I. CORRINTH. Chap. VII. Ver. 21.
Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
At first glance, it is certain, this text refers to a state of personal servitude, and extends to every instance of the same kind. It is also as clear that the Apostle exhorts the servant to prefer liberty. This proves that the inspired writer himself, prefered [sic] liberty to a state of servitude; for he would not exhort another to prefer what was not preferable in his own esteem. Now, if Paul esteemed personal liberty a valuable inheritance, he certainly esteemed the liberty of a community a far richer inheritance; for if one man’s enjoyment of it was a good, the enjoyment of two must be a greater good, and so on through the whole community. From the same manner of reasoning, the slavery of a community appears to be a proportionably greater evil than the slavery of an individual. Hence, we may observe from the text, that CIVILLIBERTY IS A GREAT GOOD.
This is the proposition to which I ask your present hour’s attention, and if it should appear in the sequel to contain an important truth, you will not esteem it below the gospel preacher’s duty to explain and support it in public, especially at such a time as this, a time, at the very prospect of which, our generous fore-fathers would have wept in bitterness of soul. If civil liberty is a great good, it ought to be deemed one of the blessings of Heaven; these it is the preacher’s duty to illustrate, that we may feel the obligations they bring us under—that we may enquire whether we have improved them for the glory of the giver, and that we may know how to conduct toward them for the future. Be pleased then to give your candid, close, and serious attention, while I endeavour to explain the nature of civil liberty, and prove that it is a great good.
As it is much less difficult to point out the nature of true coin in general, than to determine whether any particular piece is genuine, or how far it differs from the perfect standard: So it is much easier to point out the general nature of civil liberty, than to say what degree of it enters into any particular civil constitution. It is therefore most natural to enquire, in the first place, concerning the general nature of liberty; and indeed it is as necessary as natural. For until we determine this question we have no rule by which we may estimate the quantity of liberty in any particular constitution: But when once we have found the standard, we shall be prepared to examine our own constitution, or any other, at pleasure, and to determine what part of the constitution should be supported, and what may be given up with safety. An enquiry into the nature of liberty in general, is also needful on another account. Without it we cannot see the force of any evidence that may be brought to evince the value of liberty itself.
That the subject may be fairly elucidated, I will endeavour to remove some mistakes by which it has been obscured. In doing this, I observe, that liberty does not consist in persons thinking themselves free. The Jews could say we were never in bondage to any man though they wore the Roman yoke at the very same time. Again, though a certain constitution should be contended for and supported by a majority of voices; yet this would be no sure evidence that it is free: Because an hundred may as truly tyrannize over one, as one over an hundred; or otherwise, the majority may be in favour of licentiousness. What but love of licentiousness or tyranny, or both, can induce the heathen nations to approve of their several systems of government? What but these, could induce Saul and the men of Israel to persecute David and his handful? What but one or both of these drew down the fury of Sodom on Lot—of the Jews on the prophets—on Jesus Christ—on his Apostles and their followers. What but these ever raised any one of the many terrible persecutions under which the peaceable disciples of Jesus Christ have fallen from time to time? In all these instances the majority have been unfriendly to liberty.
Civil Liberty consists, not in any inclinations of the members of a community; but in the being and due administration of such a system of laws, as effectually tends to the greatest felicity of a state. Herein consists civil liberty, and to live under such a constitution, so administered, is to be the member of a free state; and he who is free from the censure of those laws, may fully enjoy all the pleasures of civil liberty, unless he is prevented by some defect, not in the constitution, but in himself.
If liberty consists in the being and administration of a civil constitution, different from such as one as has been mentioned, I must confess, my inference from the Apostle’s exhortation is not just. For certain it is, that so far as a constitution doth not tend, in the highest degree, to the greatest felicity of the state, collectively considered; it is a comparative evil and not a good.
Where there is no system of laws, not liberty, but anarchy, takes place. Some degree of liberty may, indeed, exist where neither the constitution nor the administration of it is perfect. But in order to perfect freedom, the law must extend to every member of the community alike, both in its requisitions and prohibitions. Every one must be required to do all he can that tends to the highest good of the state: For the whole of this is due to the state, from the individuals of which it is composed. Every thing, however trifling, that tends, even in the lowest degree, to disserve the interest of the state must also be forbidden.
Originally, there were no private interests. The world and all things in it, were the common interests of all the inhabitants, under God the great owner. Nothing is to be esteemed an interest any farther than it tends to good or is capable of being turned to the benefit of the possessor. But whatever has this tendency, or may be thus used, is properly termed an interest. According to this estimate, the term interest includes all those various offices and employments that are capable of being improved for the good of the community. There interests, being such as cannot be managed by the whole body collectively, are distributed among the individuals according as they appear in the eyes of the body politic, to be qualified to use them for the good of the whole. In this way every member becomes a servant to the state, and is a good or bad servant according to the manner in which he discharges the trust reposed in him. This is equally true of the King on the throne and the peasant in the field. The laws of a free state require each individual to use the public interests deposited in his hands, in every instance in that very manner that shall contribute more to the good of the community, without any particular reference to Governor or subject, rich or poor, high or low. While the laws require such a continual course of conduct in every member of the community, they as critically forbid every one to take from another that part of the public property which is committed to him; or to impede him in making the best use of it for the public, unless when the community see it best to deprive an individual of his place, and authorise another to do it in their name. In this manner the laws of a free state provide security for the particular properties of each individual member, or rather for the public interest deposited in the hands of individuals, by denouncing such penalties on every offender as are exactly adequate to his offence. There must be an exact proportion between the offence and the penalty. Where there is no such proportion, or equality, liberty is infringed, because the law is partial, as it will injure, either the public, by not giving it its due, or the offender, by inflicting a greater evil than he deserves. In this case there must be no distinctions, made by the law, between persons of different characters and stations, only as those different characters and stations may give the same criminal action different degrees of aggravation. A criminal action is more criminal in a person who fills an elevated place, than in one of a more humble condition; because it has a more detrimental aspect on the state. For this reason, the offences of the great should be punished with greater indignity and severity, than the crimes of persons in low life. In a perfectly free state, friendship to the community will be as carefully noticed as an offence. Punishment will not be more exactly alloted [sic] to the transgressor, than adequate rewards to the faithful subject. The farmer, the seaman, the mechanic, the merchant, and the practitioner of such of the learned professions as belong to the state, are directed by the community, in effect, to reward each other by an exchange of labour, or commodities. While those servants of the state, who are employed in managing the reins of government, are rewarded by a collection from the whole, an equality to which, is returned in the happy effects of legislation and executive justice. At the same time that the laws make due provision for an equal distribution of rewards among the faithful servants of the state both of higher and lower rank, they make as full provision for the infliction of penalties on every class alike. They tender it as easy to bring a royal offender to trial,—to procure an impartial sentence against him, and to inflict deserved punishment, as in the case of the meanest subject.
In such a state, the laws extend to all the members of the society alike, by making an impartial estimate of every offence, but as it is best in all communities, that some offenders should be pardoned, for special reasons, and that others should be punished; those same laws will lodge a power of determining the alternative with some one, whose capacity and integrity are equal to such a trust, so that the community may suffer no harm.
A good foundation for liberty is laid in such a constitution, but its whole worth lies in due administration. Perfect liberty takes place where such a constitution is fully administered: But where the administration is imperfect, liberty is likewise imperfect. In a perfectly free state, both the constitution, and the administration of it, are full of propriety, equality, and equilibrium.
These I take to be the out-lines of genuine liberty, which by a proper application, may assist us in our enquiries after the degree of liberty enjoyed by any particular state.
Indeed, the circumstances and occurrences, that attend human states are so numerous, extensive, and uncertain, that no one man, or body of men, can foresee and improve them all to the greatest advantage. Hence, it frequently happens, that we cannot ascertain the degree of liberty enjoyed by a community, by comparing the particular parts of a constitution, or the administration of it, with the abstract notion of liberty; for we see but a small part of the whole system. Our views are very partial. This is the case not only of individual subjects, but the body of government, itself, cannot, completely, comprehend the whole. Some degree of partial oppression is, therefore, to be expected in every human state, even, under the wisest administration. We may, however, determine, in some instances, whether liberty is unnecessarily infringed or not. When we see the body of a community plundered for the sake of indulging individuals in pride, luxury, idleness and debauchery,—when we see thousands rewarded with pensions, for having either devised, or attempted to execute some scheme for plundering a nation, and establishing despotism, we cannot be in doubt whether some horrid attack is not made on liberty.
We may reason thus in a few particular instances; but, in general, we must form our judgments by considering the various dispositions of mankind, and by noticing their various operations and effects, in various circumstances. We must turn our attention to the facts that have already taken place; and may reasonably conclude, that the same causes will always produce the same effects, unless something special prevents. One general inference from the whole will be, that liberty is much rather to be expected in a state where a majority, first, institutes, and then varies the constitution according as they apprehend circumstances require, than in any other.
Other things being equal, a majority has a more general and distinct knowledge of the circumstances, and exigencies of a state than a minority; and, of consequence, is more able to judge of what is best to be done. Add to this, that private interest is the great idol of the human mind; and, therefore, when a majority unite in any measures, it is to be supposed, they are such measures as are best calculated to secure the particular interests of the members of that majority; and, consequently, the general interests of the body are more effectually provided for, in this way, than by the security of the private interests of any minority whatever. And if the maxims adopted by the majority are general, both in their nature and extent, it is to be supposed, they will prove as salutary to the members of the minority as to those of the majority, and, consequently, to the whole body. Hence, though liberty is not necessarily, nor invariably connected with the voice of a majority; yet, it is much more likely to be found in connection with such a voice, than with that of a minority. Indeed, there is in general no reason to expect liberty where a majority is counteracted, and, on the contrary, we may hope for some good degree of it, where a majority governs.
It is only on these maxims, that the present British monarch can be exculpated from the several charges of rebellion, treachery, and usurpation, and on these, the glorious revolution in favour of the house of Hanover is perfectly justifiable.
Let us now attend a little, to a few particulars that may serve to excite in us some more adequate ideas of the worth of civil liberty. Indeed, none but an omniscient mind can fully comprehend, and exactly estimate the true worth of this blessing, in its various consequences, effects, and inseparable concomitants, as they take place on various occasions. Our views of this subject may, however, be greatly enlarged and rendered much more distinct than they generally are.
That civil liberty is of great worth, may be infered [sic] from the conduct of God toward the Jewish nation. He promised them freedom from the oppression of their enemies as a testimony of his favour in case of their obedience; and as a chastisement for their disobedience, he threatened them with a state of servitude. From this it is certain that the omniscient God himself, esteems liberty a great blessing. The Israelites were taught by him to set their hears much on liberty, and to avoid slavery with great caution, constancy and vigour.
It was observed that liberty has its rise in such a constitution as tends to the highest good of a community, and that the due administration of such a constitution affords a state of freedom. Hence, the bare idea of liberty discovers it to be an inestimable good, for whatever tends to the highest good of great numbers, must, undoubtedly, be an invaluable treasure. In this view liberty is an inexhaustable fountain, which, under God, sends forth an endless variety of such streams, as are both pleasant and salutary. I will instance in a few particulars. When we enjoy liberty, and are sure of its continuance, we feel that our persons and properties are safely guarded by her watchful eye, her impartial disposition and her powerful arm. This excites to industry, which tends to a competency of wealth. The vassal, on the other hand, having no security of his present possessions, or for those he might obtain, concludes so uncertain a prize is not worth the seeking, and therefore will do no more than barely serves to silence the clamours of necessity from day to day.
In such a situation, every bias of the human mind tends to idleness and poverty. Even generosity itself will sink into inactivity and indolence; because it loaths a connection between tyranny and wealth, and therefore refuses, will do nothing that might establish such a connection, by strengthening a tyrannical state. Liberty not only removes every obstruction out of the way of industry, frugality and wealth, but rouses even indolence to action, and gives honest, laborious industry a social, sprightly, cheerful air; but in a state of slavery, sloth hangs heavily on the heels of dumb, sullen, moross [sic] melancholy. Industry and frugality spring from the same source, and are spontaneously productive of temperance. The former moderates the appetites, while the latter forbids unnecessary expence. This triple alliance is the natural parent of decent conversation and courteous behaviour. They calm the passions and urge even pride and avarice to mimic humanity, and every generous sentiment. By these and such means, they, both enable and dispose us to fulfill our contracts with exactness, ad to give us credit with our neighbours and lay a foundation for public confidence. In this manner liberty renders political virtue fashionable, and tends to diffuse public spirit. It discountenances disorder, and every narrow disposition. Thus the mind is fortified on all sides, and rendered calm, resolute, and stable. Industry and temperance give health to the body, and render it fit for the residence and operations of such a soul. In a nation raised to such a pitch of vigor, firmness, health and opulence, all the natural means of defence are collected, and to such the arts of war will be an easy acquisition. These united, will prove a bulwark against every assault of lawless power, whether foreign or domestic. In such a state, a free people will enjoy composure of soul and their taste will become refined. The study of the fine arts will follow or consequence, and, after these, a long train of science. Industry, frugality, and a curious turn naturally invent and perfect the useful arts. What is more than all, liberty secures the rights of conscience, by protecting every member of the state in the free exercise of his religion, unless it be such a religion as is inconsistent with the good of the state. The first effects of liberty, on the human mind, are calmness, serenity and pleasing hope, and all the various fruits of liberty produce the same happy effects. Thus liberty, first divides itself, as it were, into various streams; which, at length, all meet together again in soothing sensations and sweet emotion of soul. The pleasure that springs from liberty is the life of every other enjoyment, and the importance of it in a single instance is vastly great, too great to be conceived of, unless on a sudden transition from a state of refined freedom, to that of the most abject slavery. How great then must be the collective happiness that a community derives from a state of perfect freedom? I confess liberty never has been enjoyed in perfection by any of the nations of the earth; but this by no means affects the foregoing estimate. For, from the small degree of liberty, with which we are acquainted, the consequences of perfect liberty may be justly inferred. Nor is the imperfection of liberty, as it hath taken lace in the world, any discouragement to the pursuit of it. The more we can obtain, the greater will be our enjoyment. Each degree of liberty is a precious pearl.
When we would learn how much any thing tends to happiness, we must view it with reference to the taste of the person in whom the happiness is supposed to take place. So, the happy tendency of liberty cannot be seen, unless it be viewed as terminating on some particular disposition in him by whom it is enjoyed. Liberty is so illy calculated to give pleasure to either a tyrannical, or, licentious spirit, that it proves a galling curb to both. A free spirit,—a spirit that is consonant to a free constitution;—a spirit that seeks the highest good of a community, in its proper place,—this, and this only, can extract and taste all the sweets of liberty. If we would learn how great a tendency liberty has to produce happiness, we must consider it in such circumstances as give it an opportunity to do good.
Let us then, for once, imagine a state whose members are all of a free spirit; and then attend to the glory and pleasures of liberty. The individuals are all of one mind. They unite in the same grand pursuit, the highest good of the whole. Only suppose all the members of such a tate to be acquainted with the best means of promoting their general end; and we shall seem them all moving imperfect concert. The good of the body will be their first aim. And in subservience to this, they will impartially regard the particular interests of individuals. You and I shall perfectly unite in our regard for your interests and for mine. Your interest will not be the more dear to you, nor the less so to me, because it is yours. In these circumstances, there would be no room for the emotions of any of the angry painful passions; but, on the contrary, every soft and pleasing affection of every soul, would be called forth into vigorous and harmonious exercise. Every individual would choose to move in his proper sphere, and that all others should move in theirs. This would at once constitute pure felicity, and exalted beauty. How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity: Such a state of things, in the little community of a single family, must be productive of great good. But should it take place through a nation, each family would enjoy the same good from its own domestic circumstances, beside the far greater pleasure which would accrue to each individual from a consideration of the same happy condition of the whole.
Should it be said, that such a scheme as has been mentioned is merely chimerical and romantic; because there never has been, nor ever will be such a general state of mind on earth; I would say, the same objection is equally strong against the worth of a state of perfect holiness. Such a state has never taken place, in perfection, in this world, nor will it hereafter; but must we therefore suppose that holiness is of no worth? The reason why we do not experience all the pleasures of liberty, that have been mentioned, is, not any defect in liberty, but the perverseness of our selfish hearts, which prevents our pursuits and enjoyments of the delights of perfect liberty. Liberty still remains a blessing too great to be compared with any other earthly good.
The thoughts that have been suggested in this discourse, open to us the nature of good government in its several branches. A legislature is denominated good, from the goodness of its laws, or, from the tendency of the laws made by it to produce the highest good of the community. In exact proportion to this tendency of the laws, is the legislature to be esteemed good: —The goodness of executive government, consists in its due administration of the laws already made. It is for the good of the community alone, that laws are either to be made or executed. So that, Good government is not inconsistent with liberty. Perfect liberty and perfect government are perfectly harmonious, while tyranny and licentiousness are inconsistent with both. Yea farther,
Good government is essential to the very being of liberty. Remove good government and you remove liberty. Abridge the former and you abridge the latter. Let good government encrease and you encrease liberty. These can never be separated in any degree. Their rise and fall is exactly uniform. Hence,
The impropriety of saying of a person, that he is a friend to government, but not to liberty; and of another, that he is a friend to liberty, but not to government, appears to be very gross. Indeed one many may be a friend to tyranny and not to liberty, but then he is as truly an enemy to government. Another may be a friend to licentiousness and not to government; but then he is as truly an enemy to liberty; and both, for this plain reason, that good government in a state, and the liberty of that state, are one and the same thing. This suggests another idea, which is, that
He who infringes on liberty rebels against good government, and ought to be treated as a rebel. It matters not what station he fills; he is a traitor; his treachery is, however, more or less aggravated in proportion to his state and condition. He that fills an elevated station is proportionably more criminal in the same rebellion, than those in a lower state,; and where a man proves false to confidence reposed in him, his treachery is still more base and detestable. Because his exaltation puts it into his power to do greater injury to the state than could possibly be done by an inferior.
It is equally true, that every kind and degree of opposition made against good government is an ebullition of licentiousness. The man that rises up against good government is an enemy to liberty, a tyrant in heart, and they who are discontented and fretful under it are of the same cast.
If liberty is such a thing, and so great a blessing as it has been represented, it is, certainly, a rich tallent that Heaven has been pleased to entrust with every man, and it undoubtedly becomes all to be constantly, and thoroughly awake to a sense of their duty respecting it. We are too ready to fancy, that when once we have appointed legislators, and given them charge of this inestimable treasure, we need give ourselves no farther concern about it. But this is not our whole duty. We are all stewards, to whom the God of nature has committed this talent. The design of appointing a few individuals to government, is not to free the rest from their obligations but to assist them in the discharge of their duty, in the same manner that ministers of the gospel are to assist their hearers in those duties that respect the care of their souls. Communities ought therefore to keep an impartial and watchful eye on government. They are urged to do so, by a consideration of the avaricious, and aspiring dispositions of mankind in general, and the peculiar opportunities and temptations that Governors have to indulge them. In these latter ages of the world, after it has been found by several thousands years experience, that such as have been made the guardians of liberty, have in almost every instance, where it was thought practicable, endeavoured to make themselves masters, instead of continuing stewards of the community; in these days, I say, we are more distinctly, sensible, and frequently called on to watch the conduct of government. Liberty is not an absolute right of our own, if it were, we might support, and guard, or neglect it at pleasure. It is a loan of heaven, for which we must account with the great God. It is therefore, as unreasonable for us to place an unlimited confidence in any earthly ruler, as to place such a confidence in our spiritual ministers and depend wholly on them to settle our final account with the holy judge of the universe.
I do not mean that we should, as individuals, undertake to dictate to our rulers, or oppose them by force whenever we judge they act a wrong part. This would be utterly unreasonable, for surely we have at best, no better right to usurpation than they. What I mean is, that we should all endeavour to turn the attention of our fellow members of the community on the conduct of our rulers. We should notice and compare it with the standard of right and wrong ourselves; and excite others to do so likewise. We should endeavour on every alarming occasion, to collect the sentiments of the body, and vigorously pursue those measures that are thought the most salutary for the whole.
It becomes us, with united hearts, to make a firm stand against every attempt to wrest the jewel from us, either by force or fraud: —The present state of things is very alarming. In the view of the most simple common sense, we are now called on—men, women and children are called on to struggle for the preservation of those rights of mankind which are inexpressibly dear. Let us then rouse and exert ourselves to the utmost, on the present occasion. But you ask me. What shall we do? Shall we renounce the authority of our gracious sovereign? Shall we take up arms against his troops? What shall we do?
I answer, By no means. Do not suffer the thought of renouncing our king’s authority, so much as to turn in your mind; rather, be ready to shed your blood in defence of your rightful sovereign and his high office. Never let us think of entering on a civil war, unless the Pretender, or some other usurper should attempt to dethrone the British parent of his people. But should this be the case, then let the world see that their king is dearer to the Americans than their blood.
Though the time has been when our countrymen, but an handful, wee obliged to defend themselves against thousands of the native savages; by dint of arms; yet, notwithstanding, a cloud, in some respects, much heavier than that, lowers over us at present; such is the kindness of our God, that, humanly speaking, it is in the power of America to save both herself and Great-Britain from total destruction, and that without a single hostile stroke. Nothing more than piety and economy are necessary, and in these, every age and character may unite. The pious supplications of the stammering child will as effectually reach the ear of our God, and be as acceptable to him as the most elegant address. A thousand things may intercept our petitions on their way to an earthly monarch; but a combination of all our enemies in earth and hell cannot prevent a pious wish in its flight to Heaven; and let us remember, that the effectual fervent prayers of the righteous avail much. We have sought in vain for relief from our parent state—from our king. And if salvation has not come from our gracious sovereign King George, we cannot expect it from the hills. We must look still higher. Instead of railing against man let us notice and imitate the example of Michael who railed not against the devil himself. David, said, of Shimel, let him curse for the Lord hath bidden him. He saw, he had deserved so illy at God’s hand, that it was no wonder, he had brought such a punishment on him. He, therefore, accepted it willingly at the hand of God; while he was not insensible to the wickedness of Shimel. It becomes us, likewise, to notice the hand of God, and settle it in our minds, that evil springs not out of the ground,—that there’s no evil in the city which the Lord hath not done. Under such views, let us all, like Daniel of old, piously pour out our hearts before God, acknowledging our own sins, and those of our people. Meanwhile, let us encourage no practice, in ourselves or others, that tends to enslave our country. Let us learn to live in the plain manner of our fore-fathers. It is high time for us to reform. We have had a rich inheritance and wasted it in riotous living. Let us return to our father’s house, least we be reduced to the want, even of husks to eat. These are the only expedients that seem needful at present, But if we will risque our country for the sake of a few superfluities, posterity may curse our pride and luxury, and the present generation may find that death and carnage will terminate their folly. And should this be the case we must charge the horrid scene to our own misconduct. —If any should say, it is in vain for them as individuals to be vigilant, zealous and firm in pursuing any measures for the security of our rights, unless all would unite: I would reply.
Ages are composed of seconds, the earth of sands, and the sea of drops, too small to be seen by the naked eye. The smallest particles have their influence. Such is our state, that each individual has a proportion of influence on some neighbour at least; he, on another, and so on; as in a river, the following drop urges that which is before, and every one through the whole length of the stream has the like influence. We know not, what individuals may do. We are not at liberty to lie dormant until we can, at once, influence the whole. We must begin with the weight we have. Should the little springs neglect to flow till a general agreement should take place, the torrent that now bears down all before it, would never be formed. These mighty floods have their rise in single drops from the rocks, which, uniting, creep along till they meet with another combination so small that it might be absorbed by the travellers [sic] foot. These unite, proceed, enlarge, till mountains tremble at their sound. Let us receive instruction from the streams, and, without discouragment [sic], pursue a laudable plan. But,
Is it not to be feared, that an appetite for the leeks and onions, is the source of our difficulty? The ungenerous language of the objector seems to be, “I could wish to see my country happy, but if the fates have determined its destruction I will not forgo my share of the booty.”
It is great, it is glorious, to espouse a good cause, and it is still more great and glorious in such a cause to stand alone. It is great and glorious to outbrave the reproach of the base. Should all our countrymen forsake us, perseverance would be an honour, and the honour will rise as the number of our adherents is diminished.
Let us therefore, vigorously pursue prudent measures in the present alarming state of things. Then, should it please the righteous disposer of all, to reduce us to the most abject slavery, we shall at least, have the consolation to think, that we are in no part chargeable with having riveted chains on our country, and the blessing of a clear conscience is incomparably better than the greatest temporal interest and worldly applause.
This has been a land of liberty. We have enjoyed that blessing in a great degree for a long time. It becomes us now to reflect on our ingratitude to the giver. When he has wrought salvation for us, on one occasion and another, how have we expressed our thankfulness? By bonfires, illuminations, revellings, gluttony and drunkenness. Would not a stranger have thought us worshipers of the whole race of the heathen deities, rather than of that God, who is a spirit, and who seeketh such to worship him, as do it in spirit and in truth?
We have boasted of our liberty and free spirit. A free spirit is no more inclined to enslave others than ourselves. If then it should be found upon examination that we have been of a tyrannical spirit in a free country, how base must our character appear! And how many thousands of thousands have been plunged into death and slavery by our means?
When the servant had nothing to pay, and his master had frankly forgiven him all, and he had gone and cast his fellow servant into prison, there to remain till he should pay the last farthing; the master justly punished his ingratitude and severity with the like imprisonment. Hath not our conduct very nearly resembled the conduct of that servant? God gave us liberty, and we have enslaved our fellow-men. May we not fear that the law of retaliation is about to be executed on us? What can we object against it? What excuse can we make for our conduct? What reason can we urge why our oppression shall not be repaid in kind? Should the Africans see God Almighty subjecting us to all the evils we have brought on them, and should they cry to us, O daughter of America who are to be destroyed, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us; happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones; how could we object? How could we resent it? Would we enjoy liberty? Then we must grant it to others. For shame, let us either cease to enslave our fellow-men, or else let us cease to complain of those that would enslave us. Let us either wash our hands from blood, or never hope to escape the avenger.
To conclude, unless we adopt some prudent decisive measures in humble dependance on God; we have reason to fear some almost unparallelled calamity. If we do not exert ourselves: it would not be strange, should a military government be established, and popery triumph in our land. Then, perhaps, those, who now want fortitude to deny themselves some of the superfluities of life, may see their husbands and sons slain bin battle, their daughters ravished, their wives ript up, their children dashed against the wall, and their pious parents put to the rack for the religion of Jesus. Now is the dicisive [sic] moment. Gods sets before us life and death, good and evil, blessing and cursing, and bids us choose. Let us therefore choose the good and refuse the evil, that we may live and not die.
John Chapter VIII. Verse 36.
If therefore the son shall make you free ye shall be free indeed
The general nature of liberty is the same in all societies, though different circumstances give it different appearance. The same general principles that are the foundation of good government in a family are as truly so in the government of a nation. These maxims are applicable not only to earthly societies, but are equally so to the eternal kingdom of the great God. That government and that liberty which takes place in earthly communities is called domestic or civil, according to their extent. When these are spoken of as belonging to the kingdom of God, they are termed divine or spiritual. The propriety of the manner of expression made use of in our text, depends on the truth of these observations. In the thirty first verse of the context, we are told, that our Lord Jesus Christ said to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my words ye are my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. It seems as though they did not apprehend he was speaking of spiritual liberty but of civil, and therefore answer, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man. How sayest thou, ye shall be made free? Jesus then leads them to understand, that he spake of spiritual liberty, by saying, Whosoever commiteth sin is the servant of sin; and then he adds, the servant abideth not in the house forever; but the son abideth ever, after which follows the text. It is observable that our Lord in this conversation uses that particular word to signify spiritual freedom, by which they understood civil liberty, which would have been altogether improper, had not their general nature been the same. We may observe, that it is Jesus Christ who makes those free that are so in a spiritual sense. It is he alone who introduces them as freemen into this state. If the son shall make you free then shall ye be free indeed. He doth not way if ye be made free, or if ye make yourselves free, but, if the son shall make you free.
The freedom here spoken of, is no doubt, the same that in another place is called the liberty of the sons of God. It is that liberty, which those enjoy who are born of God, have his spirit and are adopted into the number of his children. The liberty is enjoyed in this world so far as persons are sanctified; and shall hereafter be perfectly enjoyed in Heaven.
It is observable that Christ calls this liberty, freedom indeed. Ye shall be free indeed. This emphatical word was doubtless made use of to teach us, that spiritual freedom, or liberty is preferable to any other, and that it is perfect freedom, without any mixture or defect. The principal thought in the text, and what I propose to dwell on at present is, that The state of liberty into which Jesus Christ introduces his disciples is far preferable to any state of earthly liberty.
The subject to which we attended in the forenoon, is vastly important; but this is as much more important, as spiritual enjoyments are preferable to those that are temporal, eternity to time; and as all the final host of Heaven, which will be composed of God, Christ, Angels and Saints, are preferable to the handful of dust and ashes that compose an earthly empire. It is a subject much more interesting to us, as well as more important in itself. Let me then beg your most diligent, conscientious and unbiased attention, while I endeavour to illustrate and improve the observation just now deduced from the text.
It was said in the former discourse that liberty consists in the being and due administration of such a set of laws, as tend to the highest good of the society. If this be so, it follows that liberty in a state is greater or less in exact proportion to the greater or less tendency of the constitution and its administration to the highest good of the community collectively considered. If therefore it appears on examination, that the constitution of Christ’s kingdom and the administration of that constitution have a stronger tendency to the good or that kingdom, than the constitution of any earthly kingdom, and the administration of that constitution, have to the highest good of that earthly kingdom, the proposition is illustrated and proved.
In a perfectly free state the laws forbid every crime against the community. Every action that would be in the least degree injurious to the state is forbidden. In order to this, the legislature must have a perfect view of all the various circumstances and occurrences that may take place with respect o each individual of which the state is composed, at all the various periods of its existence. Actions that seem to us too minute to be regarded, have their consequences, which are oftentimes vastly important and interesting to the state. How often has a single word spoken in anger by some great personage, lain at the bottom of a nation’s overthrow? The tongue is a little member, but small as it is, it seteth the course of nature on fire. Well might the Apostle say, How great a matter a little fire kindleth! But,
It is impossible for any finite mind or number of minds, to ascertain every particular word and gesture that may be detrimental in its tendency to the state, and therefore, there cannot possibly be a system of human laws in which every political evil shall be forbidden. The liberty of the most refined kingdoms of this world, is but like the lean, scanty gleanings of the vintage, while the liberty of the kingdom of Christ is like the full grown clusters of the first ripe fruits that load the generous vine. Such is the weakness of the human mind, and the perplexed state of earthly things, that neither any community nor its wisest delegates, could make sufficient provision against all political inconveniencies, even though they were quite free from every sinister design, unless they were under the continual influence of miraculous inspiration from God. In order to such an effectual precaution they must foresee all the various mental exercises of every member of the community; and be able to judge, at the trial of every supposed offender, what the real motives of his conduct have been; because men are blame worthy or not, according to the meaning of their hearts. But we cannot obtain any certain knowledge of any one motive that actuates the mind of another. No man knows the things of a man save the spirit of a man that is in him. Besides this there is another difficulty, for though we had the power of looking into another[']s heart, we should still find ourselves incapable of tracing the heart through all its dark and intricate labarinths [sic]. Hence it appears that no political constitution on earth can extend its authority any further than to a few of the many external expressions either of friendship, or disaffection to the state. For this reason, the most compleat system of earthly government imaginable, falls immensely short of a finished scheme. This however is nothing, in comparison with another inconveniency, that arises from the depravity of human nature, which leads every man in a greater or less degree, to look on his own things and not on the things of another; to seek their own private interest, without regarding the interests either of their fellow men, the angels, or the duty, any father than they may seem subservient to private interest. We have, indeed, reason to hope, that a few are possessed of some small degree of a different spirit; —a disinterested benevolent spirit. But there is reason to believe, that by far the greater part of these are to be found among the lower classes of mankind, and that a very small proportion of them are among the great. From these considerations we may conclude, that, though it is the duty or Kings and all other rulers to seek the best good of the community, yet they too often act a part directly opposite. Instead of improving their power and interests for the good of the community, they made use of the common interests as means of aggrandizing themselves and their families. This sentiment is confirmed by the history of Kings, and other rulers in every age of the world. We must therefore conclude that the highest degree of liberty that can reasonably be expected in earthly states is very low. At best, there are only some spices of liberty scattered in earthly states, and yet these are more precious than we can conceive. But
In the kingdom of Jesus Christ, there is no reason to apprehend any such inconveniency or imperfection. For the constitution of his kingdom, and the administration of it, are the effects of the pleasure of him who searcheth the hearts, and tryeth the reins of all his subjects, and is at all times perfectly acquainted with every design of all his rational creatures. It was, therefore, perfectly easy for him to form a constitution, which should never need the least alteration in order to the best good of the universe. He is as powerful as wise, and therefore, can administer this constitution with the utmost precision in every instance. Both his wisdom and power are all sufficient. This being granted, nothing can be wanting in order to bring about the highest good of the universe, except it be a disposition in Jesus Christ to employ his knowledge and power for that purpose. If he has such knowledge and power and a full, invariable, eternal inclination to employ his knowledge and power in the production of the highest good of the universe, the designs cannot possibly be frustrated. The united exertion of sufficient skill, power and inclination will forever obtain its end. Sufficient skill and power will in every instance, without exception, carry all ones designs into execution. Now, that Jesus Christ has such a disposition is evident from his being no respecter of persons.
For, we see, he has in fact done very many things, which, beyond all dispute, are the effects of design, and not of inadvertency. Now, if those things are done by design, and yet not from any partial respect to any person, what, but a regard to the whole could be the moving cause? And, if regard to the whole be the moving cause of all that Christ has done, is doing, and will do, must we not conclude, the highest good of the whole is his highest, and only ultimate end? We cannot suppose otherwise, without believing, that Christ is a being of mixed and jarring affections, which would imply great imperfection indeed. The division of one’s affections between two different objects, always creates a painful discord, in such a case, the passions of the mind are in a confused state of opposition, which is ever productive of painful sensations of soul— We must, therefore, believe that Jesus Christ aims, with the utmost strength and uniformity of design, at the highest good of the whole or else, that he is an inconsistent, and consequently a miserable being.
Jesus Christ has in his mediatorial work, given the highest possible evidence of the most disinterested attention to the highest good— Since he is an omnipotent being, what reason can be given why he did not call down the innumerable hosts of mighty angels from heaven to destroy his persecutors, or why he did speak them unto hell, unless it be, that he is infinitely benevolent. Such was his regard for the highest good, that he held not his own life dear, and what is far more, he delivered himself into the hands of his most unrighteous, inveterate, malicious, and detestable enemies, to be treated according to the dictates of their accursed pride and malice. He clearly saw how much their haughtiness, and revenge would be gratified in his meek submission to the cross, and his bitter agonies on the tree. And yet, such was his regard to the general good, that he chearfully [sic] gave them an opportunity to gratify their perverse inclination, and supported them in existence while they did it.
These considerations are enough to convince us, that there is as much, as pure liberty in the kingdom of Christ, as unlimited wisdom, power and goodness can possibly produce; and how inconceivably greater, and more excellent must this be, than nay thing of the kind that can take place under the direction of ignorant, impotent selfish men. The Lord of hosts hath proposed his kingdom to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth. ….
How strangely inconsistent are we in treating that liberty, which is of infinite worth, with neglect and contempt, when it is most freely offered us, while, at the same time we are ready to sacrifice, not only our fortunes, but our very lives and friends to purchase and defend that which at best is but imperfect, uncertain and temporal? To struggle for the latter is laudable, but to neglect the former, is infinitely criminal., Surely none but a madman would neglect millions which he might have at pleasure, and yet barter his life for an uncertain penny. In the affair of civil liberty, the most spirited efforts may prove ineffectual; but that which is spiritual will certainly be the consequence of a single genuine desire to enjoy it. What makes the inconsistency still the more glaring is, that while human nature shrinks at the thought of the partial oppression of an earthly tyrant, we quietly remain in a state of the most abject slavery to the worst of tyrants, the devil himself. To shake off the former has cost many their lives, and put them beyond the capacity of enjoying liberty; they have purchased at so dear a rate. When we need but detest the chains of sin to rise up to Kings and ensure liberty in its highest perfection. Our conduct proves that we prize time above eternity, the liberties of an earthly state, above the glorious liberty of the sons of God; the enjoyments of earth above those of heaven; sin above holiness; the service of Satan more than that of God,—yea, that we prefer the Devil himself, the implacable enemy of our souls to the Lord Jehovah, our gracious benefactor ….
Come then, my friends, let us embrace the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Every possible measure, whether of terror or allurement, is set before us. If we embrace this, we shall of necessity be genuine sons of liberty. We shall resolve that nothing but the wise superintendency of God shall ever make us submit to public oppression; for no man can be a christian and not a friend to civil liberty, in the strictest sense. To be freemen of Jesus Christ will exceedingly sweeten the enjoyment of civil liberty if we can obtain it, or soften the fetters of slavery if we shall be forced to wear them. Spiritual liberty opens up a pleasant prospect even in the midnight of political slavery. The most abject slave may look forward and say, “a few moments more will usher me into a state of everlasting Freedom.” On the contrary, what will it profit us to gain the whole world, crowns and scepters, if at last we loose [sic] our own souls, and are dragged at the chariot wheels of Satan. This is our time to secure freedom and glory. Another hour may chain us down in eternal bondage.
God has given us rational minds. let us then act a rational part. Let us act a consistent part, and not dishonour our high birth. Consistency, reason, interest and duty all call on us to yield an immediate and unlimited submission to God. Heaven is set before to allure us. Hell flames behind. Satan is ready to seize us, and the eternal Jehovah stretches forth his hand and offers to save us. Let us do whatever true wisdom may direct with respect to civil liberty, but by all means let us do it so as that ours slavery to satan shall not increase with the encrease of civil liberty. Let us act a part that shall be approved of at the last day, by our own consciences, by saints and angels, and by our holy judge. Then shall we rejoice at what we have done, but otherwise we must be ashamed forever. May God give us grace to do so for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Earn graduate credits toward a Master’s
degree for each Live Online Graduate
Course in American History &
Government from Ashbrook Center at
Ashland University. Learn More