Calvary Road Baptist Church


Romans 13.1-6

Sermons from Godís Word typically organize around a portion of scripture which is explained, with the principle or timeless truth then strongly declared, and the sermon wrapped up by concluding with an application of the timeless truth to the listenerís life situation. Last Sunday night, and again tonight, I have turned the accepted sequence on its head by focusing our initial attention on the trial of John Bunyan in His Majestyís Court on October 3, 1660. As we read last week, so we will read the transcript of Bunyanís trial again tonight, understanding that for that time before the court, and for the twelve years he spent imprisoned for his convictions and conscience, John Bunyan was living out the application to our lives of the timeless truths and eternal principles that so gripped his life.

There was no spotlight of world attention on Bunyan as the ignorant tinker stood on trial that day. There were no representatives of the media to remind him that his actions and responses would affect the course of western history. As far as Bunyan was concerned, he was just another Christian given an opportunity to stand up, stand up for Jesus as a soldier of the cross.

Was there a large crowd in the courtroom? Almost certainly not. Nevertheless, that uneducated but Bible-believing Christian man knew that he was compassed about by a great cloud of witnesses. Therefore, laying aside every weight and the sin that so easily beset him; he determined to run with patience the race that was set before him. This he could only do by looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of his faith.

May I remind you that John Bunyan was a Baptist? I am constrained to point out that though Bunyan was not the only Christian who stood for conscience and conviction in the face of an illegitimate exercise of governmental authority, it is only Baptists such as Bunyan whose understanding of scripture and whose personal theology is consistent with the stand he made for the cause of Christ.

Please stand with me as I read the trial transcript once again before turning to our Bible text for todayís message. I remind you that this transcript was found among the papers of a man named Thomas Breedlove, one of nearly a thousand verbatim accounts of primarily minor trials conducted between 1660 and 1675. Among the sheaves found were these recording the proceedings of His Majesty, King Charles II, against John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrimís Progress, who spent over twelve years in an English prison for his religious convictions. The proceedings all took place on October 3, 1660.

Transcript of the Trial of John Bunyan

PROCEEDINGS, being a true account of the trial of John Bunyan, Tinker, of Bedfordshire, His Lordship, Judge Wingate presiding at the Courthouse in Bedfordshire on October 3, in the year of our Lord 1660. The Accused is charged with willful and deliberate violation of various and sundry Royal and Parliamentary Edicts. His Trial this Day, however respects a single Charge: namely, Violation of the Conventicle Acts, first proposed by Her Most High and Mighty Majesty, our Late and Beloved Queen Elizabeth, and reinstated by His Beneficent Highness, King Charles II. All Parties being in Place, and the Witnesses having been sworn, the trial proceeds.

Judge Wingate: Mr. Bunyan, you stand be fore this Court accused of persistent and willful transgression of the Conventicle Act, which prohibits all British subjects from absenting themselves from worship in the Church of England, and from conducting worship services apart from our Church. You come, presumably, with no legal training, and yet without counsel. I must warn you, sir, of the gravity of the charge, the harshness of the penalty, in the event of your conviction, and the foolhardiness of acting as your own counsel in so serious a matter. Are you cognizant of these facts, and do you understand the charge?

Bunyan: I am, and I do, Mílord.

Judge Wingate: In truth, I hope you do. Now, I hold in my hand the depositions of the witnesses against you. In each case, they have testified that, to their knowledge, you have never, in your adult life, attended services in the church of this parish. Each further testifies that he has observed you, on numerous occasions, conducting religious exercises in and near Bedford. These depositions have been read to you, have they not?

Bunyan: They have, Mílord.

Judge Wingate: In that case, then, this Court would be profoundly interested in your response to them.

Bunyan: Thank you, Mílord. And may I say that I am grateful for the opportunity to respond. Firstly, the depositions speak the truth. I have never attended services in the Church of England, nor do I intend ever to do. Secondly, it is no secret that I preach the Word of God whenever, wherever, and to whomsoever He pleases to grant me opportunity to do so.

Having said that, Mílord, there is a weightier issue that I am constrained to address. I have no choice but to acknowledge my awareness of the law which I am accused of transgressing Likewise, I have no choice but to confess my guilt in my transgression of it. As true as these things are, I must affirm that I neither regret breaking the law, nor repent of having broken it. Further, I must warn you that I have no intention in future of conforming to it. It is, on its face, an unjust law, a law against which honorable men cannot shrink from protesting. In truth, Mílord, it violates an infinitely higher law, the right of every man to seek God in his own way, unhindered by any temporal power. That, Mílord, is my response.

Judge Wingate: This Court would remind you, sir, that we are not here to debate the merits of the law. We are here to determine if you are, in fact, guilty of violating it.

Bunyan: Perhaps, Mílord, that is why you are here, but it is most certainly not why I am here. I am here because you compel me to be here. All I ask is to be left alone to preach and to teach as God directs me. As, however, I must be here, I cannot fail to use these circumstances to speak against what I know to be an unjust and odious edict.

Judge Wingate: Let me understand you. You are arguing that every man has a right, given him by Almighty God, to seek the Deity in his own way, even if he chooses, without benefit of the English Church?

Bunyan: That is precisely what I am arguing, Mílord. Or without benefit of any church.

Judge Wingate: Do you know what you are saying? What of Papists and Quakers? What of pagan Mohammedans? Have these the right to seek God in their own misguided way?

Bunyan: Even these, Mílord.

Judge Wingate: May I ask if you are particularly sympathetic to the views of these or other such deviant religious societies?

Bunyan: I am not, Mílord.

Judge Wingate: Yet, you affirm a God-given right to hold any alien religious doctrine that appeals to the warped minds of men?

Bunyan: I do, Mí lord.

Judge Wingate: I find your views impossible of belief. And what of those who, if left to their own devices, would have no interest in things heavenly? Have they the right to be allowed to continue unmolested in their error?

Bunyan: It is my fervent belief that they do, Mí lord.

Judge Wingate: And on what basis, might I ask, can you make such a rash affirmation?

Bunyan: On the basis, Mílord, that a manís religious views or lack of them are matters between his conscience and his God, and are not the business of the Crown, the Parliament, or even, with all due respect, My lord, of this Court.

However much I may be in disagreement with another manís sincerely held religious beliefs, neither I nor any other may disallow his right to hold these beliefs. No manís right in these affairs are secure if every other manís rights are not equally secure.

Judge Wingate: It is obvious, sir, that you are a victim of deranged thinking. If my ears deceive me not, I must infer from your words that you believe the State to have no interest in the religious life of its subjects.

Bunyan: The State, Mí lord, may have an interest in anything in which it wishes to have an interest. But the State has no right whatever to interfere in the religious life of its citizens.

Judge Wingate: You are a tinker by trade, are you not, Mr. Bunyan?

Bunyan: That is correct, Mílord.

Judge Wingate: Would you mind apprising this Court of the extent of your formal schooling?

Bunyan: Not at all, Mílord. Able I am to read and write, and that with difficulty.

Judge Wingate: I surmised as much. I think I perceive why you are unable to appreciate the disaster that would accompany your views should ever they hold sway in our society. I myself and I say this in all modesty am not inconsiderably trained in the historianís discipline. If you were half so well-versed yourself, you would instantly recognize the fatal flaw in your reasoning. Throughout history, virtually every significant human tragedy has come about as a result of divergent religious views. Nation against nation. Brother against brother. War, Destruction. Devastation. Time and time again. And why? I shall tell you why, sir. It is because men cannot agree on which God to worship, and how to worship Him.

Now, after a long and arduous struggle, we have succeeded in forging a conformity in the religious beliefs of all Englishmen, All our problems will be resolved when everyone agrees to accommodate himself, and adopt the same orthodoxy of religious opinion. No more religious wars. No more divisive doctrinal disputes! Think of it, Mr. Bunyan! Does this not portend a society of which any man would be proud and happy to be a part?

Bunyan: To a degree, Mí lord, it admittedly does. But only if everyone can be convicted by virtue of reasoning alone to adopt identical views of God. The society that you describe is an appealing one, but I fear the cost is far too high. It would necessitate that honest men repudiate convictions honestly held.

Judge Wingate: You are, Mr. Bunyan, a strong- willed and opinionated man. Yet, this Court finds it fascinating to speak with you, and wishes time permitted further discussion of our respective philosophies. But, alas, time is passing swiftly, and other cases await our attention. Let us move, then, to the matter before us, shall we? The evidence I hold in my hand, even apart from your own admission of guilt, is sufficient to convict you, and the Court is within its rights to have you committed to prison for a considerably long time. I do not wish to send you to prison, Mr. Bunyan. I am aware of the poverty of your family, and I believe you have a little daughter who, unfortunately, was born blind. Is this not so?

Bunyan: It is, Mílord.

Judge Wingate: Very well. The decision of the Court is this: In as much as the accused has confessed his guilt, we shall follow a merciful and compassionate course of action. We shall release him on the condition that he swear solemnly to discontinue the convening of religious meetings, and that he affix his signature to such an oath prior to quitting the Courtroom. That will be all, Mr. Bunyan. I hope not to see you here again. May we hear the next case?

Bunyan: Mílord, if I may have another moment of the Courtís time?

Judge Wingate: Yes, but you be quick about it. We have other matters to attend to. What is it?

Bunyan: I cannot do what you ask of me, Mílord. I cannot place my signature upon any document in which I promise henceforth not to preach. My calling to preach the Gospel is from God, and He alone can make me discontinue what He has appointed me to do. As I have had no word from Him to that effect, I must continue to preach, and I shall continue to preach.

Judge Wingate: Mr. Bunyan, you are trying the patience of this Court!

Bunyan: That is not my intention, Mílord.

Judge Wingate: I warn you, sir, the Court has gone the second mile to be lenient with you, out of concern for your familyís difficult straits. Truth to tell, it would appear that the Courtís concern for family far exceeds your own. Do you wish to go to prison?

Bunyan: No, Mí lord, Few things there are that I would wish less.

Judge Wingate: Very well, then, Mr. Bunyan. This Court will make one further attempt in good faith to accommodate what appears to be strongly held convictions on your part. In his compassion and beneficence, our Sovereign, Charles II, has made provision for dissenting preachers to hold some limited meetings. All that is required is that such ministers procure licenses authorizing them to convene these gatherings. The Court will not require you to sign any documents, but will require only your verbal commitment to proceed through proper channels to obtain licenses. You will not find the procedure burdensome, and even you, Mr. Bunyan, must surely grant the legitimacy of the Stateís interest in ensuring that any fool with a Bible does not simply gather a group of people together and begin to preach to them. Imagine the implications were that to happen! Can you comply with this condition, Mr. Bunyan? Before you answer, mark you this: should you refuse, the Court will have no alternative but to sentence you to a prison term. Think, sir, of your poor wife. Think of your children, and particularly of your pitiful, sightless little girl. Think of your flock, who can hear you to their heartsí content when you have secured your licenses. Think of these things, and give us your answer, sir!

Bunyan: Mílord, I appreciate the Courtís efforts to be as you have put it accommodating. But again, I must refuse your terms. I must repeat that it is God. who constrains me to preach, and no man or company of men may grant or deny me leave to preach. These licenses of which you speak, Mílord, are symbols not of a right, but of a privilege. Implied therein is the principle that a mere man can extend or withhold them according to his whim. I speak not of privileges, but of rights. Privileges granted by men may be denied by men. Rights are granted by God, and can be legitimately denied by no man. I must therefore refuse to comply.

Judge Wingate: Very well, My Bunyan. Since you persist in your intractability, and since you reject this Courtís honest effort at compromise, you leave us no choice but to commit you to Bedford gaol for a period of six years. If you manage to survive, I should think that your experience will correct your thinking. If you fail to survive, that will be unfortunate. In any event, I strongly suspect that we have heard the last we shall ever hear from Mr. John Bunyan. Now, may we hear the next case.

7. Before you are seated, turn to our text for this evening, Romans 13.1-6, and read along with me:

1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are Godís ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

Some would point to Romans 13.1-6, which we have just read, as evidence that a man like John Bunyan was not doing right by refusing to obey the Kingís Court and submitting to the Royal edict. However, to help you better understand the place of civil disobedience in the life of a Christian, let me point out three important observations that will help you to understand Romans 13.1-6 in its proper context:


Many people who honestly want to do right and who believe the Bible, point to Romans 13.1 to justify their reasoning that Bunyan was wrong and that Christians should always do what the duly constituted government requires of you. However, this mistaken logic is predicated on a misunderstanding of Romans 13.1, particularly the last phrase, which reads, ďthe powers that be are ordained of God.Ē

If you are unfamiliar with the Bible, you might think from this phrase that government as an institution was brought into existence by God to govern the lives of men. However, this would be a mistaken conclusion, since the Biblical record is very clear. Genesis 9.1 reads, ďAnd God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.Ē H. C. Leupold writes in commenting on this verse, ďMankind is not to concentrate in some few spots but is to spread out so that the earth presents no unoccupied and uncultivated areas.Ē[1]

However, that is not at all what happened. In Genesis 10.8 we are introduced to a man named Nimrod, who devised a diabolical plan to disobey God and consolidate his power as a ruler over men by bringing into existence human government and idolatrous religion, and using those two institutions in combination to rule men by exercising illegitimate authority over their souls and bodies.

Therefore, you see, God did not bring human government into existence. Nimrod must be given credit for that. Confusion on this point is the direct result of some guy failing to look up the word ďordainĒ in Romans 13.1 in his concordance. This particular word tassw, refers ďto draw up an order, to arrange in place, to assign, to appointĒ something.[2] Now, think about what God has done. Remember, God is not the author of confusion, First Corinthians 14.33. God entered the governmental situation, with governments exercising usurped authority over men, and He has brought order where there was before great confusion. Not a great deal of order, mind you, but enough. Enough for what? Enough so that we can make our way through life and render service to our God. So, Christians ought to be the best citizens any government ever had, so long as that government does not try to compel us to commit sin against our God or prevent us from serving God according to the dictates of His Word. Why? Because God invented government? Because God is the Author of the United States? No. No more than the Roman Empire. Because God has intervened in government to use government as His agent, and because of Godís arrangement of government to allow us to serve Him, benefiting from some of the practices of government. Godís use of our government as His agent and His apparent arrangement of the American system seems to us to be far more obvious than other governments and nations. However, I would suggest that this due to the intensity of Godís involvement, not necessarily because the nature of His involvement in our country is different than other nations . . . from what can be seen in Godís Word.

Will you agree that misunderstanding the last phrase of Romans 13.1 will necessarily affect your understanding of the entirety of Romans 13.1-6? The press of time constrains me to move on.


The Apostle Peter was not an infallible man. The New Testament shows a number of missteps and outright sins that the man committed, from denying the Lord Jesus Christ three times the night before His crucifixion, to the compromise the Apostle Paul rebuked him for and then wrote about in Galatians chapter 2.

Keep in mind, however, that the Lord Jesus Christ used His apostles to lay the foundation for the Christian faith, and when his actions are not challenged and clearly shown to be sinful, the behavior and conduct of the Apostle Peter is properly understood to be normative. In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ used this apostle to show His people how to live and serve in the world He left us in. Therefore, when we read in the book of Acts of Peter and the others saying, ďWe ought to obey God rather than menĒ while engaged in civil disobedience, then it is very clear that Christians are not to always do what the government tells us to do. We are not to always obey the police. We are not always bound to obey court orders. You see, we yield to a higher authority than government, which, though it is used by God to bless our lives, was not created by God and is not always right in what they do and in the judgment they exercise.


Keep in mind that Paul wrote his letter to the Romans while in Corinth, and sent it to Rome from the port city of Cenchrea in the hands of a godly Christian woman named Phebe, Romans 16.1. This important piece of information shows us where Paul was when he wrote Romans 13.1-6, after he had been in Philippi and before he went to Jerusalem, and then Caesaria after being arrested in Jerusalem.

What about Paulís experiences in Philippi? You realize, of course, that it was against the law for Paul to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Rome was a polytheistic empire, and you could worship any god you wanted so long as the god you worshipped was not the only god to be worshipped. Of course, they made exceptions for Jews, but that was primarily because Jews never tried to evangelize anyone, or to in any way encourage anyone but Jews to worship the Jewish God. Therefore, when Paul and Silas went to Philippi, a Roman colony city, which was like being in Rome itself as far as Roman law was concerned and as far as the people living in Philippi were concerned, it was a great affront and an obvious violation of law for Paul to preach. All the quibbling aside, the reason Paul and Silas were thrown into a Philippian jail after being severely beaten was because they had urged sinners to forsake the false gods who could do nothing for them and turn to the one true and living God by embracing His Son, Jesus Christ.

Did that stop Paul and Silas? Not at all. They continued to worship God, continued to serve God, and continued to preach Christ. And this was before Paul wrote Romans 13.1-6. Therefore, do not imagine that Romans 13.1-6 was envisioned by Paul to in any way justify yielding to government if it meant putting a lid on gospel preaching or evangelizing.

What about his conduct after Paul wrote Romans 13.1-6? Remember that he took the offering for the poor saints to Jerusalem, and was arrested in that city on trumped up charges. He then exercised his citizenship rights as a Roman and was transferred to the Roman port city of Caesaria, where he continued to serve God and continued to preach while in custody. After several years in Roman custody he was moved to Rome itself.

Did any of these impediments force him to stop preaching, or to stop serving God, or to in any way cease evangelizing the lost? Keep in mind that after being moved to Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, his letter to the Colossians, his letter to the Ephesians, his two letters to Timothy, his letter to Titus, and his letter to Philemon. Read those letters and judge for yourself if government opposition had any effect on him.

In closing, turn to Philippians 4.22, where Paul writes to his beloved Philippians, ďAll the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesarís household.Ē What can elsewhere be verified if I had the time is the fruit God gave to Paul while chained to Roman centurions. One after another had to sit there while he wrote, while he prayed, while he counseled those who visited him, and while he preached to those who brought food and drink to his keepers. Over time, Paul brought centurions, members of the Praetorian Guard, servants, cooks, and all sorts of others in Caesarís court to Jesus Christ, thereby undermining the very empire that was so determinedly opposed to the plan and purpose of God.

Sixteen centuries later an obscure man in a small English village put into practice the eternal truths and timeless principles that had been preached and taught by the Savior, and by His apostles.

Should we be law-abiding citizens? Of course, we should be. Our master told us to render unto Caesar that which was Caesarís and unto God that which was Godís.

So long as there is no conflict between duty to God and duty to government, we should be the very best of patriots.

However, never be so blinded by patriotic fervor as to think that our first allegiance is to government, for that is not true. We bend the knee and bow the head to no earthly ruler, but eagerly bow before the King of kings.

Therefore, you see, John Bunyan was no stubborn Englishman with a defiant spirit and a streak of rebelliousness in him. He was simply a Christian who was not well known at that time, but who became well known, who stood on principle and showed his allegiance to his Savior, Jesus Christ.

May each of us do no less.

[1] H. C. Leupold, Exposition Of Genesis, Vol I, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1942), page 328.

[2] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 377.

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