Good Government: The Best Is Yet to Come

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Good Government

The Best Is Yet to Come

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In the year 1630, while aboard the ship Arbella just off the coast of New England, John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company, took quill to paper and wrote his inspired thoughts about New England and the exciting and sobering prospects of settling the New World . What he wrote ranked in importance with the Pilgrims' compact they had written while aboard the Mayflower in November 1620.

The earlier Pilgrims' compact focused on what they would do together, inspired by mutual consent. Each signer of the compact committed to "combine ourselves together into a civil body politic . . . and [to] frame such just and equal laws . . . for the general good of the colony." It is considered to be the first indigenous document of American democracy. While the Mayflower Compact determined what their governing rules would be, Winthrop spelled out why he thought that manner of governance would work. The title he wrote across the top of his sheet of paper was, "A Model of Christian Charity."

The heart of his vision is captured in the following words: "Thus stands the cause between God and us: we are entered into covenant with Him for this work. We have taken out a Commission; the Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles . . . If the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then hath He ratified this Covenant and sealed our Commission, (and) will expect a strict performance of the Articles contained in it.

"But if we shall neglect the observance of these Articles . . . the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us . . . We must be knit together in this work as one man . . . For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill . . ." (Quoted by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, 1977, pp. 161-162).

Winthrop's reference to a "City upon a Hill" came from the Holy Bible. He believed that the Puritans could survive, flourish and set a right example for others to follow by living Christ's directive: "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:14).

This vision fueled his hope and purpose to lead the early Puritans in their quest to settle the New World by obeying Christ's second great commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).

A new experiment in government

The earliest American governing documents set the rules and tone for the greatest republic this world has ever known.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political thinker, historian and writer who traveled throughout early America and observed its people in the early 1800s, made many insightful observations about the early American governmental experiment, a beginning government that was based on moral content.

The noted British historian Paul Johnson says of De Tocqueville's visit to the United States: "Coming from a country where the abuse of power by the clergy had made anticlericalism endemic, he was amazed to find a country where it was virtually unknown. He saw, for the first time, Christianity presented not as a totalitarian society but as an unlimited society, a competitive society, intimately wedded to the freedom and market system of the secular world" (A History of the American People, 1997, p. 390).

De Tocqueville also noted on an unpublished scrap of paper that, while religion underpinned republican government, a great source of moral strength rested in the fact that government was minimal: "One of the happiest consequences of the absence of government (when a people is fortunate enough to be able to do without it, which is rare); is the development of individual strength that inevitably follows from it.

"Each man learns to think, to act for himself, without counting on the support of an outside force which, however vigilant one supposes it to be, can never answer all social needs. Man, thus accustomed to seek his well-being only through his own efforts, raises himself in his own opinion as he does in the opinion of others; his soul becomes larger and stronger at the same time" (quoted by Johnson, p. 390).

Even with the best of human governments and human intentions, there will be individuals who will refuse to or prove incapable of governing themselves. Thus, no matter how capable many individuals may be of governing themselves, a well-ordered structure requires that there be government power and authority to enforce proper civil behavior, lest anarchy result.

The new American governmental mode was commendable, offering citizens the right to govern themselves. European governments did not operate as democracies. They were primarily monarchical, where kings or queens ruled as they felt like ruling, sometimes to the detriment of the ruled.

"The statesmen of Europe, wise in the politics of royal courts, knowingly winked at each other and predicted that the peculiar American experiment would last a few years at the most—that a strong President would refuse to bow to the wishes of the electors and would make himself king for life, or that a weak President would be cast out of office by revolution before his four years were up. They were wrong" (David Whitney and Robin Whitney, The American Presidents, foreword, 1993).

These early settlers of the New World were farsighted in designing and developing their form of self-governance while avoiding tyrannical monarchs. Yet something was missing. American history shows the problems that have developed in American democracy that cry out for the missing dimension to good government.

All governments throughout history have suffered from the lack of that same missing dimension, including the earliest democracies in ancient Greece and Rome.

G.C. Bolton of the University of London wrote the foreword to Monarchs, Rulers, Dynasties, and Kingdoms of the World (R.F. Tapsell, 1983). He summarizes the history of human governments this way:

"Towards the end [of the book] the reader may experience a growing sense of the vanity of human wishes. A dynasty seizes power; the family prevails for two centuries, three or four; but in the end they die without heirs, go into exile, suffer conquest, succumb to treachery, or are required by the inexorable dialectic of history to make way for a new emerging ruling class. Another reigns in their stead. It is an old but salutary reminder for those who seek lasting political authority" (p. 7).

A simpler summary of human governments was given in Lord Acton's famous axiom in his letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton on April 5, 1887: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

This pattern proved true of the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose attempts to establish an ideal form of government fell victim to the same weaknesses we see today.

Greek attempts at ideal government

Regarding Greece, the eminent historian R.F. Tapsell wrote: "In the Heroic Age of ancient Greece there were, according to legend, various territorial and city kingdoms, but by the 7th century B.C., when firmly historical details begin to emerge, nearly all the Greek cities were republics, though often in practice ruled by semi-monarchical tyrants" (Monarchs, Rulers, Dynasties, and Kingdoms of the World, p. 59).

"Pericles was placed in power in 461 B.C. by the urban segment of the Athenian citizen population. Pericles carried two principles already established in the Athenian constitution to their logical conclusion: election of magistrates by lot and the supremacy of the assembly.

"He introduced as a third principle payment (from the imperial funds) for public service. On this basis, Periclean democracy drew the average citizen into a more active governmental role than ever before or since" (Encyclopedia Americana, "Greek City-State Civilization; Athenian Empire," 2004, Vol. 13, p. 395).

"Periclean democracy thus represents the widest possible diffusion of political power among the citizen body, which still remained a privileged minority (numbering about 43,000). It excluded women (about 43,000), resident aliens (about 28,500), and slaves (about 110,000), not to mention the population of the Athenian empire outside Attica.

"In actual practice, policy was shaped by 'leaders for the people,' who established a moral ascendancy and a voting majority in the debates in the assembly. The Athenian historian Thucydides says that under Pericles' leadership 'what was nominally a democracy became in fact one-man rule'" (ibid.).

In Greece, as with all human governments, the missing dimension brought about its downfall.

Roman experiments with republics

As to Rome, Tapsell summarized: "According to tradition, the city of Rome was founded in the 8th century B.C. and ruled by kings until the establishment of a republic in 509 B.C., growing from a small city-state to control most of Italy by the 3rd century B.C. and the whole Mediterranean world by the 1st century B.C.

"Late in that century, Augustus Caesar became in fact, though not in name, monarchical ruler of the state, founding an empire which endured more or less intact until it split into eastern and western halves in the late 4th century A.D." (Tapsell, p. 115).

"Rome's institutions were first shaped under kingly rule and then during the Republic by an aristocracy that directed Rome's conquest of Italy and the Mediterranean . In the latter part of this republican phase, factional struggles for power inevitably led to the rule of one man, a rule that Julius Caesar made possible and that his heir Augustus made acceptable.

"Augustus' Julio-Claudian successors exercised the absolute power they inherited from him, though in their hands this power became despotic" (Encyclopedia Americana, "Ancient Rome," 2004, Vol. 23, p. 700).

Near the end of Rome's republican phase, factional struggles often ended in civil war where reformist leaders were assassinated. Representative of these were Tiberius Gracchus, a tribune who took on the task of solving the agrarian problem. Powerful leaders who stood to lose property opposed him and he was slain in a riot in 133 B.C.

Tiberius' brother Gaius Gracchus, a successful tribune for two years, stirred up volatile emotions when he sponsored a whole range of legislative enactments designed to reform abuses and curry political favor. He was declared a public enemy in 121 B.C. and assassinated (ibid., p. 713).

The governments of Greece and Rome were, in the main, republics in which chosen representatives governed according to law. Occasionally Greece and Rome functioned more democratically, although their form of democracy was not the same as we are familiar with today. In the end, however, all succeeding governments of Greece and Rome were motivated by human selfishness and a lust for more power. Some were overt in their lust while others appeared to function more as benefactors of the people.

Later in Roman history, emperors viewed themselves as having divine authority over their subjects. From Augustus Caesar (27 B.C.) to Constantine the Great (A.D. 324-327), emperors were worshipped as divine beings.

Recent experiments in government

Throughout the history that followed, kings were replaced, sometimes in bloody revolutions as in France, where King Louis XVI was beheaded in Paris in 1793, and in Russia, where revolutionaries toppled the regime of autocratic Czar Nicholas II. He and his family were murdered in 1918 by a Bolshevik firing squad in the basement of a house where they had been imprisoned.

In the 20th century, communism and socialism arose, promising to solve the great inequities that existed under previous forms of government.

Not surprisingly, some of the greatest pogroms of all time took place when communist governments killed their own peoples by the millions in Russia under Joseph Stalin, in China under Mao Tse-tung and in Cambodia under Pol Pot. Such wholesale carnage perpetrated by tyrants over their own countrymen shows the worst excesses of human government.

When one compares all these forms of governments throughout the ages, it becomes apparent that all had their day in the sun, with some fading into oblivion.

Even when we exclude such bloody ideologies as fascist imperialism, the detrimental results of human governments speak for themselves. All too often they have left in their wake the deaths of the innocent in uninterrupted rivers of blood. No matter the kind of government, human life was always in jeopardy. Danger was always present.

Yet there was one human government that, in its earliest stages, could serve as a partial model of how good government can actually serve its citizens: ancient Israel under King Solomon.

A model of good government

Solomon's reign began as the most peaceful and prosperous of all Israelite monarchies before or after him. "King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. And all the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart.

"Each man brought his present: articles of silver and gold, garments, armor, spices, horses, and mules, at a set rate year by year . . . The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and he made cedars as abundant as the sycamores which are in the lowland" (1 Kings 10:23-27).

Solomon began his reign in humility, seeking only the best interest of God and His people. Notice his attitude as reflected in his prayer to God at the beginning of his reign:

"Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?" (1 Kings 3:7-9, emphasis added throughout).

What was God's response? "The speech pleased the LORD, that Solomon had asked this thing. Then God said to him: 'Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.

"'And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days'" (verses 10-13).

Godly humility allowed Solomon to be teachable. And because it did, God blessed Solomon for his attitude and actions.

Sadly, as time passed Solomon succumbed to the lure of foreign women, the trappings of material success and the approbation of men. "But King Solomon loved many foreign women . . . He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods . . .

"So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing . . . Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, 'Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant'" (1 Kings 11:1-4, 9-11).

Still, because of his concern for the people rather than himself, the early part of Solomon's reign could be considered a forerunner of the best government to come. The very best government to come is God's government, to be headed by Christ Jesus at His second coming. In His government we will see the dimension that's been missing from all human governments.

Jesus Christ and a new kind of government

That ideal government yet to come has been promised in Jesus Christ to humanity since before time began. Jesus was promised to humankind before the first human beings were created (2 Timothy 1:9). Through Him, the coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords, ideal government will cover the earth.

Jesus taught the basic principles of godly government to His apostles, although at first they didn't understand it. At one point they argued about who might rise to the highest positions alongside Christ. Jesus addressed their misguided notions about rulership:

"But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many'" (Matthew 20:25-28).

The key to the right kind of governance, Jesus said, is serving others rather than oneself. This, essentially, is true love as defined in the Bible—caring more for others than for the self. Regrettably, this is the opposite of how we normally think and act. We're essentially conditioned from birth to think of self first rather than others. And we must overcome this if we are to be truly Christlike.

The apostle Paul clearly addressed the importance of government, especially self-government. Paul said: "For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:31-32).

It's axiomatic that he who governs himself governs best. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the foremost thinkers of the 19th century, stated, "The best of all governments is that which teaches us to govern ourselves." Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian leader of nonviolence, observed, "Good government is no substitute for self-government."

The best world government is yet to come

Humanity has never tried this form of government on a large scale. Yet this government, led by the same being who gave His life for humankind (John 3:16-17), has been promised to all nations (Isaiah 11:1-10; Revelation 19:11-16; Zechariah 14:3-9).

God's good government was promised to humankind thousands of years ago: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

"Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9:6-7).

At Jesus Christ's return, God's government will replace all human governments, which He shall sweep clean from this earth. The prophet Daniel spoke of Christ's replacement of all human governments:

"And in the days of these [final human] kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44).

Christ, at His return, will not work in tandem with other world rulers so thoroughly steeped in the ways of this world. Instead He will totally replace all human governments.

What part will you play?

Believe it or not, you can have a hand in that coming world government! The apostle Paul said that Jesus Christ's true followers "will judge [make decisions relating to] the world" in that time to come (1 Corinthians 6:2).

Jesus Christ is presently transforming His followers to judge righteous judgment, based on His Word and His commandments. True Christians are learning to judge themselves (1 Corinthians 11:31), again based on God's commandments (Revelation 22:14).

When Christ's obedient servants are changed at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:50-54), they will serve as teachers of billions of people during His millennial reign on earth (Revelation 20:4; 1:6).

A world government unlike anything the world has ever seen is coming. It will replace all human governments that have been directed by selfish human interests from the beginning.

The best world government is the same good and godly government Jesus instructed His disciples to pray for in Matthew 6:10: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." GN