The social structure is an exceedingly complex one,—complex as life itself. In fact, the question of society is that of human life itself with all its numerous relationships. For man, by virtue of his creation, is a social being, like unto Him Who formed him from the dust of the ground. God, three Persons in unity of divine essence, is a social God and His life is a social life. That is precisely what is meant when we think of God as a “covenant” God. In the image of that God and after His likeness man was created. Thus man was made a social, covenant being, adapted to dwell in eternal covenant fellowship with the ever blessed Jehovah and with his fellowmen as well. As, therefore, man began to multiply on the face of the earth and human life began to develop and unfold itself according to the divine plan, it did so as an ever growing, most complex social structure, comprising all of human life with all its relationships. Society, then, comprises the family, the church, the state, societies and organizations of every description. And the social question, in general, deals with every possible human relationship, such as that of husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and pupil, master and servant, employer and employee, producer and consumer, merchant and customer and many others.
Out of this maze of human relationships many social “questions” arise. “Question” in this connection has the connotation of “problem.” When we speak of “question” in this sense of the word we have in mind a certain irregular, undesirable condition, which we are determined to remedy. There are matters which cry for rectification or solution. Thus, when things in the school are not as we feel they should be, we have a school question on our hands. Likewise there are numerous social “questions,” undesirable conditions, positive evils, which cry for rectification if not radical reformation.
That we must speak of “questions” at all has its sole reason in sin. In the state of rectitude there were no “questions,” for there all was perfect. By the same token there will be no “questions” in the hereafter. In the sphere of perfection all is love, and love knows no dissention. Where love prevails all problems are solved. But sin creates “questions,” for sin is iniquity, unrighteousness, spiritual darkness, hatred and ethical disruption. Into that sin man has fallen in Paradise. Consequently, from that principle all life has developed, and in that sin the whole social structure is rooted. Inevitably, therefore, every phase of social life has become a “question.”
Yes, social questions, also in our day, are legion. There is in this world of sin the family question, the marriage question, the divorce question. We question of birth control, the question of home training and education in general. In this world, void of the love of God, there is that exceedingly complex and vicious labor question, which in turn presents a veritable swarm of related questions, such as the wage question, the questions concerning reasonable hours and proper working conditions, the child labor question, the question of Sunday labor, and sundry problems. In the same general sphere you come face to face with the union question, the strike question, the questions of boycott and closed shop, the question of associations and business men’s organizations. In a broader sense still there is the liquor question, the vice question, the question of pauperism in the midst of abundance, and many, many more. Love, mind you, would solve all these “questions” instantly. In a world void of all love and consideration for others, however, there can be no solution.
In the midst of, yes, at the head of such a social structure, weighed down with countless “questions,” the Lord has placed the government. “Government” here refers to all “the higher powers” from the federal government to the town council of the smallest hamlet. That government God has placed there. “The powers that be are ordained of God,” Rom. 13:1. That government God has vested with authority, that is, the juridical power to command and prohibit with the corresponding right to mete out punishment to them who decline obedience. This latter element is referred to when Scripture speaks of the sword, which the magistrate is called to wield in the name of the Lord. “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,” Rom. 13:4.
The question is: What is the duty of these God-ordained powers with respect to the social “questions” at issue?
Mind you, we are not asking: How must the government solve these social questions? A solution we must not expect. That, again, is due to sin; the sin that marks and mars all government in this world; and the sin that lies at the root of the entire social structure. Were it so, that these social evils had their deepest cause in something external, were it merely a matter of social or political system, a remedy might conceivably be found in a change of such a system. However, that is not the case. The cause lies deeper. We have forsaken the living God and yielded ourselves servants of sin. And sin disrupts. How, then, shall a sinful government solve the “questions” of a sinful society? Only where the Spirit of Christ supplants the spirit of Satan and love supersedes hatred are social questions solved. Therefore the new Jerusalem will present no “questions.” Therefore this present sinful world will find no solution. The magistrates may force certain issues by means of legislation and suppression of certain external manifestations of a corrupt society. Neither, however, offers an actual solution.
Our question asks: What is the calling of the government with respect to the social question?
The answer to this question will have to avoid two extremes. It cannot be the duty of the government to control every phase of human society. Such fascistic all-control would smother all private initiative and stifle all free enterprise. A society, held in a strait jacket by a government that would dominate everything, cannot develop normally. The sphere of the family and the church, art and science, labor and education are as sovereign in their own right as the state, and shall social life remain vigorous this sovereignty will have to be respected and maintained. Neither, however, can it be the duty of the government to maintain an absolute “hands off” policy. This would conflict with the very existence of the government. According to the will of God all the social units which together constitute the nation are subject to the “powers that be”. We speak of the sovereignty of the home and other social units, yes, but that sovereignty can never be regarded as absolute. The sovereignty of any given unit is limited by that of every other unit as well as by the authority and task of the magistrate.
In general it is the purpose and task of the government to seek the common interest of those over which it is placed by God. Always in subjection to the will of God it must seek to establish and maintain a general condition, wherein all members of society, all its subjects, are able to work out their own temporal prosperity in every sphere. Every man has the right and calling to seek his own material and spiritual welfare, unhindered by others, in the way of personal, private initiative. The magistrate must maintain the general condition, wherein this is possible.
This general purpose of the government implies two things. There must be a general condition of order, peace, equity and security for all who do the right. Justice for all must be guaranteed and regulated. Then, various means must be provided, which cannot be procured by private initiative. In the sphere of agriculture, industry and science, e.g., means and institutions must be provided, which the citizens involved can utilize according to circumstances. Whence follows a two-fold calling on the part of the government.
The primary calling of the magistrate must be to maintain the right within its own domain; to wield the sword. This cannot be his sole task for the obvious reason, that the sword was given the magistrate because of sin, while he himself was before man fell. The government itself was not instituted because of sin. The authority of the magistrate is simply an extension of that of the father in the home. From this it is plain, that the existence of the government as such has nothing to do with sin. This being the case, the government being an institution given in creation, it must be so, that it has of God a power over and above that of the sword. However, since sin came into the world the power of the sword was added to the authority of the magistrate, and sin playing the role it does in all of life the wielding of the sword must be considered the primary task of the magistrate. With that sword he must punish the evil-doer, protect the good and maintain the right, God’s right. God’s right he must maintain in all the things which belong to his work and domain directly. He may not grant divorces, e.g., where God forbids this. He must maintain the right among those under him. The government must protect, protect both the material and spiritual interests of its citizens. It must maintain liberty of speech and press, of worship and conscience. And it must preserve justice. In the way of legislation and prosecuting of evil-doers it must protect the citizens in the exercise of all their natural rights. It must insure external and internal peace and rest. The weak it must protect against the strong, the good it must defend against the wicked. This is the primary function of the government, a function which lies exclusively within the domain of the magistrate.
That the government has always trampled this calling under foot does not alter things. After all, a sinful government and magistrates, who have their eye on filthy lucre and continuance in lucrative positions, who feel that they must please men rather than execute a divine mandate, will not maintain justice. They will support the powerful organizations even when these, contrary to all justice, prevent the individual from working and providing for his family according to his perfect right before God and man. They will condone the association and the union, the strike and the boycott and the closed shop, even though the injustice of it all cries to heaven. There is no justice for them who are cast out everywhere, because they, for conscience’s sake cannot affiliate with certain worldly organizations, yes, for the sake of that conscience which must be kept free and which must be honored according to the very constitution of our land. And always they will turn their sword against the church of God, killing the good and upholding the wicked, only for the reason that the church condemns the darkness and walks in the light. However, all this does not alter the calling of the magistrate.
But, there is more. Instituted, not because of sin, but in creation itself, the government has a task besides that of wielding the sword. No, we must not have state-socialism, wherein all society is simply swallowed up in the state. Nevertheless, there is also the task of accomplishing what simply lies beyond the reach of individual initiative and yet is essential to the common interest of the nation. The building of roads and dams may very well be government projects. Certain general catastrophes must be guarded against, such as floods, epidemics, etc. In short, that which is essential to the general interest of the nation, but which is beyond the control of private enterprise, must be considered as lying within the sphere of government control.
More time and space could well be used to apply these general principles to individual, social “questions.” However, space forbids, and this must be the end.