Friday, July 16, 2010

MHCC 32: Dominion Founded In Grace or Not?

Samuel Butler wrote in his satirical poetic attack on the Puritans, Hudibras (pt. III, canto III, l. 1173-1174), that:

Sure 'tis an orthodox opinion,
That grace is founded in dominion.

This was indeed the position of the Millenarians, or Fifth Monarchy movement, which believed themselves to be saints ushering in Christ's kingdom on earth, and perhaps that of the Levellers in Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, who sought to abolish civil and political inequalities, and the language can be traced further back to John Wycliffe. When Wycliffe argued that dominion was founded in grace,* however, his argument was an ideal one, aimed at ecclesiastical tyranny and worldly abuses within the Roman Catholic Church -- i.e., those ecclesiastics who claimed authority in the church and over temporal affairs while living ungodly lives -- rather than promoting a doctrine which would assert civil rights or temporal power on basis of being in a covenant relationship with God. He asserted that God was the Sole Proprietor of all things and the fountain of all authority, and that authority flowing from God to men could be deprived upon condition of living in 'mortal' in; yet he was emphasizing the de jure spiritual nature of the kingdom of God within the church on earth, not seeking to prematurely claim for the saints temporal dominion over God's creation and overthrow the de facto civil authority. Wycliffe certainly did not intend to preach political revolution, though the Peasant Revolt of 1381 soon followed.

Samuel Rutherford shows how Wycliffe's doctrine was wrested by the very Popish authorities with whom he was contending in Lex Rex, p. 205 (Quest. 41):

P. Prelate. -- Some said that the right of dominion is founded on grace, whether the Waldenses and Hus held any such tenet, I cannot now insist to prove or disprove. Gerson and others held that there must be a new title and right to what men possess. Too many confidently hold these or the like.

Ans. -- 1. That dominion is founded upon grace as its essential pillar, so as wicked men be no magistrates, because they are in mortal sin, was falsly imputed to ancient protestants, the Waldenses, Wicliff, and Huss, by papists; and this day by Jesuits, Suarez, Bellarmine, Becanus. The P. Prelate will leave them under this calumny, that he may offend papists and Jesuits as little as he can, but he would lay it on us; but if the P. Prelate that the dominion is not founded on grace, de jure, that rulers should have that spirit of God put on the seventy elders for their calling, and that they ought not to be "men fearing God and hating covetousness," as Gerson and others did, he belieth the Scripture. 2. It is no error of Gerson that believers have a spiritual right to their civil possessions, but by Scripture, 1 Cor. iv. 21; Rev. xxi. 7.

The Westminster Confession teaches both aspects of the dominion doctrine with respect to civil authority; ie., that de jure (23.1)

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public

and that de facto (23.4):

Infidelity, or difference in religion, does not make void the magistrates' just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, much less has the Pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretence whatsoever.

Matthew Henry certainly felt the need to make his views known on this doctrine, and he emphasizes the de facto aspect, perhaps as a conservative dissenter in response to Butler or the Millenarians of the earlier Puritan age. By my reckoning, Henry repeats this observation at least seven times in his Commentary through the Book of Acts: "Dominion is not founded in grace."

Gen. 4.6-7:

Dominion is not founded in grace, nor will religion warrant disloyalty or disrespect in any relation.

Gen. 23.16-20:

Note, Dominion is not founded in grace. The saints' title to an eternal inheritance does not entitle them to the possessions of this world, nor justify them in doing wrong.

Gen. 33.16-20:

Note, Dominion is not founded in grace. Those that have heaven on free-cost must not expect to have earth so.

Deut. 2.1-7:

They must not expect to have any part of their land given them for a possession: Mount Seir was already settled upon the Edomites, and they must not, under pretence of God's covenant and conduct, think to seize for themselves all they could lay hands on. Dominion is not founded in grace.

Jer. 27.1-11:

Note, Dominion is not founded in grace. Those that have not any colourable title to eternal happiness may yet have a justifiable title to their temporal good things.

Dan. 7.15-28:

Far be it from us to infer hence that dominion is founded on grace, or that this will warrant any, under pretence of saintship, to usurp kingship. No; Christ's kingdom is not of this world; but this intimates the spiritual dominion of the saints over their own lusts and corruptions, their victories over Satan and his temptations, and the triumphs of the martyrs over death and its terrors.

Luke 12.13-21:

Now this shows us what is the nature and constitution of Christ's kingdom. It is a spiritual kingdom, and not of this world. 1. It does not interfere with civil powers, nor take the authority of princes out of their hands. Christianity leaves the matter as it found it, as to civil power. 2. It does not intermeddle with civil rights; it obliges all to do justly, according to the settled rules of equity, but dominion is not founded in grace.

* For example, De Dominio Divino and De Civili Dominio; Trialogus 4.17; and his exposition of the seventh commandment.

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