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Note.It is inferred from the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, and confirmed also by ecclesiastical tradition, that Paul was liberated from the confinement mentioned by Luke, and traveling in company with Timothy and Titus, left the former at Ephesus, while he went into Macedonia, (1 Tim. 1:3,) and left the other in Crete, while he went to Nicopolis. (Tit. 1:5. 3: 12.)
ART. VI. CHRISTIAN POLITICS.
Among the duties which the apostles urged upon the churches of their day, a prominent place is given to those which belong to civil relations. For this there was special occasion. Civil power was every where in pagan hands, and the institutions of government were intimately connected with pagan rites. The existing government was also oppressive, and was particularly hostile to christianity. In these circumstances, it became an interesting question among christians, how far they owed subjection to the civil power. In certain cases, it was well understood, they were bound to resist; and, pained as they were with abominations to which they could give no countenance, and goaded by wrongs for which they could procure no redress, they were in danger of resisting when they ought not; and so of dishonoring christianity, and needlessly exciting the jealousy of government towards those who bore the christian name. It was in this state of things, that the apostles laid down the principles and injunctions which so frequently occur in their writings. The following are a specimen. “Let every soul be subject to 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 not then 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 on this very thing." "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake; whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well."
Our condition happily differs from that of the early christians; but the great principles which are here asserted, and the duties resulting from those principles which are here inculcated, deserve a regard which few are disposed to give them. These we therefore wish to explain and establish, in contrast with certain maxims and consequent habits, on this subject, which characterize our times.
Among the principles here asserted, one is, that civil government is the appointment of God. He, as the Author of the world, is its Supreme Ruler. He, of course, is the fountain of all subordinate authority. The power to govern, the right of coercion, the authority to make laws and enforce obedience, belong originally to him alone. We have no authority, individually, so much as to enforce respect to our own personal rights; and much less, to enforce respect to the rights of others : and as we do not possess this authority originally in our individual capacity, we cannot acquire it by any social compact. To this purpose the apostle Paul introduces the passage which we have quoted from him, with the injunction," Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” If vengeance, that is, the punishment of wrong, is God's, it cannot, except by delegation from him, be ours; and accordingly the apostle proceeds directly to say, “ There is no power but of God: the powers that be, are ordained of God.” This we would understand in its greatest extent. We would say, that, originally, no parent has the power, the authority, the right, to punish his child; as well as no other individual of the human family, to punish his fellow. It is not the will of God, however, that sin should act unrestrained, and the preventive which he has ordained, is government,-parental government, and a regular administration of law in civil society. Do any ask how his will, on this subject, is indicated ? We answer: First, it is indicated by his providence. The social nature which he has given us, indicates his will, that we live together in society. Our mutual dependence, also, for all the important ends of our being, pertaining both to the present world and to the future, shows the same thing. We were not made to live every one alone, but in the blended interests and intercourse, first of the family, and then of civil society. But society without subordination and authority; society where the strong may trample at pleasure on
the weak, and the wrathful scatter fire-brands, arrows and death among the innocent ; society without law, or, in a depraved world, without the arm of government to enforce subjection to law, is impossible. Secondly, this is more explicitly declared in the scriptures. “ The powers that be, are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God." 6 He beareth not the sword in vain : for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Here, it is to be remarked, the vengeance, which, in the preceding verses, is declared not to belong to men in their individual character, is attributed to the magistrate, as delegated to him from God. “ He is the revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. He is the minister or vicegerent of God for this purpose. As such, he is to proceed to the last extremity, when milder ways are ineffectual; to wear the sword, and to wear it not in vain; that is, to punish offenders with death, when the ends of government can not otherwise be attained. It is, then, the will and appointment of God, as declared both in his providence and in his word, that there be civil government, for the protection of the good, and for the restraint of the bad.
Another principle asserted is, that no particular form of government is of universal obligation; but, in all ordinary cases, the form already established in any country, is, for the time being, to those who live under it of divine authority. We say, in all ordinary cases; for the case of an oppressed people, throwing off the yoke, is at this day admitted, and with manifest reason, to form an exception. When a system of tyranny so entirely fails of accomplishing the ends of government, and the minds of the people are so rife for attempting a change, and the providence of God so favors it, that the good in prospect manifestly overbalances the evil, we dare not say, that a revolution, violent and bloody though it may be, is not just and laudable : for why is it the will of God in ordinary cases, that men should submit to the government which is established over them, tyrannical in many respects though it may be? Certainly, not because he approves of tyranny, but only because such a government is better than none; and in all ordinary cases, to attempt a change would promise evil only. The law of benevolence, the cause of human happiness, and a spirit of submission to God require a cheerful acquiescence. But when in his providence, a door is opened for throwing off oppression, and by means which promise a result, the good of which shall greatly overbalance the evil, then the same principles which in the
former case would require submission, would justify revolution. Nor do we believe that the scriptures above quoted ought to be so interpreted as to forbid, in such a case, the attempt. For such was not the case of those to whom they were addressed. Whatever may have been the wrongs which they suffered from government, there was no relief. It was established over them: and the attempt to effect a change would have resulted in evil only. The will of God, in their case, as indicated by his providence, clearly was, that they should submit to the existing government; thankful for what protection it afforded them, and resigned under the evils that were incident to it. But, that the same submission is required of those to whom the providence of God gives the opportunity of removing the evils of a civil nature under which they have groaned, and whom a regard to the public good, would unite in the attempt, it would be unreasonable to suppose. The exception to the general rule is however, rare. In all ordinary cases, the injunction of the apostle is doubtless binding, according to its literal and absolute import, “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers : for the powers that be, are ordained of God: whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God:” and the literal meaning of this is, that the existing government in any country-whether despotic or free, whether monarchical or republican, and whether it may have originated in usurpation, or in the voice of the people—is binding by divine authority upon its subjects.
Another principle asserted, is, that the individual men who arc eralted to the administration of government over any people are to be acknowledged by them as invested with authority from God for that purpose. This is implied in the principle just explained; "the powers that be,” involving the men who administer the government, as well as the government itself. There may be much that is exceptionable in the former as well as in the latter. They may be corrupt men, they may have obtained their office by corrupt means; and they may abuse it by corrupt measures. All this was true of the Roman emperors Some of them, at least, were among the vilest of men, and they both came to the throne by usurpation, and polluted it when there by iniquity and blood, yet on the question of submission to their authority, as ministers of God, the christians to whom Paul wrote, were permitted to make no inquiries. Whether they were the lawful heirs to the throne are not; whether they were good men or bad ; and whether their laws were right or wrong, it was not necessary to decide. This was evident, that
they were “the powers which be," that is, they were in fact, established in their authority; and this single fact the apostle would have his brethren take as sufficient evidence, that, for the time being it was the will of God they be obeyed. This indeed does not forbid, that under an elective government, like that in this country, men should avail themselves of constitutional means to remove from office those who are unworthy of it, nor, that they should claim the protection of law against the oppressive acts of those in power; nor even, that, in the case before stated, they should unite to remove a tyrant from the throne. Neither of these was the case of those to whom the apostle wrote, and therefore there was no occasion for the exception. It would not be difficult, we think, to justify the exception, from approved scriptural examples, as well as the great principles of moral obligation ; but in the case of the early christians, there was no alternative, except either submission or rebellion; and rebellion would only have brought mischief upon themselves and upon the cause to which they were devoted. The will of God was therefore plain, that they should submit themselves to the authorities established over them. So in all other cases, the men actually in power, by what means soever they have come to the possession of it, are to be acknowledged, until lawsully displaced, as invested with power by the appointment of God, and as clothed with his authority.
In this manner, christianity, without directly intermeddling with government in any form, accommodates herself to it in every form under which her lot is cast. Herself free, and the parent of true freedom, she yet submits herself, if so is the will of God, to the worst of tyrannies; and designed as she is, in the counsels of God, to spread and prevail, and to rear up a kingdom in the highest sense free and universal, she is yet so far from impugning the kingdoms of this world, that she takes them as she finds them, and adds the sanction of her own authority, to enforce their enactments, so far as these do not directly contravene the commands of her King, or the consciences of her subjeets. Thus, while her motto is, “Glory to God in the highest,” it is in connection with "peace on earth, goodwill to men."
These principles, in their application to the conduct of men as citizens, inculcate obedience to the laws, in all things consistent with a good conscience. The exception of whatever infringes a good conscience, though not expressed, is fairly implied in the apostolic injunction. “ We must needs be subject,”
for conscience sake." But the idea of a person's Vol. X.