"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 (Romans 13:1,2)."
This solemn admonition was given by the divinely inspired apostle "to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints (Romans 1:7)" and we presume all who fear the Lord will admit that it also applies to the same description of the people in all places and throughout all time; and from the fearful declaration that "they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation," we are impressed with the terrible magnitude of the admonition. Perhaps there has never been a time when a clear and scriptural understanding of these words was more greatly needed by the people of God than the present. There is certainly at this time much diversity of sentiment, arising probably from a reprehensible carelessness in reading and lack of serious investigation of the subject. We propose in this article to make a careful examination of the text, and we ask of our readers to adopt our conclusions only as far as they are sustained by the words and spirit of our God.
First. What are the higher powers which God has ordained, and to which every soul is required to be in subjection on pain of damnation? Webster gives to the word power no less than twenty-five distinct definitions, many of which are totally inapplicable to the manifest meaning of the word as used in our text, but among his definitions is that of authority to rule or govern, which is evidently the sense in which the word is used by our apostle. Accepting this definition as clearly demonstrated by the context, we pass to enquire:
Secondly, for the source of all legitimate authority to bear rule, sway or government over the children of men. The popular theory of the wise and learned of our day is that all power to rule is derived from the people ruled. This may be so in all republican governments; for it is upon this theory that all such governments are based, but the popular sentiment, "Vox populi, vox Dei," is not in harmony with our text. The voice of the people is not the voice of God, it is frequently the very reverse. Even the people of Israel in the wilderness murmured against the Lord, and against Moses, and at Sinai entreated that they might hear his voice no more. The apostle John says, "We are of God: he that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error." According to our text there is no power, that is, no authority but of God. The inspired apostles recognized no authority, civil or ecclesiastical, but of God. God is the only source of legitimate power to govern. The power to govern must come from God; must be established by an ordinance of God, who only has the right to enthrone or dispose monarchs or rulers according to his sovereign pleasure.
We cannot construe our text as meaning that all the pretensions of men to rule over their fellow-men are sanctioned by ordinance of God, and that every soul is therefore bound or required to submit to their wicked usurpations. By what ordinance of God was Cain authorized to domineer over the conscience and worship of Abel? By what ordinance of God was Nebuchadnezzer authorized to compel men to worship the golden image which he had set up in the plain of Dura? Who gave power to the pagan, or to the papal beasts to reign over the kings of the earth, or to cause all men to worship the beast or to receive his mark? Who gave them a right to drench the earth with the blood of non-conformists? By what express or implied ordinance of God was Oliver Cromwell empowered to enforce his puritanic dogmas by the sword, in Europe, or the descendants of the European puritans in New England, by prisons, tortures and death? If our text will warrant the conclusion that all powers of every kind are to be respected as ordained of God, and to be obeyed implicitly by all men, then were the apostles themselves guilty of disloyalty in refusing to obey men in authority who had strictly forbidden them to preach Jesus; and the three Hebrew worthies were very wrong in refusing to worship the image which the king of the Chaldeans set up; and Daniel exposed himself to the damnation of our text for refusing to obey the decree of Darius, king of the Medes and Persians. Our revolutionary fathers were by the same rule guilty in rebelling against the king of England.
But it is beyond all successful controversy clear that the admonition in our text relates exclusively to the powers that God has by ordinance established on earth, and all others are by the apostles repudiated as usurpations, and not powers or authorities instituted or approved of God. Christ himself instructed his disciples that they should come in collision with, and be arrested and brought before kings, rulers, and councils in which he would sustain them in their disobedience to such usurpations. We pass to consider
Thirdly. What are the higher powers, or authorities, to which we are commanded to be in subjection? This enquiry can only be satisfactorily answered by reference to the record of what God hath said upon the subject, we will therefore copy from the scriptures some of the ordinances of power and authority which God has instituted on the subject.
It should be observed that the text speaks not only of power, but of powers, as referring to various grades of authority with which he has invested the children of men, so that every soul of all the family of mankind has his own superior in power to whom he or she owes allegiance.
The first investment of power or authority from God that the scriptures speak of is recorded in Genesis 1:26, "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth;" also in verse 28, "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over everything that moveth upon the earth." Here was clearly an ordinance of God giving authority to man over the earth and all the animal creation.
2. In Genesis 3:16, "Unto the woman he said and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." This ordinance of God is very distinctly recognized throughout not only all the Old Testament scriptures, but also in the New Testament, and in the order of the gospel church, wives are admonished in I Peter 3:1,6, "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husband," etc. "Even as Sara obeyed Abraham calling him lord; whose daughters ye are as long as ye do well." "That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed (Titus 2:4,5)."
3. The next investment of ruling power is what we call patriarchal, in which the father of every tribe had dominion over his posterity as long as he lived. This ordinance of God is found in the judicial and ceremonial law of Israel, and also in the Sinai covenant, or decalogue; and the apostle brings down this ordinance of God, and incorporates it in the other of the gospel church, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise (Ephesians 6:1,2)."
4. Primigenial power, or authority, was given by an ordinance of God to the first born son in every family over the younger members of the same household, as God said to Cain, "And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him;" that is, over Abel. This law or ordinance was held in force among the Hebrews, and is still in force in many European states; but we have no mention of it among the rules laid down for the observance of the gospel church.
5. By special enactment of God the relationship of master and servant was instituted and ordained of God. See the prophetic anathema pronounced by Noah on Canaan, the son of Ham, and grand son of Noah. "And he said, cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant (Genesis 9:25-27)." This prediction as fully indicated the servitude of Canaan and his posterity, as it did the blessings of Shem and of Japheth. But in Leviticus 25:44-45, we have a record of the ordinance of God upon the subject in language too plain and unequivocal to be mistaken by intelligent readers of the scriptures. "Both thy bondsmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bond men and bond maids. Moreover the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land; and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondsmen forever. But of your brethren, the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one another with rigor." Observe, even the children of Israel when they had become poor, and indebted, might be bought and sold, for a limited period, that is, until the next succeeding Jubilee, to satisfy the demands of the creditor. The Israelite, his lands, his wife and children were all legally sold for his debts, but at the appointed Jubilee all were restored; for like the children of God, whose inheritance is secured to them in Christ, so that they cannot be deprived of the possession and enjoyment of it only for a season, it must revert to them at the time of their spiritual Jubilee. Even during the bondage and servitude of the bankrupt Israelite his relationship is not to be obliterated, and his bondage must not be like that of chattled property; for Israelites might not rule one over another with rigor. By an absolute ordinance of God, as clearly written as that of any other ordinance of the Bible, it was ordained that the heathen round about the Hebrews, and the children of the strangers in their midst might be bought, sold, and even ruled with rigor, and transmitted for an inheritance to posterity to be their bondsmen and bondmaids forever. By this ordinance of God the owner of the bondsman or bondmaid is vested with power or authority to rule over them, and to what extent will be seen, "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money (Exodus 21:20,21)." In the decalogue, in two precepts of the ten, the divine legislator distinctly recognizes the right of property the master or owner has in his man-servant or maid-servant. "But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates." "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's (Exodus 20:10 and 17)." Very many other scriptures in the law and the prophets equally pertinent and confirmatory, may be adducted if required to show that the relationship of master and servant is as clearly an ordinance of God as that of husband and wife, and that such relationship is very distinctly recognized by the apostles in the gospel church, and that the Christian obligation and duty of the servant to obey his master, and the duty of the master to his servants, are fully provided in the laws which govern the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some very modern commentators have said this institution has passed away with the types and shadows of the old dispensation! But not a particle of proof do they, or can they, bring to that effect from the Bible. If it has passed from the law then with it must have also passed away the other precepts of the decalogue. "Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery." And if it did pass away it must have been re-enacted, for it is as fully embraced in the precepts of the New, as in the Old Testament. "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free (Ephesians 6:5-8)." Inasmuch as this duty is enjoined on the servant by the Lord, he cannot disobey the lawful commands of his master in the flesh, without disobedience to God by whose ordinance he owes this service to his master. "Children, obey your parents in all things; for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye service, as men-pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God. And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:20-24)." "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 in godliness: from such withdraw thyself (I Timothy 6:1-5)." What a terrible exemplification we have of what the apostle has here written, in modern abolitionism who by teaching otherwise have stirred up all the evil passions of men of corrupt minds, to strife, envy, railings, and rivers of blood. "Exhort servants 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 2:9,10)."
Can any one tell how the servant by his obedience to his master in the flesh is to adorn the doctrine of God his Savior unless that doctrine enjoins on him fidelity and obedience to his master? The whole epistle to Philemon is a confirmation of our position. "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward (I Peter 2:18)." Down to the final overthrow of the beast and the false prophet, as recorded in Revelation 19, the institution shall continue, though rivers of blood may flow for its extinction; for in that day John says, "I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God, that ye may eat the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great (Revelation 19:17,18)."
6. The governments of judges, governors, kings and potentates of the earth with every grade of magistracy are institutions of God, but all inferior and subordinate to the government of our Lord Jesus Christ, "For by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him and for him, and he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell (Colossians 1:16-19)."
The duty of the saints in reference to the civil powers of the earth is plainly enjoined in the scriptures especially in the New Testament. First of all they are exhorted to make supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks for all men, for kings, and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty (I Timothy 2:1,3). The religion of Christ, like the wisdom that cometh from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy; and the disciples of Jesus are commanded to live, as far as in them lies, peaceably with all men. That they may so live they are exhorted to pray God to govern our governors, rule our rulers, and give us such earthly governments as shall not involve us in strife or subject us to persecution. Paul charged Titus as a minister of Christ to "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men (Titus 3:1,2)." Our allegiance to Christ as King of saints does not release us from any obligation to those who are in authority over us in temporal matters, but it does require, as in our text, that every soul shall be subject to the higher powers. That the laws of Christ do recognize as institutions of God all the various grades of power and authority vested in men, we have shown, and the saints are commanded to respect and obey those powers as rendering obedience to God. They being his ordinances, we cannot disobey them without disobeying God himself. God commands that children shall obey their parents, because the power or authority of the parents is higher than that of the children. Servants, for the same reason, are commanded to obey their masters and to honor them in all things; failing to do so, they rebel against God. Citizens are commanded to obey magistrates, governors, kings, and all who hold higher power, and their neglect to do so is disobedience to God. But in all obedience due from them, they are to remember that there is no power or authority but of God. If, therefore, rulers shall require of the ruled to do what God has forbidden to steal, lie, rob, or commit murder, they are to obey God rather than men; for no man has authority from God to require of their fellow-men what God has forbidden. Should parents command their children to steal, lie or blaspheme, or should masters command their servants to worship idols, or transgress any of the laws of God, they are justified in disobeying such unlawful commands. They are not to recognize, respect or obey any power, authority or dominion that is not of God. Every soul is in subordination to a still higher power. The king or potentate who may occupy the very highest place of power on earth is commanded to be in subjection to the still higher power of God, so that every soul is equally bound to be in subjection to all the powers above him, whether it be the wife, the child, the servant, the citizen, the ruler, the king or potentate.
If kings or earthly rulers could meet the responsibility of their people's transgressions against God at his bar, then might they be empowered to domineer over their consciences. But God has given them no such power, but holds every individual personally amenable for himself. He has therefore commanded us to render unto Caesar the things which belong to Caesar, and to God the things which belong to God.
The most important consideration presented in our text is that, "Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" and is therefore a transgressor, not only of the authority of men, but also of God's ordinance. The child who disobeys or dishonors his parents, the servant who disobeys the lawful commands of his master in the flesh, the citizen who is disloyal to the wholesome civil government under which God has cast his lot, is a transgressor of God's law and shall receive to himself damnation, or as we presume the word may be rendered, condemnation. Men in the exercise of such authority as God has invested them with must be honored and obeyed on pain of condemnation. Their condemnation is not only by the laws of men, but confirmed by the law of God, whose mildest penalty is everlasting damnation.
"For rulers, (they who administer the rule which God has given) 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 the 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." The temporal judgments and wrath of God are executed or administered to evil doers by these ministers of God whom he has appointed and empowered for that purpose. "Wherefore, ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 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; owe no man anything but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law (Romans 13:5-8)." No parent, master, king or ruler has a right or power from God to demand, as a minister of God, any more than that which is the fulfilling of the divine law. "For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:9-10)."
In the foregoing we have confined our remarks to the obligations of loyalty in the civil department of governments, omitting for the present to treat upon the subject of ecclesiastical government, the laws and institutions of the house of God, and the obligations of all the children of God to walk in all the ordinances of the gospel kingdom, and to submit to the administration of all the laws of the spiritual kingdom as administered by the apostles and ministers of Christ whom God has authorized to take the oversight of his flock. In our next we will resume the subject.
We have purposely avoided allusions to the present political affairs of this country, not because the subject is inappropriate or unimportant, but from a consciousness of the excited state of the public mind and peculiar sensitiveness manifested too frequently, even by professors of our faith when the divine rule is brought to bear against any prejudice they may have imbibed against some of the institutions of power which God has ordained. We only ask that the article may be candidly examined in the fear of the Lord and in the light of the scriptures of truth, and that all the saints may lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset, and run with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
December 1, 1864.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 112 - 122