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    January 13, 1890

    “Relation of Civil Governments to the Moral Law” The Signs of the Times, 16, 2.

    E. J. Waggoner

    Among right-minded persons there can be no question as to the right of earthly governments to exist. There is a class of persons known as “Anarchists,” who deny that there is any necessity for government or law, or that one person has a right for exercise authority over another; but these persons, true to their name, believe in nothing; had they the power, they would cast God down from the throne of the universe as readily as they would the earth monarch from his limited dominion. With such persons we have nothing to do. It is useless to argue with those who will not admit self-evident propositions. The only argument that that can effectually reach them is the strong arm of the law, which they hate. Our argument shall be addressed to those who acknowledge God as the Creator and the supreme Ruler of the universe, and the Bible as the complete and perfect revelation of his will concerning his creatures on this earth. With such, the declaration of the prophet, that “the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Daniel 4:25), and the statement of the apostle, that “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1), together with many other Scripture references to earthly governments, are sufficient evidence that nations have a right to exist.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.26

    Admitting that earthly governments are in the divine order of things, the next question is, For what purpose? The word itself indicates the answer: Governments exist for the purpose of governing, or, in other words, for the purpose of enforcing laws by which justice and harmony may be maintained. The apostle Peter says that governments are sent by the Lord “for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well.” 1 Peter 2:13, 14. Paul says also that the ruler if God’s minister to execute wrath upon them that do evil. Romans 13:4.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.27

    The next step in the investigation would naturally be to find out what laws earthly rulers are to execute. This is plainly indicated in the text first referred to. If the ruler is a minister of God, then the laws against which he is to execute wrath, need be such laws as God can approve-they must be in perfect harmony with the laws of God. Indeed, it could not be otherwise; for since God’s law is perfect (Psalm 19:7), covering in its range every act and thought (see Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14; Hebrews 4:12; Matthew 5:20-22, 27, 28), even, human law must be embraced with its limits. No one can dissent from this proposition. It is one of the fundamental principles of human law, as will be seen by the following extract from Blackstone’s commentaries:-SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.28

    “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, that no human laws should be suffered to contradict these. There are, it is true, a great number of indifferent points in which both the divine law and the natural leave a man at his own liberty, but which are found necessary, for the benefit of society, to be restrained within certain limits. And beside it is that human laws have their greatest force and efficacy, for with regard for such points as are not indifferent, human laws are only declaratory of, and act in subordination to the former. To instance in the case of murder: This is expressly forbidden by the divine, and demonstrably by the natural law; and from these prohibitions arises the true unlawfulness of this crime. These human laws that assess a punishment to it, do not at all increase its guilt, or superadd any fresh obligation, in fora conscientia [in the court of conscience], to abstain from its perpetration. Nay, if any human law should allow or enjoin as to commit it, we are bound to transgress that human law, or else we must offend both the natural and the divine.”—Blackstone, vol. 1, p. 36.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.29

    The State, then, according to both sacred and secular testimony, has no power to contravene the law of God, it cannot declare an act to be right or wrong unless God’s law so declares it, and in that case the innocence or guilt arising from the performance of the act is due solely to the enactments of God’s moral law, and not to the human enactment, the latter being subordinate to the former. The indifferent points, in which, as Blackstone says, human laws have their only inherent force, are such as regulate commerce, the tariff upon imported goods, etc. These are simply matters of convenience or expediency.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.30

    These questions being settled, the last and most important one is this: How far in morals have human laws jurisdiction? or, For how much of the violation of the moral law has God ordained that earthly rulers shall be his ministers to execute wrath? The Bible, which settles every important question concerning man’s duty, must also divide this. We shall find the answer in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, a portion of which must be briefly examined:-SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.31

    “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: and they that resist shall 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.” Romans 13:1-4.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.32

    The “high powers” do not include the highest power. While every soul is to be subject to earthly powers, some are absolved from allegiance to God. The service of the two will not be incompatible, so long as the earthly powers fulfill the object for which they are ordained, viz., to act as ministers for good. When they forget this, their subjects are bound to follow the example of the apostles under similar circumstances, and say, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 2:28.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.33

    The verses above quoted from the thirteenth of Romans show plainly that earthly governments alone are the subject of consideration in that chapter. The following verses show, with equal clearness, the extent of their jurisdiction:-SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.34

    “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:8-10.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.35

    “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law,” and “love is the fulfilling of the law.” What law?-Why, the law concerning which earthly rulers are the ministers. The law of God is summed up in the two great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” See Matthew 22:36-40. The second great commandment, defining our duty to our fellow-men, is expanded into the last six precepts of the decalogue, showing to what law he refers when he says, “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” To make this still more emphatic, he closes his enumeration of the commandments composing the last table of the decalogue, with the statement that “love worketh no ill to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Now since the apostle is speaking only of earthly governments, and the duty of their subjects, we know that he who does no ill to his neighbor-loves his neighbor as himself-has fulfilled all the law of which these earthly governments are empowered to take notice.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.36

    Thus it is seen that Paul’s argument concerning the office of civil government is confined to the last six commandments of the decalogue. But let it not be supposed that human governments can recognize all violations of even these last six commandments. Earthly governments are solely for the purpose of securing to their subjects mutual rights. So long as a man does no ill to his neighbor, the law cannot molest him. But any violation of the law of God affects the individual himself first of all. For example: Christ said that the seventh commandment may be violated by a single lustful look and evil desire; but such look and desire do not injure anyone except the individual indulging in them; it is only when they result in the commission of the open act of adultery, thus injuring others besides the adulterer himself, that human governments can interfere. To God alone belongs the power to punish sins of the mind.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.37

    Of the sixth commandment we are told that whosoever hates another has violated it; but the State cannot prevent a man from hating another, nor take any notice of hatred until it culminates in open crime.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.38

    There are innumerable ways in which the fifth commandment may be violated, for which the civil government has neither the right nor the power to punish. Only in extreme cases can the State interfere. A man may be covetous, and yet he is not liable to punishment until his covetousness results in open theft or swindling. Yet before the act is accomplished, of which the State can take notice, a man’s covetousness or lying or hatred may work great annoyance to his neighbors.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.39

    We see, then, how imperfect are human governments even within the sphere allotted to them. God alone has the power to read the heart, and he alone has the right to “bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.” With matters of purely a religious nature-those which rest solely upon our relation to God, and not to our neighbor-human governments have no right to interfere. Concerning them, each individual is answerable to God alone. E. J. W.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.40

    “Letter to the Hebrews. Chapter 8:8-13” The Signs of the Times, 16, 2.

    E. J. Waggoner

    (Lesson 17, January 22, 1890)

    1. With whom was the old covenant made? Jeremiah 31:31, 32.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.41

    2. With whom did the Lord say he would make a new covenant? Hebrews 8:8.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.42

    3. Have Gentiles any part in the covenants? Ephesians 2:11, 12.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.43

    4. What were the promises of the old covenant?SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.44

    5. What did the people really bind themselves to do?SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.45

    6. Wherein was that covenant faulty?SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.46

    7. What made the promises faulty?SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.47

    8. In what was the second covenant better than the first? Hebrews 8:6.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.48

    9. Repeat the promises of the new covenant. Verses 10-12; Jeremiah 31:33, 34.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.49

    10. Who makes these promises?SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.50

    11. What is the order of their fulfillment? See note.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.51

    12. What is meant by putting the law into the minds of the people? Ans.-So impressing it upon their minds that they would not forget it, and causing them to delight in it, and acknowledge its holiness. Romans 7:12, 22.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.52

    13. What is meant by writing it in their hearts? Ans.-Making it the rule of their lives, the spring of all their actions. In other words, making it a part of them.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.53

    14. What is said of those in whose hearts the law of God is? Psalm 119:11; 37:31.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.54

    15. Whom will such a one be like? Psalm 40:7, 8.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.55

    16. What will be the characteristic of those who have the law written in their hearts? Titus 2:14.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.56

    17. Is not this the object set before the people in the first covenant? Exodus 19:5, 6.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.57

    18. Then wherein is the great difference between the first covenant and the second? Ans.-In the first covenant the people promised to make themselves holy; in the second, God says that he will do the work for them.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.58

    19. In order that this work may be done, what must men do? James 4:7, first clause; 1 Peter 5:6; Romans 6:13.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.59

    20. What is the reason why man who profess to desire righteousness do not obtain it? Romans 10:3.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.60

    21. If they would humble themselves and submit to God, what would he do for them? Isaiah 61:10.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.61

    22. Through whom alone can this righteousness be obtained? Romans 5:17, 19.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.62

    23. What is the condition on which it is given? Romans 3:22.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.63


    The first of the blessings of the gospel is the forgiveness of sins. The term for this in the quotation in Hebrews is. “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness.” The next is the writing of the law in the hearts of the people. Then comes the final blotting out of sins: “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” And then comes the close of probation, and the eternal inheritance, when “they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.” Jeremiah 31:34. Then all the people will be taught of the Lord. Isaiah 54:13.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.64

    Israel were indeed be called the people of God; but his dealings with them abundantly prove, what the New Testament plainly declares, that only the faithful are really Israel, and no others were truly his people. The Lord sent word to Pharaoh, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.” Again he said, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn.” He also said he had seen the affliction of his people, and had come to deliver them, and to bring them into the land of Canaan. He did indeed deliver them out of Egypt, but of all the host that went out, only two were brought into the land of Canaan. The rest fell in the desert because of their unbelief. When they rebelled against God, they cut themselves off from being his people. And as he said in the prophecy, and in the text we have been considering, when they refused to continue in his covenant, he regarded them not. To be the people of God in truth, we must have his law in our hearts.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.65


    The old covenant was made with Israel, at Horeb; the new covenant was ratified with the house of Israel when Jesus died upon the cross. To Israel belonged “the covenants,” both the old and new. Romans 9:4. The Gentiles have no promise in that covenant whatever, only as they become a part of Israel. Paul says in Ephesians 2:12 that the Gentiles were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise.” It is sometimes said that the Sabbath is “Jewish,” but those who say this hardly realize the import of their words. If the Sabbath is Jewish, so also is the new covenant, through which all the blessings and promises come, so also is our Lord. “Salvation is of the Jews.” John 4:22.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.66

    But God has not rejected the Gentiles nor barred the way to their salvation. Those who were aliens may become citizens with the saints. A way has been opened, a “new and living way,” even the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for all, and brings the Gentiles nigh by his blood. If we accept of his gracious provisions of this new covenant, if we through faith lay hold on this divine Redeemer, we become a part of Israel. Ephesians 2:13-20. We are “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:29. Becoming through faith in Christ a part of the Israel of God, we will not only heed the precepts to Israel, but will share the promises. We will not reject God’s moral law as Jewish, but will rejoice that that law in its entirety and fullness may all be written upon our very hearts.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.67

    He who has an abiding affection for the law of God, will not fail of His kingdom. He will not sin against God (Psalm 119:11); none of his steps shall slide (Psalm 37:31); he will have no stumblingblock (Psalm 119:165, margin). Men’s failures are our stumbling-blocks. Those who fail generally lay the blame to that or those over which or whose acts they stumble. But that over which they stumble is not the cause of stumbling, it is only the occasion; it is simply used for an excuse. They would stumble over something else if not that.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.68

    Many stumble over come act of a brother or sister which they do not consider right. They have had some deal with their brethren, have not gotten a good bargain, and they say, “If such a man is a Christian, we will have no more to do with religion,” and off they go, their steps slide. The brother with whom they dealt may have done wrong. Others may have upheld him in that wrong, but is all this and a thousand times more, a reason why anyone should turn from the Lord? We are not called to serve man, but God. Revelation 14:6, 7. All men are frail and erring. God never fails. If we are serving him, if we love his law, none of these things will move us. It may lead to less confidence in man; it should not shake confidence in God. “Great peace have they which have thy law, and they have none occasion of stumbling.” Psalm 119:165, margin. Revised Version. There is not only no cause, but they will take nothing for an occasion or excuse. Let us always remember that whenever we make anyone else’s failure to do right an occasion of doing wrong ourselves, our heart is not right, the law of God is not written on the heart. God will not fail us; he cannot fail.SITI January 13, 1890, page 10.69

    Submission from the heart is most precious in God’s sight. It implies humility, meekness, and faith. We would not submit to God unless we believed him. We would not submit unless we were willing to learn his way in the spirit of meekness. We would not submit unless we realized our own nothingness and God’s greatness. Therefore it is only the humble, meek, trusting heart that truly submits to God. Such God will clothe with his righteousness and will keep from evil.SITI January 13, 1890, page 27.1

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