The Mediatorial Dominion Over The Nations
It was before remarked that under the universal dominion of Messiah are comprehended two grand associations, the peculiar importance of which seemed to render necessary a more full and separate discussion of each. These are, the church and civil society. To the former some attention has been given in the preceding chapter. We now take up the latter.
The matter, here, is the headship of Jesus, as Mediator, over the nations of the world, or the political associations of men. Besides its own intrinsic importance, this branch of our subject demands attention, from the neglect with which it has long been treated, from the opposition it has had to encounter, and from its intimate connection with questions which are fiercely agitated from time to time.
I. Let us first of all look at the EVIDENCE in support of Christ’s right of dominion, as Mediator, over the nations of the earth.
His mediatorial authority over the church is readily conceded. Nor is there any hesitation to admit that Christ, as God, exercises a sovereign control over the civil affairs of men. But that he does so in his mediatorial capacity seems not to approve itself so directly to the minds of many. Yet a candid consideration of the proof which we have it in our power to bring forward, cannot fail, we think, to remove every shadow of doubt on this subject.
Indeed, the point in question might be argued on other than direct Scripture testimony. It might be argued on the ground that Christ’s investiture with mediatorial dominion does not suppose the abrogation of his necessary right of dominion as God. As before remarked, in assuming the office of Mediator, he did not divest himself of any thing belonging to him as divine. His moral authority over all creatures being essential to his very existence and character, never was, and never indeed could be, laid aside. His moral fitness to exercise such dominion, might also be insisted on. The terms of absolute universality, as formerly shown, in which the mediatorial dominion is spoken of in the Word of God, further imply what we have now in view. For if all things are delivered to him of his Father, if all power is given to him in heaven and in earth, if all things are put under his feet, it is not easy to see on what principle any thing so vast and important as the civil associations of mankind could be excepted. Nay, the necessity of such an extent of mediatorial power as includes the nations of the world, to his performing with efficiency the functions which belong to him as Head of the church, is enough to set this question for ever at rest. Without such extent of power, he could never open up a way for the diffusion of his gospel among the nations of the earth; could never, either subordinate their administration, or overrule their rebellion, so as to bring about the period when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ. But, without insisting on these points, in regard to which the evidence is of an inferential nature, let us give our attention to the direct proof by which the dominion of Christ as Mediator over the nations is supported. By nations, of course, we mean civil associations; men existing in civil or political institutions; including the office-bearers by whom the laws are administered, as well as the people at large for whose good they are appointed to govern.
First. In looking into the Word of God, we find subjection to Jesus Christ as Mediator directly enjoined upon civil rulers. “Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little” (Ps. 2:10-12). The person to whom subjection is here enjoined, is doubtless the Messiah. “The Son” is a title by which the Redeemer is often designated, both in the Old and New Testaments. If Solomon, the son of David, is referred to at all, it can only be in a very subordinate sense. We are at no loss to show that a greater than Solomon is here, even He who was at once David’s Son and David’s Lord, the Son of David according to the flesh, but the Son of God by a high, necessary, and ineffable relationship. Again and again, throughout the New Testament, do we find passages from this psalm referred to Christ (Acts 4:25; 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5; Rev. 2:27). One may here suffice for the establishment of this point. “And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God which hast made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; who, by the mouth of thy servant David, hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:24-27).
The psalm, then, refers to Christ; but does it refer to him in his mediatorial capacity? There can be as little doubt, we think, on this point, if only the scope of the psalm itself, and the purposes for which it is elsewhere quoted, are considered. The opposition of which it speaks, is opposition made to him as Mediator; as the Lord’s Anointed; as He whom the Father hath set King upon his holy hill of Zion; in the same capacity, in short, in which he is to have the heathen given him for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession.
And on whom is it that this psalm enjoins subjection to the Mediator-King? On “kings,” and “judges;” that is to say, civil rulers, supreme and subordinate. But is it civil rulers in their personal, or in their official, capacity? There are some who evade the force of this passage by alleging that it is only in their private character that they are here addressed. But this is contrary alike to the whole scope and design of the psalm, and, to the concurrent testimony of the most judicious commentators. Indeed we have only to consider in what capacity it was that the opposition spoken of was offered to the Son by civil rulers. It was in their public character, undoubtedly, that Herod and Pontius Pilate conspired against the holy child Jesus; and we are only acting on the plain principles of fair interpretation, when we conclude that it is in their public and official character also that civil rulers are here commanded to do homage to the Redeemer—that kings and judges are required as such to serve the Lord with fear, and to kiss the Son lest he be angry.
Nor can there be a doubt that the duties, to which the terms in which these injunctions are expressed refer, involve the idea of complete moral subjection—the subjection that inferiors owe to a superior, that subjects owe to a king. Such is the common meaning of the verb to “serve,” as well as the sense in which it is often used in Scripture. And one passage will be sufficient to show that to “kiss” is expressive of loyal subjection to a reigning prince: “Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his [Saul’s] head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance?” (1 Sam. 10:1).
Here, then, we have a most decided, unequivocal proof of the right of dominion over the nations of the earth which is possessed by the Mediator; for, had not such been his right, it is inconceivable that the Spirit of God should have enjoined subjection to him upon all civil rulers without exception, whether supreme or subordinate, whether belonging to Old or to New Testament times. We have here a command of universal and permanent obligation; and, while it retains its place in the Word of God, it will be impossible to deny the dominion which Jesus as Mediator possesses over the nations of the earth and their rulers.
Secondly. Predictions respecting the kingdom of the Mediator, conduct us to the same conclusion. Predictions in general unfold the purposes and appointments of God. Whatever, therefore, we find predicted regarding Christ, must be included in the grant of the Father to the Son. Now, dominion over the nations is a matter of frequent announcement in prophecy.
The forty-seventh psalm is understood to refer to the Messiah. His exaltation to glory, the gathering of the Gentiles, and the ultimate establishment of his kingdom of righteousness and peace, form the subject of this beautiful ode. The ascension of the Redeemer is plainly referred to in the expression, “God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.” Nor can it be doubted, from this circumstance itself, that it is in his official, and not his personal, character that he is spoken of throughout the psalm. Now, mark the expressions which are employed with regard to his dominion. He is described as “a great king over all the earth;” as He who “shall subdue the people under us, and the nations under our feet;” as He who “reigneth over the heathen;” as He to whom “the princes of the people are gathered together, even the people of the God of Abraham;” as He “to whom belong, the shields of the earth” (Ps. 47:2, 3, 8, 9). These are not equivocal expressions. The nations and their princes are distinctly specified as brought under his control, and as doing him homage, which certainly imply a right of dominion over them; while magistrates who are set for the defense of the people, are undoubtedly meant by the shields of the earth, which are said to be his property.
The seventy-second psalm is, by universal consent, referred to Christ. In only a very inferior or subordinate sense can it be understood of Solomon. To whom but David’s greater Son can its lofty descriptions be applicable? Of whom but the Messiah can it be affirmed that his name shall endure for ever; that men shall be blessed in him; and that all nations shall call him blessed? We may rest assured that the psalm celebrates the majesty, benignity, and dominion of Jesus as Mediator, with the glory, peacefulness, extent, and duration of his kingdom. Now, observe how many things are contained in it bearing on our present subject. “The kings of Tarshish and of the Isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him. All nations shall call him blessed” (Ps. 72: 10-11, 17). No language can more directly assert the doctrine for which we are contending. The Mediator, as such, is spoken of. Kings and nations are expressly introduced in their civil capacity as recognizing his dominion. And the acts of homage in which they are represented as engaging, are such as necessarily involve the idea of distinct moral subjection—namely, bringing presents, offering gifts, falling down before him, serving him, and calling him blessed. He who is the legitimate object of such acts must possess a rightful dominion over the nations and kings of the earth.
“Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. And kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and their queens thy nursing-mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and shall lick up the dust of thy feet” (Isa. 49:22-23). This is a very decisive passage. The prophecy refers to New Testament times, when the Gentiles are to be gathered unto the Redeemer. A prominent feature of these times shall be the subserviency of civil rulers to the church, which surely supposes their subjection to Christ her Head. Kings shall be thy nursing-fathers is a similitude which imports the most tender care, the most endearing solicitude; not mere protection, but active and unwearied nourishment and support. If, according to the opinions of some, the best thing the state can do for the church, is to let her alone, to leave her to herself, to take no interest in her concerns, it is difficult to see how this view can be reconciled with the figure of a nurse, the duties of whose office would certainly be ill discharged by such a treatment of her feeble charge.
But to neutralize the force of this beautiful passage, it has been alleged that rulers are here spoken of, not in their public or official, but in their private or personal, capacity. It is supposed to mean nothing more, than that persons of exalted station shall become the devoted servants of Messiah, and take a deep and pious interest in the concerns of his kingdom. And this view is understood to be confirmed by the pronoun “their” occurring before the word “queens,” denoting, as is alleged, that they are spoken of, not as queens regnant, but as queens consort. It is, however, far from being selfevident that queens are spoken of here in the latter capacity; for every candid person will admit, that the very same phraseology might as naturally be employed in speaking of queens-regnant in relation to their husbands, as of kings-regnant in relation to their wives. It is, therefore, not by any means clear that queens are here to be understood as consorts only. Nor, even admitting this, will the inference follow from it legitimately, that the kings are to be understood merely in their private domestic capacity as consorts of the queens. When in countries where there is a married king the subjects pray for the blessing of God on their king and his queen, as they are in the habit of doing, the queen is of course queen-consort; but it surely cannot be supposed that because his partner can only be viewed as associated with him in her private capacity, they do not refer to the monarch himself in his official capacity. Even admitting, then, for the sake of argument, the interpretation proposed with regard to queens—that they are only referred to as consorts— the inference drawn with regard to kings does not follow. It does not follow that kings are referred to only in their private capacity. The kings may still, after all, be kings-regnant: and the utmost that the passage can be made to bear is, that both kings and queens, whether regnant or consort, are bound to exert all the influence they possess, in their own proper spheres, to aid and foster the interests of Christ’s kingdom in the world. Because queens-consort can do this, only in their own proper sphere, it surely does not follow that kings-regnant, in their proper sphere, are not also bound to do the same. On the contrary, the prediction before us leads us to conclude, that, in the times of the gospel, persons of the most exalted public stations shall exert their influence on behalf of the church of Christ; and this certainly supposes the subjection of such to Christ himself.
The same view is strongly corroborated by another passage in this prophecy. “Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted. Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breasts of kings” (Isa. 60:11-12, 16). Here there cannot be the shadow of a doubt about the sense in which kings are spoken of. The pronoun “their,” in this instance at least, is decidedly in favor of the view that they are to be regarded in their public capacity; they are spoken of as the people’s kings, or kings in the possession and exercise of official power and influence. In this capacity, they are represented as ministers to the church of Christ in various ways. Nor is the passage less decisive, that it comprehends a threat of awful judgment denounced on such nations and rulers as shall refuse to yield the service required. Surely, unless civil society had been placed under the dominion of the Mediator, there could have been no room for supposing, either that such duties are obligatory, or that such consequences shall follow the neglect of them.
“And it shall be the prince’s part to give burnt-offerings, and meat-offerings, and drink-offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the sabbaths, in all solemnities of the house of Israel” (Ezek. 45:17). The remarkable prophetic vision, with which these words are connected, is, we believe, held by all judicious commentators to refer to the church in New Testament times. Without pretending minutely to explain the import of all the figurative allusions, the words we have quoted would seem plainly enough to carry in them the idea, that the civil ruler is to give public support to the institutions of the church of Christ, which, as in the case of the passages above quoted, necessarily implies that magistrates, as such, are under the authority of the Mediator.
“And I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him” (Dan. 7:13-14). The reference of this passage to Christ will not be doubted. The eternal Son of God, viewed with regard to his human nature and mediatorial character, is he who is called “the Son of Man.” The power spoken of is clearly mediatorial, as it is said to be “given” him. It is also universal, including “all nations,” of whom it is predicted that they should “serve him,” which certainly supposes the possession of rightful authority over them.
“And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:15). The phrase, the kingdoms of this world, necessarily suggests the idea of social relations and civil rights—all those public interests and immunities, in short, which distinguish a compact civil body from a loose assemblage of private persons living in a disconnected state or individual capacity. All know that such is the idea attached to a kingdom. But the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdoms of Christ. It must, therefore, be, in the same sense in which they are kingdoms in the one case, that they are to become kingdoms in the other. Now it is not the private sentiments or individual conduct of the inhabitants of a land, which gives character to a kingdom of this world, as such; neither are the adoption of Christian principles and practices, by the great bulk of a people, sufficient to constitute the nation a kingdom of Christ. The nations of the world have, in their national capacity, too plainly acknowledged and served the god of this world. They have also, in too many instances, proclaimed themselves kingdoms of antichrist, giving their power and support directly to the beast, in their public social character. When the happy state of things announced in this prediction shall have been introduced, it is impossible to believe otherwise than that these kingdoms shall, in the same public social capacity, become the kingdoms of Christ. And what does their becoming the kingdoms of Christ import? Certainly, at the very least, that for which we are now contending; namely, that, in token of their subjection to him, they shall recognize his authority, and subordinate their interests to the advancement of his glory.
“And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it” (Rev. 21:24, 26). It is the church which is here spoken of as receiving the attention in question. Whether in its millennial or celestial state, commentators are not agreed. But whichever of these views is taken, the passage must be understood as describing a course of preparation that takes place on earth, as it is only in this world that national and official distinctions exist. Now, if nations, as such, are to walk in the light of the New Jerusalem, that is to say, are to derive distinguished honor and privileges from the church of Christ, they must surely be regarded as under the dominion of the church’s Head. And if kings, as such, are to bring their glory and honor into it, that is to say, are to subordinate their authority, power, revenues, and whole administration to the interests of Christ’s kingdom, they also must be regarded as under the dominion of the Mediator.
Such is the voice of prophecy on this interesting subject. Every unprejudiced mind must admit that it bears decided testimony to the doctrine we are now attempting to establish. Many more passages might have been quoted. Indeed, the whole tenor of Old Testament prediction speaks the same language. No one, therefore, who has any respect for the Word of God, can hesitate to admit that Christ possesses mediatorial dominion over the nations of the earth.
Thirdly. Another set of proofs will be found in numerous designations, implying dominion over the nations, which are given to Christ in the Scriptures. Such are the following: “For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and he is GOVERNOR AMONG THE NATIONS” (Ps. 22:28). That the psalm in which this occurs refers to Christ, we need not wait to prove; and that it refers to him as Mediator, is evinced by the whole tenor of the composition itself. His being called in the verse Lord or Jehovah, is not inconsistent with this view, as the same high appellation is applied to him in other parts of Scripture. It cannot be doubted that the preceding verse foretells the extension of the church of Christ. “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” What immediately follows being introduced as accounting for the universal spread of the kingdom of Messiah, it must be considered as referring to the same illustrious personage. “For the kingdom is the Lord’s; and he is the governor among the nations.” Here, then, is a glorious title, distinctly recognizing the dominion of the Mediator over the nations of men—a title which the nations may, indeed, overlook, but which they cannot disregard with impunity, and which shall one day be as fully acknowledged by them as it has been hitherto shamefully neglected and despised.
The eighty-ninth psalm refers to Messiah. He is the chosen of the Father, with whom he has made a covenant, whose seed he will establish for ever, and whose throne he will build up to all generations. Now, mark what he says of him in the course of this psalm: “I will make him my first-born, HIGHER THAN THE KINGS OF THE EARTH” (Ps. 89:27). Here is another glorious title. His being to be made what the title imports, determines in what character it belongs to him. It must be as Mediator that the Son of God is here described as “made higher than the kings of the earth.” In the sense of natural superiority he is “higher,” and needs not to be made: in the sense of official supremacy only, then, can this phrase be understood. Besides, the words might have been rendered most high or supreme over the kings of the earth. The very same term is often used to express the supremacy of God, and is translated “Most High.” The dominion of Messiah over civil rulers on the one hand, and the subjection of such to him on the other, are thus clearly imported in this title.
In the prophecy of Jeremiah, there occurs the following passage: “Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O KING OF NATIONS?” (Jer. 10:6-7). Nations here mean organized civil bodies. King is a title of office, expressive of supreme rule or government. He to whom this title belongs is the true and living God, the God of Israel as distinguished from heathen idols. But as the God of Israel is God in Christ, the title may be regarded as equally applicable to the Redeemer.
Should any hesitate, however, to admit this inference, the excuse for doing so cannot be urged in respect to the next proof we have to adduce. The exile of Patmos, while introducing his apocalyptic vision under the influence of the Spirit, speaks of Jesus Christ as “THE PRINCE OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH” (Rev. 1:5). The whole context, not to speak of the very verse in which the title occurs, determines the reference to the mediatorial character of our Redeemer—that character, namely, in which he bore faithful witness as a prophet, rose from the dead, and washed us from our sins in his blood. There is no room to doubt for a moment that it is Christ as Mediator who is spoken of as The persons who are here supposed to be subject to Christ, are kings, civil rulers, supreme and subordinate, all in civil authority, whether in the legislative, judicial, or executive branches of government. Of such Jesus Christ is Prince—, ruler, lord, chief, the first in power, authority, and dominion.
The most splendid title of all remains to be noticed. It occurs twice in the Revelation of John. “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is LORD OF LORDS, AND KING OF KINGS” (Rev. 17:14). “His name is called the Word of God… and he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19: 16)— . The whole book of Revelation relates to Christ as Mediator. The sublime predictions, in which this resplendent title is ascribed to him, treat of the last struggle between Christ and his enemies, in which these enemies are to be finally subdued, and their opposition to him to be buried in oblivion. He, by whom the victory is to be secured, is the same who is spoken of, in the forty-fifth psalm, as “girding his sword upon his thigh, and in his majesty riding prosperously, because of truth and meekness and righteousness!” (Ps. 45:3-4) and, in the prophecy of Isaiah, as “coming up with dyed garments from Bozrah, red in his apparel, and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine fat.” It is “the Faithful and True, who in righteousness doth judge and make war.” He is represented as Head of the Church, sitting on “a white horse;” while, as Head over all things to the Church, he is described as having on his head many crowns, as clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, as smiting the nations with a sharp sword, ruling them with a rod of iron, treading the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God, and having on his vesture and on his thigh the name written King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:12-16). There is nothing equivocal here. The Mediator is exhibited as waging war with the kings of the earth, who oppose his reign: and his right so to do is plainly involved in the title conspicuously inscribed on his vestments— a title not more fraught with terror to those who oppose his dominion, than confirmatory of his official supremacy over civil rulers of every description.
The proof of the mediatorial dominion over the nations, derived from these sources—from commands, predictions, and designations—is so abundant, varied, direct, complete, that we cannot but express our surprise the doctrine in question should ever have been denied or overlooked. After what has been said, there may be few who will venture formally to impugn this precious truth; but it cannot escape observation, that there are many, very many, who are in the habit of constantly neglecting it. This is the case to a mournful extent, not only with the nations and their rulers, whom it greatly concerns to recognize and act upon it; but with private Christians, who profess to be concerned for the mediatorial honors of their Redeemer. That it should be so, is much to be deplored, and is, to a considerable extent, unaccountable. How dishonoring to Christ thus to attempt to tear from his head the crown of the nations! And how blind, even to their own true interests, are those who thus provoke the Lord to anger, and expose themselves to the withering frown of his sovereign displeasure!
To the doctrine thus established, no solid objection can be made. Standing as it does on such a basis of Scripture evidence, it bids defiance to every argument which prejudice, or self-interest, or perverted reason can muster against it. It has been violently assailed in some quarters, notwithstanding. The grounds on which this opposition has proceeded have, for the most part, been already overturned.
It has been supposed, for example, to exclude Jehovah, essentially considered, from the government of the nations. This objection is just a branch of the common objection which is brought against the mediatorial dominion altogether, and which has already been sufficiently answered. We repeat, that delegation does not involve the surrender of power; and Messiah’s dominion over the nations being of a delegated character, it does not at all follow that when the Father committed this power to the Son he parted with it himself. Indeed, it is with the mediatorial power over the nations as it is with that over the Church; and as the latter certainly does not interfere with the essential dominion of God, no more does the former.
Equally vain is it to object that the doctrine in question is at variance with the opinion that civil society originates with God as the God of nature. True, civil society is founded in nature, and not in grace: but its subjection to Christ is not the least inconsistent with this. The objection will be found to carry farther than, perhaps, its friends were aware of; for, if everything that springs from the law of nature is to be excluded from the dominion of the Mediator, many things must be excepted which they have been accustomed to admit as under that dominion. Marriage originates in a law of nature: does it follow that parties united in this relation are to have no regard to the authority and honor of the Redeemer, that they are not to be guided by his law, or to act under the influence of his grace? “Let him that marrieth, marry only in the Lord.” The domestic relation has its foundation in the law of nature: are parents and children, masters and servants, at liberty to regard themselves as not under subjection to the Redeemer? What, then, are we to make of those commands which require parents to “bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord;” children “to obey their parents in the Lord;” and servants to be obedient to them that are their masters “as unto Christ”? Nay, are there not even some prominent parts of religion, such as prayer and praise, which have their foundation in nature, and in which we are certainly not at liberty, much less bound, to have no respect to Christ as Mediator? On the same principle, then, it by no means follows, because nations originate in nature, which we freely admit that they do, that they are not placed under Christ: or, in other words, it is no objection to the dominion of Christ over the nations, that civil society springs from God as the God of nature.
But the most specious objection, perhaps, is derived from what is matter of fact. The nations do not acknowledge Christ. They are, many of them at least, in a state of open rebellion against him. Not a few of them have given their power to the Beast, to the avowed enemy of the Messiah. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us” (Ps. 2:2-3). But, as before remarked, right and acknowledgment are different things; and the former is not dependent on the latter. On the one hand, an unlawful usurper may be acknowledged, but this can never confer on him the right to rule. On the other hand, acknowledgment may be refused to one whose right of dominion rests on the most solid foundation. It is easy to see that if acknowledgment were necessary to establish right, neither the Messiah’s dominion over the Church, nor Jehovah’s moral government of the world, could be established, as there are many who not only refuse to recognize, but pointedly dispute, both the one and the other. Because, “we see not yet all things put under him,” as respects active moral subjection, we are not to consider the statement as invalidated, that the Father “hath put all things in subjection under his feet,” as respects his right of sovereignty.
II. The fact, of the mediatorial rule over the nations having been considered, we proceed to the ACTS of Christ’s regal administration towards this class of his subjects.
First. Although civil society originates with God as the God of nature, nations may be said, in a certain sense, to derive even their existence from Christ. The origin of civil society and political government has given rise to much speculation. Whether they originate with God or with man, and in what sense they can be said to originate with either or with both, are topics that admit of extensive discussion, but into which we do not feel ourselves called at present to enter. The Scriptures, it may be remarked, represent civil government as at once an ordinance of God and an ordinance of man (Rom. 13:2; 1 Pet. 2:13). In as far as it is the right of the people to fix the constitution, to elect the rulers, and to revise and amend the system under which they live, civil government may be regarded as an ordinance of man.
But it is not to be inferred from this, that it depends solely on the will of man whether civil institution should be set up in a country at all, that civil society originates wholly in voluntary compact, or that whatever is sanctioned by the public will is necessarily right, and consequently obligatory. The most frightful results would follow from admitting such an absolute sovereignty of the people as this. There are too many instances on record, of the great body of the people having gone egregiously astray, ever to permit us to give our unqualified assent to such a principle. Indeed, it is manifestly absurd, to suppose that the majority of a nation should be free from the moral control of the law and authority of God, in the formation of their civil institutions. This were to ascribe to an aggregate body, composed of moral subjects who are individually responsible, a proud, irreligious, irresponsible independence of the will of the great moral Governor himself; a supposition so monstrous that, however much overlooked in practice, every one must shrink from it in theory. It is admitted that God has invested the people with power in political matters, and that the people of course have a right to the exercise of this power; but it is at the same time to be attentively observed that he has given them a law by which they are to be regulated in the use of this power, and it is only when they act according to the law given them that their determinations and institutions possess the sanction and obligation of righteousness.
Civil government can be the ordinance of man in no sense that is inconsistent with its being strictly and properly the ordinance of God. Now, it is not merely in regard to his overruling providence that it is the ordinance of God. In this respect, indeed, “the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men: he removeth kings and setteth up kings” (Dan. 4:17). But, in this sense, the grossest tyranny and misrule might also be regarded as the ordinance of God. Civil government originates with him morally not less than providentially. It is the moral ordinance of God. It is a divine institution.
The principles by which its formation and management are to be regulated, are laid down in the Bible. Lawful magistrates, whether supreme or subordinate, are consequently “the ministers of God;” not the mere creatures and servants of men, but the authorized vicegerents of heaven.
Nor, in saying that the nations derive their existence from Christ, do we say anything at variance with what has just been laid down. This is perfectly consistent with maintaining, as we do, that civil government proceeds from God, not as the God of grace, but as the God of nature. We admit that it springs from him as the supreme moral Governor of the universe, having its foundation in natural principles which belong to the constitution of man. National society, political government, magistratical authority, all originate in the moral government of God as the God of nature, and not in the mediatorial system. These might all have existed, had there never been a mediatorial economy; nay, they do often exist where the economy of grace is quite unknown. We are anxious not to be misunderstood on this point.
At the same time, it must not be forgotten that, as we have already shown, God has placed the affairs of the moral universe in the hands of his Son as Mediator. The dispensations of providence in general are put under his feet; in consequence of which, such dispensations as give rise to the existence of nations, or regulate their political aspects and interests, may be viewed as managed and directed by him. And not only so; but civil government, as a moral ordinance of God, is put under the Redeemer’s feet; and, in as far also as this is the case, may not nations be regarded as deriving their being from Christ? It is not enough to say that nations owe their existence to God. This is true: but it is not the whole truth. They originate in the will, authority, and appointment of the Messiah. We find it, indeed, said, “There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God;” but we also find issuing from the Mediator this proclamation, “By ME kings reign, and princes decree justice: by ME, princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth” (Prov. 8:15-16).
Nations are thus invested with a high and noble character. They are the moral subjects of the Redeemer. Their rulers are not the mere servants of men, the creatures of popular choice, but the ministers of God, the moral deputies of heaven, the servants, the representatives, the vicegerents of the Prince of the kings of the earth. This gives them a peculiar elevation and dignity; throws around them a moral grandeur; lays them under obligations to attend to moral qualifications and conduct; and entitles them to be treated by the people with esteem, veneration, and honor.
Secondly. Messiah watches over and directs all occurrences connected with nations. National concerns are numerous and diversified. The origin of national associations, whether it be warlike aggression, internal revolution, arbitrary usurpation, or voluntary compact, involves a vast variety of interest and events. So also the progress of nations, whether this is connected with the management of internal and foreign relations, the counsels of statesmen, the conduct of generals, or the prowess of armies. Nor is it less so with the circumstances which occasion the dissolution of states. Yet these, in all their aspects and bearings, are ordered and controlled by the Mediator. They form prominent parts of that universal providence which, as before shown, is placed under Messiah. The wheels of providence, in all their intricacy, are propelled by the God-man, Mediator.
And, as for that department of providential arrangements which respects nations, the control of Messiah is fully illustrated and confirmed in the Apocalypse. The events unfolded in this book have respect to the nations of the earth in general, and more especially to such as are connected with the Roman empire, the fourth great monarchy, in whose decline and fall are involved the interests of the principal European powers. But these events are represented as developed by the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, the divine Mediator, who opens the sealed book of God’s purposes respecting the nations, blows the trumpets of divine warning, and pours forth the vials of Jehovah’s wrath; thus carrying forward the scheme of predetermined decrees, till Babylon the great is overthrown, till all thrones of iniquity are overturned in its downfall, and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ.
Thirdly. Jesus, as king of nations, exacts obedience to his commands. The moral law and all the precepts of Scripture are administered by Christ. Communities, as well as individuals, are under the divine law. Such commands, therefore, as are found in the Word of God, applicable to nations and their rulers, are to be regarded as issuing from the divine Mediator, who is invested with all possible sovereignty and power; with not merely physical control, but moral dominion. It follows that wherever we find nations commanded to serve the Lord, and civil rulers required to promote the public good—to restrain evil; to administer the laws with equity, impartiality, and benevolence; to set a good example in intelligence, morality, and religion; and to give countenance, protection, and aid to the Church—we are to recognize the authority of the Redeemer.
The duties of subjects are, perhaps, more frequently inculcated in Scripture than those of rulers; yet are not either the qualifications or the duties of rulers entirely overlooked. And if rulers are, as we have shown, under moral subjection to Messiah, in those passages of Scripture which prescribe their qualifications and duties they are addressed by the Redeemer. Such are the following: “Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment: but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man: for the judgment is God’s” (Deut. 1:16-17). “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, and they shall judge the people with just judgment” (Deut. 16:18). “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3). “Be wise now, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear” (Ps. 2:10-11). “How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; rid them out of the hand of the wicked” (Ps. 82:2-4). “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. He is the minister of God to thee for good. He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:3-4). These and similar precepts and prescriptions, if all power is given to Christ, must be regarded as emanating from the mediatorial throne, and as enforced by the gracious but sovereign authority of the Redeemer. It follows that national communities and civil office-bearers who disregard or neglect them, are guilty, not only of a contravention of the people’s rights, but of rebellion against Jesus, the King of nations.
Fourthly. And here we have another act of Christ’s regal administration, for this rebellion he overrules for good. The nations ofttimes refuse to serve him. “The kings of the earth have set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Ps. 2:2-3). Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, is not the only king who has made his people to sin; Herod and Pontius Pilate are not the only rulers who have “of a truth conspired” against Jesus of Nazareth. National honor and personal aggrandizement are more commonly the objects they pursue than the glory of God, the honor of Christ, or the good of his people. His prescribed qualifications are not seldom contemptuously disregarded, and his commands trampled under foot. The power with which they are invested is too often employed to persecute and oppress his Church, and to support his enemies. “The ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast” (Rev. 17:12-13).
But all this is overruled for the accomplishment of ultimate good by the Divine Mediator. He makes the wrath of man to praise him. The nations and their rulers may refuse to serve him, but they cannot prevent him from serving himself by them. By their counsels and treaties, their ambitious wars and lawless transactions, he fulfils his own sovereign purposes. Their conspiracy against his rights he causes to issue in the development of the weight of his arm; their persecution of his Church, in her purification; and the countenance they afford to his enemies, in the chastisement and overthrow of his impenitent foes. The Assyrian is the rod of his anger; and when he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so, Christ executes by him his own righteous decrees. But for this comforting assurance, what friend of the Redeemer could look abroad, without the most gloomy forebodings, on the tyranny, oppression, blasphemy, and iniquity of every sort and degree, which are practiced among the nations of the world, under the convenient cloak of civil power. “The Lord, Jehovah—Jesus, reigneth. He rules in the midst of his enemies. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea: though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.”
Fifthly. Christ, as Mediator, executes the righteous judgments of God on wicked nations and rulers. “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son . . . . The Father hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man” (John 5:22, 27). The treasures of wrath as well as those of grace, are at his disposal. We read not only of “the wrath of God,” but of “the wrath of the Lamb.” Nor is it merely the solemnities of the final judgment that are administered by him, but those judicial dispensations which are unfolded in the providential occurrences of the present state. Among these, the judgments inflicted on civil communities stand conspicuous. The moral character of nations, and the moral responsibility of rulers, show the possibility of national and official sins. By cherishing a spirit of pride, self-confidencey, and independence of God; by practicing tyranny, cruelty, and oppression; by indulging a perverse, ungrateful, and turbulent temper; by prostituting their power and influence to the encouragement and support of irreligion, blasphemy, and immorality; or by employing the scepter and the sword in hostile opposition to the tenets and institutions of true religion; civil communities may be guilty of such heinous iniquity as to call forth the retributive judgments of God.
National crime, when carried to a height, operates as a conductor to draw down the lightning of vengeance from the eternal throne. And what we here wish to be remarked is, that it is the province of the King of nations to execute these judgments. He is the mediatorial Angel, described in the Apocalypse, as “taking the censer, and filling it with fire of the altar, and casting it upon the earth,” causing “voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake” (Rev. 8:5). These judgments, whether they consist in a dark and confounding infatuation, seizing hold of the thoughts and counsels of men in power; or in a sudden paralyzing of the hearts of the people, by which they are disarmed of all their wonted fortitude, and reduced to a state of the most cowardly and effeminate timidity; or in the pressure and succession of those fearful calamities which induce ignominy, disorganization, and ruin; or in those terrible things in righteousness, by which the Almighty speaks to the guilty and makes bare his holy arm against the workers of iniquity: whether they be brought about by the whirlwind of war, by the blast of famine, by the withering breath of pestilence, or by the earthquake of popular commotion: in whatsoever they consist, by what means soever they are effected, they are the doings of Him who is Governor among the nations. In general, we are assured, with regard to rebellious princes, that “He shall speak to them in wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure . . . shall break them with a rod of iron, and shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2:5, 9). “The Lord shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath; he shall fill the places with dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries” (Ps. 110:5-6). “The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted” (Isa. 60:12). By whom this sentence is carried into execution, we are not left to conjecture. “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the wine-fat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come” (Isa. 63:1-4). Here we have the almighty Savior executing the most awful judgments on his enemies.
With regard, in particular, to those great empires, prefigured in Nebuchadnezzar’s image, the Chaldean, the Medo-Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman, we know that it is the kingdom of the Messiah, under the government, of course, of its glorious Head and Prince, that “shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms” (Dan. 2:41). While, with respect to the judgments already executed, or yet to be executed on the kingdoms of the Roman empire, the nations of the Latin earth, we find them directly and unequivocally ascribed to the same source. “He that overcometh,” saith the Son of God, “and keepeth my words unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations (and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers), even as I received of my Father” (Rev. 2:26-27). “The kings of the earth hid themselves from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:15, 16). “And out of his mouth goeth a sharp two-edged sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15).
We are thus bound to believe that those occurrences by which guilty nations are scourged and chastised for their sins, are not merely brought about in providence, but ordered and directed by the Mediator.
And whether, therefore, we behold the desolating sword cutting off the inhabitants, or the blasting mildew destroying the crops, or commercial stagnation obstructing the sources of wealth, or wasting disease stalking with ghastly power over a land, or the upheavings of popular commotion overturning the foundations of social order, we recognize the wisdom, and might, and righteous retribution of Prince Messiah, carrying into execution the divine decree, The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish: yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.
Sixthly. The Prince of the kings of the earth opens up a way for the universal dissemination and success of his Gospel among the nations. The religion of the Cross is to be universally diffused. This supposes that the ministers of Christ are to circulate throughout the nations, making overtures of reconciliation to their inhabitants, and urging upon them the claims of their divine Sovereign. “Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them,” etc., is the command of the Redeemer to his ministering servants. But it is only in virtue of his sovereignty over the nations, that he could issue such a mandate: and in this way only could those invested with his commission be warranted to demand admission for themselves and reception for their message by the nations of the earth.
When the ambassadors of Jesus visit foreign lands to disseminate the knowledge of the Gospel, however exclusive the laws and strict the prohibitions of these lands against foreign intrusion, they are not to be regarded as lawless aggressors. Jealous potentates may refuse to acknowledge the King in whose name they come; the subservient functionaries of these potentates may use all means to shut them out from their dominions: but they have a right to enter, and as faithful and authorized ambassadors, have a right to negotiate with the inhabitants of all lands in behalf of their Sovereign Lord. It may be their duty to use caution, and exercise prudence, in introducing themselves into heathen kingdoms; but still they are to regard themselves as fully entitled to be heard, in the name of him by whom they are sent. The sovereignty of their Lord spares them the moral degradation of feeling that they are doing what is illegal; that they are violating the principles of international law; that they are acting the part of contraband traders. What they are doing may be unauthorized by man, may be contrary even to the will and command of the rulers of those regions of the earth into which they have gone: but they proceed in the name of One whose authority extends over all nations, who claims all the kings of the earth as his subjects, and whose commands cannot, without rebellion, be disputed. He has said to them, “Go and teach all nations:” and, when the jealousy of heathen princes interferes to impede them in the execution of this commission, by arresting them on the confines of their territory, and commanding them to “depart from their coasts,” they are entitled to refuse, and to plead as an excuse for so doing the obligation to obey God rather than man. Without the supremacy of Christ over the nations, however, the missionaries of the Cross could have no right thus to penetrate into all lands; the apostolic commission could not, indeed, be lawfully executed. In consequence of this supremacy, however, they may circumnavigate the globe, may touch at every island that studs the ocean, may make a descent on every coast, may pass every boundary, may knock at the gates of every palace, may address every crowned head, may pervade the length and breadth of every kingdom, and ask admission, in name of the King of kings, for themselves and for their message.
Nor is the right of his ambassadors to proceed, the only thing that is secured by the Messiah’s headship over the nations. Provision is thus made for the opening up of a way for the success of their cause, and the protection of their persons. There may be much in the prejudices, the opinions, the habits, and the manners of the inhabitants, much in their legal institutions and superstitious rites, to present barriers to the introduction of the pure and self-denying religion of Jesus: but, notwithstanding all, the Prince of the kings of the earth can open a way for his own cause in the midst of all obstructions. Nothing can baffle his counsel; nothing withstand his might. Difficulties disappear at his approach: before him mountains become a plain. “He hath the key of David; he openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth. Behold,” says he, “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (Rev. 3:7-8). Yes; the herald of salvation in foreign lands may have numerous discouragements, and may often find reason to say with the great apostle of the Gentiles, “there are many adversaries;” but, believing in the dominion of Christ over the nations, he need not despair of being enabled to add, “a great door and effectual is opened unto me” (1 Cor. 16:9).
Seventhly. It is thus easy to see how the mediatorial dominion
Church; when “the Zion of the Holy One of Israel shall suck the breasts of kings;” when “the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ;” the nations of this earth will assume an aspect very different from the present. The basis of their organization will then be the Word of God, and the aim of their administration, the glory of Christ: their officers shall be peace and their exactors righteousness; and the spirit which shall pervade all their actions, shall be the pure spirit of the Gospel. But by whom is this change to be effected? How is this marvellous revolution to be brought about? By the overruling providence and gracious energy of Him who is Governor among the nations.
He will shake all nations with the thunder of his power, till everything connected with them that is opposed to his cause is overthrown, and they are led to hail himself “as the Desire of all nations.” He will purge out the leaven of infidelity and antichristianism with searching scrutiny, and liberally infuse the opposite principles till they leaven the whole lump. He will overturn, overturn, overturn, till he come whose right it is; and he will give it him. The secular tyrannies of the Latin Earth shall be broken to pieces, shall become like the chaff of the summer thrashing floor, and be carried away by the wind till no place be found for them; and the kingdoms that shall succeed will be actuated with the spirit of that kingdom which is represented by the stone cut out without hands, which is to become a great mountain and fill the whole earth. Thus to purify, sanctify, revolutionize, nay, Christianize, the nations of the world, is what none but he could perform; and were it not that he is Head of the nations, as well as Head of the Church, we should have to despair of these glorious anticipations being ever realized.
III. If it is admitted that the Messiah is invested with dominion over the nations, towards which, in consequence of such investment, he performs the acts of administration of which we have been speaking, it follows as a natural and unavoidable inference, that there are DUTIES which the nations owe to the Mediator.
If the Mediator is the King of nations, nations are the subjects of the Mediator, and all the duties which subjects owe to their prince must be due by them to him. It is vain to plead exemption from moral responsibility for bodies politic, or civil office-bearers, as such. Associations, composed of such as are individually, morally responsible, must be morally responsible collectively. An aggregate of moral subjects must itself possess a moral character. Every society of moral beings is itself a moral being or subject. That a nation is not a responsible moral subject, is a sentiment monstrously inconsistent in itself, and fraught with consequences of the most hideous description. By means of its laws and its rulers, a nation is capable of putting forth acts as strictly of a moral character as those of any individual. This view of the matter is not more consonant with sound reason than with Scripture: for we there read, in express terms, of “an ungodly nation” (Ps. 43:1); “an hypocritical nation” (Isa. 10:6); “a rebellious nation” (Ezek. 2:3). The same principle is admitted in the common language of mankind. We are accustomed every day to speak of national virtue, national honor, national faith, national sin—phraseology which distinctly recognizes the moral character and obligation of nations, as such. Nor is at all difficult to conceive, how every precept of the Decalogue may be as expressly kept or violated by a body politic as by a private individual. Such being the case, we can be at no loss to perceive, either that nations are under moral obligations to Christ, or what are the specific duties they owe to him.
First. It is the duty of nations and their rulers, to have respect to the glory of Christ in all their institutions and transactions. No principle can less admit of dispute than that it is the duty of subjects to honor their king: and if Christ is King of nations and magistrates subjects of the Messiah, they must be held bound, in virtue of their relative characters, to pay all possible respect to his honor and glory. The spirit of the divine command: “Honor the king,” carries in it thus much. Indeed, from the relation in which we all stand to God, we are bound to have respect to his honor in everything as the grand end of our being. “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). On the same principle, kingdoms and civil rulers, from the relation in which they stand to the Redeemer, are bound to subordinate all that belongs to them to his honor. It is not enough that they have respect to the public good, to the promotion of social order and happiness among men; such is, doubtless, the grand immediate end they are to contemplate; but, as moral and responsible subjects, they are, in seeking this end, to look higher, and to have an ultimate regard to the honor of him to whom they owe their being, preservation, and powers. Like all other moral creatures, they are to have respect to the highest possible end in all that they do; and certainly no end can they ever propose to themselves, at all so dignified and illustrious as the display of the glorious excellency of the Prince of the kings of the earth, who possesses undisputed sovereignty over all. This object, therefore, they are bound to keep distinctly before them, in the formation of their constitution; in the establishment of their various institutions; in the shaping of their policy, whether domestic or foreign; in the selection and appointment of their functionaries, whether supreme or subordinate; in their legislative enactments; and in all their separate acts of administration. Not an establishment are they at liberty to set up; not a law are they entitled to pass; not a step are they free to take; not an alliance are they permitted to form, without having supreme regard to this high and glorious end. Hostility, or even indifference, to this, partakes of the very essence of rebellion against their sovereign Lord.
The true feeling of loyal subjection to a lawful prince, requires more than a mere selfish regard to the subject’s own immediate interests. A devoted regard to the prince’s honor, and a willingness to maintain his dignity against every infringement, enter essentially into the nature of loyalty. For disregard of this, Nebuchadnezzar of old was subjected to the fearful punishment by which he was driven from among men, and had his dwelling with the beasts of the field, until seven times passed over him. “The king, spake and said, Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom, by the might of my power and for the honour of my majesty? While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken, Thy kingdom is departed from thee; and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Dan. 4:30-32). And what was the crime for which the impious Belshazzar had the ominous sentence so miraculously inscribed against him? “Thou hast praised the gods of silver and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know; and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified” (Dan. 5:23). These are cases which it well becomes civil communities and their office-bearers deeply to ponder, as not only involving by implication the duty of nations to consult the glory of the Messiah in all things, but as holding out a solemn warning of the danger to which the neglect or violation of this duty necessarily exposes. And, oh! when we reflect, how little reason we have to suppose, that in the great majority of national concerns and transactions, this end is at all regarded by civil communities, we may well tremble at the fearful retribution that awaits them, if they repent not. How few, alas! of those who conduct public affairs in the political world, give evidence of being actuated by the high motive in question. A patriotic regard to the good of the community, is the highest object to which, in general, any ever pretend to have respect; and there is reason to fear that not seldom they come far short even of this: while a regard for the glory of the Mediatorial king is neither thought of nor professed.
Secondly. It is the duty of nations, as the subjects of Christ, to take his law as their rule. They are apt to think it enough that they take as their standard of legislation and administration, human reason, natural conscience, public opinion, or political expediency. None of these, however, nor indeed all of them together, can supply a sufficient guide in affairs of state. Of course, heathen nations, who are not in possession of the revealed will of God, must be regulated by the law of nature: but this is no good reason why those who have a revelation of the divine will should be restricted to the use of a more imperfect rule. It is absurd to contend that, because civil society is founded in nature, men are to be guided, in directing its affairs and consulting its interests, solely by the light of nature. Might not the same be said with as much propriety of many other relations of human life, such as parents and children, husbands and wives, masters and servants, the duties of which we never think of exempting from the control of a preternatural revelation? Nay, might it not with equal propriety be maintained, as was formerly hinted, that as certain religious duties, such as prayer and praise, are founded in nature, we are in the performance of them to have no respect either to the authority or directions of the Holy Scriptures? The truth is, that revelation is given to man to supply the imperfections of the law of nature; and to restrict ourselves to the latter, and renounce the former, in any case in which it is competent to guide us, is at once to condemn God’s gift and to defeat the end for which it was given.
We contend, then, that the Bible is to be our rule, not only in matters of a purely religious nature, in matters connected with conscience and the worship of God, but in matters of a civil or political nature. To say that in such matters we have nothing to do with the Bible, is to maintain what is manifestly untenable. To require nations who possess the sacred volume, to confine themselves, in their political affairs, to the dim light of nature, is not more absurd than it would be to require men, when the sun is in the heavens, to shut out its full blaze and go about their ordinary duties by the feeble rays of a taper. Indeed, if nations are moral subjects, they are bound to regulate their conduct by whatever laws their moral Governor has been pleased to give them; and as they are the subjects of the Mediator, they must be under the law of the Mediator as contained in the Scriptures. He has not placed his moral subjects in ignorance of his will, nor left them to search for it amid the obscurities and imperfections of a law which sin has effaced and well nigh obliterated. In the Holy Scriptures of truth, he has given them a fairer and more complete exhibition of the principles of immutable and eternal justice, than that which is to be found in the law of nature.
We have only to look into the volume of revelation itself, to have these reasonings confirmed. The people of Israel were instructed to regulate their national concerns by a revealed standard, and were taught to regard the possession of God’s revealed statutes and judgments as a national distinction for which they were bound to be grateful. Nor is there anything said, which would warrant us to conclude that this was to be regarded as peculiar to that people. “Behold,” says Moses, “I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it: keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations. And what nation is so great that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deut. 4:5-6, 8). In strict conformity with this, the chief magistrate was to have a copy of the law, according to which he should act in the discharge of his official duties. “And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law, and these statutes, to do them: that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel” (Deut. 17:18-20).
The same principle is illustrated in the instructions given to the rulers, judges, and kings of Israel. To Joshua it was said, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Josh. 1:8). When the days of David drew nigh that he should die, he charged Solomon, his successor on the throne, thus: “Be thou strong and shew thyself a man; and keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself” (1 Kings 2:1-3).
We wait not to quote those passages, in which nations and their rulers are encouraged to obey the law of God by the promise of suitable rewards; are cautioned against disobedience by appropriate threats; and are spoken of as actually punished for their transgression of this rule. What has been already adduced is sufficient to show that the Jews, at least, were bound to regulate their national concerns by the revealed will of Jehovah: and the inference from this is neither obscure nor illegitimate, that nations, like them in possession of revealed truth, are still bound to take it as their supreme rule, standard, and guide, in all their civil affairs. Neither do we wait to inquire what parts of the judicial law given to the Jews, are binding upon Christian states.
We build at present upon the broad and undeniable fact that nations as such, and civil magistrates in their official capacity, when the matter of revelation was less extensive than it is now, were bound to make it their rule of duty; and from this we deduce the natural and reasonable inference, that civil communities blessed by God with the perfect revelation of his will, are under obligation, at all times, to shape and model their political conduct by the dictates of this infallible standard. The principle on which they were at any time bound to do so being a moral principle, they must be held bound to do the same at all times: what is moral is neither of local nor of temporary obligation. If nations are not bound by the Word of God, they are not responsible or punishable for acting contrary to it, but may, at pleasure, revel with impunity in the violation of every branch of revealed truth; a degree of licentious indulgence which, however agreeable to the taste of the infidel, cannot fail to shock the mind of every Christian.
When we look into the New Testament, we find even in it many things respecting the nature, origin, and ends of civil government; the qualifications, duties, and claims of civil rulers; and the obligations of subjects towards magistrates, both supreme and subordinate. For what purpose, we ask, are these placed in the sacred volume? Surely not to be overlooked, but to be read, pondered and obeyed. They are certainly designed to be of use; but this they cannot be, if nations as such, and men in their civil capacity, are not under their authority as parts of revealed truth. When, therefore, we find civil rulers, king and judges, commanded to be wise and to be instructed, must we not understand them as required to go to the Bible for the instruction they need, and to extract from this sacred repository their lessons of political wisdom? It thus appears satisfactorily established, that nations are under the obligation of the revealed will of Christ in general, and bound to regulate their transactions by it, in as far as it contains what is applicable to such, whether in the form of principle, precept, or example.
And if this is the case with regard to revelation as a whole, it will not be denied to be so with regard to the moral law in particular. Nations, as such, are under the obligation of the moral law; they are bound to regulate their affairs by the principles and precepts of the Decalogue. Every precept of that law they are bound to obey. It is, we are aware, maintained that only the precepts of the second table are obligatory on civil communities. As an individual standing in a particular relation and circumstances is not under obligation to obey those parts of revelation which have respect to persons placed in other relations and circumstances, so it is contended that nations are only under the obligation of such parts of the moral law as can be shown to apply to them. We frankly admit the fairness of this reasoning. But then we are prepared to maintain that every part of the moral law is applicable to nations. If nations in their national capacity, and magistrates in their official character, are admitted to be moral subjects, it will not be easy to show that they are exempt from the obligation of any part of the moral law. If it could be shown that there are some requirements in that law which nations are incompetent to fulfill, it would follow, of course, that from these they are exempted. If, however, it can be shown that nations are capable of obeying every precept—those of the first as well as those of the second table—it will be difficult to persuade an unprejudiced mind that they are free from the obligation of any one of them.
With regard to the second table, there is, of course, no dispute; yet the last precept of this department reaches farther than many of those who contend against all national religion can consistently go; it respects the state of the heart. But it may easily be shown, that nations are as capable of obeying the precepts of the first as those of the second table. How is it, we ask, that nations can obey even the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments, but just by passing laws obliging men to perform their respective relative duties by protecting the life and property of individuals; by discouraging licentiousness; and by promoting truth between man and man, by the sanctity of an oath? And may they not, in like manner, manifest their obedience to the first, second, third, and fourth precepts, by embodying into their constitution an acknowledgment of the being and character of the one living and true God; by providing for the ordinances of divine worship being maintained and observed in the land; by enacting laws calculated to restrain all blasphemous abuse of God’s sacred name; and by making provision for the sanctification of the Sabbath? And if nations are thus capable of obeying the whole moral law, who will contend that they are not under obligation so to do?
We allow that the Scriptures of truth are necessary to guide them in yielding this obedience: but is not this true of the one table as much as of the other? The kingdoms of the world require, indeed, much direction from the Word of God, in performing the solemn and delicate duties obligatory upon them by the first table of the moral law: but do they require no such direction with regard to those of the second? They do. The law of marriage belongs to the fifth precept; but how, without having recourse to other portions of the Scriptures, can any Christian nation legislate against polygamy? The law of murder is founded on the sixth; and how, without betaking to some other part of revealed truth, can it be shown that the murderer should be punished with death? It thus appears that nations, as such, are bound to recognize the obligation of the Word of God as a whole; to make it their rule in all their transactions, and their standard of appeal in all circumstances; and, in this way, to show their dutiful subjection to that divine Mediator, who is at once the author of revelation, and the Governor among the nations.
Thirdly. It is a duty which nations owe to Messiah the Prince, to have respect to moral and religious qualifications in those whom they appoint over them. We wait not to agitate the question of the people’s right to elect their own office-bearers. Whatever diversity of opinion may prevail regarding the first magistrate, there is now no dispute, at least in these lands, with regard to the right of election in the legislative and executive departments of government. The general practice of the nations unites with Scripture and common sense in support of a representative system of government. Rulers as the representatives of the people are understood to be elected by and responsible to the people, according to the constitution and laws of the land. Even under the Old Testament dispensation, when kings were designated to office by immediate revelation, the consent of the people was deemed indispensable to their lawful authority; and they were liable to removal from office, by the people, for abuse of their trust. With regard to subordinate office-bearers, also, such directions were given as clearly imply that the right of election belonged to the community. “Take ye wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you” (Deut. 1:13). “When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; thou shalt in any wise set him over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose; one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother” (Deut. 17:14-15).
But is it to be supposed that the people, who are invested with the right of election, are left without all control in the exercise of this right; that they are at liberty, acting from mere prejudice, self-interest, or caprice, to choose whom they will; and that the objects of their choice are forthwith, in consequence of being so chosen, invested with lawful and indisputable authority? So far from this being the case, the people are bound to use their elective power discreetly and wisely; they are under obligation to fix upon men possessed of qualifications fitting them for office; nor are they themselves constituted the sole judges of what these qualifications may be. God has given them in his Word a supreme rule of direction, in which the character of civil rulers is described, and only such as seem to them to be possessed of this character are they at liberty to appoint. If the people were under no restriction of this nature, it is fearful to think of the consequences that would ensue. As the power of the magistrate is not an absolute power which he is at liberty to employ as he chooses, so neither is the right of the elector an absolute right which he is at liberty to exercise as he chooses. Both the one and the other are placed under the limiting control of the Divine Law; and it is only when they are used according to this law that they are used aright.
It is not every individual who is qualified to hold office in a nation. Good natural talents, a cultivated mind, and a due share of acquaintance with the principles of government and with the constitution and laws of the country, seem indispensable. Scripture, not less than common sense, discountenances the practice of setting persons of feeble intellect to bear rule. “Woe unto thee, O land, when thy king is a child!” (Eccl. 10:16). “Thou shalt provide out of all the people able men” (Ex. 18:21). “Take ye wise men and understanding, and I will make them rulers over you” (Deut. 1:13). Not less essential are moral qualifications. High and incorruptible integrity, well regulated mercy, strict veracity, and exemplary temperance, are all specified with approbation in the Word of God. “Moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people men of truth, hating covetousness” (Ex. 18:21). “He that ruleth over men must be just” (2 Sam. 23:3). “Mercy and truth preserve the king, and his throne is upholden by mercy” (Prov. 20:28). “If a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked” (Prov. 29:12) “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes strong drink; lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted” (Prov. 31:4-5). Nay, more than this, religious qualifications are required in the Scriptures. A profession of religion would seem to be implied in the canon: “One from among thy brethren shalt thou set over thee; thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, who is not thy brother” (Deut. 17:15). But true religion in the soul is also specified. “Thou shalt provide out of all the people such as fear God” (Ex. 18:21). “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3). It is needless to say, that the fear of God is spoken of in Scripture as the very essence and sum of true piety. “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.” “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” “I will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me.”
Thus it appears that three distinct classes of qualifications are necessary in civil rulers: natural, moral, and religious. They are required to be men of good abilities, of unimpeachable character, and of sound piety. Weak and ignorant men; drunkards, libertines, sabbath-breakers, profane swearers; papists, socinians, infidels, are, accordingly, disqualified for exercising government in a country which is blessed with the volume of revelation. Such the people are not at liberty to appoint to places of power and trust. As regards the two former classes of qualifications, namely, such as are natural and moral, this statement will not perhaps be disputed by many who will demur to it as regards the third, that is, religious qualifications. The Word of God, however, is as explicit on this point as on the others: and if it is asked, “Of what use is religion to a civil ruler?” it might be deemed enough, in reply, to refer the objector to the Bible, where such qualifications are expressly required. But no one who candidly reflects that civil magistrates are denominated “ministers of God;” that they are required to administer oaths; that they exert a mighty influence by their example; and that decided personal piety adds greatly to the luster and power even of natural and moral qualities; can be at a loss to perceive the importance of religion to one who is invested with civil power.
It will be allowed then that the nations owe it, as a duty to Messiah their Prince, to appoint over them rulers possessed of such qualifications as his Word prescribes. What these qualifications are we have already seen. And it requires but a slight glance at the state of things, even among those nations which are in possession of the inspired volume, to perceive how utterly and how extensively this duty is disregarded. It is a too common maxim with many in our day, that magistrates as such have nothing to do with religion; nothing to do with it, it would seem, not only as an object of legislation, but even as a qualification for office. How often does it happen that men of any religion, or of no religion at all, are unblushingly preferred to those who have justly acquired a reputation for godliness? How dishonoring to Christ thus to set up, as his ministers, his open and avowed enemies—men who deny his divinity, who blaspheme his name, who deride his worship, and who openly profane his sacred day! Such conduct is attempted to be justified on a principle which is alike pernicious and fallacious, namely, that we have nothing to do with the private character of public men. Away with the treacherous maxim.
“For when was public virtue to be found Where private was not? Can he love the whole Who loves no part? he be a nation’s friend Who is in truth the friend of no man there? Can he be strenuous in his country’s cause, Who slights the charities for whose dear sake That country, if at all, must be beloved?”
Apart from the divinely authorized maxim, that “the wicked walk on every side when the vilest men are exalted”—a maxim which all history illustrates—if rulers are required, as we have shown, to respect the glory of Christ, and to take his law as their rule, it is impossible that their moral and religious qualifications can be a matter of indifference, for without such qualifications, they cannot perform any one of these duties. However the force of circumstances, and the overruling providence of God may compel men of no private worth to devise and execute measures of public utility, there can be no security for either the existence or efficient execution of such measures, when the public offices are filled with worthless men. And, even if there were, this would not prove it to be the duty of Christians to confer the highest honors of state on persons of this description, and that, too, in preference to men of distinguished private worth. How differently did the patriotic Nehemiah feel and act in this matter. “I gave,” says he, “Hananiah, ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem; for he was a faithful man and feared God above many” (Neh. 7:2).
The senseless outcry of measures not men, may serve the purpose of the slavish adherents of a profligate ministry, but it is a maxim that is essentially base, unmanly, irrational, and unchristian. It overlooks the necessary connection subsisting between cause and effect; it pours contempt on those parts of revelation in which the qualifications of rulers are prescribed; and it manifests an utter disregard of the honor and glory of the Savior. The maxim measures not men, is not more deserving of respect than its converse, men not measures. Indeed, if we were under an absolute necessity of choosing either the one or the other, we should not hesitate to prefer the latter, there being, in our opinion, a much greater likelihood of good men correcting the evils of bad measures, than of good measures restraining the evils of bad men. But there is no need for adopting either. With the Bible in our hands, we are entitled to insist on both. Measures AND men, or rather men AND measures, is the maxim on which Christian nations should proceed. And every people, duly alive to their obligations, by making it an unalterable and fundamental law that they shall set over them only “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness, a terror to evildoers and a praise to them that do well,” will take care so to frame their constitution and regulate their practice, that the openly vicious and ungodly shall not have it in their power to thrust themselves into the sanctuaries of law and justice.
Nor is it only to the qualifications of the rulers whom they choose, that, out of respect to the will and glory of Christ, men are bound to attend, but also to their own qualifications as electors. This point is too apt to be forgotten. It is, however, one of great importance. Where the elective franchise is liberally enjoyed, everything may be said to depend upon the manner in which it is exercised. Electors, who are themselves irreligious and immoral, are not likely to set a high value on the existence of proper qualifications in those whom they choose to represent them. To such, the absence of these qualities is apt rather to prove a recommendation. But the choice of a representative, it should be borne in mind, is a civil right, the exercise of which involves, to a great extent, the welfare of the nation. It is not the individual himself alone that suffers from an improper use of this privilege, but the community at large. It is, consequently, of immense moment that he exercise it, not from passion, fancy, or prejudice, but under the guidance of sound Christian principle. He is bound to subject his judgment and inclinations in this matter to the control of God’s Word. Hence the vast importance of having the public mind deeply imbued with pure moral sentiments, and correct religious principles. Never should the professing Christian suffer himself to forget that he is bound to act in character at all times. Never can the circumstance occur which will warrant him to say, “Now I may drop the Christian and act the civilian or the man.” It is not in matters of an ecclesiastical nature merely that he is to act as a Christian. He must conduct himself as a Christian at all times; when acting as a member of the state, not less than as a member of the church; in the workshop, as well as in the sanctuary; at the hustings, as well as at the table of the Lord.
Fourthly. The nations ought to have respect to Christ, in their subjection to those who rule over them by his authority. Scripturally-qualified and lawfully constituted magistrates are entitled to conscientious submission. Whatever are the specific duties to which such are entitled, whether respect, or tribute, or prayer, the duties are to be performed, not from slavish dread or selfish motives, but from respect to the authority and honor of the Redeemer. The law of Christ, on this point, is very fully and explicitly laid down in an oft-quoted but ill-understood part of New Testament Scripture. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou, then, not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For, for this cause, pay ye tribute also; for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render, therefore, to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (Rom. 13:1-7). We say nothing at present of the character of the powers to which subjection is here enjoined. The nature of the subjection is that to which we would first call attention. It is conscientious subjection that is spoken of; free, willing, hearty; not forced or constrained. It is such as supposes the lawfulness of the authorities to which it is paid, and such as recognizes the will of him by whom they act. It is to proceed from respect to the authority enjoining obedience, and not from a mere dread of the consequences of disobedience.
In this way are the inhabitants of the nations bound to yield to their rulers; “fear,” not a slavish involuntary dread, but an affectionate, respectful, and confident veneration; “well-doing,” in the diligent performance of the duties of their station, and constant fulfillment of the laws; “tribute,” the pecuniary support which is requisite for internal improvements, national defenses, and the maintenance of such functionaries as devote their whole time to the public good, and which is to be paid cheerfully, not merely as a return for privileges enjoyed, but as a mark of submission to, and approbation of, God’s ordinance; “custom,” that particular form of taxation which falls not directly on persons or landed property, but on goods imported or exported; and “honor,” in the use of respectful language and demeanor, avoiding, on the one hand, all scurrilous vilification, and, on the other, all idolatrous adulation, of men in power. These duties are to be performed from a principle of conscience; and the refusal to perform them is denounced and threatened with danger. “Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist, shall receive to themselves damnation.” The resistance of lawful authority is thus stigmatized as rebellion against God, and, according to the views formerly laid down, must be regarded as peculiarly offensive to the Messiah.
It is obvious, however, that it cannot be to every power, without exception, that subjection, under these lawful sanctions, is inculcated. Such a supposition is anything but honoring to Christ. Some, indeed, have maintained this, and, the better to support their views, have regarded the apostle in the above passage as having immediate respect to the then existing government. This opinion they found on the words, “The powers that be,” “There is no power.” But they overlook the circumstance that similar phraseology is employed, in laying down general principles applicable to every age. For example: “There is no man that hath left house… but he shall receive an hundredfold.” Here the phrase is the same as when it is said, in the passage in question, “There is no power but of God:” and if the latter is restricted to the then existing authorities, ought not the former to be explained as applying exclusively to the men of the then existing generation? Again, we read: “There be just men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked;” where the mode of expression is the same as in the phrase, “The powers that be:” yet who ever thought of regarding the sentiment expressed in this passage as peculiar to the time when Solomon wrote? Besides the laws of impartial criticism require us to explain the character of the powers spoken of by the context, where they are described as “not a terror to good works, but to evil . . . ministers of God for good . . . bearing not the sword in vain . . . revengers to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” It is only necessary to compare, or rather contrast, these expressions with the character of the then existing powers, to be convinced that the whole passage is descriptive of the duties of Christians towards, not any magistrates who may happen to be possessed of power, but such as are what they ought to be. Nero, who at that time wore the purple, was in every respect the opposite of what is here described. He was one of the most wicked monsters that ever occupied a throne—a terror, not to evil works, but to good—bearing the sword in opposition to everything that deserved protection and support; and executing wrath only on such as did good and shunned evil. Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. Let Nero be tried by this test.
The primitive Christians, who lived during his reign, it will be allowed, did that which was good. They professed and maintained the religion of the cross; they worshipped and served the Savior of the world; they waited on the ordinances of religion with exemplary diligence; they faithfully discharged the relative duties of life, and conducted themselves in an orderly and inoffensive manner as members of civil society. And what was the “praise” they received in return? Why, they were charged with every crime; were treated with every indignity; were tortured by every infernal device; were crucified, and their bodies either thrown to the dogs, or converted into torches with which to illuminate the capital! So far from the apostle’s language referring to the existing governors, then, it is more natural to regard it as framed on purpose to reprove them, by presenting a striking contrast. Indeed, it would be difficult to conceive a more cutting sarcasm on Nero and his associates in power, than is here furnished. None but the most blinded devotee to the exploded doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance, would ever think of interpreting this passage of the then existing government. Nor is it easy to conceive a greater insult that could be offered to the Holy One of Israel, by whom kings reign, than to represent such a monster as Nero as “the minister of God for good,” or his government as “the ordinance of God” which could not be resisted on pain of damnation.
Without confounding all moral distinctions, it is impossible to suppose that the lawfulness of a power depends solely on the fact of its existence. The distinction between a preceptive and a providential power, is not more consonant with reason and common sense than with Scripture. And if it is a breach of the obligation due to the Messiah, to set up, as his representatives and vicegerents, persons devoid of every requisite qualification for office, equally at variance with the duty we owe to him must it be to honor and acknowledge such persons when set up. Those to whom conscientious submission is due in the name of Christ, should certainly possess some measure of the qualifications which Christ himself has prescribed. It is absurd to suppose that nations, who are the moral subjects of the Redeemer, are bound, in obedience to his authority, to recognize and approve of, as his ministers, those who overlook and despise his authority, who employ their influence in opposition to his interests, and conduct their government on principles that are immoral. It is, doubtless, the duty of Christians living under a government of this description, to submit to it; but they are to submit to it as a chastisement sent them by God, and to conform, for the sake of peace, to the general order of society; while they take care, at the same time, to bear a full and honest testimony against its evils, and to avoid whatever is calculated to involve them in a participation of its guilt.
Under immoral systems of government it is, happily, possible for Christians to do many things in compliance with the principles of social order, and for the good of the commonwealth, as well as of individuals, without giving the sanction of their approbation to such systems as the ordinance of God. These things may be done, from regard to their own intrinsic obligation, as things moral in themselves and required by God. There is an obvious distinction between doing what is enjoined, and doing the same thing because it is enjoined. Lawful authority is for the most part, though not always, to be obeyed; unlawful authority, never. Lawful authority may be employed to enjoin what is not lawful; and in this case it is not to be obeyed. Unlawful authority may be employed to enjoin what is lawful; and, in this case also, it is not to be obeyed. What, it may be said, not to be obeyed even when requiring what is right! Certainly not. The thing enjoined is to be done; not, however, because enjoined, but from respect to its own intrinsic obligation springing from the law and will of God. A wicked neighbor, usurping an authority which does not belong to him, intrudes into my dwelling and commands me to worship God, to love my wife, and to bring up my children in the fear of the Lord. These are lawful commands; and it is at my peril that I neglect them; but in doing them I am not, surely, obeying the intruder.
This distinction, between obedience to lawful commands out of respect to the authority enjoining them, and obedience to them out of respect to their own intrinsic obligation, is a most important one, in a practical point of view. It enables Christians, living under iniquitous and anti-Christian powers, to do much that is calculated to promote the good of the community, and their own civil interests, without giving the sanction of their approbation to those who renounce the authority and disregard the law of Christ, and thus violating their oath of allegiance to the Prince of the kings of the earth.
Fifthly. Nations, as the moral subjects of Messiah the Prince, are under obligation to recognize his rightful authority over them, by swearing allegiance to him. It is the duty of a subject to swear allegiance to his lawful sovereign; at least he must stand prepared to do so when required. So is it with nations. Not only are the inhabitants of a nation, as occasion calls for it, to enter into sacred confederation with one another in order to secure and defend their valued rights and privileges, but the nation, as such, through the medium of its authorized functionaries and by its usual forms of legal enactment, ought publicly to avow its attachment to the Lord Jesus Christ as its King and Prince, to recognize his legal authority, and to bind itself to his service by an oath. It is not supposed that the formal act of swearing allegiance is to be gone into lightly, or on all occasions. But, certainly, in times of deep distress, as a means of animation and comfort; in times of backsliding and danger, for the purpose of promoting stability; as calculated to promote and maintain steps of reformation; and also as a fit mode of expressing gratitude for public blessings, a nation may warrantable and dutifully engage in such an exercise. The example of the nation of Israel, of old, might be easily adduced in circumstances such as these. From time to time, that people publicly and solemnly recognized their allegiance to the Lord their Redeemer.
The transaction at Sinai partook distinctly of a federal character. The children of Israel were then put in possession of a complete body of laws, for the regulation of their national concerns. Stipulations and restipulations were mutually passed. On the one hand, the Messiah, amid a display of awful majesty, offered them a civil constitution and moral organization. On the other, by the repeated declaration, “All that the Lord hath said, we will do,” the people formally accepted the gracious offer, promised obedience to it, and solemnly avowed their allegiance to him by whom it was given. Possessing the nature, this transaction received the name, of a covenant. From the gracious covenant relation in which the people of Israel stood to God, it is plain that, in this whole transaction, they had to do with the Son of God as Mediator. In no other character, could any of the guilty race of man receive blessings from him, or promise him obedience. Nor was there anything in the circumstances of that people which rendered the duty in question peculiar to them. What was adapted to promote national prosperity in their case, is calculated to do the same in all cases. It is more reasonable to regard their political organization as a model to future nations, than as an exception from all others. The faculties, powers, passions, rights, and interests, of men are the same at all times; nor is there anything either local or restricted in those commands by which ancient Israel were enjoined to enter into covenant with God.
Indeed, when we look into the predictions which refer to New Testament times, we are at no loss to perceive that the duty of national vowing to the Lord is not limited to the Jews. “In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts. The Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and shall perform it” (Isa. 19:18, 20). Here it is distinctly made known that, in the days of the Gospel, Gentile countries should copy the example of ancient Canaan, in the matter of vowing allegiance to the Lord. To the same effect we read: “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married” (Isa. 62:4). A land is just a people in their civil capacity: and its being “married to the Lord” surely denotes its being bound to him by covenant engagement, as the wife is to her husband.
The principle has been exemplified in more modem times, in France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, as well as in our own country. The National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League entered into by Scotland, England, and Ireland, are memorable instances of national oaths of allegiance to the Messiah. These were sworn and approved by the king and his household, and by persons of all ranks in the land. This is not the place to defend the nature of these noble instruments, to show their obligation on posterity, or to speak at large of the guilt these nations have incurred by their perfidious neglect of them. These are topics, indeed, of no mean importance in themselves, besides being worthy of very serious consideration at the present time, in connection with existing agitations and discussions. But we have to do with them now only as accredited and interesting exemplifications of the national duty of swearing allegiance to the Redeemer. It has been much the practice of a flippant generation to laugh at “the Covenant” and “the Solemn League,” as the products and signs of an illiberal and unenlightened age; but it may fairly be questioned, on the authority of the best historians, whether our country ever appeared in a more dignified attitude than during the period in question, or whether a kingdom can ever be more dutifully or appropriately employed than in solemnly and sincerely vowing to him, by whom kings reign and princes decree justice, the Prince of the kings of the earth.
There is still another duty of nations to the Redeemer, to which, from its importance, we shall devote a separate chapter.
It is impossible, in the meantime, to review what we have written on the Mediatorial dominion over the nations, without reflecting that this department of the Redeemer’s administration and glory has not met with sufficient attention. Its importance it is impossible to deny. Yet it is lamentable to think how inadequately it has been appreciated. By some it is almost entirely overlooked and treated with neglect. By others it is denied and speculatively opposed. It is easier to account for, than to vindicate or excuse, such conduct. What friend of Messiah the Prince but must lament, deeply lament, such a state of things? Oh, that men would throw aside their prejudices, and not suffering themselves to be warped by their supposed temporal interests, would come forward and at all hazards acknowledge the Redeemer as “Governor among the nations”!
The doctrine in question is entitled to occupy a prominent place in the contending of the witnesses; it forms a chief part of the word of Christ’s patience, for which his disciples are to lift up a clear and manly testimony before an ungodly world and rebellious nations. Instead of being passed over altogether, or thrown into obscurity, or treated with a mere passive assent, it ought to stand conspicuously out in the Church’s creed, to be frequently brought forward by her ministers, and clearly unfolded in all its grand associations, in all its practical bearings, and in all the fullness of its consoling power. It should be held up to the nations of the earth to reprove them for their past rebellion, and to admonish them regarding their future procedure. It should be urged upon them, as calculated to remind them of the high and sacred duties they owe to the Messiah, of their obligations to respect his glory, to take his law as their rule, to have regard to his authority in the choice of their office-bearers; and in the subjection they yield to them, to swear allegiance to his crown, and to extend countenance and support to his Church upon earth.
Nor should it be omitted to remind them of the divine displeasure they incur, and the judicial visitations to which they expose themselves, by pursuing, as too many of them do, a course of unhallowed rebellion against the King of kings.