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ON THE RECIPROCAL DUTIES OF SUBJECTS
1 PETER, CHAP. II. VERSES 13, 14.
“ Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake; whether it be to the King as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well,”
We find that supremacy among men has existed from the Creation. God gave it to Adam, and its origin is therefore divine. In the earlier ages of the world, when the gigantic fabric of civil polity, as now existing, was altogether unknown, or at all events but little understood, and there was no definite form of government established among its infant societies, every father of a family exercised an unlimited jurisdiction over his immediate descendants. In process of time, as mankind increased and swelled into populous communities, this jurisdiction was enlarged, ex
tending from families over tribes, then from tribes over whole nations, when each became subject to the dominion of one supreme ruler, who, where his authority was extensive, employed delegates or inferior magistrates to exercise it. These distinctions, varying according to the moral spirit and religious bias of the people, have obtained from the earliest traces of history to the present hour.
The antiquity alone of such a system, had it no other claim, entitles it to our veneration ; but when we find the Deity himself framing a code of laws for the better government of a distinguished people, appointing them rulers and magistrates, and finally choosing them a King, can there be a question as to the spiritual, as well as moral, obligation of yielding obedience to Sovereigns, and therefore to all those put in authority under them, when the contrary would be obviously an infraction of a divine law ? “Submit yourselves,” says the Apostle in our text,“ to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake; whether it be to the King as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well.”
Here it is evident that all authorities delegated by the supreme ruler are acknowledged by an inspired teacher as having not only a civil, but also a religious, claim to our obedience. Au
thority lawfully invested presupposes a right to the obedience of those over whom it is exercised, and those very laws which confer this right, sanction the power of deputing subordinate agents to exercise that authority. This right therefore will be as much invaded when obedience is refused to these agents as if it were withheld from the supreme ruler himself. “My son,” says Solomon, “ fear thou the Lord and the King,” clearly implying that submission to the sovereign, and consequently to those whom he has legally deputed guardians of the civil institutions of his realm, is only second in obligation to submission to God : for first we are commanded to obey God, then the King. And we shall observe that in no one instance, even where the sovereign is a wicked one, are we exonerated from rendering him and his magistrates lawful obedience. The wickedness of the monarch cannot legalize any dereliction on the part of the subject. His rights do not become abrogated because he is not a good man. Whilst he does nothing to forfeit those rights, whatever his demerits in other respects, we cannot be justified in refusing submission to his rule.
Nor is the right of obedience from those over whom he presides restricted to his own person: he is equally entitled to receive it through his ministers,—they who are appointed by him “ for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well.” They represent their master, as being deputed by him to dispense the benefits of the laws and to supervise the public morals, by subjecting the operation of those laws all such as violate them : these delegates are therefore entitled to our lawful obedience as the representatives of him to whom it of right belongs ; and by yielding it to the representative we in fact yield it to the principal. When St. Peter commanded those to whom he wrote, to honour the King, the Jews were subject to one of the most atrocious tyrants that ever disgraced the Roman people ; from which it is clear that the depravity of the man does not at all neutralize the authority of the Ruler.
We have, in the Old Testament, a memorable example of the extreme veneration in which the chief magistrate was held by one who was afterwards himself a sovereign, and eminent for his conduct both as a subject and a ruler. David, although Saul had long sought his life with the most ferocious determination, never forgot the duty of a subject, but upon several remarkable occasions forebore to treat the tyrant, when in his power, even with disrespect, although his own personal safety seemed to justify a different course of conduct. He however considered Saul, notwithstanding the latter's implacable hostility towards him, as endued with