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PROVERBS xxiv. 21.
My son, fear thoų the Lord and the King; and meddle not with them that are given to change. O
HEN a daring spirit of anarchy and con
fusion seems to prevail through the world, it becomes the duty of every man whose situation in life gives him the opportunity, to inculcate the lessons of obedience and subordination, contained in the words of the text; and to en-deavour to extinguish that torch of sedition, which, in the hands of a few misguided zealots, is ready to scatter fire and devastation through the land. I need not tell you, that the Book of Proverbs, from which these words are taken, was penned by that excellent spirit of wisdom, which descendeth from above, and is, therefore, deserving of our highest attention. And, in deed, were we ignorant of this circumstance, the various precepts it contains, would sufficiently recommend themselves to our esteem, by their intrinsic worth and importance; as being grounded on unquestionable truth, expressed in very intelligible language, and, by their sententious brevity, easy to be retained.
66 Train up a
We are not, however, vainly to imagine, that all the precepts there delivered, are to be understood in rigorous. strictaess of speech, or in the utmost severity of construction. We are rather to interpret them according to that equitable consideration of circumstances and times, which every general proposition requires; which, -though generally true and fitting, will always adınit of some exceptions. Thus, for example ; where this wise King tells us, t child in the way he should go, and, when he “ is old, he will not depart from it;" we can -have no doubt of the general truth and propriety of the precept. But should we from thence conclude, that no child, who has been well educated, ever deviates from the good way in which he has been trained, we should only expose ourselves to ridicule, by contradicting the experience of all ages. For, though the greater part of those, who fall under the just vindiction of the law, owe their ruin to a neglected or vicious education, yet there are too many also amongst them,
the unhappy offspring of virtuous and honest parents, whom no precepts of wisdom could control, whom no influence of example could sway, whom no restraints of parental authority could guard from destruction. And, with the same equitable construction, are we to understand that precept in the text, which forbids us “ to med
dle with them that are given to change.” For, though there can be no doubt, that a meddling and contentious spirit, which is ever hunting after imaginary grievances and causes of discontent, is highly to be condemned, and avoided, yet on the other hand, there are occasions, where change becomes necessary, and where the first principles of nature, and of society, and of reason, call upon us “to meddle
with them that are given to change.” And, in the same qualified sense also, are we to understand the precept here delivered, of “ fearing “ the king.”
Fear is, in itself, the inost ignoble passion that inhabits the human breast. If we consider its origin, it is ever the child of guilt and disobedience: for, when man came from the hands of his Maker, pure and unspotted, he was fearless, because he was innocent: but, no sooner had he forfeited that innocence, than fear succeeded; “I heard thy voice,” said our unhappy first parent, to his offended God, “and was “afraid.” If, therefore, our fear of the king should originate from conscious guilt, or the dread of impending evil, it would be slavish and abject, and, therefore, can never be supposed to be recommended to us by the pen of inspired wisdom. And, indeed, who would wish to inculcate into the breasts of their subjects, such a fear as this; except such monsters in human shape as a Tiberius or a Caligula, who could willingly be content to be hated, so long as they were feared.
But the fear here recommended, is a filial sense of love and duty; which will lead us to shew our reverence to the king, by a strict obedience to his laws, and by a just respect to his person and government. In one word, it is what St. Peter' means, when he commands us to “ fear God, and honour the king.”
: Having thus cleared the words of the text from those inconvenient consequences, which would follow from too strict and rigorous an interpretation of them, I shall proceed to lay
First, The necessity of fearing God;
Secondly, The duty of honouring the King; and,
Thirdly, The danger of meddling with such as are given to change.
I need not, perhaps, inform you, that the fear of God is here put for the sum and substance of religion; which, in scripture language, is frequently expressed by some of its leading and constituent parts. Thus, the knowledge of God and of his Son Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent, is sometimes said to be eternal life: and again, sometimes Faith is called the only requisite for salvation; as where it is said, “ He that be“ lieveth, and is baptized, shall be saved." And, in the same manner, the fear of God is put for the whole duty of man; especially by the writers of the Old Testament, who seem always to consider it as the fountain of knowledge and wisdom, of temporal and eternal hap piness.
We must, however, remark, that it is not every fear of God, which answers to these high and glorious characters of wisdom and illuminas tion. For there is a slavish and abject fear of him, which proceeds from a dreadful apprehension of his power and justice, and which, there