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A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers

* Historians are not agreed what number of soldiers attended him in this monstrous invasion of the privileges of parliament. Some say 300, some 400: And the author of The History of the Kings of Scotland, says 500.

But by whom was this resistance made? Not by a private junta;–not by a small seditious party;–not by a few desperadoes, who, to mend their fortunes, would embroil the state;–but by the LORDS and COMMONS of England. It was they that almost unanimously opposed the king’s measures for overturning the constitution, and changing that free and happy government into a wretched, absolute monarchy. It was they that when the king was about levying forces against his subjects, in order to make himself absolute, commissioned officers, and raised an army to defend themselves and the public: And it was they that maintained the war against him all along, till he was made a prisoner. This is indisputable. Though it was not properly speaking the parliament, but the army, which put him to death afterwards. And it ought to be freely acknowledged, that most of their proceeding, in order to get this matter effected; and particularly the court by which the king was at last tried and condemned, was little better than a mere mockery of justice.–

The next question which naturally arises, is, whether this resistance which was made to the king by the parliament, was properly rebellion, or not? The answer to which is plain, that it was not; but a most righteous and glorious stand, made in defense of the natural and legal rights of the people, against the unnatural and illegal encroachments of arbitrary power. Nor was this a rash and too sudden opposition. The nation had been patient under the oppressions of the crown, even to long suffering;–for a course of many years; and there was no rational hope of redress in any other way–Resistance was absolutely necessary in order to preserve the nation from slavery, misery and ruin. And who so proper to make this resistance as the lords and commons;–the whole representative body of the people:–guardians of the public welfare; and each of which was, in point of legislation, vested with an equal, co-ordinate power, with that of the crown? Here were two branches of the legislature against one;–two, which had law and equity and the constitution on their side, against one which was impiously attempting to overturn law and equity and the constitution; and to exercise a wanton licentious sovereignty over the properties, consciences and lives of all the people:–Such a sovereignty as some inconsiderately ascribe to the supreme Governor of the world.–I say, inconsiderately; because God himself does not govern in an absolutely arbitrary and despotic manner. The power of this Almighty King (I speak it not without caution and reverence; the power of this Almighty King) is limited by law; not, indeed, by acts of parliament, but by the eternal laws of truth, wisdom and equity; and the everlasting tables of right reason;–tables that cannot be repealed, or thrown down and broken like those of Moses.–But king Charles sat himself up above all these, as much as he did above the written laws of the realm; and made mere humor and caprice, which are no rule at all, the only rule and measure of his administration. And now, is it not perfectly ridiculous to call resistance to such a tyrant, by the name of rebellion?–the grand rebellion? Even that–parliament, which brought king Charles II to the throne, and which run loyally mad, severely reproved one of their own members for condemning the proceedings of that parliament which first took up arms against the former king. And upon the same principles that the proceedings of this parliament may be censured as wicked and rebellious, the proceedings of those who, since, opposed King James II, and brought the prince of Orange to the throne, may be censured as wicked and rebellious also. The cases are parallel.–But whatever some men may think, it is to be hoped that, for their own sakes, they will not dare to speak against the REVOLUTION, upon the justice and legality of which depends (in part) his present MAJESTY’S right to the throne.

** The English constitution is originally and essentially free. The character which J. Caesar and Tacitus both give of the ancient Britons so long ago, is, That they were extremely jealous of their liberties, as well as a people of a martial spirit. Nor have there been wanting frequent instances and proofs of the same glorious spirit (in both respects) remaining in their posterity ever since,–in the struggles they have made for liberty, both against foreign and domestic tyrants.–Their kings hold their title to the throne solely by grant of parliament; i.e. in other words, by the voluntary consent of the people. And, agreeably hereto, the prerogative and rights of the crown are stated, defined and limited by law; and that as truly and strictly as the rights of any inferior officer in the state; or indeed, of any private subject. And it is only in this respect that it can be said, that “the king can do no wrong.” Being restrained by the law, he cannot, while he confines himself within those just limits which the law prescribes to him as the measure of his authority, injure and oppress the subject.–The king in his coronation oath, swears to exercise only such a power as the constitution gives him. And the subject, in the oath of allegiance, swears only to obey him in the exercise of such a power. The king is as much bound by his oath, not to infringe the legal rights of the people, as the people are bound to yield subjection to him. From whence it follows, that as soon as the prince sets himself up above law, he loses the king in the tyrant: he does to all intents and purposes, unking himself, by acting out of, and beyond, that sphere which the constitution allows him to move in. And in such cases, he has no more right to be obeyed, than any inferior officer who acts beyond his commission. The subjects’ obligation to allegiance then ceases of course: and to resist him is no more rebellion, than to resist any foreign invader. There is an essential difference betwixt government and tyranny; at least under such a constitution as the English. The former consists in ruling according to law and equity; the latter, in ruling contrary to law and equity. So also, there is an essential difference betwixt resisting a tyrant, and rebellion; The former is a just and reasonable self-defense; the latter consists in resisting a prince whose administration is just and legal; and this is what denominates it a crime. Now it is evident, that king Charles’s government was illegal, and very oppresive, through the greatest part of his reign: And, therefore, to resist him, was no more rebellion, than to oppose any foreign invader, or any other domestic oppressor.

If it be said, that although the parliament which first opposed king Charles’s measures, and at length took up arms against him, were not guilty of rebellion; yet certainly those persons were, who condemned, and put him to death: even this perhaps is not true. For he had, in fact, unkinged himself long before, and had forfeited his title to the allegiance of the people. So that those who put him to death, were, at most only guilty of murder; which, indeed, is bad enough, if they were really guilty of that; (which is at least disputable.) Cromwell, and those who were principally concerned in the (nominal) king’s death, might possibly have been very wicked and designing men. Nor shall I say any thing in vindication of the reigning hypocrisy of those times; or of Cromwell’s mal-administration during the interregnum: (for it is truth, and not a party, that I am speaking for.) But still it may be said, that Cromwell and his adherents were not, properly speaking, guilty of rebellion; because he, whom they beheaded was not, properly speaking, their king; but a lawless tyrant.–much less, are the whole body of the nation at that time to be charged with rebellion on that account; for it was no national act; it was not done by a free parliament. And much less still, is the nation at present, to be charged with the great sin of rebellion, for what their ancestors did, (or rather did NOT) a century ago.

But how came the anniversary of king Charles’s death, to be solemnized as a day of fasting and humiliation? The true answer in brief, to which inquiry, is, that this fast was instituted by way of court and complement to king Charles II, upon the restoration. All were desirous of making their court to him: of ingratiating themselves; and of making him forget what had been done in opposition to his father, so as not to revenge it. To effect this, they ran into the most extravagant professions of affection and loyalty to him, insomuch that he himself said, that it was a mad and hair brain’d loyalty which they professed. And amongst other strange things, which his first parliament did, they ordered the Thirtieth of January (the day on which his father was beheaded) to be kept as a day of solemn humiliation, to deprecate the judgments of heaven for the rebellion which the nation had been guilty of, in that which was no national thing; and which was not rebellion in them that did it–Thus they soothed and flattered their new king, at the expense of their liberties:–And were ready to yield up freely to Charles II, all that enormous power, which they had justly resisted Charles I, for usurping to himself.

The last query mentioned, was, Why those of the Episcopal clergy who are very high in the principles of ecclesiastical authority, continue to speak of this unhappy prince as a great Saint and a Martyr? This, we know, is what they constantly do, especially upon the 30th of January;–a day sacred to the extolling of him, and to the reproaching of those who are not of the established church. Out of the same mouth on this day, proceedeth blessing and cursing; there with bless they their God, even Charles, and therewith curse they the dissenters: And their tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. King Charles is, upon this solemnity, frequently compared to our Lord Jesus Christ, both in respect of the holiness of his life, and the greatness and injustice of his sufferings; and it is a wonder they do not add something concerning the merits of his death also–But blessed Saint and royal martyr, are as humble titles as any that are thought worthy of him.

Now this may, at first view, well appear to be a very strange phenomenon. For king Charles was really a man black with guilt and laden with iniquity, as appears by his crimes before mentioned. He lived a tyrant; and it was the oppression and violence of his reign, that brought him to his untimely and violent end at last. Now what of saintship or martyrdom is there in all this! What of saintship is there in encouraging people to profane the Lord’s Day? What of saintship in falsehood and perjury? What of saintship in repeated robberies and patriots, into gaols? What of saintship in overturning an excellent civil constitution:–and proudly grasping at an illegal and monstrous power? What of saintship in the murder of thousands of innocent people: and involving a nation in all the calamities of a civil war? And what of martyrdom is there, in a man’s bringing an immature and violent death upon himself, by being wicked overmuch? Is there any such thing as grace, without goodness! As being a follower of Christ, without following him? As being his disciple, without learning of him to be just and beneficent? Or, as saintship without sanctity? If not, I fear it will be hard to prove this man a saint. And verily one would be apt to suspect that that church must be but poorly stocked with saints and martyrs, which is forced to adopt such enormous sinners into her calendar, in order to swell the number.

But to unravel this mystery of (nonsense as well as of) iniquity, which has already worked for a long time amongst us; or, at least, to give the most probable solution of it; it is to be remembered, that king Charles, this burlesque upon saintship and martyrdom, though so great an oppressor, was a true friend to the Church; so true a friend to her, that he was very well affected towards the Roman Catholics; and would, probably, have been very willing to unite Lambeth and Rome. This appears by his marrying a true daughter of that true mother of harlots; which he did with a dispensation from the Pope, that supreme BISHOP; to whom when he wrote he gave the title of MOST HOLY FATHER. His queen was extremely bigoted to all the follies and superstitions, and to the hierarchy, of Rome; and had a prodigious ascendancy over him all his life. It was, in part, owing to this, that he (probably) abetted the massacre of the protestants in Ireland; that he assisted in extirpating the French protestants at Rochelle; that he all along encouraged papist, and popishly effected clergymen, in preference to all other persons, and that he upheld that monster of wickedness, ARCH-BISHOP LAUD, and the bishops of his stamp; in all their church-tyranny and diabolical cruelties. In return to his kindness and indulgence in which respects, they caused many of the pulpits throughout the nation, to ring with the divine absolute, indefeasible right of kings; with the praises of Charles and his reign; and with the damnable sin of resisting the Lord’s anointed, let him do what he would. So that not Christ, but Charles, was commonly preached to the people.–In plain English, there seems to have been an impious bargain struck up betwixt the scepter and the surplice, for enslaving both the bodies and souls of men. The king appeared to be willing that the clergy should do what they would,–set up a monstrous hierarchy like that of Rome–a monstrous inquisition like that of Spain or Portugal,–or any thing else which their own pride, and the devil’s malice, could prompt them to: Provided always, that the clergy would be tools to the crown; that they would make the people believe, that kings had God’s authority for breaking God’s law; that they had a commission from heaven to seize the estates and lives of their subjects at pleasure; and that it was a damnable sin to resist them, even when they did such things as deserved more than damnation.–This appears to be the true key for explaining the mysterious doctrine of king Charles’s saintship and martyrdom. He was a saint, not because he was in his life, a good man, but a good churchman; not because he was a lover of holiness, but the hierarchy; not because he was a friend to Christ, but the Craft. And he was a martyr in his death, not because he bravely suffered death in the cause of truth and righteousness, but because he died an enemy to liberty and the rights of conscience; i.e. not because he died an enemy to sin, but dissenters. For these reasons it is that all bigoted clergymen, and friends to church-power, paint this man as a saint in his life, though he was such a mighty, such a royal sinner; and as a martyr in his death, though he fell a sacrifice only to his own ambition, avarice, and unbounded lust of power. And from prostituting their praise upon king Charles, and offering him that incense which is not his due, it is natural for them to make a transition to the dissenters, (as they commonly do) and to load them with that reproach which they do not deserve; they being generally professed enemies both to civil and ecclesiastical tyranny. WE are commonly charged (upon the Thirtieth of January) with the guilt of putting the king to death, under a notion that it was our ancestors that did it; and so we are represented in the blackest colors, not only as scismaticks, but also as traitors and rebels and all that is bad. And these lofty gentlemen usually rail upon this head, in such a manner as plainly shows, that they are either grossly ignorant of the history of those times which they speak of; or, which is worse, that they are guilty of the most shameful prevarication, slander and falsehood.–But every petty priest, with a roll and a gown, thinks he must do something in imitation of his betters, in lawn, and show himself a true son of the church: And thus, through a foolish ambition to appear considerable, they only render themselves contemptible.

But suppose our fore-fathers did kill their mock saint and martyr a century ago, what is that to us now? If I mistake not, these gentlemen generally preach down the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, as absurd and unreasonable, notwithstanding they have solemnly subscribed what is equivalent to it in their own articles of religion. And therefore one would hardly expect that they would lay the guilt of the king’s death upon US, altho’ our fore-fathers had been the only authors of it. But this conduct is much more surprising, when it does not appear that our ancestors had any more hand in it than their own.–However, bigotry is sufficient to account for this, and many other phenomena, which cannot be accounted for in any other way.

Although the observation of this anniversary seems to have been (at least) superstitious in its original; and although it is often abused to very bad purposes by the established clergy, as they serve themselves of it, to perpetuate strife, a party spirit, and divisions in the Christian church; yet it is to be hoped that one good end will be answered by it, quite contrary to their intention: It is to be hoped that it will prove a standing memento, that Britons will not be slaves; and a warning to all corrupt councellors and ministers, not to go too far in advising to arbitrary, despotic measures–

To conclude: Let us all learn to be free, and to be loyal. Let us not profess ourselves vassals to the lawless pleasure of any man on earth. But let us remember, at the same time, government is sacred, and not to be trifled with. It is our happiness to live under the government of a PRINCE who is satisfied with ruling according to law; as every other good prince will–We enjoy under his administration all the liberty that is proper and expedient for us. It becomes us, therefore, to be contented, and dutiful subjects. Let us prize our freedom; but not use our liberty for a cloak of maliciousness. There are men who strike at liberty under the term licentiousness. There are others who aim at popularity under the disguise of patriotism. Be aware of both. Extremes are dangerous. There is at present amongst us, perhaps, more danger of the latter, than of the former. For which reason I would exhort you to pay all due Regard to the government over us; to the KING and all in authority; and to lead a quiet and peaceable life.–And while I am speaking of loyalty to our earthly Prince, suffer me just to put you in mind to be loyal also to the supreme RULER of the universe, by whom kings reign, and princes decree justice. To which king eternal immortal, invisible, even to the ONLY WISE GOD, be all honor and praise, DOMINION and thanksgiving, through JESUS CHRIST our LORD. AMEN.

* N.B. I speak of rebellion, treason, saintship, martyrdom, &c. throughout this discourse, only in the scriptural and theological sense. I know not how the law defines them; the study of that not being my employment.