30 November 2008

The mistake of the the Alexanders, and of the Augusti, and of the Napoleons – Wisdom Sunday

Because of what Paul says in Romans 13:1-7, some Christians can almost worship the state. Paul says obey the governing authorities (and above those governing authorities was Caesar) and so we do, almost uncritically.

There was, of course, that little incident in 1776. And a whole lot of Christians supported it. The same thing happened in 1861.

What explains this? The Calvinistic view of the state, how it arises, what are its benefits and what are its detriments.

Man is created from man, and by virtue of his birth he is organically united with the whole race. Together we form one humanity, not only with those who are living now, but also with all the generations behind us and with all those who shall come after us pulverized into millions though we may be. All the human race is from one blood. The conception of States, however, which subdivide the earth into continents, and each continent into morsels, does not harmonize with this idea. Then only would the organic unity of our race be realized politically, if one State could embrace all the world, and if the whole of humanity were associated in one world empire. Had sin not intervened, no doubt this would actually have been so. If sin, as a disintegrating force, had not divided humanity into different sections, nothing would have marred or broken the organic unity of our race. And the mistake of the Alexanders, and of the Augusti, and of the Napoleons, was not that they were charmed with the thought of the One World Empire, but it was this–that they endeavored to realize this idea notwithstanding that the force of sin had dissolved our unity.

In like manner the international cosmopolitan endeavors of the Social-democracy present, in their conception of union, an ideal, which on this very account charms us, even when we are aware that they try to reach the unattainable, in endeavoring to realize this high and holy ideal, now and in a sinful world. Nay, even Anarchy, conceived as the attempt to undo all mechanical connections among men, together with the undoing of all human authority, and to encourage, in their stead, the growth of a new organic tie, arising from nature itself – I say, all this is nothing but a looking backward after a lost paradise.

For, indeed, without sin there would have been neither magistrate nor state-order; but political life, in its entirety, would have evolved itself, after a patriarchal fashion, from the life of the family. Neither bar of justice nor police, nor army, nor navy, is conceivable in a world without sin; and thus every rule and ordinance and law would drop away, even as all control and assertion of the power of the magistrate would disappear, were life to develop itself, normally and without hindrance, from its own organic impulse. Who binds up, where nothing is broken? Who uses crutches, where the limbs are sound?

Every State-formation, every assertion of the power of the magistrate, every mechanical means of compelling order and of guaranteeing a safe course of life is therefore always something unnatural; something against which the deeper aspirations of our nature rebel; and which, on this very account, may become the source both of a dreadful abuse of power, on the part of those who exercise it, and of a continuous revolt on the part of the multitude. Thus originated the battle of the ages between Authority and Liberty, and in this battle it was the very innate thirst for liberty which proved itself the God-ordained means to bridle the authority wheresoever it degenerated into despotism. And thus all true conception of the nature of the State and of the assumption of authority by the magistrate, and on the other hand all true conception of the right and duty of the people to defend liberty, depends on what Calvinism has here placed in the foreground, as the primordial truth –that God has instituted the magistrates, by reason of sin.

In this one thought are hidden both the light-side and the shady side of the life of the State. The shady-side for this multitude of states ought not to exist; there should be only one world-empire. These magistrates rule mechanically and do not harmonize with our nature. And this authority of government is exercised by sinful men, and is therefore subject to all manner of despotic ambitions. But the light-side also, for a sinful humanity, without division of states, without law and government, and without ruling authority, would be a veritable hell on earth; or at least a repetition of that which existed on earth when God drowned the first degenerate race in the deluge. Calvinism has, therefore, by its deep conception of sin laid bare the true root of state-life, and has taught us two things: first –that we have gratefully to receive, from the hand of God, the institution of the State with its magistrates, as a means of preservation, now indeed indispensable. And on the other hand also that, by virtue of our natural impulse, we must ever watch against the danger which lurks, for our personal liberty, in the power of the State. -- Abraham Kuyper, "Calvinism and Politics," Lectures on Calvinism, here.
The state, because of sin, is a necessary evil. And because it bears the sword, in the end the only reliable weapon to be used in keeping that sword in check is another sword.

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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