When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked bears rule, the people mourn.
Man is, for the most part, equally unhappy when subjected, without redress, to the passions of another, or left, without control, to the dominion of his own. Government is necessary to the safety of particular men and the happiness of society. The people cannot rejoice except the righteous are in authority.
I. THE DUTY OF THOSE IN AUTHORITY TO PROMOTE THE HAPPINESS OF THE PEOPLE. No man is born merely for his own sake, to consult his own advantage or pleasure, and unconnected with the good of others. This is more evidently true of those who are exalted into high rank, dignified with honours, and vested with authority. He who wears the honours and receives the revenues of an exalted station, without attending to the duties of his post, is, in a very high degree, criminal, both in the eye of God and man.
II. BY WHAT MEANS THE HAPPINESS OF THE PEOPLE MAY BE MOST EFFECTUALLY PROMOTED. The only uniform and perpetual cause of public happiness is public virtue. Without virtue nothing can be securely possessed or properly enjoyed. In a country like ours the great demand is for the security of property, the confirmation of liberty, and the extension of commerce. If riches and liberty could make us happy, it would remain to be considered how riches and liberty can be secured. Human laws must be limited in their effects. The deficiencies in civil life can be supplied only by religion. The first duty of a governor is therefore to diffuse through the community a spirit of religion. To this end it is necessary that the external order of religion be diligently maintained, that the solemnities of worship be duly observed, and a proper reverence preserved for the times and places appropriated to piety. And governors must co-operate with their laws by their own examples.
III. HOW THE PEOPLE ARE TO ASSIST AND FURTHER THE ENDEAVOURS OF THEIR GOVERNORS. Nations cannot be governed but by their own consent. The first duty of subjects is obedience to the laws. No man thinks laws unnecessary for others; and no man, if he considers his own inherent frailty, can justly think them unnecessary for himself. Even the errors and deficiencies of authority must be treated with respect. All institutions are defective by their nature, and all rulers have their imperfections, like other men. As government is difficult to be administered, so it is difficult to be understood; and where very few have capacity to judge, very few have a right to censure. The laws will be easily obeyed by him who adds to human sanctions the obligations of conscience; and he will not easily be disposed to censure his superiors whom religion has made acquainted with his own failings.
Parallel VersesKJV: When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.