“For John had said unto Herod, ‘It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.’ Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him…”
“And one of the company said unto him, ‘Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.’ And he said unto him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?’ And he said unto them, ‘Take heed, and beware of covetousness…'”
“Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him… For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate… Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”
Order of Contents
On the Restraints of the Church in Civil Matters
On the Spiritual Power of the Church in Civil Matters
Gillespie, George – Propositions 47, 48 & 63 in 111 Propositions Concerning the Ministery & Government of the Church (Edinburgh, 1647)
The classic, Biblical and presbyterian delineation on the topic.
Dury, John – A Case of Conscience Resolved: Concerning Ministers’ Meddling with State Matters in Their Sermons, & How Far They are Obliged by the [Solemn League &] Covenant to Interpose in the Affairs of Civil Government (1649) 28 pp.
On Dury, see his book below.
Nye, Philip – A Sermon Preached to the Citizens of London, Sept. 29, 1659, being the Day of the Election of their Lord Mayor. Wherein is Distinctly Shown: 1. The Usefulness of a Powerful Ministry to the Civil Governor. 2. Integrity when in Conflict is Most Amiable & in its Highest Glory. 3. What Virtues are Desirable in a Good Magistrate (London, 1660) 29 pp. on Neh. 6:11
Nye was an Independent puritan minister and Westminster divine.
Dury, John – A Case of Conscience Concerning Ministers Meddling with State Matters in, or out of, their Sermons, Resolved More Satisfactorily than Heretofore. Wherein Amongst Other Particulars, these Matters are Insisted Upon & Cleared: 1. How All Controversies & Debates Among Christians Ought to be Handled Regularly & Conscionably to Edification by those that Meddle Therewith. 2. What the Proper Employments are of Christian Magistrates & Gospel Ministers, as their Works are Distinct & Should be Concurrent for the Public Good at All Times. 3. What the Way of Christianity is, whereby at this Time our Present Distractions & Public Breaches may be Healed: if Magistrates & Ministers Neglect Not the Main Duties of their Respective Callings,.Where a Ground is Laid to Satisfy the Scruple of the Demurrer & of The Grand Case of Conscience (London, 1649) 195 pp. ToC
Dury (1596-1680) was a Scottish presbyterian and Westminster divine. He grew up with connections to the heads of state, and was advised by an eminent chaplain that to reconcile the divisions of the protestant churches would be the greatest work of peacemaking (Matt 5:9) that one could do. Dury subsequently devoted his entire adult life’s work to this end, with indefatigable journeys, letter writing and conferencing among the leading church figures of the day.
This work is excellent. He seeks to persuade and reconcile the parties on both sides of the question.
Thomas McCrie (the elder)
‘The Spirit of Judgment. Delivered at the opening of the Synod of Original Seceders, Edinburgh, September, 1829’ in Sermons, ed. Thomas McCrie (the younger) (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1836), pp. 308-10 HT: Daniel Ritchie
“They differ in their objects. Civil judgment is pronounced on things that pertain to this life and the external man—his property, his life, his liberty, or his good name; ecclesiastical judgment, on things that pertain to the welfare of the soul and to the life to come. If the former has to do with religious matters, it is either upon the ground that religion in general is conducive to the welfare of secular society, or because particular religious acts interfere with civil rights; if the latter have to do with civil matters, it is only in so far as they relate to the conscience. If at any time the same actions, materially considered, fall under the cognizance of both jurisdictions, as in the case of theft or murder, the formal light in which they are judged by each is different; the secular judicatory proceeds against them as crimes, which injure civil society; the ecclesiastical as scandals, which mar the purity of the church.
They differ in their ends. The end of secular judgment, in subordination to the glory of God, is the external peace and temporal prosperity of men, or, as the apostle expresses it, ‘that we may live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty.’ The end of ecclesiastical judgment, in subordination to the glory of God by Christ, is the promoting of the spiritual and eternal interests of man, or, in the words of the same apostle, ‘that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’
They differ, so far as their subjects are concerned, in their extent. Civil judgment extends to all who belong to the commonwealth; spiritual judgment is confined to those who have been embodied into a church state.”
On the Restraints of the Church in Civil Matters
The Scottish Second Book of Discipline 1578
Ch. 7, ‘Of the Elderships, and Assemblies, and Discipline’
“4. In all the assemblies a moderator should be chosen (by the common consent of the whole brethren convened) who should propose matters, gather the votes, and cause good order to be kept in the assemblies. Diligence should be taken, chiefly by the moderator, that only ecclesiastical things be handled in the assemblies, and that there be no meddling with anything pertaining to the civil jurisdiction.”
A Learned Treatise of the Plague… (1580; London, 1665), p. 18
“…but this especially must be agreed upon, that as our sins are the chief and true cause of the plague, so that this is the only proper remedy against the same; if the ministers dispute not of the infection (which belongs to physicians) but by their life and doctrine stir up the people to earnest repentance, and love, and charity one towards another.”
A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies... (1637), pt. 3, ch. 8, Digression 3, ‘Of the Judging of Controversies & Questions of Faith’, p. 176
“There is a twofold judgement which discerns and judges of Faith… The other limited and subordinate… The ministerial or subordinate public judgement, which I call ordinary, is the judgment of every pastor or doctor; who by reason of his public vocation and office, ought by his public ministry to direct and instruct the judgments of other men in matters of faith. Which judgement of pastors and doctors is limited and restricted to the plain warrants and testimonies of Holy Scripture (Junius, Cont. 1, bk. 3, ch. 4, note 17), they themselves being only the ambassadors of the Judge, to preach and publish the sentence which He has established, so that a pastor is not properly judex [a judge] but index [an informer].“
111 Propositions… (1647), #48, 53 & 56
“48. For to that end also is the holy Scripture profitable, to show which is the best manner of governing a commonwealth, and that the Magistrate as being God’s Minister may by this guiding star be so directed, as that he may execute the parts of his office, according to the will of God, and may perfectly be instructed to every good work;
yet the Minister is not said properly to treat of civil businesses, but of the scandals which arise about them, or of the cases of conscience which occur in the administration of the commonwealth: So also the Magistrate is not properly said to be exercised about the spiritual things of the Church, but rather about those external things which adhere unto and accompany the spiritual things.
53. The object of ecclesiastical power is not the same with the object of the civil power, but much differing from it; for the ecclesiastical power does determine and appoint nothing concerning men’s bodies, goods, dignities, civil rights, but is employed only about the inward man, or the soul…
56. Surely the faithful and godly ministers, although they could do it unchallenged and uncontrolled, and were therein allowed by the Magistrate (as in the prelatical times it was), yet would not usurp the power of life and death, or judge and determine concerning men’s honors, goods, inheritance, division of families, or other civil businesses; seeing they well know these things to be heterogeneous to their office: But as they ought not to entangle themselves with the judging of civil causes…
86. What then? Shall it be lawful ordinarily for ministers and elders to do what they list, or shall the governors in the Churches, glorying in the Law, by their transgression dishonor God? God forbid. For first, if they shall trespass in anything against the Magistrate or municipal Laws, whether by intermeddling in judging of civil causes, or otherwise disturbing the peace and order of the commonwealth, they are liable to civil trial and judgments, and it is in the power of the Magistrate to restrain and punish them.”
The Due Right of Presbyteries… (1644), pt. 2, p. 410
“Hence I reason thus, no synods-ecclesiastical can meddle with the blood and temporal lives of men…”
The Divine Right of Church Government… (London, 1646), pp. 558-9
“9th Assertion…. 1. As the object of that high [civil] office is merely and purely civil and positive, relating only to a civil end, of peace: as in importing or exporting of goods, of wool, wax, moneys for the good of the commonwealth, the crying up or crying down of the value of coined gold or silver, the making of laws merely civil; as not to carry armor in the night [which is threatening] in such a city: so in war, commanders, captains and colonels are magistrates to order the battle, lay stratagems… the parliaments’ power in disposing of fowling, fishing, hunting, eating of flesh, or not eating at such a time: all these, as the Word of God does not particularly warrant the one side more than the other, are merely civil and positive.
It is sure the magistrate has a supremacy, and an independency above the Church or ministers of the Gospel in all these; and as these prescind [are detached] from all morality of the First and Second Table [in that they are not inherently moral or immoral of themselves], I hold that neither the power nor person of the magistrate is subordinate to the Church and Church-assemblies [in these things], and ministers of the Gospel should [in Greek] and exceed the limits and bounds of their calling if they should meddle with these; as the Church should exceed their bounds, if they should make canons touching the way of sailing, painting, tilling the earth, according to such and such principles of art, for these are without the sphere of the Church’s activity;
In this consideration that learned and grave divine Dr. Andrew Rivet says well (in Decalog., ch. 5, p. 204) that as we believe a man well skilled in his own art, so that his judgement is a supreme rule; so the supreme authority of the magistrate to us in things positive is a rule; for indeed it cannot be denied but there be arcana imperis, secrets of State that are not to be communicated to pastors or to any, in which the rulers have a supremacy.”
The Westminster Confession
Ch. 31, section 5
“Synods and councils are to handle or conclude nothing but that which is ecclesiastical; and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs, which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary…”
On the Spiritual Power of the Church in Civil Matters in an Established, Christian Nation, or Towards a Non-Christian Nation on Occasion out of Mercy
The Scottish Second Book of Discipline 1578
Ch. 1, ‘Of the Kirk & Policy Thereof in General…’
“15. …The ministers should assist their princes in all things agreeable to the Word, provided they neglect not their own charge by involving themselves in civil affairs.”
111 Propositions… (1647), #47 & 63
“47. The matter may further be thus illustrated: There is almost
the like respect and consideration of the Magistrate as he
is occupied about the outward things of the Church, and of
the ecclesiastic ministry as it is occupied about the inward
or spiritual part of civil government, that is, about those
things which in the government of the commonwealth belong
to the conscience.
It is one thing to govern the commonwealth, and to make political and civil laws; another thing to interpret the Word of God, and out of it to
show to the Magistrate his duty, to wit, how he ought to govern the commonwealth and in what manner he ought to use the sword.
The former is proper and peculiar to the Magistrate (neither does the ministry intermeddle or entangle itself into such businesses), but the latter is contained within the office of the ministers.
63. The same sin therefore in the same man may be punished one way by the civil, another way by the ecclesiastical power; by the civil power under the formality of a crime, with corporal or pecuniary punishment; By the ecclesiastical power, under the notion and nature of scandal, with a spiritual censure, even as also the same civil question is one way deliberate upon and handled by the Magistrate in the Senate or place of Judgment; another way by the minister of the Church, in the presbytery or synod;
by the magistrate so far as it pertains to the government of the commonwealth, by the minister, so far as it respects the conscience; for the ecclesiastical ministry also is exercised about civil things spiritually, in so far as it teaches and admonishes the magistrate out of the Word of God what is best and most acceptable unto God, or as it reproves freely unjust judgments, unjust wars, and the like, and out of the Scripture threatens the wrath of God to be revealed against all unrighteousness of men; So also is the magistrate said to be occupied civilly about spiritual things.”
A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience… (1649), ch. 3, ‘The Church May Complain of Heretics [to the Magistrate]’, pp. 43-45
“…and if the Church should tell the Magistrate his duty, as watchmen should do to all under their care, Eze. 3:16-19, Magistrate or other[wise]; if the Magistrate spare the life of a murderer, the watchmen are unfaithful if they complain not openly and tell the Magistrate he does not his duty; and upon the same ground, if the Magistrate must coerce with the sword seducing wolves and Jezebels, the pastors ought to admonish him.
And it’s atheistic to say [that] the ‘Magistrate is conscious of sins against manners, and of his duty and obligation he needs no instigation.’ Because no Magistrate, be he an Ahab or a David, but he needs be quickened to his duty; and will send a murderer away, and a bloody Joab whom God will have not to live; and should the prophets be called instigatores [instigators] and savientes per alios [those raging through others], such as destroy men’s lives, when they tell the Magistrate [that] he is a murderer and guilty of innocent blood if he suffer the bloody man to live? Or should this be called tale-telling and the pastor thrusting of himself into a more disaffecting office to be a tale-teller, an apparitor [servant of a public official] or summoner of men to the civil Magistrate’s court, [in that] he made such a poor man be fined, and wife and children be starved because he is not of his opinion? [This is an absurd charge.]
…Such a man of our [pastoral] charge [if he did not so complain of false teachers to the magistrate] is damned by his own conscience and devours the flock, as Arius [an early Church heresiarch] and Manes [of the Manicheans] did; such a one is a bloody murderer, a sorcerer; the Magistrate bears the sword to execute vengeance on evil doers, and yet [contrary to this, he] suffer[s] known murderers to live and be gray-haired: Are ministers, who are to warn fathers, teachers, masters, judges, kings, Jer. 1:10, nations and kingdoms of their duty, ‘thrusters of themselves into a disaffecting office, and apparitors and summoners of men before civil courts’ because they warn the Magistrate of his duty?
Is this obtruding into another office to give warning to all to be free of the blood of all men? [Eze. 33:8-9] This is like the speech of a wicked King Amaziah, 2 Chron. 25:16, to the prophet who rebuked him, for seeking after the gods of the nations: ‘Art thou made of the king’s counsel? Forbear, why shouldest thou be smitten?’
I therefore summon this [Libertine] author to compeer [appear] before the Judge of the world, and give an account of this doctrine, for he speaks it against the faithful servants of God of the Church of Scotland, who complained to the king of idolatrous seducers and seminary priests and Jesuits, of bloody murderers, of grinders of the faces of the poor and incorrigible, scandalous offenders, whose wretched example was a shame to the gospel and brought guilt upon the land, that he might use the sword against such evil doers?
And should ministers be apparitors and tale-tellers either against such as deserve capital punishment for sins against the Second Table as well as against the First Table? Woe will be to him that calls good evil and evil good. Is the necessary duty of the calling of a watchman to warn the Magistrate of his bloody omissions, for so the Lord calls it (Isa. 1.21-22; 3:12-15; Prov. 29:7; 31:8) and exhorts to it, an overdoing? and a tale-bearing?”
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight…'”
“…[Paul] called the elders of the church, and… he said unto them… ‘Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock…”
Acts 20:17 & 28
“If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the Lord thy God shall choose; And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment:”