On Passive Obedience

“The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound[ary]…  Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the [human] commandment.  Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness.”

Hos. 5:10-12

“That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.”

1 Pet. 4:2

“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.”

1 Cor. 7:23




Command of Authorities does Not Make Indifferent Things Necessary
Ethics of Material Cooperation with, & Associations with Evil
Error, Certainty, Private Knowledge & Passive Obedience in Judicial Rulings



Order of Contents

Intro – Unfinished
Articles  3
Book  1
Guthrie’s 15 Arguments
Quotes  5
Latin  1

All Authority Given of God is Only Unto Good
Ought We to Obey Authorities in All Things which do Not Cause us to Sin?
Active Resistance to Erroneous Church Courts
Outward Submission to Infringements of Christian Liberty without Sufficient
.        Reason



Intro  Unfinished

The notion of Passive Obedience may at first sight look like a difficult knot to untangle.  There is something to passively obeying non-moral and unjust laws at times (one cannot wholly deny it), but many persons take this too far and end up with a doctrine that is twisted and unnatural, namely that one is necessarily and always bound to obey non-moral and unjust laws out of conscience, if these laws do not cause one to personally sin.  Samuel Rutherford, on the other hand, said that passive obedience, properly speaking, is a ‘chimera’, in that God’s moral law is the only thing that can ever bind our conscience.

Passive obedience is often applied not only to the State, but also to the Church and family; and it has been around, it seems, in its varied forms, throughout the whole of Church history.  The issue, as it is inherent to the human context, is trans-temporal.

Rutherford was very familiar with the doctrine of the necessity of passive obedience, as that was the justification that many of the ministers and elders in the Church of Scotland gave for conforming to the imposed ceremonies (which were claimed to be indifferent) from the Articles of Perth in 1618, to 1637, just before the 2nd Reformation in Scotland.  Rutherford, on the other hand, did not passively obey during this time, but actively resisted, writing books seeking to win and bolster up the hearts of the godly according to the truth, which got him exiled under house-arrest in Aberdeen.  The Erastians in his day also used that slavish doctrine to seek to bludgeon all others who disagreed with them into conformity to their arbitrary dictates and mastery with civil force.  Their justification for this?  Conscience unto ‘authority’ and the pretense of Scripture, it was claimed.  The Nazis argued likewise to the weak-willed churches in Germany, who feared man more than God.

This Intro and page of resources will clearly untangle the knot of Passive Obedience and delineate the issue according to its clear natural and Scriptural boundaries, in accordance with the best historic, reformed resources on the topic.  Specifically, the doctrine that Passive Obedience is morally necessary at all times, in conscience unto God, will be demonstrated to be unnatural, un-Scriptural and perverse.  The right grounds for passive obedience in some situations will also be unfolded.


The Definition & Kinds of Passive Obedience

Passive obedience is the willing act of passively subjecting oneself to a human command void of God’s Moral Law, or to its punishments and consequences.  It is (1) passive, in contrast to (2) active, in that the person does not agree with the command, but tolerates it, possibly under some perceived degree or feeling of coercion.

Passive Obedience is also distinguished from both passive and active resistance to such a non-moral command and its punishment.  (3) Passive resistance goes along with the command to some degree, and yet gives resistance along the way.  (4) Active resistance does not go along with the command and resists it according to one’s power.

To give an example:  The civil government enjoins a speed limit of 30 miles per hour on a road where one would otherwise naturally and safely drive 65 mph.

(1) Active obedience believes the 30 mph speed limit is inherently right (because the authority has said so) and seeks to obey it as a standard of righteousness; tickets due to non-compliance are paid because they are completely just.

(2) Passive obedience, while not agreeing with the speed-limit, yet drives 30 mph and pays any subsequent tickets without resistance.

(3) Passive resistance drives 30 mph for the most part, but not always (and that deliberately).  It resists paying the tickets, but does end up paying them in the end.  This course of action has aspects of (2) passive obedience and (4) active resistance in it.

(4) Active resistance drives 65 mph according to natural and moral law, and the liberty and natural benefit of the individual.  It not only resists paying the tickets, but does not pay them at all, come what may.

Option (1) above, Active Obedience to a non-moral command, which entails believing that the human authority’s dictate makes something inherently right, is unnatural, sinful and idolatrous, as only God only can create something to be good (Mt. 19:17).  Options (2), (3) & (4) are in the realm of what may be ethically acceptable and right in certain situations.

As this speed-limit example has two distinct parts in it, the command itself and the punishment for it, so some of these alternatives may be combined with each other.  For instance, one might actively resist the speed limit and drive 65 mph, and yet passively obey paying the fine without resistance.

Passive obedience (2) may be further distinguished into formal obedience and material obedience:

(2.1) Formal, passive obedience entails that a person, though he does not agree with the non-moral command, yet believes that he is formally and necessarily obligated to obey it (and drive 30 mph) because the imposing party residually holds an authoritative office of God, and we are to (always, apart from personal sin) obey those whom God has set over us.  The person pays the ticket (which he disagrees with) because he believes that he must obey the authority that is imposing it.

(2.2) Material, passive obedience entails that a person who does not agree with the command, yet materially obeys it (and only drives 30 mph), but not because he believes that he is obliged to do so.  Rather, perhaps it is prudent for him so to do in the circumstances for any number of reasons.  He pays the ticket because perhaps it is more advantageous for him than the alternative, though he does not pay the ticket because he believes that he must out of conscience unto the authority or unto God.

It is important to note that anyone seeking to impose the necessity of material, passive obedience (2.2) on another person, is in fact pushing formal, passive obedience (2.1), or human slavery, on that person.

This Introduction and page of resources will demonstrate that formal, passive obedience (2.1) is sinful and is a doctrine of devils (1 Tim. 4:1), whereas material, passive obedience (2.2) may be appropriate and good in certain times and circumstances.


The Nature of Societal Authorities

In order to carefully explicate the issues surrounding passive obedience, the sources and nature of societal authorities needs to be precisely set forth.  Specifically, this will be done with regards to (1) Individuals, (2) Families, (3) Free Associations, (4) Civil Governments and (5) the Church:

(1) Individuals.  Every person has a certain capacity of natural power with which they may affect the world around them and influence others by, especially with regard to the natural resources under their power and at their disposal.  This truth becomes prominent in the context of persons with varying abilities, powers and resources: some persons are physically weaker, some stronger, some have greater experience and knowledge; some have greater wisdom or other natural gifts, some less so and some are born into, or are able to acquire greater estates.

It is natural to use this power unto good, as good effects result, which effects are beneficial and desirous.  As negative, detrimental and undesirable effects result from using power unto another’s harm, so it is unnatural to use power for ill.

The natural powers that we are born with and are able to cultivate have been given to us by God, the Author and Creator of Nature.  That power is naturally to be used to a good purpose, is a certain authority that individuals have command of, which authority comes from the Author of Nature (who is good).  Thus there is a certain natural power and authority by which the stronger ought to bless, serve, protect and care for the weaker.  Likewise, the weaker have a certain natural, and hence moral, obligation to naturally submit themselves, in some degree and situations, to the leadership of persons with greater gifts and abilities who are able to effect their good.

(2) Families.  The authority of parents derives from Nature, though Scripture also confirms and sanctions it.  Parental authority stems from the above principle that the stronger are to love, support, care for and lead the weaker, in this case, the very helpless children that are born out of their own bodies.  The growing children ought naturally to submit to their benevolent, stronger and wiser parents, unto their own good.

While the relationship between the children and the parents will change, as time and their natures change, yet honor is still due to the parents from the grown children as the parents will yet have, to varying degrees, the greater age, experience and knowledge.  They are also due honor from their bringing them into this world and the great expense of their labor and love in raising them.

(3) Free Associations.  Free associations in society include groups of friends, clubs, companies, corporations, etc.  In a free association, individuals and/or families come together and combine their powers unto a given purpose by way of common consent.  The association is governed and exercises its accumulated power, and authority over itself and its influence unto others, in some agreed upon way.

The power and authority of free associations is at root natural, though modified by the positive, free choices and constructions of individuals.

(4) Civil Governments.  The source and nature of civil authority is most clearly seen from its historical rise.  Civil governments can have no more authority than the source from which they arose from; and in this we follow Rutherford in the first several chapters of Lex Rex.

Man need not be born under a civil government, nor need there be civil governments at all, just as there evidently were none for the first nine chapters of the Bible until one formed with Nimrod in Gen. 10:10.

As there are many mutual benefits of people living harmoniously together, and as man is a social being, so there is a natural inclination for man to freely associate together, by common consent, in order to combine their natural powers unto the moral defense and good of the whole.  The commonwealth may, for the sake of executive efficiency, choose persons and delegate power unto them in order to execute its decisions and order the commonwealth unto the good of the whole.

Civil government, however, is more than a free association, or free contract based on Natural Law.  God positively gave the authority of the death penalty, or ‘the sword’, to ‘man’ in common in Gen. 9:5-6.  As civil governments represent man in common, so they are able to use physical coercion and lethal force (when appropriate) to uphold the natural and moral laws that conduce to the good of the community.

Hence the power and authority of civil government is from Nature in its root, and ultimately from the God who created Nature with its powers.  A civil government though, is only produced and sustained through the means of the positive, mutual consent of the community unto its own good.  All delegated authority of actual magistrates (for they have no other), and even the form of the government itself, derives from the latent and residual authority and choice of the community, which is the foundation thereof.

As God gave to man the sword for civil justice (Gen. 9:5-6), so He owns and sanctions civil governments.  As civil governments use God’s positive authority in the use of the sword† for God’s express purpose in Gen. 9:5-6, so they are vice-regents of God the Creator, are to naturally enforce God’s natural and moral laws (Rom. 13:3-4) and are accountable to Him in this.

† Which they would not otherwise have; note Gen. 4:15.

(5) The Church.  Church power and authority derives not from nature, but has been positively instituted by God the Redeemer, Jesus Christ (Gen. 3:21; Mt. 16:19; 18:18-19).  The source of the Church’s spiritual power and authority is in her Head in Heaven (Eph. 4:10-13), and is communicated from Him.


The Linchpin:
All Authority is for Good, Only

One of the most common misconceptions, which breeds an infestation of error and evil, is that if a person or government has authority over something, then they must have authority to use that thing for good or ill.

This is the Devil’s logic, and it is also the foundational premise of Formal, Passive Obedience.  If a government exercises its physical power unto the detriment of its people, it is held that it is still exercising authority that must be obeyed (as though we are to obey evil).

However, the linchpin of the truth, which must never be forgotten and must be revived, displayed, known and obeyed at all costs, is that all authority whatsoever has only been given by God for good.  This is proved from God’s Word, with respect to:


Individuals have no right or authority to sin, nor to use their natural power unto evil.  Rather, ‘the conclusion of the whole matter’ is to ‘Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.’ (Eccl. 12:13)  Truly, ‘the commandment’ was ‘ordained to life’ and ‘the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just and good.’ (Rom. 7:10,12)

Civil Governments

In Gen. 9:5-6, where God ordained physical and lethal coercion for the community of men, the sole purpose given is one that is good, namely to uphold public justice.  It is perverse to use this gift of God for ill, or anything other than such public morality.

Rom. 13:1-5, describing the office of the civil magistrate, says, “For he is the minister of God to thee for good.” (v. 4)  No civil authority has been ordained by God for anything other than the creatures good.  If a magistrate does ill, it not by the authority that God has given to him.  Notice the language of purpose in verse 4.  Rather than promoting and enjoining evil, the magistrate “is the minister of God, a revenger [in order] to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” (v. 4)

The Church


This Intro is Unfinished


If persons holding an office of authority act, command or make a law apart from the moral law of God unto the detriment of the people, they are, by definition, not acting from the authority of their office, and hence are not acting by the authority of God.  They are acting out of office (ultra vires), not as the vice-regents of God but simply and only as sinful men apart from any legitimate authority.

This teaching was derived at the Reformation and elucidated by persons such as John Knox from God’s Word, in Acts 5:28-29.  The chief priests and various civil officers of Jerusalem held authoritative offices of God.  They had power over the people

Common Civil Misconception
All Authority unto Good

Each of the four or five categories

The Issue of Godly Suffering, 1 Pet. 2

How Material Passive Obedience may be Good
(along with Passive Resistance),
unto the End of Active Resistance towards Freedom

The Necessity of at Least Passive Resistance,
a matter of degree from Active Resistance, a matter of the will





Calderwood, David – The Course of Conformity, as it has Proceeded, as it is Concluded, and as it Should be Refused  (1622)  130 pp.

This work is primarily against episcopacy as it especially grew in Scotland after the Assembly of Perth (1618).  Some attribute it to William Scot (c. 1558-1642) or James Melville.  Thomas M’Crie assigned it to Calderwood.

Rutherford, Samuel – Question 30, ‘Whether or No[t] Passive Obedience be a Mean[s] to which we are Subjected in Conscience by Virtue of a Divine Commandment…’  Summary  in Lex Rex  (1644)

“4.  Passive obedience to wicked emperors can but be enjoined (Rom. 13) but only in the manner and upon [the] supposition that we must be subject to them and must suffer against our wills all the ill of punishment that they can inflict, we must suffer patiently, and because it is God’s permissive will that they punish us unjustly;

For it is not God’s ruling and approving will (called voluntas signi [the will of sign, or his revealed will]) that they should, against the law of God and man kill us and persecute us; and therefore neither Rom. 13, nor 1 Pet. 2, nor any other place in God’s Word, any common divine, natural, national or any municipal law, commands formally obedience passive, or subjection passive, or non-resistance under the notion of passive obedience;

Yea, to me, obedience-passive (if we speak of obedience, properly called, as relative essentially to a law) is a chimera, a dream, and repugnantia in adjecto; and therefore I utterly deny that resistance-passive, or subjection-passive, does formally fall under either commandment of God, affirmative or negative;

Only the unlawful manner of resistance by way of revenge, or for defense of Popery and false religion, and out of impatient toleration of monarchy or any tyranny, is forbidden in God’s Word;

And certainly all the words used [in] Rom. 13, as they fall under a formal commandment of God, are words of action, not of any chimerical passive obedience, as we are not to resist actively God’s ordinance, as his ordinance, (vv. 1-2), that is, to resist God actively.  We are to do good works, not evil, if we would have the ruler no terror to us (v. 3).  We must not do ill if we would be free of vengeance’s sword (v. 7); we are to pay tribute and to give fear and honor to the ruler, all which are evidently actions, not passive subjection; and if any passive subjection be commanded, it is not here, nor in the First Commandment commanded; but [rather it is] in the First Commandment under the hand of patience and submission under God’s hand in sufferings, or in the Third Commandment under the hand of rather dying for Christ than denying his truth before men.

Hence I argue here (Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2 ; Tit. 3) is nothing else but an exposition of the Fifth Commandment; but in the Fifth Commandment only active obedience is formally commanded, and the subordination of inferiors to superiors is ordained, and passive obedience is nowhere commanded, but only modus rei [the mode of the thing], the manner of suffering, and the occasion of the commandment;

…Paul established magistracy and commands obedience in the Lord; and he is more to prove the office of the magistrate to be of God than any other thing (and to show what is his due) than to establish absoluteness in Nero to be of God; yea, to me, every word in the text speaks limitedness of princes, and cries down absoluteness:  (1.) No power of God, (2.) no ordinance of God, who is a terror to evil, but a praise to good works, (3.) no minister of God for good, etc. can be a power to which we submit ourselves on earth as next unto God without controlment.

That passive obedience falls formally under no commandment of God, I prove thus:

All obedience liable to a divine commandment does commend morally the performer of obedience as having a will conformed to God’s moral law; and deformity betwixt the will of him who performs not obedience involves the non-obedient in wrath and guiltiness.

But non-passive subjection to the sword of the judge does not morally commend him that suffers not punishment; for no man is formally a sinner against a moral law because he suffers not the ill of punishment, nor is he morally good, or to be commended, because he suffers ill of punishment, but because he does the ill of sin.  And all [the] evil of punishment unjustly inflicted has God’s voluntas beneplaciti [the will of good-pleasure, or decree], the instrumental and hidden decree of God, which orders both good and ill (Eph. 1:11) for its rule and cause, and has not God’s will or approbation called, voluntas signi, for its rule: both are contrary to that will.  I am sure Epiphanius (1. 1, torn. 3, heres. 40), Basil (in Ps. 32), Nazianzen Orat. (ad subd. et imperat.), Hilarary (li. ad Constant.) and Augustine all cite these words and say the same.

If, then, passive subjection be not commanded, non-subjection-passive cannot be forbidden, and this text, Rom. 13 and 1 Pet. 2, cannot a whit help the bad cause of royalists.  All then must be reduced to some action of resisting; arguments for passive subjection, though there were ship-fulls of them, they cannot help us.” – pp. 155 rt. col. – 156



Bradbury, Thomas – The Ass or the Serpent: a Comparison Between the Tribes of Issachar & Dan, in their Regard for Civil Liberty: November 5, 1712  (d. 1759; London: printed, Boston, 1768)

This sermon is excellent.  Jacob, in Gen. 49:14-18, gives prophetic characterizations of his sons, Issachar and Dan, who would be heads of tribes in Israel.  Issachar is likened unto a donkey who would come to bear servitude for his desire of ease.  Dan is likened to a judge of the people, and a snake which would throw off being trampled.

Bradbury, in the early-1700’s in England, highlights this contrast in regard to maintaining civil liberties against constant pressure from authorities to give them up.  The sermon was reprinted in America in the years preceding America’s declaration of independence in 1776.  The sermon explicitly confronts passive obedience and argues against it in such a context.

Bradbury (1677-1759) was an English, dissenting, Calvinistic congregationalist minister.

“Tis plain that people lose their Christianity with their liberties; and when once an encroaching power has made ’em slaves, there needs little more to make ’em heathens.” – p. 7

“Tyrants, who know no justice, will allow no mercy…  Do not imagine that there’s any dealing with an arbitrary government.  Laws are only shackles upon you, but no rule to ’em.” – p. 11




Guthrie, James – Protesters No Subverters, and Presbytery No Papacy; or, A Vindication of the Protesting Brethren & of the Government of the Kirk of Scotland…  with a Discovery of…  the Iniquity of that Absolute and Unlimited Submission to the Sentences of Church-Judicatories…    (1658)  120 pp.

Guthrie (1612?-1661) was a Scottish covenanting minister and Protester.  He was the first martyr to the subsequent three decades of persecution of the Scottish presbyterians.  He was known as ‘Sicker-foot’, the term for a sure-footed person.  The following describes a time shortly before his trial and subsequent execution:

“Opportunities of escape, he said, he had rejected, as flight might be taken as an admission of guilt.” – Wikipedia



A Summary of James Guthrie’s 15 Arguments Against the Necessity of Passive Obedience

Protesters No Subverters, and Presbytery No Papacy; or, A Vindication of the Protesting Brethren & of the Government of the Kirk of Scotland…  with a Discovery of…  the Iniquity of that Absolute and Unlimited Submission to the Sentences of Church-Judicatories…    (1658), pp. 98-118.  The following summary is by T. Fentiman.

1.  An absolute submission, comprehensive of subjection to sentences of Church-Judicatories as are upon the matter unjust and repugnant to the Word of God, has neither precept nor precedent for it in the Book of God.  Dt. 17:9-12; 1 Thess. 5:12.

2.  It is contrary to clear Scripture precepts and precedents.  1 Cor. 7:23; Gal. 5:1; Acts 5:29; 2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Cor. 11:24; Jer. chs. 26, 32, 37-8; Amos 5:13-16; Dan. 6:6-10; Jn. 9:22, 30-38; Acts 4:19-21; 5:17-18, 29, 40, 42; 24:5-6; 25:7-10; 1 Thess. 2:15.

3.  This submission dethrones Jesus Christ, who only has power over the consciences of men, to bind them by His authority, in binding men’s consciences upon man’s mere arbitrament and pleasure: for, we must be subject because they will have it so, though it have no foundation in truth and equity.

4.  It concludes a man under a necessity of sinning against God, by omitting those necessary duties that are commanded him of God upon a non-relevant reason, namely, the mere will and pleasure of men, to whom God has given no power against the truth, but for the Truth; no power to destruction, but to edification.

5.  If such a submission be due to the judicatories of the Kirk in matters of discipline and government, then it seems it would also be due unto them in matters of doctrine and worship.  Mt. 10:33; Mk. 8:38; Lk. 26.

6.  If such a submission is not due to the Church in matters of doctrine, worship and external order in themselves, yet the asserting of this submission in matters of discipline will also necessarily infer the asserting of it in matters of doctrine, worship and external order.

7.  Inferior Kirk-judicatories, being ordinances of Jesus Christ, have the promise of binding according to the truth made to them when they meet in His Name (Mt. 18:18-19), even when greater courts err; and the power of synods is not corruptive, privative or destructive to the power of presbyteries or congregations, but perfective, acumulative and conservative thereunto.

8.  What is denied in principle to councils, prophets, ministers, to Nathan, to David, to Paul, to an angel from Heaven, to teach or decree anything but according to the Word of God (Gal. 1:8), such cannot warrantably be given to general assemblies.

9.  What is fully proper to the Scripture of Truth cannot warrantably be given to the judicatories of the Kirk; but not to be counteracted nor contradicted is fully proper to the Scriptures of Truth, these being the only infallible rule in matters of doctrine, worship, discipline and government, Isa. 8:20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17.

10.  Every warrantable subordination and submission due to the judicatories of the Kirk must be given of Christ; but no where is it written in the Book of God that a general assembly has power given of Christ to teach and enact such points and doctrines, and inflict such censures, as no man may or ought lawfully to counteract or contradict; Therefore, this submission argues the Scripture’s imperfection and sets up the necessity of human traditions.

11.  This submission does infer that if a general assembly should enact the mass and all the heresies of the Roman, Council of Trent, we may not preach nor write to the contrary.

12.  Sentences of Kirk judicatories, that are for the ground of them unjust and repugnant to the Word of God, are in themselves null; because all Church-power and authority is included in the Word of the Lord and is to be regulated according thereto, Isa. 8:20; 2 Cor. 13:8,10; and what is null in itself cannot bind unto submission and subjection.

13.  This submission is prelatical, and introduces a lordly and absolute power and dominion in the Church of God over the flock and ministers of Jesus Christ.

14.  This submission is so far from being any part of catholic truth, much less of the essence and being of presbyterial government, that it seems to be a tenet purely Popish and Antichristian.

15.  This unlimited submission leaves the Church destitute of all ecclesiastical remedies in the case of a general defection, and does open a wide door for making the government of the House of God degenerate into tyranny, and in stead of being a means of purging and preserving of religion, to be a means of polluting and destroying the same.  What is tyranny? but when these that are in power will have inferiors, without gainsaying or counteracting to yield subjection to their dictates and commands, though there be no reason of equity in them, but their own mere arbitrament and pleasure.  Dan. 11:36.



James Guthrie’s 15 Arguments
Against the Necessity of Passive Obedience

Protesters No Subverters, and Presbytery No Papacy; or, A Vindication of the Protesting Brethren & of the Government of the Kirk of Scotland…  with a Discovery of…  the Iniquity of that Absolute and Unlimited Submission to the Sentences of Church-Judicatories…    (1658), pp. 98-118


“Having premised these things [on pp. 95-7], we offer these reasons against the submission so much pleaded for by our [Resolutioner] Brethren:

First, this submission, we mean an absolute submission, or such a submission as is comprehensive of subjection to such decrees and sentences of Church-judicatories as are upon the matter, and for the ground of them, unjust and repugnant to the Word of God, has neither precept nor precedent for it in the Book of God; if any man say it has, we desire him to bring it forth:

We know that the Lord did enjoin His people under the Old Testament, under very severe punishments, to do according to the sentence which they should be taught by the priests, the Levites, in the place which the Lord should choose, Dt. 17:9-12.  But Calvin tells us well, Ubi de iis audiendis agitur, ibi nominatim ponitur, ut secundum Legem Dei respondeant: That in the same Scripture where it is commanded to hear them, that it is also commanded that they should answer according to the Law of the Lord.

We also know that under the New Testament we are commanded to obey them that have the rule over us, and to submit ourselves, but it is in the Lord, 1 Thess. 5:12.  That which we call for [from our opponents] is some precept or binding precedent in Scripture that holds forth submission to an ecclesiastic determination or sentence that is unjust and contrary to the Word of God.

2.  It is contrary to clear Scripture precepts and Scripture precedents: to Scripture precepts, such as these, ‘Be not servants of men,’ 1 Cor. 7:23; ‘Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage,’ Gal. 5:1.  ‘It is better to obey God than men,’ Acts 5:29.  ‘Preach the Word; be instant in season and out of season,’ 2 Tim. 4:2; ‘Do this in remembrance of Me,’ 1 Cor. 11:24.

To refrain from duty upon the mere will and commandment of men, is to be a servant unto men and to betray Christian liberty, and to be entangled with the yoke of bondage, and to obey man rather than God: and to say, that we will not preach the Gospel, nor receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, though God has commanded us so to do:

Let us suppose that a man duly qualified is suspended from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or from the exercise of the ministry, or excommunicated and cast out of the Church because of his pressing and holding forth some precious truth of God, which a Kirk-judicatory condemns for a lie, and passes such sentences and censures upon him because he does adhere thereunto; Shall we say that this man is bound not to communicate, not to preach the Gospel, to absent himself from the fellowship and prayers of the saints?

Our [Resolutioner] Brethren will haply tell us that he is bound for peace’s sake so to do, till his appeal be discussed.  But what shall the innocent man do when it is discussed against him, and the unjust sentence of the inferior judicatory [is] confirmed by the superior?  Shall he go to a higher? and when he is gone to the highest, and is condemned there too (as Christ was crucified at Jerusalem), what will they now allow him?  Will they have him still to be a servant of men, and still to be in bondage?

And though the Lord Jesus has commanded him to preach the Gospel, and said unto him, ‘Woe unto thee, if thou preach not the Gospel; and has commanded him to eat of His body and drink of His blood, and not to forsake the assembling himself with the saints of God; yet, because men pro arbitratu et imperio [for a judgement and a command], yea, because of his adhering to the Truth of God which they have rejected and condemned, have forbidden him so to do, that he shall not obey God?  This is a hard saying, who can receive it?

It is also contrary to clear Scripture precedents:  Jeremiah was often commanded by the authority, both ecclesiastic and civil, to forbear speaking of the Word of the Lord; yet did he give no subjection to the sentence, either of the one or of the other, but went on in his ministry, notwithstanding of all the inhibitions and censures past against him, chs. 26, 32, 37-8.  Amos was commanded by Amaziah the priest to prophesy no more at Bethel, because it was the king’s chapel and the king’s court; yet he did not submit, but did counteract that commandment, and did continue to prophesy in the Name of the Lord, Amos 5:13-16.  Daniel was commanded to make no petition to any God or Man for thirty days, save to King Darius; yet did he not submit, but counteract, by going into his house and opening his chamber-window towards Jerusalem, and kneeling on his knees three times a day, and praying and giving thanks before His God, as he did aforetime, Dan. 6:6-10.

The Jews did agree that if any man did confess that Jesus was the Christ, he should be put out of the Synagogue; yet did the poor man, whose eyes He had opened, confess Him openly; and though he was actually cast out for doing of it, yet did he not submit, but went on to confess Him still, Jn. 9:22, 30-38.  The apostles were commanded once and again by the Council at Jerusalem not to speak nor teach any more in the Name of Jesus; but they told them that they could not but speak the things which they had seen and heard and that they ought to obey God rather than men, and notwithstanding [that] they were first threatened, and afterwards imprisoned and thirdly beaten by them for so doing; yet did they not submit nor forbear, but daily in the Temple and from house to house they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ, Acts 4:19-21; Acts 5:17-18, 29, 40, 42.

Paul being accused, first before Festus and afterwards before Felix, the Roman deputies, that he was a pestilent fellow and a mover of sedition amongst the Jews throughout the world, and a ring-leader of the sect of the Nazarenes, who also had gone about to profane the Temple, did not only appeal to Caesar, but went on in his course and preached the Gospel, and preached that the Jews killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and persecuted the apostles, and pleased not God, and were contrary to all men, Acts 24:5-6; Acts 25:7-10; 1 Thess. 2:15.

3.  This submission dethrones Jesus Christ (who only has power over the consciences of men to bind them by His authority) by attributing such a power and authority to Church-judicatorics as does bind men’s consciences upon their mere arbitrament and pleasure: for, we must be subject because they will have it so, though the reason why they command this subjection, to wit, our supposed delinquency, be a mere non ens [non-entity] and such as has no foundation in truth and equity.

If it be told us that the conscience is not bound because the judgement is still left free, and the outward acts only restrained, we would have our [Resolutioner] Brethren to remember that some of themselves and others who did oppose conformity to the ceremonies [imposed on the Church of Scotland in 1618], did tell the prelates and their party, when they used this defense against the argument taken from binding the conscience, to wit, that if the bare authority of an ecclesiastical law, without any other reason than the will and pleasure of men, be made to restrain us in the use of things which are in themselves indifferent [as those ceremonies were often considered to be], then is Christian liberty taken away; and if so in things indifferent, how much more is it so in things necessary, such as keeping fellowship with the assembly of the saints in public prayers and praises, and eating and drinking at the Table of the Lord, and preaching the Gospel, etc., the practice whereof are things commanded of God unto persons duly qualified and instructed thereunto.

If it be said that these things cease to be obliging duties to such a person hic et nunc [here and now (in these circumstances)], and that the sentence of the Church commanding him to abstain, looses him from the obedience that he does otherwise owe unto the Commandment of God: we desire a warrant from the Scripture of Truth for such doctrine as that which prefers the commandments of men unto the Commandments of God, and say that it is better to obey men than God.  Shall the sole will and mere pleasures of men loose a man from the obligation he owes unto the Commandments of God?  If so, let us no more blame the Pope for dispensing with divine laws.  ‘I cannot abstain from taking Christ’s body and blood, or from preaching the Gospel,’ says the innocent man, unjustly sentenced, ‘because I am thereunto called and commanded of God.’  But says the synod or Kirk-judicatory, ‘We have commanded you to abstain, and therefore you should abstain, and [you] may be satisfied in your conscience so to do, because our command looses you from the Commandment of God.’  Hence a fourth argument:

4.  This submission concludes a man under a necessity of sinning against God by omitting those necessary duties that are commanded him of God, upon a non-relevant reason, to wit, the mere will and pleasure of men, to whom God has given no power against the Truth, but for the Truth; no power to destruction, but to edification [2 Cor. 13:8,10].

5.  If such a submission be due to the judicatories of the Kirk in matters of discipline and government, we do not see how it is not also due unto them in matters of doctrine and worship:

The authoritative and juridical power belonging to classes [presbyteries] and synods is threefold: dogmatic, diatactic and critic:

Dogmatic, in reference to matters of faith and rules of worship, which God has laid down and prescribed to us in His Word, and the inconsistency of heresies, errors and corruptions therewith.

Diatactic [of Order], in reference to external order and policy in matters circumstantial, relating to time, place and persons; the conveniency whereof is determinable by the light of Nature and Christian prudence, and the general rules of the Word; such as these, that we should do all to the glory of God, to the edification of the Church, and in order and decency, etc.

Critic, in reference to the repressing of scandal, error, heresy, schism, obstinacy and contempt, and preserving of the purity of the truth and holiness of conversation, and unity of judgment and affection in the Church of God, by exercising the spiritual censures of admonition, suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s-Supper, excommunication and suspension, and deposition from the ministry.

Now all these powers being authoritative, and in their determinations and exercise confined unto, and circumscribed within, the bounds of the Word of God for their rule, and being given to the Church for edification and not for destruction, we would desire from our Brethren a reason why the critic power should be more binding than the other?  Or, why submission is due to an unjust sentence proceeding from the critic-power, whilst it is not due to any erroneous or corrupt decree proceeding from the dogmatic or diatactic power?  Has God put more honor and respect upon the last than upon the two first?  Or has He given greater latitude in the exercise of the last nor of the two first?  Or is the last binding by the mere will and arbitrament of men, whilst the two first bind only when agreeable to the Word of God?

If our Brethren do so judge, we desire to know where these foundations of difference betwixt these powers are written, or what they do bring for them from the Book of God?  Or how in reason they can consist, when the last shall be contrary to the two first?  And if this submission be equally due to the judicatories of the Kirk in all the three, then if they shall determine that justification by faith alone is an error, that communion under both kinds [of bread and wine] is not necessary, that kneeling is a necessary gesture at the sacrament [of the Supper], that it is necessary to forbear working on Yule-day and to keep it holy, and such like; We are bound not to profess, nor preach, nor act contrary to these their determinations:

Which were to be ashamed of and to deny the Lord Jesus and His Word before men, and to bring upon our souls the dreadful Gospel-curse of His denying and being ashamed of us before His Father and the angels which are in Heaven, Mt. 10:33; Mk. 8:38; Lk. 26.

6.  But upon supposal that this submission were not due to the decrees of the Church in matters of doctrine, worship and external order, by virtue of the dogmatic and diatactic power in themselves, yet the asserting of it in matters of discipline shall also necessarily infer the asserting of it in matters of doctrine and worship, and external order.

The commissioners of the general assembly [of the Church of Scotland], 1650, did declare that a great company and faction of wicked men, sons of Belial, being subjects, may and ought, in the case of necessity, be employed in a Christian army and covenanted nation for the defense of religion and the country [these were the public Resolutions].  And the Assembly at St. Andrews and Dundee, in anno 1651, do, by virtue of their dogmatic-power, approve of and ratify this doctrine and declaration, and do withal by their critic-power appoint and ordain that whosoever will not submit to this determination, but shall oppose by professing or preaching otherwise, shall be proceeded against with the censures of the Kirk.

We ask whether these censures, being put in execution by suspension from the sacrament against these who profess otherwise, or by suspension or deposition from the ministry against those who preach otherwise: if this submission which is required (being given to these censures) will not necessarily infer that they must not continue to profess or preach anymore so: and if this by necessary consequence be not an absolute submission to the dogmatic-power as well as to the critic?

Or let us take it in the case of Athanasius, who was deposed and excommunicated for professing and preaching, and pleading Jesus Christ to be the consubstantial Son of God, or in the case of a person suspended from the sacrament or deposed from the ministry because of their professing and preaching against kneeling at the Communion [which was part of the Articles of Perth previously in Scotland and still occurred in the Church of England]:  Will not such submission to these sentences as excludes all counteracting, unless it be to appeal [at a higher Church court], necessarily infer submission to the decrees themselves, so as the person censured must be silenced and [must] not profess, nor preach, nor plead any more for the one truth, nor against the other error?

7.  To wave [pass over] a little that which concerns private and particular persons, we offer it to consideration whether inferior Kirk-judicatories are subordinate to the greater and superior simply and absolutely, because they are greater and superior, or because the inferior have no intrinsic power given them by Jesus Christ, but in and with subordination to the greater, because greater?

If so, it would seem that all the inferior judicatories of the Kirk, congregational-elderships, presbyteries and provincial synods must be fenced and act in the name, and by virtue of the authority derived from the general assembly, as all those civil courts that have no intrinsic power in themselves, but in and with subordination to the supreme civil magistrate, are fenced in his name and act by virtue of his authority.

[However,] Inferior Kirk-judicatories, being ordinances of Jesus Christ, have the promise made to them when they meet in His Name and do adhere to His Truth, Mt. 18:18-19.  And if so, shall the sentence of the superior judicatory, when wrong upon the matter, oblige them to submission?  If a presbytery, or a synod with the consent of the presbytery, do in an orderly way of procedure, cast out an heterodox and scandalous minister, must they, because the synod or general assembly does sustain his unjust appeal, be obliged in conscience again to receive him as a member of the presbytery or synod, and acknowledge him for a lawful minister of the Gospel; or, if they have in an orderly way of procedure admitted an able, orthodox, godly man to the ministry: must they, because the superior judicatory commands them so to do▪ cease to acknowledge him or own him for one of their number, or as a minister of the Gospel?

If so, it seems to be an ill-grounded truth that is commonly delivered by some divines, writing of synods, that the power of synods is not corruptive, privative, or destructive to the power of classical presbyteries or single congregations, but perfective, accumulative and conservative thereunto.

8.  What is denied jure [by law] to ecumenical councils, and so lawfully called prophets and ministers of the Gospel, to Nathan, to David, to Paul, to an angel from Heaven, Gal. 1:8, cannot warrantably be given to general assemblies.  If ecumenical councils, lawfully called ministers, if Nathan, if Samuel, if Paul, if an angel teach or decree but [except] according to the Word of the Lord, we are to counteract and to contradict, Gal. 1:8.  But though we or an angel from Heaven preach to you [in Greek] beside [apart from] what we have preached, let him be accursed, Gal. 1:8.  Therefore, etc.

9.  What is proprium quarto modo [proper by a four-fold way (that is, fully)] to the Scripture of Truth, it cannot warrantably be given to the judicatories of the Kirk, but not to be counteracted nor contradicted, is proprium quarto modo to the Scriptures of Truth, these being the only infallible rule in matters of doctrine, worship, discipline and government, Isa. 8:20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17.  Therefore it cannot be given to the judicatories of the Kirk; and to give it infers their infallibility and exposes our government to the calumny of sectaries, who say [that] we make synods as infallible as the Word of God.

10.  This [absolute submission] argues the Scripture’s of imperfection and sets up the necessity of human traditions, because every warrantable subordination and submission due to the judicatories of the Kirk must be given of Christ; but nowhere is it written in the Book of God that a general assembly has power given of Christ to teach and enact such points and doctrines, and inflict such censures as no man may or ought lawfully to counteract or contradict; Therefore, etc.

11.  This submission does infer that if a general assembly, lawfully convened, should enact the mass, and all the heresies of the Council of Trent, we may not preach, nor write [to] the contrary; for that is to counteract and contradict: But this is absurd; Therefore, etc.

12.  Sentences of Kirk judicatories, that are for the ground of them unjust and repugnant to the Word of God, are in themselves null, because all Church-power and authority is included in the Word of the Lord, and to be regulated according thereto, Isa. 8:20; 2 Cor. 13:8, 10, and what is null in itself cannot bind unto submission and subjection.  Therefore, when Kirk-judicatories act not in subordination to Jesus Christ, from and under whom they have all their power, they may lawfully be contradicted and counteracted.

13.  This submission is prelatical and introduces a lordly and absolute power and dominion in the Church of God over the flock and ministers of Jesus Christ.

It is indeed the very image and likeness of that subjection and submission that was required by prelates of entrants to [those entering] the ministry.  Bishop Spottiswoode [d. 1639], in his sermon at Perth Assembly [1618], tells his hearers that :

‘The sentence of superiors as long as it has the force of a constitution, though haply otherwise established than it can set forward godliness and piety, and that we be persuaded that such things are not right, nor well appointed, yet ought to direct us and is a sufficient ground to our consciences for obeying.’ (Narrative of the Proceedings of Perth Assembly, by Doctor Lindsay, p. 29)

And in the same place he gives this as the reason of his judgement:  ‘Except this be’ (says he) ‘there can be no order and all must be filled with strife and contention;’ the same thing that our [Resolutioner] Brethren now tell us, that they do not see how, without this submission, unity and and order can be continued in the Kirk.  Doctor Lindsay also himself, afterwards Bishop of Edinburgh, in his epistle to the pastors and ministers of the Church of Scotland, prefixed to his book of the proceedings of the assembly at Perth, tells us that where a man has not a law, his judgement is the rule of his conscience: but where there is a law, the law must be the rule.

And in the oath which was ministered to the entrants to the ministry in this Church by the prelates [before 1638], they make the entrants to swear that they:

‘shall live peaceable ministers in this Church, subjecting themselves to the orders that therein are, or shall be established, and that by all means that they can use, they shall procure others to the due reverence of the same; which things’ (says the entrant in that oath) ‘if we shall contravene (as God forbid), we are content upon trial and cognition taken, by our ordinary without all reclamation or gainsaying, to be deprived of our ministry and be reputed infamous and perjured persons forever.’

And to the same purpose there is in the [Prelate] Book of Canons and Constitutions Ecclesiastical for the Government of the Kirk of Scotland, ratified and published by authority, 1636, a canon appointing:  ‘That if any person in holy orders, lawfully suspended or deposed’ (that is, in their sense, suspended or deposed by his ordinary for transgressing any of these prelatical cannons):

‘shall presume to exercise any ecclesiastical function during the time of his suspension, or after he is degraded, let him be excommunicated and delivered to the •…y-power as incorrigible.’

Just so our [Resolutioner] Brethren will have the Protesting Brethren to engage and promise absolute submission to the sentences of the judicatories of the Kirk, whether just or unjust; and because they do refuse it, [they do] charge them with breach of their engagements at their entrance to the ministry, and [hold them] as subverters of the very being of the government.  And what they would do, if they had the civil-power to concur, is but too apparent from these hard representations they gave of them [the Protesters] to the civil-power in the year 1651, and shrewd hints and insinuations which they made thereupon.

14.  This submission is so far from being any part of catholic truth, much less of the essence and being of presbyterial government, that it seems to be a tenet purely Popish and Antichristian, and pleads for a government that is not presbyterian, but Popish and Antichristian:

Who knows not that the favorites and emissaries of the Sea of Rome do with might and main plead for this absolute and unlimited subjection and submission to the decrees and sentences of the Pope, wherein they are opposed by Protestant divines:

Debe excommunicatus, et si innocens (says a Popish author) aliorum consortia fugere et a sacris abstinere; igitur vnproprte Christi instrumentum dicitur Papa cum aliquae illius actiones, a Christo non impellantur nec acceptantur. – Andre Duvalius, in 22nd part, question 8

‘He that is excommunicate’ (says he) ‘albeit innocent, yet ought to shun the fellowship of others and to abstain from holy things; therefore the Pope is’ (says he) ‘improperly called Christ’s instrument, because some of his actions are neither impelled by Him, nor accepted of Him.’  So our [Resolutioner] Brethren will have a man that is suspended from the sacrament, or deposed from the ministry, or excommunicated, though unjustly, to abstain from the sacrament and from preaching, and from the fellowship of others, and from holy things: And whether this be in the dispensing of Church-discipline and government to be the instruments and ministers of Christ, or if it be not indeed to play the Pope and to set up ministers and servants above the Master of the House, we leave it to sober and unbiased men to judge.

15.  This unlimited submission leaves the Church destitute of all ecclesiastical remedies in the case of a general defection, and does open a wide door for making the government of the House of God degenerate into tyranny, and instead of being a mean[s] of purging and preserving of religion, to be a mean[s] of polluting and destroying the same, and persecuting and bearing down such as desire to keep their garments pure, whether ministers or professors [laymen]:

What is Tyranny? but when these that are in power will have inferiors, without gainsaying or counteracting, to yield subjection to their dictates and commands, though there be nothing but sic volo sic jubeo [‘thus I will; thus I command’], no reason of equity in them, but their own mere arbitrament and pleasure; or though there be iniquity and injustice in them, Dan. 11:36, and when subjection without gainsaying is not only required of private and particular men, but also of all inferior judicatories, and even of these that are clothed with lawful power and authority.

Was not this the State-tyranny that was formerly exercised and [plead?] for by the Malignant-party, to which there was public opposition made by defensive arms, that are generally acknowledged by all sober men, both politicians and divines, to be a lawful mean[s] of a people’s preservation from the mine that is threatened by tyranny?  And shall we now set up a Church-tyranny, the mere will and abitrament, yea, the unjust sentences of Church-judicatories, for laws, and require absolute submission thereunto, not only of private and single persons, but of all inferior judicatories, not allowing the congregational-eldership once to whisper against what is resolved by the presbytery, or the presbytery against what is resolved by the synod, or the synod against what is resolved by the general assembly.

If then the superior judicatories will tyrannize, what remedy is there? or if they become corrupt, how shall the ruin of religion, or the persecution and oppression of these who desire to keep faith and a good conscience, be avoided?  Have the ministers and saints and courts of Jesus Christ received religion and His ordinances upon these terms, that if a superior court will have it so, they shall all crouch down, as asses under the burden, and let them, without gainsaying (they being now cudgeled into silence by a sentence of suspension from the sacrament, or deposition or excommunication) ruin Church, and ministers, and ordinances, and professors [laymen], and all the precious interests of Jesus Christ; And shall we say that such a submission is required in this case, as though they ought to do nothing but weep and pray in secret?  How great tyranny is this, and how remediless a way to ruin?  And yet, this is the consequent of our [Resolutioner] Brethren’s opinion…”





Samuel Rutherford

Lex Rex  (1644), ch. 43, p. 222

“The French Confession [1559] says (article 40) ‘Ajjirmamus ergo parendumesse legibus et statutis, solvenda tributa, subjectionis denique jugum voluntarie tolerandum, etiamsi infideles fuerint magistrates, dummodo Dei summum imperium integrum et illibatum maneat. [Therefore we affirm that obedience must be yielded unto their laws and statutes, that tribute must be paid them, taxes and all other duties, and that we must bear the yoke of subjection with a free and willing mind, although the magistrates are infidels; so that the sovereign government of God may be preserved entire.]’

So clear it is that all active obedience is due to all magistrates, and that that yoke of passive obedience is to be tolerated but conditionally, with a dummodo [so that], ‘so as’ the magistrate violate not the supreme commandment of the King of kings; and
we know, accordingly, protestants of that church have taken defensive arms against their king.”


Sundry Presbyterian London Ministers

The Divine Right of Church Government, wherein it is Proved that the Presbyterian Government…  May Lay the Only Lawful Claim to a Divine Right, According to the Holy Scriptures  (1645; 1654; New York, 1844)  pt. 2, ch. 15, ‘Of the Subordination of Particular Churches to Greater Assemblies…’

“4.  It is granted that classical or synodal authority cannot be by Scripture introduced over a particular church in a privative or destructive way to that power which God has bestowed upon it; but contrarily it is affirmed that all the power of assemblies which are above particular congregations is cumulative and perfective to the power of those inferior congregations.

5.  It is granted that the highest ecclesiastical assembly in the world cannot require from the lowest a subordination absolute and at their own mere will and pleasure, but only in some respect; subordination absolute being only to the law of God laid down in Scripture.  We detest popish tyranny, which claims a power of giving their will for a law.  ‘Tis subjection in the Lord that is pleaded for: the straightest rule in the world, unless the holy Scripture, we affirm to be a rule to be regulated, peace being only in walking according to Scripture canon, Gal. 6:16.”


Guthrie, James

Protesters No Subverters…  (Edinburgh, 1658), pp. 9-10, 13

“…the authors thereof…  do not only continue to plead for that absolute and unlimited submission to the sentences of the Church-Judicatories [of the Church of Scotland] that was required by the resolution Brethren…  but carry it so high as to assert it to be of the very essence and being of presbyterial government, by which instead of the sweet and gentle yoke of Jesus Christ in that ordinance, as it is delivered unto us in His Word, they have labored (we fear) to introduce into the House of God a Kirk-government that is too nigh of kin to that which is popish, prelatical and tyrannical…

not only in order to the peace by them pretended, it being sadly suspicious that there is no good intention under the offer [of peace], when the stronger party does so much press the absolute submission of the weaker to all their sentences whatsoever, whether just or unjust;

…should so far mistake their own way, as to choose means destructive to their own ends;


Richard Baxter

A Christian Directory: a Sum of Practical Theology and Cases of Conscience  Buy  (1673), pt. 3, Christian Ecclesiastics, Question 132, ‘Is it unlawful to obey in all those cases where it is unlawful to impose and command?  Or in what cases?  And how far pastors must be believed and obeyed?’, p. 888

“Answer:  I must entreat the reader carefully to distinguish here:

2.  Between obedience formally so called (which is, when we therefore obey in conscience because it is commanded, and the commander’s authority is the formal reason and object of our obedience) and obedience material only, which is properly no obedience, but a doing the thing which is commanded upon other reasons, and not at all because it is commanded.

And so I answer:

4.  Many such things may be done materially on other reasons (as for the Church’s good, the furtherance of the Gospel, the winning of men to God, the avoiding of scandal, or of hurt to others or ourselves, etc.) when they are not to be done in formal obedience, out of conscience to the authority imposing (as if it be commanded by one that has no just power).”


Robert MacWard

The Banders Disbanded (1681), pp. 47-48

“XXVI.  …Yet the case may be, and often has been (and whither or no it be ours now [referring to Scotland in 1681], is not mine to determine) that a people may and ought to submit themselves to the government even of such a magistrate who either has injuriously usurped that office, or has so maleversed in the exercise thereof (by violating the main and most of the conditions upon which he was admitted to it) that his government is degenerat[ed] into a manifest tyranny and irreligion, and so has (de jure) fore-faulted his right to rule as a magistrate: I say the case of a people may be so circumstantiate [bound by circumstances], that they ought to subject themselves even to such a tyrant till the Lord clearly point forth to them a way, either from his written Word, or some extraordinary impulse and influence upon their spirits, or from indubitable grounds and persuasives of sound moral principles, or such like, whereby they may emerge from under that yoke.

Hereby I do not yield, nor assert, that it is lawful to give obedience to any unlawful commands, or that it is no ways lawful for a people to shake off the yoke of an unlawful and tyrannical government: but only that there may be some cases wherein it is lawful for a people to yield subjection to a lawless tyrant, and wherein it may be unlawful for them to perpetrate or attempt their own liberation by external force (which abstractly from those circumstances might be both lawful, laudable and a necessary duty), viz. when the thing attempted is either altogether impracticable, the means or manner of effectuating it dubious or unwarantable, the timing of it inexpedient and unseasonable, or the necessary concomitants or consequents of the cure more hurtful or dangerous than the disease; or the like:

Neither do I affirm that under a tyrannical government it is always or absolutely lawful for the people to give passive obedience (if such a form of phrase may be admitted which many explode as inaccurate and incongruous) but only that there is a time which may be called the proper season of suffering, that is, when suffering (in opposition to acting or resisting) is a necessary and indispensable duty.

XXVII.  As a man’s subjecting himself to a private robber assaulting and prevailing against him, is no solid proof of his approving or acknowledging the injury and violence committed by the robber; so in many cases a people or person’s yielding subjection (viz. in matters civil and external, for I always exeem [exempt] conscience and religion from subjection to any creature whatsoever) to a tyrant, i.e. a public robber, does not argue their acknowledging or approving his tyranny and oppression.

XXVIII.  As it is one thing to be subject to the magistrate for conscience sake [Rom. 13:5] and a far other to subject our conscience to the magistrate, that is, to be subject for his pleasure sake: So although we may lawfully submit our bodies and estates to the civil magistrate, and in many cases also to a tyrant; yet in no case can it be lawful for us to subject our conscience or religion to any magistrate or mortal, God Himself being the immediate and sole Sovereign Lord of both.”



Latin Article


Voet, Gisbert – ‘On keeping silent, governing the tongue and defense and vindication of a report’  in Select Theological Disputations, vol. 4  (Utrecht, 1667), 50. ‘A Syllabus of Questions on the Whole Decalogue’, p. 822



All Authority Given of God is Only unto Good, Truth & Edification, & None Unto Error & the Detriment of People



Aquinas – Article 2, ‘Whether the law is always something directed to the common good?’ [Yes]  in Question 90 of Summa pt. 2, pt. 1

“Consequently, since the law is chiefly ordained to the common good, any other precept in regard to some individual work, must needs be devoid of the nature of a law, save in so far as it regards the common good.”



Chemnitz, Examination, part 2, p. 121



Polanus, Syntagma, bk. 7, ch. 17

Gillespie, George – pt. 2, ch. 1, p. 8  of English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637)


Order of Quotes

J. Guthrie



George Gillespie

English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2, ch. 1, pp. 12-13

“…especially seeing his Majesty shall ever find that he has none more loyal and true subjects, who will more gladly employ and bestow their lives, lands, houses, holds, goods, gear, rents, revenues, places, privileges, means, moities and all, in his Highness’s service and mantainance of his royal crown; and moreover, have so deeply conceived a strong and full persuasion of his Majesty’s princely virtues, and much renowned propension to piety, and equity, that they will urge their consciences, by all good and lawful means, to assent unto every thing which he enjoins, as right and convenient; and when the just aversation [aversion] of conscience upon evident reasons is invincible, will notwithstanding be more willing to all other duties of subjection, and more averse from the least show of contempt.”


Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government…  (1646), p. 648

“6.  Hence follows that all actions and circumstances of their nature indifferent, must lose that indifferency and receive from God some goodness and aptness to edify before they can be the reasonable and nearest matter of any civil or ecclesiastical constitution;

Because what rulers can in law and reason command, that they must will as good and apt to edify before they can bind others to will it.  But neither the will of a ruler, nor the will of any other can lawfully will a thing indifferent, as it is such: For a thing indifferent, as it is such, is neither good nor evil, and the object of the will is always good.

3.  Rulers command as God’s ministers for our good, Rom. 13:4.  Ergo [Therefore], the means and actions enjoined for the compassing of this end must be good; for if the end be good, the means as the means must be good; Ergo, they cannot be indifferent.”


James Guthrie

Protesters No Subverters…  (Edinburgh, 1658)

p. 12

“…the great end for which government was appointed by Jesus Christ in His House, to wit, the edifying and building of His Body in those things that pertain to life and godliness…”


p. 96

“5.  That insofar as any of these [Church courts] do actually err and decline from the truth, they do insofar act without power and authority from Jesus Christ:  They can do nothing (of themselves, they may do, but not by His commission and warrant) against the truth, but for the truth, 2 Cor. 13:8.  The power which He has given them being to edification and not to destruction, 2 Cor. 13:12.”



Ought We to Obey Authorities in All Things which do Not Cause us to Personally & Immediately Sin?

See also our webpage On Arbitrary Laws & Commands.


Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government…  (1646), p. 656

“Objection [of Rutherford’s Opponents]:  In matters plainly determined by Scripture, rulers are to follow the Word of God; but in matters circumstantial or indifferent, where Scripture says neither for the one side nor for the other, what rulers think good is to be followed, there being no evil, nor impiety in that which they command.

[Margin Note:]  The will of rulers not a law to us in things indifferent.

Answer [of Rutherford] 1:  This is to make rulers in matters of salvation liable to the Scriptures of God, but in matters which men call indifferent, to make them Popes and to hang our consciences upon their sleeve, which is most absurd:

1.  Because Paul, in matters most indifferent of days and meats, would not have the Romans to hang upon his judgement, but will rule both their practice and his own by the Law of nature: murder not, scandalize not.

2.  What rulers think good is not a rule for constitutions and for people’s obedience in matters circumstantial; but the rule of rulers here in making laws, and of people in obeying laws, is goodness itself, order, decency, aptitude to edify, in things that they command; for it were strange if, in matters that they call ‘of salvation’, not [their] thoughts, but the Word of God should rule and square [regulate] canon-makers, but in matters indifferent, their thoughts should be a law.

3.  Scripture and the Law of nature and right reason, which is a deduction from Scripture, is able sufficiently in all canons and constitutions to regulate both rulers and people, and to determine what is convenient in circumstances; and the Lord here is an infallible Judge, speaking in his Word, as He is in all matters which they call ‘fundamental’; yea, the Scripture shall be imperfect in the duties of the Second Table if it do not determine what is active scandal, or soul murder, as it does determine what is idolatry, what is lawful worship [in the First Table].”


Richard Baxter

As quoted in George Morley, The Bishop of Worcester’s Letter to a Friend for Vindication of Himself from Mr. Baxter’s Calumny  (London, 1662)  no page numbers.

“In a disputation by writing, those of the other part [Richard Baxter and others] formed an argument, whose major proposition was to this sense…  ‘Whatsoever book [of law] enjoins nothing but what is of itself lawful, and by lawful authority, enjoins nothing that is sinful’.
We denied this proposition, and at last gave diverse reasons of our denial; amongst which one was that ‘It may be unlawful by accident, and therefore sinful’…

And I must confess I am still guilty of so much weakness as to be confident that ‘Some things, not evil of themselves, may have accidents so evil as may make it a sin to him that shall command them.’

Is this opinion inconsistent with all government?  Yea I must confess myself guilty of so much greater weakness as that I thought I should never have found a man on earth that had the ordinary reason of a man, that had made question of it; yea I shall say more than that which has offended, viz, ‘That whensoever the commanding or forbidding of a thing indifferent is like to occasion more hurt than good, and this may be foreseen, the commanding or forbidding it is a sin.’

I think Paul spake not anything inconsistent with the government of God or man when he bid both the rulers and the people of the Church not to destroy him with their meat for whom Christ died: and when he says, he hath not his power to destruction, but to edification; yea there are evil accidents of a thing, not evil of itself, that are caused by the commander: and it is my opinion that they may prove his command unlawful.”



On Active Resistance to Erroneous Church Courts

James Guthrie

Protesters No Subverters…  (Edinburgh, 1658), p. 23

“Have they [even the Resolutioners] not counteracted and been instrumental to cause people in congregations counteract to the determinations and sentences of their own presbyteries and synods?”



On Outward Submission to Infringements of Christian Liberty without Sufficient Reason

Prynne, William

A Brief, Pithy Discourse upon 1 Corinthians 14:40…  (London, 1661), pp. 13-14

“What was then the sin of Peter in resuming the practice of the ceremonies there [in Galatians 2]?

His sin was double.  First, the abuse of his authority in the Church, for, that unawares by his example, he com­pelled the gentiles to the use of such ceremonies as himself saw liberty to forbear amongst them; and which having never been commanded by God to them, he had no pow­er to impose on them.

His other sin was the dissembling or concealing of his Christian Liberty which he should then have stood upon, when he saw the false teach­ers urge these ceremonies upon the gentiles as well as upon the Jews, to the prejudice of their Christian Liberty.

When things that are indifferent are commanded to be done of necessity (as now all Popes, and prelates’ ceremo­nies are) then are not the same to be obeyed, because the same destroyes our freedom in Christ.

The sum of all this will lead us by the hand one step farther, namely; if it be a sin in Church-governors to command (especially upon strict penalty) indifferent, de­cent things, it will be a sin also in ministers and in pri­vate Christians to subscribe ex animo [from the soul], and to yield obedi­ence by conformity to such commands, although the ceremonies were as good (indeed) as they were pretend­ed (which I believe they are not) indifferent-decent-things.  For, does not such voluntary subscription and conforming to them build up our Church-governors, yea and with them (that which is most to be taken to heart of us, our soveraign civil governors also in the confidence) that such commandements are as well law­fully given by them, as received and obeyed, yea confirm­ed and allowed by us?

Now to build up or edify a brother to sin, is proper­ly to offend a brother; for the proper definition of an offence is that which edifies a brother unto sin, as the ori­ginal word expresses it (1 Cor. 8:10), and so to sin against a brother, is to wound his conscience; yea, and as much as in us lies, to cause him to perish for whom Christ died; which is no better than spiritual murder of his soul.

Now, if thus to edify any brother to sin be so heinous an offence, how much more heinous an offence is it to edify our governors to the giving and urging of such commandments, yea and to the sharp censuring of all others as refractory and factious persons, who choose ra­ther to undergo the loss of the greatest comforts they enjoy in this world than to wound the consciences either of themselves or of their governours?

It is true by forbearing obedience to those com­mandments we offend the spirits of our governors, and make them to be (though causelesly) offended with us; But by yielding obedience to these things we should offend their consciences in edifying them to sin, and pro­voke the Lord to be offended with them.  Better they be offended with us, without fault, than through our fault God to be offended with them and us.

It is not for Christians, much less for ministers, to re­deem outward peace and liberty at so dear a price as the hazzard of the blood of so many precious souls, especially of our governors in highest place and authority.  This was the author’s judgement with whom our martyr, Mr. William Tyndale concurs, in his Answer to Mr. Moore’s First Book, pp. 285-6.  Our prelates ought to be our servants, as the apostles were, to teach us Christ’s doctrine, and not to Lord over us with their own, Peter called it tempting of the Holy Ghost, Acts 15[:10], to lade the heathen with ought but that which necessity and brotherly love requires, and Paul rebuking the Corinthians and Galatians for their over much obedience, warns all men to stand fast and not to suffer themselves to be brought into bondage.”




“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

Gal. 5:1

“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances (…which all are to perish with the using) after the commandments and doctrines of men?”

Col. 2:20-22

“For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.  For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. 

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:  Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:  Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously…”

1 Pet. 2:19-23




Related Pages

Against Conformity to what is Not Right

The Right of Continued Protest unto the Truth

On the Ethics of Material Cooperation with, & Associations with Evil

How Far the Laws & Commands of Human Authorities Bind the Conscience

On Fleeing from Danger