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    March 16, 1896

    God or Caesar, Which?

    WWP

    W. W. Prescott

    Thus the contest between civil encroachments on the domains of God and fidelity to God went on till Jesus Christ came. Then the Roman Empire filled the world. Macaulay says of it: “It was the sublimest incarnation of power, and a monument, the mightiest of greatness built by human hands, which has upon this planet been suffered to appear.” When Jesus Christ came, all the attention paid to Him was to put His name down and tax Him the same as they had the cattle. But He had a mission to this world, and that was to bring freedom to the mind, to bring freedom to the thought, to deliver the captives that were bound by the power of sin. He was to present the character of God and to preach the kingdom of God. We can read that in the very first of the gospel by Mark. “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Mark 1:14, 15.BEST March 16, 1896, page 84.1

    The Roman Empire had gods many and lords many, but the one god that stood over all was the Roman state itself. They regarded Caesar, the head of the government, as divine, and they worshipped him as the very incarnation of the government. They reasoned thus: “Rome has conquered the world. The gods of Rome have done this, and chief among them is the Roman state.” This religion of theirs was not a theory; it was wondrous practical, and I think I will take the time to read a brief extract from Gibbon on this point:—BEST March 16, 1896, page 84.2

    “The religion of the nations was not merely a speculative doctrine professed in the schools or preached in the temples. The innumerable deities and rites of polytheism were closely interwoven with every circumstance of business or pleasure, of public or of private life; and it seemed impossible to escape the observance of them, without, at the same time, renouncing the commerce of mankind and all the offices and amusements of society.... The public spectacles were an essential part of the cheerful devotion of the pagans, and the gods were supposed to accept, as the most grateful offering, the games that the prince and the people celebrated in honour of their peculiar customs. The Christian, who with pious horror, avoided the abomination of the circus or the theatre, found himself encompassed with infernal snares in every convivial entertainment, as often as his friends, invoking the hospitable deities, poured out libations to each other’s happiness. When the bride, struggling with well-affected reluctance, was forced in hymeneal pomp over the threshold of her new habitation, or when the sad procession of the dead slowly moved toward the funeral pile, the Christian, on these interesting occasions, was compelled to desert the persons who were dearest to him, rather than contract the guilt inherent to those pious ceremonies. Every art and every trade that was in the least concerned in the framing or adorning of idols, was polluted by the stain of idolatry.BEST March 16, 1896, page 84.3

    “The dangerous temptations which on every side lurked in ambush to surprise the unguarded believer, assailed him with redoubled violence on the day of solemn festivals. So artfully were they framed and disposed throughout the year, that superstition always wore the appearance of pleasure, and often of virtue.... On the days of general festivity, it was the custom of the ancients to adorn their doors with lamps and with branches of laurel, and to crown their heads with garland of flowers. This innocent and elegant practice might have been tolerated as a mere civil institution. But it most unluckily happened that the doors were under the protection of the household gods, that the laurel was sacred to the lover of Daphne, and that garland of flowers, though frequently worn as a symbol of either joy or mourning, had been dedicated in their first origin to the service of superstition. The trembling Christians who were persuaded in this instance to comply with the fashions of their country and the commands of the magistrates, laboured under the most gloomy apprehensions from the reproaches of their own conscience, the censures of the church, and the denunciations of Divine vengeance.”BEST March 16, 1896, page 84.4

    And it was so that the Christian could hardly turn round, could not go to the funeral or marriage of a friend, because of the idolatrous practices interwoven with these ceremonies. His Christianity completely separated him from his friends, from the government, for the Romans would have no interference with their religion. According to Neander they had a law declaring that, “whoever introduces new religions, the tendency and character of which are unknown, whereby the minds of men may be disturbed, shall, if belonging to the higher rank, be banished; if to the lower, punished with death.”BEST March 16, 1896, page 84.5

    CHRIST AND THE ROMAN LAW

    Jesus Christ was one of the lower rank, and He went up and down in Judea, teaching a new religion. The Pharisees knew this, and although they hated and despised the Roman government, although they plotted to overthrow it, although they hoped that Jesus Christ, when He came, would lead a revolution against it, yet when they saw that that was not His plan, they purposed to get the Roman government to overthrow Him. And when it came to His trial, they tried to get a condemnation from Pilate on the charge of blasphemy: for, they said, “He made Himself the Son of God.” “When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid: and went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art Thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.” Pilate tried to release Him, “but the Jews cried out saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend; whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” And Pilate knew that if he did not accede to their request that there would a word go to Tiberius the cruel, “Pilate your governor has allowed an insurrection to go on here, and has refused to have anything to say against it.” And so he did what they wanted him to do. What was the charge?-Unfriendly to Caesar. That was the charge on which Jesus Christ was put to death. It was contrary to the law for Him to teach a new religion, but He did it. And for this they put Him to death.BEST March 16, 1896, page 84.6

    THE APOSTLES AND THE POWERS THAT BE

    He was raised from the dead, and called His disciples together, and said to them, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Go throughout the whole Roman Empire and preach the gospel to every creature; yet He knew that that was directly contrary to the law of Rome. The disciples went and preached as they were instructed, and then the civil authorities came down upon them. The disciples were put in prison, but “the angel of the Lord by night opened the doors and brought them forth and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest came and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came and found them not in the prison, they returned and told, saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors; but when we had opened, we found no man within. Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow. Then came one, and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence; for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council, and the high priest asked them, saying, Did we not straightly command you that ye should not teach in this name? And behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered, and said, We ought to obey God rather than man.” Yet it was contrary to law.BEST March 16, 1896, page 84.7

    Paul, who had himself been a persecutor, after he had been converted took Barnabas, and went out preaching, contrary to law. They passed through Asia Minor preaching the word, and on coming to Philippi, healed a woman possessed of an evil spirit. “But when her master saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the market place unto the rulers. And brought them to the Magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city.” They did not trouble the city at all. They simply took away from the man his hope of gain. They shut them in prison, but the prison doors were thrown open,-God’s way of teaching them a lesson.BEST March 16, 1896, page 84.8

    Again, we have the experience of the apostles in the 17th chapter of Acts. “Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. But the Jews, which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason, and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” And these men, that had themselves put the whole town in an uproar, took these noble men, and brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men have turned the whole world upside down.”BEST March 16, 1896, page 84.9

    At every step the apostles were hounded with that law, and yet Christ said, “Go, ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” They fought it out, and bled and died, and kept the fight up for centuries, till the Roman Empire was compelled to yield. That is what broughtBEST March 16, 1896, page 84.10

    LIBERTY INTO THE WORLD

    God was saying to Caesar, “Keep on your side of the fence. Let My subjects teach in My realm.” This had to be learned over and over again. It had to be learned in the Reformation; but the liberty that was preserved in the Dark Ages, and the liberty that we have to-day, we owe to the establishment of that principle that Caesar has to do with the things of Caesar, and God with the things of God. God will take care of His followers in doing this, and He commands everyone of them to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s when he stays in his own realm.BEST March 16, 1896, page 84.11

    RESULTS OF CHURCH AND STATE UNION

    Let me say further, that unless these things are kept separate as God has put them, it will destroy both the church and the state. When the Jews crucified Christ, they said, “His blood be upon us and our children forever,” and it was. Of all the horrible pages of history the most horrible is the siege of Jerusalem, when mothers ate their own children; but these things came upon them because they mixed the things of God and the things of Caesar, and took hold of the arm of Caesar to control the things of God. They suffered the penalty. Their nation as a nation was at that time brought low, and has never recovered. And the lesson is the same to-day. Let me say that any religion that needs the support of Caesar is not worth supporting. I care not what religion it is. Jesus Christ did not call for Caesar to help Him. He depended upon the power and the love of God to win for Him. And they have won. The Roman Empire has gone down in destruction, but the kingdom of Jesus Christ lives; for it is not of this world. It is founded on eternal principles. It lives and will live. But any church that fancies it necessary to call upon Caesar for help is not worthy to live. It had better die. Any church that asks Caesar for help, any church that accepts the proffered help, is not a Christian Church; it is Caesarian. Any form of Christianity that fancies it necessary to get the support of the civil power is ready to die.BEST March 16, 1896, page 84.12

    THESE LESSONS FOR US TO-DAY

    These lessons, written on the pages of sacred history, wherein God has put underlying principles, are for us to-day. What means it that in every land there is a growing desire to put together the things that God has separated? I have reports from every land of the desire to unite the church and the state. There is a demand made for it, and I regret to say that the demand comes from the side of the church. What does it mean? It is a sign of the times. I want to tell you my friends, that this seeking for the aid of Caesar on the part of the church, is the published confession before God and man that the church has lost the power of God. When a church has the power of God it despises the power of Caesar; it wants none of it. Think of exchanging the power of God and the religion of Jesus Christ for the power of man and hypocrisy; because all that Caesar can do is to control the actions. God has made the mind free, and even Jesus Christ, who came to save the world, said, “If any man believe not, I judge him not.” He came not to condemn, but to save.BEST March 16, 1896, page 85.1

    When the church takes the power of the civil government to aid in anything that pertains to the things of God, it is a published confession, before God, before all heaven, and before man,-a confession that Christianity should blush to make, that it has lost the power God has given it. Christ said, “All power in heaven and earth is given unto Me.” Who would exchange that power for the paltry power of Caesar? This is for us. Have nothing to do with it. Let alone that cursed union between church and state, which has wrought the misery of the ages, and has written in blood thousands of pages of history, and slain millions of martyrs. Have you not seen enough of it to understand the ruin it will cause? Will you not say, God rather than Caesar; religion rather than hypocrisy?BEST March 16, 1896, page 85.2

    Civil government cannot touch religion at any point, it matters not where it is, without involving a mixture which will bring trouble to both the church and the state. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” God will bless, sustain, and keep everyone that does this. No matter at what sacrifice-houses, friends, property,-obey God rather than man. Everyone who desires to make his religion practical is earnestly urged to keep these principles in mind.BEST March 16, 1896, page 85.3

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