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Jonathan Mayhew
“A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers”

Harvard graduate and Congregationalist minister, Jonathan Mayhew (1720-1766) served the West Church in Boston from his ordination in 1747 until his death. The Discourse was first published in Boston in 1750.  About this document, John Adams wrote, "It was read by everybody; celebrated by friends, and abused by enemies . . . .   It spread an universal alarm against the authority of Parliament. It excited a general and just apprehension, that bishops, and dioceses, and churches, and priests, and tithes, were to be imposed on us by Parliament." This sermon has been called the spark which ignited the American Revolution. This illustrates that the Revolution was not only about stamps and taxes but also about religious liberty.

In this column
is Mayhew's sermon, taken from the site, with scanning typos corrected.
In this column
we examine Mayhew's sermon line by line to see if it constitutes an effective argument against the position taken on Vine & Fig Tree's Romans 13 Home Page.  To review our position, we contend that

. . . Let us now trace the apostle's reasoning in favor of submission to the higher powers, a little more particularly and exactly. For by this it will appear, on one hand, how good and conclusive it is, for submission to those rulers who exercise their power in a proper manner: And, on the other, how weak and trifling and unconnected it is, if it be supposed to be meant by the apostle to show the obligation and duty of obedience to tyrannical, oppressive rulers in common with others of a different character. Does Romans 13 say we owe "submission [only] to those rulers who exercise their power in a proper manner?" Is this at all consistent with the message of Romans 12, or of 1 Peter 2? Don't those passages clearly and unmistakably argue that we are to submit not only to the good "but also to the evil?" (1 Peter 2:18)

There is no doubt, of course, that we must give a prophetic witness to tyrants, for which, like Christ, we must be willing to go to the Cross.

The apostle enters upon his subject thus--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. Here he urges the duty of obedience from this topic of argument, that civil rulers, as they are supposed to fulfill the pleasure of God, are the ordinance of God. But how is this an argument for obedience to such rulers as do not perform the pleasure of God, by doing good; but the pleasure of the devil, by doing evil; and such as are not, therefore, God's ministers, but the devil's! Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist, shall receive to themselves damnation. Here the apostle argues, that those who resist a reasonable and just authority, which is agreeable to the will of God, do really resist the will of God himself; and will, therefore, be punished by him.  

All the errors in Mayhew's sermon stem from a failure to understand this proposition:

The most evil, tyrannical, despotic, and anti-Christian of rulers are still the "ministers of God," and still serve His purposes. God's sovereign purposes are fulfilled by men like Judas Iscariot, and fallen angels like Satan. God ordains evil.

But how does this prove, that those who resist a lawless, unreasonable power, which is contrary to the will of God, do therein resist the will and ordinance of God? Is resisting those who resist God's will, the same thing with resisting God? Or shall those who do so, receive to themselves damnation! For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good; and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. Here the apostle argues more explicitly than he had before done, for revering, and submitting to, magistracy, from this consideration, that such as really performed the duty of magistrates, would be enemies only to the evil actions of men, and would befriend and encourage the good: and so be a common blessing to society. But how is this an argument, that we must honor, and submit to, such magistrates as are not enemies to the evil actions of men; but to the good: and such as are not a common blessing, but a common curse, to society! But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid: For he is the minister of God, a revenger, to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. Here the apostle argues from the nature and end of magistracy, that such as did evil, (and such only) had reason to be afraid of the higher powers; it being part of their office to punish evildoers, no less than to defend and encourage such as do well. But if magistrates are unrighteous; if they are respecters of persons; if they are partial in their administration of justice; then those who do well have as much reason to be afraid, as those that do evil: there can be no safety for the good, nor any peculiar ground of terror to the unruly and injurious. So that, in this case, the main end of civil government will be frustrated. And what reason is there for submitting to that government, which does by no means answer the design of government? God's will for us (as opposed to His will for tyrants) is that we follow in the footsteps of Christ (1 Peter 2:21). Christ did not take up arms against the greatest act of tyrannical evil in the history of the universe.

God's will for tyrants, of course, is that they do not oppress others by violating God's Law. But "if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." If we do well and the Ahab-State attempts to confiscate our land, it is not acceptable to God if we get out our gun and "blow them away." If we publicly prophesy against the wickedness of the State, and Janet Reno orders the ATF to burn our house down, this is acceptable to God as far as WE are concerned. (As far as the State is concerned, God will judge it for its wickedness. We leave vengeance to God.)

We do not truly honor anyone by silently allowing them to commit evil. We must attempt to dissuade them. But if we fail, and they revile us or make us suffer, we are to imitate Christ, and turn our oppressors over to our heavenly Father (1 Peter 2:23).


The reason we are to submit to evil and despotic emperors, and the reason we are not to take up arms against them, is so that we can be more like Christ. Christ did not take up arms against the most abominable of State action.

Wherefore ye must needs be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. Here the apostle argues the duty of a cheerful and conscientious submission to civil government, from the nature and end of magistracy as he had before laid it down, i.e. as the design of it was to punish evildoers, and to support and encourage such as do well; and as it must, if so exercised, be agreeable to the will of God. But how does what he here says, prove the duty of a cheerful and conscientious subjection to those who forfeit the character of rulers? to those who encourage the bad, and discourage the good? The argument here used no more proves it to be a sin to resist such rulers, than it does, to resist the devil, that he may flee from us. For one is as truly the minister of God as the other. For, for this cause pay you tribute also; for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Here the apostle argues the duty of paying taxes, from this consideration, that those who perform the duty of rulers, are continually attending upon the public welfare. But how does this argument conclude for paying taxes to such princes as are continually endeavoring to ruin the public? And especially when such payment would facilitate and promote this wicked design! Render therefore to all their dues; tribute, to whom tribute is due; custom, to whom custom; fear, to whom fear; honor, to whom honor. Here the apostle sums up what he had been saying concerning the duty of subjects to rulers. And his argument stands thus--“Since magistrates who execute their office well, are common benefactors to society; and may, in that respect, be properly stiled the ministers and ordinance of God; and since they are constantly employed in the service of the public; it becomes you to pay them tribute and custom; and to reverence, honor, and submit to, them in the execution of their respective offices.” This is apparently good reasoning. But does this argument conclude for the duty of paying tribute, custom, reverence, honor and obedience, to such persons as (although they bear the title of rulers) use all their power to hurt and injure the public? such as are not God's ministers, but satan's? such as do not take care of, and attend upon, the public interest, but their own, to the ruin of the public? that is, in short, to such as have no natural and just claim at all to tribute, custom, reverence, honor and obedience? It is to be hoped that those who have any regard to the apostle's character as an inspired writer, or even as a man of common understanding, will not represent him as reasoning in such a loose incoherent manner; and drawing conclusions which have not the least relation to his premises. For what can be more absurd than an argument thus framed? “Rulers are, by their office, bound to consult the public welfare and the good of society: therefore you are bound to pay them tribute, to honor, and to submit to them, even when they destroy the public welfare, and are a common pest to society, by acting in direct contradiction to the nature and end of their office.”  



To some degree, every single magistrate in human history has and will forfeit to some degree the character of a Godly ruler (Psalm 72). When the Godliest human ruler succumbs to temptation and decrees an unrighteous tax on the laborer, the laborer must pay. He must not shoot the king.

Notice how the Godly resist the devil:

2 Peter 2:10-12/Jude 8-10 But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.
         {9} Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.
         {12} But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption

We may not understand why God sends a lawless lawmaker. We are nevertheless to submit patiently, rather than take up arms and blaspheme the king.

Although Caesar used the tribute payment to kill Christians, Paul said to pay what was due. Caesar was both a tool of Satan and a minister of God, that is, one who "served" God's purposes.

The concept of "a natural claim to tribute" is a contradiction in terms. "Tribute" is extortion. "Tribute" is theft. "Tribute" is armed robbery. The whole point of Jesus' teaching, Paul in Romans 12-13, and Peter in his epistle, is that we bless those who curse, and honor the dishonorable.

Notice Paul's actions in Acts 23:5. The high priest was evil. But Paul recognized the command not to speak evil of the evil. To honor the dishonorable.

It was surely a sin for the magistrate to imprison the Apostles, but the Apostles did not resist this infringement of their liberties.

Thus, upon a careful review of the apostle's reasoning in this passage, it appears that his arguments to enforce submission, are of such a nature, as to conclude only in favor of submission to such rulers as he himself describes; i.e., such as rule for the good of society, which is the only end of their institution. Common tyrants, and public oppressors, are not intitled to obedience from their subjects, by virtue of any thing here laid down by the inspired apostle. The whole point of Romans 12-13 is that we submit to those who do not deserve submission. We give honor to those who dishonor themselves and the entire human race. We do not take up arms. We do not curse. Even if the ruler descends to the depths of sin as Caesar did, Paul prohibits armed revolution.
I now add, farther, that the apostle's argument is so far from proving it to be the duty of people to obey, and submit to, such rulers as act in contradiction to the public good, and so to the design of their office, that it proves the direct contrary. For, please to observe, that if the end of all civil government, be the good of society; if this be the thing that is aimed at in constituting civil rulers; and if the motive and argument for submission to government, be taken from the apparent usefulness of civil authority; it follows, that when no such good end can be answered by submission, there remains no argument or motive to enforce it; if instead of this good*
* This does not intend, their acting so in a few particular instances, which the best of rulers may do through mistake, &c. but their acting so habitually; and in a manner which plainly shows, that they aim at making themselves great, by the ruin of their subjects.

end's being brought about by submission, a contrary end is brought about, and the ruin and misery of society effected by it, here is a plain and positive reason against submission in all such cases, should they ever happen. And therefore, in such cases, a regard to the public welfare, ought to make us withhold from our rulers, that obedience and subjection which it would, otherwise, be our duty to render to them. If it be our duty, for example, to obey our king, merely for this reason, that he rules for the public welfare, (which is the only argument the apostle makes use of) it follows, by a parity of reason, that when he turns tyrant, and makes his subjects his prey to devour and to destroy, instead of his charge to defend and cherish, we are bound to throw off our allegiance to him, and to resist; and that according to the tenor of the apostle's argument in this passage. Not to discontinue our allegiance, in this case, would be to join with the sovereign in promoting the slavery and misery of that society, the welfare of which, we ourselves, as well as our sovereign, are indispensably obliged to secure and promote, as far as in us lies. It is true the apostle puts no case of such a tyrannical prince; but by his grounding his argument for submission wholly upon the good of civil society; it is plain he implicitly authorizes, and even requires us to make resistance, whenever this shall be necessary to the public safety and happiness.

The design of the State is not the good of society. That is public posturing. The design of the State is theft.

Q. Who designed the State?
A. The rebellious. Cain, Nimrod, Lamech, all the nations (1 Samuel 8).

Q. What was the end, for which the State was the means?
A. Conquest, slavery, robbery.

Paul's argument for submission is not that the State is a benefit to society. Paul's argument is that vengeance belongs to God (Romans 12) and submission develops the character of Christ in us. Just because the State is doing evil by confiscating wealth and regulating our lives where God has given it no such mandate, does not justify taking up arms against the State.

Our ultimate allegiance is always to God, not the State. We honor the powers only because God commands us to, not because they have an inherent honor in themselves.

We honor God by not committing sin. If the State orders us to perform an abortion, we must obey God rather than man. If the State orders us to empty our bank account into their bank account, we commit no sin. The State sins. We sin if we resist.  Caesar promoted "the slavery and misery of that society." Paul commanded submission.



Mayhew says we must resist whenever the State seems (in our own understanding) to hinder "the public safety and happiness." This is subjectivism. God says He sends the State for our own good, even if that State takes our money.

Let me make use of this easy and familiar similitude to illustrate the point in hand--Suppose God requires a family of children, to obey their father and not to resist him; and enforces his command with this argument; that the superintendence and care and authority of a just and kind parent, will contribute to the happiness of the whole family; so that they ought to obey him for their own sakes more than for his: Suppose this parent at length runs distracted, and attempts, in his mad fit, to cut all his children's throats: Now, in this case, is not the reason before assigned, why these children should obey their parent while he continued of a sound mind, namely, their common good, a reason equally conclusive for disobeying and resisting him, since he is become delirious, and attempts their ruin? It makes no alteration in the argument, whether this parent, properly speaking, loses his reason; or does, while he retains his understanding, that which is as fatal in its consequences, as any thing he could do, were he really deprived of it. This similitude needs no formal application. If the State says "I'm going to slit your throat!" we should run. We should not slit his throat first. We have an obligation under the Sixth Commandment to preserve our life and that of the other. Just because our father goes mad and attempts to injure us does not mean we can dishonor him with insults, senseless bodily injury, or force which exceeds that necessary to prevent him from committing sin.
But it ought to be remembered, that if the duty of universal obedience and nonresistance to our king or prince, can be argued from this passage, the same unlimited submission under a republican, or any other form of government; and even to all the subordinate powers in any particular state, can be proved by it as well: which is more than those who alledge it for the mentioned purpose, would be willing should be inferred from it. So that this passage does not answer their purpose; but really overthrows and confutes it. What does Mayhew mean by "universal obedience and nonresistance?"

Is there anyone who advocates this position? Or is this just a straw man?

As you read this paragraph, it becomes suspect that the position Mayhew is refuting is "the divine right of kings." Romans 13 does not teach this doctrine. Vitually no one today argues in support of this position.

This matter deserves to be more particularly considered.--The advocates for unlimited submission and passive obedience, do, if I mistake not, always speak with reference to kingly or monarchical government, as distinguished from all other forms; and, with reference to submitting to the will of the king, in distinction from all subordinate officers, acting beyond their commission, and the authority which they have received from the crown. It is not pretended that any person besides kings, have a divine right to do what they please, so that no one may resist them, without incurring the guilt of factiousness and rebellion. If any other supreme powers oppress the people, it is generally allowed, that the people may get redress, by resistance, if other methods prove ineffectual. And if any officers in a kingly government, go beyond the limits of that power which they have derived from the crown, (the supposed original source of all power and authority in the state) and attempt, illegally, to take away the properties and lives of their fellow subjects, they may be forcibly resisted, at least till application can be made to the crown. But as to the sovereign himself, he may not be resisted in any case; nor any of his officers, while they confine themselves within the bounds which he has prescribed to them. This is, I think, a true sketch of the principles of those who defend the doctrine of passive obedience and nonresistance. Now there is nothing in Scripture which supports this scheme of political principles. As to the passage under consideration, the apostle here speaks of civil rulers in general; of all persons in common, vested with authority for the good of society, without any particular reference to one form of government, more than to another; or to the supreme power in any particular state, more than to subordinate powers. The apostle does not concern himself with the different forms of government.**
** The essence of government (I mean good government; and this is the only government which the apostle treats of in this passage) consists in the making and executing of good laws--laws attempered to the common felicity of the governed. And if this be, in fact, done, it is evidently, in it self, a thing of no consequence at all, what the particular form of government is;--whether the legislative and executive power be lodged in one and the same person, or in different persons;--whether in one person, whom we call an absolute monarch;--whether in a few, so as to constitute an aristocracy;--whether in many, so as to constitute a republic; or whether in three co-ordinate branches, in such manner as to make the government partake something of each of these forms;and to be, at the same time, essentially different from them all. If the end be attained, it is enough. But no form of government seems to be so unlikely to accomplish this end, as absolute monarchy--Nor is there any one that has so little pretence to a divine original, unless it be in this sense, that God first introduced it into, and thereby overturned, the common wealth of Israel, as a curse upon that people for their folly and wickedness, particularly in desiring such a government. (See I Sam. viii. chap.) Just so God, before, sent Quails amongst them, as a plague, and a curse, and not as a blessing. Numb.chap. xi.

This he supposes left entirely to human prudence and discretion. Now the consequence of this is, that unlimited and passive obedience, is no more enjoined in this passage, under monarchical government; or to the supreme power in any state, than under all other species of government, which answer the end of government; or, to all the subordinate degrees of civil authority, from the highest to the lowest. Those, therefore, who would from this passage infer the guilt of resisting kings, in all cases whatever, though acting ever so contrary to the design of their office, must, if they will be consistent, go much farther, and infer from it the guilt of resistance under all other forms of government; and of resisting any petty officer in the state, tho' acting beyond his commission, in the most arbitrary, illegal manner possible. The argument holds equally strong in both cases. All civil rulers, as such, are the ordinance and ministers of God; and they are all, by the nature of their office, and in their respective spheres and stations, bound to consult the public welfare. With the same reason therefore, that any deny unlimited and passive obedience to be here enjoined under a republic or aristocracy, or any other established form of civil government; or to subordinate powers, acting in an illegal and oppressive manner; (with the same reason) others may deny, that such obedience is enjoined to a king or monarch, or any civil power whatever. For the apostle says nothing that is peculiar to kings; what he says, extends equally to all other persons whatever, vested with any civil office. They are all, in exactly the same sense, the ordinance of God; and the ministers of God; and obedience is equally enjoined to be paid to them all. For, as the apostle expresses it, there is NO POWER but of God: And we are required to render to ALL their DUES;and not MORE than their DUES. And what these dues are, and to whom they are to be rendered, the apostle sayeth not; but leaves to the reason and consciences of men to determine.

Here we see another fatal flaw in Mayhew's theory. We are required to pay whatever tribute is "due, " he says, but no more than their due. But by what standard do we determine what their "due" is? The State wants 50% of our income. We say, "but that much is not due you." By what standard? Where is the verse which says how much the State has coming? Read more here.

The priesthood in the Old Testament was supported by specifically calculated tithes. That priesthood no longer exists. There isn't a verse in the Bible which says that anyone -- even someone who calls himself "the king" and has a majority of his "subjects" agree with him in an "election" -- has a right to confiscate weath from involuntary subjects for provision of even the most socially-desirable goods and services. Taxation is theft.

The State will fly apart into a million pieces if the "real" rate of taxation is determined by "the reason and consciences of men." (Of course, Mayhew doesn't mean all men. He means real men; true men; like Harry Tru-man; the State.) (Of course, anarchy is a myth, and the State will not fall apart. In reality, men clamor for the State. Mayhew's humanistic subjectivism will not lead to "anarchy, " but to totalitarianism. Mayhew follows Calvin's repudiation of Theonomy.)

Thus it appears, that the common argument, grounded upon this passage, in favor of universal, and passive obedience, really overthrows itself, by proving too much, if it proves any thing at all; namely, that no civil officer is, in any case whatever, to be resisted, though acting in express contradiction to the design of his office; which no man, in his senses, ever did, or can assert.
If we calmly consider the nature of the thing itself, nothing can well be imagined more directly contrary to common sense, than to suppose that millions of people should be subjected to the arbitrary, precarious pleasure of one single man; (who has naturally no superiority over them in point of authority) so that their estates, and every thing that is valuable in life, and even their lives also, shall be absolutely at his disposal, if he happens to be wanton and capricious enough to demand them. What unprejudiced man can think, that God made ALL to be thus subservient to the lawless pleasure and frenzy of ONE, so that it shall always be a sin to resist him! Nothing but the most plain and express revelation from heaven could make a sober impartial man believe such a monstrous, unaccountable doctrine, and, indeed, the thing itself, appears so shocking--so out of all proportion, that it may be questioned, whether all the miracles that ever were wrought, could make it credible, that this doctrine really came from God. At present, there is not the least syllable in Scripture which gives any countenance to it. The hereditary, indefeasible, divine right of kings, and the doctrine of nonresistance which is built upon the supposition of such a right, are altogether as fabulous and chimerical, as transubstantiation; or any of the most absurd reveries of ancient or modern visionaries.These notions are fetched neither from divine revelation, nor human reason; and if they are derived from neither of those sources, it is not much matter from whence they come, or whither they go. Only it is a pity that such doctrines should be propagated in society, to raise factions and rebellions, as we see they have, in fact, been both in the last, and in the present, REIGN. This wild abstractionism serves no purpose. Millions of people simply cannot have their wealth confiscated by one single man calling himself "the king." He needs bureaucrats, henchmen, minions, yes-men, jack-booted thugs, jesters, toadies, gestapo, sycophants, and an army of statists. He needs an army of people who are in rebellion against Christ the King.

It is doubtful that even George III believed Mayhew's doctrinal straw-man.

But then, if unlimited submission and passive obedience to the higher powers, in all possible cases, be not a duty, it will be asked, “HOW far are we obliged to submit? If we may innocently disobey and resist in some crises, why not in all? Where shall we stop? What is the measure of our duty? This doctrine tends to the total dissolution of civil government; and to introduce such scenes of wild anarchy and confusion, as are more fatal to society than the worst of tyranny.” [emphasis added]


Are you expecting an insightful refutation of our argument? Don't.

After this manner, some men object; and, indeed, this is the most plausible thing that can be said in favor of such an absolute submission as they plead for. But the worst (or rather the best) of it, is, that there is very little strength or solidity in it. For similar difficulties may be raised with respect to almost every duty of natural and revealed religion.--To instance only in two, both of which are near akin, and indeed exactly parallel, to the case before us. It is unquestionably the duty of children to submit to their parents; and of servants, to their masters. But no one asserts, that it is their duty to obey, and submit to them, in all supposable cases; or universally a sin to resist them. Now does this tend to subvert the just authority of parents and masters? Or to introduce confusion and anarchy into private families? No. How then does the same principle tend to unhinge the government of that larger family, the body politic? We know, in general, that children and servants are obliged to obey their parents and masters respectively. We know also, with equal certainty, that they are not obliged to submit to them in all things, without exception; but may, in some cases, reasonably, and therefore innocently, resist them. These principles are acknowledged upon all hands, whatever difficulty there may be in fixing the exact limits of submission. Now there is at least as much difficulty in stating the measure of duty in these two cases, as in the case of rulers and subjects. So that this is really no objection, at least no reasonable one, against resistance to the higher powers: Or, if it is one, it will hold equally against resistance in the other cases mentioned.--It is indeed true, that turbulent, vicious-minded men, may take occasion from this principle, that their rulers may, in some cases, be lawfully resisted, to raise factions and disturbances in the state; and to make resistance where resistance is needless, and therefore, sinful. But is it not equally true, that children and servants of turbulent, vicious minds, may take occasion from this principle, that parents and masters may, in some cases be lawfully resisted, to resist when resistance is unnecessary, and therefore, criminal? Is the principle in either case false in itself, merely because it may be abused; and applied to legitimate disobedience and resistance in those instances, to which it ought not to be applied? According to this way of arguing, there will be no true principles in the world; for there are none but what may be wrested and perverted to serve bad purposes, either through the weakness or wickedness of men. Mayhew is arguing against those who allegedly believe in the divine right of kings -- that one man can confiscate the wealth of millions -- and react in horror at the prospect of citizens resisting the will of this one single man.

It is true that we must obey God rather than man. But this means that we cannot do anything sinful even if ordered to do so by the higher powers. It is a sin to take money by force. It is not a sin to have your money taken by force. If the State orders you to kill or steal from your neighbor, you have a duty not to obey his command. If your neighbor chooses not to obey God rather than man, and chooses to obey the State by stealing from you, you do not sin by obeying Jesus, Paul and Peter, and giving him what he asks for.

Read 1 Peter 2:13ff. Imagine this scenario: a master orders his slave to surrender all his material possessions. Does the slave have a right to pick up a musket and shoot his master? No. The Godly slave "joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven" (Hebrews 10:34). Does freedom give the citizen the right to take up arms against the confiscatory State? No. No more than the slave.

We may very safely assert these two things in general, without undermining government: One is, That no civil rulers are to be obeyed when they enjoin things that are inconsistent with the commands of God: All such disobedience is lawful and glorious; particularly, if persons refuse to comply with any legal establishment of religion, because it is a gross perversion and corruption (as to doctrine, worship and discipline)of a pure and divine religion, brought from heaven to earth by the Son of God, (the only King and Head of the Christian church) and propagated through the world by his inspired apostles. All commands running counter to the declared will of the supreme legislator of heaven and earth, are null and void: And therefore disobedience to them is a duty, not a crime. --Another thing that may be asserted with equal truth and safety, is, That no government is to be submitted to, at the expense of that which is the sole end of all government, --the common good and safety of society. Because, to submit in this case, if it should ever happen, would evidently be to set up the means as more valuable, and above, the end: than which there cannot be a greater solecism and contradiction. The only reason of the institution of civil government; and the only rational ground of submission to it, is the common safety and utility. If therefore, in any case, the common safety and utility would not be promoted by submission to government, but the contrary, there is no ground or motive for obedience and submission, but, for the contrary. A king and his army marches into your village and claims you as tributary. He orders you to pay tribute. Is this act "consistent with the commands of God?" Of course not. Do you pay the tribute? You do if you are obeying Romans 13.

Your crippled master orders you to accompany him into an idolatrous temple to bow with him and hold him up when he bows before his idol. Do you obey him? (1 Peter 2:18; 2 Kings 5:18-19).

The goal of the State (from God's perspective) is to give us an opportunity to develop the character of Christ. It is not God's purpose that the State take all responsibility from us so we can vedge in front of the tube. It is not God's purpose that the State rather than the saints assume personal responsibility for being salt and light in a society. The State cannot provide national security.

Whoever considers the nature of civil government must, indeed, be sensible that a great degree of implicit confidence, must unavoidably be placed in those that bear rule: this is implied in the very notion of authority's being originally a trust, committed by the people, to those who are vested with it, as all just and righteous authority is; all besides, is mere lawless force and usurpation; neither God nor nature, having given any man a right of dominion over any society, independently of that society's approbation, and consent to be governed by him--

Now as all men are fallible, it cannot be supposed that the public affairs of any state, should be always administered in the best manner possible, even by persons of the greatest wisdom and integrity. Nor is it sufficient to legitimate disobedience to the higher powers that they are not so administered; or that they are, in some instances, very ill-managed; for upon this principle, it is scarcely supposeable that any government at all could be supported, or subsist. Such a principle manifestly tends to the dissolution of government: and to throw all things into confusion and anarchy.--But it is equally evident, upon the other hand, that those in authority may abuse their trust and power to such a degree, that neither the law of reason, nor of religion, requires, that any obedience or submission should be paid to them: but, on the contrary, that they should be totally discarded; and the authority which they were before vested with, transferred to others, who may exercise it more to those good purposes for which it is given.--Nor is this principle, that resistance to the higher powers, is, in some extraordinary cases, justifiable, so liable to abuse, as many persons seem to apprehend it. For although there will be always some petulant, querulous men, in every state--men of factious, turbulent and carping dispositions, --glad to lay hold of any trifle to justify and legitimate their caballing against their rulers, and other seditious practices; yet there are, comparatively speaking, but few men of this contemptible character. It does not appear but that mankind, in general, have a disposition to be as submissive and passive and tame under government as they ought to be.--Witness a great, if not the greatest, part of the known world, who are now groaning, but not murmuring, under the heavy yoke of tyranny! While those who govern, do it with any tolerable degree of moderation and justice, and, in any good measure act up to their office and character, by being public benefactors; the people will generally be easy and peaceable; and be rather inclined to flatter and adore, than to insult and resist, them. Nor was there ever any general complaint against any administration, which lasted long, but what there was good reason for. Till people find themselves greatly abused and oppressed by their governors, they are not apt to complain; and whenever they do, in fact, find themselves thus abused and oppressed, they must be stupid not to complain. To say that subjects in general are not proper judges when their governors oppress them, and play the tyrant; and when they defend their rights, administer justice impartially, and promote the public welfare, is as great treason as ever man uttered; --'tis treason, --not against one single man, but the state--against the whole body politic; --'tis treason against mankind; --'tis treason against common sense; --'tis treason against God. And this impious principle lays the foundation for justifying all the tyranny and oppression that ever any prince was guilty of. The people know for what end they set up, and maintain, their governors; and they are the proper judges when they execute their trust as they ought to do it; --when their prince exercises an equitable and paternal authority over them; --when from a prince and common father, he exalts himself into a tyrant--when from subjects and children, he degrades them into the class of slaves; --plunders them, makes them his prey, and unnaturally sports himself with their lives and fortunes.

Romans 13 commands obedience on the part of those who in no way "consented" to Caesar's jurisdiction. Romans 13 commands the payment of "tribute," which is taken from "tributaries," that is, those who are under the thumb of an occupation government. Mayhew's position is essentially that of the Zealots.

If no man is given the right (by God or nature) to exercise authority over others independent of their approval, what can we say about a society that gives its approval to no state whatsoever? Suppose a society decides to abolish the State altogether and allow the provision of all goods and services to be met by the Free Market. Would this be a sin?













There are two conflicting theories of government running through Reformed expositions of Romans 13. One says that government is from God, and we are to honor and submit to it. The Westminster Larger Catechism speaks of "superiors" and "inferiors." The "divine right of kings" theory is related to this emphasis. On the other hand is the view that Mayhew here expounds, that the People set up government, and can overthrow it when it becomes "oppressive." But suppose the People decide they've had enough oppression, and decide not to set up a government at all? What if they opt for pure "anarcho-capitalism?" Do they sin? Where does the Bible command us to set up a State?

A people, really oppressed to a great degree by their sovereign, cannot well be insensible when they are so oppressed. And such a people (if I may allude to an ancient fable) have, like the hesperian fruit, a DRAGON for their protector and guardian: Nor would they have any reason to mourn, if some HERCULES should appear to dispatch him -- For a nation thus abused to arise unanimously, and to resist their prince, even to the dethroning him, is not criminal; but a reasonable way of indicating their liberties and just rights; it is making use of the means, and the only means, which God has put into their power, for mutual and self-defense. And it would be highly criminal in them, not to make use of this means. It would be stupid tameness, and unaccountable folly, for whole nations to suffer one unreasonable, ambitious and cruel man, to wanton and riot in their misery. And in such a case it would, of the two, be more rational to suppose, that they that did NOT resist, than that they who did, would receive to themselves damnation. And, Mayhew says a people overthrowing a government is "a reasonable way of indicating their liberties and just rights." Perhaps Mayhew's errors stem from the acceptance of the myth of "rights." Human beings do not enter life in a "state of nature," with of "bundle of rights" which they may "delegate" to a State. Men enter life as rebels against God. Adam traded "national security" in the Garden of Eden away for the myth of autonomy. Men do not have "rights," therefore; they have duties. Rebellious man is entitled only to death.

The idea that we have "rights" and can establish these "rights" by murder and violence directed against those we hired or "voted" for, is a lawless and Humanistic doctrine. We made the mistake of creating the State in order to institutionalize vengeance and violence. Now we must follow Christ to the Cross in order to eliminate it.

We have cut out Mayhew's lengthy discussion of resistance against Charles I. It is available here.

Although the observation of this anniversary seems to have been (at least) superstitious in its original; and although it is often abused to very bad purposes by the established clergy, as they serve themselves of it, to perpetuate strife, a party spirit, and divisions in the Christian church; yet it is to be hoped that one good end will be answered by it, quite contrary to their intention: It is to be hoped that it will prove a standing memento, that Britons will not be slaves; and a warning to all corrupt councellors and ministers, not to go too far in advising to arbitrary, despotic measures-- After discussing the Glorious Revolution in England, Mayhew uses it as a justification for the American Revolution 100 years later. He says, in effect, Americans will not be slaves, but will rather resort to violence and even murder. Compare this attitude with that of the Godly slaves in 1 Peter 2:13ff. Christ says if we wish to be great, we must become the slave of all (Mark 10:42-45). The narrow road of Christ and the broad road of violent revolution lead in opposite directions.
To conclude: Let us all learn to be free, and to be loyal. Let us not profess ourselves vassals to the lawless pleasure of any man on earth. But let us remember, at the same time, government is sacred, and not to be trifled with. It is our happiness to live under the government of a PRINCE who is satisfied with ruling according to law; as every other good prince will--We enjoy under his administration all the liberty that is proper and expedient for us. It becomes us, therefore, to be contented, and dutiful subjects. Let us prize our freedom; but not use our liberty for a cloak of maliciousness. There are men who strike at liberty under the term licentiousness. There are others who aim at popularity under the disguise of patriotism. Be aware of both. Extremes are dangerous. There is at present amongst us, perhaps, more danger of the latter, than of the former. For which reason I would exhort you to pay all due Regard to the government over us; to the KING and all in authority; and to lead a quiet and peaceable life.--And while I am speaking of loyalty to our earthly Prince, suffer me just to put you in mind to be loyal also to the supreme RULER of the universe, by whom kings reign, and princes decree justice. To which king eternal immortal, invisible, even to the ONLY WISE GOD, be all honor and praise, DOMINION and thanksgiving, through JESUS CHRIST our LORD. AMEN. Christ says if we wish to be great, we must become the slave of all. True, if we can become free without murdering our master, we should take that opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:21). But having become free, will we then bring ourselves under bondage against by creating a new State? "You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.(1 Cor 7:23) The Founding Fathers did this. After becoming free from George III, they put themselves and their descendants in slavery again, and we live under the slavery of Clinton I.



Constantine baptized the Roman Empire. Calvin and the Reformers followed Constantine. No dramatic new understanding of the Scriptures took place in 1776. We are today ready for a paradigm shift.


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