The Reformation and the Calvinist roots of “Social Contract Theory” and the Founding of America

The Protestant Reformation and its tremendous influence on the political order of today barely gets mentioned by most contemporary (secular) and anti-christian historians.  The very related ideas like; limited Government, the Rule of Law, and the Social Contract Theory all have their origins and developed from the Reformation and more specifically from Calvinism. Instead, contemporary historians (often purposely) omit the influence of the Reformation and point to men like  Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan, 1651), John Locke (Two Treatises of Government, 1689) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau ( The Social Contract, 1762) as the architects of the modern political order whom they consider much more friendly to their bias worldview.
A  friend on facebook posted that he was reading John Locke ‘s Two Treatises of Government. I mentioned Locke  inherited the ideas of “social contract theory” from men like Samuel Rutherford (Lex, Rex, 1644) (whose book Lex Rex by the way means the “Law is King” as opposed to Rex Lex the “King is the Law”).
What many fail to realize is Locke’s “social contract theory” theory was really nothing new at the time. Social contract theory as well as the closely related resistance theology are direct ideological decedents of the Reformation and specifically of Calvinism.  What many say Locke did in order to make it more palatable to an ever increasing enlightenment skepticism was to remove the biblical aspects of it (unlike Rutherford). Jean Jacques Rousseau did the same.
What is often overlooked is that men like Rutherford, Hobbes, Locke, and later Rousseau picked up their ideas on the  “social contract theory” from early Calvinists thinkers like, George Buchanan (A Dialogue Concerning the Rights of the Crown in Scotland, 1579) , John Ponet (A short treatise of political power, 1556), Christopher Goodman (How Superior Powers Ought to Be Obeyed by Their Subjects, 1558) and Theodore Beza (The Right of Magistrates Over Their Subjects, 1572) Many of these were  contemporaries of the great Scottish Calvinist reformer  John Knox who wrote his own book titled The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, 1556 which argued for “limits” on the authority of the then queen Mary (Mary Queen of Scots).

Arguments for “limits” on the authority, and the rule of law (as opposed to the rule of tyrannical men) developed into a biblically based type of “resistance theology” which was even seen in translations of the Bible at the time. For example  King James I of England who was a ardent believer in the “divine right of kings” had the Authorized King James Version, 1611 commissioned because the very popular Geneva Bible, 1560 (created with the involvement of Knox and Calvin) had marginal notes that were considered subversive  to his authority. For example in Exodus 1:19 where the Hebrew midwives disobey the Pharaoh by refusing to kill male Hebrew children states; “Their disobedience in this was lawful, but their deception is evil”  in Exodus 1:22 when Pharaoh gives the decree, the notes say “When tyrants cannot prevail by deceit, they burst into open rage”.

Very popular books at the time like the French Calvinist (Huguenot) tract (Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, 1579) (translated A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants) and Politica 1603 by the Dutch Calvinist Johannes Althusius espoused this same biblical resistance theology. Ultimately, ideologically you can trace this theology back to the influence of John Calvin‘ the theological giant of the Reformation, in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion 1536 where you have the ideological seeds for it, see  Institutes see Book 4: Chapter 20: Section 31 & 32.

Calvinist thinkers developed social contract theory arguing that the ultimate locus of authority (and all law) was derived from God, who then grants and delegates His authority to the people, who in turn delegate authority to the King to execute true justice in the land as defined by God for the people (the King is an executor) .  If the King turned this around believed and behaved as if the final authority resided in him, turned on the people and God, became a tyrant, the people had the right “under God” to resist his tyrannical authority when he decreed laws that were contrary to God and His revealed will found in in the scripture. This “resistance theology” was derived directly from the scriptures especially from Romans 13 and the Old Testament which gave legitimacy to the people to oppose tyrannical authority and abuses that were so common in that era.

The very related ideas of Social contract theory, resistance theology, the rule of law, and limited government, all come to a full head in 17th century England when King Charles I lost his head in the Cromwellian era after the English civil war . Also, in the American revolutionary era resistance theology was alive and well, you can see it in the clergy’s sermons of the day found here – Also as a side; according to US President John Adams, John Ponet’s work (mentioned above) “A short treatise of political power” contained “all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterward dilated on by Sidney and Locke

You see resistance theology in the thinking of Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the American Declaration of Independence:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…                                                                                                                                   But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security”

Thomas Jefferson then goes into a long laundry list of abuses of King George…

Here is the first US seal that Jefferson proposed (notice the caption “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God”).

Anyway, for a better explanation on the Reformation’s role in the development of the social contract theory see this article:

http://www.acton.org/publications/randl/rl_article_238.php

As a side note Calvinistic resistance theology is spreading like wildfire in China today, here is a link to an article which says:

So when the Chinese house churches first emerged from the rubble of the Cultural Revolution in the 80s and 90s “They began to search what theology will support and inform [them]. They read Luther and said, ‘not him’. So they read Calvin, and they said ‘him, because he has a theology of resistance.’ Luther can’t teach them or inform them how to deal with a government that is opposition.”

Lar

A Little Remembered Fourth of July… 1826

They both served in the Continental Congress. One was elected the second President and the other was elected the third.

Once political enemies, they became close friends in later life. An awe swept America when they both died on the same day, JULY 4, 1826, exactly 50 years since they passed the Declaration of Independence.

Their names were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

In his Second Annual Message to Congress, December 5, 1826, President John Quincy Adams referred to Jefferson and Adams, stating:

“Since your last meeting at this place, the fiftieth anniversary of the day when our independence was declared…two of the principal actors in that solemn scene – the hand that penned the ever-memorable Declaration and the voice that sustained it in debate – were by one summons, at the distance of 700 miles from each other, called before the Judge of All to account for their deeds done upon earth.”

President John Quincy Adams added in an Executive Order, July 11, 1826:

“A coincidence…so wonderful gives confidence…that the patriotic efforts of these… men were Heaven directed, and furnishes a new…hope that the prosperity of these States is under the special protection of a kind Providence.”

From: American Minute with Bill Federer