The Civil Magistrate’s Authority Around Spiritual Things (Circa Sacra)



The Establishment Principle

On Toleration & Pretended Liberty of Conscience



Order of Contents

Confessions  11
Articles  45+
Books  5
Rutherford’s Distinctions & 10 Assertions
How the Magistrate is to Establish Church Government
In What Circumstances One May Complain to the Magistrate about a Church’s
.        Ruling
The Independents
History of
.     An Example of the Implementation of Circa Sacra: Scotland, 1567
The Magistrate does not have Power in Sacra
Latin  20+




ed. Beza, Salvard, Daneau, Chandieu & Goulart – 19th Section, ‘Of the Civil Magistrate’  Latin  in The Harmony of Protestant Confessions  (1581)

This lists in order the sections on the civil magistrate (all of which affirm circa sacra) from 11 reformed confessions: 1st & 2nd Helvetic, of Basel, of Bohemia, of France, of Scotland, of Belgia, of Augsburg (Lutheran), of Saxony, of Wirtemberg, of Sueveland. 

In 1581, the first Harmony of Protestant Reformed Confessions of Faith was published in Geneva.  It was the result of a collaboration between the Huguenot ministers listed above.

They published it in response to the publication of the Lutheran Book of Concord in 1580.  It included a comparison of eleven Reformed confessions and the Lutheran Augsburg Confession.  In 1842, it was translated into English, reorganized and enlarged by Peter Hall.




Early Church

Augustine – chs. 5-7  of A Treatise Concerning the Correction of the Donatists or Epistle 185  This is in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4.  See especially ch. 4, and the preceding chapters for context.

Augustine wrote this letter to a civil magistrate (Boniface, a tribune) in Africa.  


On the Post-Reformation

Heppe, Heinrich – Ch. 16, ‘The Church’, section 57, ‘The civil government’s power extends only circa sacra (not in sacra)…’, pp. 693-4  in Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Bizer, trans. Thomson (1950)  (Wipf & Stock, 2007)

This section is a very helpful summary of the post-reformation position on circa sacra, however, as is consistent with Heppe’s German reformed tendency, some of the detailed points he enumerates lean toward the side of Erastianism, at least without further qualifications.  See the more thorough presbyterians, Gillespie & Rutherford, for those qualifications.



Bullinger, Henry – ‘On the Duties of Rulers and Subjects’  being ch. 2 of Edmund Morgan, Puritan Political Ideas: 1558-1794, pp. 15-35  from Bullinger’s Decades  1570’s-1580’s

Calvin, John – ‘A Sermon on the Duty of Civil Rulers to Enforce and 
Defend the True Religion and True Godliness in their 
Realms by drawing out the sword against all Heretics and 
others who trouble the Church…’  on 1 Tim. 2:1-2  1579

1 Tim. 2:1-2, “…prayers…  and giving of thanks be made for all men: for kings, and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet, and a peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.”

“…princes, and all who hold the office of magistracy, are here reminded of their duty.  It is not enough, if, by giving to every one what is due, they restrain all acts of violence, and maintain peace; but they must likewise endeavor to promote religion, and to regulate morals by wholesome discipline.  The exhortation of David (Psalm 2:12) to “kiss the Son,” and the prophecy of Isaiah, that they shall be nursing — fathers of the Church, (Isaiah 49:23) are not without meaning; and, therefore, they have no right to flatter themselves, if they neglect to lend their assistance to maintain the worship of God.”

Knox, John – ‘The Appellation, to the Nobility and Estates of Scotland…’  (1558)

Knox in this letter encourages Scottish civil magistrates to be very forward in the cause of the Reformation.

“Of the promises it is evident, that to lawful powers is given the sword for punishment of malefactors, for maintenance of innocents, and for the profit and utility of their subjects.  Now let us consider, whether the reformation of religion fallen in decay, and punishment of false teachers, do pertain to the Civil Magistrate and Nobility of any realm.

I am not ignorant that Satan of old time, for maintenance of his darkness, has obtained of the blind world two chief points:  Former, he has persuaded to Princes, Rulers, and Magistrates, that the feeding of Christ’s flock appertains nothing to their charge, but that it is rejected [i.e., devolved] upon the bishops and estate ecclesiastical: and secondarily, that the reformation of religion, be it never so corrupt, and the punishment of such as be sworn soldiers in their kingdom, are exempted from all civil power [per Romanism, for the clergy], and are reserved to themselves and to their own cognition.

But that no offender can justly be exempted from punishment, and that the ordering and reformation of religion, with the instruction of subjects, does especially pertain to the Civil Magistrate, shall God’s perfect ordinance, his plain Word, and the facts and examples of those that of God are highly praised, most evidently declare.”

Vermigli, Peter Martyr – Part 4, ch. 14, ‘That the Charge of Religion Belongs to Magistrates’  in Common Places, pp. 246-48  ToC  1583

Smith, Henry – p. 12, ‘Thirdly…’  in ‘The Magistrate’s Scripture’  (1591)  a sermon on Ps. 82:6-7



Cartwright, Thomas – Helps for Discovery of the Truth in Point of Toleration…  wherein the Power and Duty of the Magistrate in Relation to Matters of Religion is discussed; as also whether the Judicial Laws given by Moses to the Jews are abrogated by the coming of Christ.  More particularly in relation to some sins, viz. blasphemy, adultery, etc…  †1603  12 pp.

Althusius, Johannes – Ch. 28, ‘Ecclesiastical Administration’  in Politica: Politics Methodically Set Forth, p. 159-174  Buy  1603/14

Althusius (c. 1563–1638) was an important German jurist and Calvinist political philosopher.  He has certain Erastian elements in his thought.

Rutherford, Samuel

Examination of Arminianism  (1639-1643), ch. 19, ‘On the Magistrate’

2. ‘Whether it is for the magistrate to punish heretics? Whether it is agreeable to the laws of our most merciful Savior Jesus Christ that the magistrate tolerate Jews, Turks, Papists, etc, and all heretics in the republic who err with a purely mental error?  We affirm the former.  We deny the latter with a distinction against the Remonstrants.’  in ed. Fentiman & Johnson, Rutherford’s Examination of Arminianism: The Tables of Contents with Excerpts from Every Chapter (2019), pp. 130-135

3. ‘Whether none errs in doing works, nor persuades himself to err while he is stirred up on account of his eternal salvation? We deny against the Remonstrants.’  in The Confessional Presbyterian, vol. 4
(2008), pp. 270-276, trans. by Guy M. Richard

4. ‘Whether the power of the magistrate is supreme in the external rule of the Church, is in kind higher than Church-power and is immediately subject to God alone?  We deny against the
Remonstrants.’  in The Confessional Presbyterian, vol. 4
(2008), pp. 270-276, trans. by Guy M. Richard

5 Conclusions, pp. 294-308  in ch. 19, ‘Doubts against Presbyterial Government Discussed…  the King’s Power in things Ecclesiastical’  of A Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland…  (London, 1642)  See especially conclusions 4 & 5, pp. 297-308.

Note that this was an early work of Rutherford.  In this piece, especially in Conclusion 2, and in the Appendix to The Due Right of Presbyteries, below, Rutherford said some things about the magistrate’s relation to Christ as Mediator that he would later revise more fully in The Divine Right of Church Government (1646) below, and in later works.

The Due Right of Presbyteries  (1644), pt. 2

Appendix, ‘A further consideration of compelling, or tolerating, those of contrary Religions and Sects in the Church’, pp. 361-456

Question 3, ‘Whether the Jesuited Lysimachus Nicanor, and the Author of the Survey of Discipline, does with good reason impute to the Church-Government of the reformed Churches the eversion of the Magistrate’s power in matters ecclesiastical?’, pp. 386-456

These sections are unfortunately not laid out in a very systematic way.  Rutherford is refuting point by point the work of a leading, Independent, New England puritan, Thomas Hooker, who wrote a platform for Independent Church Government.  Hooker and the New England puritans held certain Erastian points in their view of the magistrate.  Rutherford also interacts with Anglicans in his discussion.

Bk. 4, ch. 12, ‘Of the Magistrate’s Power in Convocating Synods’  in A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline penned by Mr. Thomas Hooke… wherein the way of the churches of New England is now re-examined  (London, 1658)


Henderson, Alexander – ‘A Sermon Preached To the Honorable House of Commons, At their late solemn Fast, Wed., Dec. 27, 1643’  (London, 1644)

“[1. The Rule of Reformation.]  The rule of building the house of God, and of the reformation of Religion, is the same and perpetual: the commandment of God, and not the commandment of man one or more, whether they be Civil or Ecclesiastical persons.  It is their part to provide according to their places and callings, to command and direct that the Commandment of God be obeyed.  This King commands not that his will be done, but what God has commanded.  Neither King nor Parliament can command otherwise.

Civil powers have great authority, not only in things civil, but in matters of Religion; and they sin against God, if they use not the authority which God hath put in their hands, for the good of Religion.  To them belongs inspection and watching over, not only ecclesiasticos [ecclesiastical persons], but ecclesiastica [that which is ecclesiastical].  Ecclesiastical persons are subject to civil authority no less than others; and in respect of things-ecclesiastical, or matters of religion, Eusebius brings in Constantine the great, saying: ‘Vos Episcopi in Ecclesia, ego extra Ecclesiam seu templum Episcopus a Deo constitutus sum‘ [Ye are overseers in the Church; I am constituted of God an overseer apart from the Church]:

Not that any mortal man whether Pope or Prince, can be properly Head of the Church, or vice-gerent [regent] unto Christ the Mediator in his special and economical Kingdom of Grace: for princes are vice-gerents to God, and to his Son Jesus Christ as He is God, in his universal Kingdom of Providence; and this watching and inspection of princes and magistrates, is objective ecclesiastica [objectively ecclesiastical], but formaliter civilis [formally civil], it is about matters of religion in a civil manner, and in a way suitable to the nature and quality of their place and power.

The faithful custody and preservation of religion, is a part of their office: for they are not only keepers of the Second, but of the First Table of the Law.  To them appertains the vindication and defense of religion, against contempt, corruption, and abuses.  Religion also expects from them the civil sanction, that the worship of God, and the wholesome constitutions of the Church about religion, be confirmed and settled by their Laws.  Coaction [coercion] also is theirs, for they by their power [in a Christian nation] are to constrain their subjects to the duties of religion, and to coerce and stop them that they do nothing to the contrary.

They also may and ought to call Assemblies of the Church, when the case of Religion does require, preside as civil presidents, and examine Church-Constitutions, not only as they are Christians for satisfying their own souls, but as magistrates for the good of the people.  And when there is a necessity of reformation of religion, and the Ministry and Church-men, like the sands of the sea-shore are covered with a deluge of defection and corruptions, they are by their Authority to endeavor a Reformation.  And yet in all this exercise of their power, they are to do nothing but according to the Commandment of God: so David, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, and other good and religious princes have done.”

Burges, Anthony – ‘The Reformation of the Church to be endeavored more than that of the Commonwealth, Declared, in a Sermon preached before the Right Honorable Houſe of Lords at the public Fast, Aug. 27, 1645’  (London, 1645)

Burges, the Westminster divine, spends much of the sermon elaborating on the magistrate’s duty seek first Christ’s kingdom and to civilly establish it in the land.

Gillespie, George

Aaron’s Rod Blossoming... (London, 1646),

Book 1

Appendix, ‘The Erastians Misrepresent the Jewish Government…  Their confounding of that which was extraordinary in the Jewish Church with that which was the ordinary rule…  The power and practice of the godly kings of Judah in the reformation of religion cleared…’, pp.65-75

Book 2

ch. 3, ‘What the Erastians Yield unto us, and what we Yield unto Them’, pp. 80-85

ch. 4, ‘Of the Agreements and Differences Between the Nature of the Civil and of the Ecclesiastical Powers or Governments’, pp. 85-90

For a detailed outline of the 10 agreements and 10 differences, see ed. Fentiman, ‘All of George Gillespie’s Writings on Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom is the Church Only’, pp. 17-27.

ch. 8, ‘Of the Power & Privilege of the Magistrate in things and causes ecclesiastical, what it is not and what it is’, 2nd half, pp. 120 rt. col. bot. – 124

Gillespie makes 5 distinctions regarding what power the Magistrate has and does not have with respect to the Church:

1.  Distingue materiam subjectam, ‘distinguishing the material subjects’: ‘things inward’ (the magistrate does not have) and ‘things outward’ (it does have);
2.  Imperative, not elicitive: the magistrate has power to command, though not formal power of performing by his own authority;
3.  Directive (does not have) & Coercive (does have)
4.  Cumulative (does have) & privative (does not have)
5.  Distinguae tempora, ‘distinguishing times’: has extraordinary power in extraordinary times that he does not have in settled times.

Propositions #39-101  in 111 Propositions Concerning the Ministry & Government of the Church  (1647)

For a summary outline of this section, see ed. Fentiman, ‘All of George Gillespie’s Writings on Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom is the Church Only’, pp. 65-78.

A Treatise of Miscellany Questions  (unknown date)

Ch. 14, ‘Another Most Useful Case of Conscience Discussed and Resolved, Concerning Associations and Confederacies with Idolaters, Infidels, Heretics, or Any Other Known Enemies of Truth & Godliness’

Ch. 16, ‘Whether it be Lawful, Just and Expedient that there be an ordinance of Parliament for the Taking of the Solemn League & Covenant by all Persons in the Kingdom, under a Considerable Penalty; or an Answer Returned to a Gentleman…’

The 1645 Westminster Confession in chapter 22.3 says that, “It is a sin to refuse an oath touching anything that is good and just, being imposed by lawful authority.”  The Solemn League & Covenant (1643) treated of here was the catalyst that resulted in the Westminster Assembly and its standards.

Outline:  Nine particulars to be remembered for the right deducing and stating the matter of fact. – The grounds and reasons of such an ordinance and appointment may be eleven. – Four objections answered. – How this ordinance would not be tyranny over men’s consciences. – The covenant is no temporary obligation. – If such an ordinance to the army be scandalum acceptum [a scandal taken], then the not making of it is scandalum datum [a scandal given].


London, Presbyterian Ministers – ‘Of the Proper Receptacle and Distinct Subject of all this Power and authority of Church Government… That the Political Magistrate is not the Proper Subject of this Power’  being part 2, ch. 9, section 1 of Jus Divinum, the Divine Right of Church Government  1645, 1654

This section delineates the legitimate authority and power of the magistrate around the Church (‘circa sacra’), before it goes on in section 2 to deny that the magistrate holds the keys of Church Government, of matters ‘in sacra’.

Cambridge New-England Synod – ‘The Power of the Civil Magistrate in Matters of the First Table’  1648  14 pp.

This is the best short piece demonstrating from scripture that the civil magistrate is to enforce both tables of the Ten Commandments.

Owen, John

A Sermon preached to the Honourable House of Commons, in Parliament assembled: on Jan. 31, A day of solemn humiliation. With a discourse about toleration, and the duty of the civil magistrate about religion, thereunto annexed…  (London, 1649)

A Sermon preached to the Parliament, Oct. 13, 1652. A day of solemn humiliation: Concerning the kingdom of Christ, and the power of the civil magistrate about the things of the worship of God  (Oxford, 1652)

Truth and Innocence Vindicated in a Survey of a Discourse concerning Ecclesiastical Polity, and the Authority of the Civil Magistrate over the consciences of subjects in Matters of Religion  (London, 1669)

Swinnock, George – ‘Work as gods among men in promoting piety to your power,’ pp. 252-279  in ‘Men are gods, or, The dignity of magistracy, and the duty of the magistrate as it was presented in a sermon at the assize…  1653’  (London, 1660)

Gurnall, William – pp. 36-7, point 8  in The Magistrate’s Portraiture Drawn from the Word, and Preached in a Sermon…’  (London, 1656)

Gilbert, Claudius – The Libertine Schooled, or A Vindication of the Magistrates Power in Religious Matters…  (London, 1657)

Gilbert (-c.1696) was a reformed minister in Ireland.

Marshall, Stephen – The Power of the Civil Magistrate in Matters of Religion Vindicated; the Extent of his Power Determined, in a Sermon…  (London, 1657)

Marshall (c. 1594 – 1655) was a leading London, presbyterian and a Westminster divine.

Lawson, George – pp. 196-198  of Ch. 11, ‘The 5th Commandment’  in Theo-Politica, or, A Body of Divinity containing the Rules of the Special Government of God...  (London, 1659)

Lawson (d. 1678) was an English divine who inclined towards Arminianism and had positive interactions with Baxter.

Hall, Thomas – pp. 76-82  in The Beauty of Magistracy in an Exposition of the 82nd Psalm, where is set forth the necessity, utility, dignity, duty, and mortality of magistrates…  (London, 1660)

Questions discussed:

8. Whether Magistrates must take care of Religion, p. 76, 77
9. Whether he may compel men to the outward Worship of God? p. 77, 78

10. Whether he may punish Heretics? p. 78, 79
11. Whether Blasphemous Heretics may be put to death? p. 82

“Then church and state are like[ly] to flourish when Moses and Aaron, Zerubbabel and Joshua, Zech 4:14, go hand in hand together.  When the minister reproves sin, and the magistrate punishes it; when the magistrate makes use of the minister’s direction, and the minister enjoys the magistrate’s protection; when Joshua joins with Eleazar, and David consults with Nathan and Gad, the prophets of the Lord; and Josiah with Huldah, and Uzziah with Zechariah the priest, then, and never till then, can we look to prosper, 2 Chron 26:5.  It is Aaron’s office to speak, but it is Moses’s rod that works the wonders.  Ministers must preach, and magistrates must punish offenders.”

Turretin, Francis – 34th Question: ‘The Political Government of the Church’  in Institutes of Elenctic Theology  1685

Turretin (1623-1687).  In this section, there is a comprehensive overview of the issues, limits and duties of the civil magistrate in all matters circa sacra together with a defense of punishing obstinate heretics.

Baxter, Richard

‘Q. 5. What is the Magistrate’s Power and Duty about Religion, and the Churches and Ministers of Christ?’  in Church concord containing I. a dissuasive from unnecessary division and separation, and the real concord of the moderate independents with the Presbyterians, instanced in Ten Seeming Differences  (London, 1691)

Baxter gives more authority to the magistrate in indifferent and circumstantial matters of worship (see point 9), with less qualification, than presbyterians.

A Christian Directory…  (London, 1673)

pt. 3, Christian Ecclesiastics

Q. 61.  In what sense is it true that some say, that the Magistrate only has the External Government of the Church, and the Pastors the Internal?

Q. 103.  Must the Pastors remove from one Church to another when ever the Magistrate commands us, though the Bishops contradict it, and the Church consent not to dismiss us; And so of other Cases of disagreement?

Q. 106.  To whom doth it belong to Reform a Corrupted Church? to the Magistrates, Pastors, or People?

pt. 4, Christian Politics

Ch. 2, Memorandums to Civil Rulers for the interest of Christ, the Church, and men’s Salvation

Directions 6-9  in Ch. 12, ‘Counsel to the Sons of the Nobility and Magistrates’  in Compassionate Counsel to all young men especially: I. London Apprentices, II. Students of Divinity, Physic, and Law, III. the Sons of Magistrates and Rich Men  (London, 1681)

Brown of Wamphray, John

On Rom. 13:3-4, Observations 4-9  in An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, With Large Practical Observations Delivered in Several Lectures  (Edinburgh, 1766)

p. 43, points 4 & 5  in ‘The History of the Indulgence’  in The History of the Indulgence showing its rise, conveyance, progress, and acceptance...  (Edinburgh, 1678)

MacWard, Robert – 30 Principles on Magistracy  in 3rd part, pp. 43-50  in The Banders Disbanded…  (Edinburgh, 1681)

MacWard was a protege of Rutherford, and is here laying these principles out during a time of persecution in Scotland, though he was writing from the Netherlands.

Clark, James –  Points 22-23  in Presbyterial Government Described, or, A Methodical Synopsis of it, as it is professed and practiced in the Church of Scotland, gathered out of the confessions of faith, and other public records of that church…  (Edinburgh, 1695)



Houston, Thomas

Appendix, Note E, ‘History of Opinions Denying the Magistrate’s Power Circa Sacra’ & Note F, ‘Additional Testimonies relative to the Magistrate’s Punitive Power in matters of religion’  at the end of The Christian Magistrate: a Discourse  (Belfast, 1832)

‘The Reviewer Reviewed, and The Covenanter and Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church Vindicated, from the Perversions and Groundless Allegations of the Rev. John Paul, in a Pamphlet entitled, ‘The Covenanter Reviewed & Persecution Condemned”  (Belfast, 1833)

Sloane, William – ‘Overture: Argument On The Magistrate’s Power Circa-Sacra’  1834  92 paragraphs

Rev. Sloane was a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, in America, and to the synod to which this was an overture.

Hetherington, William – ‘Circa Sacra, Not in Sacris’  being an excerpt from his introduction to Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith

McClintock & Strong – ‘Sacra, Circa, or in Sacris’  McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia





Cobbett, Thomas – The Civil Magistrate’s Power  Excerpts  Ref  Buy  1653  151 pp.

Cobbett was a leading New England puritan and here solidly argues for the reformed position that the civil magistrate is to enforce both tables of the law.

“The outbreak of the civil wars in England, the rise of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate, the emergence of “toleration” as the guiding principle of an English Puritanism liberated by the New Model Army; all had their impact on New England’s own conception of itself, its definition of its special character and destiny. So too, of course, did the Restoration of the British monarchy and Episcopacy in 1660, which left New England seemingly a last and isolated redoubt of pure religion in a Christendom restored to darkness. Until 1660, however, New England increasingly imagined itself a “model” for the Old World, issuing progressively more strident instructions to its former Independent allies and proffering gratuitous and even impudent advice to Cromwell himself, as is Thomas Cobbett’s The Civil Magistrate’s Power (1653).” – ed. Heimert & Delbanco, The Puritans in America, p. 191

Corbet, John – A Second Discourse of the Religion of England: further asserting, that reformed Christianity, settled in its due latitude, is the stability and advancement of this kingdom: wherein is included, an answer to a late book, entitled, ‘A Discourse of Toleration’  (London, 1668)  58 pp.

Corbet (1620-1680) was reformed.  He here argues in the context of the non-conformists in England and the Indulgence for a limited toleration, contra another work that would not permit such.

Baxter, Richard – The Difference Between the Power of Magistrates and Church-Pastors and the Roman kingdom & Magistracy under the name of a Church & Church-Government usurped by the Pope, or liberally given him by Popish princes…  (London, 1671)

See especially the section: ‘The Church’s and the Magistrate’s Power stated in matters of Religion in an hundred Propositions, which almost all sober Protestant Teachers are agreed in. A Reconciliation of the sober Episcopal, Presbyterians, Independents and Erastians’.

Baxter is generally good, though gives a more to the magistrate in indifferent things about religion than presbyterians.

Annand, William – Dualitas, or, A Two-fold subject displayed and opened conducible to godliness and peace in order, I. Lex Loquens, the honor and dignity of magistracy with the duties thereupon depending and reverence thereunto due, II. Duorum Unitas, the agreement of magistracy and ministry, at the election of the honorable magistrates of Edinburgh and the opening of a diocesan synod of the reverend clergy there  (Edinburgh, 1674)

Annand (1633–1689) was a Scottish, Anglican priest who ministered in Scotland and was also an academic.



Bruce, Archibald – A Historico-Politico-Ecclesiastical Dissertation on [Against] the Supremacy of Civil Powers in Matters of Religion, Particularly [Against] the Ecclesiastical Supremacy Annexed to the English Crown  1802  152 pp.

Bruce (1746-1816) was a Secession (Anti-Burgher) minister author and professor of Divinity (successor to Moncreiff).



Rutherford’s Distinctions & 10 Assertions

Due Right of Presbyteries (1644), pt. 2, Appendix, p. 387

“I desire the reader to eye and consider these distinctions:

1. [David] Paraeus teaches that there is a double Church-power, one internal and proper, as to preach, bind and loose, to administrate the sacraments, etc.  This is not in the Prince: and there is another improper and external, which is exercised about Church-matters and Church-officers…

2. An external power about matters ecclesiastic is three-fold [the first two are affirmed; the last is denied]:

1. A power of order and jurisdiction about the external, or rather in the external acts of the Church, which are visible and incurs in the senses, as to preach, baptize, and these (as says that learned and worthy preacher at Middleburgh, Willhelm Apollonius) do properly pertain to the spiritual and proper Church-government, and without controversy do not belong to the Prince.

2. A power external about Church-matters, which is objective, in respect of the object, sacred or ecclesiastic, but improperly, and by a figure only [is] ecclesiastic, and essentially and in itself politic, such as we hold to be the Magistrate’s power in causing Church-men do their duty in preaching sound doctrine, and administrating the Sacraments, according to Christ’s institution, and punishing heretics and false teachers.

3.  Some have devised a mixed power ecclesiastic [which Rutherford denies] (as Henric. Salcobrigiensis) whereby the Prince is the head of the Church, and has a nomothetic [law-making], and legislative power in things ecclesiastical: and this is not only objective in respect of the object ecclesiastical, but also subjective in respect of the subject, ecclesiastical, in respect that the Prince by virtue of his civil office, as a King may ordain Prelates and make Laws in Church-matters.


The Divine Right of Church Government (London, 1646), pp. 543-561

“1st Assertion: The Magistrate as the Magistrate is to procure that there be preachers and Church-officers to dispense Word, Sacraments, and Discipline;…

2nd Assertion.  When magistrates command Churchmen to do their duty, and to feed the flock, sincerely, and in the fear of the Lord, they do it not as magistrates; but as touching the manner, they may exhort them to do their duty sincerely, cordially, and zealously as godly men;…

3rd Assertion  …The unjust and evil exercise of the Ministerial power is obnoxious to the magistrate as the magistrate;…

4th Assertion.  The Magistrate de jure is obliged not only to permit, but also to procure the free exercise of the ministry in dispensing Word, sacraments and Discipline, and owe his accumulative power, to convene synods, to add his sanction to the lawful and necessary constitutions and ordination of worthy, and to the deposition of unworthy officers in the Church…

5th Assertion.  When the Magistrate commands painful and sound administration in preaching and governing, with provision of the praising and rewarding of well doing, he does not subordinate to himself the ministry in its exercise…

6th Assertion.  Though the magistrate may both threaten to inflict, and actually inflict, the ill of temporal punishment on ministers, if they be either idle or unsound in their administration; yet thence can only be concluded that the mal-administration of the ministry is subjected to the magistrate as such, but not the ministry itself, or the exercise thereof:…

7th Assertion.  There is a twofold subordination of the exercise of mal-administration of ministers; one civil, another ecclesiastical: These two differ, so as the former must be subordinate to the magistrate who is to inflict bodily punishment; but the latter is only subject to the Church…

8th Assertion.  The ministers are in no sort the ambassadors or servants of the magistrate, but of Jesus Christ, and [they are] immediately in their ministerial acts subordinate to the King of Kings…

9th Assertion.  The Christian magistrate must here come under a threefold consideration:

1.  As the object of that high office is merely and purely civil and positive, relating only to a civil end, of peace:…

2. The magistrate falls under a second consideration, as he gives out laws just or unjust, and executes judgement in the morning, or suffers the eyes of the poor, the widow and orphan to fail for want [lack] of justice; and in these he is not subject to the Church and pastors so, but only as if he sin in making laws…

The third consideration of the Christian magistrate is as he is a man, and a member of a Christian Church who has a soul to be saved, and in this, he is to submit to pastors, as those that watch for his soul, Heb. 13:17…

10th Assertion.  …I…  assert a reciprocation of subordinations between the Church and the magistrate, and a sort of collaterality and independent supremacy in their own kind common to both…



Rutherford’s 10 Assertions in Expanded Form

The Divine Right of Church Government (London, 1646), pp. 543-561

“1st Assertion: The Magistrate as the Magistrate is to procure that there be preachers and Church-officers to dispense Word, Sacraments, and Discipline; For:

1. His end is, that people under him may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in godliness and honesty, 1 Tim. 2:2. And the Magistrate attains his end as a Magistrate, if there be simple exercise of religion in the quiet and peaceable way, that may consist with the subjects indemnity, and immunity, from rapine, injuries, and violence.

2. The difference between the Magistrates and other callings, is, that the Magistrate was to take care of old, that there were Levites who bare the Ark, and, priests who should burn incense before the Lord, and sacrifice; and yet it was unlawful for the Magistrate to bear the Ark on his own shoulders, or in his own person to burn incense or sacrifice… 

The Magistrate hinders ignorance and losing ships by tempests, not by professing and teaching sciences and arts in academies in his own person, nor by steering ships, and guiding them himself to their ports, for so [then] a magistrate as a magistrate should be a schoolmaster, a professor of arts and sciences in the universities, and a pilot or shipmaster, which were a confounding of all callings; but by procuring that there should be universities and professors of arts and sciences, and by providing honorable stipends and wages for them, and procuring that in the Commonwealth there should be sailers who are skilled in shipping: and so doth the magistrate by his office take care, that the Word, sacraments and discipline, be dispensed.

3. But the magistrate as the magistrate does not command sincere, hearty, zealous, and affectionate dispensing of Word, sacraments and discipline: But only the dispensing of those without the qualification of the spiritual, or sincere exercise of the power… [he gives and defends three reasons for this]

2nd Assertion.  When magistrates command Churchmen to do their duty, and to feed the flock, sincerely, and in the fear of the Lord, they do it not as magistrates; but as touching the manner, they may exhort them to do their duty sincerely, cordially, and zealously as godly men; hence that charge that King Jehoshaphat gave to the priests and Levites, 2 Chron. 19:9.  This shall ye do in the fear of the Lord faithfully, and with a perfect heart, is a mixed command, as touching the judging of the people in all causes and controversies that should come before them; the King as King commanded them to do this: But for the manner of the doing of it, that they should do it faithfully in the fear of the Lord, and with a perfect heart; this he commanded them not as a King, but exhorted them to it, as a godly and religious man: for

1. Any godly man might have said this, and the King might have punished the Levites and priests, if they had not judged the causes according to the Law.  But though they had not judged in the fear of the Lord, and with a perfect heart; yet could not the King as King have punished them therefore, nor can any say, that the spiritual exhortation of Hezekiah, 2 Chron. 29, to the priests and Levites, came from him as King, but as from a graced and religious man; as King he might command them to sanctify themselves legally, for so they were to do by office; and he might use the sword against them, if they failed in that; and as King he may command all external duties, not only to Church-men, but to all others; only he cannot punish them for failings in the spiritual manner of doing external duties;

2. A spiritual and Christian exhortation ex conditione operis, and intrinsically, has influence on the conscience to turn the soul to God.  But nothing that the magistrate can do as a magistrate, has such an influence on the conscience; all that he does as a magistrate and directly, is toward the outward man, by rewards and punishments; if the magistrate remove false teachers and wolves, which would devour the flock, and if that work upon the conscience, it is indirectly and by accident, for, quoad actus imperatos, he can command that the Gospel, which has a kindly and intrinsic power to work upon the conscience, be preached; if the magistrate convince the conscience of a murderer, that he has failed against the Law of God, he does not that as a magistrate, but as a godly and religious man he may convince him as a magistrate, that he has failed against the Laws of the State, and bands of humane society, and external peace, and scarce that, for ignorantia juris nemimem excusat [ignorance of the law does not excuse].

Answer [to an objection]: We never denied but the Magistrate commands both the exercise of Church power simply, and the manner and such qualifications as are external and obvious to the knowledge of the Magistrate, such as blasphemous and false doctrine is; But we deny that as a Magistrate he does command those things that are internal and invisible, that is, the spirituality of the actions; he can exhort and stir men up to the spirituality and sincerity of doing as a godly and Christian man.

Answer 1 [to another objection]:  …for [ecclesiastical] elders may command as elders more than the not doing of which they can censure, which the Magistrate cannot do; for elders have committed to them the Word of reconciliation, as the Ambassadors of Christ. Now the Word has an immediate influence on the conscience, on the thoughts and intents of the heart: 2 Cor. 5:18-20; 1 Cor. 3:5; 1 Cor. 4:15; Ps. 19:7; Heb. 4:12-13.  And therefore their ministry has action on the thoughts; yet can they not in the external court of the Church censure the thoughts, as not being able to see them, but the Gospel which they preach can arraign the conscience and thoughts, 2 Cor. 10:4-5.  But the Magistrate carries not such a message, and therefore his magistratical command can reach no farther than his temporal praise and reward, and his sword; and that is commensurable and of equal latitude with those.

Answer [to another objection]:  It is true, the Magistrate as the Magistrate does care for the supernatural good of subjects, and the duties of religion, and the First Table, but how?  Intrinsically and as a magistrate, that is, that men worship God according to his Word: But:

1.  The magistrate as such has nothing to do with the spirit, nor can he command the sincerity of the worship; his care is that there be a divine worship, that is, materially and externally right and consonant, externally to the rules of the Word; and for this cause learned divines make the external man the object of the magistrate’s office; but not the external man as doing the duties of the Second Table only, but also as serving God in the duties of the First Table: for which cause I said Augustine meant the same, when he said, that kings serve God as men and as kings. (Augustine contra literas petilian., bk. 2, ch. 92 & contra Cresconi., bk. 8, ch. 5)

2.  Magistrates as magistrates are to extend their power for Christ; that is, that not only there be justice and peace amongst men, but also that there be religion in the land, yea, that the Gospel be preached; so all our divines make the king to be custos ut vindex utriusque tabulae [Keeper & Vindicator of both Tables]: Yea, I think he is a keeper and preserver of the Gospel also, and is to command men to serve Christ, and profess the Gospel, and to punish the blaspheming of Jesus Christ: and this is royal and magistratical service that the King as King performs to God, and to Jesus Christ the Mediator, ex conditione operis [out of the condition of the work], in regard that good which he procures as King, materially and externally, is consonant to the supernatural Law of the Gospel, but it is not magistratical service to Christ ex intentione operantis [out of the intention of the work].

Answer [to another objection].  There is a twofold goodness here to be considered, one of the magistrate as a magistrate, another as a good and Christian magistrate.

The former is an official goodness, or a magistratical prudence, justice, and goodness; this is required of all magistrates as such, to judge the people: so the acts of a heathen magistrate done according to common natural equity, by Nebuchadnezzar, Pilate, Cesar, Felix, Festus, are to be acknowledged as acts of a Lawful Magistrate, valid and no less essentially magistratical, than if performed by King David; and of this goodness the Scriptures speak not as essential to a Magistrate as a Magistrate:

But there is another goodness required of Magistrates as they are members of the Jewish Church, and as they are Christians, and of these the Scripture speaks; and so Magistrates not as Magistrates, but as good and Christian, are to be such as fear God, hate covetousness, respect not the face and favor of men; so its denied that the fear of God, hating of covetousness, are essential ingredients of kings as kings:

For kings as kings intend justice, peace, godliness, materially considered, both ex conditione operis [out of the state of the work], and operantium [of the working].  But for justice and righteous judgement in a spiritual and an evangelic way, that belongs not to the essence of a Magistrate, nec ex conditione seu ex intentione operis, nec ex conditione operantis [not out of the state or intention of the work, nor out of the state of working]: The Holy Ghost requires it of judges, as they would approve themselves as truly holy and religious, and would be accepted of God; and in this sense kings as kings do not serve God, nor the Mediator Christ, nor yet [do they] as men; only they serve God and the Mediator Christ as Christian kings, or as Christian men rather.

3rd Assertion  …The unjust and evil exercise of the Ministerial power is obnoxious to the magistrate as the magistrate; thus, in that he bears the sword against all evil doers, Rom. 13:1, the magistrate as the magistrate does only command well doing in order to praise and a good name, or temporal reward amongst men, Rom. 13:3, “Do that which is good and thou shalt have praise of the power;” 1 Tim. 5:17; Mt. 10:10.

Nor can the magistrate as the magistrate promise, or command the Elders to feed the flock, with the promise of the reward that Peter promises, 1 Pet. 5:4, to wit, that when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, they shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away.  

…the magistrate as the magistrate cannot forbid careless, unsound preaching, and rigorous and tyrannical ruling, or rather domineering over the flock, under the pain of death-eternal: for he can but kill the body, and has but the carnal and temporal sword, Rom. 13:4; and so he can inhibit ill doing only in order to temporary punishment; and though the duty of the former be spiritual, and the sin of the latter also, yet the external man is capable only of the magistrate’s promises and threatnings, as they respect evil or good temporary; so that it is a wonder to me, that Mr. [William] Prynne [an Erastian] or any learned man can say that magistrates can make laws to bind the conscience; sure it is ill divinity.

But Magistrates as Magistrates hold forth in their Law-abstinence from those same sins of adultery, incest, murder; But:

1. Not to the consciences of their subjects, but to the outer man as members of the commonwealth.

2. Not under the pain of eternal wrath and condemnation, before the judge of quick and dead: Magistrates as Magistrates have neither calling, office, place nor power to threaten or inflict eternal punishment; if Magistrates do persuade the equity of abstinence from adultery, incest, murder, in their statutes, or acts of parliament, from the Word of God, from the sixth and seventh command of the Decalogue, from the judgement and eternal punishment that follows these sins, they so persuade not as magistrates, but as divines, and as godly and Christian men;

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

3.  Magistrates as Magistrates hold forth in their Law, abstinence from these sins, not as the ambassadors of Christ, craving subjection of conscience and divine-faith to those charges, but only external obedience: for though ministers as ministers crave faith and subjection of conscience to all commandments and inhibitions, as in Christ’s stead, 2 Cor. 5:19-20, yet the magistrate as the magistrate does not crave either faith or subjection of conscience; nor is he in Christ’s stead to lay divine bands on the conscience, to submit the soul and conscience to believe and abstain; he is the deputy of God as the God of Order, and as the Creator, and Founder, and another of human societies and of Peace, to exact external obedience, and to lay bands on your hands not to shed innocent blood, and on your body not to defile it with adultery, or incest, nor to violate the chastity of your brother…  when the magistrate punishes spiritual sins, heresy, idolatry, he punishes them only with temporary punishment.

4th Assertion.  The Magistrate de jure is obliged not only to permit, but also to procure the free exercise of the ministry in dispensing Word, sacraments and Discipline, and owe his accumulative power, to convene synods, to add his sanction to the lawful and necessary constitutions and ordination of worthy, and to the deposition of unworthy officers in the Church, because:

1. He is a nurse-father in the Church, Isa. 49:23.

2. And by office, as a public father, to procure the good of the souls of the subjects in his coactive [coercive] way, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, 1 Tim. 2:2.

3. He is not only to permit, but also positively to procure all peace, in the exercise of all lawful and profitable trades and arts; therefore, far more that glory may dwell in the land, and that the peace thereof may be as a river, Isa. 48:18, by the presence of Christ walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks.

5th Assertion.  When the Magistrate commands painful and sound administration in preaching and governing, with provision of the praising and rewarding of well doing, he does not subordinate to himself the ministry in its exercise, because:

1. This promise is accumulative, and of a temporal reward, for the magistrate as the magistrate cannot promise that which Peter promises, that 1 Pet. 5:4, When the Chief Shepherd shall appear, they shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away; he may as a Christian promise that, but for a temporal reward for men, no man for being faithful in the house of God, hath that inseparably annexed to his labors, by a literal promise in Scripture, and therefore it is only accumulative.

2. Right and sound preaching and governing in God’s house cannot from this be said to be subjected to the magistrate as a magistrate, in regard that this is an accidental hire and an external and accessory good, which the Church as the Church, and the most faithful prophets, apostles, and pastors have wanted [lacked], and yet [they] have attained the end of a Church as a Church visible; nor is this a promise made to the Church as the Church or the ministers thereof as such, for the Apostolic church that was most poor, had neither thing, nor name, nor promise, but by the contrary the kings and rulers did conspire against the Kingdom of the son of God.

6th Assertion.  Though the magistrate may both threaten to inflict, and actually inflict the ill of temporal punishment on ministers, if they be either idle or unsound in their administration; yet thence can only be concluded that the mal-administration of the ministry is subjected to the magistrate as such, but not the ministry itself, or the exercise thereof:

1.  The mal-administration of any office is accidental to the office.

2.  This subjects the erring person, not the teaching minister [as such], to the civil magistrate.  Nor does this make the ministers in the exercise of their office properly subordinate to the [other] ministers [who can discipline them, as in episcopacy], but only so far as the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets [as it is in presbyterianism].

7th Assertion.  There is a twofold subordination of the exercise of mal-administration of ministers; one civil, another ecclesiastical: These two differ, so as the former must be subordinate to the magistrate who is to inflict bodily punishment; but the latter is only subject to the Church.

The judicial determination according to the Word of God, for the informing of the conscience and gaining to the truth the erring ministers, is proper to the college [presbytery] of ministers; and in this, if the college of ministers err, they are also punishable; and the magistrate is to command them to judge and determine, de novo, over again:

The magistrate in a constitute[d] church is to determine civilly [in distinction from the above, of seeking to gain erring ministers to the truth], and sentence, and civilly punish the ministers that either are dumb dogs and will not bark, or that pervert the souls of people with false doctrine; and where the Church is constituted, it is presumed that the priests, whose lips should preserve knowledge, have determined in an ecclesiastical way the very same [thing] which the judge civilly is to determine, [and that] not because the Church has so determined [already], but because he judges, in his conscience, it to be according to the Word of God.

8th Assertion.  The ministers are in no sort the ambassadors or servants of the magistrate, but of Jesus Christ, and [they are] immediately in their ministerial acts subordinate to the King of Kings:

1.  They declare the truth in the Name of Christ, their master and Lord, not in the name of the magistrate, as the Arminians make the steps of the subordination…

4.  How does this [Arminian, Popish and Erastian error] confound the two Kingdoms?:  The Kingdom that is of this world, and fights with the sword, and the Kingdom that is not of this world and fights not with the sword?  If the magistrate as the magistrate, and armed with the sword, be the supreme Head over both, and as he bears the sword, has a carnal dominion over the Church as the Church?

9th Assertion.  The Christian magistrate must here come under a threefold consideration:

1.  As the object of that high office is merely and purely civil and positive, relating only to a civil end, of peace: as in importing or exporting of goods, of wool, wax, moneys for the good of the commonwealth, the crying up or crying down of the value of coined gold or silver, the making of laws merely civil; as not to carry armor in the night [which is threatening] in such a city: so in war, commanders, captains and colonels are magistrates to order the battle, lay stratagems…  the parliaments’ power in disposing of fowling, fishing, hunting, eating of flesh, or not eating at such a time: all these, as the Word of God does not particularly warrant the one side more than the other, are merely civil and positive.

It is sure the magistrate has a supremacy, and an independency above the Church or ministers of the Gospel in all these; and as these prescind [are detached] from all morality of the First and Second Table [in that they are not inherently moral or immoral of themselves], I hold that neither the power nor person of the magistrate is subordinate to the Church and Church-assemblies [in these things], and ministers of the Gospel should [in Greek] and exceed the limits and bounds of their calling if they should meddle with these; as the Church should exceed their bounds, if they should make canons touching the way of sailing, painting, tilling the earth, according to such and such principles of art, for these are without the sphere of the Church’s activity;

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 magistrate falls under a second consideration, as he gives out laws just or unjust, and executes judgement in the morning, or suffers the eyes of the poor, the widow and orphan to fail for want [lack] of justice; and in these he is not subject to the Church and pastors so, but only as if he sin in making laws, the pastors may humbly supplicate that he would recall those unjust laws, and judge over again righteous judgment, and this exhorting of the pastors is a subjecting of the magistrate to the pastors quoad actus imperatos [insofar as the commanded act]; so have General Assemblies in the Church of Scotland humbly supplicated the king and parliament to retreat laws made against the liberties of the Church, in savor of Antichristian prelates and ceremonies;

but quoad actus elicitos [insofar as the act is elicited]: The Church and pastors themselves cannot usurp the throne and give out civil laws that are righteous, and judge righteously: for the poor [are] in the place [subjection] of king, parliament and judges; for in this also the judges are supreme and independent, and subject only to God the Creator, as his vicars and deputies in God’s universal Kingdom of Power, called universale regnum potentiae [teh universal Kingdom of Power], by divines; they are gods, and the shields of the world [Ps. 82], and here only as they err, not as they judge, are they subject to rebukes and threatnings, and admonitions of the Church and Ministers of the Gospel: Even as the magistrate may command the pastors to preach and dispense the sacraments aright; but the Magistrate himself can neither preach nor dispense the sacraments; so the schoolmen say that the actions of the understanding depend on the will, quoad excercitium [as far as the exercise], the will may set the mind to think on this or that truth; but not quoad specificationem [as far as the determination].  The will itself can neither assent, nor dissent from a truth, nor can the will command the mind to assent to a known untruth, or dissent from a known truth; the mind or understanding naturally does both, and this distinction holds in acts of the civil power, and in acts merely ecclesiastical [they being coordinate].

The third consideration of the Christian magistrate is as he is a man, and a member of a Christian Church who has a soul to be saved, and in this, he is to submit to pastors, as those that watch for his soul, Heb. 13:17, as others who have souls to be saved.

10th Assertion.  Hence I am not afraid to assert a reciprocation of subordinations between the Church and the magistrate, and a sort of collaterality and independent supremacy in their own kind common to both, for every soul, pastors and others, are subject to the magistrate as the higher power, in all civil things, Rom. 13:1-4; Tit. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; Mt. 22:21, and all members of the commonwealth, being members of the Church in soul-matters [in a Christian nation], are subject to the Church and pastors in their authoritative dispensing of Word, sacraments and Church censures: Nor are any magistrates, or others who have souls, excepted, Heb. 13:17; Mat. 16:19; Mt. 18:?8; Jn. 20:21; Acts 15:20-23; Mt. 10;40-42.

So Protestant writers who have written on this subject teach: As the learned Walens, judicious Trigland, that most learned divine, Andrew Rivet; the grave and learned professors of Leiden, Zipperus, Calv. Petr. Cabel Javius, reverend and pious Mr. John Cotton, judicious Peter Martyr, David Pareus, [and] all the Protestant confessions: the Augustine Confession distinctly of Helvetia. The confession of Sweden, the Saxon. The English confession and that of Scotland, all our divines…

Some say it is against reason that there should be two supreme collateral powers, and especially in a mutual subordination.  But can we deny this reciprocation of subordinations?  It is evident in many things; if the king be in an extreme fever, one of his own subjects, a skilled physician forbids him to drink wine; the king is to obey him as a physician, by virtue of the sixth command, as the King would not kill himself: And yet by virtue of the fifth command, the physician being the King’s subject, is subject to the laws of the king.  The Queen of Scotland as a wife, was to be subject to her husband in the Lord, as the Word of God commands, Eph. 5:22; and her own husband, not being king, but a subject, was to obey his wife, the princes and supreme magistrate according to the Word of God, Rom. 13:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; Tit. 3:1.  Yea, all arts have a sort of collateral and co-equal dignity, and we are to believe a skilled artist in his own art, though this artist be a servant, a vassal, a slave to those who do yield to him in his own art.”



How the Magistrate is to Establish Church Government in a Christian Land


Gillespie, George – pt. 3, ch. 8, Digression 1, ‘Of the Vocation of Men of Ecclesiastical Order’  in A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies...  (1637)

Gillespie delineates and argues three propositions:

1.  Princes may and ought to provide and take care that men of those ecclesiastical orders, and those only, which are instituted in the New Testament, by divine authority, have vocation and office in the Church.

2.  Princes in their dominions ought to procure and effect that there be never wanting [lacking] men qualified and fit for those ecclesiastical functions and charges which Christ has ordained, and that such men only be called, chosen, and set apart for the same.

3.  Nevertheless princes may not design nor appoint such or such particular men to the charge of such or such particular churches, or to the exercising of such or such ecclesiastical functions: but ought to provide that such an order and form be kept in the election and ordination of the ministers of the Church as is warranted by the example of the apostles and primitive Church. (Junius, ubi sup., ch. 7, nota. 17; Bald., De Cascons., bk. 4, ch. 5, case 5; Ger[hard?], Theological Places, tome 6, p. 835, 132)



In What Circumstances One May Complain to the Magistrate About a Church’s Ruling, & what the Magistrate May Do About It

George Gillespie

English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 3, bk. 8, Digression 4

pp. 192-3

“But what then is the part of the Prince after that the Church has given judgement?  Surely, whensoever need is, he ought by the private judgement of Christian discretion to try and examine whether this [ecclesiastical] discipline be rightly executed or not.  If he find the execution thereof to be unreproveable and that yet the sinner goes on in his contumacy, then by his civil power he ought further to punish him in his person, or wordly estate, that he may either reform or repress such a one as has not been terrified by the Church’s censures (Calvin, Book of Epistles, col. 169; Gratian., Caus. 11, q. 1, ch. 20).

But if after trial, he understand that the sentence given forth is unjust and erroneous, either through the ignorance or the malice of the ecclesiastical and regular judges, then he ought to interpone his authority, and cause a due proceeding [in ecclesiastical courts], for in such extraordinary cases of the failing of ecclesiastical persons, Princes may do much in things and causes Spiritual which ordinarily they cannot.”


pp. 194-5

“Princes therefore may not suffer bishops to usurp the power of suspending and depriving at their pleasure [as that belongs to presbyteries], and whensoever they commit any such tyranny in smiting of their fellow servants, it is the part of princes to cause these things to be redressed, and for this end graciously to receive the grievances of oppressed ministers.

The Arians of old beeing assembled in a Council at Antioch [A.D. 341] (Canon 11), decreed that if any ecclesiastical person should, without the advice and the letters of the bishops of the province, and chiefly of the Metropolitan, go to the emperour to put up any grievance unto him, he should be cast out, not only from the holy communion, but from his proper dignity which he had in the Church.  Whereupon Osiander has this observation (Hist. Eccl., Century 4, bk. 2, ch. 48, p. 242):

‘This canon also was composed against holy Athanasius: for Athanasius being expelled by the Arians, had fled to the Emperour Constantine the younger, and had from him obtained a return to his own Church.  Now this canon is very unjust, which forbids that a bishop or any other minister of the Church, being unjustly oppressed, flee to his godly civil magistrate: since it was lawful to the apostle paul to appeal to the Roman Emperor, wicked Nero, as the acts of the apostles witness.  But it may be seen in this place, that bishops were very soon seeking dominion, yea tyranny over the Church and over their colleges [ecclesiastical assemblies].'”



The Independents


As per the below, and other books of the Independents from the mid-1600’s (during their classical era) that could be quoted (especially those of Philip Nye), the Independents generally held that the Magistrate could, of his own official jurisdiction, judge and enforce matters of faith, or things in sacra, which nature, Scripture and the presbyterians deny.


Primary Source

Goodwin, Nye, Simpson, Burroughs, Bridge

An Apologetical Narration, humbly submitted to the Honourable Houses of Parliament  (London [1643]), pp. 17,19

“And what further authority, or proceedings purely Ecclesiastical, of one, or many sister Churches towards another whole Church, or Churches offending, either the Scriptures do hold forth, or can rationally be put in execution (without the Magistrates interposing a power of another nature, unto which we upon his particular cognizance, and examination of such causes, profess ever to submit, and also to be most willing to have recourse unto) for our parts we saw not then, nor do yet see…

And if the Magistrate’s power (to which we give as much, and (as we think) more, than the principles of the Presbyterial government will suffer them to yield) do but assist and back the sentence of other Churches denouncing this Non-communion [of Independent churches] against Churches miscarrying, according to the nature of the crime, as they judge meet…”


Secondary Source

William Cunningham

Historical Theology, vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1870), p. 580

“They, in their Apologetical Narration, had asserted that they gave as much, or, as they thought, more, power to the civil magistrate in religious matters than the principles of Presbyterians would allow them to do, a declaration which, whether it be regarded as made honestly or hypocritically, has been very galling to those who have succeeded them in the maintenance of Congregational principles.”


A Presbyterian Corrective to the Independents’ Error that the Civil Magistrate is able, by his Jurisdiction, to Judge of Matters in Sacra


Gillespie, George – pp. 177-80  of pt. 3, ch. 8, Digression 3, ‘Of the Judging of Controversies and Questions of Faith’  in A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies…  (1637)



History of the Doctrine of Circa Sacra


Gillespie, George – Bk. 2, ch. 1, ‘Of the Rise, Growth, Decay & Reviving of Erastiansim’  in Aaron’s Rod Blossoming

This gives a sarcastic history of the rise of Erastianism, which, of course, is helpful in seeing how the Reformation doctrine of circa sacra became corrupted by some.



Laerke, Mogens – ‘Jus Circa Sacra: Elements of Theological Politics in 17th Century Rationalism: From Hobbes and Spinoza to Leibniz’ Abstract  Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, Vol. 6, 2005 – Issue 1, pp. 41-64



An Example of the Implementation of Circa Sacra: Scotland, 1567

‘The Complete Text of all of the Acts of the First Parliament During the Reign of
James VI of Scotland, 1567′  2005 ed.



The Magistrate does not have Power in Sacra

Black, David & the Ministry of the Church of Scotland – ‘The Declinature of David Black Declining the Authority of King & Council in Matters Spiritual…’  1596  from Calderwood’s History, Vol. 5, pp. 456-459




John Calvin

Letters, #620 (1562)

“…it appears to me that no objection can be made to admitting into the consistory officers of justice and chiefs of police, provided they sit in it in the capacity of magistrates. But always let there be a due distinction observed between the two functions and conditions. To exclude persons that belong to the civil government from all superintendence in the spiritual administration, seems to me contrary to reason. What is essential is that when fitting persons shall have been elected to such an office, there should be no blending of their functions, nor the power of the sword confounded with what ought to be carefully kept distinct from it.”


Commentary on Isaiah  (1550)

“Hence it ought to be observed that something remarkable is here demanded from princes, besides an ordinary profession of faith; for the Lord has bestowed on them authority and power to defend the Church and to promote the glory of God. This is indeed the duty of all; but kings, in proportion as their power is greater, ought to devote themselves to it more earnestly, and to labor in it more diligently.”


The Scottish First Book of Discipline


“To the Great [civil] council of Scotland…   so many of us…  in unity of mind do offer unto your wisdoms these subsequent heads for common order and uniformity to be observed in this realm, concerning doctrine, administration of sacraments, [election of ministers, provision for their sustenance,] ecclesiastical discipline, and policy of the kirk: most humbly requiring your honours that, as ye look for participation with Christ Jesus, that neither ye admit anything which God’s plain Word shall not approve, neither yet that ye shall reject such ordinances as equity, justice, and God’s word do specify.

For as we will not bind your wisdoms to our judgments, further than we are able to prove the same by God’s plain scriptures, so must we most humbly crave of you, even as ye will answer in God’s presence (before whom both ye and we must appear to render account of all our facts), that ye repudiate nothing, for pleasure nor affection of men, which ye are not able to improve by God’s written and revealed word.”


Second Head, ‘Of Sacraments’

“…whosoever presumes in baptism to use oil, salt, wax, spittle, conjuration, or crossing, accuses the perfect institution of Christ Jesus of imperfection; for it was void of all such inventions devised by men.  And such as would presume to alter Christ’s perfect ordinance you [the civil magistrate] ought severely to punish.”


George Gillespie

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

“…look what is the largest extent of the prince’s power and privilege in matters belonging unto God’s worship, which either God’s Word, or the judgment of sound divines does allow to him, none shall be found more willingly obsequious [readily obedient] to his commandments than we.”


James Durham

On how Circa Sacra flows out of the 4th Commandment:

The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland, or, A Treatise Concerning Scandal…  (1659), pt. 3, ch. 13, pp. 241-2

“This is clear in all the governments and commonwealths that the Lord did immediately model Himself, magistrates had this for a special part of their task, to keep His ordinances pure, and to restrain the corrupters of them:  This is expressed in the Moral Law, where Masters are no less to oversee their servants, that they work not on the Sabbath, from respect to the Lord, than to direct their work all the week from respect to themselves [Ex. 20:8-11]; and by the rules of interpreting of these commands, what belongs to a master to be done by him as a master, in reference to these over whom he has power according to his station, that does belong to all magistrates in reference to these under their charge, according to their stations.  Also, where one instance is named, all of that kind are comprehended.

And therefore as this ordinance of sanctifying the Sabbath is to be overseen by superiors, so also are all others: yea, it is acknowledged also, that what is expressed in one command, in respect of the extent thereof, is to be understood in all.  And therefore this obligation lies on superiors, to make inferiors observant of God’s ordinances in reference to all the commands; this is not doubted of the duties in the Second Table: yet there is no expression in it inferring the same so express as is in the First; and this is a common assertion, magistrates have both Tables of the Law committed to their keeping.  This is fully made out by many godly and learned men, and we need not to insist upon it…”


Stone, Samuel  d. 1663

Stone was a New England puritan.  This was the first comprehensive theology produced in the American colonies.  See the Congregational Library & Archives for more background.

The Whole Body of Divinity in a Catechetical Way Handled  (Hartford, CT: probably sometimes between 1647-1663), no page numbers, towards the end.  Transcribed by Samuel Willard.

“God gave ye [the] Tables to Moses, hence Divines conclude the Magistrate to be custos utrius Tabellae.  Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, etc: did act civilly in matters of religion: so did ye King of Nineveh with his princes, Jonah 3:7.”






Hommius, Festus – 30. The Magistrate & his Office About Religion  in 70 Theological Disputations Against Papists  (Leiden, 1614), pp. 168-179

Chamier, Daniel

Panstratiae Catholicae, or a Body of the Controversies of Religion Against the Papists, vol. 5 (Church)  (Frankfurt, 1627-1629), bk. 4, ‘Of the Members of the Church-Militant’

ch. 13, ‘The Kingly Primacy that the Christian Magistrate has in the Church is Asserted’, p. 174 ff.

The Romanists held that the Papacy is above the Magistrate, and hence governs him in civil matters.  This is an assertion of the civil rights of the magistrate above the Church in civil affairs.

ch. 14, ‘Whether the Keeping of Religion ought to Pertain to the Political Magistrate?’, p. 177

ch. 15, ‘Whether the Magistrate is able, and ought to punish Heretics with Capital Punishment, due solely to Heresy?’

ch. 16, ‘Whether the Laws of the Civil Magistrate Oblige the Conscience, and How Far they Oblige?’

“The name of Chamier (d. 1621) is one of the greatest, not only among Calvinistic divines, but in all theological literature.  His Panstratiae Catholicae (1626) is the ablest work from a Calvinistic hand in in the great Roman Catholic Controversy, and takes its general rank with books like Chemnitz’s Examen and Gerhard’s Confessio Catholica.  It was prepared at the request of the Synod of Larochelle.  There is no difference of opinion among competent judges as to its distinguished merits, and it is justly regarded among all Calvinists as one of the highest authorities.” – Krauth, a Lutheran, p. 47

Rivet, Andrew

Lectures on Ch. 20 of Exodus…  (Leiden, 1632)

‘Whether & in What Way Church Men are Subject to the Political Magistrate?’, pp. 244-257

‘What Rights Ought the Magistrate to Hold About Religion?’, pp. 258-268

Walaeus, Antonius – vol. 2, ‘A Tract of the Ministry of the Church, and an Inspection of the Magistrate around [circa] it’, pp. 1-79  in All the Works  (Includes vols. 1 & 2, Leiden, 1643)

Walaeus (1573-1639).  This was a response to the Arminian Utenbogard’s work of 1610.  See Cunningham, Historical Theology 2.578.

Voetius, Gisbert – Ecclesiastical Politics  (Amsterdam, 1663)

Voet’s main life-long opponent in this matter was Lewis Du Moulin, of the French school.  See Cunningham, HT 2.580.

Vol. 1, Bk. 1, Tract 2, Of the Power, Polity & Canons of the Churches

2. The Power and Right of the Magistrate Around the Sacred is Decided.  124

3. Fonts of Solutions and Responses to Arguments and Evidences that the Adversaries are Accustomed to Using are Set Down.  149

4. Some Particular Questions about the Power of the Magistrate Around the Sacred are Determined.  182

Appendix: Of the Presence of the Magistrate in All Presbyterial & Consistorial Assemblies…  199

5. Some Particular Questions are Determined about the Subject of Ecclesiastical Power [Who may Hold and Exercise it]:  Is it of the Magistrate and other Political Confederations?  At Least During a Corrupt or Turbulent State of the Church?  [Is it held by] The Pope, Bishops, etc. Courts of them, Cathedrals of the Church, Councils; or of Solely the Ministry, a Court of Them, or an Ecumentical or Catholic Church; or the Populus?  211


vol. 2, Part 1, Bk. 4, ‘Of the External Adjuncts of Ecclesiastical Practices’, Tract 1, ‘Of the Liberty, Immunity and Dignity of the Church’

1. Of the Ecclesiastical Liberty of Security  354

2. Of the Liberty of Conscience and the Permission of Religions in a Republic  379

3. A Disquisition on the Liberty of Consciences, or on Using Force [Coactione400

4. Is the Permission of Many Religions in a Republic not Only Lawful, but so Great that the Liberty of its Exercise in Anything is to be Conceded by the Magistrate, However Greatly it is Brought Forth and Demanded out of One’s Conscience?  Or are the Exercises of False Religions Truly Able to be Prohibited and Coerced?  432

5. Of the Liberty of Separate Conventicles [Gatherings for Worship], or Excepting them, on the Term ‘False Religion’, and of Writings and Deeds Professing, Defending and Opposing that which is Opposite the Truth  473

6. Of a Question: Is the Magistrate able, and ought he to Impede the Exercises and Propagation of False Religions, Infidels and Heretics only for Particular Political Reasons, and not truly also for General Theological Reasons?  And in the Belgic Federation, have they been impeded thus far only for political reasons?  479

7. Is Liberty for Papal Exercise[s] to be Conceded in Civil States which have been Reformed?  490

8. At this time, is Liberty for the Exercise[s] of Papists in the Belgic Federation to be Conceded for Political or Ecclesiastical Reasons?  497

9. Is Some Liberty to be Conceded, Directly or Indirectly, for the Exercise and Conventicles [Gatherings of Worship] of the Sects of Anti-Trinitarians, Socinians, Arians and those Similar, and other Fanatics in the Belgic Federation?  529

10. Of the Liberty and Tolerating of the Remonstrants of the Belgic States, even Politically and Ecclesiastically  551


Pt. 2, Bk. 1, ‘Of the People of the Church’, Tract 1

ch. 4, On a Hypothetical Question, First: Do the Remonstrants [Arminians], of Good Order, Have Power to Remove Themselves and Their Own from the Inspection, Oversight and Ecclesiastical Judgment?  and to Strive for Every Kind of Exemption from the Magistrate, to Use them for their Profit?  55


Burman, Francis – vol. 2, Locus 48, ch. 10, ‘Of the Law and Office of the Magistrate about the Sacred’  in A Synopsis of Theology, and especially of the Economy of the Covenant of God, from the beginning of ages to the consummation of all things, vol. 2 (Utrecht, 1671), pp. 515-526

Burman (1628-79)

Becmann, Johann Christoph – Chronicles on the Command of Royal Majesty about Sacred Things & Things of Human Law  (Frankfurt, 1676)  40 pp. consisting of two dissertations

Braun, Johannes – Locus 23, ch. 30, ‘Of the Power of Magistrates about Sacred things’  in The Doctrine of the Covenants, or A System of Didactic and Elenctic Theology  (Amsterdam, 1691), pp. 675-81

Braun (1628-1708)

Schweizer, Johann Heinrich – Political Theses on the Magistrate about Sacred Things  (Zurich, 1695)  12 pp.  35 theses



Heidegger, Johann Heinrich – ch. 27, ‘Of the Government of the Church’, sections 48-53, ‘Of the Care of the Church Incumbent upon the Magistrate’  in The Marrow of Christian Theology: an Introductory Epitome of the Body of Theology  (Zurich, 1713)

Rodolph, Johann R. – Bk. 5, ch. 6, Of the Christian Magistrate & the Right & Office of it Around the Civil & Sacred  in Christian Theology, Things of the Faith, or Things to be Believed about God and his Ways in the World and Church, under Diverse Temporary Economies  (Bern, 1714), pp. 569-577

Rodolph (1646-1718)




Capito, Wolfgang – Response on the Mass, Marriage & Right of the Magistrate in Religion  (1537/1540)  ToC

Beza, Theodore – A Book Concerning the Civil Magistrate Punishing Heretics, against the mashed fodder of Martin Bell and the New Academic Sects  1554

See R.H. Murray on this work.

Pages 222-23 as translated by Sherman Isbell:

“Although we do not hold to the forms of the Mosaic polity, yet when such judicial laws prescribe equity in judgments, which is part of the Decalogue, we, not being under obligation to them insofar as they were prescribed by Moses to only one people, are nevertheless bound to observe them to the extent that they embrace that general equity which should everywhere be in force… 

The Lord commands that a deposit be returned, and that thieves be punished…  Because it follows natural equity, and expounds that perpetual precept of the Decalogue, Thou shalt not steal, to this extent all are bound to fulfill them both.  The thief is sentenced to make restitution for the theft, sometimes twice as much, sometimes four times as much…  This penalty is purely political, and it binds the one nation of the Israelites, to whom alone it was adapted.  Therefore it is permitted for the magistrate, in his exercise of sovereignty and for definite and good causes, to prescribe a more severe manner of punishment… 

And to be sure, if anyone compares several of the laws of the Greeks, and many of the laws of the Romans, with the Mosaic, he will find a similarity among them in establishing penalties, so that it is sufficiently plain that all were adapted to the same goal of natural equity.”



Revius, Jacob – An Examination of the Dissertation of Nicholas Vedel on the Oversight [Episcopatu] of Constantine the Great, or of the Power of Reformed Magistrates about [circa] Things Ecclesiastical  (Amsterdam, 1642)  Various judgments of theological faculties are appended at the end.

Vedel (1596-1642) had been a professor of philosophy at Geneva, but was a professor of theology at Franeker, Netherlands when his Erastian work appeared, A Dissertation on the Oversight of Constantine the Great, or of the Power of Reformed Magistrates about [circa] Ecclesiastical Things… (1642, 140 pp.).  The work has commendatory prefaces by Andrew Rivet & Johannes Maccovius.

The early Church Father, Eusebius (d. 339) had recorded in his Life of Constantine the Great (Bk. 4, ch. 24) that Constantine told a group of bishops, “that he himself too was a bishop…  You are bishops whose jurisdiction is within the Church: I also am a bishop [overseer], ordained by God to overlook whatever is external to the Church.”  Eusebius went on to say, “for he watched over his subjects with an episcopal [overseer’s] care, and exhorted them as far as in him lay to follow a godly life.”  As the reformed held that magistrates could exhort the Church ministry to do its duty, clearly Constantine’s words are open to a bit of interpretation.

Trigland, Jacob – A Theological Dissertation on the Civil & Ecclesiastical Power, both being mutually subordinate and coordinate to each other, upon the occasion of Vedel’s Book on the Oversight [Episcopatu] of Constantine the Great  (Amsterdam, 1642)  ToC  See especially ch. 7 and following.

This was written especially against Erastianism.

Apollonius, Willem – The Right of Royal Majesty about Sacred Things, or a Theological Tract on the Right of the Magistrate about Ecclesiastical Things, opposite the Tract of Nicholas Vedel on the Oversight [Episcopatu] of Constantine the Great, by the Authority and Command of the [Dutch] Classis [Presbytery] of Walcheren  (1642)  411 pp.  No table of contents

Apollonius (1602-1657) was a Dutch presbyterian minister.  This work has been a classic on the Establishment Principle.  Vedelius (1596-1642) was a reformed professor at Franeker, who, in refuting Arminians in a small work of 1641, assigned a much lesser role to the magistrate respecting religion, but even this was considered too Erastian for many of the Reformed.  Apollonius’ work was one of three responses to Vedelius, being published just before the Westminster Assembly.  See Cunningham, HT, 2.579-80.

“There is another very valuable work by the same author, written a short time before the meeting of the Westminster Assembly, but treating very fully of the Erastian theory.” – William Hetherington, History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, pp. 301-302


Table of Contents

Dedicatory Epistle
Preface to the Reader

1st Section, Of the Right of the Magistrate about Ecclesiastical Things in General

1 – A Description of the General Sentiment of the Orthodox  1

2 – An Examination of the First Question Proposed by the Celebrated Vedel: Whether the Magistrate has no Power in Ecclesiastical Things, so that He is [only] a Defender of the Church & an Executor of its Sentence?  8

3 – Of the End of the Power of the Magistrate about Sacred Things & the Order that He Holds to that End  46

4 – An Examination of the Second Question Weighed out by Vedel:  Whether it ought not to pertain to the Magistrate to take care of the True Religion without attending to the Prescription of the Ministers of the Church  58

5 – Of the Object, Form & Mode of the Power of the Magistrate about Sacred Things  82

6 – An Examination of the Third Question Shaken out by Vedel:  Whether the Power of the Magistrate itself Ought to Extend to All Parts of the Office of the Ministers of the Church  100

2nd Section, Of the Right of the Magistrate about Sacred Things in Specific

1 – Of the Calling of Pastors, & of the Right of the Magistrate & Church in it  140

2 – An Examination of the 4th Question Proposed by Vedel:  Whether the Magistrate ought to have a Power for Calling Pastors or Ministers of the Church  162

3 – Of Synods & the Authority of the Magistrate about them  212

4 – An Examination of the 5th Question Shaken Out by Vedel:  Of Judgment in the Cause of Faith and the Things of Religion in Synods   252

5 – Of the Coercive Power of the Magistrate about Ecclesiastical Things & Persons  326

6 – An Examination of the 6th Question Shaken Out by Vedel: In this Question the Celebrated Dr. of Divinity widely extended the fringes of the coercive power of the Magistrate; a bit is gathered together in a true explication of the body of the question and especially in response to the considerations.  361




Related Pages