« PreviousContinue »
their fellow-creatures? These enactments, in many instances, are not agreeable to my understanding, my taste, or to what I conceive to be the good of society; and why should I obey them?
To these inquiries I reply, without entering into the speculations of philosophers concerning the grounds of obedience to civil government, that Divine Revelation clearly shews it to be the will of God, that obedience should be given to the existing anthorities.
ON THE SUPPORT WHICH CHRISTIANITY RENDERS TO CIVIL
CHRISTIANITY, while it has left our civil rights unimpaired, has clearly defined the character, and, in general, the duties of rulers and of subjects, in regard to each other. It has strongly inferred the duty of obedience to government. The principal passages in which this is enjoined are the following :
“ Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers: for there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid ; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For, for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour*.'
“ Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all ment."
“ Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake; whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God."
On these passages, and especially on the first, I make the following observations :
I. That the Apostle addresses himself to the favourite notion of the Jews, that they, as the pecu- . liar people of God, were exempted from subjection to heathen rulers, and from paying them tribute. The sentiment accorded well with that proud and refractory spirit which they cherished ; and seems to have been patronized by the Pharisees. This opinion
+ Titus iii, 1, 2. Peter ii, 13-18.
* Rom. xiii. 1-7.
was at the foundation of that device of the chief priests and Scribes, in which, with the view of compassing the death of Christ, they employed spies, who feigned themselves to be just men, and sent them to propose an insidious question as to the lawfulness of paying tribute. They conceived that the answer of our Lord, whatever that should be, must inevitably produce his ruin. “ Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth ; neither carest thou for any man, for thou regardest not the person of men. Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, or not? He perceived their wickedness; and said unto them, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him Cæsar's, Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's; and unto God the things that are Gods * ?”
Our Lord thus discountenanced the favourite notion of the Jews, and taught them the duty of obeying a Sovereign whom they themselves recognised, in every thing in which as a sovereign he had a right to command.
The Apostle, in like manner, taught the converts from the Jewish religion at Rome, among whom this opinion probably obtained, that they were cheerfully to submit to the existing authorities, and to obey the laws. However exalted in rank, and whatever office they held in the church, they were bound, in every thing lawful, to render obedience. “ Let every soul
* Math. xxii, 15-24.
be subject unto the higher powers.” There is no pri. vileged order, there are no persons who can claim, on any ground, exemption from this statute of Heaven.
II. The Apostle not only teaches us that all are to obey the civil government, but by the terms he employs, points out the nature of the obedience we are to render. It is to be a subjection to the higher powers ;—it is to be a subjection not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake; a rendering to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom ; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Thus, obedience to the state is a duty binding upon the conscience, to be practised from a regard to the will of God, “ for the transgression of which we shall be accountable at the tribunal of Divine justice, whether the magistrate be able to punish us for it or not.” Our obedience, according to this rule, must be unreserved and universal,-extensive as are the demands of the laws of the land; or as are the officers by whom the laws are administered. This duty, like every other, must be discharged as unto God and not to man, with deference to his authority, and zeal for his glory. As christians, we are called to the enjoyment of liberty ; but it is liberty from the bondage of sin, and not from the restraints of either human or divine government.
III. We are taught in these passages, that civil government is an ordinance of God. The governors of mankind, if they act agreeably to the design of their office, exercise an authority and a power delegated to them by the Sovereign Lord and Ruler of the universe. They are His ministers, whatever be the nation over which they exercise jurisdiction; and designed, by the restraints which they legally impose, and the benefits which they confer, to promote the virtue and happiness of mankind. Whether we take powers here for political authority, or for the persons actually exercising political power and jurisdiction, the sense will be the same. How men come by a rightful title to this power, or who has this title, the Apostle is wholly silent, and says nothing of it. To have meddled with that, would have been to decide of civil rights, contrary to the design and business of the Gospel, and the example of our Saviour, who refused meddling in such cases, with this decisive question, · Who made me a Judge or a Divider over
IV. We are further taught in these passages of Scripture, what is the duty of the magistrate, and the design of civil government.
“ Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil ;—they are the ministers of God to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” This duty is still more fully defined by the prophet in these words ; “ The Spirit of the Lord spake, the God of Israel said ; He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God ;-a duty incumbent upon all who make, or who administer the laws, from the highest to the lowest of the officers in the service of the government. I, therefore, infer,
V. That there is nothing in these passages, nor, indeed, in any part of Scripture, which authorizes the doctrine of unlimited passive obedience. As well
* Locke's Paraphrase and Notes on the Romans.