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Calvin as Gadfly: Those who contend with God

30 May 2011 by FX Turk

Those who govern might therefore learn what their job is, for they are not to rule for their own interest, but the public good. They are not given limitless power, but are restricted to doing what's right for those who are governed. In short, they are responsible to exercise their authority for God's sake, and for men's sake. Because they are sworn in, as it were, by God to do His business, they will also be accountable to Him.  Then the duties and work which God wants them to do keeps people in mind, so the ruler has a responsibility to those he rules over as well. And in that way, those who are not in government but are governed also should remember that is it by God's own goodness that they are defended by those who handle the implements of war, and by governors and principals who guard them against the work of wicked men.

It is another part of the role of the governor that they ought to forcibly put down and subdue men who have no regard for the law -- those who willingly put off the law and work as if it does not apply to them -- so that they are punished in the way God says they ought to be punished. God says it specifically that those who are doing this should be well-armed -- not for show or ceremony, but because they need to strike at the evil doer, and kill him if necessary. He says they should be an avenger, one who executes God's wrath.

This is a remarkable passage because it says that, in God's view, the government has a right to bear arms. See: the Lord has equipped the magistrate with the sword, and commits him to use it for justice's sake. He may even bring death to the guilty, which is ultimately God's vengeance on the law-breaker, because this is God's command. So those who think it's wrong to bring violence against wicked men have to contend against God.

--Calvin, Commentary of Romans, 13:5-6

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