« הקודםהמשך »
resigned all their private right and interest, even in their own lives, to the public good; and therefore the public happiness is to be preferred before our own; the life of the public, which consists in maintaining the established form of government, to be supported, though with the loss of our own.
The prince bears the person of the commonwealth ; by him the public lives and acts; therefore is his life sacred; which but coldly to defend is want of affection to the public, and treason against the original laws of all government. And if the sense of honor be not mightily changed, to die for our prince or our country is to fall with glory, and challenges respect to our memory
from all posterity.
To maintain the established form of government is the first and highest duty of men acting in society. To remove the ancient landmarks of power and obedience tends to the utter ruin and destruction of all government, and is an injury to the prince as well as disobedience to his power; who acquires a personal right and interest in the privileges descending with the crown. But this will more properly fall under the second head ; which was to consider,
How inconsistent with obedience required, the practice of those men is • who are given to change.'
No government was ever so perfectly formed at first as to answer all occasions; the wisdom of man not reaching far enough to view all the possible variety of circumstances that may require the mitigating or increasing the severity of old laws, or the making new. Therefore it is necessary for the public good that there should be a power lodged somewhere, to adapt old laws to the present circumstances, or those which may hereafter arise. Thus to change is an act of lawful power ; and therefore falls not within the charge of the text, Not to meddle with them that are given to change.'
But then the most beneficial and necessary changes must be begun, promoted, and perfected by lawful authority; or else they lose their good quality, and like wholesome remedies unduly applied, prey on the vitals of the government. change can be so beneficial in its consequence, as usurping on lawful authority is destructive; and therefore it becomes a good subject to bear any inconvenience arising from the pre
sent constitution, rather than, by too precipitately throwing it off, to prevent the regular methods of alteration. To pretend public good is common to all factions and parties; and therefore can excuse none : and where the pretence is real, yet to seek public good in opposition to public authority, is like curing distempers by destroying the patient.
To view with pleasure the factions and disturbances of a kingdom; and like the lame and impotent at the pool of Bethesda, to long for the troubling of the waters, that we may first step in and make some private advantage of the public calamities, is neither the part of a good man or a good Christian.
To encourage the seditious principles and practices of others; though cunning men may do it without danger, yet they can never do it without guilt.
These practices need not be brought near, to be compared with the duty of obedience. They appear at first sight to have nothing less in them than honor and reverence, or obedience to the prince.
The authority of the prince is as much concerned in maintaining the honor and order of God's service, as of his own : and the noblest character that belongs to princes, is that of
nursing fathers and mothers' to the church of Christ; the peace and order of which is at once the splendor and security of a government; and therefore the advice of the text, . Not to meddle with them who are given to change,' must be extended to the government of the church, as well as of the state. And the occasion of this solemnity gives but too much reason for this application; the alterations intended and practised on the church, influencing not a little in the barbarous treason which we this day lament.
There must in the church, as in the state, be a power to change whatever, through use and experience, appears unfit for the end it was designed. To propose
procure amend ments to the laws of the church when there is occasion for it, is their duty in whose hands the power is lodged ; and changes so effected can never be to the blemish or dishonor of the church. But when men dislike without reason, and obstinately condemn whatever has been settled by authority ; when they disclaim the power and all the acts of the church; either their ignorance must be invincible, or their guilt unpardonable.
The reason of all changes ought to be very plain and apparent; lest lightness and wantonness, in altering old laws, bring power and authority into contempt. To change is the effect and the sign of weakness; and therefore it is the character of the most perfect Being, that in him is no variableness, or shadow of turning. Often' to change will always' breed contempt; and therefore, in private life, wise men choose rather to bear some inconveniences arising from the way they are settled in, than, by shifting from one course to another, to gain little but the character of unsteadiness and want of resolution. Much less should public bodies hazard their credit by unnecessary changes, and for the sake of removing one unpolished stone, endanger the whole building; which how it will settle on a new foundation the wisdom of man cannot foresee. Some inconveniences in the establishment of public societies, like some distempers in the body, are borne with less danger than they are cured.
To plead for alterations of seemingly greater purity and perfection, carries with it such an appearance of goodness and concern for the service of God, as will never fail to engage - the favor of the multitude, who always make up in zeal what they want in knowlege; which is, and will be a temptation to men, who are incapable of a better, to take this way to raise themselves in the esteem of the people.
To press for alterations when most things in the present establishment are owned to be good, and all tolerable, is not the effect of much judgment. If want of perfection be a reason to change, it will be a reason for ever; for since all the laws of the church are not of divine institution, they have too great a mixture of weakness in their original ever to be perfect in themselves. And should all the changes desired be granted, let not men imagine that the next age will be so unlike this, as not to find fault with the orders of their superiors.
It is unaccountable in reason, that, in matters of religious government, every man thinks himself judge of what is decent and convenient, and what fit to be obeyed; whereas in matters of civil government, whatever they act, they dare not pre
tend to the same discretionary power : as if the case were not the same in both; and obedience in all things lawful and honest, (farther than which no man's private judgment extends,) in both of like necessity.
How the common people are led into the esteem of men thus acting is not hard to say. To suffer for one's opinion, right or wrong, is in the eyes of the vulgar meritorious; and since some outward advantages are forfeited by not complying with the present establishment; should men, even for worldly interest, and want of merit sufficient to rise in the lawful and regular way, strike out new paths for themselves; yet they shall be sure, among the followers, to have the character of honest men, men suffering for conscience' sake. And though there be no suffering in the case; no punishment attending on such practices; yet whilst rewards are open to the obedience of others, the partiality of men will make them apter to repine at the distinction than to be thankful for the impunity.
As long as men are weak enough to be misled, and the errors of some are profitable to others; there will be no end of dissensions: and should the restlessness and importunity of men once break in on the constitution, the event could only show where it would end.
To what extremes the humor of men once set on changing will run, the mournful occasion of this day's meeting is too sensible a proof. The actors in the late troubles thought of nothing less, when they began, than the event that succeeded. The good of the public and of the king was the pretence; and they never left seeking it, till they had ruined the public, and laid his royal head low. With the same good success the purity of the church was promoted; which ended in utter subversion, and the blood of a great prelate.
Great indeed in many respects ; but he sank under the iniquity of the times, by endeavoring to give life to the long-forgotten and neglected discipline of the church; when the liberty and licentiousness of the age could bear nothing less. The Reformation had given such a turn to weak heads, that had not weight enough to poise themselves between the extremes of popery and fanaticism, that every thing older than yesterday was looked on to be popish and antichristian : the meanest of
the people aspired to the priesthood, and were readier to frame new laws for the church than obey the old. This led him to some acts of great severity, that he might create an authority and reverence for the laws, when it should appear they had not quite lost their edge. Thus he became too generally hated, and fall he must; for his faults were great, and as the times went, unpardonable; he loved the church and the king.
His case might deserve more to be lamented, did not that which followed bury all private injuries and resentments; in respect of which, the former cruelties were tender mercies.' The thirst of blood was too great to be satisfied with the fall of private men; nor could the new schemes of confusion take place till the fountain of lawful power and authority was dried up. Every man had a project of his own for a new government; and rather than be disappointed, they resolved to lay the foundation in royal blood.
Could all the obligations of nature and religion have prevailed, the king might have lived to make his people happy; but the misfortune was, they had injured him too much to trust him even with his own life; nor could their consciences give them security for the mischiefs already done, but in going on still to add murder and parricide, and in destroying the power they had too much reason to fear. A barbarous cruelty ! of which it is hard to say, whether the malice and wickedness, with which it was acted were greater, or the patience and magnanimity with which it was borne. As if the contest had been, whether human nature were capable of greater degrees of virtue or vice.
View the king from the throne to the scaffold ; and he was in his life the pattern of a good prince; in his death, of a good Christian. He was a prince who, from the sweetness of his temper, the integrity of his intentions, and a kind and tender concern for the meanest of his subjects, might well have expected to make his name dear to this nation, and his
memory glorious, on a better account than the history of this day affords. He was formed by nature and grace to be an ornament of bet-: ter times; and wanted nothing to make him great in the worst, those he lived in, but a just resentment of the indignities he suffered. The only prerogative his enemies had left him, was