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BEFORE THE HOUSE OF LORDS, IN THE ABBEY-CHURCH OF
On Thursday, June 11, 1747;
Being the Anniversary of his Majesty's Happy Accession
1 TIMOTHY ii. 1, 2.
1 exhort, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men: for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.
It is impossible to describe the general end which Providence has appointed us to aim at, in our passage through the present world, in more expressive words than these very plain ones of the apostle, "to lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.""A quiet and peaceable life," by way of distinction, surely, from eager tumultuary pursuits in our private capacity, as well as in opposition both to our making insurrections in the state, and to our suffering oppression from it. "To lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty," is the whole that we have any
reason to be concerned for. To this the constitution of our nature carries us; and our external condition is adapt
ed to it.
Now, in aid to this general appointment of Providence, civil government has been instituted over the world, both by the light of nature and by revelation, to instruct men in the duties of fidelity, justice, and regard to common good, and enforce the practice of these virtues, without which there could have been no peace or quiet amongst mankind; and to preserve, in different ways, a sense of religion, as well as virtue, and of God's authority over us. For if we could suppose men to have lived out of government, they must have run wild, and all knowledge of divine things must have been lost from among them. But by means of their uniting under it, they have been preserved in some tolerable security from the fraud and violence of each other; order, a sense of virtue, and the practice of it, has been, in some measure, kept up; and religion, more or less pure, has been all along spread and propagated. So that I make no scruple to affirm, that civil government has been, in all ages, a standing publication of the law of nature, and an enforcement of it; though never in its perfection, for the most part greatly corrupted, and, I suppose, always so in some degree.
And considering, that civil government is that part of God's government over the world, which he exercises by the instrumentality of men, wherein that which is oppression, injustice, cruelty, as coming from them, is, under his direction, necessary discipline, and just punishment : considering, that "all power is of God,"* all authority is properly of divine appointment; men's very living under magistracy might naturally have led them to the contemplation of authority in its source and origin; the one supreme, absolute authority of Almighty God, by which he "doth according to his will in the army of heaven,
* Rom xiii. 1.
and among the inhabitants of the earth; "+ which he now exerts, visibly and invisibly, by different instruments, in different forms of administration, different methods of discipline and punishment; and which he will continue to exert hereafter, not only over mankind, when this mortal life shall be ended, but throughout his universal kingdom; till, by having rendered to all according to all their works, he shall have completely executed that just scheme of government, which he has already begun to execute in this world, by their hands whom he has appointed for the present "punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well."
And though that perfection of justice cannot in any sort take place in this world, even under the very best governments; yet, under the worst, men have been enabled to lead much more quiet and peaceable lives, as well as to attend to and keep up a sense of religion much more, than they could possibly have done without any government at all. But a free Christian government is adapted to answer these purposes in a higher degree, in proportion to its just liberty, and the purity of its religious establishment. And as we enjoy these advantages, civil and religious, in a very eminent degree, under a good prince, and those he has placed in authority over us, we are eminently obliged to offer up supplications and thanksgivings in their behalf; to pay them all that duty which these prayers imply; and "to lead,” as those advantages enable, and have a tendency to dispose us to do, "quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty."
Of the former of these advantages, our free constitution of civil government, we seem to have a very high value. And if we would keep clear from abuses of it, it could not be overvalued, otherwise than as every thing may, when considered as respecting this world only. We seem, I say, sufficiently sensible of the value of our civil liberty. It is our daily boast, and we are in the
* Dan. iv. 35.
† 1 Peter ii. 14.
highest degree jealous of it. Would to God we were somewhat more judicious in our jealousy of it, so as to guard against its chief enemy, one might say, the only enemy of it we have at present to fear, I mean licentiousness; which has undermined so many free governments, and without whose treacherous help no free government, perhaps, ever was undermined. This licentiousness indeed is not only dangerous to liberty, but it is actually a present infringement of it in many instances. But I must not turn this good day into a day of reproach. Dropping, then, the encroachments which are made upon our liberty, peace and quiet, by licentiousness, we are certainly a freer nation than any other we have an account of; and as free, it seems, as the very nature of government will permit. Every man is equally under the protection of the laws; may have equal justice against the most rich and powerful; and securely enjoy all the common blessings of life, with which the industry of his ancestors, or his own, has furnished him. In some other countries, the upper part of the world is free; but in Great Britain, the whole body of the people is free. For we have at length, to the distinguished honor of those who began, and have more particularly labored in it, emancipated our northern provinces from most of their legal remains of slavery; for voluntary slavery cannot be abolished, at least not directly, by law. I take leave to speak of this long desired work as done; since it wants only his concurrence, who, as we have found, by many years experience, considers the good of his people as his own. And I cannot but look upon these acts of the legislature, in a further view, as instances of regard to posterity, and declarations of its readiness to put every subject upon an equal foot of security and freedom, if any of them are not so, in any other respects, which come into its view; and as a precedent and example for doing it.
Liberty, which is the very genius of our civil constitution, and runs through every branch of it, extends its influence to the ecclesiastical part of it. A religious
establishment without a toleration of such as think they cannot, in conscience, conform to it, is itself a general tyranny; because it claims absolute authority over conscience, and would soon beget particular kinds of tyranny of the worst sort, tyranny over the mind, and various superstitions, after the way should be paved for them, as it soon must, by ignorance. On the other hand, a constitution of civil government without any religious establishment, is a chimerical project, of which there is no example; and, which leaving the generality without guide and instruction, must leave religion to be sunk and forgotten amongst them; and, at the same time, give full scope to superstition, and the gloom of enthusiasm; which last, especially, ought surely to be diverted and checked, ast far as it can be done without force. Now, a reasonable establishment provides instruction for the ignorant, withdraws them, not in the way of force, but of guidance, from running after those kinds of conceits. It doubtless has a tendency, likewise, to keep up a sense of real religion, and real Christianity, in a nation; and is, moreover, necessary for the encouragement of learning; some parts of which the Scripture revelation absolutely requires should be cultivated.
It is to be remarked, further, that the value of any particular religious establishment is not to be estimated merely by what it is in itself, but also by what it is in comparison with those of other nations;-a comparison which will sufficiently teach us, not to expect perfection in human things. And, what is still more material, the value of our own ought to be very much heightened in our esteem, by considering what it is a security from; I mean that great corruption of Christianity, popery, which is ever hard at work to bring us again under its yoke. Whoever will consider the popish claims to the disposal of the whole earth, as of divine right; to dispense with the most sacred engagements; the claims to supreme absolute authority in religion; in short, the general claims. which the canonists express by the words, plenitude of