That logic which, while it was used to prove that Presbyterians and Independents ought to bear imprisonment and confiscation with meekness, seemed to be of very little force when the question was whether Anglican bishops should be imprisoned and the revenues of Anglican colleges confiscated. It has been often repeated, from the pulpits of all the cathedrals in the land, that the apostolical injunction to obey the civil magistrate was absolute and universal, and that it was impious presumption in man to limit a precept which had been promulgated without any limitation in the Word of God.
Now, however, divines whose sagacity had been sharpened by the imminent danger in which they stood of being turned out of their livings and prebends to make room for Papists discovered flaws in the reasoning which had formerly been so convincing. The ethical parts of Scripture were not to be construed like Acts of Parliament or like the casuistical treatises of the Schoolmen. What Christian really turned the left cheek to the ruffian who had smitten the right? What Christian really gave his cloak to the thieves who had taken his coat away? Both in the Old and in the New Testament, general rules were perpetually laid down unaccompanied by the exceptions. Thus, there was a general command not to kill unaccompanied by any reservation in favor of the warrior who kills in defense of his king and country. There was a general command not to swear, unaccompanied by any reservation in favor of the witness who swears to speak the truth before a judge. Yet, the lawfulness of defensive war, and of the judicial oaths, was disputed only by a few obscure sectaries, and was positively affirmed in the Articles of the Church of England. All the arguments which showed that the Quaker who refused to bear arms or to kiss the Gospels were unreasonable and perverse might be turned against those who denied to subjects the right of resisting extreme tyranny by force. If it was contended that the texts which prohibited homicide and the texts which prohibited swearing, though generally expressed, must be construed in subordination to the great commandment by which every man is enjoined to promote the welfare of his neighbors and would, when so construed, be found not to apply to cases in which homicide or swearing might be absolutely necessary to protect the dearest interests of society, it was not easy to deny that the texts which prohibited resistance ought to be construed in the same manner. If the ancient people of God had been directed, sometimes, to destroy human life and, sometimes, to bind themselves by oaths, they had also been directed, sometimes, to resist evil princes. If early fathers of the church had occasionally used language which seemed to imply that they disapproved of all resistance, they had also occasionally used language which seemed to imply that they disapproved of all war and of all oaths.
In truth, the doctrine of passive obedience, as taught at Oxford in the reign of Charles the Second, can be deduced from the Bible only by a mode of interpretation which would irresistibly lead us to the conclusions of Barclay and Penn. – Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), from The History of England from the Accession of James II (Chapter 19)