This article continues a series of weekly posts originally authored by David Lipscomb, an important figure in the Churches of Christ in the 1800s. Learn more about Lipscomb’s background here and here, and see other references to him on LCI here. The series is titled “The Church of Christ and World-Powers”, and it was also originally published as a series of 18 articles in The Gospel Advocate in 1866. (To read from the beginning of the series, start here.)
The Church of Christ and World-Powers (16) — David Lipscomb in The Gospel Advocate, December 4, 1866, pp. 769-772.
We have found, in our former investigations, that there was no human polity or room left for human polity in any of God’s institutions ordained for his people, neither the Patriarchal, Jewish, or Christian dispensation it was introduced, too, by an ordinance of God; but let us see the occasion, design, and result of this ordaining a human institution among his people. The account of the introduction of this human polity is given in the 8th chapter of 1st Samuel. Samuel has become old; he has made his sons judges in Israel; and “his sons walk not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment. Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, and said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations,” 3-5 verses.
Here is the occasion of the introduction of this human institution – the perversion of the Divine government, and failure to carry out its proper object. If any circumstance would justify man in substituting his own institutions for those of God, certainly the corruption of God’s rulers, the perversion of his institutions from agencies of good to instrumentalities of evil and wrong, would justify them in so doing. Christians who make the inefficiency and weakness of the Church as excuse for forsaking it, and for framing and operating institutions of men, should carefully study the lesson taught us in this dealing of God with man. “But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord said unto Samuel, hearken unto the people in all that they say unto thee, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me that I should not rule over them,” verses 6 – 7. Here God, through Samuel, ordains a human government for the Jewish people; yet he protests that their desiring a human government amounted to a rejection of him – that he should not rule over them.
So he only ordains a human government for them when they reject the Divine government. Why is it not as great a sin to desire a human government added to the Divine now, as in the days of Samuel? Is the Divine less perfect and less efficient now than then? Is it less sacred in the eye of God? Here the people reject God; are dissatisfied with his institutions, desire human ones. God ordains they shall have them. For what purpose? Read [in the 18th chapter]* from the 11th to the 18th verse. “And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall with it. And David avoided out of his presence twice. And Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul. Therefore Saul removed him from him, and made him his captain over a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people. And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the Lord was with him. Wherefore when Saul saw that he behaved himself very wisely, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he went out and came in before them. And Saul said to David, Behold, my elder daughter Merab, her will I give to thee to wife; only be thou valiant for me, and fight the Lord’s battles. For Saul said, Let not my hand be upon him, but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him. And David said unto Saul, Who am I? and what is my life, or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” Evidently God’s design was not to bless them, but to curse them for their sin in being dissatisfied with the Divine and desiring human government.
So he ordained this institution of man for the Jewish people. The result of this ordinance of the human institution was, the people, through this institution, were continually led into deeper rebellion against God, calling down severer and still severer punishment, leading, through their wars, defeats, and captivities, to their final and complete destruction as a nation, and their cruel dispersion among the nations of the world, a persecuted and despised people. Hosea, lamenting the sad fate Israel had called down upon herself, (13:9-11) says “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help. I will be thy king. Where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities? and thy judges of whom thou hast said, give me a king and princes. I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.” God’s anger was kindled when Israel desired another ruler and another government than his own. To punish her in his anger he gave her a king to rule her with the rod of vengeance, when she repented not, but still clang to those kings in their sins rather than to turn to him, he took away that king and destroyed them as a people. The cause of this human government being ordained was the sinfulness of the people in not being satisfied with the Divine government; the object God had in view in ordaining it was the punishment of these people for this wickedness; the result was their complete rejection as the chosen people of God, and their destruction as a nation. So it was in the beginning of human government, Nimrod and his compeers rejected the government of God; he ordered a government which should punish and destroy them – an institution of wrath which should bring confusion, strife, and all distress, and which he named, as significant of the works it should perform, Babylon. So, too, he ordains at the present day human governments for such persons, but not for his subjects. The Divine government is his ordinance for those who are submissive to him.
But can the subjects of the Divine government engage in carrying on and executing the laws of the human? We have found that the work of each was distinct from that of the other. It was different in character. We now lay down the proposition that, God always, in the accomplishing of work, employed agents in character fitted for the work necessary to be performed. He never chose a gentle, tender-hearted, loving and faithful John, nor even the open-hearted, frank, impulsive Peter, to betray the Son of God. It would have been a dire punishment inflicted upon either of them. Now, here was a work necessary to the salvation of the human family – the betrayal and execution of the Son of God. But a good man could not engage in it. A work, too, that had been ordained of God – yet a good, true man could not perform it. Judas Iscariot, one fitted in character for just such a work of treason and crime, was chosen on account of his fitness in character for this work of treason, which the sins of human family had made necessary to be performed. God did not make him evil, but found him a wicked, depraved, money-loving man; and on account of these qualities chose him for the work. So, too, he chose the civil rulers to carry out his work.
So it was with John, with Peter, with each of the apostles, with Christ, with the angelic host, with the devil and his furies, so it is with every man in public or private position in the world. God forms the characters of none of them, yet God does choose and ordain them for the different kinds of work for which they are by character fitted to perform. When a wicked nation is to be destroyed, or a sinning people or a servant of his to be punished and humbled, he does not impose the work on a meek, gentle, merciful character, but he uses a Nimrod, a Pharaoh, a Nebuchadnezzar, a Cyrus, an Alexander, a Nero, a Bonaparte, etc., who meaneth not to honor God or glorify his name, by punishing his enemies; but “it is in their heart to cut off and destroy nations not a few.” God overrules this wicked, blood thirsty disposition of heart to accomplish the desired end. So over these two institutions, the one of vengeance, the other of mercy, two beings, differing in character, reign; in them their subjects approximating the extremes of character presented by the two great heads operate. No servant of the meek and lowly Jesus, who is trying to pattern his Master’s merciful, self-sacrificing character, is fitted for the work of “a revenger to execute wrath on him that doeth evil.” God has never called him to such a work. But the evil, the wicked, the disobedient, those who do not emulate the character of the Savior, are God’s ordained ministers for this work of vengeance. It is a gross perversion of the eternal fitness of all Heaven’s appointments for those who are striving to form Christ within them, to reproduce in their lives and characters the true likeness of the Savior’s life and character, to become the executioners of the princes of this world in carrying out his laws of vengeance and destruction.
* The original text did not denote that the cited verses in this sentence were from 1 Samuel 18.