So far in this sermon on good order and obedience, you have seen it manifestly proven from the scriptures and examples that all subjects are bound to obey those in authority over them. They are not for any reason to resist, rebel, or plot sedition against them, even if they are wicked. Let no one think that they can escape unpunished if they commit treason, conspiracy, or rebellion against their sovereign ruler, even if they do so secretly in thought, word, or deed ever so privately in their own room by themselves, or openly communicating and consulting with others.
For treason will not be hidden. Treason will be exposed in the end. God will both expose and punish that most detestable vice, for it goes directly against his ordinance and against his high principal judge and anointed one on earth. The violence and injury that is committed against authority is committed against God, the commonwealth, and the whole realm. God will have this revealed and rightly punished one way or another. For it is notably written by the wise man in Scripture, in the book called Ecclesiastes, “Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say” (Ecclesiastes 10:20 NIV).
These lessons and examples are written for our learning. Let us all therefore fear the most detestable vice of rebellion, always knowing and remembering that the one who resists common authority resists God and his ordinance, as it may be proven by many other places of holy scripture.
The Pope’s pretence of power
Here let us take heed that we do not misunderstand these and such places which so directly command obedience to superiors and so straightforwardly punish rebellion and disobedience. They are not meant in any way to apply to the pretended power of the bishop of Rome. For truly the scripture of God allows no such usurped power, full of crimes, abuses, and blasphemies. But the true meaning of these and such places is to praise and declare God’s true ordinance, and the authority of God’s anointed kings and their officers appointed under them.
Concerning the usurped power of the bishop of Rome, who most wrongly claims to be the successor of Christ and Peter, we may easily perceive how false, fake, and forged it is. It has no sufficient basis in holy scripture, and we may easily see how wrong it is by the fruits and doctrine of it. For our saviour Christ and St. Peter both agree in teaching most earnestly our obedience to kings, as the chief and supreme rulers in the world under God. But the Bishop of Rome teaches that those who are under him are free from all the burdens and charges of the commonwealth, and free from obedience to their ruler. This is most clearly against Christ’s doctrine and St. Peter’s. He ought therefore to be called Antichrist, and the successor of the Scribes and Pharisees, rather than Christ’s vicar or St. Peter’s successor. No only on this point but also on other weighty matters of Christian religion, such as on the cancellation and forgiveness of sins and on salvation, he teaches so directly against both St. Peter and against our saviour Christ. They taught obedience to kings and also practised obedience in their daily lives, for we read that that they both paid their taxes (Matthew 17:24-27).
We also read that the holy virgin Mary, mother of our saviour Christ, and Joseph who was believed to be his father, went to the City of David called Bethlehem at the command of the Emperor, to be taxed, as others did. They declared their obedience to the magistrates, for the sake of God’s ordinance. And here let us not forget the blessed virgin Mary’s obedience. For although she was highly favoured by God, and Christ’s natural mother, and was also heavily pregnant at the time and near to giving birth, she still gladly and without any excuse or grudging (for conscience’s sake) took that cold and difficult winter journey. And when she gave birth, she even had to place the child in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them (Luke 2:4-7).
St. Peter also agrees, writing in these express words in his first letter: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For this is God’s will” (1 Peter 2:13-15). I do not need to expound these words, since they are so clear in themselves. St. Peter does not say, “Submit yourself to me, as supreme head of the Church.” Neither does he say, “Submit yourselves in future to my successors in Rome.” Rather, he says, “Submit yourselves to your ruler, your supreme head, and those appointed to authority under them.” That will demonstrate your obedience. That is the will of God. God wills that you are in subjection to your head and king. That is his ordinance, his commandment, and God’s holy will — that the whole body of every realm, and all the members and parts of it, shall be subject to their head, their ruler, and that (as St. Peter writes) for the Lord’s sake. St. Paul adds that it is for conscience’s sake too, and not only out of fear (Romans 13:5).
Thus we learn from the word of God to yield to our ruler what is due to them, that is, honour, obedience, payment of due taxes, customs, revenue, fees, love and reverence.
Prayer for our rulers
Thus we see in part what our duty is towards common authority. Now let us learn to live this out. And let us instantly and heartily pray to God, the only author of all authority, for all those who are in positions of authority. As St. Paul writes to Timothy: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour” (1 Timothy 2:1-3 NIV). Here Paul makes an earnest and special exhortation concerning thanksgiving and prayer for kings and rulers, as if to say, above all things you must principally and chiefly pray for rulers.
Let us heartily thank God for his great and excellent goodness and providence to us in this regard. Let us pray for our rulers, that they may have God’s favour and God’s protection. Let us pray that they may always in all things have God before their eyes. Let us pray that they may have wisdom, strength, justice, mercy, zeal for God’s glory and his truth, and for Christian souls and the commonwealth. Let us pray that they may rightly use their power and authority for the maintenance and defence of the catholic faith contained in holy scripture. Let us pray that they exercise it both for the benefit of their good and honest subjects, and as agents of wrath to bring punishment on wrongdoers (Romans 13:4).
Let us pray that they may faithfully follow the most faithful kings and captains in the Bible: David, Hezekiah, Josiah, Moses, and others. And let us pray for ourselves, that we may live godly, holy, and Christian lives, and therefore have God on our side (see Psalm 118:6; Hebrews 13:6). And then let us not fear what people can do to us (Psalm 56:11). So we shall live in true obedience, both to our most merciful king in heaven, and to our most Christian king on earth. So we shall please God, and have great benefits, peace of conscience, rest, and quietness here in this world; and after this life, we shall enjoy a better life, rest, peace, and the eternal bliss of heaven. May he who was obedient for us all, even to the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8), grant this to us all — Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, now and forever, Amen.