When the Israelites asked for such a King as the Nations about them had, they asked for a Tyrant, tho they did not call him so.

NOW that Saul was no tyrant, says our author, note, that the people asked a king as all nations had: God answers, and bids Samuel to hear the voice of the people in all things which they spake, and appoint them a king. They did not ask a tyrant; and to give them a tyrant when they asked a king, had not been to hear their voice in all things, but rather when they asked an egg to have given them a scorpion; unless we will say that all nations had tyrants.[1] But before he drew such a conclusion, he should have observed, that God did not give them a scorpion when they asked an egg, but told them that was a scorpion which they called an egg: They would have a king to judge them, to go out before them, and to fight their battles; but God in effect told them, he would overthrow all justice, and turn the power that was given him, to the ruin of them and their posterity. But since they would have it so, he commanded Samuel to hearken to their voice, and for the punishment of their sin and folly, to give them such a king as they asked, that is, one who would turn to his own profit and their misery, the power with which he should be entrusted; and this truly denominates a tyrant. Aristotle makes no other distinction between a king and a tyrant, than that the king governs for the good of the people, the tyrant for his own pleasure or profit:[2] and they who asked such a one, asked a tyrant, tho they called him a king. This is all could be done in their language: for as they who are skilled in the Oriental tongues assure me, there is no name for a tyrant in any of them, or any other way of expressing the thing than by circumlocution, and adding proud, insolent, lustful, cruel, violent, or the like epithets, to the word lord, or king. They did in effect ask a tyrant: They would not have such a king as God had ordain'd, but such a one as the nations had. Not that all nations had tyrants; but those who were round about them, of whom they had knowledge, and which in their manner of speaking went under the name of all, were blessed with such masters. This way of expression was used by Lot's daughters, who said, there was not a man in all the earth to come in to them;[3] because there was none in the neighborhood with whom it was thought fit they should accompany. Now, that the Eastern nations were then, and are still under the government of those which all free people call tyrants, is evident to all men. God therefore in giving them a tyrant, or rather a government that would turn into tyranny, gave them what they asked under another name; and without any blemish to the mercy promised to their fathers, suffered them to bear the penalty of their wickedness and folly in rejecting him that he should not reign over them.

But tho the name of tyrant was unknown to them, yet in Greece, from whence the word comes, it signified no more than one who governed according to his own will, distinguished from kings that governed by law; and was not taken in an ill sense, till those who had been advanced for their justice, wisdom and valour, or their descendants, were found to depart from the ends of their institution, and to turn that power to the oppression of the people, which had been given for their protection: But by these means it grew odious, and that kind of government came to be thought only tolerable by the basest of men; and those who destroy'd it, were in all places esteemed to be the best.

If monarchy had been universally evil, God had not in the 17th of Deuteronomy given leave to the Israelites to set up a king; and if that kind of king had been asked, he had not been displeased: and they could not have been said to reject God, if they had not asked that which was evil; for nothing that is good is contrary, or inconsistent with a people's obedience to him. The monarchy they asked was displeasing to God, it was therefore evil. But a tyrant is no more than an evil or corrupted monarch: The king therefore that they demanded was a tyrant: God in granting one who would prove a tyrant, gave them what they asked; and that they might know what they did, and what he would be, he told them they rejected him, and should cry by reason of the king they desired.

This denotes him to be a tyrant: for as the government of a king ought to be gentle and easy, tending to the good of the people, resembling the tender care of a father to his family; if he who is set up to be a king, and to be like to that father, do lay a heavy yoke upon the people, and use them as slaves and not as children, he must renounce all resemblance of a father, and be accounted an enemy.

But, says our author, whereas the people's crying argues some tyrannical oppression, we may remember that the people's cries are not always an argument of their living under a tyrant. No man will say Solomon was a tyrant, yet all the congregation complain'd that Solomon make their yoke grievous.[4] 'Tis strange, that when children, nay when whelps cry, it should be accounted a mark that they are troubled, and that the cry of the whole people should be none: Or that the government which is erected for their ease, should not be esteemed tyrannical if it prove grievous to those it should relieve. But as I know no example of a people that did generally complain without cause, our adversaries must allege some other than that of Solomon, before I believe it of any. We are to speak reverently of him: He was excellent in wisdom; he built the Temple, and God appeared twice to him: But it must be confess'd, that during a great part of his life he acted directly contrary to the law given by God to kings, and that his ways were evil and oppressive to the people, if those of God were good. Kings were forbidden to multiply horses, wives, silver and gold: But he brought together more silver and gold, and provided more horses, wives and concubines than any man is known to have had: And tho he did not actually return to Egypt, yet he introduced their abominable idolatry, and so far raised his heart above his brethren, that he made them subservient to his pomp and glory. The people might probably be pleased with a great part of this; but when the yoke became grievous, and his foolish son would not render it more easy, they threw it off; and the thing being from the Lord, it was good, unless he be evil.

But as just governments are established for the good of the governed, and the Israelites desir'd a king, that it might be well with them, not with him, who was not yet known to them; that which exalts one to the prejudice of those that made him, must always be evil, and the people that suffers the prejudice must needs know it better than any other. He that denies this, may think the state of France might have been best known from Bulion the late treasurer, who finding Lewis the Thirteenth to be troubled at the people's misery, told him they were too happy, since they were not reduced to eat grass. But if words are to be understood as they are ordinarily used, and we have no other than that of tyranny to express a monarchy that is either evil in the institution, or fallen into corruption, we may justly call that tyranny which the Scripture calls a grievous yoke, and which neither the old nor the new counsellors of Rehoboam could deny to be so: for tho the first advised him to promise amendment, and the others to do worse, yet all agreed that what the people said was true.

This yoke is always odious to such as are not by natural stupidity and baseness fitted for it; but those who are so, never complain. An ass will bear a multitude of blows patiently, but the least of them drives a lion into a rage. He that said, the rod is made for the back of fools, confessed that oppression will make a wise man mad. And the most unnatural of all oppressions is to use lions like asses, and to lay that yoke upon a generous nation, which only the basest can deserve; and for want of a better word we call this tyranny.

Our author is not contented to vindicate Solomon only, but extends his indulgence to Saul. His custom is to patronize all that is detestable, and no better testimony could be given of it. It is true, says he, Saul lost his kingdom, but not for being too cruel or tyrannical unto his subjects, but for being too merciful unto his enemies:[5] But he alleges no other reason, than that the slaughter of the priests is not blamed; not observing that the writers of the Scripture in relating those things that are known to be abominable by the light of nature, frequently say no more of them: And if this be not so, Lot's drunkenness and incest, Reuben's pollution of his father's bed, Abimelech's slaughter of his seventy brothers, and many of the most wicked acts that ever were committed, may pass for laudable and innocent.[6] But if Saul were not to be blamed for killing the priests, why was David blamed for the death of Uriah?[7] Why were the dogs to lick the blood of Ahab and Jezebel, if they did nothing more than kings might do without blame? Now if the slaughter of one man was so severely avenged upon the authors and their families, none but such as Filmer can think that of so many innocent men, with their wives and children, could escape unreproved or unpunished. But the whole series of the history of Saul shewing evidently that his life and reign were full of the most violent cruelty and madness, we are to seek no other reason for the ruin threatened and brought upon him and his family. And as those princes who are most barbarously savage against their own people, are usually most gentle to the enemies of their country, he could not give a more certain testimony of his hatred to those he ought to have protected, than by preserving those nations, who were their most irreconcilable enemies. This is proved by reason as well as by experience; for every man knows he cannot bear the hatred of all mankind: Such as know they have enemies abroad, endeavour to get friends at home: Those who command powerful nations, and are beloved by them, fear not to offend strangers. But if they have rendered their own people enemies to them, they cannot hope for help in a time of distress, nor so much as a place of retreat or refuge, unless from strangers, nor from them unless they deserve it, by favouring them to the prejudice of their own country. As no man can serve two masters, no man can pursue two contrary interests: Moses, Joshua, Gideon and Samuel, were severe to the Amorites, Midianites and Canaanites, but mild and gentle to the Hebrews. Saul, who was cruel to the Hebrews, spared the Amalekites, whose preservation was their destruction: and whilst he destroyed those he should have saved, and saved those that by a general and particular command of God he should have destroyed, he lost his ill-govern'd kingdom, and left an example to posterity of the end that may be expected from pride, folly and tyranny.

The matter would not be much alter'd, if I should confess, that in the time of Saul all nations were governed by tyrants (tho it is not true, for Greece did then flourish in liberty, and we have reason to believe that other nations did so also) for tho they might not think of a good government at the first, nothing can oblige men to continue under one that is bad, when they discover the evils of it, and know how to mend it. They who trusted men that appeared to have great virtues, with such a power as might easily be turned into tyranny, might justly retract, limit or abolish it, when they found it to be abused. And tho no condition had been reserved, the publick good, which is the end of all government,[8] had been sufficient to abrogate all that should tend to the contrary. As the malice of men and their inventions to do mischief increase daily, all would soon be brought under the power of the worst, if care were not taken, and opportunities embraced to find new ways of preventing it. He that should make war at this day as the best commanders did two hundred years past, would be beaten by the meanest soldier. The places then accounted impregnable are now slighted as indefensible; and if the arts of defending were not improved as well as those of assaulting, none would be able to hold out a day. Men were sent into the world rude and ignorant, and if they might not have used their natural faculties to find out that which is good for themselves, all must have been condemn'd to continue in the ignorance of our first fathers, and to make no use of their understanding to the ends for which it was given.

The bestial barbarity in which many nations, especially of Africa, America and Asia, do now live, shews what human nature is, if it be not improved by art and discipline; and if the first errors, committed through ignorance, might not be corrected, all would be obliged to continue in them, and for anything I know, we must return to the religion, manners and policy that were found in our country at Caesar's landing. To affirm this is no less than to destroy all that is commendable in the world, and to render the understanding given to men utterly useless. But if it be lawful for us by the use of that understanding to build houses, ships and forts better than our ancestors, to make such arms as are most fit for our defence, and to invent printing, with an infinite number of other arts beneficial to mankind, why have we not the same right in matters of government, upon which all others do almost absolutely depend? If men are not obliged to live in caves and hollow trees, to eat acorns, and to go naked, why should they be forever obliged to continue under the same form of government that their ancestors happened to set up in the time of their ignorance? Or if they were not so ignorant to set up one that was not good enough for the age in which they lived, why should it not be altered, when tricks are found out to turn that to the prejudice of nations, which was erected for their good? From whence should malice and wickedness gain a privilege of putting new inventions to do mischief every day into practice? and who is it that so far protects them, as to forbid good and innocent men to find new ways also of defending themselves from it? If there be any that do this, they must be such as live in the same principle; who whilst they pretend to exercise justice, provide only for the indemnity of their own crimes, and the advancement of unjust designs. They would have a right of attacking us with all the advantages of the arms now in use, and the arts which by the practice of so many ages have been wonderfully refined, whilst we should be obliged to employ no others in our just defence, than such as were known to our naked ancestors when Caesar invaded them, or to the Indians when they fell under the dominion of the Spaniards. This would be a compendious way of placing uncontroll'd iniquity in all the kingdoms of the world, and to overthrow all that deserves the name of good by the introduction of such accursed maxims. But if no man dares to acknowledge any such, except those whose acknowledgment is a discredit, we ought not to suffer them to be obliquely obtruded upon us, nor to think that God has so far abandoned us into the hands of our enemies, as not to leave us the liberty of using the same arms in our defence as they do to offend and injure us.

We shall be told, that prayers and tears were the only arms of the first Christians, and that Christ commanded his disciples to pray for those that persecuted them: But besides that those precepts of the most extreme lenity do ill suit with the violent practices of those who attempt to enslave nations, and who by alleging them do plainly shew either that they do not extend to all Christians, or that they themselves are none whilst they act contrary to them, they are to know, that those precepts were merely temporary, and directed to the persons of the apostles, who were armed only with the sword of the spirit; that the primitive Christians used prayers and tears only no longer than whilst they had no other arms. But knowing that by lifting themselves under the ensigns of Christianity they had not lost the rights belonging to all mankind, when nations came to be converted, they noway thought themselves obliged to give their enemies a certain opportunity of destroying them, when God had put means into their hands of defending themselves; and proceeded so far in this way, that the Christian valour soon became no less famous and remarkable than that of the pagans. They did with the utmost vigour defend both their civil and religious rights against all the powers of earth and hell, who by force and fraud endeavoured to destroy them.

[1] [Patriarcha, ch. 23.]

[2] [Aristotle, Politics, bk. 5.]

[3] [Genesis 19:31.]

[4] [Patriarcha, ch. 23.]

[5] [Patriarcha, ch. 23.]

[6] [Genesis 19:32-38; 35:22; Judges 9:1-6.]

[7] Thou hast killed Uriah with the sword of the children of Ammon: Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house, 2 Sam. 12.

[8] Salus populi suprema lex.