Lee Gatiss preaches from “An exhortation, concerning good order and obedience to rulers and magistrates”, from the Anglican Homilies.
Almighty God has created and appointed all things in heaven, on earth, and in the waters, in a most excellent and perfect order. In heaven, he has appointed distinct orders and states of Archangels and Angels. On earth, he has assigned kings and rulers, with other governors under them, all in good and necessary order. The water above is kept and rains down in due time and season. The sun, moon, stars, rainbow, thunder, lightning, clouds, and all the birds of the air keep their order. The earth, trees, seeds, plants, herbs, corn, grass, and all manner of beasts, keep in their order. All the parts of the whole year — winter, summer, months, nights, and days — continue in their order. All kinds of fish in the sea, rivers, and waters, with all fountains, springs, and indeed the seas themselves, keep their beautiful course and order.
Mankind itself also, has all its parts, both within and without — soul, heart, mind, memory, understanding, reason, speech, with each and every physical part of their bodies in a profitable, necessary, and pleasant order. Every kind of person in their vocation, calling, and office, has appointed to them their duty and order. Some are in high positions, some in low; some kings and rulers, some servants and subjects; priests and laypeople; employers and employees; fathers and children; husbands and wives; rich and poor. Every one needs the others, so that in all things the godly order of God is to be applauded and praised, because without it no house, no city, no commonwealth, can continue and endure. For where there is no right order, there reigns all abuse, carnal liberty, crime, sin, and confusion like at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).
Godly order Take away kings, rulers, magistrates, judges, and such divinely-ordained roles, and no one could travel or move about without being robbed, or sleep in their own house or bed without being murdered. No one could keep their wife, children, or possessions safe. All things would be common and there would necessarily follow all mischief and utter destruction, both of souls, bodies, goods, and commonwealths. Blessed be God that we in this realm of England do not feel the horrible calamities, miseries, and wretchedness which all those who lack this godly order do undoubtedly feel and suffer. And praise God that we know the great and excellent benefit of God shown towards us in this manner. God has sent us his high gift, our most dear sovereign Lord, King Edward the Sixth with godly, wise, and honourable counsel, with other governors and servants in a beautiful order.
Therefore, let us subjects do our bounden duties, giving hearty thanks to God and praying for the preservation of this godly order. Let us all obey, even from the bottom of our hearts, all their godly proceedings, laws, statutes, proclamations, and injunctions, with all other godly orders. Let us consider the scriptures of the Holy Spirit, which persuade and command us all to be obedient. First and chiefly, we must be subject to the King’s Majesty, supreme head over all; and next, to his honourable government, and to all other authorities, magistrates, and officers who by God’s goodness are appointed and ordered. For Almighty God is the only author and provider of this state and order, as it is written by God in the book of the Proverbs, “By me kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just; by me princes govern, and nobles — all who rule on earth. I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me” (Proverbs 8:15-17 NIV).
Here let us mark well and remember that the high power and authority of rulers, with the making laws, judgments, and officers, are the ordinances not of people, but of God. That is why this word is so many times repeated through me. Here it is also to be considered and remembered that this good order is appointed by God’s wisdom, favour, and love, especially for those who love God, and therefore he says, “I love those who love me” (Proverbs 8:17). Also, in the book of Wisdom we may evidently learn that a ruler’s power, authority, and strength is a great benefit of God, given by his great mercy for the comfort of our misery. For thus we read there, it is said to rulers: “Hear O kings, and understand. You who are judges of the ends of the earth, learn. Give ear, you who rule the multitudes, for your power is given to you by the Lord, and your strength comes from the Most High.” Let us also learn here from the infallible word of God that kings and other supreme and high office holders are ordained by God, who is the highest, and therefore they are diligently taught to apply themselves to knowledge and wisdom, necessary for the right ordering of God’s people committed to their governance. They are here also taught by Almighty God that they should acknowledge themselves to have all their power and strength not from Rome, but immediately from God Most High.
Obey the authorities We read in the book of Deuteronomy that all punishment belongs to God, in this sentence: “vengeance is mine, and I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35). But we must understand this sentence to apply also to the magistrates who stand in God’s place in judgment and punishment, by good and godly laws, here on earth. The places of scripture which seem to remove judgment, punishment, or killing from Christians, ought to be understood in this way: that no one, of their own private authority, may be judge over others to punish or kill. But we must refer all judgment to God, to kings and rulers, and judges under them, who are God’s officers to execute justice. And by the plain words of scripture they have their authority, and the use of the sword granted by God, as we are taught by St. Paul, the dear and elect apostle of our saviour Christ, whom we ought diligently to obey even as we would obey our saviour Christ if he were present. Thus St. Paul writes to the Romans:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing” (Romans 13:1-6 NIV).
Here let us all learn from St. Paul, the chosen instrument of God (Acts 9:15), that all people having souls owe a duty, even in conscience, obedience, submission, and subjection to the high powers which are constituted in authority by God. He excepts none, exempts none, neither priest, apostle, nor prophet, as Chrysostom points out. For they are God’s lieutenants, God’s presidents, God’s officers, God’s commissioners, God’s judges ordained by God himself, from whom alone they have all their power and all their authority. And the same St. Paul threatens nothing less than everlasting damnation to all disobedient people, to all those who resist this general and common authority. For they resist not people, but God; not a human design or invention, but God’s wisdom, God’s order, power, and authority.