Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. This is both a binding and loosing Christian principle. It binds you to honour God in whatever you do, but it gives you a lot of freedom about where to do it.
Parliament needs people who will walk in there and live and work for the glory of God, above all else. I am not politically inclined myself, but there is something to be said about this, and the kind of people the government needs.
So here is the talk I gave at a recent political conference:
“No council or magistrate should have it in their power to stop the public business of a city.”
We’ll come back to this.
The government needs you to be involved in the political process in some way. It needs bold, unashamed Christians to step up and make their voice heard in the political sphere, and today, I am going to explain one of the key reasons why.
The bible tells you and I that we should to aspire to the quiet life, 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.” This should be our goal. This should be our aspiration. To leave other people alone, taking care of our own business, as much as we can.
After he stepped down from the Presidency George Washington famously retired to his farm, removing himself from public life. A nation with true liberty requires a population who as much as possible want to leave other people alone, take care of their own business, not seek to dominate the affairs of others, work with their own hands, and leave others to do the same.
But there are two things we must note about this, 1) its an aspiration. It is something we should aspire to, not something we are commanded to always do, or told will always work out. 2) This world is often not happy to leave you alone. The last couple of years has proven this conclusively. That is not because the people of this world are bold, it is not because they are all inherently evil in every way, some of course are, but not all. A lot of people are not happy to leave you alone because they are afraid. They live in fear, they live in terror, and those who are driven by fear, fear of death, fear of being exposed, fear of all sorts of things, will seek to control others so they can calm their fears. Some people control out of a desire for dominance, but many because they live in fear.
I started by reading you something Niccolo Machiavelli said. Let’s look at it again: “No council or magistrate should have it in their power to stop the public business of a city.”
You know where he wrote this, in his book Discourses on Livy, where he reflects on one of the most famous histories of Rome, finished about a decade before Jesus was born. This is one of Machiavelli’s most important works, where he is reflecting on how to create a strong state, and in a strong state, this is what he tells us is required of its leaders:
“No council or magistrate should have it in their power to stop the public business of the city.”
How is that for remarkable, people in the 15th and 16th centuries were already writing about how dangerous it is to allow politicians and bureaucrats to have the power to shut down a city? If only we had political leaders in this country who were so bold. Machiavelli goes on to explain why;
“When Quintius Cincinnatus and Julius Mentus were Consuls of Rome, a disagreement arose between them, which caused an interruption of all the public business of the state. When this came to the knowledge of the Senate, they advised the creation of a Dictator, who might do what the discord between the Consuls had prevented them from doing. But the Consuls, disagreeing upon every other matter, agreed only in this one thing – not to appoint a Dictator. So that the Senate, having no alternative, had recourse to the assistance of the Tribunes, who together with the Senate forced the Consuls to obedience. Whence we should note, in the first instance, the usefulness of the tribunate, which served not only to restrain the violence of the nobles against the people, but also against each other; and, secondly, that the institutions of a city never should place it in the power of a few to interrupt all the important business of the republic.”
The details of this discord and disturbance don’t matter. The summary does: two men, with powerful ambitions, used their power to stop the public business of the republic, for their own ends. It does not matter what those ends were. It does not matter how they came to this decision. What matters is that they had the power and what also matters is the devastating effect shutting down the public business of the city has on everyone.
Machiavelli’s reflection is pretty simple: this must not be allowed, this is evil, this is terrible, no public official should have this power, what’s more, is they should be made to perform their duty or step down, as he continues;
“For instance, if you give to a council authority to distribute honors and offices, or devolve upon any magistracy the administration of the certain business, it is proper to impose upon them either the necessity of doing it under all circumstances, or to provide that, in case of their not doing it themselves, it can and shall be done by someone else; otherwise, the constitution would be defective upon this point, and likely to involve the state in great dangers, as we have seen would have been the case in Rome, if they could not have opposed the authority of the Tribunes to the obstinacy of the Consuls.”
If you are going to allow any part of your government to run a public service or business for your society, then accompanying this provision should be another provision saying that under no circumstances should they shut down this public business. If they feel they cannot fulfil the duty, then they should step aside and let someone who is not afraid to run the office.
Do you think Machiavelli did not know what a plague was? Of course he did. Plague was a constant threat in his era, in fact in the 15th century a famous airborne plague went through his own Republic, Florence.[i] But he, and wiser men, knew that if you were going to maintain your civilisation you must have people running it who are not afraid to turn up to run the office, otherwise you are “likely to involve the state in great dangers”.
You cannot allow the government the power to run schools, hospitals, in home care, charities for the poor, construction services, pothole services, cancer screenings and more, and then give them the right to shut these down by some declared power. Because if they have the power to do so they will do it, especially if they are fearful people, and the effects will be devastating: everything from missed cancer diagnosis’, a fatal error, through to supply chains issues, or roads not being serviceable and more. Society will fracture in untold ways, and the longer it goes on, the worse it will get. Now we have inflation pricing people out of homes and into tents, because of decisions made by fearful men and women during the last two years. Machiavelli was right.
If they have the power in one part of the constitution to shut down the entire public business of the city, then they can undermine the entire constitution because it is defective on that point…sound familiar? Machiavelli warned us. He actually warned about this.
So what can be done?
In the republic of Venice the Grand Council distributed the honors and the offices; it happened several times that this body, from discontent or some erroneous suggestions, did not appoint successors to the magistrates of the city or of the provinces. This caused the greatest possible disorders, for all of a sudden both the city and its subjects provinces lacked their legitimate judges; nor could they obtain anything if the majority of the council was not either satisfied or deceived. And this inconvenience would have led to the worst consequences for the city, if the prudent citizens had not provided against it, by availing of the first convenient occasion to make a law that all the public functionaries in the city and in the provinces should never vacate their offices until their successors had been elected and were ready to fill their places. And thus they deprived the Grand Council of the power to expose the republic to the great dangers by arresting all public business.”[ii]
Only one thing can be done, good men and good women need to assert their political power to make sure that the politicians cannot lock the city down again. What solved this issue and protected the city of Venice from facing worse trouble was “the prudent citizens” taking the first possible occasion to change the law to protect their city and their state from ever facing such a danger again.
What did Rome, what did Venice and what did Florence, the Republic that Machiavelli was a part of, need to protect their states from being shut down? Prudent citizens.
We cannot expect the people of this world to be prudent citizens. I have been a pastor for over 11 years, and I was in Bible College before that, I was involved in apologetics, street evangelism, online evangelism, discussion boards, and so much more. One of the most common arguments that I used to hear from both atheists and some well-meaning Christians is that you don’t need to be a Christian to be good. You don’t need to believe in God to be good. People said this a lot.
In my experience, no one says this anymore. You know that they say now? Christians are wrong about what is good.
In the last decade people have gone from saying, “You don’t need God to be good”, to “if you believe in God you are probably evil, especially if you take his word to be true.” That’s how far our society has changed. That is how far it has fallen in such a short time.
But a people disconnected from God, and increasingly so, is a people that can only be given more and more over to fear and manipulation. That which you fear will control you, and there are many nefarious forces in the media and in governments who understand this about humanity. They have even admitted in certain contexts that is what they did,
“Scientists on a committee that encouraged the use of fear to control people’s behaviour during the Covid pandemic have admitted its work was “unethical” and “totalitarian”.
Members of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviour (SPI-B) expressed regret about the tactics in a new book about the role of psychology in the Government’s Covid-19 response.”[iii]
That is why our government needs people like you. People who fear God and God alone. That which we fear, will control us, which is why Jesus tells us, Matthew 10:28 – “28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Our government needs prudent people, people who know that no matter what happens on earth, if they believe in God they have a reward in heaven, and because of this they are not afraid to do the right thing. People who at the first opportunity can make sure laws are passed that forbid the government from having this power again.
It is arrogant for any one man, or group of men and women, to think they can micromanage the daily lives of a city, state, or nation. They cannot do it, they will cause all sorts of unforeseen problems and consequences. But driven by their fear many people will think they can do it and should do it and are right to do it. A strong state, a strong government, that can protect liberty, needs people who are not afraid of the things of this world. It needs people who are not afraid to stare down tyrants and say: “that is wrong.”
Machiavelli warned us about how giving politicians the power to shut down the public business would cause all sorts of dangers for a people and their nation. But we ignored him…or did we? Maybe the wrong people read this and took his advice the wrong way. After all, they don’t refer to many powerful people as Machiavellian for no reason. But how could we ever know this?
What we do know is this: your government needs you because your nation needs you. And your nation needs people whose hope is in an eternal reward and therefore do not fear the powerful of this world.
Consider this line one more time, “And this inconvenience would have led to the worst consequences for the city, if the prudent citizens had not provided against it, by availing of the first convenient occasion to make a law…” ensuring this never happened again. It’s up to you.
[i] Epidemics in Renaissance Florence
A S Morrison, J Kirshner, A Molho https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3885766/#:~:text=Epidemics%20and%20mortality%20in%2015th%20and%2016th%20century,girls%20and%20women.%20Major%20epidemics%20%28%22plagues%22%29%20occurred%20repeatedly.
[ii] Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Castlia House, (pp123-124). All the unnoted quotes are from this same source.