LBCF 1689 Reflections. Part 202

Reflections on the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689
23 Aug 14 began a perhaps unbroken, orderly, and personal journey through my favorite written confession of faith. These are my personal reflections on this beloved historic Particular Baptist confession of the Christian Faith.
Chapter 24. Of the Civil Magistrate. Paragraph 1a: “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good…”
Jesus gave us all a reason for his incarnation in talking to Pilate before his crucifixion. “Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this purpose I have been born, and for this I have come into the world: to testify to the truth…” John 18:37a. Now, Isaiah’s amazing throne room vision of Jesus in Isaiah 6:1-4 makes it abundantly clear that Jesus’ kingship did not begin at his birth in Bethlehem or even at his Resurrection from physical death outside Jerusalem. There was indeed an inheritance (or name, or office, or role) earned by Jesus’ after his earthly works, but Jesus was always and forever the God who is over all. Romans 9:5. Jesus is a member of the divine Trinity. He is AKA “…Lord of lords and King of kings…” Revelation 17:14. He was coronated, but not elected, nor will he ever be removed from office. Every single other ruler will be judged by him. John 5:22-23. His Resurrection assures us all of this fact. Acts 17:30-31. The King of kings we proclaim has ordained that there be sub-rulers since nearly the start. The human office of the lower magistrates was God’s idea. Israel alone was a very unique theocratic nation for about a four hundred year period from Moses to Saul.

The confession cites only one Bible passage to support this succinct part of the statement. Romans 13:1-4. Their brevity matches Paul’s. Neither leaders nor people alone are trustworthy. We need safeguards. Absolute power can absolutely corrupt. For the common good, governing authorities perform a hundred functions with a thousand checks and balances.

The Proverbs shed light on why good communal governance should exist and be honored. I’ll offer just two passages: “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22. “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is victory.” Proverbs 11:14. Amen.
I’d like to consider some ideals of good governance observed in the land of my birth, America.

The Mayflower Compact of 1620 long-preceded the American Constitution of 1789. (Note that our Constitution is itself preceded by a full one-hundred years by the LBCF Confession of 1689). The Mayflower Compact is considered by many- and was clearly intended by its authors to be- a first constitution for the body politic that would not much later become known as the United States of America. I hope you’ll consider some of the why’s behind its wording as you read it:

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, king, Defender of The Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian Faith, and the honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid: and by virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth.

A good formulae for any people is a good thing. They’re not all created equal. Socialism stinks. Communism stinks. The Holy Roman Empire (for the most part) stunk/stinks. But good formulae with biblical wisdom gave rise to America. God gave his Law to Israel. We, though not being Israel, have understood the value therein. As a result, we are still as of today the most free and most prosperous representative republic on earth. Whether a nation is one thousand or three hundred and thirty million people, God has ordained that leaders lead well. It keeps the world from being in perpetual WWI or WWII mode.
America was developed and envisioned as a theistic nation and most closely informed by Christianity, but was dedicated to not establishing a “state church” for very wise reasons. It was Protestant or Separatist Christianity that formed the solid bedrock of American government. We were therefore proud to pledge ourselves as one nation…under God…indivisible. Now we’re mostly a nation of secular idiots in love with our own selves who’d consider it xenophobic to believe that anymore. Today, just two-hundred and twenty-three years after what I’m about to cite next, we Americans have all but abandoned the God who made us on all but our currency and so we suffer as any nation that does must. Psalm 9:17. (May God send revival, shame and blessing)! Please consider well what’s quoted next, reader. On 11 October 1798, just nine years after the US Constitution was adopted, President John Adams wrote an address to the Massachusetts Militia. He was sixty-three years old when he wrote it just one year into his four year term as the second President of the United States. In it, he says:

While our Country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world: while she continues sincere and incapable of insidious and impious policy: we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by providence. But should the people of America, once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practicing iniquity and extravagance; and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor frankness and sincerity while it is rioting in rapine and insolence: this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world. Because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Today we have mostly immoral and irreligious people running our country. Our people want it so because we too are mostly immoral and irreligious. In fact, it seems that being unethical is about the only consistent quality we look for in a leader any more. Hence our Constitution is failing, just as Adams knew it would. Now, are his words perhaps a bit idealistic? Yes I think so, but leaders must often speak I think of what they would have over all that they do have. President Adams’ words reflected the wisdom given by God in establishing the proper place of good governing authorities.

Thoughts such as those of which we just saw from President Adams is why Alexis De Tocqueville in 1835 wrote, “There is no country in the world in which everything can be provided for by the laws, or in which political institutions can prove a substitute for common sense and public morality.” (Democracy in America. Chapter eight. The Executive Power). He was a Frenchman. A very correct Frenchman in this regard.

Good American government grew- by virtue of its foundational biblical wisdom- to understand the necessity of limiting one’s rights to sin against one’s neighbor while not obstructing one’s rights to sin against God. The government is not the church and the church is not the government. Both should have their separate spheres of overlapping influence and duties. This is Romans 13.

Cultural note: If any leader supports abortion on demand they are denying their governing duty. They are ultimately an unethical person and unfit for any public office. They allow for innocent bloodshed and God will judge them for it. The “public good” (LBCF) is not kept for the baby boy whose head is crushed in the womb. As the Mayflower Compact wanted to have its consenting citizens uphold “just and equal laws and ordinances” such cannot be maintained for the girl whose torso is torn apart in abortion. All of our many modern societal ills are not exhausted in abortion, but abortion today epitomizes what it means to be wicked. And sixty plus million souls have paid the price for our idolatry. No good ruler can stand for it.

But there is a far higher reality than God-ordained government. Good government teaches us this. The American bookkeeper and insurance agent, William Steffe (1830-1890) wrote the wondrous “Battle Hymn of the Republic” around 1856. I hope it somewhat encapsulates what I’m writing here today. It speaks of freedom and looks to a government…under the King of kings. A few stanzas:

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnish’d rows of steel
As ye deal with my condemners so with you my grace shall deal
Let the hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel
His truth is marching on!
He has sounded form the trumpet that shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat
Oh, be swift, my soul to answer, oh be jubilant, my feet
His truth is marching on!
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me
As he died to make men holy let us die to make men free
His truth is marching on!
Glory, Glory hallelujah (Praise Yahweh)!
Glory, Glory hallelujah!
Glory, Glory hallelujah!
His truth is marching on!

All of the Christian religion informs us that while leaders quickly come and go, God doesn’t. We should pray for them, and pray that they would do well during their short times as leaders. 1 Timothy 2:1-2. I pray for my nation’s leaders at every level I’m aware of. None of them are perfect, and they do have tough jobs, but all will answer to Jesus whether they acknowledge him in this life or not. They cannot govern well without remembering this. Nations rise and fall. Psalm 149:6. But Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Hebrews 13:8.

I’ll leave you with one longer quote from a man I don’t quote in full trust, but one very right in saying:

We look back upon the pages of history and what do we see?  Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter revolutions, wealth accumulated and wealth dispersed. Shakespeare has spoken of the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow like the moon. I look back upon my own fellow countrymen of England, once upon a time dominating a quarter of the world. Most of them convinced in the words of what is still a popular song that the God who made them mighty, shall make them mightier yet. I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years. I’ve seen an Italian clown say that he was going to stop and restart the calendar with his own ascension to power. I’ve seen a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than a shokah. I have seen America wealthier, and in terms of military weaponry more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people so desired, they could have outdone a Caesar or an Alexander in the range and scale of their conquest.

All in one lifetime. All in one lifetime! All gone! Gone with the wind!

England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin is a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America is haunted by fears of running out of the precious fluids that keep their motorways roaring, and the smog settling, and the victory of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charge the windmills of Watergate.

All in one lifetime. All in one lifetime! All gone! Gone with the wind!

Behind the debris of the fallings of our solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists, lies the gigantic figure of one person – because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom, mankind may still survive. The person of Jesus Christ. – Malcolm Muggeridge.

Joseph Pittano

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