Comity — Raising American Political Discussion

Left or Right, Conservative, Libertarian, Progressive, or Liberal, I challenge you to honestly disagree with the sentiments expressed in this speech and the follow-on question and answer session by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Comity is defined as:

Com·i·ty [ˈkämədē] NOUN

  1. Courtesy and considerate behavior toward others.
  2. An association of nations for their mutual benefit.

With all the hoopla, rancor, fear-mongering, and winner-take-all declarations this election season, Ryan’s candor and humility are refreshing.

Some key quotes culled by WSJ’s Kristina Peterson from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s presentation are:

“We think of [politics] in terms of this vote or that election. But it can be so much more than that. Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults.”

“If someone has a bad idea, we don’t think they’re a bad person. We just think they have a bad idea.”

“Our political discourse—both the kind we see on TV and the kind we experience among each other—did not used to be this bad and it does not have to be this way.”

Please listen to the 36-minute video.

The State of American Politics, Speaker Paul Ryan

Pray for Magistrates

In this election season, we should ask that God work in our leaders such that our lives might be peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified and that the gospel message would be unhindered. From the look of things, diligence in this effort will become more urgent in the years to come. Many are regularly requesting of Him for our leaders’ good but more of us need to become consistent in obeying the command:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

The reformer, John Calvin, examined the implications of these verses in detail. First, God appoints civil rulers to administer His justice:

The apostle…expressly enjoins Christians to pray for [their civil rulers]…seeing that God appointed magistrates and princes for the preservation of mankind.

However much they fall short of the divine appointment, still we must not on that account cease to love what belongs to God, and to desire that it may remain in force.

[For this] reason, believers, in whatever country they live, must not only obey the laws and the government of magistrates, but likewise in their prayers supplicate God for their salvation. Jeremiah said to the Israelites,

“Pray for the peace of Babylon, for in their peace you shall have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7.)

The universal doctrine is this, that we should desire the continuance and peaceful condition of those governments which have been appointed by God.

Second, God restrains evil, protects His church, and upholds society through His appointed government:

…[The Apostle Paul]…enumerates the fruits which are yielded to us by a well-regulated government. The first is a peaceful life; for magistrates are armed with the sword, in order to keep us in peace. If they did not restrain the hardihood of wicked men, every place would be full of robberies and murders…

The second fruit is the preservation of godliness, that is, when magistrates give themselves to promote religion, to maintain the worship of God, and to take care that sacred ordinances be observed with due reverence.

The third fruit is the care of public decency; for it is also the business of magistrates to prevent men from abandoning themselves to brutal filthiness or [villainous] conduct, but, on the contrary, to promote decency and moderation.

And without His appointed government, we descend into barbarism:

If these three things are taken away, what will be the condition of human life? If, therefore, we are at all moved by solicitude about the peace of society, or godliness, or decency, let us remember that we ought also to be solicitous about those through whose agency we obtain such distinguished benefits.

Hence we conclude, that fanatics, who wish to have magistrates taken away, are destitute of all humanity, and breathe nothing but cruel barbarism…

Calvin then raises the obvious question that is so pertinent for our times:

“…Ought we to pray for kings, from whom we obtain none of these advantages?” I answer, the object of our prayer is, that, guided by the Spirit of God, they may begin to impart to us those benefits of which they formerly deprived us.

It is our duty, therefore, not only to pray for those who are already worthy, but we must pray to God that he may make bad men good.

To emphasize the point that we should pray that these bad persons be made good, Calvin draws a severe analogy:

We must always hold by this principle, that magistrates were appointed by God for the protection of religion, as well as of the peace and decency of society, in exactly the same manner that the earth is appointed to produce food.

Accordingly, in like manner as, when we pray to God for our daily bread, we ask him to make the earth fertile by his blessing; so in those benefits of which we have already spoken, we ought to consider the ordinary means which he has appointed by his providence for bestowing them.

[Then,] if we are deprived of those benefits [that] the…magistrates [should provide], that is through our own fault. It is the wrath of God that renders magistrates useless to us, in the same manner that it renders the earth barren; and, therefore, we ought to pray for the removal of those chastisements which have been brought upon us by our sins.

So, magistrates’ failure is God’s wrath on us who have sinned by not relying on Him alone for good governance; a severe chastisement, indeed. Are we in the situation Daniel found himself and his people in Babylon?

However, Calvin states, our sin does not absolve these magistrates of their responsibilities before God to carry out their appointed administration:

On the other hand, princes, and all who hold the office of magistracy, are here reminded of their duty. It is not enough, if, by giving to everyone what is due, they restrain all acts of violence, and maintain peace; but they must likewise endeavor to promote religion, and to regulate morals by wholesome discipline.

The exhortation of David (Psalm 2:12) to “kiss the Son,” and the prophecy of Isaiah, that they shall be nursing — fathers of the Church, (Isaiah 49:23,) are not without meaning; and, therefore, they have no right to flatter themselves, if they neglect to lend their assistance to maintain the worship of God.

The earth seems barren, and repentance is called for. If we ask Him for daily bread, should we not fervently ask for rulers made just? Whatever political view you may hold, we all, in obedience to God, must implore Him for our leaders good that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

The Weekly Republican Address: A Bold, Pro-Growth Agenda for 2016, Jan 16, 2016, Speaker Paul Ryan

God and Country

From the title, you might think this post is entirely about politics. It could have been, but instead, we examine human responsibility in light of God’s sovereign providence. Though, by the end of this post, you might concede that the principles we will discover are applicable to today’s political process and the restoration of our Republic.

The scripture that starkly portrays this seeming dichotomy between God and Man is found in the second book of Samuel the prophet (sometimes referred to as Two Samuel.) Preparing to battle the Ammonites and Syrians, Joab, commander of David’s armies, exhorts Abishai, his brother, to:

Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” 2 Samuel 10:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin discussed this verse in The Institutes of the Christian Religion. As prelude, he sets out the following principles for one who would know and do God’s will. First God’s provision for us often comes through human hands:

…He [or she] will revere and extol God as the principal author [of the blessings which he receives], but will also honor men as his ministers, and perceive…that by the will of God he is under obligation to those, by whose hand God has been pleased to show him kindness.

The one who fears God will:

Believe that [any loss sustained through negligence or imprudence] was the Lord’s will it should so be, but, at the same time, he will impute it to himself.

Furthermore:

…In the case of theft or murder, fraud and preconceived malice, […he] will distinctly recognize the justice of God, and the iniquity of man, as each is separately manifested.

Therefore, this one:

…Will not…be remiss in taking measures, or slow in employing the help of those whom he sees possessed of the means of assisting him. …As hands offered him by the Lord, he will avail himself of [all the aids which the creatures can lend him] as the legitimate instruments of Divine Providence.

Yet, undeterred by uncertainty or overconfidence:

And as he is uncertain what the result of any business in which he engages is to be (save that he knows, that in all things the Lord will provide for his good), he will zealously aim at what he deems for the best, so far as his abilities enable him.

However, his confidence in external aid will not be such that the presence of it will make him feel secure, the absence of it fill him with dismay, as if he were destitute.

Calvin, having laid out these principles, says:

Thus Joab, while he acknowledges that the issue of the battle is entirely in the hand of God, does not therefore become inactive, but strenuously proceeds with what belongs to his proper calling, “Be of good courage,” says he, “and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God; and the Lord do that which seems him good,” (2 Sam. 10:12).

The same conviction keeping us free from rashness and false confidence, will stimulate us to constant prayer, while at the same time filling our minds with good hope, it will enable us to feel secure, and bid defiance to all the dangers by which we are surrounded.

***

Some voters this election season have been thinking:

“…[I have] nothing to lose,” but most of us have something to lose.”

I feel we’re in danger of throwing our Republic to the wind. Another commentator has said:

Now we are at the start of an electoral season that Americans say is of the utmost importance even as they make the most flippant choice of front-runners…

Sober up, America. We’re a republic only for as long as we can keep it.

You might say, “we trust in God; He will bring about a good result.” But, I urge us to trust “the Lord to do what seems good to Him” and be courageous for our people: pray, vote, donate, and campaign.

Speaker Ryan at National Prayer Breakfast: ‘Prayer Should Always Come First,’ Speaker Paul Ryan, Published Feb 4, 2016