Page images

to establish laws, or a government of laws over a people, was very general during the ages of antiquity. The belief also seems to have been most widely diffused wherever civilization and refinement had made the greatest advancement. The laws of Crete were said to have been given to Minos by inspiration from Jupiter. Apollo, we are told, revealed the laws of Lacedæmon to Lycurgus; and to ensure a just interpretation of them, the deity allowed himself to be consulted from time to time at the Oracle of Delphos. Numa declared himself indebted to Egeria for the statutes and ordinances which lay at the foundation of Roman greatness and supremacy. Referring to the general prevalence of such traditions, an able commentator on government has remarked, “there is nothing in which mankind have been more unanimous.” But while we fully agree with him as to the fact, we entirely dissent from him when he adds, “yet nothing can be inferred from it, but that the multitude have always been credulous, and the few artful.” The unanimity of the belief, leads, as we think, to quite a different conclusion. Sound philosophy has discovered, that in all such traditions there is a mixture of truth with error; that there is scarce a fable to be found in the mythologies of ancient times without a “moral,” which

can be traced back to some revelation previously derived from the true God. Accordingly we consider these fictions or fables respecting the origin of civil laws as another acknowledgment of the truth so conspicuously repeated in the Scriptures, that “there is no power but of God;” that “the powers that be are ordained of God;” in other words, that the obligation of the ruled to obey their rulers rests upon the Divine will as its great and ultimate Pea,SOI]. But while there is a general concurrence among moral and political writers in the doctrine that civil government is founded on the will of God, they are by no means so fully agreed respecting the extent to which he has revealed his will on the subject. And the object which we now propose to ourselves is to inquire how far the Scriptures go, in revealing the essential principles which enter into a just and wise construction of the civil authority which man may rightfully exercise over man. We turn “to the law and to the testimony,” and ask, Is government, simply as government, all that we find there sanctioned as the ordinance of God; and have its different forms been left to be elaborated by the sagacity of politicians and statesmen, all of them sharing alike in the Divine approbation 7 Do the Autocrat of Russia, and the Sultan of Turkey, inheriting thrones which have been gained by violence and blood, hold their power by a tenure as scriptural as the chief Magistrates of these United States, who have been raised to their office by the choice of those whom they govern ? The Bible, if we do not mistake its meaning, answers these inquiries in a way that may well render it increasingly valuable in the eyes of every one who desires the present and future happiness of his race. As we follow its teachings, we find it goes back into the antiquity of nations, and records their origin and progress, with a clearness to which no other volume can aspire. It shows that the form of government first prevailing in the world was the patriarchal. And while the earth was peopled rather by families than by nations, dominion in the hands of one man might not have been productive of any oppressive wrongs. But when communities had become widened into large kingdoms, ties of kindred were lost in ambition for power; and tyranny, with its unsparing exactions, was soon felt as the scourge of humanity. Then, as the Scriptures teach, the Most High made known a remedy for this sore evil. But it is not his manner to ordain mere abstractions when he gives ordinances for the benefit of man. If government of any kind is to be rendered intelligible or tangible, it must have some form or

embodiment; and as “at the beginning,” he taught how the domestic relations were to be created and sustained; so also, when nations “had begun to multiply on the earth,” he revealed his will respecting the origin and tenure of authority in a State, showing how the relations between rulers and ruled should be formed and regulated. When he “brought the Hebrews out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” his first care was to give them laws and ordinances by which he made known his redeeming grace for lost man. But he did not forget their temporal welfare as a Nation, while he guided their faith as his Church. He formed them into a Commonwealth under civil enactments, which embrace all the essential features of national freedom, or of a well-ordered Republic. g This religious aspect of the subject enhances its claim upon our careful consideration. And is it not fitting and seasonable that civil liberty should be more fully rescued from the profanity with which it has been too often treated 7 Notwithstanding what we view as an improved state of opinion in some quarters, there is still much public . impiety with regard to this inestimable blessing; impiety which pollutes our seats of learning, and profanes our high places of authority. Our educated youth are still taught to believe, and the people are still told by many of our public men, that liberty was cradled in the states of Greece; and that the Solons and Lycurguses of former days were the great fathers of freedom to our world. We believe in a different doctrine. We believe that we must look further back than either Athens or Sparta for the origin of a blessing most deeply interwoven with the welfare of man; and that it was not the wisdom of Greece in the halls of the Acropolis, but the wisdom of God speaking from heaven through his servant Moses, which first taught how the rights of a people should be asserted and sustained. While impiety is rebuked, unbelief may at the same time be put to shame. There are Cassandras, croaking prophets in our own country, who are always predicting the speedy overthrow of our free institutions; and there are Catalines and Hotspurs who would love to have it so, as it would open to them the fields of treachery and blood in which they delight. But there are men also of sober and reflecting minds, who look on the future both abroad. and at home with much anxiety. “Upon the earth there is distress of nations, with perplexity, men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things that are coming upon the earth.” Far and near we see a tumult of kingdoms, in which “deep calleth unto deep ;” and the responses are loud

and portentous. Great as the changes may be which

« PreviousContinue »