July 16, 1896
THE theory of legislation upon religious duties and questions is radically opposed to the teaching of the Scriptures of divine truth, which plainly declare that “every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
This text plainly asserts our accountability to God. From other scriptures we learn the scope of this accountability; that it has reference, first, to our duty toward God; second, to our duty toward our fellowman. The first and great commandment of the law is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind;” “and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And our Lord adds, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
All Sin Is Against God.
But while we have duty toward our fellowman, failure to perform that duty is not, as we sometimes loosely say, sin against man, but is sin against God. It is God’s law that defines our duty toward our fellows, and the violation of that law is sin. “Whosoever committeth sin,” says the apostle, “transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law;” the divine law, of course; and so, in the fifty-first Psalm, we find David confessing to God the wrong done to Uriah, in these words: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.” The wrong was done to a man; the sin was against God; and to God the transgressor was accountable. “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God,” both for our sins against God and our wrongs to our fellowmen. All sin is, without qualification, against God. And he it is who “shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing whether it be good or evil.”
God the Only Moral Governor.
God is the great and only moral governor. To him; and to him alone, every soul is morally responsible. In the very nature of things this could not be otherwise; because to permit any power whatever to come between the soul and God would be to destroy individual responsibility to God.
Man the Conservator of His Own Rights.
But man is a social as well as a moral being; and as such he is endowed with “certain unalienable rights;” to him God has committed the preservation of these rights by means of civil government. This truth is thus expressed in the American Declaration of Independence:—
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal: that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
To disregard these rights or to trample upon them is to wrong our fellowmen and so to sin against God. The sin, if not repented of and forgiven, God will punish in his own time; the wrong may be dealt with by our fellows in their organized capacity as a State. And it is this fact that restrains from deeds of violence and injustice, many who have not the fear of God before them. This safeguard to liberty and natural rights, the God who sends his rain upon the just and upon the unjust, has given to men. Its benefits accrue alike to the righteous and to the wicked. The powers of civil government are exercised alike by and for Jew and Gentile, pagan and Christian. Hence civil government is not in any sense Christian, but is humanitarian, that is, it is given, like marriage, for the good of the race.
It must be at once apparent that there is nothing necessarily evil either in civil government or in its administration and use. God feeds and clothes us by ordaining means whereby we may secure food and clothing. Our natural wants are seldom supplied by miraculous interposition. “It is only in cases of great emergency that the Lord interposes for us.” 682
We glorify God in the proper use of the means which he has given us. Marriage, one of the Creator’s best gifts to man, is often perverted and abused; but this fact does not vitiate the marriage institution. In like manner civil government, ordained of God to be a blessing, and specially to the people of God, that they “may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honest,” is often abused and made the engine of oppression. But it still remains true that “the powers that be are ordained of God.” The power to do justice and judgment, to protect the weak and punish the evil-doer, is as truly divine in its origin and as God-honoring in its proper exercise as is the power to cultivate the soil or to reap the fruits of the earth.
Why Man Is Made the Guardian of His Own Rights
Man has been made the guardian of his own civil rights, not by an arbitrary arrangement on the part of the Creator, but for wise and beneficent reasons which we can readily discern and comprehend. God committed to men, not the administration of his law, nor any part of it, but the maintenance of those rights which reason teaches that all intelligent moral beings should enjoy in common; those self-evident rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. Had God made civil government Christian, and commissioned men to administer his law, and to require of their fellows the discharge of duties due to the Divine Being, or even to administer the divine law as regards the duties which as social beings we owe to one another, it would necessarily have destroyed moral responsibility to God. On the other hand, had God not committed to men the power to regulate to some extent their social relation in order that their natural rights might be preserved, but had himself administered civil justice, one of two things would have followed; either vengeance would have been so swift and certain as to defeat the very design of God in making man a free moral agent, or else punishment would have been so long delayed as to afford no protection to those in need of it. It was absolutely necessary that man should be the guardian of his own rights in this world, and for the temporary concerns of this world, but that this should in no way affect his individual moral responsibility to the Creator. Nor should men make it a pretext for assuming to exercise authority which belongs alone to God.
That the principle here stated is the correct and spiritual one, is clear from the words of Christ when the Pharisees sought to entangle him in his talk. They asked him the question: “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cesar, or not?” But he, understanding their purpose, said: “Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he said unto them, “Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Cesar’s. Then said he unto them, Render therefore unto Cesar the things that are Cesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” In this, Christ plainly separated between civil and moral duties. The paying of tribute was simply a civil matter. They were living under Cesar’s government and it was right that they should contribute to the support of the government; and yet this was not an absolute moral duty, but rather one growing out of the surroundings, and in some cases even something to be done merely to avoid offense. It was for this reason that Christ himself paid tribute, as we learn from Matthew 17:24-27.
Civil Government Not Anti-Christian.
As before remarked, civil government is not Christian neither is it anti-Christian; it simply has no religious character; and like other men, the Christian must live under it and is privileged to enjoy its protection, and may even take part in it.
Aside from the Godly men who exercised authority under the Theocracy, there are notable instances of other good men who took part in the affairs of government. Abraham was a nomadic chief, and when necessity arose, marshaled his forces and conducted a vigorous and successful campaign against the freebooters who had robbed Lot and had carried him away captive. 683 And in this Abraham was actuated by no unworthy motive. Of this victory it has been well said by another, “To Abraham, under God, was the triumph due. The worshipper of Jehovah had not only rendered a great service to the country, but had proved himself a man of valor. It was seen that righteousness is not cowardice, and that Abraham’s religion made him courageous in maintaining the right and defending the oppressed.” 684
The history of this event in Abraham’s life also brings to view the fact that Melchizedec,  a “priest of the most high God,” was king of Salem, and that he came out to welcome Abraham on his return from the slaughter of the kings, and “as ‘priest to the most high God’ he pronounced a blessing upon Abraham, and gave thanks to the Lord, who had wrought so great a deliverance by his servant. And Abraham ‘gave him tithes of all.’” 685
Subsequently we have the history of Joseph, who, in the providence of God, became governor over all the land of Egypt with authority second only to the king. Then, too, Daniel and is three companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, held high official positions in the kingdom of Babylon. Nor is this strange since we are plainly told that “the powers that be are ordained of God,” that magistrates “are his ministers” “to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil;” and we are exhorted by the apostles to pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”
Quietness and peace are essential to the enjoyment of life and liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness, which the Declaration of Independence enumerates as among those unalienable rights which governments are instituted to preserve. Thus the Christian’s true attitude toward civil government is quiet submission in all things civil; rendering to Cesar the things that are Cesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. But to do this, that is, to render to God that which belongs to God, he who would render it, must, in the things rendered to God, be absolutely independent of any human authority. In those things, his allegiance must be paid to God. And as a matter of history, we find that this has always been the attitude of the servants of God. This was the case with Shadrach, Meshac, and Abed-nego, who, for refusing to bow before the great image in the plain of Dura, were cast into the fiery furnace. It was also the case with Daniel, who, though prime minister of the empire, disobeyed a “law” of the king. It was also the case with Peter and John, who, when commanded by the magistrates contrary to the word of the Lord, answered, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
Christ’s Answer to the Pharisees.
In all these cases the civil rulers sought to usurp authority which belonged along to God, and the servants of God refused obedience and quietly submitted to the punishment inflicted, protesting, however, against the injustice and maintaining their innocence while declaring boldly their purpose not to yield to Cesar the things that belong to God.
The same course was pursued by Christians until apostasy began to corrupt the primitive simplicity of the gospel. The followers of Christ ever yielded cheerful obedience to all in authority in all civil matters, but they went to the block and the stake rather than yield an iota of their soul-liberty. So persistent were they in maintaining this individual responsibility directly to God, that their teaching upon this subject so permeated the Roman Empire that by the year A.D. 319, the most perfect religious freedom that ever existed under any government, except our own, was granted in Rome, and was enjoyed by all, both Pagans and Christians, until apostate Christians themselves sought to established [sic.] in Rome a man-made theocracy and denied to others the very rights which only a few years before they had claimed for themselves. And in so doing they violated not only the principles for which the had formerly contended but they set at nought the fundamental law of Christianity itself, as laid down by its Author: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”