On the Conscience

“For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.  But why dost thou judge thy brother?…  for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ…  So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Rom. 15:8-12

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Subsections

On How Human Laws Bind the Conscience & How They do Not

On Toleration & Pretended Liberty of Conscience

Cases of Conscience

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Order of Contents

Articles  2
Books  6
That the Ultimate Rule of Actions is God’s Word, Not Conscience
That Good Intentions do Not Make an Evil Work Good
On Maintaining a Good Conscience
On Wounded, Afflicted & Troubled Consciences
On a Scrupulous Conscience

On How Church Rulings Do & Don’t Bind
On Those who are Better Informed
On Requiring Blind & Implicit Obedience
On the Power of Authorities to Bind in Indifferent Things
On Non-Moral Actions, Ignorance, Fear & Guilt
On Obedience to Human Authority
On Conformity

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Articles

1500’s

Calvin, John – Institutes, bk. 4, ch. 10, sections 3-4, ‘The Nature of Conscience’ & ‘The Definition of Conscience Explained’

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1600’s

Dickson, David – Ch. 1, ‘Of Conscience in General’  in Therapeutica Sacra [Sacred Therapeutics], Showing Briefly the Method of Healing the Diseases of the Conscience, Concerning Regeneration  (Edinburgh, 1664), pp. 1-7

Dickson (1583-1662) was a Scottish covenanter.  See this Introduction by Fentiman to the work in general.

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Books

1500’s

Perkins, William – A Discourse of Conscience, Wherein is set Down the Nature, Properties & Differences Thereof: as also the Way to get and Keep Good Conscience  GB  (Cambridge: 1596)

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1600’s

Bernard, Richard – Christian See to thy Conscience: or a Treatise of the Nature, Kinds & Manifold Differences of Conscience…  (London, 1631)  450 pp.  ToC

Bernard (bap.1568-1642) was an English conforming puritan.

Ames, William – Conscience with the Power & Cases Thereof Divided into Five Books, bks 1-3  ([Leiden & London] 1639)  Here is bk. 3, ch. 1, ‘Of Obedience’ (EEBO has missing pages) which deals only with obedience to God (not to men).  Bks. 4-5 do not appear to be online.

Fenner, William – The Soul’s Looking-Glass, Lively Representing its Estate Before God with a Treatise of Conscience: Wherein the Definitions & Distinctions Thereof are Unfolded, & Several Cases [are] Resolved  (Cambridge, 1643)  212 pp.

Fenner (c.1600-1640) was a reformed puritan.

Sanderson, Robert – Bishop Sanderson’s Lectures on Conscience & Human Law, Delivered in the Divinity School of Oxford  (d. 1663; Oxford, 1877)  ToC  The first four lectures deal with the conscience generally.

Sanderson (1587-1663) was a reformed Anglican and casuist.

Sanderson, as was typical of the Anglican context, gets the answer to the bindingness of human laws wrong; he states at the end of the fifth lecture: “A human ruler does not oblige the conscience to obey the law, but God obliges the conscience to obey the human ruler, in all things not unlawful.”

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1700’s

La Placette, Jean – The Christian Casuist: or, a Treatise of Conscience  (London: 1705)  490 pp.  ToC

La Placette (1629-1718) was a French Huguenot minister.

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That the Ultimate Rule of Actions is God’s Word, Not Conscience

Quote

Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government…  (1646), p. 212

“God’s Word, not men’s persuasions of conscience (except in this also he be an Arminian) is the rule of men’s actions.”

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Articles

1600’s

Bernard, Richard – chs. 21-38  of Christian See to thy Conscience: or a Treatise of the Nature, Kinds & Manifold Differences of Conscience…  (London, 1631)

Bernard (bap.1568-1642) was an English conforming puritan.

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1700’s

La Placette, Jean – Bk. 3, ‘Of the Care which every man ought to take of his own Conscience’, chs. 3-5  of The Christian Casuist: or, a Treatise of Conscience  (London: 1705)

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That Good Intentions do Not Make an Evil Work Good

Quotes

Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government...  (1646), p. 215

“We all know the intention of the end goes in the intention before the action, but not as an essential cause to make an evil action good, or [to] make an indifferent action necessary and honest: A good intention does make a good action good and better, but that a good intention (as idolators are full of good intentions) can never so season the means, as…  that it can make evil to be good.

Vasquez condemns the Fathers of ignorance, because they said, Propositum bonum excusat malum opus [A proposed good excuses a bad work]: so Cassianus said [that] it was lawful to lie for a good end, and Chrysostom and Ambrose said the same, as Vasquez says: see Aquinas for this.”

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Robert Sanderson

pp. 76-77  of Case 4, ‘of Scandal’  in Nine Cases of Conscience Occasionally Determined  (London, 1678)

“2. The first [way in which a man may be guilty of scandal] is, when a man does something before another man, which is in itself evil, unlawful and sinful, in which case, neither the intention of him that does it, nor the event, as to him that sees it done, is of any consideration;

For it matters not whether the doer had an intention to draw the other into sin thereby, or not: neither does it matter whether the other were thereby induced to commit sin or not: the matter or substance of the action being evil, and done before others, is sufficient to render the doer guilty of having given scandal, though he had neither any intention himself so to do, nor were any person actually scandalized thereby; because whatsoever is in itself, and in its own nature evil, is also of itself and in its own nature scandalous and of evil example.

Thus did Hophni and Phineas, the sons of Eli, give scandal by their wretched profaneness and greediness about the sacrifices of the Lord, and their vile and shameless abusing the women, 1 Sam. 2:17,22.  And so did David also give great scandal in the matter of Uriah, 2 Sam. 12:14.  Here the rule is, Do nothing that is evil, for fear of giving scandal.”

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On Attaining & Maintaining a Good Conscience

1500’s

Perkins, William – A Discourse of Conscience, Wherein is set Down the Nature, Properties & Differences Thereof: as also the Way to get and Keep Good Conscience  GB  (Cambridge: 1596)

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1600’s

Ward, Samuel – Balm from Gilead to Recover Conscience, in a Sermon  (1616; London, 1618)

Ward (1577-1640) was an English puritan minister.  Ward’s four heads are:

1. What Conscience is.
2. What a good one is; how it may be discerned from bad ones and known to be good.
3. How good a thing it is.
4. What is the use, office and effect of a good one.

Sibbes, Richard – ‘The Demand of a Good Conscience’  a sermon on 1 Pet. 3:21  in Evangelical Sacrifices, in 19 Sermons...  (London, 1640)

Amyraut, Paul – The Triumph of a Good Conscience.  Or a Sermon Preached upon the 2nd of the Revelation, the latter part of the 10th verse.  Wherein the nature of faithfulness is in part opened, and the doctrine of perseverance confirmed, and some cases of conscience cleared  ToC  (London, 1648)

We do not have any bio info on this Amyraut (b. 1600 or 1601).

Stubbes, Henry – Conscience, the Best Friend upon Earth: or, The Happy Effects of Keeping a Good Conscience…  (London, 1677)  being 3 sermons

Stubbes (c.1605-1678) was an English presbyterian puritan that was ejected from the Church of England in 1662.

Durham, James – Heaven Upon Earth in the Serene Tranquility & Calm Composure, in the Sweet Peace & Solid Joy of a Good Conscience Sprinkled with the Blood of Jesus & Exercised Always to be Void of Offence Toward God & Toward Men: brought down and holden forth in 22 very Searching Sermons on Several Texts of Scripture…  (Edinburgh, 1685)

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On Wounded, Afflicted, Troubled & Burdened Consciences

On a Wounded Conscience

Bernard, Richard – ch. 45, ‘Of the Wounded Conscience, the Causes, the Continuance Longer or Shorter Time; the Effects & Preparatives to Cure it, of the Sovereign Salve, and Cordials After; how to keep from a Wounded Conscience, of the Difference Between it & the Desperate, & between it & Melancholic Passion’  in Christian See to thy Conscience: or a Treatise of the Nature, Kinds & Manifold Differences of Conscience…  (London, 1631), pp. 304-344

Bernard (bap.1568-1642) was an English conforming puritan.

Fuller, Thomas – The Cause & Cure of a Wounded Conscience…  (d. 1661; London, 1867)  123 pp.  ToC  The additional work appended to the volume is unrelated to this topic.

Fuller (c.1607-1661) was a reformed Anglican.

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On an Afflicted or Troubled Conscience

1500’s

Greenham, Richard

Propositions Containing Answers to Certain Demands in Diverse Spiritual Matters Specially Concerning the Conscience Oppressed with the Grief of Sin.  With an Epistle Against Hardness of Heart…  (Edinburgh, 1597)  ToC

Paramuthion, Two Treatises of the Comforting of an Afflicted Conscience…  with Certain Epistles of the same argument. Hereunto are added Two Sermons, with certain grave and wise counsels and answers…  (London, 1598)

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1600’s

Burton, Henry

Conflicts & Comforts of Conscience, a Treatise, Showing how the Conscience, in Cases of Deepest Distress & Distraction, may Recollect Itself, & Recover Solid & Sound Comfort  (London, 1628)

Burton (bap.1578-1648) was an English, Independent (though he switched his views numerous times), puritan.  Burton’s ears were cut off in 1637 for writing pamphlets attacking the views of Archbishop Laud.  He appears to write in this book from personal experience.

Conformity’s Deformity.  In a Dialogue Between Conformity & Conscience.  Wherein the Main Head of all the Controversies in these times concerning Church-Government is Asserted & Maintained…  (London, 1646)  27 pp.  ToC

Bolton, Robert – Instructions for a Right Comforting [of] Afflicted Consciences: with Special Antidotes against some grievous Temptations: delivered for the most part in the lecture…  EEBO  (London, 1631)  445 pp.  ToC

Downame, John – The Christian Warfare: Written Especially for their Sakes who are Exercised in the Spiritual Conflict of Tentations [Trials or Temptations], and are Afflicted in Conscience in the Sight & Sense of their Sins  4th ed.  (London, 1634)  ToC of pt. 1

Sedgwick, John – The Bearing & Burden of the Spirit, wherein the sickness & soundness of the soul is opened, and eight cases of conscience cleared & resolved for the settling & comforting of perplexed consciences  ToC  (London, 1639)

We do not have any bio info on Sedgwick (c.1600-1643).

Sibbes, Richard – A Consolatory Letter to an Afflicted Conscience Full of Pious Admonitions & Divine Instructions  (London, 1641)  6 pp.  The first half deals with an afflicted conscience; the second half argues against separatism.

Sibbes (c.1577-1635) was a conforming puritan.

Baxter, Richard – The Right Method for a Settled Peace of Conscience and Spiritual Comfort, in 32 Directions; Written for the Use of a Troubled Friend, etc.  (1653)  540 pp.  ToC

Dickson, David – Book 3  of Therapeutica Sacra [Sacred Therapeutics], Showing Briefly the Method of Healing the Diseases of the Conscience, Concerning Regeneration  (Edinburgh, 1664)  Use the links in the tables of contents to go the relevant chapter.

Dickson (1583-1662) was a Scottish covenanter.

Goodwin, Thomas – Certain Select Cases Resolved: I. A Child of Light Walking in Darkness, or a Treatise Showing the Causes by which, the Cases Wherein, and the Ends for Which, God Leaves his Children to Distress of Conscience, Together with Directions how to Walk so as to Come forth of such a Condition…  on Isa. 50:10-11  in Works, vol. 3, pp. 231-344

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On a Burdened Conscience

Collinges, John – A Cordial for a Fainting Soul, or, Some essays for the satisfaction of wounded spirits laboring under several burdens, in which several cases of conscience most ordinary to Christians, especially in the beginning of their conversion, are resolved: being the sum of fourteen sermons, delivered in so many lectures…  with a table annexed, containing the several cases of conscience which…  are spoken to directly or collaterally  ToC  (London, 1649)

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On a Scrupulous Conscience

Article

Calamy, Benjamin – ‘A Discourse about a Scrupulous Conscience, Preached…’  (London, 1683)  41 pp.

Calamy (bap.1646-c.1685) was reformed.

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On How Church Rulings Do & Don’t Bind

Articles

1600’s

Turretin, Francis – Question 31, ‘Does a legislative power properly so called, of enacting laws binding the conscience, belong to the church?  Or only an ordaining (diataktike) power, of sanctioning constitutions and canons for the sake of good order (eutaxian)?  The former we deny; the latter we affirm against the Romanists.’  under ‘Ecclesiastical Power’ in the 18th topic, ‘The Church’ in Institutes, vol. 3, pp. 285-293

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1700’s

La Placette, Jean – Ch. 10, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Ordinances’ & ‘Remarks on the 10th Chapter’  in The Christian Casuist: or, a Treatise of Conscience  (London: 1705). pp. 64-92

La Placette (1629-1718) was a French Huguenot minister.

“…if the laws of the Church obliged the conscience in such a [absolute] manner, as that the transgression of them were a sin, the observance of them would then be a good action…

…the persons against whom I dispute, pretend the violation of ecclesiastical laws to be therefore only sinful, because it implies an infraction of the law of God, who has commanded us to obey the Church: but if not to do what the Church enjoins be to violate the law of God, must it not be allowed, that to comply with her injunctions, is to observe the same divine law, and consequently to perform a good and virtuous act?…

Lastly, if ecclesiastical laws obliged the conscience, the Church would only have changed her yoke by the establishment of Christianity: she would still continue a slave; and the only difference would be, that whereas under the [Mosaic] Law her servitude was terminated with respect to God, she would now be in bondage to men…

…ever since the Reformation, it has been a particular controversy between the Romanists and us, whether ecclesiastical laws oblige the conscience, in other cases besides those of contempt and scandal.  The Church of Rome has declared for the affirmative; and Protestant authors, as well Lutherans as Calvinists, for the negative.

If any question this, let them give themselves the trouble of reading Bellarmine De Bonis Operibus [Of Good Works], particularly book 2, ch. 7 [‘Ecclesiastical Law Obliges the Faithful in Conscience…’], and the Brothers of Valemborch, tome 1, p. 183; tome 2, p. 187, among the papists; and among those of our communion, the supplement to Chamier, p. 375; Rivet’s Summary of Controversies [in French], tract 2, question 9 [‘Whether the Church may Make Laws?’]; [Jean] Mestrezat, Of the Church, Theses of Salmur, tome 1, disputation 1 [‘Whether Conscience to the Faith is Prior to that of the Church, or that to the Church is Prior to that of the Faith?’].  But this is not all, the Confession of Faith, published by the Reformed Churches of France, is express to the same purpose; see Article 33.  So that if I have gone too far in this respect, I have all the Protestant Churches for my vouchers.” – pp. 71-75

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Quotes

The Ten Theses of Bern  1528

The Mass was suspended in Bern, Switzerland in 1525.  Notable figures involved shortly thereafter in the Bern Reformation included Oecolampadius, Bucer & Capito.  These theses were drafted by Berthold Haller and Franz Kolb, and were revised by Zwingli.

in ed. Dennison, Reformed Confessions of the 16th & 17th Centuries…  vol. 1 (2008), pp. 41-2

“1.  The holy catholic church, whose sole head is Christ, has been begotten from the Word of God, in which also it continues, nor does it listen to the voice of any stranger.

2.  The Church of Christ establishes no laws or statutes beyond the Word of God.  Thus all traditions of men, which are called by us precepts of the Church, bind our consciences only insofar as they are founded, or have been commanded, in the Word of God.

3.  Christ alone is our wisdom, righteousness…”

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The French Confession  1559

ed. Dennison, Reformed Confessions (RHB, 2010), vol. 2, p. 151

Article 33

“But we exclude all human inventions and all those laws which are introduced to bind the conscience under pretense of God’s service.  And we do only reserve such as serve to keep up concord, and retain everyone, from the highest unto the lowest, in due obedience.”

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George Gillespie

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland…  (Edinburgh, 1641), pp. 152-3

“But may one say, if the decrees of a Synod concerning matters of faith or worship, may and ought to be examined by the sure rule of the Word of God, and only to be re­ceived when they do agree therewith; and if also the constitutions of a Synod in exter­nal circumstances do not bind, except ex aeque et bono [out of equity and with/by good], and propter justas mandandi causas [of commanding according to just causes]: or, as divines speak, in casu scanda­li & contemptus [in the case of scandal and contempt], and not for the mere will or authority of a Synod; and if therefore all Christians are by the private judgment of Christian discretion, following the light of God’s Word and Spirit, to try and examine all decrees and constitutions of any Synod whatsoever, to know whether they may law­fully receive the same, as our divines main­tain and prove against Papists.

If these things be so, it may seem contrary to Chri­stian liberty, and to the doctrine of Prote­stant writers, that Synods should exercise the foresaid critic power, or inflict any spiritual censures, at least upon those who profess, that after examination of the de­crees or constitutions, they cannot bee per­suaded of the lawfulness of the same.

Answer:

1.  Our divines, by those their tenets, mean not to open a door to disobedience and contempt of the ordinances of a Synod, but only to oppugne the Popish error con­cerning the binding power of ecclesiastical laws, by the sole will and naked authority of the law-maker, and that Christian people ought not to seek any further reason or motive of o­bedience.

2.  A Synod must ever put a dif­ference betwixt those who out of a real scruple of conscience, do in a modest and peaceable way, refuse obedience to their or­dinances, still using the means of their bett­er information, and those who contemptuously or factiously disobey the same, labouring with all their might to strengthen themselves in their error, and to persuade others to be of their mind.

3.  This objection does militate no less against ecclesiastical censures in a particular congregation than in a Natio­nal Synod…

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Samuel Rutherford

A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church Discipline Penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker…  (London, 1658), bk. 4, ch. 12, ‘Of the Magistrate’s Power in Convocating Synods’, p. 497

“…for neither magistrate nor people can be bound to follow the judgement of the Churches or ministry farther than they follow the rule of the Word; they follow their judgement conditionally, not absolutely and simply;

and it is a great calumny of Mr. [Henry] Burton and our [Independent] Brethren, that we lay bands on the consciences of prince and people to follow the acts and determinations of the Church, be they true or false: and that there is no place left to appeal to the next, or a better informed synod, and to the consciences of the collective Church of the godly judicious professors, and to protest and deny obedience to erring assemblies.”

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The Divine Right of Church Government  (London, 1646), Appendix, ‘An Introduction to the Doctrine of Scandal’, Question 5, p. 59

“…the Church ministerially does judge, so as the obligatory power is from the things themselves, not from the will of human superiors.  No necessity of peace which is posterior to truth, no necessity of obedience to authority, no necessity of uniformity in these externals, simply, and as they are such, are necessities obliging us to obedience: For things must first in themselves be necessary, before they can oblige to obedience.

I must obey superiors in these things of convenient necessity, because they are convenient, and most convenient in themselves, and so intrinsically most necessary, but they are not necessarily to be done in themselves, because I must obey superiors, and because I must keep uniformity with the Church.  The will of superiors do find in things necessity, and good of uniformity, but they do not make necessity, nor the good of uniformity:

We should be servants of men if our obedience were ultimately resolved in the mere will of superiors in any the least circumstance of worship: and what I say of actions, holds in matters of mere custom also.”

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On an Erring Council

Theodore Beza

‘Theodore Beza’s Confession (1560): A Brief & Pithy Sum of Christian Faith’, 5th Point, ‘Of the Church’, 12. ‘How Far We May Differ from Councils’  in Reformed Confessions of the 16th & 17th Centuries, ed. Dennison  (RHB, 2010), vol. 2, pp. 311-12

“St. Augustine says, ‘The church ought not to be preferred before Jesus Christ.  For He always judges truly; but the ecclesiastical judges often may deceive themselves and truly do so.’

For who condemned Jesus Christ?  A council lawfully assembled, if we consider that outward succession and appearance.  Who concluded that those who were baptized by heretics should be re-baptized?  A council in Africa where St. Cyprian was.”

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French

1600’s

Rivet, Andrew – Tract 2, Question 9, ‘Whether the Church may Make Laws?’  in The Orthodox Catholic Opposite the Catholic Papist, in Four Tracts, which Disputes are a Summary of All the Controversies of this Time touching Religion...  3rd ed.  (Saumur, 1616)

La Placette (1629-1718), a French Huguenot minister:

“…ever since the Reformation, it has been a particular controversy between the Romanists and us, whether ecclesiastical laws oblige the conscience, in other cases besides those of contempt and scandal.  The Church of Rome has declared for the affirmative; and Protestant authors, as well Lutherans as Calvinists, for the negative.

If any question this, let them give themselves the trouble of reading Bellarmine De Bonis Operibus [Of Good Works], particularly book 2, ch. 7 [‘Ecclesiastical Law Obliges the Faithful in Conscience…’], and the Brothers of Valemborch, tome 1, p. 183; tome 2, p. 187, among the papists; and among those of our communion, the supplement to Chamier, p. 375; Rivet’s Summary of Controversies [in French], tract 2, question 9 [‘Whether the Church may Make Laws?’]; [Jean] Mestrezat, Of the Church, Theses of Salmur, tome 1, disputation 1 [‘Whether Conscience to the Faith is Prior to that of the Church, or that to the Church is Prior to that of the Faith?’].  But this is not all, the Confession of Faith, published by the Reformed Churches of France, is express to the same purpose; see Article 33.  So that if I have gone too far in this respect, I have all the Protestant Churches for my vouchers.” – pp. 71-75  of Ch. 10, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Ordinances’ in The Christian Casuist: or, a Treatise of Conscience  (London: 1705)

Mestrezat, Jean – Disputation 1, ‘Whether Conscience to the Faith is Prior to that of the Church, or Whether Conscience to the Church is Prior to that of the Faith?’  in Of the Church  (Geneva, 1649)

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On Those who are Better Informed

George Gillespie

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland…  (Edinburgh, 1641)

pp. 108-9

“There be some that call in question the warrant and authority of classical presbyteries, of provincial synods and national assemblies, as they are used and maintained in the Church of Scotland.  I mean not the praelatical facti­on, whom we set aside, but even some who are as anti-episcopal as we are.  The scru­pulosity of such (at least of many such) herein [of the Independents] does (we conceive) proceed not from any perverseness of mind, but only from cer­tain mistakings, which better information may remove.”

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pp. 152-3

“A Synod must ever put a dif­ference betwixt those who out of a real scruple of conscience, do in a modest and peaceable way, refuse obedience to their or­dinances, still using the means of their bett­er information, and those who contemptuously or factiously disobey the same, labouring with all their might to strengthen themselves in their error, and to persuade others to be of their mind.”

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On Requiring Blind & Implicit Obedience

1600’s

Samuel Rutherford

Divine Right of Church Government (1646), p. 550

“Yet my sense is not that the magistrate can lawfully command obedience in matters of religion not understood or known by the subjects; that were to exact blind obedience; but my meaning is that the magistrate, as the magistrate, holds not forth his commandments to teach and inform the conscience, as pastors do, but he presupposes that his mandates are known to be agreeable to the Word of God, and proposes them to the subjects to be obeyed.”

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1800’s

James Bannerman

The Church of Christ, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1868), pp. 241-3

“Second, there are means of a most indispensable kind to be
employed in the way of explanation and instruction, counsel and
persuasion, to secure the convictions and concurrence of the
private members of the Church, in whatever act or declaration
the rulers, in the exercise of their judicial, or legislative, or administrative functions, may find it necessary for them to perform
or to adopt.

Without the use of such means to carry the conscience and understanding of the members of the Church along with them in all that they do and declare, the office-bearers are not at liberty to use or enforce their peculiar power at all.  And it is only when all such means have been employed and exhausted without effect, and when the members of the Church, so dealt with in the way of Christian persuasion and instruction, still refuse their concurrence, that it may be necessary and is lawful to use authority to strengthen the appeal, and to fall back upon the ultimate resource of all societies, — namely, the inherent right of the rulers to rule, and the no less inherent duty of the ruled to obey.

Fourth, there is yet another concession which it is necessary to make in regard to this matter, and which it is of some importance to note; and it is this, that the mere resistance to authority as authority alone, ought not to be made a ground for Church censure or punishment, when there is no moral or spiritual offence connected with the resistance.

Of course resistance to authority, even when that authority is put forth, as it sometimes may and must be, in enforcing a thing indifferent, may yet be associated with moral guilt on the part of those who indulge in it.  Such resistance may arise out of feelings of hatred to all restraint, or opposition of a malignant kind to all authority ; it may become contumacy, and as such involve moral blame.

But until resistance to authority becomes in one way or other morally wrong, when the consent of the members to the act or deed of the rulers is withheld from no cause in itself sinful, such want of consent or concurrence ought to be dealt with on the principle of forbearance in things indifferent, and not be visited with censure or penalty of an ecclesiastical kind.”

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On the Power of Authorities to Bind in Indifferent Things

William Ames

Conscience with the Power & Cases Thereof  ([Leiden & London] 1639), bk. 3, ch. 18, ‘Of Things Indifferent’, p. 89

“Question 3.  Whether indifferent actions differ nothing among themselves, but are all equally distant from good and evil?

7th Answer.  In their own intrinsic nature they differ nothing at all; but yet there are some which for the most part have evil circumstances annexed to them, and so bend more toward evil, and have an evil name, as to do the work of an accuser, the office of an hangman, etc.  Some there be also which for the most part have good circumstances, and so bend toward good, and have a good name, as, to till the ground, to follow our study diligently, etc.

Question 4.  Whether do things indifferent make any thing for order and comeliness?

8th Answer.  Whatsoever it is that of its own nature serves for order or comeliness, or edification, is not indifferent: for when they do participate [in] the nature of goodness, they are not in the middle betwixt good and bad.  And when they produce good, they must needs have some good force and efficacy in them: every thing brings forth its like.

Question 5.  Whether do indifferent things cease to be indifferent when any certain thing is set down concerning them, by such as are in authority?

9th Answer.  Nothing ought to be commanded, but that which is good, nor to be forbidden, but what is evil; That which is indifferent cannot simply, absolutely, and forever be either enjoined or forbidden; but commanded, as it draws near to good, forbidden, as it approaches to evil.”

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On Non-Moral Actions, Ignorance, Fear & Guilt

William Ames

Conscience with the Power & Cases Thereof  (1639), bk. 3, ch. 19, ‘Of a Voluntary Act’, p. 92-4

Question 2.  What are those things which make an action to become not voluntary.

4th Answer.  Nothing at all but either absolute violence of constraint, or chance which could not be foreseen or prevented.  And for such things as are done through absolute violence or mere chance, they have neither the nature of obedience or sin.  As if one should be forced to offer incense or bow the knee before an idol, or should merely by chance kill another, Deut. 19:5-10.

Question 3.  What are we to think of those actions which are done through ignorance?

5th Answer.  First, that ignorance which is in some sort a cause of the action (so that if a man knew what he did, he would not do it), if it be involuntary, both in itself and in its cause, that is, not affected nor procured, nor tolerated, does make the action merely casual and involuntary, and so excuses from sin.

6.  Secondly, ignorance of the Law does never wholly excuse, because all men are bound to know the Will of God: but yet it does somewhat lessen the fault if it be not affected, 1 Tim. 1:13; John 4:41; Acts 3:17.  But if it be affected, it is of itself a sin and so does not diminish, but rather increase the guilt of other sins, 2 Pet. 3:5.

7.  Thirdly, an ignorance of the fact, if a man has used such diligence as he ought, does excuse him, because by such an ignorance the fact is made casual.  So Jacob being deceived lay with Leah, whom he took to be Rachel, Gen. 29.  But if due diligence have not been used, ignorance of the fact does not altogether excuse, although it do somewhat lessen the fault.  And this seems to have been the case of Abimelech, Gen. 20:5.

Question 4.  What are we to judge of those actions which are done through fear?

8th Answer.  First, fear does not simply make an action involuntary: but does, considering the circumstances of time and place, etc., impel a man to will this or that.  As appears in that known instance of the merchant, who is induced through fear of death to throw away his merchandise into the sea.  Fear therefore does never wholly excuse from sin: yea more, fear itself is oft a sin forbidden, and a cause too of most grievous sins, Mt. 10:26; Phil. 1:28; 1 Pet. 3:14; Apoc. 21:8.  Although therefore, a great fear or terror, such as is wont sometimes to trouble even a man of good courage before men, be accounted for a good excuse, and is of force to make contracts done through fear void, yet before God such an excuse will not be taken.

9.  Secondly, yet that sin which is committed through some strong terror, is not so grievous (if other things be alike) as that which is committed of the voluntary inclination of the will without any such fear of danger, because in fear the temptation is stronger: and such a fall, if repentance follow, does proceed not so much from malice, as from infirmity and perturbation.  And this was Peter’s case when he denied Christ.”

Question 6.  What are we to judge of those actions which are done through inadvertency or through not minding of what we do?

11 Answer.  Inadvertency or mindlesness is of the same nature with ignorance: because it differs not from it, but only as the privation of an act does differ from the privation of a disposition.  Inadvertency therefore is itself often a sin and is opposed to watchfulness.  At such a time therefore as we are bound to watch and attend, if we watch not and attend, not we may be rightly said to will this watchfulness, not to will it, yea to will our inadvertency, Isa. 1:3.

12.  Again this inadvertency is sometimes voluntarily chosen in itself, Amos 6:10.  Sometimes it is voluntarily chosen in its cause, Mt. 13.

Question 7.  How are we said to will a thing in its cause?

13th Answer.  When we do will something upon which another thing follows.  He which will be present at immoderate drinkings may be said to will drunkenness.  He which willingly gives himself to sleep and idleness, may be accounted guilty of a willing neglect of the duties of his calling.  He which will please men may be said with his will to displease God, Gal. 1:10.”

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On Obedience to Human Authority

Books

Du Moulin, Pierre – A Vindication of the Sincerity of the Protestant Religion in the Point of Obedience to Sovereigns: Opposed to the Doctrine of Rebellion, Authorized & Practiced by the Pope and the Jesuits. In Answer to a Jesuitical Libel Entitled, Philanax Anglicus  (London, 1679)  148 pp.  There is no table of contents.

Baxter, Richard

The Second Part of The Non-Conformists’ Plea for Peace being an Account of their principles about Civil and Ecclesiastical Authority and Obedience…  (London, 1680)  ToC  The book ends with ch. 11, even though the ToC has 14 chapters.  Ch. 3, ‘Of the Power of Kings & the Peoples’ Obedience’ is not recommended.

Obedient Patience in General; and in 20 Particular Cases, with Helps to Obtain & Use it…  (London, 1683)  ToC  The main emphasis of this work is on patience, or patient obedience in suffering wrong.

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On Conformity

Henry Burton

Conformity’s Deformity.  In a Dialogue Between Conformity & Conscience.  Wherein the Main Head of all the Controversies in these times concerning Church-Government is Asserted & Maintained…  (London, 1646), pp. 11-14, 23-4

“For this mystery of iniquity [of conformity] had its first rise even in the apostles’ times, it began then to work.  And what was this mystery of iniquity, but an exaltation of man’s power above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so as to sit upon, or over, or in the Temple of God, over the consciences of God’s people, and over the Church as God Himself?

And note there also, it is called an ‘apostasy’, or (as Tit. 1:14) a turning away from, or of the truth (as afore) and such are adversaries too, and all Antichristian.  Such an one was Diotrephes; that [in Greek], who loved the preeminence (the very spawn of this mystery) which sets him a work to raise himself:

1. In not receiving the apostle John;
2. In prating against him with malicious words;
3. In not receiving the brethren;
4. In forbidding those that would;
And 5. In casting them out of the Church.

Thus also did this mystery begin to work, as the apostle intimates both in Tit. 1:14 and in Col. 2:8,17,18, 20, 22, 23.  But then this mystery was but in the swadling clouts, which afterward growing by degrees to the full stature, was so bedecked with infinite varieties of ceremonies, and daily new fashions in religion (as the crow with every bird’s feather) that getting an unlimited, usurped power, and that under the color of Jure Divino [by divine right], all men’s consciences, churches must conform to the present fashion of worship and Church-government.

Thus by degrees this Mystery of iniquity mounted to its height, and has now obtained such a prescription of antiquity, as is equivalent to a law.  And not only the Pope claims and exercises this power over his whole Popedom and Hierarchy, but from him our late Prelates.  And whence, or from whom you derive this very power, unless immediately either from the Pope or from our late Prelates, whose personal Prelacy you have abandoned, saving their Prelatical spirit and usurped power: or else from the antiquity of this mystery; you may do well to inform us.

And in truth, this was that very sluice, which when first opened, did let in that inundation and deluge not only of will-worship, in all kind of ceremonies and superstitions, but also of human forms and frames of Church-government, and in all of them such a tyrannical power over all consciences and Churches as has wholly drowned all; so as Christ’s Dove can nowhere find where to set her foot.  And therefore in this time of pretended Reformation, to erect this great idol, to wit, a power in man to prescribe laws and to legitimate commandments for worship and Church government, and to press them upon every man’s conscience: what is it, but with Nebuchadnezzar to erect his golden image and with an immortal law of the Medes and Persians, to bind all men to fall down and worship it?

Or what is it, but with Jeroboam and his counsel (and so in every alteration of the State) to set up the golden calves with a strict commandment of universal conformity; none daring among all those Ten Tribes openly to profess the pure worship of God, saving the prophet Eliah, to whom those seven thousand were not known.  And therefore God rooted out Jeroboam’s house; and did the Tribes escape scot-free for their yielding willing obedience to the commandment of the king’s counsel, though it were a public act of State?  Was not Ephraim oppressed and broken in judgement because he willingly walked after the commandment?

For God set wicked kings over them, who oppressed and brake them in judgement, tyrannizing at their pleasure.  As always where a people is brought under the spiritual yoke of bondage, they are never free from the temporal.  Nor only this, but they were carried into perpetual captivity and never returned unto this day.  An example to be laid to heart both of rulers and people.

Remember Ephraim therefore, the horribleness of whose sin appears by the horribleness of the punishment.  And like to this is that of Jerusalem and of the Jews.  They said indeed, ‘If we thus let Him alone, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.’  No, blind Jews, because ye did renounce your King Christ, and so envy the people’s salvation, therefore the Romans came and took away both your place and nation.

And how did the Jews reject this their King?  Christ tells us in a parable of a nobleman, Luke 19, saying (v. 14), But his citizens hated him and sent a message after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’  Where note:

First, they were such as professed to be the people of God, His citizens.

Secondly, the ground of their refusal of Him to be their king was hatred of Him, and so to refuse Him is to hate Him.

Thirdly, the manner of their refusal:

1. They sent a message after Him (as the vulgar translation renders it), but the original is, ‘They sent [in Greek] an ambassage after Him,’ which is more then a message.  It must be done by a public act of State, to make all cock-sure.

And 2. the matter of the ambassage, ‘We will not have this man, or this fellow ([in Greek]) this, noting their contempt of Him.  And the reason hereof was their will: ‘We will not.’

But what was the issue?  Read and mark it, v. 27, where Christ not long after returns in judgement against them, which He executes by those very Romans whom they so feared, to whom He gives this commission: ‘But those mine enemies that would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them, etc.’ which was done accordingly.

Such as conform to a State religion, or a State church-government, make that the supreme law and lord over their conscience, and so exclude Christ’s supremacy.  Enough is said of that.  But you cut me off from what I was about to add:

Man’s nature is too prone to idolize the Power so, as to make it as the shadow of the bramble, in Jotham’s parable, under which to ease themselves of the labor to search into the Scriptures and so to come to know what they believe; most men pinning their religion upon the sleeve either of the priest, as the Papists do, or also of the magistrate, as our common Protestants do, wrapping all up in an implicit faith and blind obedience, according to your Remonstrance that urges conformity to the religion and government of Christ already established, or which shall be set up.

Thus it was enough for the Pharisees to say, ‘We have a law, and by that law Christ ought to die.’  Thus Christ must not be God, because the Roman Senate, according to their law formerly made, had not first motioned it, or passed their vote for it, before Tiberius Caesar had commended it to them, namely to admit of Christ into their pantheon to take place among their gods.  And is it not even so with us?  Must not Christ be King of the Jews, only because by an act of State (as before) they will not have this man to reign over them.  And Christ must not be God, because the Roman Senate had not pre-resolved it.  And so Christ must not be sole Lord over the conscience, nor sole Lawgiver of his Church, nor his Word the sole rule of worship and of Christ’s Kingly government of his spiritual Kingdom in the conscience, and Churches of the saints, nor indeed Christ’s kingdom-spiritual, because the Sate has made a law which must rule the conscience in point of forms of worship and of Church-government, that Christ’s kingdom must be worldly…”

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Related Pages

Ethics

Man – The Image of God

Natural Law

The Right of Continued Protest

The Scottish Protester-Resolutioner Controversy