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September 12, 2015

            Several Christians seem to misunderstand the place of a Christian in government these days.  When an official or a private citizen appeals to the authority of God’s Word over that of another official or judge, that is not an attempt to impose our own opinions on others or to disregard higher authorities but to recognize that all just law and all just government relies on the ultimate authority of God and His Word.  Perhaps no one has articulated this better than did John Calvin in the last section of his Institutes of the Christian Religion.  It deserves a wide reading today, so is cited in its entirety here:

“But in the obedience which we have shown to be due to the authority of governors, it is always necessary to make one exception, and that is entitled to our first attention,–that it do not seduce us from obedience to him, to whose will the desires of all kings ought to be subject, to whose decrees all their commands ought to yield, to whose majesty all their scepters ought to submit.  And, indeed, how preposterous it would be for us, with a view to satisfy men, to incur the displeasure of him on whose account we yield obedience to men!  The Lord, therefore, is the King of kings; who, when he has opened his sacred mouth, is to be heard alone, above all, for all, and before all; in the next place, we are subject to those men who preside over us; but no otherwise than in him.  If they command any thing against him, it ought not to have the least attention; nor, in this case, ought we to pay any regard to all that dignity attached to magistrates; to which no injury is done when it is subjected to the unrivalled and supreme power of God.  On this principle Daniel denied that he had committed any crime against the king in disobeying his impious decree; (Daniel 6:22) because the king had exceeded the limits of his office, and had not only done an injury to men, but, by raising his arm against God, had degraded his own authority.  On the other hand, the Israelites are condemned for having been too submissive to the impious edict of their king.  For when Jeroboam had made his golden calves, in compliance with his will, they deserted the temple of God and revolted to new superstitions.  Their posterity conformed to the decrees of their idolatrous kings with the same facility.  The prophet severely condemns them for having ‘willingly walked after the commandment:’ (Hosea 5:11) so far as any praise from being due to the pretext of humility, with which courtly flatterers excuse themselves and deceive the unwary, when they deny that it is lawful for them to refuse compliance with any command of their kings; as if God had resigned his right to mortal men when he made them rulers of mankind; or as if earthly power were diminished by being subordinated to its author, before whom even the principalities of heaven tremble with awe.  I know what great and present danger awaits this constancy, for kings cannot bear to be disregarded without the greatest indignation; and ‘the wrath of a king,’ says Solomon, ‘is as messengers of death.’ (Proverbs 16:14)  But since this edict has been proclaimed by that celestial herald, Peter, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men,’ (Acts 5:29)—let us console ourselves with this thought, that we truly perform the obedience which God requires of us, when we suffer any thing rather than deviate from piety.  And that our hearts may not fail us, Paul stimulates us with another consideration—that Christ has redeemed us at the immense price which our redemption cost him, that we may not be submissive to the corrupt desires of men, much less be slaves to their impiety. (I Corinthians 7:23)”

– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter XX, Section XXXII

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