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Skeletons of a Course of
Theological Lectures

By Charles G. Finney


Lecture XLII.

Moral Government.--No. 21.


Human Governments Are A Part Of The Moral Government Of God.--No. 2.

First. The reasons why God has made no form of Church or State Government universally obligatory.

1. That God has nowhere in the Bible given directions in regard to any particular form of church or secular government, is a matter of fact.

2. That he did not consider the then existing forms, either of church or state government, as of perpetual obligation, is also certain.

3. He did not give directions in regard to particular forms of government, either church or state:

(1.) Because no such directions could be given, without producing great revolutions and governmental opposition to Christianity. The governments of the world are and always have been exceedingly various in form. To attempt, therefore, to insist upon any particular form, as being universally obligatory, would be calling out great national opposition to religion.
(2.) Because, that no particular form, of church or state government, either now is, or ever has been, suited to all degrees of intelligence, and states of society.
(3.) Because the forms of both church and state governments, need to be changed, with any great elevations or depressions of society in regard to their intelligence and virtue.

Second. The particular forms of Church and State Government, must and will depend upon the virtue and intelligence of the people.

1. Democracy is self government, and can never be safe or useful, only so far as there is sufficient intelligence and virtue in the community to impose, by mutual consent, salutary self restraints, and to enforce by the power of public sentiment, and by the fear and love of God, the practice of those virtues which are indispensable to the highest good of any community.

2. Republics are another and less perfect form of self government.

3. When there are not sufficient intelligence and virtue among the people, to legislate in accordance with the highest good of the state or nation, then both democracies and republics are improper and impracticable, as forms of government.

4. When there is too little intelligence and virtue in the mass of the people, to legislate on correct principles, monarchies are better calculated to restrain vice and promote virtue.

5. In the worst states of society, despotisms, either civil or military, are the only proper and efficient forms of government.

6. When virtue and intelligence are nearly universal, democratic forms of government are well suited to promote the public good.

7. In such a state of society, democracy is greatly conducive to the general diffusion of knowledge on governmental subjects.

8. Although in some respects less convenient and more expensive, yet in a suitable state of society, a democracy is in many respects the most desirable form, either of church or state government:

(1.) It is conducive, as has been already said, to general intelligence.
(2.) Under a democracy, the people are more generally acquainted with the laws.
(3.) They are more interested in them.
(4.) This form of government creates a more general feeling of individual responsibility.
(5.) Governmental questions are more apt to be thoroughly discussed and understood before they are adopted.
(6.) As the diffusion of knowledge is favourable to individual and public virtue, democracy is highly conducive to virtue and happiness.

9. God has always providentially given to mankind those forms of government that were suited to the degrees of virtue and intelligence among them.

10. If they have been extremely ignorant and vicious, he has restrained them by the iron rod of human despotism.

11. If more intelligent and virtuous, he has given them the milder forms of limited monarchies.

12. If still more intelligent and virtuous, he has given them still more liberty, and providentially established republics for their government.

13. Whenever the general state of intelligence has permitted it, he has put them to the test of self-government and self restraint, by establishing democracies.

14. If the world ever becomes perfectly virtuous both church and state governments will be proportionally modified, and employed in expounding and applying the great principles of moral law, to the spiritual and secular concerns of men.

15. The above principles are equally applicable to church and state governments. Episcopacy is well suited to a state of general ignorance among the people. Presbyterianism, or Church Republicanism is better suited to a more advanced state of intelligence and the prevalence of Christian principle. While Congregationalism, or spiritual Democracy, is best suited and only suited to a state of general intelligence, and the prevalence of Christian principle.

16. God's providence has always modified both church and state governments, so as to suit the intelligence and virtue of the people. As churches and nations rise and fall in the scale of virtue and intelligence, these various forms of government naturally and necessarily give place to each other. So that ecclesiastical and state despotism, or liberty, depends naturally, providentially, and necessarily upon the virtue and intelligence of the people.

17. God is infinitely benevolent, and from time to time, gives the people as much liberty as they can bear.

Third. The true basis on which the right of Human Legislation rests.

Under this head, I need only to repeat what has already been said in substance in these lectures, that the right of human legislation is founded in the necessities of mankind. The nature and ignorance of mankind lie at the foundation of this necessity. Their wickedness, the multiplicity and variety of their wants, are additional reasons, demanding the existence of human governments. Let it be understood, then, that the foundation of the right of human governments lies not in the arbitrary will of God; but in the nature, relations, and circumstances of human beings.

Fourth. That form of Government is obligatory, that is best suited to meet the necessities of the people.

1. This follows as a self evident truth, from the consideration, that it is necessity alone that creates the right of human government. To meet these necessities, is the object of government; and that government is obligatory and best, which is demanded by the circumstances, intelligence, and morals of the people.

2. Consequently, in certain states of society, it would be a Christian's duty to pray for and sustain even a military despotism; in a certain other state of society, to pray for and sustain a monarchy. And in other states, to pray for and sustain a republic; and in a still more advanced stage of virtue and intelligence, to pray for and sustain a democracy; if indeed a democracy is the most wholesome form of self government, which may admit a doubt.

Fifth. Revolutions become necessarily and obligatory, when the virtue and intelligence or the vice and ignorance of the people demand them.

1. This is a thing of course. When one form of government fails to meet any longer the necessities of the people, it is the duty of the people to revolutionize.

2. In such cases, it is in vain to oppose revolution; for in some way the benevolence of God will bring it about. Upon this principle alone, can what is generally termed the American Revolution be justified. The intelligence and virtue of our Puritan fore fathers rendered a monarchy an unnecessary burden, and a republican form of government both appropriate and necessary. And God always allows his children as much liberty as they are prepared to enjoy.

3. The stability of our republican institutions must depend upon the progress of general intelligence and virtue. If in these respects the nation falls, if general intelligence, public and private virtue sink to that point below which self-control becomes impossible, we must fall back into monarchy, limited or absolute; or into a civil or military despotism; just according to the national standard of intelligence and virtue. This is just as certain as that God governs the world, or that causes produce their effects.

4. Therefore, it is the maddest conceivable policy, for Christians to attempt to uproot human governments, while they ought to be engaged in sustaining them, upon the great principles of the moral law. It is certainly stark nonsense, if not abominable wickedness, to overlook, either in theory or practice, these plain, common sense, and universal truths.

Sixth. In what cases Human Legislation is valid, and in what cases it is null and void.

1. Human legislation is valid, when called for by the necessities--that is--by the nature, relations and circumstances of the people.

2. Just that kind and degree of human legislation which are demanded by the necessities of the people are obligatory.

3. Human legislation is utterly null and void in all other cases whatsoever; and I may add, that divine legislation would be equally null and void; unless demanded by the nature, relations, and necessities of human beings. Consequently human beings can never legislate in opposition to the moral law. Whatever is inconsistent with supreme love to God and equal love to our neighbor, can by no possibility be obligatory.

Seventh. In what cases we are bound to disobey Human Governments.

1. We may yield obedience, when the thing required does not involve a violation of moral obligation.

2. We are bound to yield obedience, when legislation is in accordance with the law of nature.

3. We are bound to obey when the thing required has no moral character in itself; upon the principle, that obedience, in this case, is a less evil than revolution or misrule. But --

4. We are bound in all cases to disobey, when human legislation contravenes moral law, or invades the rights of conscience.