“Man hates his own conscience, when it puts him in mind of the law of God.”—Stephen Charnock; BD, 1699.
- Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Romans 8:7 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. Isaiah 55:8
1850: “There is a law above all human enactments, written by the finger of God on the heart of man—If human law commands me to do what God forbids, or forbids me to do what God commands, which ought I to obey?
Does any human conscience hesitate here?
Or take a specific case. Take the case supposed in the quotation just made from Blackstone. Suppose the human government under which a person lives commands him to commit a murder, when God has said, “Thou shalt do no murder!” Which would his conscience bid him to obey?
Would he have any doubt that he ought to disobey that human government, whatever the consequences to himself? Or suppose human rulers should command him to bear false witness, or tell a lie, would not his conscience at once decide that his duty is to disobey? Or suppose, again, that the government under which he lives, should forbid him to worship God, and command him to worship idols, would not his conscience require him to disregard its prohibition?
These plain cases are taken, because they are clear cases of a violation of God’s law commanded by human law. In like manner, in any case where human law clearly conflicts with the divine law, conscience decides that human law to be null and void. Surely it will be so decided by every enlightened conscience. If, in any case, there is doubt or hesitation, it is not because conscience hesitates about the supremacy of the divine law, but because there is doubt whether in that case human law does really conflict with the divine.
Let us now carry the question to the tribunal of reason.
There are three views which reason teaches us to take of this subject, each of which is decisive.
(1) In the first place, man derives his existence and all that he has from God. He has the capacity and authority to govern, only as he derives them from God. His authority, therefore, must be inferior and subordinate to God’s authority.
- Surely the stream can not rise higher than its source.
- Surely the officer whom the government commissions can not have authority superior to that of the government which commissioned him.
How then can any human authority overrule the authority of God; or how can any human commandment be binding when it contravenes God’s commandment?
(2) In the second place, reason teaches wherein authority consists, and thus shows that God’s authority in its constituent elements is altogether superior to human authority. Authority, or the right to govern, consists in competency to govern—in power, wisdom and goodness—the qualities which fit one for government.
The foundation of God’s authority over the universe lies in His infinite power, wisdom and goodness, which qualify Him to rule the universe. Now, as no human governors ever have approached or ever can approach the infinite God in those perfections which are the basis of authority, so their authority must ever be immensely inferior to His; and the idea that theirs should conflict with and overrule His, is not to be allowed for a moment.
(3) Reason teaches us, again, that God’s will or law is a perfect indication of right, while human law is a very imperfect and uncertain indication of right; and therefore when the divine conflicts with human law, men are bound to obey the former and disobey the latter: since men are, from their nature, under complete obligation to regard the right.
As Blackstone says; God in His infinite wisdom “has laid down only such laws as were founded in those relations of justice that existed in the nature of things, antecedent to any positive precept.”
For instance, to purpose, and to do good is right, and to purpose, and to do evil is wrong. They have been so eternally, and will be; and the will of no being whatever can make them otherwise. This eternal law of right men feel bound to obey. It binds them. They are so made that they can not avoid the sense of obligation to do what is right.
Now God, being perfect in knowledge and goodness, knows with absolute certainty, and has declared in His law, this eternal rule of right; so that His law is a perfectly unerring indication of right. But as the wisest and best of men are very liable to error, both in knowledge and disposition, the will or law of no man, or set of men, can be relied on as infallibly conformed to the rule of right.
Of course, God’s law ought always to take precedence of human law—the infallible must predominate over the fallible.”—The New Englander & Yale Review, Vol. 8; Edited by Edward Royall Tyler, et al; 1850.
1835: “Without dispute, God is to be obeyed rather than man; and although we must obey man for God, we must never obey man against God.”–Rev. Jeremy Taylor; DD.