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GENESIS, CHAP. XVIII.- VERSE 19.
For I know him, that he will command his children, and his house
hold after him ; and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring on Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
The words of the text are the words of the Lord concerning Abraham, the father of the faithful; and they contain the reason why the Lord made choice of Abraham, to distinguish him from the rest of the world, to make of him a great and mighty nation,' a nation to whom should be committed the oracles of God.' Abraham,' says the Lord in the verse before the text, 'shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.'
It has been matter of great difficulty with curious inquirers to assign the reasons of God's particular regard to Abraham and his posterity, to whom he made himself known in a very particular manner; whilst the rest of the nations of the earth were permitted to continue in ignorance and superstition. I intend not to examine all the reasons that have, or may be assigned for this dispensation of providence; but since God himself has been pleased to give one reason for his particular regard to Abraham, it highly concerns us to consider it, as holding forth to us the very best instruction by what means we may render ourselves acceptable to God, and draw down a blessing on ourselves and our posterity: ‘Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him : for I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment;
that the Lord may bring on Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.'
You see now the connexion of the text with the verse that goes before it, and the reason given for the distinguishing mercy bestowed on Abraham: God saw that Abraham would so rule and govern his children and his household, as to make them keep the way of the Lord, and do justice and judgment; and therefore he determined to raise him into a
great and mighty nation. This reason is plainly founded on these two propositions, and supposes the truth of them, viz.—first, that it is the duty of every father and master of a family so to command his children and household that they shall keep the way of the Lord; and, secondly, that the same duty is incumbent on the governors and magistrates of all nations. If you suppose that the virtue commended in Abraham is proper only to fathers and masters of families, and has no relation to the duty of a public magistrate, the reason given in the text for making Abraham a great and mighty nation' is a very absurd one; for if the magistrate has nothing to do to command the observance of the ways of the Lord, Abraham's disposition so to govern and command could be no reason for making him the head of a great nation : nay, it would rather be a very good reason to keep all public authority out of his hands : for if the magistrate transgresses the limits of his authority, whenever he uses his authority for the preservation of religion, to raise a - man to be the head of a nation because you foresee he will so use his authority, is to raise him to be a magistrate because you foresee he will transgress the limits of his commission. Since then God has declared that he raised Abraham to be a great nation, because he foresaw that he would command those under his authority to keep the way of the Lord, he has at the same time declared it to be the duty of every magistrate so to command and govern the nation, the great family committed to his care, that the ways of the Lord, that justice and judgment may be observed.
It has been matter of great dispute whether government is derived from the paternal authority, and is only the extension of it, or from the consent and choice of the people : a point of greater curiosity than use; since the rights of nations will be
determined by their respective laws and usages, and not by the speculations of philosophers. But as to the case of virtue and religion, it is evident that every magistrate's duty, with respect
to his people, is the same with that which every father natuErally has with respect to his children and household. Abra
ham was therefore to be made a great and mighty nation, because he would command his children and household to keep the way of the Lord : a manifest proof that the care and command which he exercised as father of the family was proper to be extended to whole nations; otherwise this care over his family could be no reason for extending his authority over a great and mighty nation. And indeed the magistrate's care with respect to the religion of his people, and the father's with respect to the religion of his family, are so much the same, that they must necessarily stand or fall together; for both have the same reasons to support them, and both are equally liable to the same objections. If the father of a family has his authority from God, and rules over not only his own children, but the servants and creatures of the Almighty, and ought therefore
to have a concern for God and religion, is the case of the ma. : gistrate different? Are not his subjects also the creatures and
servants of God ? and is he not the minister and vicegerent of God, and therefore bound, in the first place, to have regard to his honor, who is the common master of him and of his servants? If the happiness of a family, and of every member of it, consists in a due conformity to the principles of virtue and reason, and it be therefore the father's duty, even out of natural affection to his children, to guard them against vice and immorality, is the happiness of a kingdom and the members of it less concerned in the virtue of the people? or ought a prince less to regard the welfare and prosperity of his people ? Turn it
which way you will, the arguments are still the same, and - equally applicable to both cases.
If you object to the magistrate's authority in religion, that temporal rewards and punishments are improper to be employed in the cause of religion; are they not equally improper in the hands of a father as of a prince? If the subjects have reason to direct them, and ought therefore to be left to themselves in all matters of conscience; are not your sons and your daughters reasonable creatures too? and have they not the same plea to make to exempt them from the authority of a father? If religion be something internal, and of which the magistrate cannot judge, because he knows not the heart of man; is a father better qualified to judge the heart of his son or daughter than the magistrate is to judge the hearts of his subjects? In every view the objections are equally frivolous, or equally strong in both cases.
From the text thus opened and explained, I shall take an occasion to inquire wherein the care of religion, as well public as private, doth consist; and to justify the means which are pecessary to the
support of it. If we consider the nature and disposition of mankind, we shall easily perceive that two things are especially necessary to guard the practice of virtue and religion, instruction and correction : one, a proper remedy for the weakness of the understanding; the other, for the perverseness of the will, Where these two are joined together, where the same person has a right to instruct and correct, the instruction is properly authoritative; and this is the case both of parents aud magistrates: and therefore Abraham's care for his family, which without doubt included instruction, is expressed by the word command ; · He will command his children and his household, that they shall keep the way of the Lord.' And the same precept, given by God to the children of Israel for the instruction of their posterity, and which is called · teaching' their children in Deut. xi. 19. is, in ch. xxxii. ver. 46. called “commanding their children: ' And he said unto them, Set your
hearts unto all the words, which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe, to do all the words of this law.
This duty princes cannot perform personally to all their people; and therefore there has been an order of men set apart to this work in every civilised nation in the world : and on the foot of natural religion, there is no question to be made but that the supreme power in every nation has a full right to appoint and constitute these public teachers and ministers of religion. The people of Rome had as good a title to choose priests as to choose consuls; and had their religion been right,
no fault could have been found in the constitution of their priesthood. But this right was under the law of Moses limited to one family; and the priesthood under the gospel is confined to such methods of conveyance as Christ and his Apostles have appointed or approved : and the Christian priesthood being in all Christian nations owned and established by the public, they have the commission and authority of the magistrate for the edification of the people.
The power of correction is proper to be preserved in the hand of the magistrate, and is never better applied than for the punishment of wickedness and vice, and for the maintenance of true religion and virtue.
As these methods are necessary for the promoting and preserving the virtue of nations, and establishing public happiness and tranquillity, which so much depend on it; so are they likewise for the good government and improvement of ate families : and every father, by natural right, has power to instruct, and within proper restraints to use correction, for the good and benefit of those under his care.
As to instruction, considered separate from correction, he must be a great friend to libertinism who has any thing to object against it. Some have thought that, since God has given all men reason to direct them, all men should be left to their reason to discover the general truths of religion and morality, without having any principles or notions instilled into them by others; which they esteem as so many prejudices only. But not to insist how contrary this is to all the rules and precepts of Scripture relating to the duty of fathers and mothers, and to the practice of all nations, it is sufficient to observe that, had God intended that all men should be left to the discoveries of their own reason in matters of duties, it had been necessary for him to have supplied all men with leisure for speculation, as well as with reason : for experience shows that the generality of men, in the present state of things, are not able, for want of leisure and education, to be their own masters : so far from it, that in conjunction with all the helps that are at present afforded them, great numbers continue ignorant to a degree hardly to be imagined ; and were these helps to be removed, we could expect