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

“LET every soul submit himself unto the authority of the higher powers

There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.

They that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not to be feared for good works, but for evil. Wilt thou be without fear of the power? Do well then, and so shalt thou be praised of the same; for he is the minister of God for thy wealth. But and if thou do evil, then fear: for he beareth not a sword for nought; for he is the minister of God, to take vengeance on them that do evil. Wherefore ye must needs obey; not for fear of vengeance only, but also because of conscience. Even for this cause pay ye tribute: for they are God’s ministers serving for the same purpose.

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. 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 in this saying, Love thine neighbour as thyself. Love hurteth not his neighbour: therefore is love the fulfilling of the law.”

As a father over his children is both lord and judge, forbidding one brother to avenge himself on another, but, if any cause of strife be between them, will have it brought unto himself or his assigns, to be judged and correct; so God forbiddeth all men to avenge themselves, and taketh the authority and office of avenging unto himself; saying, “Vengeance is mine, and I will reward.” Deuteronomy 32. Which text Paul allegeth, Romans 12; for it is impossible that a man should be a righteous, an egal or an indifferent judge in his own cause, lusts [desires] and appetites so blind us.

Moreover, when thou avengest thyself, thou makest not peace, but stirrest up more debate.

God therefore hath given laws unto all nations, and in all lands hath put kings, governors, and rulers in his own stead, to rule the world through them; and hath commanded all causes to be brought before them, as thou readest Exodus 22 “In all causes (saith he) of injury or wrong, whether it be ox, ass, sheep, or vesture, or any lost thing which another challengeth, let the cause of both parties be brought unto the [judges of] God; whom the [judges of] God condemn, the same shall pay double unto his neighbour.” Mark, the judges are [judges of] God in the scriptures, because they are in God’s room, and execute the commandments of God. And in another place of the said chapter Moses chargeth, saying: “See that thou rail not on the [judges of] God, neither speak evil of the ruler of thy people.” Whosoever therefore resisteth them, resisteth God, for they are in the room of God; and they that resist shall receive the damnation.

Such obedience unto father and mother, master, husband, emperor, king, lords and rulers, requireth God of all nations, yea, of the very Turks and infidels. The blessing and reward of them that keep them is the life of this world, as thou readest, “Keep my ordinances and laws; which if a man keep, he shall live therein.” ( Leviticus 18) Which text Paul rehearseth Romans 10, proving thereby that the righteousness of the law is but worldly, and the reward thereof is the life of this world: and the curse of them that breaketh them is the loss of this life; as thou seest by the punishment appointed for them.

And whosoever keepeth the law (whether it be for fear, for vain glory, or profit), though no man reward him, yet shall God bless him abundantly, and send him worldly prosperity; as thou readest, Deuteronomy 28, what good blessings accompany the keeping of the law; and as we see the Turks far exceed us Christian men in worldly prosperity, for their just keeping of their temporal laws. Likewise, though no man punish the breakers of the law, yet shall God send his curses upon them till they be utterly brought to nought, as thou readest most terribly even in the same place.Neither may the inferior person avenge himself upon the superior, or violently resist him, for whatsoever wrong it be. If he do, he is condemned in the deed-doing; inasmuch as he taketh upon him that which belongeth to God only, which saith, “Vengeance is mine, and I will reward.” Deuteronomy 32. And Christ saith, Matthew 26 “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Takest thou a sword to avenge thyself? So givest thou not room unto God to avenge thee, but robbest him of his most high honor, in that thou wilt not let him be judge over thee.

If any man might have avenged himself upon his superior, that might David most righteously have done upon king Saul, which so wrongfully persecuted David, even for no other cause, than that God had anointed him king, and promised him the kingdom. Yet when God had delivered Saul into the hands of David, that he might have done what he would with him; as thou seest in the first book of Kings, the 24th chapter, how Saul came into the camp where David was; and David came to him secretly, and cut off a piece of his garment; and as soon as he had done it, his heart smote him, because he had done so much unto his lord: and when his men encouraged him to slay him, he answered, “The Lord forbid it me that I should lay mine hand on him;” neither [allowed] he his men to hurt him.

When Saul was gone out, David followed him, and shewed him the piece of his garment, and said, “Why believest thou the words of men that say, David goeth about to do thee harm? Perceive and see that there is neither evil nor wickedness in my hand, and that I have not trespassed against thee, and yet thou layest await for my life: God judge between thee and me, and avenge me of thee; but mine hand be not upon thee. As the old proverb saith (saith David), Out of the wicked shall wickedness proceed, but mine hand be not upon thee,” meaning that God ever punisheth one wicked by another. And again said David, “God be judge, and judge between thee and me, and behold and plead my cause, and give me judgment or right of thee.”

And in the 26th chapter of the same book, when Saul persecuted David again, David came to Saul by night, as he slept and all his men, and took away his spear and a cup of water from his head. Then said Abishai, David’s servant, “God hath delivered thee thine enemy into thine hand this day: let me now therefore nail him to the ground with my spear, and give him but even one stripe and no more.” David forbad him, saying, “Kill him not; for who (said he) shall lay hands on the Lord’s anointed, and be not guilty? The Lord liveth,” or by the Lord’s life (said he), “he dieth not, except the Lord smite him, or that his day be come to die, or else go to battle, and there perish.”

Why did not David slay Saul, seeing he was so wicked, not in persecuting David only, but in disobeying God’s commandments, and in that he had slain eighty-five of God’s priests wrongfully? Verily, for it was not lawful.

For if he had done it, he must have sinned against God; for God hath made the king in every realm judge over all, and over him is there no judge. He that judgeth the king judgeth God; and he that layeth hands on the king layeth hand on God; and he that resisteth the king resisteth God, and damneth God’s law and ordinance. If the subjects sin, they must be brought to the king’s judgment. If the king sin, he must be reserved unto the judgment, wrath, and vengeance of God. And as it is to resist the king, so is it to resist his officer, which is set, or sent, to execute the king’s commandment.

And in the first chapter of the second book of Kings, David commanded the young man to be slain, which brought unto him the crown and bracelet of Saul, and said, to please David withal, that he himself had slain Saul.

And in the fourth chapter of the same book, David commanded those two to be slain which brought unto him the head of Ishbosheth, Saul’s son; by whose means yet the whole kingdom returned unto David, according unto the promise of God.

And, Luke 13th, when they shewed Christ of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate mingled with their own sacrifice, he answered, “Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all other Galileans, because they suffered such punishment? I tell you, nay; but except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish.” This was told Christ, no doubt, of such an intent as they asked him, “Whether it were lawful to give tribute unto Caesar?” ( Matthew 22) For they thought that it was no sin to resist a heathen prince: as few of us would think, if we were under the Turk, that it were sin to rise against him, and to rid ourselves from under his dominion, so sore have our bishops robbed us of the true doctrine of Christ. But Christ condemned their deeds, and also the secret thoughts of all other, that consented thereunto, saying: “Except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish.” As who should say, I know that ye are within, in your hearts, such as they were outward in their deeds, and are under the same damnation: except, therefore, ye repent betimes, ye shall break out at the last into like deeds, and likewise perish; as it came afterward to pass.

Hereby seest thou that the king is, in this world, without law; and may at his [desire] do right or wrong, and shall give accounts but to God only.

Another conclusion is this, that no person, neither any degree, may be exempt from this ordinance of God: neither can the profession of monks and friars, or any thing that the pope or bishops can lay for themselves, except them from the sword of the emperor or kings, if they break the laws. For it is written, “Let every soul submit himself unto the authority of the higher powers.” Here is no man except; but all souls must obey. The higher powers are the temporal kings and princes; unto whom God hath given the sword, to punish whosoever sinneth. God hath not given them swords to punish one, and to let another go free, and sin unpunished.

Moreover, with what face durst the spiritualty, which ought to be the light and an ensample of good living unto all other, desire to sin unpunished, or to be excepted from tribute, toll, or custom, that they would not bear pain with their brethren to the maintenance of kings and others, ordained of God to punish sin? “There is no power but of God.” By power understand the authority of kings and princes. “The powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth power, resisteth God:” yea, though he be pope, bishop, monk, or friar. “They that resist shall receive unto themselves damnation.” Why? For God’s word is against them, which will have all men under the power of the temporal sword: for “rulers are not to be feared for good works, but for evil.” Hereby seest thou that they that resist the powers, or seek to be exempt from their authority, have evil consciences; and seek liberty to sin unpunished, and to be free from bearing pain with their brethren. “Wilt thou be without fear of the power? So do well, and thou shalt have laud of the same,” that is to say, of the ruler. With good living ought the spiritualty to rid themselves from fear of the temporal sword; and not with craft, and with blinding the kings, and bringing the vengeance of God upon them, and in purchasing license to sin unpunished. “For he is the minister of God for thy wealth:” to defend thee from a thousand inconveniences, from thieves, murderers, and them that would defile thy wife, thy daughter, and take from thee all that thou hast, yea, life and all, if thou didst resist. Furthermore, though he be the greatest tyrant in the world, yet is he unto thee a great benefit of God, and a thing wherefore thou oughtest to thank God highly. For it is better to have somewhat, than to be clean stript out of all together. It is better to pay the tenth than to lose all. It is better to suffer one tyrant than many, and to suffer wrong of one than of every man. Yea, and it is better to have a tyrant unto thy king than a shadow; a passive king that doth nought himself, but suffereth others to do with him what they will, and to lead him whither they list [desire]. For a tyrant, though he do wrong unto the good, yet he punisheth the evil, and maketh all men obey, neither suffereth any man to poll but himself only. A king that is soft as silk, and effeminate, that is to say, turned into the nature of a woman, — what with his own lusts, [desires] which are as the longing of a woman with child, so that he cannot resist them, and what with the wily tyranny of them that ever rule him, — shall be much more grievous unto the realm than a right tyrant. Read the chronicles, and thou shalt find it ever so. “But and if thou do evil, then fear; for he beareth not a sword for nought: for he is the minister of God, to take vengeance on them that do evil.” If the office of princes, given them of God, be to take vengeance of evil doers; then, by this text and God’s word, are all princes damned, even as many as give liberty or license unto the spiritualty to sin unpunished; and not only to sin unpunished themselves, but also to open sanctuaries, privileged places, churchyards, St. John’s hold; yea, and if they come too short unto all these, yet to set forth a neck-verse to save all manner trespassers from the fear of the sword of the vengeance of God, put in the hands of princes to take vengeance on all such. GOD requireth the law to be kept of all men, let them keep it for whatsoever purpose they will. Will they not keep the law? So vouchsafeth he not that they enjoy this temporal life. Now are there three natures of men: one altogether beastly; which in no wise receive the law in their hearts, but rise against princes and rulers, whensoever they are able to make their party good. These are signified by them that worshipped the golden calf: for Moses brake the tables of the law, ere he came at them.

The second are not so beastly, but receive the law; and unto them the law cometh; but they look not Moses in the face: for his countenance is too bright for them; that is, they understand not that the law is spiritual, and requireth the heart. They look on the pleasure, profit, and promotion that followeth the keeping of the law, and in respect of the reward keep they the law outwardly with works, but not in the heart. For if they might obtain like honor, glory, promotion and dignity, and also avoid all inconveniences, if they broke the law, so would they also break the law, and follow their lusts [desires].

The third are spiritual, and look Moses in the open face; and are, as Paul saith, the second to the Romans, “a law unto themselves;” and have the law written in their hearts by the Spirit of God. These need neither of king nor officers to drive them, neither that any man proffer them any reward for to keep the law; for they do it naturally. 

The first work for fear of the sword only: the second for reward: the third work for love freely. They look on the exceeding mercy, love, and kindness, which God hath showed them in Christ; and therefore love again, and work freely. Heaven they take of the free gift of God, through Christ’s descryings; and hope, without all manner doubting, that God, according to his promise, will in this world also defend them, and do all things for them, of his goodness, and for Christ’s sake, and not for any goodness that is in them. They consent unto the law, that it is holy and just; and that all men ought to do whatsoever God commandeth, for no other cause but because God commandeth it. And their great sorrow is, because that there is no strength in their members to do that which their heart lusteth [desires] to do, and is athirst to do.

These of the last sort keep the law of their own accord, and that in the heart; and have professed perpetual war against the lusts [desires] and appetites of the flesh, till they be utterly subdued: yet not through their own strength, but, knowing and [a] knowledging their weakness, cry ever for strength to God, which hath promised assistance unto all that call upon him. These follow God, and are led of his Spirit. The other two are led of lusts [desires] and appetites.

Lusts [Desires] and appetites are divers and many, and that in one man; yea, and one lust [desires] contrary to another, and the greatest lust [desire] carrieth a man altogether away with him. We are also changed from one lust [desire] to another: otherwise are we disposed, when we are children; otherwise when we are young men; and otherwise when we are old; otherwise over even, and otherwise in the morning: yea, sometimes altered six times in an hour. How fortuneth all this? Because that the will of man followeth the wit, and is subject unto the wit; and as the wit erreth, so does the will; and as the wit is in captivity, so is the will; neither is it possible that the will should be free, where the wit is in bondage.

That thou mayest perceive and feel the thing in thine heart, and not be a vain sophister, disputing about words without perceiving; mark this. The root of all evil, the greatest damnation and most terrible wrath and vengeance of God that we are in, is natural blindness. We are all out of the right way, every man his ways: one judgeth this best, and another that to be best. Now is worldly wit nothing else but craft and subtlety, to obtain that which we judge falsely to be best. As I err in my wit, so err I in my will.

When I judge that to be evil which indeed is good, then hate I that which is good. And when I suppose that good which is evil indeed, then love I evil.

As, if I be persuaded, and borne in hand, that my most friend is mine enemy, then hate I my best friend: and if I be brought in belief that my most enemy is my friend, then love I my most enemy. Now when we say, every man hath his free will, to do what him lusteth [desires] , I say, verily, that men do what they lust [desire]. Notwithstanding, to follow lusts [desires] is not freedom, but captivity and bondage. If God open any man’s wits, to make him feel in his heart that lusts [desires] and appetites are damnable, and give him power to hate and resist them; then is he free, even with the freedom wherewith Christ maketh free, and hath power to do the will of God.

Thou mayest hereby perceive, that all that is done in the world before the Spirit of God come, and giveth us light, is damnable sin; and the more glorious, the more damnable; so that that which the world counteth most glorious is more damnable, in the sight of God, than that which the whore, the thief, and the murderer do. With blind reasons of worldly wisdom mayest thou change the minds of youth, and make them give themselves to what thou wilt, either for fear, for praise, or for profit; and yet dost but change them from one vice to another: as the persuasions of her friends made Lucrece chaste. Lucrece believed if she were a good housewife and chaste, that she should be most glorious; and that all the world would give her honor, and praise her. She sought her own glory in her chastity, and not God’s. When she had lost her chastity, then counted she herself most abominable in the sight of all men; and for very pain and thought which she had, not that she had displeased God, but that she had lost her honor, slew herself. Look how great her pain and sorrow was for the loss of her chastity, so great was her glory and rejoicing therein, and so much despised she them that were otherwise, and pitied them not: which pride God more abhorreth than the whoredom of any whore. Of like pride are all the moral virtues of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, and all the doctrine of the philosophers, the very gods of our school-men.

In like manner is it for the most part of our most holy religions. For they of like imagination do things which they of Bedlam may see that they are but madness. They look on the miracles which God did by the saints, to move the unbelieving unto the faith, and to confirm the truth of his promises in Christ, whereby all that believe are made saints; as thou seest in the last chapter of Mark. “They preached,” saith he, “every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming their preaching with miracles that followed.” And in the fourth of the Acts the disciples prayed that God would stretch forth his hands, to do miracles and wonders in the name of Jesus. And Paul 1 Corinthians 14 saith, that the miracle of speaking with divers tongues is but a sign for unbelievers, and not for them that believe. These miracles turn they to another purpose, saying in their blind hearts, See what miracles God hath shewed for this saint; he must be verily great with God! — and at once turn themselves from God’s word, and put their trust and confidence in the saint and his merits; and make an advocate, or rather a god of the saint; and of their blind imagination make a testament, or bond, between the saint and them, the testament of Christ’s blood clean forgotten. They look on the saints’ garments and lives, or rather lies which men lie on the saints, and this-wise imagine in their hearts, saying: The saint for wearing such a garment, and for such deeds, is become so glorious in heaven. If I do likewise, so shall I be also. They see not the faith and trust which the saints had in Christ, neither the word of God which the saints preached; neither the intent of the saints, how that the saints did such things to tame their bodies, and to be an ensample to the world, and to teach that such things are to be despised which the world most wondereth at and magnifieth. They see not also that some lands are so hot that a man can neither drink wine nor eat flesh therein; neither consider they the complexion of the saints; and a thousand like things see they not. So when they have killed their bodies, and brought them in that case that scarce with any restorative they can recover their health again, yet had they lever [rather] die than to eat flesh. Why? for they think, I have now this twenty, thirty, or forty years eaten no flesh; and have obtained, I doubt not, by this time as high a room as the best of them: should I now lose that? nay, I had [rather] die. And as Lucretia had [rather] have been slain, if he had not been too strong for her, than to have lost her glory, even so had these. They ascribe heaven unto their imaginations and mad inventions; and receive it not of the liberality of God, by the merits and descryings of Christ.

He now that is renewed in Christ, keepeth the law without any law written, or compulsion of any ruler or officer, save by the leading of the Spirit only.

But the natural man is enticed and moved to keep the law carnally, with carnal reasons and worldly persuasions, as for glory, honor, riches, and dignity. But the last remedy of all, when all other fail, is fear. Beat one, and the rest will abstain for fear: as Moses ever putteth in remembrance, saying, Kill, stone, burn; so shall thou put evil from thee, and all Israel shall hear and fear, and shall no more do so. If fear help not, then will God that they be taken out of this life.

Kings were ordained then, as I before said, and the sword put in their hands, to take vengeance of evil-doers, that other might fear: and were not ordained to fight one against another, or to rise against the emperor to defend the false authority of the pope, that very antichrist. Bishops, they only can minister the temporal sword; their office, the preaching of God’s word, laid apart, which they will neither do, nor suffer any man to do, but slay with the temporal sword, which they have gotten out of the hand of all princes, them that would. The preaching of God’s word is hateful and contrary unto them. Why? For it is impossible to preach Christ, except thou preach against antichrist; that is to say, them which with their false doctrine and violence of sword enforce to quench the true doctrine of Christ. And as thou canst heal no disease, except thou begin at the root; even so canst thou preach against no mischief, except thou begin at the bishops. Kings, they are but shadows; vain names and things idle, having nothing to do in the world, but when our holy father needeth their help.

The pope, contrary unto all conscience and against all the doctrine of Christ, which saith, “My kingdom is not of this world,” ( John 18) hath usurped the right of the emperor; and by policy of the bishops of Almany, and with corrupting the electors, or choosers of the emperor with money, bringeth to pass that such a one is ever chosen emperor that is not able to make his party good with the pope. To stop the emperor that he come not at Rome, he bringeth the French king up to Milan; and on the other side bringeth he the Venetians. If the Venetians come too nigh, the bishops of France must bring in the French king. And the Socheners are called and sent for to come and succor. And for their labor he giveth to some a rose; to another a cap of maintenance. One is called Most Christian King; another, Defender of the faith; another, The eldest son of the most holy seat. He blaseth also the arms of other; and putteth in the holy cross, the crown of thorn, or the nails, and so forth. If the French king go too high, and creep up either to Bononia or Naples; then must our English bishops bring in our king. The craft of the bishops is to entitle one king with another’s realm. He is called king of Denmark and of England; he, king of England and of France, Then, to blind the lords and the commons, the king must challenge his right. Then must the land be taxed and every man pay, and the treasure borne out of the realm, and the land beggared. How many a thousand men’s lives hath it cost! And how many a hundred thousand pounds hath it carried out of the realm in our remembrance! Besides, how abominable an example of gathering was there! such verily as never tyrant since the world began did, yea, such as was never before heard or thought on, neither among Jews, Saracens, Turks, or heathen, since God created the sun to shine; that a beast should break up into the temple of God, that is to say, into the heart and consciences of men, and compel them to swear every man what he was worth, to lend that should never be paid again. How many thousands forsware themselves! How many thousands set themselves above their ability, partly for fear lest they should be forsworn, and partly to save their credence! When the pope hath his purpose, then is peace made, no man [knows] how; and our most enemy is our most friend.

Now because the emperor is able to obtain his right, French, English, Venetians and all must upon him. O great whore of Babylon, how abuseth she the princes of the world! how drunk hath she made them with her wine! How shameful licenses doth she give them, to use necromancy, to hold whores, to divorce themselves, to break the faith and promises that one maketh with another; that the confessors shall deliver unto the king the confession of whom he will, and dispenseth with them even of the very law of God; which Christ himself cannot do!