Section II: The Christian’s Attitude Toward Civil Authorities
The Christian’s Attitude Toward Civil Authorities
by George Fifield
Christ came to set men free. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me. . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” Isa. 61:1. Perfect liberty is found only in Christ. God’s law is called the law of liberty. The inspired word calls that law a hedge. It marks out the unchangeable principles of right between man and God, and between man and man, which must be recognized, else liberty is impossible to intelligent beings. All slavery, physical, moral, and intellectual, comes from breaking that law. Liberty is found only in obedience to it. Still there is a sort of slavery in the futile attempt to keep it in our own strength. But Christ, through the new covenant, writes that law in the heart, so that we not only have power to keep it, but his will becomes ours, and with Christ we delight to do His will, because His law is in our hearts. Here is perfect liberty. The perfectly saved will be perfectly free. Throughout eternity they will do just what they please, because they please to do just what makes liberty and joy possible.
Now, as to the relation of the state to the conscience of man. Christ found men enslaved to kings and to priests. He taught that all men are brothers, sons of one Father, and therefore equal before the law,—equal in civil rights. Rulers were, therefore, only their servants, chosen under God to protect them in the enjoyment of their rights. He freed us from the chains of priestcraft, by teaching the absolute independence
of the individual soul in matters religious, and by promising the Spirit of truth to guide each one into all truth.
It is true that all liberty comes through keeping God’s law, but God Himself, who wrote that law in the hearts of men in the beginning, who spoke it amid the thunders of Sinai, that all might hear and obey,who waits through the new covenant to rewrite it in every trusting soul,—God Himself, who did all this, still made man as free to disobey these precepts as to obey them. Why did God allow all this fearful iniquity that man might be made free? To this there can be but one answer. It was because He knew the worthlessness of all forced obedience, and that, therefore, the freedom to sin was absolutely necessary to the possibility of righteousness.
After having made men free to sin, that the internal principle of love might work itself out in outward acts of righteousness unhindered by force,—after having made men thus, has God given to any human authority the right to take away that freedom, and so thwart His plans? He has commanded all men to worship Him and obey His precepts, and this command applies to each individual personally; but has He ever commanded any man or set of men to compel others to worship Him, or to act even outwardly as if they worshiped Him? To ask these questions is to answer them emphatically in the negative.
The civil power is the power of arbitrary force to compel men who will not be righteous, to at least be civil, that men may live together in peace and quietness. The true power of the church is the power of divine love manifest in the flesh, to win men to lead righteous lives. The two powers are entirely separate, and Jesus so taught when He said, “Render to Caesar [the civil power] the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
When Peter, as a member of the Christian church, sought to defend the truth by the sword, Jesus, pointing to His Father as the Church’s only source of power, said, “Put up again thy sword into its place; for all they that take the sword [i.e., in religious matters] shall perish with the sword.” The tares are to be allowed to grow with the wheat until the harvest. Then God will send forth His angels to gather out the tares and burn them. No human effort of arbitrary force can be used in rooting them out, lest in the act the wheat shall be rooted also.
Again Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world, if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.” Every civil law has the power of the sword back of it. If it is right to make law, then it is right to enforce it. In denying to the church the power of the sword, Jesus therefore forbade the church to ask the state for laws enforcing religious beliefs and observances. Paul understood this when he said, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”
The early church, strong only in the power of God, triumphed grandly, even over the opposing forces of a false religion, upheld by the state. Only when she allied herself with the state, seeking its aid, did she deny her God, lose her power, and darken the world into a night of a thousand years. The present effort of the church to get the state to enforce the observance of Sunday, and to introduce the teaching of Christianity into state schools, is but a revival of the pagan and papal doctrine of force in religious things, and as such it is antichristian.—The Watchman, May 1, 1906.
“The Things Which Are Caesar’s”
(See Matt. 22: 21)
Holding in His hand the Roman coin, upon which were stamped the name and image of Caesar, He declared that since they were living under the protection of the Roman power, they should render to that power the support it claimed, so long as this did not conflict with a higher duty. But while peaceably subject to the laws of the land, they should at all times give their first allegiance to God.—Desire of Ages, p. 602.
When the Pharisees heard Christ’s answer, “they marveled, and left him, and went their way.” He had rebuked their hypocrisy and presumption, and in doing this He had stated a great principle, a principle that clearly defines the limits of man’s duty to the civil government and his duty to God. In many minds a vexed question had been settled. Ever after they held to the right principle. And although many went away dissatisfied, they saw that the principle underlying the question had been clearly set forth, and they marveled at Christ’s far-seeing discernment.—Desire of Ages, pp. 602, 603.
Do More Than The Law Demands
Jesus bade His disciples, instead of resisting the demands of those in authority, to do even more than was required of them. And, so far as possible, they should discharge every obligation, even if it were beyond what the law of the land required. The law, as given through Moses, enjoined a very tender regard for the poor. When a poor man gave his garment as a pledge, or as security for a debt, the creditor was not permitted to enter the dwelling to obtain it; he must wait in the street for the pledge to be brought to him. And whatever the circumstances the pledge
must be returned to its owner at nightfall. Deuteronomy 24:10-13. In the days of Christ these merciful provisions were little regarded; but Jesus taught His disciples to submit to the decision of the court, even though this should demand more than the law of Moses authorized. Though it should demand a part of their raiment, they were to yield. More than this, they were to give to the creditor his due, if necessary surrendering even more than the court gave him authority to seize. “If any man would go to law with thee,” He said, “and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” R.V. And if the couriers require you to go a mile with them, go two miles.—Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 72.
“Fear God. Honor The King.”
The apostle plainly outlined the attitude that believers should sustain toward the civil authorities: “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 evil-doers, and for to 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 for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”—Acts of the Apostles, p. 522.
Recognize Human Government In Its Legitimate Sphere
The banner of truth and religious liberty held aloft by the founders of the gospel church and by God’s witnesses during the centuries that have passed since then, has, in this last conflict, been committed
to our hands. The responsibility for this great gift rests with those whom God has blessed with a knowledge of His word. We are to receive this word as supreme authority. We are to recognize human government as an ordinance of divine appointment and teach obedience to it as a sacred duty, within its legitimate sphere. But when its claims conflict with the claims of God, we must obey God rather than men. God’s word must be recognized as above all human legislation. A “Thus saith the Lord” is not to be set aside for a “Thus saith the church” or a “Thus saith the state.” The crown of Christ is to be lifted above the diadems of earthly potentates.
We are not required to defy authorities. Our words, whether spoken or written, should be carefully considered, lest we place ourselves on record as uttering that which would make us appear antagonistic to law and order. We are not to say or do anything that would unnecessarily close up our way. We are to go forward in Christ’s name, advocating the truths committed to us. If we are forbidden by men to do this work, then we may say, as did the apostles, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”—Acts of the Apostles, pp. 68, 69.
We Are Not To Attack Authorities
Our work is not to make a raid on the Government but to prepare a people to stand in the great day of the Lord. The fewer attacks we make on authorities and powers, the more work will we do for God. . . .
While the truth must be defended, this work is to be done in the spirit of Jesus. If God’s people work without peace and love, they work at a great loss, an irretrievable loss. Souls are driven from Christ
even after they have been connected with His work.
We are not to pass judgment on those who have not had the opportunities and privileges we have had. Some of these will go into heaven before those who have had great light but have not lived up to the light.
If we wish to convince unbelievers that we have the truth that sanctifies the soul and transforms the character, we must not vehemently charge them with their errors. Thus we force them to the conclusion that the truth does not make us kind and courteous, but coarse and rough.
Some, easily excited, are always ready to take up the weapons of warfare. In times of trial they will show that they have not founded their faith on the solid rock. . . .
Let Seventh-day Adventists do nothing that will mark them as lawless and disobedient. Let them keep all inconsistency out of their lives. Our work is to proclaim the truth, leaving the issues with the Lord.
Do all in your power to reflect the light, but do not speak words that will irritate or provoke.—Manuscript 117a, 1901. Printed in Evangelism, p. 173.
When Obedience Is Sin
David’s power had been given him by God, but to be exercised only in harmony with the divine law. When he commanded that which was contrary to God’s law, it became sin to obey. “The powers that be are ordained of God,” but we are not to obey them contrary to God’s law. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, sets forth the principle by which we should be governed. He says, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 719.
When Men In Authority Are Not To Be Obeyed
“The angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and. speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” We see here that the men in authority are not always to be obeyed, even though they may profess to be teachers of Bible doctrine. There are many today who feel indignant and aggrieved that any voice should be raised presenting ideas that differ from their own in regard to points of religious belief. Have they not long advocated their ideas as truth? So the priests and rabbis reasoned in apostolic days: What mean these men who are unlearned, some of them mere fishermen, who are presenting ideas contrary to the doctrines which the learned priests and rulers are teaching the people? They have no right to meddle with the fundamental principles of our faith.
But we see that the God of heaven sometimes commissions men to teach that which is regarded as contrary to the established doctrines. Because those who were once the depositaries of truth became unfaithful to their sacred trust, the Lord chose others who would receive the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and would advocate truths that were not in accordance with the ideas of the religious leaders. And then these leaders, in the blindness of their minds, give full sway to what is supposed to be righteous indignation against the ones who have set aside cherished fables. They act like men who have lost their reason. They do not consider the possibility that they themselves have not rightly understood the word. They will not open their eyes to discern the fact that they have misinterpreted and misapplied the Scriptures, and have built up false theories, calling them fundamental doctrines of the faith.
But the Holy Spirit will, from time to time, reveal the truth
When God’s Law And Man’s Laws Conflict
The kings and rulers of the earth, however great their power, are to consider themselves under a Ruler who owns the world. No earthly ruler is to be looked upon as above the Ruler who made the world in six days, and rested on the seventh day, sanctifying and blessing it, and giving it to man to be set apart as holy, and observed to the glory of His name. But priests and rulers have set up the first day of the week to be observed by the beings God has made. They compel His creatures to transgress the law of their Creator. Man has set himself above the Lord of heaven, and has turned human beings aside from the observance of the day that God, as their Creator, declared to be kept holy, as a sign between Him and them throughout their generations forever.
We are every one of us to look from finite man to the Omnipotent God, who has the ownership of all to whom He has given life. They are under His government, and when finite rulers make laws that conflict with a plain, “Thus saith the Lord,” we are to obey the law of God. Shall man
dare to take the place of God, setting aside the laws of the Ruler of the universe, and placing in their stead human enactments? Shall he dare to compel obedience to these human laws. . .
Christ has a supreme right to present to the world the law that must be obeyed. Those who transgress this law, however high their position in this world, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.—Letter 38, 1906.
God’s Law Supreme
I saw that it is our duty in every case to obey the laws of our land, unless they conflict with the higher law which God spoke with an audible voice from Sinai, and afterward engraved on stone with His own finger. “I will put my laws into their mind, and write then in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” He who has God’s law written in the heart will obey God rather than men, and will sooner disobey all men than deviate in the least from the commandment of God. God’s people, taught by the inspiration of truth, and led by a good conscience to live by every word of God, will take His law, written in their hearts, as the only authority which they can acknowledge or consent to obey. The wisdom and authority of the divine law are supreme.—Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, p. 361.
The ten precepts of Jehovah are the foundation of all righteous and good laws. Those who love God’s commandments will conform to every good law of the land. But if the requirements of the rulers are such as conflict with the laws of God, the only question to be settled is: Shall we obey God, or man?—Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 361, 362.
When the laws of earthly rulers are brought into opposition to the laws of the Supreme Ruler of the universe, then those who are God’s loyal subjects will be true to Him.—Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, p.713.
Edicts Of Kings Void Before God’s Commands
On every page of God’s word the injunction to obedience is plainly written, and yet how often His commands are lightly regarded or wholly set aside! The command for the observance of the holy Sabbath of the Lord is placed in the very bosom of the decalogue, and is so plain that none need err as to its import, and yet it is treated with as great profanation as were the sacred vessels at the feast of Belshazzar. The condemnation of those who trample upon God’s holy Sabbath will not come because they have conscientiously observed the first day of the week, but because they neglected opportunities for searching the Scriptures and learning, not what man has said, not what the ministers say, not what the fathers have said, but what saith the infinite God! What day has God specified as His holy day? What did He command men to honour when He spoke with an audible voice from Sinai? That voice is to be obeyed above every other; the edicts of kings and nations are void before a command of God. The Lord of hosts commands our obedience.—The Bible Echo, September 17, 1894.
What Does God Say?
(See Acts 5: 29.)
We are not to inquire, What is the practice of men? or, What is the custom of the world? We are not to ask, How shall I act in order to have the approval of men? or, What will the world tolerate? The question of intense interest to every soul is, What hath God said? We are to read
His Word and obey it, not swerving one jot or tillte from its requirements, but acting irrespective of human traditions and jurisdiction.—Review and Herald, Oct. 1, 1895. Reprinted in Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, p. l056.
In Matters Of Conscience The Majority Has No Power.
The people of God will recognize human government as an ordinance of divine appointment and will teach obedience to it as a sacred duty within its legitimate sphere. But when its claims conflict with the claims of God, the word of God must be recognized as above all human legislation. “Thus saith the Lord” is not to be set aside for Thus saith the church or the state. The crown of Christ is to be uplifted above the diadems of earthly potentates.
The principle we are to uphold at this time is the same that was maintained by the adherents of the gospel in the great Reformation. When the princes assembled at the Diet of Spires in 1529, it seemed that the hope of the world was about to be crushed out. To this assembly was presented the emperor’s decree restricting religious liberty and prohibiting all further dissemination of the reformed doctrines. Would the princes of Germany accept the decree? Should the light of the gospel be shut out from the multitudes that were still in darkness? Mighty issues for the world were at stake. Those who had accepted the reformed faith met together, and the unanimous decision was: “Let us reject the decree. In matters of conscience the majority has no power.”
The banner of truth and religious liberty which these Reformers held aloft has in this last conflict been committed to us. The responsibility for this great gift rests with those whom God has blessed with a knowledge of His word. We are to receive God’s word as supreme authority.
We must accept its truths for ourselves. And we can appreciate these truths only as we search them out by personal study. Then, as we make God’s word the guide of our lives, for us is answered the prayer of Christ: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” John 17:17. The acknowledgement of the truth in word and deed is our confession of faith. Only thus can others know that we believe the Bible.
Those Reformers whose protest has given us the name Protestant felt that God had called them to give the gospel to the world, and in doing this they were ready to sacrifice their possessions, their liberty, and their lives. Are we in this last conflict of the great controversy as faithful to our trust as were the early Reformers to theirs?
In the face of persecution and death, the truth for that time was spread far and near. The word of God was carried to the people; all classes, high and low, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, studied it eagerly, and those who received the light became in their turn its messengers. In those days the truth was brought home to the people through the press. Luther’s pen was a power, and his writings, scattered broadcast, stirred the world. The same agencies are at our command, with facilities multiplied a hundredfold. Bibles, publications in many languages, setting forth the truth for this time, are at our hand and can be swiftly carried to all the world. We are to give the last warning of God to men, and what should be our earnestness in studying the Bible, and our zeal in spreading the light!—Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 402, 403
We Are Not To Be Presumptuous
When the authorities come between us and God, we shall receive help if we only trust in Him as did the patriots, prophets, and apostles, and with them we shall be able to say, “Lord, thou art God., which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is.” But while we trust in God, no one should be presumptuous; and that we may not take an unwise course, we should pray constantly. We should not rush into danger unless God sends us there; nor should we call our brethren cowards because they are cautious in their plans that they may not unnecessarily provoke the rulers and powers of the earth. What was the strength of those who in the past have suffered imprisonment and death for Christ’s sake?—It was union with God, union with the Holy Spirit, union with Christ. . . .
We read in the Acts of the Apostles that after the miracle at the temple gate, many signs and wonders were wrought, and many were healed. “Then the high priest rose up, . . . and all they that were with him, . . . and were filled with indignation.” . . .
And then they shut the disciples up in a prison, that the message of God should no longer be given to the people, but the angel of the Lord was there. All heaven was looking upon them than, and the angels are now looking upon those who are living at this closing period of earth’s history. The angel of the Lord came by night to the servants of God and said, “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” Here was an order directly contrary to the command given by the potentates of earth. But the direction of the angel was from the highest court in the universe. Did the apostles say to the angel, “We cannot do this until we have consulted the magistrates, and received permission of them”?—No; God had said “Go,” and they went forth to speak according to His commandment.
In the morning their enemies called a council, and sent to the prison that they might be brought before them, but when the officers found them not, they said, “The prison truly found we shut with all safety, . . . but when we had opened, we found no man within.” The angel of God could take them through the prison walls, and they had no power to hold them. We have the same God today, and He works on the same plan. When they said the prison was shut, the chief priests doubted the keeper. God was working and the enemy was working, and the battle was waged between the God of heaven and the powers that be. Then the captain sent the officers and had them brought, because they feared the people, and when they were before the council, the high priest asked, “Did not we straitly command you, that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.” Then the apostles answered, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” We ought to be obedient to all the laws of our country, except when those laws come in collision with the law of God, and then we must obey God, irrespective of everything else.—Review and Herald, April 22, 1890.
Our Attitude Toward The Civil Authorities
By some of our brethren many things have been spoken and written that are interpreted as expressing antagonism to government and law. It is a mistake thus to lay ourselves open to misunderstanding. It is not wise to find fault continually with what is done by the rulers of government. It is not our work to attack individuals or institutions. We should exercise great care lest we be understood as putting ourselves in opposition to the civil authorities. It is true that our warfare is aggressive, but our weapons are to be those found in a plain “Thus saith
the Lord.” Our work is to prepare a people to stand in the great day of God. We should not be turned aside to lines that will encourage controversy or arouse antagonism in those not of our faith.
We should not work in a manner that will mark us out as seeming to advocate treason. We should weed out from our writings and utterances every expression that, taken by itself, could be so misrepresented as to make it appear antagonistic to law and order. Everything should be carefully considered, lest we place ourselves on record as encouraging disloyalty to our country and its laws. We are not required to defy authorities. There will come a time when, because of our advocacy of Bible truth, we shall be treated as traitors; but let not this time be hastened by unadvised movements that stir up animosity and strife.
The time will come when unguarded expressions of a denunciatory character, that have been carelessly spoken or written by our brethren, will be used by our enemies to condemn us. These will not be used merely to condemn those who made the statements, but will be charged upon the whole body of Adventists. Our accusers will say that on such and such a day one of our responsible men said thus and so against the administration of the laws of this government. Many will be astonished to see how many things have been cherished and remembered that will give point to the arguments of our adversaries. Many will be surprised to hear their own words strained into a meaning that they did not intend them to have. Then let our workers be careful to speak guardedly at all times and under all circumstances. Let all beware lest by reckless expressions they bring on a time of trouble before the great crisis which is to try men’s souls.
The less we make direct charges against authorities and powers, the greater work we shall be able to accomplish, both in America and in
foreign countries. Foreign nations will follow the example of the United States. Though she leads out, yet the same crisis will come upon our people in all parts of the world.
It is our work to magnify and exalt the law of God. The truth of God’s holy word is to be made manifest. We are to hold up the Scriptures as the rule of life. In all modesty, in the spirit of grace, and in the love of God we are to point men to the fact that the Lord God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and that the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord.
In the name of the Lord we are to go forward, unfurling His banner, advocating His word. When the authorities command us not to do this work, when they forbid us to proclaim the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, then it will be necessary for us to say as did the apostles: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,” Acts 4:19, 20.—Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 394 , 395.
Policy For Religious Liberty Journal
What is the Sentinel for, but to be the voice of the watchmen on the walls of Zion, to sound the danger signal. We are not to cringe and beg pardon of the world for telling them the truth: we should scorn concealment. Unfurl your colors to meet the case of men and angels. Let it be understood that Seventh-day Adventists can make no compromise. In your opinions and faith there must not be the least appearance of wavering; the world has a right to know what to expect of us, and will look upon us as dishonest, as hiding our real sentiments and principles out of policy, if we carry even the semblance of being uncommitted till the popular
voice has pointed out the safe way. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, which Christ said He would send into the world, was to bear an unwavering testimony.—Manuscript 16, 1890, Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 95.
HOLD DISTINCTIVE FEATURES FRONT.—The religion of Jesus is endangered. It is being mingled with worldliness. Worldly policy is taking the place of the true piety and wisdom that comes from above, and God will remove His prospering hand from the conference. Shall the ark of the covenant be removed from this people? Shall idols be smuggled in? Shall false principles and false precepts be brought into the sanctuary? Shall antichrist be respected? Shall the true doctrines and principles given us by God, which have made us what we are, be ignored? Shall God’s instrumentality, the publishing house, become a mere political, worldly institution? This is directly where the enemy, through blinded, unconsecrated men, is leading us.
These things have gone as far as they should without someone protesting against them in plain words. The Lord’s time to set things in order has fully come. There are men in positions of trust who have not had an experience in the leading out of this work, and these men should walk with humility and caution. In the night season I was present in several councils, and there I heard words repeated by influential men to the effect that if the American Sentinel would drop the word Seventh-day Adventist from its columns, and would say nothing about the Sabbath, the great men of the world would patronize it; it would become popular, and do a larger work. This looked very pleasing. These men could not see why we could not affiliate with unbelievers and non professors to make the American Sentinel a great success. I saw their countenances brighten, and they began to work on a policy plan to make the Sentinel a popular success.
This policy is the first step in a succession of wrong steps. The principles which have been advocated in the American Sentinel are the very sum and substance of the advocacy of the Sabbath, and when men begin to talk of changing these principles, they are doing a work which it does not belong to them to do. Like Uzzah, they are attempting to steady the ark, which belongs to God, and is under His special supervision. Said my Guide to those in these councils, “Who of the men among you have felt the burden of the cause from the first, and have accepted responsibilities under trying circumstances? Who has carried the burden of the work during the years of its existence? Who has practiced self-denial and self-sacrifice? The Lord made a place for His stanch servants, whose voices have been heard in warning. He carried forward His work before any of you put your hands to it, and He can and will find a place for the truth you would suppress. In the American Sentinel has been published the truth for this time. Take heed what you do. ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’”—Manuscript 29, 1890. Published in Counsels to Writers and Editors, pp. 95-97.
Oath Taking And Human Laws, Good And Bad
I saw that some of God’s children have made a mistake in regard to oath taking, and Satan has taken advantage of this to oppress them, and take from them their Lord’s money. I saw that the words of our Lord, “Swear not at all,” do not touch the judicial oath. “Let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” This refers to common conversation. Some exaggerate in their language. Some swear by their own life; others swear by their head—as sure as they live; as sure as they have a head. Some take heaven
and earth to witness that such things are so. Some hope that God will strike them out of existence if what they are saying is not true. It is this kind of common swearing against which Jesus warns His disciples.
We have men placed over us for rulers, and laws to govern the people. Were it not for these laws, the condition of the world would be worse than it is now. Some of these laws are good, others are bad. The bad have been increasing, and we are yet to be brought into strait places. But God will sustain His people in being firm and living up to the principles of His Word. When the laws of men conflict with the word and law of God, we are to obey the latter, whatever the consequences may be. The law of our land requiring us to deliver a slave to his master, we are not to obey; and we must abide the consequences of violating this law. The slave is not the property of any man. God is his rightful master, and man has no right to take God’s workmanship into his hands, and claim him as his own.
I saw that the Lord still has something to do with the laws of the land. While Jesus is in the sanctuary, God’s restraining Spirit is felt by rulers and people. But Satan controls to a great extent the mass of the world, and were it not for the laws of the land, we should experience much suffering. I was shown that when it is actually necessary, and they are called upon to testify in a lawful manner, it is no violation of God’s word for His children to solemnly take God to witness that what they say is the truth, and nothing but the truth.
Man is so corrupt that laws are made to throw the responsibility upon his own head. Some men do not fear to lie to their fellow man; but they have been taught, and the restraining Spirit of God has impressed them, that it is a fearful thing to lie to God. The case of Ananias and Sapphira his wife is given for an example. The matter is carried from
man to God, so that if one bears false witness, it is not to man, but to the great God, who reads the heart, and knows the exact truth in every case. Our laws make it a high crime to take a false oath. God has often visited judgment upon the false swearer, and even while the oath was on his lips, the destroying angel has cut him down. This was to prove a terror to evildoers.
I saw that if there is anyone on earth who can consistently testify under oath, it is the Christian. He lives in the light of God’s countenance. He grows strong in His strength. And when matters of importance must be decided by law, there is no one who can so well appeal to God as the Christian. I was bidden by the angel to notice that God swears by Himself. Genesis 22:16; Hebrews 6:13, 17. He swore to Abraham (Genesis 26:3), to Isaac (Psalm 105:9; Jeremiah 11:5), and to David (Psalm 132:11; Acts 2:30). God required of the children of Israel an oath between man and man. Exodus 22:10, 11. Jesus submitted to the oath in the hour of His trial. The high priest said unto Him: “I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said unto him: “Thou hast said.” If Jesus in His teachings to His disciples referred to the judicial oath, He would have reproved the high priest, and there enforced His teachings, for the good of His followers present. Satan has been pleased that some have viewed oath taking in a wrong light; for it has given him the opportunity to oppress them and take from them their Lord’s money. The stewards of God must be more wise, lay their plans, and prepare themselves to withstand Satan’s devices; for he is to make greater efforts than ever before.
Some, I saw, have a prejudice against our rulers and laws; but if it were not for law, this world would be in an awful condition. God restrains our rulers; for the hearts of all are in His hands. Bounds are
set, beyond which they cannot go. Many of the rulers are those whom Satan controls; but I saw that God has His agents, even among the rulers. And some of them will yet be converted to the truth. They are now acting the part that God would have them. When Satan works through his agents, propositions are made, that, if carried out, would impede the work of God and produce great evil. The good angels move upon these agents of God to oppose such propositions with strong reasons, which Satan’s agents cannot resist. A few of God’s agents will have power to bear down a great mass of evil. Thus the work will go on until the third message has done its work, and at the loud cry of the third angel, these agents will have an opportunity to receive the truth, and some of them will be converted, and endure with the saints through the time of trouble. When Jesus leaves the most holy, His restraining Spirit is withdrawn from rulers and people. They are left to the control of evil angels. Then such laws will be made by the counsel and direction of Satan, that unless time should be very short, no flesh could be saved.—Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 201-204.
Individual Rights To Be Regarded
But God never compels men to obey Him. Together truth and error take the field. The light shines forth amid moral darkness, and men are left to choose their own leader.
After the king of Babylon had witnessed the wonderful deliverance wrought by God for His faithful servants, and had seen the men walk unhurt from the fire, he published a decree that any one speaking a word against the God of Heaven, who had so wonderfully saved His servants, should be cut in pieces, “because,” he declared, “there is no other god
that can deliver after this sort.” Thus, through the deceiving power of the enemy, God’s truth is misinterpreted and misapplied, and His way confused by human inventions.
The king had a right to worship the God of Heaven, and to do all in his power to exalt Him above other gods; but he had no right to use his authority in compelling his subjects to change from the worship of idols to the worship of the true God. He had no more right to threaten men with death for not worshiping the true God than he had to make the decree consigning to the flames all who refused to worship the golden image.
Today, as in the days of Babylon, the accuser of the brethren is working through human agencies to hurt and destroy those who are dear to the Lord. Men in power do not realize that they can not in justice control the minds of their fellow men, and Satan works through them to corrupt right dealing. Those who try to keep the commandments of God, will meet with much opposition. Satanic attributes will take possession of the hearts of men, making them as hard as steel; and all who depart from evil will make themselves a prey to the hatred of those that refuse to obey the law of God.
But when the State forms laws directly opposed to the laws of Jehovah, and thus strives to compel men to obey them, it is following the example set by the king of Babylon. When it takes the guardianship of the religious interests of the nation, a spirit of intolerance is manifested if men seek to practise the truth which, by earnest study, they have found in God’s Word. Those who are actuated by such a spirit of oppression can not understand what religious liberty means.
Every man has a right to worship God according to his own convictions; no one is called upon to obey laws that are opposed to the laws of
God; and the only position the State can take, and have the approval of God, is to guard the rights of every individual, permitting no oppression to come upon any one because of religious belief.
As Nebuchadnezzar tried to force his subjects to obey his mandates, so men will try to force us to disregard the Word of God. They will endeavor to compel us to render homage to man-made statutes; but in God’s strength we are to refuse to dishonor Him. The laws of earthly kingdoms are to be obeyed only when they do not conflict with the laws of God. When governments are tyrannical and overbearing, when they trample on God’s law, their laws are contemptible in His sight. And when they try to control the minds and consciences of those whom Christ died to make free, God’s children are to show their loyalty to Him by refusing to disobey His commandments.
When the judgment shall sit, and the books of heaven shall be opened, all will be judged, not by the laws that human minds have enacted, but by the law of God, which existed before the foundations of the world were laid. And the men who have been coworkers with the first great rebel, and who have not, as guardians of the State, searched the Word of God, that as rulers they might deal righteously and mercifully, will be judged by the law they have disregarded and dishonored. . . .
They have shown no respect for God, no fear to transgress His commandments; but have refused to give their fellow men rights equal to their own, and have tried to make them disobey God. They have stubbornly adhered to man-made commandments, and they will be judged accordingly. Those who persist in enacting laws which men can not obey without dishonoring God, and those that obey these laws, and trample on the law of the eternal God, must prepare for the result; for God will not change, nor alter the thing which has gone out of His mouth.—Signs of the Times, Feb. 27, 1912.
Religious Liberty Question Very Important
The question of religious liberty is very important, and it should be handled with great wisdom and discretion. Unless this is done, there is danger that by our own course of action we shall bring upon ourselves a crisis before we are prepared for it. The burden of our message should be “the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Our brethren should be cautioned to make moves that will not stir up and provoke the powers that be, so that they will make moves that will limit the work, and cut us off from proclaiming the message in different localities.
We need more of the working of the Infinite, and far less trust in human agencies. We are to prepare a people to stand in the day of God’s preparation, we are to call men’s attention to the cross of Calvary, to make clear the reason why Christ made His great sacrifice. We are to show men that it is possible for them to come back to their allegiance to God and to their obedience to His commandments. When the sinner looks upon Christ as the propitiation for his sins, let men step aside. Let them declare to the sinner that Christ “is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Encourage him to seek wisdom from God; for through earnest prayer he will learn the way of the Lord more perfectly than if instructed by some human counselor. He will see that it was the transgression of the law that caused the death of the Son of the infinite God, and he will hate the sins that wounded Jesus. As he looks upon Christ as a compassionate, tender High Priest, his heart will be preserved in contrition.—Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 219, 220.