Why Covenanters do not Vote.
Rev. J.H. Boggs,
PASTOR OF THE
Reformed Presbyterian Congregation,
BROOKLYN, N. Y.
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST.
John J. Caulon, Book and Job Printer, 47 Liberty Street.
OUR POLITICAL PROTEST.
WHY COVENANTERS DO NOT VOTE.
Psalm XCIV, 20: SHALL THE THRONE OF INIQUITY HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH THEE, WHICH FRAMETH MISCHIEF BY A LAW?
The Psalmist is finding consolation in affliction. Suffering under the evils of a wicked administration, he is comforted with this thought, that God does not patronise an unjust civil power. To present this truth with the strongest emphasis it is put in the interrogative form. “Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?” No! God has no fellowship, is not associated, is not allied, with an unrighteous administration.
“Throne”—the governing power, when it is iniquitous, perverts judgment, oppresses; when the principles upon which the power governs are not according to truth and righteousness, so that evil is legalized and iniquity can plead constitutional authority; can it be supposed that God has any responsibility by partnership in that throne? “They have set up kings, but not by me.” He disclaims all responsibility in the constitution and administration of such power. “Not by me.”
It is the duty and privilege of God’s people, as true servants and loyal subjects of His authority, to take position with Him. “Ye are my witnesses,” saith the Lord. The witness must be true to the truth. If God denies fellowship with civil power, constituted and administered in unrighteousness, the witness must not bring reproach upon the name and cause of God, by professing or seeking fellowship with it. If it is inconsistent with the holy and righteous character of God to be in alliance with a throne of iniquity, it is inconsistent with the professed character of His servant to incorporate with it. If the power set up is not by God, it should not be exercised by His people.
These thoughts lead us into an inquiry concerning the grounds of our political dissent. As Reformed Presbyterians we have always held this position, and recently, by solemn oath, have bound ourselves in covenant to faithfully maintain it, until the reform we seek has been secured.
In examining this subject, it is important that we should first state precisely the point against which our protest is directed. From what do we dissent?
I. We dissent from the Government, not the Nation. We are careful to distinguish here, otherwise our dissent may be misunderstood, and our cause exposed to reproach.
The Nation is not the Government, nor the Government the Nation. We cannot confound them; they differ widely. A nation first exists; the character and form of its government is determined afterwards. A nation exists, although its form of government may be changed many times in its history. France is a nation today, yet the imperial government is destroyed. All persons living within defined territorial limits may constitute a nation, but all may not constitute the government. Government exists within a narrower circle; sometimes limited to a single individual. Wherever sovereignty is exercised there is the Government. In Great Britain it is distributed among classes, but does not reach all. Here it is more widely distributed, but not co-extensive with the Nation. In this Nation all male adults, with some limitations, form a society in which sovereignty is vested. This society is the Government. Its will directs and controls the national life. It has its written constitution, on the principles of which it enacts and administers on the principles of which it enacts and administers law for all the people. This political body is the throne.
By the provisions of this society we are recognised as members, because of birth in this land; or, if from abroad and resident here, are eligible to membership. The association is voluntary. We do not choose to exercise the right of sharing in the Government. We waive the privilege of the throne. We do not deny all our rights and privileges of citizenship. We do not dissent from the nation. This is our nation, by birth or choice; we cannot deny it; we would not if we could. We disown all allegiance to any other civil power. We rejoice in the privilege of our citizenship here. We acknowledge, as binding upon us, all lawful obligations of citizenship, and will endeavour conscientiously to discharge them; otherwise we have not the right of protest, and our dissent has no claim for consideration.
As subjects and citizens, we dissent from the Government. We do not desire partnership in the controlling power. We will not go to the polls, for that is to exercise sovereignty. We will not use the Elective Franchise, for in that we use the crown. We will not touch the ballot, for the ballot is the sceptre. We do not choose to govern. We dissent and protest.
II. Some reasons why we refuse to administer government. We admit that grave reasons must be assigned when one declines to share the burdens and responsibilities of civil power. The nation must have government. Sovereignty must be exercised somewhere, by some party, or the nation dies. The service is imperative and honorable as well.
In these times of official corruption, we recognize the urgent call for the votes of all honest men. The motive of the effort that are occasionally made for the reform of government we appreciate. We affirm that the citizen who absents himself from the polls on the day of election should be required to give good reasons before he is excused. We are not found there, and are ready to give an answer. We ask for these reasons of dissent thoughtful consideration.
First, to state negatively. We refuse to administer Government not because we are dissatisfied with the form of Government. We are not monarchists. We believe in government for the people by the people. The privilege of the ballot we esteem as very precious; worth all that it has cost the Nation in the early struggle, and we would resist, even unto blood, any attempt to wrest it from the hands of the people.
Not because the Administration is corrupt. Many good men are discouraged, and turn from party politics with disgust. Ungodly and irresponsible men in many departments hold the reins. Reforms in the administration are attended with much difficulty and expense. Primary meetings and nominating conventions are controlled in the interests of Rings. Elections are carried, oftentimes, by illegal voting and false counting. For these reasons some men are losing faith in the ballot, and refuse to exercise it. Turning to their private interests, they abandon the Government to the worst of men. We do not dissent on these grounds. In the growing corruption of the administration we would find an argument for greater effort and sacrifice to redeem it. Good men should not be permitted to throw the ballot away so carelessly.
Second, to state affirmatively. We refuse to govern because the Government is constituted and administered on principles contrary to the revealed will of God.
We cannot be true to God and true to our office in Government—they conflict. As, for example: 1. The Government is constituted on the principle that there is no God. We believe that there is one living and true God, and that he is the source of all authority and power in Government. The Bible, which we have taken as the word of God, declares that civil power is an ordinance of God: “The powers that be are ordained of God.” “By me kings reign.” This Governing Society does not profess to believe this truth. They deny it when they assert, “We, the people, do ordain and establish,” leaving out all reference to God and His authority. They have gone through the Constitution, and wherever the name of God might occur, they have carefully erased it, so that in reading this instrument you cannot discover the faintest trace of His name. So far has this determination to ignore God prevailed, that we find in the Constitution this astonishing inconsistency, a form of oath prescribed from which the name of God is blotted out. They deny God fellowship with them. They wish it understood that this throne is set up, but not by God; “We, the people,” independent of God, “ordain and establish.” I hear a hundred voices at once raised in protest against this construction of the words of the Constitution. Christian citizens grow almost indignant on first hearing charges of Atheism against this venerated instrument; but, upon examination and reflection, there is for indignation—shame and confusion of face. Alas, it is too true! The name of God is not there, nor His authority owned even by inference: “We, the people,” have assumed the place and prerogatives of the Divine Sovereign. “It was an oversight,” says a hasty apologist, “never intended.” This apology is a sad compliment to the men who framed it. The facts on authentic record prove that it was a deliberate purpose, carried so far as to dismiss a motion for prayer in the opening of the sessions of the Convention framing the Constitution.[See Elliott’s Debates, Vol. v., pages 253-255.] Another objector points us to the Christian features of the Administration—Prayer in Congress—Chaplains in the Army and Navy; official proclamations, recommending religious worship on Thanksgiving days and Fast days. These are expressions of the Christian sentiment of the people forced upon the Administration, and entirely without constitutional recognition and authority. They are tolerated as long as no objection is made, and officials are willing and obliging. They are not guaranteed.
The principles upon which we are asked, and sworn, to administer government are written out, and we must abide by the bond. We cannot appeal to the religious history of the people, and the prevailing Christian sentiment of the society, for principles upon which to base the administration; they are already defined and fixed, and must remain as authoritative until the Constitution is changed. We cannot accept civil power on the principle written in the bond. Here God is not acknowledged, and we are commanded to “acknowledge Him in all our ways;” especially would we acknowledge Him in Civil Government, where he has so clearly written His glorious name, and impressed the seal of His sovereign authority. “The powers that be are ordained of God.”
2. Government is constituted on the principle that there is no revealed will of God for the government of nations. Having denied God, this Governing Society rejects His Word. They do not believe in the Bible. They assign it no place, and will admit no appeal to its precepts. The Government recognizes no authority higher than its own will. Here is its profession—“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.” Act. vi., cl. 2. The supreme law. God’s Word, if it has any place, must take a subordinate one; yet even that is denied. It is granted no place at all. The Legislator may leave it at home; it has no authority in Congress. The Judge on the Bench may close it; it has no legal bearing on the question. The Jury do not need it on retiring; give them the statute laws under the Constitution, that is sufficient. The Officer in discharge of official duty has nothing whatever to do with—“Thus saith the Lord,” only—“Thus saith the people.” Two Police Commissioners, a few days ago, in the City of New York, dissenting from the action of the Board permitting the parade of the Communists on the Sabbath, gave as a reason that the “Sabbath was of Divine origin.” The Communists reply that “there is no Constitutional restriction.” The Police Commissioners had consulted the wrong authority. As officers, they should have been reading the Constitution, not the Bible, for law bearing on the case.
The right of the Bible to a place in the public schools is questioned. Courts and communities are much exercised over it. Those who have given the most careful study to our theory of Government, Christians as well as Infidels, are agreed that the Bible is a transgressor when found on the Teacher’s desk. You are provoked with Henry Ward Beecher, and the Editor of the Independent, and others, who favor the motion of the Roman Catholic priest to remove the Bible; but these men are entirely consistent with the principles of the Governing Society in advocating the removal. If in any of these cases, now before the courts, the appeal is made to the Supreme Court of the United States, the decision will be upon the letter of the Constitution, and the Constitution recognizes no place for the Bible in any place department.
We cannot accept office on this principle. We have taken the Word of God as the only rule of our life. We recognize it as supreme authority in every relation of life. We hold that the moral law of God is binding on every moral person; and that the Nation is a moral creature of God and under law to Him, bound to acknowledge His God and under law to Him, bound to acknowledge His authority and do His will. If the Government rebels, saying: “Let us break His bands asunder, and cast away His cords from us,” we do not choose to share the responsibilities of the rebellion. We will not become a party to the crime of putting the will of any people higher than the will of the Lord our God. We will not govern with that people who will not govern by the Word of God. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” We will accept no office, nor ask any man to represent us in office, where it is required to put out this light and throw away this lamp. We yield the privilege of office, for we cannot deny the supremacy of this law.
3. It is denied by the Governing Society that Jesus Christ is the Governor of this nation. They will not have this man to reign over them. Having rejected the authority of God, and cast aside His Word, they make no mention of His Son. The precept solemnly addressed to civil magistrates—“Kiss the Son”—is utterly disregarded. No notice is taken of His appointment to the Governorship of nations by God the Father. “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, when He raised Him from the dead, set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named.” Eph. i., 17, 20, 21. “Who is the head of all principality and power.” Col. ii, 10. Of the “many crowns” on His adorable brow this Governing Society sees none that they are bound to respect. It is written that He is “Prince of the kings of the earth,” and this writing is put under the eye of the rulers here, but they pass by all His princely titles, even that royal one which the Spirit has emphasized, not only in repeating, but in the letters of the manuscript—written in capitals wherever this word comes: “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” The Government does not know Him by this name, and will not honour Him with this office. We cannot act with the Government in this rebellion. Our fathers, long since, bound us by oath to be faithful to His kingly authority. From the scaffold, where they sealed with their blood the truth concerning His royal claims, they exhorted us with expiring breath to be faithful to the vows of allegiance. By the light of the martyr’s stake we have read that—“He is Prince of the kings of the earth;” so we believe, and so we testify, rejoicing in the name inscribed on His “vesture and His thigh.” We cannot compromise this testimony. We cannot yield the claim of Christ’s authority as king in this case. All power is given unto Him; we are not permitted to make exception in the case of this Government; God the Father, in the appointment of Christ as Mediator to an office “higher than the kings of the earth,” has not excepted this throne. There must, then, be rebellion here, from the guilt of which we would free ourselves by protest.
This Governing Society invites us to share with them the privileges and responsibilities of Government. They say: “Come, take the ballot and rule with us; ascend the throne and administer law.” In whose name and by what authority, we ask, shall we exercise this power? It is answered: “Only in the name and solely by the authority of the sovereign people.” Will you permit us to say—by the will of Christ, and write His name above our name in office? we inquire. “No,” it is answered; “it is unconstitutional; the will of the people is supreme; there is no name in this Government higher in authority than this name, ‘We, the people.’” As loyal subjects and faithful witnesses for the royal rights of our Saviour King, we cannot accept the privilege of rule on these terms. We give you back the ballot you press us to take, if we cannot use it by His grace and for His glory. We turn from the throne you offer, for you deny it fellowship with Christ. We fear to usurp authority that belongs only to Him. We would not take a crown from His anointed head for all the honors in the gift of this great people. If you exclude Christ from your Association for Government, if, in governing, you deny Him the Governor, you cannot, with our present testimony for His royal claims and our past contendings for the honor of His name, expect our fellowship. You must not count on our votes. We will not have any voice in this denial. We protest against it.
There is no question that so deeply stirs the Christian heart as that which respects the person of Christ. We are moved to all the sacrifice this Dissent costs by a zeal for His glory. We have continual sorrow that His name is not honored, nay, not known in the Government of our country. Other names have authority in law and influence in Congress, His has none. The will of the rabble expressed from the vilest haunts of the Metropolis is law in this Government, Christ’s will is not. The Constitution does not recognise Jesus as Governor, nor His will as authority; we cannot consent to govern with this denial. Jesus has never denied us; we dare not deny Him. He gave His life for us; we should not hesitate to sacrifice for His glory. We move aside the ballot; we will not use it against Him. We yield the privilege of this corruptible crown; when, from the throne of His glory a crucified hand extends holding forth a diadem, outlying the stars in its lustre, and a voice is heard saying, “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.” Even so Lord Jesus.
For these reasons we Dissent and Protest, and carry our Dissent so far, as not to touch the Government at any point where an oath to the Constitution is required or implied. The Constitution being fundamental to all Government here, General, State, or Municipal, we do not share with it, even to vote for an officer, or hold the lowest office in county or town. The Infidelity and Atheism against which we protest, is fundamental to the system of Government, therefore we cannot incorporate with the Government at any point without guilt. We do not hold that our Dissent releases us from the discharge of all duties of citizenship; nor do we forfeit any of our privileges as citizens by our Dissent. It is required of us, and we conscientiously comply, that we support Government by the payment of lawful taxes. We recognise it as our duty and privilege to stand with our fellow-citizens in defence of the nation’s life, or in protecting its territory. The records of the late Rebellion testify to our patriotism. None offered more willingly; few suffered less severely. Our soldiers’ graves are very dear to us. The remembrance of our sacrifice, on many battle-fields, ever incites us to more earnest and faithful effort in seeking the reform of the Government of our country.
III. We are encouraged at this time in presenting our Protest:—1. From the present agitation of questions moral and religious. We are reading, morning by morning, in the secular press a discussion under the caption, “The Bible War.” The effort is made on one side to remove the Bible from the Teacher’s desk, and on the other side to maintain its place and secure its daily reading. This discussion reveals the necessity of securing some better legal claim for the Bible in the schools, than its friends have yet found. It is manifest that it is contrary to the genius and spirit of our Government, as at present constituted, that the Bible should have such a place. The evil lies just at the point where we Dissent and make our Protest—the Infidelity of the written Constitution which is fundamental and supreme law.
Reform in Government is the order of the day. Corruption has become so outrageous that the people are beginning to make legal inquiry after their rulers. Our city officials may soon all be in jail. The Municipal Government in New York has broken down under the weight of its own iniquity. Tammany corruption is the latest sensation. This rousing to vigilance, and this demand for righteousness in the Administration, may lead to a more serious inquiry into the origin of all this evil. It is possible that some may find that the educating influence of our supreme law is not developing a class of rulers that fear God and hate covetousness. If Government has no conscience toward God, we cannot expect its officers will fear Him continually. If Government will leave God out of view, even in the matter of the oath, we cannot expect that the oath will bind to fidelity and honesty. The tree is beginning to bear fruit. The fruit is very offensive, and an enraged people are striking at the branches. It will soon be discovered that the evil lies further down—at the root. The institution of Government that has fostered Tammany and made its corruption possible must have some fundamental errors in it. Thoughtful men must understand this and inquire whence it is. In this season of political distress we are encouraged to speak. “In their affliction they will seek me early.”
3. We are encouraged in our protest by the arrogance of Infidelity in the community. Infidelity is growing impatient with Christianity. There is a disposition to tolerate no longer the Christian features of our Administration; one by one they are blasphemously assailed. Infidels beg us to remember that this is not a Christian nation, and warn us to beware how we trespass with our Bible, and our Sabbath and our prayers upon the free institutions of this Republic.
On last Sabbath Ten Thousand citizens appeared in procession in our streets, carrying the banner of the Commune—floating the flag of French Infidelity—in the face of worshipers on their way to and from the sanctuary. It was the saddest spectacle New York has ever witnessed. It revealed the strength of an organization, now bold enough to publicly trample upon the sanctity of the Sabbath, and mock at all that Christians hold dear. It revealed the development of one of the bitterest fruits of the Infidelity of our Constitution. Our fathers, in framing that instrument, hearkened to the council of French philosophers, and accepted the Infidel theory of Government, inviting this class to citizenship and authority. At last we behold French infidelity organized in our midst, flinging its God-dishonoring, law-despising banner, in the face of this Republic; mocking at the Christianity of our people, and threatening the overthrow of our free institutions. We would ask those who were so deeply grieved and aggravated on last Sabbath to seriously consider how such an organization and procession became possible in this Christian community. What authority licensed it? The Constitution, the supreme authority, gives Infidelity this privilege. The Constitution was framed for Infidelity, not for Christianity. Infidelity is about to assert its rights, and take its terrible power and reign. In the opposition it is awakening the source of the evil may be discovered. That procession invites attention to the truth in our protest; men will read it now more thoughtfully. We have ever said that there is danger in the Atheism of the Constitution. We see it now in the flag of the Commune, followed and cheered by Ten Thousand citizens on our streets. There is no God, says the fundamental law. There is no God, shout the citizens.
4. We are encouraged by the promises and prophecy of the Word of God.
This Word assures us that Christ shall reign acknowledged by all nations on earth. “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before Him, and His enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: The kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea all kings shall fall down before Him: all nations shall serve Him.” The power is in His own hand; with Him also are the times and seasons. When He is pleased to exercise His power He will take the “heathen for His inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for His possession.” Then the kingdoms of this world will “become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.” “Men shall be blessed in Him: all nations shall call Him blessed.” Not one word of promise that He has spoken has ever failed; nor shall this fail. He shall reign acknowledged by thrones on earth. He will come by the power of His Spirit, and by strokes of judgment and with terrible things in righteousness take the crown and the sceptre in every kingdom. Anointed eyes are watching for His coming. Providences are heralding His approach. The watchman, who, from the towers about Sion, looks out upon the confusion of society, the hurry of events, the fields of slaughter, and the political distress of nations, announces the coming of one who is described as glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength; on His head are many crowns; His eyes are as a flame of fire; and out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations. “Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest He be angry and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. BLESSED ARE ALL THEY THAT PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM.”