“Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. 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.” (Psalm 2:10-12)
Unless otherwise stated the articles are by David W. Norris
Covenants in Scripture
The Secularisation of the Christian Covenant
Resisting and Ousting Tyrannical and Failed Rulers and Governments
We now need to ask if we can rightfully resist and remove governments by some means, rulers who bring ruin to the nation. If so, by whom, and how far is it right? If we look into the Christian Scriptures by way of example, we find two covenants are involved: one covenant exists between God and the ruler; another one between God and the people. God holds each party to account both for what they do. It is in a real sense a three-way covenant, if one breaks the covenant, God can demand satisfaction from the other. Should any of the people default, then the ruler is called upon to execute punishment. Who may punish the godless ruler for not keeping his side of the bargain? The answer must be the people. This must be the case, particularly when they are obstructed from obeying God. ...
Does a government have the power of life and death over subjects? Some think so. However, the ruler is but a minister and executor of the law and may only pull the sword from its sheath and use it against those whom the law of God also condemns. To do anything other than this makes him a tyrant, someone who goes beyond what is permitted him. In which case he is no longer a ruler but a tyrant; no longer a judge but is a criminal himself; not a conserver of the law but a violator of it. Can the ruler then pardon those whom the law condemns? No, he cannot. Only cruel pity supports thieves, robbers, murderers, rapists, and others who plague us. Where this happens offences will only increase and provide the wrongdoer with yet more ammunition against the law. They become wolves among the sheep. ...
A tyrant is one who gains a kingdom directly by violence or some other indirect means. A tyrant may initially be lawfully invested by election or succession, but then govern contrary to the law and the equity to which he obliged himself at reception. The tyrant will oppress by calumnies and fraud, using corrupt officers of state. He will often give out false reports of conspiracies against himself as a pretext for his actions. He will gather around him corrupt officials, who act in self-interest but are absolutely the king’s creatures. They applaud and apply themselves to fulfilling his loose and unruly desires. He keeps these people in place working to their benefit as well as his own to keep them on board. The tyrant hates, suspects, and fears wise, honest and virtuous men like no others. He sees his own security as best served in the corruption of officers of state.
The people are obliged to governments under a condition, but governments are obliged to the people unconditionally, pure and simple. If the government fails, breaking the covenant, then the people are exempt from obedience the contract is void, the right of obligation has no force. People who publically renounce the unjust dominion of a tyrant or seek expulse him by force are not guilty of any crime. It is permitted for officers of the kingdom to suppress a tyrant, it becomes not only lawful but a duty. The government holds first place in the administration of the state, and the officers the second. The officers of state are also guilty if they connive in a government’s wickedness. All discharge their duties under a solemn oath.
As godlessness increases in our western democracies, as our leaders seek to redefine morality, diminishing all real sense of right and wrong, so Christian believers are increasingly coming into conflict with the law. Our governments seem unable to bring themselves to punish wrongdoers adequately, and they are now frequently harassing the law abiding. This is a reversal of the godly order. The question now arises as to whether as Christian believers we are bound to obey every law our governments take it into their heads to put on the statute book? The answer to this must be a resounding, no.
The following books are historical texts still widely used today when studying political thought in any depth.
A DEFENCE AGAINST TYRANTS (Vindiciæ Contra Tyrannos) Junius Brutus (circa 1579)
Anyone looking seriously at events in our own day must read this book. It was highly regarded by John Adams on the eve of the American Revolution.
A HOLY COMMONWEALTH Richard Baxter (1615-1691)
The scandal that surrounded this book detracts from its merits. It was hugely influential in the New World. It explains why a conservative Puritan such as Baxter fought on the side of the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War and supported Cromwell's Protectorate. In fairness it must be read together with his later book THE CHRISTIAN DIRECTORY in which he steps back from many of the conclusions in the earlier work.
LEX, REX (The Law is King) Samuel Rutherford (1600?-1661)
This book by a godly Scottish Presbyterian minister defends the rule of law and defensive wars. Rutherford argues for limited government and constitutionalism. His arguments are draw from Scripture and emphasises the importance of the idea of 'covenant' in a similar way to the author of Vindiciae contra tyrannos. His political theory was a precursor to Locke and the idea of social contract. At the Restoration he was cited for high treason, but death intervened before he could be tried. This is an important book. (See my article THE COVENANTS OF SCRIPTURE AND CIVIL GOVERNMENT.)