Calvin's Defense of Politics

Institutes of the Christian Religion
Book IV, Chap. XX

  1. Civil government appointed by God for Jews, not Christians. This objection answered.

5. Against the "Christian" denial or rejection of magistracy

Those who are desirous to introduce anarchy object that, though anciently kings and judges presided over a rude people, yet that, in the present day that servile mode of governing does not at all accord with the perfection which Christ brought with his gospel. Herein they betray not only their ignorance, but their devilish pride, arrogating to themselves a perfection of which not even a hundredth part is seen in them. But be they what they may, the refutation is easy. 


It should be recalled that our desire to introduce "anarchy" is not a desire to introduce lawlessness or hedonism, but rather a Theocracy, in which obedience to God's Law flourishes.

There are certainly those who say they support "anarchy" who are ignorant. But there are others of a completely different stripe.

Calvin's comments about "devilish pride" are the kind of comments which motivate the choir to sharpen swords and dust off flintlocks, but they do not give a thoughtful or scriptural analysis of the ideas presented on this website.

  • For when David says, "Be wise now therefore O you kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth," "kiss the son, lest he be angry" (Psalm 2: 10, 12,) he does not order them to lay aside their authority and return to private life, but to make the power with which they are invested subject to Christ, that he may rule over all. 
If they subjected all of their political power to Christ, what would be left for them to do? It should be noted that those whom David told to "kiss the Son" were those who executed the Son (Acts 4:25-28). What is it that Caesar did that no politician in our day should not do? What is it that Caesar did that should not be left to the Free Market? Is Calvin's answer to this fascinating point of political science proven by this verse? Unquestionably not.
  • In like manner, when Isaiah predicts of the Church, "Kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and their queens and nursing- mothers," (Isaiah 49: 23,) he does not bid them abdicate their authority; he rather gives them the honourable appellation of patrons of the pious worshipers of God; for the prophecy refers to the advent of Christ. 
Kings were the Church's nursing fathers unwittingly. If they had self-consciously attempted to nurture greater obedience in the Church, their reigns would have looked vastly different. And does this verse prove that their last act of nurture could not have been to abdicate the authority which had been sinfully delegated to them by the People? Nothing in this verse prohibits politicians from moving society toward personal responsibility and a Free Market laissez-faire capitalism.
  • I intentionally omit very many passages which occur throughout Scripture, and especially in the Psalms, in which the due authority of all rulers is asserted. 
In all of these passages, King David says nothing that the owner of slaves could not also have said. The "due authority" of the slavemaster is not asserted so much as the duty of the slavemaster to restrain himself according to the Law of God. Likewise with the king.
  • The most celebrated passage of all is that in which Paul admonishing Timothy, that prayers are to be offered up in the public assembly for kings, subjoins the reason, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty," (1 Tim. 2: 2.) In these words, he recommends the condition of the Church to their protection and guardianship.
Christian anarchists certainly pray for kings, and the worse the king, the more fervent the prayers. Thus the command to pray does limit political reform. If the command to pray for the king logically necessitates monarchy, then the U.S.of A. is in complete rebellion against God for imagining that devilish doctrine of "consent of the governed."

Most Calvinists no longer agree with Calvin that the care of the Church has been entrusted to the State. American Presbyterians amended the Westminster Confession on precisely this point. (xxiii.3)