Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Calvin on Politics

Calvin's Institutes (1559)
Book 4 of 4 - External Means by which God Invites Us into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein

Chapter 20 - Civil Government
8-13 - Forms and duties of gov't; war and taxation
8. It's hard to say what form of government is superior - monarchy, oligarchy, democracy - since they are all easily corrupted to tyranny or anarchy. But "aristocracy... far excels all others," since a king cannot control himself as easily without others checking his will. God ordained in Israel "an aristocracy bordering on democracy" in Ex 18:13-26; Deut 1:9-17. In the best government "freedom is regulated with becoming moderation," and the rulers are careful to not diminish those freedoms. But it is generally more harmful "to desire a change of government," when "it is our duty to show ourselves compliant and obedient to whomever he sets over the places where we live."

9. "The office of the magistrates... extends to both Tables of the Law" - 1st 4 commandments as well as the last 6. If laws "neglect God's right and provide only for men" they are "preposterous." Faithful kings restored the worship of God, but "because there was not king in Israel, each man did as he pleased" in anarchy - see Judges 21:25. Magistrates should do justice - Jer 22:3; Ps 82:3-4; Deut 1:16-17; 17:16-19; 16:19; Ps 101:4-7. They should "provide for the common safety and peace of all." They are given the power of reward and punishment by the sword to ensure this - Rom 13:3.

10. But if God forbids Christians to kill, how can pious believers order the death of men as judges? Because they act as God's agents, not on their own authority. "Nothing is done here from men's rashness." If magistrates want God's approval, they need to follow His law in carrying out theirs. See Rom 13:4; 2 Tim 2:15; Ex 2:12; Acts 7:24; Ex 32:27-28; 1 Kings 2:5-6, 8-9; Ps 101:8; 45:7; 44:8. These bloody deeds were required and they would have been unfaithful to leave them undone. Prov 16:12; 20:8; 20:26; 25:4-5; 17:15, 11; 24:24. We can't "favor undue cruelty" or require that clemency dilute justice in every case, though clemency is "the chief gift of princes." A Roman writer said, "It is indeed bad to live under a prince with whom nothing is permitted; but much worse under one by whom everything is allowed."

11. "Kings and people must sometimes take up arms to execute such public vengeance." A country must be protected from invaders, robbers, etc.

12. Some object that the NT gives no warrant for war. But John didn't tell the soldiers to quit the army, just to not exploit that position - Luke 3:14. "Everything else ought to be tried before recourse is had to arms." The right to wage war also applies to stationing troops and weapons, and making treaties.

13. "Tributes and taxes are the lawful revenues of princes." Using them "for the magnificence of their household" is allowed, to show forth the authority and dignity of their office. Scripture supports this in David and Solomon's palace, Ezek 48:21; Joseph and Daniel were "lavish at public expense" without fault. But the treasuries are not the private property of the magistrate. He must use them well, without waste. It is "tyrannical extortion" to impose taxes "upon the common folk without cause." Citizens must be careful not to "rashly and shamelessly decry any expenses of princes..."

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