Monday, October 23, 2017

Evil Restrained?

Monday, December 1, 2008, 12:00
This news item was posted in Covenant Commonwealth category.
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by J. Glenn Ferrell

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The purpose of civil government is to restrain evil.

Prior to the Flood, man s violence toward men and rebellion against God was not punished by man. The first murderer, Cain, was allowed by God to live, with a curse placed on any who might slay him (Gen. 4:15). Without human restraint, evil grew in the earth (Gen. 5:5) until God s judgment upon all the living came in the Flood, sparing only Noah and his family.

After the Flood, God ordained and authorized capital punishment for the shedding of human blood (Gen. 9:6). Civil government was born, as a restraint on the evil of men. If not for conscience sake, for fear of the avenging sword, men might forebear to take another s life.

At Babel, nations were divided, limiting their corporate rebellion and presumption against heaven (Gen. 11:6-8). In their tension with one another, one nation was limited in their ambitions and aggressions by another.

Thus, the civil magistrate was a gift of God s common grace, restraining evil even for those in rebellion against him, not permitting men and nations to do the evil they might against other men, nations and God.

All authority, including civil authority, comes from God and is limited by his warrant. Such is true even of unbelieving, pagan or apostate rulers. In the exercise of their legitimate power to restrain evil, they act with authority from God. When they misuse or exceed the limits of this authority, they come under his judgment, though their sin may be a secondary instrument of his wrath upon others.

Ungodly rulers will inevitably live as rebels against God and his Messiah, seeking to exceed the limits imposed and to rule according to their own judgment of good and evil. (Ps. 2:2-3) In this, they continue the rebellion of our first parents, following the lie of the serpent, seeking to be as gods (Gen. 3:5). God warns all such rebellious rulers to be wise and be instructed, not just as individuals, but in their capacity as judges of the earth. Note, this was directed to kings of the earth in general, and not to the kings of Israel or Judah. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (Ps. 2:11-12) All rulers have an obligation to recognize and submit to the rule of God in his anointed, Jesus Christ.

John Calvin, in the preface to his Institutes of the Christian Religion, instructed King Francis I of France regarding the legitimate authority and obligation of a ruler:

The characteristic of a true sovereign is, to acknowledge that, in the administration of his kingdom, he is a minister of God. He who does not make his reign subservient to the divine glory, acts the part not of a king, but a robber. He, moreover, deceives himself who anticipates long prosperity to any kingdom which is not ruled by the scepter of God, that is, by his divine word. For the heavenly oracle is infallible which has declared, that where there is no vision the people perish (Prov. 29:18).

God through the apostle Peter said civil magistrates are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. (1 Pet. 2:14) In the United States of America, we recognize the obligation of the civil magistrate to protect life, liberty and property. Assaults on these are evil and must be restrained or punished.

Evil is not limited to sins against man’s authority, life, family, property, or reputation, or safety. Protection of all these is indeed warranted by the last six of the Ten Commandments, sometimes called the Second Table of the Law. However, there is a First Table, the first four commandments, saying assaults against God s truth, dignity, name and day are also evil.

Where is the exemption for post-Calvary civil magistrates to limit their punishment and restraint of evil to those against man?

Obviously, the US Constitution prohibits religious tests, the establishment of a particular federal religion (now extended by the Fourteenth Amendment and court decisions to state and local governments), and guarantees the free exercise of all faiths. The majority of American Presbyterians said something of the same in 1789 by amending the twenty-third chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, paragraph 3, to say, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. While this may seem like a scriptural principle to us who have been taught the separation of church and state, it was not the civil theology of the Reformation.

Consider, John Calvin, commenting on Exodus 32:29 said, “Let us also learn that nothing is less consistent than to punish heavily the crimes whereby mortals are injured, whilst we connive at the impious errors or sacrilegious modes of worship whereby the majesty of God is violated.”

Where is the civil magistrate exempted from his duty to punish public violations of the First Table of God s Law?

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J. Glenn Ferrell is the Orthodox Presbyterian pastor of Sovereign Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho, and Contributing Editor to the Christian Observer.

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Copyright 2008 by J. Glenn Ferrell
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