From Manx Soc vol. 19
By THOMAS WILSON, D.D., Bishop of Sodor and Man.
The folly of undertaking any business of moment without regard to the will and honour of God.
There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord. Prov. xxi. 30, I WOULD first observe to you how many words are here made use of by the Holy Spirit to convince us of the folly of undertaking any business of moment without regard to the will and honour of God. There is no wisdom, that is, no discretion, directing men what is fit to be done ; no understanding which can enable a man to see the issue of things ; no counsel able to give advice ; where the will and honour of God is not consulted, and his blessing and direction is not prayed for.
And one may take it for granted that this solemn meeting was, from the very beginning, appointed to be ushered in by proper supplications and prayers for the blessing of God upon this government ; and by proper instructions from his ministers, how his blessings are to be obtained and secured.
" Woe unto them that take counsel, but not of me, saith the Lord." ** Isaiah xxx. 1. And the wisest men have found it so to their cost and shame, when they have neglected to take God along with them in their politics.
The whole race of the Kings of Israel, from Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who taught Israel to sin, to Hoshea the last King of Israel, who, with his whole people, was carried into captivity, are a known and flagrant instance of this truth, That no happiness is to be expected where the glory, the honour, and true worship of God are overlooked or despised.
They all went by this worldly-wise maxim, that it would not be safe for them to let their people go to Jerusalem to worship, as God had expressly commanded, lest in time they should be tempted to submit to the Kings of Judah ; so they set up a worship of their own invention, which ended in an idolatry abhorred of God, and brought upon themselves and their people a miserable captivity which continues to this very day.
We shall only mention one other instance of the truth and importance of these words just read to you ; and this is one of whose wisdom it is said, " That the counsel of Ahithophel was as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God." ** 2 Sam. xvi. 23. And he did certainly give Absalom such counsel as would have ruined his father most effectually, if God had not turned his wisdom into foolishness.
And that men might be convinced that it was the work of God, and that He interposes in the affairs of men, the Scripture tells us expressly, that it was God who had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, that he might bring evil upon Absalom, as also upon his wicked counsellor. Thus wicked counsels, sooner or later, fall upon the heads of those that give, and upon those that follow them.
Now, this being a truth declared by the God of truth, and found such by experience, it follows, let foolish men despise it at their peril that in all our counsels we should, in the first place, have an eye and regard to the honour, and will, and laws of God, or we shall soon see and feel our mistake.
This, the apostle tells us, is the great end of civil power and government, to be a terror to evildoers, and to encourage those that do well, that God in all things may be glorified. And consequently all laws should be made and counsels taken with an eye to these two great ends the glory of God and the good of mankind.
"Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it," saith holy David, a king himself, and a great master-builder in Israel. And his son sets this down for an uncontested truth+ + Prov. xvi. 1 . " The throne " that is, the government of every nation "is established by righteousness;" that is, by righteous laws, and putting them faithfully in execution.
Now, there are two things which every government should aim at. In the first place, to have righteous laws. In order to this, let it be considered that God, the great proprietor of the world and all things in it, having given to certain persons power over the bodies, goods, estates, and even over the lives of their fellow-creatures, lest these, finding themselves vested with such high powers, should forget themselves and abuse their authority, as the wise man**wisdom ii. 11. saith wicked men will be apt to do, and say, " Our strength and power shall be the law of justice," most nations have found it necessary, and have agreed, to have laws to direct both those that are to govern and those that are to obey.
Now the two great ends of these laws should be, as was said before, First, The glory of God ; and, Secondly, The good of mankind.
First, The glory of God.
Such are laws to secure, as far as possible, the honour of God, his name, his worship, his ordinances, from being made light of and profaned by men who are given over to a reprobate mind.
Such, also, are laws to secure true religion and its ministers from contempt, by punishing those that, forgetting themselves and their character, make the service of God to be despised, and by encouraging and securing the rights of such as serve faithfully at the altar against the sacrilegious attempts of covetous men.
Such are laws which are proper to prevent wicked men from corrupting the principles and manners of weak and ignorant people, by punishing the crimes against the majesty of the great God, with at least the same degree of severity as crimes against the civil governors or private men.
And here it must not be passed over in silence, that too many come amongst us who bring all those evil dispositions and bad qualities along with them which were the cause of their misfortunes at home.
Now, too many of these, instead of enjoying the happiness of a safe and undisturbed retreat and liberty, set up for directors and censurers of our magistrates and constitution, both in Church and State ; ridiculing the religion and discipline established amongst us ; meddling with matters they do not understand; and, which is still worse, corrupting our youth with the basest examples of debauchery and profaneness ; making a mock of sin; propagating the very vilest opinions; hardening young people against the advice of friends, against their own interest, and the fear of God and damnation.
And a sad truth it is these, many of them, meet with too much countenance and encouragement, for the sake, as is pretended, of the advantages we receive from them. Whether any advantages of this kind will countervail for the dishonour done to God, the mischiefs done to our people, and the judgments we have to fear, is what should very seriously be considered by all such as wish for the continuance of the happiness of this place.
The express condition of King Solomon's prosperity was this " If thou wilt execute my judgments, then will I perform my word which I spake unto David thy father." And the only security which the people of God had for their prosperity and God's blessing was this " That ye put away evil from among you."
From all which it appears, not from our reasoning, but from the infallible word of God, that the welfare and happiness of nations depend upon the restraint that is put upon vice and impiety by good and wholesome laws, whereby the honour of God is secured from contempt.
And, indeed, wherever God has placed any share of power or authority, it is for this very end, that he may not be provoked, by the dishonour done to him and his laws, to pour down his judgments upon men and nations.
Next to the glory of God, the great end of laws and of civil government is, The good of mankind ; to secure the persons, the property, and the peace of honest and well-meaning men against the power or the craft of such as would invade or disturb them.
It is a good deal more than an hundred years since the historian (Mr. Camden) gave the following account of the people of this isle :"The inhabitants in general," says he, " have a very good character; not given either to lewdness, cheating, or thievery; so that every man possesseth his own in peace and safety, none living in fear of losing what he hath." This island, the historian adds, "is happier on another account than we are in England; for the people are free from vexatious and unnecessary lawsuits, from long and dilatory pleas, and from frivolous feeing of lawyers, proctors, and attornies all controversies being determined without long process, every man pleading his own cause viva voce."
Now this, we are too sure, is neither the case nor the character of the times we live in. Very late and melancholy instances we have had to the contrary. Many honest men's properties have been invaded, some by force and some by fraud. The civil magistrate can tell us how very litigious the people are grown of late, to the great increase of his burthen and the expense of his time ; and the people, too many of them, have smarted by the malpractice of such as live and gain by contention. The ecclesiastical magistrate meets every day with new and heretofore unheard of instances of the contempt of God and of religion.
Whether it be for want of better laws to put a stop to these growing evils with which a holy and righteous God must be highly displeased, or for any other cause, it will be worth the care of the Legislature, in the first place, to make more effectual provision, that God in all things may be glorified, ever remembering "that there is neither wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel, against the Lord," that is, where there is not a regard to his honour.
But even the best laws that can be made will be of little use unless they are faithfully put in execution, and by men of religion and integrity.
It was said of the Athenians (as a learned man has observed) that they showed a great deal of wisdom in making excellent laws, but a much greater folly in not observing them ; and this was owing, in a great measure, to the negligence or corruption of the inferior magistrates. This the Romans took care to prevent in the beginning of their commonwealth, by requiring, under the severest penalties, that magistrates should be examples of that behaviour which they required of others. "If this," saith their great lawyer Cicero, " if this be observed, we have all that we can wish for." And indeed it is the highest false step that men in power and authority can make, to give any manner of countenance to men of wicked lives, or of loose and wicked principles. For, be sure that man who makes light of God, of his word, and his laws, will, when he can do it with impunity, despise the magistrate, who is God's representative, and those laws which are made by him for the good government of the world.
Magistrates, therefore, and all in authority, are, above all others, obliged to be upon their guard, because the lesser world will too readily follow their example, especially if bad, for so the corruption of human nature, which is prone to evil continually, will lead them too forcibly.
And what will be the natural consequence of this? Why, the fear of God will be forgotten ; men will be left to themselves and to the conduct of Satan ; pride and luxury will follow; and, to support these, covetousness, injustice, fraud, and knavery will succeed, as also a litigious temper, a disregard for oaths, perjury, and the oppressing one another; and, lastly, which must ever be remembered by people of any consideration, the judgments of God upon a sinful nation, if these sins go unpunished, which they will be too apt to do if the magistrate himself be wanting in his duty to Him whom he represents.
To prevent this, it should be considered that no one man on earth can claim the obedience of others by any natural right of his own, but as he is invested with authority and power from God, who has ordained some to govern, and for that end to make righteous laws, and others to obey, and this on pain of his great displeasure.
If this were considered as it should be, those in authority would always govern with truth and justice, and such whose duty it is to obey, would obey for conscience sake.
It was a powerful argument which Joseph, then Governor of all Egypt, made use of to his brethren, who, not knowing him, were in the utmost fear for their lives and liberty. " This do," says he, " and live, for I fear God."* * Gen. xiii. 1S. That is, you may expect nothing but justice from one who professes to live in the fear of God. And what a powerful influence will this naturally have upon those who seek for justice !
When a man is secure of the magistrate's integrity, and that he shall not suffer in his rights, either by partiality, corruption, or the overbearing power of others, he will depend upon the justice of his cause, without employing men of no conscience to puzzle or mislead the magistrate with false assertions, suspected evidences, and doubtful precedents not warranted by law or justice.
And here I cannot but mention a passage which we have recorded in Scripture to the praise of the greatest prince then on earth, as we find it in Esther i. 15 ; the king asks this question of his counsellors, " What shall we do unto the queen according to law ?' How careful was this mighty prince to do nothing which the law would not justify, and set a rare example of justice to all about him, to make the law the rule of his conscience, and conscience the rule of his conduct.
Thus stands the duty of superiors with respect to their inferiors. But there is another branch of duty, and a very important one, which, in a more especial manner, regards the honour and laws of God, as we before hinted.
The will of God is, that the laws which he has given for setting forth his own glory, and for the good of mankind, should be reverenced and obeyed by all; that sin be made uneasy to those upon whom reason and the fear of God have no effect; that wickedness of every kind be punished according to the nature of the offence ; that the evil examples of such as scorn to be hypocrites in impiety, who make a mock of sin and damnation, and glory in making proselytes to Satan, that such be hindered by the severest penalties from corrupting others ; that growing vices be carefully observed, and a timely stop put to them, before they become too many or too strong to be cured by any methods except national judgments.
These are the undoubted duties of the civil magistrate, who, being in the place of God, stands bound to make his will the rule of his actions, remembering the account he must one day give.
For our part, we are in duty bound to keep awake the consciences of men with the remembrance of God's glorious attributes, and of a judgment to come ; of his all-seeing eye; and of his justice and vengeance upon hardened sinners ; of his power to destroy both body and soul in hell; of the sad and certain consequence of dishonest gain ; of the wasting vices of idleness and luxury ; of the damning sin of blaspheming the name of the great God; of the great evil of vexatious controversies, and giving men trouble without cause ; and, lastly, of the absolute necessity of making restitution for injuries done to our neighbour to the best of our power, as ever we hope for salvation.
To conclude. Let these things be considered as they should be, and we shall soon see the happy effects of taking God along with us in all our actions and counsels.
They that are in a superior rank will remember that they are in the place of God, and will be careful not to bring contempt on him whose place they supply; the fear and regard for God and his laws being the best support of their own authority.
On the other side, they that are to obey will consider that their superiors are in the place of God, and are bound to consult his glory; their obedience, therefore, will be more cheerful, their behaviour peaceable, and thankful will they be for the blessing of such a government.
And may God, the great Governor of the world, give all his substitutes grace, and a spirit to discern what will be most for his glory, and such as he will approve of at the great day, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory. Amen.