Book Review: “The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates,” by Matthew J. Trewhella

lesser-magistratesThe Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates is a very quick read, but an exceptionally potent book for our day.

In this book, Trewhella explains a long-forgotten principle, once very important to maintaining freedom in the face of an overreaching civil government, called the doctrine of the lesser magistrate:

The lesser magistrate doctrine declares that when the superior or higher civil authority makes unjust/immoral laws or decrees, the lesser or lower ranking civil authority has both a right and a duty to refuse obedience to that superior authority. If necessary, the lesser authorities even have the right and obligation to actively resist the superior authority. (p. 2)

In this book (though not in this order), Trewhella explains, first, the source of authority: God. God, as Creator and Sovereign, is the source of all true authority. This goes for authority in family, church, and civil government.

Second, God, in Romans 13, does not give civil government the all-clear to make laws about just anything; He defines what the civil magistrate is to be, and what the civil magistrate may not be, and what kinds of laws the civil magistrate may make.

Third, Trewhella explains that the magistrate, per Romans 13, is to have God’s Law as his standard. The civil magistrate—whether it be the President of the United States, or Sheriff Keith Hannah, or Probate Judge Stephanie Kemmer—must be about the duty of serving the people by administering God’s revealed law through his or her judgments and policies.

Fourth, Trewhella explains what our duty, as Christians, must be when a civil magistrate goes rogue, when he or she goes against God’s Word and frames wickedness through law. This is where the doctrine of the lesser magistrate comes in: when a civil magistrate rules in favor of ungodly laws, then, as Trewhella defined in the quote above, the officer or person below this rogue authority “has both a right and a duty to refuse obedience to that superior authority…[and] If necessary…to actively resist the superior authority.” Many of you likely have heard the story of Kim Davis. Her beginning, her stance on her Christian faith and the Word of God, in refusing to give licenses for same-sex marriages, was an excellent example of this doctrine.

Jerry Pow, when he was in office as Probate Judge, is another example: his office ceased to offer any marriage licenses at all. Pow’s response was Biblical and right, and he is to be commended for it.

Fifth, Trewhella explains why this doctrine is important for our future: if we neglect it, we are doomed, because then ungodly rulers can make laws that encroach on freedom without resistance. It is only through the stand of righteous men and women, acting in terms of their Christian faith and God’s Word, that wickedness is stayed.

This book is exceptionally timely in our day because of the challenges we face as a nation. Because for nearly two hundred years the church has been removed from social work, the ungodly have stepped in to take over those posts, and the results have been disastrous. True reform is not going to come from the top; it must come from the bottom, from individual men and women taking stands for righteousness. This is why it is so important that local leaders, sheriffs, probate judges, police officers, mayors, pastors, and citizens, read this book.

When you read this book, you will be better equipped to hold fast against ungodly rules from the civil government. You will have a better understanding of the Word of God on the issue, and this will give you a better standard to judge laws by, than simply “conservative” vs. “liberal.”

The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord GOD. (Ezek. 22:29-31)

Will you stand in the gap?