Monday, November 1, 2010

Civil Obedience, Part 2

Back in March, I posted an opinion about civil obedience and the Christian. It was an opinion that runs somewhat contrary to what is currently the accepted view - particularly with respect to Romans 13:1-7.

About three weeks ago I ran across a sermon given by Jonathan Mayhew in 1750 - a full quarter-century before the American Revolution. Mayhew was a clergyman who served at Boston’s Old West Church for 29 years before he died. In this sermon, he says things that sound very familiar to what I said. I took a bit more of a general stand regarding authority where he takes a somewhat specific stand against a particular ruler, but the argument he uses is almost exactly the same (perhaps better worded). I won’t reprint the whole sermon, but what follows below is a relevant portion:


Render therefore to all their dues; tribute, to whom tribute is due; custom, to whom custom; fear, to whom fear; honor, to whom honor. Here the apostle sums up what he had been saying concerning the duty of subjects to rulers. And his argument stands thus - “Since magistrates who execute their office well, are common benefactors to society; and may, in that respect, be properly stiled (sic) the ministers and ordinance of God; and since they are constantly employed in the service of the public; it becomes you to pay them tribute and custom; and to reverence, honor, and submit to, them in the execution of their respective offices.” This is apparently good reasoning. But does this argument conclude for the duty of paying tribute, custom, reverence, honor and obedience, to such persons as (although they bear the title of rulers) use all their powers to hurt and injure the public: such as are not God’s ministers, but Satan’s? such as do not take care of, and attend upon, the public interest, but their own, to the ruin of the public? that is, in short, to such as have no natural and just claim at all to tribute, custom, reverence, honor, and obedience?

It is to be hoped that those who have any regard to the apostle’s character as an inspired writer, or even as a man of common understanding, will not represent him as reasoning in such a loose incoherent manner; and drawing conclusions which have not the least relation to his premises.

For what can be more absurd than an argument thus framed? “Rulers are, by their office, bound to consult the public welfare and the good of society: therefore you are bound to pay them tribute, to honor, and to submit to them, even when they destroy the public welfare, and are a common pest to society, by acting in direct contradiction to the nature and end of their office.”

Thus, upon a careful review of the apostle’s reasoning in this passage, it appears that his arguments to enforce submission, are of such a nature, as to conclude only in favour of submission to such rulers as he himself describes; i.e. such as rule for the good of society, which is the only end of their institution. Common tyrants, and public oppressors, are not intitled (sic) to obedience from their subjects, by virtue of any thing here laid down by the inspired apostle.


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