D. M. PANTON.
civil war of necessity begins in a revolt against authority: whereas a
perpetual command to Christian teachers is this, - "Put them in mind to be in subjection to rulers, to
authorities" (Tit. 3: 1).
For in the background of all government
rises the awful majesty of God. "The powers that be are ordained of God"
A grave fact thus reveals itself. "Therefore he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God." These instructions were issued with the crimes and cruelties of Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius fresh in memory, and with the monster Nero upon the throne: to no age of the Church could the command have been more startling, or obedience to it a more signal triumph of grace. For rebellion is rebellion against God. Political resistance passes at once into spiritual: the power is God's power, the sword is God's sword, the wrath is God's wrath (though it may reach us through the magistrate); for "he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God."* Neither ancestry, nor sword, nor ballot-box is the real source of Political power; "there is no power but of God": the power is God's, the abuse of the power is man's; and God does not ask the Church to interfere between Him and His administrative officer.
[* There is one exception to the rule. The State may, and must, be disobeyed when it commands something God has forbidden, or forbids something God has commanded. If a Nebuchadnezzar orders image-worship, or a Darius forbids prayer, or a Sanhedrin prohibits the Gospel "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5: 29): but, even so, refusal to submit must never be with firearms. 2 Cor. 10: 4; John 18: 36.]
For a bad ruler may be - like Saul - His judgment on a nation; or - like Pharoah - a monument for wrath (Ex. 9: 16); or - like Nero - a fulfiller of the martyr-roll; or - like Napoleon - a scourge for anarchy. The Most High "will strike through kings in the day of His wrath" (Ps. 110: 5); but throughout the day of His grace "they that withstand shall receive to themselves Judgment."
So then obedience is essential to the will of God. "Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath" - as fine or prison - "but also for conscience sake." Militant disciples, whether Crusader or Inquisitor or Covenanter or Ironside, have always pleaded 'conscience'; but it is a perverted conscience; for God says we are not to resist for conscience sake. An uninstructed conscience can fall into colossal blunders. John 16: 2; Acts 26: 9. An act of parliament is to be obeyed, not for the act's sake, but for the Lord's sake: obedience is a spiritual duty to God, irrespective of the goodness or badness of act or government. Thus a Christian has no 'right of rebellion': he may always emigrate (Matt. 10: 23); but so long as he uses the coin of the realm, and therefore draws its attendant advantages, he must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. "Render to all their dues" - for submission is not a gift, but a debt: "taxation to whom taxation; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour." Conversely, also, the disciple who pays all taxes, submits to all ordinances, and prays for all rulers, may legitimately accept in return the privileges of passive citizenship - police protection, pensions for the aged, general order and liberty - as from "ministers of God's service, attending continually upon this very thing."
Our Lord has summarised His will for us in a little parable of arresting beauty. Peter, challenged by the taxation authorities, at once acknowledges our Lord's habit of yielding to the civil requirements. "What thinkest thou, Simon?" - Jesus then suddenly turns upon Peter - "the kings of the earth, from whom do they receive toll or tribute? from their sons "- the princes of the blood royal - "or from strangers?" - all outside the palace. "From strangers," Peter answers. "Therefore the sons are free," the Lord replies: the sons of God inherently are lifted far above all earthly taxation; as heirs of the world and called to the thrones of the Advent, they are as exempt as princes of the blood royal. "But, lest we cause them to stumble, give unto them for Me and thee" (Matt. 17: 24). Lowly pilgrims, blameless and harmless, and winning their way by love, must yield to all civil exactions and state ordinances a winsome and Christlike obedience. "BE SUBJECT TO EVERY ORDINANCE OF MAN FOR THE LORD'S SAKE: for so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men" (1 Pet. 2: 13).