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Preached before the House of Commons at St. Margaret's, Westminster, March 8, 1714, being the anniversary of Queen Anne's accession to the throne.
II SAMUEL, CHAP. XXIII.-VERSES 3. 4.
The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God: and he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.
THE words read to you are said to be the last of David, and uttered by the Spirit of the Lord,' whose 'word' was 'in his tongue,' They are by some Jewish interpreters referred to the days of the Messiah, as foretelling the righteousness and increase of his kingdom for evermore: but in this sense they can no otherwise relate to the Messiah than as they are pointed at him through David, who was a type of that great Prince of peace and of righteousness; and consequently, in their natural and literal sense, they regard the temporal government of David, and stand as a fit instruction for the princes of the earth.
There is likewise some doubt of the time when these words were first spoken; whether this admonition and promise were given David on his first entrance on his kingdom, as a sure direction to guide him through the difficulties of empire, and by him delivered as his last words, and the best legacy which he could bequeath, to those who were to succeed him in the throne of Israel; or whether they were first conceived and
uttered by David in the last scene of his life, and left with the authority of a dying father to his sons, as containing the true secret of governing happily; which he had learned both from long experience and from the influence of the Spirit of God. But in whichsoever of these views we consider the text, it comes to the same thing; and we have the true art of governing, by which a prince may render himself and his people happy, described to us by the wisdom of the divine Spirit, · He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of the Lord.'
It is a happiness that we may justly glory in, that these words are a proper theme for this day, the subject of which is the accession of our prince to the throne. Such a description of the ruler's duty, produced on the like occasion, would in many places be esteemed a reproach to the prince; and could yield no fruit to the people, but a sense of their misfortune. Unhappy countries! where even such Scriptures have the sound of treason; but with us, the brighter light they are placed in, the more honor they reflect on the throne, the greater comfort and consolation on the people: for though the merit of good government be the prince's proper praise, yet the benefit of it is universal, and reaches even the meanest of his subjects.
The prosperity of a prince who rules in the fear of the Lord, is represented to us in the latter part of the text under very beautiful similitudes: He shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds.' The sun is the great spirit of the world, in the light of which all things are made to rejoice; perpetual spring attends his course; all things revive at his approach, and put on a new face of youth and beauty: winter and frost lag behind him; nature grows deformed, and the world sickens at his departure. What the sun is to the world, the same is a good prince to his people he is the life and soul of the public; his influence produces beauty, order, and regularity, and so animates every member, that the whole society is harmony and peace. This difference there is; the sun in his meridian glory strikes some parts with too fierce a fire, and the field fades under the heat which should refresh it but the just prince, like the rising
sun in a clear morning, shines with kinder rays, and his justice, being always tempered with love and mercy, can never be destructive.
As this similitude sets before us the blessings derived from a just prince to his people, so does the next represent to us the stability of kingdoms so happily directed. That government is always in its youth and vigor that is under the management of a wise ruler; its inward constitution is healthful, and so confirmed in strength, that it stands secure from outward dangers : He shall be as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.' There cannot be a more lively image of a florishing condition than what is conveyed to us in these words. The grass which is forced by the heat of the sun, before the ground is well prepared by rains, is weak and languid, and of a faint complexion: but when clear shining' succeeds the gentle showers of spring, the field puts forth its best strength, and is more beautifully arrayed than even Solomon in all his glory.' Such is the splendor, such are the never-fading glories of a kingdom, whose prince ruleth in the fear of the Lord.
The text thus explained leads us to consider,
First, the character of a good prince, expressed in these words, 'He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.'
Secondly, how great a blessing a just prince is to his people; which is represented under the similitudes of the rising sun, and the florishing grass springing out of the earth.
First, then, we are to consider the character of a good prince expressed in these words: He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.'
Justice, in the limited notion of the word, as it signifies a due execution of the law, an equal distribution of rewards and punishments to the obedient and disobedient, makes but a part of the description of a good governor; that which fills up the character is a more extensive virtue, influencing the whole conduct of a reign, and denotes rather the general habit of virtue than any particular acts that flow from it. What this virtue is with that which
may best be understood by comparing it is the true measure of it, the fear of the Lord. And thus the text has taught us to explain the notion, referring us evidently
to the fear of the Lord, as to the proper rule and measure of that justice which it requires in a ruler: He that ruleth over men must be just;' what is meant by just, the following words inform us : Ruling in the fear of God.'
The fear of God is in all cases the beginning of wisdom, as being the true foundation of religion; the principle from which the knowlege of our duty, as well as our obligation to obedience, is in all instances deducible. It is a principle which extends to all the stations and circumstances of human life; and will teach the prince as well how to govern, as the subject how to obey.
Now the fear of the Lord either means a just sense of the attributes of God, or else necessarily supposes it; for fear always follows what is determined by the conception we form of the thing or person feared. If we join to great power great malice, and a settled resolution to do mischief, the object so clothed strikes with terror and confusion, and the result is an abject slavish fear if we add to unlimited power as great goodness and benovolence, such a being creates in our minds awe and reverence, and replenishes our hearts with filial fear and veneration. To know the difference between the fear of a father and of a tyrant, we must necessarily consult our ideas of both, by which only we can distinguish the passions. To act therefore under the fear of God, is one and the same thing as to be influenced by a just sense of his power, holiness, and other divine perfections; and to 'rule' in the fear of the Lord, is so to 'govern,' as being always under the sense of his power and holiness, as being ever in the presence of him who is King of kings, and Lord of lords.
It is this sense which will make princes become true fathers of their people for when they consider that they stand in the place of God, the common father of mankind; that those who are made subject to their power, are the sons of him who put the reins of government into their hands; they must needs treat their people like their children, as conscious to themselves of executing a father's power; and knowing that they should be injurious to him above them, as well as to those below them, should they use his authority in a way not suitable to his character. Could a prince abuse his authority to the gratifying
his lust or passion, had he this sense before his eyes? Could he think it reasonable to make the power of God execute the corrupt designs of a man's heart? In the private affairs of life there is nothing leaves a fouler stain on a good character than the abuse of a trust, which extends perhaps only to the guardianship of a few infants and a small estate; and yet a man that proves unjust to his friend in so small a concern, in neglecting the interest of the little family committed to his care, is looked on by all as abandoned to the sense of honor and virtue. The reason of this resentment is plain; because every body sees that the father left his friend his power and authority over the family and estate, that he might become a father to them in his stead: and this is understood to carry with it such an obligation, that an honest man is more careful and industrious in the concerns of others, than ofttimes he is in his own. A good prince governs with the same sentiments, which are ever suggested to him by the fear of God: he considers his people as the family of the Almighty, over which he is placed by the appointment of Providence; as orphans committed to his care, whose prosperity and happiness depend intirely on his conduct: the will of God is always the rule by which he uses the power of God; and in every instance of government he does the very thing which he judges God would do, were he personally to determine the case himself; for a prince so instructed seeks not his own will, but the will of him who sent him.'
This is a general account of the prince's temper and disposition, who rules in the fear of the Lord. If we carry the view through the particulars of government, we shall discover more distinctly the happy influence of this religious principle.
The royal authority being the immediate power of God, has no more immediate concern than to promote the service and to establish the honor of God in the hearts of men; it is but a natural tribute for princes to pay their Maker, to provide that those whom God has made to be their subjects, should not cease to be his servants. Besides, this is a case recommended to them both by their own and their people's interest: it is not in the power of the best princes to make all their subjects equally happy; poverty and distress will be the uncomfortable companions of some in the most florishing kingdoms: but reli