The First Question
Whether subjects are bound and ought to obey princes, if they command that which is against the law of God.
This question happily may seem at the first view to be altogether superfluous and unprofitable, for that it seems to make a doubt of an axiom always held infallible amongst Christians, confirmed by many testimonies in Holy Scripture, divers examples of the histories of all ages, and by the death of all the holy martyrs. For it may be well demanded wherefore Christians have endured so many afflictions, but that they were always persuaded that God must be obeyed simply and absolutely, and kings with this exception, that they command not that which is repugnant to the law of God. Otherways wherefore should the apostles have answered, that God must rather be obeyed than men, and also seeing that the only will of God is always just, and that of men may be, and is, oftentimes unjust, who can doubt but that we must always obey God’s commandments without any exception, and men’s ever with limitation?
But for so much as there are many princes in these days, calling themselves Christians, which arrogantly assume an unlimited power, over which God himself hath no command, and that they have no want of flatterers, which adore them as gods upon earth, many others also, which for fear, or by constraint, either seem, or else do believe, that princes ought to be obeyed in all things, and by all men. And withal, seeing the unhappiness of these times is such, that there is nothing so firm, certain, or pure, which is not shaken, disgraced, or polluted; I fear me that whosoever shall nearly and thoroughly consider these things, will confess this question to be not only most profitable, but also, the times considered, most necessary. For my own part, when I consider the cause of the many calamities wherewith Christendom hath been afflicted for these late years, I cannot but remember that of the prophet Hosea, “the princes of Judah were like them that remove the bounds: wherefore I will pour out myself like water. Ephraim is oppressed, and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the commandments.” Here you see the sin of the princes and people dispersed in these two words. The princes exceed their bounds, not contenting themselves with that authority which the almighty and all good God hath given them, but seek to usurp that sovereignty, which he hath reserved to himself over all men, being not content to command the bodies and goods of their subjects at their pleasure, but assume license to themselves to enforce the consciences, which appertains chiefly to Jesus Christ. Holding the earth not great enough for their ambition, they will climb and conquer heaven itself. The people on the other side walk after the commandment, when they yield to the desire of princes, who command them that which is against the law of God, and as it were to burn incense, and adore these earthly gods; and instead of resisting them, if they have means and occasion, suffer them to usurp the place of God, making no conscience to give that to Caesar, which belongs properly and only to God.
Now is there any man that sees not this, if a man disobey a prince commanding that which is wicked and unlawful, he shall presently be esteemed a rebel, a traitor, and guilty of high treason? Our Saviour Christ, the apostles and all the Christians of the primitive church, were charged with these calumnies. If any, after the example of Ezra and Nehemiah, dispose himself to the building of the temple of the Lord, it will be said he aspires to the crown, hatches innovations, and seeks the ruin of the state. Then you shall presently see a million of these minions and flatterers of princes tickling their ears with an opinion, that if they once suffer this temple to be re-builded, they may bid their kingdom farewell, and never look to raise impost or taxes on these men.
But what a madness is this! There are no estates which ought to be esteemed firm and stable, but those in whom the temple of God is built, and which are indeed the temple itself, and these we may truly call kings, which reign with God, seeing that it is by him only that kings reign. On the contrary, what beastly foolishness it is to think that the state and kingdom cannot subsist if God Almighty be not excluded, and his temple demolished. From hence proceeds so many tyrannous enterprises, unhappy and tragic death of kings, and ruins of people. If these sycophants knew what difference there is between God and Caesar, between the King of kings and a simple king, between the lord and the vassal, and what tributes this lord requires of his subjects, and what authority he gives to kings over those his subjects, certainly so many princes would not strive to trouble the kingdom of God, and we should not see some of them precipitated from their thrones by the just instigation of the Almighty, revenging himself of them, in the midst of their greatest strength, and the people should not be sacked and pillaged and trodden down.
It then belongs to princes to know how far they may extend their authority, and to subjects in what they may obey them, lest the one encroaching on that jurisdiction, which no way belongs to them, and the others obeying him which commandeth further than he ought, they be both chastised, when they shall give an account thereof before another judge. Now the end and scope of the question propounded, whereof Holy Scripture shall principally give the resolution, is that which followeth. The question is, if subjects be bound to obey kings, in case they command that which is against the law of God, that is to say, to which of the two (God or king) must we rather obey; when the question shall be resolved concerning the king, to whom is attributed absolute power, that concerning other magistrates shall be also determined.
First, the Holy Scripture doth teach, that God reigns by his own proper authority, and kings by derivation, God from himself, kings from God, that God hath a jurisdiction proper, kings are his delegates. It follows then, that the jurisdiction of God hath no limits, that of kings bounded; that the power of God is infinite, that of kings confined; that the kingdom of God extends itself to all places, that of kings is restrained within the confines of certain countries. In like manner God hath created of nothing both heaven and earth; wherefore by good right He is lord, and true proprietor, both of the one and the other. All the inhabitants of the earth hold of Him that which they have, and are but His tenants and farmers; all the princes and governors of the world are His stipendiaries and vassals, and are bound to take and acknowledge their investitures from Him. Briefly, God alone is the owner and lord, and all men of what degree or quality soever they be, are His servants, farmers, officers, and vassals, and owe account and acknowledgment to Him, according to that which He hath committed to their dispensation; the higher their place is the greater their account must be, and according to the ranks whereunto God hath raised them, must they make their reckoning before His divine majesty, which the Holy Scriptures teacheth in infinite places, and all the faithful, yea, and the wisest among the heathen have ever acknowledged. The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof (so saith King David). And to the end that men should not sacrifice to their own industry, the earth yields no increase without the dew of heaven. Wherefore God commanded that His people should offer unto Him the first of their fruits, and the heathens themselves hath consecrated the same unto their gods, to the end, that God might be acknowledged lord, and they his grangers and vine dressers; the heaven is the throne of the Lord, and the earth His footstool.
And, therefore, seeing all the kings of the world arc under his feet, it is no marvel, if God be called the King of kings, and Lord of lords, all kings be termed His ministers established to judge rightly, and govern justly the world in the quality of lieutenants. By me (so saith the divine wisdom) kings reign, and the princes judge the earth. If they do it not, he looseth the bonds of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle. As if he should say, it is in my power to establish kings in their thrones, or to thrust them out, and from that occasion the throne of kings is called the throne of God. Blessed be the Lord thy God (saith the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon) which delighted in thee to set thee on his throne to be king for the Lord thy God, to do judgment and justice. In like manner we read in another place, that Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord, or on the throne of the Lord’s kingdom.
By the same reason the people are always called the Lord’s people, and the Lord’s inheritance, and the king’s governor of this inheritance, and conductor or leader of his people of God, which is the title given to David, to Solomon, to Ezekias and to other good princes; when also the covenant is passed between God and the king, it is upon condition that the people be, and remain always, the people of God, to show that God will not in any case despoil himself of his property and possession, when he gives to kings the government of the people, but establish them to take charge of, and well use them; no more nor less than he which makes choice of a shepherd to look to his flocks, remains, notwithstanding himself, still master and owner of them.
This was always known to those good kings, David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, and others who acknowledged God to be the Lord of their kingdoms and nations, and yet lost no privilege that justly belongs to real power; yea, they reigned much more happily in that they employed themselves cheerfully in the service of God, and in obedience to his commandments. Nebuchadnezzar, although he was a heathen, and a mighty emperor, did yet at the end acknowledge this, for though Daniel called him the king of kings, to whom the King of Heaven had granted power and royal majesty above all others, yet, on the contrary (said he), “Thy God, O Daniel, is truly the God of gods, and Lord of lords, giving kingdoms to whom He pleaseth,” yea, to the most wretched of the world. For which cause Xenophon said at the coronation of Cyrus, “Let us sacrifice to God.” And profane writers in many places do magnify God the most mighty and sovereign King. At this day at the inaugurating of kings and Christian princes, they are called the servants of God, destined to govern his people. Seeing then that kings are only the lieutenants of God, established in the Throne of God by the Lord God himself, and the people are the people of God, and that the honor which is done to these lieutenants proceeds from the reverence which is born to those that sent them to this service, it follows of necessity that kings must be obeyed for God’s cause, and not against God, and then, when they serve and obey God, and not other ways.
It may be that the flatterers of the court will reply, that God has resigned his power unto kings, reserving heaven for himself, and allowing the earth to them to reign, and govern there according to their own fancies, briefly that the great ones of the world hold a divided empire with God himself. Behold a discourse proper enough for that impudent villain Cleon the sycophant of Alexander, or for the poet Martial, which was not ashamed to call the edicts of Domitian, the ordinances of the Lord God. This discourse, I say, is worthy of that execrable Domitian who (as Suetonius recites) would be called God and Lord. But altogether unworthy of the ears of a Christian prince, and of the mouth of good subjects, that sentence of God Almighty must always remain irrevocably true, “I will not give My glory to any other,” that is, no man shall have such absolute authority, but I will always remain Sovereign.
God does not at any time divest himself of his power; he holds a scepter in one hand to repress and quell the audacious boldness of those princes who mutiny against him, and in the other a balance to control those who administer not justice with equity as they ought; than these there cannot be expressed more certain marks of sovereign command. And if the emperor, in creating a king, reserves always to himself the imperial sovereignty, or a king, as he of France, in granting the government or possession of a province to a stranger, or if it be to his brother or son, reserves always to himself appeals, and the knowledge of such things as are the marks of royalty and sovereignty, the which also are always understood of themselves to be excepted, although they were altogether omitted in the grant of investiture and fealty promised; with much more reason should God have sovereign power and command over all kings being his servants and officers, seeing we read, in so many places of Scripture, that he will call them to an account, and punish them, if they do not faithfully discharge their duties. Then therefore all kings are the vassals of the King of kings, invested into their office by the sword, which is the cognizance of their royal authority, to the end that with the sword they maintain the law of God, defend the good, and punish the evil. Even as we commonly see, that he who is a sovereign lord puts his vassals into possession of their fee by girding them with a sword, delivering them a buckler and a standard, with condition that they shall fight for them with those arms if occasion shall serve.
Now if we consider what is the duty of vassals, we shall find that what may be said of them, agrees properly to kings. The vassal receives his fee of his lord with right of justice, and charge to serve him in his wars. The king is established by the Lord God, the King of kings, to the end he should administer justice to his people and defend them against all their enemies. The vassal receives laws and conditions from his sovereign. God commands the king to observe his laws and to have them always before his eyes, promising that he and his successors shall possess long the kingdom, if they be obedient, and on the contrary, that their reign shall be of small continuance, if they prove rebellious to their sovereign king. The vassal obligeth himself by oath unto his lord, and swears that he will be faithful and obedient. In like manner the king promises solemnly to command, according to the express law of God. Briefly, the vassal loses his fee, if he commit a felony, and by law forfeits all his privileges. In the like case the king loses his right, and many times his realm also, if he despise God, if he complot with his enemies, and if he commit felony against that royal majesty. This will appear more clearly by the consideration of the covenant which is contracted between God and the king, for God does that honor to His servants to call them His confederates. Now we read of two sorts of covenants at the inaugurating of kings, the first between God, the king, and the people, that the people might be the people of God. The second, between the king and the people, that the people shall obey faithfully, and the king command justly. We will treat hereafter of the second, and now speak of the first.
When King Joas was crowned, we read that a covenant was contracted between God, the king, and the people, or, as it is said in another place, between Jehoiada the high priest, all the people, and the king, “that God should be their Lord.” In like manner we read that Josias and all the people entered into covenants with the Lord. We may gather from these testimonies, that in passing these covenants the high priest did covenant in the name of God in express terms, that the king and the people should take order that God might be served purely, and according to His will, throughout the whole kingdom of Judah, that the king should so reign that the people were suffered to serve God, and held in obedience to his law. Thus the people should so obey the king, as their obedience should have principal relation to God. It appears by this that the king and the people are jointly bound by promise, and did oblige themselves by solemn oath to serve God before all things. And indeed presently after they had sworn the covenant, Josias and Joas did ruin the idolatry of Baal and re-established the pure service of God. The principal points of the covenants were chiefly these.
That the king himself, and all the people should be careful to honor and serve God according to His will revealed in His word, which, if they performed, God would assist and preserve their estates; as in doing the contrary, he would abandon, and exterminate them, which does plainly appear by the conferring of divers passages of Holy Writ. Moses, somewhat before his death, propounds these conditions of covenant to all the people, and at the same time commands that the law, which are those precepts given by the Lord, should be in deposito kept in the ark of the covenant. After the decease of Moses, Joshua was established captain and conductor of the people of God, and according as the Lord himself admonished, if he would have happy success in his affairs, he should not in any sort estrange himself from the law; Joshua also, for his part, desiring to make the Israelites understand upon what condition God had given them the country of Canaan, as soon as they were entered into it, after due sacrifices performed, he read the law in the presence of all the people, promising unto them in the Lord’s name all good things if they persisted in obedience; and threatening of all evil if they willfully connived in disobedience. Summarily, he assures them all prosperity, if they observed the law; as otherwise, he expressly declared, that in doing the contrary they should be utterly ruined. Also at all such times as they left the service of God, they were delivered into the hands of the Canaanites, and reduced into slavery, under their tyranny.
Now this covenant between God and the people in the times of the judges, had vigor also in the times of the kings, and was treated with them. After that Saul had been anointed, chosen, and wholly established king, Samuel speaks unto the people in these terms: “Behold the king whom you have demanded and chosen; God hath established him king over you; obey you therefore and serve the Lord, as well as your king which is established over you, otherwise you and your king shall perish.” As if he should say, you would have a king, and God has given you this here, notwithstanding, think not that God will suffer any encroachment upon his right, but know that the king is as well bound to observe the law as you, and if he fail therein, his delinquency shall be punished as severely as yours. Briefly, according to your desires Saul is given you for your king, to lead you in the wars, but with this condition annexed, that he himself follow the law of God. After that Saul was rejected, because he kept not his promise; David was established king on the same condition; so also was his son Solomon, for the Lord said, “If thou keep my law, I will confirm with thee the covenant which I contracted with David.” Now concerning this covenant, it is inserted into the second book of the Chronicles, as follows: “There shall not fail thee a man in my sight, to sit upon the throne of Israel: yet so that thy children take heed to their way to walk in my law, as thou hast walked before me. But if they serve idols, I will drive them from the land whereof I have given them possession.” And therefore it was that the book of the law was called the book of the covenant of the Lord (who commanded the priests to give it the king), according to which Samuel put it into the hands of Saul, and according to the tenure thereof Josias yields himself feudatory and vassal of the Lord. Also the law which is kept in the ark is called the covenant of the Lord with the children of Israel. Finally, the people delivered from the captivity of Babylon do renew the covenant with God, and do acknowledge throughout the chapter, that they worthily deserved all those punishments for their falsifying their promise to God. It appears, then, that the kings swear as vassals to observe the law of God, whom they confess to be Sovereign Lord over all.
Now, according to that which we have already touched, if they violate their oath, and transgress the law, we say that they have lost their kingdom, as vassals lose their fee by committing felony. We have said that there was the same covenant between God and the kings of Judah, as before, between God and the people in the times of Joshua and the judges. But we see in many places, that when the people has despised the law, or made covenants with Baal, God has delivered them into the hands of Eglon, Jabin, and other kings of the Canaanites. And as it is one and the same covenant, so those who do break it, receive like punishment. Saul is so audacious to sacrifice, infringing thereby the law of God, and presently after saves the life of Agag, king of the Amalekites, against the express commandment of God. For this occasion he is called rebel by Samuel, and finally is chastised for his rebellion. “Thou hast sacrificed,” saith he, “but thou hadst done better to obey God, for obedience is more worthy than sacrifice.” Thou hast neglected the Lord thy God, He also has rejected thee, that thou reign no more over Israel. This has been so certainly observed by the Lord, that the very children of Saul were deprived of their paternal inheritance, for that he, having committed high treason, did thereby incur the punishment of tyrants, which affect a kingdom that no way appertains unto them. And not only the kings, but also their children and successors, have been deprived of the kingdom by reason of such felony. Solomon revolted from God to worship idols. Incontinently the prophet Ahijah foretells that the kingdom shall be divided under his son Rehoboam. Finally, the word of the Lord is accomplished, and ten tribes, who made the greatest portion of the kingdom, do quit Rehoboam, and adhere to Jereboam his servant.
Wherefore is this? For so much (saith the Lord) that they have left me to go after Ashteroth, the god of the Sidonians and Chamos, the god of the Moabites, etc., I will also break in pieces their kingdom; as if he should say, they have violated the covenant, and have not kept promise; I am no more then tied unto them. They will lessen my Majesty, and I will lessen their kingdom. Although they be my servants, yet notwithstanding they will expel me my kingdom. But I will drive them out themselves by Jeroboam, who is their servant. Furthermore, for so much as this servant, fearing that the ten tribes, for the cause of religion should return to Jerusalem, set up calves in Bethel, and made Israel to sin, withdrawing by this means the people far from God; what was the punishment of so ungrateful a vassal and wicked traitor towards his Lord? First, his son died, and, in the end, all his race, even unto the last of the males was taken from the face of the earth by the sword of Baasa, according to the judgment which was pronounced against him by the prophet, because he revolted from the obedience of the Lord God; this, then, is cause sufficient, and oftentimes also propounded, for the which God doth take from the king his fee, when he opposes the law of God, and withdraws himself from Him to follow His enemies, to wit, idols, and as like crimes deserve like punishments, we read in the holy histories that kings of Israel and of Judah who have so far forgotten themselves, have in the end miserably perished.
Now, although the form, both of the church and the Jewish kingdom be changed, for that which was before enclosed within the narrow bounds of Judaea is now dilated throughout the whole world; notwithstanding the same things may be said of Christian kings, the gospel having succeeded the law, and Christian princes being in the place of those of Jewry. There is the same covenant, the same conditions, the same punishments, and if they fail in the accomplishing, the same God Almighty, revenger of all perfidious disloyalty; and as the former were bound to keep the law, so the other are obliged to adhere to the doctrine of the Gospel, for the advancement whereof these kings at their anointing and receiving, do promise to employ the utmost of their means.
Herod, fearing Christ, whose reign he should rather have desired, sought to put Him to death, as if He had affected a kingdom in this world, did himself miserably perish, and lost his kingdom. Julian the apostate, did cast off Christ Jesus to cleave onto the impiety and idolatry of the pagans, but within a small time after he fell to his confusion through the force of the arm of Christ, whom in mockery he called the Galilean. Ancient histories are replete with such examples, neither is there any want in those of these times. Of late years divers kings, drunk with the liquor which the whore of Babylon has presented unto them, have taken arms, and for the love of the wolf, and of Antichrist, have made war against the Lamb of God, who is Christ Jesus; and yet at this day some amongst them do continue in the same course. We have seen some of them ruined in the deed, and in the midst of their wickedness; others also carried from their triumphs to their graves. Those who survive and follow them in their courses have little reason to expect a better issue of their wicked practices; this sentence remains always most certain, “That though all the kings of the earth do conjure and conspire against Christ and endeavor to cut in pieces our Lamb, yet in the end they shall yield the place, and maugre their hearts, confess that this Lamb is the King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
But what shall we say of the heathen kings? Certainly although they be not anointed and sacred of God, yet be they His vassals and have received their power from Him, whether they be chosen by lot or any other means whatsoever. If they have been chosen by the voices of an assembly, we say that God governs the heart of man, and addresses the minds and intentions of all persons whither he pleases. If it be by lot, the lot is cast in the lap, saith the wise man, “but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” It is God only that in all ages establishes and takes away, confirms and overthrows kings according to His good pleasure. In which regard Isaiah calls Cyrus the anointed of the Lord, and Daniel says that Nebuchadnezzar and others have had their kingdoms committed unto them by God, as also Saint Paul maintains that all magistrates have received their authority from Him. For, although that God has not commanded pagans in express terms to obey Him as he has done those who have knowledge of Him; yet, notwithstanding the pagans must needs confess that it is by the sovereign God that they reign, wherefore if they will not yield the tribute that they owe to God in regard of themselves, at the least let them not attempt nor hinder the sovereign to gather that which is due from those people who are in subjection to them; nor that they do not anticipate, nor appropriate to themselves divine jurisdiction over them, which is the crime of high treason and true tyranny, for which occasion the Lord has grievously punished even the pagan kings themselves. It then becomes those princes who will free themselves from so enormous a mischief, carefully to distinguish their jurisdiction from that of God’s, yea, so much the more circumspectly for that God and the prince have their right of authority over one and the same land, over one and the same man, over one and the same thing. Man is composed of body and soul, God has formed the body and infused the soul into him; to Him only then may be attributed and appropriated the commands both over the body and soul of man.
If out of His mere grace and favor He has permitted kings to employ both the bodies and goods of their subjects, yet still with this proviso and charge, that they preserve and defend their subjects, certainly kings ought to think that the use of this authority is in such manner permitted, that notwithstanding the abuse of it is absolutely forbidden. First, those who confess that they hold their souls and lives of God, as they ought to acknowledge, they have then no right to impose any tribute upon souls. The king takes tribute and custom of the body, and of such things as are acquired or gained by the industry and travail of the body. God doth principally exact His right from the soul, which also in part executes her functions by the body. In the tribute of the king are comprehended the fruits of the earth, the contributions of money and other charges, both real and personal; the tribute of God is in prayers, sacraments, predications of the pure Word of God; briefly, all that which is called divine service, as well private as public. These two tributes are in such manner divers and distinguished, that the one nothing hurts the other. The exchequer of God takes nothing from that of Caesar, but each of them have their right manifestly apart. But to speak in a word, whosoever confounds these things, does heaven and earth together, and endeavors to reduce them into their first chaos, or latter confusion. David hath excellently well distinguished these affairs, ordaining officers to look to the right of God, and others for that of the king. Josephat has followed the same course, establishing certain persons to judge the causes that belonged to the Almighty, and others to look to the justice of the king; the one to maintain the pure service of God, the other to preserve the rights of the king. But if a prince usurp the right of God, and put himself forward, after the manner of the giants to scale the heavens, he is no less guilty of high treason to his sovereign, and commits felony in the same manner, as if one of his vassals should seize on the rights of his crown, and put himself into evident danger to be despoiled of his estates; and that so much the more justly, there being no proportion between God and an earthly king, between the Almighty and a mortal man; whereas yet between the lord and the vassal there is some relation of proportion.
So often, therefore, as any prince shall so much forget himself, as insolently to say in his heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of Cod; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High”; then on the contrary, will the Almighty say, I will rise up more high, I will set myself against thee; I will erase out thy name and all thy posterity, thy counsels shall vanish into smoke, but that which I have once determined shall remain firm, and never be annihilated. The Lord said unto Pharaoh, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me, and offer sacrifice unto Me,” and for that this proud man answered, that he knew not the God of the Hebrews; presently after he was miserably destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar commanded that his statue should be adored, and would be honored as God, but within a short time the true God did deservedly chastise his unruly boldness, and desiring to be accounted God, he became a brute beast, wandering through desert places like a wild ass, until (says the Prophet) that he acknowledged the God of Israel to be the sovereign Lord over all. His son Belshaser abused the holy vessels of the temple in Jerusalem, and put them to serve his excess and drunkenness; for that therefore he gave not glory to Him, that held in His hands both his soul and his counsels; he lost his kingdom, and was slain in that very night of feasting.
Alexander the Great took pleasure in the lies of his flatterers, who termed him the son of Jupiter, and not only approved, but procured his adoration, but a sudden death gave a sad period to those triumphs. Being blinded through his excess of conquests, he began with too much affection to delight in Antiochus, under color of pacifying and uniting his subjects, commanded all men to forsake the laws of God, and to apply themselves in obedience to his; he profaned the temple of the Jews, and polluted their altars, but after divers ruins, defeats, and loss of battles, despoiled and disgraced, he dies with grief, confessing that he deservedly suffered those miseries, because he would have constrained the Jews to leave their religion. If we take into our consideration the death of Nero, that inhuman butcher of Christians, whom he unjustly slandered with the firing of Rome, being the abhorred act of his detested self; the end of Caligula, which made himself to be adored of Domitian who would be called lord and god; of Commodus, and divers others who would appropriate to themselves the honors due to God alone, we shall find that they have all and always according to their deceits miserably perished; when, on the contrary, Trajan, Adrian, Antonius the courteous, and others, have finished their days in peace; for although they knew not the true God, yet have they permitted the Christians the exercise of their religion.
Briefly, even as those rebellious vassals who endeavor to possess themselves of the kingdom, do commit felony by the testimony of all laws, and deserve to be extirpated; in like manner those are as really guilty which will not observe the divine law, whereunto all men without exception owe their obedience, or who persecute those who desire to conform themselves thereunto, without hearing them in their just defenses. Now for that we see that God invests kings into their kingdoms, almost in the same manner that vassals are invested into their fees by their sovereign, we must needs conclude that kings are the vassals of God, and deserve to be deprived of the benefit they receive from their lord if they commit felony, in the same fashion as rebellious vassals are of their estates. These premises being allowed, this question may be easily resolved; for if God hold the place of sovereign Lord, and the king as vassal, who dare deny but that we must rather obey the sovereign than the vassal? If God commands one thing, and the king commands the contrary, what is that proud man that would term him a rebel who refuses to obey the king, when else he must disobey God? But, on the contrary, he should rather be condemned, and held for truly rebellious, who omits to obey God, or who will obey the king, when he forbids him to yield obedience to God.
Briefly, if God calls us on the one side to enroll us in His service, and the king on the other, is any man so void of reason that he will not say we must leave the king, and apply ourselves to God’s service? So far be it from us to believe, that we are bound to obey a king, commanding anything contrary to the law of God, that, contrarily, in obeying him we become rebels to God; no more nor less than we would esteem a countryman a rebel who, for the love he bears to some rich and ancient inferior lord, would bear arms against the sovereign prince, or who had rather obey the writs of an inferior judge than of a superior, the commandments of a lieutenant of a province, than of a prince; to be brief, the directions of an officer rather than the express ordinances of the king himself. In doing this we justly incur the malediction of the prophet Micah, who does detest and curse, in the name of God, all those who obey the wicked and perverse ordinances of kings. By the law of God we understand the two tables given to Moses, in the which, as in unremovable bounds, the authority of all princes ought to be fixed. The first comprehends that which we owe to God, the second that which we must do to our neighbors; briefly, they contain piety and justice conjoined with charity, from which the preaching of the gospel does not derogate, but rather authorize and confirm. The first table is esteemed the principal, as well in order as in dignity. If the prince commands to cut the throat of an innocent, to pillage and commit extortion, there is no man (provided he has some feeling of conscience) who would execute such a commandment. If the prince has committed some crime, as adultery, parricide, or some other wickedness, behold amongst the heathen, the learned lawyer Papinian who will reprove Caracalla to his face, and had rather die than obey, when his cruel prince commands him to lie and palliate his offense; nay, although he threaten him with a terrible death, yet would he not bear false witness. What shall we do then, if the prince command us to be idolaters? If he would have us again crucify Christ Jesus, if he enjoins us to blaspheme and despise God, and to drive Him (if it were possible) out of heaven, is there not yet more reason to disobey him, than to yield obedience to such extravagant commands? Yet a little farther, seeing it is not sufficient to abstain from evil, but that we must do good, instead of worshipping of idols, we must adore and serve the true God, according as he has commanded us, and instead of bending our knees before Baal, we must render to the Lord the honor and service which He requires of us. For we are bound to serve God for His own sake only; but we honor our prince, and love our neighbor, because and for the love of God.
Now if it be ill done to offend our neighbour, and if it be a capital crime to rise against our prince, how shall we entitle those who rise in rebellion against the majesty of the sovereign Lord of all mankind? Briefly, as it is a thing much more grievous to offend the creator, than the creature, man, than the image he represents; and as in the terms of law, he that has wounded the proper person of a king, is much more culpable than another who has only broken the statue erected in his memory, so there is no question but a much more terrible punishment is prepared for them who infringe the first table of the law, than for those who only sin against the second, although the one depend on the other, whereupon it follows (to speak by comparison) that we must take more careful regard of the observation on the first than of the second.
Furthermore, our progenitors’ examples may teach us the rule we must follow to this case. King Ahab, at the instigation of his wife Jezebel, killed all the prophets and servants of God that could be taken, notwithstanding, Abdias, steward of Ahab’s house, did both hide and feed in a cave a hundred prophets; the excuse for this is soon ready; in obligations, oblige they never so nearly, the Divine Majesty must always be excepted. The same Ahab enjoined all men to sacrifice to Baal. Elias, instead of cooling or relenting, did reprove more freely the king and all the people, convinced the priests bf Baal of their impiety, and caused them to be executed. Then, in despite of that wicked and furious Jezebel, and maugre that uxorious king, he does redress and reform with a divine and powerful endeavor the service of the true God. When Ahab reproached him (as the princes of our times do) that he troubled Israel, that he was rebellious, seditious—titles wherewith they are ordinarily charged, who are no way culpable thereof—Nay, but it is thou thyself, answered Elias, who, by thy apostasy has troubled Israel, who has left the Lord, the true God, to acquaint thyself with strange gods, His enemies. In the same manner and by the leading and direction of the same spirit did Sidrac, Misack, and Abednego refuse to obey Nebuchadnezzar; Daniel, Darius; Eleazar, Antiochas, and infinite others. After the coming of Jesus Christ, it being forbidden the apostles to preach the gospel, “Judge ye” (said they), “whether it be reasonable as in the sight of God to obey men, rather than God”; according to this, the apostles, not regarding either the intendments or designs of the greatness of the world, addressed themselves readily to do that which their master, Jesus Christ, had commanded them.
The Jews themselves would not permit that there should be set up in the temple at Jerusalem the eagle of silver, nor the statue of Caligula; what did Ambrose when the Emperor Valentinian commanded him to give the temple at Milan to the Arians? “Thy counsellors and captains are come unto me,” said he, “to make me speedily deliver the temple, saying it was done by the authority and command of the emperor, and that all things are in his power.” I answered to it, “That if he demanded that which is mine, to wit, mine inheritance, my money, I would not in any sort refuse it him, although all my goods belong properly to the poor, but the things divine are not in subjection to the power of the emperor.” What do we think that this holy man would have answered, if he had been demanded whether the living temple of the Lord should be enthralled to the slavery of idols? These examples, and the constancy of a million of martyrs, who were glorious in their deaths, for not yielding obedience in this kind, according as the Ecclesiastical Histories, which are full of them, do demonstrate, may sufficiently serve for an express law in this case.
But for all this we have no want of a law formerly written. For as often and ever as the apostles admonish Christians to obey kings and magistrates, they do first exhort, and as it were by way of advice, admonish every one to subject himself in like manner to God, and to obey Him before and against any whatsoever, and there is nowhere to be found, in any of their writings, the least passage for this unlimited obedience, which the flatterers of princes do exact from men of small understandings. “Let every soul,” saith Saint Paul, “be subject to the higher powers, for there is no power but of God.” He makes mention of every soul, to the end it pray not be thought, that he would exempt any from this subjection; we may easily gather by divers such speeches, that we must obey God rather than the king. For if we obey the king, because, and for the love of God, certainly this obedience may not be a conspiracy against God. But the apostle will stop the gap to all ambiguity in adding that the prince is the servant of God for our good, to wit, to do justice; from this necessarily follows that which we come from touching, that we must rather obey God than him who is His servant. This does not yet content Saint Paul, for he adds in the end, “Give tribute, honour, and fear to whom they appertain,” as if he should say, that which was alleged by Christ, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.” To Caesar tribute, and labor, to God fear. Saint Peter says the same: “Fear God, honour the king; servants obey your masters, not only the good and kind, but also the rigorous.” We must practice these precepts, according to the order they are set down in, to wit, that as servants arc not found to obey their masters if they command anything which is against the laws and ordinances of kings, subjects in like manner owe no obedience to kings which will make them to violate the law of God.
Certain lewd Companions object, that even in the things themselves that concern the conscience we must obey kings, and are so shameless as to produce for witness of so wicked an opinion the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, concluding from hence, that we must yield obedience to all that the king shall ordain, though it be to embrace, without reply, any superstition he shall please to establish. But there is no man so grossly void of sense, that sees not the impiety of these men. We reply that Saint Paul says in express terms, we must be subject to princes, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. In opposing conscience to wrath, it is as much as if the apostle had said that the obedience of which he speaks ought not to proceed for fear of punishment, but from the love of God, and from the reverence which we are bound to bear unto the Word. In the same sense Saint Paul enjoins servants in such manner to obey their masters, that it be not with eye service for fear of stripes, but in singleness of heart, fearing God, not simply to acquire the favor of men, whom they may delude, but to bear the burden laid on their shoulders by Him whom no man can deceive.
In brief there is manifest difference between these two manners of speech—to obey, for conscience sake, and to obey in those things which concern the conscience—otherwise those who had much rather lose their lives with infinite torments than obey princes who command them things contrary to the will of God, would have taught us that which these seek to persuade us to. Neither do they express themselves less impudent in that which they are accustomed to object to those who are not so well able to answer them. That obedience is better than sacrifice, for there is no text in Holy Writ that does more evidently confound them than this, which is contained in Samuel’s reprehension of King Saul, for his disobedience to the commandment of God, in sacrificing unfittingly. If then Saul, although he were a king, ought to obey God, it follows in all good consequence that subjects are not bound to obey their king by offending of God. Briefly those who (after the barbarous manner of the men of Calcut) seek to enthrall the service of God with a necessary dependence on the will of a mutable man, and religion of the good pleasure of the king, as if he were some God on earth, they doubtless little value the testimony of Holy Writ. But let them (at the least) yet learn of a heathen orator. “That in every public state, there are certain degrees of duty, for those who converse and live in it, by which may appear wherein the one are obliged to the other. Insomuch that the first part of this duty belongs to the immortal God, the second concerns the country, which is their common mother, the third, those who are of our blood, the other parts leading us step by step to our other neighbors. Now, although the crime of high treason be very heinous, yet, according to the civilians, it always follows after sacrilege, an offense which properly pertains to the Lord God and His service; insomuch that they do confidently affirm that the robbing of a church is, by their rules, esteemed a greater crime than to conspire against the life of a prince.” Thus much for this first question, wherein we persuade ourselves, that any man may receive satisfaction, if he be not utterly void of the fear of God.
End of First Question