Revivals and Magistrates (1)
Prof.Herman Hanko, emeritus professor of the PR Seminary
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Tim. 2:1-2).
In response to my article in the November 2013 issue of the Covenant Reformed News, a reader writes, “As prayers for the revival and Reformation of the West, given its knowledge of the gospel and its centuries-long hatred of it and apostasy from it, are a ‘hopeless whistling in the wind,’ what should be our attitude to praying for our rulers? As most of our rulers have rejected the gospel, are they ‘blasphemers against the Holy Spirit’ and so we should not pray for them? Am I right in thinking that we should not desire to ‘lead a quiet and peaceable life’ anyway, as ‘lawlessness’ is increasing at a rapid rate in our land?”
I admit that I have not heard of or read any material on revivals that connects revivals and the rule of civil magistrates. I do not deny that this may very well be true, but it has escaped me. It seems that this connection that is suggested in the question presupposes that revivals are sometimes brought about by decree of the civil magistrate. Or, if a revival is not decreed by a civil magistrates, it is at least approved, promoted and encouraged by a secular ruler.
However that may be, the text in I Timothy 2 has encouraged the questioner to ask some questions about its meaning, and the questions are important ones and worth our attention.
Let it be stated, first of all, and with all possible emphasis, that the admonition of the text to pray for our rulers is a command of our Lord that we must obey. It is a divine obligation, given us in sacred Scripture, so obedience is required of us in our service of the Lord Christ as citizens in His heavenly kingdom. It is my judgment that many are fearful of praying for our magistrates and rarely do so. One argument in support of this failure is that civil magistrates, as the questioner observes, are rarely Christian in the true sense of the word. But that excuse does not justify negligence.
Let it also be emphatically stated that the Scriptures never permit us to speak evil of our magistrates; they forbid us to refuse to obey them (unless refusal is disobedience to Christ); and they require of us respect, honour and even love. This is emphatically Paul’s teaching in Roman 13 and Peter’s teaching in I Peter 2:13-17. These words in these two passages were inspired by the Holy Spirit in days when men, such as the grossly depraved Nero, ruled and were persecuting the church.
This was the godly behaviour of the three friends of Daniel when they were threatened by the king with death in a white-hot furnace (Dan. 3). This was Daniel’s example when he was thrown into the lion’s den (Dan. 6). Above all, this was the example of our Lord Himself before the Sanhedrin, Herod and Pontius Pilate. Peter points us to our Lord’s conduct as an example for us to follow (I Pet. 2:21-25). Submission. We are called to submission. We are called to submission, even when we cannot, for Christ’s sake, obey. The fifth commandment is decisive.
The reason why we are to honour and submit to—and, emphatically, pray for—our civil rulers is because they are all put into office by Christ Himself. It is Christ’s work that they rule. It is Christ who puts the robe of authority on them, anoints them to serve in their office and calls them to rule in His name. That is their calling. “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they [i.e., rulers] that put their trust in him” (Ps. 2:10-12).
It makes no difference whether these rulers are a Nebuchadnezzar, a Nero, a Hitler, a Stalin, a Winston Churchill or a Barack Obama. The commands of the Scriptures are given us to obey. Wicked rulers will have to answer the King of kings in the judgment day for their refusal to rule in the name of Christ.
As Reformed believers, we confidently testify to the great truth of God that Christ, from His throne in heaven, so executes the Father’s will that all things He does are for the sake and salvation of His church for which He shed His blood. “All things work together for good to them that love God ...” (Rom. 8:28).
Christ puts into civil office the one whom He wants in that office because such a one is necessary for the salvation of the church. Yes, everyone who holds such an office: even Antiochus Epiphanes IV, Constantine the Great, Frederick the Wise and, wonder of wonders, even the Stuarts: James I, James II, Charles I and Charles II, along with Mary, Queen of Scots. If Cyrus, the king of Persia, was God’s servant (Isa. 44:28; 45:1), how much more all the kings of the earth? Even the Antichrist is given His authority by the absolutely sovereign God, according to His all-wise decree executed as providence by Christ, His vice-gerent at His right hand.
When we honour them and serve them, we honour God and His Christ. When we disobey them, speak evil of them, revolt against them—as did the Covenanters and the American colonists—we revolt against Christ. If the consequences of our refusal to obey rulers results in persecution, we receive suffering from the hand of Christ (I Pet. 2:18-25; 4:12-19), knowing that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
And so, we must pray for them. Because the admonition is addressed to Timothy, preacher in the church of Ephesus, it is an admonition that is particularly directed to ministers in their prayers in the divine worship services. But it does not alter the fact that the injunction comes also to every child of God in his family prayers and in his personal devotions.
- Volume: 14
- Issue: 20
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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