The Staunch Calvinist

"Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God." - Jonathan Edwards

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1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 24: Of the Civil Magistrate - Commentary

...Chapter 24: Of the Civil Magistrate

Politics is not my thing, but I do not doubt that is an important aspect of our lives on earth. I'm not versed in political theories and things. I usually keep a distance, But I agree with Dr. Samuel Waldron concerning the fact that the sovereignty of God extends itself over all things, including politics and His people should influence those in high positions. Also, “To restrict Christianity to the ‘spiritual’ realm is, ultimately, to destroy it.”[1]

In this chapter, we will concern ourselves with the CIVIL GOVERNMENT as ordained by God, its purpose, and power. What does Romans 13 teach? Must we obey the government in all things? May Christians work in the government?


§1 God Hath Ordained Civil Magistrates To Be Under Him, Over The People

  1. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, 1 for his own glory and the public good; 2 and to this end hath armed them with the power of the sword, for defence and encouragement of them that do good, and for the punishment of evil doers. 3
    1. Ps. 82:1; Luke 12:48; Rom. 13:1-6; 1 Peter 2:13-14[2]
    2. Gen. 6:11-13 with 9:5-6; Ps. 58:1-2; 72:14; 82:1-4; Prov. 21:15; 24:11-12; 29:14,26; 31:5; Ezek. 7:23; 45:9; Dan. 4:27; Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:3-4; 1 Tim. 2:2; 1 Peter 2:14
    3. Gen. 9:6; Prov. 16:14; 19:12; 20:2; 21:15; 28:17; Acts 25:11; Rom. 13:4; 1 Peter 2:14

Subject To God

There are two things which are first of all asserted: 1) God is the supreme Lord, and 2) CIVIL GOVERNMENTs are to be subject to Him. That God is the supreme over all we need not need to mention here. But we may say a few things about the CIVIL GOVERNMENT being under the authority and headship of God. The CIVIL GOVERNMENT should subject itself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Any government which does not acknowledge Jesus Christ is in rebellion against God. This is the description of all, if not most of, governments in our world. The CIVIL GOVERNMENT should acknowledge that they're a tool in the hand of God for the good of its citizens. God has put them in the positions that they are in. It is God who ordained them according to their roles as a president, governor and so on.

The government should rule under the authority of God over the people. The government and those who work there have a higher responsibility and position in the world. They are to reign over the people for the people's good. They are to protect them and provide for them and promote peace and righteousness. It does not take us anytime to notice that this is not actually the world in which we live. This is a broken and rebellious world. Most governments in the western world promote homosexuality and abortion, among other things which the Bible condemns. The ideal picture is that of a government which submits to the Lordship of Christ and serves its people in righteousness and peace. And citizens which submit to the Lordship of Christ and for Christ's sake submit to their governments too. But this sadly not the case.

Romans 13

The primary passage which the Confession draws on here and which is used in discussions concerning the place of the government is Romans 13:1-7. Therefore, it would be helpful for us if we take a look at the passage. I come to the passage and by no means do I intended to give a long exegesis about it. I'm merely sharing my short thoughts about the passage and its implications. As I said, polit...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 19: Of the Law of God - Commentary

...e that He is displeased with those governments who carry the death penalty for murder in a just way. The New Testament nowhere calls us to seek to establish God’s civil law in the land we are living in. We are told to submit to authority and obey the laws of the land (1Pet. 2:13, 17; Rom. 13:1-7; Titus 3:1), which in many cases, would not have been the same as God’s. There is one exception about this call to submission: When the laws of the land force us to do things contrary to the law of God, we must disobey the laws of the land (e.g. Acts 5:29). Otherwise we are called to obey the laws already in place and not seek to implement the civil law given to Israel. God has given the CIVIL GOVERNMENT the authority of the sword (Rom. 13:4) and as Thomas Watson observes:

A magistrate ought not to let the sword of justice rust in the scabbard. As he should not let the sword be too sharp by severity, so neither should the edge of it is blunted by too much leniency [mercy].[39]

The New Testament does not say that the death penalty is done away with nor does it say that we should implement the civil laws of God wherever we are. Rather, we are called to obey the rules of the land we’re living in as far as they are in accords to God’s law. Dr. Philip Ross observes:

…it is an unavoidable conclusion that rather than campaigning for Moses-inspired judicial reform, the epistles called upon Christians to submit themselves to nation laws that were not patterned on the judicial laws of Israel.[58]

Something Greater Than The Death Penalty

Rather than soften the penalty for sin, in the New Testament the clearer revelation is given of punishment after death. For example, in Hebrews 10:28-29 an argument is made by the author from the lesser to the greater. He says, under the old covenant, which has passed away, the person who has set aside the law of Moses or disregards Moses’ law is put to death. The sentence of death is brought upon the transgressor. He is put to death physically. But now the author, after giving the example of the lesser moves to the greater:

29 How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace?

What is worse than physical death? The second death—eternal ruin and misery. The earthly and physical penalties are no longer binding, but that does not mean that God changed His morality. It only means that God will wait a little longer for the execution of His perfect justice. In these examples, which we see in Hebrews (e.g. Heb. 2:1-4; 10:28-29), we are warned on the basis of earthly penalties of the former covenant, of greater penalties of the one who despises Christ and His covenant.

1 Corinthians 9:7-10 And General Equity

1Cor. 9:7-10 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? 8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.

Paul here cites a civil law (Deut. 25:4) concerning animals and gets the principle beh...