The subject on which I will now write was given to me in question form
and I was privileged to speak on it for the meeting of the Men's League
meeting held in Hudsonville, Michigan, recently. It was the desire and
decision of the League that this lecture be published for the benefit
of a wider reading circle, and I gladly comply with that decision. Herewith
I then make a beginning of publishing the same in the present form.
It should be borne in mind that I was given a mandate and request from
the committee of the Men's League to answer the question, "Must we pray
for those in authority?" Bear with me, as I recast this question into
a positive proposition. Instead of speaking on the question, I will
speak on the answer, which I believe is clearly and succinctly given
in Holy Writ. The understanding reader will perceive that I could very
well simply have spoken on I
Timothy 2:2; that I could simply have read this text, sat down,
and considered my task ended as far as the question is concerned. However,
I understand that the original questioner was well aware of this passage
(I Timothy 2:1-7
and related passages) and that it was his desire that this question
should be treated in a thetical and constructive way in the light of
all of Scripture.
The Men's League and my readers are certainly not interested in my private
opinion concerning this matter. Should anyone think that I am going
to write my opinion concerning the merits or demerits of the candidates
for the presidency of the United States, he must needs be disappointed
in this study. I hold that in the church we are interested in the more
sure prophetic word which shines as a light in a dark place until the
day dawns that the day-star arise in our hearts (II
Peter 1:19). The undersigned is only interested in having such a
discussion of the subject that hearers and readers are assured in their
hearts that what I write (and spoke) is: thus saith the Lord!
I have looked at my task in this light and have made a survey of the Bible on the question of the prayers of the saints for those in authority, as these prayers are concerned with the gathering of the church, the course and progress of the Gospel-preaching in all the world, and the final coming of the Kingdom of heaven in the day of Christ. Our task is thus that of exegesis, synthetical exegesis. YOU WILL DO WELL TO KEEP YOUR BIBLE AT HAND.
To properly understand our subject I find it profitable to develop three theses for your consideration, which I here submit.
Those in Authority Are
Ministers of God.
The classic Scriptural passage which we must here consider to give
direction to our thinking is no doubt Romans
13:1-7. However, there are many other passages both in the Old Testament
and in the New Testament which we must pass in review at this juncture.
We place in the foreground the proposition that all government in the world is ordained of God!
Thus in the Old Testament we have the original mandate to Adam, so to speak,
concerning his subduing of all things in the earthly creation. In the
monologue of God recorded in Genesis
1:26 we read, "Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness:
and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds
of the heavens, and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over
every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." This is dominion
- government - with which Adam was vested as the viceroy of God. When
God saw all that he had made and that it was "very good," this also
included the government of man over the three aspects of creation: sea,
air, and land!
Again in the Old Testament Scriptures we read in the well-known passage,
"And surely your blood, the blood of your lives, will I require; at
the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man, even
at the hand of every man's brother, will I require it. Whoso sheddeth
man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God
made he man" (Genesis
9:5 and 6). It is an open question whether we may conclude from
this passage that there was no government vested with the sword before
the Deluge, and that God Himself did this directly without the instrumentality
of man. Scriptures make no clear revelation and pronouncement; however,
it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that in Genesis
9:5 and 6 God definitely spells out the authority of the sword-power
against those who break the second table of the law, and in so doing
the first table of the law (Matthew
22:34-40). The Scriptures here teach capital punishment upon the
murderer who has put forth his hand against the man created in God's
When we turn to the Bible and study the civil laws of Israel, we notice that here the Lord definitely makes a distinction between the moral law, the Decalogue, the ceremonial laws, and the civil laws. The moral law is eternal, and is of central, basic importance. It is the law of all laws. The ceremonial laws are a part of the dispensation of the grace of God under the shadows, portraying the Christ to come. The civil laws dealt with the matters of civil affairs and the sword-power against the transgressors of both the first and second tables of the law. In a word it dealt with false religion, murderers, thieves, adulterers, and liars.
In all of these cases we have considered the outstanding fact: all government is ordained of God! That (let it be remembered) is our basic proposition.
In the New Testament Scriptures we refer primarily for this point to
13:1-7. Paul speaks here not simply concerning "authority," but
definitely concerning the "powers that be." Here we read: "Let every
soul be subject to the higher powers, for there is no power but of God,
and the powers that be are ordained of God," Now these powers, which
were in that day of Rome, were not the most acceptable from the viewpoint
of personal liberty! Nero was on the throne! It was the year 60 A.D.
when Paul wrote this letter to the Romans. Once and again he had desired
to go to Rome. The conclusion is warranted that what Paul writes in
13 was written after his third missionary journey and possibly while
he was a prisoner in Caesarea for two years. It was about this time
that, while in Festus' court, he said: "I appeal to Caesar." It is good
to bear in mind that Paul was under the imperial state of Rome when
he wrote Romans 13
concerning the duty of every soul to subject himself to the powers that
be. He was a living example of it in his own life, which eventually
led to his execution at Rome. (Tradition has it that he was beheaded
outside of Rome at the Tre Fontane.) Even though he had to stand trial
before Nero in Rome, that frivolous monster of iniquity, he teaches
and acknowledges such as being ordained of God. Government is the powers
that be, ministers of God, who must be God's viceroys on earth in civil
Paul takes the exalted position of Daniel, as we have this recorded in Daniel
2:20-23, where we have a rhapsody of Daniel, a prayer, an acknowledgement
of God. Here we read: "Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name
of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: and he changeth
the times and seasons: he removeth kings and setteth up kings: he giveth
wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:
He revealeth the deep and secret things; he knoweth what is in darkness,
and the light dwelleth with him. I thank thee and praise thee, O thou
God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made
known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known
unto us the king's matter." Daniel takes the stand there that God lifts
up kings and dethrones them, even though this be done through the machinations
of men, of one against the other!
Let us heed Paul's beautiful oration as he stands in the Areopagus
in Athens in Mars Hill, as we read in Acts
17:26, "And he hath made of one blood all nations of men for to
dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before
appointed, and the bounds of their habitation." Just how long a nation
shall be a nation and where the geographical boundaries will be are
determined by God, as we read in Deuteronomy
32:7-9, "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations:
ask thy father and he will shew thee; thy elders and they will tell
thee: When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance when
he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according
to the number of the children of Israel. For the LORD'S portion is his
people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance." This setting of the boundaries
of the nations was according to the number of the children of Israel,
so that it had to serve the gathering of the elect, the church, out
of every tongue, tribe, people and nation.
Paul in Romans 13 teaches
definitely that there is no authority but by God. I would like to point
out that according to the Greek text it is twice emphatically stated
that government is determined by God in such a manner, that it is in
the world without human intervention or medium. Government is not in
the world through men, but it is a reality by God's secret providence,
in his inscrutable wisdom as he directs the affairs of men, so that
there is never a place under the sun under heaven where there is no
government! There may be the most chaotic circumstances, or revolutions,
there may be bloodshed. But strictly speaking there is no such thing
as an inter-regnum. There is no hiatus in God's ordinance between two
regimes. God maintains government. Let me here state that poor government
is always better than no government. Government is of God; government
may be poor, but it is far better than anarchy!
All government is of God. Jesus, the Son of God, Himself confesses before Pilate,
as recorded in John
19:11, "Thou wouldest not have (be having) authority against Me
at all, except it were given thee from above." There again in the Greek
text Jesus uses "thou wouldst not be having this authority constantly."
It is the verb tense giving us a moving-picture view. PILATE WOULD NOT
BE HAVING THIS authority, as it culminates in this trial, except it
had been given him from above. We know that not so many years later
Pilate was defrocked by Caesar because of his maladministrations and
cruelties, and banished into Gaul (Spain).
In the light of the foregoing we take the stand that all authority is of God and is ordained of God!
In the second place under this proposition that government is of God I want
to point out that those who are in authority must be obeyed for conscience'
sake, that is, for the sake of a conscience that bows before the Word
of God. It must be a sanctified conscience! It must not be conscience
which pretends to be an autonomous guide and rule apart from the revealed
will of God. In Romans
13 Paul is speaking to the church and not to the world. He is addressing
those whom he can beseech by the mercies of God - that they walk in
their reasonable service, and that they approve what is that good, acceptable
and perfect will of God - in respect to those in authority. Only they
whose sins are forgiven, only they who are sanctified by the grace of
God, only they who have renewed hearts and enlightened minds, have a
sanctified conscience and can for conscience' sake bow in godliness
before the authorities.
I here affirm that every man, woman, and child who is not enlightened
by the grace of God is an anarchist, a rebel at heart! Paul says, "Let
every soul be subject to the powers that be;" every individual
soul put your soul, your affections, your joys and sorrows in subjection
to the powers that be! He does not simply say that you must be subjected,
but let every soul subject himself. That can only be done by grace!
We feel that very, very much when we read I
Peter 2:13-21. Peter knew what it meant to be thrown into prison.
He had stood before the Sanhedrin and had said, "We ought to obey God
rather than man" (Acts
5:29). He said this when they forbade him to preach any longer in
the name of Jesus. This same Peter writes in I
Peter 2:13ff.: "Submit yourselves 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 evildoers, and
for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that
with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
As free, and not using your liberty as a cloak of maliciousness, but
as the servants of God." Notice this: "Honor all men. Love the brotherhood.
Fear God. Honor the king. Servants be subject to your masters with all
fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For
this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief,
suffering wrongfully... For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ
also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his
So those in authority must be obeyed!
Of course you understand that such obedience is more than that which could possibly spring from the fountain of natural light. In the Canons of Dordt, III, IV, Art. 4, we read about the natural light the unbeliever has. Subjecting one's self to authority for God's sake is not possible by so-called "common grace." It is not possible by anyone who has merely the light of nature. We read here in Art. 4: "There remain, however, in man since the fall the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an external orderly deportment. But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God."
This we can apply to all the rulers of this world who are not Christians-yea,
to your and my sinful heart and nature! We do not speak here of the
bowing before authorities by virtue of the light of nature, or by virtue
of some innate goodness, or because of some high and lofty "Americanism."
Paul is speaking here of those who can be addressed by the mercies of
God! We speak here of those whom God has picked up from the miry clay
and has taken away all their disobedience and has put his law in their
hearts, thus they now have a new obedience, a new commandment through
the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ. This is inscribed in their hearts
so that it will never be erased, nay, not unto all eternity.
Thus God's people shall be perfect citizens under the scepter of the LORD of lords, and the KING of kings.
That is our first proposition.
The Gospel-Ministry and
Those In Authority
My second proposition I find taught by the Apostle to the Gentiles
in I Timothy
2:1-7. It is: the Gospel ministry is in Scripture ever most closely
associated with those in authority. A little survey of this passage
will demonstrate this.
In the past we have become acquainted with the passage in I
Timothy 2:1-7 particularly in addressing those who teach that God
wills to save all men. Those who teach that it is the good-pleasure
of God that Christ died for every man, woman, and child that comes from
Adam. We know that the Christian Reformed Churches through their spokesmen
have quoted this passage to show that the Scriptures here teach a well-meant
offer of salvation to all men, or at least a favorable attitude of God
to all men; this favorable attitude indicates that God has the intention
of somehow making all men the objects of his common favor. Thus we became
acquainted with this passage in a negative and in a rather polemical
situation in our handling of the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God).
However, we must bear in mind that that does not exhaust what Paul has
to say here.
We must notice what the positive instruction of the Word is. Paul is not speaking here first of all against certain heresies, but is teaching us in this passage the manner of our prayers for all men: for kings and for all who are in authority in the dispensation of the ministry of the Gospel-all for the Gentiles.
We must listen very, very carefully to what he teaches us here. He
teaches us in this passage that it is well-pleasing to God that we pray
for all men and for kings: "For this is good and acceptable in the sight
of God our Savior, who will have all men saved and come unto the knowledge
of the truth." That God is here denominated "Savior" does not refer
to him simply as the creator and the ruler of the world, but refers
to him as he is the "Savior" in our Lord Jesus Christ. For I
Timothy 1:1 says, "Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ by
the commandment of God our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our
hope." God is here the Savior in the Mediator, as he saves us from our
sins. We have a similar passage in Chapter
4:10, "For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because
we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially
of those who believe." In other words, we live in the dispensation of
the fulness of times, the acceptable year of the Lord, in which the
over-all truth and anchor point is that there is one God, Savior, one
mediator of God and men.
Notice further that Paul emphatically teaches here that in this dispensation
he has been made a preacher, a herald (keerux), a preacher
of the Gospel amongst the Gentiles. He affirms this with an oath: I
lie not! God will use Paul's ministry to gather the church, the elect
from the Gentiles, that they might be brought to the knowledge of the
truth, as he writes, "Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle
(I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not) a teacher of the Gentiles
in faith and verity," (vs. 7).
Lastly in this connection let us notice that both Paul as a preacher and all men - kings and all who are in authority - are in the hands of God, the one God through Jesus Christ. He is supreme! Otherwise, if he did not have the entire situation in his hand, we could not pray! All is in his control!
We ought to notice, furthermore, that it is definitely the motive of
the preaching of the Gospel that is controlling in history. We do not
agree with the late Dr. Kuyper, who in his Stone Lectures develops the
thesis that the course of the history of the world must be traced over
old Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Macedonia, Rome,
Islam, and Western Europe from the days of Charles the Great, which
is then called the world of "Calvinism." We do not agree with this Weltunschauung,
life-and-world-view of Kuyper. Not at all! We hold that we must say:
church history is world history! Rightly considered, the history of
the world is the history of the church. We see this very clearly in
the Ante-Deluvian period, as recorded in the book of Genesis, where
the generation of Cain in their culture perishes and leaves the scene
of time and history, while the generations of Seth continue over Noah,
Abraham, David and Christ. That is where we see the genealogy. There
is really only one genealogy in the Bible; it is the genealogy of the
birth of Jesus Christ. That genealogy ends when he is born. He is the
last Adam, the fulfillment of history. World history, we repeat, is
In the New Testament we meet with the same presentation concerning
the history of the world as being church history! Christ says to his
disciples, "Unto me is given all power in heaven and on earth. Go ye
therefore and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew
28:18,19). The Lord Jesus adds his comforting promise, "And lo I
am with you always (all the days), even to the end of the world." John,
according to Revelation
5, weeps much when he sees that there is no one worthy to open the
scroll which is on the right hand of Him that sitteth on the throne.
There was none found in heaven, on the earth or under the earth who
was worthy. Then he is comforted: "Weep no more! Behold, the Lion of
the tribe of Judah, the Root of David hath overcome in order that he
might open the scroll and the seven seals." And when the Lamb breaks
the first seal, a voice from the throne says, "Go forth!" And the four
horse-men ride through history: the white horse, the red horse, the
black horse, and the pale horse. Each horse has a rider. Thus also in
Zechariah 1 the four
horses and their riders are under the myrtle trees. But notice: the
white horse in each case goes up in the lead; it is the controlling
motive in history. It is the Gospel-course of our Lord Jesus Christ
as he goes forth conquering and to conquer, gathering the church, chosen
to everlasting life, from the beginning of the world to the end of time
out of the entire human race, from every tongue, tribe, people, and
nation! When the church is gathered, then shall be the end! And since
the white horse leads, goes out first, all the other horses follow and
are subservient to the white horse. All of history centers around the
church and the Gospel-preaching through which the Holy Spirit works
faith. For this reason peace must be taken from the earth, according
to Zechariah, that Jerusalem may be saved and glorified.
The center of all things in history is the peace of Jerusalem!
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
I would still like to mention a few particulars concerning the text
Timothy 2:1-7, more specifically concerning the term "all men" and
"for kings", and that it means that we pray for them. In the first place,
I call your attention to the fact that in the text here "all men" does
not mean "every man." The term "whole world" never means "every" man;
all men never means every man. "All" in Scripture often refers to "all
kinds." We read in Matthew
4:23 "...and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease
among the people." Here the King James Version (KJV) has translated
"all diseases" by "all manner of diseases", and correctly so.
This is interpretation on the part of the KJV, but it is correctly
giving the sense of "all." In Luke
11:42 we read that Jesus chides the Pharisees that they "tithe mint
and rue and all manner of herbs." This does not mean that they tithed
all the herbs under the sun, but all kinds of herbs, including every
genus and species of herbs. Thus we read too in Ephesians
1:3, "Who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly
places," which certainly must mean every kind of spiritual blessing.
This must refer to the blessings of redemption, of justification and
sanctification and glorification in Christ Jesus in all the church,
the blessings of his elective love: all kinds of spiritual blessings;
again, in I
Corinthians 10:25 Paul enjoins the church to buy all that is in
the shambles. This certainly does not mean that they must buy out the
owner of the shambles, but rather that every kind of merchandise sold
in the shambles was permissible to be bought. They need not count anything
unclean, even if it had been offered to idols. Nothing in the shambles
is to be considered taboo!
This, of course, has implication for the "all men" for whom we are enjoined to pray, including kings and all who are in authority.
- Continue to Part 2