That the Mere Will, Determination, Judgment or Saying So of Authorities is an Insufficient Ground of Faith & Obedience, & that Authorities are Never to Act or Require Something without a Naturally, Morally or Spiritually Sufficient Reason, & that Manifest to Consciences

“And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’…  And Joab said unto the king, ‘…but why doth my lord the king delight in this thing?’  Notwithstanding the king’s word prevailed against Joab…  And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel…  So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel…  and there died of the people…  seventy thousand men.”

2 Sam. 24:1-4,15

“Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.”

Mt. 23:10

“And they wrote letters by them after this manner: ‘The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren…  Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls…  It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you…  For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things, that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.  Fare ye well.”

Acts 15:23-29



“All human laws are, properly speaking, only declaratory.”

Edmund Burke




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

On Arbitrary Laws

On Implicit Faith & Obedience

On Positive Laws & Ordinances

On the Ordinances, Order & Policy of the Church

On the Conscience



Order of Contents

That this Principle Applies to All Authorities
Order of Quotes
Quotes  20



That this Principle Applies to All Authorities

Latin Article

Voet, Gisbert – Ecclesiastical Politics  (Amsterdam, 1663-1676), vol. 4, pt. 3, bk. 4, Tract 1, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Power’, 7. Of the Legislative Power of the Churches, 5th Question, Response 3, pp. 796-97



Order of Quotes






La Placette


Free Church of Scotland





John Calvin

Institutes, bk. 4, ch. 10

“…still I deny that they have been set over believers as legislators to prescribe a rule of life at their own hands, or bind the people committed to them to their decrees. When I say this, I mean that they are not at all entitled to insist that whatever they devise without authority from the Word of God shall be observed by the Church as matter of necessity.

Since such power was unknown to the apostles, and was so often denied to the ministers of the Church by our Lord himself, I wonder how any have dared to usurp, and dare in the present day to defend it, without any precedent from the apostles, and against the manifest prohibition of God.”



Charles Ferme

A Logical Analysis of Romans  (†1617) on Rom. 13:5, p. 293.  Ferme (1565-1617) was a reformed Scottish divine.

“From this it follows, that subjects are no farther bound to obey the magistrate because of conscience, than in as far as he himself presides and enjoins with a good conscience, and on the authority of the Word of God:


George Gillespie

Miscellaneous Questions (no date), Ch. 15, ‘Of Uniformity in Religion, Worship of God and Church Government’, p. 83

“The Prelatical conformity… Their way was destructive to true Christian liberty both of conscience and practice, compelling the practice, and conscience itself, by the mere will and authority of the law-makers.

Obedite praepositis [obey in those things having been put forth] was the great argument with them to satisfy consciences: Sic volo, sit jubeo, sic pro ratione voluntas [Thus I will; I may so command; thus the will for the reason].  We say that no canons nor constitutions of the church can bind the conscience nisi per et propter verbum Dei, i.e. except insofar as they are grounded upon and warrantable by the Word of God, at least by consequence, and by the general rules thereof…”


English-Popish Ceremonies (1637)

Pt. 3, Ch. 7, Sections 7, pp. 131-3

“If the Church prescribe anything lawfully, so that she prescribe no more than she has power given her to prescribe, her ordinance must be accompanied with some good reason and warrant given for the satisfaction of tender consciences… It becomes not the spouse of Christ, endued with the spirit of meekness, to command anything imperiously, and without a reason given…

Tertullian’s testimony is known (in Apologet.): Nulla lex, etc.  ‘…Moreover, it is a suspected law which will not have itself to be proved, but a wicked law, which not being proved, yet bears rule.’…

Neither can the Church prescribe anything lawfully which she shows not to have been convenient, even before her


Pt. 3, ch. 8, Digression 3, ‘Of the Judging of Controversies and Questions of Faith’, p. 176-7

“There is a twofold judgement which discerns and judges of Faith.  The one absolute, whereby the most high God, whose supreme Authority alone, binds us to believe whatsoever He propounds to be believed by us, has in his written Word pronounced, declared and established what He would have us to believe concerning Himself, or his worship.

The other [is] limited and subordinate: which is either public or private.  That which is public, is either ordinary or extraordinary.  The Ministerial or subordinate public judgement, which I call ordinary, is the judgement of every pastor or doctor, who by reason of his public vocation and office, ought by his public ministry to direct and instruct the judgments of other men in matters of Faith.  Which judgement of pastors and doctors is limited and restricted to the plain warrants and testimonies of Holy Scripture (Junius, Cont. 1, bk. 3, ch. 4, note 17), they themselves being only the ambassadors of the judge, to preach and publish the sentence which He has established, so that a pastor is not properly judex [a judge] but index [an informer].

The subordinate public judgment, which is extraordinary, is the judgement of a council, assembled for the more public and effectual establishment and declaration of one or more points of faith and heads of Christian doctrine, and that in opposition to all contrary heresy, or error, which is broached and set a foot in the Church. (M. Ant. De Dom. de Rep. Eccl., bk. 7, ch. 3, n. 32)  From which council, no Christian man who is learned in the Scriptures may be excluded, but ought to be admitted to utter his judgement in the same.  For in the indagation [investigation] or searching out of a matter of faith, they are not the persons of men which give authority to their sayings, but the reasons and documents which every one brings for his judgment.

The subordinate judgement, which I call private, is the judgment of discretion (Davenant, Of the Judge of Controversies, ch. 25; Junius, as above), whereby every Christian, for the certain information of his own mind and the satisfaction of his own conscience, may and ought to try and examine, as well the decrees of councils as the doctrines of particular pastors, and insofar to receive and believe the same as he understands them to agree with the Scriptures.”


Pt. 4, ch. 3, pp. 10-11

“…but we say withal that neither may the Church command the use of things indifferent, suo arbitratu [according to its judgment].  Both, she in commanding and we in obeying, must be guided by the rules of Scripture.”


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

pp. 127-8

“…we accurse the tyranny of prelates, who claimed to themselves an autocratoric power over congregations, to whom they gave their naked will for a law.”


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 good], and propter regula mandandi causas [due to 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… as our divines maintain and prove against Papists.

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.”


111 Propositions

“91.  For the national synod ought to declare, and that with [the] greatest reverence, to the Magistrate the grounds of their sentence, and the reasons of their proceedings when he demands or enquires into the same, and desires to be satisfied: but if the Magistrate nevertheless do dissent, or cannot by contrary reasons (which may be brought, if he please) move the synod to alter their judgement, yet may he require and procure that the matter be again debated and canvassed in another national synod, and so the reasons of both sides being throughly weighed, may be lawfully determined in an Ecclesiastical way.”


Samuel Rutherford

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience…  (1649), ch. 2

p. 34

“That a man should duly, and as he ought, believe and receive the decision of a synod, it must be both true, and he must believe and know that it is true…”


p. 38

“…that before laws be made that concern the conscience, there should be a reference of all made to the people, and they acquainted with reasons from the Word of God before a decision we shall not condemn…”


p. 48

“…nor can it be said that church-censures are spiritual punishments and so work on the spirit and have instructing, rebuking and exhorting going before, but the sword is a bodily punishment, and has not instructing going before.

For I answer [that] though these two punishments differ, yet they agree that formally both are alike compulsory of the conscience, and neither of them act upon the spirit by teaching and instructing as the Word does, so as excommunication of a heretic should have instructing and convincing going before, so should also the Magistrate presuppose, before he strike with the sword, that the false teacher has been instructed and convinced, and so he does formally punish him with the sword for his pertinacious perverting of souls.”


A Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist… (London, 1648), ‘A Brotherly and Free Epistle…’, no page numbers

“But, 2. All the power and authority of synods we conceive to be ministerial, not lordly, limited, regulated by the only Word of God in the Scripture, and in matters circumstantial, of order and decency, as time, place, persons… by the law of nature, rules of piety, charity, and Christian prudency, for the edification of our brethren and the glory of God;

And a lawful synod we judge has power ministerial from Christ…  commanding in the Lord…  are to be obeyed, and the conscience submitted to them, not absolutely, not for the sole will and mere authority of the heralds, as if they were infallible, not with blind obedience, not without reclamation, or appeal, if they be either contrary or beside the scriptures, but conditionally in so far as they are agreeable to the Word of God…”


The Divine Right of Church Government… (1646)

Ch. 2, Question 2

p. 205

“Out of all which, I conclude that no law as a law does oblige the conscience, but that which has from the matter moral equity, and not from the intention of the lawgiver, as Cajetan, Silvester, Angelus and Corduba teach, which intention must take a rule from the matter of the law, and not give a rule.

Gerson, no law (says he) is a law to be called as necessary to salvation (as all good laws should be) but that which de jure divino, is according to God’s law… And therefore his [Durandus’s] mind is that all obligation of conscience in human commandments comes from God’s will and law, that is, from the just and necessary matter of the law, not from the will of men.”


p. 208

“…for rulers in making laws, and creating by their sole pleasure goodness-moral in particular matters without the Word of God, are not God’s servants, nor is human authority as human, the nearest cause of obligation of conscience, instamped in these laws, nor is it the cause at all, and therefore to resist them, is not to resist God.”


p. 582-83

“9.  We grant when any complains to the magistrate that they are oppressed in judgement by the Church, that the Church is obliged to give an account of their doings, but that from common charity, to remove the scandal, and that they owe to all Christians, as may be evidently collected from 1 Pet. 4:15; but this will not prove a subordination to common Christians as to judges, nor yet to the Magistrate.

2.  The Magistrate, when his judging is deemed scandalous, is to give an account to the preachers of the Gospel, who watch for his soul: as King Saul gave an account to Samuel (with a false apology, I grant) that he had obeyed the commandment of the Lord; but if Saul had been faultless in sparing Agag and the cattle, yet was he obliged to give an account to Samuel.  But that will not prove that King Saul was subordinate to Samuel to be judged of him, because prophets are but servants and ministers to declare God’s will, yet is it all the subordination that we require in this, according to that, ‘And the people believed the Lord and Moses.’


pp. 595-9

“Calvin, Beza, yea, all our writers condemn blind obedience as

…concerns his conscience, knowing that he must do it in faith as he does all his moral actions; Ergo [Therefore], the magistrate must examine what he practices in his office, according to the Word, and must not take it upon the mere authority of the Church, else his faith in these moral acts of his office should be resolved ultimately on the authority of the Church, not on the Word of God, which no doubt is Popery; for so the warrant of the magistrate’s conscience should not be, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ but ‘Thus saith the Church in their decrees.’

2. It’s against Scripture and reason that… all others, should obey the decrees of the Church with a blind faith, without inquiring in the warrants and grounds of their decrees, which is as good Popery as magistrates and all men are to believe as the Church believes with an implicit faith; so ignorance shall be the mother of devotion; Whoever impute[s] this to us, who have suffered for non-conformity, and upon this ground, that synods can err…

Thus they are servants and slaves who are obliged to follow the judgment of councils absolutely, without limitation; and because they say it, whether they warrant their decrees by the Word of God or not, that is a true major proposition: But now the assumption is most false, for neither magistrates nor any other are to follow the judgment of the Church absolutely, without limitation, and because they say it.”


pp. 648-9

“If then nothing be good [simply] because rulers command it; but, by the contrary, they do lawfully command it because it is good.  The Church’s power is one and the same in things indifferent, and necessary in matters of doctrine, discipline and order; for in both, the Church does not create goodness, but does by the light of the Word, or (which is a part of the Word) by nature’s light, find preexistent goodness in doctrine, discipline, and matters of order.

Therefore, will of authority, as will, has no power to dispose of the east circumstance of time, place or person; but the Church’s power is ministerial and determined to what is good, expedient and convenient.”


p. 652

“Necessity of obeying the Church can make nothing necessary and good, for the Church commands it because it is necessary and good and it has not goodness, necessity and aptness to edify from men’s will and the Church’s commandment.”

“3. It is strange divinity, ‘That that which is no sin, of itself,
cannot be omitted without sin for the sole will and pleasure of men.’ [As the prelates argued]”


Appendix, ‘An Introduction to the Doctrine of Scandal’

Question 4, p. 43

“6. If matters in their expediency be questionable and probable on both sides, the Church’s determination should end the controversy (say the [prelate] Doctors), this is the doctrine of the Jesuits, Suarez, Thomas Sanches and Gregory de Valentia, as I show[ed] before…

…when a thing is probable and I be resolved in conscience against neither of the sides, and fear the one side be [a] murdering him for whom Christ died, which is against God’s commandment, and know that human authority commands the contrary and am persuaded it is indifferent and a positive commandment of men: if the Church’s determination be here to sway my conscience to practice, is to me blind obedience for human authority, as it is such, gives no light. Ergo [therefore], it [the Church’s judgment] cannot remove my doubting and beget faith…

7. Our [Prelatist] Doctors say [that] our way is against the peace of the Church: But I answer [that] their way is Popish and against the truth of God in commanding our consciences to rest upon the wicked will of men.”


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.”


p. 84

“The Jesuits, and Popish doctors, as they are of a large conscience in many things: so in the doctrine of scandal, to extol obedience to men so high as we may do things in themselves not necessary, yea [in things] that have no necessity but from the will of commanders; and Formalists in this conspire with them, even though from this do flow the ruin of many souls… the scandal ceases not to flow kindly [in kind] from the pretended obedience to an unlawful command, for the thing commanded, having no necessity but the will of man, is unlawful…”


Lex Rex… (1644), p. 150

“Obedience is relative to a precept, and it is men-service to obey a law, not because it is good and just, but upon this formal motive, because it is the will of a mortal man to command it.”


A Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist… (1648), pt. 2, ch. 64, p. 121

“1. As an arbitrary command is not properly a command, but rather a will-counsel and free advice that one friend gives to another, so that the friend refusing the counsel, sins against no Law…”


James Guthrie

Protesters No Subverters… (1658), pp. 96-7

“7. That the same Lord, who has commanded us not to despise prophesying, 1 Thess. 5:19, has also commanded us to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good, ver. 20. And no[t] to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits, whether they be of God, because many false prophets are gone forth into the world, 1 Jn. 4:1. And that whatsoever is not of faith is sin, Rom. 14:15. And that we ought not to be the servants of men, 1 Cor. 7:23. That is to do things (especially in the matters of God) for which we have no other warrant, but the mere pleasure and will of men, which the apostle Peter calls living to the lusts of men, and not to the will of God, 1 Pet. 4:2.”


James Durham

The Dying Man’s Testament...  (1659), pt. 2, ch. 2, p. 69

“…this exercise of discipline for restraining of scandals is to be subservient to the preaching of the Word: which is the main and great edifying ordinance; Therefore discipline would be ordered so as it may not mar, but further that.  In reference to which, these things are to be adverted to:

1. That no censure would be blindly or implicitly made use of, but both in reference to the party, and others, there would be instruction, exhortation, conviction, etc. by the Word, going before, or alongst with the same.  In which respect (though improperly) censures may be some way looked upon as sacraments in a large sense in these particular cases, because there is in them both some signifying and confirming use; They being considered with respect to the end wherefore they were appointed.”


Gisbert Voet

Ecclesiastical Politics  (Amsterdam, 1663-1676), Vol. 4, pt. 3, bk. 4, Tract 1, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Power’, 7. Of the Legislative Power of the Churches, 5th Question, Response 2, p. 796

“This is brought forth in that text of the apostle, 2 Thess. 2:13, ‘because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.’

[Power of rule and discipline is] to ministers [antecessoribus, those who come before] because in the name and power of Christ they manifest themselves amidst consciences, and they are ministers to consciences of laws broad and fixed, and of laws of faith and obedience, by which laws they are taken hold of; and they [the ministers] are σύνεργοι [‘laborers together’] and συνεργοῦντες [‘workers together’] of God (1 Cor. 3:9 & 2 Cor. 6:1) in laws written on the heart, and on the mind (Heb. 10:16)…

Therefore, they bear, impose and manifest divine laws to consciences, inasmuch as God, through ministers, may bear, impose and manifest them.”



Jean La Placette

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

“…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…”



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.”

[Ruling against an errant conscience is only to occur after the rulers have set forth sufficient reasons for the convincing of the one with the errant conscience to obey
moral law and truth. After this point, the one with the errant conscience has been shown that his conscience errs against truth and morality, and all persistence therein is
truly a perverse contumacy against God’s truth and morality, not being founded on truth or morality.]


Free Church of Scotland

Catechism on the Principles and Constitution of the Free Church of Scotland Issued by Authority of the General Assembly… New Edition (Edinburgh, 1882), p. 44

“Q. 144. Who are they that violate the crown-rights of Christ as the Head of authority to the Church?

A. They are such as seek to subject the Church to human laws, in place of, or in addition to, his laws in the Scriptures; and such as allow either more or less authority and power to Church office-bearers than He has given them.”





The principle expounded on this page is a general rule; it does have qualifications and exceptions.  There is a need in some cases in various aspects of government for prudency and even secrecy (e.g. civil defense secrets, war, etc.).  Often this need is due to the safety and greater good of certain parties or the whole community.

However, that such exceptions occur, and under what limits and for what general reasons, ought to be known to the community; and insofar as this is the case, these exceptions conform in some measure to the rule.  Needless to say, if a superior were to require an action for undisclosed reasons, even in a context generally necessitating secrecy for the greater good, the subordinate, if he could not do so in faith, there being certain risks he was not comfortable with, may yet still require a sufficient reason, he not being otherwise bound in conscience to do such an action.

Further qualifications are manifest:  It is not necessary for a government to publish all of its reasons prefatory to announcing new laws, if it be not expedient, and if the reasons for them might be easily found out by inquiring citizens by looking into those reasons as documented in the public process by which the law was made (if the reasons are not already sufficiently understood by the known, public, circumstances and context).

Further, if the people, subordinates or children have a well-grounded rational trust in their superiors, and can see, or should see, that the rules tend toward their good, this is a sufficient justification of itself for such new rules, as it is known by nature (Rom. 13:1,4) that authorities have power unto the people’s good, and none can take just exception to this.  This, where a rational (though conditional) trust is present, is why subordinates ought to give their superiors the benefit of the doubt in willingly receiving new rules upon what rational grounds they have, without unduly, skeptically, challenging them, especially as the superiors, by their natural gifts, capacity and functions, ought to have a greater knowledge and wisdom of the affairs than their subordinates, and intend their well-being.

The principle may also be rightly adapted to persons’ capacities, natures and situation.  For example, Turretin says:

“…we do not deny that faith can be called in a certain sense implicit, both in children and the uninstructed (who have only an obscure knowledge) and in the more advanced (in whom the light is always mixed with darkness…)…  But the question is whether faith in its conception includes knowledge; if not a full, still a true and certain knowledge in its own order.

…the question is whether that assent is blind, destitute of all knowledge, so that it may be better defined by ignorance and to believe is to assent to things unknown [or not].” – Institutes 3.565

Even children are to ‘obey’ their ‘parents in the Lord’ (Eph. 6:1), that is, in consistency with their knowledge of right and wrong and in faith to God.

It should be apparent that if subordinates have, or should have, a rational trust in their superiors, the less the superiors need to pedantically instruct their subordinates in the reasons for their rules.  However, if a subordinate has a grounded case of conscience against the command of the superior, and it is not an emergency (where the superior must act for the subordinate’s good regardless), then the superior(s) ought to make clear sufficient reasons as to the moral necessity of the command so as to persuade their conscience if at all possible.  A rule (such as that of this webpage) may often be gone without as long as it may be appealed to and bind when necessary.

To put it another way, it is not wrong to serve authorities or men, even though we do not have a full and explicit persuasion of the complete moral bindingness of their dictates from God’s natural and moral laws, if we are able, perhaps for other reasons, to serve them in the Lord.  That is to say, passive obedience, where one is not fully convinced of the inherent bindingness of the precept itself, is acceptable if one is able to do it for other godly reasons.  Paul said, for instance:

1 Cor. 9:19  “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.”

2 Cor. 4:5  “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

However, if one cannot passively obey for legitimate and good reasons, that is, where there are conscience issues, then to do so without faith is sinful, and the superior needs to make manifest the morally necessary reasons for their command, or forfeit the command (at least with respect to that person).

It is also to be noted that many or most laws may not impinge upon a person insofar as the effects of the law only affect transgressors, not upright people.  However, if an order positively requires something of someone, or more pertinently, requires that a person do something (such as in the case of citations to appear, judicial decisions, etc.), these situations so closely affecting a persons actions (and hence conscience), the necessity of the principle on this page becomes that much more imperative.

Note well also that this principle does not allow for contumacy (as defined above under Bannerman), which would possibly put the greater good of the Church at harm; see the very important quote to this effect by Gillespie below.

How faith may be implicit in some protestant aspects, and thus how it may accordingly be so required of authorities, is expounded upon by Rutherford below.


Theodore Beza

Concerning the Rights of Rulers Over Their Subjects & the Duty Of Subjects Towards Their Rulers  (1574)

“Question 2. Is A Magistrate Held Responsible To Render Account Of All His Laws To His Subjects?  And How Far Are They To Presume Such Laws To Be Just?

After this foundation has been laid we would also inquire into certain other questions which would appear to be germane to this discourse that the consciences of many may be satisfied.  First the question is raised whether the magistrate is held to render account of all his laws to any man soever so as to offer proof that they be fair and in accordance with the precepts of religion.

I answer that he is not so held; nay more, that it is fair that all virtuous subjects should regard their lords in the light of virtue and should not presume of suspect anything unjust concerning them; nay, that it is not becoming that men in private station should inquire over curiously even concerning doubtful matters beyond their comprehension or station in life. If, however, the conscience of some be at a loss, they can and are even under an obligation to examine (albeit discreetly and in a peaceful manner) what elements of reason and justice are to be found in the command by which they are bidden or forbidden to do something; for the word of the apostle abides: “whatsoever is not of faith (that is while the conscience is in doubt whether that is being done justly or not) is sin”.  But if what is commanded is openly sinful or unjust, then indeed that which has been said above applies.”


Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government…  (London, 1646), pp. 558-9

“In this consideration that learned and grave divine Dr. Andrew Rivet says well (in Decalog., ch. 5, p. 204) that as we believe a man well skilled in his own art, so that his judgement is a supreme rule; so the supreme authority of the magistrate to us in things positive is a rule; for indeed it cannot be denied but there be arcana imperis, secrets of State that are not to be communicated to pastors or to any, in which the rulers have a supremacy.”


The Due Right of Presbyteries  (1644), pt. 2, ch. 4, section 5, pp. 224-9

“5th Distinction.  The faith of fundamentals [of Christianity] is implicit three ways: 1. In respect of the degree of believing; 2. In respect of the object; 3. In respect of the subject, or our adherence to things believed.

[1.] In respect of degrees, the faith is implicit and weak three ways, as Calvin may teach:  1. Because we are ignorant of some less-fundamentals; 2. Because we see in a mirror and imperfectly [1 Cor. 13]; 3. In respect of believing upon a false ground, as for [believing doctrine solely for] miracles [and not ultimately because it is God’s Word].

[2.] In respect of the object, the certainty is most sure, as sure as that God cannot lie.

[3.] In respect of our adherence of understanding and affections: in this respect the knowledge of fundamentals must be certain: 1. By a negative certitude which excludes doubting, and so pastor and people must have a certitude of fundamentals, as Rom. 14:5; Col. 1:9; Heb. 5:12; but for a positive certitude, there is not that measure required in a teacher that is in a scholar, for all the body cannot be an eye, 1 Cor. 12:17, yet is a Christian certitude and fulness of persuasion required even of all Christians, Col. 2:2; Col. 3:16, highest and greatest in its kind, though many may be saved with less; yet a distinct knowledge of fundamentals in all is not necessary by a necessity of the means, necessitate medii, as Beza and Doctor Ames teach (Beza, vol. 1, opul., p. 141; Ames, De Cust., bk. 4, ch. 2, q. 3).

[3. continued] There is a faith of fundamentals implicit in respect of the will and affections, which Papists make a wide faith, as the Jesuit Becanus (2nd part, de Vtui. Theolog., ch. 2, q. 3) think[s] to believe these [are the] two fundamentals, 1. That there is a God; 2. That this God has a providence concerning men’s salvation, though other particulars be not known.  Or implicit faith is, says Estius (bk. 3, d. 25, q. 2), when any is ready to believe what the Church shall teach; which faith (Suarez says, de Trip., disp. virt. Theolo., 13, section 8), though it include ignorance, yet keeps men from the danger of errors, because it does submit the mind to the nearest rule of teaching, to wit, to the Church; the knowledge of fundamentals in this sense does not save, but condemn.  Thomas says better than he (22, q. 2, art. 5).”


George Gillespie

111 Propositions

“93.  Next it may be granted that the matter may be put under a further examination, yet upon condition, that when it is come to the revision of the former sentence, regard may be had of the weaker which are found willing to be taught, though they doubt; but that unto the wicked and contentious tempters, which do mainly strive to oppress our liberty which we have in Christ, and to bring us into bondage, we do not for a moment give place by subjecting ourselves; for what else seek they or wait for, than that under the pretense of a revising and of new debate, they cast in lets and impediments ever and anone, and that by cunning lyings in wait they may betray the liberty of the Church, and in process of time may by open violence more forceably break in upon it, or at least constrain the ministers of the Church to weave Penelope’s web, which they can never bring to an end.”



“And David consulted with the captains of thousands and hundreds, and with every leader.  And David said unto all the congregation of Israel, ‘If it seem good unto you, and that it be of the Lord our God, let us send abroad unto our brethren everywhere, that are left in all the land of Israel, and with them also to the priests and Levites which are in their cities and suburbs, that they may gather themselves unto us:  And let us bring again the ark of our God to us…  And all the congregation said that they would do so: for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.  So David gathered all Israel together…”

1 Chron. 13:1-5

“The God of Israel said… ‘He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.  And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds…”

2 Sam. 23:3-4

“If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?  But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:  And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.”

1 Cor. 14:23-25

“And the Lord said unto Cain, ‘Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?  If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.'”

Gen. 4:6-7




Related Pages

On Civil Government

Resistance to Tyranny

The Ruling of the Church

On Fathers

The Authority of Fathers in Giving their Daughters Away in Marriage

Expositions of the Ten Commandments

On God’s Revealed Will