What is Political Sovereignty?
Posted at Reformation Scotland:
Political sovereignty is not usually a widely and hotly debated topic. Yet the question of whether the EU undermines sovereignty dominates discussion. How do we define sovereignty and does it matter? We can get some help from past thinkers who have helped to shape our constitutional heritage.
Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers. Such principles helped the Covenanters to resist autocratic rule. They remain relevant today. Samuel Rutherford published a key statement of these principles in Lex, Rex (The Law and the King). This book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power.
It contained such a powerful argument that Charless II ordered it to be burnt by the hangman. Rutherford was charged with treason, dismissed from his post and placed under house arrest. He only escaped execution through being seriously ill. Rutherford said that “he would willingly die on the scaffold for that book with a good conscience.” Why would he risk so much for a complex book about political government?
Political Sovereignty Flows From God
Sovereignty is the power of government by laws. An important aspect of Rutherford’s book is that God is ultimately sovereign. “Sovereignty, and all power and virtue is in God infinitely”. True sovereignty belongs to God not man. “All civil power is immediately from God in its root”. Rutherford demonstrates this from Romans 13:1 “the powers that be are ordained of God” as well as Romans 13:5 and 1 Peter 2:13. Power must be exercised to the glory of God: “all in authority…are obliged to procure that their subjects lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty”.