Brother Beebe: - Please give us your views on Romans 13:1. Perhaps you have given them, but no matter. I think it is necessary that the pure minds of the readers should be stirred up by way of remembrance.
REPLY: We feel some little hesitancy in attempting to write at this time upon the text proposed, but, after much reflection, we dare not withhold from an inquiring brother such light as the Lord may give us on any portion of the sacred scriptures. Our hesitancy is not because of any obscurity in the language of the apostle, for the subject appears to be perfectly clear; but from the general agitation of the public mind upon the subject, we have some apprehension that a clear elucidation of the text may not be kindly received by all our readers. We have no disposition to join in the general clamor of the times in regard to the policy or principles of human governments any farther than to consider and urge upon the attention of those who fear the Lord what God has, by the mouth or pen of his inspired servants, said upon those subjects. The text proposed reads thus: “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.”
There are, at this time, so many conflicting opinions entertained in the world, if not in the church of Christ, in regard to divinely instituted human powers, or earthly governments ordained of God, for a terror to evil doers, and for the protection of the righteous, that we seriously doubt, if the apostle Paul were present in the flesh, whether he could satisfy the minds of all with his own commentary on his own writings. Nevertheless, as we design to treat every man’s opinion with due respect, ask only for a respectful consideration of our own, we shall honestly express our views, and hope they may prove edifying and satisfactory, at least to our inquiring brother.
That human governments are instituted of God for the benefit of mankind we presume none will deny. None can deny this without directly contradicting the declaration of this text: “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” And the apostle adds, “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 evil,” etc. But, while all this is conceded, the question arises whether the apostle is to be understood to mean that ALL the principalities and powers, and thrones, and dominions, of this world are to be regarded as the ordinance of God, and to be respected and obeyed as legitimately authorized and instituted of God for a terror to evil doers, and the encouragement of good works. If all powers assumed by men are to be so regarded, why was Paul himself so frequently in conflict with the rulers of the people? And why did he say for himself, and for all apostolic Christians, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world;” etc.? Did Paul, with the primitive saints, resist, wrestle against, the powers that are ordained of God, and bring on themselves damnation? Did the Hebrew children, when they disobeyed the king of Babylon and disregarded his threats in the plain of Dura, (see Daniel 3:16) transgress an ordinance of God? Did Peter, and the other apostles, transgress an ordinance of God when they refused to obey the rulers of the people? (See Acts 5:29) If they did not transgress the ordinance of God in these cases, we must, of necessity, admit that the powers which, in our text, Paul declares to be of God, means only such power and authority as is legitimately from God. The very word “power” here signifies “authority,” which is derived from God, or which God has authorized men to bear, for a terror to the wicked, and a protection to the righteous. We must either conclude that all manner of power, civil, religious, physical, or mental, including the power of assassins, or murderers, all that is superior to our own, is to be passively revered and obeyed, or we must find a line drawn some where between legitimate and illegitimate power. Cain usurped a power over Abel, at an early day, but who will contend that it was an ordinance of God? Moses and Aaron resisted the power of Pharaoh; did they resist the ordinance of God? God himself had commanded them to resist.
Well then, the words of our text, “For there is no power but of God,” must mean that God is the only legitimate source of authoritative power, and all pretended right to rule which God has not invested man with is no authority, is but usurpation, and imposition.
But how are we to distinguish between legitimate power invested in rulers by God himself, and that which is only usurped by ambitious and wicked men? We know of no other way than to examine the scriptures to learn what rights of power God has given to men to rule their fellow men. If we have not misread the sacred volume, there are all the different grades of power and authority which are expressed, or implied, in our text.
The right of power invested in Adam to rule over the beast of the field, the fowls of the air, and fishes of the deep, was given him by God himself, according to the scriptures. His right to rule over Eve because she was the bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh, (as well after as before her formation) was immediately from God.
The right of parents to govern their children, and the duty of children to obey their parents, is found in the law of God. And this description of patriarchal government was the supreme rule of human government from Adam to Moses.
The right of masters to rule or govern their servants, and the corresponding obligation to servants to obey their masters, is abundantly taught as an ordinance of God throughout the Old and the New Testaments. And this legitimate power is not only immediately authorized in Leviticus 25:44-46, but distinctly recognized in two precepts of the ten in the Decalogue, and in nearly every epistle of Paul, and Peter in the New Testament.
The duty of citizens to magistrates, governors, and kings is also clearly enjoined in the sacred scriptures. The right by which kings reign, and princes decree judgments, is of God, and those who have not derived their power by his appointment and according to his word, have no other source from whence they can derive a legitimate power, or authority, to reign or govern. And all who have this power, whether it be kings, governors, magistrates, parents, husbands, masters, or whatever degree of power they may be invested with, are restricted by the supreme power and authority of God himself. Parents are forbidden to provoke their children. Husbands are to love their wives, and to impose nothing on them by authority incompatible with the delicacy of their sex. Masters are to render to their servants that which is just and equal, and to remember that they also have a master who will hold them accountable for the exercise of their powers. Magistrates are restricted by the constitution under which they hold their office. Judges are restricted by the laws which they authorized to adjudicate. Governors and kings are to be in subjection to the restrictions which God has defined in his word, for our text, and its connection, informs us that they are God’s ministers, and their authority legitimately extends no farther than to bear the sword so as to be a terror, not to good works, but to evil.
Thus, from the highest to the lowest, from the least to the greatest of all the human family, there is none, not a soul to be found who is not amenable to a higher power, which he can not disregard without disobeying the ordinances of God. The king who holds the highest position of power or authority over men is subordinate to the King of kings and Lord of lords. “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.” (Psalms 2:10-12) Kings, governors, and magistrates have souls, as well as those in humble positions, and our text enjoins on all who have souls, whether they be high or low, rich or poor, bond or free, black or white, to be subject to the higher power. Considering the power of all who hold power by Divine authority, such power can not, in any of its departments or grades, be disregarded without disobedience to God. “Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good,” - which God has commanded, - “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 sake. For this cause pay ye tribute also; for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:3-8) Listen also to the concurring admonition of another apostle of the Lamb: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that whereas they speak against you as evil doers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or to governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for 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 servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor 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,” etc.
Let it be understood that these instructions were given by the apostles to the members of the church of God, that the saints may know how to behave themselves in the house of God, and in all their relations with mankind at large. The kingdom of Christ is not of this world: and our being called by grace into his spiritual kingdom does not annul or dissolve any obligation that we were previously under to the powers that be, and which are ordained and approved of God. A worthy Christian must necessarily be a good citizen, or member of the community; law abiding and circumspect in all things. Therefore as ye would honor God and obey Christ, “Let every soul be subject to the higher power: for there is no power but of God.”
October 15, 1863.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 409 – 414