Here is a pastoral confession: Sometimes I find it difficult to pray for the leaders of our nation.
They do not fear God, they do not keep his commandments, and they actively oppose our holy religion.
One of “My Pastors” recently reminded me that rather than hindering my prayers, the general godlessness of our leaders should actually help me to pray more fervently for them.
I hope the commentary below accomplishes the same good end in your heart this week.
– Pastor McShaffrey
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour…” (1 Timothy 2:1-3)
The General Argument
FOR KINGS – He expressly mentions kings and other magistrates because, more than all others, they might be hated by Christians. All the magistrates who existed at that time were so many sworn enemies of Christ; and therefore this thought might occur to them, that they ought not to pray for those who devoted all their power and all their wealth to fight against the kingdom of Christ, the extension of which is above all things desirable.
The apostle meets this difficulty, and expressly enjoins Christians to pray for them also. And, indeed, the depravity of men is not a reason why God’s ordinance should not be loved. Accordingly, seeing that God appointed magistrates and princes for the preservation of mankind, however much they fall short of the divine appointment, still we must not on that account cease to love what belongs to God, and to desire that it may remain in force.
That is the reason why believers, in whatever country they live, must not only obey the laws and the government of magistrates, but likewise in their prayers supplicate God for their salvation.
Jeremiah said to the Israelites, “Pray for the peace of Babylon, for in their peace ye shall have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7) The universal doctrine is this, that we should desire the continuance and peaceful condition of those governments which have been appointed by God.
The Three-fold Promise
THAT WE MAY LEAD A PEACEFUL AND QUIET LIFE – By exhibiting the advantage, he holds out an additional inducement, for he enumerates the fruits which are yielded to us by a well regulated government.
The first is a peaceful life; for magistrates are armed with the sword, in order to keep us in peace. If they did not restrain the hardihood of wicked men, every place would be full of robberies and murders. The true way of maintaining peace, therefore, is, when every one obtains what is his own, and the violence of the more powerful is kept under restraint.
WITH ALL GODLINESS AND DECENY – The second fruit is the preservation of godliness, that is, when magistrates give themselves to promote religion, to maintain the worship of God, and to take care that sacred ordinances be observed with due reverence.
The third fruit is the care of public decency; for it is also the business of magistrates to prevent men from abandoning themselves to brutal filthiness or flagitious conduct, but, on the contrary, to promote decency and moderation.
If these three things are taken away, what will be the condition of human life? If, therefore, we are at all moved by solicitude about the peace of society, or godliness, or decency, let us remember that we ought also to be solicitous about those through whose agency we obtain such distinguished benefits.
Hence we conclude, that fanatics, who wish to have magistrates taken away, are destitute of all humanity, and breathe nothing but cruel barbarism. How different is it to say, that we ought to pray for kings, in order that justice and decency may prevail, and to say, that not only the name of kingly power, but all government, is opposed to religion! We have the Spirit of God for the Author of the former sentiment, and therefore the latter must be from the Devil.
An Objection Answered
If any one ask, “Ought we to pray for kings, from whom we obtain none of these advantages?” I answer, the object of our prayer is, that, guided by the Spirit of God, they may begin to impart to us those benefits of which they formerly deprived us. It is our duty, therefore, not only to pray for those who are already worthy, but we must pray to God that he may make bad men good.
An Analogy Offered
We must always hold by this principle, that magistrates were appointed by God for the protection of religion, as well as of the peace and decency of society, in exactly the same manner that the earth is appointed to produce food. Accordingly, in like manner as, when we pray to God for our daily bread, we ask him to make the earth fertile by his blessing; so in those benefits of which we have already spoken, we ought to consider the ordinary means which he has appointed by his providence for bestowing them.
Acknowledging our Sin
To this must be added, that, if we are deprived of those benefits the communication of which Paul assigns to magistrates, that is through our own fault. It is the wrath of God that renders magistrates useless to us, in the same manner that it renders the earth barren; and, therefore, we ought to pray for the removal of those chastisements which have been brought upon us by our sins.
A Reminder to Magistrates
On the other hand, princes, and all who hold the office of magistracy, are here reminded of their duty. It is not enough, if, by giving to every one what is due, they restrain all acts of violence, and maintain peace; but they must likewise endeavor to promote religion, and to regulate morals by wholesome discipline.
The exhortation of David (Psalm 2:12) to “kiss the Son,” and the prophecy of Isaiah, that they shall be nursing — fathers of the Church, (Isaiah 49:23,) are not without meaning; and, therefore, they have no right to flatter themselves, if they neglect to lend their assistance to maintain the worship of God.
The Strongest Argument
FOR THIS IS GOOD AND ACCEPTABLE BEFORE GOD – After having taught that what he enjoined is useful, he now brings forward a stronger argument — that it pleases God; for when we know what is His will, this ought to have the force of all possible reasons. By good he means what is proper and lawful; and, since the will of God is the rule by which all our duties must be regulated, he proves that it is right because it pleases God.
From Calvin’s Commentary on 1 Timothy 2
(headings and paragraph breaks added for ease of online reading)