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OBEDIENCE TO GOVERNMENT
OBEDIENCE TO GOVERNMENT
Rev. Lachlan Mackenzie
This excerpt from a discourse on 1 Peter 2 was taken from the book The Happy Man.
“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” (1 Peter 2:13-14).
Government is absolutely necessary for the well being of society. And whatever kind of government prevails in any country, it is the duty of Christians to obey. Scripture, indeed, does not tell us what kind of government is best. Men may make any kind of government, good or bad, happy or miserable, for their subjects. There have been good kings who had absolute powers, and we read of Socrates being corrupted with gold. And even allowing that the king as supreme governor was a bad man, he must answer for that, but the subjects must obey. This is the doctrine of Christ and His apostles. The Roman emperors were wicked men, and yet our Lord commands to pay tribute to Caesar, and the apostles recommend submission to Caesar’s successors. And subjects are to obey for the Lord’s sake.
No doubt oppression and slavery are great grievances, and every man has a natural desire for liberty. It may have a plausible appearance and sound very popular that people draw the sword against the king for the good of their fellow-creatures. This specious argument may draw in the unwary, and may even deceive some of the people of God. If the great apostle himself who gives this advice drew his sword in what he thought a good cause to protect virtue and innocence, it is no surprise that other good men have been misled since his time. Good men might be induced to draw the sword to defend the truth. But even this does not render it a duty, for we are commanded to obey for the Lord’s sake. This is the word of our Lord and Savior. And His reasons are better than ours if we should think otherwise. He commanded the apostle to put his sword in his sheath, for the kingdom of the Prince of Peace is not to be propagated by the sword. And the same command is given in the words of the text— “We are to submit.” In such cases people cannot defend the church itself without shedding blood. It is, therefore, better to allow the Lord to defend it in His own way and time than to do evil that good might follow. By rebuking Peter for drawing the sword, He has given an example to His people. We are to obey, for we cannot resist government without doing a great deal of mischief
The oppression of which we may complain is owing to the sins of the subjects, and it is a salutary medicine calculated at the time for their good. Shall we counteract the effect of the medicine by rising in arms? By no means. The sins of the Jewish church brought Nebuchadnezzar upon them, and yet they are commanded to submit to his yoke and that of his successors for a time. In like manner we are to submit to government, whatever grievance we may labor under. Government is a divine ordinance, and we are to obey, for the professed object of every government, however tyrannical, is the suppression of evildoers and the protection and praise of those who do well. And as we are to obey the king, we are likewise to obey his servants speaking and acting in his name.
“For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (verse 15).
In the days of the apostle, Christianity was not the religion of the state. And from the very beginning Christians have been accused of being evil-affected to government. One of the reasons for putting Christ to death was His calling Himself a King. Christianity is an enemy to vice of every kind. It attacked and shook the foundations of superstition and idolatry wherever it came. And as it was diametrically opposite to every species of the pagan religion, they concluded they were enemies to sovereigns. They spoke about a spiritual King and a spiritual kingdom, and therefore their enemies concluded they were rebels. The people that generally accused them were ignorant and foolish men. Now, the surest way of silencing such characters was by a steady perseverance in well doing. In particular, by obeying the higher powers, they would effectually confine the malicious calumny that they were enemies to government.
“As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (verse 16).
In order to understand these words we have to look to Deuteronomy 17:15, where the Jews are commanded not to set a stranger over them as their king. They might, therefore, think that their subjugation to Christ set them free from yielding obedience to heathen kings. Quite the reverse, says the apostle. If you are the spiritual subjects of the Prince of Peace, you are to obey your temporal governors. He Himself submitted to the yoke and commanded to pay tribute to Caesar. His kingdom was not of this world, and it was not here He promised to make His followers kings and priests. You are not, then, says the apostle, to make use of your spiritual privileges as an excuse for shaking off your allegiance to your governors. Instead of this you are to show yourselves the servants of God by your submissive deportment and your willing subjection to the powers that be.
“Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (verse 17).
These few short precepts contain a great deal of our duty to God and men. We are to honor all men. The poorest and the meanest of mankind partake of the same human nature with ourselves and therefore are entitled to our respect and esteem. Our inferiors in rank and in circumstances may be greatly our superiors in talents, in virtue, and in grace. The world often gives nicknames to men and things. The rich and the powerful are styled great men, whereas the truly great man is the man who is high in the favor of God and who has got the mastery in some degree over his lusts and his passions. And though wicked people cannot command our esteem, yet even such characters may have several amiable qualities that may make them useful in the world, and if they became true converts, would make them truly respectable. In short, all men may have something in them that we ought to honor. Even the worst of mankind are capable of the divine image, and may hereafter shine as stars of the first magnitude in the kingdom of heaven. And as we are to pay some degree of respect to the human nature wherever it appears, we are peculiarly to love the people of God. We are to wish well to all, but we are to love them as the excellent of the earth, as the children of God and heirs of His kingdom. We are to fear God and show an expression of that fear in the performance of the different duties which He has commanded us in His Word. And the great duty in the New Testament is faith in Jesus Christ as our King. But our duty to Him as our spiritual King does not interfere with the respect that is due to our temporal sovereign. We are to honor the king and obey him in everything that is not contrary to the law of God.
“Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward” (verse 18).
Christianity does not interfere with the natural rights of mankind. As our obedience to Christ does not vacate our obligations to obey the king whom Providence has set over us, in like manner, our being the servants of Christ calls upon us to do our duty to our masters according to the flesh. But perhaps some servants might object, alas, we have harsh and cruel masters who make us serve with rigor. Even in that case obedience became a duty. They were to obey not only the good and the gentle, but also the froward. Disgraceful as slavery is to the human nature, if Christians happen to be slaves, they are to do their duty in that state until Providence is pleased to set them free. If their masters are cruel and use them ill, they must exercise patience. And this duty is doubly incumbent upon servants among ourselves, where the laws of a wise and enlightened legislature have made their condition so easy and comfortable in comparison of what many servants were in the days of the apostles.
One of the characteristics of good Christians is that they are good subjects and submit to government. And if people were bound to obey under a tyrannical government, how much more is it our duty to submit to a mild government whose basis is law and liberty? The character of the wicked is that they despise government and speak evil of dignities. And such as do so, besides everlasting punishment, often pay for their wickedness even in this same world.
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