Editor’s Note: It is often argued that since God ordained governments, it is right for Christians to support and maintain those governments. In the following article, Barton W. Stone addresses this commonly held belief. This excerpt is taken from “Interview Ninth” from “Interview Between an Old Preacher and a Young Preacher”, originally published by James M. Mathes in the “Works of Elder B. W. Stone” (1859). You can read the interviews in their entirety here. For additional study, take the time to view the hyperlinks you will find throughout this article.
Old Preacher–Well, my son, what success have you had in enlisting soldiers for the holy war since we last met?
Young Preacher–None, none. The way is completely obstructed by counter currents of worldly policy, called politics. This appears to be the all-absorbing theme, and spring of action among the people of every age, sex, religion and profession in the land. It is a thick veil thrown over eternity and eternal things–it is an opiate which has induced a senseless torpor to religion–it is ruination to Christian character–it has banished shame from the heart of the professor, who seems to enjoy the revels of the day… The small still voice of religion can not be heard in such a turmoil, nor can she have entrance or abode into hearts so heated with politics….To preach during such excitement appears in vain; and yet to refrain I can not. I find a few, and but a few mourners in Zion, who weep for her desolations. This upholds my sinking spirit, with the heart-cheering truth, the Lord reigneth. Here the young preacher’s sorrows burst into a flood of tears, and prevented further utterance.
O. P.–My son, wipe your tears and trust in the Lord. It is true a dark cloud hangs over the world, which may burst in vengeance or mercy. An exterminating war has long been waging between religion and the world, and “the fight will be maintained until the weaker dies.” A compromise can never be effected between them; for whosoever loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; and whosoever will be a friend of the world is an enemy to God. The friendship of the world is enmity to God. To seek the friendship of the world and the friendship of God at the same time, can not be done consistently with truth–it is a vain work; and yet this work, vain as it is, seems to mark the professors of Christianity at the present day; almost an armistice seems to be concluded between the world and professed Christianity. The God of this world has blinded the eyes of professed Christians, and is fast leading them deceived into their ranks into captivity–into bondage and death. Christians are virtually forsaking the government and laws of heaven to prop up and sustain the governments and laws of men, whether those men and laws be ecclesiastical or political; in fact, they are based upon the same foundation.
Israel were always scattered when they forsook the laws and ordinances of heaven and followed their own devices. Their enemies prevailed against them, and led them into captivity; nor were they ever gathered together from their dispersions, till they returned to the laws and ordinances of God which they had forsaken. These things were written for our example, on whom the ends of the world are come. We must return to the government, laws and ordinances of our rightful king, the Lord Jesus, before we shall ever be gathered together and become worthy subjects of his kingdom. We must unite our energies, advance the government and kingdom of our Lord, and meddle not with the government of this world, whether human, ecclesiastical, political or civil; all others aside from that of heaven will be put down by a firm decree of our Lord before the end come.
Y. P.–You astonish me. Are not the civil powers and governments that be, ordained of God? And is it not the duty of Christians to be subject to them, and to sustain them? Do instruct me on this subject.
O. P.—If it be the duty of Christians under one worldly government to uphold and support that government, then it is the duty of Christians living in every worldly government to uphold and support that government; those living in North America must uphold and support the democracy of all the United States; those in Britain must support the monarchy of England; those in Russia must support the despotism there; those in Rome must support the government of the pope, the man of sin, the Antichrist of our rightful Lord; those in South America must support every petty tyrant that wades through blood to sit in the supreme chair of State. These governments must be supported and sustained by all their power, influence, blood and treasure. Can we for one moment think that the Lord enjoined on his people under the Caesars of old to uphold and defend their bloody governments, which enjoined the extirpation of the Christians, or to force them to abandon their religions and sacrifice to idols? Can we think it possible that the government of the pope, the man of sin, the true Antichrist, must be supported by Christians at the expense of all their influence, blood and treasure, and that by oath, and I may add, at the expense of their own souls? I grant that Christians are bound to submit to the powers as far as to pay their dues, as custom, tax, etc. But they are not enjoined to seek for nor fill those powers, and thus sustain the government. How awful the thought that the Lord would enjoin on his followers to sustain and support the antipodal, the antagonistic government of Rome, which aims at the subversion of his own!
Y. P.–You confound me; but are not the powers or governments that exist ordained of God? Is it not then right for Christians to support or maintain them?
O. P.–If all the governments which exist are ordained of God in the common acceptation of the term, then it undeniably follows that all the jarring governments on earth are Divine and good–constitute parts of his own government. Will this be admitted by any intelligent man? No, not one. The translation of the verse (Rom. 13.1) has caused this confusion. The words are ordained, in our version, are in the present tense, but in the original, are in the perfect, and should be translated have been ordained. Trace the history of God’s government from the beginning, and we shall find that he, as monarch of the world, always gave his own laws to his people for their government, but always ordained or appointed men to rule under him according to those laws. But we never find that he ever gave authority to uninspired men to make laws in any age or nation for the government of his people. The authorities or executors of any laws but his own, it is evident he did not ordain.
The people soon, through their depravity, became dissatisfied with God’s government and laws, and began to depart from the laws of Heaven, and to legislate for themselves; yet they retained the authorities and offices which God had ordained. Then were the people scattered, and formed nations, and made laws, and instituted governments for themselves, retaining the offices Divinely ordained to execute the laws, not those laws given by God, but those made by themselves. Thus the whole world is divided into kingdoms, states, governments and parties, whose opposite laws and governments, create collision of interests, strife, war and carnage. The kind purpose of God was to reunite the jarring world, and to make them one, and to reconcile the world unto himself by his Son. This will never be effected till they all return to the government and laws of God, and forsake their own. These laws are given us by Jesus Christ, and when received and fully acted upon will unite the world in harmony, love and peace; wars will cease to the ends of the earth, and discord and strife be known no more forever. It will truly be the kingdom of peace–of heaven on earth.
Y. P.–Could we live on earth in safety without civil government? Would not the strongest sect of professed Christians persecute and oppress the weaker, unless checked and restrained by the civil authorities? Would not the wicked part of the world continually bring upon us tribulation and distress?
O. P.–We may imagine a thousand difficulties; but have we not a king in Zion, who is jealous for the glory of his Church upon earth? Is he not almighty? Can he not check and restrain opposing powers? Will he not hear prayer, and interpose in time of need? To these queries our enlightened judgment answers in the affirmative; but where is our faith? Can we trust in this king? Persecution would add a score to the ranks of Immanuel for one cut off. The Church would continually gain from the world by the truth, and sufferings for it, until he whose right it is to reign triumphantly over all. While civil governments exist, we may, as did Paul, appeal to Caesar from the judgment of our enemies; he is to keep his subjects from injuring us, because we honestly and punctually pay our dues to his government. The amalgamation of Church and State is an unholy alliance, and every advance to it is a departure from truth. The world is beginning to be awake to this subject. Yet some of the parties seem to cast a wishful eye to the highest.
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