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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Authority Must Take Pattern from on High

By Samuel Willard (1640–1707)

[Born in Concord, Mass., 1640. Died in Boston, Mass., 1707. The Character of a Good Ruler. 1694.]

NOW that all these may be just, it is firstly required that they have a principle of moral honesty in them and swaying of them; that they “love righteousness and hate iniquity”; that they be “men of truth,” Exod. xviii., 21, for every man will act in his relation, according to the principle that rules in him: so that an unrighteous man will be an unrighteous ruler, so far as he hath an opportunity.

They must also be acquainted with the rules of righteousness; they must know what is just and what is unjust, be “able men,” Exod. xviii., 21. For, though men may know and not do, yet “without knowledge the mind cannot be good.” Ignorance is a foundation for error, and will likely produce it, when the man applies himself to act; and if he do right at any time it is but by guess, which is a very poor commendation.

Again, he must be one that respects the cause, and not the persons, in all his administrations, Deut. i., 17: “Ye shall not respect persons in judgment,” etc. If his affections oversway his judgment at any time, they will be a crooked bias, that will turn him out of the way, and that shall be justice in one man’s case, which will not be so in another.

Farthermore, he must be one whom neither flattery nor bribery may be able to remove out of his way, Deut. xvi., 19: “Thou shalt not wrest judgment, thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift;” and hence he must be one who hates both ambition and covetousness; Exod. xviii. 21, “Hating covetousness,” which word signifies, a greedy desire, and is applicable to both the fore-cited vices; for if these rule him, he will never be a just ruler.

Finally, he must be one who prefers the public benefit above all private and separate interests whatsoever. Every man in his place owes himself to the good of the whole, and if he doth not so devote himself, he is unjust; and he who either to advance himself, or to be revenged on another, will push on injurious laws, or pervert the true intention of such as are in force, is an unjust man; and he who is under the influence of a narrow spirit, will be ready to do so, as occasion offers.

Nor is this justice to be looked upon as separate from the fear of God, but as influenced and maintained by it. He therefore that “ruleth in the fear of God,” is one who acknowledgeth God to be his sovereign, and carries in his heart an awful fear of him; who owns his commission to be from him, and expects ere long to be called to give in an account of his managing of it; which maketh him to study in all things to please him, and to be afraid of doing any thing that will provoke him.

And accordingly he is a student in the Law of God, and “meditates in it day and night;” making it the rule into which he ultimately resolves all that he doth in his place. We find that in the old law, the king was to write a copy of it with his own hand, and to make use of it at all times; Deut. xvii., 18, 19.

If he hath any thing to do in the making of laws, he will consult a good conscience, and what may be pleasing to God, and will be far from “framing mischief by a law.” And if he be to execute any laws of men, he will not dare to give a judgment for such an one as directly crosseth the command of God, but counts it ipso facto void, and his conscience acquitted of his oath.

Yea, the fear of God will make him not to think himself lawless; nor dare to bear witness, by laws and penalties, against sins in others, which he countenanceth and encourageth by living in the practice of himself. But to use utmost endeavors that his own life may be an exemplification of obedience, and others may learn by him what a veneration he hath for the laws that are enacted for the good of mankind.

In a word, he is one that will take care to promote piety, as well as honesty, among men; and do his utmost that the true religion may be countenanced and established and that all ungodliness, as well as unrighteousness, may have a due testimony borne against it at all times. So he resolves, Psal. lxxv., 10: “All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.”