“There is no power but of God.” This Much Abused Verse. William Roberts on Romans 13

“”I beheld a fourth beast dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly.” The aspect of this beast is dreadful, astounding the spectator, and its rage was terrible, affrighting the object of its wrath, and so huge its strength that the power of the mightiest was but feebleness in its horrible grasp.

“And it had great iron teeth;” its means of destruction are beyond, in strength, and adaptedness, all the powers that have preceded it, and no wonder that it “devoured, and break in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it.” “It far exceeded,” says Dr. Scott, “in power, fierceness and destructive rage, all that had gone before it, as well as in the extent, and long duration of its dominion. And no animal could be found so terrible and ferocious as to lend it a suitable name. This was doubtless an emblem of the Roman state, the invincible fortitude, hardness and force of which, perhaps, were never equaled. By wars and conquests the Romans bore down all opposition, and rendered almost every kingdom or state in the known world into some kind or degree of dependence; drew all the spoil and wealth of many conquered nations to enrich their great capitol, and tyrannized over all that did not quietly yield obedience to their authority.”

Certainly, this monstrous beast is not the symbol of civil rule, as it is the ordinance of heaven, but a terrific contrast as a horrid despotism, to the benign kingdom which the God of heaven sets up. The ordinance of God has not great iron teeth, to devour and break in pieces; nor huge iron feet, to bruise and crush and stamp into the dust the feeble and the helpless.

These kingdoms have been resisted, and this, too, with the Divine approbation. Founded in conquest and in blood, the nobly pious, and enlightened patriots, have from the earliest ages, resisted their oppressive enactments, and that, too, at the hazard of their lives, and all that was dear to them on earth.

The history of Christianity for the first three centuries, is a history of resistance to the despotic decrees of Imperial Rome. A noble cloud of witnesses starts up before my vision, when I turn to the contemplation for a moment of the same despotic power, in its divided administration. In this form of the Roman Empire, “power,” it is said [Rev. 13:7], was “given it to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.” And in the last period of its rule, in reference to the noble resistance of the witnesses, it is written [Rev. 11:7], “When they shall have finished, (be finishing) their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit, shall make war against them, and shall overcome them and kill them.” These passages prove that resistance is made to this beastly power of diabolical origin during the continuance of its misrule, and that this resistance is made with Divine approbation. The witnesses who are employed in it are claimed by God, as his witnesses. “I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophecy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sakcloth.” [Rev. 11:3].

Thus God has not left himself without witnesses against the despotism of the nations, and on behalf of the civil rights of mankind. In every age there have been noble spirits raised up, in his providence, to resist the arm of despotism, stretched forth to crush the poor and the needy.“

“There is no power but of God.” The just import of this much abused passage, is, there is no legitimate authority that has not the Godhead for its fountain. Civil government is the ordinance of God, and the Deity himself alone is the Supreme source of civil power. Other alleged powers may exist, having the Devil as their author; but these are all immoral despotic powers, such as have been described—fierce beasts of prey—‘the Kingdoms of this world.’ There is, however, no lawful power that has not its fountain and its law in the will of the Supreme Lawgiver, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. When I use the term will, in this connection, I do not embrace what God has permitted to exist in his providence, but intend the pure rule of right and wrong inscribed on the heart of upright man, or rewritten in the volume of inspiration. God is the head of all that is properly authority, and the recognition of this truth is the first element in the kingdom which he sets up.”

Covenanter William L. Roberts, The Higher Law, 1851


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