Human governments a part of the moral government of God.
In the discussion of this subject I will:
Inquire into the ultimate end of God in creation.
We have seen in former lectures, that God is a moral agent, the self-existent and supreme; and is therefore Himself, as ruler of all, subject to, and observant of, moral law in all His conduct. That is, His own infinite intelligence must affirm that a certain course of willing is suitable, fit, and right in Him. This idea, or affirmation, is law to Him; and to this His will must be conformed, or He is not good. This is moral law, a law founded in the eternal and self-existent nature of God. This law does, and must, demand benevolence in God. Benevolence is good willing. God's intelligence must affirm that He ought to will good for its own intrinsic value. It must affirm His obligation to choose the highest possible good as the great end of His being. If God is good, the highest good of Himself, and of the universe, must have been the end which He had in view in the work of creation. This is of infinite value, and ought to be willed by God. If God is good, this must have been His end. We have also seen:
That providential and moral governments are indispensable means of securing the highest good of the universe.
The highest good of moral agents is conditionated upon their holiness. Holiness consists in conformity to moral law. Moral law implies moral government. Moral government is a government of moral law and of motives. Motives are presented by providential government; and providential government is, therefore, a means of moral government. Providential and moral government must be indispensable to securing the highest good of the universe.
Civil and family governments are indispensable to the securing of this end, and are, therefore, really a part of the providential and moral government of God.
In the discussion of this question I remark,
1. Human beings will not agree in opinion on any subject without similar degrees of knowledge. No human community exists, or ever will exist, the members of which will agree in opinion on all subjects. This creates a necessity for human legislation and adjudication, to apply the great principles of moral law to all human affairs. There are multitudes of human wants and necessities that cannot properly be met, except through the instrumentality of human governments.
2. This necessity will continue as long as human beings exist in this world. This is as certain as that the human body will always need sustenance and clothing; and that the human soul will always need instruction; and that the means of instruction will not come spontaneously, without expense and labor. It is as certain as that men of all ages and circumstances will never possess equal talents and degrees of information on all subjects. If all men were perfectly holy and disposed to do right, the necessity for human governments would not be set aside, because this necessity is founded in the ignorance of mankind, though greatly aggravated by their wickedness. The decisions of legislators and judges must be authoritative, so as to settle questions of disagreement in opinion, and at once to bind and protect all parties.
The Bible presents human governments not only as existing, but as deriving their authority and right to punish evildoers, and to protect the righteous, from God. But:
3. Human governments are plainly recognized in the Bible as a part of the moral government of God.
"He changeth the times and the seasons; He removeth kings, and setteth up kings: He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding" (Daniel 2:21). "This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones; to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will, and setteth up over it the basest of men." "They shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" (Daniel 4:17, 25). "He was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till he knew that the Most High God ruleth in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will" (Daniel 5:21). "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's 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" (Romans 13:1-7). "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work" (Titus 3:1). "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" (1 Peter 2:13, 14). These passages prove conclusively, that God establishes human government, as parts of moral government.
4. It is the duty of all men to aid in the establishment and support of human government.
As the great law of benevolence, or universal good willing, demands the existence of human governments, all men are under a perpetual and unalterable moral obligation to aid in their establishment and support. In popular or elective governments, every man having a right to vote, every human being who has moral influence, is bound to exert that influence in the promotion of virtue and happiness. And as human governments are plainly indispensable to the highest good of man, they are bound to exert their influence to secure a legislation that is in accordance with the law of God. The obligation of human beings to support and obey human governments, while they legislate upon the principles of the moral law, is as unalterable as the moral law itself.
5. I will answer objections.
Objection: 1. The kingdom of God is represented in the Bible as subverting all other kingdoms.
Answer: This is true, but all that can be meant by it is, that the time shall come when God shall be regarded as the supreme and universal sovereign of the universe, when His law shall be regarded as universally obligatory; when all kings, legislators, and judges shall act as His servants, declaring, applying, and administering the great principles of His law to all the affairs of human beings. Thus God will be the supreme sovereign, and earthly rulers will be governors, kings, and judges under Him, and acting by His authority as revealed in the Bible.
Objection: 2. It is alleged that God only providentially establishes human governments, and that He does not approve of their selfish and wicked administration; that He only uses them providentially, as He does Satan, for the promotion of His own designs.
Answer: God nowhere commands mankind to obey Satan, but He does command them to obey magistrates and rulers. "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" (Romans 13:1). "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" (1 Peter 2:13, 14).
He nowhere recognizes Satan as His servant, sent and set by Him to administer justice and execute wrath upon the wicked; but He does this in respect to human governments. "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's sake. For, for this cause pay ye tribute also; for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing" (Romans 13:2-6).
It is true indeed that God approves of nothing that is ungodly and selfish in human governments. Neither did He approve of what was ungodly and selfish in the scribes and Pharisees; and yet Christ said to His disciples, "The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore, whatsoever things they command you, that observe and do; but do ye not after their works, for they say, and do not" (Matt. 23:2-3). Here the plain common-sense principle is recognized, that we are to obey when the requirement is not inconsistent with the moral law, whatever may be the character or the motive of the ruler. We are always to obey heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men, and render obedience to magistrates for the honor and glory of God, and as doing service to Him.
Objection: 3. It is said that Christians should leave human governments to the management of the ungodly, and not be diverted from the work of saving souls, to intermeddle with human governments.
Answer: To uphold and assist good government is not being diverted from the work of saving souls. The promotion of public and private order and happiness is one of the indispensable means of doing good and saving souls. It is nonsense to admit that Christians are under an obligation to obey human government, and still have nothing to do with the choice of those who shall govern.
Objection: 4. It is affirmed that we are commanded not to avenge ourselves, that "Vengeance is Mine, and I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19). It is said, that if I may not avenge or redress my own wrongs in my own person, I may not do it through the instrumentality of human government.
Answer: It does not follow, that because you may not take it upon yourself to redress your own wrongs by a summary and personal infliction of punishment upon the transgressor, that therefore human governments may not punish them. All private wrongs are a public injury; and irrespective of any particular regard to your personal interest, magistrates are bound to punish crime for the public good. While God has expressly forbidden you to redress your own wrongs, by administering personal and private chastisement, He has expressly recognized the right, and made it the duty of public magistrates to punish crimes.
Objection: 5. It is alleged, that love is so much better than law, that where love reigns in the heart, law can be universally dispensed with.
Answer: This supposes that, if there is only love, there need be no rule of duty; no revelation, directing love in its efforts to secure the end upon which it terminates. But this is as untrue as possible. The objection overlooks the fact, that law is in all worlds the rule of duty, and that legal sanctions make up an indispensable part of that circle of motives that are suited to the nature, relations, and government of moral beings.
Objection: 6. It is asserted, that Christians have something else to do besides meddling with politics.
Answer: In a popular government, politics are an important part of religion. No man can possibly be benevolent or religious, to the full extent of his obligations, without concerning himself, to a greater or less extent, with the affairs of human government. It is true, that Christians have something else to do than to go with a party to do evil, or to meddle with politics in a selfish or ungodly manner. But they are bound to meddle with politics in popular governments, because they are bound to seek the universal good of all men; and this is one department of human interests, materially affecting all their higher interests.
Objection: 7. It is said that human governments are nowhere expressly authorized in the Bible.
Answer: This is a mistake. Both their existence and lawfulness are as expressly recognized in the above quoted scriptures as they can be. But if God did not expressly authorize them, it would still be both the right and the duty of mankind to institute human governments, because they are plainly demanded by the necessities of human nature. It is a first truth, that whatever is essential to the highest good of moral beings in any world, they have a right to pursue, and are bound to pursue according to the best dictates of reason and experience. So far, therefore, are men from needing any express authority to establish human governments, that no inference from the silence of scripture could avail to render their establishment unlawful. It has been shown, in these lectures on moral government, that moral law is a unit that it is that rule of action which is in accordance with the nature, relations, and circumstances of moral beings that whatever is in accordance with, and demanded by the nature, relations, and circumstances of moral beings, is obligatory on them. It is moral law, and no power in the universe can set it aside. Therefore, were the scriptures entirely silent (which they are not) on the subject of human governments, and on the subject of family government, as they actually are on a great many important subjects, this would be no objection to the lawfulness and expediency, necessity and duty of establishing human governments.
Objection: 8. It is said that human governments are founded in and sustained by force, and that this is inconsistent with the spirit of the gospel.
Answer: There cannot be a difference between the spirit of the Old and the New Testament, or between the spirit of the law and the gospel, unless God has changed, and unless Christ has undertaken to make void the law through faith, which cannot be. "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law" (Romans 3:32). Just human governments, and such governments only are contended for, will not exercise force, unless it is demanded to promote the highest public good. If it be necessary to this end, it can never be wrong. Nay, it must be the duty of human governments to inflict penalties, when their infliction is demanded by the public interest.
Objection: 9. It has been said by some persons, that church government is sufficient to meet the necessities of the world, without secular or state governments.
Answer: What! Church governments regulate commerce, make internal arrangements, such as roads, bridges, and taxation, and undertake to manage all the business affairs of the world! Preposterous and impossible! Church government was never established for any such end; but simply to regulate the spiritual, in distinction from the secular concerns of men to try offenders and inflict spiritual chastisement, and never to perplex and embarrass itself with managing the business and commercial interests of the world.
Objection: 10. It is said, that were all the world holy, legal penalties would not be needed.
Answer: Were all men perfectly holy, the execution of penalties would not be needed; but still, if there were law, there must be penalties; and it would be both the right and the duty of magistrates to inflict them, whenever the needful occasion should call for their execution. But the state of the world supposed is not at hand, and while the world is what it is, laws must remain, and be enforced.
Objection: 11. It is asserted, that family government is the only form of government approved of God.
Answer: This is a ridiculous assertion, because God as expressly commands obedience to magistrates as to parents. He makes it as absolutely the duty of magistrates to punish crime, as of parents to punish their own disobedient children. The right of family government, though commanded by God, is not founded in the arbitrary will of God, but in the highest good of human beings; so that family government would be both necessary and obligatory, had God not commanded it. So the right of human government has not its foundation in the arbitrary will of God, but in the necessities of human beings. The larger the community the more absolute the necessity of government. If in the small circle of the family, laws and penalties are needed, how much more in the larger communities of states and nations. Now, neither the ruler of a family, nor any other human ruler, has a right to legislate arbitrarily, or enact, or enforce any other laws, than those that are demanded by the nature, relations, and circumstances of human beings. Nothing can be obligatory on moral beings, but that which is consistent with their nature, relations, and circumstances. But human beings are bound to establish family governments, state governments, national governments, and in short, whatever government may be requisite for the universal instruction, government, virtue, and happiness of the world, or any portion of it.
Christians therefore have something else to do than to confound the right of government with the abuse of this right by the ungodly. Instead of destroying human governments, Christians are bound to reform and uphold them. To attempt to destroy, rather than reform human governments, is the same in principle as is often aimed at, by those who are attempting to destroy, rather than to reform, the church. There are those who, disgusted with the abuses of Christianity practiced in the church, seem bent on destroying the church altogether, as the means of saving the world. But what mad policy is this! It is admitted that selfish men need, and must feel the restraints of law; but yet it is contended that Christians should have no part in restraining them by law. But suppose the wicked should agree among themselves to have no law, and therefore should not attempt to restrain themselves, nor each other by law; would it be neither the right nor the duty of Christians to attempt their restraint, through the influence of wholesome government? It would be strange, that selfish men should need the restraints of law, and yet that Christians should have no right to meet this necessity, by supporting governments that will restrain them. It is right and best that there should be law. It is even absolutely necessary that there should be law. Universal benevolence demands it; can it then be wrong in Christians to have anything to do with it?
Point out the limits or boundaries of the right of government.
Observe, the end of government is the highest good of human beings, as a part of universal good. All valid human legislation must propose this as its end, and no legislation can have any authority that has not the highest good of the whole for its end. No being can arbitrarily create law. All law for the government of moral agents must be moral law: that is, it must be that rule of action best suited to their natures and relations. All valid human legislation must be only declaratory of this one only law. Nothing else than this can by any possibility be law. God puts forth no enactments, but such as are declaratory of the common law of the universe; and should He do otherwise, they would not be obligatory. Arbitrary legislation can never be really obligatory.
The right of human government is founded in the intrinsic value of the good of being, and is conditionated upon its necessity, as a means to that end. So far as legislation and control are indispensable to this end, so far and no farther does the right to govern extend. All legislation and all constitutions not founded upon this basis, and not recognizing the moral law as the only law of the universe, are null and void, and all attempts to establish and enforce them are odious tyranny and usurpation. Human beings may form constitutions, establish governments, and enact statutes for the purpose of promoting the highest virtue and happiness of the world, and for the declaration and enforcement of moral law; and just so far human governments are essential to this end, but absolutely no farther.
It follows, that no government is lawful or innocent that does not recognize the moral law as the only universal law, and God as the Supreme Lawgiver and Judge, to whom nations in their national capacity, as well as all individuals, are amenable. The moral law of God is the only law of individuals and of nations, and nothing can be rightful government but such as is established and administered with a view to its support.