The Government of Christ (1738)

The Government of Christ (1738)

Link to the sermon

Introduction from the Belcher Society:

[John Webb (1687-1750), The Government of Christ (1738). Preached before Governor Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) during his first governorship of the royal colonies of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire (1730-1741).

John Webb’s election day sermon briefly relates the role of God’s providence in the Puritan establishment of New England. Webb also mentions the Great Awakening of the 1730’s that was described by Jonathan Edwards. Webb, who was also a Great Awakening minister, lists Edwards’ famous A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton (1735), that was edited by Benjamin Colman (see Colman’s sermons Government the Pillar of the Earth and Christ Standing for an Ensign of the People in the Belcher Foundation Christian History Library, for examples of Colman’s own work). Edwards’ narrative was co-published by famous hymnist Isaac Watts (see Watts’ tribute to his friend Governor Jonathan Belcher in Poems about Governor Jonathan Belcher by Isaac Watts and Other Poets).

(Webb’s words about the Great Awakening include the following: “And not long since, He made a most surprising display of His free and sovereign grace in some parts of the land, in converting, or reforming, whole congregations and towns almost, in a few months space, by the immediate influences of His Spirit, succeeding the means of grace, without any awakening providence thereto.”)

Webb’s comments also give the Christian Colonial view of “non-establishment of religion”: “And to this purpose, you [rulers] must employ your superior power and talents so as to make the civil administration, in the most effectual manner, to observe the great end of the Redeemer’s kingdom. And this may be done; not by making and executing laws, with a design to oblige the consciences of men in matters of divine faith and worship; for this is a royalty of Christ, a flower in His crown, which He has reserved only to Himself: But it may be done, […] by distinguishing the most faithful subjects of Christ, with the more peculiar [special] smiles of government; and by setting before the people a bright example of every Christian grace and virtue.”

(In other words, government should not make laws establishing a certain religion or telling people how to believe and worship; yet, at the same time, government should encourage Christianity both by favoring outstanding sincere Christians and bye xemplifying the values of Christ in the rulers’ own lives (i.e., by setting a good Christian example). This is a fine line: Government cannot coerce or proscribe religion, yet it is supposed to favor individual Christians and to model the values of Christianity.)

Webb also went on to say to the General Assembly: “And if there are any laws wanting to secure the honor and interest of Christ’s religion among us, that you would take the matter into serious consideration.” In other words, he wasn’t talking about establishing a religion; he was talking about establishing certain values, the standard of Christ–making Christ’s values (which were really the Ten Commandments) the basis of the law of the land. There is a distinction between establishing matters of faith and worship, and making certain values the foundation of a country’s legal code.

NOTE: For mention of John Webb in the context of Governor Belcher’s administration, see the Belcher Bulletin article A Good Ruler in the Emerging Trilateral Center of the New World Order. For an election sermon on a similar theme, see William Cooper, The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate (1740).

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