The Higher Power
Let every soul be subject
unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers
that be are ordained of God.—Rom. 13:1.
This passage has been the subject
of much controversy. It was the stronghold of the Royalists who,
during the reign of the Stuarts, preached the doctrine of passive
obedience and non-resistance. They argued that whatever civil powers
existed in the providence of God was de facto and de jure the ordinance
of God, and was to be obeyed. The right of revolution was denied.
No amount of oppression justified a people in throwing off the yoke
of tyranny. This doctrine sounded very plausible as long as the
churchmen were using it against dissenting Presbyterians and Puritans
of England and the Covenanters of Scotland. But when a Roman Catholic
sovereign, James II., attempted to apply it to the Church of England
the Anglican theologists could very clearly see its fallacy. The
doctrine of non-resistance and passive obedience is an exploded
This passage, however, is still, for
the most part, misapplied. It is interpreted as God’s approbation
of the existing civil authorities, regardless of the character of
their rule. “The powers that be” does not refer to any particular
civil power, existing then or since. For if it applies to one it
must apply to all. It is hardly to be conceived that Paul intended
to endorse the cruel and despotic rule of the tyrant Nero, at whose
hands so many Christians suffered martyrdom, as the ordinance of
God. Multitudes of like instances preclude this interpretation of
The text refers to the ordinance of
civil government. “The powers that be” are the institutions of civil
rule. They are divinely appointed. Their right to exist rests on
God’s establishment of civil government as an institution among
The character of the men who should
administer this ordinance is clearly set forth in the context. They
are not to be a terror to good works, but to the evil. By failure
to comply with God’s moral requiremen [sic] for civil rulers
the end of government has frequently been subverted. Just as the
Church, in some instances through the corruption of her ministers,
has degenerated into a synagogue of Satan, so civil government,
the institution of God, through the corruption of its administrators
has frequently been converted into the instrument of Satan.
It is not our purpose, however, to
speak of pervertion [sic] of civil power. The choice of the
text points to the consideration of civil government as an institution
of God. It stands in opposition to the popular conception that government
is merely a convenience of society 
resting, for its authority, on the consent of the governed. Such
a theory is in direct opposition to revelation. Practically it is
At a time when red-handed anarchy
has been seeking to strike at the very existence of civil society
it ought to be reassuring to look at the foundation on which civil
authority rests. We have in the text certain fundamental truths
to which we purpose to direct attention:
I.—God is the source of all power.
God was originally the only being
in the universe. Everything originated with Him. He is possessed
of unlimited and absolute power. Every force that exists has originated
with Him. All the forces of nature are from God. He has established
the mighty forces that control the movements of the heavenly bodies.
He holds them in balance. The astronomer as he fathoms the heavens
with his powerful telescope is studying one of the powers God has
established. The rivers with their mighty flow which no man can
stop, Niagara with its mighty torrent which men can harness, but
which they cannot hold back, the ocean with its ceaseless tide,
the wind which bloweth where it listeth, are manifestations of the
power God has established in nature.
Man has sought out many inventions.
He has discovered how to utilize the powers of nature. He has combined
the latent heat of coal with the expansive power of water so as
to propel the wheels of trade. He has learned to handle the hidden
forces of electricity with wonderful skill. But he has never originated
any physical force. It is all from God.
All animate power is from the same
source. The vital force of animal organism is not self-originated.
It is not received from a fellow-creature. It is of God. He kindles
the spark that sets in motion the physical life of the world. The
scientist has given up as a hopeless task the production of animate
life from inanimate matter. He is powerless even to retain this
mysterious force when God’s time has come for it to depart. The
highest medical skill of the twentieth century was at the bedside
of the wounded President. While the world waited with baited [sic]
breath these men did all they could to save the precious life, but
in vain. God controls vital force. In man physical life is combined
with intellectual power. Intellectual power is a God-given faculty.
It raises man above the lower creation. It gives him control over
the forces of nature. It fits him for responsible association with
his fellow men. It makes him accountable to God. It brings him into
special relations with God.
There is no force of any kind that
does not have its source in God. If He were to withdraw his power
from the universe the mind of every intelligent being would become
a blank; the vital force of every living creature would stop; physical
force would be at a standstill, and the universe would go back to
the nothingness from which it was called by His creative power.
In all the established order of the universe the forces that control
and guide are of God. He administers them directly. There is no
intervention of a third party through whom the power is applied.
God deals at first hand in nature.
Man in his association with his fellow-men
comes in contact with certain organized forms of society. In these
he finds duly constituted authority. This authority is exercised
by men. Here God intervenes a third party between himself and the
object of his control. He governs men in their relation to their
fellow-men through men. He has adapted His government to the conditions
of free intelligent beings. He has honored man by giving him a part
in the government of society. But God has not surrendered any of
his right to rule. What is declared in the text of one of these
organized forms of society is true of all of them, viz., the powers
that be are ordained of God. Man’s relation with his fellow-men
is regulated by virtue of divine authority.
Family life is divinely established.
It is much more than a convenience of society. He has said: “For
this cause shall a man forsake his father and his mother, and cleave
to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” The parties whom God
has joined together no man has a right to put asunder. The family
exists by divine establishment.
God has provided for the regulation
of the religious life of men. The Church is not an outgrowth of
the religious sentiment of man. Heathen religions may be traced
to this source, but the Church is God’s institution. The authority
properly belonging to the Church is of God.
Provision has also been made for the
regulation of civil society. Civil government is not merely the
result of developing civilization. It is much more than a convenience.
It is not to be defined as simply a necessity. It is much more than
a voluntary compact. Its source of authority does not come from
the consent of the governed. The majority have a right to choose
the form of government, but the institution of government is from
God. They do not have a right to choose whether they shall have
a government or not. God by His providence has gathered the people
of the earth together in tribes and nations. He has instituted the
ordinance of civil government for the regulation of their civil
relations. Like the family it is a universal ordinance. The authority
exhibited in the arm of the civil power is the authority of God.
The nation is of divine origin, and
it has a divinely appointed purpose to fulfill. God uses nations
in the working out of His great purposes. They are mighty agencies
for good, or for evil. With the great powers of the world tacitly,
or actively on the side of evil it is not much that the individual
or the Church can do to reform society. The churches are sending
missionaries to Africa, and the civilized nations are pouring in
cargoes of rum. The rum is ruining the natives faster than the Church
can reach them. The efforts of the Church are neutralized by a traffic
sanctioned by nominally Christian nations.
The American flag has been unfurled
over the Philippine Islands. These islands are open for the first
time to the missionary and the colporteur. But, alas, in advance
of these agencies of the gospel has gone the saloon—with all its
demoralizing accompaniments. A civil power that sanctions practices
so diametrically opposed to the principles of truth and justice
in so far cancels its claims to be an ordinance of God. The men
who organize and who administer the ordinance of civil government
are responsible for the perversion of the end for which it is established.
[(Concluded next issue.)