"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.V No.IX Pg.11
April 1943

The Divine Mission Of Civil Government

P. W. Stonestreet

By its classification of the different forms of evil, the New Testament defines the divine mission of civil government as it relates to God's punishment of evildoers. Its mission is revealed through the following inspired method of investigation: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Tim. 2:15.) Accordingly, we observe:

1. The evil involved in failing to obey doctrine that relates exclusively to God and to the subject of obedience, because of its very nature, is not the evil to be opposed by civil government and referred to in Romans 13:4. Other than a scriptural interest in the saving of souls, no one (saint or sinner) is concerned with one's obedience to the doctrine of faith, repentance, baptism, prayer, the Lord's supper, etc. Such doctrine can only be obeyed from the heart; hence, only the figurative sword of the Spirit is to be used in dealing with the evil of rejecting such doctrine. So by thus mentally dividing the word of truth according to the nature of that truth, we may know that dealing with this class of evil has not been assigned to the mission of civil government. This deduction narrows our inquiry down to the moral realm.

2. The evil involved in violating certain aspects of moral principles relates only to God and to the subject of obedience or disobedience. This class of evil embraces certain private violations (some of them purely mental) with which one's fellow-men are not personally concerned and on which civilization does not depend. Inasmuch as this class of evil can only be corrected through the heart of man while force deals directly with the acts of man, we may know, by its very nature, that dealing with this class of evil has not been divinely assigned to God's minister of force, the civil government. So this, another deduction provided for in the divine division of the word of truth, brings our investigation to a definite focus.

3. There is another form of evil that is in a class by itself. We may know it is a special class because God calls for a special treatment of it. Evil of this class is not merely subjective; it is objective. Unlike other forms of evil, the results of this class of evil are not confined to the evildoers themselves and to God; all normal humankind is vitally concerned with this class of evil. It is an evil that challenges inalienable rights divinely bestowed upon mankind. They are but common rights; freedom within the limits of what is allowable in the interest of the public weal; a freedom that recognizes its just limits and involves the free-moral agency of man. These are rights on which civilization and peace on earth depend. And inasmuch as there are no other rights to be defended by force and no power but civil government divinely assigned the mission of military force, therefore, we very decidedly identify the defense of these rights with the divine mission of civil government. Hence, it is its mission to exemplify and preserve this class of rights.

Evildoers in this realm go far beyond principles that relate only to themselves and to God; therefore, the literal sword, instead of the figurative sword of the Spirit, is divinely assigned to dealing with this class of evil. Evildoers in this realm are enemies of all principles of the gospel, and no teaching of the gospel calls for the figurative sword of the Spirit in dealing with this class of evil. They are enemies of the golden rule; they would even prohibit the right to teach it. But God so esteems the golden rule and all other divine rules, that He ordains the iron rule to defend the right to teach such rules. (The reader will please distinguish between the golden rule on the one hand, and the right to teach that rule on the other.) We are dealing with such common rights, whether they pertain to religion or to anything else. Hence, when these rights are assailed by an individual, a band, a nation, or a group of nations, it is the divine mission of civil government to administer God's punishment and vengeance against that form of evil. "For he ("it"-margin referring to government) 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." (Romans 13:4.) The "evil" referred to in that verse is very definitely the very evil with which the United Nations are dealing in this global war; the "him that doeth evil" referred to in that verse is anybody on the face of the earth who assails common rights, whether they pertain to religion or to anything else.

While Christians are admonished to "abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thes. 5:22); yet, unlike a current religious school of thought, the God of heaven does not solely depend upon that admonition to correct one form or class of evil, but has assigned it to force. Evidently the philosophy of that school of thought fails to observe that God's punishment and vengeance, through human agency, begins in this life or age, against the particular form of evil under discussion. And just as no virtue attaches to the human agency exercised in God's power of conversion, so no guilt attaches to the human agency exercised in God's power of punishment and vengeance. And whoever can prove that human agency assumes the prerogative of God in one act but not in the other, will deserve a medal. The assumption that vengeance on the part of human agency is intrinsically wrong, runs counter to the text which says it is "to thee for good." The truth is that a religious dogma has erected a standard of good and evil and God has also revealed a standard of good and evil, and the two standards do not agree. This writer endorses God's standard.

Evidently the divine mission of civil government against a particular class of evil has been over looked by many students because of the general confusion of all forms of evil; they have been searching for a concrete description of it, whereas it is only revealed by the divine method of deduction from the composite of all that is said of evil in "the word of truth." Thus evil, by "the word of truth," classifies according to its very nature and various results. Proof that many students are thus confused on the subject is seen in the not unusual expression of ascribing war to "sin." It is comparable to a diagnostician ascribing all deaths, caused by some physical disorder, to "disease." One is just as enlightening as the other! Both are too indefinite to be enlightening. Thus that theory ignores the very truth that is essential to understanding the Scriptures on the subject.

It is accounted for on the ground that habit and grooves of thought are easily formed. Evidently some sincere religious teachers, and otherwise able men, have dealt with evil through the hearts of people so long that they imagine that is the only approach for them that has divine approval. On ethical grounds, this writer does not stress the dire consequences of the logic of that school of thought; instead, he attacks the logic itself. This course is respectful of their consciences, while Christian charity does not call for respect for their logic on all questions.

Finally, let us ever distinguish between the divinely assigned mission of civil government on the one hand, and the commands of men on the other hand-men who may also be a personnel of government. If a command is in harmony with that divine mission, it is backed up with an inspired command to "obey"; if a command is not only foreign to that divinely assigned mission but also subversive of God's economy, then and only then, in the language of the apostle Peter and for the same reason, it would be scriptural to reply: "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29.)