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PREACHED AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY,
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
THIS chapter is the great and noted repository of the most absolute and binding precepts of allegiance, and seems so fitted to this argument, that it ought to be always preached upon, as long as there is either such a thing as obedience to be enjoined, or such a thing as rebellion to be condemned.
In the words that I have pitched upon, there are these two parts.
1. A duty enjoined; ye must needs be subject.
2. The ground of motive of that duty; for conscience sake.
For the first of these. Since men are apt to draw arguments for or against obedience from the qualifications of the persons concerned in it, we will consider here,
1. The persons who are commanded to be subject.
2. The person to whom they are commanded this subjection.
1. For the persons commanded to be subject, they were believers, the faithful, those who were the 532church of God in Rome, as we see in chap. i. 7, Beloved of God, called to be saints. Neither were they saints only, but saints of the first rank and magnitude, heroes in the faith; verse 8, Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. Their faith made Rome no less the metropolis of Christianity, than of the world. The Roman faith and fortitude equally spread their fame. And as the pagan Ro mans overcame the world by their fortitude, so did the Christians by their faith.
But for the modern Roman saints, it is their powder, not their faith, that has made such a report in the world; a race much different from their primitive ancestors, whose piety could not cancel their loyalty. No religion could sanctify treason; Christian liberty was compatible with the strictest allegiance; they knew no such way as to put the sceptre into Christ’s hand, by pulling it out from their prince’s.
2. In the next place; the person to whom they were commanded to be subject was Nero; a person so prodigiously brutish, that, whether we consider him as a man or as a governor, we shall find him a Nero, that is, a monster, in both respects.
And first, if we consider his person; he was such a mass of filth and impiety, such an oglio of all ill qualities, that he stands the wonder and the disgrace of mankind. For, to pass over his monstrous obscenity, he poisoned Britannicus for having a better voice; he murdered his tutor Seneca; he kicked his wife big with child to death; he killed his mother, and ript her up in sport, to see the place where he lay: so impious, that he would adore the statues of his gods one day, and piss upon them another. But 533then, take him as an emperor, and he was the veriest tyrant and bloodsucker, the most unjust governor that ever the world saw: one, who had proceeded to that enormity, that the very army, the only prop of his tyranny, deserted him; and the senate sentenced him to be ignominiously drawn upon a hurdle, and whipt to death.
He was one, who had united in himself the most different and unsociable qualities, namely, to be ridiculous and to be terrible; for what more ridiculous than a fiddling emperor, and more terrible than a bloody tyrant? In short, he was the plague of the world, the stain of majesty, and the very blush of nature. One, who seemed to be sent and prepared by Providence, to give the world an experiment, quid summa vitia in summa fortuna possint; and by a new way of confirmation, to seal to the truth of Christianity by his hatred of it.
And yet after all this, the believing Romans are commanded subjection even to this Nero, the best of saints to the worst of men: and indeed it was this that gave a value to their obedience; for to be loyal to a just, gentle, and virtuous prince, is rather privilege than patience. But the reason of the whole matter is stated in these words, verse 1, The powers that are, are ordained of God. Obedience to the magistrate is obedience to God at the second hand; and as a man cannot be so wicked, so degenerate, but that still he is a man by God’s creation; so neither can the magistrate be so vile and unjust, but that still he is an officer by God’s institution. And it is no small part of the divine prerogative, to be able to command homage to the worst of kings, as the majesty of a prince is never more apparent, 534than in his subjects’ submission to an unworthy deputy or lieutenant. The baseness of the metal is warranted by the superscription, the office hallows the person; neither is there any reason, that the vileness of one should disannul the dignity of the other; forasmuch as he is made wicked by himself or the Devil, but he is stampt a magistrate by God. We are therefore to overlook all impieties and defects, which cannot invalidate the function. Though Nero deserves worthily to be abhorred, yet still the emperor is and ought to be sacred. And thus much for the duty, and the persons to whom it relates. Ye must needs be subject.
2. I come now to the second part, viz. the ground or motive upon which this duty is enforced; Ye must needs be subject for conscience sake. A strange argument, I must confess, if we were to transcribe Christianity from the practice of modern Christians, with whom it would proceed thus rather; Ye must needs shake off all government, and rebel for conscience sake. No such instrument to carry on a refined and well-woven rebellion, as a tender conscience and a sturdy heart. He who rebels conscientiously, rebels heartily; such an one carries his god in his scabbard, and his religion upon the point of his sword. He strikes every stroke for salvation, and wades deep in blood for eternity. But what now must be said of those impostors, who, in the name of God, and with pretended commissions from Heaven, have bewitched men into such a religious rage? Who have preached them out of the deadly sin of allegiance into the angelical state of faction and rebellion? Whose saints were never listed but in the muster-roll for the field; and whose rubric is 535writ only with letters of blood. I believe, upon a due survey of history, it will be found, that the most considerable villainies which were ever acted upon the stage of Christendom, have been authorized with the glistering pretences of conscience, and the introduction of a greater purity in religion. He who would act the destroyer, if he would do it effectually, should put on the reformer; and he who would be creditably and successfully a villain, let him go whining, praying, and preaching to his work; let him knock his breast and his hollow heart, and pretend to lie in the dust before God, before he can be able to lay others there.
But some may reply and argue, that conscience is to be obeyed, though erroneous; and therefore, if a saint (for with some all rebels are such) stands fully persuaded in his conscience, that his magistrate is an enemy to the gospel and the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and so ought to be resisted; is not such an one engaged to act according to the dictates of his conscience? And since God would punish him for going against it, is it not high tyranny for the magistrate to punish him for complying with it?
To this I answer, that he who looks well into this argument, looks into the great arcanum and the sanctum sanctorum of Puritanism; which indeed is only reformed Jesuitism, as Jesuitism is no thing else but popish Puritanism: and I could draw out such an exact parallel between them, both as to principles and practices, that it would quickly appear, that they are as truly brothers, as ever were Romulus and Remus; and that they sucked their principles from the same wolf.
But to encounter the main body of the argument, 536which, like the Trojan horse, carries both arms and armed men in the belly of it, I answer, that to act against conscience, erroneous or not erroneous, is sinful; but then the error adds nothing to the excusableness of the action, when the same charge of sin lies upon the conscience for being erroneous. No man can err in matters of constant duty, which God has laid open to an easy and obvious discernment, but he errs with the highest malignity of wilfulness; and if any plea to the contrary be admitted, it will unhinge all society, and dissolve the bonds of all the governments in the world.
The magistrate is to take no notice of any man’s erroneous conscience, but (if reason and religion will not set it right) to rectify or convince it with an axe or the gibbet. He who would without control disturb a government, because his erroneous conscience tells him he must, does all one as if he should say, that it is lawful for a man to commit murder, provided that he who does it be first drunk. It were a sad thing, if the laws should be at a stand, and the weal public suffer, because such and such persons are pleased to be in an error; (though, by the way, they are seldom or never seen to be so, but very beneficially to themselves.) He who brings down the law to the exceptions of any man’s conscience, does really place the legislative power in that man’s conscience; and by so doing, may at length bring down his own neck to the block. For certainly that subject is advanced to a strange degree of power, whose conscience has a prerogative to command the laws.
And I do not expect ever to speak a greater truth than this, that the non-execution of the laws upon 537such hypocrites has been the fatal cause which drew after it the execution of the supreme legislator4242 King Charles the First. himself; and believe it, if a governor ever falls into the mercy of such persons, he will find that their hands are by no means so tender as their consciences pretend to be. All indulgences animate such persons, but mend them not; all reconcilements, and little puny arts of accommodation, are but as spiders’ webs, which such hornets will quickly break through, and as truces to an old enemy to rally up his forces, and to fall on, when he sees his advantage: nothing will hold a sanctified, tender-conscienced rebel, but a prison or a halter. And these are not angry words, but the oracular responses and bitter truths of a long and bleeding experience; an experience which began in a rebellion against an excellent prince, proceeded to his imprisonment, and concluded in his murder.
But because conscience is a relative term, and so must refer to something which it is to be conversant about, I shall shew, that men are commanded a subjection to, and dehorted from a resistance of the civil magistrate, by two things.
1. The absolute unlawfulness; and,
2. The scandal of such a resistance.
1. For the first of these, its absolute unlawfulness. Rebellion surely is a mortal sin; mortal to the rebel, and mortal to the prince rebelled against. It is the violation of government, which is the very soul and support of the universe, and the imitation of Providence. Every lawful ruler holds the government by a certain deputation from God; and the commission 538by which he holds it is his word. This is the voice of scripture, this is the voice of reason. But yet we must not think to carry it so; for although in the apostles time this was divinity and truth, yea, and truth also stampt with necessity, yet we have been since taught, that kings may be lawfully resisted, cast off, and deposed; and that by two sorts of men.
1. The sons of Rome: and,
. Their true offspring, the sons of Geneva.
1. For the first of these. It would be like the stirring of a great sink, which would be likelier to annoy than to instruct the auditory, to draw out from thence all the pestilential doctrines and practices against the royalty and supremacy of princes.
Gratian, in the Decrees, expressly says, Imperator potest a papa deponi. And Boniface VIII. in lib. 1. Extrav. Com. titulo de Majoritate et Obedientia, has declared the subjection, or rather the slavery of princes to the pope fully enough. 1. For first he tells us, that kings and secular powers have the temporal sword, but to be used ad nutum sacerdotis. 2. He adds, Porro subesse Romano pontifici omni humanae creaturae, declaramus, dicimus, definimus, et pronuntiamus omnino esse de necessitate salutis.
And how far princes are to be under him, we have a further account. 1. They ought to kiss his feet. 2. He may depose them. 3. No prince may repeal his sentence, but he may repeal the sentences of all others. 4. He may absolve subjects from their allegiance. These, and some such other impious positions, they call dictatus papae; and were published and established by pope Gregory VII. in the Roman 539synod, in the year one thousand seventy-six, as Baronius tells us, ad annum Christi millesimum septuagesimum sextum. Numero trices. lmo et trices. 2do.
And that we may see that he was not wanting to execute, as much as he had the face to assert, Platina tells us in his Life how he deposed Henry IV. emperor of Germany; and some of the words of his bull are these: Henricum imperatoria administratione, regiaque dejicio. Et Christianos omnes imperio subjectos juramento absolvo. The whole bull is extant in the bullery of Laertius Cherubinus, tom. i. p. 12, printed at Rome 1617. And then at last, with an equal affront to the majesty of scripture, as well as to that of princes, he put his foot upon the emperor’s neck, quoting that passage in the psalm, Super aspidem et basiliscum; Thou shalt tread upon the asp and the basilisk; a great encouragement surely for princes to turn papists. But to contain ourselves within our own country, where we are most concerned. The pope, we know, deposed king Henry VIII. and queen Elizabeth, as far as the words and the bruta fulmina of his bulls could depose them; absolving their subjects from their allegiance, and exposing their dominions to the invasion of any who could invade them. The words of Pius V. in his bull against queen Elizabeth, are remarkable; which, translated into English, run thus: “Christ, who reigns on high, and to whom all power in heaven and earth is given, has committed the government of the one catholic and apostolic church only to Peter, and his successor the pope of Rome. And him has he placed prince over all nations and 540kingdoms, to pluck up, destroy, scatter, overturn, plant, and build up; in order to the keeping of God’s faithful people in the bond of charity and in the unity of the spirit.”
And is not this a bold preface, able to blast the prerogative of all kings at a breath? But it is well that cursed bulls have short horns. Yet all this is but the voice of his thunder; the bolt is to come afterwards. Let us see how he proceeds.
“Wherefore, (says he,) being upheld in the supreme throne of justice by Christ himself, who has placed us in it, we declare the aforesaid Elizabeth an heretic, and all who adhere to her to have incurred an anathema, and to be actually divided and cut off from the unity of Christ’s body. Moreover, we declare her to be deprived of all right to her kingdom, and of all dominion, dignity, and privilege belonging thereto. Withal, that the subjects of that kingdom, and all others, who have any ways swore obedience to her, are fully absolved from their oath, and from all debt of homage and allegiance to her; and accordingly by these presents we do absolve them. Furthermore, we charge and enjoin all her subjects to yield no obedience to her person, laws, or commands. Given at Rome, in the year 1575, in the fifth year of the pope’s reign, and the thirteenth of queen Elizabeth’s.”
It is possible now that some English and French papists may dislike this doctrine of deposing kings; but they owe this to their own good natures, or some other principle; or indeed chiefly to this, that they live under such kings as will not be deposed. But 541that they owe it not to their religion, which (by little less than a contradiction in the terms) they miscall catholic, is clear from hence, that by the very essential constitution of their faith, they are bound to believe and to submit both their judgments and practices to all that is determined by a general council confirmed by the pope. This being premised, we must know, that the fourth Lateran council, which they acknowledge general, and to have had in it above twelve hundred fathers, (as they call them,) in the third chapter de Haereticis, thus determines: “That all secular powers shall be compelled to take an oath to banish heretics out of their territories. Moveantur, et, si necesse fuerit, compellantur potestates saeculares, cujuscunque sint officii, ut pro defensione fidei publice juramentum praestent,” &c. But what now, if persons will not do this? If they refuse to be thus commanded like subjects, and to place their royal diadems upon their bald pates.
Why then the fathers, or rather the lords of the council thus proceed: “If (say they) princes refuse to purge their dominions from heresy, let this be signified to the pope, that he may forthwith declare their subjects absolved from their allegiance, and expose their territories to be seized upon by catholics.”
This is the canon of that concilium Lateranum magnum, (for so they term it,) in which were above twelve hundred fathers, (so they tell us,) a council by them acknowledged to be general, and confirmed by the pope. Now I demand, is this council infallible, or is it not?
1. If not, then good night to their infallibility, if 542the pope and twelve hundred fathers, met together in a general council, be not infallible.
2. If it be infallible, (as they all do and must say, unless they will deny a fundamental article of their faith,) then they must all believe it, and by consequence acknowledge, that the pope has power to excommunicate and depose kings, and to give away their kingdoms, in case of heresy; and what heresy is, they themselves are to be judges: this we may be sure of, that all protestant kings are heretics with them; and so the pope may, when he will, and undoubtedly will, when he can, give away their kingdoms. I think it concerns kings to consider this, and when they have a mind to submit to the pope’s tyranny, to subscribe to the pope’s religion.
Thus much for the Lateran council; and to place the argument above all exception, this very council is expressly confirmed by that of Trent, in the 24th Session of Reformation, chap. 5, p. 412; also in the 25th Session about Reformation, chap. 20, p. 624.
Now shew me any thoroughpaced catholic, who dares refuse to subscribe to the council of Trent; which being so, it is a matter of amazement to consider, that the men of this profession should be of such prodigious impudence as to solicit any protestant prince for protection, nay indulgences to their persons and religion; when, by virtue of this religion, they hold themselves bound, under pain of dam nation, to believe those principles as articles of their faith, which naturally undermine, ruin, and eat out the very heart of all monarchy. But if any one should plead favour for them, it is pity but these bulls and decrees, and the Scotch covenant, were all 543drawn into one system, that so they might be indulged all together; and perhaps in time they may. You have seen here their principles, i.e. you have heard the text; and you need go no further than this fifth of November for a comment.
I could further add, that the popish religion, in the nature of it, is inconsistent with the just rights and supremacy of princes; and that upon this invincible reason, that it exempts all the clergy from subjection to them, so far that (be their crimes what they will) kings cannot punish them. For the proof of which, I shall bring that which is instar omnium, and which I am sure they must stand to, viz. the decree of the council of Trent, which in the 24th Session about Reformation, chap. 5, p. 412, determines thus: Causae criminales majores contra episcopos ab ipso tantum summo pontifice Romano cognoscantur et terminentur; minores vero in concilio tantum provinciali cognoscantur et terminentur. So that the king, for any thing that he has to do in these matters, may sit and blow his nails; for use them otherwise he cannot. He may indeed be plotted against, have barrels of powder laid, and poniards prepared for him: but to punish the sacred actors of these villainies, that is reserved only to him who gave the first command for the doing them.
These things, I say, I could prosecute much further, but that I am equally engaged by the exigence of my subject to speak something of their true seed, the sons of Geneva; who, though they seem to be contrary to those of Rome, and, like Samson’s foxes, to look opposite ways, yet, when they are to play the 544incendiaries, to fire kingdoms and governments, they can turn tail to one and the same firebrand.
In our account of these, we will begin with the father of the faithful; faithful, I mean, to their old antimonarchical doctrines and assertions; and that is, the great mufti of Geneva: who, in the fourth book of his Institutions, chap. 20. §. 31, has the face to own such doctrine to the world as this. “That it is not only not unlawful for the three estates to oppose their king in the exorbitances of his government, (of which they still are to be judges,) but that they basely and perfidiously desert the trust committed to them by God, if they connive at him, and do not to their utmost oppose and restrain him.”
Let us see this wholesome doctrine and institution further amplified in his Commentaries upon Daniel, chap. 2, verse 39. He roundly tells us, “That those men are out of their wits, and quite void of sense and understanding, who desire to live under sovereign monarchies; for that it cannot be (says he) but order and policy must decay, where one man holds such an extent of government.”
Upon this good foundation he proceeds further, chap. 6. verse 22. “Princes, (says he,) when they oppose God, (and oppose God, according to him, they do, when they refuse his new discipline,) then, (says he,) abdicant se potestate, they deprive themselves of all power; and it is better, in such cases, to spit in their faces, than to obey them.” Yet for all this, Daniel, who surely was as godly a man as Mr. Calvin, did not spit in Nebuchadnezzar’s face.545
But that we may know when princes oppose God, and so may bring his assertions together, he tells us further, chap. 5, verse 25, “That kings forget that they are men, and of the same mould with others: they are (says he) styled Dei gratia; but to what sense or purpose, save only to shew, that they acknowledge no superior upon earth? Yet under colour of this, they will trample upon God with their feet; so that it is but an abuse when they are so called.” It seems then, we must lay aside all appellations of honour, and hereafter say only, Good man such an one, king of England, or Laird such an one, king of Scotland. But let us follow him a little further; where in the same chapter we shall see him go on thus. “See (says he) what the rage and madness of all kings is, with whom it is a common thing to exclude God from the government of the world.” Again, chap. 6, verse 25, “Darius (says he) will condemn by his example all those that profess themselves at this day catholic kings, Christian kings, and defenders of the faith, and yet do not only deface and bury all true piety and religion, but corrupt and deprave the whole worship of God.”
Could any thing be with greater virulence thrown at all the princes of Christendom than this? And yet I believe there is never a puritan or dissenter in England, but would lick his spittle in every one of these assertions.
But let us now rally them together into one argument. When princes oppose God, we are not (in Calvin’s judgment) to obey them, but to spit in their faces. But now, to exclude God from his government of the world, and to corrupt his whole worship, 546(which he affirms all princes do,) is surely to oppose God: and therefore, according to his doctrine, joined with his good manners, we are not to obey them, but spit in their faces. A doctrine fit only to come from him, who nested himself into the chief power of Geneva after the expulsion of the lawful prince.
In the last place, to speak one word of his epistles, which were published by Beza; one who had been a long time licked by him into his own form, and so was likely to do him what advantage he could in their publication: he who shall diligently read them will find, that there was scarce any traitorous design on foot in Christendom, but there are some traces of correspondence with it extant in those epistles.
And so we dismiss him. Beza his disciple succeeds him both in place and doctrine; and to shew that he does so, he expressly owns and commends the French rebellion, in his epistle before his Annotations. And in the forty Articles of Berne, published in the year 1574, and drawn up by Beza, in the fortieth article he affirms, “that they were bound not to disarm, so long as their religion was persecuted by the king.”
If we would now see how this doctrine grew, being transplanted into Scotland; Knox, in his book to the nobility and people of Scotland, in the point of obedience to kings, instructs them thus: “Neither promise (says he) nor oath can oblige any man to obey or give assistance unto tyrants against God.” And what tyrants were in his sense, his practices against the queen regent sufficiently shew.547
In the next place, Buchanan, who was once prolocutor of the Scotch assembly, that is to say, some thing greater than their king, is copious upon this subject, in his history of Scotland, and in his book de jure regni, &c. In the former of which, at the 372d page, he wonders that there is not some public reward appointed for those private men that should kill tyrants, as there is for those that kill wolves. And in his book de jure regni, he maintains an excellent dispute against such as defend kings. The royal advocates, says he, hold, that kings must be obeyed, good or bad. It is blasphemy to affirm that, says Buchanan. But God placeth oftentimes evil kings, say the royal advocates: so doth he often private men to kill them, says Buchanan. But in 1 Timothy we are commanded to pray for princes, say they: so are we commanded to pray for thieves, says he; but yet may hang them up, when we catch them. But, say the royal advocates, St. Paul strictly commands obedience to all princes: St. Paul wrote so, says Buchanan, in the infancy of the church, when they were not able to resist them; but if he had lived now, he would have wrote otherwise.
Now, if this be their prolocutor’s doctrine, I leave it to any one to judge, whether every king has not cause to take up those words of Jacob to Simeon and Levi, with a little change; O my soul, come not thou into their secret, and unto their general assembly, mine honour, be not thou united.
But that we may come home to the very place of my text; I shall produce one more of them, and that is Pareus; a German divine, but fully cast into the Geneva mould. He in his comment upon Romans 548xiii. full fraught with a pestilent discourse against the sovereignty of kings, assigns several cases in which their subjects may lawfully take up arms against them, page 1338. As 1. “If their prince blasphemes God, or causes others to do so. 2. If he does them some great injury: his words are, Si fiat ipsis atrox injuria. 3. If they cannot otherwise enjoy their lives, estates, and consciences.” Now with all these large conditions, still join this, that themselves are to be judges in all these cases against their prince; and then, if they have but a mind to rebel, they may blame themselves, if they are to seek for a lawful cause. This made king James award this worthy piece to the fire and the hangman. A prince who, though bred up under puritans, yet hated their opinions heartily, because he understood them throughly.
And now last of all, as it is the nature of dregs, and the worst part of things, to descend to the bottom, it were easy to bring up the rear with our English Genevizers, and to shew how these doc trines of disloyalty to princes have thriven amongst them; were it not impertinent to think, that you could be further instructed by hearing that for an hour, that you have felt for twenty years. And here by the way, it is a glorious justification of the church of England, still to have had the same enemies with the monarchy of England. For an account of their tenets, I shall not send you to their papers, to their sermons, though some of the greatest blots to Christianity, next to their authors; but I shall send you rather to the field, to the high courts of justice, where they stand writ to eternity in the massacre of thousands, in the blood and banishment 549of princes; actions that much outdo the business of this present anniversary; but to be buried in silence, because not to be reprehended with safety.
However, as for puritanism, since it had so long deceived the world with a demure face, I have been often prone to think, that it was in some respect a favour of Providence, to let it have its late full scope and range, to convince and undeceive Christendom, and by an immortal experiment to demonstrate whither those principles tend, and what a savage monster puritanism, armed with power, would shew itself to the world.
So that if any Christian prince should hereafter forget the English rebellion, and himself, so far as to be deceived with those stale, threadbare, baffled pretences of conscience and reformation, he would fall in a great measure unpitied, as a martyr to his senseless fondness, and a sacrifice to his own credulity.
And for those amongst us, they are of that incorrigible, impregnable malice, that, forgetting all their treasons, they have made the king’s oblivion the chief subject of their own; and rewarding all his unparalleled mercies with continual murmurs, libels, plots, and conspiracies, seem only to be pardoned into fresh treasons, and indemnified into new rebellions.
We have seen here the adversaries, which this great duty of allegiance to kings has on both sides: which that we may enforce against all arts of evasion, which the papist and puritan, the mortal, sworn, covenanted enemies of all magistracy, but especially of monarchy, can invent, it will be expedient briefly to discuss this question;
Whether, and how far, human laws bind the conscience?550
To the determination of which, if we would proceed clearly and rationally, we must first state, what it is to bind the conscience. To bind the conscience therefore, is so to oblige a man to the performance of a thing, that the nonperformance of it brings him under the guilt of sin, and liableness to punishment before God.
Now to proceed. Some are of opinion, that human laws oblige only to the penalty annexed to the violation of them; and that the conscience contracts the guilt of no sin before God; a man’s person being only subject to the outward penalties, which the civil magistrate shall inflict for the expiation of his offence.
But the confutation of this opinion I need fetch no further than from the text. For I demand of the most subtle expositor and acute logician in the world, what sense he will make here of the words, for conscience sake; if by conscience is not meant conscience of sin, but only of liableness to punishment before the magistrate.
For then the sense of the words will be this. You must needs be subject, not only for wrath, that is for fear of punishment; but also for conscience sake, that is, for fear of punishment too; since according to them, the term, for conscience sake, referred to the laws of the civil magistrate, can signify no more. But this is so broad a depravation of the rules of speaking, that it banishes all sense and reason from the whole scheme and construction of the words.
To the whole matter therefore I answer by a distinction.
1. That a law may bind the conscience, either 551immediately, by virtue of its own power conveyed to it by its immediate legislator. Or,
2. Mediately, in the strength of a superior law, owning and enforcing the obligation of the inferior.
This distinction premised, I affirm, that the laws of man neither do nor can thus immediately bind the conscience; that is, by themselves, or by any obliging power transfused into them from the human legislator. That this is so, I demonstrate upon these reasons.
1. No power can oblige any further than it can take cognizance of the offence, and inflict penalties, in case the person obliged does not answer the obligation, but offends against it. This proposition stands firm upon this eternal truth; that nothing can be an obligation that is absurd and irrational. But it is absurd for any power to give laws and obligations to that of which it can take no account, nor possibly know, whether it keeps or transgresses those laws, and which, upon its transgression of them, it cannot punish.
But what man alive, what judge or justice, what Minos or Rhadamanthus, can carry his inspection into the conscience? What evidence, what witness, or rack, can extort a discovery of that, which the conscience is resolved to conceal, and keep within itself? Nay, admit that it were possible to force it to such confessions against itself; yet what penalty could human force, and the short reach of the secular arm, inflict upon a spiritual, immaterial substance? which defies all our engines of torment and arts of cruelty; which laughs at the hostilities and weak invasions of all the elements. Conscience is neither scorched with the fire nor pricked with the sword; 552it feels nothing under a Deity, nothing but the stings and insinuations of an angry, sin-revenging Omnipotence.
2. A second reason is this. That if human laws, considered in themselves, immediately bind the conscience, then human laws, as such, carry in them as great an obligation as the divine. The consequence is most clear; for the divine law can do no more than bind the conscience; the nature of man not being capable of coming under greater obligation. But now a law can have no more force or power in it, than what it receives from the legislator; and since the obliging force of it follows the proportion of his power and prerogative; to affirm that any sanction of man has the same binding force and sacred validity that the laws of God have, amounts to a blasphemous equalling of him who is a worm and a pitiful nothing, to him who is God blessed for ever.
Let these arguments suffice to demonstrate, that human laws cannot of themselves, and by any power naturally inherent in them, immediately bind the conscience. But then, in the next place, I add, that it is as certain, that every human law, enjoining nothing sinful or wicked, really binds the conscience, by virtue of a superior obligation superadded to it, from the injunction and express mandate of the divine law, which commands subjection to the laws and ordinances of the civil magistrate; whether of the king as supreme, or of such as be his vicegerents and deputed officers.
And thus to assert, that human laws have the same obligation with divine, is neither absurd nor blasphemous; forasmuch as this is not affirmed to 553be by any prerogative immanent in themselves, but derivative, and borrowed from the divine. As it is not either treason or impropriety to affirm, that the word of the constable obliges as much as the word of the king, when the king commands that his constable’s word, in such or such matters, should be as much obeyed as his own.
Having thus therefore, by a due and impartial distribution, assigned to God the prerogative of God, and to Caesar the prerogative that is Caesar’s, and withal pitched the obligation of human laws upon so firm and so unshakeable a basis; we shall pass from the first ground, upon which obedience to the civil magistrate is inforced, namely, conscience of the unlawfulness of resisting it, and proceed to the
Second; with which I shall conclude. And that is, conscience of the scandal of such a resistance; which surely is an argument to such whose principles are not scandalous. How tender does St. Paul in all his epistles shew himself of the repute of Christianity, and what stress does he still lay upon this one consideration? 1 Thess. iv. 12, I beseech you that ye walk honestly towards them that are without. And in 2 Cor. vi. 3, Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed. And surely, could we strip rebellion of the sin, yet this would be argument enough against it, that it gives the enemies of Christianity cause to blaspheme, and with some shew of reason decry and reject that excellent profession.
How impossible had it been for the Christian religion to have made such a spread in the world, at least ever to have gained any countenance from the 554civil power, had it owned such anti-magistratical assertions, either by its own avowed principles, or by the practices of its primitive professors.
And very probable it is, that at this very day the most potent enemy it has in the world, which is the Mahometan, takes up his detestation of it, in a great measure, from his observance of those many rebel lions, wars, tumults, and confusions, that have so much and so particularly infested Christendom.
For may he not naturally argue, Can that religion be true or divine, that does not enforce obedience to the magistrate? Or can that do so, whose loudest professors are so rebellious? Is it not rational to imagine, that the religion men profess will have a suitable influence upon their practice? Are not actions the genuine offspring of principles? I wish that answer would satisfy the world that must satisfy us, because we have no better; that Christians live below Christianity, and by their lives contradict their profession.
In the mean time let those incendiaries, those spiritual Abaddons, whose doctrine, like a scab or le prosy, has overspread the face of Christianity, and whose tenets are red with the blood of princes; let such, I say, consider what account they will give to God for that scandal and prejudice, that they have brought upon so pure and noble a religion, that can have no other blemish upon it in the world, but that such persons as they profess it.
If they had but any true ingenuity, (a principle much lower than that of grace,) surely it would tie up their consciences from those infamous exorbitances that have given such deep gashes, such in curable wounds to their religion. For shall Christ 555have bled once for our sins, and shall Christian religion bleed always by our practices? I could now beseech such by the mercies of God, and the bowels of Christ, did I think this would move those who have torn in pieces the body of Christ, that they would bind up the broken reputation of Christianity, by shewing henceforth, that subjection is part of their religion. That they would reflect upon the desolations they have made, with one eye, and upon their great exemplar with the other; remembering him who, while he conversed upon earth, was subject to the civil power in his own person, and commanded subjection to it by his precepts. So that what was said of Christ in respect of the law of Moses, may be equally said of him in reference to the laws of the magistrate, that he came not to destroy, but to
END OF VOL. III.
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