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justice and encroachment made by the rich and powerful on the rights and welfare of others. But as Christ has ennobled and sanctified the dearest of our domestic relations, that of marriage, by comparing it to the tender and affectionate care with which He watches over those who are united in one body to Him as their Head, so are our public relations raised by being equally connected with the service of our Lord. Laws and governments, then, are His ordinance, just as marriage is His ordinance, or the relations between parents and their children. They are His ordinance, because He knew that without them we should be in a state hardly better than that of the beasts; because He willed that some image of His own just government, however faint, should exist in the world; some power that should put down the most violent forms of evil, though it could not touch those that lurk within the heart, nor reward the virtue of the good. Such is the general view of human laws which the Gospel holds out to us, representing them as an instrument of God's providence for the holding society together, by restraining those crimes which would tend to pull it to pieces. And it is on this ground,-because society cannot exist without laws, and it is God's will that we should live in political societies, and not in a state of savage selfishness, every man only caring and acting for himself;that laws are entitled to our obedience, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake; that is, not only because we may incur a penalty if we disobey them, but because whether we do or no, we are certainly, by disobeying, doing that which is displeasing in the sight of God. And the Apostle extends this duty of con
scientious obedience not only to those laws which forbid actions condemned equally by the law of God; as, for instance, most men would allow that we are bound to observe the laws which forbid theft or murder, even if we were sure of escaping detection, supposing we should commit these crimes. The Apostle, I say, goes farther than this, and says that we should also obey from conscience those laws which one may call the common machinery of government, those which direct the payment of money, whether under the form of direct taxes or of duties, for the purposes of the state. “For for this cause pay ye tribute also, for they are God's ministers, attending continually on this very thing. Render, therefore, to all their dues : tribute to whom tribute is due ; custom to whom custom." Nothing can be plainer or stronger than this command, as to the sinfulness of evading either tribute or custom; that is, either taxes or duties; the giving false returns to the tax-gatherer, and thus not paying as much as the laws intend us to pay; and the being guilty of smuggling, or encouraging of smuggling, by which the Government is defrauded of its duties. These things, we know, are constantly done, and I would be far from saying that no good men are ever guilty of them; but I will say that the best men do not commit them; that those who really labour after Christian perfection, who desire to have a conscience enlightened on all points of their duty, to be Christians in their public as well as private relations, that such persons carefully avoid them. And it is to actions of this kind that we may fitly apply the words of our Lord, “Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, the same
shall be the least in the kingdom of heaven ; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be counted great in the kingdom of heaven."
But it is said, that to speak thus of the divine author. ity of human laws, and of our being bound to obey them for conscience sake, is to encourage tyranny in the government, and a slavish submission to abuses in the people. It seems rather to me, that he who takes a Christian view of his duty as a citizen must be, above all others, the most active in the removal of abuses. He who looks upon government and law as ordinance of God, as intended to put down crime, and to favour our progress in true civilization, that is, in a knowledge and love of all our various duties, must be most grieved when he sees these institutions degraded to meaner and selfish purposes, for the benefit of some only, rather than that of all. In other times they have been sometimes so far corrupted, as to be actually at variance with the law of God; they have commanded crime in some instances, and forbidden what was a duty. In such cases, of course there can be no hesitation how we should act. We ought to obey God rather than man; and disobedience to the government is but obedience to Him who is the Lord and Governor of us all. But the far more common case is that in which the laws do not forbid a duty, but restrain a reasonable liberty, or maintain something unreasonable and inexpedient: they do not allow us to perform, not something which we are bound to perform, but which we may fairly wish to perform ; so that obedience is not a sin, but an inconvenience. Now in these cases, the common way of acting is to disobey without scruple in our own particular case, and take no further trouble
about the matter. The Christian course would be, on the other hand, to obey carefully in our own particular case; but if the law be really a general grievance, to spare no exertion to get it repealed. While it is a law, so long as my obeying it hurts none but myself, I am bound in my practice to comply with it; but because it is unjust, and generally mischierous, I am also bound to do all that is in my power, by lawful and Christian means, to hinder it from remaining a law any longer. This would be the most effectual way to ensure obedience to laws, and also to ensure that those laws should be just and reasonable. And how much may be done by time and perseverance in a good cause, and upon Christian motives, even by a very humble individual, the efforts of Clarkson to procure the abolition of the slave trade, and the success of those efforts, afford a great and a cheering example. There, indeed, was a crime to be stopped; whereas, in most cases, it is only a grievance which is to be removed. But in the removal of a grievance there is room for much Christian zeal, provided we can assure ourselves by our quiet and conscientious submission to it, in our own individual case, that it is on public and not on selfish grounds that we desire to effect it. It is clear, indeed, that many of the worst laws continue in existence, chiefly because so many people make no scruple of violating them for their own convenience, and thus do not care whether or no they press heavily upon others who may have less opportunity to erade them, or too much principle to allow them to do it if they could. In all cases, therefore, where the violation of the law is not a duty, it is a sin; be the law hard or not, be it reasonable or unreasonable, --so long as it is not
wicked, it is our duty in our own cases to obey it; but if it be hard and unreasonable we may, and if it be greatly and generally so, we ought, to exert ourselves to effect its repeal. This is the Christian view of our duties to human laws and governments ;-that we should be not slavish or superstitious, nor yet selfish and turbulent; but at once high principled, peaceable, self-denying, and charitable ; readily and conscientiously obeying, where our own convenience or liberty is the only sacrifice, but eager for the sake of others that obedience should not long be claimed by any enactment that is really unjust and mischievous; holding the mean between the selfishness of indolence and servility, on the one hand, and that of pride and impatience on the other; following after peace, yet not forgetting that the law should be established in righteousness.
November 18th, 1827.
G. Woodfall and Son, Printers, Angel Court, Skinner Street, London.