the Kingdom of Heaven--for it consists in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Yet such are the prejudices of men that they not only refuse to become the subjects of this kingdom themselves, but do their utmost to prevent its establishment and spread in the world. And this opposition is general, made by all sorts of persons--not only the common [sort], from whom little better is to be expected, but [also] the kings and rulers are engaged in it, as if they thought the reign of Christ would eclipse their glory and diminish their authority. These back their strength and power with policy and counsel: "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us (Psalm 2:2, 3)".
But for the comfort of all those who have heartily espoused the interests of Christ and are the faithful subjects of His kingdom, the vanity and unsuccessfulness of this [worldly] opposition follow [the world's attempts at thwarting Christ's kingdom]. Their attempts will certainly be defeated, and their counsels baffled, however confident they may be of carrying their point. The Most High controls their rage and derides their folly. "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision" (Psalm 2:1, 4). For the thing they attempt is not only unlikely, but impossible. The Kingdom of Christ is better established than any of the monarchies of the world. It is founded upon an irrevocable decree of God the Father, from which He cannot recede in point of honor. This eternal purpose and resolve, which lay hidden in the Divine counsels from the days of eternity, is published with solemnity. "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree; the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession" (Psalm 2:6, 7, 8). No, the opposition will issue [result] not only in a vexatious and shameful disappointment, but in the dreadful, utter and irrevocable ruin of all who are in the cursed confederacy. The honors of this Divine King will be sufficiently vindicated, and they who would not submit to His gracious scepter shall be broken with His iron rod. "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potters vessel" (Psalm 2:9)--so suddenly, easily, and irreparably.
Now our text is the application of all this by way of counsel and admonition to persons of the highest rank and order in the world, as [those] more especially concerned in it. And here we may observe, 1. The persons to whom the counsel is addressed; 2. The counsel that is given them; and 3. The arguments and motives with which it is enforced. These three divisions of the text may be the general heads of our discourse. And, if I mistake not, they will furnish us with matter proper for this occasion and naturally suggest to us such weighty things [that] will concern every person of whatever degree or station in this large assembly.
1. The first thing then that falls under our observation is, The persons to whom the counsel in our text is addressed.
And these are the kings and judges of the earth. That is, sovereign princes and their under-officers; all magistrates [rulers], both the supreme and the subordinate; those who have the legislative [i.e., legislators], and those who have the executive power [i.e., governors], in the government of any people.
The office of the magistracy is here supposed [to be] the institution of government...for some persons are here addressed as vested with authority and rule [i.e., government officials].
Nothing in the world is plainer than this: That it is the mind and will of God that there should be magistracy [government] in the world, that men should be governed by laws and polity, and [that men] should be kept in order by this means.
Surely no one can doubt whether the foundation of civil government is laid in Divine institution who but reads, without a comment, such texts as these: "By me kings reign, and princes decree justice: By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth" (Proverbs 8:15, 16); "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: The powers that be are ordained of God." (Romans 13:1-2); "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God...." (1 Peter 2:13-15).
And this is the dictate of reason, as well as the voice of Scripture. The very light of nature gives a sufficient indication of the mind of God in this matter--for all nations, [no matter] how barbarous [what]soever, have united in some kind of government or other for their common peace and safety, nor can any number of men continue [for] any time without [having] something of law and rule [law and order], which shows that government is from God as the Author of nature.
But how necessary is government, even in the severer restraints of it, for man in his present fallen and corrupt state! To how much greater a height would wickedness rise if there were none to be a "terror to evildoers"! If all men were left to their unrestrained liberty, what an uncomfortable and dangerous place would this world be! What vexatious and uneasy companions would men be to one another! And how would this earth resemble the Hell of the damned! They who now enjoy the pleasures and advantages of society would be ready to wish they could dwell solitary [in solitude] in the wilderness. And good men more especially would have reason to utter David's complaint with a heavy accent [with emphasis]: "Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!" (Psalm 120:5). Among a people rude and barbarous, hateful and hating, governed not by reason and religion, but only by will and lust.
Therefore, God's good will to men and concern for their happiness appears next to the Gospel and the ministry of it in the institution of magistracy [civil government]--His appointing [determining] that men in their present state should be governed by men. If the world was to be constantly governed by God in a more immediate way by a voice from Heaven and such terrible appearances of the Divine Majesty as those on Mount Sinai, when He delivered His law to His people Israel,...this would not so well agree with that state of probation the world is now in, in which men are to "walk by faith and not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).
The people of Israel found this [out] by experience in the day when God promulgated His law to them in a way suited to His own majesty and greatness. They could not bear it. They were [stricken] into such amazement and terror as to make it their humble request that He would please to go into a method of government more suited to spirits in flesh and that they might no more hear the voice of the Lord, lest they should die (Exodus 20:19). And God granted their request and in condescension to their weakness and infirmity when the government over Israel was a theocracy, he used the ministry of men in the management of it. Truly, the accurate wisdom and compassionate goodness of God are seen in governing as well as teaching us by men like ourselves.
This does not indeed lessen [our] obligations to obedience, for "he that despiseth, despiseth not man but God". But it is a very good reason why we should make favorable allowances for the defects and failings of rulers. They are "but men", of the same make and constitution with others, of like passions and appetites, under all the weaknesses and corruptions of human nature since the Fall, and beset with the like...temptations. We should not therefore place an undue confidence in them, nor expect too much from them. To be sure, a perfect conduct and administration we must not look for. And their mistakes and mismanagement, whether in private or public life, should not be too severely censured. To pray more for rulers and talk less against them would many times be a better way to get some things amended.
I don't mean that, out of reverence [for] authority, we should resign [give up] common understanding [our common sense] and the public interest, to men in power, nor would I be thought to deny the right which every private man, as he is a member of the body [community] and his interest is involved in that of the public, has to judge of the conduct of public affairs. No, I am too deep in the principles of liberty to mean anything like this. But this I say: The censure of rulers should be in matters of which we are able in some good measure to form a judgment, upon things apparent and where facts may be compared together, and [it should be] always managed with decency and tempered with charity [goodwill]. Nor should we presently vote those to be ill [bad] men, enemies of their country, regardless of its interests, or designing its ruin, who don't judge with the populace [i.e. agree with the majority of public opinion] or go into the measures which others think best. For persons equal in integrity and love [for] their country may judge very differently about the public interests.
What we have spoken of the Divine institutions of government, you all understand to be meant of government itself and not of any particular form or model of it--for one is no more appointed by God than another, but every people are left to judge for themselves, to frame such a Constitution as may best answer the ends of government for them and to alter and change that, too, at discretion and by common consent.
Of the various forms of civil government which are in the world, some are undoubtedly much better than others, and it is a greater happiness to live under one than another of them. The consideration of this should make us thankful for our privilege as ENGLISHMEN, which is to live under the happiest Constitution in the world, if compared in its proper lineaments with other governments. For as was justly observed by a noble patriot of the last age (Lord Delamere), "This government has as it were extracted the good of all other constitutions, having avoided the two extremes of tyranny and an unbounded liberty; no government under the sun being so exact a piece of symmetry, having no nicely poised the prerogative and property that they are mutually assistant of each other."
And if we consider ourselves as NEW ENGLISHMEN, our obligation to thankfulness rises still higher--for we enjoy not only the immunities and liberties of natural subjects born in the realm of England, but have some additional ones granted and affirmed to us by a Royal Charter, which is as a hedge about our dearest and most valuable interests. So that none with more justness and greater propriety than ourselves can use those thankful words of the Psalmist: "The lines are fallen to us in pleasant places, yea we have a goodly heritage" (Psalm 16:6). May there never be among the sons of New England any such profane person as Esau, who despised and "sold his birthright"! (Hebrews 12:16).
We have been saying, GOD has in kindness to men appointed that they should be governed by men, yet He has been too good and kind to leave them to be governed by men according to their arbitrary will and pleasure. The end of government is the public peace and safety; when therefore this is neglected and the ordinance of government only made an engine of tyranny and oppression; when the Constitution is subverted, the liberties and properties of the people invaded, their religion and laws made a sacrifice to the superstition, ambition, or coveteousness of the prince that is over them; when this is really the case, as it has been in our own nation, doubtless the remedy is left in their own hands, and every man is under higher and earlier engagements to the community in general than he is to the supreme magistrate [ruler].
He who has freed His people from their spiritual taskmasters has not left them under the power of earthly tyrants. The rules of obedience laid down in the Gospel oblige none to submit to unlawful impositions. It is mentioned to the reproach of Issachar that the men of that tribe wanted the true spirit of liberty...(Genesis 49:14,15).
And though GOD has not prescribed any one form of government in Scripture, yet he has therein given general rules to be observed by all that are in government. The civil magistrate's commission is thus limited by the great Monarch of the world: "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God" (2 Samuel 23:3).
And that they may not be unmindful of the duties of their station, He has appointed another order of men to be their faithful and humble monitors: I mean, the ministers of religion. For ministers are as truly the magistrates' teachers as magistrates are their governors. And as we must put our people "in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates" (Titus 3:1), so we must put magistrates in mind to subject to the Lord Jesus Christ and use their power in a subserviency to the interests of His kingdom.
This leads us to the second thing to be considered in the words, which is:
2. The solemn counsel here given to earthly rulers of all degrees: "Serve the LORD"; "Kiss the SON".
The same Person is here meant by the Lord and the Son, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ, God-Man, Mediator.
The duty required is expressed [in] two ways. They must serve Him, as [do] those who are in subjection to Him, in all the instances of devotion and obedience.
I take the words to be comprehensive of the duty of rulers in their double capacity--the private and the public--as Christians and as magistrates [rulers].
1. RULERS are, as men and as Christians, obliged to the general service of Christ, in common with others. And the service of Christ includes in its real inward religion and practical Godliness in all the parts of it.
A Servant of Christ is one who has parted with his old masters, fallen off from his allegiance to and renounced the service of those other lords which "have had dominion over him" --Satan and the world (Isaiah 26:13). He [the Christian ruler] has actually submitted to the government of the Lord Jesus Christ, "taken His yoke upon him", and sworn allegiance to Him (Psalm 119:106). . ...He obeys all His laws and makes His will the rule of all his actions, how contrary [opposite] [what]soever to his own will or humor [inclination], ease, or interest.
MOREOVER, he follows his Divine Master's example and desires to copy the life of the holy Jesus into his own and will follow no man, of what name or figure [status] [what]soever, any farther than he sees him to follow Christ (1Corinthians 11.1).
The servant of Christ does also resign [give up all] to His conduct [in favor of Christ's lifestyle] and is determined to "follow the Lamb whither soever he goes", and not to "turn away from following after him", whatever opposition and danger may be in the way.
Once more, a true servant of Christ makes the glory of Christ his chief and governing aim, and, both habitually and actually, directs his actions in the best manner he can towards this great end. It is his highest ambition to please his Master in Heaven, and he will make all lower designs [all lesser plans] give place [give way] to this. He pursues His [Christ's] honor and approbation in every relation wherein he stands, in every station he fills, and with every talent committed to him. And in this he "labors, that whether present or absent", both in this world and the next, he "may be accepted of Him"...and then it's "a small thing with him to be judged of man's judgment"
(1 Corinthians 4:3).
We may collect from it [tell from this], how great a thing it is to be a Christian indeed! And [it is] the reason we have to fear that Christ has but few true and real servants among those who wear the Christian name and take upon them[selves] the Christian character. .
Now, kings and judges are as strictly bound to serve the Lord in all the instances of personal religion and practical Godliness as any of their people. For there is the same Lord over all, who stands in the same relations to them that He does to others, as Creator, Lawgiver, and Judge (Romans 10:12). There is the same infinite distance between Him and them, that there is between Him and the lowest of their subjects. They are under the common obligations of Christians by their birth in and baptism into the Christian Church and their profession of the Christian religion. They must be saved, if ever they are so, upon the same terms and in the same way that others are. In matters of religion, in the concerns of salvation, they are without privilege or dispensation. The Gospel makes no distinction between them and others in these things, but the commands of it are addressed to them in common with persons of lower degrees in life. "Hear this all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world: Both low and high, rich and poor together" (Psalm 49:1, 2). "Kings of the earth and all people, princes and all judges of the earth. Both young men and maidens, old men and children; let them praise the name of the Lord" (Psalm 148:11, 12, 13).
If there is any difference, these are more strictly bound to observe the laws of Christ than others because the eminence of their station will make their conversation to be the more observed, and their example will be like to have the greater influence upon [their people]. "A city set upon a hill cannot be hid", was our Savior's observation, and He made it for the sake of that exhortation and charge which follows: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:14, 16).
2. RULERS are to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in their public capacity and in the exercise of their office as magistrates [government officials]. And it is in this capacity more especially that our text addresses them. And so they are to consider themselves as Christ's ministers and stewards, placed in their stations to serve Him and His interests.
THEREFORE, they must not seek themselves and their own things to the neglect of the things of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:12-21). If they are covetous and self-seeking and aim at nothing but gratifying their own ambition, raising themselves and families, enlarging their honors and estates, this is not to serve Christ, but to serve themselves of him [at His expense and in His name], and to [degrade] their high office to low ends.
Much less must they carry on any cross designs [malevolent plans] or do anything in opposition to His [Christ's] kingdom or that may damage His interests. They must not therefore persecute His saints, silence His ministers, hinder the free exercise of His holy religion, or do anything that may obstruct the work of the Gospel, as the rulers of the Jews did when they imprisoned the professors [practitioners] of Christianity and forbade the Apostles to preach in the Name of Jesus.
They [rulers] must make no laws that are repugnant to, or inconsistent with, the settled laws of Christ's kingdom. For although GOD has given this power to all kingdoms and nations to make laws for the better support and government of themselves, yet He has not given them leave to repeal any of His own laws, nor to enact anything contrary to them. It is usual for a prince, when he grants a charter to a city or company within his dominions, and to give power therein to make by-laws for the management of the affairs of that community, provided they be [in] no way repugnant to His own or the common laws of His kingdom--if they be, they are null from the beginning. And so are those laws made in any particular kingdom of the world, if they be in the least contrary to any of the common laws of the world, those which the King of kings has made for all mankind--both kings and people to observe. In such a case, the general law is that "we must obey GOD rather than man" (Acts 5:29).
THE BIBLE therefore, which is the great statute book of Heaven, must be consulted by the rulers of a people, and they must frame their administration by the general laws there laid down.
...those in government over GOD's people should acquaint themselves well with His holy Word and should have an inviolable regard [for] the laws of Christ in the whole of their administration.
MOREOVER, CHRISTIAN magistrates [rulers] must employ their power for the advancement of Christ's kingdom. They are in a lieutenancy to Christ, and so they are to concur with Him in carrying on the same design for which all power is given to Him, both in Heaven and Earth (Matthew 28:18).
TRUE, indeed, the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate [civil ruler], nor may he extend his power to force article of faith, or modes of worship, on the consciences of men--for conscience is exempt from every jurisdiction but Christ's, and He alone must reign there. Yet we must not run into the other extreme and say that the magistrate [civil ruler] has nothing to do in matters of religion.
As they rule by Christ, so they are obliged to rule for Him, and therefore to protect and encourage the practice of His holy religion, to guard and defend GOD's sacred Name, day [Sunday], and institutions from the insults of those who would openly profane and trample upon them, and to restrain and punish those vices and immoralities which are as contrary to the laws of Christ as they are to the welfare of societies--for the very end [purpose] of their office is the "punishment of evildoers, and the praise of them that do well" (1 Peter 2:14). And this is the design of their institution [government], that under them we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty (1 Timothy 2:2).
In a word: THEY [the rulers] should openly profess the religion of Christ, publicly espouse His cause, and zealously promote it as far as ever their authority and influence will reach, and should strenuously set themselves against everything that is opposite to His interest, against the works and kingdom of the devil which our blessed Savior came into the world to destroy (1 John 3:8).
THERE is a war carried on in
this world, between the rightful king and the usurping god of it--between Christ
and Satan--and whoever stands neuter [neutral], magistrates, who are Christ's
officers, must not. If they do, they are traitors to His crown and government
and must expect from Him the highest resentment and the severest punishment.
Which leads us to the third and last thing observed in the Words:
3. The arguments and motives with which the Divine counsel here given to the kings and judges of the earth is enforced.
WISDOM is a very requisite qualification in rulers. Without this they will make but a poor figure, and both their persons and authority fall into contempt. Now, to serve the Lord, "Behold! This is wisdom". When rulers do this, they engross all the rules of policy into one. For, this is the way to have the presence of Christ with them in their administration, to direct their counsels, and succeed their endeavors for the public good, without which their own policy and power will be in vain, the wisest schemes will be baffled, and the most promising enterprises defeated. Whatever the "wise men after the flesh" may think, he rules of religion steadily pursued by those entrusted with the public affairs of a people, will be found to conduce more to the true ends of government, than all the maxims of carnal policy. "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" (2 Samuel 23:3-4)--i.e., the religious ruler will be a great common and extensive blessing, like the light and rain of Heaven.
THIS is also the best way to secure and exalt their own character. For, if a serious and strict regard to religion runs through their conduct, both in private and public life--if they appear to act in the fear of God, and with a governing view to the honor of Christ--this will certainly make them look more great and venerable in the eyes of the people than any shining titles or glittering badges of honor which they wear. This will procure them not only outward but inward reverence. When piety is found in conjunction with greatness, the person shines with a diviner luster, and the authority wherewith he is vested strikes into a greater awe and more powerfully constrains submission and obedience. So "Joshua was magnified in the sight of all" Israel (Joshua 4:14).
THUS they will be likely to sit easy in their posts of honor, not only from the consciousness of their own integrity, which will always give them inward peace and raise their minds above the censures and clamors of ignorant and disaffected persons, but also from the acceptance which their faithful endeavors will find among the generality of their people. For as bad as the world is, "when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice" (Proverbs 29:2). Common people, and even vicious people, are under such a conviction of the excellence of virtue and religion that they can't but take satisfaction when they see it exalted to great dignity.
MOREOVER, this is the most likely way for them [rulers] to be established and continued in their authority and to have their public opportunities and advantages lengthened out by that GOD in whose bond their times are. For it stands in the Book of GOD as an argument why the king should above all things mind religion: "To the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom" (Deuteronomy 17:20).
The title and character of "Lord" given to Christ in the text suggests to us these following reasons why the kings and judges of the earth--rulers of all degrees--should serve Him:
1. He is the Lord, and so their authority is derived from Him. It is so with respect to the Constitution of government itself--for dominion and rule are His appointment in the world--the original of power is from Heaven... . In whatever way, by whatever means and methods, men are advanced to their several stations, the Providence of the Lord Jesus Christ is to be acknowledged and adored therein. For "both riches and honor come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all" (1 Chronicles 29:12). We many times see strange and unexpected turns and are surprised at the sudden disgrace of some and elevation of others, but we should consider that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:17). *** This is a great truth respecting GOD's providential government of the world, which the Psalmist has instructed us in: "Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south: But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another" (Psalm 75:6, 7). When there are candidates for an election in the post of government, and a struggle among the electors, the King of the world sits umpire and in a powerful, though invisible, way determines the matter so as to bring about His own counsels and serve His own purpose. "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD" (Proverbs 16:33). This is a good reason why they who are in public stations should serve Christ in them--because He has placed them where they are.
2. He is the Lord, and so their authority is dependent on Him. They are dependent on Him as to the exercise of their rule. He has not given them an absolute power, but restrained and limited them by certain general rules and instructions to which they must conform. The glory of His supremacy He will not give to another. And they are also dependent on Him as to their continuance in their authority. They hold their places only during [His] pleasure. He that gave them their commission, can revoke or supercede it whenever He pleases.
3. He is the LORD, and so their power is in subservience and subordination unto His (Romans 13:6). They are called "His ministers." Whatever power they have it is but ministerial, and in order to serve. .*** The honor and power of rulers do not terminate in themselves, as if the design of GOD in the institution of magistracy [government] was only to gratify a few particular men by raising them above the common rank and putting them into authority for their persons' sake and only to make them look great. No! His end is the service that is expected from them to GOD and man, the church and the world. And the dignity is affixed to the person as an encouragement to, and a necessary means of, doing that service. Their places and offices are given them with reference to the duty expected from them. And he is an unworthy servant who, when his Master has put him into an honorable office and given him large encouragement to be faithful in the business of it, only grows proud and insolent and becomes regardless [heedless] of the Master's honor and negligent of His service.
4. RULERS, as well as others, must appear before the Judgment of Christ to give an account, as well of their public as of their private life. *** And here surely is a powerful reason why they should endeavor to acquit themselves as good stewards....
The kings and judges of the earth must not think themselves above the resentment of Christ, or too big for Him to deal with. He will be angry with them as soon as with others, and they will be as little able to stand before His indignation. Whatever prerogatives [power] they may lay claim to here, they will be of no service to them in the day of death and the Day of Judgment. *** [He will]...execut[e] His righteous displeasure against them if they refuse to honor Him now--for in proportion to the talents which men have neglected or misimproved in this world will be the degrees of wrath inflicted on them in the next.
[On the other hand], [t]he happiness of this submission [to Christ is]: BLESSED "are all they who trust in Him". *** In a word, all they who have ruled for Christ in their several orders of government shall at the consummation of all things "reign with Him for ever and ever", set down with Him on His throne, even as He is set down with His Father on His throne. An honor and blessedness this, ineffable, inconceivable! What an incentive is this to the men of ambition who seek and court honor! But, oh! Where is the faith of it? The thing is future and invisible; therefore few believe it and seek after it, though it be not the less real and certain.
1. In the first place, let the counsel of Heaven which has been given be acceptable to your EXCELLENCY [Governor Belcher], to whom with a most respect it is now addressed.
AND it is our great pleasure and happiness this day that we can address our Governor in Chief [Jonathan Belcher] as one who has openly chosen the LORD to serve Him, and that in the way of these churches. Suffer me then, SIR, to remind you that you publicly devoted yourself to the service of the exalted Son of GOD when you had just entered into the world in superior outward circumstances and advantages, and it was with great pleasure to your own and your father's friends and the friends of religion then to observe it--from the hopes it gave them that Christ and His people here would afterwards have much service from you, by the will of GOD: And doubtless you look upon your covenant obligations to be strengthened by the honors to which Christ in His Providence has since advanced you.
A servant of Jesus Christ is a character which kings and governors have no reason to be ashamed of--a title which they should be ambitious of [attaining]--for it will be found [to be] their truest honor when all the glory of this world shall vanish like a blaze in straw, and will turn to their greatest advantage when all the prerogatives [powers] they were possessed of here will be forgotten and useless.
The honor of Christ and His interest are very much concerned in Your Excellency's conduct and administration. Religion is not in such a state at this day, but it needs the example of the greatest among us to render it more reputable and honorable. But while Your Excellency [Governor Belcher] is seen to pay a solemn regard to the day of GOD [Sunday], to attend with reverence and devotion upon His public worship, and to live in the practice of those private and public virtues which adorn the Christian character, this will go far to prevent its falling into further contempt and neglect.
ESPECIALLY if together with this, the honors of the government, which are so much at Your Excellency's disposal, are conferred on true piety and not given in course or out of compliment. I humbly conceive Your Excellency cannot give a better sanction and security to the religion that remains among us than by the wise distinction in your commissions. And here, I think we should be ungrateful to GOD and Your Excellency if we did not acknowledge the countenance and encouragement which the religion of the country has received under Your Excellency's administration, from your example and authority here.
PROVIDENCE has placed Your Excellency [Governor Belcher] over a people who stand in a special relation to Christ and are a distinguished part of the lot of His inheritance. And all your faithful services to them, He will accept as done to Him. For I trust we are still beloved for our fathers' sake and for the sake of a precious number through the land who are yet faithful with the saints.
THEY are also your own people, and, as you have been pleased to say of them, "Bone of your bone", and "flesh of your flesh". And we may suppose the intenseness of your native affection [for New England, your native land] is increased by the public relation in which you have so long stood to them.
And suffer me to say, Sir, the distressed state of this people at this day loudly calls for your paternal compassion, your wise councils, and best endeavors for their relief. Their case resembles that of the Jews in the time of Nehemiah, and like them they look to their governor for help and redress.
IT may be, many think it is more in our Excellency's power to gratify and ease them, than it really is, and do not enough consider the restrictions you are under.
BUT you will at least discover [reveal] your tenderness for them in your speeches from the [the governor's] chair and representations of their state to the government at home [England], and even become an intercessor for them, as in your wisdom you judge you can serve them. This cannot fail to engage them to you more and more in duty and affection.
IF now I have gone too far in what I have said, I must rely on your...goodness to forgive me. The Searcher of hearts knows it proceeds, as from an ardent affection [for] my dear country, so from a sincere personal regard [for] Your Excellency, and an unfeigned desire that Your Excellency may long sit easy in the chair of government, and this people sit with delight under your shadow.
YOUR power, honor, and
influence, employed for Christ and for His people, this, SIR, will be a crown
which no man can take from you. This will give you undisturbed serenity in a
recess from the cares and burdens of government, and cause the blessings of an
obliged people to follow you into retirement--or it will brighten the shades of
death to you and carry you from the chair of government to the sepulcher of your
fathers with the public praises and lamentations and will finally give you a
blessed part in the noble triumphs of the saints of the Most High... .
2. LET this Word of God be in the next place addressed with all decency to the honorable His MAJESTY'S COUNCIL and the honorable House of REPRESENTATIVES, this day in General Court assembled. *** AND here I would first of all apply myself to you as having the power of election to be exercised this day. *** It is an affair of no small importance you are to transact this afternoon: To elect His Majesty's Council for the Province [Massachusetts]. These, in the frame of our government, do, as it were, stand between the king and the people, both of which do in a sort meet in them, and while they are to guard the prerogative [rights] of the one, they are to preserve the privilege [liberty] of the other. They are one branch of the legislature, and bear a distinct part in the framing and enacting of our laws.
Let me tell you, Gentlemen, your votes are not your own; you vote for Christ and for His people, and therefore must look to the qualifications of those you vote for. *** "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" (Exodus 18:21). Men of a general character for capacity, integrity, public spiritedness, and piety. Men of a genius [talent] for government, and who understand the civil and religious interests of their people. True men who will act upon principle and not be daunted by frowns nor clamors. Men not governed by narrow and selfish views, but who can generously sacrifice their private interest to that of the public when they stand in competition. And men who appear to act in the fear of GOD in their private life--for only such will act for His glory in a public station, and they are the most likely to be favored with the divine presence and blessing.
ADMIDST these cares which will now press upon you, you will not forget that you are the guardians of religion, but will do what you can to maintain the kingdom of Christ among us in its light, purity, and glory. It is for the sake of the church that the world stands, and Christ is head over all things for the church. Therefore they that rule by Him should employ their care and power for that in the first and chief place. *** You will therefore think it your duty to strengthen the hands and encourage the hearts of the faithful minister of Christ, and do your part that there may be a succession of such in times to come by supporting the means of education and cherishing the college [Harvard College] from whence the churches look for their supply. Your generous smiles on that society we thankfully acknowledge as an instance of your just care that religion and learning may still flourish among us.
WHETHER any new laws need to be brought forward for the suppress[ion of] our growing immoralities, you, Gentlemen,...can best judge. But what will the best laws signify without a vigorous execution?
Permit me to say to Your Honors [the Executive branch of government, the Judges of the courts, and justices in the counties]: You are Christ's officers and ministers and must act for Him in that part of government which His Providence has assigned you.
LET your courts therefore be always opened in His Name: I mean that you pay Him your public homage, and adore Him as the supreme King, Lawgiver, and Judge by solemn and open prayer. This is done, I suppose, in our several Courts of Justice through the land. And I think that all the officers of the court and those who have business at it should be ordered reverently to attend.
In civil causes, let there be shown the most steady impartiality and irreproachable integrity. The charge which King Jehosaphat gave to his judges is the charge of the King of Heaven to you: "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: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts" (2 Chronicles 19:6, 7). And in criminal cases, let the edge of the law be sharpened in proportion to the nature of the crime and the boldness of the transgressor. While you sit on the seat of judgment, sinners should behold your face as the face of God which is set against them that do wickedly. And the day of Assize [court day] should be a little image of that day when the Lord will come "to judge the world in righteousness and the people with His truth,"and shall "render indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, to every soul of man that doth evil." The judge on the bench should be worthy of that commendation which Christ gave to the angel of the church of Ephesus: "I know thy works:...how thou canst not bear them which are evil" (Revelation 2:2).
[Justices of the Peace,] [y]ou have the law on your side. Our Governor [Jonathan Belcher] has lately called upon and charged you in a seasonable proclamation. Good people do bless you. And GOD will accept and reward you! So Jehoshaphat encouraged the ministers of justice under his government to a resolute discharge of their duty. "Deal courageously, and the LORD shall be with the good" (2 Chronicles 19:11).
[To everyone in Massachusetts:] LET me exhort you then to thankfulness that you live under Christian magistrates [rulers], who are a "terror not to good works, but to the evil", and who countenance religion by their example as well as authority.
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