CESAR'S TRIBUTE AND GOD'S TRIBUTE.
Render to Ccesar tlte things that are Ccesar s,
and to God the things that are God's.
S. Mark xii. 17.
I SUPPOSE that the selection of these words will seem to many to allow the preacher no alternative as to the subject which he proposes to consider. The text, and the application of the text, are too familiar to leave his hearers in any uncertainty. The preacher must desire to say something on the relations of Church and State. He must intend to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of an Establishment. He must wish to adjust and apportion the obligations which we owe to the civil and the spiritual powers respectively.
Let me say plainly at the outset, that I have no such intention. I do not underrate the importance of such questions, but I do not purpose speaking of them to-day, simply because (if I understand the text aright) it has nothing at all to do with such topics, or at least it has only a very remote and indirect bearing upon them. This language perhaps will seem startling to some. They have been accustomed to regard this text as the chief authority on the subject. They have seen it quoted so frequently in the newspapers; they have heard it so applied again and again in sermons. Churchmen and Nonconformists—friends of Establishment and foes of Establishment—have alike accepted it in this sense.
But can this possibly be its bearing? If this were so, it must be intended to draw a broad line of demarcation between two sets of duties. 'Here is one set of obligations which we owe to Caesar and not to God, and there is another set which we owe to God and not to Caesar. Keep the two quite distinct. Do not think at all of God's pleasure or displeasure, when you are doing Caesar's work; and do not regard Caesar's approval or disapproval, when you are doing God's work.'
If the purport of the precept, I say, is distinction, then the distinction must be as sharp and definite as this. The text must proclaim a duality of authority. Yet we are startled, when the issue is thus set before us. Can anything be imagined more unscriptural— I might well say, more irreligious, more blasphemous ;than this? Is not the Bible from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation one unbroken protest against this sharp distinction of the secular and the spiritual? Does it not teach us that our religion must be everywhere, because God is everywhere? And more especially, when it enforces our duties towards our temporal rulers, what language does it hold? Are we not plainly told that we owe obedience to kings and governors, because they are God's instruments, God's representatives, God's vicegerents? See how S. Paul emphasizes this view; 'There is no power but of God.' 'The powers that be are ordained of God.' 'He is a minister of God to thee for good.' 'He is a minister of God to execute wrath.' 'For this cause pay ye tribute also, for they are ministers of God.' Not less than six times in as many verses does the Apostle reiterate this statement, that allegiance to our temporal rulers is allegiance to God. And in the last passage, as you will observe, the precept has reference to this very matter of paying tribute.
It is plain, therefore, that the words cannot mean this. But, if we desire to know what is their real purport, we must investigate the circumstances which called them forth. Who were the questioners? What was their motive?
The questioners, we are told, were the Pharisees and the Herodians. With the Pharisees we are well acquainted. Of the Herodians we know nothing, except what this incident reveals. Whether they were a religious sect or a political party, we are not informed. Their name merely shows that they were favourable to the ascendency of Herod and Herod's family.
The Pharisees and the Herodians alike must have had a genuine interest in the question which they asked,' Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?' It was not a mere speculative question. It was a direct, pressing, personal, practical matter; 'Shall we give, or shall we not give?' Here is the tax-gatherer at my door, and it is a case of conscience with me, whether I may give, whether I can give, or whether I ought not rather to submit to all the untold consequences of refusal. To the Herodian probably the question presented itself as the alternative between his allegiance to a native or quasi-native dynasty, and the demands of a foreign ruler. But to the Pharisee it would assume a far higher aspect . To him it was essentially a matter of conscience, of religion. This Caesar was the arch-heathen, the arch-enemy of Israel; he had his throne on the Babylon of the seven hills; he had set his heel on the neck of the covenant people of God; everything about him was profane. The sound of the Roman S. P. S. 4
language in the law courts offended the ears of the Pharisee; the sight of the Roman eagles hovering over the temple area itself shocked his eyes. Could he—a son of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob—by an overt act acknowledge the sovereignty of this profane tyrant? Was it not a question between king Caesar, who was there, and king Messias, who was to come? And, if so, ought he to hesitate for a moment? Had he not here in another form the same alternative which was offered to Israel of old on Carmel; 'If Jehovah be God, then follow Him; but if Baal be God, then follow Him?'
Thus it was a question, which a perfectly sincere but somewhat bigoted Pharisee might well have asked. But these men were not sincere. The Evangelists speak of their craftiness, their hypocrisy; our Lord addresses them as hypocrites. S. Luke describes them as 'spies who feigned themselves upright men.' Their object was not to solve their own difficulties, but to entangle Him in difficulties. In scriptural language they were tempting Him, luring Him on, that they might weave their meshes about Him. Hence the unnatural alliance. The Pharisees and the Herodians had nothing in common. But they would band themselves together to destroy Jesus— just as the Pharisees and Sadducees made common cause, just as Jews and Romans were leagued together, just as Herod and Pontius Pilate shook hands over their victim—because, though they hated one another, they hated Him far more. Had they not both alike cause to hate Him? Could the Pharisees love Him, when He denounced their zeal as cunning, and their piety as pretence, when He held them up as a scorn and byword to the people, whose professed leaders they were? Could the Herodians wish Him well, when He denounced the leaven of Herod, and when He stigmatized their chief as a fox? Therefore they conspire. They appeal to His courage. 'Thou art true, and carest for no man.' They will flatter His pride, and lure Him on to His ruin. The question placed Him in a dilemma; 'Shall we give tribute to Caesar, or not?' If He answered 'Yes,' He would lose caste. He would forfeit His character for boldness; He would offend the scruples of the religious patriots; He would sink into a mere truckler and time-server. If He had any design of becoming a popular leader— possibly a Messiah—this would be its death-blow. Antagonism to foreign rule was the only standingground for such a leader. But this was not what they hoped. They desired that He should answer 'No.' By praising His courage and independence of spirit, they strove to elicit this answer. And, if He should so answer, their work was done. It was overt treason; it was rank rebellion. The iron grip of the Roman authorities would close upon Him at once; and there would be an end of Him. Their conduct was of a piece with the shameful hypocrisy which afterwards raised the cry, 'We have no king but Caesar'—Caesar whom they detested, Caesar against whom their heart of hearts rebelled, Caesar whose yoke they would throw off to-morrow, if they could.
Our Lord does not answer them directly 'Yes' or 'No.' He asks for a denarius—the common silver coin of the day. What do they see there? The broad brow laurel-crowned, the stern, cruel, mysterious visage of Tiberius the reigning Emperor; or perhaps the singularly handsome, regular, finely-cut features of his predecessor, the now deified Augustus. And this portraiture, this name thus stamped on the coin, is in some sense a mark of ownership. It comes from Caesar's mint, and must be restored to Caesar's exchequer. It symbolizes the obligations which are due to the civil power. It tells of a fixed and orderly government, which secures their lives and properties to them, which provides for the impartial administration of justice, which watches over and regulates commercial transactions, which has assigned its weight and its value to this very coin, which in short makes life possible and worth living for them. Caesar's head, Caesar's superscription, is engraved upon this coin, just as it is engraved upon the institutions under which they live. The question was not rightly put; 'Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?' The answer is; 'You are not only permitted, you are bound to give tribute.' The payment is a repayment for the inestimable benefits which you have received from the State. This then is the purport of our Lord's answer. He declares not indeed the Divine right of an Augustus or a Tiberius, not the Divine right of kings or of emperors, nor yet the Divine right of democracies, but the Divine right of established government, the Divine right of law and order. 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.' The argument would have been just as valid, if instead of an Augustus or a Tiberius the emblem of the Roman Republic had been stamped upon that coin.
'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.' Here is a complete answer to their question. But this is not enough. The opportunity is seized. A rebuke is administered, and a lesson is enforced. These Pharisees were very scrupulous about the lower duties of religion, but very forgetful of the higher. They paid their tithe on mint and anise and cummin to the extreme farthing, and yet they omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment and mercy and truth. They washed the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they were full of extortion and excess. So here. They are infinitely scrupulous, or at least they feign to be so, about the political aspects of religion; but are they equally anxious about the moral and spiritual?
This is the frame of mind, which our Lord would correct. 'Yes,' He seems to say, 'Ask what is your duty with regard to Caesar. But do not stop here. Do not rest content with dwelling on the politics of religion. Rise above your relations towards Caesar, and face your relations towards God. This silverpiece is a type, is a parable, for you. Is there no other tribute, think you, which you owe to a higher than Caesar? Is there no other coinage, which bears the image and the superscription of One greater than Caesar? Aye, for is it not written that God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him? His effigy is stamped upon thee; His name and attributes are written around thee. From His mint thou wast issued, and to His treasury must thou be repaid. If to Caesar thou owest the tribute of these perishable coins, to God thou owest the tribute of thy soul, thy mind, thy life, the tribute of thyself.'
I suppose that for every one man who is really eager about the spiritual and personal aspects of religion, who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, whose soul pants after the living God, scores of persons take an active and sincere interest in its polemics—the controversy between Romanism and Protestantism, the disputes between Churchman and Nonconformist, the relations of Church and State, the conflict between faith and unbelief. This is not a disease of any one time or any one place. It was characteristic alike of the orthodox Pharisee and the heretic Samaritan. When the Samaritan woman suddenly finds herself face to face with a prophet, how does she use her opportunity ?' Sir, teach me how to lay aside this burden of wickedness; Sir, help me to cleanse my sin-stained life; Sir, bring me nearer to God?' Not this, but' Sir, tell me whether at Jerusalem or on this mountain men ought to worship;' a question not unimportant in itself, a question to which there was a right and a wrong answer, but a question infinitely little, infinitely valueless to her then and there—to her with her sin-stained heart, to her with her sullied life.
Whose is this image and superscription—this, which is stamped on thyself, O man? It was not an uncommon metaphor to speak of men as coins; the dishonest and bad, as spurious and counterfeit; the upright, as genuine currency with the true ring. So an Apostolic father writes in the next age: 'There are two coinages,—the one of God, the other of the world; and each is stamped with its own device. The unbelievers bear the impress of this world; the believers, of God the Father through Jesus Christ in love.' When then, having first asked, 'Whose is this image,' our Lord closes with the injunction,' Render to God the things that are God's,' is it too much to infer that the connecting link between the symbol and the application was that familiar text, 'In the image of God created He him?'
Whose is this image? Look into yourself and see what lineaments are traced there. What is this conscience, approving, stimulating, terrifying, punishing, but the impress of the Righteousness of God? What is this capacity of progress, which distinguishes you from the beasts that perish, which urges you ever forward eager and restless, but the signet of the Perfection of God? What is this power of memory and imagination, which annihilates time and space, penetrating into the pre-historic past and projecting itself into the boundless future, traversing the heavens with more than the speed of lightning, but the stamp of the Omnipresence of God? What is this anxiety about the hereafter, this desire of posthumous fame, this interest in descendants yet unborn, this witness of your immortality within you, but the seal set upon you by the Eternity of God? Yes, everywhere are God's features stamped upon your soul, however blurred by ill-usage and however corroded by rust.
But again. Whose is this image and superscription —this which is stamped on thee, O Christian? When your brow was sealed in baptism, with whose signet was it sealed? Remember how the Apostle speaks of admission into the Church of Christ, and to the privileges of the Gospel, as a re-creating, a renewing after the image of God. In this second creation the same image was restamped upon you. The blurred lines were sharpened, as you passed once again through the mint of God. The obverse is still the face of God, while the reverse is the Cross of Christ. The old ownership is doubly affirmed. You are bought—bought with the costliest price which even God Himself could pay. Henceforth you are not your own. You are God's—God's by redemption now, as you were His by creation before. 'Render to God the things that are God's.'