“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.”
When the Redeemer was in the flesh, wicked men and devils united all their skill to tempt him to commit himself in some way that might afford them opportunity to accuse him of some impropriety. In connection with the account of his baptism, we are informed of his being led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, and the various modes of attack made on him at that time by the prince of darkness, and his triumphant victory over the tempter, is also recorded for our consolation and instruction. Not only was he assailed directly by Satan, but also by wicked men, and in every way that their ingenuity could invent, but all their assaults were unsuccessful. Though he was tempted in all points as his children are, yet he was without sin. In no instance was he overcome by the temptations presented. How consoling it is to his dear, trembling disciples to know that we have a High Priest who is easily touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and one that knows how to succor them that are tempted, from his own personal experience. How full of important instruction to us is the account given of his manner of meeting and vanquishing his tempters, for in his manner he has given us an example, in which we are to follow him. These things which were done in the green tree, were and are to be repeated in the dry tree. They who persecuted and reviled the Master of his house, would do likewise unto those who are of his household. The same spirit of opposition to Christ, his cause, his doctrine, people and institutions, is still abroad in the world, and actively engaged in spreading the pathway of the christian traveler with gins and snares, and they are therefore admonished to be wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.
Among the many schemes which were laid to tempt and ensnare our Redeemer, was the one which gave occasion for the utterance of the words which we have placed at the head of this article. His enemies had understood that Christ came as the promised Messiah, and that he intended to set up his kingdom in the world. Like all the carnal religionists, they knew of no kingdoms but such as are of this world, and this device was, in their carnal judgment, calculated to draw him out to say something against submitting tamely to the burdens which were imposed on the Jews by the Romans. At all events, it was natural to conclude that he would be in a dilemma in answering their question, and deciding whether it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar or not, he would either say something which they could construe into treason against the Roman government, or if he decided in favor of the demands of Caesar, he would equally offend the Jews. But Jesus perceived their hypocrisy, and demanded of his tempters that they should shew him the tribute money; and when they had done so he demanded, Whose image and superscription the tribute money bore? and they said to him, Caesar’s, and he said to them in the words of our text, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.” With this reply they were confounded: “They could not take hold of his words before the people; and they marveled at his answer, and held their peace.”
In this example we have not only an instance of the wicked designs of his enemies to tempt him, and of his putting them to silence, but we have an important lesson for the instruction of his disciples, in reference to the position which they occupy in this world in reference to the governments of the world. As his disciples, or as subjects of that kingdom which is not of this world, they are to deport themselves according to the maxim presented in the words, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.” Several things should be prayerfully contemplated in order that we understandingly comply with this divinely established rule.
1. What we are to understand by the proprietorships implied in the text.
2. Our connection with the two distinct governments, and
3. Our duty to render to both, such duties as are incumbent on us, in the relation which we bear to each respectively.
First. We are not to understand that there is any part of the universe that does not properly belong to God, as the creator, upholder and righteous disposer of all things. The heavens, earth and seas, with all they contain, belong to the Lord. The earth and all the fullness thereof are the Lord’s. Heaven is his throne, and the earth is his footstool. It cannot therefore be in this sense that our Lord speaks of things as belonging to Caesar. But his words in this case have reference to the distinction he has made between temporal and spiritual governments. We are informed that whatever powers there be, are of God, and to resist the powers that be, is to resist an ordinance of God. All temporal governments exist by his permission. There are no powers that are not of God. By his providence nations and kingdoms are ushered into existence, and when they have accomplished his pleasure, they crumble again to dust. This is not only true in relation to the civil, social and political governments of states, nations and empire, but also of families, tribes and all other forms of human government. In this view of the subject, whatever power he has vested in Caesar, in kings, chiefs, patriarchs, parents, masters, or magistrates, all being by him ordained, exist without any restriction or disparagement of that government which he exclusively holds in his own sovereign hands. But we are to bear in mind that God has reserved in his own hand the exclusive government of his creatures, in all matters relating to their spiritual and eternal welfare. He has vested in no earthly king or magistrate a right to govern the consciences of men, or to regulate their religious faith or worship; in all these things they stand immediately amendable to him alone. Hence the peculiar nature of the spiritual kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is distinct from, and altogether unlike to any of the earthly kingdoms or governments under heaven.
Second. Our connection with these two governments, which are distinct in their nature, object and design. We take the department of Caesar, to represent all human governments, in distinction from the divine, providential government of God, and distinct also from the spiritual mediatorial government of our Lord Jesus Christ as the King of saints. Of these, the first form after the creation, was patriarchal fathers of families and of tribes, gave laws to their descendants which were binding on them, and by the special enactment of God, children are throughout all time commanded to honor and obey their parents. In connection with this, the relationship of husbands and wives, masters and servants, &c., and the relative obligations binding on them severally. Then came regal governments, which were first generally established among the heathen nations, and afterwards the theocratical government of Israel, which was binding on that people throughout their generations, notwithstanding their wicked desire for kings, which God granted, as a righteous judgment upon them. Among the Gentiles many other forms of human government have been instituted, among which, as unquestionably the most perfect and equitable, is the republican form, as enjoyed in our own favored country since the Revolution. As citizens of the world, and as members of the human family, we are connected with such of these forms as exist in those parts of the universe where God in his providence, has cast our lot. If under a patriarchal, theocratical, monarichal or representative government, we are bound to respect and submit to such peculiar form as God has providentially placed us under. We are all, as the creatures of God, necessarily under his providential government, subject to his decrees and naturally obliged to honor and obey him as the supreme Ruler of the universe, and to render him those things which belong to him, and which he requires at our hands as its creatures.
The government of the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and none but spiritual or regenerated subjects can participate in its provisions. Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into it; consequently none other can come under his laws, or be the subjects of its peculiar government.
Third. Our obligation to respect, honor and obey, the government we are under. Christians, while here in the flesh, have to do with the world, and have an interest in common with all other men in the governments of this world. This heavenly calling does not release them from the obligation to obey the powers that be, which are ordained of God. If children, they are not released from the obligation to obey their parents. Servants are exhorted by divine authority to be obedient to their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior, in all things. (Titus ii. 9, 10.) And again, “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” - 1 Tim. vi. 1-5. Our allegiance to Christ, as his loyal subjects, dissolves no relation which we naturally sustain. The relationship of parents and children, husbands and wives, masters and servants, magistrates and people, kings and subjects, with all their obligations, continue equally binding on us, who are subjects of Christ’s government, and members of the household of faith, as on other men. Therefore, in rendering to Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, we must discharge all these obligations faithfully, cheerfully and honestly, as in the fear of the Lord.
Christians, in these United States, are providentially placed under a representative form of civil government, but though we are, in common with other men, represented in, and responsible for the laws which are made, we are severally bound to be in subjection as good citizens. The tribute due from us for the support of our institutions, bears the superscription of Caesar, or of human government, and Christ commands us to render it accordingly. We pay tributes in various ways: by direct and indirect taxes, for revenue to sustain the government, and also it is required of us, not because we are christians, but as citizens, to pay tribute, or contribute to the support of our government, by casting our votes for such men to legislate and administer the government, as we honestly believe are the best qualified, and most reliable for that purpose. These things belong to Caesar, and christians, as well as all other citizens, are commanded to render them.
Here we wish to drop a word of admonition to our brethren. The present is a time of much excitement in the political world, and brethren should not allow themselves to become unduly excited, nor should they attempt to lord it over the judgment of one another. Let each brother, as a citizen of our great commonwealth, act in this matter according to his best judgment, and when he has done so, let there be no strife, nor hard feelings engendered, because one may honestly differ in his judgment from another, in regard to the competency of men, or the wisdom of measures which may be involved.
Kingcraft and priestcraft are to be equally avoided. In no way can churches or States be more vitally corrupted, than for the church, as such, to attempt to supervise the civil affairs of the State, or for human legislators or magistrates to interfere with the regulations of the church of God. Let these things be kept in their proper place, and if we would enjoy peace and prosperity as christians, and as citizens of the world, let us, in the fear of the Lord, discriminate between the things which be Caesar’s, and the things which be God’s, and according to the best ability which God has given us, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.”
In the foregoing remarks we have endeavored to present the instructions of the Scripture, in regard to responsibilities which rest on us, and which we are commanded and exhorted to faithfully discharge; and we have studiously avoided saying anything to bear upon any political party. We only wish our brethren in discharging their duties to God and to man, to remember the instructions which are given us in his word, and especially so that no commotion in the affairs of the world may be allowed to disturb the christian fellowship of the children of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever may be the future destiny of the cherished institutions of our beloved country, we have the blessed assurance that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, and we know that “all things work together for good, to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Middletown, N. Y.
July 15, 1856.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 352 - 358