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CHAPTER III.-The duty of Christian nations.


CHAPTER III.-The duty of Christian nations.

James Dodson

1. Nations, having divine revelation, are bound to acknowledge the authority of Jesus Christ, and to submit themselves to his sceptre.[1]—This proposition is a direct and irresistible inference from the doctrine of the universal mediatorial dominion of the Messiah. If Christ be, by the gift of the Father, King of nations, then are nations bound by the highest obligations to acknowledge him as their Lord. If nations have been given to Jesus Christ to be ruled by him, then are they bound to assent to the gift, and surrender themselves to him as voluntary subjects. To refuse, is to rebel against the express command, Ps. 2:12, "kiss ye the Son." It dishonours both the Father and the Son. It dishonours the Father; for it is a refusal to serve him in that way in which he has commanded service to be rendered. It dishonours the Son; for it is a rejecting of his just authority. Such conduct involves in it a stubborn refusal to repent and turn from sin (for there is no "repentance toward God" without "faith toward Jesus Christ;"[2]) excludes a nation from any interest in the Covenant protection and favour of God; and subjects it to the infliction of the threatenings denounced against impenitent nations.[3] The wrath of the Lord Jesus Christ will be kindled, and he will inevitably cause that nation to "perish from the way." He will vindicate his own righteous claims.

Nor can the threatening be evaded by an acknowledgment, however sincere, of allegiance to an absolute God. "No man," says Christ himself, "cometh to the Father but by me." Any attempt to honour the Father, while the Son is neglected, is an abomination in his sight. However lightly men may esteem the royal prerogatives of the Messiah, they are not held of little value by him "by whom actions are weighed." Nothing short of an open acknowledgment of Jesus Christ will meet his claims. This must be rendered under pain of God Almighty’s sore displeasure. "The kingdoms of this world must become" not only "kingdoms of our Lord," but also "of his Christ."[4]

2. Nations are bound to frame their constitutions of government; to enact their laws; and to conduct the civil administration, in professed and real obedience to the Scriptures.—National acknowledgment of the Messiah’s authority is not a bare profession. "Not every one that saith, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven," Matt. 7:21. Christ’s titles are not mere honorary titles; he is really a king. Submission to his sceptre implies the reception of his law and obedience to its demands. The laws of Christ are contained in the Bible, and all the laws of the Bible are Christ’s laws. Both the Old and New Testaments are his statute books.[5] Every moral law found there, carries with it an obligation to obedience. And it is the imperative duty of all Christ’s subjects to search, each for himself, the inspired record, that he may ascertain from its pages the principles of righteousness by which his conduct ought to be governed. "Search the Scriptures;—and they are they which testify of me."[6] As nations are under the government of the Mediator, this obligation rests upon them as well as upon individuals.

And why should not nations seek light from the Bible? The remains of the moral law are very broken and imperfect in the natural man, even in regard to civil duties. Witness the national follies and crimes of the most enlightened pagan nations: to say nothing of the great majority of the inhabitants of those nations that either have not the Bible at all, or have only a closed Bible, and who have consequently sunk into the most wretched condition of moral and social debasement.[7] The Bible professes to be a perfect rule. It has been "given by inspiration of God, that the man of God may be perfect; thoroughly furnished unto all good works," 2 Tim. 3:16,17. There is no exception made of civil or political "works." This gracious revelation finds man in all things wanting such light as will clearly show him the will of God. This it does. Nor are its teachings confined to the duties of personal religion and those of the domestic and other social relations. The Scriptures abound with instruction respecting matters civil and political. The historical part of the Old Testament, the prophecies, the book of Proverbs and the Psalms, are full of the richest treasures of political wisdom; while the Pentateuch contains a system of laws devised by infinite wisdom for the chosen people of God. Indeed, civil duties occupy as large a space in the Bible as they do in the actual operations of society.

Were it even admitted, that the rule of civil duties since the fall of man and the consequent introduction of the mediatorial system, is precisely the same as in Eden, the necessity for consulting the Bible would not be obviated, although it might be somewhat diminished. Even then, to reject it "would be an obstinate drawing back to heathenism;"[8] for how great the folly—the wickedness—of closing the eyes to the bright shining of the Sun of righteousness to consult the dim light of natural reason. But this admission is not made. The fall of man and the subsequent exercise and revelation of mercy to sinners through a mediator, have introduced material changes. And would it not be strange if they had not? Previously, our first parents knew God, and served him, without the intervention of a mediator. Now, all are by nature "darkness,"[9] and no man cometh to God but by Jesus Christ. Here is seen, in its strongest light, the necessity of revelation. Would nations know how to come to God, they must "search the Scriptures." Would they know what principles of public policy nations should observe, let them "search the Scriptures."[10] Would they understand the true foundation of civil rights and duties, let them "search the Scriptures;" search them reverently and submissively. This is not only a duty: it is a privilege. A nation having the Bible and yet refusing to acknowledge it as supreme law, and thus closing its eyes upon the glory of Christ, seals its covenant with death.[11] It is an infidel and rebellious nation.

The view just presented of national duty is confirmed by the fact that it is impossible to find any other sure and permanent standard of social and political duties. The light of nature is altogether insufficient as a guide in any thing involving moral principle. There is little certainty in its revelations. The nations before Christ came "felt after God."[12] And "the world by wisdom knew not God."[13] And even in the plainest matters of moral duty there is an absolute necessity for the correcting influence of Bible truth.[14] Indeed, the light of nature as it has been called, is neither more nor less than the will of the people themselves. Their will, often the joint production of the gross materials of ignorance, prejudice, passion, and interest, cannot be a sure guide even in matters of expediency, much less in the high concerns of moral conduct and national duty. Conscience is not a sufficient rule; it also is too uncertain. It has sanctioned the most opposite courses of conduct and the grossest impiety and iniquity. The disciple of Juggernaut and the bigotted papist are conscientious, while the one throws himself as a victim before the ponderous wheels of the idol, and the other inflicts brutal tortures upon the children of God.

The Bible is an infallible rule—the only infallible rule of faith and obedience. All others are vague and obscure, and as interpreted by men, contradictory. The nations must take the Bible. There flows, in a pure, unadulterated, limpid stream, the river of the water of life. If the nations would rest upon a sure foundation, they must take the Bible as their supreme law. Its authority must be held paramount to the authority of all other codes: its principles acknowledged as the fundamental law of the land. The kings of Israel were commanded to write out with their own hands, upon their accession to the throne, a copy of the law.[15] All civil magistrates should carefully, and with prayer for light and direction, study the sacred volume. There they will find the wisest maxims and the best examples of government, they will discover in its pages the goodness of God to nations that do righteousness, and the divine severity against such as persist in courses of disobedience: lessons that the nations are slow to learn.

It is no objection to the doctrine laid down, that certain laws contained in the Bible have expired by their own limitation, as, for example, the ceremonial institutions of religions worship; and that others were designed to be merely local in their obligation, as were the laws commonly called judicial: a code belonging to the Jews alone as a people. This circumstance renders it necessary to study the Scriptures with care, so as to separate between what is moral and what is of temporary obligation. The same careful study, is necessary in regard to things which are wholly ecclesiastical. And the Protestant churches have with a good measure of unanimity, made the necessary distinction. The same thing was done respecting civil and national duties, by more than one reformed nation during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Indeed, the difficulty is very little, if any greater, in regard to the one class of duties than the other.[16] The cry so often raised on this quarter, by the enemies of God’s law, and re-echoed by heedless Christians, is precisely the same in principle with the cry of the Papists against an open Bible. Say they, it is impossible to comprehend it—to settle difficulties, without a living interpreter. Papists, in this, slander the Bible and him that made it. The infidel cry against the Scriptures as if they were unintelligible,—a cry raised for the purpose of getting rid of Christ’s authority in civil things, is equally untrue, and equally dishonourable to the author of the Bible. In short, apply the objection to its full extent and the scriptures would be set aside as the supreme rule in the church and even in matters of personal religion: for respecting these there are diversities of opinion.

The truth is, no greater difficulty exists in making application of God’s law to nations, than to the other subjects of God’s moral government. The reformers encountered no very formidable obstacles on this quarter. An honest and humble spirit, willing to submit to whatever may be discovered to be God’s will, will surmount every difficulty. Nations coming to the examination of the inspired word with such a spirit, will, by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, find him faithful to his promise recorded in Psalm 25:9: "The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way." Every veil will be lifted, every shadow will be dissipated, so far as is consistent with man’s present imperfect condition: certainly, so far as is necessary to the enjoyment of the blessings promised to them "who truly seek the Lord."[17]

3. The nations are bound to serve Jesus Christ by framing their governments, and directing the administration of them, so as to promote, by such means as are competent to them, the great ends of the Messiah’s exaltation.—The purposes to be accomplished by Christ’s mission, consequently, by his exaltation, are, as we have attempted to show, 1. The salvation of the elect, 2. The restoring to the world of somewhat of its original order, and 3. The execution of deserved punishment upon incorrigible enemies. That they may be made to serve him in accomplishing these objects, "all things" have been put under his control. He employs the inferior tribes of animals at his pleasure, to do his will. The lice, the frogs, and the locusts of Egypt attest the fact. The rains of heaven are made subservient to his purposes of mercy and of justice. "If ye walk in my statutes—then will I give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase," Lev. 26:3,4. While "he turneth a fruitful land to barrenness for the wickedness of them that dwell therein," Ps. 107:34. All creatures rational and irrational, willing or unwilling, are used as instruments in the hand of the Mediator, of executing the will of God. Irrational creatures are unconscious servants of the Messiah. Moral agents are required to be more than this: they should be voluntary instruments in promoting the glory of God, by doing the will of the Messiah. Fathers and mothers are bound to yield themselves servants to Christ by imitating Abraham’s example in "commanding their children, and their household after them, to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment,"[18] and by managing their domestic concerns in direct subordination to the law of Christ, and for the advancement of the interests of his kingdom. The man of business—the merchant and the tradesman, must have respect to the law of Christ, and see that so far as their authority and influence extend, his law be not violated, nor his name dishonoured with their connivance, much less sanction and example. Angels are commanded to "worship him."[19] He employs them as his ministers in advancing the interests of his kingdom.

Are magistrates, wielding, as the nation’s representatives, the national power and influence, exempted from this universal law? Is civil government, which God has ordained for his own glory, and for good to man, to be the only exception? Are civil rulers not to be called upon to "serve him" to whom angels minister? are they alone of all moral agents at liberty to refuse to promote the ends of the mediatorial administration? It cannot be. "All kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him," Ps. 72:11. They must "serve him," by so directing their measures, and so employing their resources, as to facilitate the spread of truth, and throw on its side the influence of the national sanction; by furnishing aid to the church in executing her righteous schemes of piety and benevolence; by removing every outward hindrance, so far as it can be done; by restraining gross violaters of the moral law of both tables; thus infusing into the whole frame and actings of the machinery of the government a spirit of opposition to error, and wrong, and impiety, and of favour to truth, and morality, and godliness. This they can never do, unless they acknowledge, and honour, and defend, and support the Christian church. The magistrate may not, indeed, interfere with the church’s independence, or attempt to discharge spiritual functions, but he is to aid the church in effecting the ends of her organization, and thus promote the knowledge and service of God the Redeemer.

The subject of national education furnishes a plain and striking illustration of this branch of national duty. It is, perhaps, universally admitted by judicious men, that the interests of education are within the province of the civil authorities: that it is the duty of the state to make ample provision for the instruction of its youth. The question occurs, should this be of a Christian character and tendency, or not? Ought schemes for public instruction be so framed and executed as to impress upon the tender minds of youth, a conviction of the being, and a sense of the glory and claims of Christ, or is every thing tending to this to be carefully excluded? Should the Bible be read or not? Should prayer in Christ’s name accompany public instruction or not? The reply of every Christian mind and heart, not sealed by prejudice, may be anticipated: "Let us have systems of education imbued with the principles, and instinct with the spirit of the Christian religion."[20] Every intelligent man knows that the cultivation of the intellect, promotes neither happiness nor usefulness, unless that of the heart go along with it. And no Christian will say that any means to accomplish the latter can be effectual, but the doctrines of the Bible; Christ must be known. We must then deny that the care of providing for national instruction devolves upon the public authorities, assent to the monstrous proposition that national instruction may be, without sin, a moral blank, or admit that nations in their national character are bound "to serve the Lord Christ."[21]

The duty of nations to promote the glory of Christ, by sanctioning and supporting the true religion, by withholding all countenance and sanction from whatever is opposed to its interests, and by restraining open hostility to Jesus Christ and the ends of his exaltation, is established by express declarations of the divine will in the constituting of the Israelitish commonwealth, and also by scripture prophecies. That the Jewish nation and their rulers were commanded to model their policy in avowed subjection to the authority of Christ, is beyond question. That the principles involved in this arrangement were moral, ought not to be doubted. As well might the obligation of the ten commandments be doubted. It has never yet been shown, and it never can be shown, for it is not so, that these principles were either ceremonial or peculiar. Many of the details of their application were of a local and temporary character, but this cannot affect the standing obligation of the principles themselves.[22]

Prophecy speaks in the plainest terms, and manifestly expresses the divine approval of that which it foretells. "The kings of Tarshish and of the isles, shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts," Ps. 72:10. "Kings shall be thy nursing fathers and their queens thy nursing mothers," Is. 49:23. The preceding verse fixes both the person referred to in this prophecy, and its application to New Testament times. The sixtieth chapter of Isaiah, abounds with similar prophecies. The language of the sixteenth verse is very explicit, "thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breasts of kings." Under these figurative expressions it is intimated, that when the nations are brought to submit to the sceptre of Christ, their allegiance will be manifested by efforts to aid the church in promoting the great designs of the Redeemer’s mission. Happy, indeed, will such nations be, while "the nation and kingdom that will not serve Christ and the church shall perish."[23]

4. Nations are bound to commit the administration of the government to the professed subjects and friends of Jesus Christ, and to exclude, by constitutional arrangements, his enemies.—The truth of this proposition is easily established, provided the Scriptures are admitted to be of supreme authority in matters of civil and national duty. By the original law instituting civil society, there was no such thing as the elective franchise. The form of government was patriarchal: the father exercising both the civil and parental authority; or rather, the parental including in it the civil. This form of government did not, however, exclude the operation of the principle that grossly wicked men are unfit to be the depositories of civil power. Cain was excluded from the patriarchate for his impiety, and for the murder of Abel. Reuben was deprived of the birthright for the crime of adultery,[24] and the succession was given to Joseph. This was in perfect accordance with the law respecting civil government in Eden God made man holy. Had he not fallen from his primitive integrity, Adam would have been succeeded, when the period arrived for his removal from the world, by a son equally holy. And so, down through every descending step, until we arrive at the power as exercised in the family. So that the original institution of national society, contemplated the exercise of authority over the social body, by good men, and good men only.

This principle is written in letters of light, upon the pages of inspiration. In the 18. chap. of Exodus, and the first of Deuteronomy, we have the first intimation of a change in the mode of investing with office power. When Israel was in the wilderness, and the ecclesiastical and national organizations were putting on that shape, which they were to have in the promised land, Moses, by the advice of Jethro, and with the divine approbation, conferred upon the people the right of electing their own rulers, "Take ye wise men, and understanding, &c.," Deut. 1:13, But with the privilege, there was announced a very important restriction. The people were to choose "able men, such as feared God," &c., Ex, 18:21. An inspired Psalmist, re-iterates the same principle, 2 Sam. 23:3, "The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God." The same truth is plainly implied in the definition of civil government, Rev. 13:1-7, "The magistrate is the minister of God, a terror to evil works—a praise to the good." Can any one be all this, but a fearer of God?

If it be granted that nations should direct their affairs so as to serve Christ, the conclusion that good men alone should be eligible to office, is irresistible. For will Christ’s enemies voluntarily direct their administrative acts to the furtherance of the ends of the Messiah’s exaltation? Will they not, on the contrary, take every opportunity to exercise their power, in such a manner as to thwart the interests of religion?[25]

Again, the influence of the personal character and example of the great and powerful, is almost overwhelming. As the rulers, so will be, in most instances, the people. There is no more certain and not often a more speedy way to relax the obligations of law and morality upon the mass of the community, than the elevation of the profane and impious, to places of power and trust. "The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted," Ps. 12:8. If men in office are profane swearers, Sabbath-breakers, gamblers, rioters, or otherwise grossly immoral, society will be polluted through their influence.[26]

The elevation of irreligious men will have the same result in regard to religion, that the elevation of immoral men has in regard to morals. To put into office, Infidels, Deists, despisers of the Bible and of Christ, has a decided tendency to bring the Christian religion into disrepute. It is a kind of premium given to Infidelity. It makes God's enemies respectable and influential in society. How absurd is the conduct of that man, who while he is exerting himself as a father to preserve his children from the contamination of evil example, and as a member of the church of Christ to restrain error and vice, yet labours and gives his vote to put into an office where his evil example will corrupt thousands, some profane Sabbath-breaker, or Infidel, because he is of his party! It is a strange infatuation which brings intelligent men to this.

Good men should be sought for to occupy places of power, A true Christian in a high place becomes, indeed, a burning and shining light. How did a Joseph in Egypt, and a Daniel in Babylon, recommend the religion of the Bible? How vast the purifying influence of such monarchs as David, Hezekiah, and Josiah; of a Frederic of Saxony, or an Edward VI., of England. The influence of such rulers is seen and felt, often, to remote ages.

If we look at this subject in its bearings upon the national interests, the same conclusion presses upon us. There can be no effectual barrier against mal-administration and the perversion of authority, where the official functionaries are not personally honest men: not honest merely through interest, but through the fear of God. "As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear, so is a wicked ruler over the poor people," and "when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn."[27] The Ruler of men has been demonstrating this truth by the history of nations. He has given them up to misrule, to tyranny, or to anarchy, whenever they have forsaken him. Checks and balances have been adjusted in vain. What can frail man do, if God withholds his spirit from the machinery of government? His wisdom will be seen to be but folly. The present age sees this demonstrated. In many countries there is a fearful state of disorganization. The pressure of the hand of power is becoming intolerable in some; while in others, liberty has run into licentiousness. Even in the most free and enlightened nations, there is a growing want of confidence in their rulers, and in constitutional provisions to prevent the abuse of power. For this disorder of the social fabric there is no remedy but its re-construction. The nations must repent and turn to God; acknowledge Christ; honour and obey his law; and commit power into the hands of the friends of the Redeemer. Then, and not till then, will their national policy and prosperity be settled upon a sure foundation.[28]

[go to CHAPTER 4.]


[1] "Nations having divine revelation." The heathen who have never heard of Christ, and who are thus without the written law, will he judged nationally, as well as individually, by the law written upon their hearts. Rom. 2:19, "For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law." 

[2] Acts 20:21. 

[3] God, by his prophets, uttered the most awful threatenings not only against the Jews for their apostacy, but against the heathen nations, Moab, Edom, Assyria, Babylon, Tyre, Egypt, &c., for their sins. 

[4] Rev. 11:15. 

[5] 1 Pet. 1:11. 

[6] John 5:39. 

[7] All Pagan, and all popish countries where that apostacy bears entire sway, and where no counteracting influences are at work, illustrate the truth of this statement. See Italy, Spain, the south of Ireland, Mexico, and the French population of Canada. Much, indeed, of the boasted wisdom of antiquity is traceable to the influence of the Jewish Scriptures. 

[8] Brown of Haddington, Dict. of the Bible, on the word "Rule." 

[9] Eph. 4:8. 

[10] "The principles." The particular form of government, the distribution of powers (within certain limits,) and most of the laws, are left to be arranged by human wisdom. In this sense, civil government is "an ordinance of man," 1 Pet. 3:13. The moral principles to be imbodied in civil institutions are all amply revealed in the Scriptures. 

[11] Isa. 28:15. 

[12] Acts 17:27. 

[13] 1 Cor. 1:11. 

[14] In some Pagan nations, children murder their aged and infirm parents. Many nations have offered human sacrifices; parents offering their own children. We would suppose that if nature’s light were a sufficient guide in any thing, it would have prevented these hideous crimes. The name of justice, can hardly be applied to the administration of law, in any but Christian countries. 

[15] Deut. 17:18-20. 

[16] There is controversy regarding worship and church government. Should there be instrumental music in our churches, as there was in the temple? What instruction on the subject of church government and order, are we to derive from the Old Testament economy? These are mentioned not as furnishing any very serious difficulties to the humble and candid inquirer, but as illustrating the fact that diversities of sentiment exist in reference to these matters as well as those of a civil nature. 

[17] Psalm 34:10. 

[18] Gen. 18:19. 

[19] Heb. 1:6. 

[20] Luther said, "every institution where God’s word is not diligently studied, must become corrupt," See D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation, vol. ii. p, 93. 

[21] See Note B.

[22] The wisdom, the mercy, the purity of the Israelitish institutions, in their details, appear to be almost unnoticed at the present day. The severe penalties, as they are generally, but erroneously, supposed to be, attached to gross violations of the moral law, have exerted such an influence upon an unbelieving and law despising generation, as to prevent a careful study of the laws, which God himself gave to that people. It would be well if the whole subject of government were studied by Christians, and statesmen, in the light of the laws given by Jesus Christ to Israel. 

[23] Verse 12. 

[24] Gen. 49:4. 

[25] That ungodly rulers do not always employ their civil and political influence, publicly and avowedly, against pure religion, is owing to the fact that it is often, in the providence of the Mediator, not their interest to do so. They are frequently under moral restraints likewise, which prevent the free development of their character. Thus it is, that in the United States, and in Protestant countries generally, all the evils which might have been anticipated from the possession of power by the wicked, have not yet resulted. Their influence is insidious, and spreads silently, but not less dangerously. Remove all restraints, and what then? 

[26] Witness the effect that the broils and riots in the Congress of the United States, and in the State legislatures, have had upon the interests of social order in this country. 

[27] Prov. 28:15, 29:2. 

[28] It has been asked, in reference to the doctrine of the last particular, how the fearers of God can be selected—that as we do not know the heart, it is impossible. Who ever thinks of difficulty in this quarter, in choosing church rulers? And yet they are to be Christ’s disciples. We must take the consistent profession of candidates, both in church and state. There is no more difficulty in the one than in the other: none, in fact, in either. See note C.