Friday, June 14, 2019

God Save the King: Prayer for Governing Authorities

"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." (1 Timothy 2:1–2)

This text (and others) has supported a long tradition in the church of praying for the civil authorities, and it was quoted by Pastor David Platt when he recently prayed for our president and set off a minor controversy by doing so. Even though the church has had a variety of relations with the civil government, sometimes being oppressed by the authorities and sometimes being supported by them, the church has continued to pray for them. It has recognized the truth that the governing authorities "have been instituted by God" (Rom. 13:1) and that the one in authority "is God's servant for your good" (Rom. 13:4). And so we pray for them, desiring that God would equip them do to their task.

Charles I with M. de St Antoine, 1633
Recently I was looking over the Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1644) and its directions for the main prayer that the pastor was to lead during the service. At one point, it directs the pastor,
"To pray for all in authority, especially for the King’s Majesty; that God would make him rich in blessings, both in his person and government; establish his throne in religion and righteousness, save him from evil counsel, and make him a blessed and glorious instrument for the conservation and propagation of the gospel, for the encouragement and protection of them that do well, the terror of all that do evil, and the great good of the whole church, and of all his kingdoms..."
What makes this especially remarkable is that at the time this was written, the king was waging a war upon the Puritans who produced this directory. In 1644, the English Civil War was raging, with King Charles I leading forces against the forces lead by Parliament, and it was Parliament that had called the Westminster Assembly to reform the English church to be more in line with Scripture and the best reformed churches (namely, Scotland). Producing this directory for public worship was part of the assembly's work. This assembly included the likes of Samuel Rutherford, a commissioner from Scotland who that same year published a book, Lex, Rex, which included a critique of the divine right of kings and defended the type of resistance to tyrants which was being practiced by Parliament (you can get a taste of it here and here).

Despite their resistance to tyrannical acts that violated God's purposes for civil government, they were still dedicated to honoring the king because of his office, even seeking blessing upon his person. Yet, this prayer did not end there. This prayer for blessing was inseparable from a prayer that God would lead the king to fulfill his role in righteousness and wisdom.

The prayer asks that God would make the king an instrument for several ends. It prays that God would use the king to protect and promote the gospel, to encourage and protect the innocent, to terrorize evildoers, and to serve the common good of the universal church and the king's domains. In line with the text I quoted at the beginning, when kings and rulers do their job, it is to the end that we might "lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:2). Their job is not to serve themselves, but they are God's servants for our good (Rom. 13:4). They do this by approving the one who does good while carrying out God's wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13:3-4). They are also called to submit to Christ (Ps. 2:10-12) and to be foster fathers and nursing mothers to the church, protecting it and looking out for its interests (Is. 49:23). By establishing justice and protecting the innocent, they give us liberty to dedicate ourselves to good works, the service of God and man.

The prayer in the Westminster directory is not made just for the king. All rulers are responsible to God, to judge "not for man but for the Lord" (2 Chron. 19:6-7). The prayer is for "all in authority" and it goes to direct the pastor to pray
"for the conversion of the Queen [Henrietta Maria of France], the religious education of the Prince [the future Charles II], and the rest of the royal seed; for the comforting of the afflicted Queen of Bohemia, sister to our Sovereign [Elizabeth Stuart]; and for the restitution and establishment of the illustrious Prince Charles, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, to all his dominions and dignities [he went on to be restored in a few years]; for a blessing upon the High Court of Parliament, (when sitting in any of these kingdoms respectively,) the nobility, the subordinate judges and magistrates, the gentry, and all the commonality; for all pastors and teachers ... for the universities, and all schools and religious seminaries of church and commonwealth, that they may flourish more and more in learning and piety; for the particular city or congregation, that God would pour out a blessing upon the ministry of the word, sacraments, and discipline, upon the civil government, and all the several families and persons therein..."
The church cares for its community, not only because it desires to be free to serve God and others, but also because it seeks to reflect God's love for the world and for all kinds of people. Just after Paul urges the church to pray for all kinds of people, especially for kings and those in authority, he goes on to say, "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 Tim. 2:3-4). May the truth shine brightly throughout our society, bringing all kinds of people to salvation. And as we are saved from the guilt and power of sin, may we return to society, better equipped to serve our God and the common good in our various callings.

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