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gistrate, who with steady impartiality shelters the innocent and punishes the guilty.
With equal discretion and decorum St. Paul declines all invidious discussion upon rulers of an opposite character. The purport of his whole dis
to prevent disturbance, to promote peace, to instruct at once the governor and the governed—the governor, by pointing out to him the ends of his office—and the governed, by convincing them of the numerous and substantial advantages which they derived, wheresoever those ends were diligently pursued and successfully attained. By these means he avoids all the speculative difficulties in which his reasoning would have been involved, if he had adverted to any of the intricate cases, which are more properly the subject of legal than of evangelical inquiry, because dependent on the infinitely varied forms of human authority. He lays down a principle which extends to every legitimate government, and he infers from it such duties as are indispensably requisite to the preservation of every well regulated society.
Further we may observe that, according to the sentiments of the apostle, as expressed in the text or implied in passages that surround it, the proper rule of our own conduct must arise from other and higher causes than merely human laws and human penalties. For, shall it be said that works, proceeding only from the dread of earthly punishment, are truly and vitally good ? No surely. They derive this quality from our moral and religious apprehensions of rectitude before this performance; and when performed, they not only shelter us from the sword of the magistrate, but give us a claim to that protection which is the tacit condition of our obedience, and its permanent and ample, though indirect reward. So again, works are evil, not because the magistrate is a terror to them, but because they violate the express or implied commands of God, and because they result from the excesses of our passions and the corruptions of our hearts. The magistrate, therefore, punishes as legally evil, what our own consciences must before have pronounced to be morally criminal, and in this point of view he eventually promotes our future as well us our present well-being.
Whosoever resisteth the power, says St. Paul, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they who resist shall receive to themselves condemnation. Here the Apostle supposes the persons to whom his
argument is addressed, to understand that fear of God which is calculated to affect all moral agents in all circumstances of life-to respect that will of their Creator, which is a just and universal rule of action to all his creatures—to perceive in short, and to feel the leading distinctions of our moral sense between good and evil. In this case no man can consistently object to the design and nature of the magistrate's office, because it presupposes and confirms the dictates of sincere piety and sound morality—because it facilitates the good works which our hearts have before approved—and because it throws new difficulties, and new discouragements in the way of those evil works which
our hearts have before condemned. Considered indeed in their fullest extent, and traced up to their real origin, laws themselves form a part of morality; and they who administer them are the instruments not merely of our worldly happiness, but of our improvement in every virtuous habit and every religious principle. Hence it is that the beneficial effects of magistracy must depend upon the general prevalence of conscience amongst men. Unless legal institutions accorded with our general and clear conception of right and wrong, they might be dreaded, but could not be approved—they would lose the property, and also the appearance of justice—they would be evaded even by the virtuous, and amongst the wicked they would be counteracted by the opposition of force to force.
Here then we see the intimate and important connexion between religion and laws; and here too we feel the obligation which lies upon us, as the professors of Christianity, to observe the wise and just commands of our Governors, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake ; for we consider them as deriving their authority from God, for the very purpose of procuring a more ready, constant, and extensive obedience to the laws of God, as enforcing what he has already commanded—as discouraging what he has already forbidden-as preventing us from becoming vicious and abandoned here, so as to secure us from the heavier punishment of guilt hereafter. Rules are a terror to us, be it remembered, only for evil works ; that is, for works which, if they could be committed with impunity in this world, would be more likely to leave us regardless of the destiny that awaits us in the next.
Such representation of human governments is no less interesting, I would hope, than true. It tends to allay that jealousy which annoys and alarms the mind of man in the contemplation of power separated from usefulness. It shows that our obedience is not the homage of slaves, but the tribute of reasonable creatures to the guardians of their rights, and the promoters of their well-being. It inspires us with a fear of man analogous to that which religion prescribes towards God—a fear mingled with confidence and thankfulness—the fear not so much of offending that which is powerful, as of resisting that which is wise and just, and of counteracting that which plans and executes, permits or interdicts, rewards and punishes, not for our intimidation and debasement, but for our solid peace and permanent welfare.
Now, whatever may be the wisdom or the integrity of those to whom the administration of the laws may be committed, their endeavours will be attended only with precarious and imperfect effects, unless they be seconded by the approbation and concurrence of the community. Rulers, says the Apostle, are not a terror to good works. Be it so. But they are the protectors of good men; and if their persons be insulted—if their motives be misrepresented-if their decisions be invalidated by perverse cavils or undistinguishing reproaches—their power to promote the happiness of the innocent and the meritorious will be considerably diminished. To evil works they are a terror. But as punishment is well known to operate by example, the most salutary ends of law will be defeated, if men are taught indiscriminately to look upon the execution of it as partaking more of force than of equity—as flowing not from the dispassionate judgment, but from the unfeeling austerity of its ministers—as tending to uphold arbitrary and political institutions rather than to secure the collective interests of virtue, and the general tranquillity and prosperity of a nation. But from the folly and the guilt of such misrepresentations, every intelligent and honest member of the community will be exempt, if he accustoms himself to reflect that in all well regulated governments there is much for the good to love, as well as for the evil to fear-that justice, even in its severities, is sometimes the handmaid of benevolence—that, armed with the public strength, it aims at those very objects which the emotions of private philanthropy would induce us to pursue—that it curbs our most malignant passions—that it subdues our most vicious habits--prevents us from becoming the authors of misery and oppression to our fellow-creaturesand checks us in the career of those iniquitous practices which must terminate in the destruction of the offender himself before the awful tribunal of his heavenly Judge.