Samuel Stillman (1737-1807) was ordained in Charleston, SC in 1759 and later moved to New England. He was one of the first Trustees of Brown University, and was elected to the Federal Convention in 1788. The following election sermon was preached by Rev. Stillman in Boston on May 26, 1779.
PREACHED BEFORE THE
AND THE HONORABLE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
MASSACHUSETTS – BAY
IN NEW–ENGLAND AT BOSTON
MAY 26, 1779
BEING THE ANNIVERSARY FOR THE ELECTION OF THE HONORABLE COUNCIL
By SAMUEL STILLMAN, A.M.
Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Boston
Printed by T. and J. FLEET, in Cornhill, and J. GILL, in Court-Street
In the House of Representatives,
May 26, 1779
On motion Ordered, that the Honorable General Warren, Mr. Thaxter and Mr. Davis of Boston, be a Committee to return Thanks of this House to the Rev. Mr. Stillman, for his Sermon delivered this Day before the two Houses, and to request a Copy of the same for the Press.
Extract from the Minutes,
Samuel Freeman, Clerk.
Matt. 22: 21
—Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s: and unto God, the things that are God’s.
The Jews entertained an extreme aversion to the Gentiles, and could not be brought to submit to a heathen magistrate but with great reluctance, and through absolute necessity.
These Pharisees therefore, judging of our blessed Lord by their own sentiments and feelings, supposed that by this question, they should extort something from him derogatory to Caesar’s honor; or that would subject him to an impeachment as an enemy to the Roman government. But he taketh the wise in their own craftiness—Shew me, said he, the tribune money, and they brought him a penny. And he saith unto them, whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s: and unto God the things that are God’s.—upon their being thus defeated in their infamous attempt, they marveled, and went their way to report to their masters their humiliating disappointment: for Christ had said nothing in his reply to them, which Caesar himself would not approve.
It is a matter of very little consequence to us on this occasion, which of the Caesar’s was on the throne at the time referred to in the text; because the duties here inculcated are not affected by this circumstance. The people were taught by Christ to render such obedience to Caesar, or to the civil magistrate, as would be consistent with the natural and the civil rights of men, and the obligations they were under to the eternal God. It is unreasonable to suppose that he meant to inculcate any other subjection than this. Besides, his address is properly guarded. “Render therefore to Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s.” That is, those things which he may lawfully claim. What these were our Lord does not ascertain. Nor is it necessary that we should, as they relate to Caesar and his subjects. I shall therefore proceed to apply this sacred passage to ourselves in our present situation, by considering,
- I. What those duties are which the people owe to the civil magistrate.
- II. The duties of the magistrate to the people. And then,
- III. Endeavor to draw the line between the things that belong to Caesar, and those things that belong to God.
I. We are first to enquire what those duties are which the people owe to the civil magistrate?
I apprehend that this question implies another, which is previously necessary to be determined, viz. How came the men whom we call magistrates, with any power at all over the people? Were they born to govern? Have they a higher original than other men? Or, do they claim the sovereignty jure divino?
The time has been when the divine right of kings founded from the pulpit and the press; and when the sacred name of religion was brought in, to sanctify the most horrid systems of despotism and cruelty.—but blessed be God, we live in a more happy era, in which the great principles of liberty are better understood. With us it is a first and a fundamental principle that God made all men equal.
“Nothing is more evident, says a great writer, than the creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the Lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.”1
Until such a declaration of the divine will shall be produced, we ought firmly to maintain the natural equality of all men.
And as they are equal, so they are likewise in a state of entire freedom. Whatever they possess is their own; to be disposed of solely agreeable to their own will. None have a right to claim any part of their property, to disturb them in their possessions, or demand subjection in any degree whatever, while they act consistent with the law of nature. He who attempts to do either, is a usurper, puts himself into a state of war, and may be opposed as a common highwayman.
If we admit the truth of these principles, we come by an easy transition to the foundation of civil society, viz.: The consent of the people. For if all men are equal by nature, it must depend entirely upon themselves, whether they will continue in their natural condition, or exchange it for a state of civil government. Consequently the sovereignty resides originally in the people.
As their leaving a state of nature for a state of civil society, is a matter of their own choice, so they are equally free to adopt that form of government which appears to them the most eligible, or the best calculated to promote the happiness of themselves and of their posterity.
Which is the best form of civil government? Is a question of the first magnitude to any people; and particularly to us, who have lately considered this weighty matter; and who expect, at some future period, finally to determine it.—May that God by whom all human events are controlled, inspire my fellow-citizens with that wisdom that shall be profitable to direct!
From the premises, the following is a natural conclusion—that the authority of the civil magistrate is, under God, derived from the people.
In order therefore to determine with accuracy, what the powers of the civil magistrate are, and also the duties that the people owe him, we must have recourse to the constitution; by which, in all good governments, the authority of the former, and the rights of the latter are determined with precision.
That it should be so, is a dictate of common sense. For upon a supposition of the contrary, how shall rulers of subjects determine their respective obligations?
From hence arises, in my view, the indispensable necessity of a Bill of Rights, drawn up in the most explicit language, previously to the ratification of a constitution of government; which should contain its fundamental principles. And which no person in the state, however dignified, should dare to violate but at his peril.
As we are at present without a fixed form of government, I shall treat the subject rather according to my wishes, than the present state of things. For the constitution ought at least to have a general existence in idea, before the reciprocal duties of magistrates and people can be ascertained.
Some of those principles which, I apprehend, may be called fundamental, have been mentioned; to which I beg leave to subjoin, that the great end for which men enter into a state of civil society, is their own advantage.
That civil rulers, as they derive their authority from the people, so they are accountable to them for the use they make of it—That elections ought to be free and frequent—That representation should be as equal as possible—That as all men are equal by nature, so when they enter a state of civil government, they are entitled precisely to the same rights and privileges’ or to an equal degree of political happiness–
That some of the natural rights of mankind are unalienable, and subject to no control but that of the Deity. Such are the SACRED RIGHTS of CONSCIENCE. Which in a state of nature, and of civil society are exactly the same. They can neither be parted with nor controlled, by any human authority whatever.
Attempts of this kind have been repeatedly made by an ambitious clergy, assisted by rulers of despotic principles. The consequence of which has been, that crowds of the best members of society have been reduced to this dreadful alternative, either to offend God and violate the dictates of their own minds, or to die at a stake.
That the right of trial by jury ought to be perpetual—That no man’s property can, of right, be taken from him without his consent, given either in person, or by his representative—That no laws are obligatory on the people, but those that have obtained a like consent. Nor are such laws of any force, if, proceeding from a corrupt majority of the legislature, they are incompatible with the fundamental principles of the government, and tend to subvert it.
“All human things have an end, says a sensible writer, the state we are speaking of (meaning Great – Britain) will lose its liberty, will perish. Have not Rome, Sparta and Carthage perished? It will perish when the legislative power shall be more corrupt than the executive.”2
Let us cast our eye to the land of our fathers, to the kingdom from whence we descended, and we shall find that she now totters on the brink of a most dangerous precipice. And that she hath been brought into her present deplorable situation by a venal majority.
Some of that people foresaw their catastrophe approaching with hasty strides; they petitioned and remonstrated. And several excellent things were published in vindication of their constitution and their injured rights: but all was in vain.
The very men who were appointed the guardians and conservators of the rights of the people, have dismembered the Empire; and by repeated acts of injustice and oppression, have forced from the bottom of their parent country, millions of Americans, who might have been drawn by a hair, but were not to be driven by all the thunder of Britain.
A few soft words would have fixed them in her interest, and have turned away that wrath which her cruel conduct had enkindled. The sameness of religion, of language and of manners, together with interest , that powerful motive, and a recollection of kind offices which had long prevailed, would have held America in closest friendship with Great – Britain, had she not “governed too much.”
It can afford the inhabitants of that once happy country, no consolation in their present threatening condition, that it hath been brought on with all the formality of law. Rather this circumstance adds to the calamity, seeing the men who should have saved them, have betrayed them.
Where is now the boasted freedom of the British government? Bribery and corruption seem nearly to have accomplished the prediction of the great Montesquieu. Nor is such an event to be wondered at, while we reflect on the inequality3 of their representation, and the base methods that are used in their elections of members of the House of Commons, together with the length of time they are suffered to continue in their places.
“If they are chosen for a long term, by a part only of the state; and if during that term they are subject to no control from their constituents; the very idea of liberty will be lost, and the power of choosing in constituents becomes nothing but a power lodged in a few, to choose, at certain periods, a body of Masters for themselves and for the rest of the community. And if a state is so sunk that the body of its representatives are elected by a handful of the meanest persons in it, whose votes are always paid for;4 and if also there is a higher will on which even these mock representatives themselves depend, and that directs their voices: In these circumstances, it will be an abuse of language to say that the state possesses liberty.”—this appears to be a just description of the present state of the country, from which we descended.
Such an instance affords us many important lessons; and calls upon us to guard as much as possible, in our beginning, against the corruption of human nature. We should leave nothing to human virtue that can be provided for by law or the constitution. The more we trust in the hands of any man, the more we try his virtue, which, at some fatal hour, may yield to a temptation; and the people discover their error, when it is too late to prevent the mischief.
Upon the truth of the principles advanced, I observe, that the authority of the magistrate is derived from the people by consent—that it is limited and subordinate—and that so long as he exercises the power with which he is vested, according to the original compact, the people owe him reverence, obedience and support.
INSPIRATION teaches us to give honor to whom honor, fear to whom fear.
When any men are taken from the common rank of citizens, and are entrusted with the powers of government, they are by that act ennobled. Their election implies their personal merit, and is a public declaration of it. For it is taken for granted, that the people have been influenced in their choice by worthiness of character, and not by family-connections, or other base motives. They are entitled to a certain degree of respect from their constituents; who, while they pay due reverence, will feel it reflected upon themselves, because they bear their commission. Both interest and duty oblige them to reverence the powers that be. It is their duty in consequence of their own appointment. And their interest, because of the good of the community depends much upon it. For as far as any of the citizens unjustly depreciate the merits of rulers, so far they lessen the energy of government, and put it out of their power to promote the public good.
With reverence to the person of the magistrate, we connect obedience to his authority: Such obedience as is compatible with the principles already laid down. The term government implies this subordination, which is essential to its very existence.
When therefore any persons rise in opposition to such authority, they are guilty of a most daring offence against the State; because, as far as it prevails, it tends to destroy the social compact, and to introduce confusion and every evil work. Consequently,
It is the duty of the people to support the magistrate, in the due execution of the laws, against such, and all other offenders. To choose men to office, and not to support them in the execution of it, it is too great an absurdity, one would think, to find any abettors.
THERE is also a pecuniary support which the magistrate hath a right to receive from his constituents. It is most reasonable that those persons whose time and abilities are devoted to the service of their country, should be amply provided for while they are thus engaged. The compensation should be adequate to the services they render the State. Let it be sufficient, but not redundant.
While speaking of that support which the servants of government are entitled to, I beg leave to mention those brave men of every rank, who compose our army. They have stepped forth in the hour of danger, have exchanged domestic ease and happiness for the hardships of the camp—have repeatedly; and many of them have bled in the cause of their country. Of their importance no man can be ignorant.
With deference to this venerable assembly, I am constrained to observe, that our first attention is due to them; because under God, they have been, now are, and we trust will be our defense. For them let us make the most ample provision, and rest assured of their most vigorous exertions, to defend and save their country.
But, it is time to pass to the
II. CONSIDERATION of the duties of the magistrate to the people.
As a free government is founded in compact, the parties concerned in it are consequently are laid under mutual obligations. These, it hath been said, are determined by the constitution. If so, it follows, that the rulers of the people ought to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with it, together with the different laws of the State. Therefore, they should be men of leisure and abilities, whether they are called to act in a legislative or executive department.
It is taken for granted, that the rulers of the people, will not forget the source of their power, nor the design of their appointment to office—that they have no authority but what they derived from the people: who, from a confidence in them, that reflects great honor on them, have put it into their hands, with this sole view,–that they might thereby promote the good of the community.
Whether this great end is accomplished by the exercise of the authority of civil rulers, the people are to judge; with whom the powers of government originate, and who must know the end for which they entrusted them in the hands of any of their fellow-citizens. This right of judging of their conduct, implies, that it lies with them either to censure or approve it.
These considerations are happily calculated to prevent the abuse of power, which has already happened in repeated instances. And of which there ever will be danger, while mankind remain in their present state of corruption.
A SPIRIT of ambition, which is natural to man, tends to tyranny; and an undue attachment to personal interest, may issue in fraud; or in an accumulation of offices, which in their own nature are incompatible with each other; and which no man, let his abilities be what they may, can discharge with honor to himself, and advantage to his country.
A FAITHFUL ruler will consider himself as a trustee of the public, and that he is accountable both to God and to the people for his behavior in his office. He will therefore be very careful not to involve himself in more public business, than he can perform with fidelity.
It would have a happy tendency to render the duty of the magistrate easy and successful, were he to cultivate an intimate acquaintance, with the genius and tempers of the people over whom he presides. By such an acquisition, if prudent, he would be capable of pursuing a mode of conduct that would not fail of gaining him the affections and confidence of his subjects. The importance of which is self-evident.
He who ruleth over men, says David, must be just ruling in the fear of God. In his exalted station, he should go before the people as an example of every moral virtue; and as a hearty friend of that constitution of government ha hath sworn to protect. To the meanest of the people he should act the part of a political father, by securing to them the full enjoyment of life, liberty and property. To him they are to look that justice is not delayed, nor the laws executed with partiality. But that all those who united in clothing him with the authority of the magistrate, may uninterruptedly enjoy that equal liberty, for the security of which they entered into a state of civil society. Thus will he be as the light of the morning when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds.
There are many things that belong to this part of the subject. Such as: that the people have a right to expect that the honorable their rulers, will by all lawful means in their power encourage agriculture and commerce—endeavor to suppress vice and immorality,5 –lend all necessary assistance to our schools and college; it being a matter of high political importance, that knowledge should be diffused through the State, amongst all ranks of men. The propagation of literature is connected with the security of freedom. Ignorance in politics as well as in religion is fatal in its tendency.
These subjects have been often considered with great ability and address, on these anniversaries. Therefore I forebear to enlarge on them, and reserve the remainder of my time for the consideration of a point of peculiar delicacy, and of the greatest importance to the happiness of my country, viz:
III. To attempt to draw the line between the things that belong to Caesar, and those things that belong to God.
To this enquiry I am naturally led by the text. Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s: and unto God the things that are God’s. It is most evident in this passage, that there are some things which Caesar or the magistrate, cannot of right demand, nor the people yield. The address has its limits. To determine what these are was never more necessary to the people of these UNITED STATES, than it is at present. We are engaged in a most important contest; not for powers, but FREEDOM. We mean not to change our masters, but to secure to ourselves, and to generations yet unborn, the perpetual enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, in their fullest extent.
It becomes us therefore to settle this most weighty matter in our different forms of government, in such a manner, that no occasion may be left in the future, for the violation of the all-important rights of conscience.
“I esteem it,” says the justly celebrated Mr. Locke, “above all things, necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men’s souls, and on the other side, a care of the common wealth.
“The common wealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.”
“CIVIL interests I call life, liberty and health—and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.”
“Now that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments, and that all civil power, right and dominion, is bounded and confined to the only care of promoting these things; and that it neither cannot ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls, these following considerations seem to me abundantly to demonstrate:”
“First because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate any more than to other men. It is not committed to him, I say, by God, because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another, as to compel anyone to his religion. Nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate by the content of the people; because no man can so far abandon the care of his own salvation, as blindly to leave it to the choice of any other, whether prince of subject, to prescribe to him what faith or worship he shall embrace. For no man can, if he would conform his faith to the dictates of another. All the life and power of true religion consists in the inward and full persuasion of the mind; and faith is not faith without believing.”
“In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to anything by outward force.”
“In the third place, the care of the salvation of men’s souls, cannot belong to the civil magistrate; because, though the rigor of laws and the force of penalties were capable to convince and change men’s minds, yet would not that help at all to the salvation of their souls. For, there being but one truth, one way to Heaven; what hope is there that more men would be led into it, if they had no other rule to follow but the religion of the court, and were put under the necessity to quit the light of their own reason, to oppose the dictates of their own consciences, and blindly resign up themselves to the will of their own governors, and to the religion to which either ignorance, ambition or superstition had chanced to establish in the countries where they were born? In the variety and contradiction of opinions in religion, wherein the princes of the world are as much divided as in their secular interests, the narrow way would be much straitened; one country alone would be in the right, and all the rest of the world put under an obligation of following their princes in the ways that led to destruction: and what heights the absurdity, and very ill suits he the notion of a Deity, men would owe their eternal happiness or misery to the places of their nativity.”
“These considerations, to admit many others that might have been urged to the same purpose, seem to me sufficient to conclude that all the power of civil government relates only to men’s civil interests, is confined to the care of the things of this world, and hath nothing to do with the world to come.”6
These sentiments, I humbly conceive, do honor to their author, and discover a true greatness and liberality of mind; and are calculated properly to limit the power of civil rulers, and to secure to every man the inestimable right of private judgment.
They are also perfectly agreeable to a fundamental principle of government, which we universally admit. We say that the power of the civil magistrate is derived from the people. If so, it follows that he can neither have more, nor any other kind of power than they had to give.
The Power which the people commit into the hands of the magistrate is wholly confined to the things of this world. Other power than this they have not. They have not the least authority over the consciences of one another, nor over their own consciences so as to alienate them, or subject them to the control of the civil magistrate in matters of religion, in which every man is personally interested; and concerning which every man ought to be fully persuaded in his own mind, and to follow it’s dictates at all hazards, because he is to account for himself at the judgment seat of Christ.
Seeing then that the people have no power that they can commit into the hands of the magistrate, but that which relates to the good of civil society, it follows that the magistrate can have no other, because he derives his authority from the people. Such as the power of the people is, such must be the power of the magistrate.
To these observations I beg leave to add, that the kingdom of Christ is not of this world. By his kingdom we mean his church, which is altogether spiritual. Its origin, government and preservation are entirely of him, who hath upon his vesture and upon his thigh written, KING OF KINGS, and LORD OF LORDS.
The doctrines that we are to believe, the duties that we are to perform, the officers who are to serve in this kingdom, and the laws by which all the subjects are to be governed, we become acquainted with according to the oracles of God, which are the Christians infallible directory: to which he is bound to yield obedience, at the risqué of his reputation and life.
They who enter into this kingdom do it voluntarily, with a design of promoting their spiritual interests. Civil affairs they resign to the care of the magistrate, but the salvation of their souls they seek in the kingdom of Christ.
This kingdom does not in any respects interfere with civil government; rather tends to promote its peace and happiness, because its subjects are taught to obey magistracy, and to lead peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness and honesty.
The subjects of the kingdom of Christ claim no exemption from the just authority of the magistrate, by virtue of their relation to it. Rather they yield a ready and cheerful obedience, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. And should any of them violate the laws of the state, they are to be punished as other men.
They exercise no secular power; they inflict no temporal penalties upon the persons of one another. All their punishments are spiritual. Their weapons are not carnal, but mighty through God. They use no other force than that of reason and argument to reclaim delinquents; nor are such persons to be punished for continuing incorrigible, in any other way than by rebuke, or exclusion.
They pretend not to exercise their spiritual authority over any persons, who have not joined themselves to them of their own accord. What have I to do, says Paul, to judge them also who are without? Do ye not judge them who are within?
The subjects of this kingdom are bound by no laws in matters of religion, but such as they receive from Christ, who is the only lawgiver and head of his church. All human laws in this respect are inadmissible, as being necessary, and as implying a gross reflection on our Lord Jesus Christ, as though he was either unable, or unwilling to provide for his own interest in the world. Nor shall he stand by an idle spectator, of the many encroachments that have been made on his sacred prerogative, by the powers of the world.
Should the most dignified civil ruler become a member of his church, or a subject of his spiritual kingdom, he cannot carry the least degree of his civil power into it. In the church he is as any other member of it, entitled to the same spiritual privileges, and bound by the same laws. The authority he has derived from the state can by no means be extended to the kingdom of Christ, because Christ is the only source of that power that is to be exercised in it.
It is readily acknowledged, that the intrinsic excellence and beneficial effects of true religion are such that every man who is favored with the Christian revelation, ought to befriend it. It has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. And there are many ways in which the civil magistrate may encourage religion, in a perfect agreement with the nature of the kingdom of Christ, and the rights of conscience.
As a man he is personally interested in it. His everlasting salvation is at stake. Therefore he should search the scriptures for himself, and follow them wherever they lead him. This right he hath in common with every other citizen.
As the head of a family he should act as a priest in his own house, by endeavoring to bring up his children in the nurture, and admonitions of the Lord.
As a magistrate he should be as a nursing father to the church of Christ, by protecting all the peaceable members of it from injury on account of religion; and by securing to them the uninterrupted enjoyment of equal religious liberty. The authority by which he acts he derives alike from all the people, consequently he should exercise that authority equally for the benefit of all, without any respect to their different religious principles. They have an undoubted right to demand it.
Union in the state is of absolute necessity to its happiness. This the magistrate will study to promote. And this he may reasonably expect upon the plan proposed, of a just and equal treatment of all the citizens.
For although Christians may contend amongst themselves about their religious differences, they will all unite to promote the good of the community, because it is their interest, so long as they all enjoy the blessings of a free, and equal administration of government.
On the other hand, if the magistrate destroys the equality of the subjects of the state on account of religion, he violates a fundamental principle of a free government, establishes separate interests in it, and lays a foundation for disaffection to rulers, and endless quarrels among the people.
Happy are the inhabitants of that common wealth, in which every man sits under his vine and fig tree, having none to make him afraid—in which they are protected, but none established!
Permit me on this occasion to introduce the words of the Rev. Dr. Chauncy, whose age and experience add weight to his sentiments. “We are,” says this gentleman, “in principle against all civil establishments in religion.—we desire not, and suppose we have no right to desire, the interposition of the state to establish our sentiments in religion, or the manner in which we would express them—It does not indeed appear to us, that God has entrusted the state with a right to make religious establishments.” And after observing, that if one state has this right, all states have the same right, he adds, “And as they must severally be supposed to exert this authority in establishments conformable to their own sentiments in religion; what can the consequence be, but infinite damage to the cause of God and true religion? And such in fact has been the consequence of these establishments in all ages, and in all places. What absurdities in sentiment, and ridiculous follies, not to say gross immoralities, in practice, have not been established by the civil power in some or other of the nations of the world?7
To which I take the liberty to add the following passage of a very ingenious author.8 “The moment any religion becomes national, or established, its purity must certainly be lost, because it is impossible to keep it unconnected with men’s interests; and if connected, it must inevitably be perverted by them.—Again, that very order of men, who are maintained to support its interests, will sacrifice them to their own.—By degrees knaves will join them, fools believe them, and cowards be afraid of them; and having gained so considerable a part of the world to their interests, they will erect an independent dominion among themselves, dangerous to the liberties of mankind; and representing all those who oppose their tyranny, as God’s enemies, teach it to be meritorious in his fight to persecute them in this world, and damn them in another. Hence must arise Hierarchies, Inquisitions and Popery; for popery is but the consummation of that tyranny which every religious system in the hands of men is in perpetual pursuit of.”
It is well known to this respectable assembly that Christianity flourished remarkably for the space of three hundred years after he ascension of Christ, amidst the hottest and most bloody persecutions, and when the powers of the world were against it; and began to decline immediately upon its being made a legal establishment by Constantine, the first Christian emperor, who heaped upon it his ill-judged favors, and introduced a train of evils which he had not designed.
The preachers of this divine religion were no sooner taken into the favor of the prince, and their sentiments established by law, than they began to quarrel who should be the greatest; and anathematized one another.—Everyman who has read the history of the four first general councils, is fully satisfied of the truth of these remarks.
Seeing then, Christianity made its way in the beginning, when the powers of the world were against it, let us cheerfully leave it to the force of its own evidence, and to the care of its adorable author; while we strictly attend to all those means, which he hath instituted for the propagation of it. The ministers of Christ are particularly called upon to preach the word, to be instant in season, out of season, to teach the people publicly, and from house to house; always encouraging themselves with that gracious promise, Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
Upon the whole, I think it is plain, as well as a very important truth, that the church of Christ and a common-wealth are essentially different. The one is a religious society, of which Christ is the sole head, and which he gathers out of the world, in common, by the dispensation of his gospel, governs by his laws in all matters of religion, a complete code of which we have in the sacred scriptures; and preserves it by his power.
The other is civil society, originating with the people, and designed to promote their temporal interests: Which is governed by men, whose authority is derived from their fellow-citizens, and confined to the affairs of this world.
In this view of the matter, the line appears to be fairly drawn, between the things that belong to Caesar, and the things that belong to God. The magistrate is to govern the state, and Christ to govern the church. The former will find business enough in the complex affairs of government, to employ all his time and abilities. The latter is infinitely sufficient to manage his own kingdom without foreign aid.
Thus have I considered the important principles of civil and religious liberty, according to that ability which God hath given; and with a freedom that becomes a citizen, when called upon, at a most critical period, to address the Rulers of a free people: whose patriotic minds, it is taken for granted, would at once despise the language of adulation.
In order to complete a system of government, and to be consistent with ourselves, it appears to me that we ought to banish from among us that cruel practice, which has long prevailed, of reducing to a state of slavery for life, the free-born Africans.9
The Deity hath bestowed upon them and us the same natural rights as men; and hath assigned to them apart of the globe for their residence. But mankind, urged by those passions which debase the human mind, have pursued them to their native country; and by fomenting wars among them, that they might secure the prisoners, or employing villains to decoy the unwary, have filled their ships with the unfortunate captives; dragged them from their tenderest connections, and transported them to different parts of the earth, to be hewers of wood, and drawers of water, till death shall end their painful captivity.
To reconcile this nefarious traffic with reason, humanity, religion, or the principles of a free government, in my view, requires an uncommon address.
Should we make the case our own, and act agreeable to that excellent rule of our blessed Lord, whatever ye would that men should do to you, do ye to them likewise, the abolition of this disgraceful practice would take place.
Nor can I conceive that we shall act a consistent part, till we brand this species of tyranny with perpetual infamy. Shall we hold the sword in one hand to defend our just rights as men; and grasp chains with the other to enslave the inhabitants of Africa? Forbid it heaven!—Forbid it all the free-born sons of this western world!–
May the year of jubilee soon arrive, when Africa shall cast a look of gratitude to these happy regions, for the TOTAL EMANCIPATION of HER SONS!–
This matter, among others, deserves the serious attention of our Honorable rulers, in whom their fellow-citizens have reposed uncommon confidence, which is apparent in calling them forth to public service at such a difficult period as this; which undoubtedly calls for the united exertions of the greatest abilities.
The voice of the people is, as mentioned before, and the importance of the matter justifies the repetition of it; I say, the voice of the people is, that government should pay their first attention to war. If we should, it may prove greatly injurious to the freedom and glory of the RISING EMPIRE.
But it is not for me to attempt to specify the weighty affairs, which during the course of the present year, and particularly of the present session, are likely to come before the Honorable Gentlemen, who have this day called us to the place of public worship. God grant unto them that wisdom that is from above!
While transacting public business, may they remember that Jehovah standeth in the congregation of the mighty; and judgeth among the gods. Under the influence of this solemn consideration, may the elections of this day be conducted. This being the case, every elector, before he gives his vote for any person to sit in Council, will take pains to satisfy himself, whether he possesses the qualifications that are necessary for so exalted a station: Such as wisdom, virtue, firmness, and an unfeigned love of his country. Tried friends deserve the preference: An experience of whose capacity and fidelity in times past, recommends them as worthy of present confidence.
To the direction of unerring wisdom we commit both branches of the Honorable Court; heartily wishing that they may conduct themselves in every respect, as those who are to be accountable to God the judge of all. Thus will they enjoy the testimony of conscience, and may expect to be accepted of the multitude of their brethren.
In fine, seeing the body of Christians, however divided into sects and parties, “are entitled precisely to the same rights,” it becomes them to rest contented with that equal condition, nor to wish for pre-eminence. Rather they should rejoice to see all men as free, and as happy as themselves.
They should study to imbibe more of the spirit of their divine Master, to love as brethren, and to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace. In the present state of ignorance and prejudice they cannot expect to see eye to eye. There will be a variety of opinions and modes of worship among the disciples of the same Lord; men equally honest, pious, and sensible, while they remain in this world of imperfection. Let them therefore be faithful to their respective principles, and kind and forbearing towards one another. Their chief study should be to advance the cause of morality and religion in the world; and by their good works to glorify their father who is in heaven.
They are subject to the civil magistrate, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake; and to pray for all who are in authority, that under them they may lead a quiet and peaceable life in godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God. To whom be glory forever.
1 Locke. (Return)
2 Montesquieu. (Return)
3 In Great-Britain, consisting of near six million inhabitants, 5723 persons, most of them of the lowest of the people, elect one half of the House of commons; and 364 votes choose a ninth part. This may be seen distinctly made out in the Political Disquisitions, Vol.1. Book 2. Ch. 4—Dr. Price. (Return)
4 They who buy their places will sell the people, for they mean to make something by the bargain. (Return)
5 Had this sentence been duly attended to at the time the sermon was delivered, the following objection, which some of my friends have made, viz. “That upon the principles contained in the sermon, the civil magistrate ought not to exercise his authority to suppress acts of immorality;” I say, had what is said above been properly observed, this objection had been superseded. Immoral actions properly come under the cognizance of civil rulers, who are the guardians of the peace of society. But then I beg leave to observe in the words of bishop Warburton,” That the magistrate punishes no bad actions, as sins or offences against God, but only as crimes injurious to, or having a malignant influence in society.” In this view of the matter he keeps within the line of his own department. (Return)
6 Locke on Toleration, P.35, 36, 37. (Return)
7 Appeal to the public answered, P. 152, 153. (Return)
8 Free inquiry into the nature and origin of evil. (Return)
9 Congress early in the controversy with Great-Britain, protested against the slave-trade in the following resolve:
Secondly. We will neither import nor purchase any slaves imported after the first day of December next; and will neither be concerned in it ourselves, nor will we hire our vessels, nor sell our commodities or manufactures to those who are concerned in it.(Return)