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But then the most beneficial and necessary changes must be begun, promoted, and perfected by lawful authority; or else they lose their good quality, and, like wholesome remedies unduly applied, prey upon the vitals of the government. For no change can be so beneficial in its consequence, as usurping upon lawful authority is destructive; and therefore it becomes a good subject to bear any inconvenience arising from the present constitution, rather than, by too precipitately throwing it off, to prevent the regular methods of alteration. To pretend public good, is common to all factions and parties; and therefore can excuse none : and where the pretence is real; yet to seek public good, in opposition to public authority, is like curing distempers by destroying the patient.
To view with pleasure the factions and disturbances of a kingdom ; and, like the lame and impotent at the pool of Bethesda, to long for the troubling of the waters, that we may first step in, and make some private advantage of the public calamities, is neither the part of a good man, or a good Christian.
To encourage the feditious principles and practices of others ; though cunning men may do it without danger, yet they can never do it without guilt.
These practices need not be brought near, to be compared with the duty of obedience. They appear at first fight to have nothing less in them than honour and reverence, or obedience to the prince.
The authority of the prince is as much concerned in maintaining the honour and order of God's service, as of his own : and the noblest character that belongs to princes, is, that of nursing fathers and mothers to the church of Chrift; the peace and order of which is at once the splendour and security of a government : and therefore the advice of the text, Not to meddle with them who are given to change, must be extended to the government of the church, as well as of the ftate. And the occasion of this solemnity gives but too much reason for this application; the alterations intended and practised upon the church, influencing not a little in the barbarous treason which we this day lament.
There must in the church, as in the state, be a power to change whatever, through use and experience, appears unfit for the end it was designed. To propose and procure amendinents to the laws of the church, when there is occasion for it, is their duty in whose hands the power is lodged ; and changes so effected, can never be to the blemish or difhonour of the church. But when men dislike without reason, and obstinately condemn whatever has been settled by authority; when they disclaim the power and all the acts of the church; either their ignorance must be invincible, or their guilt unpardonable.
The reason of all changes ought to be very plain and apparent ; left lightness and wantonness, in altering old laws, bring power and authority into contempt. To change is the effect, and the sign of weakness: and therefore it is the character of the most perfect Being, that in him is no variableness, or shadow of turning. Often to change, will always. breed contempt: and therefore, in private life, wise
men choose rather to bear some inconveniencies arising from the way they are settled in, than, by shifting from one course to another, to gain little but the character of unsteadiness, and want of resolution. Much less should public bodies hazard their credit by unneceffary changes; and, for the sake of removing one unpolished stone, endanger the whole building ; which how it will settle on a new foundation, the wisdom of man cannot foresee. Some inconveniencies in the establishment of public focieties, like fome distempers in the body, are borne with less danger than they are cured.
To plead for alterations of seemingly greater purity and perfection, carries with it such an appearance of goodness and concern for the service of God, as will never fail to engage the favour of the multitude, who always make up in zeal what they want in knowledge ; which is, and will be a temptation to men, who are incapable of a better, to take this way to raise themselves in the esteem of the people.
To press for alterations when most things in the present establishment are owned to be good, and all tolerable, is not the effect of much judgment. If want of perfection be a reason to change, it will be a reason for ever; for fince all the laws of the church are not of divine institution, they have too great a mixture of weakness in their original, ever to be perfect in themselves. And should all the changes desired be granted, let not men imagine that the next age will be so unlike this, as not to find fault with the orders of their superiors.
It is unaccountable in reason, that, in matters of
religious government, every man thinks himself judge of what is decent and convenient, and what fit to be obeyed; whereas in matters of civil government, whatever they act, they dare not pretend to the same discretionary power : as if the case were not the same in both; and obedience in all things lawful and honest, (further than which, no man's private judgment extends,) in both of like neceffity.
How the common people are led into the esteem of men thus acting, is not hard to say. To suffer for one's opinion, right or wrong, is in the eyes of the vulgar meritorious : and since fome outward advantages are forfeited, by not complying with the present establishment; should men, even for worldly interest, and want of merit fufficient to rise in the lawful and regular way, strike out new paths for themselves; yet they shall be sure, among their fol- . lowers, to have the character of honest men, men suffering for conscience fake. And though there be no suffering in the case ; no punishment attending upon such practices; yet whilft rewards are open to the obedience of others, the partiality of men will make them apter to repine at the distinction, than to be thankful for the impunity.
As long as men are weak enough to be mifled; and the errors of some are profitable to others; there will be no end of diffenfions: and should the restlessness and importunity of men once break in upon the constitution, the event could only thew where it would end.
To what extremes the humour of men once set on changing will run, the mournful occasion of this
day's meeting is too sensible a proof. The actors in the late troubles thought of nothing less, when they began, than the event that succeeded. The good of the public, and of the King, was the pretence; and they never left seeking it, till they had ruined the public, and laid his royal head low. With the same good success, the purity of the church was promoted ; which ended in utter subversion, and the blood of a great prelate.
Great indeed in many respects; but he sunk under the iniquity of the times, by endeavouring to give life to the long-forgotten and neglected discipline of the church; when the liberty and licentiousness of the age could bear nothing less. The Reformation had given such a turn to weak heads, that had not weight enough to poise themselves between the extremes of popery and fanaticism ; that every thing older than yesterday was looked upon to be popish and antichristian : the meanest of the people aspired to the priesthood, and were readier to frame new laws for the church, than obey the old. This led him to some acts of great severity, that he might create an authority and reverence for the laws, when it should appear they had not quite lost their edge. Thus he became too generally hated, and fall he must; for his faults were great, and, as the times went, unpardonable; he loved the Church and the King
His case might deserve more to be lamented, did not that which followed bury all private injuries and resentments; in respect of which, the former cruelties were tender mercies. The thirst of blood was too great to be satisfied with the fall of private