Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.…
I. THE GOSPEL OUGHT TO PENETRATE EVERYTHING. Human life in its most widely sundered spheres must submit to its action. That being said, I affirm —
II. THAT RELIGIOUS AND CIVIL SOCIETY ARE PROFOUNDLY DISTINCT. This will appear if we consider —
1. The nature of the dominion they exercise. The dominion of the State is that of the present life, and of purely temporal interests. It must guarantee to each citizen the free enjoyment of his rights and liberties. Its supreme ideal is justice. On this side it meets morals. There is a social morality which should not be considered as doing violence to the individual conscience, but which may claim submission from all, and sacrifice, if necessary. They are mistaken, therefore, who make of civil society a mere community of interests. It knows, and can form, the citizen; it ought not to have possession of the man. It must stop at the threshold of religious conscience.
2. Nor is it only by the sphere in which their authority is to be felt that the Church and the State differ; it is still more by the nature of the means which they employ. The arm of the State is force; the arm of the Church is the Word (2 Corinthians 10:4).
3. Differing thus, the Church and civil society should in their inevitable relations conserve, each for itself, their independence with zealous care. This independence may be compromised in two ways: by the theocracy which submits the State to the Church, and by the opposite systems, which submit the Church to the State. In the eyes of many representatives of modern democracy, a religious society should be considered as any other society would be. It is to be governed by the rule of the majority of its members. But Christianity is a revealed fact, and does not depend on the chances of majorities. The Church should not be associated with any political party; it suffers in such alliance. An analogy will illustrate my thought: Every modern nation has two fundamental institutions — the army and the school. Now, that is no wise head which does not understand that neither the one nor the other of these should be open to discussion concerning politics. An army in which the generals became judges would surrender the nation to all sorts of dangers and assaults; schools, in which masters introduced the burning questions which divide us, would become a thorough raid on the liberty of families. In demanding that our soldiers and professors shall not intermingle political debates with their duties, no one understands that they are required to abdicate their independence, their patriotism, and their dignity as citizens. Need I say that the Church is a sphere infinitely superior to the school and the army, and that it is folly to allow party passions and hatreds to penetrate it? The Church places us face to face with eternity; she does not look at questions from the standpoint of the day or the hour, but rules over time and our passing differences. The mere earthly life becomes enslaving — and when has it been more so than to-day? — the more necessary it is that, from above it, we should affirm the grand invisible realities which do not pass away. The absolute, which is only another aspect of the eternal — that is the thing which the Church should proclaim. She must see questions in their relation to God. The domain of politics, on the contrary, is relative, and often even less than that. Politics takes men as they are, and circumstances as they are. I do not ask that religion should remain silent before the immoralities of politics; quite the contrary. I wish that, in order to denounce them with the greater force, she should not descend into the political arena; for, if she is suspected of speaking, not in the name of conscience, but in the name of party, she becomes nothing more than one voice more amid the discordant clamours of the day. Let us take a celebrated example, to which it behoves us always to recur. There is not one of us who has not admired the conduct of John the Baptist at Herod's court, and the firm courage with which he said to the blameworthy king, "It is not lawful for thee to have her." But let John the Baptist, in place of being the prophet of conscience, become a popular judge, and all his authority crumbles: for, behind his denunciation, you discern a political end and the triumph of a party.. Well, then, I cannot cease saying to those whose honour and privilege it is to represent the Church, "Never compromise it in struggles to which it should remain a stranger. Its grandeur and its force are in being the voice of eternal right, and of justice toward all."
(E. Bersier, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.