And 1. There is no such sacredness about civil governments as to exempt them from the closest scrutiny in their constitution and workings. The time was when it would have been necessary to dwell largely upon this statement. The occupants of power are always disposed to claim an uninquiring recognition, as well as an unresisting obedience
Kings and emperors have been addressed by the title of “sacred majesty.” They have claimed a “divine right” to reign. They are kings “by the grace of God.” They are to rule and the people to submit, pay taxes, and bear all the burdens. This was once the theory. Some changes have, indeed, passed over society in many Christian countries. Men do not now yield so readily a blind and superstitious obedience. But, after all, the principle is not yet fully recognized that, like everything else in human hands, the affairs of government are, in every aspect, opened to be questioned and tried. Even in this land, with all its licentiousness of opinion and even contempt of authority, there is yet not a little of the old leaven. Not a few still appear to regard the constitution, and even some enactments, and these the worst of them, as possessing a sort of extraordinary sacredness.
For all this there is no reason. The Church is, surely, as sacred as the state, and yet what friend of religious liberty denies the right of the Lord’s freeman to bring her claims to the proof —to try her proceedings? It is one of the peculiarities of the great Apostasy, to demand an uninquiring subjugation of the understanding and conscience to its arrogant demand of implicit recognition
and obedience. The faithful repudiate the claim. They have ever insisted that to admit it would be treason against Christ.
Nor in divesting government of this kind of sacredness do we furnish any opening for either licentiousness or sedition. The standard —the chief standard— of judgment here, as in all other matters where morals are concerned, is the Word of God. We do not reject reason altogether. But reason itself must be proved by the same word. And it has been previously observed that when the Holy Scriptures are conscientiously regarded and justly applied, the result will be, on the one hand, the rejection of what God does not approve, and on the other hand, the intelligent and hearty subjection of the whole man to what accords with the divine will. And can it be considered as anything short of an infidel contempt of the Bible to assert that to use it for this purpose is either wrong or dangerous to the peace and order of society?
II. Tried by this supreme rule, the government of this land cannot claim conscientious obedience. It has, indeed, been set up by the action, and, of course, exists by the voice of the majority of the people. But this is not the only test. The people may be wrong now, as well as of old, when the ten tribes “set up kings, but not by” God, “and princes,
and he Knew (approved) it not,” (Hosea 7: 3, 4) That this has been done in these states is evident because the paramount authority of the Most High, speaking in his word, is not recognized in the constitution —the fundamental law of the general government; because Christ is not, in any sense, acknowledged in his character as “Prince of the kings of the earth,” (Revelation 1: 3;) because the Bible is not received as law, obligatory and supreme; because no barrier has been enacted against the induction of God’s enemies into places of power —of trust; because the same securities are thrown around the idolatries of Popery, as around the practice and observances of the true religion; because oppression is sanctioned, and the oppressor protected in the enjoyment of his despotic and unfounded claim. —In this last we refer, of course, to slavery, which is numbered among the “institutions” of nearly one-half of the states, and the constitution gives the same protection to this institution as to any others. It does more. It provides specific and peculiar means for the arrest of the fugitive; or, perhaps, more accurately, it contains provisions, which may be made, and have been, the basis of distinct legislation on this subject.*
Now, let it be remembered, that to constitute an oppressive and tyrannical government, it is not requisite that the subjects of the violence and wrong be white men: it is enough if they be men —nor that they be the majority, kept under by a well situated and armed minority, as in Italy or Austria. Any institutions are chargeable with the sin and crime of despotism, that willfully deprive any class of their citizens of their natural rights, or sanction it when done. This is the case here. The constitution treats as outcasts from its pale a large proportion of the inhabitants of the country, more than three millions out of twenty-four. Hence, it is not only wrong and sinful to swear to maintain the constitution: we go farther, and affirm that such a government is not to be “honored” as God’s moral ordinance; it is not, —as it respects a host within its limits, and these belonging to that very class, the poor and needy, for whose protection civil government was eminently designed —a “minister of God for good,” but a minister of evil. To such a government the apostle has here no reference in his injunctions of obedience. It does not possess the features here required. It possesses some that are here, by implication, strongly condemned.
We are aware that it is no easy task to persuade
men —even intelligent men— that this is a matter in which they have a deep, personal, and responsible interest. The evil of corrupt government is one so nearly universal and of so long standing —the notion is so prevalent that if there is anything wrong, it is not their concern; and the obstacles are often so many and so great in the way of a complete withdrawing from an active share in affairs of state; and, finally, it is so easy to lull the conscience by the delusive idea that the best way to reform a government is first to swear to support it, and to take a part in its operations. In view of all these considerations, it is a matter of labor and of effort, and cannot be accomplished unless the Spirit of God imparts clear and spiritual vision, and gives a decided and resolute will.*
*See Appendix C
even the institution of government, become regardless of the welfare of the land, or in any way disorderly in their deportment. It is especially required of them that “they follow every good work,” and thus by a pure and peaceable behavior as individual, and by the exemplariness of their deportment in social life, commend to all men the excellence of a full and faithful profession of the name of Christ, or at least, that “by well doing, they may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
doctrines of this passage and the collateral principles to which we have referred, will certainly yet prevail on earth. —The very
fact that Paul was inspired of God to give such a view of civil authority is a guarantee
that it shall yet receive a just exemplification. However this may be, other scriptures are more explicit. “The kingdom and
dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be
given to the saints of the Most High.” (Daniel 7: 27) “The kings of Tarshish and
of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of
needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their souls from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.” (Psalm 72: 10 – 14) “And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers.” (Isaiah 49: 23) “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” (Revelation 20: 6) The apostle John thus describes the ultimate issue of the vast changes in reference to things religious, political, and social, in the following most expressive and emphatic language: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11: 15) Even so come, Lord Jesus.