November 14, 1895
IN support of the doctrine that civil government has the right to act in things pertaining to God, the text of Scripture is quoted which says, “The powers that be are ordained of God.” This passage is found in Romans 13:1. The first nine verses of the chapter are devoted to this subject, showing that the powers that be are ordained of God, and enjoining upon Christians, upon every soul, in fact, the duty of respectful subjection to civil government. The whole passage reads as follows:—
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. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 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. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. 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.
It is easy to see that this scripture is but an exposition of the words of Christ, “Render to Cesar the things which are Cesar’s.” Romans 13:7, taking up the same thought, says, “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” These references make positive that which we have stated,—that this portion of Scripture (Romans 13:1-9) is a divine commentary upon the words of Christ in Matthew 22:17-21.
In the previous chapter we have shown by many proofs that civil government has nothing to do with anything that pertains to God. If the argument in that chapter is sound, then Romans 14:1-9, being the Lord’s commentary upon the words which are the basis of that argument, ought to confirm the position there taken. And this it does.
The passage in Romans refers first to civil government, the higher powers,—not the highest power, but the powers that be. Next it speaks of rulers, as bearing the sword and attending upon matters of tribute. Then it commands to render tribute to whom tribute is due, and says, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” Then he refers to the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth commandments, and says, “If there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
There are other commandments of this same law to which Paul refers. Why, then, did he say, “If there by any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”? There are the four commandments of the first table of this same law—the commandments which say, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me;” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything;” “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain;” “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Then there is the other commandment in which are briefly comprehended all these,—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”
Paul knew full well of these commandments. Why, then, did he say, “If there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”? Answer—Because he was writing concerning the words of the Saviour which relate to our duties to civil government.
Our duties under civil government pertain solely to the government and to our fellowmen, because the powers of civil government pertain solely to men in their relations one to another, and to the government. But the Saviour’s words in the same connection entirely separated that which pertains to God from that which pertains to civil government. The things which pertain to God are not to be rendered to civil government—to the powers that be; therefore Paul, although knowing full well that there were other commandments, said, “If there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;” that is, if there be any other commandment which comes into the relation between man and civil government, it is comprehended in this saying, that he shall love his neighbor as himself; thus showing conclusively that the powers that be, though ordained of God, are so ordained simply in things pertaining to the relation of man with his fellow-men, and in those things alone.
As, therefore, the instruction in Romans 13:1-10 is given to Christians concerning their duty and respect to the powers that be; and as this instruction is confined absolutely to man’s relationship to his fellowmen, it is evident that when Christians have paid their taxes, and have shown proper respect to their fellowmen, then their obligation, their duty, and their respect to the powers that be, have been fully discharged, and those powers never can rightly have any further jurisdiction over their conduct. This is not to say that the State has jurisdiction of the last six commandments as such. It is only to say that the jurisdiction of the State is confined solely to man’s conduct toward man, and never can touch his relationship to God, even under the second table of the law.
Further, as in this divine record of the duties that men owe to the powers that be, there is no reference whatever to the first table of the law, it therefore follows that the powers that be, although ordained of God, have nothing whatever to do with the relations which men bear toward God.
As the ten commandments contain the whole duty of man, and as in the scriptural enumeration of the duties that men owe to the powers that be, there is no mention of any of the things contained in the first table of the law, it follows that none of the duties enjoined in the first table of the law of God, do men owe to the powers that be; that is to say, again, that the powers that be, although ordained of God, are not ordained of God in anything pertaining to a single duty enjoined in any one of the first four of the ten commandments. These are duties that men owe to God, and with these the powers that be can of right have nothing to do, because Christ has commanded to render unto God—not to Cesar, not by Cesar—that which is God’s.
This is confirmed by other scriptures:—
“In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah king of Judah, came this word unto Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Thus saith the Lord to me: Make thee bonds and yokes, and put them upon thy neck, and send them to the king of Edom, and to the king of Moab, and to the king of the Ammonites, and to the king of Tyrus, and to the king of Zidon, by the hand of the messengers which come to Jerusalem unto Zedekiah king of Judah, and command them to say unto their masters, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Thus shall ye say unto your masters: I have made the earth, the man and the best that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me. And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come, and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him. And it shall come to pass that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand.
In this scripture it is clearly shown that the power of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was ordained of God…. Nebuchadnezzar was plainly called by the Lord, “My servant,” and the Lord says, “And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon.”
Now let us see whether this power was ordained of God in things pertaining to God. In the third chapter of Daniel we have the record that Nebuchadnezzar made a great image of gold, set it up in the plain of Dura … Then a herald from the king cried aloud:—
To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up; and whose falleth not down and worshipeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
In obedience to this command, all the people bowed down and worshiped before the image, except three Jews,—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. This disobedience was reported to Nebuchadnezzar, who commanded them to be brought before him, when he asked them if they had disobeyed his order intentionally. He himself then repeated his command to them.
These men knew that they had been made subject to the king of Babylon by the Lord himself…. Yet these men, knowing all this, made answer to Nebuchadnezzar thus:—
O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter…. Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
Then these men were cast into the fiery furnace, heated seven times hotter than it was wont to be heated; but suddenly Nebuchadnezzar rose up in haste and astonishment, and said to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered, “True, O king.” But he exclaimed, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” The men were called forth:—
Here there is demonstrated the following facts: First, God gave power to the kingdom of Babylon; second, he suffered his people to be subjected to that power; third, he defended his people by a wonderful miracle from a certain exercise of that power. Does God contradict or oppose himself?—Far from it. What, then, does this show?—It shows conclusively that this was an undue exercise of the power which God had given. By this it is demonstrated that the power of the kingdom of Babylon, although ordained of God, was not ordained unto any such purpose as that for which it was exercised; and that though ordained of God, it was not ordained to be authority in things pertaining to God, or in things pertaining to men’s consciences. And it was written for the instruction of future ages, and for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Thus God has shown that, although the powers that be are ordained of God, they are not ordained to act in things that pertain to men’s relation toward God. Christ’s words are a positive declaration to that effect, and Romans 13:1-9 is a further exposition of the principle.
Let us look a moment at this question from a common-sense point of view. Of course, all we are saying is common sense, but let us have this in addition: When societies are formed, each individual surrenders certain rights, and as an equivalent for that surrender, has secured to him the enjoyment of certain others appertaining to his person and property, without the protection of which society cannot exist.
Each person has the natural right to protect his person and property against all invasions, but it this right is to be personally exercised in all cases by each person, then in the present condition of human nature every man’s hand will be against his neighbor. That is simple anarchy, and in such a condition of affairs society cannot exist. Now suppose a hundred of us are thrown together in a certain place where there is no established order; each one has all the rights of any other one. But if each one is individually to exercise these rights of self-protection, he has the assurance of only that degree of protection which he alone can furnish to himself, which we have seen is exceedingly slight. Therefore all come together, and each surrenders to the whole body that individual right, and in return for this surrender he receives the power of all for his protection. He therefore receives the help of the other ninety-nine to protect himself from the invasion of his rights, and he is thus made many hundred times more secure in his rights of person and property than he is without this surrender.
But what condition of things can ever be conceived of among men that would justify any man in surrendering his right to believe—which in itself would be the surrender of his right to believe at all? What could he receive as an equivalent? When he has surrendered his right to believe, he has virtually surrendered his right to think. When he surrenders his right to believe, he surrenders everything, and it is impossible for him ever to receive an equivalent; he has surrendered his very soul. Eternal life depends upon believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, and the man who surrenders his right to believe, surrenders eternal life. Says the Scripture, “With the mind I myself serve the law of God.” A man who surrenders his right to believe, surrenders God. Consequently, no man, no association or organization of men, can ever rightly ask of any man a surrender of his right to believe. Every man has the right, so far as organizations of men are concerned, to believe as he pleases; and that right, so long as he is a Protestant, so long as he is a Christian, yes, so long as he is a man, he never can surrender, and he never will.