Civil Government and Religion

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CHAPTER II. - WHAT IS DUE TO GOD, AND WHAT TO CESAR?

“THEN went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth; neither carest thou for any man, for thou reardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And He saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Cesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cesar the things which are Cesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” CGRRLL 14.1

In these words Christ has established a clear distinction between Cesar and God,—between that which is Cesar’s and that which is God’s; that is, between the civil and the religious power, and between what we owe to the civil power and what we owe to the religious power. That which is Cesar’s is to be rendered to Cesar; that which is God’s is to be rendered to God alone. With that which is God’s, Cesar can have nothing to do. To say that we are to render to Cesar that which is God’s, or that we are to render to God, by Cesar, that which is God’s, is to pervert the words of Christ, and make meaningless. Such an interpretation would be but to entangle him in his talk,—the very thing that the Pharisees sought to do. CGRRLL 14.2

As the word Cesar refers to civil government, it is apparent at once that the duties which we owe to Cesar are civil duties, while the duties which we owe to God are wholly moral or religious duties. Webster’s definition of religion is,— CGRRLL 15.1

“The recognition of God as an object of worship, live, and obedience.” CGRRLL 15.2

Another definition, equally good, is as follows:— CGRRLL 15.3

“Man’s personal relation of faith and obedience to God.” CGRRLL 15.4

It is evident, therefore, that religion and religious duties pertain solely to God; and as that which is God’s is to be rendered to him and not to Cesar, it follows inevitably that according to the words of Christ, civil government can never of right have anything to do with religion,—with a man’s personal relation of faith and obedience to God. CGRRLL 15.5

Another definition which may help in making the distinction appear, is that of morality, as follows:— CGRRLL 15.6

Morality: The relation of conformity or non-conformity to the true moral standard or rule.... The conformity of an act to the divine law.” CGRRLL 15.7

As morality, therefore, is the conformity of an act to the divine law, it is plain that morality also pertains solely to God, and with that, civil government can have nothing to do. This may appear at first sight to be an extreme position, if not a false one; but it is not. It is the correct position, as we think any one can see who will give the subject a little careful thought. The first part of the definition already given, says that morality is the relation of conformity or non-conformity to the true moral standard or rule,” and the latter part of the definition shows that this true moral standard is the divine law. Again: Moral law is defined as— CGRRLL 15.8

“The will of God, as the supreme moral ruler, concerning the character and conduct of all responsible beings the rule of action as obligatory on the conscience or moral nature.” “The moral law is summarily contained in the decalogue, written by the finger of God on two tables of stone, and delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai.” CGRRLL 16.1

These definitions are evidently according to Scripture. The Scriptures show that the ten commandments are the law of God; that they express the will of God; that they pertain to the conscience, and take cognizance of the thoughts and intents of the heart; and that obedience to these commandments is the duty that man owes to God. Says the Scripture,— CGRRLL 16.2

“Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13. CGRRLL 16.3

And the Saviour says,— CGRRLL 16.4

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment; but I say unto you that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Roca [vain fellow, margin], shall be in danger of hell fire.” Matthew 5:21, 22. CGRRLL 16.5

The apostle John, referring to the same thing, says,— CGRRLL 16.6

“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.” 1 John 3:15. CGRRLL 16.7

Again, the Saviour says,— CGRRLL 16.8

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery; but I say unto you that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Matthew 5:27, 28. CGRRLL 16.9

Other illustrations might be given, hut these are sufficient to show that obedience to the moral law is morality; that it pertains to the thoughts and the intents of the heart, and therefore, in the very nature of the ease, lies beyond the reach or control of the civil power. To hate, is murder; to covet, is idolatry; to think impurely of a woman, is adultery;—these are all equally immoral, and violations of the moral law, but no civil government seeks to punish for them. A man may hate his neighbor all his life; he may covet everything on earth; he may think impurely of every woman that he sees,—he may keep it up all his days; but so long as these things are confined to his thought, the civil power cannot touch him. It would be difficult to conceive of a more immoral person than such a man would be; yet the State cannot punish him. It does not attempt to punish him. This demonstrates again that with morality or immorality the State can have nothing to do. CGRRLL 17.1

But let us carry this further. Only let that man’s hatred lead him, either by word or sign, to attempt an injury to his neighbor, and the State will punish him; only let his covetousness lead him to lay hands on what is not his own, in an attempt to steal, and the State will punish him; only let his impure thought lead him to attempt violence to any woman, and the State will punish him. Yet bear in mind that even then the State does not punish him for his immorality, but for his incivility. The immorality lies in the heart, and can be measured by God only. The State punishes no man because lie is immoral. If it did, it would have to punish as a murderer the man who hates another, because according to the true standard of morality, hatred is murder. Therefore it is clear that in fact the State punishes no man because he is immoral, but because he is uncivil. It cannot punish immorality; it must punish incivility. CGRRLL 17.2

This distinction is shown in the very term by which is designated State or national government; it is called civil government. No person eater thinks of calling it moral government. The government of God is the only moral government. God is the only moral governor. The law of God is the only moral law. To God alone pertains the punishment of immorality, which is the transgression of the moraI law. Governments of men are civil governments, not moral. Governors of men are civil governments, not moral. The laws of States and nations are civil laws, not moral. To the authorities of civil government pertains the punishment of incivility, that is, the transgression of civil law. It is not theirs to punish immorality. That pertains solely to the Author of moral law and of the moral sense, who is the sole judge of man’s moral relation. All this must be manifest to every one who will think fairly upon the subject, and it is confirmed by the definition of the word civil, which is as follows:— CGRRLL 18.1

Civil: Pertaining to a city or State, or to a citizen in his relations to his fellow-citizens, or to the State.” CGRRLL 18.2

By all these things it is made clear that we owe to Cesar (civil government) only that which is civil, and that we one to God that which is moral or religious. Other definitions show the same thing. For instance, sin as defined by Webster, is “any violation of God’s will;” and is defined by the Scriptures, “is the transgression of the law.” That the law here referred to is the moral law—the ten commandments—is shown by Romans 7:7:— CGRRLL 18.3

“I had not known sin, but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” CGRRLL 18.4

Thus the Scriptures show that sin is a transgression of the law which says, “Thou shalt not covet,” and that is the moral law. CGRRLL 18.5

But crime is an offense against the laws of the State. The definition is as follows:— CGRRLL 19.1

“Crime is strictly a violation of law either human or divine; but in present usage the term is commonly applied to actions contrary to the laws of the State.” CGRRLL 19.2

Thus civil statutes define crime, and deal with crime, but not with sin; while the divine statutes define sin, and deal with sin, but not with crime. CGRRLL 19.3

As God is the only moral governor, as his is the only moral government, as his law is the only moral law, and as it pertains to him alone to punish immorality, so likewise the promotion of morality pertains to him alone. CGRRLL 19.4

Morality is conformity to the law of God; it is obedience to God. But obedience to God must spring from the heart in sincerity and truth. This it must do, or it is not obedience; for, as we have proved by the word of God, the law of God takes cognizance of the thoughts and intents of the heart. But “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” By transgression, all men have made themselves immoral. “Therefore by the deeds of the law [by obedience] there shall no flesh be justified [accounted righteous, or made moral] in his sight.” Romans 3:20. As all men have, by transgression of the law of God, made themselves immoral, therefore no man can, by obedience to the law, become moral; because it is that very law which declares him to be immoral. The demands, therefore, of the moral law, must be satisfied, before he can ever be accepted as moral by either the law or its Author. But the demands of the moral law can never be satisfied by an immoral person, and this is just what every person has made himself by transgression. Therefore it is certain that men can never become moral by the moral law. CGRRLL 19.5

From this it is equally certain that if ever men shall be made moral, it must be by the Author and Source of all morality. And this is just the provision which God has made. For “now the righteousness [the morality] of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness [the morality] of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference; for all have sinned [made themselves immoral], and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:21-23. It is by the morality of Christ alone that men can be made moral. And this morality of Christ is the morality of God, which is imputed to us for Christ’s sake; and we receive it by faith in Him who is both the author and finisher of faith. Then by the Spirit of God the moral law is written anew in the heart and in the mind, sanctifying the soul unto obedience—unto morality. Thus, and thus alone, can men ever attain to morality; and that morality is the morality of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ; and there is no other in this world. Therefore, as morality springs from God, and is planted in the heart by the Spirit of God, through faith in the Son of God, it is demonstrated by proofs of Holy Writ itself, that to God alone pertains the promotion of morality. CGRRLL 19.6

God, then, being the sole promoter of morality, through what instrumentality does he work to promote morality in the world? What body has he made the conservator of morality in the world: the church, or the civil power; which?—The church, and the church alone. It is “the church of the living God.” It is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” It was to the church that he said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature;” “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” It is by the church, through the preaching Jesus Christ, that the gospel is “made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” There is no obedience but the obedience of faith; there is no morality but the morality of faith. Therefore it is proved that to the church, and not to the State, is committed the conservation of morality in the world. This at once settles the question as to whether the State shall teach morality, or religion. The State cannot teach morality or religion. It has not the credentials for it. The Spirit of God and the gospel of Christ are both essential to the teaching of morality, and neither of these is committed to the State, but both to the church. CGRRLL 20.1

But though this work be committed to the church, even then there is not committed to the church the prerogative either to reward morality or to punish immorality. She beseeches, she entreats, she persuades men to be reconciled to God; she trains them in the principles and the practice of morality. It is hers by moral suasion or spiritual censures to preserve the purity and discipline of her membership. But hers it is not either to reward morality or to punish immorality. This pertains to God alone, because whether it he morality or immorality, it springs from the secret counsels of the heart; and as God alone knows the heart, he alone can measure either the merit or the guilt involved in any question of morals. CGRRLL 21.1

By this it is demonstrated that to no man, to no assembly or organization of men, does there belong any right whatever to punish immorality. Whoever attempts it, usurps the prerogative of God. The Inquisition is the inevitable logic of any claim of any assembly of inert to punish immorality, because to punish immorality, it is necessary in some way to get at the thoughts and intents of the heart. The papacy, asserting the right to compel men to be moral, and to punish them for immorality, had the cruel courage to carry the evil principle to its logical consequence. In carrying out the principle, it was found to be essential to get at the secrets of men’s hearts; and it was found that the diligent application of torture would wring from men, in many cases, a full confession of the most secret counsels of their hearts. Hence the Inquisition was established as the means best adapted to secure the desired end. So long as men grant the proposition that it is within the province of civil government to enforce morality, it is to very little purpose that they condemn the Inquisition; for that tribunal is only the logical result of the proposition. CGRRLL 21.2

By all these evidences is established the plain, commonsense principle that to civil government pertains only that which the term itself implies,—that which is civil. The purpose of civil government is civil, and not moral. Its function is to preserve order in society, and to cause all its subjects to rest in assured safety, by guarding them against all incivility. Morality belongs to God; civility, to the State. Morality must be rendered to God; civility, to the State “Render therefore unto Cesar the things which are Cesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” 1 CGRRLL 22.1

But it may be asked, Does not the civil power enforce the observance of the commandments of God, which say, Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, and thou shalt not bear false witness? Does not the civil power punish the violation of these commandments of God? Answer.—The civil power does not enforce these, nor does it punish the violation of them, as commandments of God. The State does forbid murder and theft and perjury, and some States forbid adultery, but not as commandments of God. From time immemorial, governments that knew nothing about God, have forbidden these things. If the civil power at- tempted to enforce these as the commandments of God, it would have to punish as a murderer the man who hates another; it would have to punish as a perjurer the man who raises a false report; it would have to punish as an adulterer the person who thinks impurely; it would have to punish as a thief the man who wishes to cheat his neighbor; because all these things are violations of the commandments of God. Therefore if the State is to enforce these things as the commandments of God, it will have to punish the thoughts and intents of the heart; but this is not within the province of any earthly power, and it is clear that any earthly power that should attempt it, would thereby simply put itself in the place of God, and usurp his prerogative. CGRRLL 22.2

More than this, such an effort would be an attempt to punish sin, because transgression of the law of Gaul is sin; but sins will be forgiven upon repentance, and God does not punish the sinner for the violation of his law, when his sins are forgiven. Now if the civil power undertakes to enforce the observance of the law of God, it cannot justly enforce that law upon the transgressor whom God has forgiven. For instance, suppose a man steals twenty dollars from his neighbor, and is arrested, prosecuted, and found guilty. But suppose that between the time that he is found guilty and the time when sentence is to be passed, the man repents, and is forgiven by the Lord. Now he is counted by the Lord as though he never had violated the law of God. The commandment of God does not stand against him for that transgression. And as it is the law of God that the civil law started out to enforce, the civil power also must forgive him, count him innocent, and let him go than this, the statute of God says, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day, and turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” If civil government is to enforce the Iaw of God, when a man steals, or commits perjury or any form of violence, and is arrested, if he says, “I repent,” he must be forgiven; if he does it again, is again arrested, and again says, “I repent,” he must be forgiven; and if he commits it seven times in a day, and seven times in a day says, “I repent,” he must be forgiven. It will be seen at once that any such system would be utterly destructive of civil government; and this only demonstrates conclusively that no civil government can ever of right have anything to do with the enforcement of the commandments of God as such, or with making the Bible its code of laws. CGRRLL 23.1

God’s government can be sustained by the forgiveness of the sinner to the uttermost, because by the sacrifice of Christ he has made provision “to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him; seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them;” but in civil government, if a man steals, or commits any other crime, and is apprehended and found guilty, it has nothing to do with the case if the Lord does forgive him; he must be punished. CGRRLL 24.1

The following remarks of Prof. W. T. Harris, Iate superintendent of public schools in the city of St. Louis, are worthy of careful consideration in this connection:— CGRRLL 24.2

“A crime, or breach of justice, is a deed of the individual, which the State, by its judicial acts, returns on the individual. The State furbishes a measure for crime, and punishes criminals according to their deserts. The judicial mind is a measuring mind, a retributive mind, because trained in the forms of justice which sees to it that every man’s deed shall be returned to him, to bless him or to curse him with pain. Now, a sin is a breach of the law of holiness, a lapse out of the likeness to the divine form, and as such it utterly refuses to be measured. It is infinite death to lapse out of the form of the divine. A sin cannot be atoned for by any finite punishment, but only (as revelation teaches) by a divine act of sacrifice.... It would destroy the State to attempt to treat crimes as sins, and to forgive them in case of repentance. It would impose on the judiciary the business of going behind the overt act to the disposition or frame of mind within the depth of personality. But so long as the deed is not uttered in the act, it does not belong to society, but only to the individual and to God. No human institution can go behind the overt act, and attempt to deal absolutely with the substance of man’s spiritual freedom.... Sin and crime must not be confounded, nor must the same deed be counted as crime and sin by the same authority. Look at it as crime, and it is capable of measured retribution. The law does not pursue the murderer beyond the gallows. He has expiated his crime with his life. But the slightest sin, even if it is no crime at all, as for example the anger of a man against his brother, an anger which does not utter itself in the form of violent deeds, but is pent up in the heart,—such non-criminal sin will banish the soul forever from heaven, unless it is made naught by sincere repentance.” CGRRLL 24.3

The points already presented in this chapter are perhaps sufficient in this place to illustrate the principle announced in the word of Christ; and although that principle is plain, and is readily accepted by the sober, common-sense thought of every man, yet through the selfish ambition of men the world has been long in learning and accepting the truth of the lesson. The United States is the first and only government in history that is based on the principle established by Christ. In Article VI, of the national Constitution, this nation says that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” By an amendment making more certain the adoption of the principle, it declares in the first amendment to the Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise there- of.” This first amendment was adopted in 1789, by the first Congress that ever met under the Constitution. In 1798 a treaty was made with Tripoli, in which it was declared (Article II.) that “the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” This treaty was framed by an ex-Congregationalist clergyman, and was signed by President Washington. It was not out of disrespect to religion or Christianity that these clauses were placed in the Constitution, and that this one was inserted in that treaty. On the contrary, it was entirely on account of their respect for religion, and the Christian religion in particular, as being beyond the province of civil government, pertaining solely to the conscience, and resting entirely between the individual and God. It was because of this that this nation was Constitutionally established according to the principle of Christ, demanding of men only that they render to Cesar that which is Cesar’s, and, leaving them entirely free to render to God that which is God’s, if they choose, as they choose, and when they choose; or, as expressed by Washington himself, in reply to an address upon the subject of religious legislation:— CGRRLL 25.1

“Every man who conducts himself as a good citizen, is accountable alone to God for his religious faith, and should be protected in worshiping God according to the dictates of his own conscience.” CGRRLL 26.1

We cannot more fitly close this chapter than with the following tribute of George Bancroft to this principle, as embodied in the words of Christ, and in the American Constitution:— CGRRLL 26.2

“In the earliest States known to history, government and religion were one and indivisible. Each State had its special deity, and often these protectors, one after another, might be overthrown in battle, never to rise again. The Peloponnesian War grew out of a strife about an oracle. Rome, as It sometimes adopted into citizenship those whom those whom it vanquished, introduced in like manner, and with good logic for that day, the worship of their gods. No one thought of vindicating religion for the conscience of the individual, till a voice in Judea, breaking day for the greatest epoch in the life of humanity, by establishing a pure, spiritual, and universal religion for all mankind, enjoined to render to Cesar only that which is Cesar’s. The rule was upheld during the infancy of the gospel for all men. No sooner was this religion adopted by the chief of the Roman empire, than it was shorn of its character of universality, and enthralled by an unholy connection with the unholy State; and so it continued till the new nation,—the least defiled with the barren scoffings of the eighteenth century, the most general believer in Christianity of any people of that age, the chief heir of the Reformation in purest forms,—when it came to establish a government for States, refused to treat faith as a matter to be regulated by a corporate body, or having a headship in a monarch or a State. CGRRLL 26.3

“Vindicating the right of individuality even in religion, and in religion above all, the new nation dared to set the example of accepting in its relations to God the principle first divinely ordained of God in Judea. It left the management of temporal things to the temporal power but the American Constitution, in harmony with the people of the several States, withheld from the Federal Government the power to invade the home of reason, the citadel of conscience, the sanctuary of the soul; and not from indifference, but that the infinite Spirit of eternal truth might move in its freedom and purity and power.“—History of the Formation of the Constitution, last chapter. CGRRLL 27.1

Thus the Constitution of the United States as it is, stands as the sole monument of all history representing the principle which Christ established for earthly government. And under it, in liberty, civil and religious, in enlightenment, and in progress, this nation has deservedly stood as the beacon-light of the world, for a hundred years. CGRRLL 27.2