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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

...litics 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. This is a subject that I’ve not studied in any considerable length. But I agree with Dr. Samuel Waldron 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. We will take a look at Romans 13 to see what it teaches about the Civil Government? 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

God as the supreme Lord and King of all the world has ordained civil magistrates or the government to be under Him (Rom. 13:1-6). The government is subject to God and derives its authority to rule from God. The civil magistrates are over the people. They have authority over the people because they received that authority from God. This way of governing, God has chosen for his own glory and the public good. God’s glory is the proper end of everything that He does so likewise in ordaining civil magistrates. What is the purpose of the civil magistrates? The civil magistrates are ordained and called for defence and encouragement of them that do good (1 Peter 2:14). A good government should defend those who are doing good and protect them. Furthermore, a good government should encourage the doing of good for the betterment of society and the glory of God. But civil magistrates are also armed...with the power of the sword...for the punishment of evil doers (Rom. 13:4; 1 Peter 2:14). A good government should defend itself and defend those who do good, in necessary, by using the God-given power of the sword. Likewise, in punishing the evildoers, the power of the sword may be used when it is necessary. God has given it to the government to be used justly.

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 Lord over all, we don’t need to mention here. In chapter 21:2, we also read that “God alone is Lord of the conscience”. The government cannot see into our hearts and consciences. But God can. He determines even what is good and evil in that private realm. But He also rules us in the public realm through the civil magistrates. As the Supreme Lord, God is the ruler over the government also. Not only that, but as the supreme Lord of the government, the government is called to submit itself to Him. The government should acknowledge that its power is deriv...

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

...hat 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 (1 Pet. 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.[59]

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 the greater penalties of the one who despises Christ and His covenant.

1 Corinthians 9:7-10 And General Equity

1 Cor. 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 behind the law ...

1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 26: Of the Church - Commentary

... The Lord Jesus, as king and head of his Church, hath therein appointed a government in the hand of Church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.

2. To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof they have power respectively to retain and remit sins, to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the gospel, and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.

Christ has given government in the church distinct from the Civil Government. The keys of the kingdom and power are given to these “Church officers.” This is the first difference between what is called Congregationalism and the Presbyterian form of church polity. When we read this paragraph of our Confession, we see that all “power and authority” are given to the local church, not to “Church officers.” The second difference comes in chapter 31 called “Of Synods and Councils”:

1. For the better government and further edification of the Church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils.

3. It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially, to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God, appointed thereunto in his Word.

4. All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.

In a sense, the authority given to the local church in this paragraph of our confession is transferred to the synod or council of the Presbyterian system. This is not a small difference. The Presbyterian system requires that there be an external authority above the local church which directs its government and order of worship. Our Confession speaks about keeping relations with other bodies and other churches (paragraph 15), but they merely have an advising role, never “authoritatively to determine” things. John Frame, himself a Presbyterian, gives a short description of that form of church government:

In the presbyterian system, common in churches called Reformed as well as Presbyterian, there is a plurality of elders in every church. (Presbyterian comes from the Greek word for elder.) These are elected by the people. The elders meet as the ruling body of each particular church, and the elders of a region meet together as a broader court, dealing with the ministry of the whole area. Usually once a year, all the elders of the denomination, or a representative group of them, meet as a General Assembly, or Synod, to resolve questions of importance to the whole church, as did the apostles and other leaders in Acts 15.[39]

More may be said about Presbyterian polity, but I am not qualified to speak and criticize it. Pick a decent work on ecclesiology or a systematic theology and you will encounter the arguments for and against each church polity.

Congregational Polity

Our Baptist forefathers shared a common polity...