“The United States Constitution” The American Sentinel 4, 4, pp. 27, 28.

IS our national Constitution right as it is? or will it not be right until some such amendment shall have been adopted as is now offered by Senator Blair, and heartily supported by the National Reform Association and its allies? As the amendment is offered supposedly in the interests of Christianity, a Scriptural answer to these questions ought to be not only acceptable but satisfactory. What then saith the Scripture? What are the words of Christ? We quote:—

“Then went the scribes and Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. We know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth. Tell us therefore, what thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cesar or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, Whose image and superscription is this? They said unto him, Cesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cesar the things which are Cesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

In these words Christ has established a clear distinction between Cesar and God, that is, between the civil and the religious powers, and between what we owe to the civil power and what we owe to the religious power. That which is Cesar’s is to be rendered to Cesar alone; that which is God’s is to be rendered to God alone. To say that we are to render to Cesar that which is God’s, or that we are to render to God by Cesar that which is God’s, is to pervert the words of Christ, and make them meaningless.

These words show, not only that there are things that pertain to Cesar alone, and things that pertain to God alone, but that it is our duty as servants of Christ to know what these things are, and in obedience render to Cesar that which is Cesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.

As the term Cesar refers to civil government, it is apparent that the duties which we owe to Cesar are civil duties, while those we owe to God are wholly moral or religious duties. Webster defines religion as “the recognition of God as an object of worship, love, and obedience,” and another definition is, “a man’s relation of faith and obedience to God.” It is evident, therefore, that religion and religious duties pertain solely to God, and that which is God’s is to be rendered to him, and not to Cesar; it follows inevitably that civil government can never of right have anything to do with religion, with a man’s personal relation of faith and obedience to God.

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 that chapter are devoted to the 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.

By those who advocate a religious amendment to the Constitution, it is argued that because the powers that be are ordained of God, they must have something to do with men’s relations to God. Is it a sound argument to say that because a thing is ordained of God, it is ordained to every purpose and work under the sun? A minister of the gospel is ordained of God,—but for what? To preach the gospel, and not, as too many ministers nowadays seem to think, to minister the law or politics. No minister of the gospel was ever ordained as a minister of the law, either moral or civil; and when a minister enters on any such work as that, he is doing a work that Christ never sent him to do.

By reading the first nine verses of the thirteenth chapter of Romans, it will be seen that this scripture is but an exposition of the words of Christ, “Render to Cesar the things that are Cesar’s.” It is God’s own commentary on those words; and in them there is a recognition of the rightfulness of civil government; that it has claims upon us, and that it is our duty to recognize those claims. This scripture in Romans 13, simply states the same thing in other words: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, for there is no power but of God; for the powers that be are ordained of God.”

Again, the Saviour’s words were called out by a question concerning tribute. They said to Him, “Is it lawful to pay tribute unto Cesar, or not?” Referring to the same thing, Romans 13:6 says: “For this cause pay ye tribute.” In answer to the question of the Pharisees about the tribute, Christ said, “Render to Cesar the things which are Cesar’s.” Romans 13:7 says, “Render to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due.” We repeat, therefore, that Romans 13:1 is the Lord’s own commentary upon the words of Christ in Matthew 22:17, 21.

The passage in Romans refers first to civil government; the higher powers,—not the highest powers,—the powers that be. Next it speaks of rulers bearing the sword and attending upon matters of tribute. Then he exhorts, to render tribute to whom tribute is due, and to owe no man anything, but to love one another; for he that loveth an-other fulfilleth the law. Then he refers to the last five commandments, and says, “If there be any other commandment it is briefly comprehended in this saying: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” There are other commandments of the same law to which Paul here refers, and he knew it. Why then did he say, “If there be any other commandment,” etc. There was the first table of the law containing the commandments, which say, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me;” “Thou shalt not make any graven image;” “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain;” “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” and the other commandment in which is 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 all of these commandments. Why, then, did he say, “If there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself?” Answer: Because he is writing upon 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 fellow-men; and the powers of civil government pertain solely to men in their relations one to another, and to the State. 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 it was that Paul, although knowing full well that there were other commandments, said, “If there be any other commandment it is briefly comprehended in this saying: 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 comprehend in this saying, That he [28] shall love his neighbor as himself, thus showing conclusively that the powers that be, though ordained of God, are so ordained only in things pertaining to the relation of man with his fellow-men, and in those things alone.

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 God’s own 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, 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, nor by Cesar—that which is God’s.

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 additional:—

“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.”

I have the right to protect my person and property against all comers. Every other person has the same right, but if this right is to be personally exercised in all cases by every one, then in the present condition of human nature, every man’s hand will be against his neighbor. That is simply 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 every other one. But if each one is individually to exercise these rights of self-protection, he has only the assurance of that degree of protection which he alone can furnish to himself, which we have seen is exceedingly slight. Therefore we 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 one hundred times more secure in his right 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? 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 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.

The United States is the first and only Government in history that is based on the principle established by Christ. In article VI. of the National Constitution, this nation says, that “No re-religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States;” and by an amendment making more certain the adoption of the principle, it declares “Congress shall snake no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This first amendment was adopted in 1789, by the first Congress that ever met under the Constitution. In 1796 a treaty was made with Tripoli, in which it was declared, Art. II., that “The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” This treaty was framed by an ex-Congregationalist clergyman, and was signed by President Washington. It was not out of disrespect to religion or Christianity that these clauses were placed in the Constitution, and that this one was inserted in that treaty; on the contrary, it was entirely on account of their respect for religion, and the Christian religion in particular, as being beyond the province of civil government, pertaining solely to the conscience, and resting entirely with the individual and God. It was because of this that this nation was constitutionally established, according to the principle of Christ demanding of men only that they render to Caesar that which is Cesar’s, and leaving them entirely free to render to God that which is God’s if they choose, as they choose, and when they choose. Or, as expressed by Washington himself, in reply to an address upon the subject of religious legislation:—

“Every man who conducts himself as a good citizen is accountable alone to God for his religious faith, and should be protected in worshiping God according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

We cannot more fittingly conclude this point than with the following tribute of George Bancroft to this principle, as embodied in the words of Christ, and in the American Constitution:—

“In the earliest states known to history, government and religion were one and indivisible. Each state had its special deity, and of these protectors, one after the other might be overthrown in battle, never to rise again. The Peloponnesian war grew out of a strife about an oracle. Rome, as it sometimes adopted into citizenship those whom it vanquished, introduced in like manner, and with good logic for that day, the worship of their gods. No one thought of vindicating religion for the conscience of the individual, till a voice in Judea, breaking day for the greatest epoch in the life of humanity by establishing a pure, spiritual, and universal religion for all mankind, enjoined to render to Cear only that which is Cear’s. The rule was upheld during the infancy of the gospel for all men. No sooner was this religion adopted by the chief of the Roman Empire, than it was shorn of its character of universality, and enthralled by an unholy connection with the unholy state; and so it continued till the new nature, the least defiled with the barren scoffings of the eighteenth century, the most general believers in Christianity of any people of that age, the chief oar of the reformation in its pure forms, when it came to establish a government for the United States, refused to treat faith as a matter to be regulated by a corporate body, or having a headship in a monarch or a state.

“Vindicating the right of individuality even in religion, and in religion above all, the new nation dared to act the example of accepting in its relations to God the principle first divinely ordained of God in Judea. It left the management of temporal things to the temporal power; but the American Constitution, in harmony with the people of the several States, withheld from the Federal Government the power to invade the home of reason, the citadel of conscience, the sanctuary of the soul; and not from indifference, but that the infinite spirit of eternal truths might move in its freedom and purity and power.”—History of the Formation of the ConstitutionLast Chapter.

Thus the Constitution of the United States as it stands, is the sole monument of all history representing the principle that Christ established for earthly government. And under it, in liberty, civil and religious, in enlightment, and in progress, this nation has deservedly stood as the beacon light to all other nations for a hundred years.

Whoever, therefore, attempts to amend that Constitution so as to connect it in any with any religion, not only attempts to subvert the Constitution, but also to subvert the principles established by our Lord Jesus Christ.

A. T. J.

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