The Divine Right of Resistance

By Phillip G. Kayser

    If you want to resist without being a revolutionary, see how David and his interactions with King Saul and his son Absalom help us navigate complex civil conflict, be a God-centered and not a "my country, right or wrong" patriot, and know when to stand up and when to stand down, these sermons are for you. While we also commend to you the whole Life of David Series , these highlights from it and other series will help you dive deeper into The Divine Right of Resistance.

    Why Political Change is Often So Slow — 1 Samuel 16:1-13

    Why did Saul remain in power for many more years after God rejected him from being king? Why did Samuel do nothing, even after God had called him to "unquo the status"? And why do Christian voters continue to put up with politicians like Saul, instead of removing them as soon as they’re unqualified? Phil Kayser draws out lessons for us from Israel’s mistakes here.

    An Unwilling Rebel — Psalm 5

    Psalm 5 shows the heart of a “rebel” committed to God’s intolerance, glory, judgment, guidance, and authority, not his own. He was no rebel for his own cause, but neither was he willing to embrace a false peace when God’s interests were on the line. This sermon highlights the necessary heart attitudes for anyone forced by the state into civil disobedience.

    Self-Control Under Tyranny: The Reformed Doctrine of Resistance — 1 Samuel 23:1-13

    Before he was a magistrate, David was a private citizen on the receiving end of multiple forms of tyranny—and he demonstrated both extreme proactivity in resisting where he could, and consistent refusal to cross the line of unlawful resistance. Throughout Saul’s reign we see David disobeying unlawful orders, fleeing, harboring refugees, planning a future government, forming an underground economy, praying imprecatory Psalms—but always refusing to take up the sword of justice against a magistrate. This message goes into great detail on the options and limits of civil disobedience.

    The Practice of Resistance — 1 Samuel 23:1-13

    A biblical theology of militia, from Phil Kayser’s "Life of David" sermon series. Dr. Kayser covers lessons from David’s own militia—how and when he used it, God’s authorization of it, the role of pastors within it, the strengths of it, and more—as well as critical questions to ask regarding militia use today.

    Intervention When Things Get Sticky — 1 Samuel 25:14-23

    How do you intervene in the life of someone who is blind to his abusive behavior, addictions, or general destructiveness? What if he is in authority over you? This sermon on Abigail’s interposition between David and Nabal gets to the nitty-gritty on the difficult topics of intervention, enabling, and what submission is (and isn’t).

    Another Peacemaker — 2 Samuel 20:16-22

    The Wise Woman of Abel stopped the siege of Abel, got a criminal executed, and ended a rebellion—all because of her initiative in starting a peacemaking conversation with the general tearing down her city. This sermon is all about practical lessons in interposition and peacemaking (and corrections to hyper-patriarchy).

    Godly Resistance vs. Civil Rebellion — 2 Samuel 20:1-2

    God gives options for resistance to anyone under abusive authority—but resisting can quickly turn into ungodly rebellion when resisters are poisoned by a revolutionary spirit. What’s the difference between resistance and rebellion? This sermon covers lessons from the rebellion of Sheba, how to recognize modern-day Shebas, and ten telltale signs of rebellion that ought to be avoided by every Christian.

    Disastrous Consequences of Rebellion — 2 Samuel 20:3-15

    Any godly resistance movement needs a strong aversion toward the destructive spirit of autonomy and rebellion. Studying the disastrous and destructive consequences of Absalom's rebellion should provide strong motivation to check any subversive tendencies—both civil and personal—and to deal with the rebellion of others biblically.

    When to Hold and When to Fold

    How do you decide when to fight, and when to "live to fight another day"? In this message, Dr. Kayser walks through examples from the life of Jesus and others—showing how they weighed difficult situations with godless authorities—and 11 Biblical options and tactics for individual resistance.

    "Useful Idiots" and Those Who Use Them — 1 Samuel 26:1-4

    Lenin praised the "useful idiots" who unknowingly helped his cause in spite of their political opposition to him. Israel suffered setbacks in their liberties through their own useful idiots, the well-meaning Ziphites who blindly supported Saul because of his stance on the Philistines. Their blind loyalty and patriotism kept them from realizing that Saul had become a centralist, that their support of him was eroding their liberties, and that David—the opponent of their hero—was now the true defender of liberty. How do we know when our own well-meaning activism is unwittingly helping the wrong side? This sermon covers multiple principles for checking the actual usefulness of your activism.

    Self-Controlled Leadership — 1 Samuel 26:5-12

    David, a man of action and decisiveness, continually walked a fine line of self-control (even when it made him appear indecisive to his men). This sermon examines the biblical theology of why self-control is a key component of leadership, as well as one of the essential links in the chain of sanctification (2 Pet. 1:5-8)—and also covers lessons from some of David’s decision-making processes.

    Bible Survey: Judges

    What's keeping America from turning and repenting? This overview and application of the book of Judges examines the sin-judgment-repentance cycles of Judges, and how they parallel our sin-judgment-revival cycles in America, and the lessons America needs to learn from Judges to reverse this cycle. It also contains helpful lessons on manhood and womanhood from the lives of Deborah, Barak, and Jael.

    Civil Rights Asserted — Acts 16:35-40

    A must-listen for anyone trying to weigh when (and how far) to press their civil rights. As Allan Dershowitz said, "In America they go after the S.O.B.’s first. And nobody cares about them. They establish bad precedents on them, and then they go after the rest of us." Acts 16:35-40 gives us a detailed case study showing how Paul and Silas’s civil rights were trampled, how Paul brilliantly pressed the issue, and the many good outcomes that came from it.

    Why Revolutions Are Usually Evil — 2 Samuel 4:1-12

    Until the church as a whole understands the distinctions between lawful civics and revolutionary civics, we won't make a lot of progress in advancing liberty in America. This sermon examines ten revolutionary principles illustrated in 2 Samuel 4, and uses them to show the stark contrast between the American War for Independence and the French Revolution.

    Arraigning Your Enemies Before God's Courtroom — Psalm 5

    God does not arraign any before His courtroom unless we bring charges. God follows the principles of justice that He laid down in the Bible. David models this for us in Psalm 5.

    Part 1: More than our praying to Him as Father, certain cases should be brought to God as Judge. Doing so requires we establish our case in His sight. This sermon shows what makes a legitimate case.
    Part 2 focuses on "winning" your case in God’s court. God calls us to present adequate grounds for judgment and charges that are not based on our standards or our selfish ends, but consistent with God’s standard and for His kingdom. When we appeal on the basis of God’s promises, Luke 18:7 (NASB) says, "Shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily."

    Is the Death Penalty Just?

    The story of the Church in the modern era is one of Christians molding the Bible to the ideas of the times. Laypeople and theologians alike have rejected Biblical justice in civil government, which has victimized victims, pardoned perpetrators, and indicted the innocent. Hebrews 2:2 says that in the Law "every transgression and disobedience received a just reward". But if we allow our ideas to shape our jurisprudence, instead of scripture, we will miss out on the blessing of the "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). God’s Holy Word alone should determine the parameters for righteous punishment of crimes.

    Because He is wiser than we are, God has provided us with a flexible legal framework that offers both mercy and justice to victim, accused, and perpetrator. Humility must drive our application of the Bible to jurisprudence and the punishment of criminals so that we "do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).

    Dr. Greg Bahnsen's Ethics Courses

    If Jesus is Lord, this has ethical implications. Jesus' Lordship lays claim to our motives and goals, and He sets the standard for evaluating our actions. Every decision should have the goal, like Paul's in 2 Cor. 5:9, "to be well pleasing to Him." The ethics courses from the Bahnsen Project help Christians to slice through the ethical problems that seem like Gordian knots. Unbiblical ethical systems are, of necessity, reductionistic and Dr. Bahnsen walks Christians through the nuance and depth that arise from the Bible's different perspectives of Personalistic, Situational, and Normative (Deontological) ethics.

    James M. Willson, Civil Government: An Exposition of Romans XIII. 1-7 (Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1853). Willson's extended treatment of Romans 13 and summarization of the historic Reformed position is masterful. I highly recommend that it be read and digested.

    Matthew J. Trewhella, The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates: A Proper Resistance to Tyranny and a Repudiation of Unlimited Obedience to Civil Government (North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2013). A helpful modern introduction to this subject.

    Junius Brutus, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos: A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, [1579] 2020). A masterful treatise that clearly outlines the Biblical limits and contours of resistance to tyranny. According to President John Adams, this book was a great help in guiding America's Founding Fathers when they themselves had to navigate the minefields of interposition. Though he sadly relies too heavily on natural law theory (mainly to refute his opponents who used natural law to teach the divine right of kings), his Scriptural arguments are excellent.

    Samuel Rutherford, Lex, Rex: The Law and the Prince (London: John Field, 1644), https://www.monergism.com/lex-rex-ebook. Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor and theologian. Lex, Rex is Rutherford's classic defense of limited civil government (Lex Rex) and refutation of the Divine Right of Kings view (Rex Lex). After Rutherford's death, his book was publicly burned by the tyrannical Stuart kings, but it influenced America's Founding Fathers.

    Pierre Viret, When To Disobey: Case Studies in Tyranny, Insurrection and Obedience to God, trans. Rebekah Sheats, ed. Scott T. Brown (Wake Forest, NC: Church & Family Life, 2021). Pierre Viret (1511-1571) was a Swiss-French Reformer and a close friend of John Calvin. This is a classic defense of the rights and limits of resistance to tyranny.

    George Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming: The Divine Ordinance of Church Government Vindicated (London: Richard Whitaker, 1646). George Gillespie (1613-1648) was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor and theologian. This work defends the separate and independent jurisdiction of the church from state control against the Erastians.

    The Magdeburg Confession: 13th of April, 1550 AD, trans. Matthew Colvin (North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2012), http://magdeburgconfession.com. This Lutheran defense of resistance to tyranny influenced later Reformed theologians.

    David W. Hall, Calvin in the Public Square: Liberal Democracies, Rights and Civil Liberties (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009). This work explores John Calvin's influence on civil government, politics, and society.

    Robert E. Fugate, Tyrants Are Not Ministers of God: What the Bible Teaches about Civil Disobedience, Romans 13, and Quarantine (Omaha: Lord of the Nations LLC, 2020). This is a modern application of these principles to today's current medical mandates.

    Other Historic Defenses of Resistance to Tyranny

    Heinrich Bullinger, The Decades, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [1550] (1849), https://www.monergism.com/decades-ebook. Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) was Ulrich Zwingli's successor as chief pastor of Zurich. The Decades are Bullinger's exposition of the Ten Commandments. His discussion of resistance to tyranny can be found in his exposition of the Sixth Commandment.

    John Ponet, A Short Treatise on Political Power (1556), https://faculty.etsu.edu/history/documents/ponet.htm. John Ponet (c. 1514-1556) was an English Protestant pastor who fled to the European Continent during the reign of Roman Catholic Queen "Bloody" Mary Tudor. John Ponet was an English clergyman. His work was one of the first polemics against the Divine Right of Kings. According to John Adams (America's second president), his work on civil covenants was the foundation on which John Locke would later build his theories of government. Ponet gave the theology, and Locke promoted it broadly.

    Christopher Goodman, How Superior Powers Ought to be Obeyed of their Subjects: and Wherein they may Lawfully by God's Word be Disobeyed and Resisted (Geneva: Christopher Goodman, 1558), https://constitution.org/1-Constitution/cmt/goodman/obeyed.htm. Christopher Goodman (1520-1603) was another English Protestant leader who fled to the European Continent during the reign of Roman Catholic Queen "Bloody" Mary Tudor. He also contributed to the Geneva Bible. His book convincingly justified Christian resistance to tyranny. Goodman indicated that he had presented the thesis of this book to John Calvin, and Calvin endorsed it.

    John Knox, History of the Reformation in Scotland, ed. Cuthbert Lennox (London: Andrew Melrose, [1564] 1905), https://www.gutenberg.org/files/48250/48250-h/48250-h.htm. John Knox (c. 1514-1572) was the leading reformer of the Scottish Reformation. He set forth his views on resistance to tyranny in conversations with Mary Queen of Scots in 1561 (p. 231 ff.) and Secretary Lethington in 1564 (p. 318 ff.).

    Theodore Beza, The Right of Magistrates, trans. Henry-Loius Gonin, ed. Patrick S. Poole (1574), https://www.yorku.ca/comninel/courses/3020pdf/Beza.pdf. Theodore Beza (1519-1605) was John Calvin's successor as chief pastor of Geneva. This book was published in response to the growing persecution of Christians in France. Building on Calvin's political resistance theory, Beza gave the contours of what biblical revolt would look like. This book influenced many Americans during the War for Independence from Britain.

    George Buchanan, De Jure Regni apud Scotos [The Law of Kings in Scotland], trans. Robert MacFarlan (Edinburgh: A. Murray, [1579] 1799), http://www.portagepub.com/dl/caa/buchanan.pdf. George Buchanan (1506-1582) was the tutor of King James VI of Scotland. His work argued that tyrants may be resisted.

    Johannes Althusius, Politica Methodice Digesta [Politics Methodically Set Forth] (1603), https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/althusius-politica#Althusius_0002_403. Johannes Althusius (1557-1638) was a German Reformed jurist and political philosopher.

    Jonathan Mayhew, Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (Boston: D. Fowle and D. Gookin, 1750), https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/etas/44/. This sermon, delivered in 1750, was said by some to be the spark that ignited the American War for Independence. John Adams claimed, "It was read by everybody; celebrated by friends, and abused by enemies... It spread an universal alarm against the authority of Parliament. It excited a general and just apprehension, that bishops, and dioceses, and churches, and priests, and tithes, were to be imposed on us by Parliament."