The doctrine of federalism, the bedrock of our Constitutional republic, holds that the states and the people retain the majority of rights and powers. Federalism, and much else, is rooted in the doctrine of the lower magistrate.
I think we would all agree that we live in tumultuous times that threaten our life, liberty, and property. Most of us suspect that our future and hope stands in jeopardy. In light of these concerns, it would be prudent to address the critical nature of the Lower Magistrate Doctrine.
Before I do, however, it is important to reveal why we have come to the point that the Lower Magistrate Doctrine is necessary in these uncertain days. Our Founding Fathers knew there were two enemies to America’s experiment with liberty. First, was licentiousness amongst the people, which would inevitably lead to the second threat, tyranny in civil government. Freedom, to them, was not the ability to do whatever we wanted to do, but to the power to do as we ought. Freedom was the power to do what was right.
John Adams, our second president, stated, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” He went on to say, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.” He warned, “The avarice of men would bust through the Constitution like a whale through a net.” To him and many others of his day, self-government was the key to liberty.
George Washington in his farewell address admonished, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of man and citizens…And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” If we were honest, Washington’s warnings have most certainly come to pass.
Samuel Adams, Father of the Revolutionary War and Signer of the Declaration of Independence, declared, “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”
Jedediah Morse, Patriot and Father of American Geography stated, “To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. . . . Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.”
Benjamin Franklin stated, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Proverbs 28:2 concurs, “Because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes; but by a man of understanding and knowledge Right will be prolonged.”
Robert Winthrop, Congressman in the 1800s, nails it, “All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet.”
There is a direct connection between our spiritual and moral state and the litany of woe upon us. As the French Historian, De Tocqueville, stated, “America is great because America is good, if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” The march leading our free nation to slouch towards Sodom, Socialism, and Communism has been long and arduous. Obama is the culmination of our transformation. He has created an environment where everything good, decent, and wholesome about America is mocked, despised, and rejected, while everything evil with America is celebrated with demonic glee. Obama is the personification of evil that is savaging our nation. He is tied directly to abortion and the shedding of innocent blood, the homosexual agenda, Islam, and Communism. All four present a danger to our national survival.
This lays the foundation for the Lower Magistrate Doctrine.
In essence, the teaching of this doctrine declares that when a superior civil authority, such as our federal government, makes unjust/immoral decrees, the lesser authority, such as a Governor of a state or a Sheriff on a county level, has the right to refuse all unlawful orders. If pushed by the higher authority, the Lesser Magistrate has the duty to actively resist tyranny in order to protect the life, liberty, and property of those they swore an oath to serve.
THIS DOCTRINE IN HISTORY
Historically, this doctrine was practiced before the time of Christ. It was Christian men, however, that formulized it and embedded it in their political institutions throughout Western civilization.
Before I give examples in history, it is important to note that the Lower Magistrate Doctrine is rooted in the concept of interposition. Interposition is demonstrated when someone or some group positions themselves between an oppressor and their intended victim. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the supreme example of interposition. He humbly and courageously stood between sin, Satan, and this illegitimate world system that is in rebellion against God’s loving rule and rescued us.
In the days of the Roman Empire, Caligula sent his diplomat Petronius to set up his image in the Temple of the Jews. This was a great offense of sacrilege and idolatry foisted upon the Jews. The Jews remonstrated and beseeched Governor Petronius to defy Caligula’s orders and spare them this grave offense, to the point they prostrated themselves on the ground and offered their necks. They would rather die than to see this happen to the Lord’s Temple.
Governor Petronius was so moved by their remonstrations, he bravely stood between the Emperor’s soldiers, the unjust decree, and the troubled Jews. He took a personal risk for the sake of justice. This is demanded by all Lower Magistrates, if or when the time presents itself.
In Scripture, there are many accounts of interposition. Pharaoh and the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1 would certainly qualify. Pharaoh ordered all male babies murdered by throwing them in the Nile. The Hebrew midwives refused to comply with his wicked order and spared their lives. Would to God, Governors would fear God and follow the example of the mid-wives to intervene and spare the preborn from the wicked decree of Roe vs. Wade. They could do it if they mustered the courage to protect their most vulnerable citizens amongst them from decriminalized murder. Some of them are willing to say no to the federal beast when it comes to gun control and Obamacare. Why not say no to the federal beast when it seeks to devour innocent babies in the womb through the injustice of abortion?
In 1 Samuel 14, King Saul made a foolish decree during a fierce battle. He stated, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance upon my enemies.” One huge problem, his son Jonathan did not hear the command and ate honey. Saul was going to have his own son put to death. The people intervened on his behalf and declared, “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan, and he did not die.”
In the field of Runnymede in England, Christian nobles, who operated as Lower Magistrates, took King John’s tyranny to task in the year of our Lord 1215. This gave birth to the Magna Carta. This document came from a Christian culture. It played a huge role that led to the rule of constitutional law in Western civilizations. It helped to eventually correct the false notion of “the divine right of kings” doctrine. Rev. Samuel Rutherford from Scotland sealed it by his tremendous work called Lex Rex. The important principle Rutherford established was the king is not law, the law is king. We will not be ruled by the whims of men, but ruled by the law of God. The king is not above the law, he is subject to the law and he is ordained to enforce it when violated.
2 Corinthians 3:17 states, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” This is not only true internally, but eventually externally as well. Every nation where Christianity has been established and flourished, unprecedented liberty has followed in its wake. Why is this? Because Christians, whose thinking is informed by the Bible, know the true nature of God and man. Man is sinful and power corrupts. Therefore, there must be checks and balances to avoid the natural tendency towards tyranny to secure our liberties.
For the last several decades, America has forgotten these Biblical and historical realities. In our great folly, we have given God our official eviction notice, “Get out of our schools, get out of our government, and get out of the public life of our nation.” Do you think it is a coincidence that we are resorting back to tyranny where we are once again ruled by the whims of men rather than by the rule of law?
The problem is America still desires the fruits of Christianity, its protection, prosperity, and blessings, we just don’t want the root, which is Christ our Lord. Only One Nation under God can balance the tension between authority and liberty. Only One Nation under God can secure social order on one hand and maximum individual freedom on the other hand. No other faith, worldview, and religion can accomplish this in our poor-fallen world. We have forgotten these truths to our own demise.
Next stop is the Magdeburg Confession. This is where the doctrine was formulized by Christian pastors. It started when Martin Luther pounded his 95 theses on the door at the Wittenberg church in the year 1517. He was condemned in the Edict of Worms. Facing possible death as a heretic, a Lower Magistrate, Prince Frederick of Saxony, rescued him and provided sanctuary. This act helped to lead to the development of the Lower Magistrate Doctrine as detailed in the Magdeburg Confession.
After Luther died, King Charles imposed the Augsburg Interim. He used military force to try and smash the Reformation. He was seeking to coerce German Christians to readopt Roman Catholic practices. While many capitulated, one city stood in defiance. That city was Magdeburg. It was here Lower Magistrates who were initially being used to attack the city had a change of heart. They eventually turned to protect the people from religious and civil tyranny. They defended the people and upheld God’s Law, Word, and Gospel. As tensions of the siege against their city mounted, the pastors wrote a document that would become known as the Magdeburg Confession. It was there that the pastors articulated the doctrine and took their stand in fealty to Christ.
To learn more about this history, doctrine and confession, may I suggest two books. Both are written or translated by Pastor Matt Trewhella. They are called The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate and the Magdeburg Confession. These works need to spread far and wide, if our nation has any hope of recovery.
Before the American Revolution, it was this doctrine that prepared the colonies to sever ties with England to become a free and independent nation. The Continental Congress gathered in prayer and assigned Thomas Jefferson to craft our Declaration of Independence. It was then and there they looked to the Laws of nature and nature’s God as justification to form our own nation. In this document, they laid out 27 grievances where the higher authority threatened their lives, liberty, and property. They acknowledged Almighty God four times throughout the Declaration. They acknowledge Him as Lawgiver, Creator, Supreme Judge, and His divine providence as they pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. In this case, these Lower Magistrates looked to the higher Law that England was violating to justify resisting the higher magistrate in freedom’s cause.
There have been many recent examples of the Lower Magistrate Doctrine being implemented in America today. Governors and Sheriffs are simply saying “no” to federal tyranny, unjust laws, and wicked decrees. They are one of the last remaining defense mechanisms to protect our life, liberty, and property. If they fail to do their duty, it then falls to the last defensive element, “We the People.” Typically, when it gets to that point, it turns bloody. Thus, we either have a Gentle Revolution led by the Lower Magistrates or I cringe to think of what awaits our future.
This leads to my last admonishment, which is what we can do as citizens? First, I highly recommend you pass on this message to others. Second, we must remonstrate like those who have gone before us. This teaching must spread far and wide. Make sure your family, friends, churches, and Tea Party groups have the books I suggested. We must be schooled in these principles and pass them on to Lower Magistrates, such as Governors, State Legislators, Sheriff’s Departments, and local police officers. We need to encourage them to take a righteous stand against tyranny and assure them that we will stand with them in the defense of our lives, liberty, and property in Jesus’ name!