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The Honor to which Legitimate Civil Government is Entitled.


The Honor to which Legitimate Civil Government is Entitled.

James Dodson

[from The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, XI.8, 285-290.]

1 Peter, 2:17. “Honor the king.”


The precepts of this verse are brief, but very comprehensive. They imply that every man sustains relations to God and to his fellow men. Out of these relations naturally and necessarily arise certain duties, which are imperatively required of all who sustain the relations, and from the performance of which there can be no exemption. The apostle, in this epistle, addresses himself “to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,”—“the elect of God,” and says to them, always and everywhere, “honor all men.” The honor intended in this far-reaching injunction, is not that of moral esteem. All men are not deserving of such honor. The character and conduct of some men are such as to call forth the sentiment of strong disapprobation, mingled with contempt. “In whose eyes vile men are despised” (Ps. 15:4), is spoken in commendation of the virtuous and godly. Yet there is an honor due to all men. The precept rests on the fact of man’s possessing a spiritual, rational, responsible, immortal nature. Every human being, whatever the degradation of his nature, the meanness of his birth, the meagreness of his education, or the depth of his destitution, is nevertheless an heir of immortality, a being containing within himself capacities of illimitable improvement—“a creature possessed of a principle which, if rightly directed and developed, may carry him upward and onward in the pursuit of glory, and honor, and immortality forever.”

While honor is to be rendered to all men, something more is due to the brotherhood. By the brotherhood, christians are intended. They are spiritual brethren, for they have a common Father, a common character, a common education, a common home, and a common inheritance. Duty and relation are correlative terms, and the weight of obligation corresponds to the closeness of the relation. Christians are bound to honor all men; but standing in a nearer relation to the brotherhood, the duty they owe to them is love. “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” (1 Pet. 1:22, 23.)

From our relation to God springs the duty of fear. God’s perfections are all infinite; every aspect of his character is fitted to fill the mind with awe, and inspire the sentiment of supreme veneration. “His is the greatness, his the power, his the glory, his the victory, his the majesty, his the kingdom, his the purity.” “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name; for thou alone art holy.” (Isa. 6:3, and Rev. 15:3,4.) We ought to fear God. This is the first and highest requirement of reason as well a-s revelation. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

“Honor the king.” The apostle comprehends in this brief precept of three words the sum of the christian’s duties in his civil relations. By the “king” is meant the civil magistrate, whether styled king, or president, or known by some other designation. And the word “honor” is a comprehensive term, embracing all the duties owed by the subject to the civil ruler. The command is God’s. The assumption therefore is that civil government is an ordinance of God. It is a divine appointment, having its origin in the will of God; and, as we may readily see, is wisely adapted to the constitution of man and the circumstances of his situation. Moreover, the two precepts that stand here in such immediate proximity, sustain to each other an important relation. “Fear God. Honor the king.” The loyalty of the christian man rests on respect for the divine authority. He honors the king because he fears God; and, in christian ethics, the honor rendered the civil magistrate is lilted from the low level of mere expediency, selfishness, or regard to present temporal interests, to the high position of religious duty.

There are two inquiries suggested by the words of our text, to which, for a few moments, we ask attention.

I. What king, what civil rulers, what civil governments are we to honor?

II. What honor are we to render them?

I. What king, what civil rulers, what civil governments are we to honor? I. Not all kings, not all civil rulers, not all civil governments that may be in the possession of power.

(1.) Peter himself, in the immediate connection, limits the submission required of christians to civil government. “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.” (vv. 13,14.)

(2.) To affirm that honor is to be rendered to civil rulers and governments indiscriminately would be inconsistent with Paul's delineation of the character of the government to which honor and submission are due. He represents it as divine in its origin, and possessing a moral character; a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well. “For rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil.” “For he is the minister of God to thee for good.” (Rom. 13:3,4.)

(3.) But further: To suppose every king is intended, is utterly inconsistent with the account which the Bible gives of the character and qualifications of God’s ministers for good to his people. The Roman rulers of that period were heathen and hostile to christians; they acknowledged neither the true God nor his authority; they did not pretend to rule in his fear, or to be his servants. How then reconcile their character and qualifications with the requirements of the divine law, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God, &c.?”

(4.) The assumption that Peter intends in this passage to teach christians it is their duty to honor all civil magistrates, is inconsistent with Paul's instructions to the Corinthians and the Ephesians. Paul says to the Corinthians: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust and not before the saints? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.” Two reasons are assigned for the prohibition; the injustice and infidelity of the magistrates. But why decline their authority? Why dissuade christians from going to law with one another before these magistrates if they were lawful magistrates, and to be honored, if their tribunals were lawful tribunals, and if they were really ministers of God for good to christians?

Again; Paul exhorts the Ephesians: “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world.” He had just prescribed the relative duties of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants. Instead of rising in the natural order to that of magistrates and people, he urges the Ephesians strenuously to resist infernal principalities and powers, and their agents in the form of the rulers of the darkness of this world. But christians could not certainly at the same time honor them as God’s ordinance of civil magistracy, and steadfastly resist them as the agents of Satan.

(5.) To suppose the meaning is, that all kings that reign, all civil magistrates that possess power, are to be recognized, honored and obeyed as lawful magistrates, would render Peter's teachings inconsistent with those of the prophet Daniel, and of John the divine. Under the figure of a great image, Nebuchadnezzar had a vision of the four great world monarchies, the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Grecian and the Roman. The prophet affirms, “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” (Dan. 2:44.) The kingdom set up by the God of heaven was doubtless God’s ordinance to be honored and obeyed by christians. The fourth kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was that in power when Peter wrote this injunction, “honor the king.” If, by the king to be honored, Peter intended the Roman empire and the Roman magistracy, then we have the strange spectacle of one ordinance of God falling upon, destroying and annihilating another ordinance of God; a catastrophe, upon the hypothesis we are combatting, greatly to be deplored; but, according to Daniel, a consummation intensely to be desired.

Daniel had a vision of the same immoral empires under the figure of four wild beasts. The fourth, the Roman empire, he describes thus: “I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly, and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and brake in pieces and stamped the residue with the feet of it; and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.” “Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces and stamped the residue with his feet.” “The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down and break it in pieces.” (Dan., 7:7,19,23.) This is the king, this the empire, that ruled the earth when Peter wrote. Can any one be so infatuated as to suppose that Peter intended to teach that this cruel, immoral, beastly power was to be honored and obeyed as God’s ordinance by Christians?

Yet again; John, in the isle of Patmos, was presented with another representation of the same empire. “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion; and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat and great authority.” (Rev. 13:1,2.) The particulars wherein this beast of John and the fourth beast of Daniel agree are so numerous and so obvious that commentators, I might almost say, with one consent, have identified them as one and the same. John, however, assures us that the dragon gave him his power and seat and great authority. We are not left to conjecture as to who is meant by the dragon, inasmuch as we have the term defined elsewhere by John himself (Rev. 20:2), “The dragon, that old serpent which is the devil and Satan.” If then, in the injunction, “honor the king,” Peter means every king who reigns: if, more specifically, he means the emperor and magistrates of the Roman empire, then he must be understood as virtually exhorting and commanding christians to honor and obey Satan and his agents. We may be certain a right interpretation of his words involves no such discrepancy with the teachings of other portions of Scripture; and no such dilemma and absurdity as that kings and governments are, at once, the offspring and agents of God, and the offspring and agents of the devil.

(6.) If the words, “honor the king,” mean every king, every government that may be in the possession of power, then there cannot be an unlawful government. Every existing government must be the ordinance of God, whatever its character, the absurdity of which we have just seen. On such a hypothesis it would follow that there is no difference between the minister of God’s ordinance and the instrument of his providence which may be employed as the scourge of God for the punishment of a guilty people; between a preceptive and a permissive magistracy; although what God permits is nowhere the rule of moral obligation, but, on the contrary, what he commands.

(7.) Again: To suppose Peter means any king whatever, is inconsistent with the word of God, with the example of Christ and with the practice of the saints. God says, “They have set up kings, but not by me.” (Hos. 8:4.) There are kings, then, that God does not know, own, or honor, and consequently does not require his people to acknowledge or honor.

Christ, whose example is perfect, said of king Herod, “Go and tell that fox.” (Luke 13:32.) Characterizing him as a craftv, cruel wild beast was surely not doing him honor.

Elisha said to Jehoram, king of Israel: “Get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother.” “As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, I would not look towards thee, nor see thee.” (2 Kings 3:13,14.)

Paul said to the high priest, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall, &c.” (Acts 23:3.) It being before a Roman tribunal, in which the high priest and council of the Jews appeared, he did not know he was the high priest; but he knew he was a magistrate, a judge, and vet, not considering him deserving of honor, scruples not to call him a “whited wall.”

Paul characterizes Nero, who was at the head of the Roman empire when Peter wrote, as a ferocious, blood-thirsty wild beast. “I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” (2 Tim. 4:17.)

It appears obvious, then, almost to a demonstration, that all kings, all governments, are not entitled to honor. Indeed, whenever the inspired writers point out and insist on the performance of the duties which devolve on men in the various relations they sustain, there is always implied the proper existence of the relation. God has ordained the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, master and servant, magistrate and subject. When the relative duties belonging to any of these relations are enjoined, the assumption is that the relation exists according to God’s ordinance. Men are not at liberty to substitute an arrangement of their own instead of God’s appointment, and claim for it the privileges to which God’s ordinance alone is entitled. For illustration, God has ordained and established the relation of master and servant, and has specified the duties belonging to the relation. Men are not allowed, as they formerly did in this land, to substitute for this God-ordained relation, that of master and slave, and claim from the slave the respect and obedience due from the servant to the master. When God speaks of the duties of servants to their masters, it is always to be understood of the relation which he has ordained, and no other. When he speaks of the duties of subjects to magistrates, in like manner, it is to be understood of the relation as he has ordained it. And so of the relative duties in all the relations of life; when these are prescribed, they refer always, unless there be something in the connection to indicate the exceptional character, to the relations as they were ordained of God. Thus the apostle is to be understood here as speaking of the divinely-ordained relation of magistrate and subject. Where this relation exists according to divine appointment, then it is always the duty of the subject to honor the magistrate.

[To be continued.]



Continued from page 290.

[from The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, XI.9, 309-315.]

But, as we have already shown, all magistrates are not worthy of honor. It becomes, therefore, an important inquiry, What is requisite on the part of the magistrate, in order to entitle him to honor? How must the government be constituted in order to justify the magistrate's claim to honor?

Here we remark in the second place:

2. The social compact, on the basis of which the magistrate rules, must be moral and scriptural, before he can be entitled to honor.

What then are the elements of a moral and scriptural constitution? They are various.

God must be acknowledged in the constitution as the source of power. “There is no power but of God,” and he will not give his glory to another.

It is further essential that Christ should be recognized as the Governor among the nations; for God declares he left nothing that is not put under him; and he will have all men honor the Son even as they honor the Father. (Heb. 2:8, and John 5:23.)

It must embrace, also, a recognition of the law of God, the Bible, as the supreme law. The authority, the power, possessed by rulers, being from God, can be none other than a moral power. God, as he cannot deny himself, cannot confer on rulers or kings an authority to practice immorality. And the only standard, either of political virtue or of moral conduct, is the law of God.

Furthermore: It must contain a recognition of the true church of Christ, and a profession of the true religion. The advancement of the kingdom of Christ, his church, and the true religion, ought to be the highest aim, the ultimate end of all civil government. This will appear if we consider that, by the sovereign appointment of Jehovah, nations and their rulers are placed in subjection to Messiah. Christ is head over all things “to the church.” God has “given him power over all flesh, that he might give eternal life to as many” as were given him. The kingdom of providence, then, embracing the ordering and control of the nations, is administered by the Redeemer in subserviency to the interests of the kingdom of grace. In the advancement of that stupendous work of mercy which brought him from heaven to earth, he requires the active and cordial concurrence of all the subjects of his moral empire, and condemns neutrality as equivalent to undisguised opposition. “He that is not with me is against me.”

It has been said: “The great design of civil government is to protect the liberties, properties and lives of mankind living together in society.” A much better, more comprehensive and more scriptural definition of the end of civil government is given in the Westminster Confession of Faith, where it is declared to be, “to maintain piety, justice and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth.” (Confession, ch. 23:2.)

But even taking the former definition, it is impossible for the civil magistrate and civil government to perform their own peculiar duties without the support of true religion. The true welfare of the nation depends on its moral purity, and the rectitude, impartiality and humanity of its laws. And the only effectual method of promoting moral purity, and securing just, impartial and humane laws, is to be found in the propagation of the gospel and the support of the true religion. Hence it follows, the first and most important duty of civil government, even when seeking the physical, mental and moral welfare of the community, is to recognize, encourage and support the true church and the true religion of Jesus Christ.

The correctness of this position is further manifest from the fact that never, in all history, has there been an example of a government that God approved, that did not recognize the church of God and the true religion. The Jews possessed a civil government approved of God; but it contained, I might almost say, in every element of its constitution, a distinct recognition of Jehovah, Israel’s God, and of the religion which he prescribed.

So at the Second Reformation, there was exhibited to the world, for a brief period, the rare spectacle of a civil government on a thoroughly moral and scriptural basis. The giant minds of that period, the reformers, fired with the love of truth, and tolerating nothing but what rested on a scriptural foundation, brought to the study of this question talents and qualifications unsurpassed if not unrivalled, and gave it an investigation, such, perhaps, as it never before or since received. As the issue, through their instrumentality, the nation of Scotland was brought, as a nation, to the ratification of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, and Directory for Worship, and to the adoption and swearing of those far-famed and glorious covenants, the National and Solemn League, both of which give the first and chief place to the national recognition, embracing and defending of the true church and the true religion. The covenants, let it be observed, were made to form part of the civil constitution, without the swearing to support which no king could reign, or magistrate occupy inferior official position. (See Test[imony of] 1761, p. 102.)

Thus, then, in order to entitle any government to honor, in the sense of our text, its constitution, or social compact, must contain a recognition of the true church, and a profession or confession of the true religion.

And should any one imagine that one standard or confession of faith has been provided for the nation, and another for the church or the individual, we affirm he is pleasing himself with a mere figment of his imagination, without the slightest support or justification either in right reason or the word of God.

The unsectarian religion to which we hear reference sometimes made, is, in the present condition of the world, an impossibility. I mean that while heresiarchs continue to arise to caricature religion, while many are found ready to follow their pernicious ways, while they profess some regard for the Scriptures, and give to their false systems the name of Christianity, unsectarian Christianity is impossible. Those who embrace the true religion will be regarded and spoken of as a sect. In other words, under such circumstances, for the professor of religion to make no distinction between true and false religion, though in general terms he may declare his acceptance of and adherence to the Bible, is simply equivalent to, or worse than, no profession at all. And if it be important for the individual, in making a profession of religion, to distinguish the false from the true, it is equally important for the nation; nay, vastly more so, as the character, example and influence of the nation are more important than those of an individual.

There is but one faith, one Lord, one baptism. The faith professed by the Jewish nation, as such, was identically the same as that professed by the Jewish Church and the Jewish individual. That professed by the nation of Scotland, and the British nation, as such, in reforming times, was precisely that confessed by the Reformed Church, the individual subject and the individual christian.

Thus it appears there never was, and as we may safely add, there never will be, there never can be, a truly thoroughly christian government, without a national recognition and embracing of the true church and the true religion. The Scriptures declare that the church of God “is one, the only one of her mother;” and when the Spirit of God is poured out in his promised fulness, she will doubtless be visibly one, as she is now really one.

Meanwhile, however, we read in New Testament Scripture of those who “say they are Jews and are not, but do lie.” (Rev. 2:9, and 3:9.) In other words of those who profess to be christians, but are the synagogue of Satan. To what extent even these synagogues of Satan may be made instrumental in converting souls to Christ, we have no means of determining. Doubtless here, as everywhere else, God brings some good out of the evil. Even in the Roman Catholic Church, which no doubt is among the most abandoned of these synagogues of Satan, there are some of God’s chosen ones, that have been born to him there; to whom, before the utter final destruction of that system of iniquity, he will address the call: “Come out of her, my people.”

Again: Consider the churches of the Arminian persuasion—and what is Arminianism but Popery in a Protestant dress? But be this as it may, the respective creeds of Calvinists and Arminians are widely different. What would we think of the man who claimed to be a christian, but professed his faith in the Calvinistic, the Armenian and the Roman Catholic creeds alike; sought equally the communion of each and extended to each equal favor and support? Would not the whole world cry out shame on such a character, and unite in regarding him as publicly and shamelessly proclaiming his own dishonesty and hypocrisy? Such a profession would be universally regarded as affording no evidence whatever of christian character. Would a nation, then, we ask, making similar profession, and extending like favor, be in any degree better? Would it not afford the pitiable spectacle of a nation publicly proclaiming its insincerity and hypocrisy, in an act, at once insulting to the church of Christ, and dishonoring to God?

3. In order to entitle a government to honor in the sense of our text, the civil functionary must be competent to his trust, he must be scripturally qualified.

To establish this point we consider it sufficient simply to recite a few passages of Scripture. “Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose; one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.” (Deut. 17:15.) “Moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” (Ex. 18:21.) “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.” (2 Sam. 23:3.) “And kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and their queens thy nursing-mothers.” (Isa. 49:23.) “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.” (Rom. 13:3,4.)

God has given no body politic the right to elevate to official position persons destitute of these prescribed qualifications. “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God,” otherwise he is not a legitimate ruler at all. The moment Saul gave evidence of having cast off the fear of God, he was rejected of God, and disowned of Samuel as a lawful ruler. David, too, disowned and resisted him; and day by day, while he yet kept himself close, at Ziklag, because of Saul the son of Kish, there came to him of the valiant and faithful of Benjamin and Judah, and other tribes, to help him, “until it was a great host, like the host of God.” (1 Chron. 12.)

4. The civil functionary, in order to be entitled to honor, must have acquired his power lawfully—not by fraud, or force, or usurpation.

As we have already seen, government, in order to “be of God,” “to be ordained of God,” must be of divine institution. Thus theft, lying, murder, can never be of God, for he has nowhere authorized their existence. He has, however, signified it to be his will that civil government should exist among men, and it is thus of divine institution.

But in order to be of God, it is no less necessary that it should be of divine constitution.

(1.) Directly and immediately by God himself conferring on men the endowments and qualifications necessary for its proper constitution; and,

(2.) Indirectly and mediately through the instrumentality of men. The divine institution of government in general gives no one the right to exercise rule. So far as can be inferred from institution alone, the right of rule resides in one as much as in another. Scriptural qualifications alone give no man the right to rule; otherwise all who possess these qualifications would be rightful rulers.

Granting, then, what has already been established from Scripture, reason would conduct to the conclusion that civil government, to be of God, must also be constituted by the people. This conclusion of reason is rendered certain by the instructions given by God to the people for constituting government. “Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.” (Deut. 1:13.) “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all the gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee throughout thy tribes; and they shall judge the people with just judgment.” (Deut. 16:18.) “And Hushai said unto Absalom, Nay: but whom the Lord, and this people, and all the men of Israel, choose, his will I be, and with him will I abide.” (2 Sam. 16:18.)

Hence civil government is called, also, an ordinance of man. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.” (2 Pet. 2:13.) And the making of kings and rulers is ascribed directly to the people. “And all the people of Judah took Azariah, which was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father, Amaziah.” (2 Kings 14:21.) “All their men of war that could keep rank came with a perfect heart to Hebron, to make David king over all Israel; and all the rest also of Israel were of one heart to make David king.” (1 Chron. 12:38.) Of Joash it is said, “Then they brought out the king’s son, and put upon him the crown, and gave him the testimony, and made him king.” (2 Chron. 23:11.) Even when designated by God, the persons thus marked out were not actual rulers till invested by the people. “Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on Saul’s head, and said, Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance?” (1 Sam. 10:1.) Yet after this, “all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Said king.” (1 Sam. 11:15.) “Then all Israel gathered themselves to David unto Hebron;” “all the elders of Israel came to the king to Hebron; and David made a covenant with them in Hebron before the Lord; and they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of the Lord by Samuel.” (1 Chron. 11:1,3.) We conclude, therefore, that a ruler, a government, in order to be entitled to honor, must have the consent and suffrages of the people.

Still let it be borne in mind that no approval of the people, however hearty and unanimous, can render legitimate a government founded on an immoral constitution; or invest with rightful authority persons destitute of divinely required qualifications, or persons who have seized power illegally by fraud, or violence, or usurpation. Absalom usurped power, and possessed it with the approval of the masses, but he had no right. His claim was not recognized, either by God or by the fearers of God.

Let it be further noticed, that no use of power, however laudable, can render legitimate that which is otherwise illegitimate. Suppose the case of a government founded on an immoral constitution, its functionaries destitute of moral qualifications, or usurpers; if you could conceive of these functionaries exercising power in the most just, paternal and beneficent manner, to promote the highest prosperity and welfare of the citizens; yea, add to all this the circumstance of their having the cordial concurrence and support of the great majority of the people; still it would be utterly illegitimate and without right, and could not be honored and obeyed by the christian, for conscience’ sake, without sin.

5. The king or ruler, in order to be entitled to honor, must not use his power arbitrarily, unconstitutionally, or immorally; or the abuse forfeits the use.

Rehoboam abused his power in becoming a tyrant, and practising cruelty and injustice, declaring his purpose to make his little finger thicker than his father's loins. He was therefore justly, and with divine approval, repudiated by the people. (1 Kings 11:26-39, and 12:24.) Not indeed that every abuse of power forfeits its use. But I apprehend it will be readily and universally admitted that abuse of power may be carried to such an extent as to forfeit all right to its use. Can any man in his senses imagine that we are required tamely to submit to be plundered, and outraged and destroyed by persons who, though setting up the claim of authority, and proceeding under the forms of law, are no better than common thieves and robbers? Is it to be supposed that a God of justice and beneficence has commissioned a few ruffians, tyrants, despots, or usurpers, to pillage, butcher and oppress their fellows, and required them, without even an effort for themselves, their friends, their property, or their country, to submit like lambs to the butcher’s knife? No; we will make no such supposition. It would be as absurd, and as unscriptural, too, as to suppose that we are forbidden to use means to resist private ruffians and robbers, who, with a title equally good, attempt to deprive us of our property, our liberty, and our lives; as absurd as to suppose we are forbidden to use means to arrest the ravages of fire, of pestilence, or of flood.

The particulars we have mentioned are essential to the validity and legitimacy of any government, at least where the light of divine revelation has shined.

The force of our argument is not weakened in the least, by the assertion that civil government being a divine institution, we must, in some way, recognize legitimacy wherever government exists. Civil government, so far as it is a divine institution only, is a mere abstraction, a doctrine, a theory having no embodiment anywhere. And when we pass from the abstract to the concrete, and give the institution of government actual embodiment, and constitution, we must ever bear in mind, God has given no man, no association of men, a right to constitute a government in any other way than according to his directions. And God is the source of all right. Neither individuals nor nations possess any, not derived from him. The law of God is the only standard of right; the only rule of morality. To assume, then, that any government or ruler destitute of the qualifications imperatively required in the divine law, is legitimate, possessed of right and authority, is virtually to assume that God has given men a right to set aside the requirements of his law. But God cannot deny himself.

As well might it be argued: The church is a divine institution, therefore, in the Church of Rome, and in every synagogue of Satan, we must, recognize the ordinance of God. The fact that civil government is a divine institution, determines nothing respecting the moral character of any existing government—nothing, as to whether it be the ordinance of God, or not. The assumption is a pure fallacy, exposed, and shown to be such, alike by the teachings of Scripture and the philosophy of common sense.

The objection brought to our doctrine, in the assertion so frequently made during the last two hundred years, that civil government rests on precisely the same basis as the family, we meet with a flat and positive contradiction. It is alleged the father of the family may be immoral, infidel and atheistic, yet retain legitimate authority, and be entitled to respect and obedience; so also the king, or civil ruler. We answer, the cases are not parallel, and the analogy does not hold. The points of difference are many. We will mention only two—sufficient, we think, to clearly show the fallacy of the argument.

In the natural relation of father and child, the child does not in any sense make his father and is not at all responsible for the character of that father. But in the relation of ruler and subjects, the people do make their rulers, and are entirely responsible for their character. In the one case, then, the child is responsible for what he honors, and respects, and obeys; and in the other, not.

Again: the natural relation of father and child being once established, by no possibility can that relation be destroyed. But in the civil relation, as the people make their rulers, so they may unmake them at pleasure; and it becomes their imperative duty to do so if their rulers cast off the fear of God. God has not put it in the power of the natural child to choose his father, as in the case of the civil child, and hence has not made honor and obedience dependent on the same conditions in the one case as in the other.

So in the relation of master and servant. A servant may choose an immoral, unbelieving master, and in the relation of servant, render him respect and obedience; because God has not here made the choice dependent on moral character, or limited it to a moral, believing master.

Our position rests, then, we think, on a basis of irrefragable truth. The king or civil ruler, in order to be entitled to honor, must be the minister of God’s ordinance; for the apostle speaks of nothing else; and in order to that, the social compact, on the basis of which he rules, must be moral and scriptural; he must himself possess moral and scriptural qualifications; he must have acquired power lawfully; and he must not abuse it. These together are essential to the making up of God's ordinance. Any government destitute of all, or any one, of these essential elements, is not God's ordinance of civil rule; and is not entitled to the christian’s honor and obedience, for conscience’ sake.

[To be continued.]





Continued from page 316.

[from The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, XI.10, 341-346.]

II. Having determined what is meant by the king to whom honor is to be given, our next inquiry is, What honor is to be rendered him? We observe:

1. The honor of obedience. This kind of honor is insisted on in the immediate context. “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.” (1 Pet. 2:13,14.)

Paul presses the same duty in the thirteenth chapter of Romans: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.” “Wherefore, we must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.” (Rom. 13:1,3.) And observe, he distinguishes two kinds of obedience: for wrath, and for conscience’ sake. Paul there, like Peter here, is speaking of God’s ordinance; and reminds christians that the subjection they would yield to it must not be reluctant or forced, but free, arising from religious principle and a sense of duty.

There is a kind of obedience which christians may render to governments that are not God’s ordinance; an obedience for wrath’s sake, in things not sinful in themselves. Such was the obedience rendered by the Israelites in Egypt and in Babylon, and by the Jews under the Persian yoke, in the time of Nehemiah. The yielding of it was a calamity, a chastisement to which they were subjected because of their sins. Nehemiah bewails it thus: “Behold we are servants this day, and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof, behold, we are servants in it: and it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also, they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.” (Neh. 9:36,37.)

But the only obedience to the rightful king, the legitimate civil ruler, that can meet the requirements of the divine law, is an obedience for conscience’ sake. The apostle is not enforcing civil obedience merely because government is human in its origin, and has the consent of the body politic. It is because it is a power from God, divine in its institution and constitution. The revealed moral law may not indeed contain a civil constitution of universal obligation; but it contained what is equivalent, general principles of universal application. The government constituted in accordance with these principles, comes with a claim of right from God, the source of all right.

Honor and obedience are to be rendered to a legitimate government, to a ruler possessed of rightful authority, “for conscience’ sake.” Conscience necessarily supposes some standard of right and wrong, some rule of morality. An enlightened conscience has respect always to the will of God, and must be regulated by it. To command subjection to a government “for conscience’ sake,” is then equivalent to commanding obedience to it because it is moral. But the Bible is the only standard of right and morality. If then, on comparing any government with the standard God has given us to determine its moral character, we find it destitute of what is there required, we necessarily conclude it is immoral and illegitimate: God has given it no right to exist at all; and consequently obedience for conscience’ sake, on the part of an enlightened conscience, is in the very nature of the case an impossibility.

Claims are reciprocal. Moral conscientious obedience claims moral authority. Scriptural obedience is entitled to a scriptural magistracy, and a scriptural magistracy to a scriptural obedience. Before rulers can exact scriptural subjection, they must remember it is but reasonable their subjects should demand scriptural institutions. “Wherefore,” considering the nature, origin, object and end of God’s ordinance of civil rule, and the power with which the king, the civil ruler, is armed to enforce subjection, “ye must needs be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake:” or in other words, you must “honor the king” by rendering conscientious obedience to lawful authority, in the lawful exercise of that authority.

2. The honor of support. Paul's language is explicit. “For this cause pay ye tribute also; for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.” (Rom. 13:6.) The word pay employed by the apostle, indicates that the payment specified is to be regarded as a debt due. Pay ye tribute; by which is meant any tax on person or property levied for the support of public burdens, or to defray the necessary expenses of government. “Honor the king” by the cheerful, conscientious payment of this tribute.

Note here, however, that the tribute may be levied for different purposes. It may be demanded as the price of protection, a just equivalent for public services; or it may be exacted as a test of loyalty, or as a mark of subjection. In the latter mode the Jews exacted it of the Canaanites; and in the same way, at a later period, the Persians, Greeks and Romans exacted it of the Jews.

In the passage to which reference has been made, Paul assigns two reasons why kings are to be honored by the cheerful, conscientious payment of tribute. In the first place, because “they are God’s ministers;” and he thereby limits the obligation of such payment of tribute to those who are kings of right. In the second place, because of their utility: “God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing;” that is, the public good. “The laborer is worthy of his reward.”

But their utility alone cannot constitute this claim of right. Conquerors, usurpers, a mere modern vigilance committee, may administer justice, protect life and property, and promote some of the ends of God’s ordinance of civil government. But for all this, they are not entitled to recognition and support as the ministers of God, possessing moral and legitimate authority.

The apostolic precepts concerning tribute and custom are general and hypothetical. Claims, as was before remarked, are reciprocal; and no government is entitled to conscientious support that does not exhibit the character of God’s ordinance. The command is, Render tribute to whom tribute is due. It is due to him who is “the minister of God for good,” but not to the ministers of Satan.

It has been alleged that Christ taught the lawfulness and duty of paying tribute to the Roman government, both by precept and example. Suppose he did, there is a previous question that demands attention: Does the lawfulness of giving tribute determine the legitimacy of the government? When the Jews were brought under the Persian yoke, and paid a forced and unwilling tribute to their conquerors, did that constitute any acknowledgment of the lawfulness, the legitimacy of the Persian government?

There is a difference between payment from conscience, and from constraint. The simple compulsory payment of tribute for revenue, or as a mark of subjection without specific sinful condition, does not seem necessarily to recognize the lawfulness of the government, any more, for instance, than the payment of tithes, or church rates by dissenters in England and Scotland, is a recognition of the lawfulness of those religious systems against which they protest.

But did Christ teach the lawfulness of paying tribute to the Roman government? Let us examine the question. The passage from which this inference is derived, is recorded in Matt. 22:15-22. The Pharisees wished to entangle him, and for this purpose united with the Herodians in putting to him the question: “Is it lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar, or not?” The Pharisees were a religious sect, the Herodians a political: the latter friendly to the Roman government, the former hostile; the one thought it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, the other demurred. Had he answered in the affirmative, the Pharisees intended to denounce him as a traitor to the liberties of his country, to incense the people against him, and hold him up to public odium as an abettor of their political servitude. Their cry would have been: Such an enemy of his country cannot be the promised Messiah. On the other hand, had he answered in the negative, the Herodians, with a view of stirring up the civil authorities against him, would have denounced him as an enemy to the government, a teacher of sedition, and a traitor to Cæsar. They felt certain that one or the other of the horns of this dilemma he could not possibly escape. But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and what was his answer? “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” A general answer is returned to a particular inquiry. Does the general reply determine the specific case?”

Some have no difficulty in deciding in the affirmative. But it is very evident the parties which proposed the embarrassing question were not so clear. Neither the one nor the other could “lay hold of his words before the people,” as they had intended. They were completely baffled, abashed and confounded; “they held their peace;” and marvelling at the dexterity of the answer, “they went their way.”

Nor did his answer appear as plainly in the affirmative to the elders of the people, the chief priests and scribes; for when he was arraigned before Pilate, they say, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar.” (Luke 23:2.)

If the lawfulness of paying tribute to Cæsar is not determined by the precept of Christ, his example, it has been said, as recorded in Matt. 17:24-27, solves the question. In reply, we ask, was it sacred or civil tribute that he paid in the instance there related? The great body of critical, learned and judicious expositors are of opinion that it was the half-shekel tax, which the Jewish doctors, from an exposition of Ex. 30:12, held every adult Jew was bound to pay annually to the temple. The tribute paid must have been either sacred or civil. If not sacred, wherein lies the force of our Lord’s question to Peter? If civil, then he claims exemption, and did not pay it as a matter of right, but only because, in all the circumstances of the case, it was expedient.

The teachings of the Bible on this important point may then, we apprehend, be briefly summed up thus: The simple payment of tribute does not constitute a recognition of the lawfulness of the government to which it is paid. Christians may, for wrath’s sake, pay tribute when not levied for a specifically sinful end, even to unlawful and immoral governments. They may even pay tribute to such governments cheerfully and conscientiously, as a matter of right, as an equivalent for value received, in so far as they have enjoyed protection to life and property; just as it is right for the christian to pay for benefits received, or services rendered, by the most abandoned of men. But tribute paid as a matter of right and duty, for conscience’ sake, from a regard to the authority and will of God commanding it, can only be to a government possessed of those features which we have found essential to constitute the ordinance of God.

3. The honor of respect. Righteous and competent rulers are entitled to respect and honor. “Fear God, honor the king.” Paul emphatically enjoins, “render therefore to all their dues,—fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 12:7.) “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.” (Ex. 22:28.)

Honor is not due to tyrants, usurpers, unlawful and wicked rulers. Does the inspired writer speak with respect of such rulers whom he says, “As a roaring lion and a ranging bear, so is a wicked ruler over the poor people?” (Prob. 28:15.) Does Paul honor Nero when he says of him, “I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion?” Plainly then, either every existing king or ruler is not meant, when the command is given, “honor the king,” or Christ himself, and holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, violated their own injunction.

The instructions concerning magistracy by both Peter and Paul are delivered in the most general terms, without the use of the definite article in the original: “Let every soul be subject to higher powers,” not “the higher powers,” “whether it be to king as superior,” not “the king as superior;” and are to be understood as given in connection, and in consistency with other scriptures, to regulate the political conduct of christians, both at the time they were written, and in every subsequent age, without any specific reference to the authorities then existing. Nero, at the time of Peter’s writing, was at the head of the Roman empire. Was Nero deserving of honor? We have just seen that Paul compares him to a lion, for his cruelty and ferocity. The accuracy of this description is corroborated by profane history. Gibbon, sneaking of the period that comprehended Nero’s reign, presents us with the following picture, the correctness of which does not admit of being called in question: “The annals of the emperors exhibit a strong and various picture of human nature which we should vainly seek among the doubtful characters of modern history. . . . . The dark unrelenting Tiberius, the furious Caligula, the feeble Claudius, the profligate and cruel Nero, the beastly Vitellius, and the timid inhuman Domitian, are condemned to everlasting infamy. During four score years (excepting only the short and doubtful respite of Vespasian’s reign,) Rome groaned beneath an unremitting tyranny, which exterminated the ancient families of the republic, and was fatal to almost every virtue and every talent that arose in that unhappy period.”

Of the Emperor Nero, in particular, the historian Tacitus, and others, relate that he set fire to and reduced to ashes the city of Rome. To relieve himself from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, “he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called christians.” Multitudes were seized and convicted; “and in their deaths they were also made the subjects of sport, for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when day declined, burned to serve for nocturnal lights;” for which spectacle Nero offered his own gardens. He was a minister, not of God, but of the devil; a murderer, and most abandoned profligate. He poisoned Brittannicus, the lawful heir to the throne. He put to death his own mother, to whom he was indebted for the crown. He was accessory to the death of his own wife. He was also accessory to the death of Seneca, his own tutor; and procured moreover the deaths of very many eminent men, both public officers and private citizens. “He was a cruel and remorseless tyrant, a man whom Pliny represents as the common enemy and fury of mankind, the pattern of the most execrable barbarity, and unpardonable wantonness. Weary of the monster, the Roman senate at last condemned him to be dragged naked through the streets of Rome, whipped to death, and afterwards to be thrown down from the Tarpeian rock, like the meanest malefactor.” Was such a monster, we ask again, worthy of honor? Could Peter, when he said, “honor the king,” mean Nero? You will not do the apostle, or the Lord of the apostle, the horrible injustice of imputing any such sentiment to them. The apostle speaks in this passage, and in all like passages, only of civil magistrates and governments that embody the divine ordinance. Upon this hypothesis the difficulty which has been supposed to reside in these passages vanishes at once. With this key, as one expresses it, they softly open even to the hand of a child.

4. By prayer for his permanence and prosperity.

Whatever discredit and contempt the infidel scientist and philosopher may attempt to cast upon prayer, and whatever difficulty the devout believer may experience in explaining the mode in which prayer procures divine blessing, we cannot doubt its value, without wholly and entirely repudiating the Bible. “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find.” “The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much.” Civil magistrates have duties to discharge, most arduous and difficult. They cannot perform them aright without divine help and the divine blessing; and these are only secured in answer to prayer. “I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Tim. 2:1,2.)

But we must keep up our distinction to the end. Christians might, no doubt, pray for wicked, immoral, illegitimate governments and rulers, that God would, if consistent with his will, reform them, and bring them to a willing acknowledgment of himself and his law. But could enlightened christians conscientiously pray, for instance, that God would prosper and perpetuate the government of the Grand Sultan of Turkey? or the Shah of Persia? Suppose christians under those governments, or under any of the anti-christian governments of Europe, should pray thus: “Lord, bless thy servant, our sovereign, the Grand Sultan, or the King, or the Emperor, as the case may be; prosper and establish their thrones, and frustrate all the devices of their enemies;” would they not be virtually praying that God would do what he has emphatically declared he will not do? Would they not be virtually praying for the permanent dishonor of God, and for the frustration of is promises respecting the millennial reign and glory of his church? The prophet Daniel having appropriately characterized these great world systems of iniquity, adds, “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms.” “Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver and the gold, broken together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away that no place was found for them.” (Dan. 2:44,35.)

The secular beast of John, with the seven heads and the ten horns, will make war against the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, and both beast and false prophet shall be cast alive into the lake of fire. (Rev. 19.) If the terms of the passages just quoted do not indicate the overthrow and utter destruction of those systems, we know not what language could express it. We must not forget, then, that when Paul says to Timothy, “I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority,” he is speaking only of God’s ordinances, of such kings and authorities as possess the character and qualifications requisite to render them legitimate.

[To be continued.]




Concluded from page 346.

[from The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, XI.11, 373-379.]

In conclusion, we remark, if we have been successful in establishing our premises, it necessarily follows:

1. That the institution of civil government is founded in the legislative will of God. It is not primarily grounded on the social compact or will of man. It rests upon an antecedent and higher foundation. The social compact does not create our civil rights, duties and obligations. It presupposes them, and purposes to ascertain, delineate, and authoritatively declare them.

Man has been constituted by his Creator a moral and social being, and thereby fitted for civil society and civil rule. “Civil government is not a mere conventional arrangement, or device of human wisdom, like some mercantile company. It is divine in its root, and originates not in the will of man merely, but in the will of God—not in the light of nature, but in the law of nature.” But although it originates in the law of nature, man by his fall has so blotted and defaced that law as to render it illegible; and no man can now ascertain from the remaining light of nature, what the original law of nature, in this respect, was. There never has been an instance, and we may safely aver there never will be an instance, of man guided merely by the light of nature, setting up a civil government bearing the features and lineaments of God’s moral ordinance. In this emergency there is granted to men a revelation from God. “The revealed moral law contains a republication of the original law of our creation, and a correct, authentic, infallible and divinely certified copy. To it we are indebted for a clear, and unequivocal, and authoritative intimation of the divine origin,” and necessary divinely required elements of a legitimate magistracy. All attempts at determining and defining a true magistracy by any other standard have only proved a daubing with untempered mortar, a darkening of counsel by words without knowledge. The only writings of any value to aid in the decision of this important question, are those of the Bible, and of the reformers of different periods, who have made the Bible their profound study. The numberless and learned volumes of the most eminent jurists and civilians on earth, who have written from any other standpoint, are, for this purpose, utterly worthless.

Let us then not lose sight of this truth. The institution of civil government, as far back as we can now go, is founded in the legislative will of God; and government, whenever constituted according to his law, is so of God as to lay a solid foundation for moral and mutual obligations between rulers and people.

2. The character of the government determines the character of the obedience due. To an immoral, illegitimate government, obedience is due only for wrath’s sake. To a government from God, divine in its institution and constitution, and to such only, is obedience due for conscience sake. It is not obedience to lawful commands merely, which the apostle means when he says, “honor the king,” but especially to a lawfully constituted and commanding authority. Sin may be committed not only in refusing conscientious obedience to God’s ordinance of government, but also in yielding it to that which is destitute of his sanction.

3. “Fidelity to Christ’s supremacy over the church and over tinnations, requires christians to wash their hands of the guilt of antichristian states, and embrace, profess and propagate the principles of a scriptural magistracy.”

Christians cannot, at one and the same time, render true and faithful allegiance to Christ and anti-Christ, to Christ and to systems antagonistic and subversive of his authority.

The practical question for us here to determine is, is the government of the United States thus antagonistic and illegitimate? Let us apply to it the principles which, we think, have just been established. No civil government is legitimate and entitled to be considered the ordinance of God, whose constitution is not moral and scriptural, and whose functionaries are not scripturally qualified. We need go no further. No constitution is moral and scriptural which does not contain a recognition of God as the source of power, of Christ as the ruler of the nations, of the Bible as the supreme law, and of the church of Christ and the true religion. What are the facts in the present case ? The constitution of the United States makes no recognition of any one of these essential requirements. No man, we believe, can learn from the constitution of the United States that there ever is a God, a Christ, a Bible, a church of Christ or a true religion. Ungodly men are, for the most part, satisfied with it. Its functionaries are, perhaps we might say, generally irreligious, often immoral men.

Not only so, but some of its provisions are directly at variance with the law of God. It affirms, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office under the United States.” God’s law, on the contrary, requires and demands, “he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” It not only makes no provision for the recognition and support of the true church and the true religion, but authoritatively declares, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion;” contrary to the divine requirement embraced in the warning, “the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee (the church) shall perish, yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.” We conclude, therefore, unhesitatingly, that, if we can at all understand the teachings of the word of God, this government is immoral and illegitimate, possessing, before God, no rightful authority whatever.

Moreover, the principles we thus enunciate contain no new doctrine. It is the doctrine of the Bible. It is the doctrine of the acts of the most perfectly reformed church the world has ever seen, at the period of her highest reformation attainments. It is the doctrine of which the church’s [Act, Declaration and] testimony of 1761 is full. It is the doctrine of our own testimony, carried in its application to the case before us, to the extent of denying to any magistrate in the United States the right even to administer an oath to a witness in a court of justice.

And, brethren, should not this be the starting point in all attempts at its reformation? To treat any case of disease properly it is necessary, in the first place, to make out a correct diagnosis. So in the present case, in order to the adoption of means adequate to the end, it is necessary to know fully the character of the moral disease under which the patient is laboring, and the extent of the reformation required. To commence anywhere else and to proceed on any other principle, will never go to the root of the matter. And although improvement may be effected in some of the details, a thorough and radical cure can never be effected.

If this government be a rightful, legitimate government, if it be in truth the ordinance of God, then by no process of logic, however adroit, and by no masters of dialectics however skilful, can the propriety of refusing incorporation with it be made to appear even plausible. Shall the christian refuse to approve and acknowledge what God approves and acknowledges? Shall he refuse to identify and incorporate with God’s ordinance? Shall man be more righteous than his maker? No, brethren! Samuel did not turn away from Saul till God had rejected him from being king over Israel. And the omission, the disobedience for which he was rejected was as nothing compared with that of which the United States are guilty. Let christians cease to unite with all the world in wondering after the beast. Let us look not at outward appearances, but at fundamental principles. Let us rise from the abuse of magistracy as now universally constituted among the nations of the world, to those great eternal principles of truth, and justice, and order, dwelling in the bosom of God, a part of his nature, as well as contained in the expression of his will; principles which lie at the foundation of all righteous law, and of all legitimate government. The Bible contains the only authentic exhibition of these principles, the only authorized declaration of the great Sovereign’s will. This, then, the revealed law of God in its true meaning and integrity, and not the feeble glimmerings of the remaining light of nature, must be the guide of the nations in forming their constitutions and laws, inasmuch as it contains numerous instructions and precepts especially addressed, by their legitimate lawful sovereign, to nations and their rulers; its evidence is far more clear than that of the light of nature, its enactments more explicit, and its authority more confirmed. Then, when this is done, and not till then, will the nations be entitled to be designated christian. A nation, as such, acknowledging no God, is atheistic; a nation acknowledging idols, is idolatrous; a nation refusing to acknowledge the christian religion, is infidel; a nation giving allegiance to the enemies of Christ, is anti-christian; and so, also, a nation yielding allegiance to Christ, and acknowledging his authority and law, his church and religion, is a christian nation.

There can be nothing more illogical and self-contradictory, than to talk about a nation being a unity, an organization, a moral person, and in the same breath proclaim this nation, the United States, a christian nation. It does not now, and it never has, professed the christian religion. There are, we hope, many genuine christians in the nation; but as a nation, and in the sense in which it is a moral person, it is not now, and it never has been a christian nation. To affirm that it is, is not only without foundation in truth, but to those who are flattered and misled, and deceived thereby, cruel as the grave. “What fellowwhip hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? Wherefore come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you.” (2 Cor. 6:14,15,17.)

Nor is this enough. Christians should evince their fidelity to Christ, by embracing, professing and propagating the principles of a true scriptural magistracy. What these are, we have endeavored already to point out. Truth is mighty, and will prevail. The employment of moral and scriptural means will, with the blessing of God, contribute to clear the way for the erection of scriptural institutions in this and every other state throughout the world. It is dutiful, therefore, to profess and hold fast these principles, though adverse circumstances and antagonistic systems may at present prevent their being reduced to practice; animated by the assurance that, at the appointed time, “the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even for ever and ever.” “The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.”

In anticipation of these glorious results it is not, however, necessary “that a reclaiming minority in civil society should factiously disturb the public peace, or frustrate in any instance the spirit and ends of civil rule. The weapons of their warfare are not carnal, but intellectual, moral and spiritual.” Though the apostle dissuades the Corinthians from going to law with one another before unbelievers, “he does not, on that account, authorize them to wrong one another, to disturb the peace of society, or neglect the security of life, liberty, property, religion, morals, scriptural education, or the good of the community,” in so far as they ran promote any of these ends without contracting guilt. But the principle is a radical one, “we may not do evil that good may come.” The honor we pay the king must ever be consistent with the fear we owe to God.

4. Let us remark: the duty of nations to acknowledge fully the authority of Christ, and the peril of neglecting it. If it be true that “all power in heaven and in earth has been given to Christ;” that God “left nothing that is not put under him;” and that consequently his mediatorial dominion is universal, and that he is king of nations as well as king of saints, then it follows, as a plain, necessary consequence, that nations, as such, are under the most solemn obligations to honor him, by acknowledging his authority, by professing to him their allegiance, and by respecting and obeying his laws. And here it should be borne in mind, the omitting to do what God’s law requires, is as much a transgression of his law as doing what is expressly forbidden. Nations, then, by refusing or neglecting to do what God’s law requires, are guilty of sin; as well as by active, positive rebellion against him, in the doing of what his law expressly forbids. And where sin is, there is danger. Sin can no more be indulged or tolerated in nations, than in individuals. The nations, therefore, had need heed the injunction, “kiss the Son, lest he be angry with you, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.” “He will strike through kings in the day of his wrath.” “Who would not fear thee, O king of nations? for to thee doth it appertain.” “The Lord is the true God; he is the living God, and an everlasting king; at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.”

5. Let us never forget the prime duty of “honoring” king Jesus. “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name.”

The question at once meets us here, what honor is his due? We might reply, what honor is not his due? By his Father’s gift he has upon his head many crowns; and “he is the prince of the kings of the earth, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.” The Almighty Saviour has been invested with universal dominion. He has control of the elements of nature, of inanimate creation, of the inferior animals, of providential dispensations, of holy angels, of fallen spirits, of man in his individual capacity and all his relations; everything, in a word, of which we can conceive, in heaven, earth and hell, is under his absolute direction and control. “He left nothing that is not put under him.”

Accordingly he is entitled to, and receives, the “honor” of angels. They worship him, they heralded his birth, they attended him at every step of his progress in the accomplishment of his mission on earth, they strengthened him in the hour of his agony, they watched around his tomb, they were present at his resurrection, they escorted him to his glory, and they count it their honor to be continually employed by him on missions of love and mercy to them who shall be heirs of salvation.

Devils honor him, in so far that they yield enforced obedience to his commands. “What is this, for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.” And they “are reserved by him in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.”

Rebellious men, kings and princes of the earth, refuse, for a little moment, to honor him. They set themselves in determined opposition, and plot together to break asunder his bands, and cast from them his cords: while he, seated upon his throne, secure in the possession of his power and glory, laughs, for a brief space, at their impotent rage and folly, and then breaks them with a rod of iron, and dashes them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. And furthermore, they shall, like the devils themselves, ultimately honor mm, by yielding him the most trembling and abject submission: for we read of a time when he shall come “with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him;” when “the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond man, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains: and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Rev. 1:7, and 6:15-17.)

The christian, too, honors him, by ascribing to him the undivided praise of his salvation. His language is, “O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” (Isa. 12:1,2.) And not only so, but, with eye unsealed, he marks the glory of his Redeemer in everything above, beneath and around him. When the believer looks abroad over the works of creation, and contemplates their order and their beauties; when he notes the diurnal changes of the earth and the vicissitudes of the seasons; when he lifts his eyes to the expanse above, and beholds the sun in his brightness, the stars in their brilliancy, and the moon in her splendor, he cannot but feel a deeper interest in all these, when he reflects that they exhibit in a striking light, before the intelligent observer, the indescribable perfections and glory of his divine Saviour: and his feeling of security is rendered strong and confident when he remembers that all these, in all their aspects, whether of utility or ornament, are under the wise supervision and beneficent control of him “who maketh all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

God, the Father, honors him. He proclaims from the excellent glory, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased:” and he issues the command, “Let all men honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.”

And when we pass from the transitory scene of earth to the representations we have of the grander and eternal realities of heaven, there is no relative change. The Lamb still occupies the central position, in the midst of the throne, claiming and receiving the homage of all.

As he enters upon the full possession of his glory, and “the joy set before him,” there at once transpire three events, the most joyous and honorable of which we can conceive—his marriage, his coronation, and his triumph. Then is “heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia: salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are his judgments. . . . Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:1,2,7.)

And observe, he takes his bride home to his heavenly palace in the character of a kingly, triumphing conqueror. There is no other character that receives such glory among men. What a dignity and importance they attach to the person of the military hero, who, by some signal victory, has secured the liberties of his country and freed it from anarchy or the tyrant's grasp! How prompt are they to express to him their appreciation of his services, and honor him with every mark of respect! With what eagerness do they erect monuments to perpetuate his memory, and observe anniversaries to commemorate his achievements! His praises are at once heralded over the length and breadth of the land: and it is said, yea, claimed, that this is only a proper mark of respect to his person, a fitting testimonial that his eminent services are duly appreciated.

Shall the christian, then, not admire and honor his king, the great captain of his salvation? This is the King whom the Father delighteth to honor; whom he hath commanded all the kings of the earth now to honor and obey. Behold him, the Lamb of God, in the midst of the throne! “the image of the invisible God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person!” His head is crowned with many crowns, with radiant glory he has triumphed over his foes, and he stands forth the recognized and acknowledged sovereign of heaven. The great multitude of the redeemed which no man can number, stand before the throne, and cry with a loud voice, “saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” They raise their voices in loud acclaim to the Lamb, “Thou art worthy,” “for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred and tongue, and people and nation; and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests.” (Rev. 5:9,10.)

And while the redeemed are thus occupied, and sing also the song, “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou king of saints,” the innumerable company of angels round about the throne are not mere idle spectators, but with loud voice unite in swelling the chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”

Nor is this all; but the inspired writer adds: “And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea. and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever.” (Rev. 5:11,12,13.) Thus, all heaven, throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity, re-echoes with his praise.

Let it be our care, brethren, in the services of earth, to prepare for the services of heaven: and as honoring Christ is to be the delightful and eternal employment of the redeemed in glory, let us even now make it the great business of our lives, in thought, in word, and in deed, first, midst, and last, to honor KING JESUS.


[1] Published by request of Synod.