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By S. J. Crafts.
In his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul explains a point relating to the civil authorities.
Speaking of the civil power he says,“… he is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid; because he does not bear the sword in vain:
for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that does evil.” (Romans 13:4)
It is important to note that a few sentences beforehand, Paul has appealed to the Christians saying, “dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves”, and, “bless them which persecute you: bless and curse not”, and, “recompense [pay back] to no man evil for evil”.
All of these things are of course echoing the words of Jesus: “love your enemies, do good to them that hate you…”
For a Christian, revenge is something he ought never to indulge in. But for the State, revenge is something he is appointed to dispense.
He is set in place as “a revenger”.
He is given a “sword”, and he must not be seen to bear that sword in vain.
If people have no discipline over their own selves, (which is the fact of the matter of course,) then the earthly kingdom must provide external disciplines. It must be able to say to evil doers “be afraid”. And indeed, if fear were not to stand as a restraint against evil, then every country of this world would suddenly fall.
Earthly, civil power, is “ordained of God” (13:1). But of course abuse of that power is not.
Consider how that in the days of Daniel, the kingdom of Babylon reached its height and prospered. Under Nebuchadnezzar’s direction, the civil government built up, protected, and nourished the people. (Daniel 4:10-12). But after a time Nebuchadnezzar’s pride hardened him, and he became cruel to the poor. Because of the abuses of his God given power, the king was in great danger of being cut down. (Daniel 4:14 etc.)
Daniel appeals to him saying,
“O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off your sins by righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be an healing of thine error.” (Daniel 4:27 margin.) [Remember also Hezekiah. (Isaiah 37)]
A Christian State.
A Christian nation or state? Does such a thing exist in the world? America? Great Britain? Poland? Germany? Can any of these be called Christian states? If they can, then how is it that none of them can live under the injunction “recompense no man evil for evil”?
Seeing that a secular power must be a revenger, a compeller, an exactor of discipline and obedience, it is absolutely impossible for a state to bear the name “Christian” in truth.
Of course the name “Christian” is applied to secular powers, but this is an error.
Secular powers might acknowledge God in their constitution or in their acts of parliament. They may refer to their Christian heritage with respect and pride, they may endeavour to conduct themselves in an orderly and honourable fashion, but does any of this make a secular power Christian?
What does it actually mean to be Christian? Is it to give assent to Christ and His resurrection? The Devil does that! Then is a person made a Christian by bearing the name “Christian”? Certainly not, and neither does any group of people become Christian in that way. Claiming the label is nothing. And claiming the Christian faith is nothing, unless Christian works accompany the claim. [We are justified before God, not by faith only, but by faith and works (faith manifested). (James 2)]
Is it not apparent to all that the secular authority must expel a great number of Christian works from its conduct? Many things have to be left out from following Jesus’ example! It must force, it must retaliate, it must wield a sword in various forms. These governing bodies must say and do many unchristian things. They must, otherwise they would quickly cease to govern!
Now let us remember this basic fact: a truly Christian organisation follows Christ’s example, not only in things that are convenient, but in all things. All the heart, all the mind, all the soul, all the strength of that body is engaged in following Christ’s example. Nothing is to be held in reserve, nothing is to be exempted, not even for so-called practical purposes. (As the beasts of the field are driven by fear of the stick, or drawn forward by physical desires or incentives, so it is that the people of the world are moved.)
Will the people of this world be subject to the words of God of their own free will? (Pertaining to their outward conduct that is?) No, they will not – cannot - be subject. Therefore it is necessarry for fear to be set before them. Such a restraint is of the utmost necessity. (Shall we think that the tame and dainty would remain so if there was none to externally restrain, hinder, or impede? Let’s not be so foolhardy!)
Only people with the law of God written in their hearts and minds will live mindfully of others: they will neither defraud nor cause another harm. (Regardless of the provocation brought to bear!) In truth, these people can never be said to be of this world! They are restrained, not because of any external compulsion, not because of any threat or insensitivity, but simply because the love of God is in them.
Christianity and statecraft have tremendous inequalities. They cannot be brought into partnership: they cannot bear the same name. They differ, not simply in terms of gifts or talents (as some would have us believe,) their very natures differ, inasmuch as they are antagonistic to each other.
Can we say that the civil authority simply leaves off being Christian while it performs its unpleasant duties, and then resumes Christian virtues afterwards? Must sweet and bitter water be drawn from the same well, depending on who is being drawn for?
A secular state may attempt to follow Christ. Yet it must inevitably fail in this pursuit.
It must follow Him at so great a distance where the people will not be able to distinguish between the footsteps of Christ and those of the prince of this world -- the Devil. For a worldly-wise community this is a futile pursuit, and it would be better for them had they never set out upon it.
The Spirit teaches us that righteousness exalts a nation (Proverbs 14:34). What does He mean by this? He means, I suggest, that right actions make a nation prominent. Does it necessarily follow then, that such a nation is therefore a Christian nation? No. Babylon flourished because of righteousness (Daniel 4:10-12), but Babylon never became a Christian nation. (Of course even evil men know how to give good things to their own. (Matthew 7:11) In this they do right, but it does not mean that they are Christians.)
“Works of righteousness” do not save an individual or a system. (Titus 3:5)
Let’s look for a moment at a contrasting principle.
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