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§ 9. The Fifth Commandment.

Its Design.

The general principle of duty enjoined in this commandment, is that we should feel and act in a becoming manner towards our superiors. It matters not in what their superiority consists, whether in age, office, power, knowledge, or excellence. There are certain feelings, and a certain line of conduct due to those who are over us, for that very reason, determined and modified in each case by the degree and nature of that superiority. To superiors are due, to each according to the relation in which he stands to us, reverence, obedience, and gratitude. The ground of this obligation is to be found, (1.) In the will of God, who has enjoined this duty upon all rational creatures. (2.) In the nature of the relation itself. Superiority supposes, in some form or degree, on the part of the inferior, dependence and indebtedness, and therefore calls for reverence, gratitude, and obedience; and, (3.) In expediency, as the moral order of the divine government and of human society depend upon this due submission to authority.

In the case of God, as his superiority is infinite the submission of his creatures must be absolute. To Him we owe adoration or the profoundest reverence, the most fervent gratitude, and 349implicit obedience. The fifth commandment, however, concerns our duty to our fellow-creatures. First in order and in importance is the duty of children to their parents, hence the general duty is embodied in the specific command, “Honour thy father and thy mother.”

The Filial Relation.

When a child is born into the world it is entirely helpless and dependent. As it derives its existence from its parents, so it would immediately perish without their assiduous and constant care. The parents are not only its superiors in knowledge, in power, and in every other attribute of humanity; but they are also the proximate source of all good to the child. They protect, cherish, feed, clothe, educate, and endow it. All the good be-stowed, is bestowed disinterestedly. Self is constantly sacrificed. The love of parents to their children is mysterious and immutable, as well as self-sacrificing. It is a form of love which none but a parent can know. A mother’s love is a mystery and a wonder. It is the most perfect analogue of the love of God.

As the relation in which parents stand to their children has this close analogy to the relation in which God stands to his rational creatures, and especially to his own people, so the duties resulting from that relation are analogous. They are expressed by the same word. Filial piety is as correct an expression as it is common. Parents stand to their dependent children, so to speak, in the place of God. They are the natural objects of the child’s love, reverence, gratitude, confidence, and devotion. These are the sentiments which naturally flow out of the relation; and which in all ordinary cases do flow from it; so that Calvin is justified in saying that children destitute of these feelings, “monstra sunt non homines.” This endearing and intimate relation between parents and children (which cannot exist where monogamy is not the law), binding all in the closest union which can exist among men, makes the family the corner-stone of the well-being of society on earth, and the type of the blessedness of heaven. The Church is the family of God. He is the Father, its members are brethren.

While the relative duties of parents and children must be everywhere and always essentially the same, yet they are more or less modified by varying conditions of society. There are laws on this subject in the Bible, which being intended for the state of things existing before the coming of Christ, are no longer binding 350upon us. It was unavoidable in the patriarchal state of society, and especially in its nomadic state, that the father of a family should be at once father, magistrate, and priest. And it was natural and right that many of the parental prerogatives necessary in such a state of society, should be retained in the temporary and transition state organized under the Mosaic institutions. We find accordingly that the laws of Moses invested parents with powers which can no longer properly belong to them; and sustained parental authority by penal enactments which are no longer necessary. Thus it was ordered, “He that curseth (or revileth, Septuagint ὁ κακολογῶν, Vulgate ‘qui maledixerit’) his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” (Exod. xxi. 17) In the fifteenth verse of the same chapter it is said, “He that smiteth his father or his mother, shall be surely put to death.” (Compare Deut. xxvii. 16; Prov. xx. 20; Matt. xv. 4.) It may be remarked here, in passing, that our Lord’s comment on this commandment given in Matthew xv. 4-6, shows that the honouring of their parents required of children, does not mean simply the cherishing right feelings towards them, but as well the ministering to their support when necessary. Christ said to the Pharisees, “God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother; . . . . but ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift (consecrated to God), by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me, and honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free.” That is, the Pharisees taught that a son might evade the obligation to honour, i.e., to support his father or mother, by saying that his property was consecrated to God.

The Mosaic law also enacted that “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them; then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city and unto the gates of his place: and they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of the city shall stone him with stones, that he die.” (Deut. xxi. 18-21.)

Fathers under the old economy had the right to choose wives for their sons and to give their daughters in marriage. (Gen. xxiv.; Ex. xxi. 9; Judges xiv. 2; Gen. xxix. 18; xxxiv. 12.) Children also were liable to be sold to satisfy the debts of their 351fathers. (Levit. xxv. 39-41; 2 Kings iv. 1; Is. l. 1; Matt. xviii. 25.) These judicial enactments have passed away. They serve to prove, however, how intimate in the sight of God is the relation between parents and children. A father’s benediction was coveted as the greatest blessing; and his curse deprecated as a fearful evil. (Gen. xxvii. 4, 12, 34-38; xlix. 2 ff.)

In the New Testament the duty enjoined in the fifth commandment is frequently recognized and enforced. Our blessed Lord himself was subject to his parents. (Luke ii. 51.) The Apostle commands children to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. vi. 1), and to obey them in all things, for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. (Col. iii. 20.) This obedience is to be not only religious, but specifically Christian, as the word Lord, in Ephesians vi. 1, refers to Christ. This is plain because in ch. v. 21, the Apostle says that these specific duties are to be performed “in the fear of Christ;”321321The common text indeed in Ephesians v. 21, has Θεοῦ, but the authority of the MSS. is so decidedly in favour of Χριστοῦ that that reading is almost universally adopted by editors and commentators. because the Lord is always in the New Testament to be understood of Christ, unless the context forbids; and because especially throughout these chapters Lord and Christ are interchanged, so that it is evident that both words refer to the same person. Children are required to obey their parents in the Lord, i.e., as a religious duty, as part of the obedience due to the Lord. They are to obey them “in all things;” i.e., in all things falling within the sphere of parental authority. God has never committed unlimited power to the hands of men. The limitations of parental authority are determined partly by the nature of the relation, partly by the Scriptures, and partly by the state of society or the law of the land. The nature of the relation supposes that parents are to be obeyed as parents, out of gratitude and love; and that their will is to be consulted and respected even where their decisions are not final. They are not to be obeyed as magistrates, as though they were invested with the power to make or to administer civil laws; nor yet as prophets or priests. They are not lords of the conscience. They cannot control our faith or determine for us questions of duty so as to exonerate us from personal obligation. Being a service of love, it does not admit of strictly defined boundaries. Children are to conform to the wishes and to be controlled by the judgments of their parents, in all cases where such submission does not conflict with higher obligations.

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The Scriptural rule is simple and comprehensive. It does not go into unnecessary details. It prescribes the general rule of obedience. The exceptions to that rule must be such as justify themselves to a divinely enlightened conscience, i.e., a conscience enlightened by the Word and Spirit of God. The general principle given in the Bible in all such cases is, “It is right to obey God rather than man.”

The Promise.

This commandment has a special promise attached to it. This promise has a theocratical form as it stands in the decalogue, “That thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” The Apostle, in Ephesians vi. 3, by leaving out the last clause generalizes it, so that it applies to no one land or people, but to obedient children everywhere. The promise announces the general purpose of God and a general principle of his providential government. “The hand of the diligent maketh rich,” that is the general rule, which is not invalidated if here and there a diligent man remains poor. It is well with obedient children; they prosper in the world. Such is the fact, and such is the divine promise. The family being the corner-stone of social order and prosperity, it follows that those families are blessed in which God’s plan and purpose are most fully carried out and realized.

Parental Duties.

As children are bound to honour and obey their parents, so parents have duties no less important in reference to their children. These duties are summarily expressed by the Apostle in Ephesians vi. 4, first in a negative, and then in a positive form. “Ye fathers provoke not your children to wrath.” This is what they are not to do. They are not to excite the bad passions of their children by anger, severity, injustice, partiality, or any undue exercise of authority. This is a great evil. It is sowing tares instead of wheat in a fruitful soil. The positive part of parental duty is expressed by the cemprehensive direction, “but bring them up in the nurture (παιδείᾳ) and admonition (νουθεσίᾳ) of the Lord.” The former of these words is comprehensive, the latter specific. The one expresses the whole process of education or training; the other the special duty of warning and correction. The “nurture and admonition” is to be Christian; that is, not only such as Christ approves and enjoins, but which is truly his, 353 i.e., that which He exercises by his word and Spirit through the parent as his organ. “Christ is represented as exercising this nurture and admonition, in so far as He by his Spirit influences and controls the parent.”322322Meyer, Commentary in loco. According to the Apostle, this religious or Christian element is essential in the education of the young. Man has a religious as well as an intellectual nature. To neglect the former would be as unreasonable as to neglect the latter and make all education a matter of mere physical training. We must act in accordance with facts. It is a fact that men have a moral and religious nature. It is a fact that if their moral and religious feelings are enlightened and properly developed, they become upright, useful, and happy; on the other hand, if these elements of their nature are uncultivated or perverted, they become degraded, miserable, and wicked. It is a fact that this department of our nature as much needs right culture as the intellectual or the physical. It is a fact that this culture can be effected only by the truth instilled into the mind and impressed upon the conscience. It is a fact that this truth, as all Christians believe, is contained in the Holy Scriptures. It is a fact, according to the Scriptures, that the eternal Son of God is the only Saviour of men, and that it is by faith in Him and by obedience to Him, men are delivered from the dominion of sin; and therefore it is a fact that unless children are brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, they, and the society which they constitute or control, will go to destruction. Consequently, when a state resolves that religious instruction shall be banished from the schools and other literary institutions, it virtually resolves on self-destruction. It may indeed be said that such a resolution does not imply that religious education is to be neglected. It simply declares that it is not a function of the state, that it is a duty which belongs to the family and to the Church. This is plausible, but it is fallacious.

1. All the education received by a large portion of the people of any country, is received in its primary schools. If that be irreligious (in the negative sense, if in this case there be such a sense), their whole training is irreligious.

2. It is to be remembered that the Christian people of a country are the Church of that country. The Christians of Antioch were the Church of Antioch, and the Christians of Rome were the Church of Rome. In like manner the Christians in the United are the Church in the United States. As therefore the 354schools belong to the people, as they are their organs for the education of their children; if the people be Christians, the schools of right must be Christian. Any law which declares that they shall not be so, is tyrannical. It may be said that the law does not forbid Christians having religious schools, it only says that such schools shall not be supported by the public money. But the people are the public; and if the people be Christians, Christians are the public. The meaning of such a law, therefore, really is, that Christians shall not use their own money for the support of their own schools.

3. If Christian men therefore constitute a nation, a state, a county, a town, or a village, they have the right, with which no civil power can justly interfere, of having Christian schools. If any who are not Christians choose to frequent such schools, they should not be required to attend upon the religious instruction. They can derive all the benefit they seek, although they omit attendance on what is designed for the children of Christian parents.

4. It is true that Church and State are not united in this country as they ever have been in Europe. It is conceded that this separation is wise. But it is not to be inferred from that concession that the state has nothing to do with religion; that it must act as though there were no Christ and no God. It has already been remarked that this is as impossible as it would be for the state to ignore the moral law. It may be admitted that Church and State are, in this country, as distinct as the Church and a banking company. But a banking company, if composed of Christians, must conduct its business according to Christian principles, so far as those principles apply to banking operations. So a nation, or a state, composed of Christians, must be governed by Christianity, so far as its spirit and precepts apply to matters of civil government. If therefore the state assumes that the education of the people is one of its functions, it is bound in a Christian country, — a country in which ninety hundredths of the population consist of Christians, — to conduct the schools on Christian principles, otherwise it tramples on the most sacred rights of the people. This the people never will submit to, until they lose all interest in their religion. No one doubts that the Bible does require that education should be religiously conducted. “These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest 355by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deut. vi. 6, 7. and xi. 19.) “He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children; that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.” (Ps. lxxviii. 5, 6, 7.) “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. xxii. 6.) Fathers bring up your children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. vi. 4.) These are not ceremonial or obsolete laws. They bind the consciences of men just as much as the command, “Thou shalt not steal.” If parents themselves conduct the education of their children, these are the principles upon which it must be conducted. If they commit that work to teachers, they are bound, by the law of God, to see that the teachers regard these divine prescriptions; if they commit the work to the state, they are under equally sacred obligation to see that the state does not violate them. This is an obligation which they cannot escape.

5. When the Sunday laws were under discussion, on a previous page, it was urged that it would be unreasonable and unjust for a man who joined a business association of moral men, to insist that the affairs of the association should be conducted on immoral principles; if he joined a company of Christian manufacturers, it would be unjust for him to require that they should violate the laws of Christianity. So if a Christian should go to Turkey, it would be preposterous for him to insist that the Koran should be banished from the public schools. No less preposterous is it for any man to demand that Christians in this country should renounce their religion. Christianity requires that education in all its departments should be conducted religiously. If any set of men should found a school or a university from which all religious instruction should be banished, the law of the land would doubtless permit them to do so. But for the law to forbid that the religion of the people should be taught in schools sustained by the money of the people, ought not to be submitted to.

6. The banishment of religious influence from our schools is impossible. If a man is not religious, he is irreligious; if he is not a believer, he is an unbeliever. This is as true of organizations and institutions, as it is of Individuals. Byron uttered 356a profound truth when he put into the mouth of Satan the words “He that does not bow to God, has bowed to me.” If you banish light, you are in darkness. If you banish Christianity from the schools, you thereby render them infidel. If a child is brought up in ignorance of God, he becomes an atheist. If never taught the moral law, his moral nature is as undeveloped as that of a pagan. This controversy, therefore, is a controversy between Christianity and infidelity; between light and darkness; between Christ and Belial.323323So little is this matter understood, that one of the most respectable and influential journals in this land, recently announced the fact one of the cantons of Switzerland had prohibited all religious instruction in the schools, as a proof that “the world was getting tired of sacerdotalism.” Thus religion is reduced to sacerdotalism or priestcraft.

It is admitted that this subject is encumbered with practical difficulties where the people of a country differ widely in their religious convictions. In such cases it would be far better to refer the matter to the people of each school district, than by a general law to prohibit all religious instruction from the public schools. This would, in fact, be to make them infidel, in deference to a numerically insignificant minority of the people. It is constantly said that the state, if it provides for anything more than secular education, is travelling out of its sphere; that civil government is no more organized to teach religion than a fire company is. This latter assertion may be admitted so far as this, that the same rule applies to both cases. That is, all individual men, and all associations of men, are bound to act according to the principles of morality and religion, so far as those principles are applicable to the work which they have to do. Men cannot lawfully cheat in banking, nor can they rightfully conduct their business on the Lord’s Day. In like manner if God requires that education should be conducted religiously, the state has no more right to banish religion from its schools, than it has to violate the moral law. The whole thing comes to this: Christians are bound by the express command of God as well as by a regard to the salvation of their children and to the best interests of society, to see to it that their children are brought up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord;” this they are bound to do; through the state if they can; without it, if they must.

Obedience due to Civil Magistrates.

It the fifth commandment enjoins as a general principle, respect and obedience to our superiors, it includes our obligations 357to civil rulers, we are commanded to “Submit ourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God.” (1 Peter ii. 13-15.) The whole theory of civil government and the duty of citizens to their rulers, are comprehensively stated by the Apostle in Romans xiii. 1-5. It is there taught, (1.) That all authority is of God. (2.) That civil magistrates are ordained of God. (3.) That resistance to them, is resistance to Him; they are ministers exercising his authority among men. (4.) That obedience to them must be rendered as a matter of conscience, as a part of our obedience to God.

From this it appears, — First, that civil government is a divine ordinance. It is not merely an optional human institution; something which men are free to have or not to have, as they see fit. It is not founded on any social compact; it is something which God commands. The Bible, however, does not teach that there is any one form of civil government which is always and everywhere obligatory. The form of government is determined by the providence of God and the will of the people. It changes as the state of society changes. Much less is it implied in the proposition that government is a divine institution, that God designates the persons who are to exercise the various functions of the government; or the mode of their appointment; or the extent of their powers.

Secondly, it is included in the Apostle’s doctrine, that magistrates derive their authority from God; they are his ministers; they represent Him. In a certain sense they represent the people, as they may be chosen by them to be the depositaries of this divinely delegated authority; but the powers that be are ordained by God; it is his will that they should be, and that they should be clothed with authority.

Thirdly, from this it follows that obedience to magistrates and to the laws of the land, is a religious duty. We are to submit to “every ordinance of man,” for the Lord’s sake, out of our regard to Him, as St. Peter expresses it; or for “conscience sake,” as the same idea is expressed by St. Paul. We are bound to obey magistrates not merely because we have promised to do so; or because we have appointed them; or because they are wise or good; but because such is the will of God. In like manner the laws of the land are to be observed, not because we 358approve of them, but because God has enjoined such obedience. This is a matter of great importance; it is the only stable foundation of civil government and of social order. There is a great difference between obedience to men and obedience to God; between lying to men and lying to God; and between resistance to men and resistance to God. This principle runs through the Bible, which teaches that all authority is of God, and therefore all obedience to those in authority is part of our obedience to God. This applies not only to the case of citizens and rulers, but also to parents and children, husbands and wives, and even masters and slaves. In all these relations we are to act not as the servants of men, but as the servants of God. This gives to authority by whomsoever exercised a divine sanction; it gives it power over the conscience; and it elevates even menial service into an element of the glorious liberty of the sons of God. No man can have a servile spirit who serves God in rendering obedience to men. None but a law-abiding people can be free or prosperous; and no people can be permanently law-abiding who do not truly believe that “the powers that be are ordained of God. “Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power (those in authority), resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation (κρῖμα).” That is, God will punish them.

Fourthly, another principle included in the Apostle’s doctrine is, that obedience is due to every de facto government, whatever its origin or character. His directions were written under the reign of Nero, and enjoined obedience to him. The early Christians were not called to examine the credentials of their actual rulers, every time the prætorian guard chose to depose one emperor and install another. The people of England were not free from their obligation to William and Mary when once established on the throne, because they might think that James II. was entitled to the crown. We are to obey “the powers that be.” They are in authority by the will of God, which is revealed by facts, as clearly as by words. It is by Him that “kings reign and princes decree justice.” “He raiseth up one, and putteth down another.”

Fifthly, the Scriptures clearly teach that no human authority is intended to be unlimited. Such limitation may not be expressed, but it is always implied. The command “Thou shalt not kill,” is unlimited in form, yet the Scriptures recognize that homicide may in some cases be not only justifiable but obligatory. The principles which limit the authority of civil government and of 359its agents are simple and obvious. The first is that governments and magistrates have authority only within their legitimate spheres. As civil government is instituted for the protection of life and property, for the preservation of order, for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of those who do well, it has to do only with the conduct, or external acts of men. It cannot concern itself with their opinions, whether scientific, philosophical, or religious. An act of Parliament or of Congress, that Englishmen or Americans should be materialists or idealists, would be an absurdity and a nullity. The magistrate cannot enter our families and assume parental authority, or our churches and teach as a minister. A justice of the peace cannot assume the prerogatives of a governor of a state or of a president of the United States. Out of his legitimate sphere a magistrate ceases to be a magistrate. A second limitation is no less plain. No human authority can make it obligatory on a man to disobey God. If all power is from God, it cannot be legitimate when used against God. This is self-evident. The Apostles when forbidden to preach the Gospel, refused to obey. When Daniel refused to bow down to the image which Nebuchadnezzar had made; when the early Christians refused to worship idols; and when the Protestant martyrs refused to profess the errors of the Romish Church, they all commended themselves to God, and secured the reverence of all good men. On this point there can be no dispute. It is important that this principle should be not only recognized, but also publicly avowed. The sanctity of law, and the stability of human governments, depend on the sanction of God. Unless they repose on Him, they rest on nothing. They have his sanction only when they act according to his will; that is in accordance with the design of their appointment and in harmony with the moral law.

Sixthly, another general principle is that the question, When the civil government may be, and ought to be disobeyed, is one which every man must decide for himself. It is a matter of private judgment. Every man must answer for himself to God, and therefore, every man must judge for himself, whether a given act is sinful or not. Daniel judged for himself. So did Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego. So did the Apostles, and so did the martyrs.

An unconstitutional law or commandment is a nullity; no man sins in disregarding it. He disobeys, however, at his peril. If his judgment is right, he is free. If it be wrong, in the view of the proper tribunal, he must suffer the penalty. There is an obvious distinction to be made between disobedience and resistance. 360A man is bound to disobey a law, or a command, which requires him to sin, but it does not follow that he is at liberty to resist its execution. The Apostles refused to obey the Jewish authorities; but they submitted to the penalty inflicted. So the Christian martyrs disobeyed the laws requiring them to worship idols, but they made no resistance to the execution of the law. The Quakers disobey the law requiring military service, but quietly submit to the penalty. This is obviously right. The right of resistance is in the community. It is the right of revolution, which God sanctions, and which good men in past ages have exercised to the salvation of civil and religious liberty. When a government fails to answer the purpose for which God ordained it, the people have a right to change it. A father, if he shamefully abuses his power, may rightfully be deprived of authority over his children.324324All these subjects are fully expounded in the great works on Jurisprudence and Civil Polity. For a popular discussion of them, reference may be made to, Discussions of Church Principles, By William Cunningham, D. D., Principal of New College, Edinburgh. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1863, particularly chapters vi. and vii. See also the Princeton Review for January, 1851, article, “Civil Government.”

Obedience to the Church.

The Apostle commands Christians “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls.” “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God.” (Heb. xiii. 17, 7.) Our Lord said to his disciples, that if an offending brother resisted other means to bring him to repentance, his offence must be told to the Church; and that if he neglected to hear the Church, he was to be regarded as a heathen man and a publican. (Matt. xviii. 17.)

The principles which regulate our obedience to the Church, are very much the same as those which concern our relation to the State, —

1. The visible Church is a divine institution. In one sense indeed it is a voluntary society, in so far as that no man can be coerced to join it. If he joins it at all, it must be of his own free will. Nevertheless it is the will of God that the visible Church as an organized body should exist; and every man who hears the Gospel, is bound to enroll himself among its members and to submit to its authority.

2. All Church power is of God, and all legitimate Church officers are his ministers. They act in his name and by his authority. Resistance to them, therefore, is resistance to the ordinance of God.

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3. All the prerogatives of the Church and all the powers of its officers are laid down in the word of God.

4. The prerogatives of the Church are, first, to teach. Its great commission is to teach all nations. It is to teach what God has revealed in his word as to what men are to believe and what they are to do. Beyond the limits of the revelation contained in the Scriptures the Church has no more authority to teach than any other association among men. Secondly, the Church has the right and duty to order and conduct public worship, to administer the sacraments, to select and ordain its own officers, and to do whatever else is necessary for its own perpetuity and extension. Thirdly, it is the prerogative of the Church to exercise discipline over its own members, and to receive or to reject them as the case may be.

5. As to the external organization of the Church all Christians agree that there are certain rules laid down in the word of God which are of universal and perpetual obligation. All Christian Churches, however, have acted on the assumption, that beyond these prescribed rules, the Church has a certain discretion to modify its organization and its organs to suit varying emergencies.

6. The visible Church being organized for a definite purpose, its power being derived from God, and its prerogatives being all laid down in the Scriptures, it follows not only that its powers are limited within the bounds thus prescribed, but also that the question, whether its decisions and injunctions are to be obeyed, is to be determined by every one concerned, on his own responsibility. If the decision is within the limits to which God has confined the action of the Church, and in accordance with the Scriptures, it is to be obeyed. If it transcends those limits, or is contrary to the word of God, it is to be disregarded. If therefore the Church through any of its organs should assume to decide questions of pure science, or of political economy, or of civil law, such decisions would amount to nothing. Or, if it should declare that to be true which the Scriptures pronounce to be false; or that to be false which the Scriptures declare to be true, such judgment would bind no man’s conscience. And in like manner, should the Church declare any thing to be sinful which the word of God teaches to be right or indifferent; or that to be right and obligatory which that word pronounces to be evil, then again its teaching is void of all authority. All this is included in the principle that we must obey God rather than man; and that as to when obedience to man conflicts with our allegiance to God, every man 362from the nature of the case must judge for himself. No man can estimate the importance of these simple principles. It was by disregarding them that the Church came gradually to deny the right of private judgment; to subordinate the Scriptures to its decisions; and to put itself in the place of God. In this way it has imposed unscriptural doctrines upon the faith of men; made multitudes of things to be obligatory which God never enjoined; and declared the greatest sins, such at treason, persecution, and massacre to be Christian duties.

While, therefore, the duty of obedience to our superiors, and submission to law, as enjoined in the fifth commandment, is the source of all order in the family, the Church, and the State; the limitation of this duty by our higher obligation to God, is the foundation of all civil and religious liberty.


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