Monday, August 12, 2013

Thomas Vincent on the wider implications of the fifth commandment: citizens and magistrates

Note:  Here are my notes from my 8/4/13 afternoon sermon continuing our series on the wider implications of the fifth commandment, based upon and expanding from Thomas Vincent’s exposition of the Shorter Catechism.  This segment focuses on the implications of the fifth commandment for understanding the relationship between citizens (subjects) and magistrates.

Five Duties of subjects to their magistrates:

First:  High estimation and honor of them.

1 Peter 2:17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

This is to be true whether one is in agreement politically with the magistrate or not.

We should note that the early Christians urged honoring the king even when the kings of the earth were all polytheistic pagans.

Second:  Subjection to them, and obedience to their laws, so far as they are not contrary to the laws of Christ.

The key passage in the Bible would be Romans 13, which begins:  “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers….”

But we also see, concurrently, a constant stream in the Bible of conscientious civil disobedience:

The Hebrew midwives would not murder the male children (cf.  Exodus 2:17:  “But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.”).

In the days of Elijah God preserved 7,000 who had not bent the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18).

Daniel did not cease to pray three times daily to his God, though his life was threatened in Babylon.

When Peter and the apostles were told to stop preaching Jesus they replied, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Third:   Ready payment of their dues.

Romans 13:7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Fourth:  Defense of them in danger:

The passage Vincent cites here is 1 Samuel 26:15 where David taunts Abner for not protecting King Saul.

Romans 13:4 says the civil magistrate does not bear the sword in vain.

With respect to our Anabaptist Brethren, the Bible does not teach pacifism. When John the Baptist was preaching and soldiers came to him, John did not tell them to lay down their arms and leave military service.  But he said:  “Do violence to no man [in other words, do not abuse your power], neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14).

Military men like Cornelius the Centurion were among the early converts to Christ, but nowhere are we told that men like him were required to leave their vocations.

A Christian is expected to be willing to defend his nation.

Fifth:   Prayer and thanksgiving for them.

1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

Again, Paul could say this is the Christian duty toward pagan rulers.  We must do so today.  If we intensely dislike our civil rulers, the least we can do is to pray for them.  When we visited China in 2008 and talked with some Christians there, one of the things that impressed me most was that they were committed to praying for their government and its leaders.

Four duties of magistrates to subjects:

First:   Government of their subjects under Christ, with wisdom, justice, and clemency, endeavoring above all things to promote the interests of religion among them.

Vincent speaks here as a Puritan, and he describes how a Christian ruler should see his vocation.

He cites here the prayer of Solomon in 2 Chronicles 1:10:   “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people.”

Second:  Making good laws for the benefit of their subjects, and appointing faithful officers, with charge of due execution of them.

It is said of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles:

2 Chronicles 19:5 And he set judges in the land throughout all the fenced cities of Judah, city by city, 6 And said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment. 7 Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.

Why is it that our nation has been able to be free from the degree of corruption suffered by many other nations?  The leavening influence of Christianity.

Third:  Care of the common safety of their subjects.

Vincent again cites a passage from 2 Chronicles 17:1-2 from the rule of Jehosphaphat when he established fortresses to defend his nation.  We can again turn to Romans 13 and the magistrate holding the sword to punish evil doers and to defend society.

Fourth:  Encouragement of them that do well, by their example, countenance, and reward, together with the discouragement and punishment of evil-doers.

1 Peter 2:14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

Again, these are expectations of Christian rulers.  No, we have not always had Christian rulers in this nation.  But we have had men influenced by Christian principles and this made all the difference.  Sadly, it seems our nation is turning a corner.

We can say with the Psalmist:  “If the foundations be destroyed what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3).

Isaiah 5:20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

But we have a greater Sovereign on the throne.  He is working all things together for good and we can trust in him.


Anonymous said...

I have been struggling with this issue for quite a while. One question I have is that Romans 13 seems to be describing an idealized government that is punishing evil and promoting good. What if the gov't is doing the opposite? What if the gov't is rewarding what is evil and punishing what is good in God's sight? Perhaps the USA is moving in that direction. At what point is a revolution justified? Is it ever justified? For that matter, was the American Revolution Biblically justified? These are all big issues, and timely.
Thanks for Stylos, Pastor Riddle; I really enjoy it.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for the comment. I am struck by the fact that Paul could write Romans 13 while a polytheistic pagan was on the throne.

When our kids were studying the American Revolution we had some interesting discussions over the dinner table about what we would have done if we had lived in those times. Would we have been Tories? Would we have joined the revolution? What if we had lived during the English Civil War? Would we have supported the execution of King Charles? Great questions indeed.