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The Freedom for which we give thanks.





NOV. 26, 1874,












1 Peter ii. 13-17.

"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake:

"Whether it be to the King, as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

"As free, and not using your liberty as a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

"Honour all men; love the brotherhood; fear God; honour the King.

PETER, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, here addresses himself to the Christians of the Asia Minor churches. They were Paul's converts. That apostle, however, was now a prisoner on his way to Rome. We can therefore well imagine, under the circumstances, the comfort which this opportune epistle of the unknown, yet well-known Peter, must have brought to these "scattered strangers," as he calls the Christians whom he addresses.

"Scattered strangers" in the world we all are, brethren, as Christians. But such address is more than appropriate, it is truth itself, as applied to us Americans in a foreign land, on Thanksgiving-day. [3/4] Let me be then to you, this day, the faithful messenger, Silvanus, bearing an apostle's greeting. And may the Holy Spirit of Truth enable me to apply, and you to accept, what the altered circumstances of place and time demand.

And, first, let us briefly analyze the text, which stands, undisturbed by the context, an exhaustive statement of the individual Christian's duty towards the civil authority.

First, foremost, and alone, comes the one grand proposition of civil and political duty, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake."

This is guarded from any narrowing application by the words which follow: "whether to the king as supreme, or to governors as sent by him." To all legitimate authority from the highest to the lowest, conditioned only by the words: "for the Lord's sake." This is the more important for Christians, because the ignorance of foolish men will say, the followers of Christ, acknowledging another Prince, cannot be good citizens. Now "it is the will of God that with well doing," the well doing of submission, "you put to silence such men."

But while your submission in act is to be practically unconditional, in spirit it is to be "as free." Submission is always to be the act of a freeman, for "Christ hath made you free."

Still, you are not to use your liberty "as a cloke of maliciousness," but only as Christ's servants, in the Christian spirit, may rightly use the freedom which He, [4/5] as their Master, has given them. And this freedom may properly be shown in the sequence and measure of your regard. All members of the human family, as men, free like yourselves, or at least having a right to Christian freedom, you are to honour; the king, as the representative man, should be especially honoured; but you need love only the brethren, and fear only God.

Such is the apparent intention of this comprehensive portion of Holy Scripture, involving, and, for Christians, practically settling some of the deepest and most worrying questions of religion, philosophy, and social science.

But let me here make the effort to restore the natural current of this day's thoughts by making anew the connexion, to use a telegraphic simile, between our lives and that of the distant nation to which we are proud to belong. "Scattered strangers," we still know well our national home, and expect to be known of it. The credit of the United States supports, the flag of the United States protects us. Write "protested" across the one, and "impotent" beneath the other, and see, how, like a flock of wounded birds, we should all be striving to gain some home shelter. Self-interest then, as well as religion and loyalty, demand from us a respectful attention to the following Proclamation of our Chief Magistrate:--

"BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.--A PROCLAMATION: We are reminded by the changing seasons that it is time to [5/6] pause in our daily avocations and offer thanks to Almighty God for the mercies and abundances of the year which is now drawing to a close.

"The blessings of free government continue to be vouchsafed to us; the earth has responded to the labour of the husbandman; the land has been free from pestilence; internal order has been maintained, and peace with other Powers has prevailed. It is fitting that at stated periods we should cease from our accustomed pursuits and from the turmoil of our daily lives, and unite in thankfulness for the blessings of the past and in the cultivation of kindly feelings towards each other.

"Now, therefore, recognizing these considerations, I, Ulysses S. Grant, President of the United States, do recommend to all citizens to assemble in their respective places of worship on Thursday, the 26th day of November next, and express their thanks for the mercy and favour of the Almighty God, and laying aside all political contentions and all secular occupations, to observe such day as a day of rest, thanksgiving and prayer.

"In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington on this the 27th day of October, in the year 1874, and of the Independence of the United States the ninety-ninth."

By the President, U. S. GRANT.

Hamilton Fish, Secretary of State.

[7] Such is the Proclamation of the President calling to thanksgiving the citizens of the Republic, whatever their religious creed, and wherever found. And, as such, we have obeyed this "ordinance of man gladly, for the Lord's sake." As a Church we have our own day of yearly thanksgiving, appointed for each first Thursday in November, but we rightly waive it in favour of this day appointed by and for the nation.

And oh what a gracious day it is! We, who in the providence of God possess that kind of freedom which competency gives must first make a strong effort before we can realize the joy to the hard-worked servants of labour of the simple announcement, "Thursday next is Thanksgiving Day." It closes the public offices and stops the public works, every mart of business and all private toil; while, like a sunbeam, this day warms up with generous cheer even the workhouse and the prison. But most of all, and here effort gives place to crowding memory, it opens everywhere the pent-up streams of individual charity. Hardly a family in America, whose Thanksgiving dinner is not enriched, one way or the other, by the gift of neighbourly kindness; or any household, which on this day is not gladdened by some effort after family union, or some token of family love. It is a day crowded with human acts of heavenly love. The State calls us to Thanksgiving, and in doing so seems to invite a universal happiness, supplying, if not the elements, at least the time and the encouragement.

To submit to such an ordinance of man, my [7/8] Christian fellow-countrymen, is no great trial. But perhaps you will go farther, and even count it one of your chief blessings, for which to return special Thanksgiving, when I remind you of the contrast between such an ordinance as calls you to your knees to-day, and those which were undoubtedly in the apostle's mind when he penned the words, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake."

The stranger Christians to whom he thus wrote, in the year 60, were scattered through those distant provinces of the Roman Empire which lie between the Mediterranean and the Euxine seas. Nero was at the head of the Empire. The corruption, extravagance, and brutality of which he was the centre at Rome, necessarily impressed itself upon the outlying provinces in worse than the usual forms of subordinate rapacity and cruelty. While just at this time, Nero himself, to draw away public attention from his own acts, was favouring the impression that the Christians, whose growth as a new religious sect was just beginning to be felt, were the cause of the increasing ills, public and private, of the tottering Empire. What is called the first great Persecution, commenced, it is true, four years after this Epistle was written; but by this time, the mutterings of the coming tempest must have been making themselves distinctly heard. The wild beasts of the amphitheatres of the Empire may not as yet have been taught to sharpen their teeth on the bones of Christians, yet there was enough in the questionable status of the "new religion," under the sway of such [8/9] a tyrant, to fill the boldest follower of Christ with disquietude.

St. Peter felt this. The whole tone of his Epistle shows it. He speaks of their "heaviness through manifold temptations;" of "the trial of their faith with fire;" he urges them "to gird up the loins of their mind, to be sober and hope to the end." But notwithstanding the tightening pressure of this lawless civil hand upon them, he counsels no resistance. It was then, as it is now, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake." [That this might easily have been put in such a way by St. Peter as to produce an exciting, rather than a calming, effect, must be evident to every impartial mind. For example; Dr. Manning, who, having lately been made a Cardinal in the Church of Rome, would naturally feel the restraining influence of a possible future infallibility, and therefore may be taken as a fair witness of the present temper of the Papal Church, puts this duty of civil obedience in the following questionable shape (I quote from the report of a sermon lately preached by him at the consecration of the Church of St. Thomas a Becket at Canterbury):--"A man who gives unconditional obedience to all laws--an apostate he is, without sense, without conscience, and shut out from the light of moral reason." Undoubtedly the Cardinal would say that he here means the same thing as St. Peter docs, when he tells the persecuted Christians of his day to submit themselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, as "free men." But this different way of putting it certainly tends to produce different results. So that it becomes a matter of considerable importance to the peace of the world which spirit, that of St. Peter or that of Cardinal Manning, is to rule in the Churches.]


Rightly, then, does our Chief Magistrate, in enumerating subjects for special thanksgiving, place first and foremost the ''continuance vouchsafed to us [9/10] of the blessings of free government," A President Grant, or even a Washington, may not have reached the highest ideal of a free people's ruler, but how impossible even to compare the mistakes of their limited constitutional rule, with the dreadful, life-long, tyrannical oppression of an imperial Nero, and the foul system of which he was both the child and parent: congratulated by his own Senate for the murder of his own mother!

But mankind have advanced, say certain philosophers of the present day, such events are now impossible. Why offer in public or in private thanksgivings to God for that with which God has had nothing to do: this improvement is man's own work? Granted, though quite unproved (would that it were proved), that a Nero, musician and poet, matricide and wife-murderer, debauchee and tyrant, is now an impossibility as the head of a civilized nation. Still, why is it an impossibility, and what element of progress does the world now possess which has made it so, save the one unique element of a Christian faith, which even under a Nero could say, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake"? And in this, its elemental base, of a gradual moral perfecting of the individual man, through long-suffering obedience, is found both the evidence of Christianity's superhuman origin, and the secret of its victory over the world. From Him Who "was made perfect through suffering; Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not; but [10/11] committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously," thus gaining a human perfection which enabled Him to take His stand at the head of a new creation, and be the Saviour of the world--down even to the child who has learned, in his little way, this superhuman lesson that prompt and, if need be, suffering obedience can conquer a loving parent's stern will, and, within the circuit of his own narrow life, make him free--it is ever the same thing, obedience and readiness to suffer for the truth is the one advancing power of a being like man, who has the gift of freedom, but the conditions and habits of servitude.

My brethren and fellow-countrymen, I have unwittingly led you into deep waters. Round the problem of freedom to the human subject and the human will have crossed and been broken the strongest lances of philosophy. But our present guide, though but the son of a fisherman, and himself a man of toil, will by the light of that higher wisdom of which he was an apostle, I think, carry us through.

The apostle lays down, as we have seen, the command of dutiful obedience to all higher authority unconditioned except by the words, "for the Lord's sake." He then proceeds to show how this is entirely compatible with the fullest freedom of which man is capable. In the sum of human life, as he observes its working, and his Epistles show that his survey had been wide and practical, he finds but two grand factors, God and man. God who is the universal Master, and man who up to the limit of his gifts is free. Life, therefore, in [11/12] its social and civil bearings, is the free man's relationship with free men, all servants alike of one common Master. The Caesar at Rome and the Christian convert of far-off Pontus are alike but men. They have no advantage the one over the other in freedom of will, save so far as one or other has allowed himself to become the slave of evil habits. Their freedom as men is the same, the same before God, the same before their fellow-men. The real difference which separates them so widely is not in the matter of freedom, but in the matter of power. And power is not like freedom a gift of absolute possession to the individual man, but an accident or arrangement in the combining together of individual men. When men accidentally, through force, or deliberately combine together for mutual aid and protection, the real freedom of each individual is left untouched. And this of necessity, for it is not a possession that he has any power to part with. It cannot be torn from him by force, it cannot be bought, he cannot even give it away, except under such circumstances of disease or vice as practically exclude him from the human family. But what he does lose, sell, or give away is power, power to bring into action before his fellows the freedom which is still his to be displayed in protest, and if need be in suffering.

This is the view of freedom which alone meets and explains the words of our text, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake ... as free, yet not using your liberty as a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God." In other words, obey [12/13] the emperor's or governor's mandate, hard though it be, for the Lord's sake. But do it as a freeman. As a man you are as free, and as a Christian more free than he. And when you have to use your liberty in protest, as must ever be the case when the ordinance of man conflicts with what you believe to be the law of God, let it be as the servants of God, and in no way to cloke a malicious spirit. Honour all men because they arc men, free like yourselves; and honour the king as not only a man but the representative of men. Your brethren, in the same faith and trial, love, they are your brothers and sisters, "whose mutual share in Jesus' blood an everlasting bond imparts of holiest brotherhood." And fear not them which can but kill the body. Fear God, and Him alone. He only is your real Master.

We gather then, as we have said, from the apostle's words these two factors out of which the whole of life, with all its duties, constructs itself:--

1st. Man, who is to be honoured because he is free.

2nd. God, Who is to be feared because. He is man's Master.

Thus, under the practical wisdom of the inspired apostle, advising with the poor persecuted Christians of the Roman empire, all adventitious things, such as kings or emperors, and the whole complicated relationship of the governors and governed, arc set aside; while the individual man as a free agent, set side by side with his fellow-men, is brought face to face with his Creator. Not that cloaking a malicious spirit under [13/14] this claim of freedom, he should be fomenting discontent and revolution, but that being free he may thus make his every act of obedience to man an acceptable sacrifice unto God. Thus free to choose his own path, will he still follow the footsteps of the Son of God in long-suffering obedience, and doing so, shall with Him conquer, and in Him be made more and more perfect: verifying the written word, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."

As a congregation where common sense reigns, I do not propose to trouble you, my brethren, with the controversy which has waged about the question, whether the individual man has or has not freedom of will. I shall but point out to you the tendency of the two views.

To deny freedom of will to the individual is to turn man into a machine whose good or bad work depends on some unseen, unknown power, itself likewise a machine driven by some higher power, and so back in an endless series, knowing no freedom, finding no God, and leaving the whole problem of life unexplained and unaccounted for. This is the tendency of all materialism.

On the other hand, to allow that the individual has freedom of will--that before he acts on any given occasion, he, as a feudal sovereign, bound to his suzerain, yet menaced by his barons, calls into instant presence every remembered reason for or against the proposed action, as quickly dismissing all but one, which, rightly or wrongly, dubbed at once the favourite, [14/15] becomes what we call the "strongest motive "--to allow this, is to prove man individually responsible not only to himself and his fellow-freemen for the right or wrong of his conduct, but also to some higher Being, whose very essence must be freedom itself. For if man is free, he still knows too well, from the daily struggles which his freedom costs him, that it is not inherent, but a gift which he is slowly learning to use. And that its very imperfection in himself involves its perfection in a God who gave it. This is the basis both of religion and society. From it, as displayed in the relationship between Abraham and God, the father of the family and the Father of mankind, sprang, in the legitimate way of growth, both the Jewish Religion and the Jewish Republic.

The Jewish religion was founded on the paternity of God, and finds its legitimate as well as inspired development in Christianity. What the faith of Abraham gained by anticipation for his immediate descendants, that the Incarnation actually accomplished for mankind. It raises not one individual, nor one tribe, but every human being of every nation into the relationship of direct and loving sonship toward God, through oneness with Jesus Christ. Thus in the Christian Church is religious freedom given to every creature.

The Jewish Republic was the civil result of the Jew's religious faith; God was their King. But times were not ripe for this battle of individual freedom. The Republic did not, as it had a right to do, develope into [15/16] greater liberty, but fell, first into lawless anarchy under the later Judges, and then by a gilded age of kingly centralization, step by step, through tyranny and disruption, down to a chronic condition of captivity, tribute, and general loss of liberty. From that time forward with the exception of efforts, more or less successful, in ancient Greece and Borne, and in some of the smaller states of Europe, the world has seen no large or successful attempt at the civil vindication of individual liberty, as against the insidious growth of centralization, until about a century ago. Then was established, and not without the sacrifice of blood, that Republic of the United States of America whose form of government was intended to secure to the individual, as far as possible, the rights with which his Creator has endowed him and Christianity secured to him, especially such rights as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This is the government which now, on the eve of its centennial anniversary, calls her citizens everywhere "to pause in their daily avocations and offer thanks to Almighty God for His mercies and abundant gifts, and especially for the blessings of free government continued to be vouchsafed to us."

Is it here demanded of me, under this Christian requirement of submission to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, that I should offer some justification for that Rebellion which enabled so important a portion of the globe to establish its government so distinctly on the principles of personal liberty?

I can do it in no better words than those with which [16/17] the sacred writer justifies the rebellion of the ten tribes against the tyranny of the son of Solomon: "Wherefore he hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord." The cause of freedom was, and ever has been, from the Lord. Therefore, do I believe, was the King of England's heart hardened, that God might not only give a government of liberty to the New World, but to Great Britain herself such a new heart of freedom that her younger colonial children, having no complaint to make, have even to be gently pushed away from her sheltering arms.

My Christian fellow-countrymen, I hive not spoken in vain this day, if I have made one heart to realize, sufficiently to carry into the action of its life, the two truths:--First, that God has made man to be free; Secondly, that He has ordained long-suffering obedience as the path of true freedom, and the road to true advancement.

If our children obey not their parents; if our parents obey not the laws; if the laws are not executed; if the makers of our laws are not themselves freemen, in being above bribery; if those who rule are not elected by free and intelligent votes; and if the citizens themselves, especially the wise, the gentle, and the rich, are not willing to labour, at a cost from simple inconvenience up to martyrdom if need be, for the cause of freedom--then must we too see, what has been seen in every land whose people have betrayed this cause of God, the liberty of man, first anarchy and then tyranny. And sad is it to acknowledge that the long history of [17/18] both Church and State has shown that, as it costs less effort to be a slave than to be a freeman, slavery of some sort or other has generally managed to bind the arms of freedom, whether purchased by the blood of Christ or by the blood of patriots.

"O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy; and gathered them out of the lands from the cast, and from the west, from the north, and from the south .... He turncth the wilderness into a standing water, and dry ground into water-springs. And there He maketh the hungry to dwell, that they may prepare a city for habitation; and sow the fields, and plant vineyards, which may yield fruits of increase. He blesseth them also, so that they are multiplied greatly, and suffereth not their cattle to decrease.

"Again, they are minished and brought low through oppression, affliction, and sorrow.

"A fruitful land He turneth into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.

"He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way. Yet setteth He the poor on high from affliction, and maketh him families like a flock. The righteous shall see it, and rejoice; and all iniquity shall stop her mouth.

"Whoso is wise will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord." [Psalm cxvii]

[19] Called upon this day, my brethren, as citizen of the United States of America, to return thanks to Almighty God "for the continued blessings of free government," I felt that I had the right to turn your thoughts to what constitutes the essence of the blessing thus secured to us:--THE INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM TO DO RIGHT, AND THE INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM TO CONDEMN THE WRONG, which is God's gift to man.

If we can continue to embody the principle of such freedom in government, it is well, the whole world will feel our influence for good. But let no one suppose for a moment that it can continue to exist in the form of government, when it has died out from the individual breasts of the people. Least of all can this be the case in a Republic. In an empire or monarchy the virtue, as the vice, of a few, holds the vantage-ground of a resolute garrison in a citadel, but in a Republic a virtuous minority has little power beyond that submission which displays itself in protest and in suffering.

Thank God, however, that as a remedial agency the submission of protest and of suffering; even in the minority of one against a world, has been stamped in Jesus Christ with a divine and conquering energy. It is a heaven-sent and ever-ready weapon. I am free to do right, I am also free to suffer and yet to protest against the wrong. This is the freedom for which to give thanks, and no man can wrench or steal it from me, it is the gift of God. And if only the youths of America, the young men and maidens, one here and one there, will arm themselves with such freedom, and [19/20] fight for it within the circle of their own influence, the Republic is safe, Religion is safe, and Liberty renews her strength in the world through the self-denying independence of her Western children, believing in God, in themselves, and in "the law of liberty."

"Ye shall proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." [3 Levit. xxv. 10.]

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