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Category: Brandon Adams

John Murray on the Church Rebuking the State

When it is maintained that the church is concerned with civic affairs, is under obligation to examine political measures in the light of the Word of God, and is required to declare its judgments accordingly, the distinction between this activity on the part of the church and political activity must be recognized. To put the matter bluntly, the church is not to engage in politics. Its members must do so, but only in their capacity as citizens of the state, not as members of the church. The church is not to create or foster political parties or blocs. The proclamation of the church may indeed induce the members of the church and others to affiliate themselves, in their capacity as citizens, with one party rather than with another or, perhaps, to form a political party for the promotion of good politics. If the proclamation of the church is sound, the church has no need to be ashamed of the influence its proclamation exerts in this direction, nor does it need to be troubled by the charge that may be levelled against it to the effect that it is engaged in politics. In such circumstances the church must be prepared to pay the price for its faithful witness to the political implications of the message committed to it (256).

The question remains: how is the church to proclaim the counsel of God as it bears upon civil affairs? It is obvious that there are two means, in particular, of proclaiming the Word of God, namely, the pulpit and the press. The church lives in the world and it lives within the domain of political entities. If it is to be faithful to its commission it must make its voice heard and felt in reference to public questions. The church may not supinely stand aside and ignore political corruption, for example, on the ground that to pronounce judgment on such issues is to intermeddle in politics. Political corruption is sin, it is public sin, and the church denies its vocation if it does not reprove it. When there is political revolution which contravenes the principles of God’s Word and is directed against the kingdom of God, the church may not be an idle spectator on the round that the powers that be are ordained of God. It must assess the revolution for what it is in the light of the Word of God and proclaim in pulpit and press what the judgment of the Word of God is. If political revolution is right; if it displaces usurpation and tyranny, and is in the interests of equity, the church may not refrain from expressing by like media the favourable judgment which the principles of the Word of God dictate (257).

– John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray 1: The Claims of Truth (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), 256, 257.

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David Dykstra on Church & State (and Isaac Backus on Romans 13)

Reformed Baptist pastor David Dykstra’s series on Church & State is worth listening to, particularly the historic overviews of the reformation and American eras.

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 1

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 01/12/2003

580+ | 37 min

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 2

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 01/19/2003

1,020+ | 39 min

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 3

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 01/26/2003

480+ | 48 min

David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 4

Romans 13:1-7 

SUN 02/02/2003

320+ | 36 min


In Part 4, Dykstra explains that Romans 13 describes how Christians should relate to a government that is doing its job. It does not say how Christians should relate to a government that has become tyrannical. He quotes from Isaac Backus’ diary explaining how he preached in the time leading up to the American Revolution (April 23, 1775 – Backus was a prominent New England baptist pastor who testified before the Continental Congress and other political bodies lobbying for religious liberty. Scholars note he has a place beside Jefferson in the shaping of America).

“I noted that in Romans 13, the powers that be were required to submit to were ministers of God to the people for good.”

Backus would argue that Romans 13 could not be pressed into service by tyrants for use. He’s saying this passage only deals with a situation where a Christian is under a government that for the most part is doing a decent job of rewarding good and punishing evil. It does not give us specific directions as to what to do in those situations where a government, instead of rewarding good and punishing evil, rewards evil and punishes good. You see his point? He was saying that’s the kind of government the New Testament requires us to submit to, not to governments that are tyrannical!

But yet, over the centuries, tyrants made use of this passage of Scripture in Romans 13 to brow-beat people into submission. Tyrannical husbands have made use of Romans 13 to brow-beat wives into submission. Tyrannical parents have made use of Romans 13 to brow-beat children into submission. Tyrannical elders of churches have made use of Romans 13 to brow-beat their people into submission. But none of these passages deal with that specific problem as to what to do when you live under an authority is tyrannical. And the essence of a tyrannical authority is an authority who says “I am not subject to law.”

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, this was not eisegesis on the part of an American Revolutionary. It was the historic reformed interpretation of the passage. But if that’s not what Romans 13 is addressing, then what is it addressing?

Why was it necessary to say to the Christian people at the time, “Listen, be obedient citizens. Obey the laws of the state. Be exemplary in how you live.” Why did they have to write that way?

  1. Jewish leaders in Paul’s day rebelled against the very notion they were subject to Rome and that they were not free… John 8:31-33…
  2. Jewish leaders questioned Rome’s right to tax them. Matt 22:15-17…
  3. Some Jewish leaders had risen up in rebellion against Rome. Acts 5:34-37… Here were Jews that rose up in rebellion against Rome. Here were leaders that rebellion – official, organized rebellion against Rome. This is one of the reasons Paul had to write as he did to the Christians. You are not to live that way. You are to be God’s different people in your life in the world. Israel was a difficult province for Rome to rule. Armed conflict was a fact of life between Roman forces and the Jewish zealots, predictably. Remember how in Luke 13:1… Barabbas…

So there were reasons for Paul to write as he did, for Peter to write as he did, because these were difficult times. The danger posed to the church was this – and I think you can appreciate it with just a little bit of thought – that Rome might not be able to discern between Jews and Jewish Christians at this early date. And Paul and the other Apostles wanted Christians to be exemplary in their conduct in relation to Roman authority… Matthew 5:41

In other words, these words of Paul and Peter arose from the fact that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, unlike the earthly kingdom of Israel. God’s direct reign as the king over the kingdom of Israel, sitting on his thrown in the temple (see here) meant that any foreign ruler was a usurper who had no authority over Israel. That’s why the history of Israel is God raising up men to overthrow foreign rulers again and again and again. It was called “salvation” (1 Sam. 11:13; 1 Chron 16:35; 2 Chron 20:17). Not so with the kingdom of Christ, which was inward, spiritual, and not of this world. Paul’s point is that earthly, unbelieving rulers still have authority over Christians, insofar as they rule lawfully (as Paul explains).

Starting with John the Baptist and continuing throughout Jesus’ ministry, the Jews were warned of the coming end of the Old Covenant when God would pour out the full wrath of the covenant on those who had broken it. The only refuge was to flee to Jesus, as Jesus explained in John 15:1-6 (a passage about Old Covenant curse, not about church membership). This looming judgment was still imminent when Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans (56-57AD – note, this was before Nero began persecuting Christians, thus Paul is not addressing that. In Part 5, Dykstra notes “At the time, it was still good government. 30 years from the time he wrote this, no New Testament writer would have been able to write this way. In 30 years from when this letter was written, the good government that was Rome would be the evil beast rising from the earth and the sea of Revelation 13 and Revelation 13 becomes almost the mirror image of Romans 13.”). Paul wrote to Jewish and Gentile Christians living in the capital city. Things were heating up between Jews and Rome and Paul wrote to clarify how Christians in the New Covenant should relate to Roman authority.

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD -- a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849).
The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD — a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849).

Luke 21:20-22 “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that the time of your judgment has come.” And what are you, as my people, supposed to do at that time when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies? You are to flee into the mountains. Do not become a part of this Jewish rebellion. Don’t get involved in this insurrection, this rebellion against Rome. Don’t go even back into the city. When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, don’t take part in that. You get out. And thankfully Christians did. And in the Jewish war of rebellion that began in 66AD and was utterly and finally squashed by Rome in 70AD, the Christians were spared because they listened to their Lord.

[I would not necessarily agree with Dykstra’s concluding applications in Part 4, nor the points in Parts 5-8.]


Dykstra also has a more recent two-part series on rebellion.

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Calvin’s Geneva

Calvin makes some curious comments on 1 Corinthians 5:10 that show how different his view of the church was from ours. I mention it here because it has significant ramifications for political philosophy. 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 says “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” Chrysostom gives the obvious explanation “[W]e must live among thorns so long as we sojourn on earth. This only do I [Paul] require, that you do not keep company with fornicators, who wish to be regarded as brethren.” But this requires a necessary distinction between the church and the rest of society. What if there is no distinction? What if an entire society is in the church? Calvin objects

Against this exposition a question might be proposed by way of objection: “As Paul said this at a time when Christians were as yet mingled with heathens, and dispersed among them, what ought to be done now, when all have given themselves to Christ in name? For even in the present day we must go out of the world, if we would avoid the society of the wicked; and there are none that are strangers, when all take upon themselves Christ’s name, and are consecrated to him by baptism… I prefer one [interpretation] that is different from all these, taking the word rendered to go out as meaning to be separated, and the term world as meaning the pollutions of the world  [Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs to be separated from the pollutions of the world.]… There is, then, a sort of intentional omission, when he says that he makes no mention of those that are without, inasmuch as the Corinthians ought to be already separated from them.

Thus Paul is saying (apparently) “of course you should avoid the sexually immoral in the church, because you should avoid all sexually immoral people everywhere.” Not quite.

In a very interesting essay titled European Calvinism: Church Discipline, Jordan Ballor and Bradford Littlejohn note

For all his emphasis on discipline, the ministerial office, and the distinctive institutional form of the church, Calvin never seems to have entertained the Anabaptist separation of church from commonwealth, viewing the whole populace of Geneva as part of the visible church, and never questioning the important role of Christian magistrates in defending and edifying this church… Prepared at the invitation of the Geneva city Councils, this text [Ordonnances ecclésiastiques] provided the blueprint for Calvin’s famous and remarkably successful disciplinary system, of which the chief distinctive was the Consistory. This body, consisting both of elders (twelve laymen chosen from among city Councils) and ministers, was responsible for hearing cases related to various forms of immorality and disorderly conduct, as well as superstition, doctrinal error, contempt of ministers, and more.

In Will the Real Geneva Please Stand Up, Litteljohn elaborates, noting that a common narrative about Calvin doesn’t seem to match the reality.

First, let’s ask what we should expect to find in Geneva on the conventional narrative:

We would find Calvin arriving in Geneva and gathering around him a band of like-minded pastors and laymen, with whom, having studied the Scriptures carefully, he drafted a church constitution.  This constitution would provide for individual congregations to elect elders for spiritual government and deacons for more temporal needs, and each group of elders would be presided over by a pastor.  Together, elders and pastor would oversee the spiritual and moral lives of their congregants, rebuking them and excommunicating them where necessary; deacons, meanwhile, would gather and manage the alms of the congregation for the needs of its members.  Elders and pastors from individual congregations would meet together regularly with all the others within the city of Geneva, and this synod would vote on decisions binding on all the individual congregations, and would hear appeals on disciplinary matters.  Calvin and his fellow pastors would have made this constitution without consulting the city council, though, in order to keep the peace, they would probably have sought the city council’s blessing, or at least their permission, to carry through this arrangement among such believers in Geneva who wished to participate in this scheme.  And here is the key point—they would not have sought to impose this system on the whole populace of Geneva, since the visible church is a gathered congregation of the truly faithful who willingly submit to discipline, not the whole body of merely outward professors of the faith.  Any Christians in Geneva who wished to participate in Calvin’s churches would have done so, and Calvin and his fellow pastors would have had no interest in imposing their discipline on those outside this church (though they certainly might have tried to evangelize them and to convince them to join).  Those excommunicated from these churches would lose their access to the sacraments and their membership in the spiritual kingdom, but would remain unimpaired citizens of Geneva and members of the society there.

Unfortunately, almost no piece of this picture corresponds to the reality.  What do we find instead?

Instead we find, in 1541, the city authorities of Geneva dismayed at the breakdown of morals and social order, and the chaotic administration of ecclesiastical matters.  Seeing the need for a revamped civic order, and recognizing that this could not be achieved without a well-ordered spiritual government, they invited Calvin back to draft the ordinances for them, recognizing his unique combination of theological, legal, and administrative expertise.  Calvin accordingly drafted proposals for the moral government and spiritual provision for the city of Geneva, as a cooperative enterprise between the clergy, the ordinary laity, and the magistrates.  This was solicited, proposed, and enacted as a piece of civil legislation, which the civil authorities in Geneva were ultimately responsible for putting into practice and maintaining.  While it is often assumed that at this early date, there were in fact sharp and irreconcilable differences between Calvin’s vision (an autonomous church) and the magistrates’ vision (a state church), this is considerably overstated.

Gillian Lewis, in her article, “Calvinism in Geneva in the Time of Calvin and Beza (1541-1605),” helps set the record straight.  First, she points out,

there was between Calvin and the Genevan authorities a good deal of common ground, about the functions of a clergy, about the suppression of religious dissent, and about the policing of public morals.  The broad measure of this consensus deserves more emphasis than it is usually afforded in accounts of the Geneva of Calvin: any amount of ingenuity and zeal on the Reformer’s part would, without it, have been fruitless.  It turned out that the Ordinances, in their assumptions and in the details of their provisions, secured from ruling councils and general public not only widespread acquiescence, but genuine support.

There was, for example, agreement about the duties allocated to each category of the new-fangled ministers of the Word, deacons, doctors, elders, and pastors.[7]

Let’s look at these offices, since these are the building blocks of Presbyterian ecclesiology.  Although one can read countless accounts by modern Reformed authors attacking government-run welfare on the basis that in the Calvinist tradition, welfare is handled by the church as a distinct institution, managed by deacons, and not by state functionaries, and although many of these accounts will even claim that this is how it was in Geneva,[8] this rests on a fundamentally anachronistic dichotomy.  In fact, as Lewis explains,

Deacons proved uncontroversial.  It is doubtful, in any case, whether they can reasonably be regarded as a “Calvinist” innovation, in principle or in fact.  Procureurs to oversee the finances and hospitaliers to take care of the day-to-day care of the sick and impotent poor had been established in 1535, when the city had amalgamated a crowd of ecclesiastical charities and private funds into the centrally-funded Hopital-General, established in a recently emptied convent.  All that the 1541 article did was to confer upon those officials the Scriptural cognomen “Deacon”, and the dignity of being regarded as part of the fourfold ministry.  From the outset, however, they were in no real sense ministers, but lay office-holders elected by the civil power.  Nor was there anything novel or unconventional in their duties to support the view that we have here an example of a new and specifically “Calvinist” attitude toward the poor.[9]
Deacons, in short, far from being an independently-elected office of an independent “church” were essentially civil functionaries serving the church in the united Christian community.

What about elders?  Surely these are the bedrock of Calvinism’s autonomous spiritual government?  Well, not really.  Again, Lewis:

Elders had to be “decent and respectable men, beyond reproach and of unblemished reputation, above all God-fearing and carrying spiritual weight.”  They were chosen from members of the city’s ruling councils.  They usually found themselves carrying the burden of the office for years on end.  This must surely have contributed to the development of a consistent style and tone in the Genevan church, and to some extent in Genevan public life.  As the Ordinances had intended, their co-operation with the pastors did produce some genuine dovetailing of the activities of the spiritual and the civil power.[10]

Indeed, most of the moral issues that the consistory oversaw were a matter of enforcing civil legislation that had been passed before the Reformation even came to Geneva:

Like that of other cities, the commune of Geneva—long before the Reformation—had regularly passed edicts against fraud in commerce, against usury, against excessive luxury in dress, against sexual offenses and prostitution, and against drunkenness and disorderly behavior in the street.  There was a spate of such legislation between 1536 and 1541, when the newly sovereign republic was asserting its authority in every sphere.  The edicts passed in Calvin’s day, indeed in the whole period from 1541 to the early 1570s, were a continuation of this process, and formed part of a wide program me of clarifying and tidying up some of the anomalies, gaps, and obscurities in the city’s rudimentary legal code.  The ordinances concerning public morals reveal the lineaments of what was, in the eyes of the magistrates, acceptable social behavior.  They were designed not so much to transform the community so that it became more godly as to protect traditional decencies and preserve the status quo. The Consistory contributed to this end. . . . Ready acceptance of most of the Consistory’s rulings by the community in general suggests that there was a high degree of overlap between the morality the pastors extracted from the Scriptures, and the everyday assumptions about decency and the proprieties and justice which prevailed. The Consistory was a part of this continuum of edification.[11]

Not, that is, that the Consistory exercised coercive jurisdiction in enforcing these laws.  Rather, it served as a sort of halfway house, filling the gap between preaching that demanded standards of righteousness, and civil courts that punished unrighteousness.  It was, as Lewis puts it, “a tribunal of first resort, sifting out those cases which should properly be passed on to the civil courts,” involved “in infra-judicial settlement of pastoral matters which had got out of hand.”[12] (Given the sheer scope of moral legislation that Geneva had enacted, which would otherwise have remained largely unenforceable, a body like consistory was almost demanded.[13])

This certainly helps provide a clearer picture of Calvin’s view of the civil magistrate and how all of society related to the church. This concept is the root of the idea among Protestants that the duty of the civil government is to make people more moral – to behave outwardly like Christians (see Local Pastor Longs For Good Old Days When America Pretended To Be A Christian Nation and Left Behind in America: Following Christ after Culture Wars). Thankfully most modern reformed churches have abandoned this model of the church in favor of congregationalism (yes, modern Presbyterianism is largely congregational). But regretfully, many of them still retain vestiges of it in their political philosophy.

See also Calvin’s Two-Fold Government.

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Rutherford on Romans 13 and the Distinction Between Person and Office

see also Rutherford on Romans 13 and the Logic of Resistance

Question XXIX. Whether, in the case of defensive war, the distinction of the person of the king, as a man, who can commit acts of hostile tyranny against his subjects, and of the office and royal power that he hath from God and the people, as a king, can have place.

Before I can proceed to other Scripture proofs for the lawfulness of resistance, this distinction, rejected by royalists, must be cleared. This is an evident and sensible distinction: — The king in concreto, the man who is king, and the king in abstracto, the royal office of the king. The ground of this distinction we desire to be considered from Rom. xiii. We affirm with Buchanan, that Paul here speaketh of the office and duty of good magistrates, and that the text speaketh nothing of an absolute king, nothing of a tyrant; and the royalists distinguish where the law distinguished not, against the law, (l. pret. 10, gl. Bart. de pub. in Rem.); and therefore we move the question here, Whether or no to resist the illegal and tyrannical will of the man who is king, be to resist the king and the ordinance of God; we say no. Nor do we deny the king, abusing his power in unjust acts, to remain king, and the minister of God, whose person for his royal office, and his royal office, are both to be honoured, reverenced, and obeyed. God forbid that we should do so as the sons of Belial, imputing to us the doctrine of anabaptists, and the doctrine falsely imputed to Wicliffe, — that dominion is founded upon supernatural grace, and that a magistrate being in the state of mortal sin, cannot be a lawful magistrate, — we teach no such thing. The P. Prelate showeth us his sympathy with papists, and that he buildeth the monuments and sepulchres of the slain and murdered prophets, when he, refusing to open his mouth in the gates for the righteous, professeth he will not purge the witnesses of Christ, the Waldenses, and Wiciiffe, and Huss, of these notes of disloyalty, but that these acts proceeding from this root of bitterness, the abused power of a king, should be acknowledged with obedience active or passive, in these unjust acts, we deny.

Assert. 1. — It is evident from Rom. xiii. that all subjection and obedience to higher powers commanded there, is subjection to the power and office of the magistrate in abstracto, or, which is all one, to the person using the power lawfully, and that no subjection is due by that text, or any word of God, to the abused and tyrannical power of the king, which I evince from the text, and from other Scriptures.

1. Because the text saith, “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.” But no powers commanding things unlawful, and killing the innocent people of God, can be e0cousi/ai u9perexou/sai higher powers, but in that lower powers. He that commandeth not what God commandeth, and punisheth and killeth where God, if personally and immediately present, would neither command nor punish, is not in these acts to be subjected unto, and obeyed as a superior power, though in habit he may remain a superior power; for all habitual, all actual superiority is a formal participation of the power of the Most High. Arnisæus well saith, (c. 4, p. 96,) “That of Aristotle must be true, It is against nature, better and worthier men should be in subjection to unworthier and more wicked men;” but when magistrates command wickedness, and kill the innocent, the non-obeyers, in so far, are worthier than the commanders (whatever they be in habit and in office) actually, or in these wicked acts are unworthier and inferior, and the non-obeyers are in that worthier, as being zealous adherents to God’s command and not to man’s will. I desire not to be mistaken; if we speak of habitual excellency, godly and holy men, as the witnesses of Christ in things lawful, are to obey wicked and infidel kings and emperors, but in that these wicked kings have an excellency in respect of office above them; but when they command things unlawful, and kill the innocent, they do it not by virtue of any office, and so in that they are not higher powers, but lower and weak ones. Laertius doth explain Aristotle well, who defineth a tyrant by this, “That he commandeth his subjects by violence;” and Arnisæus condemneth Laertius for this, “Because one tyrannical action doth no more constitute a tyrant, than one “unjust action doth constitute an unjust man.” But he may condemn, as he doth indeed, (Covarruvias pract. quest. c. 1, and Vasquez Illustr. quest. l. 1, c. 47, n. 1, 12,) for this is essential to a tyrant, to command and rule by violence. If a lawful prince do one or more acts of a tyrant, he is not a tyrant for that, yet his action in that is tyrannical, and he doth not that as a king, but in that act as a sinful man, having something of tyranny in him.

2. The powers (Rom. xiii. 1) that be, are ordained of God, as their author and efficient; but kings commanding unjust things, and killing the innocent, in these acts, are but men, and sinful men; and the power by which they do these acts, a sinful and an usurped power, and so far they are not powers ordained of God, according to his revealed will, which must rule us. Now the authority and official power, in abstracto, is ordained of God, as the text saith, and other Scriptures do evidence. And this politicians do clear, while they distinguish betwixt jus personæ, and jus coronæ, the power of the person, and the power of the crown and royal office. They must then be two different things.

3. He that resisteth the power, that is, the official power, and the king, as king, and commanding in the Lord, resisteth the ordinance of God, and God’s lawful constitution. But he who resisteth the man, who is the king, commanding that which is against God, and killing the innocent, resisteth no ordinance of God, but an ordinance of sin and Satan; for a man commanding unjustly, and ruling tyrannically, hath, in that, no power from God.

4. They that resist the power and royal office of the king in things just and right, shall receive to themselves damnation, but they that resist, that is, refuse, for conscience, to obey the man who is the king, and choose to obey God rather than man, as all the martyrs did, shall receive to themselves salvation. And the eighty valiant men, the priests, who used bodily violence against king Uzziah’s person, “and thrust him out of the house of the Lord,” from offering incense to the Lord, which belonged to the priest only, received not damnation to themselves, but salvation in doing God’s will, and in resisting the king’s wicked will.

5. The lawful ruler, as a ruler, and in respect of his office, is not to be resisted, because he is not a terror to good works, but to evil; and no man who doth good is to be afraid of the office or the power, but to expect praise and a reward of the same. But the man who is a king may command an idolatrous and superstitious worship — send an army of cut-throats against them, because they refuse that worship, and may reward papists, prelates, and other corrupt men, and may advance them to places of state and honour because they kneel to a tree altar, — pray to the east, — adore the letters and sound of the word Jesus — teach and write Arminianism, and may imprison, deprive, confine, cut the ears, and slit the noses, and burn the faces of those who speak and preach and write the truth of God; and may send armies of cut-throats, Irish rebels, and other papists and malignant atheists, to destroy and murder the judges of the land, and innocent defenders of the reformed religion, &c., — the man, I say, in these acts is a terror to good works, — an encouragement to evil; and those that do good are to be afraid of the king, and to expect no praise, but punishment and vexation from him; therefore, this reason in the text will prove that the man who is the king, in so far as he doth those things that are against his office, may be resisted; and that in these we are not to be subject, but only we are to be subject to his power and royal authority, in abstracto, in so far as, according to his office, he is not a terror to good works, but to evil.

6. The lawful ruler is the minister of God, or the servant of God, for good to the commonwealth; and to resist the servant in that wherein he is a servant, and using the power that he hath from his master, is to resist the Lord his master. But the man who is the king, commanding unjust things, and killing the innocent, in these acts is not the minister of God for the good of the commonwealth; — he serveth himself and papists, and prelates, for the destruction of religion, laws, and commonwealth: therefore the man may be resisted; by this text, when the office and power cannot be resisted.

7. The ruler, as the ruler, and the nature and intrinsical end of the office is, that he bear God’s sword as an avenger to execute wrath on him that doth evil, — and so cannot be resisted without sin. But the man who is the ruler, and commandeth things unlawful, and killeth the innocent, carrieth the papist’s and prelate’s sword to execute, not the righteous judgment of the Lord upon the ill-doer, but his own private revenge upon him that doth well; therefore, the man may be resisted, the office may not be resisted; and they must be two different things.

8. We must needs be subject to the royal office for conscience, by reason of the fifth commandment; but we must not needs be subject to the man who is king, if he command things unlawful; for Dr Ferne warranteth us to resist, if the ruler invade us suddenly, without colour of law or reason, and unavoidably; and Winzetus, Barclay, and Grotius, as before I cited, give us leave to resist a king turning a cruel tyrant; but Paul (Rom. xiii.) forbiddeth us to resist the power, in abstracto; therefore, it must be the man, in concreto, that we must resist.

9. Those we may not resist to whom we owe tribute, as a reward of the onerous work on which they, as ministers of God, do attend continually. But we owe not tribute to the king as a man, — for then should we be indebted tribute to all men, — but as a king, to whom the wages of tribute is due, as to a princely workman, — a king as a king; — therefore, the man and the king are different.

10. We owe fear and honour as due to be rendered to the man who is king, because he is a king, not because he is a man; for it is the highest fear and honour duo to any mortal man, which is due to the king, as king.

11. The man and the inferior judge are different; and we cannot, by this text, resist the inferior judge, as a judge, but we resist the ordinance of God, as the text proveth. But cavaliers resist the inferior judges as men, and have killed divers members of both houses of parliament; but they will not say that they killed them as judges, but as rebels. If therefore, to be a rebel, as a wicked man, and to be a judge, are differenced thus, then, to be a man, and commit some acts of tyranny, and to be the supreme judge and king, are two different things.

12. The congregation, in a letter to the nobility, (Knox, Hist. of Scotland, l. 2.) say, “There is great difference betwixt the authority, which is God’s ordinance, and the persons of those who are placed in authority, The authority and God’s ordinance can never do wrong, for it commandeth that vice and wicked men be punished, and virtue, with virtuous men and just, be maintained; but the corrupt person placed in this authority may offend, and most commonly do contrary to this authority. And is then the corruption of man to be followed, by reason that it is clothed with the name of authority?” And they give instance in Pharaoh and Saul, who were lawful kings and yet corrupt men. And certainly the man and the divine authority differ, as the subject and the accident, — as that which is under a law and can offend God, and that which is neither capable of law nor sin.

13. The king, as king, is a just creature, and by office a living and breathing law. His will, as he is king, is nothing but a just law; but the king, as a sinful man, is not a just creature, but one who can sin and play the tyrant; and his will, as a private sinful man, is a private will, and may be resisted. So the law saith, “The king, as king, can do no wrong,” but the king, as a man, may do a wrong. While as, then, the parliaments of both kingdoms resist the king’s private will, as a man, and fight against his illegal cutthroats, sent out by him to destroy his native subjects, they fight for him as a king, and obey his public legal will, which is his royal will, de jure; and while he is absent from his parliaments as a man, he is legally and in his law-power present, and so the parliaments are as legal as if he were personally present with them.

…1. Not we only, but the Holy Ghost, in terminis, hath this distinction, Acts iv. 19; v. 29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Then rulers (for of rulers sitting in judgment is that speech uttered) commanding and tyrannising over the apostles, are men contradistinguished from God; and as they command and punish unjustly, they are but men, otherwise commanding for God, they are gods, and more than men…

…2. But let not the royalist infer that I am from these examples pleading for the killing of kings; for lawful resistance is one thing, and killing of kings is another, — the one defensive and lawful, the other offensive and unlawful, so long as he remaineth a king, and the Lord’s anointed…

However the abstract is put for the concrete, it is true, and it saith we are not to rail upon Nero; but to say Nero was a persecutor of Christians, and yet obey him commanding what is just, are very consistent.

But, again, by a person, we mean nothing less than the man Nero wasting Rome, burning, crucifying Paul, and torturing Christians; and that we owe subjection to Nero, and to his person in concreto, as to God’s ordinance, God’s minister, God’s sword-bearer, in that notion of a person, is that only that we deny. Nay, in that Nero, in concreto, to us is no power ordained of God, no minister of God, but a minister of the devil, and Satan’s armour-bearer, and therefore we owe not fear, honour, subjection, or tribute to the person of Nero.

…It is true, so long as kings remain kings, subjection is due to them because kings; but that is not the question. The question is, if subjection be due to them, when they use their power unlawfully and tyrannically. Whatever David did, though he was a king, he did it not as king; he deflowered not Bathsheba as king, and Bathsheba might with bodily resistance and violence lawfully have resisted king David, though kingly power remained in aim, while he should thus attempt to commit adultery; else David might have said to Bathsheba, “Because I am the Lord’s anointed, it is rebellion in thee, a subject, to oppose any bodily violence to my act of forcing of thee; it is unlawful to thee to cry for help, for if any shall offer violently to rescue thee from me, he resisteth the ordinance of God.” Subjection is due to Nero as an emperor, but not any subjection is due to him in the burning of Rome, and torturing of Christians, except you say that Nero’s power abused in these acts of cruelty was, 1. A power from God. 2. An ordidance of God. 3. That in these he was the minister of God for the good of the commonwealth. Because some believed Christians were free from the yoke of magistracy, and that the dignity itself was unlawful; and because (c. 12) he had set down the lawful church rulers, and in this and the following chapter; the duties of brotherly love of one toward another; so here (c. 13) he teacheth that all magistrates, suppose heathen, are to be obeyed and submitted unto in all things, so far as they are minion of God. Arnisæus objecteth to Buchanan If we are by this place to subject ourself to every power, in abstracto, then also to a power contrary to the truth, and to a power of a king exceeding the limits of a king; for such a power is a power, and we are not to distinguish where the law distinguisheth.

Ans. 1. — The law clearly distinguisheth we are to obey parents in the Lord, and if Nero command idolatry, this is an excessive power. Are we obliged to obey, because the law distinguished not? 2. The text saith we are to obey every power from God that is God’s ordinance, by which the man is a minister of God for good; but an unjust and excessive power is none of these three. 3. The text in words distinguisheth not obedience active in things wicked and lawful, yet we are to distinguish…


If, for conscience, I am to suffer unjustly, when Nero commandeth unjust punishment, because Nero commanding so, remaineth God’s minister, why, but when Nero commandeth me to worship an heathen god, I am upon the same ground to obey that unjust will in doing ill; for Nero, in commanding idolatry, remaineth the Lord’s minister, his person is sacred in the one commandment of doing ill, as in inflicting ill of punishment. And do I not resist his person in the one as in the other? His power and his person are as inseparably conjoined by God in the one as in the other.

2. In bodily thrusting out of Uzziah from the temple, these fourscore valiant men did resist the king’s person by bodily violence, as well as his power.

3. If the power of killing the martyrs in Nero was no power ordained of God, then the resisting of Nero, in his taking away the lives of the martyrs, was but the resisting of tyranny; and certainly, if that power in Nero was tetagme/nh a power ordained of God, and not to be resisted, as the place (Rom. xiii.) is alleged by royalists, then it must be a lawful power, and no tyranny; and if it cannot be resisted, because it was a power ordained and settled in him, it is either settled by God, and so not tyranny, (except God be the author of tyranny,) or then settled by the devil, and so may well be resisted. But the text speaketh of no power but of that which is of God.

4. We are not to be subject to all powers in concreto, by the text; for we are not to be subject to powers lawful, yet commanding active obedience to things unlawful. Now subjection includeth active obedience of honour, love, fear, paying tribute, and therefore of need force, some powers must be excepted.

5. Pilate’s power is merely a power by divine permission, not a power ordained of God, as are the powers spoken of, Rom. xiii. Gregorius (mor. l. 3, c. 11) expressly saith, — “This was Satan’s power given to Pilate against Christ. Manibus Satanæ pro nostra redemptione se tradidit.” Lyra, “A principibus Romanorum et ulterius permissum a deo, qui est potestas, superior.” Calvin, Beza and Diodatus, saith the same; and that he cannot mean of legal power from God’s regulating will is evident, 1. Because Christ is answering Pilate, (John xix. 10,) “Knowest though not that I have power to crucify thee?” This was an untruth. Pilate had a command to worship him, and believe in him; and whereas Ferne saith, (sect. 9, p. 59,) “Pilate had power to judge any accused before him;” it is true; but he being obliged to believe in Christ, he was obliged to believe in Christ’s innocency, and so neither to judge nor receive accusation against him; and the power he saith he had to crucify, was a law-power in Pilate’s meaning, but not in very deed any law power; because a law-power is from God’s regulating will in the fifth commandment, but no creature hath a lawful or a law-power to crucify Christ. 2. A law-power is for good. (Rom. xiii. 4,) a power to crucify Christ is for ill. 3. A law-power is a terror to ill works, and a praise to good; Pilate’s power to crucify Christ was the contrary. 4. A law-power is to execute wrath on ill-doing, a power to crucify Christ is no such. 5. A law-power conciliateth honour, fear, and veneration, to the person of the judge, a power to crucify Christ conciliateth no such thing, but a disgrace to Pilate. 6. The genuine acts of a lawful power are lawful acts; for such as is the fountain-power, such are the acts flowing therefrom. Good acts flow not from bad powers, neither hath God given a power to sin, except by way of permission.
[1] Arnisæus de potest. princip. c. 2, 11, 17.

[2] Grot. de jur. et pacis, l. 1, c. 4, n. 7.

[3] Winzetus Velitat. adver. Buchanan.

[4] Barcl. adv. Monarchom. lib. 3. c. 8.


[5] Not yet confirmed.


See also:

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The Benedict Option?

After listening to two interviews (here and here) with Rod Dreher about his new book The Benedict Option, and reading his FAQ, I really don’t think he has anything to offer Reformed Christians.

At first, he seemed to have a good thesis:

The “Benedict Option” refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents.

Three cheers for that! Dreher seemed to be criticizing the idea of Christendom, where the church and the world are one. He notes

As lay Christians, we have to build some kind of walls to separate ourselves from the world so that we can continue to go out into the world and minister to people and be who Christ asked us to be. The culture itself is so toxic and so anti-Christian that we’re just not going to make it if we let anybody and anything come into our hearts and into our imaginations.” (Mohler @39:00)

Three cheers! Christ established his church to be in the world, but not of it. The church is a gathering of those called out of the world and it establishes the wall of membership to distinguish itself from the world and through the means of grace to put to death the love of the world. Christendom severely compromised this call by equating the world and the church. Living in Christendom, Calvin commented upon 1 Cor. 5:10-12 “Paul said this at a time when Christians were as yet mingled with heathens, and dispersed among them, what ought to be done now, when all have given themselves to Christ in name?… [T]here are none that are strangers, when all take upon themselves Christ’s name, and are consecrated to him by baptism.” In this sense, the fall of Christendom is to be cheered for Christendom has always been an enemy of the kingdom of Christ.

But that is not what Dreher has in mind. Rather, Dreher laments the downfall of Christendom and sees the Benedict Option as a backup plan to keep Christianity afloat (he calls it an ark) during the coming “dark age” until it can re-emerge when people are “ready to hear the gospel again” in order to re-establish Christendom (“establish your shelter, your monastery in a safe place so you can be there for the rebuilding”). Dreher’s focus throughout is this world, this life, the kingdom of this world. Ironically then, the Benedict Option is a very worldly call for Christians to separate from the world. Why? Because Christians are not of this world? No, because the world is no longer Christian.

As others have noted, when you listen to everything Dreher has to say, the Benedict Option is really nothing more than a call to be intentional about being a Christian. Be careful what you listen to and watch and read. Be intentional about community and education. Be intentional about raising your children. All basic stuff. Of course the question is, why do we have to start being intentional now? Well, because Christendom has fallen and Christianity is no longer the dominant worldview, therefore Christians need to be deliberate and intentional about their Christian life. Before you could just go to school and go to work like everyone else, watch the same stuff as everyone else and live like everyone else and still be a Christian, because we lived in a Christian nation. But now we don’t, so now you have to stop and think and be intentional about being a Christian, since most people aren’t anymore. So now, “to live in the world as faithful Christians [will] require some critical withdrawal from the mainstream.”

This worldly focus comes as little surprise when you find out Dreher “came to Christ through the Roman Catholic Church” and that he “read [his] way into the Roman Catholic Church from being an agnostic, atheist teenager… It was a very intellectual conversation. I was extremely prideful intellectually. I thought that if I had the syllogism in my head, my faith could withstand any trial.” But later he realized he needed more than a syllogism (proving the existence of God), he also needed ritual. So he became Eastern Orthodox, where he made his faith “incarnate.” There is little evidence Dreher is someone who has been convicted of his sinfulness and his need for a Savior, rather than simply someone who found atheism, and then the Roman Catholic Church, untenable. Consider how Dreher thinks Mormons relate to the Benedict Option.

One thing that’s really delighted me and surprised me in doing this research is to get to know more about what the LDS church does. Leaving theological concerns aside, as a social entity they do a terrific job of integrating faith with communal life and to looking out for each other. I think the rest of us from the older Christian traditions have a lot to learn from Mormons.

The Benedict Option is a thoroughly worldly vision of cultural transformation written by a cultural commentator (who admits he’s kind of making it up as he goes). He does not have anything to offer Reformed Christians about how to live our life as pilgrims in this world. Go listen to some expository preaching on Christian living instead. (That doesn’t mean everything he says is wrong, it just means there’s no reason to look to him for answers)

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Vern Poythress’ Critique of Prisons

From Vern Poythress’ The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (which is very worth reading, though I would disagree with and refine many points).

15 A Critique of Prisons

How do we evaluate the present systems of criminal justice in modern societies? Most modern societies use imprisonment as the primary form of punishment for crime. Some limited steps have been taken here and there to introduce alternative punishments, such as making thieves pay back for their theft. But such alternatives are the exception rather than the rule. For practical purposes we must focus attention on the value of imprisonment as a form of punishment.

First of all we should distinguish carefully between using prison for punishment and using it as a means of custody before trial. The use of some form of custody until the time of trial is attested in the Bible itself (Lev. 24:12; Acts 21:34; 23:35) and is widespread elsewhere. Sometimes no reasonable alternative is available. In such cases the temporary use of a prison is surely legitimate. To prevent this practice from becoming an unacknowledged or unintentional form of punishment, state authorities have an obligation to work for practices that promote speedy trial. In addition, the provision for bail works in favor of preventing unjust punishment in the form of confinement.

The deliberate use of prison for the purpose of punishing convicted offenders is quite another matter. In practice, it is a disaster. The statistics with regard to repeated offenders give a grim picture. Those who have been involved in prisons, either as state authorities or especially as prisoners, testify to their ineffectiveness, oppressiveness, and destructive tendencies.1

But I prefer to base my arguments on principle rather than on the actual results of the prison system. If I were to appeal only to actual results, I would leave open the possibility that prison reform could straighten out the system. I do not believe that any reform could be adequate, because the system is wrongheaded from the beginning.

To evaluate properly the principle of imprisonment, we must use biblical criteria. As we have seen, proper response to crime involves four aspects, namely restoration, punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Restoration and punishment must be our primary concern. But deterrence and rehabilitation can be significant secondary indicators of whether a proposed solution makes contact with the reality of the human condition.

Does prison justly restore and punish?

Does prison promote just restoration for crimes? Restoration means making things good to the victim of a crime. The victim’s situation must be restored as far as possible to its original condition before the crime. Or if such restoration is not possible, some other kind of restoration to normalcy is appropriate, as when the thief gives back a substitute for a destroyed object, or when the fornicator is forced to marry his partner.

Prison in itself obviously restores nothing. Moreover, in cases where restoration involves the use of money, prison works against restoration by destroying the offender’s capacity to work in order to obtain money to pay the victim.

Does prison promote just punishment? Just punishment, as we have argued, always fits the crime. It always matches the nature and the intensity of the crime according to the principle, “As you have done, it will be done to you.” The only crime for which imprisonment would be the fitting penalty would be the crime of imprisoning someone else! A kidnapper might of course imprison the victim, and so one might deduce the penalty of imprisonment in this special case. But as we have seen in chapter 11, kidnapping also constitutes a usurpation of the authority of the state and as such merits the death penalty. The punishment of imprisonment does not cope with the full guilt attaching to kidnapping.

On a very general level one might argue that all crimes are abuses of the offender’s social powers and his tacit agreements with society. Hence such abuses are met by depriving the offender of interaction with society. But such reasoning grossly misconstrues the nature of crime. It pretends that crime is an offense against the criminal’s social rights, that is, an offense against the criminal himself, and also an offense against society as a whole, that is, society in the abstract. Neither is true. Crime is an offense against the victim. It is a much more personal thing than this reasoning admits, and not seeing the personal character of crime is one of the criminal’s main problems.

Yet another difficulty arises with respect to imprisonment. No plausible means exists for determining a just quantity of punishment. If the punishment matches the crime, as in my proposals in chapters 10-12, its quantity is automatically determined at least in a rough way. A theft of a small amount is met by a penalty proportional to this amount. The theft of a large amount is met by a penalty of a corresponding amount. But what do we do if we must use only the penalty of imprisonment? How much time in prison corresponds to the amount of a theft? We cannot say, because time and money do not directly match. How much time corresponds to murder? How much time to bodily injury? How much time to rape? How much time to adultery? Amount of time does not quantify any crime in a reasonable way.

We might perhaps propose to quantify some things by converting between quantities of money and quantities of time. An amount of time in some circumstances can be reckoned as equivalent to the amount of money that a person could earn during the given amount of time (see Exod. 21:19). But can we use such a criterion to deal with imprisonment? If the time really is equivalent to the corresponding amount of money, we should be satisfied with a monetary payment and not imprisonment. But in fact we are not satisfied, which indicates that the two are not really equivalent. Moreover, the question arises as to whether people who can command a higher salary should therefore be confined for less time. Such a position would offend all our sense of justice. Clearly imprisonment is not merely loss of working time, but in its essence something else altogether. What is it? An extreme form of slavery in which the wardens of the prison have much more detailed control in comparison with most historical instances of slavery? A form of slavery chosen to deprive the criminal of the normal pleasures of slavery, such as meaningful work, access to larger society, some degree of privacy, and social intimacy with spouse and family? What is this monster that we have invented, and how can it ever be just punishment?

Does prison effectively deter and rehabilitate?

Does prison deter crime? As long as the criminal is in prison, he is prevented from preying on the larger society. If and when he is released from prison, there is no guarantee whatsoever that he will not repeat his crime. Because doing time does not effectively match the nature of the criminal’s crime, it does not effectively take away his motive for committing crime again.

An even more telling objection arises from the nature of the small subsociety or subculture within a prison. Prisoners are not totally prevented from preying on fellow prisoners. Murders, rapes, and thefts do take place within prisons. Such possibilities make a mockery of justice. The very thing that is supposed to be punishment becomes the scene of more crime. Prison does not thoroughly deter crime but simply transports crime to another location.

Moreover, the fact of crime within prisons suggests that the real desires of society may be less lofty than its altruistic rhetoric. The motives of a society as a whole are of course varied and confused. But a cynical analysis might suggest the following. The outside society is not really concerned with true deterrence but with its own comfort. By removing criminals from its midst it obtains the comfort of not having so much crime. Subsequently it cares very little for whether crime is deterred inside the prison, as long as this crime is concealed and does not cause guilt feelings. To confine the prisoners for a lifetime would of course produce the greatest freedom from crime for the outside society. But the larger society would feel guilty about such a severe penalty. So it releases criminals after a time for the sake of comforting its own guilt feelings. The amount of time spent in prison is not determined by justice but by the interplay between social desire for freedom from crime and social desire for absence of guilt feelings. In all this interplay society can act with perfect selfishness. At the same time it can pretend that prisons are intended to provide criminals with a rehabilitative environment, and hence it can congratulate itself for having motives of concern for the rehabilitation of criminals rather than their punishment. Such selfishness will naturally produce largely cynicism and not repentance on the part of criminals.

Does prison offer significant hope for rehabilitation? Criminals have the most hope for rehabilitation if they feel the justice of their punishment. As I have argued in the previous chapter, such results are far more likely under a system that takes care to think explicitly in terms of principles of reciprocity and justice. In addition, criminals have a greater chance to reform if they are in normal contact with normal society. They then have opportunity immediately to engage in just, socially profitable work and contributions to others. The abnormalities of prison life can never become a viable environment for training in righteousness. In fact, prison frequently produces results in the opposite direction because the morality of a subculture of criminals reverses the morality of normal society.

In addition to all these factors, prison presents dangerous temptations to injustice on the part of the wardens, guards, and supervisors of the prison. Let us grant that many who are charged with prison supervision act out of true good will and as a service to society. They often do so within circumstances that are personally very difficult for them and sometimes dangerous to their own safety. But there is another side that we seldom think about. Supervisors and guards are exposed to temptations that can easily bring out the worst in anyone. They supervise prisoners some of whom are unpleasant people, sometimes vindictive, spiteful, deceitful, or obnoxious. Petty offenses and back talk from prisoners tempt supervisors to return evil with evil. The substandard morality of many prisoners tempts them to treat all prisoners as subhuman and to prejudge prisoners even before the prisoners do something against them. The prisoners have little effective way of making an appeal against injustice, and unjust acts on the part of supervisors are concealed within the prison from the eyes of the larger society. Hence injustice can be practiced with impunity. Supervisors have virtually totalitarian control over prisoners, and such absolute power tends to corrupt the human beings who possess it.

In sum, I would argue that the cases of injustice and sometimes gross inhumanity on the part of supervisors or guards are no accident but a natural product of the unjust, unworkable character of the system. We should be surprised that the system does not turn out even worse than it is.

As a last resort, one might argue that at least prison represents a kind of shadow of hell. In this very vague sense it expresses a kind of justice shadowing the justice of God’s judgment in hell. In reply I agree that prison imitates hell in one way. Just as hell isolates the damned and prevents them from contaminating the holiness of God’s renewed world, so prison prevents its inmates from contaminating the larger society. So long as people are in prison they are deterred from preying upon the larger society. But this result is deterrence, not justice. In other respects the problems remain. (1) Whereas hell expresses the justice of God, prison does not. (2) In hell people may well be prevented from exercising their unrighteous desires against others, but in prison they are still capable of injuring fellow prisoners. (3) The troubles of supervisors and guards still show prison to be ineffective even as an image of hell. (4) If we think that prison is so bad as to be a shadow of hell, are we still willing to argue that it is less bad than my proposed alternatives?

Meanwhile, as long as the present prison system exists, Christians must do what they can on behalf of prisoners (Matt 25:36-40). Through Prison Fellowship and other Christian organizations many opportunities exist to bring to prisoners friendship, community support, and the gospel itself, which is the power of God for salvation. A convenient list of resources can be found in Van Ness, Crime and Its Victims, pp. 193-217.

Chapter 15 Footnotes

1 For an introductory discussion, see Charles Colson, “Towards an Understanding of Imprisonment and Rehabilitation,” in John Stott and Nicholas Miller, eds., Crime and the Responsible Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), pp. 152-180.

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A 19th Century Presbyterian on Taxation as Theft

In this 1803 selection, American Presbyterian Covenanter Rev. Samuel B. Wylie, A.M. calls taxation theft because a government without divine authority that he does not consent to its taking money from him by force. (Covenanters believed that nations must covenant with God to defend the true religion. Since the United States advocated religious pluralism, they had no divine authority at all – at least in Wylie’s view).

Obj. 6. “The saints addressed them for justice, Acts 25:10,12, and 26:32, where the apostle appeals unto Caesar.”

To this I answer. An appeal to their tribunals, no more involves in it an homologation of their lawful dominion, than an appeal from a murderer to a thief, who would be disposed to save one’s life, would be an homologation of his living habitually in the breach of the eighth commandment. Suppose, for example, that Allegheny mountains were infested with a banditti of robbers, whose captain retained still so much humanity as to establish a law, that no poor man should be robbed of more than ten dollars—you happen to be crossing the mountain—five of the gang approach you, and rob you of one hundred, which is nearly your all—you meet with the master of the fraternity—you know the law—and believe that he still has as much humanity remaining as will induce him to execute it. Will you appeal to him to cause your ninety dollars to be refunded, which are due to you by his own law? If you do, will this implicate you in the immorality of the banditti, or be saying Amen to their unlawful practice? Certainly not. If this hold in the greater, it will surely hold in the less. If an appeal may be made to the captain of a band of robbers, without implication in his criminality, much more to these institutions which, though wrong in some fundamentals, are yet aiming at the good of civil society.

Obj. 7. “Christ himself both paid tribute and commanded his disciples to pay it, and that even to Caesar. Matt. 17:27, and 22:21. Was not this an acknowledgment of his authority?”

Ans. Simple payment of tribute never was considered as any homologation of the authority imposing it. It may be given to the worse of tyrants, if not demanded as a tessera of loyalty.

We might ask here, do the people of the United States homologate the authority of the Dey of Algiers, or, for conscience’ sake, recognize him as their legitimate ruler, when they pay their annual tribute to the haughty Musselman? Do they think that the dey has any moral right to demand such a thing? Do they not rather go upon the principle that it is better to give a part to save the remainder, than, by withholding, lose all? Such a course of conduct may be prudent and innocent with any band of robbers…

The other allegation brought from Matt. 22:21, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” &c., is equally unfounded.

It is abundantly evident, from the passage, that the question was intended to ensnare the Lord Jesus Christ, answer as he would. It was proposed by the Herodians and Pharisees; those, votaries for Roman domination, and these, the sticklers for Jewish immunities.

Had he said, “Give it to Caesar,” the Pharisees, ever ready to accuse him, would have represented him to the people as an enemy to their ancient privileges. Had he said, “Do not give it,” the Herodians would have represented him to Herod as an enemy to the government of Caesar. In the fifteenth verse, we are expressly told, they came to him with a view to “entangle him in his talk.” But he, “knowing their craftiness,” split their dilemma, and left their question undecided. He, on several other occasions, thus baffled his adversaries; as in John 8:4,12, in the case of the “woman taken in adultery,” and in Luke 12:14, when application was made to him concerning the settlement of the earthly inheritance. It is objected here, by some, “that this explanation of our Saviour’s answer represents the Lord Christ as shunning to declare the whole counsel of GOD—giving no answer in a case respecting sin and duty.” The inference is false. They were not without information on this very subject. They had the law and the prophets. The Lord Jesus Christ had given specific directions concerning the character of lawful rulers, Deut. 17:15, to whom it was lawful to pay tribute, for conscience’ sake. But it was not information they wanted, but to ensnare him, let him answer as he would, as has already been shown. If silence or refusing to answer in every case, even in matters respecting sin and duty, let the design of the querist be what it will be accounted criminal, in what point of light will the objector view the Lord Jesus Christ, when he finds him actually refusing to answer a question respecting sin and duty, in the case of his own authority? Mark 11:27,33: “Neither do I tell you (says he) by what authority I do these things.” It would be well, if men would consider the awful consequences of some of their objections, before they make them.

But, supposing that CHRIST, in both the instances alluded to, had commanded tribute to be paid to Caesar, what does it prove? Unless he commanded it to be paid as a tessera of loyalty, it proves no more the morality of Caesar’s right, than a minister of the gospel’s advising one of his hearers to give the robber part of his property, to secure the remainder, would, that the minister considered the robber morally entitled to it.

Obj. 8. “But you make use of the money which receives its currency from their sanction; and you support them by paying tribute, &c. Why not swear allegiance, hold offices?” &c.

Ans. We make use of the money, to be sure, but when we give an equivalent for it, by industry or otherwise, it is our own property; and another man’s stamping his name upon our coats is no reason why we should throw them away.

It must be granted, also, that we do support them, by paying tribute, &c. So do we the robber, unto whom we give a part to save the remainder. But will it therefore follow, that I may legally swear allegiance to him, or become one of his officers, in the business of robbery and plunder?…

Should a robber meet me on the highway, and upon finding that I had no money, put his bayonet to my breast; and should it appear evidently, that he intended to kill me, unless I would solemnly engage to take, or send him, a certain sum of money, in a given time, say fifty dollars, ought I not to comply? If I do, the oath is the result of mutual stipulation, which existing circumstances render eligible. It seems to me immaterial, whether the overture originates with him or with me. In either case, I consider it lawful to give fifty dollars to save my life.


Another American Presbyterian named William Findley, who served as part of Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Committee and served in the U.S. Congress for many years after that, responded to Wylie thus:

Another wonderful illustration, by which the American governments are designated robbers. Did ever the American government rob any man? No. The very insinuation of this is a seditious slander. The author knew that the sedition law was repealed before he wrote his book, but the same authority can renew it again. Robbers, if ever they are so generous as not to take all, give no equivalent for what they take. For what small tribute the author pays in this st ate, which goes wholly to making roads and bridges, or for court houses, courts, &c. the protection and accommodation of which the author and all aliens enjoy, as fully and freely as citizens do, is a full and ample equivalent, which they accept of, and enjoy. They pay no direct tax for the expense of the civil government of the state—this is paid out of another fund, which arose from the state doing more than her share during the distressing period of the war with Britain; of this, the hard earnings of the citizens, in other times, the author, &c. enjoy their proportion, without any equivalent, and they pay none to support the federal government. In England, from which we have copied much of our jurisprudence, allegiance is divided into two kinds, namely, the natural allegiance of natives, which they consider as perpetual, and the local and temporary allegiance, which is incidental to aliens. We have required hitherto only this last, for we have as yet made no law against expatriation, either of native or alien, but freely protect aliens without their giving allegiance. I have already shewn that all approved commentators on the Bible, or on civil and common law, and all moral and political writers, consider it a first principle or established moral maxim, that protection necessarily draws allegiance—that they are morally connected together—that they cannot be separated. This being the case, I recommend to the author to examine the questions over again, on more correct moral principles. In so doing, he will fi nd he has been mistaken; that the state has not robbed them; that it has received nothing but for an ample equivalent; that it did not seize their persons to bring them within their power, nor put them in fear, nor take from them, in this situation, money or goods. This is the legal technical definition of robbery. He will find also, from his own statement, that those whose cause he advocates, intruded themselves within our territory, enjoyed protection to their persons and property, and to their industry in acquiring property—And by his advice refuse allegiance, the only moral return for those very valuable benefits; but instead thereof spurn at the hand that received them when they were strangers, and fed and protected them without receiving the equivalent, which the law of nature, and nature’s God requires. If he does this impartially, he will certainly be convinced that he has cast the charge of robbery on the wrong side—that by the decision of the moral law, himself, and those whom he advocates, are the robbers, in receiving protection without an equivalent, and not the government, from whom they have experienced protection and forbearance, but no violence. (143-144)

For more on Findley see An American Presbyterian Argument Against Covenanters

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Cartel Land

This film is a must-watch. It really sets the stage well for discussing libertarianism, and specifically reformed libertarianism.

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Mohler’s 12 Theses on a Christian Understanding of Economics

Back in April, Albert Mohler posted 12 Theses on a Christian Understanding of Economics. It’s a very brief bullet point overview, so it doesn’t warrant any in depth analysis. But one important point should be mentioned. Mohler’s outlook is fairly collectivist in nature. He personifies “A Christian economic understanding” as if it is an entity that thinks and acts on its own. It “seeks” and “rewards.” What is missing from Mohler’s 12 theses is the individual. This is evident from his statement that “the family (biblically defined) is the most basic and essential unit of the economy.” No, the individual is the most basic and essential “unit.”

Mohler’s 12 theses all start with “A Christian economic understanding…” Using that personified entity he argues for the duty of “A Christian economic understanding” to “incentivize” “righteousness” through the tax code, noting that disagreements over taxation only amount to disagreement over how to “re-calibrate” the tax machine to produce the desired result in society (central planning). That’s not biblical (and thus not Christian).

Mohler also conflates economics, politics, and the Christian life. Economics is a descriptive study of human behavior. Politics is a prescriptive theory regarding the use of force. The Christian life encompasses everything a redeemed individual does in conformity to Scripture. They are all distinct.

I would suggest that Mohler’s confusion and errors could be ironed out, and important points could be retained, if he simply replaced “A Christian economic understanding…” with “A Christian…” For example, “10. A Christian economic understanding rewards generosity and proper stewardship” should be “10. A Christian should be generous and be a proper steward.” That way we avoid nebulous references to collective actions never taken by any individual and therefore provide a more accurate summary of what Scripture says on each point.

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A Single or Dual Rule of Morality?

The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics recently published an essay by Timothy D. Terrell about Frederick Nymeyer, a 20th century Dutch Calvinist (CRC) libertarian who promoted and published Austrian economics in Calvinist circles. I haven’t read enough of his work to comment on his theology. The bits I have read I would agree and disagree with various points.

He founded the Progressive Calvinism League to respond to the growing propagation of socialism in the CRC and other Calvinist churches. He published a journal called Progressive Calvinism. The first volume contains a manifesto listing 6 Declarations. Here is Declaration #4

(a) Promote a single rule of morality; and (b) reject a dual rule, namely, one rule for individuals and a conflicting rule for groups.

Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the famous theologians in America today who influences the trend of theological thinking as much as any man in America, has indicated that it is moral for society to do what it is immoral for an individual to do (see his Moral Man and Immoral Society). This is a vicious principle. It establishes a double standard of morality – one for a man as an individual and another for a man as a member of a group, a union, a state, a race, a class, or mankind as a whole. It is wrong for a man to steal as an individual, but as a member of American society, which is deliberately inflationary, a man may engage in public stealing every day (by means of inflation)! This is only one of many examples we intend to cite and explain.

The “church” is almost universally silent on all this public iniquity. The “church” has retreated. Many churches have no discipline any more against individual sins. But in regard to public sins, is there one large denomination in all America which concerns itself about them and has a Biblical answer? Or do the answers of the great denominations allow more or less for a double standard of morality? Where there is no personal (private) discipline the church is dead. Where there is no testimony against public sins the church is worse than dead; it is a renegade.

And the outcome? As Solomon says about events in the social science field, the effects are  “no speedily executed” – it takes time, but they are as sure to come as effects in the physical sciences. And the effects of a dual standard of morality, the effect of the church (by inaction) blessing public sins will be what? The effect on the reputation of the church will be calamitous; the church will be cursed, as apostasy was cursed by the prophets of old – it will be a desolation, a hissing and an execration. Not for nothing is the church generally in disrepute among smart people.

C.Jay has previously quoted John W. Robbins making the same point (See here as well. I would be surprised if Robbins had not read the journal).

Nymeyer makes additional comments in a subsequent essay in the journal.

[W]e do not think highly of the Calvinism which props the Christian religion with the ideas of the Greek philosophers.

We can state it pretty simply. Our fourth Declaration reads:
( a ) Promote a single rule of morality; and ( b ) reject a dual rule, namely, one rule for individuals and a conflicting rule for groups.

Now what did Plato put in his dialogue called The Republic, Book III? This:

Then if anyone at all is to have the privilege of lying, the rulers of the State should be the persons; and they, in their dealings either with enemies or their own citizens, may be allowed to lie for the public good. But nobody else should meddle with anything of the kind. ..

Just as ordinary businessmen, we do not believe what Plato writes.

And what is the real “joker” in the statement. It is four words which we have italicized, the words “for the public good.” That dangerous phrase masks every public iniquity which people tolerate and accept. A great Netherlander, Groen van Prinsterer, called attention to the fact that every piece of evil perpetrated by the French Revolution was defended as being “for the public good.” Those words always betray self-deception or masked malignancy. The principal is: the end justifies the means, and there is always an assumption of a dual moral rule.

We ourselves hold to Declaration Four. We hold to one and the same standard of morality for both individuals and the State, Plato to the contrary notwithstanding.

Scripture is far more “simple” than Plato. Where in Scripture is lying justified! Scripture does not talk about ends or purposes. It talks about means. It has no hypocrisy about the ends justifying the means.

In short, we plan to stick to Scripture, and we have no inferiority complex about Calvinism or Christianity even though we do not prop them up with Greek philosophy.

We hope you will not miss Plato’s point nor our point. The “public good” is something different from “personal good.” Plato recommends a dual morality. We believe in a single morality. Read again our Declaration Four.

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Justice or Public Utility?

“[T]hough many things are copied from the law of Moses into the laws of the modern nations, yet so far as I know none of them have introduced the lex talionis in the case of injuries, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, &c. and yet perhaps there are many instances in which it would be very proper.” (Jurisprudence, John Witherspoon, Scottish-American Presbyterian minister and a Founding Father of the United States)

It’s worth reflecting on that a bit and asking yourself why. Is it because justice is not the true function of modern states? Lex talionis is a principle of retributive justice. Just one page earlier, Witherspoon himself argues:

Therefore the punishment in general must consist of two parts, (i) reparation to the sufferer. (2) the vindicta publica, which has sometimes two ends in view, to be an example to others, and to reclaim and reform the offenders, as in corporal punishment less than death. Sometimes but one, the good of others in the example, as in capital punishments, and banishment.

The kind of punishment and the degree, is left wholly to different lawgivers, and the spirit of different constitutions. Public utility is the rule. Punishment is not always proportioned to the atrociousness of the crime in point of morals, but to the frequency of it, and the danger of its prevailing.

Witherspoon continues the opening quote about lex talionis by noting “The equity of the punishment would be quite manifest, and probably it would be as effectual a restraint from the commission of injury as any that could be chosen.” He then closes his lecture by insisting “Let the laws be just and the magistrate inflexible.”

First, he already said that the magistrate is given entire flexibility as to “the kind of punishment and the degree.” Second, if “public utility is the rule” then justice is not.

Note Machen:

What then is the remedy for the threatened disruption of society and for the rapidly progressing decay of liberty?

There is really only one remedy. It is the rediscovery of the law of God.

If we want to restore respect for human laws, we shall have to get rid of this notion that judges and juries exist only for the utilitarian purpose of the protection of society, and shall have to restore the notion that they exist for the purposes of justice. They are only very imperfect exponents of justice, it is true. There are vast departments of life with which they should have nothing whatever to do. They are exceeding their God-given function when they seek to enforce inward purity or purity of the individual life, since theirs is the business only of enforcing – and that in necessarily imperfect fashion – that part of righteousness which concerns the relations between man and man. But they are instruments of righteousness all the same, and when that is not recognized, disaster follows for the state. Society will never be preserved by attaching savage penalties to trifling offences because the utilitarian interests of society demand it; it will never be preserved by the vicious practice (followed by some judges) of making ‘examples’ of people is spasmodic and unjust fashion because such examples are thought to have a salutary effect as a deterrent from future crime. No, we say, let justice never be lost from view – abstract, holy, transcendent justice – no matter what the immediate consequences may be thought to be. Only so will the ermine of the judge again be respected and the ravages of decadence be checked.

-The Christian View of Man p. 193

See also Punishment and Proportionality (Rothbard)

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Kline’s “Oracular Origin of the State”

In Episode #11 of the Glory Cloud Podcast, Charles Lee Irons and Chris Caughey discuss Meredith Kline’s understanding of the Covenant of Common Grace. It’s a helpful podcast that I recommend all libertarians listen to as it provides the proper biblical framework for approaching the question of civil government. I also recommend this more in-depth lecture from Irons on the topic.

In the episode, they discuss Kline’s essay The Oracular Origin of the State. Kline argues that God institutes the city-state in Genesis 4 in response to Cain’s complaint. I have to say, I think he rather significantly misinterpreted Genesis 4.

Kline’s thesis is that when Cain complains “whoever finds me will kill me,” he was primarily concerned that he would be executed by vigilantes, rather than by the proper authorities. Thus God assures Cain that only the divinely appointed city-state ruler may execute him as a manifestation of God’s judicial oversight. According to Kline, Cain’s great concern was that his execution would be disorderly, “lawless,” “mindless,” “anarchical terrorism,” and “absolute anarchy” rather than orderly and lawful by a “minister of God” in a city-state. God sympathizes with Cain and institutes the city-state. Thus Genesis 4 should be “Understood as a foundational revelation of the judicial order of the state.” “To Cain, God signified that for mankind in general he would provide in his common grace an institutional agent to bear the sword of his wrath in the temporal course of world history (cf. Rom 13:4).”

That’s obviously not Cain’s concern. And it’s obviously not God’s concern. God does not swear an oath to Cain that he will be executed by the proper authorities once he reaches a city-state. Rather, he says he will not be executed by anyone at all, which is a response to Cain’s complaint that he will be executed. In a footnote, Kline acknowledges “God’s judgment on Cain’s act of murder was, indeed, distinctive in its sentence of exile rather than the death penalty subsequently prescribed for that crime; but that is another matter.” That is not another matter. It is the very matter at hand.

Rather than subjecting Cain to the established justice: execution for murder, God cursed Cain to wander the earth in exile. Normally, Abel’s murder could be avenged by any image bearer, thus God had to let everyone know that the normal procedure does not apply to Cain. He is not to be executed per lex talionis clarified in Genesis 9:6, but is rather to be left a vagabond and exile to wander the earth cursed by the ground.

Kline says

The consequences of the judicial dereliction Cain anticipates (Gen 4: 14b) will be, he laments, that everyone in the family of mankind, kinsmen all of his innocent victim, Abel, will be let loose in a mindless blood feud to take vengeance on him (v 14d): “Everyone who finds me will kill me.” [11] Hidden from God’s face, he will have no judge to appeal to. Society east of Eden will be devoid of God’s judicial ordering. Cain will be exposed to lawless men bent on vengeance. He will be ex lex on a God-forsaken earth.

This betrays Kline’s presuppositions, rather than his exegesis. The text says absolutely nothing about such vengeance being “lawless” and “mindless.” In fact, this process of a kinsman executing vengeance upon the murderer was the default, lawful practice under Old Covenant law. Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 19 explain the role of the avenger of blood (the kinsman of the murder victim, not a state official). Numbers 25:19 says “The avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.” This is precisely what Cain was afraid of – his lawful execution. For more on this, see The Avenger of Blood.

John Frame has correctly understood this.

Some have found divine warrant for the state in Gen 9:6, where God commands Noah’s family to return bloodshed for bloodshed. But this is a command given to a family. There is no indication of any new institution being established. And in the law of Moses, the execution of murderers was carried out, not by the state as such, but by the “avenger of blood,” kin of the murder victim, Num 35:19, 21; Deut 19:12. The family, here, is the instrument of justice. We have no reason to believe, therefore, that any special institution beyond the family for the establishment of justice was created in Gen 9:6… Was there, at this point in history, also a divinely appointed “state”? I would say no if, again, “state” refers to something above and beyond the natural authority of the family. As far back as Genesis 9, as we have seen, God called the family to execute vengeance for bloodshed, and so no new order was needed to administer capital punishment… Thus I believe we may eliminate from our consideration the views of the Lutherans and Meredith Kline, as well as others, who see the state as a distinct institution ordained by God, with powers and responsibilities different from those of the family.

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De jure magistratum (On the Rights of Magistrates) – Beza

Theodore Beza wrote De jure magistratum (On the Rights of Magistrates) in 1574. It provides a helpful, somewhat concise summary of reformed thought on civil government at the time.

The Origin of Magistrates

People desire to be ruled, so they elect someone to rule over them.

To give a clearer answer to this question I must first lay down certain principles constituting as it were the foundations of the whole question. Assuredly, (it is clear) that peoples did not in the first instance originate from rulers, but whatever peoples desired to be ruled by a single monarch or by chief men elected by them were anterior to their rulers. Hence it follows that peoples were not created for the sake of rulers, but on the contrary the rulers for the sake of the people, even as the guardian is appointed for the ward, not the ward for the guardian, and the shepherd on account of the flock, not the flock on account of the shepherd. This proposition is not merely obvious in itself but may be corroborated by the history of nearly all nations, So much so that God Himself, although he had elected Saul to substitute him for Samuel in accordance with the desires of the people, yet willed that he should be chosen and accepted as King by the suffrages of the people. Thus David, although he had first been chosen as king by God Himself, yet would not undertake the administration of the Kingdom except he had first been confirmed by the suffrages and unfettered concord of the tribes of Israel. (Question 5)

The Purpose of Magistrates

Magistrates are necessary for the preservation of the human race.

In short, if we would investigate the histories of ancient times recorded by profane writers also, it will be established — as indeed Nature herself seems to proclaim with a loud voice — that rulers by whose authority their inferiors might be guided were elected for this reason that either the whole human race must needs perish or some intermediate class must be instituted so that by it one or more (rulers) might be able to command the others, (and) protect good men but restrain the wicked by means of punishments. And this is what not only Plato, Aristotle and the other natural philosophers — furnished with the light of human reason alone – have taught and proved, but God Himself by the utterance of St. Paul writing to the Romans, the rulers of almost the entire world, confirmed this with clear words. There the origin of all States and Powers is with the best of reasoning derived from God the author of all good. (Question 5)

The Constitution

Those who elect a ruler lay down conditions for that ruler.

[T]he people existed before there was any magistrate and that the magistrates were made for the sake of the people and not vice versa… [T]he authority of all magistrates, however supreme and powerful they are, is dependent upon the public authority of those who have raised them to this degree of dignity, and not contrariwise… I maintain that as long as right and justice have prevailed no nation has either elected or approved kings without laying down specific conditions. (Question 6)

[L]et those who so far exalt the authority of kings and supreme rulers as to dare maintain that they have no other Judge but God alone to whom they are held bound to render account of their deeds, furnish proof that there has been any nation anywhere which has consciously and without intimidation or compulsion of some kind subjected itself to the arbitrary rule of some supreme ruler without the express or tacit addition of the proviso that it be justly and fairly ruled and guided by him. (Question 6)

Constitution Limited According to Its Purpose

The people have no authority to delegate a ruler contrary to the purpose of magistrates (the peoples’ self-preservation).

[A]n agreement whether freely manifested by or extorted by means of violence or intimidation from the whole people or a majority of them should rather be annulled than observed if it were established beyond doubt that such agreement was clearly incompatible with fairness and honor. For who would persuade himself that some nation would freely, wittingly and unconstrained wish to subject itself to some ruler to this end that it might subsequently be murdered and utterly destroyed by him? (Question 5)

[I]f someone were to furnish an example of peoples who upon being defeated in war surrendered at discretion and swore to the conditions dictated by the victors, it would not be enough for me to answer with the lawyers that (undertakings) extorted by violence or intimidation which is the rule of consciences does not easily permit oaths of that kind to be heedlessly violated. But I shall further add that even if any people has consciously and of its free will granted assent to an undertaking which is as such evidently sinful and opposed to the law of nature, such obligation is null and void; so little ground is there for reasonable doubt whether that obligation which was contracted as a result of violence or intimidation or of open deceit and malpractice should be regarded as valid and binding.

Constitution Limited According to the Law of God

[T]he authority of all magistrates (with however great power and sovereignty they be vested) is as it were hedged in by these two limits set by God himself, namely Piety [first table] and Charity [second table]. And if they themselves should chance to transgress these, it will be well to call to mind that saying of the Apostles: “It is better to obey God than men” lest we be of the band of those whom the Lord cursed by the mouth of Micah because they obeyed the impious commands of their King, or lest we follow the perverse examples of those who worshipped even the most cruel tyrants as if they were gods, ascribing to them the titles and acts of God. (Question 1)

Obedience to Rulers

Inasmuch as only the will of almighty God is the eternal and immutable Rule of all Justice, we declare that it must be unconditionally obeyed. As regards however the obedience due to Princes, they too would doubtless have to be obeyed always and unconditionally if they ruled constantly in accordance with the utterance of God. Since however theirs is often the contrary case, such obedience must be made subject to the following condition, namely that they command nothing impious [first table of the law], nothing unjust [second table]… Pharaoh’s command to slay all the male offspring of the Jews was unjust and the midwives rightly refused to obey him, whose houses or families God therefore blessed… The command of Jezebel, however, to slay the prophets of God was both impious and unjust; therefore Obadiah who not only refrained from slaying them but concealed them alive and nourished them, acted piously. (Question 1)

Illegitimate Rulers

A conqueror or an elected ruler who violates the election agreement is an illegitimate ruler.

Since these principles which were demonstrated above concerning the origin of kings and other rulers have been established, it follows that they are not legitimate rulers who by force or deceit usurp that authority which by no right belongs to them… Of such tyrants there are two kinds: for some, in violation of the laws laid down and received, usurp tyranny over their fellow-citizens… Others however, not content with that absolute power which they rightfully acquire over their own people, extend their dominions at the cost of their neighbors’ liberty and increase them by means of fortified boundary-lines; for this reason have monarchies ever since the origin of the world achieved such wide dominions; of this the sacred writings offers us an example in Nimrod… it was a true remark which the captive pirate dared to utter when he was dragged before Alexander; he declared that he differed in no way from (the king) but that the latter plundered the world with a multitude of ships whereas he did so with but a single vessel. (Question 5)

Self-Defense Against a Conqueror

Private citizens may defend themselves against any non-elected conqueror, whether foreign or domestic.

[I]f anyone strives to seize or has already usurped an unjust tyranny over others, whether he be a stranger or whether as a viper he leaps from the womb of his country that by his birth he may cause her death, then shall private citizens before all else approach their legitimate magistrates in order that it may be the public enemy he cast forth by the public authority and common consent of all. But if the magistrate connives (at the attempt) or in some way refuses to perform his duty, then let each private citizen bestir himself with all his power to defend the lawful constitution of his country, to whom after God he owes his entire existence, against him who cannot be deemed a lawful magistrate since he either has already usurped that rank in violation of the public laws or is endeavoring to usurp it. (Question 5)

[H]e who launches an attack upon those who are in no way subject to him… may lawfully be prevented even by force of arms and by any (citizens) soever, even of the humblest station, to whom he desired to do violence, since they are by no obligation bound to him. (Question 6)

Self-Defense Against Lesser Magistrates

Only magistrates have the authority to act in self-defense against other magistrates.

[I]f it were to happen (as happens only too frequently in our times) that one lower magistrate should undertake some act of violence against another against the express will of their superior, then I should assuredly say that the magistrate who had been wronged is, when he has first exhausted all legitimate and peaceful means, entitled to equip himself with the armor of the laws and to oppose unjust violence with a just defence as was done by Nehemiah against Sanballat and his associates. (Question 4)

Self-Defense Against a Tyrant

Three kinds of subjects… some are private citizens performing no duty of public administration… others [are] inferior magistrates… [others are] the bridles and reins to keep the supreme ruler to his duty.

Private citizens may not defend themselves from a lawfully elected ruler.

Private citizens may not offer resistance to their lawful ruler who is a tyrant… [N]o private citizen is entitled on his own private authority to oppose the tyrant with violence against violence, but that it in every way behooves him either to depart from the realm of that (ruler) and change his domicile or to bear the yoke of the tyrant patiently by taking refuge with God in prayer…

[H]e who has once been approved and accepted by his people, though he abuse his right, yet retains the basis of his authority as against his own private subjects, since an obligation entered upon publicly and by mutual consent cannot be dissolved and broken by the will of any private citizen. For were this otherwise, endless disorders, worse even than tyranny itself, would ensue, and in the place of a single tyrant whom it might be our intention to cast down, a thousand would succeed. Furthermore, a single reason derived from the authority of the Word of God should here be of greater weight than anything else that could be adduced to the contrary. St. Paul in prescribing their duty to men in private station not merely forbids them to resist their rulers (supreme rulers as well as subordinate) but enjoins us to obey them also for conscience sake…

I maintain that no one in private station is allowed to set himself in open violence against a tyrant to whose domination the people of its own free will previously consented; for if we must so far abide by private contracts, pacts, agreements and undertakings that we suffer damage rather than break our word, how much more should private citizens be on their guard lest they in any way refuse to honor an obligation entered upon by a solemn and public agreement?…

[P]rivate citizens, unless they have authority from a subordinate magistrate or the saner part of the Estates, concerning which more is discussed shortly, here have no other just remedy but reflection combined with patience and prayers which God will assuredly not always reject and without which all other remedies however legitimate will be subject to His curse. (Question 6)

Lesser magistrates may defend themselves and private citizens, but they may not punish the tyrant.

[T]he obligation between the king and the officials of the kingdom is mutual and that not the entire administration of the kingdom is entrusted to the king alone but only the highest rank, and that the subordinate officials severally hold part of it each in accordance with his own rank, and that on fixed conditions on either side. If those conditions are not kept by the subordinate magistrates the supreme magistrate is entitled to discharge them…

In the contrary case, however, if he who has received the royal dignity either by being elected thereto or by hereditary right openly departs from those conditions under which he was expressly recognized and approved as king, who would be inclined to doubt that the subordinate magistrates of the kingdom and further the very provinces also and the cities whose administration has been entrusted to them are automatically (ipso iure) free from their oath… [W]ould it not be just according to all law, diving and human, that by reason of the oath taken by them to ensure the observance of the laws, somewhat greater (liberty of action) should be granted to these subordinate magistrates than to those (citizens) who are of entirely private station and without any public office?… [W]e are not treating the tyrant who must be utterly thrust and cast down from his throne, but we are inquiring whether no one can and should in accordance with his rank set himself against his open violence (Question 6)

The Orders or Estates may and must punish and dethrone the tyrant.

The Orders or Estates, established to curb the supreme magistrates, can and should in every way offer resistance to them when they degenerate into tyrants… [N]o nation has either elected or approved kings without laying down specific conditions. And if those kings violate these the result is that those who had the power to confer this authority upon them have retained no less power again to divest them of that authority. [Beza provides historical examples from Rome, Athens, Sparta, Israel, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, England, Poland, Venice, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, and Gaul.] (Question 6)

[I]n all compacts and covenants which are contracted by mutual and sole agreement between the parties, those by whom the obligations were entered into, can of themselves cancel and annul it, whenever reason so demands. Accordingly those who possess authority to elect a king, will also have the right to dethrone him. (Question 6)

In Sum:

The purpose therefore of all that has been said above is as follows, namely that the highest authority rests with kings or other supreme rulers with this proviso that if they violate the nobelest laws and sworn conditions and degenerate into unabashed tyranny nor give heed to sound counsels, it shall be lawful and permitted to the subordinate magistrates to take precautions for themselves and for those over whom they exercise guardianship, and to offer resistance to the tyrant of the people. But the Estates or Orders of the realm upon whom this authority has been conferred by the laws, can and must so far oppose the tyrant and even, if need be, inflict just and deserved punishment upon him until matters have been restored to their former condition. (Question 6)

[E]ven in marriage also, if one party deserts the other, the Apostle proclaims the deserted party relieved of every obligation, because the deserter violates the principal condition of marriage. But let us imagine that someone declares himself willing to keep his wife with him and that he attempts to do so, yet if it becomes known that this man desires to have his wife in order to kill her or to remove her in some other way, will he not have to be regarded in the light of a manifest deserter (of his wife)? But assuredly the design of tyrants does not differ from his since they do not strive to have subjects in their power for any other reason but to persecute and crush them to their destruction while they indulge their own lusts; why therefore should the wielders of judicial authority not pronounce the same judgment over both? But if not even the canons of the Church consider that a wife who cannot safely live with her husband, should be compelled to live with him, why shall a subordinate magistrate not be allowed to take precautions on behalf of himself and his people and to have recourse to the Estates against a manifest tyrant? (Question 6)

Unless they can defend themselves upon the authority of some lawful subordinate magistrate or of the Estates of that nation, private persons must assuredly either go away until such time as a better light shall shine upon them, or bow their necks to the yoke while urgently asking God in constant prayer for patience and meantime proceeding under His chastisements. But it is the part of the subordinate magistrates (to protect against all) strenuously the good laws to whose defense they personally have sworn, each in accordance with the station he has obtained in the constitution of the community, and in general all should strive to prevent the laws and conditions upon which that constitution rests, from being undermined by any violence from without or from within. Finally, emperors, kings or other supreme rulers acquire the highest authority on the understanding that, if it should meanwhile become notorious that they rather plunder the territory of which they have undertaken the government, that cunningly and without self-control they set themselves against law and reason and wantonly break their sworn promises, they can and should be forced, compelled and brought to their duty even by armed force, if it cannot be otherwise, by those who upon special conditions have raised them to this high office. (Question 7)

Christian Meekness

I deny that the patience and gentleness which we require in Christians prevent a man from employing lawful remedies to repel an injury which is being done to him. It is certainly permissible to claim one’s property from an unjust possessor in court, and to lodge complaints with the supreme magistrate concerning the injustice of an inferior; why therefore by the same reasoning should it not be permissible to go to laws against a tyrant before the Estates? (Question 7)

Submission to Providence or Command?

[T]he will of God must be heeded to the extent that He Himself has deigned to reveal it to us; otherwise there would be no crime so heinous but what it could be imputed to the Divine will, since not even those events which are regarded as in the highest degree fortuitous occur by chance or accidentally. Hence it comes about that the man who meets with highway robbers, by whom no one is murdered without the consent of the will of God, has the power in accordance with the authority of the laws to resist them in just self-defense which incurs no blame because no one forsooth has (received) a special command from God that he meekly allow himself to be slain by robbers. Our conviction is entirely the same about that regular defense against tyrants which we are discussing. (Question 7)

Enforcement of True Religion

[T]he purpose of all well-ordered polities is not simply peace and quiet in this life, as some heathen philosophers have imagined, but the glory of God, towards which the whole present life of men should be directed, it therefore follows that those who are set over nations, ought to bring to bear all their zeal and all the faculties they have received from God to this end that the pure worship of God upon which His glory depends should in the highest degree be maintained and increased among the people over whom they hold sway. (Question 10)

True religion in a society is established by the Holy Spirit, but subsequently defended by the ruler by force.

It is one thing now for the first time to introduce religion into some part and another to preserve it when it has already been received somewhere or to wish to restore it when it has gone to ruin and has been buried as a result of the connivance or ignorance or malice of men. For I grant that initially it should be introduced and spread by the influence of the Spirit of God alone, and that by the Word of God (which is) suited to teaching, conviction and exhortation. For this is the particular task of the Holy Spirit which employs spiritual instruments.

It will therefore be the part of a pious ruler who wishes to entice his people away from idolatry and false superstitions to the true religion, to see to it in the first instance that they are instructed in piety by means of true and reliable argument, just as on the other hand it is in the part of the subjects to give their assent to truth and reason and readily to submit. Finally the ruler will be fully occupied in rendering the true religion secure by means of good and noble decrees against those who assail and resist it out of pure obstinacy, as we have seen done in our times in England, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, and the greater part of Germany and Switzerland against the Papists, the Anabaptists and other heretics. (Question 10)


Enforcement of True Religion

The magisterial reformers employed a slight of hand on this issue. They argue first that a magistrate is necessary for the self-preservation of society and that all actions of a magistrate must conform to this purpose. The reason societies elect rulers over themselves is because they cannot otherwise defend themselves against violence. Then they argue that life is about more than just surviving. The chief end of man is to glorify God. That is true, but that is a different question. Why is a magistrate necessary? is not the same as What is the chief end of man? It is true that every man ought to “bring to bear all their zeal and all the faculties they have received from God to this end that the pure worship of God upon which His glory depends should in the highest degree be maintained and increased among the people over whom they hold sway,” but that does not answer whether a ruler has “received from God” any authority to repel false doctrine with violence. Beza argued the purpose of a magistrate is determined by its necessity (what it provides that private citizens need but cannot themselves provide) and its authority is limited by its purpose. Thus, the question is, can true religion “be maintained and increased” without a magistrate, or is a magistrate necessary for true religion to “be maintained and increased”?

The strange answer from the magisterial reformers (see Rutherford here) is that true religion can be first introduced and increased “by the influence of the Spirit of God alone… which employs spiritual instruments” but it cannot be preserved without the magistrate. The enforcement of true religion is thus cast in terms of self-defense. Once the true religion has been established in a nation, it must be defended by violence against false worship. But a distinction between the introduction of true religion by the Holy Spirit and the subsequent defense of it by force is not found anywhere in Scripture. Neither Jesus or the Apostles ever used force to defend Christianity. Rather “though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” – which means that violence is not necessary to defend and maintain Christianity. Appeal is made, of course, to Israel. But Israel was established by violence in the conquest of Canaan. It was violent from beginning to end and did not first require a nonviolent establishment, as Beza says is necessary.

It took a while, but eventually reformed theologians started realizing their error. Increase Mather, who initially agreed with Beza and put it into practice in New England, upon later reflection said “A good subject has a title to all temporal possessions and enjoyments, before he is a Christian; and it looks odd, that a man should forfeit his title, upon his embracing the faith.

Private Citizen’s Right to Self-Defense

Beza’s argument for denying a private citizen the right of self-defense is very weak. He was trying to 1) make sense of Romans 13’s command to be subject to rulers, and 2) distance the reformation from the violent, radical Anabaptist revolutions. But his reasoning is self-contradictory. He says private citizens have authority to exercise self defense against a conqueror they did not elect, but they must submit to a tyrant’s killing because they swore an oath to obey him. But he also says the compact was mutual and conditional. Thus if the ruler breaks the agreement, the private citizens no longer owe him their obedience. Later reformed theologians recognized the inconsistency. Sir James Stewart expressed the Scottish reformed understanding when he said “by vertue of this mutual compact, the Subjects, have jus against the King, a Right in law to pursue him for performance… For it is absurd to say, that in a mutual conditional compact, one party shall still be bound to performe his conditions, though the other performeth none” [p. 112, 117 Jus Populi Vindicatum, or The People’s Right, to defend themselves and their Covenanted Religion, vindicated (1669), quoted in Beisner, E. Calvin His Majesty’s advocate : Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees (1635-1713) and Covenanter resistance theory under the Restoration monarchy, p. 187]. Continental reformed political philosopher Johannes Althusius said

[N]o realm or commonwealth has ever been founded or instituted except by contract entered into one with the other, by covenants agreed upon between subjects and their future prince, and by an established mutual obligation that both should religiously observe. When this obligation is dishonored, the power of the prince loses its strength and is ended [Althusius, Politica (Latin), 19.15. quoted in Beisner p. 185] …

In this election . . . certain laws and conditions concerning subjection, and the form and manner of the future imperium, are proposed to the prospective magistrate . . . . If he accepts these laws, and swears to the people to observe them, the election is considered firm and settled. This agreement entered into between magistrate and people is known as a mutually binding obligation. [19.29. quoted in Beisner p. 185] …

If this condition [ruling justly and dutifully] is lacking, the people no longer are obligated to obey. Moreover, the chain of this obligation is dissolved by that one, who first withdraws from the agreements, who therefore loses every right acquired by the agreement, that the other may become free: For the obligation vanishes and is held for nothing, when its essential conditions, on account of which it was concluded, are violated. [38.32. quoted in Beisner p. 185] …

When he abuses his power, he ceases to be king and a public person, and becomes a private person. If in any way he proceeds and acts notoriously or wickedly, any one may resist him [18.95 quoted in Beisner, p. 117]

Thus Beza’s argument that “Private citizens may not offer resistance to their lawful ruler who is a tyrant” is an oxymoron. If a ruler is a tyrant then he is not a lawful ruler and has no right to be obeyed. He is merely a private citizen committing violence against other private citizens. Roger A. Mason referred to this as the “explosive doctrine of single-handed tyrannicide.” [Roger A. Mason, ‘People Power? George Buchanan on Resistance and the Common Man’, in Robert von Friedeburg, ed., Widerstandsrecht in der frühen Neuzeit, in Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung, beiheft 26 (2001), 163–81, at 179. Quoted in Beisner, p. 115] Rutherford summarized the view, saying

[T]he royal dignity doth not advance a king above the common condition of men, and the throne maketh him not leave off to be a man, and a man that can do wrong; and therefore as one that doth manifest violence to the life of a man, though his subject, he may be resisted with bodily resistance, in the case of unjust and violent invasion. [Rutherford, Lex, Rex, Q.XXXII]

If I give my sword to my fellow to defend me from the murderer, if he shall fall to and murder me with my own sword, I may (if I have strength) take my sword from him. [Q.XXXII]

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Jordan Cooper (Lutheran) Critique of VanDrunen’s Two Kingdoms

Jordan Cooper is a popular Lutheran pastor who is well acquainted with the reformed tradition. At a recent conference, he critiqued VanDrunen’s two kingdom theology. His primary interest was to clarify that VanDrunen’s view is not Luther’s view. While VanDrunen identifies the kingdom of Christ as the institutional church, in contrast to the state in the other kingdom, Luther identified the kingdom of God as our conscience before God and placed the institutional church in the other kingdom – our life before men.

What Luther’s really getting at when he’s talking about this distinction – the right hand kingdom, the kingdom of God as we usually talk about it, is the realm we live in before God. If I live before God, I am in the kingdom of God. If I am in a right relationship to God, if I am justified, if I am saved, I am in the kingdom of God. Now, it’s important to say, this is not identical with the church as an institution. Luther makes this clear repeatedly. The church itself includes both left and right hand kingdom aspects. This is going to be a huge differentiation. Remember, because I said with VanDrunen, the church as institution is the redemptive kingdom and that means everything the church does including its offices and officers and pastors – that’s all part of the redemptive kingdom of God. But if you have a church constitution and you’re in a church council discussing your constitution, are you talking about the law or are you talking about the gospel? Law! You’re talking structure. You’re talking about who does what. What are the rules here? How does this church function? How do we make decisions? How do I make corrections in our church constitutions? These are issues of structure and issues of organization. These are part of the left-hand kingdom.

If we come with that understanding we see that even the church – it’s not so much the church and the then the state. But the church itself has both realities.

Anything having to do with my interaction with other men is part of the left-hand kingdom. My inward conscience before God is part of the right-hand kingdom. Here is a diagram of what Cooper is referring to:

It’s important to understand how different this two kingdom theology is from VanDrunen’s because Calvin largely followed Luther. Both were simply adopting the typical medieval view.

The important difference between Luther and Calvin has to do with the relationship between church and state within the outward kingdom. While Luther believed the state had authority over the institutional church, Calvin argued they were coordinate jurisdictions working side by side. Many wrongly read Calvin’s two-fold government as referring to church and state. (For more, see Calvin’s Two-fold Government). This leads Cooper to say

The radical two kingdom theological school is not two kingdom theology at all, but a modern caricature of Luther’s thought. And, unfortunately, I think it is the case that it is exposited through the lens of an American division between church and state. Now, they’re going to deny that. They’re going to say “No, that’s not what we’re doing.” But I think historically a two kingdom distinction in the way it is formulated could not exist apart from our American culture. And I think whether intentionally or not, it is impacted by the various divisions that we have, sort of the Jeffersonian type stuff.

But Cooper is not quite correct here. The identification of the institutional church with the kingdom of God was developed by 17th century reformed theologians in Britain in response to Erastianism as it was debated in the Westminster Assembly. They were merely refining Calvin’s insistence that the state has no authority over the church. This became known as de jure divino Prebyterianism. God immediately instituted the church with its government apart from any mediation by the civil government. For more on this, see the excellent essay Confessional Two Kingdoms. 30 years after the Westminster Confession, the particular baptists refined that even further to the logical conclusion of liberty for all religions in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith.

Natural Law

Cooper also points out VanDrunen’s strange view of natural law.

They say, “Well, the redemptive kingdom is governed by what God’s revealed” which they would say is law and gospel. Again, I would say just gospel – talking about the right hand realm. But then they would also say “Then the left-hand realm, or especially the government, should be governed by natural law.” Now, it seems to me, in the way some of them describe this, you end up with two separate laws. So you have the natural law in creation over here, and then you’ve got God’s law over here that’s revealed. Well, natural law’s nothing different than God’s revealed law. It just means that you can discover God’s law through reason and creation because it’s written on the heart. It’s not a different law. It’s the same law.

In his excellent Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, Richard Muller defines natural law as

lex naturalis: natural law; also lex naturae; law of nature; the universal moral law either impressed by God upon the mind of all people or immediately discerned by the reason in its encounter with the order of nature. The natural law was therefore available even to those pagans who did not have the advantage of the Sinaitic revelation and the lex Mosaica [i.e., Mosaic law, which includes the natural law, though in a different form] with the result that they were left without excuse in their sins, convicted by conscientia. The scholastics argue the identity of the lex naturalis with the lex Mosaica or lex moralis quoad substantium, according to substance, and distinguish them quoad formam, according to form. The lex naturalis is inward, written on the heart and therefore obscure [due to sin], whereas the lex Mosacia is revealed externally and written on tablets and thus of greater clarity.

That is what VanDrunen says he does not believe.

I believe that my project, in many significant ways, stands in continuity with the perennially important natural law theory of Thomas Aquinas, but also is biblically reformed in other important respects… Thomas understood the natural law more in terms of a moral order than a series of discrete rules. Natural law, for Thomas, is encapsulated in one rule – pursue good and shun evil – but this is so general that it is of little concrete usefulness. More specific rules (such as those of the Decalogue) can also be understood through practical reason, but even these do not capture the natural law comprehensively, for natural law pertains to all things to which human beings are inclined by nature. Though again I develop these matters differently, the idea of natural law in terms of moral order rather than discrete rules is also important to the theology of natural law for which I argue in subsequent chapters.

Divine Covenants and Moral Order (22-25)

And just to be clear:

Turning to Calvin’s epistemology and definition of natural law it will become evident that the most notable difference between Thomas and Calvin is that the latter defined natural law primarily in terms of the Decalogue and Thomas did not… Far from being a conduit of the Classical or Thomistic view of the lex naturalis Calvin made a very sophisticated revision of the concept of natural law by removing it from the Stoic and Thomistic corpus of “self-evident” truths and identifying it with the content of the Law revealed in the Garden and at Sinai and in the Sermon on the Mount… The “scholastic” view was really Calvin’s. It was also the view of the confessional age theologians and it was grounded in their view of the covenant, which they learned, in substance, from Calvin… Calvin did not follow Thomas’ doctrine of natural law, though he did make significant use of natural law.

-R. Scott Clark, “Calvin and the Lex Naturalis,” Stulos Theological Journal 6 (1998): 1–22.

(On this point, see more here)

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John Frame on Gen 9:6, the Avenger of Blood, and Romans 13

Understanding that the avenger of blood (Deut 19; Num 35) was a “private” individual, not any kind of “public” servant or government official is key to understanding the biblical nature of libertarianism (more on this in the future). Researching this issue led me to John Frame’s essay “Toward a Theology of the State.” While there is much to disagree with in the essay, Frame does one thing correctly that most people do not. Rather than starting with Romans 13, he starts in the Pentateuch and seeks to understand the authority of the sword from the fall onward and then interprets Romans 13 in light of that. That is my approach as well. Here is a brief summary:

First, Frame notes that Genesis 9:6 does not establish any kind of new institution called the state, but rather gives the authority of the sword to the family.

“State” is not a biblical category in the sense that “family,” “people of God,” “Israel,” and “church,” are biblical categories… But in what passage did God establish the state? Some have found divine warrant for the state in Gen 9:6, where God commands Noah’s family to return bloodshed for bloodshed. But this is a command given to a family. There is no indication of any new institution being established. And in the law of Moses, the execution of murderers was carried out, not by the state as such, but by the “avenger of blood,” kin of the murder victim, Num 35:19, 21; Deut 19:12. The family, here, is the instrument of justice. We have no reason to believe, therefore, that any special institution beyond the family for the establishment of justice was created in Gen 9:6.

Second, he recognizes that a natural outgrowth leads to various ways of ordering this authority as societies grow, but that these changes (including numerous judges, a head judge, and then a king) do not introduce anything essentially different in nature than the authority given to families.

What we see in Scripture, rather, is a kind of gradual development from family authority to something which we would tend to call a state. The borderline between family and state is not sharp or clear… Jacob’s family multiplied and became a nation. From nuclear family, it became an extended family, and then a “clan,” or indeed a group of clans… The picture to this point, then, is that as Israel developed from nuclear family to extended family to clan to nation, family authority became more elaborate and complicated… Was there, at this point in history, also a divinely appointed “state”? I would say no if, again, “state” refers to something above and beyond the natural authority of the family. As far back as Genesis 9, as we have seen, God called the family to execute vengeance for bloodshed, and so no new order was needed to administer capital punishment… New machinery, of course, was put in place (by some combination of tribal tradition and Mosaic appointment) to resolve disputes, but that too was essentially a family function… Apart from his prophetic and priestly functions, Moses was essentially the chief of the clan leaders, the head of the family of God. Had God not selected him directly, the people might well have selected him or someone else as a chief of chiefs, without violating the overall family structure. Such a choice would merely have been a natural continuation of the movement toward greater complexity as the nation increased in size. Indeed, there was popular ratification of Moses’ rule… During the period of the judges, no new institutions were added… From the viewpoint of the people, they are selecting another tribal ruler [the king], a “chief of chiefs,” who bears the same sort of authority held by the other chiefs or elders, but over a broader territory.

Third, he notes that this is the authority referred to in Romans 13.

Once kingship appears in history, are we then able to speak of an “institution of the state”? Well, it isn’t too important what you call it, as long as you understand what is going on. Yes, God has ordained authority within the family. Yes, he warrants the extension of that authority to extended families, tribes, nations. Yes, he warrants the popular selection of leaders to implement that authority (a selection into which, of course, he is always free to intervene, and over which he always exercises providential superintendence). Yes, that authority includes the power to use deadly force and to resolve disputes which cannot otherwise be resolved. In that sense, we may say with Paul in Rom 13:1 that “the authorities that exist have been established by God.” But it is important to remember that the authority of the state is essentially a family authority, not something different. For that reason, I consider it somewhat misleading to talk about a “divine institution of the state,” or to speak of “family, church, and state” as “God’s institutions,” on a level with one another. I shall, however, use “state” to refer to the family elder-structures beyond the nuclear and extended families.

Frame’s error is that he thinks the authority in Gen 9:6 was given to families as such, or as he later calls it, to “mega-families” (extended families with a patriarch). Genesis 9:6 never says that. The authority was given to all mankind, who merely happened to be organized in a family at the time (and families tend to make for a default/natural outworking of that authority). That’s why Cain worries that “anyone who finds me will kill me.” (Gen 4:14). (Note Frame’s attempt to deal with the problem of societies not made up of intact family structures).

And there you have it. God has given all mankind the authority to justly wield the sword to execute vengeance against physical violence and that is what Paul is referring to in Romans 13. God never instituted a special office for select individuals to rule over the rest of humanity with monopolistic authority to wield the sword in a way that no one else has authority to. Paul is simply addressing Christians who lived in an empire that wrongly claimed exclusive right to that God-ordained authority (John 18:31).

Post Script:

Commenting on Genesis 9:5-6 in Lex Rex, Rutherford says

The consequence is vain: His blood shall be shed by man; therefore by a magistrate ? it followeth not; therefore by a king ? it followeth not… There was but family-government (p. 28)

Rutherford incorrectly argues it’s just a general descriptive proverb about the fate of a murderer, not a command to execute murderers, but he correctly notes that it neither says or implies anything about a ruler/magistrate.

Matthew Henry notes

by man shall his blood be shed, that is, by the magistrate, or whoever is appointed or allowed to be the avenger of blood. There are those who are ministers of God for this purpose, to be a protection to the innocent, by being a terror to the malicious and evildoers, and they must not bear the sword in vain,Rom. 13:4 . Before the flood, as it should seem by the story of Cain, God took the punishment of murder into his own hands; but now he committed this judgment to men, to masters of families at first, and afterwards to the heads of countries

I believe that Henry is mistaken that God took the punishment of murder into his own hands before the flood, but he correctly recognizes there was no civil government when God commanded Noah and his descendants (all mankind) to execute murderers. When Henry argues “afterwards to the heads of countries” we would simply ask when and where did God do this?

William Findley notes

In this second infant state of the human race, too few in number to form a civil society, capable of enacting and executing penal laws, it pleased God himself, among other precepts, to prescribe death to be inflicted by man, as the penalty for murder; and as there were not, at that period, civil courts, or officers for public prosecution, he enjoined the brothers (explained to include others near of kin) of the deceased, to execute the sentence, under the penalty of God himself requiring his brother’s blood at his hands, as he had formerly done the blood of Abel at the hand of Cain. This precept, given to the family of Noah, then containing the whole human race, is still in substance equally applicable to all nations, and at all times. It is the only punishment adequate to the offence; but the appointment of the brother, or near of kin, to be the avenger of blood, arose from the then state of society, and pointed out the expediency of civil government, when men became sufficiently numerous for that purpose. (11-12)


Mohler’s Sacralist Commentaries

The Pilgrim Path/Proto-Protestantism is an interesting blog with a lot of thought provoking content. The author was reformed, embraced a lot of Kline, now remains a paedobaptist but has an Anabaptist view of government (so far as I can discern). His posts are worth perusing because he’s well read and really helps the reader see through the fog of the sacralist hangover that America and many reformed Christians still have. It’s a main focus of his blog. (That said, he rejects systematic theology in favor of biblicism and as a result has concerns about the implications of sola fide. I haven’t had time to fully read what those concerns are, but reader beware). He defines sacralism as:

The confluence of church and state wherein one is called up to change the other. The theological impulse to create a holy society. This is a broader concept which can be applied to non-Christian societies as well. Sacralists will argue that historically all societies have been sacralist. While those opposed to it will agree, but insist it is a pagan notion of society, the foundation of the Tower of Babel system which rears its head all through history.

Israel was not a Sacral state, but a Theocracy. On the surface they may seem the same, but a Theocracy is directly chartered and ruled by God Himself. Israel was one, and The Kingdom of God is another, but the Kingdom of God is identified as a Kingdom invisible to the unregenerate man. At present, apart from the Church, there are no Theocracies on earth.

All other attempts at ‘theocracy’ are in fact pseudo-theocracies or Sacralist states. In the Christian version, an attempt is made to create a visible cultural and political establishment of the Kingdom, but this is a perversion of the true Kingdom of God, and theologically and historically very dangerous.

Anyways, here are some good quotes from Mohler’s Sacralist Commentaries, responding to Mohler’s lament over England’s decision to designate old church buildings as non-religious secular buildings for use by the community.

Mohler is a thoroughgoing sacralist. While he proclaims to be committed to Biblical Christianity, he actually has more in common with Medieval Catholicism...

Mohler assumes these buildings [old churches in England] were valid expressions of Christian faith and celebrates the sacral symbolism of the steeple, the Tower of Babel-like proclamation that every society makes in its architecture. He doesn’t view it that way of course but celebrates the symbolism of Christendom. Like most sacralists he simply assumes the validity of calling buildings ‘churches’ and then without hesitation accepts all the subsequent theology generated by this basic doctrinal error…On the one hand I lament the decay of these buildings and their history. On the other hand when I view it from a theologically objective viewpoint, as opposed to Mohler’s reactionary romanticism, I say ‘tear them down’. Remove the false witness so that the antithesis between the world and Biblical Christianity can be made more manifest…

As far as weddings go, Mohler once again displays his theological ignorance and shallowness as well as his sacralist assumptions. The whole idea of a ‘church wedding’ is also a holdover from medievalism and is thoroughly sacralist in orientation.

Waldensians and others were viewed as fornicators and their children as bastards because they refused to be wed in Roman Catholic buildings by the extra-scriptural sacramental arrangement created by Rome…

They were wed privately and among themselves, but this was not recognized by the sacral society in which they lived. Despite the erroneous claims of some, the Waldensians were almost exclusively paedobaptist but they like the later Anabaptists had a problem with baptism being tied to the sacral society. They had a problem with Christian identity being confused and conflated with citizenship, the very thing Mohler celebrates and even demands. But as a Baptist his theology on this point is rather muddled and exposes the shortcomings of his own system rather than provide any clarity for his audience. At the core of sacralist thought is the idea that at least outwardly society represents a monistic structure, everyone is (in some sense) a participant in the civil-religious fusion. Pluralism, the teaching and demand of the New Testament is the great enemy. The composite society in which we live as strangers, pilgrims, exiles and aliens is the status sacralism seeks to eliminate. Interestingly when doing so, many of the ethical foundations of New Testament are eliminated.

Sacralism’s consequence is a new foundation for ethics and a host of newly formed necessary consequences and imperatives result. It can look like Christianity but results in something very different. Mohler’s ethics applied to the world all too often bear this out. The values of the world and the Kingdom become muddied and distorted. War, greed and pride are recast. Serving the greater good they can become tools and fruits of virtue…

Once again, even if we assume his position, why should we expect nonbelievers to view the wedding ceremony in the same way Christians should? It is always baffling to me that sacralists seem to find some kind of great satisfaction in forcing infidels to hypocritically ‘go through the motions’ and be forced to participate in some kind of made up social ritual or exercise in civil religion.

Despite Mohler’s claims, it’s not Biblical. There’s nothing in the New Testament that tells us to compel the pagan through the threat of law. There’s nothing that suggests that we take over society and impose Christian (and hence spiritual) realities on people who cannot apprehend let alone comprehend them.

And there’s nothing in the New Testament to suggest that the wedding is some kind of quasi-worship service. The modern ‘Church Wedding’ is the child of medieval Roman sacralism, a philosophical consequent of sacral theology. It is not derived from New Testament exegesis and its retention by Protestants claiming Sola Scriptura is in fact a denial of the principle. Mohler undercuts his own ability to argue against other Catholic innovations. By embracing the building and the wedding ceremony he’s already admitted the Scripture alone is not his source of doctrinal and ecclesiological authority…

The confusion grows because to many the marriage is legitimated by the state issued license. This has led not a few to balk at the state sanction and for some to reject it altogether. If, the certificate was specifically ‘sacral’ as it was in the Middle Ages or more recently in Rick Santorum’s dream state of Spain under Franco, then we too would have to reject the certificate, and be married ‘underground’ as it were. Again, this is what many a Biblically minded non-conformist opted for during the totalitarian regimes of Roman and in some cases Protestant Christendom.

But contrary to Mohler we can be thankful that we live in a secular society. Marriage in terms of the civil order has no religious meaning. Therefore I can go and get the certificate… it wouldn’t matter if it was done on the exact same day as the wedding vows and consecration…. for simple legal purposes. The state issued certificate has nothing to do with sanctioning the marriage in terms of Christian doctrine or ethics. It’s simply a legal formality and social convenience. It’s not a holy stamp of approval from a sacral society nor does Babylon’s necessarily wrong interpretation of marriage have any bearing on my understanding as a Christian.

We register with Rome/Babylon because it makes life easier in terms of taxes, medical decisions, inheritance and so forth. If Rome gets out of the ‘marriage’ business altogether and allows us to legally establish our tax, medical and inheritance connections through other means and under a different nomenclature, then so be it. It might even aid in lessening the confusion.

To suggest that marriage will be understood in Christian terms by unbelievers is to reject the testimony of the Holy Spirit. It is to assume the unregenerate can take hold of the holy and understand Union with Christ. This is folly as is the whole of Mohler’s thought and commentary.

There is much to criticise about modern wedding culture and its obscenities. Failing to get married in a ‘Church Building’ is insignificant. Actually it is Mohler’s position that is far more disturbing and exposes the distorted thinking at work in the Sacralist worldview and its theological and social hermeneutics.



Rutherford on Romans 13 and the Logic of Resistance

I’m reading through Lex Rex and plan to interact with it fully when I’m done. One of the best strengths of the book is the rigorous logic by which he refutes the “royalists” (those who affirm the divine right of kings to absolute power). By the same rigorous logic his own position also falls, as I’ll demonstrate in the future. Rutherford, representing the Scottish reformed view, is important for people to understand as a stepping stone. Most people have this limbo view where they deny any absolute divine right to rulers, but they simultaneously deny any right to resistance. Rutherford shows you have to pick one or the other.


  • Resistance to God-ordained authority is opposition to God.
  • God does not ordain anyone to tyranny.
  • Therefore resistance to tyranny is not opposition to God.

2. All power is God’s, (1 Chron. xxix. 11; Matt. vi. 13; Psal. lxii. 11; lxviii. 35; Dan. ii. 37,) and that absolute power to tyrannise, is not from God. 1. Because, if this moral power to sin be from God, it being formally wickedness, God must be the author of sin. 2. Whatever moral power is from God, the exercises of that power, and the acts thereof, must be from God, and so these acts must be morally good and just; for if the moral power be of God, as the author, so must the acts be. Now, the acts of a tyrannical power are acts of sinful injustice and oppression, and cannot be from God…

It is no power which is not lawful power. The royalists say, power of tyranny, in so far as it may be resisted, and is punishable by men, is not from God. But what is the other part of the distinction? It must be, that tyrannical power is simpliciter from God, or in itself it is from God; but as it is punishable or restrainable by subjects, it is not from God…

When the magistrate doth anything by violence, and without law, in so far doing against his office, he is not a magistrate. Then, say I, that power by which he doth, is not of God. None doth, then, resist the ordinance of God who resist the king in tyrannous acts. If the power, as it cannot be punished by the subject nor restrained, be from God, therefore the tyrannical power itself, and without this accident — that it can be punished by men — it must be from God also. But the conclusion is absurd, and denied by royalists. I prove the connection: If the king have such a power above all restraint, the power itself, to wit, king David’s power to kill innocent Uriah, and deflower Bathsheba, without the accident of being restrained or punished by men, it is either from God or not from God. If it be from God, it must be a power against the sixth and seventh commandments, which God gave to David, and not to any subject; and so David lied when he confessed this sin, and this sin cannot be pardoned because it was no sin: and kings, because kings, are under no tie of duties of mercy, and truth, and justice to their subjects, contrary to that which God’s law requireth of all judges (Deut. i. 15-17; xvii. 15-20; 2 Chron. xix. 6, 7; Rom. xiii. 3, 4): if this power be from God, as it is unrestrainable and unpunishable by the subject, it is not from God at all; for how can God give a power to do ill, that is unpunishable by men, and not give that power to do ill? It is inconceivable; for in this very thing that God giveth to David — a power to murder the innocent — with this respect, that it shall be punishable by God only, and not by men, God must give it as a sinful power to do ill, which must be a power of dispensation, to sin, and so not to be punished by either God or man, which is contrary to his revealed will in his word.

If such a power as not restrainable by man be from God by way of permission, as a power to sin in devils and men is, then it is no royal power, nor any ordinance of God; and to resist this power, is not to resist the ordinance of God.

Lex Rex, Question 22

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Blood Feud and State Control: Differing Legal Institutions for the Remedy of Homicide During the Second and First Millennia B.C.E.

Scripture does not teach that the use of the sword to justly administer vengeance is reserved for “rulers.” Rome claimed it was (John 18:31)

Some notable excerpts from Blood Feud and State Control: Differing Legal Institutions for the Remedy of Homicide During the Second and First Millennia B.C.E.

Since the discovery of the Laws of Hammurapi in December 1901–January 1902 the dependence of biblical law upon Mesopotamian law has been hotly debated. Among the most contentious issues is the adjudication of homicide, and the discussion has focused on particular odd cases in biblical law, such as an ox that gored or assault on a preg-nant woman, that appear to have been borrowed from Mesopotamian law.

The more common occurrences of fatal assault and the procedures to remedy them, however, have been largely ignored. What institutions insured that homicide was punished in biblical law,and what relationship did they have to Mesopotamian legal process? I will argue that the institutions that insured that a homicide would be investigated and remedied in biblical law were vastly different from those in Mesopotamian law and that the difference originates in disparate conceptions of the organization of society. Mesopotamian texts reflect the extensive involvement of the state in the process of remedying homicide. The members of the victim’s family participated in the process insofar as they had the right to make a claim on the slayer, but there does not seem to be any apprehension generated by the possibility of a blood avenger waiting to strike down the killer. By contrast, blood feud operated in biblical law, and places of sanctuary were needed to protect the killer…

According to the Hebrew Bible, the victim’s family bore primary responsibility for initiating the remedy of a homicide.6 The “blood avenger,” μdh lag, a close male relative of the victim,7 had the right to effect a remedy by killing the slayer on sight. There were no specialized or official personnel charged by a central government with the duty to investigate offenses or to arrest and prosecute a suspect.8

[8 Even in the case when a victim’s family could not come forward because the victim could not be identified (and presumably his family had not come searching for him), a local body representing the local community, the elders of a town, not a state mechanism, came forward on an ad hoc basis to address the problem (Deut. 21:1–9).]

…Blood feud came into play in biblical law because the victim’s family had the primary responsibility to respond to the slaying of one of its members. By contrast, the members of the victim’s family did not have to assume that responsibility in Mesopotamian law. They had the right to make a claim on the slayer, but the slayer was not in mortal danger from a blood avenger waiting to strike him down.10 In some cases, the victim’s family might play a role in determining the penalty, but it must be emphasized that the members of the victim’s family were not otherwise involved in the remedy…

[In Mesopotamia] The role of the claimant from the victim’s family here is to decide on the penalty. In general, it appears, families had the right to either execution or compensation; the legal institutions of a particular society were required to preserve the rights of the family to choose. This is to be distinguished from the role of the avenger in feud, where the avenger has the right and responsibility to take the initiative and kill the murderer on sight…

[T]he role of the monarchy and central government is different in Mesopotamian texts and the Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, their role is limited. Exodus 21, Leviticus 24, Numbers 35, and Deuteronomy 19 and 21 do not portray any involvement by the monarchy. The only reference to a central government is found in Deut. 17:8–10, where a local court could appeal to the levitical priests and the judge at the central sanc- tuary for clarification of the law in a difficult case: the facts of the case were then re- manded to a lower court. As to the role of the king himself, only the narrative of 2 Sam. 14:1–17 indicates that the king could overturn the law… In contrast, the crown and central authority played a major role in the rest of the ancient Near East. Once the legal process had been launched by a private individual, a central authority or monarchy assumed oversight of the situation…

The organization of society had a profound effect upon the concept of justice and the process of law in the Bible, and the treatment of homicide in biblical Israel was directly linked to the social structure of biblical Israel. Although the most influential culture of the ancient Near East, Mesopotamia, left its mark on almost every chapter of the Bible, the Mesopotamian adjudication of homicide differed radically from that in biblical Israel be-cause of the profound differences in social organization between the two cultures. In Israel, kinship ties were strong, and the family acted as a mutual aid society, whereas in a heavily urban and centralized Mesopotamia, a bureaucracy had control. This is striking because biblical law was based upon Mesopotamian law and yet at the same time differed so greatly. The institutions that assured that a homicide would be investigated and remedied in biblical law were vastly different from those in Mesopotamian law. The difference originates in disparate conceptions of the organization of society. Blood feud operated in biblical law: a relative of the victim had the right to kill the slayer on sight with impunity, and the process by which homicide was adjudicated enabled the family to exercise its role while providing safeguards for the slayer. By contrast, in Mesopotamia, state institutions insured that homicide would be remedied. The victim’s family had the legal right to make a claim upon the killer, but the fear that a blood avenger was about to strike down the killer is simply not manifest in Mesopotamian law.

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Should the FBI Hack Botnet Victims to Save the Internet?

Some of you may have noticed the massive cyber attack last Friday. It was the largest ever DDOS attack. They work by flooding a server with more traffic than it can handle, causing it to shut down. Hackers typically use botnets to do it. Botnets are a web of personal computers that hackers secretly infect and then wait to exploit. At the right time, they will send the signal and all the infected machines will start sending traffic to the target server, without the person knowing their computer is being used in the attack.

What makes this attack unique is that the botnet was not primarily made up of computers, but of Internet of Things devices.

Mirai is a botnet code that takes control of devices used on what is called the Internet of Things—large numbers of electronic devices not directly connected to computers but all networked through the internet. The devices include webcams, security cameras, DVRs, smart TVs, routers, and similar devices. 1

Using these devices significantly increased the number of bots available, and therefore significantly increased the amount of data/traffic being sent. They reached a rate of over 1 Tbps – that’s Tera-bits per second – the largest ever.

The challenge is that securing these devices is not easy. Most people won’t have a clue how to update their devices and many of them can’t be updated. The solution? The government, of course.

There are a handful of ways that these hordes of hacked devices might be tackled: perhaps governments could regulate the security of devices, or internet service providers could cut off access for certain machines. However, there is another more controversial, but increasingly relevant, way: law enforcement, or specifically the FBI, could hack the devices making up Mirai botnets—many of which are cameras—in order to ultimately disable the malicious network writ large. 2

After all, “this episode illustrates a very serious market failure” says Susan Hennessey, a fellow in national security at the Brookings Institution think tank and former National Security Agency attorney (Note: “think tanks” are extensions of the state, specifically in the propaganda department. You are much more open to Hennessey’s opinion when she is an expert (“fellow”) at the Brookings Institution than when she is a lawyer for the NSA. See TRL Podcast#11). 451 Research elaborates

In a factory-oriented industry, for example, when a factory produces a product, the price of that product should cover the costs of its production and at least enough profit to make its production worthwhile. This price includes labor, components, equipment and all the associated inputs that go in. But what about the pollution the factory makes? This pollution has an economic impact – global warming, crop production and respiratory disease can be the result of such pollution, which affects other businesses and individuals, too. But the factory doesn’t really need to care about these – the factory could produce billions of tons of pollution, and it wouldn’t need to factor the impact of this pollution into its price.

In other words, the pollution is external to its profit and revenue – economically, pollution is called a negative externality. Externalities occur where the actions of one economic agent make another economic agent worse or better off, yet the first agent neither bears the costs nor receives the benefits of doing so. It is a form of market failure…

Here lies the economic challenge: Let’s say a typical consumer has purchased an internet-enabled toaster for $20. The producer could charge an extra $2 to make the toaster more secure, but that could lead to fewer purchases and impact profit. This is the crux: Would the producer get any benefit from making it more secure? No. The producer would almost certainly reduce its bottom line, as a result of price-sensitive users viewing the product as less attractive.

Would end users see value in paying $2 more for a secure toaster over an insecure one? What benefit does the end user gain by having a secure toaster? None… IoT botnets are an externality.

Of course, the reality is that these kind of market failures are not failures at all, but failures of the state that blocks the market from dealing with these issues on a property rights basis. See Walter Block on Pollution on Youtube as well as What Are You Calling a Failure?

Coincidentally, the timing of Mirai’s rise runs parallel with a looming change to how the FBI can legally hack computers across the US and in other countries.

In December, changes to Rule 41 of Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which regulates when judges can authorize warrants for searches and seizures, will come into effect, unless blocked by Congress. 2

Golly, that sure is good timing. Good thing officials have made it clear this attack was by unknown, but definitely non-state actors.

And if that’s not enough, Hennessey warns that if you continue to buy cheap devices that can be exploited by hackers, then you yourself will be considered part of the criminal network.

If society begins to perceive people as failing in that responsibility in a way that harms others—or outsourcing the cost by buying cheap and insecure products—then we may cease to think about botnet ‘victims’ as victims at all. And that will have a significant impact on what we perceive as appropriate law enforcement activity. 2

So if you buy a cheap product (like the TV sitting in your living room watching and listening to you), the FBI may have legal grounds to hack it and take control of it. No more shopping at Walmart, you criminal mastermind.

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