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THE RULE FOR RULERS.
NOTES OF A SERMON PREACHED ON SUNDAY MORNING, NOVEMBER 14th,
1875, BEFORE THE MAYOR AND THE CORPORATION, IN WESLEY CHAPEL, SWANSEA.
BY THE REV. EDWARD J. ROBINSON.
“The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ru in the fear of God." --2 SAMUEL xxiii, 3. Last sayings, especially of the esteemed and beloved, the great and good and wise, are deservedly regarded as interesting and important. If men ever speak in harmony with the nature of things, and with the mind of God, it is when they see death approaching. Their voice is then no longer directed by earthly passions and cares. They can have no object in uttering anything to deceive. And not only do dying people commonly speak sincerely and truly for themselves, but according to a general and rational belief, God often speaks with emphasis in their sayings.
David was now about seventy years of age, and perhaps too feeble to perform any more on the beloved harp whose strings had sweetly responded countless times to his skilled touch. Once again the flame of his expiring muse shone brightly, and immediately died out. What was his concluding song ? Nothing is more likely than that the last words of a wise and experienced monarch, on whom the King of kings had put especial honour, and whose compositions were used and still are repeated in the worship of God, were good words. “Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high,”—the shepherd who, while others remained stationary, or sank to a lower degree, was exalted from reclining on the tree's root, to occupy the throne,—" the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain." The testimony of the dying sovereign, who knew how to govern, is through him to all concerned, a lesson from the everliving God, by Whom “kings reign, and princes decree justice," and Who “putteth down one, and setteth up another ;” and we hope it is not unfitting on a day like this,
with unfeigned respect for their high position and office, to ask the most distinguished among us to listen to the farewell words of the son of Jesse, and hear in his the voice of “the Shepherd,” the “ Stone,” “ the Rock of Israel," the Strength and Safety of His people.
If there are any who teach that all should be on a level, the superior position they assume as instructors shows the impossibility of the flat sameness which they advocate. It is according to nature and Scripture that some should be higher than others. Varieties of rank and office are a consequence of the sovereignty of God, and necessary for the common good of men. The babe must depend on the mother, and the child be subject to his guardians. Genius is nobility, knowledge power, and wealth dominion. “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars :" and“ one star differeth from another star in glory;" and, whether they are brighter or dimmer, whether they warm or enlighten, whether they emit or reflect, whether they move in larger or less circles, each orb is part of the consistent universe. God hath “set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body ? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee : nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you."
What ought to be the concern of all is how, in harmony like that of the corporeal frame or of the celestial spheres, to obey or rule according to their station.
By instinct and necessity men gather together. But there are disadvantages as well as advantages in their congregating in cities. Not only do they thus discover the doors of riches and honour, and come under the improving influences of society, but their original sin finds new ways and means of development. There are worse results than extremes meeting, the hut insulting the mansion which overshadows it, and the beggar's rags brushing against silken garments : misery deepens into a woeful villainy unknown by savages in their haunts on plains and hills. In towns there are peculiar facilities for the commission and concealment of crime. They offer attractions which are snares, pleasures which are pains, friendships which are enmities, and places of resort which are masked graves and garnished hells. The inhabitants are tempted to prey one upon another ; and the disposition becomes an endeavour to do so. Selfishness grows into fraud, rapine and murder. And there are men in the community who would be devils, if they were not chained.
It is necessary that a wise spirit of might and mercy should brood upon this chaos. Organization and government are required to restrain and subdue evil, and encourage and promote good. Hence among many orders, have arisen judges and prophets. Both magistrates and pastors are of divine appointment. “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” In a Christian country, the Supreme Ruler mostly chooses local public officers by means of the evoked will of their neighbours. The citizens see it indispensable, for self-profit and the general good, to elect and maintain municipal and ecclesiastical superiors; and the land is happy in which a town is not needlessly hindered in the selection of its own civic and sacred functionaries. Ministers of religion alone would be insufficient. Their work is to preach against sin, make known its cure, and persuade men to what is true and good. It is their calling to publish the propitiation, point to the pattern, and invoke the Spirit of the common Redeemer; and no weapons become them but a wise tongue and a shining example. Power to apprehend and punish transgressors, to enforce law and support right, to insist upon outward unity, peace and concord, belongs to magistrates. Yet the two orders are engaged in one service. The place of the civic officer is by the side of the religious teacher, not to follow his mere dictation, but to countenance his faithful prophesying, carry out and illustrate what ought to be his motives and principles, and keep in operation public regulations binding upon both. “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power ? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid ; for he beareth not the sword in vain : for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
It is a beautiful and useful custom for the chief magistrate of a town, on the first Sunday morning after his accession to office, accompanied by aldermen and councillors, and by police, to proceed to a place of worship. It is well that, as in the present instance, he should appear in the congregation of which he is a member, especially when that congregation has preceded the corporation in making him a principal officer, when it is the congregation of whose school he is the superintendent, and when it is the central congregation of the Circuit of which he is the senior steward. The Mayor's visit to our sanctuary, with the municipal body, at the commencement of the civic year, is a recognition of the supremacy of the Lord Jesus, and a manifestation of willingness to be respectfully reminded that “ he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.”
Binding upon our gracious Queen, the Prime Minister, and all who wield superior authority like that which David exercised, this rule is also a phylactery for the minor powers to whom is delegated by burgesses and committed by Providence the oversight of the interests of towns and cities. " The King eternal, immortal, invisible" tells them in the royal psalmist's last words, that they must be “just.” They are required to watch over the people in righteousness. Their election has been by majorities, if by sections; and they are chosen to represent and control, not some only, but all the population. It would be as bad to attempt to fulfil their office in a selfish as in a party spirit. A piece of cold statuary can be hoisted to a proud pedestal to be looked at and admired, but they are living stones, with brains and hearts, set up to dispense such benefits as those of which the marble is perhaps a memento. It is no blame to them that they have felt the glow of honourable success, and, in addition to nobler views and feelings, accepted their honours as a conqueror receives his laurels. We cannot, indeed, but commend and congratulate those whose elevation is the result and triumph of their practised ability. But their crown is not a flimsy circle of tinsel : it is a golden burden of responsibility and duty. Their office is more than a robe of distinction to be displayed : it is a stewardship in which to be faithful. They are anointed to move about, not in useless gorgeousness, like some oriental rajahs, but as thoughtful agents, who must give account to conscience, the people and the Most High. They are bound to study the will of the Supreme Ruler, Whose they are and Whom they serve, the regulations and usages which they are called to respect and uphold, and the wants of the public of whom they are the immediate guardians and overseers. And as patriots they should prefer to be unpopular with the fickie present, rather than incur the censure of the impartial future.
“ He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” He must not only be righteous towards the people, but pious towards the Lord. As remarked by the gentleman who nominated our Mayor, it is important for a chief magistrate to have a good moral character; but we hold that, above and including a reputation for virtue, he ought to be a religious man. Those rulers have been most unjust who have been least pious. As ungodly clergymen have stirred up mobs to illtreat and murder evangelists and prophets, whom religion required them to welcome and assist, so ungodly magistrates and other secular officials have persecuted and crushed saints and philanthropists, whom common justice called them to protect and befriend. It may be hoped that such evil days and deeds will not return ; and we have cause for thankfulness who dwell in a town in which sacred and civic authorities have shown outward respect to the ordained and lay missionaries of different churches by whom we have been visited. But does the representative of every ward in Swansea truly fear God? Is each member of the town-council a converted man, a thorough Christian ? Our solemn position this morning constrains us, in unaffected humility, earnestly to exhort them all not to rest without this crowning qualification for the momentous functions they will profess and endeavour to discharge. If they would do credit to those by whom they were elected, win applause for the corporation which they compose, and be a blessing and glory to the town, let them take care to be pious as well as, and that they may be, just. Why should they not consult and act in an essentially religious spirit ? They best rule men who best serve God.
He who sways with justice and in the fear of God “shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds
as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.' His magistracy will be generous and genial, making a continual summer, and helping to the restoration of paradise. He will not be satisfied with inflicting punishment upon evil-doers, and restraining the demonstrations of wickedness, but will use every means in his power to promote the positive welfare of the people. Remembering that he is a father as well as a ruler over men, he will aim at training as much as correcting the great family committed to his care. He will study to increase the health, order, tranquillity, morality and prosperity of the town. He will lead the war upon its physical facilities for the germination of misery and vice, and banish many demons through opened passages and hidden drains. He will improve the dwellings of the poor, frown upon ignorance and priestcraft, and their offspring superstition; patronize teachers of science, temperance and religion, and never condescend to brighten with his presence the halls of sensual pleasure, or gild with his assistance the temples of blazing sin.
The pleasant assurance of the Supreme Benefactor in the last words of David may be regarded, not only as a description of the good effect upon general society of a chief magistrate's fearing God and working righteousness, but also as a gracious promise to himself, on the understanding that he be personally loyal to the Living Rock of Israel, and officiate as His zealous representative. Providence shall smile like the bright dawn upon such a ruler ; and he shall wear a radiance of joy at the head of a line fair and beautiful as the merry fields offering praise to Heaven for the sufficient sunshine and the measured shower. Blessing, he shall be blessed, the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.” He shall be “worshipful,” not in title only, but in merited esteem and affection. It was said of our Mayor on the day of his election that he had been the architect of his own fortune. More correctly speaking, he has been a diligent labourer in the Great Architect's employ. Continuing prudent and busy in commerce, and now ruling over men with justice and piety, he shall be favoured to complete in due time the edifice of his blessed lot, to the glory of Him Who sees the end from the beginning, and watches and guides the faithful under-builder, as he, in great part unconsciously, stage after stage works out the divine idea.
This is an occasion for review and thanksgiving, as well as for anticipation. In retrospect and circumstance, even more than in prospect, God's blessings come to sight this morning. From the mountain of His accumulated gifts, whence the outline of the future is visible, the traces of the past should be examined. The time of providential elevation is the season for religious humiliation. David's conduct and language on a previous occasion, when he was about fifty years of age, are as suitable for present consideration as the words of the man of seventy which have guided our discourse : “ Then went King David in, and sat before the Lord, and