Civil Government, a Divine Ordinance Part V
This week will be my fifth and final installment reproducing Pastor George Dana Boardman’s sermon on civil government just prior to the presidential election in 1864 (see Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, and Part IV here).
I don’t have a lot to say about the appendix to Pastor Boardman’s sermon. I do have mixed feelings about the suspension of Habeus Corpus by Abraham Lincoln and the precedent it set. One the one hand I completely understand why President Lincoln did it and I do think he was justified. On the other hand I live in a time when we seem to be in a state of “perpetual war” where a suspension of Habeus Corpus during war time could mean a permanent suspension of Habeus Corpus. Of course a permanent suspension of Habeus Corpus is nothing more or less than a police state. I don’t think Pastor Boardman could have seen that coming so I will cut him some slack on that.
I do have to say that I understand Pastor Boardman’s concern about subverting the government from within. Since September 11, 2001 I have watched as prominent news organizations have openly supported the enemy and when challenged they drape themselves in the U.S. Constitution (a document they have no respect for). Let’s just say that I feel Pastor Boardman’s pain and leave it at that.
Here is Pastor Boardman:
Note A, page 9.
In this connection, I may be pardoned for putting on record some remarks I uttered on a previous occasion.
I do not ask who the Powers that be are; it is enough for me to know that the Powers that be, like the parental relation, are ordained of God; and to them, at least while they are the Powers that be, do I owe the profoundest reverence and obedience. The honor which the child is bound to render to his parents, the citizen is bound to render to his civic father and mother. Honor the King is the Scriptural injunction; not because the King is this or that man, but because this or that man is the King. Alas! how often is the spirit of this injunction violated in these days of studied insult and defamation! I refer now to those who, in forgetfulness or ignorance of the numberless colossal difficulties which have beset and are still besetting the rulers of the land, are ever complaining, with the dreary perseverance which always marks the fault-finder, of the incompetency, and despotism, and dishonesty of the Chief Magistrate of the United States. I mean no partisan allusion. God forbid it! He who, in this night of national grief and dismay, when the foundations of government, and law, and order, and home are heaving, thinks of parties, or mentions parties, save to spurn them, is unworthy to be a man, least of all an American citizen. Men and Brethren! I warn you solemnly, in the presence of Almighty God, there is terrible danger ‘to the North hidden in these denunciations. It is not possible that any people can long have a good Government who are in the habit of speaking disparagingly of their constitutional authorities. Centuries ago there was a ruler whose name has come down to us as a synonym for atrocity, -who once commanded that the most illustrious orator and philosopher of his age should be smitten in the mouth. The indignant hero suddenly turned upon the despot who had given the brutal order, and exclaimed: “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall!” But the moment that he learned that the man whom he had thus answered was the constitutional ruler of the land, the loyal Paul apologized, saying: ” I wish not that it was the High Priest; for it is written: ‘ Thou shall not speak evil of the Rulers of thy people.’ “
What a lesson for us in these days of bitter insult and denunciation! I repeat: No people can long have a good government who are in the habit of speaking disparagingly of their Constitutionally elected rulers. And to-day Government is in fearful peril, hardly more from armed rebels in the South than from thoughtless patriots in the North. And Government has done wisely in stopping the mouth of more than one orator, and arresting the pen of more than one editor. We can well afford to lose the right of habeas corpus in times of war, if by so doing we can enjoy the right of habeas corpus in times of peace [for background on this please follow this link: ”Lincoln’s Suspension of Habeas Corpus”]. I believe that one of the many reasons why God has permitted this war to desolate our land is, that we may learn, under the terrible pressure of a military despotism, that the first element of a genuine patriotism is profound loyalty to the Powers that be. I speak strongly because I feel strongly. There is terrible danger before us. We of the North are tottering on the brink of a frightful precipice. So long as we are treating Government, as though it were a football for any man to bandy about whithersoever he pleases, we are not only insulting God’s ordinance of Civil Government, but we are most assuredly laying the foundation for insubordination, sedition, treason, anarchy, and hopeless ruin here at our very doors. Let me suppose a case. Here is a noble ship, on a dangerous reef, in a terrible tempest, with a third of her crew in open mutiny.
What, now, would you think of the prudence or propriety of the loyal portion of the passengers and crew, were they to keep iterating and reiterating: “The captain is an imbecile! the pilot is an idiot!” Think you that such denunciations would nerve the officers, or help the ship out of difficulty, especially if one-third of her crew were already mutinous? O, if I did not honestly believe, before God, that the chief peril of my country lies here, God knows that I would not use this pulpit, and the Sabbath day, in thus raising my warning voice. If I cannot enter the field myself, I will at least stand by those who, whether commander-in-chief or private, are struggling to save my country and home.
I am prepared to say more than this. I feel it to be my duty to state here, publicly, that in spite of all the charges of weakness, and vacillation, and tyranny, which have been so fiercely hurled against the present Chief Magistrate of the United States, I believe that no man ever united in himself tenderness and firmness, energy and prudence, together with calm, far-reaching sagacity, more perfectly than the present occupant of the Presidential chair — to whom God grant a renewal of the Executive power. I know not the man in all the world whom I would be willing to see in his place. And I believe that were we admitted behind the scenes of Executive determination and resolve, and could we see all the difficulties, domestic, foreign, constitutional, popular; difficulties suggested alike by justice and by humanity, by the present and by the future, with which the President has had to grapple, and all the problems which he has had to solve, (difficulties and problems of the simple existence of many of which we never have dreamed,) we should see the evidences of an honesty and inflexibility of purpose, of an intense energy, of a consummate sagacity, and of a serene dignity, unruffled as little by sneers of patriots as by curses of rebels, which shall win the enthusiastic plaudits of posterity. I believe that the nation will be saved if they will only be worthy of the Administration which God has given them. And even if I believed the Government at Washington unable to grapple with the crisis, rather than give utterance to the thought in this hour of sublime peril, let my hand be palsied and forget its cunning, and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth I If you, yourselves, would join With Southern traitors in striking the final blow that shall murder the American nationality, then insist on and keep parading before the public the feebleness and imbecility of the Constitutional authorities of your country. If the American Republic falls in this awful crisis, it will fall, not because the first blow was struck by Southern conspirators, but because the final, mortal stab was dealt her by her professed Northern friends.
Note B, Page 25
Thank God! The lament of old Philip Massinger, a contemporary of Shakspeare, and second only to him in tragic power, is no longer true.
The noble horse,
That in his fiery youth, from his wide nostrils,
Neighed courage to his rider, and brake through
Groves of opposed pikes, bearing his lord
Safe to triumphant victory, old and wounded,
Was set at liberty and freed from service.
The Athenian mules, that from the quarry drew
Marble, hewed for the temple of the gods,
The great work ended, were dismissed and fed
at the public cost. Nay, faithful dogs have found
Their sepulchres. Cut man, to man more cruel,
Appoints no end to the sufferings of his slave.
God be praised! The poet’s plaint no longer finds echo beneath our national ensign. In arming the slave, whether for Government or for Rebellion, the sable warrior becomes his Own liberator.
Civil Government, a Divine Ordinance
Rev. George Dana Boardman