Blog 240: 4.20.2 - 4.20.7

Sean Lucas

Calvin has already established his understanding of "a twofold government" to which human beings are subject: an inward government in which God rules over the individual human soul for eternal life and an outward government in which God through human government establishes civil justice and outward morality (4.20.1).

He moves on to argue that these two governments are not antithetical. In fact, civil government has several purposes: 1) to cherish and protect religious worship; 2) to defend sound doctrine and the church's position; 3) to adjust our life to the society of men; 4) to enforce civil righteousness; 5) to reconcile us to one another; and 6) to promote general peace and tranquility (4.20.2; cf. a similar list in 4.20.3). This demonstrates that the twofold government actually is one divine rule: civil government "provides that a public manifestation of religion may exist among Christians and that humanity be maintained among men" (4.20.3).

In order to provide a clear method for discussing what the Bible teaches about civil government, Calvin follows Cicero's ancient division: magistrates, laws, and people. He spends the rest of this section, from sections 4-7, discussing the role of the magistrate. The magistrate served with God's mandate, ruled with God's authority, and acted as God's vice-regent. He should be faithful as "a vicar of God" (4.20.6); and in response, those ruled by the magistrate should hold that his position was "ordained of God" (4.20.7).

This means that not only government leaders that we like, but also those whom we do not, are God's agents to provide for peace that the Gospel might go forth and order that humanity might be maintained. How should we now live and pray (1 Tim 2:1-2)?