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drawn by this eminent divine: for it appears to have been the express intention of St. Peter to guard against the consequences, which might arise from such parts of the writings of his brother Apostle, as were obscurely expressed and imperfectly comprehended. That
passage, in which it is truly asserted that, “ in all the Epistles of St. Paul are some things hard to be understood,” has been a frequent, and indeed important, subject of attention. But I am not aware that the verse, selected as our present text, has ever been considered as a caution against an ignorant and mischievous interpretation of the Epistle to the Galatians, but particularly the beginning of the fifth chapter. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty, wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
It was of the utmost importance, in the early days of the Gospel, that the new disciples should not so misconceive its real nature, as to furnish any ground for scandal, or pretence for persecution, to the governments, among which they were dispersed. It was the more necessary to guard against erroneous notions on the subject of liberty, because the Jewish converts partook so largely of the national prejudices in regard to the design and effect of the Messiah's coming. They had been accustomed to associate ideas of temporal dominion and pre-eminence with moral and religious improvement. The Heathens also, when they contemplated the transcendent virtue and dignity of Christ, and when they beheld the supernatural powers, that were exercised by the Apostles, were naturally led to consider the downfall of “ “ earthly principalities,” as the necessary and easy consequence of the success of the new dispensation.
With these impressions already made upon their minds, an exhortation from Apostolical authority to maintain themselves in the liberty, wherewith Christi had set them free, was not unlikely to be construed into a signal for insurrection by the prejudiced and enthusiastic; the poor
and ambitious. Freedom from vice and ignorance ; from the dominion of ceremony and the terrors of superstition; freedom from the errors, and follies, and mischiefs, of other religious systems, was not so obvious nor so complete a benefit in their unenlightened minds; but that freedom from a foreign and idolatrous yoke would occur to the mind of a Jew; while the Heathen fetched a deep and indignant sigh, when he saw the habitable world, the once manly and ardent spirits of Greece and Rome, crouching under the bloody sway of a Tiberius, a Caligula, or a Nero.
These prejudices and feelings, how long soever they had been cherished, and however justly excited, would, in the infancy of the Gospel, have perverted its spirit, and even weakened its evidence. They would moreover have called down upon the heads of its professors the combined and accumulated fury of their Jewish and Heathen adversaries. It was therefore well becoming the wisdom and the benevolence of an Apostle to caution his converts of every description against any perverse construction, or improper use, of their Christian liberty; to remind them that their Lord himself had expressly declined the exercise of temporal authority; and that, as he had
shewn in the whole course of his life, so he had solemnly announced, upon the approach of death, that “ his kingdom was not of this world.” Hence it is that, while St. Peter enforces the doctrine laid down by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, concerning submission to the civil powers, he takes occasion to warn his converts against any misconstruction of the recommendation, urged upon the Galatians, that they would assert their just privileges, and maintain their Christian freedom. In imitation of the former he says; “Submit
“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of mán, for the Lord's sake; whether it be to the king as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him, for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well.” At the same time, and with a similar reference to the design of the Gospel, the circumstances in which it was placed, and the spirit with which it must be supported, he adds; “ For so is the will of God, that with well-doing, ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.”
Thus much have I conceived it to be desirable that I should remark to you upon the origin and tendency of these celebrated passages, which have been so frequently brought forward upon questions connected with civil government. Nor can these passages, more especially that selected for the text, be considered otherwise than appropriate to the subject prescribed for our serious consideration on this day. This day has been set apart by legislative authority for the commemoration of a melancholy and bloody
occurrence in the annals of our country." "And so far as this event, and such as were connected with it, furnish a practical dissuasive against “disobedience and wilful rebellion," they supply a warning, which can never be unseasonable under any modification of civil society. At the present conjuncture, I should shrink from my duty, if I declined the opportunity of advocating the cause of peace and good order; of pointing out the folly of turbulent clamour; and the danger of indiscriminate and unnecessary change. No advocate shall I be found for the wrong-doing of governors, when it is really proved to exist ; no enemy to the wary and temperate removal of imperfections, which cannot but be found in every constitution settled by man. Nevertheless, it is the bounden duty of every minister of the Gospel of charity and peace, to urge the expediency, as well as obligation, of obedience to lawful authority; and to shew that, even where provocation is given by the invasion of popular rights, yet resistance itself, however provoked and however justified, fails not to be accompanied with a train of evils scarcely less afflicting, for a time at least, than such as are entailed by the exercise of arbitrary power.
These lessons, with others no doubt most worthy to be treasured up by rulers themselves, are suggested by the various events, which occasioned and were consequent upon the memorable transaction of this day; and which entailed upon our country a state of confusion, bordering upon anarchy, for nearly half a century. Such lessons then it becomes my duty to explain and to improve; and in proceeding to disa charge that duty by a suitable application of the words of the text, I find, in the first place,
a The Rubric directs that the sermon, delivered on the 30th of Junuary, shall be " composed upon this argument."
A most important rule laid down for the conduct of those, who are subject to authority. Whatsoever portion of freedom they enjoy, they are directed not to use that freedom as a cloke for mischief.
As no society can subsist long without laws, and laws must be ineffectual without due obedience on the part of the governed, it is evident that conduct, tending to disparage the duty or lessen the necessity of that obedience, partakes both of folly and wickedness. It is foolish, because the first projectors of violent and extreme change have seldom derived any benefit from the most successful execution of their designs ;-it is wicked, because a government unhinged and unsettled ceases to be available to those purposes of protection and comfort, which are the very ends designed by the institution of government; and moreover, because the tyranny of the multitude, which generally takes place in the first days of revolutions, is of all the varied and horrid forms of despotism, the most capricious and the most cruel.
These observations must not be misinterpreted. They interfere not with any peaceable method of animadverting upon the conduct of an established government, when it appears to be at variance with the great, indeed, sole end for which government was established, the happiness of the community. They are not designed to check any peaceable expression