A defence of liberty against tyrants

Book by Junius Brutus.

This book was an influential book in the thinking of the founding fathers of the United States.


The book was written in about 1579, and this is a copy of a 1689 translation. The language is dated and difficult. I am trying to develop a summary in an up to date English that is more accessible and understandable to a present day readership. This is an ongoing project. This is the first half of the first chapter. I will be adding the rest as I go along.

              Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,
              and to God the things that are God’s. 
Matthew 22:21

God is not in competition with civil government. He establishes it, validates it, and sets its limitations.

The book discusses four questions:

  1. Are people bound to obey the government, if the government demands that they do something which is against the law of God?
  2. Is it lawful to resist a government that infringes the law of God? If so, by whom, how, and how far it is lawful.
  3. Is it lawful to resist an oppressive government that is ruining the state. How far can such resistance go, by whom, and how. By what right or law is such resistance permitted.
  4. Whether neighbouring governments may, or should, aid the citizens of other nations, who are persecuted for true religion, or oppressed by tyranny.

Are people bound to obey the government, if the government demands that they do something which is against the law of God?

Christians have always believed that God must be obeyed completely, and governments must be obeyed except when the government demands actions which are contrary to God’s law. A good example of this is the apostles Peter and John saying to the Jewish leaders in Acts chapter 4, that they had to obey God rather than men.

There are many governments, even governments calling themselves Christian, demand that they be obeyed in all things, by all the citizens. They command things which are against the law of God, and expect everyone to obey them. They usurp the place of God, and try to bind the consciences of people. They take the things that belong to God, and try to give them to Caesar.

The problem for the Christian is that if he disobeys the government in a matter where the government commands him to do something that is against the law of God, then he will be branded as a rebel, a traitor. This is what happened to the early Christians in the Roman Empire when they refused to recognise Caesar as God.

Those who were rebuilding the temple in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah were accused of undermining the empire. Christians today will face similar accusations. But this is not true! In fact, where the temple is established, where the church is active, that is where states are the most stable. There are many who do not see the difference between God and Caesar, and the different loyalties due to each. God himself has established earthly governments, and he gives them the authority to run their nations. But he does not give them authority to take the loyalty that is due to him, and arrogate it to themselves. It is when people try to remove God from public life that tyranny arises, and nations are ruined, and leaders toppled.

So it is up to governments to know how far their authority extends, and it is up to the people to know how far they should go in obeying the government. Governments have the responsibility of knowing where their jurisdiction lies, and of not encroaching on God’s jurisdiction. The people have the responsibility of knowing where the government’s jurisdiction lies, so that they can know the limits they have to go to in obeying the government.

The Bible teaches that God has complete authority. The authority of governments is derived from God. God has the ultimate authority; governments are his delegates. Therefore God’s power is unlimited; governments’ power is limited. God’s kingdom has no bounds; governments are restrained to the borders of certain countries.

God created all there is out of nothing, therefore he is the righteous Lord and owner of all things. Governments are his servants, and they are bound to acknowledge God as Lord of all, including their own appointment by him.

All of the earth belongs to God, so all that we have belongs to him. All of us are his. Servants, farmers, officers, whatever we are and whatever we own, all belongs to God and we have to use it to his glory. That is why God has commanded everyone to offer to him the first fruits of their work. The world gives no increase, no growth, without God’s blessing. This acknowledged even by pagans, who make offerings to their ‘gods’.

Therefore, because God is King of kings, and Lord of lords, all kings and governments are his ministers to judge justly, and to govern justly. God establishes governments to rule justly; he can and does also thrust them out from government if they govern unjustly.

Even though God appoints governments to govern justly, he, God, remains the owner of the people. He appoints governments in the same way as the owner of a flock of sheep appoints a shepherd to look after them, but still remains the owner.

Good kings have always understood this. David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, and others who God to be Lord of their kingdoms and nations. Their kingdoms and reigns were happy because they cheerfully served God and acknowledged him as their King. This was even true of Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan king who came to acknowledge God as the ‘God of gods, and Lord of lords, giving kingdoms to whoever he pleases.’. And if kings and governments are appointed by God then it follows that they must be obeyed when they serve and obey God, and not other ways.

There are some who say that God has given earthly governments their power to do with as they please, reserving just the rule of heaven for himself. Earthly governments often try to do this.

But God himself says that he ‘…will not give his glory to another.’. No man, no government, shall have absolute authority. God always remains sovereign.

God does not at any time divest himself of his power. He retains his power to repress the audacity of governments that rebel against him, who do not administer justice fairly. God will call governments to account for their actions. God has given earthly governments authority, the ‘sword’, so that they can carry out their calling to be God’s servants in this world, on condition that they use this authority to do his will.

The government is established by God to administer justice to the people, and to defend them against their enemies. Governments receive the law from God, and God commands the government to both observe the law and to know the law. Then the government will be a long lasting government, blessed by God.

There are two sorts of covenant happening here:

The first between God, the government, and the people, that the people might be the people of God.

The second, between the government and the people, that the government rule justly, and that the people obey faithfully. Just as Josiah the king of Israel made a covenant with God to wholeheartedly keep God’s laws, and the people joined him in this covenant, so God makes a covenant with governments for them to serve him, and the people join him in that covenant.

Both the government and the people should be careful to honour and serve God according to his will. If they do God will bless them and preserve them. If they don’t God will abandon and exterminate them. Joshua, after he succeeded Moses as the leader of the people of Israel, read the people the law, including the promises of blessing for obedience, and of curses for disobedience.

We can see this working out in the times of the Judges. When God’s people obeyed him, they were blessed and lived in peace. When they left God to serve other gods they suffered at the hands of their enemies. Both the government and the people failed to serve God.

If you will fear the LORD and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well. 15 But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king. 1 Samuel 12:14-15

Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. 25 But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.” 1 Samuel 12:24-25

The government is as bound to serve God as the people is. And if it doesn’t, it will be ejected from its role of governing, just as king Saul was ejected from the kingship because he refused to obey God. David replaced him, but on the same condition, that he serve and obey God. God said to David that he would always have his descendants on the throne, but his descendants would also have to love and serve God. If they didn’t, they would be driven out of the land. In the end this is what happened to both king and people, at the time of the exile.