In 1878 Lipscomb was chastised by George W. Hanlin, a fellow-Tennesean, for his views on civil government. The writer doubted whether we would have the freedom to worship God if the “good, truly pious mean of 1776” had not framed our government. Christians should participate in politics because “laws were made to restrain bad people, and should only be made and administered by the best, most intelligent Christian men.”
In particular, Hanlin was appalled by a recent office-seeker who pledged the following: “God made this earth large, beautiful and free for all men. It is owned by comparatively few. Now, if the people will send me to the Legislature, I will endeavor to have a law enacted dividing it equally among us.” Hanlin argued that Christians must vote to keep such people out of office. Sound familiar? 🙂
Lipscomb responded that the men of 1776 were not as godly as Hanlin thought they were (e.g., Jefferson was a Deist), and then wrote (Gospel Advocate, 1878, 488-89):
I am to-day, more afraid of the preponderance of religious parties in the government than I am of the irreligious. The bane of the government has been religion in politics. The great source of corruption in the church has been its members mingling in the associations of the world, and in its mixing into the spirit of the worldly government. The best, most intelligent Christian men, generally become as corrupt in politics as those not Christians. This is nothing to the discredit of the Christian religion either, because the religion of Christ only proposes to save and purify those who remain faithfully under its influence. A good Christian man was murdered in our city a few days ago, because under the political influence he had taken a pistol to vindicate his father’s character.
I had just as soon to-day live under the government of Great Britain as under the one I do live under, so far as religious influence is concerned.
The chances are that the lawless communist of whom you speak is himself a professed Christian. If not he will be supported by men professing Christianity, just as freely as by others. We frequently hear Christians express just as bitter feelings against the rights of others as this man. That we are doomed to be cursed with Communistic tendencies, we think sure. Extremes beget extremes. This has been an age specially devoted to money making and money hoarding. This would naturally beget in the idle, the vicious and those who will not work, a disposition to prey upon the labor and toil of others. But the oppressors who gave the impetus to this communistic spirit and suggested the weapons to be used, are the wealthy themselves. While the country was at war, numbers grew rich off the misfortunes of the country. They bought government bonds at a low value; the war ended, the masses were poor–the few made rich. Not contented with the wealth thus gained, they used their riches to corrupt legislators, and by legislation to double their gains. They did it at that expense of the already impoverished tax-payers of the country. There never was an act of more high-handed robbery than the increasing of the value of the bonds of the United States to gold bearing bonds, thus doubling their value by legislation. To the extent that the bonds were increased by legislation, other taxable property was depreciated, rendered valueless. That is, the property and its value, and the citizen’s right in his property were destroyed by legislation to the extent of its depreciation, to benefit another class. That retaliation would come, no man, not blinded by self-interest, could doubt. We are not saying a Christian ought to retaliate. But the popular doctrine is “Fight the devil with fire.” That means, if the devil steals, you steal, too; make yourself as mean as the devil. A Christian ought not to do this. But the world and its governments will do it and when Christians go into them, they imbibe of their spirit and will do the same thing that they do. The bondholders first set the example of legislating to increase the value of their property at the expense of the masses; the masses, in turn, say that we have the same right to legislate to increase the value of our property by depreciating yours. Hence a crusade in our United States to destroy the property of the bondholders by legislation. It is an easy step when the bond-owners and others have attacked the rights of one kind of property, for the bondless to attack the rights of men in another kind of property. This is Communism.
The principle of communism was acted on when the bondholder’s property was doubled in value at the expense of others. Every man’s right in his property was destroyed to the extent it depreciated by legislation to the benefit of others.
Every man who urged or helped the legislation to increase the value of his bonds at the expense of others, was aiding in communism. He was showing others how they could ge other people’s property without rendering a just equivalent for it. He was a communist with the rights and property of others when he was securing legislation to destroy the property of others, that his own might be increased.
Every man now urging the repudiation in whole or in part of bonds, State or National, that his own property may be increased, is a communist. He is urging principles that may be turned against all property. He is placing a weapon in the communist’s hand that he will turn against all property right.
In all these differing parties, maintaining and practicing communuistic principles, Christians are to be found as well as others. Christians voting will not alter results on this question a particle. Christian bondholders just as freely as others used their money to induce Christian legislators to increase their property by destroying that of others. Just a many Christian legislators. as those not Christians voted for this, for the sake of gain; just as many Christians as of others, are no destroying the property of others in bonds for their own benefit; just as many Christians will engage in the cry for the destruction of all property of others for their own benefit as of others.
The Christian religion proposes to save men from dishonesty and sin by keeping them from dishonest, sinful associations and temptations. When they will go into these associations and temptations, they will steal and sin just like others. Don’t mistake me. This has been tried enough certainly to convince the most incredulous, if God’s word did not teach it. We think it infinitely better for the State, that a body of uncorrupted individuals should maintain morality and honor and act as a conservatory of morality and religion than that all should go into politics and be corrupted. Who could ever name the man that went into politics that did not become more or less demoralized and lose more or less of his religions and moral character and influence. Thousands make complete shipwrecks of their faith–all are demoralized. When one who is strong goes into politics and fails to become a castaway, he encourages others weak to go in who are ruined. “And through thy knowledge (strength) shall the weak brother perish for whom Christi died.” “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak consciences, ye sin against Christ.” If one human soul is worth more than the world, what earthly good can compensate for a course that leads man to death.
God always gave his people good government, good rulers when they trusted him and were willing for him to govern them. When they set up to govern themselves, choose their own rulers and manage their affairs after their own wisdom, instead of trusting God to govern them, he sent rulers to wast their substance, enslave their children and oppress their land. The people of the United States are not God’s people–his faithful disciples are his children. If they will trust him, be governed by him, he will give them a good ruler in the person of his Son. He permitted the disobedient nations to form governments and choose rulers that oppressed, overthrew, and destroyed their subjects. He overruled this wickedness that destroyed the wicked to his honor and his children’s good. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee. The remainder of wrath thou wilt restrain.” Psalms lxxvi:10. God ever rules the wrath of man to promote his honor and the good of his children, and restrains all beyond this. The civil governments of earth do not grow out of or succeed to God’s government of his people under Moses. The church of Christ succeeds, grows out of and is the antitype of God’s government of the Jews. The civil governments of earth are the successors and outgrowth of the rebellious in the days of Moses.
We now, as in the days of Judaism, are unwilling to let God guide us, govern us or direct us. We must manage our affairs to suit ourselves; we sow the seed of communism, and we must expect to reap the fruit. But should even communism in its wildest fury sweep over the land as a bosom of destruction, God will bless and protect all that are faithful and trustful of him. If I could only be as trustful of him as I ought, none of these things would move or trouble me. Christians trusting to human governments are the antitype of the Jews trusting the Egyptians and Babylonians. They whom they trusted destroyed them. Read Isaiah 30 and 31.