Lee Gatiss preaches Part 2 of the “Homily concerning Good Order and Obedience to Rulers and Magistrates”, from the Anglican Homilies of 1547.
Since God has created and arranged all things in a beautiful order, we have been taught in the first part of this sermon concerning good order and obedience that we also ought in all commonwealths to observe and keep a due order, and to be obedient to the authorities, their ordinances and laws. We have been taught that all rulers are appointed by God so that a godly order is kept in the world, and also how magistrates ought to learn how to rule and govern according to God’s laws. We have also been taught that all subjects are bound to obey them as God’s servants, even if they are evil, not only out of fear but also for the sake of conscience.
Resisting the authorities And now, good people, let us all be diligent to note that it is not lawful for servants and subjects ever to resist or stand against the superior powers. For St. Paul’s words are plain, that “whoever rebels will bring judgment on themselves”, because, “whoever rebels is rebelling against what God has instituted” (Romans 13:2). Our saviour Christ himself, and his apostles, received many and various injuries from unfaithful and wicked people in authority; yet we never read that any of them caused any sedition or rebellion against authority. We often read that they patiently suffered all troubles, vexations, slanders, pangs, and pains, and death itself obediently, without disorder or resistance. They committed their cause to him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23), and prayed for their enemies heartily and earnestly. They knew that the authority of the powers that be was God’s ordinance, and therefore both in their words and deeds they always taught obedience to it, and never taught or did the opposite.
The wicked judge, Pontius Pilate said to Christ, “Do you not realise that I have the power either to free you or to crucify you?” And Jesus answered, “You would have no power at all against me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11). Christ taught us plainly by this that even wicked rulers have their power and authority from God. And therefore it is not lawful for their subjects to resist them by force, even if they abuse their power. Far less is it lawful for subjects to resist their godly and Christian rulers who do not abuse their authority but use it to God’s glory and to the profit and advantage of God’s people.
The holy apostle St. Peter commands servants to be obedient to their masters, not only if they are good and gentle but also if they are evil and difficult (1 Peter 2:18-21). He affirms that the vocation and calling of God’s people is to be patient and endure suffering. And there he points to the patience of our saviour Christ, to persuade us to be obedient to governors, even if they are wicked wrongdoers. But now, let us hear St. Peter himself speak, for his own words will best assure our consciences. This is what he says in his first epistle:
“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:18-21 NIV).
Al these are the very words of St. Peter.
King David’s example St. David also teaches us a good lesson on this subject. He was many times most cruelly and wrongfully persecuted by King Saul, and many times put in jeopardy and in danger of his life by King Saul and his people. Yet he never resisted, nor did he use any force or violence against King Saul, his mortal enemy, but always served his superior, his Lord and master King Saul, and gave him most true, most diligent, and most faithful service (1 Samuel 18-20). Even when the Lord God had given King Saul into David’s hands in his own cave, he would not hurt him, even though he could have easily slain him without danger to himself. No, he would not allow any of his servants to even lay their hands on King Saul, but prayed to God in this way: “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord (1 Samuel 24:6). That David might have killed his enemy, King Saul, is clearly proven in 1 Samuel, both by David’s cutting off the corner of Saul’s robe (1 Samuel 24:4) and by the plain confession of King Saul (1 Samuel 24:18-19).
Another time, mentioned in the same book, the most unmerciful and unkind King Saul persecuted poor David. And God gave King Saul into David’s hands by putting King Saul and his whole army into a deep sleep. David, and Abishai with him, went in the night into Saul’s camp, where Saul lay sleeping with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abishai said to David, “God has delivered your enemy into your hands today. Now, therefore, let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear, and I will not strike him a second time” — meaning by this to kill him with one stroke and be done with him forever. But David answered and said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him. For who can lay his hands on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” And David added, “as surely as the Lord lives, the Lord shall strike him, or his day to die shall come, or he shall go down into battle and perish there. The Lord keep me from laying my hands on the Lord’s anointed. But take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.” And so he did (1 Samuel 26:7-12). Here it is evidently proven that we may not resist, nor in any way hurt an anointed king, who is God’s lieutenant, deputy, and highest servant in that country where he is king.
But perhaps some here would say that David might have killed King Saul in his own defence, lawfully and with a safe conscience. But holy David knew that he should in no way resist, hurt, or kill his sovereign Lord and King. He knew that he was but King Saul’s subject, even though he was in great favour with God and his enemy King Saul was out of God’s favour. Therefore, even though he was greatly provoked, he utterly refused to hurt the Lord’s anointed. For fear of offending God and his own conscience, he did not dare even once to lay his hands on God’s high officer, the king, even though he had occasion and opportunity, and he knew the king was under God’s punishment and judgment and kept safe only for the sake of his office. Therefore he prayed so often and so earnestly that he might not lay his hands on the Lord’s anointed.
St. David is named in scripture as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22). By these two examples he gives a general rule and lesson to all subjects in the world, not to resist their sovereign Lord and ruler, and not to take up a sword by their private authority against their ruler, God’s anointed, who only bears the sword by God’s authority for the maintenance of good and the punishment of evil. By God’s law and commandment, rulers have the use of the sword and all power, jurisdiction, rule, and coercive force as supreme governor of all their realms and dominions by the authority of God and by God’s ordinances.
Another notable story which also teaches this doctrine is found in 2 Samuel. When an Amalekite had killed King Saul by King Saul’s own consent and commandment, he went to David, supposing that he would be greatly thanked for his message that he had killed David’s mortal enemy. He therefore made great haste to tell David what had happened, taking with him King Saul’s crown from his head and the bracelet from his arm to persuade him of the truth of his story. But godly David was so far from rejoicing at this news that he immediately tore his clothes from his back, mourned and wept, and said to the messenger, “How is it that you were not afraid to lay hands on the Lord’s anointed to destroy him?” And so David made one of his servants kill the messenger, saying, “Your blood be on your own head, for your mouth testified against you when you said ‘I killed the Lord’s anointed’” (2 Samuel 1:1-16).
Since these examples are so many and so clear, it is intolerable ignorance, madness, and wickedness for subjects to incite any murmuring, rebellion, resistance, commotion, or insurrection against their dear and most revered sovereign Lord and ruler, ordained and appointed by God’s goodness for their advantage, peace, and quietness.
Obey God above all However, let us undoubtedly believe (good Christian people) that we may not obey rulers, magistrates, or any other authority — even our own fathers — if they command us to do anything contrary to God’s commandments. In such a case, we ought to say with the apostles, “We must obey God, rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29).
Even in that case, however, we may not in any way violently resist or rebel against rulers, or make any insurrection, sedition, or disorder either by force of arms or otherwise against the anointed of the Lord or any of their appointed officers. But we must in such a case patiently suffer all wrongs and injuries, referring the judgment of our cause only to God.
Let us fear the terrible punishment of Almighty God against traitors or rebellious people, such as in the case of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who grumbled and opposed God’s magistrates and officers — and therefore the earth opened and swallowed them up alive. Others, for their wicked murmuring and rebellion, were utterly consumed by a sudden fire sent by God (Numbers 11 and 16). Others, for their opposition to their rulers and governors (God’s servants) were suddenly stricken with a foul skin disease (Numbers 12:10). Others were stung to death by strange fiery serpents (Numbers 21:6). Others were badly plagued, so that fourteen thousand seven hundred were killed in one day for rebellion against those whom God had appointed to be in authority (Numbers 16:41-49). Absalom also, rebelling against his father, King David, was punished with a strange and notable death (2 Samuel 18:9-15).