PREACHED AT THE CORONATION
HER MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY
ABBEY CHURCH OF WESTMINSTER
JUNE XXVIII MDCCCXXXVIII
CHARLES JAMES LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
2 CHRON. XXXIV. 31.
AND THE KING STOOD IN HIS PLACE; AND MADE A COVENANT BEFORE THE LORD, TO WALK AFTER THE LORD, AND TO KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS, AND HIS TESTIMONIES, AND HIS STATUTES, WITH ALL HIS HEART, AND WITH ALL HIS SOUL, TO PERFORM THE WORDS OF THE COVENANT WHICH ARE WRITTEN IN THIS BOOK.
HE king, of whom the sacred historian speaks, was the young Josiah, the most pious and upright of the kings of Judah, who did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand nor to the left [II Chron 34:2]. The place, where he stood, was by a pillar in the temple at Jerusalem, where, as we learn from another part of the history, the kings of Judah were accustomed to stand, when the high priest set the crown on their heads, and put into their hands the testimony, or volume of the law: and the covenant, which Josiah made with the Lord, on behalf of himself and his people, was, to keep all the statutes, and to do all the commandments written in that volume, which, after having been for many years disused, neglected, and almost forgotten, had just been found by Hilkiah, the high priest, in the house of the Lord, and had been read aloud in the ears of the king, and all the men of Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great. And all the people stood to the covenant [II Kings 23: 2-3].
The object of that proceeding was, to bind both king and people, by the formality of a public and united pledge, to the performance of their duty, as servants of the most high God. Such also is the purport and intent of this day’s solemnity, which invests, by the hand of God’s minister, the sovereign of a mighty empire with the emblems of authority and power; reminds her of her dependence upon Him, who is the ruler of the whole earth; places in her hand the lively oracles of truth; and binds her, by the most sacred pledges of our holy religion, to govern the people aright, and to “maintain the laws of God, and the true profession of the Gospel.”
On the other hand, the people are called upon to witness this solemn pledge; to accept their lawful Sovereign as given them by God to rule over them; and to promise their obedience, affection, and respect. This august ceremony is an open testification of the Sovereign’s right to the chief government of the realm, although that right be independent of it; an ancient and impressive form of inducting her into the possession of that power and dignity, which by the constitution of this country she inherits, and which by the law of God she holds in trust for the good of her people. But it is something more than this. It is also a public and joint acknowledgment, on the part of both Monarch and people, of the common allegiance which they owe to the supreme Governor of the world, who removeth and setteth up kings; who increaseth the nations and destroyeth them [Dan. 2:21, Job. 12:23]. It refers to Him, as the source of all legitimate power, and to his glory, as the proper object of its exercise; for the glory of God is concerned in the well-being of his reasonable creatures; in the fulfilment of the purposes for which they were created; and it is in order to that end that He has given to mankind religion, and government, and law.
The forms of human polity may differ, according to the circumstances which lead to their institution in different societies of men: but to whatever hands the supreme administration of them is committed, the authority, which makes them available to the ends of government, is derived from God. The powers that be are ordained of Him [Rom. 13:1], although the persons, who exercise them, be not of his appointment: and so it is, that while the sovereign of a country holds his office in virtue of the laws of man, he may assert his authority, and claim his appropriate honour in virtue of the laws of God. The diadem, which encircles the brow of royalty, may be placed there by human hands, and after the letter of human compacts: but it bespeaks a majesty of a more exalted and transcendent kind than any human agency can confer. As to the person, who is entitled to our allegiance, man’s ordinances may be our guides; but the right motive to loyal obedience is this, that the power, which claims it, is of God.
On the other hand, a recollection of this truth is the only security for a right administration of that power, according to the rules of equity and mercy. Those princes, and those only, who remember from whom it is derived, will bear in mind the purposes for which it is given, and will discharge the duties of their high office, as knowing them to be the duties of a sacred trust. A practical acknowledgment of his supremacy, from which they hold their honours and prerogatives, is the method, by which princes may best consult their people’s good, and ensure their submission and affection in return. By a practical acknowledgment we mean, not merely the solemn promise made to the chief ministers of religion, in the presence of an assembled people, at the foot of God’s altar, to “maintain the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel,” but a visible and consistent regard to that promise, in directing all their acts of government, as far as in them lies, to the promotion of piety and virtue; the exemplifying, in all its parts, of that summary of kingly duty, to which nothing need be added, and from which nothing may be omitted: “Do justice; stop the growth of iniquity, protect the holy church of God; help and defend widows and orphans; restore the things that are gone to decay; maintain the things that are restored; punish and reform what is amiss; and confirm what is in good order.”
We are commanded, in the Word of God, to submit ourselves to our rulers, for the Lord’s sake [I Pet. 2:3]; as being his ministers to us for good [Rom. 13:4]. Their claim to our obedience and respect is built on the deepest and firmest of all foundations: but the degree of readiness and affection, with which that obedience is paid, will be proportioned to the desire which they evince to resemble Him from whom they hold their high commission, as the friends, and guides, and benefactors of mankind. If it be the office of a Christian teacher to inculcate the divine authority of human governments, and the duty of a conscientious submission to the powers that be; it is not less incumbent upon him to remind those, who are invested with that authority, that they are set in the high places of the earth for the good of those beneath them; to diffuse, from their dazzling, but fearful eminence, a salutary and purifying light over the whole range of society; to check the progress of evil, and to promote the growth of all that is good, by the influence of their example, even more than by the exercise of their power.
We are bound to tell them, that if God has done more for them, as to wordly things, than for the rest of mankind, they are thereby enabled, and will be expected, to do more for Him. If He has advanced them to the highest pinnacle of earthly grandeur, they are to advance his honour and glory, by the special means entrusted to them for that purpose. Of no other individual members of the whole family of mankind can it be said, with equal truth, that they live not for themselves alone, but for the weal, or woe, of others. Their virtues, or their errors, are not confined within the narrow precincts of a court; but are felt, through the entire frame of society, in their effects upon the tastes, the morals, and the habits of the people at large.
Nor is it, in general, so necessary to impress upon subjects the duty of obedience and respect to their rulers, as it is to recommend condescension and kindness on the part of rulers towards their subjects. They are too highly exalted, to completely removed from every thing like competition or rivalry, to excite a feeling of envy in those beneath them; while the outward circumstances of their state, their power, and privileges, and the visible glory of their regality, will ensure submission and deference from the great bulk of mankind. But those very circumstances, added to an unlimited command over the sources of enjoyment, and the absence of contradiction and control, are but too likely to make them forget their essential equality, as moral and accountable agents, as servants of Jesus Christ, with those from whom they are so widely separated by the accident of birth. It is therefore the more important that they should be continually reminded of that word of divine truth, which is not changed, nor weakened in its application, by any worldly distinctions whatsoever; He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good. And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God [Micah 6:8]? Justice, mercy, and meekness, as they are the weightier matters of the law, and the fruits of a Christian faith, are the brightest gems in an earthly crown; and set off, to unspeakable advantage, the factitious ornaments of dignity and splendour.
This is not the occasion, nor is this the place for offering the homage of praise to the living; nor would it be consistent with the duty of Christ’s ambassador to heap,with unmerited incense, the shrine of departed greatness. But it is impossible for me to witness the recurrence of this solemnity after so short an interval of time, without pausing for a moment to render the tribute of deserved respect to the memory of a Sovereign, the leading features of whose character, as King of this country, correspond to the threefold requirement of God’s Word.
An honest desire to do impartial justice to all his servants and subjects; a prompt and enlarged benevolence; a willing condescension and kindness; a careful observance of all the ordinances of religion; a sense of his own weakness, and dependence upon God; and a reliance upon the merits of his Saviour, which consoled and supported him in the valley of the shadow of death—these qualities, especially when viewed with reference to an education but ill adapted to prepare him for the duties or the trials of royalty, may well be remembered with affectionate regret, softening, yet not impairing, the feelings of joyful exultation with which we hail the accession of a Princess, called to the seat of imperial power in all the freshness and fulness of youthful hope and promise.
May the bright, and almost cloudless sun-rise, which now gilds our horizon, be succeeded by a lengthened day of prosperity and happiness! May it be long before the Sovereign, who now ascends the throne of her ancestors with every circumstance of gladness and splendour, shall be summoned enter into that world, where all earthly distinctions of rank and honour are unknown! But the change must one day be made, and ought ever to be kept in view. Let it be our prayer, that, when it comes, she may have deserved the praise awarded by the inspired historian to the good Josiah. The burthen of that praise was not a “long reign; a calm and quiet departure out of life; the settled establishment of a throne; the overthrow of foreign enemies; or the wise prevention of inward danger;—for all this may be the boast of those who have no part in the joys of heaven;” [Hooker, Eccl. Pol. v. 76] but this simple and comprehensive record, that, Like unto him there was no king before him, that turned unto the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might [II Kings 23:25]. In that prayer is comprised every wish for the best and most enduring interests of both sovereign and people. The Word of God, and the history of his providential government, warrant the conclusion, that Religion is the true secret of national happiness and honour; and the religious state of every country must be greatly influenced by the religion of its rulers. Them that honour me, saith the Lord, I will honour [I Sam. 2:30]. A steady adherence to the true faith; a determined upholding of that Church which is its depositary and dispenser, a devout use of all its means of grace; a living exemplification of its holy precepts; will bring down upon God’s anointed Servant an abundant measure of his blessing; will ensure to her (and nothing else can ensure it) a nation’s abiding loyalty and love; and will revive, with augmented lustre, under his protection, the ancient, but not forgotten glories of a female reign; the glories, not of outward magnificence, nor of successful war, nor of enlarged dominion: but the peaceful and durable glories of internal improvement and stablity,—faction extinguished; dissensions healed; commerce extended; learning and the arts encouraged; the Church reformed and strengthened; the pure Gospel preached to all the people of the land; and the consequent growth of every thing that is lovely and of good report [Philippians 4:8].
Let the united prayers of this assembly, and of a whole people, ascend before the mercy-seat of God, beseeching Him to govern the heart of our Queen, and to give her all the graces necessary for so high a trust; that she may place her whole reliance upon Him, and in all things seek his honour and glory, and the advancement of her Saviour’s kingdom, and the good of her people, and finally receive the crown of life which the Lord hath promised to them that love him [James 1:12].