One of the most obvious things about the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is the frequency with which it calls us to pray for those who are set in authority over us, for those who hold public office in the country in which we live, for our civil rulers, for kings, princes, presidents, governors, for those who in times past were referred to as MAGISTRATES. The word "magistrate" is generally used in our day to refer to a lower court judge or minor law officer such as a justice of the peace, but in times past was used to refer to anyone who held high public office or authority in a country or state. Thus, a king or a prince or a duke or a president or a prime minister or a supreme court judge, even the consuls of ancient Rome, all these were referred to as magistrates. And this is an appropriate usage, as our English word simply comes from the Latin word for "master".
Again, one of the most obvious things about the BCP is the frequency with which its calls us to pray for these magistrates. The rubrics (the rules for the conduct of the service) for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in the English 1662 BCP require that prayers for the monarch and the royal family be said daily. This is not optional unless the Great Litany is to be said, whereupon they may be omitted. In the Great Litany, however, a number of petitions appear which cover the same themes, so that prayers for the magistrates form a constant part of the Daily Offices in 1662. It should be mentioned here that to pray, for example, for Elizabeth II, the Queen of Canada, is to pray not just for her personally, but for all those in civil authority in the country, the Queen still being Head of State in Canada. To pray for her, therefore, is to pray for the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the Federal Parliament, for the Premiers and the Provincial Legislatures, as well as her other representatives: the Governor-General and the Provincial Lieutenant-Governors, the Judiciary, etc. Indeed, it is to pray for all forms of government in Canada.
Likewise, in the Holy Communion service in 1662, two prayers are provided for the monarch, one of which is to be said at each celebration. Prayers on the same theme are required in the Prayer for the Church Militant, or general intercession, found in the same service. A prayer for Parliament is provided in the "Prayers and Thanksgivings" section of the book, to be used when Parliament is in session.
The rubrics for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in the 1928 American BCP provide optional prayers "for the President of the United States and All in Civil Authority" on a daily basis. In Morning Prayer two prayers are provided one of which may be used. In Evening Prayer one is provided. In should be noted that, in keeping with the greater flexibility and greater desire for brevity that is found in 1928, none of these prayers is required to be said. They may be omitted when the Litany is used or they may be omitted at the discretion of the Minister. However, prayers for the civil authorities do still appear in the Prayer for the Church Militant in the Holy Communion service and these are not optional. Such prayers are likewise found in the 1928 version of the Great Litany, in the section called "Prayers and Thanksgivings" and in the very beautiful "Family Prayer" as well.
It should also be noted that in the earlier versions of the American BCP, starting with the 1789 edition, the prayer for the President in Morning Prayer was NOT optional. When the Great Litany was said, it was said AFTER the prayer for the President. This, apparently, was due to the fact that George Washington, who was an Anglican, lived some eight miles from his local church. This meant that he did not usually attend the evening service. Therefore, if the Great Litany was used in the morning (and it seems likely that it frequently was, in obedience to the rubrics) and the prayer for the President omitted, he was not going to hear it very often. He, therefore, requested that it be made a "shall" rather than a "may", so that he could be present to hear it. So, in this small but touching way, the first President of the United States, being a churchman, was allowed to have some influence on the liturgy of his church. This was apparently not changed until 1928.
If you have read thus far, you will likely be aware that these prayers for the magistrate are included in the BCP simply in obedience to Holy Scripture. The Apostle Paul says it very clearly in 1 Timothy 2, verses 1 and 2 :
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
It is in obedience to this scriptural command, then, that we pray daily for our leaders and pray for them in the context of the Lord's Supper as well.
Significantly, a very important principle is found in the second verse above. Paul exhorts us to pray for the magistrate so that "we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all GODLINESS and honesty". At first, it may seem odd to us, living in so-called secular democracies, that there should be a connection between the magistrate and godliness. Yet, Paul makes the connection. To Paul, praying for kings and those in authority, means that we shall be able to lead quiet lives of godliness and honesty. What is implied in his words, is that the magistrate is to be a promoter, or a protector, of godliness or of piety.
In Romans 13:1 , we are reminded that "the powers that be are ordained of God". And we are exhorted by the Apostle to obey those powers because they are ordained of God. He even tells us, in verse 2, that to resist the magistrate is to resist God. But he also makes it clear that the magistrate is a servant of God, a minister of God, appointed to protect those who do good and to punish those who do evil. What is implied here, again, is that the magistrate has a responsibility himself, an obligation, to uphold what is good, to act and to judge and to decide according to what is good. For Paul, this can only mean that the magistrate is to act in accordance with God's Holy Law. In no other way could they truly be His ministers, His servants.
This theme appears in other places in the Scriptures. In Psalm 72: 1,2 we read
Give the King thy judgements, O God, and thy righteousness unto the King's son. Then shall he judge thy people according unto right: and defend the poor.
In Psalm 82, verse 1 and 2, God is represented as appearing among the magistrates of the earth :
God standeth in the congregation of the princes: He is a judge among gods. How long will ye give wrong judgement: and accept the persons of the ungodly?
In Proverbs 29, verse 2, we read,
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.
In Proverbs 20, verse 28, re read,
Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.
In Isaiah 1, verses 10 and 17, we read,
Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom ... learn to do well, seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
The "powers that be are ordained of God" but they are also responsible to God to rule according to His justice, His judgements, His righteousness, His law. This theme is reflected in many of the prayers for the magistrate found in the BCP. For example, when we pray for the Queen in the 1662 Holy Communion service, we pray that she may "know whose minister she is" (i.e. God's) and that, knowing this, she "may above all things seek [His] honour and glory". When we pray for the President in the 1928 Morning Prayer service, we pray that he, and all those who are in civil authority, may be given by God the
wisdom and strength to know and to do [God's] will ...
and also that they may be filled
with the love of truth and righteousness.
And what could be more clear than the prayer "for the whole state of Christ's Church militant here upon earth" found in the 1662 Holy Communion service? There we pray that God will "save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors", granting to the reigning sovereign and "all that are put in authority under him/her, that they may truly and impartially administer justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of true religion and virtue". A very similar prayer is found in the Holy Communion service in the 1928 American BCP, with appropriate changes for the American, republican form of government.
The powers that be may be ordained by God, but they are also responsible to God for the way in which they wield their delegated power. Christians are to be good citizens and to obey their magistrates. But the magistrates themselves are to be good magistrates and are bound to obey God whom they represent. We note in the last mentioned prayer that they are even bound to be concerned for the "maintenance of true religion", that is, that they are bound to be concerned for the protection of the Gospel. They do not proclaim the Gospel, that being the role of the Church. But neither are the civil authorities to be indifferent with regard to the true religion, rather they are do all they can to uphold and maintain it. This principle may seem strange even to Christians raised in the secular atmosphere of 21st century Canada. But it is given clear expression in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXIII, Section III :
The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed ...
It was given clear expression at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, who was asked this question :
Will you to the utmost of your powers maintain the laws of God, the true principles of the Gospel, and the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law?
Totally apart from the question as to whether or not the magistrates in Canada, or in the United States, or in the United Kingdom, all understand their responsibilities and actually fulfill them today (a question that surely needs to be asked frequently), what is clear from both the Holy Scriptures and the prayers of the BCP, is that they do have these responsibilities. They are to be "nursing fathers" to the church (Isaiah 29:43). They are to obey God's law and even be concerned for godliness and piety.
I believe that this is a great encouragement to Christians. Yes, we are called to obey the powers that be. But the powers that be are also called to obey God, whether or not they want to acknowledge it. And it is also clear in Scripture that we may not obey them if they command us to disobey the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. For example, the Apostles are specifically commanded by the Jewish Council and the High Priest NOT to proclaim the Gospel. But their answer is
we ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29),
and they fill Jerusalem with their preaching.
It is a great encouragement to Christians to know that there is an authority above the authority of the magistrate, above the authority of the state, to which the magistrate and the state are ultimately and solemnly responsible and to whom they will one day give account. It is a great encouragement to us to remember that the
King's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it whithersoever he
will. (Prov. 29:1)
It is the Lord who sets up kings and presidents and prime ministers and the Lord who casts them down. And there are times when God will cast them down. As St. Augustine says in the City of God IX, 4 :
If justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers?
When the Canadian Parliament presumes to redefine marriage, it presumes to sit on God's throne. When it presumes to ignore the murder of unborn children, it presumes to sit on God's throne. When it presumes to abolish capital punishment, it presumes to sit on God's throne. But the throne, of course, is occupied and the One who sits there cannot be robbed of His power or glory.
It is a great encouragement to Christians to remember that there is a God who rules over all the kingdoms of this earth, to whom all the magistrates of this earth are solemnly responsible. And while the church is not given the power of the sword, as the civil rulers are, yet it is the role of the church to teach the magistrate what his duty to God is. Therefore, as we pray daily for the magistrate, let us also pray that the church will awaken again to all her duty, that the Gospel will be faithfully proclaimed, and that all the rulers of all the nations will be taught to obey all that the one, true God has commanded.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)