Archive Civic Polity Philosophy Reformed Irenicism Ruben Alvarado

Stahl: How Should We Then Proceed?

Assuming  the rightness of the critique provided by anti-revolutionary thinkers such as Groen van Prinsterer, what then should be the result? Obviously, by the nature of the case, Christians, being anti-revolutionaries (whether Rousseauian or Jeffersonian: the difference is not as great as one might think), cannot resort to outright revolution. The social order informed, indeed formed, by right Christian thinking, would be something evolved into, not foisted-upon. But what would such a social order look like? This is of course a matter of speculation at this point, as we live in the iron grip (albeit the death throes) of modernism. I would summarize such a social order as being a full-orbed common law order, regarding which I have written rather extensively, even though barely scratching the surface (see here, here, and here, for instance).

But the basic need is to find a reorientating principle taking into account the valid claims of liberalism while subsuming/transcending them. For, as I have noted before, liberalism is nothing more than a Whig/Marxist dialectic that cannot get beyond its polar oppositions. Friedrich Julius Stahl provided the building blocks for such a transcending synthesis. Granted, he like Groen van Prinsterer were children of their age, unable to fathom a political structure beyond monarchy. But that does not obviate the lessons contained in their teaching. Here is one such lesson, perhaps the basic one, in which Stahl shows what it is that needs to be learned from liberalism, and what liberalism needs to move beyond itself. Christian political order needs to recognize “the principle of humanity,” while also retaining “the fear of God.” Actually, it is as simple as that.

The following excerpt is Chapter Four of Private Law.


The Principle of Humanity


Universal Human Value

The image of God in man is the final ground of the right of the person (§. 2). In it lies the obligation on the civil order not only to preserve the rights necessary merely for the existence of the person, but also to elevate him to an ever higher level of entitlement, freedom and gratification, which we described above as the primeval right (Book II, §. 36). It is this power which motivates our times at their deepest level.

Among the many partly true, partly misconceived efforts of these times, one appears in full clarity: the recognition of the rights of man. This does not belong simply to the area of law. More deeply comprehended, it is the principle of humanity: the idea that the well-being, the right, the honor of every individual, even the most humble, is the concern of the community, which views each person in accordance with his individuality, which protects, honors, looks after him without regard for descent, class, race, gift, as long as he has a human face. This is the characteristic principle of the times and what constitutes its true worth. From it stems the abolition of serfdom, torture, the toleration of deviant religious confessions, the elevation of lower classes to equal civil honor, the many philanthropic pursuits, the effort to provide a satisfactory existence for the starving masses. This principle was alien to previous times, even that of the Reformation. Certainly, where Christian faith exists, love of neighbor and thus humanity is of necessity the motiva <38>tion of life. However, this neighborly love in the past only concerned corporeal and spiritual well-being, not entitlement, freedom, the honor of men, and only provided the motivation for personal action, not the civil order. The outlook of improving entire classes out of a motivation of humanity, of spiritual individuality, of recognizing the honor of each person, did not inspire any institution in those times. Only in the most recent period has humanity in its full concept become an energetic virtue, the principle determining the entire 

The Fear of God as Principle of Order

On the other hand, earlier periods of European Christianity had the fear of God as the motivation for the public order, the unconditional devotion to God’s command and ordinances and the zeal to glorify God. Recent times prior to the revival of Christian faith (that is, the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century), had eliminated this motivation. Every trace of the recognition of an unconditional divine command, every obligation to fulfill the will of the living God disappeared from it. Only the recognition of men and their convictions and opinions, and the care for men, remained as guideline. Thus in the area of religion only tolerance remained a recognized and praised motivation, not however the zeal for God’s Word and God’s honor, that previously was the only such recognized motivation. Tolerance has no boundaries; all religious or much rather irreligious doctrines are to have equal rights and equal honor; and even deistic and pantheistic doctrine of every stripe is to be recognized as Christian and as a church as long as it considers itself to be so. On the other hand, fidelity to divine truth, to maintain the true revelation of God, finds no consideration when it maintains its true measure, much less so when it in any way oversteps its boundaries. It is the same in the po <39>litical arena. The state is based solely on human rights, not on higher goals; this is the sympathy for all opposition against all authority; it lacks the recognition of unconditional commands for the legal order. From this springs opposition to the death penalty and in fact to any sort of punishment. In the absence of a higher command that the criminal must be punished, that where blood is shed, blood must be shed, this becomes an institution for improving the criminal or a means of providing for the security for others. From this springs the claim for unconditional divorce, making the happiness of the spouses, their sense of what is agreeable, the decisive concern and not the higher, unconditional command that what God has joined together, let no man tear asunder. From this everywhere stems the revolt against all discipline, against all restrictions established for the fulfillment of a higher order of life.

The Two Poles of World Order: the Fear of God and Full Humanity

The fear of God and full humanity are the twin poles of the ethical world order. The fear of God puts the seal of majesty [Erhabenheit] on the individual man and the public condition. This majesty consists in being fully subsumed in the will of God and therefore in the unconditional fulfillment of higher commands without regard either for one’s own life and well-being or the life and well-being of others. It elevates man above himself and all the powers and frailties of the earthly world. A picture of such majesty and unconditional devotion to God and, at least in accordance with our knowledge and our standard, virtually without humanity-inspired motivation, is found in the colossal appearance of Samuel in the Old Testament. Similar character, perhaps tempered by the spirit of the New Covenant [neuen Bundes], runs through the great men of <40>the Puritan church.1 Humanity however is what provides the stamp of beauty, love, and kindness, the final consummation. The fear of God everywhere in dignity is the highest, in time the first. It begets humanity from itself. This is the eternal law, the course of history. Upon reaching maturity, however, it dare not close itself off, for in that case it becomes rotten and kills, it becomes Pharisaism in its manner of thinking, in institutions becomes a despotic and grotesque oppression. On the other hand, humanity dare not free itself from this, its true root. Otherwise it softens into the weakness of live and let live, into mutual interests merely regarding corporeal, earthly existence, the short-term indulgence of others to their long-term damage, as well as to that of the whole. Thus, love becomes the practice of worldly well-being, freedom the acclaim of arbitrariness. Following Kant, it is false humanity to make the man of appearance (homo phenomenon) the linchpin rather than man as he truly is (homo noumenon). For the public order, however, humanity freed from the fear of God leads on the one hand to fanaticism, as in the Revolution when the rights of man were imposed through the guillotine, and on the other hand, because human society can only be held together through God’s ordinances, first to the slackening and then the dissolution of society.

This is therefore the shadowy side of recent times along with its higher worth: that it only seeks man while being detached from what stands above man. Of the two parts through which the law is fulfilled – you shall love the Lord your God above all things, and your neighbor as yourself – it has arbi <41>trarily picked out the second while ignoring the first, it has demolished the first of the two tables of the law while proposing to establish only the second. This is however contrary to the eternal ordinance. No building can stand when one removes the foundation, no tree can live when one lays the ax to the roots. The task of the times is therefore not the ongoing one-sided advance of humanity and the rights of man, but the restoration of the fear of God as the energetic principle in both hearts and public institutions, while in it and through it preserving humanity and the rights of man. This is the union of the truth of former times with contemporary times. It gives the testimonies of the one and the other principle their pure shape and their complete meaning and worth.



A similar loftiness shows itself in the engrossment of men in higher ideas apart from a final relation to God, e.g., Roman civic virtue which did not even spare its own sons. But this virtue does not, as does Christian fear of God, give birth to humanity from itself as its other principle.

By Ruben Alvarado

Mr. Ruben Alvarado is an independent scholar, publisher, and translator living to the east of Arnhem in the Netherlands. His writings, which span a wide variety of issues, can be found at WordBridge Publishing, Common Law Review, and Common Law Economics.

19 replies on “Stahl: How Should We Then Proceed?”


It seems like Stahl might be using “Revolution” in a stipulated sense, so let me ask about that. The broad consensus seems to be that Christians can have recourse to revolution in the classic sense of overthrow of tyranny, so long as the conditions of justice, order (principle of the lesser magistrate, though in extreme cases someone might have to just step in as provisional magistrate, as with some “governments in exile”), chance of success, and proportionate means are maintained. Is Stahl denying this, or is he proscribing “revolution” only in the specifically revolutionist sense of total, de novo revolution (and Terror, the causes of which are laid out ably by Hegel)? If the latter, then of course Christians cannot have recourse to it. But perhaps he mean to proscribe the former, which would be an error in my opinion.



I’ll try to post Stahl’s thoughts on revolution and rebellion shortly. Here I’ll say that my intention above is to argue that we as Christians cannot pursue the overthrow of legimitate regimes because they are established on faulty principles, in order to establish a more Christian order. As Christians we should proceed on an evolutionary rather than revolutionary path. Hoedemaker argued that what was needed first and foremost was reformation of the church — we need to get our own house in order first! And then, the path of constitutional reform/revision, perhaps even a constitutional convention — that would be the way forward. The current constitutional arrangement establishes liberalism, whether classical (present-day conservatism) or progressive (present-day “liberalism”).

A Christian society is not the church. The kingdom of God needs to be distinguished from the church. Otherwise you will get this end result, that society must become the church. That’s a big misconception. Stahl argues here for human society to adopt the principle of the “fear of God,” hence to yield to God’s rule. But that is not the same as becoming the church. The church has a role to play in this, but this is much bigger than the church. The kingdom is all-embracing, covering all of life, while the church is the body of Christ, the compact corps of believers.

But in the end, there is a kind of merger between Church and society. Society must enforce Church discipline to some degree and Christians must have some sort of privilege to ensure that society yields to God’s rule and thus the right set of laws are forced on nonChristians. This marginalizes nonChristians. And the question that we must answer is, is this is the New Testament way of advancing God’s Kingdom? Another question is, haven’t learned from history that such an approach bring reproach on the Gospel?

This is not it at all. Civil law is something entirely other than church discipline. Christianizing civil law does not turn it into church discipline, it turns it into what it always should have been, leads it to its true essence. Law is then informed by justice rather than by human willfulness and power politics, the way it is now. And non Christians are not marginalized, only required to submit to God’s law as it applies in the civil sphere. Church, state, family, society, retain their internal integrity. In particular, they are not politicized. The state does not invade the other spheres and take them over. Which is what makes a Christian society imperative, precisely to preserve sphere integrity and thus freedom.

As far as editing comments is concerned, you’ll have to take that up with the webmaster :).

That is a great statement until you use induction to try to prove it. And that is the problem with us Reformed Christians. We deduce so much of reality that we fail to listen to those who are trying to point out that some of what we call civil law should belong to the Church only.

Society is not obligated to fear God. They are subject to no Church discipline when they don’t fear God. And yet you want to make laws based on the fear of God and it is at that point that Civil law has an intersection with Church law. When Jesus and Paul talk about the discipline of believers, they talk about those not belonging to the Church as belonging to society. Consider what Paul says in I Cor 5:12-13.

What you want is for Christianity to have a privileged position in society for society’s own good and optimal existence. Such is the siren song of paternalism. Its hook is the flattering concept that you are doing this or that for someone else’s own good. In the end, what you are doing is expanding your region of control and maintaining that control will become your first priority. Of course, it will always be for someone else’s own good. But in the end, you will rule over them and apply standards that, according to the Scriptures, are grounds for discipline for Christians only. Also in the end will be more and more nonChristians who are resentful of your rule and rightfully object to your assuming a privileged position over them in society. Don’t you hear the people singing right now?

Christ came as a suffering servant and commanded us to imitate Him in His first coming only. The imperative for any kind of Christian Paternalism comes not from what Christ commanded, but it comes from conclusions made by taking too much of a Mathematical approach to theology. It’s what I call, ‘theomatics.’

It’s should be a combination of factors taking some, but not all, from natural law, laws of religions, and through a democratic process. The Democratic process both selects the laws from the first two sources and acts as a source as well. Natural law, which can be debatable because not everyone recognizes the one source for all issues, and laws of religion can be used provided that no religious group gains privilege over the others. So the natural laws and religious laws picked should be for promoting the common good and equal status of legitimate groups.

so the standard of justice is….? You do realize that “common good” and “natural law” and “democratic process” are not unambiguous criteria. Is there any higher standard above… man?

Yes, there is a higher standard. But we share that higher standard when we preach the Gospel, not when we suggest how society should live. Such an approach allows room in society for the unbeliever.

Your approach also delivers us over to unbelievers. It makes civil society into a vehicle of unbelief. It turns justice into a game of politics and power-brokering. And, it denies God, precisely by ignoring Him and His will.

But, God is not mocked:

1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.

7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

Psalm 2, KJV.

it seems that you see only two options in terms of how Christianity relates to society. Those options are either we dominate them or they dominate us. Such thinking invites us Christians to flirt with Machiavellianism as we fight for survival. And such thinking is fear-oriented in the first place. It serves as an example of xenophobia, a fear that drove Christians to perform unspeakable horrors in the past. But such a limited choice of options is hardly the case. In fact, when one looks back at the history of Western Civilization, the Church is quite often the corrupter of culture in its quest to maintain power. Don’t you realize that the present leaning of society to a post-Christian culture is in part due to the Church’s past exercise of power over society?

Again, we must look at the New Testament’s view of society to get a partial glimpse of our role. When talking about Church discipline, neither Jesus nor Paul saw society as a place where the Church should dominate. In fact, Jesus tells us, His followers, not to ‘lord it over’ people as the Gentiles do.

And speaking of the New Testament view of society, how is it in more totalitarian times than now that an anti-Christian government did not stop the Church from growing? How?

See, the issue between us isn’t whether God is mocked or whether God’s justice will be ignored or carried out. The issue is, how should we Christians communicate that message. Do we do so through legislating laws or through the preaching of the Gospel?

Of course there are some laws that should legislated and most of those laws have bipartisan support from both Christians and nonChristians. But the passage of such laws does not give Christians a privileged place in society over nonChristians.

There are certain things we cannot do. We cannot force faith on unbelievers. For those who will believe, faith only comes from the working of God’s Spirit with the hearing/reading of God’s Word. And we ignore Him and His will only when we stop sharing the Gospel because we are living for ourselves. The 1st Century Church did not enjoy the political advantages which you seek for the Church and it hardly ignored God. And because it preached His Word, it grew as more and more people learned not to ignore God.

If we Christians look on society as a place where we either dominate over others or are dominated by them, then you are teaching nonChristians the same. And they will then look to dominate us and not because of their rejection of God’s Word, it will be because they are protecting themselves from us and, as a bonus, they will curse God because of us. There is a third alternative. That alternative is to work together to both promote justice and to protect each other from being marginalized.

Below is my latest blogpost describing the kind of society I advocate.

I can’t do much but repeat what I’ve already said. Your “solution” is for unbelief to triumph, precisely as it has. No, the church wasn’t always perfect; nor is the church responsible for what peoples and nations have done in the name of Christianity, much of which true churchmen and women protested against. There is no substitute for preaching the law as well as the gospel, for without the law the gospel is meaningless. And there are dimensions to law: civil law is one thing, moral law another. Believers, in the church, are to keep all of the law; in the state, all, not just believers, are to keep the law pertaining to the state: the civil law. Thou shalt not steal holds for everyone, not just Christians, and it is not an imposition on non-Christians to hold them to that standard. This is not to require faith in Christ, but simply to require submission to rules of conduct such as hold across the board for everyone. The thing is, in our fallen societies, the church’s witness and preaching is necessary for even that minimal understanding to be attained. If peoples and nations are not called to adhere to a standard, they will devise for themselves another. And there is only one standard of justice. And we can only know it from one source: God Himself. The church happens to be the body of Christ, who is God’s Son, whom God has placed over the nations. You treat that place of honor as if it were something to be avoided and ashamed of, an imposition upon unbelievers’ consciences. It is what it is. And the church being the church will lead to persecution but also to “imposition,” when the peoples repent and receive God’s Word as the truth, also in the area of justice. And impose it upon themselves. This is as it should be, and is what the Bible prophesies.

But again, how does unbelief triumph when in the first century, the Church grew? And how is unbelief subdued when Christians dominate society? And how are nonChristians to look at us when we, out of fear try to dominate them even when they have no intention to dominate us?

See, repeating what you wrote does not address what my note brought up. In addition, we don’t a spelled out set of dictates for how society should be in the New Testament. What we have there seems to allow for moral libertarianism. In addition, when we preach the Gospel, we are calling people to adhere to a standard. And even nonChristians who, because of common grace, pass laws that promote justice, they call people to a standard in society. Now if the standards for the Church matches the one for society, then what I wrote before about the merger of society and the Church comes into play. And if they don’t match, how is it that nonChristians are unable to set basic standards for society which call people to an adequate standard?

See, you take one premise, that because we are Christ’s body and Christ is the ruler of the world, and deduce all else while paying no heed to the Scriptures I’ve brought up or to history. That goes back to what I described as Theomatics. At the same time, you seem to say that the standards we call people to adhere to when evangelizing is not enough.

See, if preaching the gospel leads to persecution, then the Church is being persecuted for being the Church when it preaches the Gospel. There is nada in the NT that supports our controlling society. In fact, there are Scriptures that speak against that kind of control. Thus, if the Church is persecuted for trying to control society, it is being persecuted for doing things other than being the Church. And it seems that you fail to see how your theomatics will rightfully be perceived by nonChristians.

I think you have a problem with God’s law. You equate it with Christians “dominating” non-Christians. You prefer terms like common grace and natural law, which seem to provide you with some sort of buffer between the church and the world. But they provide no such thing. What the church teaches is nothing other than what “natural law” teaches and what “common grace” teaches, nothing other than justice and God’s law for peoples and nations. If that is Christians dominating, then so be it. I guess you’re good with the way things are going now? Because your method is in full swing at this point in history.

Aren’t there going to be those in society who do not believe in God or have differing views as to what God’s law is? And if that is the case, then aren’t we seeking a privileged position, if not dominating, when we insist that the society must run by what think God’s laws are?

Your explanation leaves a lot of holes especially since there is no uniform agreement on what is natural law and I don’t believe there are NT scriptures that tell us to enforce all of God’s natural laws. Heck, according to Romans 1, not to believe in God is a kind of violation of natural law because nature clearly testifies to the power and presence of God.

Finally, my method isn’t in full swing right now. Rather, we are stuck on a swinging pendulum where the pendulum is swinging the other way. And while we wring our hands in anticipation, we seem reluctant to visit the past when a certain Christian agenda were benefitting from the swing of the pendulum and others were marginalized.

Let me ask this, is your position regarding Church and State based on how Calvin saw the relationship and how it was carried out in Geneva when he was preaching and such?

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