THE LESSER (LOWER) MAGISTRATE
Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates by Matthew Trewhella
(Summary and Teaching Notes Developed From the Book)
Chapter 2 Summary
The doctrine of the lesser magistrates is rooted in the historical, biblical doctrine of interposition. Interpositionis that calling of God which causes one to step into the gap—willingly placing oneself between the oppressor and his intended victim. This can be done verbally or physically.
The lesser magistrate demonstrates the doctrine of interposition by placing himself between the tyrant or evil law—and the people.
Back to the story of Petronius, Caligula and the Jews… When the Jews arrived to meet with Petronius standing outside were two legions of Roman Emperor Soldiers. The scene was the Jews on one side and the great Roman army on the other. Then, in an act of amazing bravery and righteousness Petronius stepped between the army and the Jews. He informed the Jews that Caligula had sent the army to destroy them should they defy his command to place his image in the Temple. He was willing to stand in the gap for the Jews. He basically told them he would do all he could even at the risk of his own safety.
Petronius was an example of interposition. He took a stand between the unjust law, the army and the Jews.
1 Samuel 14:24–30 (ESV)
24 And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. 25 Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. 26 And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. 28 Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’ ” And the people were faint. 29 Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.”
1 Samuel 14:43–45 (ESV)
43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.” 44 And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.” 45 Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die.
We see here how the people interposed between King Saul and Jonathan because the King had made an immoral, rash and unjust law. When a law is unjust (unjust means it goes against God’s Law) we have the duty to obey God and stand in the gap and practice the doctrine of interposition.
“As government actions become more and more evil, the cause of resistance towards government becomes more and more righteous.”
-Timothy and Chuck Baldwin Romans 13 the True Meaning of Submission
“The duty to resist unjust law is the product of Christian thought.”
–Matthew J Trewhella The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates A Proper resistance to Tyranny and a Repudiation of Unlimited Obedience to Civil Government
“An unjust law, is no law at all.”
Rebellion to tyrants has been around since the origins of Christianity and supported by men like Augustine in, “The City of God”, Thomas Aquinas in “On Kingship” and Samuel Rutherford in, “Lex Rex”.
The original American seal was “rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God” with a picture of Moses drowning pharaoh’s army in the red sea. Israel could either follow Moses and God into the promise land under his authority and law, or they could return to Egypt under a tyrannical form of government under pharaoh.
Another biblical example of interposition is found in the Book of Daniel…
Daniel 6:1–5 (ESV)
6 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”
So we see from the text that Daniel was one of three governors who were directly under the King’s rule. Of those three Daniel was the most respected. So, Daniel was a lesser magistrate.
Daniel 6:6–10 (ESV)
6 Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.
10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
So should Daniel have obeyed God or gone along with the King’s new law? He prayed three times a day like he had always done. He was out to obey God and in obeying God now meant he would disobey the law of the State.
Regardless what the King said, Daniel went home and defied the King in a direct act of insubordination. He prayed to God three times a day with his window opened and in broad daylight. He also knelt down. They gestures would give him away but Daniel wanted to obey God.
For his disobedience to the State he was thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel was practicing interposition.
Throughout history, the lesser magistrate has been the buffer between the higher authority and their unjust laws and decrees and the people. This is the doctrine of interposition. This is seen when Christians take action and block the door to abortion clinics, they stand in between the evil laws of the State and the helpless unborn babies who are about to be murdered. It’s seen when anyone stands up to evil laws and evil government. We must always remember that when we or anyone else stands up to an evil law given by evil men it won’t go very well. They love their power. The higher authority will resist any threat to its rule.
The founding of our own nation was an act of interposition by lesser magistrates, the Declaration of Independence being the prime example.
The American Colonies were formed as and represented as individual entities represented by each colony’s legislature, called magistrates. Each colony could send representatives to England. Then over time England’s parliament begin taking more and more power away from the American colonies until the colonies had no real representation before England. Yet, they were still paying taxes as if they had representation. Many scholars see the real issue is that they were refusing to pay taxes since they had no representation. The King and Parliament of England had become an oppressor of the colonies.
Patrick Henry- Give me liberty or give me death became the cry of the colonies. In one of his speeches he said addressing the King, Sir we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm, which is now coming. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry of parliament. Henry goes on to say that all these attempts at peace etc have been slighted by England.
Patrick Henry was a lesser magistrate in Virginia’s parliament. He was practicing interposition, standing between the King of England and the colonists.
The lesser magistrate doctrine is rooted in the historic Christian doctrine of interposition. Interposition is where one steps into the gap – placing themselves in between the oppressor and his intended victim. Interposition can take place verbally or physically.
America’s founders established this nation as a true federalism. In a true federalism there are multiple levels of government and multiple branches on each level. They did this because they held to a Christian view of man – that he is wicked and in need of a Savior.
They did not want power to rest in one man or a small group of men.
The intent, therefore, of federalism is: if any one branch begins to play the tyrant, it is the duty of the other branches to interpose and resist that branch – and stop the evil. The duty of the people is to rally with the interposing magistrates.
All public authorities (magistrates) possess lawful authority. If federal authorities do wrong, it is the duty of state, county, and local authorities to step in and stop the evil. If state authorities do wrong, it is the duty of county and local officials to step in and stop the evil.
State, county, and local magistrates take an oath to uphold both their State Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. They do not take an oath of subservience to the federal government, nor do they take an oath to blindly obey the authority above them.
Rather, they take an oath to uphold the constitutions. If therefore, another authority makes law, policy, or court opinion repugnant to the state or federal constitutions – they should not obey them.
“And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, “[It is] not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You [shall have] no honor from the LORD God.”
-2 Chronicles 26.18
“When the state commands that which God forbids, or forbids that which god commands, we are to obey God rather than man.” -Matthew J Trewhella