The Mere Will, Determination, Judgment or Saying So of Authorities is an Insufficient Ground of Faith & Obedience, & Authorities are Not to Act or Require Something without Sufficient Natural, Moral or Spiritual Reasons, 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 Human Authorities’ Laws Bind the Conscience
Arbitrary Laws
Implicit Faith & Obedience
Positive Laws & Ordinances
Ordinances, Order & Policy of the Church



Order of Contents

Applies to All Authorities
Articles  2
Quotes  35+
Minimal Reason: No Sufficient Ground to a Yet Objecting Conscience



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




Gillespie, George – ch. 6, ‘That the Ceremonies Take Away Christian Liberty, Proved by a Fourth Reason, viz. Because They are Pressed upon us by Naked Will & Authority, Without Giving Any Reason to Satisfy our Consciences’  in English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 1, pp. 18-20

Bolton, Samuel – pp. 331-32  of The Arraignment of Errour…  (London, 1646)



Order of Quotes






La Placette


Free Church of Scotland





John Calvin

Institutes, bk. 4, ch. 10

section 6

“…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.”


section 32

“Moreover, we must use the utmost diligence to pre-
vent any error from creeping in which may either taint or
sully this pure use.  In this we shall succeed, if whatever
observances we use are manifestly useful, and very few in number.” [This is cited by Gillespie below.]



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 (Edinburgh, 1637)

Pt. 1

ch. 4, pp. 9-11

“But as we have seen in what respect the laws of the Church do not bind, let us now see how they may be said to bind.  That which binds is not the authority of the Church, nor any force which the Church can give to her laws.  It must be then somewhat else which makes them able to bind, when they bind at all, and that is, ratio legis, ‘the reason of the law,’ without which the law itself cannot bind, and which has the chiefest and most principal power of binding.

Calvin’s judgment is that an ecclesistical canon binds when manifestam utilitatem prae se fert [it bears a manifest utility before it]…

But always I hold me at this sure ground, that I am never bound in conscience to obey the ordinances of the Church except they be evidently lawful and expedient.  This is that, sine quo non obligant [without which they do not bind], and also that which does chiefly bind, though it be not the only thing which binds.

In such a case then neither does the authority of the Church bind except the thing be lawful and expedient, nor does the lawfulness and expediency of the thing bind except the Church ordain it, but both these jointly do bind.”


ch. 5, p. 16

“By which it does manifestly appear that they would bear dominion over our consciences, not as lords only, by requiring the willing and ready assent of our consciences to those things which are urged upon us by their sole will and authority, but even as tyrants, not caring if they get so much as constrained obedience, and if by their authority they can compel conscience to that which is contrary to the [Greek] and full persuasion which it has conceived.

It will be said that our consciences are in an error, and therefore ought to be corrected by the sentence of superiors, whose authority and will does bind us to receive and embrace the ceremonies, though our consciences do condemn them.

Answer:  Giving and not granting that our consciences do err in condemning the ceremonies, yet so long as they cannot be otherwise persuaded, the ceremonies ought not to be urged upon us, for if we be made to do that which our consciences do condemn, we are made to sin. Rom. 14:23.  It is an audacious contempt in Calvin’s judgment to do any thing repugnante conscientia.”


pt. 2

ch. 1, p. 8

“Besides, do not our divines require that the Church’s canons, even in matters of rite, be ‘profitable to the edification of the Church’ (Polanus, Syntagma, bk. 7, ch. 17); and that the observation of the same, must carry before it a manifest utility (Calvin, Institutes, bk. 4, ch. 10, §32); that in rites and ceremonies the Church has no power to destruction, but only to edification? (Chemnitz, Examination, part 2, p. 121)…

Do they not teach that no idle ceremony, which serves not unto edifying, is to be suffered in the Church (Paraeus, on 1 Cor. 14:26; John Calvin, Epistolarum & Responsorum, col. 478); and that godly bretheren are not holden to subject themselves unto such things as they perceive neither to be right nor profitable? (Calvin, on 1 Cor. 10:23; Taylor on Titus 1:15, p. 295)  That whatsoever either would scandalize our brother, or not be profitable to him for his edification, Christians for no respect must dare to meddle with it?”


ch. 7, p. 29

“4. If the manner of contending be observed, our opposites will be found reproveable, not we: we contend by the grounds of truth and reason: but they use to answer all objections and resolve all questions, by the sentence of superiors and the will of the law; we contend from God’s Word and good reason, they from man’s will and no reason.

This was clearly seen at the first conclusion of the five articles at Perth Assembly [1618].  Bishop Lindsey himself relating the proceedings of the same tells us (part 1, p. 63) that Mr. John Carmichall and Mr. William Scote alleged that if any would press to abolish the order which had been long kept in this Church, and draw in things not received yet, they should be holden to prove either that the things urged were necessary and expedient for our Church, or the order hitherto kept not meet to be retained.

This was denied upon this ground, that it was the Prince (who by himself had power to reform such things as were amiss in the outward policy of the Church) that required to have the change made: Well, since they [the bishops] must needs take the opponents part, they desired this question to be reasoned:  Whether kneeling or sitting at the Communion were the fitter gesture?  This also was refused, and the question was propounded thus: His Majesty desires our gesture of sitting at the Communion to be changed into kneeling: why ought not the same to be done? 

At length when Mr. John Carmichall brought an argument from the custom and practice of the Church of Scotland (Ibid., p. 64), it was answered that albeit the argument held good against the motions of private men, yet his Majesty requiring the practise to be changed matters behoved to admit a new consideration, and that because it was the Prince, his priviledge, etc.

I must say the Bishop was not well advised to insert this passage, which (if there were no more) lets the world see that free reasoning was denied.  For his Majesty’s Authority did both exeem [exempt] the affirmers from the pains of probation [proof] (contrary to the laws of disputation) and [to] state the question, and also [exempt them from] answer[ing] arguments.

Bishop Spotswood in his sermon at that pretended Assembly answers all such as cannot yield to the ceremonies with the peace of their consciences that, without any more ado, they may not control public judgment, but must always esteem that to be best and most seemly which seems so in the eye of public authority; that even such rites and orders as are not rightly established must be obeyed so long as they have the force of a constitution; that the sentence of superiors ought to direct us and be a sufficient ground to our conscience for obeying.  This is the best of their reasoning; and before all fail, the Bishop of Winchester reasoneth from bare custom (Sermon on 1 Cor. 11:16).

Have we not cause to renew the complaint which John a Lascos made in behalf of the Protestants in Germany (Thuan. Hist., bk. 16, p. 506): ‘nulla cognitione causa per colloquium aut amicam suffragiorum collationem habita, sed praejudicio tantum ipsorum sententiam damnari [It having been supported by no known reason by the colloquium or the friendly collation of votes, but only by their foregone purpose to condemn].’


ch. 9, p. 57

“2. I have also proven in the first part of this Dispute, that an Ecclesiastical constitution cannot bind us nor take away our liberty in the using or not using of a thing indifferent in itself, except some other reason be showed us than the bare authority of the Church.”


Pt. 3

ch. 6, pp. 104-6

“A politic writer admonishes, retinere antiqua [retain that which is ancient], only with this caution: Si proba [if it is proved].

Calvin (speaking against human ceremonies) says: Si objiciatur, etc.  ‘If’, says he, ‘antiquity be objected (albeit they who are too much addicted to custom and to received fashions, do boldly use this buckler to defend all their corruptions), the refutation is easy:  For the ancients also themselves with heavy complaints have abundantly testified that they did not approve of anything which was devised by the will of men.’…

3. …If then it be enough to pitch upon custom, why ought not those customs to have been commended and continued?  But if they were commendably changed, then ought we not to follow blindly the bare custom of the Church, but examine the equity of the same, and demand grounds of reason for it.

St. Paul (says Dr. Fulke) does give reasons for that order of covering women’s heads: By whose example the preachers are likewise to endeavor to satisfy by reason both men and women, that humbly desire their resolution for quiet of their conscience, and not to beat them down with the club of custom only.”


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


ch. 8, Digression 3, ‘Of the Judging of Controversies and Questions of Faith’, pp. 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.”


p. 197

“We desire proofs, not words.”


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 brutish…

…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.”


John Owen

A Discourse concerning Liturgies & their Imposition  (London: 1662), ch. 7, p. 41  in Works 15:34-35

“…it were much more tolerable if men would plead for the necessity of the things which it seems good unto them to command, and on that ground to command their observance, than granting them [to be] not necessary in themselves, to make them necessary to be observed merely by virtue of their commands, for reasons which they say satisfy themselves but come short of giving satisfaction to them from whom obedience is required.

For whereas the will of man can be no way influenced unto obedience, but by mere acknowledged sovereignty, or conviction of reason in and from the things themselves, commands in about things wherein they own not that the commanders have an absolute sovereignty (as God has in all things, the civil, supreme magistrate in things civil that are good and lawful), nor can they find the reasons of the things, themselves cogent, are a yoke which God has not designed the sons of men to bear.”


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, 1867), vol. 1, p. 242

“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.]

Third, it may be yet further conceded that the members and office-bearers of the Church are mutually entitled to give as well as to receive advice and counsel; and that those in office are bound to give all due weight to the opinions of the membership, so as, if possible, to bring about a mutual understanding and agreement.”


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.”



A Minimal Reason is Not a Sufficient Ground to a Yet Objecting Conscience


George Gillespie

English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2, ch. 9, pp. 38-9

“Two things are objected here by our [prelatist] adversaries to make it appear that the scandal of conformity is not active nor fautly upon their part.

1. They say they are blameless because they render a reason of that which they do, so that we may know the lawfulness of it.  To this sufficient answer has been made already by one whose answers I may well produce to provoke conformists therewith, because no reply has ever been made to them.  ‘This’ says he:

if it be true, then see we an end of all the duty of bearing with the weak: of forbearing our own liberty, power and authority in things indifferent for their supportance: yea an end of all the care to prevent their offence, by giving them occasion aut condemnandi factum nostrum, aut illud imitandi contra conscientiam [to condemn our act, or to imitate it against conscience] (Cornel. Jansen, Conc. Evang., ch. 71), which we have so often, so seriously, with so many reasons, obtestations, yea woes and threatenings commanded to us throughout the Word. (Augustine,  De Mor. b Manich., bk. 2, ch. 14; Rom. 14:20; 1 Thess. 5:14; Rom. 14:16; 1 Cor. 9:12; 1 Thess. 2:7; Acts 20:34; Mt. 18:6)

What needed Paul to write so much against the scandal of meats and against the scandal of idolothious meats?  This one precept might have sufficed: Let the strong give a reason for his eating, etc., though he has given many reasons to them of Corinth for the lawfulness of taking wages: though he has given diverse reasons for the lawfulness of all sorts of meats to them of Rome; yet neither will he take wages himself, nor suffer others to eat all sorts of meats when others are offended.  And what is that which he writes, Rom. 14, Take and receive the weak for their supportance, and not for controversy and disputation? etc.’ (Parker, Of the Cross, pt. 2, p. 57)

[Note below that Gillespie’s context is not about the voluntray use of things, but of imposition, and hence the requiring of things.]

It will be said that they are to be thought obstinate, who after a reason given, are still scandalized.  But the answer is in readiness:  Fieri potest ut quidam nondum sint capaces rationis redditae, qui idcirco quamvis ratio sit illis reddita, habendi sunt adhuc pro pusillis (Ames, bk. 5, Of Conscience, ch. 11, q. 6).  They are rather to be thought obstinate in scandalizing who, perceiving the scandal to remain, notwithstanding of their reason given, yet for all that take not away the occasion of the scandal.

But say some (Dr. Forbes [a formalist], Iren., bk. 2, ch. 20, num. 27), whoever ought to be esteemed weak or not capable of reason, ministers must not be so thought of.  Whereunto I answer with Didoclavius [David Calderwood]:

‘Infirmitatem in doctiores cadere posse, neminem negaturum puto, & superiorum temporum historia de dimicatione inter doctores Ecclesiae, ob Ceremonias, idipsum probat.  Parati etiam sunt coram Deo testari se non posse acquiescere in Formalistarum foliis ficulneis.’ (Altar of Damascus, ch. 9, p. 556)

The reason which they give us commonly is will and authority; or if at any time they give another reason, it is such a one as cannot clear nor resolve our consciences.  But let their reasons be so good as any can be, shall we be thought obstinate for being offended notwithstanding of their reason?

Dare they say that those who contended so much of old about the celebration of Easter and about the Fast of the Sabbath were not weak, but obstinate and malicious, after a reason was given?  Why consider they not that ‘men may for their science [knowledge] be profitable ministers, and yet fail of that measure of prudency whereby to judge of a particular use of indifferent things.’ (Parker, Of the Cross, pt. 2, p. 75)


Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government…  (London, 1646), Appendix, Question 1, pp. 6-7

“1 Cor. 6:12, ‘All things (indifferent) are lawful in themselves, but they are not expedient,’ if we be brought under the power or band of them by law.  Therefore, in the means of worship, not only must we see what is lawful, but also what is profitable and conducing to the end

Cor. 7:6, ‘But this I speak by permission, not of commandment.’  Therefore in things in which God has granted us liberty, to do or not to do, permission has place, not obliging necessity or penal laws.

13.  There cannot be commanding laws in things that are politically good or evil according to the individual complexion, temperature, or gifts of singular men: [for example,] to marry or not to marry, cannot be commanded, for where God looses, no power on earth can bind, v. 33.

Cor. 8:7, Paul condemns them in the use of their liberty Christian, ‘Howbeit there be not in every man this knowledge;’ then that rulers may make laws in things indifferent, without scandal, they must remove ignorance.  2. If there be but one person weak in knowledge (there is not in every man that knowledge), a law obliging all in things indifferent cannot be made.”





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