John Joachim Zubly, The Law of Liberty (1775)
[EDITOR'S NOTE: From: Frank Moore, ed., The Patriot Preachers of the American Revolution, with Biographical Sketches, 1766-1783 (n.p.) (1860), pp. 114-142 (text slightly edited). Editor Moore's footnote: "This sermon was preached at the opening of the Provincial Congress of Georgia, in 1775, and was published with a dedication to the Earl of Dartmouth."
Note that the Provincial Congress of Georgia was opened with a sermon; thus these Americans encouraged and promoted Christianity.]
THE LAW OF LIBERTY
[BY JOHN JOACHIM ZUBLY]
So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
There was a time when there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was good in his own eyes. The consequence was a civil war in the nation, issuing in the ruin of one of the tribes, and a considerable loss to all the rest.
And there was a time when there was a king in Israel, and he also did what was right in his own eyes--a foolish son of a wise father; his own imprudence, the rashness of his young counselors, his unwillingness to redress the grievances of the nation, and the harsh treatment he gave to those who applied for relief, also brought on a civil war, and issued in the separation of the ten tribes from the house of David. He sent his treasurer to gather an odious duty or tribute, but the children of Israel stoned him that he died; and when he gathered one hundred and fourscore thousand men, that he might bring again the kingdom into Roboam, God sent him a message, "Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren; return every man to his house, for this thing is done of me." God disapproved of the oppressive measures and ministry of Roboam, and that king's army appears more ready to obey the command of their God, than slay their brethren by orders of a tyrant. "They obeyed the voice of the Lord, and returned from going against Jeroboam."
The things that happened before are written for our learning. By comparing past times and proceedings with these that are present, prudence will point out many salutary and religious lessons. The conduct of Roboam verifies the lamentation of his father, "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child." A very small degree of justice and moderation might have preserved his kingdom, but he thought weapons of war better than wisdom; he hearkened not, neither to the people, nor to some of his more faithful counselors; and the consequence was, that, instead of enslaving the ten tribes who stood up for their liberty, God gave Judah to be servants to the king of Egypt, that they might learn the difference between his service and the service of the kingdoms of the nations. A people that claim no more than their natural rights, in so doing, do nothing displeasing unto God; and the most powerful monarch that would deprive his subjects of the liberties of man, whatever may be his success, he must not expect the approbation of God, and in due time will be the abhorrence of all men.
In a time of public and general uneasiness, it behooves both superiors and inferiors to consider. It is easy to extinguish a spark; it is folly to blow up discontent into a blaze; the beginning of strife is like the letting out of waters, and no man may know where it will end. There is a rule given to magistrates and subjects, which, if carefully attended to, would secure the dignity and safety of both; but which, if not duly regarded, is usually attended with the worst consequences. The present, my hearers, will easily be allowed is a day of trouble, and surely in this day of adversity we ought to consider. When a people think themselves oppressed, and in danger, nothing can be more natural than that they should inquire into the real state of things, trace their grievances to their source, and endeavor to apply the remedies which are most likely to procure relief. This I take to be the design of the present meeting of persons deputed from every part of the country; and as they have thought proper to open and begin their deliberations with a solemn address unto God, and the consideration of His Holy Word, I most cheerfully comply with their request to officiate on this occasion; and shall endeavor, as I may be enabled, to point out such directions from the Holy Scriptures as may make us wise in the knowledge of time, and direct us how to carry ourselves worthy of the character of good subjects and Christians: whatever may be necessary for this purpose, I take to be comprehended in the apostolic rule, which I have laid down as the subject of this discourse: "So speak, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty." There are two things which properly come before us, viz.:
I. That we are to be judged by the law of liberty; and
II. The exhortation to act worthily, and under the influence of this important truth on every occasion.
A law is a rule of behavior made under proper authority, and with penalties annexed suitable to deter the transgressions. As all laws suppose man to be in a social state, so all laws ought to be made for the good of man--a law that is not made by such as have authority for so doing, is of no force; and if authority makes laws destructive in themselves, no authority can prevent things from finally taking their natural course.
Wherever there is society, there must also be law; it is impossible that society should subsist without it. The will, minds, tempers, dispositions, views, and interests of men, are so very different, and sometimes so opposite, that without law, which cements and binds all, everything would be in endless disorder and confusion. All laws usually wear the complexion of those by whom they were made; but it cannot be denied that some bad men, from a sense of necessity, have made good laws; and that some good men, from mistake, or other weaknesses, have enacted laws bad in themselves, and pernicious in their consequences.
All human laws partake of human imperfection; it is not so with the laws of God; He is perfect, and so are all His works and ways. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. All His judgments are truth, and righteousness altogether."
Among men every society and country has its own laws and form of government, which may be very different, and cannot operate beyond their limits; but those laws and that form of government are undoubtedly best which have the greatest tendency to make all those that live under them secure and happy. As soon as we consider man as formed into society, it is evident that the safety of the whole must be the grand law which must influence and direct every other (Salus populi suprema lex); men did not pass from a state of nature into a state of society, to render their situation more miserable, and their rights more precarious. That government and tyranny are the hereditary right of some, and that slavery and oppression are the original doom of others, is a doctrine that would reflect dishonor upon God; it is treason against all mankind; it is indeed an enormous faith that millions were made for one; transubstantiation is but a harmless absurdity, compared with the notion of a divine right to govern wrong, or of making laws which are contrary to every idea of liberty, property, and justice.
The law which the apostle speaks of in our text, is not a law of man, but of Him who is the only lawgiver, that can save and condemn, to whom all owe obedience, and whose laws none can transgress with impunity.
Though all the laws that God ever gave unto man are worthy of God, and tend to promote the happiness of those to whom they were given, yet we may observe a very striking variety in the different laws which He gave at different times and to different people. "He showed his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel: he has not dealt so with any other nation."
To the generality of mankind He gave no written law, but yet left not Himself without a witness among them; the words of the law were written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile excusing or else accusing one another; it cannot be said they were without law, while what they were to do, and what they were to forbear, was written in their hearts.
To Israel, God came with a fiery law in His hands; it was given with the most awful solemnity upon Mount Sinai; and as the sum and substance of all their ceremonial, political, and moral law centered in the ten commandments, so the sum and substance of these are comprehended in love to God and love to man, which, as our Lord Himself informs us, contain all the law and all the prophets.
All manifestations of the will of God have been gradual; and it is probable the means of knowing God will be progressive through different ages, till eternity gives the good man a full sight of God in His immediate presence. During the dispensation of the Old Testament and the ceremonial law, a spirit of bondage obtained unto fear, the law was a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ; neither did the law make anything perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope; grace and truth were brought to light by Jesus Christ; and hence the dispensation of the gospel under which we live, is called the law of liberty.
Though there is a manifest distinction between law and gospel, and sometimes these two things are even opposed to one another, yet the doctrine of the gospel, is also called "the law of faith;" partly because it was usual with the Jewish writers to call every doctrine a law, and partly also because the doctrine of the gospel presents us with a rule of life, which all its professors are bound to obey; hence they are said to be "not without law, but under the law of Christ," and hence our apostle speaks of a royal law, which, though we cannot obey in perfection, nor derive any merit from our imperfect obedience, we cannot neglect without danger, nor disobey without showing our disregard to the doctrine of the gospel in general.
It deserves very particular attention, that the doctrine of the gospel is called a law of liberty. Liberty and law are perfectly consistent; liberty does not consist in living without all restraint; for were all men to live without restraint, as they please, there would be no liberty at all; the strongest would be master, the weakest go to the wall; right, justice, and property must give way to power, and, instead of its being a blessing, a more unhappy situation could not easily be devised unto mankind, than that every man should have it in his power to do what is right in his own eyes; well regulated liberty of individuals is the natural offspring of laws, which prudentially regulate the rights of whole communities; and as laws which take away the natural rights of men are unjust and oppressive, so all liberty which is not regulated by law is a delusive phantom, and unworthy of the glorious name.
The gospel is called a law of liberty, because it bears a most friendly aspect to the liberty of man; it is a known rule, Evangelium non tollit politias, the gospel makes no alteration in the civil state; it by no means renders man's natural and social condition worse than it would be without the knowledge of the gospel. When the Jews boasted of their freedom, and that they never were in bondage, our Lord does not reprove them for it, but only observes, that national freedom still admits of improvement: "If the Son shall make you free, then are you free indeed." This leads me to observe, that the gospel is a law of liberty in a much higher sense; by whomsoever a man is overcome, of the same he is brought into bondage; but no external enemy can so completely tyrannize over a conquered enemy, as sin does over all those who yield themselves its servants; vicious habits, when once they have gained the ascendancy in the soul, bring man to that unhappy pass, that he knows better things and does worse; sin, like a torrent, carries him away against knowledge and conviction, while conscience fully convinces him that he travels the road of death, and must expect, if he so continues, to take up his abode in hell, though his decaying body clearly tells him sin breaks his constitution, as well as wastes his substance; though he feels the loss of credit and wealth, still sin has too strong a hold of him to be forsaken; though he faintly resolves to break off; yet, till the grace of God brings salvation, when he would do good, evil is present with him; in short, instead of being under a law of liberty, he is under the law of sin and death; but whenever he feels the happy influence of the grace of the gospel, then this "law of liberty makes him free from the law of sin and death:" it furnishes him with not only motives to resist, but with power also to subdue sin; sin reigns no longer in his mortal body, because he is not under the law, but under grace. By this law of liberty he is made free from sin, and has his fruit unto holiness, and the end of it eternal life.
There is another reason why the gospel is called a law of liberty, which is, to distinguish it from the ceremonial law under the Mosaic dispensation; a yoke, of which an apostle says, neither they nor their forefathers were able to bear; it was superadded on account of their transgressions, and suited to the character of a gross and stubborn nation, to whom it was originally given. They were so prone to idolatry, and so apt to forget their God, their notions were so gross and carnal, that a number of external rites and ceremonies became necessary, to put them in mind of Him and to attach them to some degree of His worship and service. This, however necessary, was a heavy burden; it bid them touch not, taste not, handle not; it required of them expensive sacrifices, and a costly and painful service; it was attended with the most fearful threatenings; if any man broke Moses' law, he died under two or three witnesses; and the very spirit they then received, was a spirit of bondage unto fear: whereas the gospel dispensation breathes a spirit of confidence, and under the law of liberty we call upon God, as Abba, Father. By this law of liberty the professors of the gospel will be judged.
Every man is a rational, and therefore accountable creature. As a creature he must needs depend on his Creator; and as a rational creature he must certainly be accountable for all his actions. Nothing is more evident than that man is not of himself; and if once we admit that he holds his existence, his faculties and favors from God that made him, it becomes a very obvious conclusion that his Maker must have had some view in giving him existence, and more understanding than to the beasts of the field, neither can it be a matter of indifference to him whether man acts agreeably or contrary to His designs. The Creator of the natural world is also its moral ruler; and if He is now the proprietor and ruler of intelligent beings, at some time or other He must also be their judge.
If God had not made His will known unto man, there could have been neither transgression nor judgment. If it should be said that God has not manifested Himself alike unto all men, and that some have much smaller opportunities to know His will and their duty than others, it is enough to observe, that no man will be judged by a rule of which it was impossible he should have any knowledge. Every work and every man will be brought into judgment, and the judgment of God will never be otherwise than according to truth; but those that never had the law of liberty will not be judged by that law; and those that have been favored with the revelation of the gospel, will be more inexcusable than any others if they neglect the day of their visitation. "As many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law." All men are under some law; they feel, they are conscious, that they are so; the thoughts which already excuse or condemn one another, are in anticipation of a final and decisive judgment, when every man's reward will be according to his works.
That all those who heard and professed to believe the gospel will be finally judged by that, we have the fullest assurance. God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to His gospel: "The word that I have spoken," says Christ, "the same will judge them that heard it on the last day." It greatly interests us already to know what is the import and consequence of being judged by the gospel as a law of liberty, and it contains the following things:
The general character, all the thoughts, words and actions, together with the general conduct of all those who professed the gospel, will be brought to the test and tried by this rule. Man's own opinion of himself, the good opinion of others, will here stand him in no stead; his character will not be determined by his external appearance, but by his inward reality. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." The self-righteous Pharisee will be rejected, notwithstanding his fair appearance and boasting; the penitent publican will be received, though he has nothing to plead but "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." The law is spiritual, and no law more so than the law of the gospel; it requires, not merely an external obedience, but an internal conformity to the will of God; it demands truth in the inward part; it looks not only to the actions that are done, but to the principle from which they flow; we must judge of man's inward disposition by his visible action, but God judges of the actions of men according to their invisible spring; thoughts are out of the reach of human cognizance, but they are the first object of divine notice. There is not a word that drops from our tongue but what our Judge hears; whatever we do, or whatever we neglect, is all under His immediate eye; and He not only attends to our general character, but also to every thought, word, or action, and the prevailing complexion of all these taken together forms our true and real character.
In the judgment, according to this law, our character, words, thoughts, and actions will be brought to the test of this rule, our conduct will be compared with these precepts; this is the balance of the sanctuary in which the professors of the gospel shall be weighed, and as they shall be found approved or deficient, their case must be determined. Those whose temper and actions shall be found conformable to the law of liberty, will be acquitted, graciously accepted, and made ever happy; and those who turned the grace of God into wantonness, and made the liberty of the gospel a cloak for their sins, will be finally rejected. The gospel informs us that a day is already appointed for that purpose; it acquaints us with the person of our Judge, and every circumstance as well as rule according to which He will proceed in judgment. Perhaps on that day, when all nations shall appear before the Judge, and He will divide them as a shepherd divides His sheep from the goats, distinct places will also be allotted to those who are to be judged by natural conscience and the law of nature, and those who have been favored with a divine revelation, and especially with the light of the gospel: the people of Ninevah will arise against empty professors of the gospel and will condemn them. Those who have been exalted above others in means and privileges, will sit proportionally lower than those who have made a better improvement of lesser means; and notwithstanding the fondest hope and finest profession, it is a determined rule of the law of liberty, that "except our righteousness shall exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
It deserves our peculiar attention, that the apostle considers the gospel as a law of liberty, at the same time when he sets it before us as the rule by which we are to be judged. We are not to imagine, because the gospel is a law of liberty, therefore men will not be judged; on the contrary, judgment will be the more severe against all who have heard and professed the gospel, and yet walked contrary to its precepts and doctrine. As the transgression of a law of liberty must be more inexcusable than the transgression of a law unjust or oppressive in itself, or even the ceremonial law, which was given only for a certain period, and to answer temporary purposes, so their judgment and doom must be proportionally heavier who have sinned against love and liberty, as well as against power and justice.
According to this law, the fate of men will not only be determined, but sentence will also be put into execution. God sits on the throne of judgment every day, and judges righteously; but He has moreover appointed a particular day when He will manifest His power and justice before the whole creation; when the dead, both small and great, will stand before God; when those that acted agreeably to the law of liberty will attain the fullness of glory of the freedom of the sons of God, and when He will also take vengeance on all that have not known God, and have not obeyed His holy gospel. This naturally leads to the second thing proposed, to take a nearer view of the importance of the exhortation: "So speak and so do as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty."
It seems as though the apostle had an eye to some particular branch of the law of liberty, i.e., the love which we owe unto our neighbor, and that his design is to obviate the mistake, as though men might be considered as fulfilling the law of Christ, in paying respect to some of its commands and prohibitions, at the same time that they were entirely regardless of the rest. He assures them, that "whosoever shall keep the whole law, but shall transgress in one point (e.g., having respect of persons), is guilty of all." On this principle the apostle builds the general exhortation: "So speak, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty." This implies,
I. Be thoroughly convinced of the certainty of a judgment to come, and that it extends to you, to all your thoughts, words, and actions. There is not any truth of greater moment, nor perhaps more easily forgotten. The belief or unbelief of this important doctrine must have the most sensible effects. All the apostles frequently put their hearers in mind of a judgment to come; and there is not any truth more necessary to be frequently inculcated and daily thought on; and wherever this truth is really believed and felt, it will have a constant and natural influence on the behavior of those who truly believe it.
II. See to it that in judgment you may stand. All men will be brought into judgment, but few will be able to stand; none will be excused, or be able to withdraw, and only those who have acted worthily will meet with the divine acceptance. The difference will be amazing, and beyond all conception--an eternity of happiness, which eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and which never entered into the heart of any man, lies on the one side; and despair, misery, and torment on the other. Those that are able to stand, will meet with the smiles and approbation of their Judge; and to all the rest the King will say: "These mine enemies that would not have me to bear rule over them, bring them here, and slay them before mine eyes." Those that believe and are convinced of this awful alternative, should certainly make it their care that they may be able to stand in judgment; neither should the persuasion of this only influence their conduct in general, but these words ought to be considered as a rule, which we ought to have constantly before our eyes in all our discourses and every undertaking; we should ever "so speak, and so act, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty."
I shall draw a few inferences, before I conclude, with a more particular address to the worthy gentlemen at whose request I preach on this occasion.
I. The gospel is a law of liberty. A late writer (See a tract entitled "Chains of Slavery." Printed, London, 1775.) asserts, "Every religion countenances despotism, but none so much as the Christian." This is a very heavy charge against religion in general, but bears hardest on the Christian. Whether it proceeds from malice, ignorance, or misapprehension, it is needless to determine; but if Christianity be a law of liberty, it must be obvious how ill-grounded is such a charge against it. It cannot be denied but some Christian writers have written against the rights of mankind. All those who stand up for unlimited passive obedience and non-resistance, may have given but too much cause for such surmises and suspicions; but the truth is, that both those who make this charge, and those who gave occasion for it, were alike ignorant of the spirit and temper of Christianity; and it may well be doubted whether the vendors of such odious doctrines, who foisted tenets so abominable and injurious to mankind, into the system of Christian religion, have not done that holy religion greater hurt, under the pretense of friendship and defense, than its most bare-faced enemies by all their most violent attacks. Some Christian divines have taught the enormous faith, that millions were made for one; they have ascribed a divine right to kings to govern wrong; but what then? Are such abominable doctrines any part of Christianity, because these men say so? Does the gospel cease to be a law of liberty, because some of its professors pervert it into an engine of tyranny, oppression, and injustice?
The assertion, that all religion countenances despotism, and Christianity more than any other, is diametrically opposite to fact. Survey the globe, and you will find that liberty has taken its seat only in Christendom, and that the highest degree of freedom is pleaded for and enjoyed by such as make profession of the gospel.
There are but two religions which are concerned in this charge; the Jewish and the Christian. Natural religion, writers of this kind I suppose would not include in their charge; if they do, they set all religion at variance with the rights of mankind, contrary to the sense of all nations, who are generally agreed, that, abstractly of a world to come, religion is of real service and necessity to mankind, for their better government and order.
As to the Jewish religion, it seems really strange that any should charge it with favoring despotism, when by one of its express rites at certain times it proclaimed "Liberty throughout the land, to the inhabitants thereof." It required their kings "not to be lifted up in their hearts above their brethren." And the whole system of that religion is so replete with laws against injustice and oppression, it pays such an extraordinary regard to property, and gives such a strict charge to rule in justice and the fear of God, and to consider those over whom they judge as their brethren, even when dispensing punishments, and forbids all excess in them, that is is really surprising any one acquainted with its precepts should declare it favorable to despotism or oppression.
The Christian religion, while it commands due respect and obedience to superiors, nowhere requires a blind and unlimited obedience on the part of the subjects; nor does it vest any absolute and arbitrary power in the rulers. It is an institution for the benefit, and not for the distress, of mankind. It preaches not only "glory to God on high," but also "peace on earth, and good-will among men." The gospel gives no higher authority to magistrates than to be "the ministers of God for the good of the subject." From whence it must surely follow, that their power is to edify, and not to destroy. When they abuse their authority, to distress and destroy their subjects, they deserve not to be thought ministers of God for good; nor is it to be supposed, when they act so contrary to the nature of their office, that they act agreeably to the will of God, or in conformity to the doctrine of the gospel.
The gospel recommends unto masters to forbear threatenings, and to remember that they also have a Master in heaven. It assures them that the eye of God is equally upon the servant and the master, and that with God there is no respect of persons. It commands masters, from the most solemn considerations, to give unto servants that which is just and equal. It says to the meanest [lowest] slave: "Art thou called, being a servant? care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather."
The doctrine of the gospel has that regard to property, that it commands even soldiers: "Do violence to no man, and be content with your wages."
[* * * * *]
From the same spirit of justice, a Zaccheus, after his conversion, restored fourfold what before he had taken from any by false accusation. Surely, then, the spirit of the gospel is very friendly to the rights and property of men.
The gospel sets conscience above all human authority in matters of faith, and bids us to stand fast in that liberty wherewith the Son of God has made us free. Freedom is the very spirit and temper of the gospel: "He that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman. Ye are bought with a price; be ye not the servants of men." At the same time that it commands us to submit to every ordinance of men, it also directs us to act "as free, and not using liberty as a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God." Those, therefore, that would support arbitrary power, and require an unlimited obedience, in vain look for precedents or precepts for such things in the gospel--an institution equally tending to make men just, free, and happy here, and perfectly holy and happy hereafter.
II. The main design of the gospel is not to direct us in our external and civil affairs, but how we may at last stand with comfort before God, the Judge of all.
Human prudence is to be our guide in the concerns of time; the gospel makes us wise unto salvation, and points out the means to be pursued, that it may be well with us in the world to come. As rational creatures, we are to make use of our reason; as Christians, we are to repent and believe the gospel. Motives of a worldly nature may very properly influence us in our worldly concerns; we are created not only for eternity, but also for time; it is not at all improper for us to have a due regard for both. The gospel will regulate our desires and restrain our passions as to earthly things, and will raise us at the same time above time and sense, to objects of a nature more worthy of ourselves. A due regard for, and frequent meditation on, a judgment to come, will greatly assist us in all our concerns; and this very consideration the gospel holds out to us in the clearest manner. It not only affirms as a truth what reason and conscience might consider only as probable, but it takes away as it were the veil from between us and things to come; it gives us a present view of the future bliss of saints, and the terrors and despair of sinners--rather an historical account than a prophetic description of all the proceedings of the dreadful day; it clearly points out the road to destruction, and the way to escape; it affords us a plain and general rule to obtain safety and comfort, when it bids us "So speak, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty."
This general rule may also be of considerable service in extraordinary and particular cases. It is impossible to provide express directions for every particular case; and in the course of things, circumstances may happen when a good man may be at a loss to know his duty, and find it difficult so to act as to obtain his own approbation. There may be danger of going beyond, and danger in not coming up to the mark. To act worthy of God, who has called us, is the general rule of the Christian at all times, and upon every occasion; and did we but always follow this rule, what manner of persons should we then be! But in cases of intricacy, we may still be in doubt what may be most for the glory of God, and most consistent with our duty. Sometimes, also, our relative duties may seem to come in competition with one another, and we may hesitate in our own mind which for the present has the strongest call. We should fain obey our superiors, and yet we cannot think of giving up our natural, our civil and religious rights, nor acquiesce in or contribute to render our fellow creatures or fellow citizens slaves and miserable. We would willingly follow peace with all men, and yet would be very unwilling that others should take the advantage of a pacific disposition to injure us in hopes of doing it with impunity. We would express duty, respect, and obedience to the king, as supreme, and yet we would not wish to strengthen the hands of tyranny, nor call oppression lawful: in such a delicate situation, it is a golden rule, "So to speak, and so to do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty." Nothing has a greater tendency to make men act wrong than the disbelief of a future judgment; and nothing will more effectually restrain and direct them than the full persuasion that such an event will certainly take place; nothing would have a happier tendency to make us act with prudence, justice, and moderation, than the firm persuasion that God will bring every work into judgment, and every secret thing, whether it be good or bad.
Neither could I think on any direction more applicable to the design of our present meeting, or which I might more properly recommend to the respectable gentlemen now met together to consult on the recovery and preservation of the liberties of America, and who choose to begin their deliberations with a solemn act of worship to Almighty God, who has established government as His ordinance, and equally abhors licentiousness and oppression, whose singular blessing it is if subjects enjoy a righteous government, and under such a government lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
You are met, gentlemen, in a most critical time, and on a most alarming occasion, not in a legislative capacity, but (while the sitting of the usual representatives is not thought for the king's service, or necessary for the good of this province) you are chosen by the general voice of this province to meet on their behalf, to consult on such measures as in our local circumstances may be most to the real advantage, and tend to the honor of our sovereign, as well as the good and safety of this province, and of all this great continent. For the sake of the auditory [audience], I shall briefly state the immediate causes that have given rise to this provincial and a general American Congress, and then offer such humble advice as appears to me most suitable to our circumstances.
To enforce some acts for laying on a duty to raise a perpetual revenue in America, which the Americans think unjust and unconstitutional, which all America complains of, and some provinces have in some measure opposed,* a fleet and army have been sent to New England, and, after a long series of hardships by that province patiently endured, it is now out of all question that hostilities have been commenced against them; blood has been shed, and many lives have been taken away; thousands, never so much as suspected of having any hand in the action which is made the pretense of al the severity now used against that province, have been and still are reduced to the greatest distress. From this, other provinces have taken the alarm; an apprehension of nearer foes, not unlikely to appear as auxiliaries in an unjust cause, has thrown our neighbors into arms; how far and wide the flame so wantonly kindled may be permitted to spread, none can tell; but in these alarming circumstances the liberty of this continent, of which we are a part, the safety and domestic peace of this province, will naturally become a subject of your deliberations; and here I may well adopt the language of old: "There was no such deed done nor seen, from the day that America was first settled unto this day; consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds." I mean not to anticipate and direct your counsels; but, from your desire I should speak on this occasion, I take it for granted, you will permit me to offer such hints as may appear suitable to the place and design of our present meeting.
(* This opposition in some provinces consisted in sending the tea on which this duty was to be paid back, to England; not suffering it to be sold or landed, in others; and in Boston, when they were prevented from sending it back, it was entirely destroyed, but no person hurt, nor any blood shed.)
In the first place, as there is no evil in a city in which the hand of God may not be seen, so in vain is salvation looked for from the hills and from the mountains, but can come from Him only who has made heaven and earth. This, undoubtedly, is a day of trouble, but God says to His people, "Call upon me in a day of trouble, and I will deliver thee." "What nation has God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for." If this be our first step, if, first of all, we look unto Him from whom our help comes, we may hope all will be well at last. Let us be thoroughly convinced of this, we must stand well with God, else it can never be well with us at all; without Him and His help we can never prosper. The Lord is with you if you are with Him: "if you seek him, you will find him; but if you forsake him, you will be forsaken by him." If God be for us, who can be against us? If He be against us, who can be for us? Before we think on, or look anywhere else, may our eyes be unto God, that He may be gracious unto us. Let us humbly confess and speedily turn from our sins, deprecate His judgment, and secure His favor. "Rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil; who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, even a meat-offering and a drink-offering unto the Lord your God."
Let it be a standing rule with every one that is to sit in council upon this occasion, "so to speak, and so to do, as one that is to be judged by the law of liberty." Let us most carefully avoid every thing that might make us incur the displeasure of God, and wound our own consciences. The effects of your deliberation may become very serious and extensive, and the consequences extremely important: think, therefore, before you speak, deliberate before you execute, and let the law of liberty, by which you are hereafter to be judged, be the constant rule of all your words and actions. Far be it from us to be reduced under laws inconsistent with liberty, and as far to wish for liberty without law; let the one be so tempered with the other, that when we come to give our account to the Supreme Lawgiver, who is the great Judge of all, it may appear we had a due regard to both, and may meet with His approbation.
Such always has been, and such is still the attachment of America to the illustrious House of Hanover, that I need not put you in mind of our duty to the king as supreme. By our law, the king can do no wrong. But of his present majesty, who is universally known to be adorned with many social virtues, may we not justly conclude, that he would not do any wrong, even though he could? May we not hope, that when the truth of things, the tears of his suffering subjects, the distress caused by acts extremely ill-advised, once reach his notice, a generous pity will force his heart, and that pity, when he feels it, will command redress? "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water, and he turneth it as he pleaseth." (Prov. 21:1.) Most earnestly, therefore, let us pray, that in this great and most important matter also, God may give unto the king an understanding heart, that power may be governed by wisdom, and the wheels of government roll on with justice and moderation.
Should you think that all our present distress is owing to evil counselors, nothing need to hinder you from praying that God would turn their counsels into foolishness; you may make it your earnest request, both in public and in private, that the wicked being removed from before the king, his throne may be established in righteousness; that the rod of the oppressor may be broken, and justice and equity take place of tyranny and oppression.
It may be owing to nothing but the firm attachment to the reigning family, that so many Americans look upon the present measures as a deep-laid plan to bring in the Pretender. Perhaps this jealousy may be very groundless; but so much is certain, that none but Great Britain's enemies can be gainers in this unnatural contest. *
(* Were it designed to give the Pretender an opportunity; to raise divisions in Great Britain, starve the manufacturers, send away troops from Ireland and Scotland, and breed civil war in America, must all be circumstances too favorable, and, I may say, very tempting, to promote such a project.)
Never let us lose out of sight that our interest lies in a perpetual connection with our mother country. Notwithstanding the present unwise and harsh measures, there are thousands in Great Britain that think with us, and wish well to the American cause, and make it their own; let us convince our enemies that the struggles of America have not their rise in a desire of independence, but from a warm regard to our common constitution, that we esteem the name of Britons, as being the same with freemen; let every step we take afford proof how greatly we esteem our mother country, and that, to the wish of a perpetual connection, we prefer this only consideration, that we may be virtuous and free.*
(* The idea of a separation between America and Great Britain is big with so many and such horrid evils, that every friend to both must shudder at the thought. [***] But what America detests as the greatest evil, a British ministry has taken the greatest pains to effect; has wasted British blood and treasure to alienate America and Great Britain; the breach is growing wider and wider, it is become like a great sea; every moment is a loss that is not improved toward bringing about a reconciliation.)
Let me entreat you, gentlemen, think coolly, and act deliberately; rash counsels are seldom good ones. Ministerial rashness and American rashness can only be productive of untoward compounds. Inconsiderable measures framed on the other side of the Atlantic, are the cause of all our mischiefs; and it is not in the least probable that inconsiderate measures in America can be productive of any good. Let nothing be done through strife and vainglory; let no private resentment nor party zeal disgrace your honest warmth for your country's welfare; measures determined on by integrity and prudence, are most likely to be carried into execution by steadiness and moderation. Let neither the frowns of tyranny, nor the pleasure of popularity, sway you from what you clearly apprehend just and right, and to be your duty. Consider how much lies at stake; how greatly your religion, your liberty, your property, your posterity, are interested. Endeavor to act like freemen, like loyal subjects, like real Christians, and you will "so speak and so act, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty." Act conscientiously, and with a view to God, then commit your ways to Him; leave the event with God, and you will have great reason to hope that the event will be just, honorable, and happy.
And now, gentlemen, you have the wishes and prayers of every thoughtful person, that your deliberations may be carried on with candor, unanimity, and prudence; may be blessed to preserve the quietness of this province, and cooperate in restoring the rights and tranquility of all America, as well as promote the prosperity of the whole British empire. This will afford you a heart-felt satisfaction, and transmit your name to posterity with honor, when all those who had opposite views, and sought their greatness in the ruin of others, will be held in abhorrence and detestation.
I have but a few hints to give to my hearers in general.
The times are evil; this is a day of adversity, and in a time of adversity we ought to consider. It may, perhaps, soon become impossible, even to the most indolent, to continue unconcerned; and those that wish no more than to hide themselves in quiet obscurity, may not always have it in their power to remain neuter [neutral]. To know the signs of the times is a considerable part of human prudence; and it is a still greater to walk circumspectly, and redeem the time, because the days are evil. Whatever part you may think yourselves obliged to take, "so speak, and so do, as they that shall be judged hereafter, and judged by the law of liberty."
In these times of confusion I would press on my hearers a most conscientious regard to the common laws of the land. Let our conduct show that we are not lawless; by well-doing let us put to silence the reproaches of our adversaries. Let us convince them that we do not complain of law, but of oppression; that we do not abhor these acts because we are impatient to be under government, but being destructive of liberty and property, we think them destructive also of all law. Let us act "as free, and yet not make liberty a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God."
While it is yet peace and quietness with us, let us not think ourselves inaccessible to the evils which are already come upon others; there are some evils which we would rather deprecate in private than speak of in public, against which being forewarned, we should be forearmed; every trifling report should not alarm us, but it would be folly still greater not to be on our guard against sudden dangers.
Remember them that suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. Think on those who are driven from their habitations and all their conveniences of life, or confined in their own houses by an enraged soldiery, to starve in their own country in the midst of property and plenty, not permitted to enjoy their own, and distressed in every connection, and this without any cause alleged against numbers of them, without complaint, suspicion, or a legal trial; the like was never heard since the cruel siege of Londonderry, and is a species of cruelty at which even that hard-hearted bigot James II relented.
Above all, let everyone earnestly pray, that He that is higher than the highest would soon make a righteous end of all their confusion; that He would incline the king to hear the cries of his subjects, and that no more innocent blood may be shed in America.
One thing more. Consider the extreme absurdity of struggling for civil liberty, and yet to continue slaves to sin and lust. "Know ye not to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey? his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness." Cease from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it: who will hurt you while you follow that which is good? Become the willing servants of the Lord Jesus Christ; hearken to and obey the voice of His gospel, for "where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;" and "if the Son makes you free," then, and not till then, "shall you be free indeed."
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