originally posted at Reformed Covenanter
Reformed Christians have often been divided on whether or not the apostle Paul was referring to Nero in Romans 13. The Revd Samuel Simms answered in the negative:
The Seceding view is based, I am fully persuaded, on a misinterpretation of Rom. xiii. 1-7. That passage states that there is “no power but of God.” What does the Seceder say of this? He says, that every power that exists is of God! What does the Covenanter say of it? He says that if a power is not a God-power, it is no power, but a tyranny? [...]
Let us read the passage in dispute. What sort of a power does Paul describe? Seven things are said about it. (1) It is not a terror to good works. (2) It is a terror to the evil. (3) It praises what is good. (4) It is (or he is) the minister of God for good. (5) It (or he) beareth not the sword in vain. (6) It (or he) is a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. (7) Men are to be subject to it (or to him) for conscience sake. Now, can all this be applied to Nero? Of course, it cannot. Nero was a monstrous butcher, who murdered his own mother and his own wife, and who made flambeaux of the Christians to illuminate his gardens: how could he be the minister of God for good to men? How could Elagabalus, acting the tom-fool the whole day long among his Syrian dancing wenches, be the minister of God for good to men? Ah, no; it may not be, it cannot be, that such a precious gem as Rom. xiii. 1-7, should be allowed to sparkle on the harlot brow of the selfish, cruel, monstrous, Divine Right theory!
But again – how will the notion of Seceders, that the government of Nero was just as much an ordinance of God as was that of David, the man after God’s own heart, agree with other portions of the Divine Word? In Hosea viii. 4, it is stated – “They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not.” In Ezek. xxi. 27, we have the threat – “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it,” &c.; but on the existence theory principle, how can we acquiesce in this decision or turn this prediction into a prayer; for the power to be overturned was, on Seceding principles, as much the ordinance of God as any other power that could be! It is well known that the fox is a cunning and destructive animal; and yet, the Omniscient Redeemer, plainly and bluntly, called Herod “that fox” (Luke xiii. 32). The Apostle Paul calls the Roman magistrates at Corinth, “the unjust;” now, if they were the unjust at Corinth, how could they be the ordinance of God for good to man at Rome? And once more; are not Christians commanded to wrestle “against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places?” Who are “rulers of the darkness of this world?” Evil angels, of course, primarily; but undoubtedly also, wicked rulers who legislate by evil or satanic principles. It is not, therefore, true as Seceders virtually teach, that “whatever is is right,” as regards civil government. No, for we must take unto ourselves the whole armour of God and fight manfully against all devilish principles in high places; and this we are to do, not by swearing to devilish principles, nor by voting for men to swear to support devilish principles; but by taking up a position of manful, peaceable, but determined protest and dissent with regard to all devilish principles.
Samuel Simms, The Bible, the church, and terms of communion: together with the terms of communion of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland. To which is appended the Cameronian Dream (Belfast, 1879), pp 22-4.