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Macaulay, in his review of Gladstone's work on Church and State, has a suggestive passage upon the manner in which civil governments have usually become invested with their authority. We reproduce a part of it, as follows:
“A nation of barbarians pours down on a rich and unwarlike empire, enslaves the people, portions out the land, and blends the institutions which it finds in the cities with those which it has brought from the woods. A handful of daring adventurers from a civilized nation wander to some savage country and reduce the aboriginal race to bondage. A successful general turns his arms against the State which he serves. A society made brutal by oppression rises madly on its masters, and sweeps away all old laws and usages; and when its first paroxysm of rage is over, sinks down passively under any form of polity which may spring out of the chaos. A chief of a party, as at Florence, becomes imperceptibly a sovereign and the founder of a dynasty. A captain of mercenaries, as at Milan, seizes on a city and by the sword makes himself its ruler. An elective senate, as at Venice, usurps permanent and hereditary power. It is in events such as these that governments have generally originated.”
This presents a true picture of the governmental divine right as usually seen in the history of the world. The right, in respect to the process of its creation and establishment, has generally been the divine right of the sword, of military conquest, of the strongest battalions, of brains circumventing ignorance and weakness, of cunning, intrigue, artifice, pillage, and outrage. The events in which the right has been cradled and out of which it has sprung are the products of human forces, and these forces for the most part stamped with the indelible marks of iniquity and crime. These events exist in the scheme of Divine Providence; just as sin exists in that scheme, but without the sanction, authorization, or moral approval of God. He may, indeed, cause the wrath of man to praise him, or use one set of tyrants to punish another, or providentially overturn one despotism through the agency and ambition of another; but this does not make him the author of the wrath, or the approver of the tyranny or any of its enormities. It is the prerogative of God to bring good out of evil and accomplish his own purposes through even the wickedness of men. The murderers of Jesus fulfilled the divine counsel ; yet it was not the less true that they slew him with wicked hands. So human governments may fulfil the divine counsel, and yet not be of God in any other sense than that of being the creations and institutions of men under his ordinary providence.
A very serious difficulty in investing the civil ruler with divine authority is supplied by the fact that the ruler himself is neither inspired nor infallible and is often a moral monster. The office, without the ruler filling it and exercising its powers, is a meaningless abstraction; and when we put the ruler there we see at once that, whatever he ought to be, he is not, as a matter of fact, always the minister of the divine will. The rulers of this world have been largely the oppressors of the race; and their governments, though better than anarchy, have in multitudes of instances been stupendous machines for the perpetration of cruelty and wrong. Are the wrongs of civil government committed by God's authority, and is it exercising that authority when committing these wrongs ? To assert this would be to impeach his character and blaspheme his holy name. To say that governments, established by iniquity and perpetuating the iniquity in which they originated, are the executives and representatives of the divine will in any other sense than that of existing in the providence of God, and that resistance to them is a virtual resistance against God, is to place his authoritative sanction upon the most horrible abominations found on the page of history. The divine right of civil rulers would be a mere assumption without proof even if all rulers had been wise and pure; but when we put the Alexanders, the Neroes, the Caligulas, and all the bloody tyrants of history into the catalogue of civil rulers, then the doctrine is rendered impossible by the attributes and moral character of God.
authority of God, then it has no more divine authority than a railway company has when doing right. All moral beings, whether kings on thrones or peasants in cottages, have a divine warrant for doing right, in the sense of being obligated thereto by the law of God. This warrant includes the civil ruler ; but it has no special application that distinguishes him from other men. Justice rendered by the private citizen is as really divine as justice rendered by the magistrate.
But did not Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, tell the Christians at Rome to be “subject unto the higher powers?” Did he not say that “there is no power but of God," and that “the powers that be are ordained of God ?” Did he not say that whoever “resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God?" Did he not speak of the civil ruler as “the minister of God” for good ? Did he not call him the “revenger of God to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil ? " Did he not exhort the Roman Christians to“ be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake?” This is all true; and there is no difficulty in the language, regarded as addressed to Christians subject to the authority of a cruel Pagan Emperor, and designed to inculcate upon them the general necessity and duty of obedience to his laws. Like many other passages in the Bible, it recognizes the relation of ruler and subject as an existing fact, and directs the latter to respect the authority of the former; and so far lays
down a general principle of conduct applicable in all ages and under all governments. Such was the manifest intention of the apostle.
If, however, we press the language, and especially particular phrases, beyond this construction, and make “the higher powers” that then existed at Rome “ the ordinance of God” for the exercise and administration of his own authority, and further make Nero “ the minister of God” for good and the divinely-commissioned avenger of evil, and then take the whole as a specimen case for all human governments, we shall have for the result self-contradiction in the Bible and the contradiction of the Bible by the most obvious facts. The example of Peter and John in preaching the Gospel when forbidden to do so by the Jewish authority, and of Daniel in disobeying the edict of a king, refutes such an interpretation of Paul's words. The character and conduct of Nero show that he was not the minister of God, but a fiend of cruelty. Other rulers have displayed a similar character. To quote the apostle as affirming the divine authority of every existing civil magistracy and laying down the universal obligation of obedience thereto as a duty which must always be performed is to make him teach what is not and cannot be true. It would place men under the authority of the civil ruler that, no matter who he is, or how he has acquired his power, or how he uses it, they would have no alternative but to submit and obey. All resistance under any cir.