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2. Observe the wisdom displayed in the brevity, simplicity, and comprehensiveness of the framework here ordained for the government of the nation. The three great principles which we have found in their polity, are : (1) Election of the rulers by the ruled: (2.) A judiciary wisely constructed for the speedy and safe administration of justice: 'And, (3) A union of the tribes under a confederation, well adapted to be a safeguard against usurpation from within, and to afford protection against invasion from without. The wisdom and mercy which fixed these great landmarks of human rights and civil freedom, left it to man to draw them out into different forms, and with different applications, as the various wants and circumstances of different nations might require. In this way, indeed, all the elementary principles of law and justice are revealed in the Bible. God never legislates too much, or too little. He leaves scope for the study and labors of the wise and the good; and, at the same time, establishes by his express authority, those great boundary lines of truth and right which may hem in the mind from capital error.
3. We see what was the sin of the people in “asking for a king,” “that they might be like all the nations, and that their king might judge them, and go out before them and fight their battles.” There is no doubt that there was much sin in the demand. While Samuel was told to comply with their wishes, he was directed to do it under “solemn protest;” nor was their first king well proclaimed till they themselves made the confession, “we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask us a king.” “I gave thee a king in mine anger,” said God to the nation; for in his wise and mysterious providence he often makes the gratification of a sinful desire a punishment for having indulged it. But wherein lay the sinfulness of the nation in demanding “a king to reign over them to Not in their having overturned the theocracy by their wilfulness. The theocracy remained as entire under Saul and David, as it had been under Moses or Joshua. Their guilt is described in the words of God to Samuel: “ They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” To reject God, or to refuse to have him reign over us, is the scriptural language for rejecting or putting dishonor on his ordinances and commandments; and the sin of asking for a king, lay in their rejecting the government which God had provided for them as a nation, which ensured to them the blessings of Civil Freedom; and in choosing another which subjected them to the evils that were the burden and calamity of the kingdoms around them. Accordingly, Samuel is directed to
of “the manner of the king that should reign over them,” depicting the tyranny which they were about to bring upon themselves, in true and faithful colors. “He will take your sons,” said the prophet, “and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen ; and some shall run before his charióts. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive-yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.” They were smitten with a just for the trappings and pomp of royalty; and they persisted in their demand for it, though it would result, as they were here told, in the wanton violation of their domestic enjoyments and private rights, and in the surrender of themselves, and of all that they now called their own, to the will of the monarch; while, in order to obtain their sinful wish, they threw away a government simple in its form, imposing no heavy burdens on the people for its support, and preserving that constant sympathy between the ruler and the ruled which can result only from his being
one of themselves, and chosen by them to his autho4
rity over them. True, the fatal reverse was not felt all at once. Corruptions of justice, and the encroachments of tyranny are always gradually developed in a nation. It requires time for them to grow. But the root of the tree which produced such bitter fruit was planted among the Hebrews when they asked and obtained “a king to rule over them.”
4. The theory we have been explaining serves to show how, and on what principle resistance to rulers becomes lawful and even dutiful. This is a question which has excited earnest and bitter controversy. When civil liberty was making some of her most important advances in England, “the right divine of kings to govern wrong” was advocated with unblushing assurance.” Filmer wrote his Patriarcha to show that no degree of injustice or oppression, on the part of the throne, can justify resistance on the part of the subject. Locke brought his powerful mind to overthrow this preposterous doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance; but in his Treatise on Civil Government he introduced his theory of a Social Compact between rulers and ruled, in which he would have the duty of obedience to rest in a voluntary consent previously given. Later writers have objected to this view of the case, because such a compact must be in a great degree * Note G.
imaginary. We avoid the difficulty, and can, at the same time, learn how the subjects of a government may lawfully withstand oppression, if we turn to the Bible. It does not teach that the mere possession of power so renders it the ordinance of God, that it should in no case be resisted.” On the contrary, much as the sentiment may have been misrepresented, resistance to tyrants is sometimes obedience to God. By his ordinance, as we have seen, civil authority is made a trust from the ruled to the rulers; a trust committed to those who hold it, for a specified object, “for the punishment of evil doers, and the praise of them that do well.” Of course, authority being of the nature of a trust, may be so perverted and abused as to annul its own claims to submission. The best, and the true mode of conveying this trust, is by the election of their rulers by the people themselves. In this way, they will generally retain in their own hands the most effectual security against continued wrong or oppression; for they can redress themselves by a change of rulers, without recourse to violence. But if, through folly or misfortune, a people are destitute of this advantage, still, civil authority is not the less a trust, according to the appointment of God. And if it becomes so abused as to effect the
injury and not the benefit of the ruled, in such case
* Note H.