Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Illegal commands do not appear to carry any obligation to obedience."

The Polynesian.

Honolulu, Saturday, Nov. 18.


   In connection with the subject of Political rights and obligations'--upon which we published an article in our last number--we cannot refrain from giving a few remarks on the extent and obligation to civil obedience.

   'The law of nature proposes few motives to obedience except those which are dictated by expediency. The object of instituting government being the good of the governed, any means of attaining that object is, in the view of natural reason, right. So that, if in any case a government does not effect its proper objects, it may not only be exchanged, but exchanged by any means which will tend on the whole to the public good. Resistence--arms-- civil war--every act is, in the view of natural reason, right if it is useful. But although good government is the right of the people, it is, nevertheless, not sufficient to release a subject from the obligation to obedience, that a government adopts some measures which he thinks are not conducive to the general good. A wise pagan would not limit his obedience to those measures in which a government acted expediently; because it is often better for the community that some acts of misgovernment should be borne, than that the general system of obedience should be violated. It is, as a general rule, more necessary to the welfare of a people that a government should be regularly obeyed, than that each of their measures should be good and right. In practice, therefore, even considerations of utility are sufficient, generally, to oblige us to submit to the civil power.

   'When we turn from the law of nature to Christianity, we find, as we are wont, that the moral cord is tightened, and that not every means of opposing governments is permitted to us. The consideration of what modes of opposition Christianity allows, and what it forbids, is of great interest and importance.

   '"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. Who soever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. He is the minister of God to thee for good a revenger, to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore, ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." Upon this often cited and often canvassed passage, three things are to be observed:
   '1. That it asserts the great duty of civil obedience, because government is an institution sanctioned by the Deity.
   '2. That it asserts this duty under the supposition that the governor is a minister of God for good.
   '3. That it gives but little other information respecting the extent of the duty of obedience.
   'I. The obligation to obedience is not founded, therefore, simply upon expediency, but upon the more satisfactory and certain ground, the expressed will of God. And here the superiority of this motive over that of the fear of the magistrate's power, is manifest. We are to be subject, not only for wrath, but for conscience' sake--not only out of fear of man, but out of fidelity to God. This motive, where it operates, is likely, to produce more consistent and conentious obedience than that of expediency or fear.
   'II. The duty is inculcated under the supposition that the governor is a minister for good. It is upon this supposition that the apostle proceeds: "for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil;" which is tantamount to saying, that if they be not a terror to evil works but to good, the duty of obedience is altered. "The power that is of God" says an intelligent and Christian writer," leaves neither ruler subject to the liberty of his own will, but limits both to the will of God; so that the magistrate has no power to command evil to be done because he is a magistrate, and the subject hath no liberty to do evil because a magistrate doth command it." When, therefore, the Christian teacher says, " Let every soul be subject to the higher powers," he proposes not an absolute but a conditional rule conditional upon the nature of the actions which the higher powers require. The expression "There is no power but of God," does not invalidate this conclusion, because the Apostles themselves did not yield unconditional obedience to the powers that were. Similar observations apply to the parallel passage in 1st Peter: "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 those that are sent by him, for the punishment of evil-doers and for the praise of them that do well." The supposition of the just exercise of power is still kept in view.
  'III. The precepts give little other information than this respecting the extent of the duty of obedience. "Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God," is like the direction, to "be subject," a conditional proposition. What precise meaning was here attached to the word "resisteth," cannot perhaps be known; but there is reason to think that the meaning was not designed to be precise--that the proposition was general. " Magistrates are not to be resisted," without defining, or attempting to define, the limits of civil obedience.

   'Upon the whole, this often agitated portion of the Christian Scriptures does not appear to me to convey much information respecting the duties of civil obedience; and although it explicitly asserts the general duty of obedience to the magistrate, it does not inform as how far that duty extends, nor what are its limits.

   'Concluding, then, that specific rules respecting the extent of civil obedience are not to be found in scripture, we are brought to the position, that we must ascertain this extent by the general duties which Christianity imposes upon mankind, and by the general principles of political truth.

   'Referring, then, to political truth, it is to be remembered that governors are established, not for their own advantage, but for the people's. If they so far disregard this object of their establishment, as greatly to sacrifice the public welfare, the people (and consequently individuals) may rightly consider whether a change of governors is not dictated by utility; and if it is, they may rightly endeavor to effect such a change by recommending it to the public, and by transferring their obedience to those who, there is reason to believe, will better execute the offices for which government is instituted. I perceive no thing unchristian in this. A man who lived in 1683, and was convinced that it was for the general good that William should be placed on the throne instead of James, was at liberty to promote, by all Christian means, the accession of William, and consequently to withdraw his own, and recommend others to withdraw their obedience from James. The support of the Bill of Exclusion in Charles the Second's reign, was nearly allied to a withdrawal of civil obedience. The Christian of that day who was persuaded that the bill would tend to the public welfare, was right in supporting it, and he would have been equally right in continuing his support if Charles had suddenly died, and his brother had suddenly stepped into the throne. If I had lived in America fifty years ago, and bad thought the disobedience of the colonies wrong, and that the whole empire would be injured by their separation from England, I should have thought myself at liberty to urge these considerations on other men, and otherwise to exert myself (always within the limits of Christian conduct) to support the British cause. I might indeed, have thought that there was so much violence and wickedness on both 'sides, that the Christian could take part with neither: but this an accidental connection, and in no degree affects the principle itself. But, when the colonies were actually separated from Britain, and it was manifestly the general will to be independent, I should have readily transferred my obedience to the United States, convinced that the new government was preferred by the people; that therefore, it was the rightful government; and being such, that it was my Christian duty to obey it.

   'Illegal commands do not appear to carry any obligation to obedience. Thus, when the Apostles had been " beaten openly and uncondemned being Romans," they did not regard the directions of magistracy to leave the prison, but asserted their right to legal justice, by making the magistrates "come themselves and fetch them out," When Charles I. made his demands of supplies upon his own illegal authority, I should have thought myself at liberty to refuse to pay them. This were not a disobedience to government. Government was broken. One of its constituent parts refused to impose the tax, and one imposed it. I might, indeed, have held myself in doubt whether Charles constituted the government or not. If the people had thought it best to choose him alone for their ruler, he constituted the government, and his demand would have been legal; for a law is but the voice of that governing power whom the people prefer. As it was, the people did not prefer such government: the demand was illegal, and might therefore be refused.'

   [Editorial Note: In other words, as Christians, we are NOT bound to obey evil. Rather, we are to confront it and denounce it for what it really is; evil. To Wit: "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And as Americans, our only duty is obedience to the "Supreme Law of the Land" - our Constitution. As well as to laws that are Constitutionally enacted. We are NOT bound to obey plainly unconstitutional dictates or edicts.]
   'Cowards, upon necessity, assume A fearful bravery; thinking by this face To fasten in men's minds that they have courage.'
   The above morsel from the noble old dramatist, conveys an exquisite idea of what we have all a thousand times witnessed. What he says of cowards in general, is true of both physical and moral cowards. Of the two kinds of cowardice, the physical is by far the most excusable. A man may not be always ready to rush upon a rapier's point, or face the cannon's mouth, to gain honor or glory, and is not therefore to be thought the less of.
   But moral cowardice is very distinct from this far less justifiable, inasmuch as it seems to betray a sense of guilt. The moral coward when hard pressed, will often 'assume a fearful bravery' in sheer desperation, while at the same time his courage may be discovered oozing out at bis finger's end.
A man who is possessed of an inward sense of rectitude and innocence needs no assistance from assumed indifference but will always be found ready fearlessly, yet modestly, to stand before the world upon his own merits, ready at any time to boldly face his foes. On the contrary, a moral coward will often make himself ridiculous by attempts to appear bold,--like a boy whistling in the dark in order to keep up his courage. For the Polynesian.


   History furnishes few instances in which a nation, kingdom, or city was ever overthrown but by defection of its own citizens. Sampson was delivered into the hands of the Philistines by the wife of his bosom. Israel's king fled a fugitive from his throne and kingdom, by the rebellion of his favorite son, Absalom.
   The Son of God, himself, was sold to the Romans, and to death, by one who ate and drank with him. How many noble generals and powerful armies, irresistible to their foes, have been utterly ruined by treachery within the camp Rome, in all her gigantic greatness, was over thrown by conspiracy and intrigue within her own walls. No thanks to the execrable Arnold that Washington and the entire American army was not a prey to their enemies. Who covets a traitor's fame?

- The Polynesian, Honolulu, Saturday, November 18, 1848. Vol. 5. No. 27. Pg. 2

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