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vicious view of imposing upon,
any or making advantages of, the weakness and ignorance of others, which, doubtless, was the case of multitudes; then, surely, all this will be winked at by the common father of mankind, who knoweth our frame, our htuation in the world, and the disadvantages we are under from it, and who remembereth that we are but duft, or weak and frail creatures. And, indeed, were the case otherwise, men would be in a moft bazar dous state, even in that situation, in which God, in the course of his general providence, has placed them. For if just and true notions of a Duity, and if a right and proper manner of addressing him, be so absolutely necessary to divine acceptance, as that an error in judgment or practice, with respect to thele, will incur God's beavy displeasure ; then the bulk of mankind are, by the Altthor of nature, placed in a most dangerous, or rather in a desperate state ; seeing he has not made a proper provision for their safety, under the circumstances, which, from the general course of things, they are una soidably placed in. I have already observed, tha men are not only liable, but also are in danger of erring, both in their conceptions of
a Deity, and in the manner of addressing him; and therefore, were God to be so extreme as to mark every thing that is amiss, in these respects, and to make it the ground of his displeasure ; then who could stand before him? but this cannot be the case; because it is contrary to the goodness, and the benignity of the divine nature. For as, in this case, no injury,no disrespect is intended to any, but, on the contrary, respect is intended to be paid to the Deity,tho’ wrongly judged of, and wrongly and improperly expressed and applied; fo, surely, it cannot be, to the tender and coinpaflionate parent of mankind, the just ground of a severe revenge. We may, therefore, be well assured that God will not take an unreasonable advantage of the weakness and ignorance of his creatures; because that would be acting much below his character, as a juít, wise, and good being, and even below the moral excellency of some of his creatures themselves. And, indeed, to suppofe that God would act thus, or with severity in this respect, is to conceive of bim as unworthily and improperly, if not more so, than was done by the antient Pagans. It is true, that some men have entertained most wild and extravagant notions of a Deity,
and have paid their respect to him, and to their tutelar and fictitious Gods, in a very foolish and ridiculous manner ; but then, so far as these have been the produce of weakness, and not of a vicious mind, they have rather rendered men the proper objects of compashon and pity, than of vengeance and punishment : And were we to conceive of the Pagan world, whatever the trutb of their case may have been, or whatever picture an illnatured limner may draw of them, that becaule they were Idolaters, therefore, they were vessels of wrath prepared for deftrustion; the impious thought, I think, may justly be retorted with a God forbid!
I AM sensible, that the Idolatry of the Canaanites is usually assigned, as the reason for God's authorizing the Israelites to extirpate those Cannanites, putting men, women and children to death, and to possess themselves of their countryand habitations;and likewise, thai the Jews were required to treat their own people, and even their friends and nearest relations, with great severity, when they became Idolaters, that they were not to pity or spare them, but to shut up their bowels of compassion from them; but then, the severities thus required and recommended,
feem to hang as a mill-stone * about the neck of the mosaick dispensation. To say that the Jews were under a Theocrac) whilst the dispensation of Moses lasted, tha God was their civil governor or king, tha idolatry, under that dispensation, was big? treason against the state, and therefore, those who were guilty of it were punished with death, as Traitors and Rebels to the government they lived under and were protected by; I say, to urge this, may, perhaps, be averring what cannot be clearly made out. By Theocracy, I apprehend, is meant, that the Deity acted the same part towards the people of Israel, that civil governors do to other nations, upon account of which they are called civil governors ;
so that the question before us is, what it is which constitutes civil
government, and civil governors as consequent upon it? And
this * The dispensation of Moses seems to have been the Parent of two very bad doctrines, as one of them is greatly dishonourable to God, and as the other is greatly injurious, and has been most destructive, to mankind. One is the doctrine of absolute election and reprobation, which represents the Deity to be an arbitrary being, whose affections and actions are under no other direction than capricious humour and meer will: and the other is the doctrine of perfecuting men on the score of religion, which doctrine has rendered men beasts of prey to each other, and which, perhaps, has done more mischief in the world, than any other doctrine whatsoever.
this question is, I think, easily solved, viz. that civil government consists in the execution of such laws, as are proper to dire&t and regulate the behaviour of the several members of civil society, in those affairs in which their civil interest is mutually concerned. And as civil goverment consists in such administration ; so the administrator is denominated a civil governor upon account thereof. And tho’ laws are necessary to the administration of civil government; yet laws, considered abstractedly from the execution of them, are but a dead letter, and therefore, it is not the making, but the execution of laws, for the good government of civil society, which constitutes civil government and civil governors. For whether the administrator executes laws of his own making, or laws that have been made to his hand by others; or whether he executes laws that have been antecedently written in a book, and entered upon record, or laws that were made by himself or others, immediately before the promulgation and execution of them, it alters not the case ;
case ; such execution being as much, and as truly, civil government, and he who executes them is as much,