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As the great law of benevolence, or universal good willing, demands the existence of human governments, all men are under a perpetual and unalterable moral obligation to aid in their establishment and support. In popular or elective governments, every man having a right to vote, every human being who has moral influence, is bound to exert that influence in the promotion of virtue and happiness. And as human governments are plainly indispensable to the highest good of man, they are bound to exert their influence to secure a legislation that is in accordance with the law of God. The obligation of human beings to support and obey human governments, while they legislate upon the principles of the moral law, is as unalterable as the moral law itself.
5. I will answer objections.
Objection: 1. The kingdom of God is represented in the Bible as subverting all other kingdoms.
Answer: This is true, but all that can be meant by it is, that the time shall come when God shall be regarded as the supreme and universal sovereign of the universe, when His law shall be regarded as universally obligatory; when all kings, legislators, and judges shall act as His servants, declaring, applying, and administering the great principles of His law to all the affairs of human beings. Thus God will be the supreme sovereign, and earthly rulers will be governors, kings, and judges under Him, and acting by His authority as revealed in the Bible.
Objection: 2. It is alleged that God only providentially establishes human governments, and that He does not approve of their selfish and wicked administration; that He only uses them providentially, as He does Satan, for the promotion of His own designs.
Answer: God nowhere commands mankind to obey Satan, but He does command them to obey civil officers and rulers. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers; for there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1). "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by Him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Peter 2:13, 14).
He nowhere recognizes Satan as His servant, sent and set by Him to administer justice and execute wrath upon the wicked; but He does this in respect to human governments. "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience's sake. For, for this cause pay ye tribute also; for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing" (Romans 13:2-6).
It is true indeed that God approves of nothing that is ungodly and selfish in human governments. Neither did He approve of what was ungodly and selfish in the scribes and Pharisees; and yet Christ said to His disciples, "The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore, whatever things they command you, that observe and do; but do ye not after their works, for they say, and do not" (Matt. 23:2-3). Here the plain common-sense principle is recognized, that we are to obey when the requirement is not inconsistent with the moral law, whatever may be the character or the motive of the ruler. We are always to obey heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men, and render obedience to civil officers for the honor and glory of God, and as doing service to Him.
Answer: To uphold and assist good government is not being diverted from the work of saving souls. The promotion of public and private order and happiness is one of the indispensable means of doing good and saving souls. It is nonsense to admit that Christians are under an obligation to obey human government, and still have nothing to do with the choice of those who shall govern.
Objection: 4. It is affirmed that we are commanded not to avenge ourselves, that "Vengeance is Mine, and I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19). It is said, that if I may not avenge or redress my own wrongs in my own person, I may not do it through the instrumentality of human government.
Answer: It does not follow, that because you may not take it upon yourself to redress your own wrongs by a summary and personal infliction of punishment upon the transgressor, that therefore human governments may not punish them. All private wrongs are a public injury; and irrespective of any particular regard to your personal interest, civil officers are bound to punish crime for the public good. While God has expressly forbidden you to redress your own wrongs, by administering personal and private chastisement, He has expressly recognized the right, and made it the duty of public civil officers to punish crimes.
Answer: This supposes that, if there is only love, there need be no rule of duty; no revelation, directing love in its efforts to secure the end upon which it terminates. But this is as untrue as possible. The objection overlooks the fact, that law is in all worlds the rule of duty, and that legal sanctions make up an indispensable part of that circle of motives that are suited to the nature, relations, and government of moral beings.
Answer: In a popular government, politics are an important part of religion. No man can possibly be benevolent or religious, to the full extent of his obligations, without concerning himself, to a greater or less extent, with the affairs of human government. It is true, that Christians have something else to do than to go with a party to do evil, or to meddle with politics in a selfish or ungodly manner. But they are bound to meddle with politics in popular governments, because they are bound to seek the universal good of all men; and this is one department of human interests, materially affecting all their higher interests.