CAESAR AND GOD

“And Jesus answering, said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17; Matthew 22:2 1; and Luke 20:25)

An appeal has been made to Jesus by certain emissaries of the Pharisees, who, with murderous designs, had taken counsel together as to the most feasible plan for accomplishing his death, had determined to make an effort to draw him into a political antagonism with the secular powers. Having entirely misapprehended the nature of the kingdom which Christ was about to organize, and of the government which was to rest upon his shoulder, they flattered themselves that they could draw from him some expression in regard to the equity and righteousness of the Israelites paying tribute to the Roman government, which could be construed into treason against Caesar. Their plan seemed to be shrewdly conceived to ensnare him. Those messengers from the Pharisees, professing to venerate him as an unbiased and righteous judge, thought, by flattery, to conceal from him their treacherous designs, and to propose a question, the answer of which, if in the affirmative, would excite the prejudice of the Jews, and, if in the negative, would expose him to the charge of treason, and in either case would give his enemies advantage of him. But he knew their wicked thoughts, and exposed their hypocritical designs. The answer which he gave surprised and confounded them.

The importance of the decision of our Lord, in this case, has a much wider application than to those messengers of the Pharisees, or, to those who, in secret conclave, meditated his death. His reply to them is conspicuously registered by no less than three distinguished servants of God, divinely inspired to bear a faithful record, for the instruction of generations in all subsequent ages of the world. Instead then of regarding these words as mere casual remarks, or applicable only to the time and surrounding circumstances of that occasion, we are to regard them as a mandate from the mouth of God, clothed with all the authority of the throne of Jehovah, and binding on the church down to the latest generations of mankind.

To the church of God this mandate is in perfect harmony with the whole volume of divine revelation. Viewed, however, only in the light of an example, the saints should profit by it, and beware of being drawn into the snares of the enemy, who would, if possible, tempt them to mingle politics and religion; or, consent to any union of Church and State. As the Head of his church, he refused to make a political speech, or to define, or decide the vexed questions of the rights, the power, or policy of the kings, rulers, or governments of the nations of the earth. And we are warranted to believe that none but anti-christian ministers can be prevailed upon, in their ministerial capacity, to harangue the citizens of the world on political subjects, nor will the saints as such consent to any amalgamation, nor sustain a ministry thus desecrated. Whether we consider the words at the head of this article as a maxim of divine wisdom, or a mandate of divine authority, we can not disregard it with impunity. As it deserves, therefore, our profound consideration, and obedient conformity, we propose to represent to our readers the line which the scriptures have drawn between the things which legitimately belong to Caesar, and the things which belong to God. We do not mean to admit that Caesar, or any king, potentate, or government of the earth, has any power, dominion, or property, independently of God, or that mortals can possess any thing that does not belong to God; for the earth, and all the fulness thereof are his. All things in heaven and earth, whether they be principalities or powers, thrones or dominions, things visible or invisible, belong to him, and by him consist. But, by the things belonging to Caesar, we understand the things which we, as citizens of the world, are required to concede to human governments.

The apostle informs us that there is no power but of God - that the powers that be are ordained of God - and we can not resist them without resisting an ordinance of God. (I Peter 2:13-21; Titus 4:1; Romans 13:1-8) From this we learn that every constitutional form of human government, domestic, social, or political, God has ordained for the well being of mankind. And what we are to regard as belonging to Caesar, as we take Caesar to denote all the various forms of human government, is authority, power, honor, submis­sion, obedience, tribute, and respect, and all of these to the full extent that we can possibly render due, without yielding to them anything which belongs to God, or that God has reserved to himself in his word. While to honor, respect, and to obey all whom God, in his holy providence, has placed in authority over us as parents, masters, magistrates, kings, or governors, becomes us, and should be done cheerfully, willingly, and heartily, not with eye service, as menpleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God. (Col. 3:22,23) ‘having your conversation honest among the Gentiles 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 evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” (I Peter 2:12-19)

It is clearly manifest from these words of our Lord, read in connection with the other scriptures named in the preceding remarks, that our Lord forbids that his church, or his disciples, should ever attempt to revolutionize any system of hum an government under which he, in his divine wisdom and providence, has placed them. Whatever interest it may be proper for them to take in the political affairs of the nation, or government, to which they belong, should be strictly regarded as pertaining to them as citizens of such governments, and not as Christians. The mingling of politics with religion, and Church with State, is alike corrupting and detrimental to both. No church can abide in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship whose faith, or order, is dictated by human legislation, or whose cause is defended by secular power. No human legislation is competent to aid the Son of God in the advancement of his cause, or the building up of his kingdom, for this good reason the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and no man can see it except he be born of the Spirit; and all earthly kingdoms are natural. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world; all other kingdoms are of this world. Nor is the church of Christ, as such, competent to order or regulate the affairs of earthly kingdoms, or governments, for the children of this world are wiser, in their generations, than the children of light. Not many wise men, according to the wisdom of this world, are called to be disciples of the Redeemer. But few, comparatively, of the members of the church of God possess the elements of statesmanship, for God has designed them for a higher and holier vocation. When, for instance, the first settlers of our eastern colonies tried the experiment of a Church and State policy, no person was to be allowed to enjoy citizenship unless he were adjudged orthodox in the Puritanic faith. The church dictated the laws of the land, and the civil powers executed the decisions of the church, and no man could be expelled from the church but by the axe or halter, unless it were by banishment from the Colonies. Did this arrangement contribute to the purity, or prosperity of either Church or State? Nay, were not both corrupted by the unnatural amalgamation? Let the voice of history proclaim in thunder tones the reply. The torturing, maiming, whipping, drowning, cutting off ears, tongues bored through with red hot irons, incarcerations in prisons, and banishments, etc., all of which was painfully suffered by Baptists, Quakers, Indians, and all whose consciences could not be forced to bend obsequiously to the popular storm. And in what age in the history of mankind has it been otherwise? All the cruel persecutions of the dark ages of Papal or Pagan usurpation are in point, and in proof of our position. The world has never known a union of Church and State that has not been fatal to the peace and prosperity of both. Hence the wisdom of the rule laid down in the words of our Lord, “Render to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and to God the things that belong to God.” To be a good subject to the government of Caesar, or of whatever earthly government our lot may be cast under, does not disqualify us for loyalty to our Lord Jesus Christ; but the laws of Christ, as we have shown, enjoin on us that, in all our civil relations, every soul should be in subjection to the higher power, rendering honor, obedience and tribute to whom these are due, and to obey these injunctions, as unto God. Nor does our allegiance and faithful submission to those who are in constitutional authority over us in the flesh, in the least disqualify us for our submission to Christ as our spiritual King, in all the obligations enjoined on us by him in his spiritual government. We can readily perceive that if Christ had autho­rized his apostles and disciples generally to interfere with the secular governments or the kingdoms of this world or to direct the social and domestic relations of authority and subjection in their various spheres, or, if he had called on Caesar, or any other human power, to aid, protect, or defend his cause and kingdom, that collisions could not have been avoided. Earthly governments transcend their rightful province when they presume to become defenders of the faith, or when they attempt to interfere with the consciences, or religion, of their subjects. No human prince, potentate, or ruler can stand between a man and his God; therefore, the right is inalienable in every human being to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, without let or interference by his fellow man. To his God alone is he amenable as a subject of the divine government. And, on the other hand, although Christ has absolute power over all flesh, and is the King of kings, and Lord of lords, yet in his Headship in his church he refused to interfere with the secular affairs of earthly governments. Nor has he ever allowed his church, as such, to intermeddle with the power or policy of the governments of this world. One of the most prominent and indelible marks of anti-Christ is that she reigns over the kings, or govermnents of the earth. (Revelations 47:18)

While as Christians, then, we have no supervision of earthly governments. We, as men in the flesh, aside from our religious relations, are required to serve our day and generation like other men. If our lot be - as with us it is or has been - in a republican form of government, in which every citizen (not as a Christian but simply as a citizen) is held responsible in his measure, that is, to the extent, at least, of his vote and personal influence, for the government, he can not excuse himself from that responsibility on the plea that he is a Christian, or a subject of Christ’s kingdom; for neither his christianity nor his allegiance to Christ exempts him from any obligation in the flesh, as a citizen of the State. A consistent Christian may be, and should be, a good statesman; certainly none the worse for being a Christian. And a good loyal citizen of the world may be a most orderly Christian, for he can not be a consistent Christian and a bad citizen.

The saints are called the salt of the earth. Their influence should be of a savory, restraining character. It does not become them to fan the flames of discord which may betray the depravity of poor fallen human nature. “If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” He can not be a Christian if he has not that spirit. Having that spirit, his mission is like salt to exert a preserving influence, to be like oil upon the troubled and turbulent waters, not only in restraining his own natural passions, and keeping his own body under, but also in inculcating among his fellow men the principles of “Peace on earth, and good will toward men.” That spirit leads him to do good to all men, as much as in him lies, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

We are now living in the last days, in which the scriptures admonish us that perilous times should come. These are days in which those who profess to be religious overmuch are the most thirsty for the blood of their fellow men; and those who venture ever so modestly to plead for peace on earth and to walk humbly, and especially to love mercy, are repudiated by the most popular religionists, and those who pray God to forgive, and lay not the sins of those whom we deem our enemies to their charge, must have their names cast out as evil. And if the time has not come when even brethren with whom we have taken sweet counsel together, and in whose company we have walked to the house of God, will deliver us up to be put to death, it is certainly a time in which iniquity abounds and the love of many waxes cold.

O! how important that Christians should watch and pray, lest they fall into temptations! Especially should Christians guard against every appearance of evil. If the elements around us are dark and stormy, if the judgments of the Lord are abroad in the land, if wars and discords are prevalent among the States and Nations of the earth, may we not enquire if we, like Jonah, may not to some extent be the occasion of the tempest that is beating upon us? May we not ask ourselves, at least, if we have not directly, or indirectly, contributed to the calamities which are now devastating our once happy, happy and prosperous land? Have we duly appreciated our civil, social, and religious privileges when we enjoyed them? Have we been sufficiently humble and thankful for the mercies, temporal and spiritual, which God has showered so profusely upon us in times past?

This is a time, above all others, in which Christian love, humility, forbearance, and faithfulness, should be cherished. We are in the world, and in the world we must have tribulations. But a solemn charge is upon us to keep our garments unspotted. Let us not yield to a worldly spirit, or drink of the golden cup which has intoxicated and maddened the nations of the earth. Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, is going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Be not censorious, or bitter, against those who differ in judgment with you, but in meekness instruct them that oppose themselves, if, peradventure, God may give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth. Pray without ceasing, and in all things give thanks to God. Commit to him the keeping of your souls, as unto a faithful Creator. Cast your cares upon him, for he careth for you. Beware of any spirit that tends to alienate you from your brethren in Christ. Always prefer Jerusalem above your chief joys. Endorse nothing in your religious creed for which you have not a “Thus saith the Lord.” Reject nothing from your faith or practice on which God has set the stamp of his divine approbation. Search the scriptures diligently, prayerfully, constantly, and anxiously. Denounce nothing as sin that God has not, in his word, disapproved; consent to nothing as good that God, in his word, has not approved. Pray not that God should alter his immutable counsel, but pray rather, “Thy will be done in earth as it is done in heaven.” Say in the language of your Shepherd and Bishop, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” Pray in submission to the will of God, for all men, friends and enemies, for kings, rulers, and such as are in authority over you, that ye may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in honesty and godliness, for this is good and acceptable to God our Saviour. As the end of our prayers is that we may live peaceably, we should pray the Lord to rule our rulers, govern our governors, preside over our presidents, and give our Senators virtue and wisdom that they may make and administer good and wholesome laws, not oppressive, but just, righteous, and equal. And while thus we pray for others, see that we ask for no right, privilege or distinction that we are unwilling to accord to all other men. As you would that others should do unto you, do ye even so to them. Thus shall ye render to Caesar all that is his due, in tribute, in honor, in obedience, to every constitutional demands. But forget not that our holy religion discriminates, and sets bounds to Caesar’s claims, reserving for God the things which belong to God. “Let no man judge you in meats, drinks, holy days, new moons, or sabbaths,” - these are matters between each man and his God. These things belong not to Caesar but to God. The three Hebrew children were justified in disobeying the command of the king of Babylon when he ordered them to worship his golden image on the plains of Dura. Our allegiance to God is first, and it embraces every thing of a spiritual nature. No human power belongs to mortals to dictate our worship, or to restrict our religious liberty. But, as we have shown, this restriction of human power, reserving sacredly to God the government of our consciences, does not disqualify us to discharge every legitimate obligation to all on earth who have authority over us. But should any potentates of the earth demand of us to render to them the things which belong only to God, though our life be at stake, as the children of the living God we are to obey God, rather than man; and he that would save his life shall loose it, but he that will loose his life for Christ’s sake, shall find it.

Brethren, fear not him that can kill the body, and afterwards hath no more power; but fear him who hath power to cast both soul and body into hell. Our duty is to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this world, and leave the consequence with God. And we have the blessed assurance if we be cast into the fiery furnace like the three Hebrews, the form of the fourth will be with us, and the fire shall not kindle upon us. Our God can, and will, shut the mouths of devouring lions, and give us that faith that will quench the violence of fire, and in all things overcome the world. But let us be humble, meek, quiet, forbearing, patient, long suffering. Bless them that curse you - pray for them that persecute and spitefully use you. It is but a little while we have to suffer, if suffer we must, and that which is or may be -

“Painful at present, shall cease before long,
And then, O how pleasant the conqueror's song.”

Middletown, N.Y.,
April 15, 1863.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 341 – 349