Chapter 24, Of the Civil Magistrate

Please note: The following are only rough notes for this chapter, and are not a complete commentary. But I am posting them in the event they prove useful until the commentary for this chapter is complete.

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  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 defence and encouragement of them that do[1] good, and for the punishment of evil doers. ( Romans 13:1-4 )

We see in this paragraph about civil magistrates (i.e. government) a hierarchy, or if you will, a chain of command. God is the supreme Lord and King.  Under the supreme commander is the government that God has ordained, and under the government are the people.

Given the abuse that often takes place by governments—governments who do not regard the Supreme Lord and King—it is certain proper to point out that this order is for the glory of God and the good of the people. If governments ruled for God’s glory and the good of the people, what a different world this would be.  Instead, too often—not always—civil magistrates rule for their own glory and for their own good.

What do the Scriptures tell us?

  • Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:1-4 (ESV)

So in terms of authority, we are under the civil authorities and the civil authorities are under God.

We tend to think in the U.S. that we have appointed civil authorities. We have in a sense, appointed our leaders, but we recognize that ultimately God appoints our leaders not us.  Since it is God who ultimately appoints our leaders, even in a representative republic, we submit to whomever God has appointed.  God even appoints those whom we believe to be poor leaders, and might even be immoral leaders, perhaps even atheists.

If we do not keep this perspective, we may end up rejecting the authority of a president we did not vote for, and thus reject God’s authority. We as American Christians submit to the President of the United States even if we reject many of his policies.  This of course does not exclude us from using the form of government we in America have to seek to elect someone else, or even to have such a president removed from office.  We are blessed that we have a form of government that allows us to peacefully make changes.  The alternative of civil war is rarely a good one.

Having said that, there is a place for insubordination against civil authorities. When the civil authorities disobey God by enforcing unjust laws that are not for God’s glory and are not for the good of the people, we have to evaluate our level of subjection. The Confession is not ruling out civil insubordination and allows for it in the following paragraph 2.

Civil authority is accountable to God for their actions–as Waldron reminds us:

  • “The civil authority is bound to obey God in how it rules, just as we are bound to obey it. God has given them all the authority they possess. ‘To whom much is given of them much will be required’ (Luke 12:48).[2] Samuel Waldron

 

The Confession states: 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.

Again Waldron helpfully states:

  • “Swords are not used to train children or to discipline unrepentant professing Christians. They are suitable to suppress violent criminals and public injustice. The Bible teaches that God has armed this office with the sword.”[3]

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  1. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate when called there unto; in the management[4] whereof, as they ought especially to maintain justice and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each kingdom and[5] commonwealth, so for that end they may lawfully now, under the New Testament wage war upon just and necessary occasions[6]. (2 Samuel 23:3; Psalms 82:3, 4; Luke 3:14 )

 

The Confession states: it is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate when called there unto; in the management whereof, as they ought especially to maintain justice and peace,

 

It is not only lawful for a Christian to hold a public office, but there are good reasons they should. A Christian–a true one–will rule with justice and peace.

  • The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God,   2 Sam 23:3 (ESV)
  • Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalms 82:3-4 (ESV)

 

The Confession states: according to the wholesome laws of each kingdom and commonwealth, so for that end they may lawfully now, under the New Testament wage war upon just and necessary occasions.

 

The Confession addresses that a Christian–in official capacity–may lawfully wage war upon “just and necessary occasions.” The belief in passivity or the turning the other cheek may lead some Christians to think that as a Christian officer of the state they cannot take vengeance upon criminals, but this would be untrue. Not just any Christian can take vengeance justly upon another, but only those who are appointed by God as civil magistrates.

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  1. Civil magistrates being set up by God for the ends aforesaid; subjection, in all lawful things commanded by them, ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake; and we ought to make supplications and prayers for kings and all that are in authority, that under them we may live a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.[8]   ( Romans 13:5-7; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 )

 

The Confession states: Civil magistrates being set up by God for the ends aforesaid; subjection, in all lawful things commanded by them, ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake;

 

We don’t just submit ourselves to civil authorities out of fear of punishment (whether fines or imprisonment), but for the reason that we should do what is right.

  • Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:5-7 (ESV)
  • Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.   1 Peter 2:17 (ESV)

 

The Confession states: and we ought to make supplications and prayers for kings and all that are in authority, that under them we may live a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.[9]

  • First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 1 Tim 2:1-2 (ESV)

The 1689 Confession for this paragraph is different from the Savoy Declaration and the Westminster Confession.  As well, those Confessions both have another section (section 4).  The Baptists vary from the Congregationalists and Presbyterians on these points.  We won’t explain the differences here since that not the point of this writing.

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  • [1] The 1689 Confession adds this to the WCF. The source is the Savoy.
  • [2] Samuel Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition (Evangelical Press, Darlington, England) pg. 285.
  • [3] Samuel Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition (Evangelical Press, Darlington, England) pg. 286.
  • [4] The 1689 Confession adds this to the WCF in lieu of “managing’. The source is the Savoy.
  • [5] The 1689 Confession adds this to the WCF. The source is presumably Collins.
  • [6] The 1689 Confession pluralized this word. The source is presumably Collins.
  • [8] The 1689 adds this entire section to the WCF and the Savoy. The source is the 1646 First London Baptist Confession. There are some differences between the 1689 here and the 1646; for those changes we presume Collins is the source.
  • [9] The 1689 adds this entire section to the WCF and the Savoy. The source is the 1646 First London Baptist Confession. There are some differences between the 1689 here and the 1646; for those changes we presume Collins is the source.
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