To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken.—Jer. 6.10





subjects: and Wherin they may law-

fully by Gods Worde be disobeyed

and resisted.


Geneva: 1558.

Chapter 9:

Answers to objections taken

From the New Testament,

Including Romans 13 & 1 Pet. 2.

[ A Chapter from How Superior Powers Ought to be Obeyed of their Subjects by Christopher Goodman. ] Editor’s Introduction.

Are all magistrates and rulers to be regarded, honored, and served as the “ordinance of God”?  By what rule may men invested with such titles be dispossessed thereof? or disowned as having no real right to the power they are given by others, or presently exercising?  What rule regulates the subject and citizen in yielding to others the role of superior?

Such questions have proven of paramount importance in the history of civilization, and were the attention of writers, Christian and secular, in the controversies that overturned nations and existing institutions of civil order in the 1700s and times subsequent.  But the history of thought on these topics has been an unfolding of truth in opposition to philosophical idols, which has been carried forward by heroic men throughout the entire Christian age.  Sometimes those idols have been presented in the plain garb of an absolute authority set in opposition to the Lord God.  Unquestioning submission was demanded.  Sometimes those idols have been presented in a more deceptive appearance, yielding a professed submission to the Almighty.  Submission in-the-Lord was demanded, while it was known the very submission served to support the kingdom of darkness in opposition to the kingdom of Christ.

In either case, we have cause to thank the Lord that notwithstanding the persecution threatened, and the accusations which would be framed, voices have spoken up for “the Lord and his Christ” whenever rulers have “taken counsel against them” or presumed to “break their bands and cast away their cords.” (Psalm 2.)  In every age there have been servants of Christ who would not be deceived.  Neither the Law of God, nor the Gospel of his Christ was ever framed with a self-undermining purpose to secure the thrones, or the honors and titles, or even the lives, of those who set themselves up as idols above the Almighty, who make a sale of justice, who spill the blood of innocents, or who turn upside-down His institutions and kingdom.

Christopher Goodman and John Knox are two of the Reformers and writers of Presbyterian history who are well known for their opposition to the arguments which commonly prevailed not only to procure submission to rulers who should have been disowned, but even to stupify many souls into an absolute submission to those rulers.  What follows here is one chapter from Mr. Goodman that serves to put the instruction of the New Testament in its proper light.  Others would do so after him, just as others had done so before him.  In our day error and darkness dominate again, as well as skepticism and uncertainty.  Yet it is in the face of this modern apostacy, that it becomes more easy to see why it is essential that all Christians, and every Christian church, must be able to answer the questions and claims described above, both correctly and confidently.



Answers to the contrary objections of such as teach all manner of obedience to Magistrates to be lawful, taken forth of the New Testament.

BUt forasmuch as there is nothing so manifest and true, which is not either obscured utterly by contrary reasons of man’s brain, or else discredited by other places of Scripture wrongfully understood and applied by many: I have here thought expedient before I proceed any further, for the better establishing of the truth, to answer and satisfy, so far as shall please God to give unto me, all such reasons, authorities, and Scriptures, as are alleged to the contrary: to the intent that we may not only see the truth, and so be stirred to embrace it, but also may espy the falsehood, and learn to avoid it.

[ Marg: Romans 13 — The first objection. ]

And because amongst all other authorities and reasons, there is none of greater force than that which is written in the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, we will first of all others begin with it.  Let every soul (saith he) submit himself {107} to the authority of the higher powers: for there is no power but of God, and the powers that be, are ordained of God.  Who soever therefore resisteth power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist, shall receive unto themselves damnation.  Here (say they) is a general doctrine affirmed by the Apostle, that every man (none excepted) must be subject to superior powers: and if every man must be subject, none ought to disobey.

Besides this, behold the Apostle doth not barely affirm this proposition, saying, Every person (for that he meaneth by every soul) must be subject to the Magistrates and Rulers, of what condition so ever he be, but proveth the same with a most sure argument gathered of the ordinance of God: because there is no power but of God.  And therefore to resist powers, is to resist God himself, whose ordinance it is.  And not contented with one reason, he confirmeth the same with another depending of God’s punishments, which he hath appointed for all them that resist, which is, to receive to themselves damnation for their transgression: {108} so that they conclude, that it is not only Paul’s authority that maketh all men subject to their superiors (which notwithstanding were sufficient, being the Apostle of Christ) but also the same is by good and strong reasons confirmed.

[ Marg: Answer — The cause wherefore the Apostle was moved thus to write. — Anabaptists. Libertines. — Deniers of Tribute. ]

In answering to this objection, I will not long hold you in rendering the cause, which as we may probably gather moved the Apostle to write this to the Romans concerning obedience to their superiors: but in few words touch so much as seemeth necessary.  It may appear very credible (which some Godly and learned do write) that amongst the Romans, after they had received the Gospel, there were many under that name, which would be delivered from all subjection: thinking the office of Magistrates no more necessary to them that professed Christ: as do this day the Anabaptists and Libertines.  Others, who had been once freed from tribute and custom paying, to strange Magistrates, would thereat take an occasion by preaching of the Gospel to pay no more tribute to their superiors. Such {109} were divers of the Jews, who counted it for a bondage.  And that kind of sect was raised up even in Christ’s days, as appeareth when the Pharisees sent their disciples with Herod’s servants to know his judgment, whether it were lawful for them to pay tribute to Cæsar or no. [Matt. 22.]  And in the Acts, Gamaliel maketh mention of one Judas Galilæus, which was author of that sect, and moved much trouble amongst the people, saying, [Acts 5]: It was not lawful to pay tribute.  By these and such like opinions, the Apostle (perceiving the office of Magistrates to come into contempt, and men to esteem it not lawful, which God himself ordained in defence of his religion and Civil policy, was moved to write as is before mentioned, exhorting all men to esteem the office of Magistrates as God’s ordinance, and to obey them whom God had appointed Rulers over them.

Then as the Apostle writeth we confess, and so much as he speaketh we grant, that is, that all men are bound to obey such Magistrates, whom God hath ordained over us lawfully according {110} to his word, which rule in his fear according to their office, as God hath appointed.  For though the Apostle saith: There is no power but of God: yet doth he not here mean any other powers, but such as are orderly and lawfully institute of God.  Either else should he approve all tyranny and oppression, which cometh to any commonwealth by means of wicked and ungodly Rulers, which are to be called rightly disorders, and subversions in commonwealths, and not God’s ordinance.  For he never ordained any laws to approve, but to reprove and punish tyrants, idolaters, papists, and oppressors.

[ Marg: We may resist tyrants and yet not God’s ordinance. — By the papists’ gathering, Satan ought not to be resisted. ]

Then when they are such, they are not God’s ordinance.  And in disobeying and resisting such, we do not resist God’s ordinance, but Satan, and our sin, which is the cause of such.  Or else, if we shall so conclude with the words of the Apostle, that all powers whatsoever they be must be obeyed and not resisted, then must we confess also, that Satan and all his infernal powers are to be obeyed.  Why? because they are {111} powers and have their powers also of God, which cannot touch man any farther than God permitteth. [Job 1; 2.]  But James giveth us, contrary commandment, saying: Resist the devil and he will flee away from you. [James 4.]

[ Marg: The proof of this answer. — The papists’ argument is fully answered. ]

And that the Apostle Paul doth so restrain his words to all lawful powers, we need not to seek far off.  For in the selfsame chapter, after he doth expound his mind: that is, what powers and Magistrates he meaneth: Such (saith he) as if thou doest well, thou needest not to fear, but if thou doest evil.  And again, wilt thou be out of 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. [welfare.]  But if thou doest evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword for nought: for he is the minister of God, to take vengeance of them that do evil, &c.  Whereby we may plainly understand, that although, he saith, There is no power but of God: yet he meaneth such power as is his ordinance and lawful: whose office standeth in these two points, to defend the good, and to punish the evil: not to be feared {112} for well doing, but for evil, to whom the sword is given for that purpose.  And to such, with the Apostle we grant also, that every person must be subject and obedient: for they are God’s ordinance.  And to disobey or resist such, is to disobey and resist God himself.  And therefore do deserve justly to receive God’s punishment, which, as the Apostle threateneth, is damnation.  And this maketh nothing against our former sentence, but rather confirmeth the same: approving no obedience but that which is lawful, that is to say, according to God’s appointment and ordinance, as doth more evidently appear in his words following: partly in that he demandeth obedience to such for conscience sake, and not for fear of vengeance only.  As though he would say: so far is it from reason and God’s word that any man should disobey or contemn the Magistrates, ordained by God to punish vice and maintain virtue, that he needeth no other to reprove him of evil in so doing, than his own proper conscience, which will (justly examined) teach him how God’s ordinance ought {113} to be reverenced, especially serving to the preservation of the people, in suppressing wickedness, and promoting Godliness.

For that cause he willeth after to pay their tribute, not to every man that will demand (for unlawful demands may be lawfully denied) but to whom tribute belongeth, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, and honour to whom honour is due.

[ Marg: Obedience is commanded to all men: but yet under condition. ]

Obedience then he requireth of all men, tribute also, custom, fear, and honor: but under this condition of justice and equity, to render these duties to them that have just title thereunto.  And who are they, but (as I said before) such as God hath appointed to rule over us in his fear, for our profit, and preservation of the commonwealth?

[ Marg: The second objection and answer: 1 Pet. 2. ]

To this also doth the saying of Peter well agree, though it be brought in of the other party to prove the contrary: Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to kings as to the chief, or unto Rulers as unto them that are sent of him, for the punishment of evil doers, and the praise {114} of them that do well.  Behold how Peter here neither dissenteth from himself in his answer before to the Council, nor here disagreeth from Paul, willing obedience to kings and inferior Rulers: not to all, but to such as are appointed to punish evil doers, and praise the contrary: and to disobey such, must needs be condemned for wicked and ungodly rebellion.  For such there were as may plainly appear by Peter’s words following, which under the pretence of liberty would cover and cloak their malice.  And this the Apostle forbiddeth in all manner of subjects, and justly.

[ Marg: The third objection and answer. ]

But you will say, the words of Peter following concerning the obedience of servants to Masters, doth charge us farther than with godly Rulers, and such as rule according to their office.  For to servants he writeth on this wise: Servants obey your Masters with all fear, not only if they be good and courteous, but also though they be froward: for so the greek word [σκολιος] doth signify, a combrous, froward, or a person hard to please and self-willy.  Whereof {115} they will conclude, that Peter commandeth obedience to all kind of persons, good and bad: whatsoever they command must be done — and why? because he so chargeth servants to obey their masters.

[ Marg: Answer. — Of what manner of masters Peter speaketh.]

Nevertheless this is to be observed in reading the words of Peter (as also in all the holy Scripture) that we must so take them as they agree with himself, and not against him.  For the Spirit of God changeth not his meaning: but what he saith once, he saith for ever.  Peter here seemeth to prevent the objection which servants (desirous of liberty) might have objected, being willed to obey their Masters: as though he would say: I am not ignorant that there are many Masters troublesome, froward, and importune over you: which are not so gentle and courteous towards you as becometh them: well, that is their fault and infirmity, which you must for Christ’s sake, whom you profess, patiently sustain and bear.  For though your Masters be rough or froward (he saith not wicked and ungodly) that is no {116} cause why ye should not faithfully serve them for the time of your servitude, so long as they will nothing of you, but that which is good and godly.

[ Marg: The true knot of obedience. Ephes. 6. — God is the chief Father, Lord, and Master.]

Then the mind of Peter is that the shrewdness or frowardness of Masters, is no lawful or just occasion why the servants should be disobedient.  And as this is the very meaning of the Apostle in that place, so is it not like[ly] that he would write contrary to himself, when he said, [Acts 4]: God ought rather to be obeyed than man.  Neither can he be judged contrary to the Apostle Paul, who bindeth up all lawful obedience with this knot, In the Lord: speaking unto children, and exhorting them to obey their fathers & mothers.  But how?  In the Lord saith he.  And why?  For this is just.  Then if Paul charge not children with further obedience to their parents, than in the Lord, to whom principally they are by God’s commandment and nature bound, will Peter bind servants to their Masters any further than in the Lord?  And if it be just obedience only which is in the Lord: can there be any lawful obedience against him, either of children {117} towards their parents, servants towards their Masters, or subjects towards their Rulers or Magistrates?  No, God is the first and principal Father, Master, and Lord, to whom first obedience must be given as he doth demand: and to others in him, and for him only, as we were taught at the beginning.

[ Marg: Peter approveth not froward masters. — Servants oppressed may seek lawful remedy against their masters.]

And that Peter had only respect to the rough conditions of Masters, and not to their unlawful commandment against God and their conscience (which they are bound to do for no man’s pleasure) the words do plainly witness.  For this is thankworthy (saith he) if a man for conscience towards God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what praise is it, if when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye take it patiently? &c.  Then ye see the meaning of Peter is not to make us subject to any evil or ungodly commandments, but to persuade all servants not to cast off their duty, during the time of their servitude, notwithstanding they be roughly dealt with all of their Master, which thing is not spoken here of Peter to encourage or maintain {118} froward Masters in their frowardness, nor yet to forbid the servants which fear God to seek after lawful remedy at the hands of superior powers, who for that cause are ordained to see justice administered to all sorts of men, as well to servants as others: but that they should not think the sharpness of their Masters to be a cause sufficient to free them from doing their duty upon the other part.

[ Marg: How far wicked Princes may be obeyed.]

In like case may we conclude of Princes and Magistrates, though they be rough and froward: yea, though before God they are wicked, ungodly, and reprobate persons (as was Saul) yet so long as their wickedness brasteth [bursteth] not out manifestly against God, and his Laws, but outwardly will see them observed and kept of others, punishing the transgressors, and defending the innocent: so long are we bound to render unto such, obedience, as to evil and rough Masters: because we may not take God’s office in hand to judge of the heart any farther than their outward deeds do give manifest testimony.  Otherwise, if without fear they transgress God’s Laws themselves and command others to do the like, then have they lost that {119} honor and obedience which otherwise their subjects did owe unto them: and ought no more to be taken for Magistrates: but punished as private transgressors, as after I have promised to prove.

[ Marg: The fourth objection: Matt. 26; John 18.]

Hereunto they add the saying of our Savior Jesus Christ to Peter, which bade him put up his sword, after he had striken the servant of the high Priest, and cut off his ear: not minding by the sword to make resistance.  Whereupon they gather that although it be lawful in doctrine and preaching for the servants of God to withstand and reprove the enemies, as Christ himself and his Apostles did: yet it is not permitted to do the same by any outward or bodily force.  For then as Christ answered, he might have obtained of his Father 12 Legions of Angels for his defence.

[ Marg: Answer.]

To this we shall soon answer, if we consider who spake this, to whom, and for what cause it was spoken.  Which circumstances well weighed, give a great light to all like facts and sayings.  First we must diligently consider the office of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which as it was in all points spiritual, aswell {120} concerning his kingdom which he himself affirmeth not to be of this world, as his Priesthood and Prophecy, [John 18.36]: even so for his own part, could he use no temporal force or power for the accomplishment of the same, because he denieth that he either come to reign in this world, or else to be a judge therein: as he answered the man, which would have had him to command his brother to divide the lands betwixt them, saying: Man, who made me a judge or divider over you? [Luke 12.14]  And being demanded to give judgment against the woman taken in adultery, he would not take that office upon him, but said unto the woman, when her accusers were gone: Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way, and sin no more. [John 8.11]

[ Marg: Why Christ used not the defence of the temporal power.]

Thus as concerning Christ’s own person, who had all things and powers both in heaven and in earth at his commandment, it is evident that he would use no temporal power against his enemies: for that he was not therewith charged.  Which example taketh not away the office or duty of such as are charged {121} with the temporal sword, to use it in defence chiefly of God’s glory, and the preservation of those that are under them.

[ Marg: Why Peter was forbid to use the sword. — The absurdity of this reason (of our opposites). — As the preachers are charged to use the spiritual sword, so are the Magistrates bound to set forth God's glory (by the) temporal sword.]

Secondly, why he forbid Peter also, and in him all the rest of the Apostles, we cannot be ignorant.  For who knoweth not that the Apostles were witnesses of Jesus Christ [Acts 1.8,] chosen forth of the world (as John saith [17.6]) not to defend their Master by the temporal sword (for that were to usurp upon another man’s office, not appertaining to them) to whom only the spiritual sword was committed, to fight manfully with it against the world, Satan, and all spiritual powers. [Eph. 6.12; Heb. 4.]  For as the Apostle saith: Though we walk compassed with the flesh, yet do we not war fleshly. [2 Cor. 10.3.]  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal things, but strong by the power of God to cast down holds: wherewith we overthrow imaginations of every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. [2 Cor. 10.]  Wherefore, seeing the office of the Apostles also is spiritual {122} as their Master’s was: and had only spiritual weapons to use in the defence of the Gospel, whereof they were ministers: it is no good reason to conclude their purpose, that Magistrates and other inferior officers, ought not to use the temporal sword in defence of religion: because Christ would not suffer Peter to fight with the temporal sword.  But rather as Christ requireth of Peter and of all the rest, the faithful use of the spiritual sword, wherewith they were charged, or else they should be subject to malediction and judgment: For woe be to me (saith Paul) if I preach not [1 Cor. 9.16]: even so may not they escape judgment and the curse of God, which use not the temporal sword committed unto them with all endeavour in the defence of God’s glory and his Church, wherewith every man is charged, according to his vocation and power, none excepted.

To be short, if our Saviour Christ should, as he might by his power, have withstood the Jews that came to apprehend him and put him to death, how should he have drunken of that cup which his Father had given him?  That is, how should {123} he by his death and passion have redeemed us, for which cause he came into the world: not to have his life taken from him against his will, but willingly to lay it down for all. [Rom. 5. John 10.15-18.]

Then we see that there is nothing in this saying of Christ to Peter, which can condemn lawful resisting of ungodly Rulers in their ungodly commandments.  For though it was profitable to all men that Christ without any resistance should be crucified, being the sacrifice appointed of God the Father to salvation: yet is it not therefore lawful for the inferior officers, or permitted to the subjects, to suffer the blasphemy and oppression of their superiors to overflow their whole country and nation, when both power and means is given unto them lawfully to withstand it, and they by their profession and office are no less bound to put it in execution.

Other Resources

Besides the many resources that were later published by Reformed Presbyterians in defence of the principles of the Scottish Reformation, relative to resistance and dissent, readers can also see these topics handled in various writings of John Knox.  His debate with Secretary Lethington, recorded in his History of the Reformation, presents several of the same conclusions which Goodman and other reformers had advanced in opposition to an “ordinance of God” that served as a terror to those who did well, and a praise to those who did evil.