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an especial authority from God himself, which it would be criminal in man to resist. Hence it
. will appear that although such authority be even abused, nay, although it be tyrannically exercised, this nevertheless cannot justify a factious resistance, as we can have no right to attempt to extinguish it by unlawful means, or to impugn a power which the Deity has ratified. Wherever we are aggrieved the laws will supply the remedy, so that even tyranny cannot authorise rebellion. Wickedness can never legalize crime, consequently oppression in the ruler is no valid plea for faction in the subject ; because though one is an evil the other is equally so, and it violates every rule of moral equity to counteract evil by evil. This is moreover diametrically opposed to the best precepts of Christianity.
I do not mean to vindicate princes in the exercise of arbitrary power. God forbid! Their power has its limits, and they ought to be restrained within those acknowledged limitations. But then individuals are not to attempt by violence what it belongs to the legislative authorities of the state alone to repress. All extrajudicial acts on the part of the sovereign or of his vicegerents, may indeed be lawfully resisted where they go beyond the positive sanctions of the laws; because both he and they then at once invalidate their authority,—inasmuch as, beyond its legitimate limits, it becomes a usurped right,
which authority can only legally demand obedience so long as it is legally enforced. The distinction then will be this, that all usurped authority may be resisted; but all legitimate authority must be obeyed. It is however to be remembered that even legitimate authority may be tyrannically exercised; yet in this case, though we may appeal against, we have nevertheless no right to resist it, since wrong can never justify wrong
Irreverence towards the regularly constituted ministers of the state is clearly an infraction of human laws, which is also a breach of a divine command, since human laws are expressly framed, as we are assured, upon inspired testimony, " for the punishment of evil doers and for the praise of them that do well.” To rebel therefore even against the maladministration of a ruler is to run expressly counter to the precepts and practice of our blessed Saviour. When we know that such ruler is answerable to a far higher tribunal than man can pretend to establish for every act of tyranny and for every deviation from justice, this should at once suffice to render us patient when we cannot lawfully become avengers. He “verily shall have his reward,” while we shall finally gain much by submission and may lose all by rebellion.
The meek and suffering Jesus furnishes us with an eminent example of submission to
authority, though unjustly exercised, which it behoves us well to consider. When the pusillanimous Pilate, during that solemn mockery of trial to which our persecuted Lord was exposed, asked him, “Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee ?" He immediately answered, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me except it were given thee from above." Christ here clearly acknowledged the authority of Pilate, and at the same time the obligation of submitting to it, because it was conferred by God. In this passage we are distinctly instructed that even wicked rulers have their power from above, and that therefore it is not lawful for those subjected to their “rule and governance” to refuse them legal obedience, even though they abuse that power.
This may be an unwelcome doctrine to many, but it is nevertheless the doctrine of the gospel, and we can have no right to dispute what the Almighty has thought fit to justify. Let us only suppose for a moment that the tyranny of the magistrate were admitted to be a valid plea for thowing aside the reins of subordination, and setting every individual among us above the restraint of the laws ; what would be the immediate consequence ? A disorder that would convulse the whole frame of civil intercourse, confound the harmonies of social life, turn all the ferocious
passions loose upon society, and convert the world into a savage arena of crime and violence. If there were no rulers, there must be an absolute equality among men ; but if there were this absolute equality, every individual would have to depend upon himself for almost all his comforts in this world, and I wonder how he would contrive to furnish them? It is that mutual dependance and assistance which the well organized state of civilized society has established upon earth which promotes, and indeed induces all the real enjoyments of life. There must be obligation and mutual dependance. It is the necessary consequence of a reasonable nature in man; but universal equality would confound this, and derange that social order in which mankind were formed to live. Without rulers to impose order and command obedience, there would be no protection to the virtuous, no restraint upon the vicious; and, believe me, the very worst tyrant in the person of a sovereign is a far less evil than a turbulent and disjointed commonwealth. It is therefore our duty rather to put up with the few personal inconveniences which may arise from being subject to the control of a weak or bad magistrate, than violently to oppose his lawful jurisdiction; especially when we consider that society is indebted for all its blessings to the protection which it derives from its civil institutions.
If the ruler is to be resisted in the exercise of his appointed functions by one party who happens to fancy himself aggrieved, another may offer the same plea for insubordination. These partial fermentations might soon kindle into general combustion, and thus universal confusion would finally ensue. Although we should even suffer many disappointments from those whom God has delegated as his vicegerents over us, this can by no means palliate our resistance to their established authority. Tyranny or injustice in them will neither warrant rebellion nor disaffection in us. Our duties are the same, whether our rulers be good or bad. Guilt in the King will not justify it in the subject. Unworthy magistrates will afford no excuse to unworthy citizens.
Let us remember how much we owe to our rulers generally, and to our local magistates particularly, for all or most of the blessings which we enjoy under a mild and equitable administration. To them we are indebted for protection from the secret or open foe at home and the national enemy abroad. By them our civil and social rights are maintained. By them the public weal is supervised and the local administration of justice regulated. Under their direction many temporal blessings are secured to us which else had been of very doubtful possession, and, upon the whole, it is certain that,