January 16th, 1955
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-16-55 10:50 a.m.
You’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, Texas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message from the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Romans. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Romans – Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. And the title of the subject is: The Government Ordained of God or God-Ordained Authority. And I read again the passage that all of us read for our Scripture lesson:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God, the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God . . .
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil . . .
He is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath but also for conscience’ sake.
For for this cause pay ye tribute – taxes – also for they are God’s ministers attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
God Ordained Authority. In God’s material created universe – the world, the universe around us – there are ordinances of God expressed in law and in government. The spheres that swing around our central sun do so according to a prescribed ordinance of God. They are governed by laws that can be meticulously calculated. An astronomer could forecast an eclipse of the sun thousands and thousands of years in advance and not miss it by the shadow of a second. All of God’s universe is governed by God’s ordained authority. Weights, measure, gravitation, the displacement of water, the atomic world, the electronic world – all of this world is a manifestation of the carefully ordered law and government of God [Job 38:1-39:30, 40:6-41:34].
The same divine authority inherent, ordained, is found in social order and in all human life. There is inherent in society law and order. God put it there. It is ordained from above. In fact, the machinery of civil order, of civil government, is one of the chief and most conspicuous examples of the instrument by which God orders the moral life and character and development of humanity [Romans 13:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-2]. To be anarchistic is to violate and to flaunt the very ordinances of God [Romans 13:2]. Crime and lawlessness is not only against civil statute, but it violates the very character and ordinance of God [Matthew 7:23; 1 John 3:4]. "If thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for the magistrate beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" [Romans 13:4]. Behind authority is the ordinance and the government and the law of God. The powers of government and law are ordained of God.
Now, we find that authority of God in the home. Parental, domestic, home authority is constituted of God. In the sixth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, Paul wrote: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor thy father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with thee and thou mayest live long on the earth’" [Ephesians 6:1-3] quoting there the fifth commandment in Exodus [20:12]: ‘"Honor thy father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise" [Ephesians 6:2]. Of the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17], the first one that has with it a reward is number five: "Honor thy father and thy mother" [Exodus 20:12]. It is a divinely constituted authority that God placed in the home. "Children, obey your father and your mother" [Ephesians 6:1-2].
In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans – when we were preaching through the Book of Romans back there in the [ninth] chapter, it says, quoting Malachi [Malachi 1:2-3], that God chose Jacob over Esau before the twins were born: "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" [Romans 9:13]. To us, those things are beyond our comprehension: before they were born, as Paul says, that the purposes of election might stand – not of works but of the calling of God [Romans 9:11]. Those things to us are beyond our comprehension, but as we watched the lives unfold before our eyes, it is easy to enter into the purposes and the choices of God as, for example, Esau and Jacob.
In the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, the last – the thirty-fifth – verse, it says that Esau was a grief to his father and to his mother. Esau was obstreperous and incorrigible. When the father and the mother, when Isaac and Rebekah, importuned Esau that he not marry the girls of the Canaanites, of the idolatrous people around, Esau paid no attention to his father, paid no attention to his mother [Genesis 28:8-9]. He was recalcitrant in his attitude toward his father and toward his mother. In the twenty-eighth chapter of that same Book of Genesis, in the seventh verse it says: "And Jacob obeyed his father and his mother" [Genesis 28:7]. In those things, I say, as they develop in history, we find the reason for the purposes, the elective choices of God.
Divine authority is constituted in the home. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord" [Ephesians 6:1]. And wherever there is a breakdown of parental authority, the aftermath is a dirge. It speaks woe and disaster for the school and for the state and for the officer of the law and for the destiny of our people and our country.
I do not say as Paul would say here, "fathers" – I would say as Paul says: "Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but admonish them in the nurture and love and admonition of the Lord" [Ephesians 6:4]. Our parents are not to be unsympathetic and harsh and cruel and oppressive, but our parents are also to be firm and careful and full of the persuasion of God that these children are inexperienced. They have not come into the understanding of all of the choices and decisions that face them in life, and for a parent to neglect and forget and overlook his God-given opportunity and his God-called responsibility to guide the steps of the child is for him to negate the ordinances of the constituted purposes of God. The Lord made it in the home that the child was to be guided and hedged about by the superior knowledge and wisdom and experience of father and mother [Proverbs 22:6]. And the child is to obey his parents in the Lord [Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20]. That is of God.
Authority in the church is ordained of God. In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews – three times in this one chapter: "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God, whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation" [Hebrews 13:7]. Again in the seventeenth: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account . . . That they may do it with joy, and not with grief . . ." [Hebrews 13:17]. And again: "Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you. Grace be with you all. Amen" [Hebrews 13:24-25]. The thirteenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews which is a letter to a church somewhere composed of Jewish converts: "Remember them which have the rule over you in the church" [Hebrews 13:7].
There is divinely-constituted authority in the church. When Paul addressed the church at Philippi, he said "To the saints . . . that are in Philippi, along with their bishops and deacons" [Philippians 1:1]. There is organization in the church [Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 14:40; Ephesians 4:11-13]. We pool our common interests, and we do our work orderly and decently if it is done acceptably unto God [1 Corinthians 14:33]. For us to pull apart, for us not to consider one another, for us not to take into counsel one another, for us not to sit down and plan for the highest good and noblest interest of all of our people is an affront to the Lord of the church and grieves the Holy Spirit of God [Proverbs 11:14; Acts 15:1-31; 1 Corinthians 12:7].
There is a way to carry on our way work. There is a way by which we ought to gather our gifts together. There is a way by which we ought to dedicate for the expenditures in the kingdom of Christ the tithe and the offering we bring to God’s house. There is a way to plan this program [1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15]. There is a way our Sunday school and all our organizations should be furthered in the ministry of the Lord. There is authority [2 Corinthians 10:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:6; 2 Timothy 2:12], there is responsibility [2 Corinthians 13:10; 1 Peter 5:1-4], there is government [1 Timothy 3:1-13, 5:17; Titus 1:5-9], there is law in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ; and we honor God when we do these things in a wonderfully compatriot and sharing and sympathetic spirit. It makes for tremendous strength [1 Corinthians 12:1-13:13].
Why, I know preachers by the dozens who look with disdain and scorn upon their deacons. I know preachers by the dozens who look upon the men whom the church has set aside and upon whose head a presbytery, an ordaining counsel, has laid hands – who look upon them as enemies, who look upon them as rivals, who lie awake at night plotting how they can circumvent this group or that group. And it makes – and there’s no exception to it – and it makes for a weak ministry. A church has great power when the people in the church are organized around responsible and consecrated and noble leaders, and the leaders take counsel with one another and plan their program in the love of the Lord with the vision that God shall give all of us as the body of Christ. It is divinely constituted. God made it that way, and when we observe the government and law of God, you’ll find a church whose program is carried on in dignity, in decency, in honor, and in glory to the Savior whom we love and adore – authority in the church.
Now, there is authority in civil government. In the passage that I read, and again in the letter to Titus, the third chapter, Paul says to the young minister Titus: "Put those people – those converts in Crete – put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work" [Titus 3:1]. And again, Simon Peter writes in the second chapter of his [first] letter to all of the diaspora of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor [1 Peter 1:1]: "Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" [1 Peter 2:17]. Authority in civil life is divinely constituted: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers . . . for the powers of civil law and authority are ordained of God" [Romans 13:1].
"Well, that’s fine, Pastor. That’s fine. Without that we would have anarchy. Without it there would be no semblance of civilization. Men have to live together according to law and justice and order. What about an evil ruler? What about an unworthy officer? Am I to honor and obey him?"
There is a difference between a man and his office. A man can be a rascal. He can be villainous and wicked. He can pursue his course in civil authority with iniquity. He can be a reproach to the people who elected him or to God who in His providence set him up in the high place of authority. But the office the man holds is ordained of God. The power that he wields is inherent in society according to the government of God. Paul said in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans: "I magnify my office" [Romans 11:13]. There are men who do not magnify their office. There are men who are a reproach to their office and cast dishonor upon the name of the office and do disservice to their country and people. But that office, the symbol of authority, is ordained of God.
The apostle Paul before Nero – and Nero was the emperor of the Roman Empire at Rome when Paul addressed this letter to the church at Rome – Paul was under the authority of Nero, and Nero was as villainous and as unworthy and as bloody and as debauched as any king or emperor that ever lived. But Paul never railed against the office of Nero nor did he cast aspersion upon the person of the Emperor, but he subjected himself to the law of the land and did honor to the office of the Emperor Nero [Romans 13:1-7].
When the Lord Jesus Christ was brought to trial before Pontius Pilate, Pilate, hearing that He was the Son of God, came back and said: ‘"Whence art Thou?’ And Jesus replied not a word" [John 19:9]. And Pontius Pilate, piqued, chagrined, said: "Answerest Thou me nothing? Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee or to release Thee?" [John 19:10] And "Jesus answered, ‘Thou couldst have no power, no authority, over Me at all except it were given thee from above" [John 19:11]. The authority, the office, of Pontius Pilate was from God, and as such, Jesus did not rail against the authority or the office of Pontius Pilate, but He submitted Himself to the law and the government of the land [1 Peter 2:23].
Is it therefore true that there is no limit to the power of the state? Well, there has precipitated one of the most unusual conflicts that world history has ever known, and it has mostly come to pass in our day and in our generation. There hath arisen in our time the concept of the state that is known as "totalitarian." That’s a long, polysyllabic word, but it’s built on the little simple word "total" – total, totalitarian, totalitarianism. That’s the doctrine and the philosophy of the Fascist and of the Communist.
The doctrine of totalitarianism is this: that the state is everything. All authority and all power is in the hands of the government of the people. The people have no rights. They have no privileges. They have no liberties. They have no freedoms. They are pawns of the state. They belong to the government and whatever may happen to the individual, whatever may happen to the unit, is insignificant. It is nothing. The state is everything; and they drive through that iron-clad, all-comprehensive, and all-inclusive philosophy until the lives of the people are ground to death in the nailed-iron fist of government, law, rulership and authority. That is the Fascist. That is the Communist. A totalitarian: the state is everything. All right. What about that? Shall I submit myself to the totalitarian state as it being an ordinance of God? Shall I? May we look at God’s Word more closely.
One of the things I noticed as I read God’s Book – one of the things I noticed in this passage is the familiarity by which the apostle Paul uses the word "God" in talking about these governmental civil powers and authorities. God: ". . . the powers that be are ordained of God . . . He that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God . . . For he is the minister of God. He is the minister of God, a revenger" [Romans 13:1-4]. "For they are God’s ministers" [Romans 13:4].
Four points there. Paul uses the word "God." If his argument could be diagrammed as geometric, there is God in all four cardinal points. There is a limit to the authority of the state, and that limit lies in the person and in the character of God who ordained and who gave that permissive authority. The state is not its own ultimate or its own end. The state is an ordinance of God. It is according to the will, the ordinance, the government, the law of God that there is a state; and our ultimate does not lie in any mundane ruler or king or dictator or president or tyrant, but our ultimate lies in the character and in the person of the Lord God who ordained these powers and set them in the earth.
Now, a corollary or two. When any a ruler or when any power arrogates to himself the authority and the attributes of God, he thereby violates the person and the character of God and to him should no man ever submit.
Could I illustrate that? I found myself in Switzerland in a little village named Altdorf. I don’t know why – been a long time since I was in school – but I’d forgotten about that little Swiss village of Altdorf. There in the middle of the little village, a magnificent heil – a splendid, beautiful, impressive monument. I walked around it, looked at it, talked to the villagers. It’s the monument to William Tell. That’s the place where that famous incident happened when Gessler [Albrecht or Hermann Gessler], the representative of the Austrian tyrant, stuck his hat on a pole and said to the Swiss villagers, "Every man that passes by must bow the knee before my hat." Like an English nobleman said to his king, "I bow but to God," and William Tell refused to bow; and Gessler said, "Then he’s condemned to die."
Or, as the story went along, found out he was a great archer, sent his boy there, and Gessler said, "If you can shoot that apple off of the head of your son with an arrow, you’ll not die." And of course, he shot through center of that apple. And Gessler noticed another quiver – another arrow in his quiver – and Gessler said, "Why this other arrow?" And William Tell replied, "Had I killed my son, the second arrow would have killed you." He threw William Tell back into bondage and all the rest of the story, and Switzerland gained their freedom in – this is 1307. But I admire William Tell. When a man arrogates to himself the authority and the attributes of God, he violates the character of God. He violates the very, the very fabric of the weave of the constituted authority that came from God and expresses itself in civil government.
Now, may I speak of our own beloved America? I say there is a limit to the power of the state, and that limit is found in the character of Almighty God. When our forefathers came to this new land, they were oppressed by a foreign allegiance. They were oppressed by the crown of England, and our forefathers in this fair and beautiful country gave themselves to the creation of a new history, and a new destiny, and a new nation, and a new government, and in the fashioning of that instrument of government, they sought to find the basis for the rights and liberties of man. They sought to build their bulwark against oppression and tyranny and abuse. But where would they find that basis? Where would they discover that bulwark that would guarantee to a man his rights, his freedom, and his liberty?
They looked to Spain, and there in Spain they found that the rights and liberties of a man were guaranteed by a monarchy. "But," said our founding fathers, "If a monarch can grant rights and liberties to a man, that same monarch could take them away." They turned next to France, and they found there that the rights and liberties of the man were guaranteed by the will of the majority. "But," said our founding fathers, "If a majority can vote rights and liberties to a man, that same majority could oppress a minority." They turned next to England and found there the rights and liberties of a man guaranteed by an elected parliament. "But," said our fathers, "If a parliament can grant to a man his rights and his liberties that same parliament could take them away." It was then that our founding fathers turned their faces upwards, and they found the basis for the rights and the liberties and the freedom of man in the character of Almighty God.
And when they wrote those great instruments of government, listen how they spake and how they wrote in the Declaration of Independence:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws . . . of God
– to which the Laws of God –
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . . That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.
[Declaration of Independence, 1776]
They come from God. Government is not an end in itself. It is a means under the hand and the constituted authority of Almighty God.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do . . . solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown . . . And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence –
Looking to God –
we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
[Declaration of Independence, 1776]
Signed – John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the rest of those noble men.
Then when they sought to fashion the Constitution of the United States, gathering together, finally in despair, ready to turn their backs on any thought of union, old and aged Ben Franklin addressed George Washington and said:
How has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of Danger, we had daily Prayer[s] in this Room for the Divine Protection! . . . I have lived, Sir, a long time.
He was an aged man when he spake in that Constitutional Convention.
I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth, That God governs in the Affairs of Men . . . I therefore beg leave to move, That henceforth Prayers . . . be held in this Assembly every Morning before we proceed to Business.
[From "Benjamin Franklin: Convention Speech Proposing Prayers" (unpublished),
June 28, 1787]
And those founding fathers knelt, and they rose from their knees to write the Constitution of the United States of America.
Authority is in God. It’s in the character – it’s in the permissive will of Almighty God, and it does not lie of itself as an end in any state or in any government. It lies in God.
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that hold not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law –
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!
["Recessional," by Rudyard Kipling, 1897]
As the old prophet said: "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" [Psalm 33:12]. That is the strength of America, and that is the basis for the liberties and the humanities and the freedoms of the world. It lies in God.
All right, Billy. And while we sing our song, the pastor’s down here at the front: "Today, today, Pastor, I give my heart and my life. I bow the knee to God, and here I am, and here I come. I accept His revelation. I accept His Son as my only and rightful King. I will kneel before Him as my just and honored Sovereign. I will bow the knee to God." You come. You come. Somebody you, into the fellowship of the church while we make appeal, while we sing this song; a family of you or one – as the Lord shall say the word and open the door while we make appeal, you come. You come, while we stand and while we sing.
There is law, government in God’s material universe. The spheres in their courses. Gravitation. Speed of light, sound. Weight. Displacement.
law, government in God’s created human family.
It is inherent. The machinery of
civil society is one of the chief and most conspicuous instruments by which God
carries out his moral government of mankind.
is defiance of God Himself.
lawlessness has in it, per se, the judgments of God. Romans 13:4.
1. Authority in the home is divinely
6:1-3 – referring to the fifth commandment, Exodus 20:12. Compare:
Evan – a grief to his father, mother, Genesis 26:35. Jacob (Genesis 28:7) obeyed his father and
parental authority disowned, defied, trouble, against God.
Authority in the church is divinely constituted.
Compare: I Corinthians 14:40 “Let all things be
done decently and in order.”
people, caring for them.
household of faith.
Authority in civil government is divinely constituted.
A bad man
in office, “Is this of God?”
Must distinguish between the office and the man.
Paul before Nero. A tyrant but the
apostle never railed at the emperor’s office.
Compare: Jesus before Pilate. Acknowledged the right of his office, but
reminded him that his power was exercised only by permission from God. John 19:10,11.
any limit to the authority of the State?
Modern political philosophy fascist, communist, totalitarianism.
of Paul = “of God.” Of Jesus
– “Of God.”
conducting an argument in which familiarly used word “God.” Uses word “God” at 4 points. If the argument construed as geometric, then
at every corner is “God.” A
whole society, order, nation, with God at the head of it.
officer seeks to arrogate to himself the attributes of God.
My visit to the Swiss village of Altorq. The monument in the center of the village to William Tell. Gessler, the representative of the Austrian
King: his hat on a pole: every passerby to bow, kneel before it. Tell
refused. Condemned to die – pardoned on
condition shoot an apple off head of son with an arrow. Gessler noticed two arrows..why? If killed
son with the first, him with the second..bound againâ€¦
to the state – God.
Our founding fathers. A basis
for the rights of man. A safeguard for
human liberties. A bulwark against
tyranny, oppression. A guaranteed for
– there right of man guaranteed by monarchy.
– there right of man guaranteed by parliament.
– there rights of man guaranteed by majority.
God. In the character of God the basis,
guarantee of human liberties, freedom.
The Declaration of Independence.
The writers of the constitution.
is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Congress July 4, 1776.
unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America.
the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the
political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the
power of the earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of..God
these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rightsâ€¦That to secure these
rights, governments are instituted among menâ€¦
therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in general
Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the
rectitude of our intentions, do..solemnly publish and declare, that these
united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states,
that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crownâ€¦
the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of
divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes,
and our sacred honor.