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THE HARMONY OF RELIGION AND CIVIL POLITY.
Prov. xiv. 34.
Righteousness exalteth a Nation.
To propose maxims of civil polity in a religious
to propose in a political assembly, are two things, which seem alike senseless and imprudent. The christian is so often distinguished from the statesman, that, it would seem, they were opposite characters.We have been lately taught to believe, that Jesus Christ, by giving us an idea of a society more noble than any we can form upon earth, hath forbidden us to prevent the miseries of this state, and to endeavor to procure the glory of it. It hath been said, that kingdoms and states cannot be elevated without violating the laws of equity, and infringing the rights of the church.
How general soever this odious notion may have been, hardly any one hath appeared openly to avow it till of late. The impudence of pleading for it was reserved for our age, for a christian admitted into your provinces, cherished in your bosom, and, O shame of our churches! appearing among protestant refugees, as the devil formerly presented himself before the Lord among the angels of God.
We propose to-day, my brethren, to endeavor to
unravel the sophisms of this author, to shew you the agreement of religion with civil polity, and to establish this proposition, that as there is nothing in religion to counteract the design of a wise system of civil polity, so there is nothing in a wise system of civil government to counteract the design of the christian religion. It was the wisest of all kings, who taught us this lesson. He speaks of the exaltation of a nation, and this is the end of civil polity. He speaks of righteousness, and this is the design of religion, or rather, this is religion itself, He affirms, that the latter is the foundation of the former, and this is the agreement of religion with civil government. It is righteousness, saith he, It is righteousness, that exalteth a nation.
This proposition of Solomon needs both explication and proof; and this discourse is intended to furnish both.
In our first part we will state the question, fix the sense of these terms, righteousness, exaltation; we will set aside the various false senses, which occasioned the opinion, that we intend to oppose; and by these means we will preclude such objections as may be made against our doctrine.
In the second part we will allege some arguments in favor of the proposition contained in the text when properly explained, and so prove that righteousness exalteth a nation.
This nation is exalted, my brethren; but, allow me to say, it is not by its righteousness. We have not therefore chosen this text to create an opportunity of making encomiums on you: but we treat of the subject in order to fix your attention on the proper means of preserving and augmenting your elevation. Happy if our design meet with success! Happy if we contribute, though not accord
ing to the extent of our wishes, yet according to the utmost of our ability, to the glory of this state!
I. We just now insinuated, that the false glosses put upon the maxim of the wise man were the principal causes of our backwardness to admit the truth of it. It is therefore important to state the question clearly.
1. When we affirm that righteousness and religion in general, (for it would be easy to prove that the word righteousness in the text is to be taken in this vague sense,) I say, when we affirm that religion exalteth a nation, we do not mean such a religion as many imagine. We ingenuously acknowledge, and would to God the whole world acknowledged that neither the religion of a cruel man, nor the religion of a superstitious person, nor the religion of an enthusiast can exalt a nation.
How can the religion of a cruel man exalt a nation? The religion of such men is too well known for the peace of Europe. Such as these, under pretence of devotion, cut a free course for their own black and inflexible passions. These arm themselves with the civil sword to destroy all, who doubt the truth of their systems; they put violence in the place of demonstration, and endeavor to establish the gospel, as if it were the koran of Mohammed, by force and constraint. These characters, as I just now said, are too well known for the peace of Europe. Even now, while I speak, I behold many, who have suffered under such cruelty, and have opposed the strongest argument against it. No, my brethren, this it not the religion that exalteth a nation. Such a religion depopulates states, ruins commerce, and is a never failing source of civil wars and intestine commotions. The religion, of which we speak, is a kind,
patient, gentle religion; a religion, the grand character of which is forbearance, benevolence, and fraternal love; a religion inimical to error and heresy but which, however, pities the erroneous and the heretic; a religion, which exerts itself to eradicate false doctrines: but which leaves each at liberty to admit the truth; a religion which hath no other sword than the Sword of the Spirit, nor any other weapon than that of the word."
How can the religion of a superstitious man exalt a nation? It makes devotion degenerate into idleness, it increaseth the number of ecclesiastics and so renders many members useless to society. It wastes in pretendedly pious foundations immense sums, which might have contributed to the advancement of arts and sciences. It generates scruples in the minds of statesmen, and so restrains the exercise of those fine faculties, which God created for the good of the state. It puts the casuist in the place of the prince, and the prince in the place of the casuist, the casuist on the throne, and the prince in confession at his feet. No, my brethren, this is not the religion, of which we speak. The religion of which we speak, is opposite to superstition. It is just and solid, requiring us to render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's, Matt. xii. 17. It prescribes bounds to sovereigns: but it requires casuists also to know their place.
How can the religion of an enthusiast contribute to the exaltation of a nation? the soul of an enthusiast is always agitated with visions and reveries. He incessantly thrusts himself into the company of the great in order to inspire them with his own spirit, and to breathe into them the soul of enthusiasm. He endeavors to animate governors called to watch over a state, and to conduct the people
to national happiness, with his wild schemes. He is always talking of extirpating the reformation, and thundering excommunications against those who do not enter into his extravagant projects; his anathemas are as extravagant and wild as the projects themselves. This is not the religion, of which we speak. The religion that exalteth a nation, is derived from the treasures of the Divine Intelligence; it was formed in the mind of that supreme Spirit, from whom wisdom proceeds, as the streams flow from the spring: and not in the ideas of a disordered brain, nor in the dreams of a visionary.
We wish you to take religion and righteousness in the true sense of the terms. This is our first elucidation. This is the first precaution, that must be used to understand the state of the question.
2. We do not mean to affirm, that the true religion is so necessary in all its doctrines, and in all the extent of its precepts, that there are no instances of the flourishing of societies, which have not been wholly regulated by it. We acknowledge that some societies of men, who have been only partially governed by its maxims, have enjoyed long and glorious advantages upon the theatre of the world; either because their false religions contained some principles of rectitude in common with he true religion; or because God, in order to animate such people to practise some virtues, superficial indeed, but, however, necessary to the being of society, annexed success to the exercise of them; or because he prospered them to answer some secret designs of his wisdom; or because, finally, rectitude was never so fully established on earth as to preclude injustice from enjoying the advantages of virtue, or virtue from suffering the penalties of vice. However it were, we allow the