THE American theory of popular government, upon which the laws and institutions of the United States have rested since the nation’s birth, has been openly repudiated from the pulpit by a prominent Brooklyn clergyman, the Rev. Dr. Lyman Abbott, successor of Henry Ward Beecher. Not only did Mr. Abbott announce to his congregation his own repudiation of this theory, but he also announced that it had been repudiated by the American people.
It is well known that Dr. Abbott long ago repudiated the Bible, for he has been for years one of the foremost of the expounders and defenders of the doctrine of Evolution. It need not be thought strange, therefore, that he should repudiate the only theory of government which rests upon Scriptural grounds.
The theory that “government rested on the consent of the governed,” said Mr. Abbott, “was founded upon the proposition advanced by Rousseau that all men were born free and had surrendered their rights for the good of government.” In this Mr. Abbott takes issue with the framers of the Declaration of Independence, who said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; … that to protect these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” We believe these truths are still self-evident to every unbiased mind.
“When we, with muskets,” said Mr. Abbott, “faced the rioters at Chicago, who demanded that we should govern them only with their consent—that was America’s answer to the declaration that government rests on the consent of the governed.” If it was, then America should obliterate every tribute which she has paid to the memory of the men who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence; since, according to this, they were the defenders and promoters of riot! But this is not the first time these noble men have been slandered in the name of religion.
These statements, however, only led up to the crowning assertion of the discourse, which was that “The right of a majority in a democracy is to enforce divine law; that is all.” That is the kind of government this Brooklyn clergyman would have in the place of government by the consent of the governed; and, sad to say, a multitude of other preachers believe in this substitution, and are doing their utmost to make it an accomplished fact. They are at the head of a mighty movement of religious forces in this land whose avowed aim is to substitute for the “godless” government we now have, one which will “enforce divine law.”
By this theory, the majority have the right to enforce divine law. The minority, therefore, have no rights at all; for of course the majority must control the government; and they must “enforce the divine law.” It will of necessity rest with them to decide what  the divine law is. A decision must be made on this point, for there is no general agreement among men as to what the divine law includes, or what it commands. It is true, the divine law is stated in the Scripture; but there is almost nothing over which men are so universally divided as the meaning of Scripture. And besides this, the Scripture tells us that the divine law is spiritual, and that spiritual truths must be spiritually discerned. To be spiritually minded, not politically minded, is what is required at the very start in order to know what the divine law means.
This, however, will not greatly interfere with the action of the political majority. Almost any person is able to tell what the law of God means—to his own satisfaction; and “the majority” will no doubt be able to decide upon its meaning to their own satisfaction, at least sufficiently to enable the machinery of this “divine” government to be set in motion. The world has had “Christian” governments in the past—governments that have denied that they received any powers from the consent of the governed—and kings, emperors, and others who have stood at the head of such governments have never shown much hesitancy in deciding what the government must do to carry out the will of God. If they could not decide themselves they could inquire of the pope, and the governing majority might do the same to-day!
The minority in the government must, of course, submit to the will of the majority. Not to do so would be anarchy. The public—or governmental—“conscience” will then be the only moral monitor needed. Obedience to the government will be obedience to the divine law, and the individual conscience will find its occupation gone. The minority will secure salvation simply by obedience to the majority, for the majority will “enforce the divine law.” This arrangement dispenses with the necessity for faith, or for Bible study, at least on the part of the minority. This accords exactly with the Christian Endeavor view that “The only preparation for the lofty privileges of the heavenly, is conspicuous and persevering fidelity in the fulfillment of the duties pertaining to our earthly citizenship.”
And this is just what is presented to the world in the papacy. The papist does not need the Bible, for does he not have the priest to tell him what is right? And the priest has the prelate to instruct him, and these in turn have the pope, who is infallible! These represent the “majority” who govern the “minority”—the common people—under the papal system. Small wonder that under it there is no need felt, and little seen, of the word of God and faith. And that this scheme of government by the enforcement of “divine law” presents the same features, is proof of its essentially papal character.