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Calvin on the Biblical Role of Government

This is from John Calvin in the Insititutes on the Biblical view of the role of government. What strikes me is how he is dismissing in essence the Libertarians of his day, and specifically rejects the notion that governemnt is only "a necessary evil." Instead replacing it with the Biblical perspective of the government as "God's Servant," who is reponsible to give "aid and comfort to the oppressed," among other duties...

Here is the excerpt:


"For some, on hearing that liberty is promised in the gospel, a liberty which acknowledges no king and no magistrate among men, but looks to Christ alone, think that they can receive no benefit from their liberty so long as they see any power placed over them.

Accordingly, they think that nothing will be safe until the whole world is changed into a new form, when there will be neither courts, nor laws, nor magistrates, nor anything of the kind to interfere, as they suppose, with their liberty...

Still the distinction does not go so far as to justify us in supposing that the whole scheme of civil government is matter of pollution, with which Christian men have nothing to do.

Fanatics, indeed, delighting in unbridled license, insist and vociferate that, after we are dead by Christ to the elements of this world, and being translated into the kingdom of God sit among the celestials, it is unworthy of us, and far beneath our dignity, to be occupied with those profane and impure cares which relate to matters alien from a Christian man.

But as we lately taught that that kind of government is distinct from the spiritual and internal kingdom of Christ, so we ought to know that they are not adverse to each other...

But if it is the will of God that while we aspire to true piety we are pilgrims upon the earth, and if such pilgrimage stands in need of such aids [of civil government], those who take them away from man rob him of his humanity....

[On the role of civil government]

In a word, if they remember that they are the vicegerents of God, it behoves them to watch with all care, diligence, and industry, that they may in themselves exhibit a kind of image of the Divine Providence, guardianship, goodness, benevolence, and justice. We say, therefore, that they are the ordained guardians and vindicators of public innocence, modesty, honour, and tranquillity, so that it should be their only study to provide for the common peace and safety...

But as rulers cannot do this unless they protect the good against the injuries of the bad, and give aid and protection to the oppressed, they are armed with power to curb manifest evil-doers and criminals, by whose misconduct the public tranquillity is disturbed or harassed...

The first duty of subjects towards their rulers, is to entertain the most honourable views of their office, recognising it as a delegated jurisdiction from God, and on that account
receiving and reverencing them as the ministers and ambassadors of God. For you will find some who show themselves very obedient to magistrates...and yet the opinion which those persons have of magistrates is, that they are a kind of necessary evils.

But Peter requires something more of us when he says, "Honour the king" (1 Pet. 2:17)...For, under the term honour, the former includes a sincere and candid esteem..."
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