Government is “not a matter of mere human prudence, but of moral necessity. It does not lie with men to determine at pleasure, whether it shall or shall not take place; but, considering their present weak, exposed and dependent condition, it is unalterably right and just there should be rule and superiority in some, and subjection and inferiority in others.”
Charles Chauncy (1705-1787) was one of the most influential pastors in Boston during his life. He received his theological training at Harvard and served as pastor of First Church for nearly 60 years. He wrote numerous pamphlets between 1762-1771 against the British proposal to impose a Bishop in America. This sermon preached in 1747, addressed to rulers (the Governor, the council, and the Massachusetts House of Representatives), called them to be just and frequently to recall their subordination to God. Original punctuation has been preserved. He drew upon an often used text from 2 Samuel 23—a passage that was a slam dunk for pastors comparing candidates to unchanging norms. He began: “there are none in all the Bible, applicable to civil rulers, in their public capacity, of more solemn importance.”
Viewing these as the last sentiments of David, Chauncy’s outline was:
- There is a certain order among mankind, according to which some are entrusted with power to rule over others.
- Those who rule over others must be just, ruling in the fear of God.
- The whole will then be applied to the occasions of the day.
In his first section, an apology for government in general, Chauncy observed: “Order and rule in society, or, what means the same thing, civil government, is not a contrivance of arbitrary and tyrannical men, but a regular state of things, naturally resulting from the make of man, and his circumstances in the world.” Human sin necessitated this. As both Calvin and Madison had noted, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” While government in general was ordained by God, the particulars could and did vary.
Government was “not a matter of mere human prudence, but of moral necessity. It does not lie with men to determine at pleasure, whether it shall or shall not take place; but, considering their present weak, exposed and dependent condition, it is unalterably right and just there should be rule and superiority in some, and subjection and inferiority in others: And this therefore is invariably the will of God; his will manifested by the moral fitness and reason of things.”
However, under the second head, the manner of rulers was prescribed. The first quality (and the one with the most discussion in this sermon) was for ruler to be just. One of Chauncy’s full elaborations of justice was:
They should do it by appearing in defense of their liberties, if called in question, and making use of all wise and suitable methods to prevent the loss of them: Nor can they be too active, diligent or laborious in their endeavors upon this head: Provided always, the privileges in danger are worth contending for, and such as the people have a just right and legal claim to. Otherwise, there may be hazard of losing real liberties, in the strife for those that are imaginary; or valuable ones, for such as are of trifling consideration.
They should also express this care, by seasonably and faithfully placing a proper guard against the designs of those, who would rule in a despotic manner, to the subversion of the rights naturally or legally vested in the people.