John Mellen.

A sermon, delivered before His Excellency the Governor : and the Honourable Legislature, of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, on the annual election, May 31, 1797 online

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Online LibraryJohn MellenA sermon, delivered before His Excellency the Governor : and the Honourable Legislature, of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, on the annual election, May 31, 1797 → online text (page 1 of 3)
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MAY 31, i797#



In Senate, May 31ft, J797.

RDEREDiThat PfiLEC CoFFiM, Thomas DaweS
and Isaac Thompson, Efq'rs. be a Committee to wait upon the
Rev. Mr. Mellen, and, in the naiWe of the Senate, to thank him
for the Se RMO N delivered by liim, this day, before His Excellency
the Governor, His Honor the Lieutenant Gdvernor, the Honor-
"able Council, and the two Branches of the General Court, and ire-
^ueft a dopy for the prefs. ,

True copy of Record, s

EDWARD McLANE, Ckrk ef the Senate,

S ' E R M O N,


His Excellency the GOVERNOR,


The Hpnourable LEGISLATURE,

, or THS



MAX 31, 1797.


py JOHN ^ELLEN, jun.


^ „0,...<|imiO,...0««0....«"<Ji"«".'0""«i'"«""0.i"0> ..««





A. t t>S5.7'



Ift. PETER, 2d.-^xv,


X HIS declaration of the apoftle, direaed to
chriftians, and defigned, to inftruft and caution them,
while under the government of heathen rulers, may, it
is prefumed, without impropriety, be retoramended to
the confideration both of rulers and ruled, now that
chriftianity is their common religion. As the circum-
ilance no longer exifts, which direfled the obfervations
and counfels of th^ apoftles, relative to civil govern-
ment, principally to fubjeSs and their duties ; and as
being mifreprefented by ignorance, and flandered by
folly are evils to which fubjefts are by no means ex-
pofed alone, may I not well be juftified in giving to tbp
text fuch a latitude of application, as has been fug-
gefted ?

A VIEW of the words in their connexion, may lead
to fome previous obfervations on the origin and de-
sign of CIVIL GOVERNMENT, and the afjpeft of Chris-
tianity upon it. "StfBMiT


« Submit yourfelves, faith the apoftle, to every of*
dinance of man, for "the Lord> fake: whether it bp
Xo, the king as fupreme ; or unto governours, as unto
them that are fent by him, for the punifliment of evi\
^oers, and for thepraife of them that do well. For fo
is the >YiH of God, that with well doing ye may put to
filence the ignorance of foqjiijx men."

It is of little importance whether we allow, to th^
firft quoted words, the 'fconftruftion which our tranfla'
tion%ives them, or, with fome learned divines, inftead
of every ordinance ofman^ read every human creature j
that is, every perfon in authority ; cjvil rulers of eveify
rank at\d defcription. If civil government be confid^rn
ed by this apoftle, as an ordinance of man, be doe«
not in thus reprefenting it, contradift another apoftle,
■whp fays, ?' the powers that be are ordaiped of God,"
He has ordained them, becaufe they are agreeable t<^
the coijftitution of the world, whicl^ he haseftablifhed,
|t is evidently his will that civil . government Qioul(|
exift, becaufe he is a Go,d of qrder and not of confu^
fion ; becaufe the riature of mankind, their focial, difpo-
fition, their wants, their paffions, their irregularities and
their vices clearly indicate its expediency and jmpor.
tance. We are by no means obliged tp conclude, from a
command, to be in fubjeftion tP the exifting powers,
becaufe they are orda^nei o/God : or tofubniit to eve-t
ry pej-fon in civil authority, of whatever nam?, rank o?
degree of power,/or tjie LoRp'sJakf, thai; all rulers de-
rive their authority immediately from God. We may
not infer that he has fo pointed out the particular man-
ner in which we fliould be governed, or the degree of
power which every ruler ought to poffefs, that civil goy«


Election serMonj 7

4tttmentj ^s to its form, and mode of adrairiiftrdtioB,
may not be properly ftyled an ordinance of man.

Government has itsr remote origin in the nature of
mankind: Or, the ruler's power is indireftly derived
from HIM who is the author of that nature. lis imme-
diate origin, as relative to j)articular nations and com-
munities of men, has been far from uniform. The only
proper fource of the ruler's power, atleaft,when extend-
ed farther than that of a parent over his family, isy un-
der GoDi the people or community, who are the fub-

1 jeSs of his governmenti We believe that the people
only have the right to determine the nature and form
of their political conftitution. But we readily allow

^that faSs are, in many indances, at variance with right;
and that the theory which fuppofes the obligatiqn to

'civil obedience derived from an original focial com-
paQ, is not univerfally, or in general, fupported by the
hiftory of nations. Many, if not moft of the govern-
ments now exifting in the World, prpbably originated
in conqueft. Or, however their foundations were at
firft laid, they have, through various changes, been ma-
tured to what they now are. And it. is far from true,

ji that -their prefent forms are the refult of a generfil com-
pa£l among th? people, or are a juft expreifion of their
-will, unlefs their fubmiffion to them be confidered as
implicit confent. The inftance^of a numerous people,
unawed by any foreign power, uncontroled by ^ in-
ternal oppreflbr, calmly coUefting the wiCdom: and the
will of the whole community ;. coolly examining firft
principles J freely difcuffin^ and. declaring their natural
rights, and on fuch a firm ' and rational bafis> deliber-
ately erasing a conftitution of g;overnment for tbera-


felveis, is a fpeQatrle not lefs fingular than augoft, evefl
in modern, more enlightened times. Nor "wiH itj I truft»
bfe confidered ds favouring of national pfi^e, rathet
than as expfd&vt df juft gratitude to heaven j if I add,
ifliat to n6 inftance amOngthe few which modetn rimes
have exhibited, claiming any title to the above de-
fcifiption, is it To fully applicable, as to that of oar own
highly favoured country.

As to the defign or final caufe of gt^Vernnteitt, Mfc
feel no more doubt than with regard to its legitimate^
origin, or the proper fource of the ruler's power. That
is the gieneral good of the people, as this is their gener-
al-will. I fhould bltifli for my country, or for myfelf,
did I hefitate to fay, that we are agreed in exploding
the abfurd idea of the many being made for the few;
and of rulers, as fuch, 'not living for the people, rather
than the people for them : or did I fuppofe that it
could be felt as any difparagement by thelatterj
to be ftyled the ferVants of the public. Their ufefiil-
^lefsis their honour J and they are great in proportion a&
they minifter to the general good. This, how-
ever, does by no means fuggeft'that a confcioufnefs of
their being benefaftors, ought to be their only ^ward.— ^
While afting in charafter, they merit not only the ef-
teem and refpea of the peopte, but have a right to find
their own interefts promoted by their exertions for the
benefit of others. If they are fervants, they are by no
means flaves. They are not bound to giv« their labors
to the public, without an honourable compenfation j
though in common with others, they ought to be under
the influence of thofe fublime principles of patriotifni|
and religion, which may induce them, when peculiar



ticcafion calls, to make'fuch faQrifices for their coun-
try's welfare, as nothing but the grsltitude and affec-
tion of their country can repay.

This reprefenlation of the defign of governntierit
and the ruler's power is not lefs agreeable to fcripture,
than it is. to enlightened reafon jarid is indeed, fuggefted
by the apoftle in the words preceding the text. He
fpeaks of governors as fent " for the punifliment of
evil-doers, and for the praife of them that do well.",
The office of the ruler or maoiftrate is not lefs honora^
Ble or necelTary Secaufe apart, and no fmall part, of
the good which it produces is of the negative kind, or
confifts in preventing evil. Arid if the piinifhing or
preventing of evil feem, according to the apoftle'sre-
prefentationj to be the objeft of govet-nment and its laws,
father than recompencing fiich as do well : or we be
ready to alkwhy praife is the only recompenfe allotted
to well-doing, whili; piinifHment is the portion of thofe
who do evil ; we Qiail neverthelefs find his minner of
dxpreffiori fuffieiently accurate, if we confider that
■well-doing, in the fenfe here made ufe of, is its own re-
ward. He who carefully obferves the laws of fociety ;
whoisjtift, faithful, fober and temperate, and wifely
purfuesthe pathof horieft induftry, finds his advantage
info doing, without any dire£t reward from the govern-
rhent under which he lives. Virtue tends to happinefs*
Such is the conftitution of heaven. This tendency, in-
deed, is often counteraflied by the folliesf and vices of
men. A virtuous individual might be happy in the
ftate of nature ; at lead he might be free from thofe
evils and injuries againd which government is calcu-
lated to proteft him, if all aroul^ were as innocent and
B ' virtuous


virtuous as he. The primary defign of government,
thereforeis, notfo much to render the fubjefts of it pof*
itively happy, as to prevent their being rendered mifer-
able by the violence, injuftice, fraud or negligence of
tlieir fellow men. This appears to be in perfeft con-;
formity to the apoftle Pau l's ideas, when he exhorts that
*« fupplications, prayers, interceffions and giving of
thanks be made for all men ; for kings, and for all that
are in authority, thai we may lead a quiei and peaceable
lifef inallgodlinefs and honejiy"

It is to be obferved, however, that all laws are not of
the penal kind, or defigned to deter from the commif-
fionofcrimes. Some propofe rewards^ Their imme-
diate objeft is to encourage exertions, in a particular
line. Calculated to promote the general good. And
many others, though neither direftly penal, nor df the
kind laft mentioned, are profeffedly defigned to increafe
the public emolument, ftrength and profperity, while
they fecure the peace and liberty of virtuous individu-,
als. In a word, civil government, when wifely and
faithfully adminiftered, is as really calculated as it is de-
figned to improve the condition of mankind, and to
widen the fphere of their enjoyments, as well as to reg-
ulate and ptoteO; them. A very extenfive fenfe may,
therefore, be juftly given to the Apoftle's expreffion,
when fpeaking of the civil ruler : « He is the minifter
of God to thee for good."

No man who impartially reads the exhortations of St.
Peter in the context, with thofe of St. Paul in his
epiftle to the Romans, and in his charge to Titus,
relative to civil obedience and fubjeftion ; and recol-
leQs the language of our SAViouRjon which his conduft



was fo juft a comment, with refetence to the fame fub-
jeft, can refufe to acknowledge that the Chriftian relig-
ion fufficientiy inculcates fubmilfion to government,
and looks with a very friendly afpeft on civil order and

Indeed, fo ftrongly and with fo little limitation has
chriftianity enjoined fubmiffion to the ruling powers^
as to give fome degree of pliufibility to the charge of
its being unfriendly to the liberty of the fubje£l, and
the unalienable rights of men. The doQrine of paffive
obedience and non-refiftance, fo favourable to the felfilh
views and ambition of tyrants, andfo degrading to the
human charafter in general, has prefumed to derive its
origin from this religionj or at leaft, with confidence
appealed to it for fupport. It is prefumed, however,
that the expreffions in the New Teftamentj which feem
moft to favour the beloved doClrine of tyrants, may be
fairiyi^xplained and accounted for, in fuch a manner
that they will appear to give no real countenance to
fuch a do^rine ; and further, that upon an impartial
view of the Chriftian religion, we ftiall find abundant
reafon to acknowledge that it is moft friendly to rational
liberty,' and that the fpirit of it is moft congenial to that
of free governments.

There is good reafon for fuppofing that the exhorta-
tions of the Apoftles, recommending quiet fubmiffion to
the ruling powers, were bccafioned, efpecially by, and
had a particular reference to a prejudice which then
exifted in the minds of the Gentiles, and was taken ad-
vantage of by the Jews, againft the Chriftians, as though
they were' enemies to all government, and thought
themfelves on account of their relation to Christ,



freed froi|i all fubjeftion to any earthly powei:. This
prejqdice probably arofe from confounding Chriftian?
with Jews ; and knowing that principles of a very fe-
4itious nature, crin^inal ^o the Roqan, and. indeed to
all civil government, Were really held by a fe£i aniong
the latter, originated by Judas of Galilee, and on that
account, called, Galilea.ns, a name which, by the Hea^,
thens, was indifcrin^inately given to the Chriftians, i^l
the early days of our religion.

As the principle attributed, though unjuftly, to thp
Chriftians, o,r at leaft to Chriftianity, was fo fubverfive
of all ordef and government, it was of great importance
that they fhould carefully guard againft every thing iii
their language and conduQ, ^«fhich might tend, in the
Ipaft to juftify their enemies in fixing it upon them„
This may well account for the Apoftle's urging obedi,
ence to the ruling powers, in terms fo ftrong and abfo.-;
lute ; and explains their giving the following or aifimi-
lar reafon for their thus preffipg it upon their Chriftian
brethren, — " That the word of God be not blafphem7
ed." It fliews alfo, that their objeft was not to define
the limits of fubmiffion, but to evince the obligation to
fubmiffion in general. Can it then be fairly inferred
from any thing which they have written, that our relig-
ion may be juftly charged with being unfriendly to lib-
erty, or giving any countenance to oppreffive and ty-
rannical goivernment ? Would the charge be juft,
though we fhould allow that it was the defign of the
Apoftles to recommend to their Chriftian brethren, in
exifting circumftances, an unreferved obedience to the
ruling powers j pot merely to fuch as were good and
juft, but to all 'vyithput exception, to the rulers of that



day, who, it is well known, were fuflRciently defpotiq
»nd oppreflive ? Certain it is, that had they undertaken
to qualify the obedience of the fubjeO:, the end of their
exhortations would haye been fruftrated ; for they
would by no means have vindicated themftlves, in the
eye? of the government, fpin tjhe fcgindail to whiphthey
were expofed.

I AM fenfible that our religion has been thought fufr
ciently deferifible againft the imputation of teaching
the flavilh doQrine of unlimited obedience and paffive
fubmiifion, upon the idea that the facred writers, when
they inculcate fubjeQion, in the ftrongeft and moft un-
qualified terms, ftill difcover, by the arguments which
they make ufe of to inforce it, that tkey confider gov-
vernment and ruling powers as what they ought to be,
notregarding what they really were : That they urge
obedience upon the principle that the: civil magiftrate
js the minifter of God for good, unto the people, and
therefore that their obligation to obedience cannot be
inferred, when he ceafes to maintain this charafler, and
becomes their fcourge and oppreljbr. 3ut ifthiscon-
ftruflion of the apoftolic writings, and particularly of
St, Paul's reafoning in the 13th chapter of /2owan5, be
juft, which, however, is not iiindifputed, there appears
to be no occa{ion for having recourfe to it.

Nevertheless, though it is allowed that chrif-
tianty does not profefs to define the refpeftive pow-
,ers and rights of rulers and fubjefts, it is ftill contend-
ed that the fpirit of it is moft congenial to that of free
governtpentjS, and evidendy favourable to rational llbr



We readily aflent to our Saviour's declaration,
when he faid, « my kingdom is not of this world." His
immediate objeS was to improve the hearts, arid mend
the morals of mankind : To reconcile thena to the
Deity, and thus train them up as fubje&s of a fpiritual
and eternal kingdom. This object however, is in pef-
feEi confiftency with that of rendering ihem wifer, bet-
ter and happier, in every earthly relation, and of pro-
moting the prefent welfare, both of individuals and fo-
cieties. It is manifeftly, the tendency, and we need
not hefitate to coniider it as the defign, of his religion,
to render men better citizens of the. world as well as to
make them meet for an heavenly inheritance'; to give
them more juft idsasof, and difpofe them more faithfully
to difchargc, their refpeftive duties, whatever their
rank, ftation or condition in life. It is, doubilefs, a-
greeable to his will, and in perfeft conformity to the
defign of his fpiritual kingdom, that mankind Ihould
avail themfelves of every inftruftion which may be de.,
duced from his religion, for fecuring liberty, peace and
pofperity, and enhancing thofe advantages which are.
derived from civil government, and the laws of fociety.
The fpirit of Chriftianity ought to be carried into
the adminiftration of every kind of government, and to
regulate the condu6t of all clafles of men, from the
higheft to the lowcft, but it does not thence follow that
genius and principles of fome kinds of government are
not more nearly allied to the fpirit of this religion than
others ; or that it does not point to the elefiion of one
form, rather than another. And if there beany one
form on which it looks with peculiar approbation^ can
we hefitate to fay, it is the Republican.


Election SERNioN. t^

Wmem bur SaviourTaid to his difciples, " All ye
are brethren^" did he not recognise or clearly counte-
nance that fundamental principle of republicanifmj the
natural equality of meti. I mean an equality with re-
gard to certain natdral and inherent rights ; the only
one which reafon can fuccefsfully undertake to defend^
and which is in perfeEl confiftency with that difference
and almoft endlefs variety which is found among them,
with refpeft to original capacity, aptitude to goveirn,
education, riches, and influence derived from any of
thefe fources, or from all combined.

It was not neceflary that the author of our religion
fliould more fully avow that important maxim of all free
government, th^ rulers are inverted with power not
principally, for their own fakes, but for the good of the
community j or that he fhould more clearly difcounte-
nance the idea of hereditary power, and greatnefs deriv-*
ed from titles and diftinftions, not founded on merit,
than he did, when he faid to hijs followers, " Ye know
that the princes of the Gentiles exercife dominion over
them, and they that are great exercife authority upon
them ;' but fo it fliall not be among you : But whofoevr
er would be great among you, let him be your minif-
ter, and whofoever willTje chief among you, let him be
your fervant."

He did not fay, rejefi thofe kinds of government
which cherifh fentiments tending to deprefs, ?ind hold
in vafTalage the great mafs of the fieople ; in which ■
numbers of the community live in idlenefs and luxury*
upon the labours of the reft, and enjoy privileges and
exemptions, greatly oppreflive to the degraded multi-
tude : But he faid by his Apoftles, « Be ye, all of you



fu'bjeO: one to another — Bear ye one another's burden^
•^— And, ferve one another in loVe." And he difcover-
€d in a {iriking manner, an impartial cohcerri for all his'
brethren, when reprefented as faying, " Inafmuch as
ye did it to the lead of thefe, ye did it unto me."

He has not faid that governments, in order to their
being free, muft be eleftive ; that all the members of
Che community are entitled to a voice, mediately or im-
mediately, in chboffng their rulertf, and making the laws'
by which tihey are governerl; or to' a degteb of weight
in the general fcale. But he has, by his Apoftle, com-
Aianded us to hoiiour all men ; and has compared the
Chriftian fociety to the htfman body; reprefenling all
flie members of'it as c^dnneQeJ with, and mutually de-
pendent on each other; fo that " the eye cannot fay to
the hand, I ha\^e no need of thee; nb'r, again, the head
to the feet, I ha^^e rio need of you." W'e are taught that
** God hath tempered' the body together, fo that there
Ihoiild be no fchififl therefh, but that* the members
Ihould have the fartie care one of another; and whether
One meniber fiiffer, all the members fufFer with it ; or
one tAenifaer be honoured, alh tb'e meiiibers rejoice with:

The Apoftle enjoins ohedieiice arid fidelity to their
own mailers, on all in a ftate of fervitude ; biit adds,'
" if thoii mayeft be free, choofe it rattier," that we
might not be left in doubt, which of thofe two ftates'
Bad the preference in his mind.

If it be thought of peculiar importance, in order t'o
detei'mihe what kind of government is moft agreeable
to the fpirit and principles of Chriftiariity, to en-
quire what form the Authoi of it inftituted irt his

church ;


fehuTch ; may I be permitted, without feemitlg to wan-
der too far from the prefent occafion, or to enter too
deeply into a difpu'ted queftion, to obferve, concifely— ^
that if we except what may. be called Theocratic in
this government, particularly the appointment of its
firft officers, by Christ himfelf, and the escttaordinary
powers, with which thefe officers were invefted, for the
purpofe of fuCcefsfuUy propagiating a religion, foftrongr
ly oppofed by the lufts, paffions and prejudices of the
world : If we attend to the direO: evidence which we
have from the New Teftament, that one fpecies of offi-
cers was eleQed by the brethren : If we confider J;hat
the Apoftles do not appear to have had any proper fuc-
cefTors, the end of their office being anfwered in the
witnefs which they gave to the refurreftion of Christ,
and the foundation which they laid for tranfmitting his
religion to future generaiiona: If we recolleft that, by
Apoftolic direftion, cenfure was to be inflifted on an
offending brother, in an affembly of the wHole church ;
that no brother was forbidden to fpeak and exhort in
their religious airemiWies ; and, to mention no more,
that there was, for a time, , a community of goods,
among the early Chriftians-^he conclufion appears to
be juft and obvious, that, fo far as Christ has inftitut-
ed any particular kind of lafting government for his
church ; and fo far as this is pointed out to lis, by the
authority or example of the New Teftament writers, it
partakes largely and moll ftrongly of the Republican
and Elective form. ' :

I ONLY add, that the friendly afpeft of our religion

on thecaufe of liberty in, general, and of confequence,

on the moft free governments, is clearly vifible in the

C whole


tenor ahci tendeiicy of its precepts, which is to proraote^
not only the divine, but all the benevolent and focial
virtues j to cherifh that charity which worketh no ill to
his neighbour, and to deter men from every a£l of injuf-
tice, treachery or linkindnefs, whereby the rights and
liberties of any of tWr brethren might be violated ; in
the exhoitatitins which arc given to chriftiariSj to ftand
faft in the liberty wherewith they are made free ; not to
be the febvarits of men ; not to call any man matter on
earth ; not to aiFeO; being called Rabbi, and not to ex-
ercife loi?dly dominion over each other.

Perhaps I ought to apoldgife for dwelling fo long
upon a. point, on which this refpeftable audience may
be fuppofed to have felt themfelves previoufly agreed.
It is hoped, however, that an attempt to illuftrate the
indired: tellimony which the beft of religions furniflies,
in favour of our own conftitutions of government, will
not be deemed an improper dne, by the friendsj either
of repubUcanifm or chriftianity.

Wh At has been already faid, is t truft, more than fuf-
ficient to explain the occafion of the apoftles words, in
the text, and their meaning as they relate to that occa-
fion. This appears to be, that it was the will of God,
with refpeft to the chriftians to whom he wrote, that

1 3

Online LibraryJohn MellenA sermon, delivered before His Excellency the Governor : and the Honourable Legislature, of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, on the annual election, May 31, 1797 → online text (page 1 of 3)