The Duty of Civil Authorities

It’s easy to summarize the duty of civil authorities in response to abortion, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade: They must stop it. They must forbid it by law, then punish those who break the law. They must protect and defend those God has placed under their care. They must fear and honor God by recognizing His image in every man, woman, and child. God has ordained them to punish evil and reward good. And concerning those who murder unborn children specifically, the civil authority must obey God’s command, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:6).

These things are easy to write and speak, but difficult to do. Still, as with all duties commanded by God, governing with justice will yield its fruit of peace and righteousness; it will bring on both the ruler and those he rules God’s approval and blessing.

The Civil Ruler and God’s Law

In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul presents the clearest, most direct declaration of the civil magistrate’s duties:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Rom. 13:1–7)

Note what is said about governing authorities:

  1. They are from God.
  2. They are appointed by God.
  3. They carry out the ordinances of God.
  4. They are a terror, not to good, but to evil.
  5. They are God’s ministers for good.
  6. They are avenging ministers of God to bring God’s wrath on those who do evil.
  7. They are to be supported by us through taxes, customs, fear, and honor.

These statements are true of every civil magistrate no matter his particular bailiwick. The degree and scope of implementation will differ according to the office he holds. The president of the United States has a much larger sphere to govern than a city’s mayor or a county councilor, yet the essence of their duties is the same. We may encapsulate these truths by focusing on the magistrate as a minister of God. In common parlance, we think of “minister” as synonymous with “pastor,” but the latter is simply one species of the former.

The analogy is instructive. The pastor is a minister of God’s ordinances too, but the ordinances he is to enforce are of a spiritual sort since God has delegated him authority over His church. God has not delegated him the sword, but rather the keys of His spiritual kingdom; and, in that connection, the administration of the sacraments by which the boundaries of His kingdom are made visible.

The civil ruler is a minister of God’s ordinances also—but those pertaining to public life. God has granted him the ministry of authority over the public sphere of law, government, and justice. God has delegated him the sword to enforce the laws that govern his sphere. Further, those laws are not, ultimately, his own, since they flow from the eternal law of God:

I am not now speaking of the observance of the law of nature and of the divine law, or of the law of nations; observance of these is binding upon all kings . . .209

The civil ruler has authority to promulgate and administer the law, but he also has been delegated by God authority to enforce that law through punishment. This is what Scripture refers to when it designates him an “avenger” of evil, referencing the sword that he bears. Not only does he have the ability, authority, and right to punish evil; he has the duty to do so. This is part of the ministry he has received from God, and he may not lawfully divest himself of it.

Moreover, the obligation of the civil ruler to enforce God’s law is inseparable from his duty to discern who is violating the law. As with rulers of other spheres, the civil ruler must discern good from evil. Some understanding of good and evil can be gained from natural law, but full knowledge can only come from divine revelation:

Yet undoubtedly the revealed law is (humanly speaking) of infinitely more authority than what we generally call the natural law. Because one is the law of nature, expressly declared so to be by God himself; the other is only what, by the assistance of human reason, we imagine to be that law. If we could be as certain of the latter as we are of the former, both would have an equal authority; but, till then, they can never be put in any competition together.

Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.210

Enforcing and administering the laws also has reciprocal elements. Just as the Seventh Commandment does not simply forbid adultery, but also enjoins love and fidelity toward one’s wife,211 so also the ruler’s obligation to punish evil requires him to promote good. The ruler who cultivates good relations with foreign nations but refuses to commit arms to stopping an invasion is in violation of his duty. The city councilor who encourages citizens to vote but does not punish voter fraud is a failure.

Similarly, concerning abortion, the civil magistrate must understand he is a minister of God’s command that those who shed the blood of man shall suffer the same. He must bear the sword of God’s wrath against the one who murders His image-bearers, carrying out His sentence of death. The ruler’s own background, history, opinions, sentiments, compunctions, feelings, and so on are, in one sense, immaterial. As with any other murder, the injunction against child murder comes from the Chief Lawgiver, and each subordinate lawgiver He has established has a duty to carry out the law established by His authority.

Neither the law nor the authority is, in fact, the minister’s own; they are delegated to him for a specific function which is, in its negative dimension, to stop the evil of child murder. In its positive dimension, he is commanded to do all he can to value, honor, and care for the life of mankind as God has ordained and established it under His rule.

Thus the civil authority is required by God to defend the unborn by criminalizing abortion to the end that our little ones may be restored to the protection of the rule of law. In enforcing laws against mothers killing their babies, the civil ruler must beware of the temptation to profess he has more tenderness and compassion than God Himself. In America, our civil authorities formerly forbade abortion. Those laws must be restored.

In doing so, the overturning of Roe is a necessary and long-desired step. But, as we said earlier, joy in the downfall of Roe must not blind Christians to what is glaringly absent in the majority opinion of Dobbs: the recognition of the personhood of the unborn child. It is well for us to argue on the basis of federalism that the national government may not force abortion on the states, on the basis of strict constructionism that no constitutional right to abortion exists, or on the basis of originalism that the founders envisioned no such right—but all such arguments pale before the foundational issue: that, by God’s decree, no man may lawfully destroy the image of God placed in man. So long as we in our laws continue to see originalism as the only proper basis for opposing abortion, we fall short of God’s requirements. We act as Constitutionalists but not as Christians. May the end of Roe be only the first step in restoring God’s rule of law to our nation.

Moreover, it will not be enough merely to restore pre-Roe legal frameworks. At that time, the law was inconsistent in its application. State and local laws permitted exceptions while not making those who procured abortions liable for the crime of murder. Even those who performed abortions were not punished for murder. The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade noticed this inconsistency and decided this abolished the argument that preborn children are persons with due process afforded to them in the Constitution. The court said:

When Texas urges that a fetus is entitled to Fourteenth Amendment protection as a person, it faces a dilemma. Neither in Texas nor in any other State are all abortions prohibited. Despite broad proscription, an exception always exists. The exception contained in Art. 1196, for an abortion procured or attempted by medical advice for the purpose of saving the life of the mother, is typical. But if the fetus is a person who is not to be deprived of life without due process of law, and if the mother’s condition is the sole determinant, does not the Texas exception appear to be out of line with the Amendment’s command?

There are other inconsistencies between Fourteenth Amendment status and the typical abortion statute. It has already been pointed out . . . that in Texas the woman is not a principal or an accomplice with respect to an abortion upon her. If the fetus is a person, why is the woman not a principal or an accomplice? Further, the penalty for criminal abortion specified by Art. 1195 is significantly less than the maximum penalty for murder prescribed by Art. 1257 of the Texas Penal Code. If the fetus is a person, may the penalties be different?

A preborn baby is a person, and just as civil magistrates should work to overthrow all laws and policies that allow and promote abortion, they must do so with God’s law as their standard. Abortion is murder according to God and should be treated as such by the civil magistrate.

Such a commitment to the law would not simply deter this great evil, but it would also serve a teaching function much needed now when it has become a habit to speak and think of little babies as “wanted” or “unwanted,” “planned” or “unplanned”; when it has become our habit to dehumanize these little ones by referring to them as “fetuses,” “fetal tissue,” and “the products of conception.”

Another element of this teaching work has already begun in some states. When a child’s life ended in miscarriage or stillbirth, for many years the “fetus” was disposed of by hospitals and doctors. In fact, mothers and fathers were often forbidden by law from taking their dead child to bury and mourn. Such laws teach falsely that unborn children are not human beings, and that their loss is nothing to mourn. Recently, however, in some places the law now requires doctors and hospitals to offer mothers and fathers the opportunity to take their child’s body, regardless of how old or young he may have been.212 Laws such as this remind everybody involved that a miscarriage or stillbirth is not simply the loss of “fetal tissue,” but the death of a child.

From conception, every little one created by God bears His image and likeness, so that to shed his blood is to destroy God’s glory in him. Child-killing is an act of warfare against God Himself, and the civil ruler is required by God to execute His wrath upon all those committing this awful crime.

Keeping Our Eye on the Ball: Understanding the Dangers of Incrementalism

Civil magistrates must also be attentive to the current context of abortion, noting where their action is most needed. Presently, as we have noted, pro-lifers’ and anti-abortionists’ attention is fixed on surgical abortion. It is assumed that success on the surgical front will be a substantive victory toward the suppression of abortion overall. And, to be sure, we rejoice in the present decline of surgical abortions. It is God’s blessing that, as technologies such as ultrasound shove our noses in the gore of our surgical child murders, many citizens and rulers could no longer countenance such an obvious moral monstrosity. Reforming our infant holocaust must start somewhere, so it is good there is some movement in the laws of our land outlawing a few of the more horrendous parts of this bloodshed. It is also good for the ghouls of Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League to see progress in laws against abortion, and to have a growing fear that society will condemn, outlaw, and punish their bloodlust.

On the other hand, while it is true that politics is the art of the possible, the people of God must let our voices be heard when pro-life legislation is proposed and passed which forestalls the abolition of abortion. We must fight against this bloodshed until all those profiting from it personally, financially, and politically are brought down from power and the lives of our little ones are brought back under the law’s protection; until all the institutional forces protecting this bloodshed repent or yield up their authority in an unconditional surrender.

Laws outlawing this or that more limited aspect of our baby holocaust can be harmful if they diminish our zeal in opposing this holocaust itself. Incrementalism can have unintended consequences that are harmful to the larger goal. Eating away at the edges of our bloodletting may become a sort of medieval morality play that confirms our feelings of moral superiority while demoralizing us so we take no larger step towards the entire outlawing of abortion.

Today, the overturning of Roe is a prime example of both the benefits and the limits of incrementalism. On the one hand, Roe was birthed in a long twilight of gradual compromises and defeats. It represented not the initial salvo from the Evil One against the unborn, but rather the culmination of decay in our marriages, churches, and societies for some one hundred years previous. And so, as Roe happened by incremental decay, so its downfall happened by gradual progress. Much of this has been noted in this document. The awakening of the (Protestant) Christian conscience. The development of ultrasound technology. The political awakening of Christians and their recognition of abortion as a bedrock issue. The pushing of laws to restrict abortion. The attempt to close abortion “clinics” by creative means. The election of presidents committed to appointing SCOTUS justices who would overturn Roe. For reasons known only to Himself, God chose to bring Roe down, not suddenly, but by the gradual work of faithful Christians.

Yet gradual success brings with it its own dangers. Having toiled for so long to achieve even a small victory, we rest on our laurels and take our ease. Having crossed the Jordan and defeated Jericho, we content ourselves with the land already taken by our fathers, and fail to achieve the victories and gain the ground given us by the Lord. And when a man with faith challenges us to fulfill the mission we’ve been given, we think him foolish. We mistake faithlessness for prudence, sloth for judiciousness, and think God incapable of working if not according to our conceptions. Faced with Goliaths on every bloody front, we quash the Davids in our midst, calling their zeal presumption and their courage recklessness.

Then, too, success tempts us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We become enamored with our wisdom, our strategies, our understanding of the body politic, our compassion for women, and so on—forgetting that the One who has called us to fight abortion is the same One whose thoughts are far above our own:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. (Isa. 40:28)

There are also practical matters to consider. In particular, the civil authority should consider that anti-abortion bills that are limited in scope can have unintended consequences. Remember that the law is a teaching mechanism. As noted earlier, one unintended consequence of the pro-life focus on surgical abortions—say, for instance, twenty-week abortion bans and heartbeat bills—is that abortion moves to younger ages not impacted by these laws. An exclusive focus on surgical abortions may well entrench the murder of children at increasingly younger ages—ages it is more difficult to marshal political opposition to.

Worst of all, victory on one front can cause us to redefine the command and counsel of God. Having labored for many years against the most obvious symbol of abortion in our land, we begin to confine God’s commands to it. Unable in our strength to abolish abortion completely, we satisfy ourselves that overturning Roe is surely enough work, and surely will please God enough. And in so doing, we circumscribe the law of God, justifying ourselves by our paltry works and omitting what we cannot achieve:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (Matt. 23:23)

Indeed, our tendency to focus on the less painful parts of reform is obvious. For example, observe how pro-lifers focus almost exclusively on surgical abortions. For a number of reasons, it’s much more difficult to oppose and pass laws against chemical abortions, yet chemical abortions (what abortionists refer to as “medication abortions”) are now the majority of abortions. It may be possible to focus on some aspects of chemical abortions without outlawing them entirely at first, but we must be honest with our arguments, never misleading the babies’ murderers to the end that they think they can manipulate the Christian vote and retain their authority by occasionally fiddling around the edges of this ongoing slaughter. In all cases, we must be clear that the Christian conscience is principled—not pragmatic; and that its driving principle can never be stated either personally or in legal code as anything less than “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”

Thus, to the extent that Roe is now overturned and some aspects of law concerning preborn human life return to pre-Roe frameworks, we should be glad, and should take stock of the means that led to this success. Yet we may never content ourselves by seeing Roe as the limit of our opposition to abortion. Its undoing is something that we ought to have done, but we may not leave undone the work of abolishing the countless remaining manifestations of abortion. IUDs, RU-486, Plan B, hormonal birth control—all these remain and are growing, and they are an enemy as deadly and entangled with us as Roe ever was.

Christians must therefore not regard any victory in the battle as the end of the war. Even with Roe overturned, no state has yet completely banned abortion (Oklahoma has come closest), and children younger than six weeks will continue to be killed even in states where abortion is curtailed. A generation ago, godly Christians might have seen overturning Roe as the final goal in ending abortion, but the truth has now become clearer. The end of Roe is not the end of abortion, nor even the beginning of the end, but rather—perhaps—the end of the beginning.213

Zeal Tempered by Knowledge: Prudent Policies

Scripture demonstrates that zeal for God’s law and character is a constant feature of civil authorities who are praiseworthy. One is hard-pressed to find Scripture ever condemning a man for zeal for God’s glory. Yet zeal alone doth not a just ruler make. Zeal must be tempered by knowledge:

For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. (Rom. 10:2)

Our Lord Himself warned against undertaking a task we lack the resources to complete:

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. (Luke 14:28–32)

Assembling resources, developing strategies and tactics, assessing our opponent’s resources, strategies, and tactics, and carefully considering possible collateral damage—in all these things we must temper our zeal with knowledge. Civil authorities willing to join this battle must consider not just the ultimate goal of abolishing abortion, but the means and resources God has supplied. We must evaluate the condition our fellow Christians’ hearts with respect to abortion. Do those we must depend upon in this battle—our brothers and sisters in Christ—truly understand the nature of this killing in all its sordid details? Do they have the will to call their neighbors and rulers to repentance, or are they aiming simply at repeating shibboleths of the pro-life movement?

We see the sort of hostilities and dangers we will face from fellow believers as we read the history of the kings of Israel. Beginning with Solomon, Scripture records a relentless decline in the faithfulness of God’s people, and this decline was represented and led by Israel’s faithless and wicked kings. We have already noted some of the worst of these: Manasseh was the king of God’s covenant people when he led them in sacrificing their little covenant children to the demon god of Molech.

Yet Israel was also led by godly kings such as Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. The hearts of these men were toward God, and thus they sought to end the gross wickedness of their predecessors and the people they ruled.

It is noteworthy that Scripture is not absolutist toward even these godly kings, but faithfully documents both the good and evil of their leadership:

He [Jehoshaphat] walked in the way of his father Asa and did not depart from it, doing right in the sight of the Lord. The high places, however, were not removed; the people had not yet directed their hearts to the God of their fathers. (2 Chron. 20:32–33)

This is the refrain of many a righteous king: he “did what was right in the sight of the Lord,” yet “the high places were not taken away.” In this and many similar passages, the Holy Spirit does not tell us why they were not taken away. We can imagine any number of reasons. The king had no desire himself to remove the high places. Or maybe he wanted to, but it was inexpedient or politically impossible. Maybe his advisors opposed him in it. It could well be that he was worried what his queen would think (à la Solomon).

In one sense, the reason doesn’t matter; it was evil that the high places remained, and this was a blot on the soul of the king and his nation. Yet note how this failure is not the focus of the summary of the king’s life.214 It’s important enough to mention, but does not dominate. It is possible to read this as a direct condemnation of the king, yet also possible to read it as more an assessment of the spiritual state of the nation and the attending realities.

So why were the high places not removed? Well, in Jehoshaphat’s case, we’re told why: “The people had not directed their hearts to the God of their fathers.” Certainly, they ought to have; but they hadn’t. They were not yet at that point in their repentance.

Our nation and its bloodshed are much like this. We have kings and rulers who resemble the kings of Israel who worshiped the true God without tearing down the idols and high places. Some of our rulers are devoted to abortion’s bloodshed, while others are apathetic. Some rulers oppose abortion’s bloodshed, but do so timidly. Only a very few have shown zeal in working to bring this genocide to an end.

Depending upon which sort of rulers we are governed by, we can see a variety of strategies and intentions motivating this or that policy initiative or law restricting abortion. One ruler supports an anti-abortion initiative for his own political advantage; another does so because he has some commitment to morality; and yet another because he truly fears God and honors His moral law. Still, this and similar leadership motivated by any even minimal desire to end abortion that leads to fewer infants being killed is something to rejoice over. And if we do have a ruler who fears God, we can rejoice all the more.

Recognize, though, that having the blessing of being governed by a ruler who fears God and trembles at the bloodshed of babies does not make the way forward totally clear. Even then, not all those who fear God and pray for the abolition of abortion will see strategy and tactics in the same way.

What some promote as a daring sortie testifying to faith and zeal will be condemned by others as a Pyrrhic victory that will result, not in less bloodshed, but more, because the zealot did not take into account all the factors: the probable response of the watching world, the stiffening of resolve on the part of godless rulers, or the effect of their action on the people of God themselves. Every calculation of how many babies will be saved each year when, by God’s power, abortion has finally been criminalized, must be accompanied by a parallel calculation of how many babies will be lost. Remember, politics is the art of the possible. Our principled and absolute opposition to all abortion must not give birth to zeal without knowledge which causes even more bloodshed of the preborn.

With this in mind, civil rulers must temper zeal with wisdom from on high. We must sympathize with them in the difficulty of their decisions, praying that God will give them wisdom. In whatever station and with whatever gifting God has given them, civil rulers should work toward stopping abortion as quickly and as completely as possible. In some cases (e.g., as has been done with Roe v. Wade), this will mean supporting a law directly challenging a decision, policy, or law that upholds abortion in our land. In other cases, prudence may require a ruler to prioritize a strategy offering the most long-term benefits for ending the bloodshed. This may cause him to expend more energy on a bill or policy less direct in its challenge to abortion because he believes doing so has more potential to hamper the bloodshed in the future. Remember that Roe v. Wade did not draw its legal foundation from blunt preestablished “rights” to abortion, but from the subtle expansions of rights of “privacy” that had wound their way through earlier decisions such as Griswold v. Connecticut. The direct attack is not always the best path to victory. All that glitters is not gold.

For all the above reasons we renew our commitment to the truth that it is not the office of the church to dictate exactly how the civil magistrate must do his work. If complete abolition of abortion is not politically feasible in a given polity at a given time, it is still godly for the civil authority to save as many lives as possible through efforts short of complete abolition—always keeping firmly in mind that complete abolition is God’s decretive standard and must remain the ruler’s final objective.

The Accountability of Civil Rulers

Thus we remind every ruler that he will face accountability for how he has stewarded his authority from God. Some of his accountability will be to higher magistrates and some to those who elected him.

Nevertheless, his final accounting will be to God. He will give account to God for how he fulfilled his duty to punish evil and reward good. He will not be judged according to what he or his subjects think is evil or good, but according to what God’s moral law declares evil and good. Whether he acknowledges it or not, the day is quickly coming when he will stand at the bar of the Almighty, and on that day no excuses will avail for his refusals to carry out the duties of his God-ordained station.

Every civil ruler will be judged by God for honoring or abandoning the defense of life, and especially the defense of lives weak or powerless because they live at the margins of society. This is the most fundamental God-given duty of a civil magistrate. In other ways, a particular ruler’s administration of law might be commendable: he may have lowered taxes, cleaned out corporate corruption, balanced the budget, conserved natural resources, reduced government tyranny, and enhanced religious freedom across his domain; yet if he has turned a blind eye to the bloodshed of those living at the margins of his domain and not striven to bring it to an end, his administration has failed at the most basic duty God has delegated to him. The bloodguilt must be removed from the land, and he is the one charged by God with the responsibility of doing so.

Knowing God’s requirements, yet being aware of our own inability, we are tempted to make only token efforts, only perfunctory attempts we know will accomplish little. Concerning abortion, we all have observed how often politicians play games with the lives of these little ones. Not having the courage to stand on principle, politicians run on being “pro-life”; they write pro-life commitments into their party platforms, then spend almost none of their political capital defending the little ones. Announcing that they are “pro-life” is a political ruse more for getting out the vote and raising campaign contributions than for ending abortion. For this reason, those who oppose abortion commonly lament, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, I’m a Republican.”

Still, despite all the promises our rulers have left unfulfilled, knowing our God’s arm is mighty in behalf of the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner in our midst, by faith we rejoice in the sure and certain truth that God sees, God knows, and will bring every deed into judgment.

Apathy, half measures, and unfaithfulness are not exclusive to rulers, of course; they are common to man. Yet Scripture is clear that with authority comes greater accountability. The Apostle James warned teachers, “Let not many of you become teachers, . . . knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). If our teachers will be judged by God more strictly, what of His judgment of civil rulers whose raison d’être is judgment and punishment? Of all offices in God’s economy, the civil ruler is the only one given expansive powers of temporal and physical penalties. He is the only one given the power of the sword, the only one authorized to compel financial support, the only one authorized to make war. God has made him steward of great power and authority, and has directed him to use it to serve and protect his citizens. The civil authority must fear God and His judgment:

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Luke 12:42–48)

Hearing this high calling might cause any man to despair. Seeing the corruption of their own hearts and the corruption of those under their authority, many rulers have thrown in the towel. Yet those suffering this temptation should remember that, though God is perfectly just and holy, He also knows His sons are not. He knows our frame and remembers that we are dust (Ps. 103:14).

Yes, this is the command given by Jesus: “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). God doesn’t dream or wish we were perfect in our exercise of authority: He commands us to be so. His standards are perfection. This is a fundamental gospel truth because the hopelessness of perfection in ourselves and our subjects causes us to despair of ourselves and live by faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the whole world to whom God the Father has delegated all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18).

So then, we are to honor and keep His commandments, but we do so by faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, knowing that this faith has already overcome the world, making His commandments not grievous to us:

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (1 John 5:3–4)

This work of governing requires wisdom, care, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. No ruler, nor any one of us, is sufficient for these things (2 Cor. 2:16), and it is only through the power of God and the fellowship of His church that any ruler may hope to honor God, particularly in his defense of the unborn. That defense may or may not result in great and epic advances against the evil of abortion, but no better epitaph for a magistrate’s efforts could be given than this one given by our Lord: “She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8).

  1. Hugo Grotius, De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, 121 (1.3.16).↩︎

  2. 1 William Blackstone, Commentaries *42.↩︎

  3. See Westminster Larger Catechism, question 138,↩︎

  4. See, e.g., Indiana Code § 16-21-11-4, which recognizes parents’ right to determine final disposition of the body of their little one lost to miscarriage.↩︎

  5. See Winston Churchill, in a 1942 speech commenting on the battle of El Alamein. “Autumn 1942 (Age 68),” International Churchill Society, March 12, 2015,↩︎

  6. It may also be instructive that, in each such case, the words shift from active to passive voice: the deeds of the king (for good or for ill) are expressed in active voice, while the persistence of the high places is shifted into passive voice (“were not taken away”). This may represent a lower-level criticism of the king.↩︎