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  • Adin Ballou

Nonviolence & Human Governments (From 1839)

From Adin Ballou, 19th Century Abolitionist:

What is human government? It is the will of man - whether of one, a few, many, or all in a state or nation - exercising absolute authority over man, by means of cunning and physical force. This will may be ascertained, declared and executed, with or without written constitutions and laws, regularly or irregularly, in moderation or in violence; still it is alike human government under all forms and administrations, the will of man exercising absolute authority over man, by means of cunning and physical force. It may be patriarchal, hierarchical, monarchical, aristocratic, democratic, or mobocratic - still it answers to this definition. It originates in man, depends on man, and makes man the lord - the slave of man.

What is the divine government? It is the infallible will of God prescribing the duty of moral agents, and claiming their primary undivided allegiance, as indispensable to the enjoyment of pure and endless happiness. In the resolution it is denominated "the kingdom and reign of Christ." The kingdom of Christ is the kingdom of God, for what is Christ's is God's. The Father dwells in the Son, and without Him the Son can do nothing. In this kingdom the all-perfect God is sole King, Lawgiver, and Judge. He divides his authority with no creature; he is absolute Sovereign; he claims the whole heart, mind, and strength. His throne is in the spirit, and he writes his law on the understanding. Whosoever will not obey him implicitly is not yet delivered from the kingdom of darkness, and abides in moral death.

From this it appears that human government, properly so called, can in no case be either superior to, or coequal with, the divine. Can this conclusion be avoided? There are three, and only three cases, in which human government may dispute supremacy with the divine.

1 . When God requires one thing and man requires the contrary. In this case, who ought we to obey? All Christians must answer, with the faithful apostles of old, "We ought to obey God rather than men." But must we disobey parents, patriarchs, priests, kings, nobles, presidents, governors, generals, legislatures, constitutions, armies, mobs - all rather than disobey God? We MUST, and then patiently endure the penal consequences. Then surely human government is nothing against the government of God.

2. Human government and divine government sometimes agree in prescribing the same duty; i.e. God and man both require the same thing. In this case ought not the reverence of human authority to constitute at least a part of the motive for doing right? We will see. Did man originate this duty? No. Did he first declare it? No. Has he added one iota of obligation to it? No. God originated it, first declared it, and made it in the highest possible degree obligatory. Human government has merely borrowed it, re-echoed, and interwoven it with the tissue of its own enactments. How then can the Christian turn his back on Jehovah, and make his low obeisance to man? Or how can he divide his reverence between the divine and mere human authority? How can he perform this duty any more willingly or faithfully, because human government has re-enacted it? Evidently he cannot. He will feel that it is the Creator's law, not the creature's; that he is under the highest possible obligation to perform it from reverence to God alone. Man has adopted it, and incorporated it with his own devices, but he has added nothing to its rightfulness or force. Here again human government is virtually nothing. It has not even a claim of joint reverence, with that of the divine.

3. Human legislators enact many laws for the relief, convenience, and general welfare of mankind, which are demonstrably right and salutary, but which God never expressly authorized in detail. In this case has not human authority a primary claim to our reverence? Let us see. What is the motive from which a true Christian will perform these requirements of man? Must he not first be convinced that they are in perfect harmony with the great law of love to God and man - that they agree with what the divine Lawgiver has expressly required? Doubtless. Well, when fully convinced of this, what are they to him but mere amplifications of the heavenly law - new applications of its plain principles - more minute details of acknowledged general duty? What, therefore, is demonstrably right, he will feel bound to approve and scrupulously practice, not for human government's sake, but for righteousness' sake - or, in other words, for the divine government's sake. This must be his great motive, for no other would be a holy motive. It is one thing to discover new items of duty - new applications of moral obligation - and another to create them. Man may discover and point out new details - circumstantial peculiarities of duty - but he cannot create principles, nor originate moral obligation. The infinite Father has preoccupied this whole field. What then if the legislature discovers a new item of duty, arising out of a new combination of circumstances, and enacts a good law for the observance of that duty, with pains and penalties annexed; or what if a convention like this discovers the existence of such an item of duty, and affirms it in the form of a solemn resolution; the duty once made plain, no matter how, would not the truly good man be under precisely the same obligation to perform it? And if the legislature should afterwards without cause repeal such a law, and enact a bad one in its stead; or if this convention should repudiate the existence of the duty before declared, would not the enlightened Christian still be under precisely the same obligation? None of these supposed circumstances ought to weigh a feather upon the conscience. The sense of obligation must look directly to the Great Source of moral perfection, and the grand controlling motive of a holy heart in the performance of every duty must be, God requires it - it is right - it is best. We must perform all our duties as unto God, and not unto man.

The conclusion is therefore unavoidable, that the will of man (human government) - whether in one, a thousand, or many millions - has no intrinsic authority, no moral supremacy, and no rightful claim to the allegiance of man. It has no original, inherent authority whatsoever over the conscience. What then becomes of human government, as contradistinguished from the divine government? Is it not a mere cipher? When it opposes God's government, it is nothing; when it agrees with his government, it is nothing; and when it discovers a new item of duty - a new application of the general law of God - it is nothing.

We now arrive at the third inquiry suggested in the resolution before us: what is the object of non-resistants with respect to human government? Is it their object to purify it, to reform it? No, for our principles forbid us to take any part in the management of its machinery. We can neither fight for it, legislate in it, hold its offices, vote at its elections, nor act any political part within its pale. To purify, to reform it - if such were our object - we must actively participate in its management. Moreover, if human government, properly so called, is what I have shown it to be, there can be no such thing as purifying it. Where there is nothing but dross, there is nothing to refine. What then is the object of non-resistants with respect to human governments - if it is neither to purify nor subvert them? The resolution declares that it is to supersede them. To supersede them with what? With the kingdom of Christ. How? By the spiritual regeneration of their individual subjects - by implanting in their minds higher principles of feeling and action - by giving them heavenly instead of earthly motives. And now, to understand this process of superseding, let us consider the nature of Christ's kingdom. It is not an outward, temporal kingdom, like those of this world. It is spiritual, moral, and eternal. (Excerpt)

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