Government and the Bible
Chapter 3: The Bible’s Influence On Government
The Bible has been the beacon light of civilization. Beacon lights serve a double purpose: they warn against dangers that lurk unseen in the deep; and they guide the mariners amid lurking dangers safely through them in their journeys in the seas. And the Bible has done this in the advancement of civilization, pointing out its evils unto their overthrow and avoidance, and leading it into the paths of uplift and progress. But since for most of the Gospel Age the Bible has been a more or less inaccessible book by reason of its scarcity and its confinement, for the most part in non-vernacular languages, some may ask, How could this be true of it?
Our reply is that God's people have been the special custodians of the Bible and its contents; and as such they have shed forth its teachings and their spirit in such ways as have mightily influenced society against its evils and in its progress toward good. As the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13) they have, through the Bible's teachings and their spirit, been a nourishing, preserving and seasoning power in human society. As the light of the world (Matt. 5:14) they have taught the Bible's principles of justice and love in ways deeply influential in setting aside wrong and in establishing good—mentally, morally, and religiously. As the Spirit's channel of reproving the world of sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment (John 16:8-11), they have created conditions resulting in many giving up evils and doing good.
The influence of Bible principles on governments has been in the way of uplift. The Bible certainly favors democracy as the ideal government, just as Satan has in his empire favored autocracy. As the influence of the Bible increasingly spread the spirit of freedom, it also spread the spirit of democracy, even though through the inexperience of some nations, it favors for them, until they are ripe for democracy, such forms of government as their conditions require; for be it ever remembered that the Bible spreads its influence not revolutionarily against unideal conditions; but slowly by an educational process it fits individuals and nations in character for the more ideal conditions. Its influence has ever been to treat inferior nations and races helpfully and upliftingly, despite the selfish course of exploiting nations toward an opposite condition.
The Bible's influence certainly was in the interests of education of the masses, as well as the classes, and it prevailed to the extent of nearly banishing illiteracy from Protestant countries, while the papal countries, because of opposing many Biblical principles, have succeeded in keeping the bulk of the masses in illiteracy, as can be seen in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America. Under its influence the liberalizing of government continually increased; and the franchise was given the people in every Protestant land, and in most papal lands, in all of which constitutions were granted the people limiting the power of rulers and increasing the liberty and power of the people. Its influence on the laws of Christendom was always an uplifting and ennobling one. And, finally, as a result of the Bible's influence, governments increasingly charged themselves to advance the physical, mental, moral and religious prosperity of their people. Verily, the Bible is a powerful reformer of governments.
In our previous issue, the relationship between religion and the U.S. Constitution was examined from the standpoints of the document itself, the Convention, and the lives of the framers. The relationship between the U.S. Constitution and religion will now be examined from a broader perspective.
THE BIBLE AND EARLY AMERICA
The most widely read book of pre-Constitution America was the Bible. What was its influence upon American government? A number of U.S. Presidents have testified to the Bible's influence:
George Washington: "It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible."
Andrew Jackson: "That book [the Bible], sir, is the rock on which our republic rests."
Ulysses S. Grant: "The Bible is the sheet-anchor of our liberties."
Some may slight such testimonies as merely hollow words spoken by shrewd politicians to garner votes. But is there substance to their words? We will examine the Bible's influence on the early U.S. government, especially in its republican form, beginning with the influence of the ancient Hebrew government, that of Christianity—especially Protestantism—and, lastly, the influence of Congregationalism.
Hebrew Law and the Puritans
In colonial America, the group most influenced by the government of ancient Israel was the Puritans. Calvinistic in outlook, the Puritans received their name through their efforts to "purify" the Anglican church of remaining Catholic practices. Careful students of the Scriptures, they sought to apply its principles to all areas of life, including government and civil law. The 1640 Massachusetts code of laws and 1650 Connecticut Code cited the Bible as authority. The Connecticut Code was charged with preferring the Mosaic law over the English common law.
The zenith of Hebraic influence was reached with the New Haven Code of Laws of 1655. Of the 47 out of 79 laws that have Scripture citations, half are taken solely from the Old Testament. Puritan minister John Eliot, in his book, A Christian Commonwealth, set forth a civil government based on the Bible.
But the early American Puritans took their enthusiasm for the Mosaic law to an extreme. Believing it to be binding upon all nations, they united church and state in a theocracy that punished sinners and heretics. In this they were mistaken: the Mosaic law was given only to ancient Israel because of their special covenant relationship with Jehovah. Moreover, the Puritans were ruled not by a democracy, but a theological aristocracy. Nevertheless, they helped to sow the seed for the later development of religious liberty and democracy.
The influence of Old Testament Israel continued into the 18th century, conveyed mainly by means of the sermon.
In colonial America, the sermon was the prime means of communication and education. Few newspapers were circulated, and aside from the Bible, books were scarce. The clergy, often the most educated members of the community, exercised a great influence upon the people. According to Yale Divinity School Professor Dr. Harry Stout, the average colonial New Englander would hear 7,000 sermons in his lifetime. The typical length of the sermon was one to two hours. Its influence extended beyond the sphere of religion into politics.
Alice M. Baldwin in the book, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution, confirms this: "Men of the time asserted that the dissenting clergy and especially the Puritan clergy of New England were among the chief agitators of the Revolution and, after it began, among the most zealous and successful in keeping it alive."
It was common practice for a minister to deliver a sermon on election day. A copy of the sermon would often be delivered to each member of the legislature and then be printed and distributed to members of the community. These sermons were termed "textbooks of politics." A common topic of the election sermon was the government of the ancient Hebrews.
Perhaps the most influential election sermon in colonial America was that delivered by "the father of American democracy," Thomas Hooker (1586-1647). A New England clergyman, he criticized the government of Massachusetts for limiting the right to vote to church members. Disliking the autocratic form of government, in 1636 Hooker and his congregation were among the hundred that left Massachusetts for Connecticut.
In 1638, Hooker delivered a sermon to the general court of Connecticut based on the text Deut. 1:13, "Take you wise men and understanding … and I will make them rulers over you." In explaining the text, Hooker said that "the choice of public magistrates belongs to the people by God's allowance" and that "they who have the power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power, also, to set the bounds and limitations of the power and place unto which they call them." According to Hooker, "the foundation of authority is laid … in the free consent of the people." In 1639, the Constitution of Connecticut was adopted, based upon the principles set forth by Hooker.
Samuel Langdon, President of Harvard College, delivered an election sermon before the Congress of Massachusetts in 1775. He said: "The Jewish government, according to the original constitution, which was divinely established, if considered merely in a civil view was a perfect republic."
Dr. Langdon on June 5, 1788 delivered the election sermon before the New Hampshire legislature. The subject of his sermon was "The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States." A few weeks later New Hampshire voted in favor of the Constitution.
Simeon Howard before the Massachusetts legislature in the year 1780 preached the election sermon. He expounded the government of the Israelites as given in the Old Testament. He said: "This is asserted by Josephus and plainly intimated by Moses in his recapitulatory discourses, and indeed the Jews always exercised the right of choosing their own rulers; even Saul and David and all their successors on the throne were made kings by the voice of the people. "
"Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God"
The Bible's influence was so pervasive that even the infidel Thomas Paine cited it to bolster his arguments. In his book, Common Sense, he supported democracy as the best form of government. Paine gave from the Bible a detailed history of Israel's demand for a king and the warnings against it. He concluded: "That the Almighty hath here entered his protest against monarchial government is true, or the Scriptures are false." His widely read book helped to ignite the flames of the American Revolution.
When looking for a seal to represent the revolutionary spirit of the newly formed United States, the Continental Congress appointed a committee made up of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson to propose a seal. They turned to ancient Israel for their inspiration. Adams wrote that "Dr. [Franklin] proposes a device for a seal: Moses lifting up his hand dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh in his chariot overwhelmed with the waters. This motto, 'Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.' Mr. Jefferson proposed: the children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night . …" Although no action was ever taken on the proposed seal, Jefferson later used this same motto for his personal seal.
John Adams, a student of the history of republics, wrote: "As much as I love, esteem and admire the Greeks, I believe the Hebrews have done more to enlighten and civilize the world. Moses did more than all their legislators and philosophers."
In conclusion we quote from British historian Paul Johnson. Mr. Johnson is author of the books, A History of the Jews and The History of Christianity. In the September, 1987 issue of "The World and I," Johnson in his article on "The Organic and Moral Elements in the American Constitution" traces the three elements that influenced late 18th century American political thought. According to Johnson, the first element is the French Enlightenment, and the second is English common law. He continued:
"There was a third element, perhaps as important as the common law tradition, and equally organic—what I call the biblical spirit. Early America was a society saturated in the Bible and in the constitutional lesson that the Bible taught, especially in its popular historical books, Samuel and Kings. This lesson underwrote Whig conspiracy theory: It taught that kings or governments might be necessary, but that they had a natural propensity to evil and had to be curbed by prophets like Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha; in the Bible, God, through his prophets, forms the constitutional opposition to overweening executive power. The biblical spirit went even deeper, for it stressed that man is not merely a civic animal but also a moral one; his public acts—his politics—take place within an ethical, indeed, religious, framework. God is the primal legislator and the ultimate ratifying party of any constitution."
THE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY ON AMERICAN GOVERNMENT
Not only the Hebraic influence upon American government but the Christian influence has also been neglected. Modern histories of the Constitution emphasize the secular philosophers of the Enlightenment as the main source of political thinking. But many of these secular philosophers based their arguments on Biblical principles.
John E. Eidsmoe, in his book, Christianity and the Constitution, cites a study of political writings from 1760 to 1805, compiled by Donald S. Lutz and Charles S. Hyneman. They found that the most frequently cited work of the period was the Bible, with a total of 34 per cent of all citations. Eidsmoe analyzes the thought of other frequently cited authors such as Montesquieu, Blackstone, Locke, Grotius, Pufendorf, Vattel, and Sidney. He shows that these men were Christians and that they viewed civil law in the light of natural law which God had ordained. Historians frequently cite the British philosopher Locke as the major influence upon American thought. Yet they usually fail to notice the great influence that Christianity had upon Locke.
Paul Johnson, in a discussion forum on American religion published in the book, Unsecular America, said:
"Looking at the tripod of democracy, capitalism, and Christianity, one can say that both democracy and capitalism have their roots in Christianity. Democracy is something inherent in Judeo-Christianity in this sense. The Jewish religion, as developed in pre-Mosaic and Mosaic times, was a communal religion based upon the notion of equality."
"In all Christian societies there is the root belief in the equality before God of all men. Once you have equality before God in a religious sense, ultimately you get it in a secular and a political sense too."
Protestantism and Colonial America
During the formative years of the American republic, records of the time show that 98 per cent of church-going Americans were Protestant. Few Jews or Catholics had yet immigrated. Most of the earliest settlers, who shaped the culture and formed the original governments of the American colonies, were Protestants. By the time of the Constitution Convention of 1787, American political ideas and institutions had already been molded by the 150 years of previous experience in government. It should not be surprising therefore that the democratic form of U.S. government would bear the marks of the religion of its first settlers—Protestantism.
The French Enlightenment philosopher Montesquieu in his book, The Spirit of Laws (1745), was perhaps the first to trace the effect of culture upon the laws of a nation. Decades before the formation of the United States, he wrote, "The Catholic religion is better adapted to a monarchy, Protestantism the better suited to a republic."
Clinton Rossiter, in his book The Seedtime of the American Republic, documents the contribution of colonial American Protestantism: "In its best aspects and moments Protestantism was a main source of these great political principles of American democracy: freedom of thought and expression, separation of church and state, local self-government, higher law, constitutionalism, the American Mission, and the free individual."
Protestants were generally agreed on the priesthood of all believers and the right of the individual to private judgment in religion, and that salvation is open to all regardless of social standing. A number of Protestant groups were especially influential in the growth of republicanism and liberty. One such group, the Quakers, settled for the most part in Pennsylvania and were prominent in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They preached freedom of conscience, justice for all, social equality, and democratic church government.
Of all the Protestant groups, the Baptists were the most energetic supporters of separation of church and state. They also practiced a democratic form of church government. Most influential were the Puritans. They believed in the law of nature, and that it could be written down. The Puritan emphasized individualism, the right of private judgment, and that salvation is open to all men regardless of social standing. They also held that all should read the Bible, and thus stressed education. As a result, the Puritans had a high literacy rate, which is needed in a democracy.
The doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings was used to bolster the authority of the monarchs. This doctrine states that the king's power comes directly from God, and not from the people. Therefore the king had absolute power. Therefore the people must submit to his rule, because the king is not accountable to the people for his actions.
The Divine Right of Kings was based on the misapplication of certain passages from the New Testament recommending obedience to the civil power. Against this doctrine, Protestants preached the view that the power of the ruler is based on the consent of the governed and that the people have the right to rebel against a ruler that has violated the trust implicit between him and the people. While in England, for example, Roger Williams, judged by some as America's first champion of religious liberty, wrote that "the people were the origin of all free power in government."
The Influence of Congregationalism on American Government
Another influence upon American government was the democratic form of church government practiced by many Protestants—that of Congregationalism.
M. Emile de Laveleye, in the Introduction to Oscar Straus's book, The Origin of the Republican Form of Government of the United States, wrote that "the influence which religion exercises on man is so profound that its constant tendency must be to shape State institutions in forms borrowed from religious organization."
The types of civil government of monarchy, aristocracy, democracy have been compared to the types of church government of episcopality, presbyterianism, and congregationalism. Monarchy, which is rule by one individual, is similar to episcopality, or rule by one bishop. Aristocracy, rule by the few, is similar to presbyterianism, rule by a few elders. Democracy, rule by the people, is similar to congregationalism, rule by the congregation.
Congregational minister John Wise (1652-1725), "the first great American democrat," was unique among colonial clergy in seeing a relationship between church and civil governments. His book of 1717, republished in 1772, A Vindication of the Government of New England Churches, attempted to prove that "Democracy is Christ's Government, in Church and State." Since Wise, other writers have seen the relationship and have asserted the influence of Congregationalism upon American government. We cite some examples below.
Clinton Rossiter: "The Puritan theory of the origin of the church in the consent of the believers led directly to the popular theory of the origin of government in the consent of the governed. The doctrine of popular government held in many a Massachusetts village was largely a secularized and expanded Congregationalism."
Harry Stout: "Congregationalism, by its very nature, grants sovereign power to no one. So we find people in New England in these churches playing democratic politics from the start, without ever calling it that. As a matter of fact, I think if you were to stop the average New Englander in the early 18th century and mention the word politics, they would know that word, but would think instinctively of church politics."
Richard B. Morris, a professor in American history at Columbia University, writes: "Just as the church was created by covenantors, so, too, the political order comes into existence as a voluntary creation of the convenanting members of society—the 'We the People' of the Preamble to the Constitution. One can trace a direct movement from biblical covenant to church covenant (Congregationalism) to constitutions, whether state or federal. "
LIMITATIONS OF REPUBLICAN GOVERNMENT
In a republic all men are equal before the law. Each citizen is a sovereign; and these sovereigns, by their votes, appoint some of their number to be their representatives and servants. This is a theory, an ideal, but we all know that it is more or less defective. It is in vain to claim that all men are born free and equal when we know that there are great inequalities of birth, of character, of talent, and will power.
But this highest type of government can be thoroughly appreciated only by intelligent people, and can work the highest good only in the hands of intelligent and conscientious people, submitted to the divine regulations. While, therefore, a republic would be the ideal condition for perfect men, it only partially meets the requirements of the case so long as man is imperfect.
God, who has arranged for each nation (Rom. 13:1-7) that form of government best adapted to its political ideals, development, and condition, wisely did not arrange for all nations, individually or collectively to have so highly a developed form of government as America in its individual states and as a whole, i.e., as the United States; because to certain nations such democratic institutions would be fatal.
Therefore He arranged that some nations, because of their extreme inexperience in political ideals, development, and condition, should have an absolute monarchial form of government; that some nations, because not quite so inexperienced in these respects, should have a limited monarchy; that other nations, rather progressive in their political ideals, development, and condition, should have a semi-democratic government; that more progressive nations in these respects should have an almost pure democracy; and that the most progressive nations in these respects should have a pure democracy, as the United States has.
It is proper, therefore, from the standpoint of God's "ordinance"—arrangement—in this matter for a nation that has outgrown the form of government once well adapted to its (at present outgrown) condition, to change that outgrown form of government. Hence it was not only right before man, but also before God, for our forefathers to expel Britain and to establish their own government of, for, and by the people.
It is a Divinely, as well as a humanly, true principle that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed; for a nation is a mutual political association of many kindred people for their common political interests. God, therefore, arranged that those who consent to an absolute monarchy should have it, that those who consent to a limited monarchy should have it, that those who consent to a semi-democracy should have it, and that those who consent to an almost pure democracy should have it, and that those who consent to a pure democracy should have it.
FORM OF GOVERNMENT IN GOD'S KINGDOM
In view of the danger of placing great power in the hands of a ruler and the advisability of the republican form of government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the question arises, How will it be with God's kingdom? This great government will be, not a republic, not a socialistic arrangement in any sense, but a monarchy. Nay, it will not even be a limited monarchy, but an imperial and autocratic one.
Instead of giving humanity more power and leaving everything to be settled by the popular will and vote, Messiah's kingdom will do the reverse. It will lay down the law, punish every infraction of the law, and point men to the fact that they are not qualified to govern themselves and that, therefore, God has decreed the establishment of Messiah's kingdom to rule over humanity, while they are in the imperfect condition, and to bring them up by restitution to full perfection, when they will be able, as originally designed, to all be kings; or, failing to come up to this standard, they will be destroyed as incorrigible, lovers of iniquity.
Its regulations will be far more exacting than those of any previous government, and the liberties of the people will be restricted to a degree that will be galling indeed to many now clamoring for an increase of liberty. Liberty to deceive, to misrepresent, to overreach and to defraud others, will be entirely denied. Liberty to abuse themselves or others in food or in drink, or in any way to corrupt good manners, will be totally denied to all. Liberty or license to do wrong of any sort will not be granted to any. The only liberty that will be granted to any will be the true and glorious liberty of the sons of God—liberty to do good to themselves and others in any and in every way; but nothing will be allowed to injure or destroy in all that Holy Kingdom. (Isa. 11:9; Rom. 8:21). That rule will consequently be felt by many to be a severe one, breaking up all former habits and customs, as well as breaking up present institutions founded upon these false habits and false ideas of liberty. Because of its firmness and vigor, it is symbolically called an iron rule—"He shall rule them with a rod of iron."
Jehovah our God will be the Autocrat and His will shall be enforced in the earth; and all who will not gladly and heartily obey His righteous laws when granted ample knowledge and ability, shall be cut off—shall die the second death, have life forever extinguished.
MESSIAH'S KINGDOM NOT A TYRANNY
In alarm some may ask, Would not that be a most dangerous condition of things? Could any royal family, however noble and generous, be entrusted with such autocratic power without fear of its being misused for the enslavement of the people, for the aggrandizement of the rulers? Have we not learned this in the history of the past six thousand years? Do we not see the necessity for curtailing and controlling the power of the kings and governors? Are we not more and more brought to realize the necessity that the people shall rule?
If this kingdom were of the same character as present governments, operated upon the same selfish principles, it would be all the worse for the increase of power. But it will be based upon other principles. Not injustice and selfishness, but principles of justice and love will be the foundation of that throne. And backed, as it will be, by Divine wisdom and power, good results, everlasting blessings, will result to the upright in heart. All its power and all the wisdom of its rulers will be exercised lovingly and justly, for the good of the fallen human family, for the elevation to perfection of all the willingly obedient.
THE CHARACTER OF THE KING
Nevertheless, no one who understands the matter need have any fear, as He who is to take the throne to be the Emperor of the World is Jesus Christ, the one who so loved the world as to give Himself a ransom for all. Instead of His empire being one of selfishness, which would ruin its subjects for its own aggrandizement, He has shown His Spirit to be the very reverse of this, in that He left the glory of the higher courts and humbled Himself to a lower nature and became man's substitute, a ransom for man's penalty, and "tasted death for every man." It is this One who is now highly exalted and appointed Heir of all things.
CHARACTER OF THE ARISTOCRACY
There will be an aristocratic class then, too; a class whom the great Autocrat will exalt to power and great glory and distinction, and to whom He will commit the ordering of this world's terribly disordered affairs. This class is the Church of God, of whom Christ Jesus is Lord and Chief. All power will be claimed and exercised (Matt. 28:18; Rev. 2:26; 11:7, 18); and infallible laws will be rigorously enforced. Then every knee must bow and every tongue must confess.
Let us remember also that the Church selected from the world during the Gospel Age is composed only of such as have their Master's Spirit and delight to lay down their lives for the brethren and for the Truth in cooperation with their Lord and Head and Bridegroom. Let us remember that according to the Divine predestination none shall be of that elect class save those who are copies of God's dear Son, and that the tests of discipleship are such as to prove them—their love and loyalty to God, to the brethren, to their neighbors, yea, also to their enemies.
As assistants of Jesus and the Little Flock, the Lamb's Wife, in the spiritual or invisible phase of the Kingdom, will be the Great Multitude, described in Rev. 7:9-17 and 19:1-9. This class consists of those who were called to be members of Christ's Bride, but who more or less came short of the prize of the High Calling. They are nevertheless rewarded for their measurable faithfulness by being invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). They are not given a place in the throne, but before it (Rev. 7:15), as antitypical Levites and Noblemen. The Great Multitude as antitypical Levites are to "serve God day and night in his temple."
While the Kingdom class proper—Jesus and the Church—will during their reign be invisible to mankind, they will be visibly represented throughout the earth by certain human beings—the Ancient Worthies and the Youthful Worthies—even as Satan and his angels have during their reign been visibly represented by certain human beings, such as oppressive rulers, false religious teachers and predatory aristocrats. But the Ancient and Youthful Worthies, before being made the visible representatives of the reigning Kingdom of Heaven in this earth (Gen. 13:14, 15; Acts 7:5; Heb. 11:39, 40), will have demonstrated, through their faithfulness while on trial in this life, their loyalty to Truth and righteousness. Hence they will be suitable and dependable representatives of the invisible Rulers in the next Age. They will be the princes—not kings—that will rule in judgment—truth and righteousness (Isa. 32:1). The Ancient Worthies will be princes—not kings—throughout the earth (Psa. 45:16), and therein will have as their associates the Youthful Worthies (Joel 2:28; Heb. 11:38). These Ancient and Youthful Worthies will be the subordinate rulers under Christ, while the world will then not only not rule at all, but will be subject to these Worthies. The Ancient and Youthful Worthies will stand before the world as the latter's visible rulers, and as such will be recognized and obeyed by the world.
Associated closely with the Worthies and subordinate to them will be the subordinate princes and captains, typed in Num. 1:5-16; 31:14. The latter princes or captains represent the Quasi-elect, among them the Consecrated Epiphany Campers, who will be helpful according to their several abilities in assisting the non-elect up the Highway of Holiness as they go everywhere converting the people to God's Word and work. These servants will assist in bringing peace to the people (Psa. 72:3). This is a result devoutly to be desired!
Who need fear an autocratic government in the hands of such glorious rulers? Indeed, we may say that such a government will be the most helpful, the most profitable, that the world could possibly have—wise, just, loving, helpful!
AGES TO COME
The social organization in the Ages to come is not revealed to us, but the fact that the Bible teaches us that all on earth will be "kings" (Rev. 21:24), even as Adam was in the beginning the king of the earth, and the further fact that the equality implied in all being kings, combined with the idea of convenience, would seem to imply that the government would probably be of a democratic character—certain members of the race being elected by the others to carry on such governmental functions as will be necessary for the maintenance of an orderly operation and progress of things among mankind. Further than this we are unable to say what the character of the social organization of that time will be; but we do know that it will be sinless; for it will be based upon the principles of wisdom, justice, love and power, even as St. Peter tells us that in the new earth righteousness shall dwell (2 Pet. 3:13).
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