AMS the leaders of the National Reform propose to make themselves the interpreters of Scripture “on moral and civil, as well as on theological and ecclesiastical points,” under the Government of the United States, it becomes important to the American people to know somewhat about the National Reform method of interpretation. As the people of this nation are asked to amend their Constitution so as to open the way for these men to make themselves the national interpreters of Scripture, the people ought to know what qualifications these self-nominated candidates possess for the high dignity to which their laboring souls aspire. That we may do our part toward enlightening the people on this subject, we propose, as far as possible to give examples of National Reform interpretations of Scripture.
The Scriptures clearly enjoin the obligation of subjection to civil government, of obedience to civil authorities: “To be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates,” and to pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.” In Romans 13:1-10 this duty is set forth at greater length than in any other one place in the Bible. The first verse reads thus: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.” In the Christian Statesman, June 5, 1884, there is quite an extended comment—more than a page—upon this text, written by Rev. David Gregg—the same who was lately installed as pastor of the Park Street Church, Boston. Mr. Gregg interprets this verse as follows:—
“‘The authorities that be are ordained of God.’ ‘There is no authority but of God.’ All authorities that are not of God and are not in allegiance to him are usurpers. This is a self-evident truth, i. e., if it be a fact that ‘there is no authority but of God.’”
There stands the plain declaration of the word of God that “there is no power but of God.” At this Mr. Gregg gravely observes that all powers that are not of God are usurpers, and that this is a self-evidence truth, i.e., if it be a fact that there is no power but of God. Well it certainly is a fact, for the word of God says it. Therefore, it being a fact that there is no power but of God, then how can there be any powers that are not of God? As the powers that be are ordained of God, and as there is no power but of God, it is impossible that there can be any power but of God. Therefore Mr. Gregg’s comment amounts to just this and no more: All powers that are not powers are usurpers. We think it altogether likely that that is “self-evident.”
But, more than this, the National Reformers will not admit that the powers that be are ordained of God. Although the Scripture says as plainly as language can say anything that “the powers that be are ordained of God;” and although the whole Bible bears out the plain truth and sense of the statement, the National Reformers “interpret” it to mean, the powers that ought to be are ordained of God. And as the National Reform power is what ought to be, it follows that National Reform is ordained of God, and when it shall secure that power it will be exercised by a right absolutely divine. That such is the National Reform interpretation is shown by Dr. Gregg’s own words. In telling what Paul was doing in writing the words of Romans 13:1-10, he says:—
“He was giving us God’s ideal of civil government. He was holding up a picture of what civil government ought to be. He was teaching Christians what they should strive to make Governments.”
The object was “to furnish then, as now, a standard by which to try existing Governments. It gives us God’s ideal of civil government. If Governments conform to this divine ideal, then we are bound to recognize them as divine ordinances, and to give them conscientious support and homage, but if they do not, we are bound to inaugurate moral reforms and revolutions which will conform them to God’s ideal.”
By this style of interpretation, therefore, we are to understand that when the Lord speaks of the powers that be, he means the powers “that ought to be.” When the word of God directs every soul to be subject to the higher powers, it means that every soul shall erect a tribunal and sit in judgment upon those powers. When God directs that we shall not resist the power but shall be subject for conscience’ sake, he, means that we “are bound to inaugurate revolutions.” Where the Scripture sets forth the duty to be law-abiding citizens, leading quiet and peaceable lives, the National Reform interpretation of it demands that men, Christians too, shall be revolutionists, with their eyes constantly on the Government, weighing it in the National Reform balances, and watching for opportunities to inaugurate revolutions. In short, whereas the Scripture directs that men shall be Christians and law-abiding citizens, the National Reform interpretation of the Scripture demands that they shall be scheming politicians and revolutionists. Now could any interpretation possibly be further from the truth of the Scripture, or more directly opposed to the text under consideration? But we are not surprised at it; indeed we do not see how it could be otherwise, in view of the fact that the National Reform conception of the Saviour of the world is that he is a “divine politician.” With such views of Christ, it would be impossible to hold any other views of the duty of the followers of Christ than such as are expressed in the above interpretations.
A. T. J.