LBCF 1689 Reflections. Part 205

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 3a: “Civil magistrates being set up by God for the ends aforesaid; subjection, in all lawful things commanded by them, ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake…”

“When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked person rules, people groan.” Proverbs 29:2. There is nowhere in hierarchy that this is not true. Being a good leader of others in a governmental capacity (the context for why they’re writing this) can actually be another means of sanctification in the lives of believers. It stands to reason then that a person’s leadership, if they’re in the Faith, should be of the type entirely submitted to God. God takes it very seriously that leaders treat the people they lead well. That they treat them fairly. He has much to say about it in the Bible. The sin of extortion or of being a swindler (ἅρπαξ) is actually listed right alongside the damning sins of fornication and idolatry in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Christians have been delivered from being swindlers or extortioners (vs. 11) just as they’ve been freed from every other sin listed. Ask Zaccheus. Luke 19:8. By James God says:

Come now, you rich people, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have corroded, and their corrosion will serve as a testimony against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of armies. James 5:1-4.

The idea here is that the rich in view have defrauded or swindled their laborers and that God is furious about it. There is even a Day of Wrath coming over such leaders be they governmental or even in private enterprise. This kind of lesson is everywhere in the Bible. “A just balance and scales belong to the Lord; all the weights of the bag are His concern.” Proverbs 16:11. God cares profoundly about justice. Magistrates, leaders, employers, kings, managers, slave owners, stewards, etc., were never to mistreat their subordinates as such would say to the world that they believed there was no God watching them to whom they’ll also soon stand. This even has parental and marital application for us. God orders leaders to treat others fairly. “Masters, grant your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” Colossians 4:1. Some of us have small areas of leadership. Some have more.

The writers of this confession see it as a foregone conclusion that God wants godly leadership from Christians in every possible realm be it in government, the church or the family. Both leaders and the led do well to head all this in the text. Paul’s letter to Philemon would be an interesting study for you to research this further. This writing here finds its root in Romans 13:1-5 as cited last week.

We submit. Orders issued must also be “lawful.” Valid orders are not illegal, unethical or immoral. If what a leader orders is unlawful they’re to be resisted, removed, and perhaps themselves even brought to justice if they’ve committed a crime. A classic example of good resistance is seen in Exodus 1:15-20:

Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah, and the other was named Puah; and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.” So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty.

It’s a sin to lie, but the determining factors of what constitutes a lie may sometimes elude us. We must be under proper moral obligation if a lie is to be a lie. Discretion is not necessarily lying, etc. In the case of the pharaoh above he’d issued an unlawful order to murder the innocent and it was to be disregarded. They then lied to the pharaoh (though perhaps the Hebrew women were in fact just stronger) and God blessed them. Aside from criminality, such as what the pharaoh had ordered above, there are also religious reasons sometimes to disobey unlawful orders from our leaders. An example of this is seen in Acts 5:27-29:

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the Council. The high priest interrogated them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this Man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men…
…and Peter started preaching again. God (Jesus) had ordered them to preach in Jerusalem and then outward. Matthew 28:19-20. Cf. Luke 24:46-47. The leaders had a role the Apostles would entirely submit to, but not when it contradicted Jesus’ role as their sender. Now, these were leaders who’d have professed faith in God. They were not the mindless atheists we see elsewhere, but still their orders were to be rightly disobeyed when they said to stop preaching because Jesus had said to preach. We obey our leaders (even godless ones) as a part of our faith. God orders us to do so. If we don’t submit in lawful things, even if they’re perhaps not something we agree with, we may be wrong and even sinning. We submit to our leaders as a part of our submission to Jesus. He set up leaders and he makes men to differ.

The last part of what I’m examining today that says, “…not only for wrath, but for conscience sake…” reminds us again that there is a Day of Wrath coming on the world from God almighty. He sees all. He needs no prosecutors. He needs no defenders. He needs no witnesses. We are all who are wise living in the hope of mercy on that day and not justice for our lives so we should pray to extend it outward to others in submission now. So, like Portia said-

Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

Such will inherit the earth. In a good government, if we’re at odds with it, we’re the problem and the government’s opposition to us can remind us that God’s ultimately our issue. This can lead men to repentance. It also means here I think that since the state has the God-given authority to execute God’s wrath on criminals that it behooves us to submit to prevent it. Paul believed this even as the axe was brought down upon his own neck unjustly by a godless regime. Jesus himself acknowledged the power that had been given to Pilate (a terrible leader) over him “from above.” John 19:11. It was to execute him on a cross, but he submitted to it and acknowledged it.

This part about conscience sake tempts me to take another two pages, but I must be brief. It’s very late here! Some of my thoughts on why they’ve included this here is from what Peter wrote. These are some words that many in my racist-silly, CRT-minded, shallow, blind-to-the-Gospel-and-its-power age have no proper context for. By Peter God says:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are harsh. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person endures grief when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 1 Peter 2:18-20.
Jesus endured wrong and misdirected hostility against him, the only innocent or good man who ever lived. We should to. He laid aside his prerogative of Deity (such as what Isaiah saw of him in Isaiah 6) to be humiliated before mankind. Philippians 2:5-8. Now, I know that what Peter said above here hits our modern ears funny, but for those who can hear it it’s a river of blessing. I’ve suffered some of the worst persecution of my life in the past nine months. It was unjust. To the man offending me in it I said only one line at the end of it. I said, “Sir, as a Christian it’s my right to suffer. I only hope I’ve done it well and with respect.” That was it. I meant it. I didn’t rehearse the line, it’s just what I wanted to say verbally. It’s my lot in life to suffer as a believer. Of course the world hates me. I’m in very good company when they do. I’ve been promised that hatred by God. Enduring it for conscience’ sake has strengthened me. I’m a sinner, but headed to glory. Everyone wants to be a slave we say, but no one (including me) wants to be treated like one! When you can bear mistreatment in this life, even if it was corporal punishment such as what Peter wrote of in days quite different than ours, it was a blessing to you because you know that ultimately from God you will not receive the stripes you deserve, but that he did. You turn the other cheek, a metaphor that conveys just this. Christ bore your whippings for you. *He,* for you if you’re in him, “got away” with nothing for you. So bear it when you’re mistreated by others. Jesus did. This doesn’t mean be a doormat, but we pray for those who persecute us because we know that if God didn’t soften us, fix us, turn us to him, we’d be the ones not living in light of such sanctifying truths in our own lives.

Joseph Pittano

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