« PreviousContinue »
sential to the Christian system:
"by love," and love thus proved sincere. Genius, learning, wealth, authority, and influence, are talents, of which good or bad use may be made; or they may be buried in the earth. Time itself, the gift of speech, ready utterance, and eloquence, are talents of the same nature. A man possessed of a thousand, or ten thousand pounds per annum may, by the allowance of all, improve his talent to good purpose; provided he employ it in a scriptural manner. But if he claim the right, or consider himself bound in duty, by all that which money can do, to bring others over to profess his creed, or conform to his mode of worship; because he thinks the one true and the other right; he may probably please bigots of his own party, and make hypocrites, but he will not promote the genuine interests of pure Christianity.
Is not the case the same with power and authority? Where are the boundaries to be fixed, between those who ought to improve, and those who must not improve their talent? In fact, all the servants of Christ are bound by the strongest obligations to shew the " sincerity of their love" by improving their talents: not by using either wealth or power to enforce or hire compliance with their own views of Christianity; but, by employing it to provide as far as they can, by all scriptural means, for the religious instruction of mankind at large, of their neighbours or subjects especially, and the education of the rising generation. And in these things kings and rulers should proceed (only on a larger scale,) nearly by the same means which an affluent, zealous, and
well-informed Christian, in his own line, would
Now, whether an establishment of some kind might not be the best method, in which a king or ruler could improve his talent, may be a question: but the negative of it cannot be considered as self-evident; though it seems taken for granted that it is so by many who reason against all establishments.
The religion of Israel was an establishment, not indeed of human but of divine appointment: yet this clearly shews that the thing is not evil in itself, but may, in certain cases, be made conducive to the general good of a nation or people. The kings of Israel, who revolted from the family of David, framed establishments according to their own heart, but in opposition to the word of God: and Nebuchadnezzar and many other idolatrous monarchs established their false religion, by carnal weapons. The ends proposed, and the means employed, were alike impious and iniquitous. But that was the fault, not of the thing itself, but of their peculiar establishments.
Under the establishment which God himself instituted, and in supporting which he employed not only priests and prophets, but kings also; idolatry, indeed, was punishable with death, as high treason against the king of Israel: but it does not appear that persecution, in any other respect, was required or allowed. Had Jehoshaphat, or Hezekiah, or Josiah modelled the religion of Judah according to his own views; or, having added his own traditions or injunctions, or those of the elders, to the law of God, either imposed
the whole by pains and penalties, or allured the selfish and ambitious to conform by proposing to them emoluments and honours; he would have deviated from the line of duty, and his establishment would have been an evil thing. I mention not David in this connexion, because he was also a prophet, and made many arrangements by authority derived immediately from God.
But it is evident that God approved, and blessed, the exercise of authority in subserviency to the law of Moses, in a variety of ways, which seem excluded by the arguments often used against establishments of every kind. Jehoshaphat went so far, that he devised and executed a measure no where required in the law. "In the third of year "his reign, he sent to his princes to teach in the "cities of Judah : and with them he sent Levites; "and with them priests. And they taught in "Judah and had the book of the law of the Lord "with them, and went about throughout all the "cities of Judah, and taught the people." zekiah excited, and admonished, and even in some respects instructed, the Levites and the priests to be earnest and diligent, according to the duties of their places. 2 "He took counsel also with his princes, and all the congregation, to keep the passover in the second month:" he sent to invite the Israelites to join with them in this sacred service he prayed for them, and encouraged them, and blessed them: he provided for their paschal offerings and oblations. "Also in Judah "the hand of God was to give them one heart, to
12 Chr. xvii. 7—11. 22 Chr. xxix. 3-10, 21, 24, 27, 30, 31.
"do the commandment of the king and of his princes, according to the word of God." What shall we say to this? Would it be unlawful in a Christian king to imitate this example ?-Hezekiah also took care that the people should bring their tithes; that the priests and Levites should have their dues; and that they should attend to their several duties: and at the close of this account it is added, "Thus did Hezekiah, throughout all "Judah, and wrought that which was good, and right, and truth, before the Lord his God. "And in every work that he began in the service "of the house of God, and in the law, and in the <c commandments, to seek his God, he did it with "all his heart, and prospered." 2
Josiah seems to have begun his reformation, without having more than a traditional acquaintance with the divine law; or such as was gathered from extracts or compendiums: but, when" the "book of the law was brought and read to him," he conducted the whole according to its express directions.
It does not appear that any of the pious reforming kings of Judah used measures which are uncongenial with the spirit of Christianity. They attempted nothing by persecution: and even the sentence of the law against idolaters was very sparingly executed. Their authority was exercised in mildness: by fair statements, and convincing arguments, accompanied with exhortations, admonitions, and expostulations, they procured the concurrence of princes and people :
12 Chr. xxx. 12.
22 Chr. xxxi. 20, 21.
and thus they excited the priests and Levites to do their duty; and in some cases shamed them out of their negligence. Their appeal was uniformly "to the law and to the testimony;" and it was their plan to reduce the religion of Judah to the scriptural standard. In doing this, some ventured and succeeded further than others; and were accordingly approved or blamed by the prophets whom God raised up among them. But Ahaz and Uzziah exercised their kingly authority in an antiscriptural manner, and were rebuked accordingly.
Even a heathen king was led to exercise his authority in promoting true religion, after an unexceptionable manner. Artaxerxes, having made most liberal grants and donations to Ezra, for the service of the temple and worship at Jerusalem; adds, " Whatsoever is commanded by the "God of heaven, let it be done diligently." "And
thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of God that is in "thine hand, set magistrates and judges, who may "judge all the people that are beyond the river; "all such as know the laws of God; and teach
ye them that know them not." 1 He did not attempt to model the religion of Israel according to his own views; but he left that to the ministers of that religion, and especially to Ezra: but he protected and countenanced the zealous servants of God; and, because of the impoverished state of the Jews, he supplied them with the necessary expenses for condueting the worship at the temple. And, though he closed with authorizing Ezra to punish delinquents, even those who "would not do
1 Ezra vii. 11-26.