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On the Right and Duty of

DISSENT

From an immoral Constitution of

Civil Government.

Excerpted from

The Reformed Presbyterian Catechism

By William Roberts.

SECTION X.

On the Right and Duty of Dissent from an immoral Constitution of Civil Government.

Q. Is civil society a voluntary or involuntary association?

A. Civil society is a voluntary association.  Men are not only social beings, but rational and free agents, and all have naturally equal rights; and, consequently, have a right to judge of the character of the government about to be constituted, or already constituted, and to unite with it, or not, as their best judgment may determine.  “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” [1 Thess. 5.21.]

Q. Is a civil government bound to admit to its peculiar privileges every person who may reside within the reach of its power?

A. Certainly not.  Government is, indeed, bound to extend {128} a paternal care over all, and should oppress none; but it is not under obligation to admit every character to the enjoyment of all its peculiar privileges; for the ignorance and immorality of some, and the oaths which bind others to a foreign power (the papists to the Pope, for example,) may utterly disqualify them for the discharge of the duties of loyal citizens.

Q. Has every government a right to enact laws of naturalization?

A. Yes, every government has a right to define the principles upon which it will admit aliens to the enjoyment of full citizenship.  Deut. 23.8: “The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the Lord in the third generation.”’ Acts 22.27,28: “Tell me, Art thou a Roman?  He said, Yes.  And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom.  And Paul said, But I was free born.”

Q. Is every person, dwelling within the limits of a nation, bound to incorporate with the national society?

A. By no means.  He may claim the privilege, as Israel in Egypt, of a sojourner in the land, without fully incorporating with the national society.  Gen. 47.4: “And they said unto Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the land are we come.”  See, also, Numb. 10.29,30; Heb. 11.9.

Q. Does not every individual possess the right of expatriation?

A. Yes, every individual has a right to change his residence and his country, and thus dissolve the bonds which may have bound him to a particular community.  Heb. 11.15: “And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.”

Q. Are nations, in making laws of naturalization, and individuals in the exercise of the right of expatriation, at liberty to act arbitrarily according to their own will?

A. No.  Both these rights are to be exercised in conformity to the law of God, the supreme Ruler and Judge.  The laws, in the one case, must be founded on justice; and the individual, in the other, must be satisfied that by {129} expatriating himself he can best promote the glory of God as well as his own good.  James 4.12,15: “There is one lawgiver. . . . For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”

Q. Is not the individual, who declines incorporating with the national society, entitled to protection, in the enjoyment of his inalienable rights—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

A. Unquestionably.  Numbers 15.15: “One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you: as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord.” Exod. 22.21: “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Q. Is it the duty of Christians to profess allegiance to any government that may exist in providence, however hostile to the kingdom of Christ, though sustained by the majority of those within the reach of its power?

A. By no means.

Q. Why?  Is it not said, “The powers that be are ordained of God? and let every soul be subject?

A. The reasons are many.  1. The powers ordained of God have been shown, in a former section, to be moral powers.  The authority which he sanctions, and to which he commends conscientious allegiance, is one which is “a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well.” [Rom. 13.3; 1 Pet 2.14.]  2. Such powers as oppose God and Christ, are not ordained of God in any other sense than “the prince of the power of the air,” whom they serve, is.  3. There are “thrones of iniquity, which decree mischief by a law,” with which God will not “have fellowship.” Psalm 94.20.  4. Existing governments are the organs of the devil.  Rev. 13.12; 12.9. “And the Dragon (‘the Devil and Satan’) gave him (the Roman empire, under all its forms of government, and especially in its present divided state,) his power, and his seat, and great authority.”  5. They are described as waging war, at the present time, with the Lamb, God’s Vicegerent.  Rev. 17.14: “These (the ten kingdoms of the beast) shall make war with the Lamb.”  God, certainly, does not require any one {130} to yield allegiance to such.  6. Consequently, “No power which deprives the subject of civil liberty, which wantonly squanders his property, and sports with his life, or which authorizes false religion, (however it may exist according to Divine providence,) is approved of or sanctioned by God, or ought to be esteemed and supported by men, as a moral institution.” [R.P.E. 28/29.3.]  Prov. 29.2: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.”  28.15: “As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear, so is a wicked ruler over the poor people.”  Hos. 8.4: “They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not.”  Also, Psalm 94.20; 2.2.  7. It follows necessarily, that to such powers Christians cannot bind themselves in allegiance, and maintain a moral subjection to Christ.  Allegiance to governments of such a character is rebellion against Heaven.

Q. What kind of submission may be rendered to immoral and tyrannical governments, the ordinance of Satan, such as now exist?

A. Christians, in the exercise of their Christian liberty, and in the performance of the duty of “proving all things, and holding fast what is good,” can submit to such governments “for wrath’s sake,” ONLY, which kind of submission has no respect to the power as legitimate authority, but simply, from dread of the cruelty of the tyrant, who pours forth his fury upon all who oppose his misrule.  To God’s moral ordinance as described, is allegiance due for conscience sake.  Submission to this, is submission to God.

Q. When Christians reside under an immoral government, is not conformity to the general order of society a duty, provided this can be done without violating the divine law?

A. If the constituted authorities of a nation are not in voluntary subserviency to the Mediator, but opposed to his authority, law, and religion, [then] for the sake of peace and order, and for the sake of contributing as much as possible to the ease and happiness of society, and from a spirit of resignation to the Divine providence, and in order to make legitimate provision for themselves and relatives, so much conformity {131} to the prevailing system as is consistent with their oath of allegiance to Messiah, is a duty conscientiously to be practiced, although very distinct from that obedience for conscience sake which they would render to the government of their choice, to the authority which has the sanction of the Divine approbation.  Jer. 29.4-7, “Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

Q. Whilst it is the duty of Christians thus to live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, in conformity to the laws of Christ, which are everywhere, and at all times, obligatory upon them—is it not their duty publicly to declare their dissent from an immoral constitution of civil government, within the reach of whose power they may reside?

A. This is, indeed, their duty.  Because, 1. They are bound to defend God’s moral ordinance of civil government, in the purity of which, God’s own honour as “the Governor of the nations,” is deeply involved. Rev. 2.25,26, “That which you have already hold fast till I come; and he that overcometh—and keepeth my works unto the end—to him will I give power in the nations,” &c.  Isa. 8.16, “Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.”  2. The purity of this holy ordinance cannot be preserved, if it is confounded with the existing immoral systems, and by an indiscriminate exercise of allegiance.  3. Christians are witnesses for God among men; and having in their possession “the testimony of God,” in the Holy Scriptures, respecting the true character of civil government, and the duty of national subjection to Christ and his law, and respect for his holy religion, it is their duty to apply the doctrines of inspiration upon this subject, in stating and defending the truth, and condemning the existing immoral systems, and in bearing public testimony against all who uphold them.  Isa. 43.10, “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord.”  Rev. 11.3, “I will give power to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and three score days, clothed in sackcloth;” 12.17, “And the dragon was wroth {132} with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”  See also Rev. 17.14, Acts 5.32, 26.16, Micah 4 [7?].8-18, Mark 6.11.  4. The witnesses in Revelation are raised up not only to testify against the ecclesiastical apostasy, “The scarlet woman,” or Roman church—and “the image of the beast,”—the Papacy—but also against “the seven-headed and ten-horned” beast—or the civil powers—upon which the woman rides.  The nations which sustain Antichrist, and are equally, with “the man of sin,” Antichristian, and are at war with the Lamb.  See passages last quoted, together with Rev. 13.1,2, 17.3-14, and 12.11, “And they overcame him, (the devil embodied in the Roman church papacy, and civil powers,) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;” 17.14, “These, (the civil powers,) shall make war with the Lamb—and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.”

Q. Are not virtuous persons, who, in their private capacity, are endeavouring to further the true end of civil government—the maintenance of peace and quietness in all godliness and honesty, although they dissent from the constitution of civil government of the nation in which they reside, entitled to protection?

A. They certainly are entitled to protection in their lives, liberties, and property; “but they are not to act inconsistently with their declared dissent, and it would be tyranny to constrain them to such measures.”  Exod. 22.21, “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him.”  See also Rom. 13.3, 1 Tim. 2.2, Jer. 21.12, Esther 3.8,9.

Q. Should not “Christians, testifying against national evils, and striving, in the use of moral means, to effect a reformation, relinquish temporal privileges, rather than do any thing which may appear to contradict their testimony, or lay a stumbling-block before their weaker brethren?” [R.P.E. 29/30.4]

A. This is unquestionably their duty.  Because they cannot convince men of their own sincerity, and of the immorality of a principle or practice, whilst they themselves are {133} found actually maintaining the immoral principle or practice, (by oath of allegiance, voting, and holding offices, &c.,) and enjoying the emoluments of iniquity decreed by law.  Heb. 11.24,26,36, “By faith, Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; ... Esteeming the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.  And others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonments.”  Numb. 23.9, “Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.”  Rom. 14.21, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended.”

Q. Will not such a public dissent from immoral governments, and faithful testimony against them, ultimately prevail to their overthrow?

A. Yes.  By these means the witnesses will prevail, however much they may suffer in the meantime, and will be the honoured instruments of establishing the millennial kingdom of the Lamb.  Rev. 12.11, “And they overcame him, by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”  Dan. 7.22, “The Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.”  Rev. 20.4, “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them; and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, (the civil powers,) neither his image, (the Papacy,) neither had received his mark, (yielded allegiance,) upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.& rdquo;

Q. Is not this doctrine of the right and duty of dissent from immoral constitutions of civil government, a doctrine peculiar to the Reformed Presbyterian Church?

A. Yes.  It is a principle peculiar to them, for they alone hold it as a doctrine, and give a practical exemplification of it by refusing oaths of allegiance, voting at the polls, and holding office,—and other modes by which they can declare their dissent from the immoral constitutions of government {134} where they reside, and testify publicly against them, and exhibit in contrast the excellency and majesty of civil government as the moral ordinance of heaven.


Editor’s Notes

Appreciation is expressed for the labours of Garnet H. Milne (1950-2019,) who prepared the text of the above document in 2007.  (It is here presented with formatting and corrections.)  Mr. Milne was a minister in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand for several years, and completed his PhD.  His Reformed beliefs and Covenanter convictions led to his decision to retire from the ministry in the above church.  Mr. Milne’s final major contribution to the Church of Jesus Christ was his publication titled “Has the Bible been kept pure? The Westminster Confession of Faith and the providential preservation of Scripture” which he published in 2017.  This title shows the authentic Reformed doctrine concerning the preservation of the Holy Scriptures, and with what unanimity this doctrine was asserted and maintained in Reforming times.

In that light, and considering the text prepared from William Roberts by Mr. Milne, the present editor desires to observe two things as matters of exhortation:

First, That Reformed Presbyterians must earnestly take to heart the duty of Political Dissent in modern America and other anti-christian nations.  It is not an optional matter.  It is not a matter of preference, adiaphora, personal conviction, or mere tradition.  As Mr. Roberts above concludes with his question and answer on the practice of Political Dissent as distinctive of Reformed Presbyterians, so the conclusion cannot be avoided, that those individuals are not Reformed Presbyterian Christians, and those churches are not Reformed Presbyterian churches which neither practice, nor even teach, these principles.  And as the various “New Light Reformed Presbyterian” churches of the 1800s are no longer even called “Reformed Presbyterian,” so it is only a matter of time before modern “Reformed Presbyterians” who have abandoned these distinctive and important beliefs, will eventually go under the name of one of those other parties whom they presently look upon as inferior, merely out of regard for their own inconsistently-remembered traditions.

Secondly, That Reformed Presbyterians must use their old Bible translations with thankfulness and resolve.  The more that the disciple of Jesus learns concerning the facts presented the title mentioned above, and discovers among the realities that may be discerned about modern Bible translations, he is compelled to conclude that those churches have strayed very dangerously which have adopted the use of these new translations, no longer grounded in the conviction that the Holy Scriptures have been preserved “Pure” and “Authentical” (WCF 1.8.)  As with what is said above, there is ground for no different expectation regarding these churches: either they will soon acknowledge their disciple-stumbling error with repentance, or else they will maintain their anti-Reformed principles until they give up more and more of the doctrines of the Reformed faith, and eventually choose to be “honest” by adopting a new name which omits the term “Reformed.”—JTKer.