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Objection: 7. It is said that human governments are nowhere expressly authorized in the Bible.
Answer: This is a mistake. Both their existence and lawfulness are as expressly recognized in the above quoted scriptures as they can be. But if God did not expressly authorize them, it would still be both the right and the duty of mankind to institute human governments, because they are plainly demanded by the necessities of human nature. It is a first truth, that whatever is essential to the highest good of moral beings in any world, they have a right to pursue, and are bound to pursue according to the best dictates of reason and experience. So far, therefore, are men from needing any express authority to establish human governments, that no inference from the silence of scripture could avail to render their establishment unlawful. It has been shown, in these lectures on moral government, that moral law is a unit that it is that rule of action which is in accordance with the nature, relations, and circumstances of moral beings that whatever is in accordance with, and demanded by the nature, relations, and circumstances of moral beings, is obligatory on them. It is moral law, and no power in the universe can set it aside. Therefore, were the scriptures entirely silent (which they are not) on the subject of human governments, and on the subject of family government, as they actually are on a great many important subjects, this would be no objection to the lawfulness and expediency, necessity and duty of establishing human governments.
Answer: There cannot be a difference between the spirit of the Old and the New Testament, or between the spirit of the law and the gospel, unless God has changed, and unless Christ has undertaken to make void the law through faith, which cannot be. "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law" (Romans 3:32). Just human governments, and such governments only are contended for, will not exercise force, unless it is demanded to promote the highest public good. If it be necessary to this end, it can never be wrong. Nay, it must be the duty of human governments to inflict penalties, when their infliction is demanded by the public interest.
Objection: 9. It has been said by some persons, that church government is sufficient to meet the necessities of the world, without secular or state governments.
Answer: What! Church governments regulate commerce, make internal arrangements, such as roads, bridges, and taxation, and undertake to manage all the business affairs of the world! Preposterous and impossible! Church government was never established for any such end; but simply to regulate the spiritual, in distinction from the secular concerns of men to try offenders and inflict spiritual chastisement, and never to perplex and embarrass itself with managing the business and commercial interests of the world.
Objection: 10. It is said, that were all the world holy, legal penalties would not be needed.
Answer: Were all men perfectly holy, the execution of penalties would not be needed; but still, if there were law, there must be penalties; and it would be both the right and the duty of civil officers to inflict them, whenever the needful occasion should call for their execution. But the state of the world supposed is not at hand, and while the world is what it is, laws must remain, and be enforced.
Answer: This is a ridiculous assertion, because God as expressly commands obedience to civil officers as to parents. He makes it as absolutely the duty of civil officers to punish crime, as of parents to punish their own disobedient children. The right of family government, though commanded by God, is not founded in the arbitrary will of God, but in the highest good of human beings; so that family government would be both necessary and obligatory, had God not commanded it. So the right of human government has not its foundation in the arbitrary will of God, but in the necessities of human beings. The larger the community the more absolute the necessity of government. If in the small circle of the family, laws and penalties are needed, how much more in the larger communities of states and nations. Now, neither the ruler of a family, nor any other human ruler, has a right to legislate arbitrarily, or enact, or enforce any other laws, than those that are demanded by the nature, relations, and circumstances of human beings. Nothing can be obligatory on moral beings, but that which is consistent with their nature, relations, and circumstances. But human beings are bound to establish family governments, state governments, national governments, and in short, whatever government may be requisite for the universal instruction, government, virtue, and happiness of the world, or any portion of it.
Christians therefore have something else to do than to confound the right of government with the abuse of this right by the ungodly. Instead of destroying human governments, Christians are bound to reform and uphold them. To attempt to destroy, rather than reform human governments, is the same in principle as is often aimed at, by those who are attempting to destroy, rather than to reform, the church. There are those who, disgusted with the abuses of Christianity practiced in the church, seem bent on destroying the church altogether, as the means of saving the world. But what mad policy is this! It is admitted that selfish men need, and must feel the restraints of law; but yet it is contended that Christians should have no part in restraining them by law. But suppose the wicked should agree among themselves to have no law, and therefore should not attempt to restrain themselves, nor each other by law; would it be neither the right nor the duty of Christians to attempt their restraint, through the influence of wholesome government? It would be strange, that selfish men should need the restraints of law, and yet that Christians should have no right to meet this necessity, by supporting governments that will restrain them. It is right and best that there should be law. It is even absolutely necessary that there should be law. Universal benevolence demands it; can it then be wrong in Christians to have anything to do with it?
Point out the limits or boundaries of the right of government.
Observe, the end of government is the highest good of human beings, as a part of universal good. All valid human legislation must propose this as its end, and no legislation can have any authority that has not the highest good of the whole for its end. No being can arbitrarily create law. All law for the government of moral agents must be moral law: that is, it must be that rule of action best suited to their natures and relations. All valid human legislation must be only declaratory of this one only law. Nothing else than this can by any possibility be law. God puts forth no enactments, but such as are declaratory of the common law of the universe; and should He do otherwise, they would not be obligatory. Arbitrary legislation can never be really obligatory.
The right of human government is founded in the intrinsic value of the good of being, and is conditionated upon its necessity, as a means to that end. So far as legislation and control are indispensable to this end, so far and no farther does the right to govern extend. All legislation and all constitutions not founded upon this basis, and not recognizing the moral law as the only law of the universe, are null and void, and all attempts to establish and enforce them are odious tyranny and usurpation. Human beings may form constitutions, establish governments, and enact statutes for the purpose of promoting the highest virtue and happiness of the world, and for the declaration and enforcement of moral law; and just so far human governments are essential to this end, but absolutely no farther.
It follows, that no government is lawful or innocent that does not recognize the moral law as the only universal law, and God as the Supreme Lawgiver and Judge, to whom nations in their national capacity, as well as all individuals, are amenable. The moral law of God is the only law of individuals and of nations, and nothing can be rightful government but such as is established and administered with a view to its support.