“We believe that our gracious God, because of the depravity of mankind, hath appointed kings, princes and magistrates, willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies; to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained, and all things carried on among them with good order and decency. For this purpose, he hath invested the magistracy with the sword, for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the protection of them that do well.
And their office is, not only to have regard unto, and watch for the welfare of the civil state; but also that they protect the sacred ministry; thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship; that the kingdom of anti-Christ may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted. They must therefore countenance the preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere, that God may be honored and worshipped by every one, as He commanded in His Word.
Moreover, it is the bounden duty of everyone, of what state, quality, or condition soever he may be, to subject himself to the magistrates; to pay tribute, to show due honor and respect to them, and to obey them in all things which are not repugnant to the Word of God; to supplicate for them in their prayers, that God may rule and guide them in all their ways, and that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
Wherefore we detest the Anabaptists and other seditious people and in general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates, and would subvert justice, introduce community of goods, and confound that decency and good order, which God hath established among men.” (Belgic Confession of Faith: Article 36).
“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. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, 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. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (Romans 13:1-7).
“Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God” (Romans 13:2). Even, “if we are cruelly tormented by a savage prince, if we are greedily despoiled by one who is avaricious or wanton if we are neglected by a slothful one if finally we are vexed for piety’s sake by one who is impious and sacrilegious…it is not for us to remedy such evils (by revolution)” (J Calvin).
Peaceful protest, where permitted, is one thing, lawlessness, rebellion, anarchy against the Magistrate is another. “Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath but also for conscience sake” (Romans 13:5).
The Reformed theologian, Theodore Beza, Calvin’s immediate successor in Geneva, permitted, and even advocated, revolution when a ruler becomes unjust. This encouraged the Huguenots in France to carry on internal warfare with the king of France, with disastrous results for the Reformed Church in France. Even secular historians have noted that revolution eats its children.
Guido De Bres, the author of the Belgic Confession of faith himself practised submission to the magistrate that he preached in article 36 of his Confession. When on May 31, 1567, he was executed by hanging, not on account of rebellion, but on account of his confession of the gospel of the Reformed faith, his last words on the scaffold were such that he “did not speak against the government, but reminded the people to give respect to the magistrate.” (D Engelsma)
(©️ James R Hamilton, March 2019)