“The Powers That Be”
In the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of Romans is one of the strongest of the many strong treatises that there are in the Bible upon the total separation of religion and the State—the separation between that which is due to God and that which is due to Caesar.
First is a recognition of the right of the State to be, and to require subjection and tribute: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.” “The powers that be are ordained of God.” “For this cause pay ye tribute also.” “Render therefore to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”
Next is marked the sphere of men’s relation to the State. “Owe no man anything, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be “any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Now everybody knows, and Paul knew as well as anybody ever knew, that there are other commandments—other commandments of the very law from which he quoted these. There is the commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image; . . . thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work; . . .for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh, day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.”
With these commandments standing as a part, and indeed the first part of the very law which he was citing, why did he leave these entirely out and say, “If there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”? Why?—For the simple reason that he was writing of men’s relationship and responsibility to the powers that be, to the State; and he was laying down the principle that when men have recognized the right of the State to be, have paid the required tribute, and have fulfilled all obligations to their neighbors, there is nothing more for them to render to the State; there is no other commandment in that sphere, and therefore no other duty to be performed toward the powers that be.
This is made certain by the next verse, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law:” which shows conclusively that it is only the relation of man with man—of man to his neighbor—that he is considering in the passage under consideration. The passage is simply an enlargement, an exposition, indeed, of the principle announced by Jesus, “Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When men have recognized the authority of the State, have paid their tribute, and work no ill to their fellowmen, the only relationship or obligation after that is to God. The only commandments outside of that sphere are those which mark men’s duty towards God.
Thus the Scripture distinctly sets the limit of the jurisdiction or the requirements of the State, at recognition of right to be, tribute, and the relationship of man to man in working no ill to his neighbor. Beyond this the State has no right to go. Outside of this there is nothing for any man to render to the powers that be.
But the Word of the Lord does not stop here; it positively prohibits the powers that be from touching the relationship or obligation of men to God. “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” Romans 14:12. And that the emphasis is upon the word “himself” and not upon the word “account,” is certain from the context in the whole chapter. It is not that “every one of us shall give account of himself to God,” nor is it “every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” That is all true enough; but that is not the thought expressed in the text. The one thought particularly expressed is that “every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” And thus, by the Word of God, all powers that be, all men, and all combinations of men, are positively prohibited from touching, in any way, any man’s relationship to God. That rests with man alone; and for his responsibility there, he is to give account himself to God.
Duty to God, Not Men.
Again: “One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.” Romans 14:5, 6. The matter of the observance of a day, the duty to esteem one day above another, is not comprehended in that part of the law, nor comprised in the duties designated as marking the sphere of the powers that be. It is in that part of the law which, by the words “if there be any other commandment,” is definitely excluded from all cognizance of the powers that be.
The observance of a day, the duty to esteem one day above another, is due solely to God. For “he that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord,” not to men. It is comprehended in that part of the law which details man’s relationship to God alone, and to God alone every one is to give account himself. Therefore, the powers that be, all men, and all combinations of men, are definitely commanded by the Lord to let every man alone in the matter of the observance of a day; on that subject to “let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind;” and that because that is a thing due solely to God, and “every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
How different are the ways of professed Christians today from the Christianity of the New Testament! The vast mass of professed Christians today, in hunting for another commandment in the sphere of the powers that be, would inevitably write it thus: If there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt do no work on the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday. But the Christianity of the New Testament, in defining the sphere of the powers that be, says, “If there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;” and then, as to the observance of a day, commands the powers that be, and all men, and all combinations of men: “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord.” And “every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” “Who art thou that judgeth another man’s servant.” The day to be esteemed above others is the Sabbath of the Lord.
“Render . . . to God the things that are God’s.” And any man who does not esteem that day above others, who does not regard it unto the Lord, but esteems every day alike, is responsible to God alone and must render account of it himself to God, and not to man. While the thing that he does is wrong, it is a kind of wrong for which he is responsible to God and not to the powers that be.
All this also conclusively shows that any movement on the part of the powers that be, or of men or combinations of men through the powers that be, to require the observance of a day or to cause men to esteem one day above another, is a plain joining together of what is God’s and what is Cæsar’s, is a positive union of religion and the State. It is written, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” And by the same token it can be authoritatively written, What God hath put asunder, let no man, nor any combination of men, join together.
Not of Faith is Sin.
Again: This treatise in Romans 13 and 14, on the separation of religion and the State, the separation of what is due to God from what is due to the powers that be, closes with the mighty sentence, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
Whatsoever is of the Word of God is of faith; for faith comes by the Word of God; and “without faith it is impossible to please Him.”
Religion is due solely to God; it is “the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it.”
Therefore, for the powers that be, or any men by the powers that be, to require anything that is due to God, is only to subvert faith and require men to sin.
For the powers that be, or any men through the powers that be, to require of any man anything that is due to God, is, in the very act, to unite religion and the State. And as thus to require of men anything that is due to God, is to subvert faith and to require men to sin, it is certain that any connection whatever between religion and the State is sin. And, therefore, the greatest example of it that has ever been in the world is aptly and justly designated “the man of sin.”
And since, to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself”—the keeping of the first two of all the commandments—is complete separation from sin, our subject ends just where it began—with the truth that the first two of all the commandments, and the keeping of them, are the basis and the surety of the universal and eternal truth of the separation of religion and the State.
Alonzo T. Jones