Originally from The Crown and Glory of Christianity.
My Lords and Gentlemen—You know that the wisest prince that ever sat upon a throne has told us that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people,” Proverbs 14:34. (“Where justice is, God is; and where God is, there is no lack of men or fortitude,” said Herod at the head of his army, the better to encourage his soldiers.) It is not valor in war—but righteousness; it is not policy in government—but righteousness; it is not wittiness of invention—but righteousness; it is not civility in behavior—but righteousness; it is not antiquity of laws—but righteousness; it is not largeness of dominion—but righteousness; nor is it greatness of command—but righteousness, which is the honor and the safety, which is the renown and the security of a nation. That nation which exalts righteousness, that nation shall be certainly exalted by righteousness, Amos 5:24.
It is not Ahithophel’s policy, it is not Jeroboam’s calves in Dan and Bethel, it is not Jehu’s pompous zeal, it is not Goliath’s sword, it is not rich mines of gold and silver, nor storehouses, nor armies, nor councils, nor fleets, nor forts—but justice and righteousness which exalts a nation, and which will make a lowly people to become a great, a glorious, and a famous people in the world. The world is a ring, and righteousness is the diamond in that ring: the world is a body, and righteousness and justice is the soul of that body.
Ah! England, England! so long as judgment runs down (The Hebrew word which is here rendered “run down,” signifies to roll down freely, plentifully, plainly, vigorously, constantly: Where justice thus rolls down, all the world shall never make that nation miserable,) as waters in the midst of you, and righteousness as a mighty stream, you shall not die—but live and bear up bravely against all gainsayers and opposers. But if injustice shall grow rampant, and you shall brandish the sword of justice in the behalf of the friends of Baal, Balaam, and Bacchus, and turn the wheel upon the righteous; if the sword of justice shall be a sword of protection to the desperate swearer, and to the cruel oppressor, and to the roaring drunkard, and to the cursing monster, and to the Gospel despiser, and to the Christ despiser, etc., and shall be a devouring sword to the upright and peaceable in the land—divine vengeance will dig your grave, and divine justice will tumble you into it, though all the nations of the earth should labor to prevent it.
It is a base and ignoble spirit, to pity Cataline more than to pity Rome; to pity any particular sort of men, more than to pity the whole. It is cruelty to the good, to justify the bad: it is wrong to the sheep, to animate the wolves: it is danger if not death to the lambs, not to restrain or chain up the lions. But from all these vanities the Lord deliver all your souls! And oh that you would forever remember this, that as the constitution of a man’s body is best known by his pulse: if it beats not at all, then we know he is dead; if it beats violently, then we know him to be in a fever; if it keeps an equal stroke, then we know he is sound, well, and whole: so the state of a kingdom or commonweal is best known by the manner of executing justice therein; for justice is the pulse of a kingdom. If justice be violent, then the kingdom is in a fever, in a very bad state; if it stirs not at all, then the kingdom is dead; but if it has an equal stroke, if it be justly and duly administered, then the kingdom is in a good, a safe, and sound condition. When Vespasian asked Apollonius what was the cause of Nero’s ruin, he answered, that Nero could tune the harps well—but in government he did always wind up the strings too high, or let them down too low. The application is easy.