Taken from The Institutes of Biblical Law, pp. 448-452
Man was created in the image of God and commanded to subdue the earth and to have dominion over it (Gen. 1:26-27). Not only is it man's calling to exercise dominion, but it is also his nature to do so. Since God is the absolute and sovereign Lord and Creator, whose dominion is total and whose power is without limits, man, created in His image, shares in this communicable attribute of God. Man was created to exercise dominion under God and as God's appointed vicegerent over the earth. Dominion is thus a basic urge of man's nature.
As a result of the fall, however, man's urge to dominion is now a perverted one, no longer an exercise of power under God and to His glory, but a desire to be God. This was precisely the temptation of Satan, that every man should be his own god, deciding for himself what constitutes right and wrong (Gen. 3:5). The ultimacy of man in both law and power was asserted.
History therefore has seen the long and bitter consequence of man's perverted urge to dominion. Man has made vicious and perverted use of man individually, in gang activities, and as an army or a nation. History is a long tale of horror in which man has sought power and dominion as an end in itself. George Orwell in 1984 saw the meaning of this fallen urge to dominion: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-forever." This sinful, fallen urge to dominion is prominent in every sphere of modern life, as well as in all history. It certainly governs the political world, where the state daily gains power for power's sake.
Listen to R. J. Rushdoony explain Christian dominion in his own words.
Listen to Mark Rushdoony explain the Christian calling to dominion.
As a result of all this, many have become frightened of all power and hostile to the concept of dominion. Liberals, neo-orthodox, existentialists and others have renounced the idea of power as an illusion or a temptation, and the possession of power as an evil. The result has been to accentuate the drift to totalitarian power.
Dominion does not disappear when a man renounces it; it is simply transferred to another person, perhaps to his wife, children, employer, or the state. Where the individual surrenders his due dominion, where the family abdicates it, and the worker and employer reduce it, there another party, usually the state, concentrates dominion. Where organized society surrenders power, the mob gains it proportionate to the surrender.
This fact poses the problem, which for an Orwell, who saw the issue clearly, is impossible to answer. Fallen man's exercise of dominion is demonic; it is power for the sake of power, and its goal is "a boot stamping on a human face-forever." Its alternative is the dominion of anarchy, the bloody and tumultuous reign of the momentarily strong.
Clearly, there is no hope for man except in regeneration. The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Divines, in dealing with the image of God declared:
Q. 10. How did God create man?
A. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures (Gen. 1:26-28; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24).
The salvation of man includes his restoration into the image of God and the calling implicit in that image, to subdue the earth and to exercise dominion. Hence, the proclamation of the gospel was also the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, according to all the New Testament.
A radical deformation of the gospel and of the redeemed man's calling crept into the church as a result of neoplatonism. Dominion was renounced, the earth regarded as the devil's realm, the body despised, and a false humility and meekness cultivated. Dominion was regarded as a burden of the flesh rather than a godly responsibility. Especially with Pietism, Jesus was pictured as meek and helpless, pacifistic and mild of manner.
The word meek is a Biblical term. It is used in Numbers 12:3 to describe Moses, who is termed "very meek"; Moses hardly jibes with modern ideas of meekness. In fact, Moses is described as meek "above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." Marsh indicates the meaning of meek: "Moses does not fight for his own status before men, but is concerned to be Yahweh's servant. Therefore Yahweh cares for him and his position among the people."1 The word meek thus refers primarily to a spiritual state in relationship to God. Elliott noted, "It may be observed, further, that the word anav, meek, is frequently interchanged with the cognate word ani, and that the meaning may be bowed down, or oppressed."2 The meaning is further clarified by the Beatitude: "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). Dominion over the earth is given to the meek, and meekness clearly has reference to God. The meek are the redeemed whom God has burdened, oppressed, and broken to harness, so that they are tamed and workable. God subjected Moses to a more rigorous discipline than any other believer of his day, and Moses accepted that oppression, grew in terms of it, and became disciplined and strong. Hence, Moses was the meekest man of his age. Meekness is thus not mousiness, but disciplined strength in and under God.
Jesus Christ described Himself as "meek and lowly in heart" (Matt. 11:29; rendered "gentle and humble" by both Moffatt and BV). He described Himself as such in relationship to those who sought Him. In His relationship to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Christ's conduct was firm and resolute. As Christ used the term meekness, it meant, not the surrender of dominion, but rather the wise, merciful, and gracious use of dominion. We cannot understand the meaning of meekness in Scripture unless we realize that it is not the surrender of dominion but rather the humble and godly use of dominion that it has reference to. The blessed meek are the tamed of God, those harnessed to His law-word and calling, who shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). The blessed meek are those who submit to God's dominion, have therefore dominion over themselves, and are capable of exercising dominion over the earth. They therefore inherit the earth.
This point is of very great importance. Apart from it, the gospel is perverted. Man has a God-given urge to dominion, to power. The purpose of regeneration is to re-establish man in his creation mandate, to exercise dominion and to subdue the earth. The purpose of the law is to give man the God-appointed way to dominion. The purpose of the call to obedience is to exercise dominion.
What happens then when a caricature of Jesus is presented, when obedience is constantly demanded without the God-ordained goal of obedience being mentioned, and when man is continually summoned to prepare himself in the Lord, but for no purpose? The ministry of the church then becomes trifling, and the life of the believer, frustrating.
But the urge to dominion does not disappear simply because the church does not speak of it. Instead, it reappears as an ugly and sinful struggle for power in the church; rightful dominion being neglected or denied, sinful dominion begins then to emerge. The life of the church becomes then an ugly struggle over meaningless trifles in which the sole purpose is sinful power and dominion. All too often this sinful urge to dominion is masked with hypocritical meekness. It is very necessary therefore to recognize that the urge to dominion is God-given and is basic to the nature of man. An aspect of this dominion is property.
It is the custom among ecclesiastical socialists to deny that there is Biblical warrant for private property. Their ground for this is the often repeated Biblical declaration, "The earth is the LORD'S" (Ex. 9:29, etc.). They choose to neglect the total witness of Scripture to private property. The so-called communism of Acts 2:41-47, also cited by ecclesiastical socialists, was simply a voluntary sharing on the part of some (Acts 5). It was limited to Jerusalem. Because the believers took literally the words of Christ concerning the fall of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:1-28), they liquidated their properties there. The wealthier members placed some or all of these funds at the church's disposal, so that a witness could be made to their friends and relatives before Jerusalem fell. Very early, persecution drove all but a nucleus out of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1).
The earth is indeed the Lord's, as is all dominion, but God has chosen to give dominion over the earth to man, subject to His law-word, and property is a central aspect of that dominion. The absolute and transcendental title to property is the Lord's; the present and historical title to property is man's. The ownership of property does not leave this world when it is denied to man; it is simply transferred to the state. If the contention of the liberals that the earth is the Lord's, not man's, is to be applied as they require it, then it must be applied equally to the state; the state then must be denied all right to own or control property. The Scripture, however, places property in the hands of the family, not the state. It gives property to man as an aspect of his dominion, as a part of his godly subduing of the earth.
If the doctrine of dominion in and under God is weakened, then all the law is weakened also.
God grants dominion to man under His law, but He does not grant His sovereignty. God alone is absolute Lord and Sovereign. To deny God's sovereignty is to transfer sovereignty from God to man, or to man's state. Thus, Thomas Paine, in the Rights of Man, affirmed as a fundamental principle the sovereignty of the nation-state, declaring, "The nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; nor can any INDIVIDUAL, or ANY BODY OF MEN, be entitled to any authority winch is not expresslv derived from it."3 Paine and the French Revolution clearly affirmed their totalitarianism by this statement. The state as god became the source of authority, morality, and dominion. Quite logically, the Revolution became a boot, grinding down the face of man, but, by the grace of God, not forever.
God's purpose is not the dominion of sin but the dominion of redeemed man over the earth under God. According to St. Paul, the very creation around us groans and travails, waiting for the godly dominion of the children of God (Rom. 8:19-23). Because of the fall, creation is now under the dominion of sinful man and is being laid waste by his perverted use of power. Even as the plant turns to the light, so creation turns with longing to the restored dominion of godly man. Even as dust and stones move in terms of gravity, so they move also in terms of God's purposed dominion of man over them. The people of God must therefore be schooled into the nature and requirements of godly dominion. Anything short of this is a contempt of the supreme authority of God, who declares in His word that He will make a covenant with the very beasts of the field to ensure man's prosperity in the day of his obedience:
And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely (Hosea 2:18).
1. John Marsh, “Numbers,” in Interpreter’s Bible, II, 201.
2. C. J. Elliott, “Numbers,” in Ellicott, I, 516.
3. “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens, By the National Assembly of France,” in The Complete Political Works of Thomas Paine (New York: The Freethought Press Association, 1954), II, 95.