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Acts and Duties of Obedience to all our Superiors.

1. We must obey all human laws appointed and constituted by lawful authority, that is, of the supreme power, according to the constitution of the place in which we live: all laws, I mean, which are not against the law of God.

2. In obedience to human laws, we must observe the letter of the law where we can, without doing violence to the reason of the law and the intention of the lawgiver; but where they cross each other the charity of the law is to be preferred before its discipline, and the reason of it before the letter.

3. If the general reason of the law ceases in our particular, and a contrary reason rises upon us, we are to procure dispensation, or leave to omit the observation of it in such circumstances, if there be any persons or office appointed for granting it; but if there be none, or if it is not easily to be had, or not without an inconvenience greater than the good of the observation of the law in our particular, we are dispensed withal in the nature of the thing, without further process or trouble.

4. As long as the law is obligatory, so long our obedience is due; and he that begins a contrary custom without reason, sins: but he that breaks the law, when the custom is entered and fixed, is excused; because it is supposed the legislative power consents, when, by not punishing, it suffers disobedience to grow to a custom.

5. Obedience to human laws must be for conscience sake; that is, because in such obedience public order, and charity, and benefit, are concerned, and because the law of God commands us: therefore we must make a conscience in keeping the just laws of superiors: and although the matter before the making of the law was indifferent, yet now the obedience is not indifferent; but, next to the laws of God, we are to obey the laws of all our superiors, who the more public they are the first they are to be in the order of obedience.

6. Submit to the punishment and censure of the laws, and seek not to reverse their judgment by opposing, but by submitting, or flying, or silence, to pass through it or by it, as we can; and although from inferior judges we may appeal where the law permits us, yet we must sit down and rest in the judgment of the supreme; and if we be wronged, let us complain to God of the injury, not of the persons; and he will deliver thy soul from unrighteous judges.

7. Do not believe thou hast kept the law, when thou hast suffered the punishment. For although patiently to submit to the power of the sword be a part of obedience, yet this is such a part as supposes another left undone; and the law punishes, not because she is as well pleased in taking vengeance as in being obeyed, but because she is pleased she uses punishment as a means to secure obedience for the future, or in others. Therefore, although in such cases the law is satisfied, and the injury and the injustice are paid for, yet the sins of irreligion, and scandal, and disobedience to God, must still be so accounted for, as to crave pardon and be washed off by repentance.

8. Human laws are not to be broken with scandal, nor at all without reason; for he that does it causelessly is a despiser of the law, and undervalues the authority. For human laws differ from Divine laws principally in this: 1. That the positive commands of a man may be broken upon smaller and more reasons than the positive commands of God; we may, upon a smaller reason omit to keep any of the fasting-days of the church than omit to give alms to the poor; only this, the reason must bear weight according to the gravity and concernment of the law; a law, in a small matter, may be omitted for a small reason: in a great matter, not without a greater reason. and 2. The negative precepts of men may cease by many instruments, by contrary customs, by public disrelish, by long omission: but the negative precepts of God never can cease, but when they are expressly abrogated by the same authority. But what those reasons are that can dispense with the command of a man, a man may be his own judge, and sometimes take his proportions from his own reason and necessity, sometimes from public fame, and the practice of pious and severe persons, and from popular customs; in which a man shall walk most safely when he does not walk along, but a spiritual man takes him by the hand.

9. We must not be too forward in procuring dispensations, nor use them any longer than the reason continues for which we first procured them; for to be dispensed withal is an argument of natural infirmity, if it be necessary; but, if it be not, it signifies an undisciplined and unmortified spirit.

10. We must not be too busy in examining the prudence and unreasonableness of human laws: for although we are not bound to believe them all to be the wisest, yet if, by inquiring into the lawfulness of them, or by any other instrument we find them to fail of that wisdom with which some others are ordained, yet we must never make use of it to disparage the person of the lawgiver, or to countenance any man’s disobedience, much less our own.

11. Pay that reverence to the person of thy prince, of his ministers, of thy parents and spiritual guides, which, by the customs of the place thou livest in, are usually paid to such persons in their several degrees: that is, that the highest reverence be paid to the highest persons, and so still in proportion; and that this reverence be expressed in all the circumstances and manners of the city and nation.

12. Lift not up thy hand against thy prince or parent, upon what pretence soever; but bear all personal affronts and inconveniences at their hands, and seek no remedy but by patience and piety, yielding and praying, or absenting thyself.

13. Speak not evil of the ruler of thy people, neither curse thy father or mother, nor revile thy spiritual guides, nor discover and lay naked their infirmities; but treat them with reverence and religion, and preserve their authority sacred, by esteeming their persons venerable.

14. Pay tribute and customs to princes according to the laws, and maintenance to thy parents according to their necessity, and honourable support to the clergy according to the dignity of the work and the customs of the place.

15. Remember always, that duty to our superiors is not an act of commutative justice, but of distributive; that is, although kings and parents and spiritual guides are to pay a great duty to their inferiors, the duty of their several charges and government, yet the good government of a king and of parents are actions of religion, as they relate to God, and of piety, as they relate to their people and families. And although we usually all them just princes who administer their laws exactly to the people, because the actions are in the manner of justice, yet in propriety of speech, they are rather to be called pious and religious. For as he is not called a just father that educates his children well, but pious; so that prince who defends and well rules his people is religious, and does that duty for which alone he is answerable to God: the consequence of which is this, so far as concerns our duty — if the prince or parent fail of their duty, we must not fail of ours; for we are answerable to them and to God too, as being accountable to all our superiors, and so are they to theirs: they are above us, and God is above them.

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