Samuel Cooke: The True Principles of Civil Government

Called Unto Liberty, Samuel Cooke, 1770

Introduction: The Reverend Samuel Cooke was a graduate of Harvard College in the class of 1735, then in the sixty-second year of his age, was “a man of science, of a social disposition, distinguished by his good sense and prudence, and a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus.” He died June 4, 1783, aged 74. This sermon was an Election Day sermon delivered May 30, 1770.


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. — 2 Sam. 23:3, 4.

The solemn introduction to the words now read, respectable hearers, is manifestly designed to engage your attention and regard, as given by inspiration from God, and as containing the last, the dying words of one of the greatest and best of earthly rulers, who, by ruling in the fear of God, had served his generation according to the divine will. Transporting reflection! when his flesh and his heart failed, and his glory was consigned to dust.

From this and many other passages in the sacred oracles, it is evident that the Supreme Ruler, though he has directed to no particular mode of civil government, yet allows and approves of the establishment of it among men.

The ends of civil government, in divine revelation, are clearly pointed out, the character of rulers described, and the duty of subjects asserted and explained; and in this view civil government may be considered as an ordinance of God, and, when justly exercised, greatly subservient to the glorious purposes of divine providence and grace: but the particular form is left to the choice and determination of mankind.

In a pure state of nature, government is in a great measure unnecessary. Private property in that state is inconsiderable. Man need no arbiter to determine their rights; they covet only a bare support; their stock is but the subsistence of a day; the uncultivated deserts are their habitations, and they carry their all with them in their frequent removes. They are each one a law to himself, which, in general, is of force sufficient for their security in that course of life.

It is far otherwise when mankind are formed into collective bodies, or a social state of life. Here, their frequent mutual […] [interrelationships], in a degree, necessarily leads them to different apprehensions respecting their several rights, even where their intentions are upright. Temptations to injustice and violence increase, and the occasions of them multiply in proportion to the increase and opulence of the society. The laws of nature, though enforced by divine revelation, which bind the conscience of the upright, prove insufficient to restrain the sons of violence, who have not the fear of God before their eyes.

A society cannot long subsist in such a state; their safety, their social being, depends upon the establishment of determinate rules or laws, with proper penalties to enforce them, to which individuals shall be subjected. The laws, however wisely adapted, cannot operate to the public security unless they are properly executed. The execution of them remaining in the hands of the whole community, leaves individuals to determine their own rights, and, in effect, in the same circumstances as in a state of nature. The remedy in this case is solely in the hands of the community.

A society emerging from a state of nature, in respect to authority, are all upon a level; no individual can justly challenge a right to make or execute the laws by which it is to be governed, but only by the choice or general consent of the community. The people, the collective body only, have a right, under God, to determine who shall exercise this trust for the common interest, and to fix the bounds of their authority; and, consequently, unless we admit the most evident inconsistency, those in authority, in the the whole of their public conduct, are accountable to the society which gave them their political existence. This is evidently the natural origin and state of all civil government, the sole end and design of which is, not to ennoble a few and enslave the multitude, but the public benefit, the good of the people; that they may be protected in their persons, and secured in the enjoyment of all their rights, and be enabled to lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty. While this manifest design of civil government, under whatever form, is kept in full view, the reciprocal obligations of rulers and subjects are obvious, and the extent of prerogative and liberty will be indisputable.

In a civil state, that form is most eligible which is best adapted to promote the ends of government–the benefit of the community. Reason and experience teach that a mixed government is most conducive to this end. In the present imperfect state, the whole power cannot with safety be entrusted with a single person; nor with many, acting jointly in the same public capacity. Various branches of power, concentring in the community from which they originally derive their authority, are a mutual check to each other in their several departments, and jointly secure the common interest. This may indeed, in some instances, retard the operations of government, but will add dignity to its deliberate counsels and weight to its dictates.

This, after many dangerous conflicts with arbitrary power, is now the happy constitution of our parent state. We rejoice in the gladness of our nation. May no weapon formed against it prosper; may it be preserved inviolate till time shall be no more. This, under God, has caused Great Britain to exalt her head above the nations, restored the dignity of royal authority, and rendered our kings truly benefactors. The prince upon the British throne can have no real interest distinct from his subjects; his crown is his inheritance, his kingdom his patrimony, which he must be disposed to improve for his own and his family’s interest; his highest glory is to rule over a free people and reign in the hearts of his subjects. The Peers, who are lords of Parliament, are his hereditary council. The Commons, elected by the people, are considered as the grand inquest of the kingdom, and, while incorrupt, are a check upon the highest offices in the state. A constitution thus happily formed and supported, as a late writer has observed, cannot easily be subverted but by the prevalence of venality in the representatives of the people. How far septennial parliaments conduce to this, time may further show; or whether this is not an infraction upon the national constitution, is not for me to determine. But the best constitution, separately considered, is only as a line which marks out the enclosure, or as a fitly organized body without spirit or animal life.(1)

The advantages of civil government, even under the British form, greatly depend upon the character and conduct of those to whom the administration is committed. When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked bears rule, the people mourn. The Most High, therefore, who is just in all His ways, good to all, and whose commands strike dread, has strictly enjoined faithfulness upon all those who are advanced to any place of public trust. Rulers of this character cooperate with God in His gracious dispensations of providence, and under Him are diffusive blessings to the people, and are compared to the light of morning, when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds.

By the ruler in the text is intended not only the king as supreme, but also every one in subordinate place of power and trust, whether they act in legislative or executive capacity, or both. In whatever station men act for the public, they are included in this general term, and must direct their conduct by the same upright principle. Justice, as here expressed, is not to be taken in a limited sense, but as a general term, including every quality necessary to be exercised for the public good by those who accept the charge of it. Justice must be tempered with wisdom, prudence, and clemency, otherwise it will degenerate into rigor and oppression.

This solemn charge given to rulers is not an arbitrary injunction imposed by God, but is founded in the most obvious laws of nature and reason. Rulers are appointed for this very end–to be ministers of God for good. The people have a right to expect this from them, and to require it, not as an act of grace, but as their unquestionable due. It is the express or implicit condition upon which they were chosen and continued in public office, that they attend continually upon this very thing. Their time, their abilities, their authority–by their acceptance of the public trust–are consecrated to the community, and cannot, in justice, be withheld; they are obliged to seek the welfare of the people, and exert all their powers to promote the common interest. This continual solicitude for the common good, however depressing it may appear, is what rulers of every degree have taken upon themselves; and, in justice to the people, in faithfulness to God, they must either sustain it with fidelity, or resign their office.

The first attention of the faithful ruler will be to the subjects of government in their specific nature. He will not forget that he rules over men–men who are of the same species with himself, and by nature equal–men who are the offspring of God, and alike formed after His glorious image–men of like passions and feelings with himself, and, as men, in the sight of their common Creator of equal importance–men who have raised him to power, and support him in the exercise of it–men who are reasonable beings, and can be subjected to no human restrictions which are not founded in reason, and of the fitness of which they may be convinced–men who are moral agents, and under the absolute control of the High Possessor of heaven and earth, and cannot, without the greatest impropriety and disloyalty to the King of kings, yield unlimited subjection (2) to any inferior power–men whom the Son of God has condescended to ransom, and dignified their nature by becoming the Son of Man–men who have the most evident right, in every decent way, to represent to rulers their grievances, and seek redress. The people forfeit the rank they hold in God’s creation when they silently yield this important point, and sordidly, like Issachar, crouch under every burden wantonly laid upon them. And rulers greatly tarnish their dignity when they attempt to treat their subjects otherwise than as their fellow men–men who have reposed the highest confidence in their fidelity, and to whom they are accountable for their public conduct–and, in a word, men among whom they must, without distinction, stand before the dread tribunal of Heaven. Just rulers, therefore, in making and executing the laws of society, will consider who they are to oblige, and accommodate them to the state and condition of men.

Fidelity to the public requires that the laws be as plain and explicit as possible, that the less knowing may understand, and not be ensnared by them, while the artful evade their force. Mysteries of law and government may be made a cloak of unrighteousness. The benefits of the constitution and of the laws must extend to every branch and each individual in society, of whatever degree, that every man may enjoy his property, and pursue his honest course of life with security. The just ruler, sensible he is in trust for the public, with an impartial hand will supply the various offices in society; his eye will be upon the faithful; merit only in the candidate will attract his attention. He will not, without sufficient reason, multiply lucrative offices in the community, which naturally tends to introduce idleness and oppression. Justice requires that the emoluments of every office, constituted for the common interest, be proportioned to their dignity and the service performed for the public; parsimony, in this case, enervates the force of government, and frustrates the most patriotic measures. A people, therefore, for their own security, must be supposed willing to pay tribute to whom it is due, and freely support the dignity of those under whose protection they confide. On the other hand, the people may apprehend that they have just reason to complain of oppression and wrong, and to be jealous of their liberties, when subordinate public offices are made the surest step to wealth and ease. This not only increases the expenses of government, but is naturally productive of dissipation and luxury, of the severest animosities among candidates for public posts, and of venality and corruption–the most fatal to a free state.

Rulers are appointed guardians of the constitution in their respective stations, and must confine themselves within the limits by which their authority is circumscribed. A free state will no longer continue so than while the constitution is maintained entire in all its branches and connections. If the several members of the legislative power become entirely independent of each other, it produces a schism in the body politic; and the effect is the same when the executive is in no degree under the control of the legislative power–the balance is destroyed, and the execution of the laws left to arbitrary will. The several branches of civil power, as joint pillars, each bearing its due proportion, are the support, and the only proper support, of a political structure regularly formed. A constitution which cannot support its own weight must fall; it must be supposed essentially defective in its form or administration.

Military aid has ever been deemed dangerous to a free civil state, and often has been used as an effectual engine to subvert it. Those who, in the camp and in the field of battle, are our glory and defense, from the experience of other nations, will be thought, in time of peace, a very improper safeguard to a constitution which has liberty, British liberty, for its basis. When a people are in subjection to those who are detached from their fellow citizens, under distinct laws and rules, supported in idleness and luxury, armed with the terrors of death, under the most absolute command, ready and obliged to execute the most daring orders–what must, what has been the consequence?

Inter arma silent leges.

Justice also requires of rulers, in their legislative capacity, that they attend to the operation of their own acts, and repeal whatever laws, upon an impartial review, they find to be inconsistent with the laws of God, the rights of men, and the general benefit of society. This the community has a right to expect. And they must have mistaken apprehensions of true dignity who imagine they can acquire or support it by persisting in wrong measures, and thereby counteracting the sole end of government. It belongs to the all-seeing God alone absolutely to be of one mind. It is the glory of man, in whatever station, to perceive and correct his mistakes. Arrogant pretenses to infallibility, in matters of state or religion, represent human nature in the most contemptible light. We have a view of our nature in its most abject state when we read the senseless laws of the Medes and Persians, [….] Stability in promoting the public good, which justice demands, leads to a change of measures when the interest of the community requires it, which must often be the case in this mutable, imperfect state.

The just ruler will not fear to have his public conduct critically inspected, but will choose to recommend himself to the approbation of every man. As he expects to be obeyed for conscience’s sake, he will require nothing inconsistent with its dictates, and be desirous that the most scrupulous mind may acquiesce in the justice of his rule. As in his whole administration, so in this, he will be ambitious to imitate the Supreme Ruler, who appeals to His people–“Are not my ways equal?” Knowing, therefore, that his conduct will bear the light, and his public character be established by being fully known, he will rather encourage than discountenance a decent freedom of speech, not only in public assemblies, but among the people. This liberty is essential to a free constitution, and the ruler’s surest guide. As in nature we best judge of causes by their effects, so rulers hereby will receive the surest information of the fitness of their laws (3) and the exactness of their execution, the success of their measures, and whether they are chargeable with any mistakes from partial evidence or human frailty, and whether all acting under them, in any subordinate place, express the fidelity becoming their office. This decent liberty the just ruler will consider not as his grant, but a right inherent in the people, without which their obedience is rendered merely passive; and though, possibly, under a just administration, it may degenerate into licentiousness, which in its extreme is subversive of all government, yet the history of past ages and of our nation shows that the greatest dangers have arisen from lawless power. The body of a people are disposed to lead quiet and peaceable lives, and it is their highest interest to support the government under which their quietness is ensured. They retain a reverence for their superiors, and seldom foresee or suspect danger till they feel their burdens.

Rulers of every degree are in a measure above the fear of man, but are, equally with others, under the restraints of the divine law. The Almighty has not divested himself of his own absolute authority by permitting subordinate government among men. He allows none to rule otherwise than under him and in his fear, and without a true fear of God, justice will be found to be but an empty name. Though reason may in some degree investigate the relation and fitness of things, yet I think it evident that moral obligations are founded wholly in a belief of God and his superintending providence. This belief, deeply impressed on the mind, brings the most convincing evidence that men are moral agents, obliged to act according to the natural and evident relation of things, and the rank they bear in God’s creation; that the divine will, however made known to them, is the law by which all their actions must be regulated, and their state finally determined.

Rulers may in a degree be influenced to act for the public good from education, from a desire of applause, from the natural benevolence of their temper; but these motives are feeble and inconstant without the superior aids of religion. They are men of like passions with others, and the true fear of God only is sufficient to control the lusts of men, and especially the lust of dominion, to suppress pride, the bane of every desirable quality in the human soul, the never-failing source of wanton and capricious power. “So did not I,” said the renowned governor of Judah, “because of the fear of God.” He had nothing to fear from the people. His commission he received from the luxurious Persian court, where the voice of distress was not heard, where no sad countenance might appear; but he feared his God. This moved him to hear the cries of his people, and without delay redress their wrongs. He knew this was pleasing to his God, and, while he acted in his fear, trusted He would think upon him for good. This fear does not intend simply a dread of the Almighty as the Supreme Ruler and Judge of men, but especially a filial reverence, founded in esteem and superlative love implanted in the heart. This will naturally produce a conformity to God in his moral perfections, an inclination to do His will, and a delight in those acts of beneficence which the Maker of all things displays throughout His extended creation. This fear of God is the beginning and also the perfection of human wisdom; and, though dominion is not absolutely founded in grace, yet a true principle of religion must be considered as a necessary qualification in a ruler.

The religion of Jesus teaches the true fear of God, and marvelously discloses the plan of divine government. In His gospel, as through a glass, we see heaven opened, the mysteries of providence and grace unveiled, Jesus sitting on the right hand of God, to whom all power is committed, and coming to judge the world in righteousness. Here is discovered, to the admiration of angels, the joy of saints, and the terror of the wicked, the government of the man Christ Jesus, founded in justice and mercy, which in His glorious administration meet together in perfect harmony. The scepter of His kingdom is a right scepter; He loves righteousness and hates wickedness. And though His throne is on high–prepared in the heavens–yet He makes known to the sons of men His mighty acts and the glorious majesty of His kingdom. By Him kings reign and princes decree justice, even all the nobles and judges of the earth. His eyes are upon the ways of men. His voice, which is full of majesty, to earthly potentates is, Be wise now, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth; serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in your exalted stations with submissive awe; embrace the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way.

The Christian temper, wrought in the heart by the divine Spirit, restores the human mind to its primitive [first] rectitude, animates every faculty of the soul, directs every action to its proper end, extends its views beyond the narrow limits of time, and raises its desires to immortal glory. This makes the face of every saint to shine, but renders the ruler, in his elevated station, gloriously resplendent. This commands reverence to his person, attention to his counsels, respect to the laws, and authority to all his directions, and renders an obedient people easy and happy under his rule–which leads to the consideration of the last thing suggested in the text, viz.: The glorious effects of a just administration of government.

“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.” This includes both the distinguishing honor and respect acquired by rulers of this character, and the unspeakable felicity of a people thus favored of the Lord. Justice and judgment are the habitation of the throne of the Most High, and he delights to honor those who rule over men in his fear. He has dignified them with a title of divinity, and called them, in a peculiar sense, the children of the Highest. And we are not to wonder that, in the darker ages of the world, from worshiping the host of heaven the ignorant multitude were led to pay divine honors to their beneficent rulers, whom they esteemed as demi-gods.

The light of divine revelation has dispelled these mists of superstition and impiety, and opened to the pious ruler’s view the sure prospect of unfading glory in the life to come; and in the present state he is not without his reward. To find that his conduct meets with public approbation, that he is acceptable to the multitude of his brethren, greatly corroborates his internal evidence of integrity and impartiality, and especially of his ability for public action, and–which is the height of his ambition in this state of probation–enlarges his opportunity of doing good. The shouts of applause–[…] from […] the grateful, the artless multitude–the pious ruler receives as the voice of nature–the voice of God. This is his support under the weight of government, and fixes his dependence upon the aid of the Almighty, in whose fear he rules. How excellent in the sight of God and man are rulers of this character!

Truly the light is good, and a pleasant thing it is to behold the sun. Thus desirable, thus benign, are wise and faithful rulers to a people. The beautiful allusion in the text naturally illustrates this. The sun, as the center of the solar system, connects the planetary worlds, and retains them in their respective orbits. They all yield to the greater force of his attractive power, and thus with the greatest regularity observe the laws impressed upon the material creation. The ruler of the day, as on a throne, shining in his strength, nearly preserves his station, and under the prime Agent directs all their motions, imparting light and heat to his several attendants and the various beings which the Creator has placed upon them. His refulgent rays dispel the gloomy shades, and cause the cheerful light to arise out of thick darkness, and all nature to rejoice. The planets, with their lesser attendants, in conformity to their common head, mutually reflect with feebler beams their borrowed light for the common benefit; and all, in proportion to their distance and gravity, bear their part to support the balance of the grand machine.

By this apposite metaphor the divine Spirit has represented the character and extensive beneficence of the faithful ruler, who, with a godlike ardor, employs his authority and influence to advance the common interest. The righteous Lord, whose countenance beholds the upright, will support and succeed rulers of this character, and it is an evidence of his favor to a people when such are appointed to rule over them. The natural effect of this is quietness and peace, as showers upon the tender grass, and clear shining after rain. In this case a loyal people must be happy, and fully sensible that they are so, while they find their persons in safety, their liberties preserved, their property defended, and their confidence in their rulers entire. The necessary expenses of the government will be borne by the community with pleasure while justice holds the balance and righteousness flows down their streets.

Such a civil state, according to the natural course of things, must flourish in peace at home, and be respectable abroad; private virtues will be encouraged, and vice driven into darkness; industry in the most effectual manner promoted, arts and sciences patronized, the true fear of God cultivated, and his worship maintained. This–this is their only invaluable treasure. This is the glory, safety, and best interest of rulers–the sure protection and durable felicity of a people. This, through the Redeemer, renders the Almighty propitious, and near unto a people in all they call upon him for. Happy must the people be that is in such a case; yes, happy is the people whose God is the Lord.

But the affairs of this important day demand our more immediate attention.

With sincere gratitude to our Almighty Preserver, we see the return of this anniversary, and the leaders of this people assembled–though not, according to the general desire, in the city (4) of our solemnities–to ask counsel of God, and, as we trust, in the integrity of their hearts, and by the skillfulness of their hands, to lead us in ways of righteousness and peace. The season indeed is dark; but God is our sun and shield. When we consider the days of old, and the years of ancient times, the scene brightens, our hopes revive. (5) Our fathers trusted in God; he was their help and their shield.

These ever-memorable worthies, nearly a century and a half since, by the prevalence of spiritual and civil tyranny, were driven from their delightful native land to seek a quiet retreat in these uncultivated ends of the earth; and, however doubtful it might appear to them, or others, whether the lands they were going to possess were properly under the English jurisdiction, yet our ancestors were desirous of retaining a relation to their native country, and to be considered as subjects of the same prince. They left their native land with the strongest assurances that they and their posterity should enjoy the privileges of free, natural-born English subjects, which they supposed fully comprehended in their charter. The powers of government therein confirmed to them they considered as including English liberty in its full extent; and however defective their charter might be in form–a thing common in that day–yet the spirit and evident intention of it appears to be then understood. The reserve therein made, of passing no laws contrary to those of the parent state, was then considered as a conclusive evidence of their full power, under that restriction only, to enact whatever laws they should judge conducive to their benefit.

Our fathers supposed […] that a legislative power, respecting their internal polity, was ratified to them; and that nothing short of this, considering their local circumstances, could entitle them or their posterity to the rights and liberties of free, natural-born English subjects. And it does not appear but that this was the general sentiment of the nation and Parliament. (6) They did not then view their American adventurers in the light ancient Rome did her distant colonies, as tributaries unjustly subjected to arbitrary rule by the dread or force of her victorious arms, but as sons, arrived to mature age, entitled to distinct property, yet connected by mutual ties of affection and interest, and united under the common supreme head.

The New England charter was not considered as an act of grace, but a compact between the sovereign and the first patentees. Our fathers plead their right to the privilege of it in their address (7) to King Charles the Second, wherein they say “it was granted to them, their heirs, assigns, and associates forever; not only the absolute use and propriety of the tract of land therein mentioned, but also full and absolute power of governing all the people of this place by men chosen from among themselves, and according to such laws as they shall from time to time see meet to make and establish, not being repugnant to the laws of England; they paying only the fifth part of the ore of gold and silver that shall be found here, for and in respect of all duties, demands, exactions, and services whatsoever.” And, from an apprehension that the powers given by the crown to the four commissioners sent here were in effect subversive of their rights and government, they add: “We are carefully studious of all due subjection to your Majesty, and that not only for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.” “But it is a great unhappiness to be reduced to so hard a case as to have no other testimony of our subjection and loyalty offered us but this; viz., to destroy our own being, which nature teacheth us to preserve, or to yield up our liberties, which are far dearer to us than our lives; and which, had we any fears of being deprived of, we had never wandered from our fathers’ houses into these ends of the earth, nor laid out our labors and estates therein.”

But all their humble addresses were to no purpose. As an honorable historian observes: “At this time Great Britain, and Scotland especially, was suffering under a prince inimical to civil liberty; and New England, without a miraculous interposition, must expect to share the same judgments.” And, indeed, of this bitter cup, the dregs were reserved for this people, in that and the succeeding happily short but inglorious reign. Our charter was dissolved, (8) and despotic power took place. Sir Edmund Andros–a name never to be forgotten–in imitation of his royal master, in wanton triumph trampled upon all our laws and rights; and his government was only tolerable as it was a deliverance from the shocking terrors of the more infamous Kirk. Sir Edmund at first made high professions of regard to the public good. But it has been observed “that Nero concealed his tyrannical disposition more years than Sir Edmund and his creatures did months.”

But the triumphing of the wicked is often short. The glorious revolution, under the Prince of Orange, displayed a brighter scene to Great Britain and her colonies; and though no part of its extended empire did bear a greater part in the joy of that memorable event than this province, yet it was then apprehended we were not the greatest sharers in the happy effects of it. I trust we are not insensible of the blessings we then received, nor unthankful for our deliverance from the depths of woe.

We submitted to the form of government established under our present charter, trusting, under God, in the wisdom and paternal tenderness of our gracious sovereign, that in all appointments reserved to the crown a sacred regard would be maintained to the rights of British subjects, and that the royal ear would always be open to every reasonable request and complaint. It is far from my intention to determine whether there has been just reason for uneasiness or complaint on this account. But, with all submission, I presume the present occasion will permit me to say that the importance of his Majesty’s Council to this people appears in a more conspicuous light since the endeavors which have been used to render this invaluable branch of our constitution wholly dependent upon the chair. Should this ever be the case–which God forbid!–liberty here will cease. This day of the gladness of our hearts will be turned into the deepest sorrow.

The authority and influence of his Majesty’s Council, in various respects, while happily free from restraints, is momentous; our well-being greatly depends upon their wisdom and integrity. The concern of electing to this important trust wise and faithful men belongs to our honored fathers now in General Assembly convened. Men of this character, we trust, are to be found; and upon such, and only such, we presume will the eye of the electors be this day. It is with pleasure that we see this choice in the hands of a very respectable part of the community, and nearly interested in the effects of it. But our reliance, fathers, under God, is upon your acting in his fear. God stands in the assembly of the mighty, and perfectly discerns the motives by which you act. May his fear rule in your hearts, and unerring counsel be your guide. You have received a sure token of respect by your being raised to this high trust; but true honor is acquired only by acting in character. Honor yourselves, gentlemen–honor the council board, your country, your king, and your God, by the choice you this day make. You will attentively consider the true design of all true government, and, without partiality, give your voice for those you judge most capable and disposed to promote the public interest. Then you will have the satisfaction of having faithfully discharged your trust, and be sure of the approbation of the Most High.

The chief command in this province is now devolved upon one (9) of distinguished abilities, who knows our state, and naturally must care for us–one who, in early life, has received from his country the highest tokens of honor and trust in its power to bestow; and we have a right to expect that the higher degrees of them conferred by our gracious sovereign will operate through the course of his administration to the welfare of this people. His Honor is not insensible that, as his power is independent of the people, their safety must depend, under Providence, upon his wisdom, justice, and paternal tenderness in the exercise of it. It is our ardent wish and prayer that his administration may procure ease and quietness to himself and the province; and, having served his generation according to the Divine will, he may rise to superior honors in the kingdom of God.

When the elections of this important day are determined, what further remains to be undertaken for the securing our liberties, promoting peace and good order, and, above all, the advancement of religion, the true fear of God through the land, will demand the highest attention of the General Assembly. We trust the Fountain of light, who gives wisdom freely, will not scatter darkness in your paths, and that the day is far distant when there shall be cause justly to complain, The foundations are destroyed–what can the righteous do? Our present distresses, civil fathers, loudly call upon us all, and you in special, to stir up ourselves in the fear of God. Arise! — this matter belongs unto you; we also will be with you. Be of good courage, and do it.

Whether any other laws are necessary for this purpose, or whether there is a failure in the execution of the laws in being, I presume not to say. But, with all due respect, I may be permitted to affirm that no human authority can enforce the practice of religion with equal success to your example. Your example, fathers, not only in your public administrations, but also in private life, will be the most forcible law–the most effectual means to teach us the fear of the Lord, and to depart from evil. Then, and not till then, shall we be free indeed; being delivered from the dominion of sin, we become the true sons of God.

The extent of the secular power in matters of religion is undetermined; but all agree that the example of those in authority has the greatest influence upon the manners of the people. We are far from pleading for any established (10) mode of worship, but an operative fear of God, the honor of the Redeemer, the everlasting King, according to his gospel. We, whose peculiar charge it is to instruct the people, preach to little purpose while those in an advanced state, by their practice, say the fear of God is not before their eyes; yet will we not cease to seek the Lord till he come and rain down righteousness upon us.


  1. Alexander Pope’s explanation of his two celebrated lines–“For forms of government let fools contest: Whate’er is best administered is best”–was, “that no form of government, however excellent in itself, can be sufficient to make a people happy unless it be administered with integrity. On the contrary, the best sort of government, when the form of it is preserved and the administration corrupt, is most dangerous.” When the political institutions of our fathers cease to be animated by their spirit and virtues, the forms only will remain, monuments of their wisdom, and not less of our folly.
  2. “Three millions of people, so dead to all the feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to makes slaves of the rest” of the nation. — William Pitt. “We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery.” — Dec. of Congress, July 6, 1775.

  3. In his letter to England, Oct. 20, 1769, [Thomas] Hutchinson wrote: “I have been tolerably treated since the Governor’s”–Bernard–“departure, no other charge being made against me in our scandalous newspapers except my bad principles in matters of government.”

  4. At the Town House, in Boston, from which usual place of legislation the arbitrary interference of the king excluded us. This show of despotism, rather than the inconvenience, is the real objection to sitting at Cambridge.

  5. Here is a clear and beautiful reference to the principles and history of New England, and of “the glorious Revolution” of 1689–a reminiscence very profitable for Governor Hutchinson to reflect on, and very suggestive to the Board of Councillors and House of Representatives who hear it, and to all people who may read it. Samuel Adams, Clerk, and now “the most active member of the House,” will see that it is published and circulated. It suggests precedents for curing the present ills in our body politic, if gentler remedies, such as petitions and remonstrances, prove to be insufficient. Dr. [Jonathan] Mayhew, twenty years before this [during the despotic administration of Governor William Shirley, patron of Thomas Hutchinson], considered in his pulpit “the extent of that subjection to the higher powers which is enjoined as a duty upon all Christians. Some,” he said, “have thought it warrantable and glorious to disobey the civil powers in certain cases, and in cases of very great and general oppression,” etc.

  6. This was a complimentary and politic view, no doubt; but to Massachusetts the price of her liberty had been eternal vigilance. Indifference to the colonies, the changes of government, the contests between liberty and despotism in England, each in turn were opportunities to our fathers for defeating the ceaseless intrigues of our enemies. The history of our charters, treated as a specialty, would be a proud monument to the prudence, judgment, foresight, tact–the statesmanship–of the fathers of New England.

  7. After the restoration of monarchy, in 1660, and the “Charles the Martyr” clergy and courtiers were reinstated–not by the aid of the Independents–the old Laudian hate of New England became rampant, and we find abundant letters from their emissaries to Clarendon, to the Bishop of London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the like, with a plenty of reports, of “articles of high misdemeanor,” writs of quo warranto, discourses of petty intrigue, and other spawn of such creatures as [Governor Edmund] Andros, Randolph, and Maverick. The Revolution of 1689, simultaneous in Old England and New England, blasted their hopes.

  8. On the 18th of June, 1684. James II was proclaimed in Boston, 1686, April 12th; and, May 15th, Dudley received a commission, as President, with a Council, to govern Massachusetts, which was superseded by the arrival of Andros, December 19, 1686, as Governor of New England. He reigned till 10th of April, 1689, when he was seized by the “sovereign” people, and late in the year was “sent in safe custody” to England. Andros was a fit instrument for James II, who commended the atrocities of a Jeffries, and would sell his crown and his people to France.

  9. Thomas Hutchinson, distinguished as the historian of the province, and excellent in private life, but whose ambition quickened his conscience only in his duty to the king, and made him an enemy to his country. Born September 9, 1711, of an ancient and honorable family, he graduated at Harvard College in 1727, at the early age of sixteen; was of the Council from 1749 to 1766; lieutenant governor from 1758 to 1771; in 1760 appointed Chief Justice, and was now at the head of the government, after the departure of Governor Bernard. Faithful to the British ministry in all its measures, some of which he suggested, he left his native country June 1st, 1774, and died in England in June, 1780.

  10. “Civil rulers ought undoubtedly to be nursing fathers to the church, by reproof, exhortation, and their own good and liberal example, as well as to protect and defend her against injustice and oppression; but the very notion of taxing all to support any religious denomination,” etc. —- Address of the Baptists to the Congress at Cambridge, Nov. 22, 1776.


Called Unto Liberty is researched, formatted, and edited (with spelling modernization, occasional commentary, and explanatory notes by Steve Farrell. Unless otherwise noted, all original copyrights are in the Public Domain. The spelling in this sermon has been modernized by The Moral Liberal. As modified from the original, Copyright © 2011 -2014 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.