Of the Civil Magistrate

It’s the Wednesday following the Presidential Election of 2020, and we are a long way off from knowing who the winner of the election will be. I’ve had several conversations with people who wondered what would happen if there was a tie in the Electoral College, so I directed them back to Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. It’s interesting reading, but I hope we don’t have to go through all of that.

As it’s good to get a refresher on the Constitution every now and then, it’s also good to get a refresher on our Confession. Perhaps, in light of the election, it would be good to once again read through what the Westminster Confession teaches us from Scripture about the role of the Civil Government and the Christian’s responsibility. (Next week I’ll return to the study through Jude).

Enjoy!

Chapter XXIIIOf the Civil Magistrate

1. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers. (Rom. 13:1–4, 1 Pet. 2:13–14)

2. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: (Prov. 8:15–16, Rom. 13:1–2, 4) in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; (Ps. 2:10–12, 1 Tim. 2:2, Ps. 82:3–4, 2 Sam. 23:3, 1 Pet. 2:13) so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion. (Luke 3:14, Rom. 13:4, Matt. 8:9–10, Acts 10:1–2, Rev. 17:14, 16)

3. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; (2 Chron. 26:18) or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; (Matt. 18:17, Matt. 16:19, 1 Cor. 12:28–29, Eph. 4:11–12, 1 Cor. 4:1–2, Rom. 10:15, Heb. 5:4) or, in the least, interfere in the matter so faith. (John 18:36, Acts 5:29, Eph. 4:11–12) Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the Church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. (Isa. 49:23, Rom. 13:1–6) And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his Church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. (Ps. 104:15, Acts 18:14–15) It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretence of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance. (Rom. 13:4, 1 Tim. 2:2)

4. It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, (1 Tim. 2:1–2) to honour their persons, (1 Pet. 2:17) to pay them tribute or other dues, (Rom. 13:6–7) to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’sake. (Rom. 13:5, Tit. 3:1) Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates’just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: (1 Pet. 2:13–14, 16) from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, (Rom. 13:1, 1 Kings 2:35, Acts 25:9–11, 2 Pet. 2:1, 10–11, Jude 8–11) much less hath the Pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretence whatsoever. (2 Thess. 2:4, Rev. 13:15–17)

 The Westminster Confession of Faith. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996. Print.

Abhorring Evil

“Abhor Evil…”
Rom 12:9

We are living in evil days.  There is boldface murder of the unborn under the guise of “reproductive freedom,” and the profiteering and politicizing of this atrocity.  Around the world Christians are persecuted for their faith with little to no repercussion.   Politicians pander in deception, misdirection, and lies, and advance their careers upon their falsehood with impunity.  In our culture wickedness and godlessness are not just tolerated but encouraged, and those who are most provocative are set forward as “role models” for our young men and women.

And so when the Spirit teaches us to “abhor evil” in Romans 12:9, we find this something we are ready and willing to do.  It is easy to identify the evil and wickedness of the age.  The filthy and lurid putrescence of the day stands out like soiled garments to those who are even tangentially familiar with godliness.  We are quick to decry the offending evil around us and to pronounce our condemnation upon the evil in the lives of others.

But what about the evil in our own hearts? We certainly may have routed out the more visible sins in our lives – immorality, licentiousness, drunkenness, and the like – but we gladly turn a blind eye to the gossip, the bitterness, the envy, and the judgmentalism in our own hearts. It is easy to hate the evil of others and to dismiss our own.

The Westminster Confession reminds us that repentance, which is a gift of grace, leads a sinner to realize the “filthiness and odiousness of his sins” that he might grieve for and hate his sins, “to turn from them all unto God.”  (Notice that the direction of repentance is inward, not dealing with the sins of others, but with our own.) We don’t come to abhor our sins by the power of our will or a determination to better ourselves.  This conviction of our sinfulness and repulsion for our sin, is the working of God’s Holy Spirit within us. As the Spirit leads us to know and understand the greatness of the glory of God, the depth of our depravity, and the extent to which Christ has gone to purchase our salvation, we will come more and more to hate our own sinfulness and to turn from it.  Charles Spurgeon once said, “I hate sin not because it damns me, but because it has done God wrong. To have grieved my God is the worst grief to me.”

And therein lies the key to hating sin and evil. It is not enough to simply stop doing evil and picking up a few good habits. Doing this will only replace the wickedness of our hearts with some rigid morality and legalism – which may be an even more pernicious evil.

This was the fault of the pharisees. They practiced outwardly the habits of ceremonial cleanliness, while their hearts were far from God.  Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt 23:27–28).

What we need is  what Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” The only way to truly abhor the evil of our hearts and of the world is to find a new love.  As we turn our eyes to Christ, and find in Him the deeply satisfying glory of purity and holiness, we will see more and more the emptiness and futility of evil.  As we come to know the sweet and refreshing fragrance of the joy of Christ, the foul offense of evil will become detestable to our senses.  As we behold more and more the beauty of our ascended Lord, the hideousness of evil will cause us to fly from this world into His everlasting arms.

So let us learn in the Spirit to abhor sin, the sin of the world, and the sin in our hearts. But let our hatred of sin come only as we gaze upon the goodness and loveliness of Christ our Savior!

SDG