Book: THE OBEDIENCE OF A CHRISTIAN MAN & How Christian Rulers Ought to Govern

Matthew 26, CHRIST saith unto Peter, “Put up thy sword into his sheath; for all that lay hand upon the sword shall perish with the sword:” that is, whosoever without the commandment of the temporal officer, to whom God hath given the sword, layeth hand on the sword to take vengeance, the same deserveth death in the deed-doing. God did not put Peter only under the temporal sword, but also Christ himself; as it appeareth in the fourth chapter to the Galatians. And Christ saith, Matthew 3 “Thus becometh it us to fulfill all righteousness,” that is to say, all ordinances of God. If the head be then under the temporal sword, how can the members be excepted? If Peter sinned in defending Christ against the temporal sword, (whose authority and ministers the bishops then abused against Christ, as ours do now,) who can excuse our prelates of sin, which will obey no man, neither king nor emperor? Yea, who can excuse from sin either the kings that give, either the bishops that receive such exemptions, contrary to God’s ordinances and Christ’s doctrine?

And, Matthew 27th, both Christ and also Peter pay tribute; where the meaning of Christ’s question unto Peter is, if princes take tribute of strangers only and not of their children, then verily ought I to be free, which am the Son of God, whose servants and ministers they are, and of whom they have their authority. Yet because they neither knew that, neither Christ came to use that authority, but to be our servant, and to bear our burden, and to obey all ordinances, both in right and wrong, for our sakes, and to teach us; therefore said he to St Peter, “Pay for thee and me, lest we offend them.” Moreover, though that Christ and Peter, because they were poor, might have escaped, yet would he not, for fear of offending other and hurting their consciences. For he might well have given occasion unto the tributegatherers to have judged amiss both of him and his doctrine; yea, and the Jews might happily have been offended thereby, and have thought that it had not been lawful for them to have paid tribute unto heathen princes and idolaters, seeing that he, so great a prophet, paid not. Yea, and what other thing causeth the lay so little to regard their princes, as that they see them both despised and disobeyed of the spiritualty? But our prelates, which care for none offending of consciences, and less for God’s ordinances, will pay nought. But when princes must fight in our most holy father’s quarrel, and against Christ, then are they the first. There also is none so poor, that then hath not somewhat to give.

Mark here, how past all shame our school-doctors are, (as Rochester is in his sermon against Martin Luther, ) which of this text of Matthew dispute that Peter, because he paid tribute, is greater than the other apostles, and hath more authority and power than they, and was head unto them all: contrary unto so many clear texts, where Christ rebuketh them, saying, That is a heathenish thing that one should climb above another, or desire to be greater. To be great in the kingdom of heaven is to be a servant; and he that most humbleth himself, and becometh a servant to other, (after the ensample of Christ, I mean, and his apostles, and not of the pope and his apostles, our cardinals and bishops,) the same is greatest in that kingdom. If Peter in paying tribute became greatest, how cometh it that they will pay none at all? But to pay tribute is a sign of subjection verily; and the cause, why Christ paid, was because he had a household, and for the same cause paid Peter also: for he had a house, a ship and nets, as thou readest in the gospel.

But let us go to Paul again. “Wherefore ye must needs obey, not for fear of vengeance only, but also because of conscience.” That is, though thou be so naughty, as now many years our pope and prelates every where are, that thou needest not to obey the temporal sword for fear of vengeance; yet must thou obey because of conscience. First, because of thine own conscience. For though thou be able to resist, yet shalt thou never have a good conscience, as long as God’s word, law, and ordinance are against thee. Secondarily, for thy neighbor’s conscience. For though through craft and violence thou mightest escape, and obtain liberty or privilege to be free from all manner duties; yet oughtest thou neither to sue or to seek for any such thing, neither yet admit or accept, if it were proffered, lest thy freedom make thy weak brother to grudge and rebel, in that he seeth thee go empty, and he himself more laden, thy part also laid on his shoulders. 

rest grudge; and how love, peace, and unity is broken? What christianly love is in thee to thy neighbor-ward, when thou canst find in thy heart to go up and down empty by him all day long, and see him over-charged, yea, to fall under his burden, and yet will not once set to thine hand to help him? What good conscience can there be among our spiritualty, to gather so great treasure together, and with hypocrisy of their false learning to rob almost every man of house and lands; and yet not therewith content, but with all craft and wiliness to purchase so great liberties, and exemptions from all manner bearing with their brethren, seeking in Christ nothing but lucre? I pass over with silence how they teach princes in every land to lade new exactions and tyranny on their subjects, more and more daily; neither for what purpose they do it, say I. God, I trust, shall shortly disclose their juggling, and bring their falsehood to light; and lay a medicine to them, to make their scabs break out. Nevertheless this I say, that they have robbed all realms, not of God’s word only, but also of all wealth and prosperity; and have driven peace out of all lands, and withdrawn themselves from all obedience to princes, and have separated themselves from the lay-men, counting them viler than dogs; and have set up that great idol, the whore of Babylon, antichrist of Rome, whom they call pope; and have conspired against all common -wealths, and have made them a several kingdom, wherein it is lawful, unpunished, to work all abomination. In every parish have they spies, and in every great man’s house, and in every tavern and alehouse. And through confessions know they all secrets, so that no man may open his mouth to rebuke whatsoever they do, but that he shall be shortly made a heretic. In all councils is one of them; yea, the most part and chief rulers of the councils are of them: but of their council is no man. “Even for this cause pay ye tribute,” that is to wit, for conscience’ sake to thy neighbor, and for the cause that followeth: “For they are God’s ministers, serving for the same purpose.” Because God will so have it, we must obey. We do not look (if we have Christ’s Spirit in us) what is good, profitable, glorious and honorable for us; neither on our own will, but on God’s will only. “Give to every man therefore his duty; tribute to whom tribute belongeth; custom to whom custom is due; fear to whom fear belongeth; honour to whom honour pertaineth.”

That thou mightest feel the working of the Spirit of God in thee, and lest the beauty of the deed should deceive thee, and make thee think that the law of God, which is spiritual, were content and fulfilled with the outward and bodily deed, it followeth: “Owe nothing to any man, but to love one another: for he that loveth another fulfilleth the law. For these commandments, Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not desire, and so forth, if there be any other commandment, are all comprehended or contained in this saying, Love thy neighbour: therefore is love the fulfilling of the law.” Here hast thou sufficient against all the sophisters, work-holy, and justifiers, in the world; which so magnify their deeds. The law is spiritual, and requireth the heart; and is never fulfilled with the deed, in the sight of God. With the deed thou fulfillest the law before the world, and livest thereby; that is, thou enjoyest this present life, and avoidest the wrath and vengeance, the death and punishment, which the law threateneth to them that break it. But before God thou keepest the law if thou love only.

Now what shall make us love? Verily, that shall faith do. If thou behold how much God loveth thee in Christ, and from what vengeance he hath delivered thee for his sake, and of what kingdom he hath made thee heir; then shalt thou see cause enough to love thy very enemy without respect of reward, either in this life or in the life to come, but because that God will so have it, and Christ hath deserved it: yet thou shouldest feel in thine heart that all thy deeds to come are abundantly recompensed already in Christ.

Thou wilt say haply, If love fulfill the law, then it justifieth. I say that that wherewith a man fulfilleth the law declareth him justified; but that which giveth him wherewith to fulfill the law, justifieth him. By justifying, understand the forgiveness of sins and the favor of God. Now saith the text, Romans 10 “The end of the law,” or the cause wherefore the law was made, “is Christ, to justify all that believe:” that is, the law is given to utter sin, to kill the consciences, to damn our deeds, to bring to repentance, and to drive unto Christ; in whom God hath promised his favor, and forgiveness of sin, unto all that repent and consent to the law that it is good. If thou believe the promises, then doth God’s truth justify thee, that is, forgiveth thee, and receiveth thee to favor, for Christ’s sake. In a surety whereof, and to certify thine heart, he sealeth thee with the Spirit. Ephesians 1 and Ephesians 4. And ( 2 Corinthians 5) saith Paul, “Which gave us his Spirit in earnest.” Now the Spirit is given us through Christ. Read the 8th chapter of the epistle to the Romans, and Galatians 3 and 2 Corinthians 3. Nevertheless the Spirit, and his fruits, wherewith the heart is purified, as faith, hope, love, patience, longsuffering, and obedience, could never be seen without outward experience.

For if thou were not brought sometime into cumbrance, whence God only could deliver thee, thou shouldest never see thy faith; yea, except thou foughtest sometime against desperation, hell, death, sin, and powers of this world, for thy faith’s sake, thou shouldest never know true faith from a dream. Except thy brother now and then offended thee, thou couldest not know whether thy love were godly. For a Turk is not angry, till he be hurt and offended. But if thou love him that doth thee evil, then is thy love of God. Likewise if thy rulers were alway kind, thou shouldest not know whether thine obedience were pure or no; but and if thou canst patiently obey evil rulers in all thing that is not to the dishonor of God, and when thou hurtest not thy neighbors, then art thou sure that God’s Spirit worketh in thee, and that thy faith is no dream, nor any false imagination.

Therefore counselleth Paul, “Recompense to no man evil. And on your part have peace with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but give room unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance is mine, and I will reward, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thy enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head,” that is, thou shalt kindle love in him. “Be not overcome of evil;” ( Romans 12) that is, let not another man’s wickedness make thee wicked also. “But overcome evil with good;” that is, with softness, kindness, and all patience win him; even as God with kindness won thee.

The law was given in thunder, lightning, fire, smoke, and the noise of a trumpet and terrible sight; so that the people quaked for fear, and stood afar off, saying to Moses, “Speak thou to us, and we will hear: let not the Lord speak unto us, lest we die.” No ear, if it be awaked and understandeth the meaning, is able to abide the voice of the law, except the promises of mercy be by. That thunder, except the rain of mercy be joined with it, destroyeth all, and buildeth not. The law is a witness against us, and testifieth that God abhorreth the sins that are in us, and us for our sins’ sake.

In like manner, when God gave the people of Israel a king, it thundered and rained, that the people feared so sore, that they cried to Samuel for to pray for them that they should not die. As the law is a terrible thing, even so is the king: for he is ordained to take vengeance, and hath a sword in his hand, and not peacocks’ feathers. Fear him, therefore, and look on him as thou wouldest look on a sharp sword that hanged over thy head by a hair.

Heads and governors are ordained of God, and are even the gift of God, whether they be good or bad. And whatsoever is done to us by them, that doth God, be it good or bad. If they be evil, why are they evil? Verily, for our wickedness’ sake are they evil; because that when they were good, we would not receive that goodness of the hand of God, and be thankful, submitting ourselves unto his laws and ordinances; but abused the goodness of God unto our sensual and beastly lusts [desires]. Therefore doth God make his scourge of them, and turn them to wild beasts, contrary to the nature of their names and offices, even into lions, bears, foxes, and unclean swine, to avenge himself of our unnatural and blind unkindness, and of our rebellious disobedience.

In the 107th Psalm thou readest, “He destroyed the rivers, and dried up the springs of water, and turned the fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of the inhabiters therein.” When the children of Israel had forgotten God in Egypt, God moved the hearts of the Egyptians to hate them, and to subdue them with craft and wiliness. Psalm 104. And Deuteronomy 3 Moses rehearseth, saying, “God was angry with me for your sakes.” So that the wrath of God fell on Moses for the wickedness of the people. And in the second chapter of the second book of Kings, God was angry with the people, and moved David to number them; when Joab and the other lords wondered why he would have them numbered; and, because they feared lest some evil should follow, dissuaded the king; yet it holp not. God so hardened his heart in his purpose, to have an occasion to slay the wicked people. Evil rulers then are a sign that God is angry and wroth with us. Is it not a great wrath and vengeance, that the father and mother should hate their children, even their flesh and their blood? or that an husband should be unkind unto his wife, or a master unto the servant that waiteth on his profit? or that lords and kings should be tyrants unto their subjects and tenants, which pay them tribute, toll, custom, and rent, laboring and toiling to find them in honor, and to maintain them in their estate? Is not this a fearful judgment of God, and a cruel wrath, that the very prelates and shepherds of our souls, which were wont to feed Christ’s flock with Christ’s doctrine, and to walk before them in living thereafter, and to give their lives for them, to their ensample and edifying, and to strengthen their weak faiths, are now so sore changed, that if they smell that one of their flock (as they now call them, and no longer Christ’s) do but once long or desire for the true knowledge of Christ, they will slay him, burning him with fire most cruelly? What is the cause of this; and that they also teach false doctrine, confirming it with lies? Verily, it is the hand of God, to avenge the wickedness of them that have no love nor [desire] unto the truth of God, when it is preached, but rejoice in unrighteousness. As thou mayest see in the second epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, where he speaketh of the coming of antichrist: “Whose coming shall be,” saith he, “by the working of Satan, with all miracles, signs and wonders, which are but lies, and in all deceivable unrighteousness among them that perish, because they received not any love to the truth to have been saved. Therefore shall God send them strong delusion, to believe lies.” Mark how God, to avenge his truth, sendeth to the unthankful false doctrine and false miracles, to confirm them, and to harden their hearts in the false way, that afterward it shall not be possible for them to admit the truth: as thou seest in Exodus 7 and Exodus 8, how God suffered false miracles to be showed in the sight of Pharaoh, to harden his heart, that he should not believe the truth; inasmuch as his sorcerers turned their rods into serpents, and turned water into blood, and made frogs by their enchantment: so thought he that Moses did all his miracles by the same craft, and not by the power of God, and abode therefore in unbelief, and perished in resisting God.

Let us receive all things of God, whether it be good or bad: let us humble ourselves under his mighty hand, and submit ourselves unto his nurture and chastising, and not withdraw ourselves from his correction. Read Hebrews 12 for thy comfort; and let us not take the staff by the end, or seek to avenge ourselves on his rod, which is the evil rulers. The child, as long as he seeketh to avenge himself upon the rod, hath an evil heart; for he thinketh not that the correction is right, or that he hath deserved it, neither repenteth, but rejoiceth in his wickedness: and so long shall he never be without a rod: yea, so long shall the rod be made sharper and sharper. If he [ac]knowledge his fault and take the correction meekly, and even kiss the rod, and amend himself with the learning and nurture of his father and mother, then is the rod taken away and burnt.

So, if we resist evil rulers, seeking to set ourselves at liberty, we shall, no doubt, bring ourselves into more evil bondage, and wrap ourselves in much more misery and wretchedness. For if the heads overcome, then lay they more weight on their backs, and make their yoke sorer, and tie them shorter. If they overcome their evil rulers, then make they way for a more cruel nation, or for some tyrant of their own nation, which hath no right unto the crown. If we submit ourselves unto the chastising of God, and meekly knowledge our sins for which we are scourged, and kiss the rod, and amend our living; then will God take the rod away, that is, he will give the rulers a better heart. Or if they continue their malice and persecute you for well-doing, and because ye put your trust in God, then will God deliver you out of their tyranny for his truth’s sake. It is the same God now that was in the old time, and delivered the fathers and the prophets, the apostles, and other holy saints. And whatsoever he sware to them he hath sworn to us. And as he delivered them out of all temptation, cumbrance, and adversity, because they consented and submitted themselves unto his will, and trusted in his goodness and truth; even so will he do to us, if we do likewise.

Whensoever the children of Israel fell from the way which God commanded them to walk in, he gave them up under one tyrant or another.

As soon as they came to the knowledge of themselves, and repented, crying for mercy, and leaning unto the truth of his promises, he sent one to deliver them, as the histories of the bible make mention.

A christian man, in respect of God, is but a passive thing; a thing that suffereth only, and doth nought; as the sick, in respect of the surgeon or physician, doth but suffer only. The surgeon lanceth and cutteth out the dead flesh, searcheth the wounds, thrusteth in tents, seareth, burneth, seweth or stitcheth, and layeth to caustics, to draw out the corruption; and, last of all, layeth to healing plaisters, and maketh it whole. The physician likewise giveth purgations and drinks to drive out the disease, and then with restoratives bringeth health. Now if the sick resist the razor, the searching iron, and so forth, doth he not resist his own health, and is cause of his own death? So likewise is it of us, if we resist evil rulers, which are the rod and scourge wherewith God chastiseth us; the instruments wherewith God searcheth our wounds; and bitter drinks to drive out the sin and to make it appear, and caustics to draw out by the roots the core of the pocks of the soul that fretteth inward. A christian man, therefore, receiveth all things of the hand of God, both good and bad, both sweet and sour, both wealth and woe. If any person do me good, whether it be father, mother, and so forth, that receive I of God, and to God give thanks: for he gave wherewith, and gave a commandment, and moved his heart so to do.

Adversity also receive I of the hand of God, as a wholesome medicine, though it be somewhat bitter. Temptation and adversity do both kill sin, and also utter it. For though a christian man knoweth every thing how to live, yet is the flesh so weak, that he can never take up his cross himself, to kill and mortify the flesh: he must have another to lay it on his back. In many also sin lieth hid within, and festereth and rotteth inward, and is not seen; so that they think how they are good and perfect, and keep the law: as the young man, Matthew 19 said, he had observed all of a child; and yet lied falsely in his heart, as the text following well declareth. When all is at peace, and no man troubleth us, we think that we are patient and love our neighbors as ourselves; but let our neighbor hurt us in word or deed, and then find we it otherwise. Then fume we, and rage, and set up the bristles, and bend ourselves to take vengeance. If we loved with godly love, for Christ’s kindness’ sake, we should desire no vengeance; but pity him, and desire God to forgive and amend him, knowing well that no flesh can do otherwise than sin, except that God preserve him. Thou wilt say, What good doth such persecution and tyranny unto the righteous? First, it maketh them feel the working of God’s Spirit in them, and that their faith is unfeigned. Secondarily, I say that no man is so great a sinner, if he repent and believe, but that he is righteous in Christ and in the promises: yet if thou look on the flesh, and unto the law, there is no man so perfect that is not found a sinner; nor any man so pure that hath not somewhat to be yet purged. This shall suffice at this time as concerning obedience.

Because that God excludeth no degree from his mercy; but whosoever repenteth, and believeth his promises, (of whatsoever degree he be of,) the same shall be partaker of his grace; therefore, as I have described the obedience of them that are under power and rule, even so will I, with God’s help, (as my duty is,) declare how the rulers, which God shall vouchsafe to call unto the knowledge of the truth, ought to rule.