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be subject unto the higher powers." There is no pri. vileged order, there are no persons who can claim, on any ground, exemption from this statute of Heaven.
II. The Apostle not only teaches us that all are to obey the civil government, but by the terms he employs, points out the nature of the obedience we are to render. It is to be a subjection to the higher powers ;—it is to be a subjection not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake; a rendering to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom ; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Thus, obedience to the state is a duty binding upon the conscience, to be practised from a regard to the will of God," for the transgression of which we shall be accountable at the tribunal of Divine justice, whether the magistrate be able to punish us for it or not.” Our obedience, according to this rule, must be unreserved and universal,-extensive as are the demands of the laws of the land; or as are the officers by whom the laws are administered. This duty, like every other, must be discharged as unto God and not to man, with deference to his authority, and zeal for his glory. As christians, we are called to the enjoyment of liberty ; but it is liberty from the bondage of sin, and not from the restraints of either human or divine government.
III. We are taught in these passages, that civil government is an ordinance of God. The governors of mankind, if they act agreeably to the design of their office, exercise an authority and a power delegated to them by the Sovereign Lord and Ruler of the
universe. They are His ministers, whatever be the nation over which they exercise jurisdiction; and designed, by the restraints which they legally impose, and the benefits which they confer, to promote the virtue and happiness of mankind.
" Whether we take powers here for political authority, or for the persons actually exercising political power and jurisdiction, the sense will be the same. How men come by a rightful title to this power, or who has this title, the Apostle is wholly silent, and says nothing of it. To have meddled with that, would have been to decide of civil rights, contrary to the design and business of the Gospel, and the example of our Saviour, who refused meddling in such cases, with this decisive question, · Who made me a Judge or a Divider over
you * ? »
IV. We are further taught in these passages of Scripture, what is the duty of the magistrate, and the design of civil government. • Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil ;—they are the ministers of God to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” This duty is still more fully defined by the prophet in these words ; “ The Spirit of the Lord spake, the God of Israel said ; He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God ;-a duty incumbent upon all who make, or who administer the laws, from the highest to the lowest of the officers in the service of the government. I, therefore, infer,
V. That there is nothing in these passages, nor, indeed, in any part of Scripture, which authorizes the doctrine of unlimited passive obedience. As well
* Locke's Paraphrase and Notes on the Romans.
might we attempt to prove from the language of our Lord, recorded in the sermon on the Mount*, that resistance to an injury in our persons and property is unlawful, and thus to subvert the foundation on which the necessity of magistracy rests, the punishment of evil-doers, who inflict such injuries.
It was prudent in the Apostle not to enter into any question relating to the right of resistance in some extraordinary cases; as those cases are comparatively few, and as the justest decisions which could have been given on that subject might possibly have been misrepresented, to his own detriment and that of the Gospel t."
The inspired teachers, then, are to be understood as enforcing, by all the sanctions of religion, obedience to rulers. Christians are not, because they are Christians, and the subjects of a kingdom which is not of this world, exempted from obedience to civil government; nor are they, in virtue of their being Christians, deprived of their native rights as men, and as citizens. Whether they ought, in every case, to insist upon these rights, whether this conduct would be ornamental to their profession, or conducive to the progress of the Gospel, and to the advancement of their own best interests, are different questions.
But we can no more argue justly in favour of an unlimited passive obedience from the words of Scripture, “ Let every soul be subject to the higher powers,” and from similar expressions, than we can in support of unlimited servitude and submission from such precepts as the following. Servants, be subject to your masters. Children, obey your parents in all things. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands.” If there be occasions when the commands of masters may be lawfully resisted ;-when children ought to decline obedience to the injunctions of their parents,—when wives are not bound to submit to their husbands, on what ground are we to believe that unlimited passive obedience is a duty ? If exceptions to the general rule be implied in one case, why should they not be so in the other.
* Matt. v. 39, 40. + Doddridge.
It is clear that cases may be supposed in which obedience to rulers ceases to be a duty, and in which we ought to obey God rather than man. We owe the God who made, and who redeemed us, supreme love and obedience; and the solemn declarations which the Saviour has made to his disciples point out the obligations of steadfastly adhering to all his commandments. “ He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Should governors, then, ask their subjects to do what is opposed to the will of God, or even to the law of the land, they ought not to be obeyed. With these exceptions, “ let every soul be subject to the higher powers;” resistance to thein is most criminal.
If it be alleged, by way of objection to the view which I have now taken, that the primitive Christians, during the three first centuries, obeyed, and passively submitted, except in the single instance of religion, to the laws of the governments under which they lived,
however tyrannical and unprincipled—I may remark in reply, that the fact is to be accounted for, not by the supposition that their being Christians divested them of their rights as citizens, but by the circumstance of which they were fully aware, that they promoted, in this way, the glory of God, illustrated the efficacy of the Gospel, and were instrumental by their gentleness and their sufferings in its rapid promulgation.
In respect to their gentleness, self-denial, and readiness to suffer according to the will of God, I think they are a pattern to true Christians in every age. Nothing appears to me more unseemly than that such persons should be the abettors of a political faction; or, that they should not always be distinguished as the quiet, disinterested, and patriotic, in the land. “ Had the primitive Christians explained the Apostle's doctrine with so many exceptions, and limitations, and cautions, as numbers do at present, and acted accordingly; and had Christianity assumed that political aspect which it has generally borne in latter ages, nothing but a constant succession of miracles could have prevented its extirpation.”
ON THE DUTY OF RULERS.
CHRISTIANITY strengthens the bonds of civil society by defining the duties which rulers are enjoined to practise, and enforcing the obedience which subjects are commanded to render.