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

Order of Quotes
Quotes  20



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. 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.”


Samuel Rutherford

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.”


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.”



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 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