Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The London Confession, 1644 (Part 10)

We now come to the end of the First London Baptist Confession, dealing with civil government.

XLVIII. That a civil magistracy is an ordinance of God, set up by God for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well; and that in all lawful things commanded by them, subjection ought to be given by us in the Lord: and that we are to make supplication and prayer for kings, and all that are in authority, that under them we may live a peaceable and quiet life in all godliness and honesty.
Rom.13:1,2, etc.; 1 Pet.2:13,14; 1 Tim.2:1,2,3.

XLIX. The supreme magistracy of this kingdom we acknowledge to be the king and parliament freely chosen by the kingdom, and that in all those civil laws which have been acted by them, or for the present is or shall be ordained, we are bound to yield subjection and obedience unto in the Lord, as conceiving our selves bound to defend both the persons of those thus chosen, and all civil laws made by them, with our person, liberties, and estates, with all that is called ours, although we should suffer never so much from them in not actively submitting to some ecclesiastical laws, which might be conceived by them to be their duties to establish which we for the present could not see, nor our consciences could submit unto; yet are we bound to yield our persons to their pleasures.

L. And if God should provide such a mercy for us, as to incline the magistrates hearts so far to tender our consciences, as that we might be protected by them from wrong, injury, oppression and molestation, which long we formerly have groaned under by the tyranny and oppression of the Prelatical Hierarchy, which God through mercy hath made this present King and Parliament wonderful honorable, as an instrument in his hand,to throw down; and we thereby have had some breathing time, we shall, we hope, look at it as a mercy beyond our expectation, and conceive ourselves further engaged forever to bless God for it.

LI. But if God withhold the magistrates allowance and furtherance herein; yet we must notwithstanding proceed together in Christian communion, not daring to give place to suspend our practice, but to walk in obedience to Christ in the profession and holding forth this faith before mentioned, even in the midst of all trials and afflictions, not accounting our goods, lands, wives, children, fathers, mothers, brethren, sisters, yea, and our own lives dear unto us, so we may finish our course with joy: remembering always that we ought to obey God rather than men....

LII. And likewise unto all men is to be given whatsoever is their due; tributes, customs, and all such lawful duties, ought willingly to be by us paid and performed, our lands, goods, and bodies, to submit to the magistrate in the Lord, and the magistrate every way to be acknowledged, reverenced, and obeyed, according to godliness; not because of wrath only but for conscience sake. And finally, all men so to be esteemed and regarded, as in due and meet for their place, age, estate, and condition.

LII [sic]. And thus we desire to give unto God that which is God's, and unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto all men that which belongeth unto them, endeavoring ourselves to have always a clear conscience void of offence towards God, and towards man. And if any take this that we have said to be heresy, then do we with the Apostle freely confess, that after the way which they call heresy, worship we the God of our Fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets and Apostles, desiring from our souls to disclaim all heresy and opinions which are not after Christ, and to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, as knowing our labor shall not be in vain in the Lord.

Though brief, I find this political statement by the early Baptist to be fascinating. As I read it, I noticed how they affirmed many important principles in the great tradition of Christian political thinking. Although they pushed the boundaries of accepted practices at times, these Baptists considered themselves to be carrying on the biblical and traditional principles of ordered liberty.

For example, the confession states that men ought to submit to the rulers "in all lawful things commanded by them." Christian political thinking has always maintained that rulers are under law, not above it. Kings are not a law unto themselves, nor can they do whatever they please. Rulers are subject to the same laws as everyone else in the land. But not only must rulers obey the same laws as everyone else, they must also enact laws which are subject to (and ought to be an expression of) a higher law which comes from God alone and not from man.

Another example of the Christian tradition carried on by this confession comes out in the phrase "the king and parliament freely chosen by the kingdom" (Art. XLIX). Sometimes as Americans we think that we are the first nation to incorporate the principle of consent of the governed in our political system. That is not the case. God revealed this principle long ago in the nation of Israel, and Christian theologians have always maintained that, even in a hereditary monarchy, the principle of the consent of the governed must be maintained.

A further evidence of the continuity of this confession with Christian thinking is the expressed submission to human government even when that same government makes us suffer for conscience sake. Christians have never been anarchists. There are godly ways to go about opposing an unjust government, but it has never been the Christian position to simply refuse to obey a government because it violates justice at some points.

And so the conversation continues. On this blog we have been listening carefully to those who have gone before us in the faith, so that we might gain much wisdom, and so that we might not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. Furthermore, if we are to rightly understand our place in the world today as Christians, we need to understand what has come before. May God make us men who understand the times and what we ought to do.

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