That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed.

O UR author having for a long time pretended conscience, now pulls off his mask, and plainly tells us, that 'tis not on account of conscience, but for fear of punishment, or hopes of reward, that laws are to be obeyed. That familiar distinction of the Schoolmen , says he, whereby they subject kings to the directive, but not to the coactive power of the law, is a confession, that kings are not bound by the positive laws of any nation, since the compulsory power of laws is that which properly makes laws to be laws . [1] Not troubling myself with this distinction of the Schoolmen, nor acknowledging any truth to be in it, or that they are competent judges of such matters, I say, that if it be true, our author's conclusion is altogether false; for the directive power of the law, which is certain, and grounded upon the inherent good and rectitude that is in it, is that alone which has a power over the conscience, whereas the coercive is merely contingent; and the most just powers commanding the most just things, have so often fallen under the violence of the most unjust men, commanding the most execrable villainies, that if they were therefore to be obeyed, the consciences of men must be regulated by the success of a battle or conspiracy, than which nothing can be affirmed more impious and absurd. By this rule David was not to be obeyed, when by the wickedness of his son he was driven from Jerusalem, [2] and deprived of all coercive power; and the conscientious obedience that had been due to him was transferr'd to Absalom who sought his life. And in St. Paul's time it was not from him who was guided only by the spirit of God, and had no manner of coercive power, that Christians were to learn their duty, but from Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, who had that power well established by the mercenary legions. If this were so, the governments of the world might be justly called magna latrocinia ; [3] and men laying aside all considerations of reason or justice, ought only to follow those who can inflict the greatest punishments, or give the greatest rewards. But since the reception of such opinions would be the extirpation of all that can be called good, we must look for another rule of our obedience, and shall find that to be the law, which being, as I said before, sanctio recta , must be founded upon that eternal principle of reason and truth, from whence the rule of justice which is sacred and pure ought to be deduced, and not from the depraved will of man, which fluctuating according to the different interests, humors and passions that at several times reign in several nations, one day abrogates what had been enacted the other. The sanction therefore that deserves the name of a law, which derives not its excellency from antiquity, or from the dignity of the legislators, but from an intrinsick equity and justice , [4] ought to be made in pursuance of that universal reason to which all nations at all times owe an equal veneration and obedience. By this we may know whether he who has the power does justice or not:

Whether he be the minister of God to our good, a protector of good, and a terror to ill men; or the minister of the Devil to our hurt, by encouraging all manner of evil, and endeavouring by vice and corruption to make the people worse, that they may be miserable, and miserable that they may be worse. I dare not say I shall never fear such a man if he be armed with power: But I am sure I shall never esteem him to be the minister of God, and shall think I do ill if I fear him. If he has therefore a coercive power over me, 'tis through my weakness; for he that will suffer himself to be compell'd, knows not how to die.[5] If therefore he who does not follow the directive power of the law, be not the minister of God, he is not a king, at least not such a king as the Apostle commands us to obey: And if that sanction which is not just be not a law, and can have no obligation upon us, by what power soever it be established, it may well fall out, that the magistrate who will not follow the directive power of the law, may fall under the coercive, and then the fear is turned upon him, with this aggravation, that it is not only actual, but just. This was the case of Nero; the coercive power was no longer in him, but against him. He that was forced to fly and to hide himself, that was abandoned by all men, and condemned to die according to ancient custom,[6] did, as I suppose, fear, and was no way to be feared. The like may be said of Amaziah king of Judah, when he fled to Lachish;[7] of Nebuchadnezzar, when he was driven from the society of men;[8] and of many emperors and kings of the greatest nations in the world, who have been so utterly deprived of all power, that they have been imprisoned, deposed, confined to monasteries, kill'd, drawn through the streets, cut in pieces, thrown into rivers, and indeed suffer'd all that could be suffer'd by the vilest slaves.

If any man say these things ought not to have been done, an answer may be given in a proper place; though 'twere enough to say, that the justice of the world is not to be overthrown by a mere assertion without proof; but that is nothing to the present question: For if it was ill done to drive Nero to despair, or to throw Vitellius into the common shore, it was not because they were the ministers of God; for their lives were no way conformable to the character which the Apostle gives to those who deserve that sacred name. If those only are to be feared who have the power, there was a time when they were not to be feared, for they had none; and if those princes are not obliged by the law, who are not under the coercive power, it gave no exemption to those, for they fell under it: and as we know not what will befall others who walk in their steps, till they are dead, we cannot till then know whether they are free from it or not.

[1] [Patriarcha, ch. 23.]

[2] [2 Samuel 15.]

[3] [Augustine, City of God, bk. 4, ch. 4.]

[4] Tertul. [Tertullian, Apology, ch. 4, sec. 10.]

[5] Qui cogi potest nescit mori. [Seneca, The Madness of Hercules, li. 426.]

[6] More majorum. Sueton. [Suetonius, Life of Nero, ch. 49.]

[7] [2 Kings 14:19.]

[8] [Daniel 4:25-30.]

Popular Pages

More Info