"Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." (Jeremiah 6:16)

A Collection of Quotes by Christian Theologians
on the Right to Resist Tyrannical Rulers

April 15, 2023

“…God giveth no command to do evil, nor to tyrannize. He is not God’s vicegerent when he playeth the tyrant, and therefore he may be resisted and opposed without any violence done to the office or ordinance of God. …it is only powers that are ordained of God that must not be resisted; and tyrants, or magistrates turning tyrants, and exercising tyranny, cannot be called the ordinance of God —though the office, abstracted from the tyranny, be the ordinance of God.”

— John Brown of Wamphray, An Apologetical Relation of the Particular Sufferings of the Faithful Ministers & Professors of the Church of Scotland (1665)

“That power which is contrary to law, and is evil and tyrannical, can tie none to subjection, but is a mere tyrannical power and unlawful; and if it tie not to subjection, it may lawfully be resisted. But the power of the king, abused to the destruction of laws, religion, and subjects, is a power contrary to law, evil and tyrannical, and tieth no man to subjection…”

“…while king and parliament do acts of tyranny against God’s law, and all good laws of men, they do not the things that appertain to their charge and the execution of their office; therefore, by our Confession, to resist them in tyrannical acts is not to resist the ordinance of God.”

— Samuel Rutherford, Lex Rex, or The Law and the Prince (1644)

“He therefore is only the minister of God, who is not a terror to good works, but to evil; who executes wrath upon those that do evil, and is a praise to those that do well…. …the same rule, which obliges us to yield obedience to the good magistrate who is the minister of God, and assures us that in obeying him we obey God, does equally oblige us not to obey those who make themselves the ministers of the Devil, lest in obeying them we obey the Devil, whose works they do.”

— Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government (1698)

“Paul is speaking of the legitimate design of government, not of the abuse of power by wicked men… No command to do anything morally wrong can be binding nor can any which transcends the rightful authority of the power whence it emanates… The right of deciding on all these points, and determining where the obligation to obedience ceases, and the duty of resistance begins, must, from the nature of the case, rest with the subject, and not with the ruler.”

— Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1835)

“So then, truly, we should at no time defend tyrannical power, and say that it is from God. For tyranny is not a divine, but a devilish kind of government; and tyrants themselves are properly the servants of the devil, and not of God.”

— Heinrich Bullinger, Decades (1550)

“For though the Apostle says: There is no power but of God: yet does he not here mean any other powers, but such as are orderly and lawfully instituted by God. …else should He approve all tyranny and oppression, which comes to any commonwealth by means of wicked and ungodly rulers, which are to be called rightly disorders, and subversions in commonwealths, and not God’s ordinance. …when they are such, they are not God’s ordinance. And in disobeying and resisting such, we do not resist God’s ordinance, but Satan’s…”

”For this cause have you promised obedience to your superiors, that they might herein help you: and for the same intent have they taken it upon them. If they will do so, and keep promise with you according to their office, then you do owe them all humble obedience: If not, you are discharged, and no obedience belongs to them, because they are not obedient to God, nor are His ministers to punish the evil, and to defend the good. And therefore your study in this case, ought to be, to seek how you may dispose and punish according to the Laws, such rebels against God, and oppressors of yourself and your country…”

— Christopher Goodman, How Superior Powers Ought To Be Obeyed by Their Subjects: and Wherein They May Lawfully by God’s Word Be Disobeyed and Resisted (1558)

“the plain words of the Apostle make the difference. …the powers are ordained of God for the preservation of quiet and peaceable men, and for the punishment of malefactors. From this it is plain that the ordinance of God and the power given unto men is one thing, and the person clad with the power or with the authority is another. …it is evident that the prince may be resisted, and yet the ordinance of God not violated. …the power in that [Scripture passage] is not to be understood to be the unjust commandment of men. …if men, in the fear of God, oppose themselves to the fury and blind rage of princes; in doing so, they do not resist God, but the Devil, who abuses the sword and authority of God.”

— John Knox, The Difference Between The Ordinance of God and Persons (1564)

“…as long as right and justice have prevailed no nation has either elected or approved kings without laying down specific conditions. And if those kings violate these, the result is that those who had the power to confer this authority upon them have retained no less power again to divest them of that authority.

…the man who meets with highway robbers …[may] resist them in just self-defense which incurs no blame because certainly no one has received a special command from God that he meekly allow himself to be slain by robbers. Our conviction is entirely the same about that regular defense against tyrants.”

— Theodore Beza, Right of Magistrates (1574)

“Briefly, as the apostle says, ‘The prince is ordained by God, for the good and profit of the people, being armed with the sword to defend the good from the violence of the wicked, and when he discharges his duty therein, all men owe him honor and obedience.’ …[Tyrants] are more properly unjust pillagers and free-booters [pirates], than lawful governors.”

— Hubert Languet and Philippe du Plessis Mornay, A Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants, (1579)

“…He says that ‘a king is God’s minister, wielding the sword of the law for the punishment of the bad, and for the support and aid of the good.’ ‘For these passages of Paul’s,’ says Chrysostom, ‘relate not to a tyrant, but to a real and legitimate sovereign’…if we are bound to obey a good, does it follow that we should not resist a bad prince? …Paul, therefore, does not here treat of the magistrate, but of the magistracy —that is, of the function and duty of the person who presides over others, nor of this nor of that species of magistracy, but of every possible form of government. …But the magistrate is terrible. To whom, I beseech you? To the good, or to the bad? To the good he cannot be a terror… if you examine that kind of tyrants by Paul’s rule, they will not at all be magistrates.”

“…there is in Holy Writ, an express command for the extirpation of crimes and criminals, without any exception of degree or rank, there is nowhere any peculiar privilege granted, in that respect, to tyrants, more than to private persons; [moreover], the definition of powers furnished by Paul does not, in the least, refer to tyrants…”

— George Buchanan, The Law of Kings in Scotland (1579)

“…if he governs against the rule of law, he becomes punishable by the law. …When he abuses his power, he ceases to be king and a public person, and becomes a private person. If in any way he proceeds and acts notoriously or wickedly, any one may resist him…”

“…the people, or members of the realm, will not recognize such a perfidious, perjurious, and compact-breaking person as their magistrate, but treat him as a private person and a tyrant to whom it is no longer required to extend obedience and other duties it promised.”

— Johannes Althusius, Politica Methodice Digesta (1603)

“…such magistrates he means, as are, not a terror to the good but to the evil, as bear not the sword in vain, but to punish offenders, and to encourage the good. If such only be mentioned here as powers to be obeyed, and our submission to them only required, then doubtless those powers that do the contrary, are no powers ordained of God, by consequence no obligation laid upon us to obey or not to resist them. And it may be well observed that both apostles [Paul and Peter], whenever they give this precept, express it in terms not concrete but abstract, as logicians are wont to speak, that is, they mention the ordinance, the power, the authority before the persons that execute it, and what that power is, lest we should be deceived, they describe exactly. So that if the power be not such, or the person execute not such power, neither the one nor the other is of God, but of the Devil and by consequence to be resisted.”

— John Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649)

“Sometimes the very form of government, if it be amiss, or at least those persons that have the power in their hands, are not of God, but of men, or of the devil, Luke 4 ‘All this power will I give unto thee, for it is delivered unto me, and I give it to whom I will.’ Hence the devil is called the prince of this world; and in Revelation 12, the dragon gave to the beast his power, and his throne, and great authority. So that we must not understand St. Paul, as if he spoke of all sorts of magistrates in general, but of lawful magistrates; and so they are described in what follows.

…He that resists the powers, to wit, a lawful power, resists the ordinance of God. Kings themselves come under the penalty of this law, when they resist the senate, and act contrary to the laws. But do they resist the ordinance of God, that resist an unlawful power, or a person that goes about to overthrow and destroy a lawful one? No man living in his right wits can maintain such an assertion. The words immediately after make it as clear as the sun, that the apostle speaks only of a lawful power; for he gives us in them a definition of magistrates, and thereby explains to us who are the persons thus authorized, and upon what account we are to yield obedience, lest we should be apt to mistake and ground extravagant notions upon his discourse. ‘The magistrates,’ says he, ‘are not a terror to good works, but to evil: Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. He beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.’

…whatsoever magistrate takes upon him, to act contrary to what St. Paul makes the duty of those that are in authority; neither is that power nor that magistrate ordained of God. And consequently to such a magistracy no subjection is commanded, nor is any due, nor are the people forbidden to resist such authority; for in so doing they do not resist the power, nor the magistracy, as they are here excellently well described; but they resist a robber, a tyrant, an enemy.”

— John Milton, A Defence of the People of England (1651)

“This is not to be understood, as if magistrates were above the laws, and had a lawless power to do as they will without opposition; for they are under the law, and liable to the penalty of it, in case of disobedience, as others; and when they make their own will a law, or exercise a lawless tyrannical power, in defiance of the laws of God, and of the land, to the endangering of the lives, liberties, and properties of subjects, they may be resisted…”

— John Gill, commentary on Romans 13:2 (1747)

“Tho’ we ought and may yield passive obedience unto usurpers… yet we are not allowed to acknowledge such for our lawful magistrates and superiors, nor bound to subject ourselves unto them…; for it is only to such as the word termed powers does properly agree… a power that is from God’s approbation and authorization… a power whose proper end is to be a terror to evil and not to good; and to be an encourager to good and not evil, which no ways can agree to an usurper.”

— John Brown of Wamphray, An Exposition of the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans (1665)

“…the political power or authority being the ordinance and good gift of God, one thing, and the person that executes the same (be he king or caesar) another thing. The ordinance being godly, the man may be evil and not of God, nor come there by God… [princes] commanding their subjects that is not godly, not just, not lawful, or hurtful to their country, ought not to be obeyed”

— John Ponet, A Short Treatise on Political Power (1556)

“[God] has appointed [civil powers] for the legitimate and just government of the world. For though tyrannies and unjust exercise of power, as they are full of disorder, are not an ordained government; yet the right of government is ordained by God for the wellbeing of mankind.”

— John Calvin from his commentary on Romans 13:2 (1539)

“The Lord does not give kings the right to use their power to subject the people to tyranny. Indeed when liberty to resist tyranny seems to be taken away by princes who have taken over, one can justly ask this question; since kings and princes are bound by covenant to the people, to administer law in truest equality, sincerity and integrity; if they break faith and usurp tyrannical power by which they allow themselves everything they want: is it not possible for the people to consider together taking measures in order to remedy the evil?”

— John Calvin, sermon on 1 Samuel 8

“Earthly princes lay aside all their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy of being reckoned in the number of mankind. We ought rather utterly to defy than to obey them…”

— John Calvin from his commentary on Daniel 6:22 (1561)

1 thought on “”

  1. Good quotes. I have a number of them also in my database. Here’s a couple not mentioned:

    “A nation can survive its fools and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable; for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments; he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation; he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city; he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist.”


    “Where corruption is complete, freedom is not merely fleeting, but impossible. A free government bestows its honors and rewards in accordance with certain fixed rules, and on considerations of merit, without which none is honored or rewarded. But where corruption is universal, no laws or institutions will ever have force to restrain it. While the laws of a city [may be] altered to suit circumstances, institutions rarely or never change; whence it results that the introduction of new laws is of no avail, because the institutions, remaining unchanged, corrupt them.

    It was no longer those of greatest worth, but those who had most influence, who sought the magistracies; while all who were without influence, however deserving, refrained through fear. Security and the weakness of their adversaries led them, in conferring [offices], no longer to look to merit, but only to favor, selecting for the office those who knew best how to pay court to them. In this way, from the imperfection of their institutions, good men came to be wholly excluded. Then it was only the powerful who proposed laws, and these not in the interest of public freedom but of their own authority; and because, through fear, none durst speak against the laws they proposed, the people were either deceived or forced into voting their own destruction. [This new status quo resulted in an] injuring of those citizens who ought to be rewarded, and the suspecting of those who should be trusted.”

    Machiavelli, ‘Discourses on Livy’


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