July 23, 1896
FREQUENT appeal is made to the 13th chapter of Romans to sustain the assumption that unquestioning obedience to civil rulers is a moral duty; but that Scripture teaches us no such doctrine. We sometimes hear about harmonizing texts of sacred Scripture, but the expression should never be used. Where there is an apparent conflict man’s duty is, not to harmonize passages in God’s Word, but to discover the harmony which already exists.
The principle so plainly stated in Acts 5:29: “We ought to obey God rather than men,” is nowhere contradicted in the divine Word. On the contrary we find it to be the rule of action of the servants of God in all ages. It was fidelity to this principle that brought the three Hebrew worthies face to face with death in the burning fiery furnace, but which also on the same occasion brought them face to face with their Lord, whose form was “like the Son of God,” and who gloriously delivered them. It was likewise obedience to the same unwritten law, that caused Daniel to be cast alive into the den of lions, from which he also came forth alive, and gloriously vindicated, though he had violated a law of the realm and defied the authority of his earthly sovereign.
The key to the 13th of Romans is found in the words of our Lord recorded in Matthew 22:21: “Render therefore unto Cesar the things which are Cesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” The Jews were living under Cesar’s government and were therefore in duty bound to render to Cesar his due; but this did not release them from their obligation to render to God his due, even if to do so would bring them in conflict with Cesar, for it has ever been true that man’s first and highest allegiance is due to his Creator, hence  he is to love God with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his mind, more than he loves himself even; while he is to love his neighbor as himself. Matthew 22:37-39.
It should never be forgotten that God’s moral government and proper, legitimate, God-ordained civil government, occupy entirely different spheres, and in their respective spheres a man can be loyal to both. No man is better qualified to render honest, efficient service to his country than he who does it for conscience’ sake.
The whole subject under discussion in the 13th chapter of Romans is man’s duty to his fellows. This is evident from verses 8-10: “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
This the divine law requires and it is more than the civil law can possibly exact. The Christian must not—yea he cannot, do wrong, but he can suffer and will suffer wrong, and that patiently. Said the Sviour: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” And again the apostle says: “What glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” 1 Peter 2:20, 21. Even should the civil law strip the Christian of his earthly possessions, it would still be his duty to quietly submit, trusting his cause to God who judgeth righteously, and remembering that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” Non-resistance is the rule of the Christian’s life.
But while the Christian is to yield to man everything, yea and much more than the civil law requires, and this for conscience’ sake, he must not render to Cesar that which is God’s. The divine mandate is, “Render to God the things that are God’s. And neither the 13th chapter of Romans, nor any other Scripture, contradicts this in any degree. The whole subject matter of that chapter is concerning the Christian’s duty to render to Cesar (the civil authorities) the things that are due to civil authority, and nothing else.