Statement of the Difference – Chapter 7: Brief View of the Evidence for the Exercise of Civil Authority About Religion.
Copyright © 1997 Naphtali Press
[George Smeaton, Edinburgh, 12th June, 1871. The text below has been edited for the present reprint of chapter seven of M’Crie’s Statement of the Difference. Text from Statement of the Difference Between the Profession of the Reformed Church of Scotland… (Endinburgh: C. F. Lyon, 1871).]
The celebrated Statement of the late Dr. M’Crie, was drawn up with the express design of exhibiting the difference between the profession of the Reformed Church of Scotland and the theory of Voluntaryism. The latter term, indeed, was not yet in common use. The question discussed, however, was precisely the same. It was not the question as in former times: with what restrictions and with what regard to the church’s intrinsic freedom may magistrates competently exercise their power about religion? It was the absolute question: is any power whatever competent to the Christian civil ruler in seeking to further the cause of Christ? Dr. M’Crie’s work discusses this point, and possesses the following peculiarities: It is a masterly defense of the principle of Establishments as a scripture truth; and the most complete vindication ever given to the world of the position occupied by the Reformed Church of Scotland on the whole subject of national religion, and of the magistrate’s legitimate power in promoting it.
The occasion which called forth the treatise, was as follows. A change had been introduced into the testimony of the church of which Dr. M’Crie was a minister, on the question of the civil ruler’s authority and duty in reference to religion. About the same period, that is, during the last decennium of the previous century [the 18th], the leaven of Voluntaryism, or, the theory that it is not competent to the Christian ruler to exercise his authority and influence in behalf of religion in any form, began to work within the pale both of the Burgher and Antiburgher sections of the Secession Church. To the latter only, as the denomination to which Dr. M’Crie belonged, do we deem it necessary to refer in this place. In the Antiburgher Synod, or General Associate Synod, as it was termed, a motion was made in 1795 to take steps for preparing or compiling a new historical and doctrinal Testimony for the use of the denomination. Various reasons prompted this proposal. It was deemed fitting to simplify the document heretofore used as a testimony; to put together in a readable form what had been said in several publications on their distinctive principles; and to bring down the testimony to the time then present. But above all it was thought desirable as the event too plainly proved, to find expression for the new opinions already widely diffused on the subject of the magistrate’s power in reference to religion; in other words, to make room for the Voluntary Theory. For some years, the people were kept on the tip-toe of expectation for the new Display of the Secession Testimony, which was to supersede that previously in use, and to prove a great improvement upon it. When at length it appeared, after nine years spent in its preparation, it was found to say and unsay; some passages doing homage to the past attainments of the Reformed Church of Scotland, while others were all too plainly at variance with the previously recognized doctrine of the Secession Church, in reference to the lawfulness of the connection between church and state.
But, as is not unusual in such cases, the extent of the alteration was sought to be concealed. A radical change, or rather a revolution, had been made in the constitution of this section of the Secession Church. But the change was not for a time openly avowed. The Synod, abandoning the principles and position of the Secession Church, though still retaining the name, had, in fact become a Dissenting denomination. It had broken with the Historic Church of Scotland. The connection was dissolved. There was a certain mis-statement, therefore, in asserting that they continued, as Heretofore, to bear testimony to the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of the Reformed Church of Scotland, The Confession, received in 1647 with one explanation, was now received with many limitations, under color of carrying out the course of action then initiated. They declared their liberty of signifying their adherence to it with the same or similar limitations. The section, in particular, which described what was competent to the civil magistrate, was evacuated of its import under the plea that it taught compulsory measures in religion. It was perverted, too, from its proper meaning, as if it might be accepted in the sense of referring to the magistrate in his private capacity. Furthermore, the scheme of separating the narrative and doctrinal part of the new Testimony from each; that is, by binding the members of the church solely to the latter, men’s minds were gradually led away from the facts, in support of which the Secession testimony had at first been raised. In short, the Historic basis was to a large extent removed. We frankly acknowledge that in the exhibition of doctrine, there is much precious statement of central truth, worthy of the best times of the Secession Church. But it cannot be denied that whatever reference is made, directly or indirectly, to the misleading negation of Voluntaryism, we encounter one-sided statements, vacillation, and defective exposition.
The Synod, on the 1st of May 1804, approved the testimony, and enacted that henceforth, for all who entered the denomination, it should be held as the bond or term of ministerial and Christian communion. Then followed, on the part of a small but influential minority, a determined opposition. Only six ministers refused to acquiesce in the change made on the constitution of the church. But their piety and ability, as well as their literary eminence, gave weight to the cause they represented. Two of the number, Messrs Whytock of Dalkeith and Hog of Kelso, were soon removed from the scene of conflict by death. The four who remained, Rev. Prof. Bruce of Whitburn, Rev. Mr. Aitken of Kirriemuir, Rev. Mr. Chalmers of Haddington, and Dr. M’Crie, maintained the old testimony in all its integrity. But they suffered deposition at the hand of the majority. Their testimony, however, was not to be suppressed. Forming themselves into a Presbytery, under the designation of the Constitutional Presbytery, they rendered the most important service to the entire Presbyterian church by their clear and scriptural testimony to national Christianity.
It is unnecessary further to narrate the history of these witnesses. This may be collected from the memoir of Dr. M’Crie, as well as from Dr. M’Kerrow’s History of the Secession Church. My present purpose is, in the briefest possible compass, to call attention to the important publications which took their rise from this controversy. One subject, in all its various applications, occupied their attention during these debates. This was the subject of national religion. They felt themselves constrained by arguments drawn both from natural and revealed religion, to assign to the civil magistrate a greatly wider sphere of action in religious things than did the church from which they separated. But they were not less careful than the other party to exclude every element of Erastianism. They held that there must be a close connection between religion and all organized civil society; that this was essential, if not to its being, at least to its well-being; and that the diffusion of Christianity ought to be an object of the deepest interest to every ruler having at heart the peace, the prosperity, and the welfare of the nation over which he is placed. Of the treatises which appeared at this time, one of the most remarkable in some respects was a pungent and satirical inquiry into the consistency of the Narrative and Testimony, entitled, Old Light better than the Pretended New, by the Rev. Mr. Turnbull of Glasgow. There is scarcely a vulnerable point which he did not assail. And every subject, mooted or suggested by the testimony, especially in connection with National Christianity, and the evidence supplied by the Old Testament, is acutely, though curtly, and often bluntly, discussed. The addresses to their several congregations, also, by Messrs Hog and Chalmers, are weighty and valuable; succinctly stating the points of difference between them and the supporters of the new theory. These publications are well worthy of a careful perusal, and of a wider circulation than at the time they acquired. I must notice, furthermore, a volume of considerable size, by Prof. Bruce, entitled, Review of the proceedings of the Associate Synod. Though this work is too minute in matters of detail, and too full of the personalities of the controversy, it is replete with important statements, and will be read with pleasure and advantage by every one who takes national religion in earnest.
Of all the publications, however, which owed their origin to these discussions, by far the most important, was the statement of the difference by Dr. M’Crie. Little, if anything, in the work can be called antiquated. It rests on a foundation of mingled argument and historical fact, which serve to make the reader feel that he is standing on firm ground. The Scripture testimony for national religion, is developed by means of such a natural and convincing exposition that few will think of calling in question the conclusion to which he arrives. Unless men are content, as Sectaries commonly are, to have recourse to the position that the question cannot be elucidated from the Old Testament but must be discussed on the narrowed basis of the Gospels and Epistles, where, from the nature of the case, there is no occasion to introduce the subject of national Christianity, few will be able to resist the force of Dr. M’Crie’s proof. As to its theological and historical elements, they embody the genuine spirit of the entire Protestant church. They are the very same principles which at one time found a response wherever the Reformation extended. The questions now raised among us, though in a different interest, are precisely the same in substance, and not much changed even in form, as were the discussions which called forth the unanswerable statement of Dr. M’Crie. Its theological and scriptural arguments are fully as appropriate and seasonable in 1871 as they were in 1807, when it first appeared. The theory of Voluntaryism was at that time more a topic for speculation than of practical action; but Dr. M’Crie took its measure from the very first. He saw all its import in the germ long before it came to be applied to the overthrow of the existing establishment of religion. And he strenuously asserted that had the nations of Europe acted on the principle which he labored to refute and expose, the Reformation, under the liberties of which all the Protestant nations still repose, never could have taken place.
Here I shall briefly advert to the main topic of discussion in the publications to which I have referred; and then notice the exceptions that have been taken to the way in which the writers conducted the controversy.
As to the first of these, the principal topics on which Dr. M’Crie and his friends laid emphasis, were the three following:
I. The place assigned in matters of religion to the civil ruler or to the Christian nation acting through its rulers in a corporate capacity. The Synod, in their new Testimony, had asserted that the power competent to worldly kingdoms is wholly temporal, respecting only the secular interests of society. Of course, they adduced no scripture for this, because no scripture could be adduced to lend countenance to such a tenet. Nor can it be deduced by sound deduction from any revealed truth. The advocates of the Synod could only have recourse to the rights of man. Were this dogma consistently carried out, the separating brethren clearly proved, that all the laws previously in force in every Christian country in favor of religion, the sabbath, scripture-education, and the like, must needs be cancelled by a universal act recissory. They, on the contrary, maintained from scripture, that nations as such are under obligation to recognize the true religion and aid in its diffusion by wise and salutary laws. They maintained that rulers are bound to give civil sanction to the truth; to establish the church; and to contribute from the national resources, for the furtherance of the gospel. This was one point which they argued out in all its bearings.
II. Liberty of conscience, on its true foundation, was fully and admirably expounded. The doctrine of the Synod on this point was in the last degree unguarded. They not only tied up the magistrate’s hands from any exercise of civil authority in suppressing blasphemy, sabbath-breaking, or profaneness, representing such coercive measures as inconsistent with the spiritual nature of Christ’s Kingdom, but went so far as to allege that the national sanction of one particular profession of Christianity in preference to another, partook of the nature of compulsion, intolerance, and persecution. On the contrary, the separating brethren put the question of liberty of conscience on its true ground: that is, they placed it not on the mere metaphysical rights of man, but on the ground that God alone is Lord of the conscience; and that its rights, as derived from him, can never be alleged as running counter to the authority of God speaking in His word, and commanding nations and rulers to obey Him. The unregulated license to which I have referred was well designated by the Rev. Mr Chalmers of Haddington, “the grim idol,” at whose shrine the entire national profession of religion and the due exercise of magistratical power about religion were recklessly sacrificed.
III. The Christian state, according to the Old Testament precedent, was represented by the separating brethren as an organized community, capable of being in covenant with God. On this they laid great stress. This was the most definite expression, according to these brethren, for national religion; and their whole theory, in large measure, took its peculiar color from this conviction. Not that they supposed any step or act of man originating the relation between a State and God. Rather, their whole mode of representing the matter proceeded on the supposition that by an act of prevenient grace the nation to whom the word of God had come, occupied a position analogous to that of Israel; and the formal act of covenanting was but the expression of the national consciousness of being taken into such a relation. Nor was this a merely Scottish idea; for we find in other countries the same thing done or fully approved of.
Next in order we must notice the exceptions that have been taken to the positions laid down by Dr. M’Crie and his friends. These will be found in the counter-publications of the period. But more recently they have been summed up by Dr. M’Kerrow, from his peculiar view-point, in his History of the Secession Church. Some of these objections were simply frivolous. Thus Mr. Allen charged them with making a real attack upon the sole Headship of Christ, not consenting to His ruling His own kingdom by His sole authority, but taking civil magistrates into a kind of partnership with Him. This was felt to be so groundless and gratuitous, that others honorably acquitted them of entertaining any such tenet. There are three objections, however, to which it may not be out of place to allude in a few words.
I. The first charge is that the protesting brethren not content to take the church’s testimony immediately from scripture, insisted on making reference to the attainments of former times, as exhibited in the Confession of Faith and other standards. The Synod had, in the introduction to the testimony, stated: “The foundation upon which we rest the whole of our ecclesiastical constitution is the testimony of God in His word. The main pillar of the Reformation, that the Bible contains the whole religion of Protestants, we adopt for our fundamental principle.” And had both Economies been appealed to without reservation, no exception would have ben taken to this position. But the important subject of national religion was dropped, under color of going immediately to Scripture. The reader of Dr. M’Crie’s statement will discover that he finds fault with the testimony published by the Synod on the ground now noticed; and some may be startled at finding a position laid down which they are at a loss to account for. “The new testimony,” he says, “is drawn up upon the principle, that the church’s testimony ought to be taken immediately from Scriptures, without a reference to the attainments of former times — an opinion repeatedly pleaded for by its compilers, and evidently acted upon in the present instance. Accordingly, the doctrines asserted in it are asserted simply as agreeable, and the doctrines condemned as contrary, to the word of God, without viewing them in their reference to the Confession of Faith and other subordinate standards, and even without mentioning any of these, except perhaps, in an incidental way, in an instance or two. Besides, it contains doctrines that are contradictory to the Confession of Faith, and which were never received into the confession or terms of communion of this or any other Presbyterian church.” In a word, the object of the Synod was to break with the past and initiate a new history. And it is a plausible way of representing the matter to say that the church, overleaping all the intermediate development between us and the apostles, is not to be the slave of her own history. To this mode of putting the case, it may suffice to reply in general, that were it possible to ignore all the past between us and the age of the apostles, which it is not, it would yield a very doubtful advantage: for the same course of development, or a similar one, would only have to be repeated. But in the case before us, there was a particular reason for the step, and the answer must be equally particular. The immediate design was to drop a truth under the guise of drawing the testimony direct from Scripture. And the position laid down by the protesting brethren, was that an article of doctrine, once confessed on the authority of Scripture, can never be laid aside by a church without a thorough refutation of the article from the divine word, and a general conviction that it is erroneous and indefensible. This was the ground they occupied, and it is irrefragable. No article of doctrine taken into the standards of the church can be simply abandoned till its contrariety to the word of God has been conclusively established to the conviction of all.
II. A second charge against the protesting brethren is, that although the New Testimony decidedly expressed the opinion that the connection between Church and State was unlawful, they would not exercise forbearance where, it is alleged, forbearance is not only warrantable but demanded. It was not a question of forbearance. It was a question that related to the lawfulness and propriety of dropping all confession to the great truth of national religion. The discussion turned largely on the peculiar attitude which was to be taken to the Old Testament Economy. The advocates of the new opinions denied on two well defined grounds the validity of the argument drawn from the Old Testament. It was held, in the first place, that the Jewish nation but typically prefigured the Christian Church; and, in the second place, the spirituality of the new Economy was held up as the absolute contrast of the previous carnal Economy. In a word, the typical character of Judaism and a carnal or non-spiritual service were represented very incorrectly as the marked peculiarities of the Jewish nation. These allegations were the ostensible plea on which a Presbyterian Church, making a transition to the narrow principles and misconceptions of the Sectaries, sought to explode every argument drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures.
The separating brethren maintained the very reverse, as will be seen from all their publications. They asserted, first, that Israel was not the type of the Church of God, but the church of God itself, under a different dispensation. This was the ground asserted by Wendelinus and all Protestant divines. As to the element of spirituality, they held that the two economies did not differ in kind, but only in degree and outward form. When the advocates of the new principles came to apply the typical theory of Jewish rulers, whose function was at once moral and permanent, the self-contradictory nature of their principle became apparent. Mr. Turnbull, in his acute and lively manner, triumphantly exposed the absurdity of attempting to explain the exercise of magistratical authority and influence among the Jews, in behalf of religion, on the alleged ground that the office was typical of Christ. Dr. M’Crie does the same thing, in his own lucid and argumentative way.
III. A third charge is that the point for which the protesting brethren contended, was too speculative or too frivolous to warrant their separation. It had respect, said the advocates of the Synod, merely to the authority or function of the civil magistrate, that is, to the action of a third party. The separating brethren, however, on their part, put the matter in a wholly different light. On the one hand, the ecclesiastical action against which they protested, presented itself to their minds, as such a falling away from the faithful profession of divine truth and from past attainments in reformation — as such a dereliction of duty toward God and man, that they felt themselves summoned to refuse ecclesiastical obedience, and to separate from the church by which they were ordained.
They felt, moreover, that it was an easy task to vindicate their position. However much the Synod might endeavor to represent the matter as small, because limited to points not touching the grounds of personal salvation, it appeared in a wholly different light to them. It was the whole question of national religion — whether nations were competent to serve Christ or not. And Dr. M’Crie sets forth in the most convincing way that there are few doctrines “of the practical kind, in which the best interests of mankind and the general state of religion in the world, are more deeply concerned than in the right and wrong determination of this question.” They maintained, that no permission has been given to any of the Lord’s disciples to break any of the least of His commandments, and to teach men so. The momentous topic of national religion was as worthy, they considered, to be contended for as any other important truth. They held that it directly bore on the honor of Christ.
M’Crie’s Statement (chapter 7: Brief View of the Evidence for the Exercise of Civil Authority About Religion.)
In maintaining the lawfulness and duty of employing civil authority for the public support and advancement of religion, we have the advantage of proceeding upon the broadest, most liberal, and solid principles. We have the aid of the light of nature, the principles of sound government, and the inspired dictates of revelation. The nature of the present work does not admit of a full and argumentative discussion of these; all that can at present be proposed is a summary exhibition of some of the principal grounds, leaving the more ample illustration and confirmation of them to a future opportunity.
There are different ways in which the right to exercise a particular authority, or the warrant for performing certain duties may be established. Among these, the following are mentioned by approved writers: the light of nature, approved scripture examples, scripture precepts, and scripture promises and predictions. The power in question is supported by all of these.
By the light of nature — The force of the argument which arises from this is allowed by all sound divines. (( The argument for a divine right from the light and law of nature, is illustrated and confirmed by the following (not to mention many other) authors, who apply it in defense of Presbyterian church government, as well as other truths. Gillespie’s Assertion of the government of the church of Scotland, p. 154. Divine Right of Church-government, by the ministers of London, Part I. Chap. iii. Willison’s Defence of National Churches, chap. ii. )) Those who agree that the whole institution and end of magistracy are founded in natural principles, and that its exercise may be argued for and defended from them, cannot refuse an appeal to these principles, and must submit to the award which they pronounce. The employment of civil power in the support of religion will appear to be founded in the light of nature, whether we consider this as manifested by the general consent of mankind; the relation in which rulers stand to the great Creator and Moral Governor of the world, with the obligations resulting from this; or the end of civil government, with the means which are necessary and conducive to the attainment of this end.
The general consent of mankind is allowed to be the strongest presumption in favor of natural principle; from this moralists and divines have argued strongly in support of the Being of God, public and social worship with its various parts, a providence, the distinction between moral good and evil, and a future state. We read in the New Testament of a vice which crept into the church of Corinth, and was for some time tolerated in it, which was “not so much as named among the Gentiles” (1 Cor. 5:1). Of the error which as crept into the Secession, and which is now so zealously patronized, it may be said, it is an error which was “not so much as named among the Gentiles.”
No sentiment has been more common among all the nations than this, that it is the most important duty of those invested with public authority to pay attention to the interests of religion. The legislators and wise men among the heathen bear united testimony to this truth. (( Plato asserts that “religion ought to be the principal object of care in every republic” (De Repub.). Aristotle assigns the first place among political duties to the care about divine things, De Polit. “The first law of the constitution (says Archytas) should be for the support of what belongs to the gods; the second, for what relates to our parents” (Apud Stobaeum). )) In the codes of law established in Greece and Rome, there were laws respecting religion, which were reckoned the most sacred and inviolable. (( The first law in the Twelve Tables of the ancient Roman institute was, “Reverence for the gods;” and by the laws of the Greeks blasphemy, the violation of religion, etc. were made objects of punishment. Archaeologiae Attic‘, p. 117. )) And in almost all nations, not only the civilized, but the more barbarous, ancient as well as modern, the public countenance of religion, with provision for its institutions, has formed, in one way or another, an important branch of their political regulations. These are the dictates of common reason, received and acknowledged among mankind; they are the voice of God, speaking by men of all ages and countries.
This argument is not invalidated by the application of the principle to the support of a false religion, and the worship of them who were “by nature no gods.” Wherever superstition, idolatry, and polytheism prevail, they will obtain the public countenance and support, in every way in which it can be given, and which is due only to the true religion. But this is not an objection to a national religion, any more than it is to public and social worship, stated places of meetings, ministers of religion, with many things of a similar kind, which in such a state of matters are all perverted and misapplied. Rather let us say with the prophet, “All people will walk every one in the name of his god; and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever” (Micah 4:5).
The common sentiments of men on this point are justified by the strongest reasons. The obligation which all are under, individually, to maintain the honor, and support the worship of God, attaches in an especial manner to nations and those who are in public authority over them. “Let us begin with God,” is a maxim applicable to the formation of civil society and laws, as well as to other important undertakings. Men are not to herd together like a number of cattle, making provision merely for their external protection, accommodation, and order, forgetting the God that is above. A constitution which did not recognize religion, nor make any provision for its maintenance and defense, would be, in so far, an atheistical constitution.
As magistracy is an ordinance of God, and those invested with it, though chosen by men, are “the ministers of God,” such persons must be under special obligations to maintain his honor. This they are bound to do, not merely by the preservation of justice and peace, but by promoting his worship in their official station, and by resenting open indignities and contempt offered to the Majesty of heaven, by whom they rule, and decree justice. “As all power, whether it be in the natural or civil capacity, is derived from God, so in all commissions of power, of what kind or nature soever, a strict obligation to maintain the honor and character of him from whom we receive our power is always understood, though it be not expressed . . . . For, is there any master upon earth who will account that his servant has done his duty, barely by attending the work and business more immediately belonging to his station, if it appear that such servant can sit still contentedly and unconcerned when he hears his master reproached and reviled?” (( Bishop of London’s Sermon on Psal. 119:136, printed anno 1723, p. 17, 18. He adds in the same place, “If the question be asked to what order of men the protecting of religion and maintaining the honor of God does belong, the proper answer is, that it belongs to all orders, to Ministers, Magistrates, and all mankind, of what rank and degrees soever. — It is the voice of nature and reason, and of all ages and countries that have been worshippers of the true God; and it will be time enough to make it a question to what part of mankind the work belongs, when we see any part over-zealous and over-active in it: it will be time enough to discharge any sort from the service, when virtue and religion have visibly got the better of vice and profaneness, and we see them in quiet possession of their conquests.” ))
The sum of this argument is, that the honor and worship of God ought to be preserved and promoted by those large societies which are collected, superintended, and maintained by his providence: by magistracy, which is his ordinance; by laws, which are an emanation from his authority and justice; and by magistrates, who act as his vice-regents on earth — and consequently, that these are not to be confined to mere civil and secular concerns, to the exclusion of religion.
The principle is further confirmed by the consideration that religion lies at the very foundation of civil society, and that its sanctions and influence are necessary, in order to gain even the direct and immediate end of government, in the preservation of justice and peace among men. From this connection between religion and civil polity, the most enlightened writers on jurisprudence have incalculated it, as the duty of rulers, to give public countenance to religious institutions. (( Cicero pronounces, “religion the foundation of human societies;” and shows of what great importance it is for rulers to have the people impressed with a sense of religion, to preserve religious institutions, suppress impiety, etc. (De Nat. Deor De Legib.) Plato calls religion “the bulwark of government, the bond of all society, the firmest support of legislation;” and in his book concerning laws, he reckons it a necessary introduction to establish the being and providence of the gods by a law against sacrilege. “Religion,” says Plutarch, “is the first thing which claims attention in the framing of laws, for you may as easily build a city without ground, as preserve order among the citizens without a belief of the Deity. — Therefore, by oaths, vows, etc., Lycurgus sanctified the Lacedemonians, Numa the Romans, ancient Ion the Athenians, and Deucalion the Greeks in general; and, by hopes and fears, kept up amongst them the awe and reverence of religion.” )) Hence it becomes the high duty of legislators and rulers to avail themselves of the sanctions and obligations of religion, to take order that their subjects be instructed in its principles, and that those institutions be maintained and respected among them which are calculated to impress a sense of it upon the mind, and to dispose them to act under its powerful influence. Truth and utility, duty to God and sound policy, conspire here in the same demand.
The mere laws of men, even when sanctioned with the severest and capital punishments, will prove ineffectual for restraining the wickedness of mankind from breaking out into acts of injustice and violence. It is the belief of a Supreme Being, a providence, with a future state of punishment, which renders capital execution so dreadful. Let legislators and magistrates once allow the impressions of these to wear off the minds of their subject, and they will no longer stand in awe of the axe or the halter. Let them listen to the delusive doctrine, that, in the government of men, they are to trust to the use of means merely civil, and that the preservation and support of religion form no part of their official duty, and they shall soon find that the swelling torrent of ignorance, irreligion, infidelity, and contempt of divine ordinances, with that profligacy of manner which is their never failing attendant, will overbear all the barriers of civil restraints (fenced with the highest penalties), render their execution fruitless, and at last dangerous and impracticable. The deplorable condition of some countries at certain times, when every restraint respecting religion has been thrown loose, the minds and manners of the people debauched by infidelity and impiety, or debased by ignorance and gross superstition, when executions have been in vain heaped upon executions, with the view of checking the most abominable vices, and the most daring crimes, until both spectators and criminals have become callous, and ceased to regard them with horror — is an awful proof of this, and a monitory example to rulers, and to all who may endeavor to mislead them in this important affair. By taking religion under the protection of law, giving public and decided countenance to its institutions, and by a national establishment, which provides for the religious instruction of their subjects, they employ means best adapted for preventing or reforming such evils, and which conduce to lessen the necessity for the execution of penal and sanguinary laws, which will always be an object of great moment in the eye of a wise and humane legislature. (( “Common sense, as well as the experience of all ages, teaches us that no government can flourish which does not encourage and propagate religion and morality among all its particular members. Cicero makes it of doubt, whether it be possible for a community to exist that had not a prevailing mixture of piety in its constitution. A man who would hope to govern a society without regard to these principles is as much to be contemned for his folly, as detested for his impiety.” (Freeholder, No. 29.). ))
We might also have shown that there are many vices hurtful to civil society, which yet do not come under penal laws, or cannot be suppressed by the direct exercise of civil authority; as well as various duties and virtues, the practice of which is of high utility, although they cannot be directly commanded or enforced by laws. The former are prevented or corrected, and the latter produced and cherished by religion. It is by publicly countenancing and supporting religion, and the institutions of a church-state, where this is enjoyed, that the government gains these important ends. It is surely unnecessary to add, that Christianity as the true religion, and in the purest form of it, being eminently calculated to promote these purposes, is best entitled, on these grounds, as well as on account of its divine claims, to all that countenance which civil authority can give to its doctrines and institutions.
The last consideration which we shall urge on this branch of the argument is, that besides the direct and proximate end of the magistrate’s office, there are other ends more remote, though not less important and connected with the public good of his subjects, which it is his duty to promote. Although the preservation of justice, outward peace and order, is his immediate end, yet he is not to rest satisfied with the bare attainment of this. The amelioration of mankind ought surely to be the grand aim and constant study of patriotic legislators, and Christian rulers. To satisfy themselves with such order and peace as are common to the inferior animals, or essential to human society, would be to forget that they are placed over reasonable and immortal beings. The improvement of various arts and sciences, and the advancement of knowledge in general, cannot be called the direct and immediate ends of civil government; but who would say that it has no concern with them? And if civil rulers paid no attention to them, and made no laws for their encouragement, under the pretext that they belonged to artisans and philosophers, would they be considered as discharging all the duties of their office, and employing their power, as they ought, for the public good?
The observation applies more forcibly to morality and religion, which not only have the greatest influence upon the outward prosperity of nations, but embrace the most interesting concerns and enlarged good of all the individuals of which they are composed. Civil government was not instituted, nor magistrates appointed, for the direct end of promoting the spiritual interests and eternal welfare of men, yet, whatever assistance they can afford to those institutions which have these for their object, it must be a high and indispensable duty in all who occupy this station to yield. And who can doubt that they have much in this way in their power. By a public establishment, which provides the means of religious instruction, and for the dispensation of all divine ordinances, where the true religion is enjoyed, and by taking order, in their station, that these be preserved and perpetuated, they may contribute, not merely to make those over whom they rule better subjects and members of society, but to the conversion and salvation of thousands. (( Sovereigns are indispensably bound to concern themselves with the affairs of religion, both in the character of Christians and in the character of Sovereigns. As Christians, they should consecrate all their care and abilities to the advancement of the glory of God, of their own salvation, and that of their neighbors. As Sovereigns, they are bound by their office to procure for their people all the good things, and all the happiness which they can; and consequently heavenly good things. It is the greatest of all absurdities to hold that Kings and Magistrates should labor to make their subjects rich and happy as to the things of this world, but neglect that which will serve to make them happy through all eternity; that they should endeavor to make the fine arts and human sciences to flourish in their kingdoms and states, but exercise no care to make the true religion to reign in them.” (Pictet. Theol. Chret. Tom II. Liv. xiv. Chap. 33. p. 306.) )) The views of the Christian and of the Magistrate do here coincide. And here also the hurtful tendency of the new opinions appears, as, by excluding religion from the province of magistrates, they hinder them from supporting institutions which contribute to advance the highest interests of mankind, both individually and socially.
But say we these things as men? Saith not the law the same also? Revelation confirms what the law of nature teaches. These two cannot be at variance, as they proceed from the same Author, although in different ways. The revealed law contains a more sure and full exhibition of the rule of righteousness, by which the conduct of all ought to be regulated. The moral law in all its extent is binding upon men, socially as well as individually, and it is the duty of every one, according to his place and station, to provide that its commandments be regarded. It is a rule given by sound casuists, in the interpretation of the moral law, “that what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places, to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places” (Gen. 18:19; 35:1, 3; Ex. 20:10; 1 Sam. 3:13). (( Larger Catechism, Question 99. Rule 7. )) This rule applies to both tables of the law.
By the sixth commandment we are not only prohibited from taking away or injuring the life of our neighbor, but we are obliged to use all lawful endeavors, according to the station in which we are placed, to prevent others from committing this crime; and if we neglect these, the blood of the person will be required at our hands. In like manner, by the fourth commandment we are bound not only to sanctify the Sabbath ourselves, but to use all means competent to us, in our station, to prevent its profanation by others. And so respecting all the other commandments. This holds especially true respecting all persons in authority, as parents, masters, and magistrates, who are bound to use not merely their advice and example, but also their authority, for promoting the observance of the divine law, and for preventing or restraining open violation of it.
Magistrates, in particular, are keepers, or guardians, of the moral law, of the first as well as the second table, (( Deut. 17:18, 19. “Seeing the magistrate is a guardian and avenger of both tables, to whom therefore of old it was commanded, that he should receive a copy of the law from the priests (Deut. 17:18); and as that command, with similar ones, was given him not as a private man, but as a king, God would have him understand, that he was bound not only to obey the law himself, but also to make use of his official authority to procure the observance of the law. Rivet. in Decalog. apud Op. Tom. I. p. 1373. )) and, as “the ministers of God,” are eminently bound to promote his honor, and to see that his law is respected. With this view the fourth commandment is particularly directed to them, as well as to parents and masters: “Thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is WITHIN THY GATES” (Ex. 20:10). The prophet Jeremiah was commanded to “stand in the gates of the children of the people, by which the kings of Judah come in, and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem,” and to renew his command to “bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, and to hollow the Sabbath, to do no work therein;” promising that, if they hearkened to him, there should “enter into the gates of this city, king and princes sitting upon the throne of David;” but denouncing the judgments of God if they transgressed this command (Jer. 17:19-27; compare 22:1-9).
The reason annexed to the third commandment implies, that magistrates should hold men guilty, and punish them for transgressions of it; although they often suffer such to escape with impunity. And the signal vengeance which God, in the second commandment, threatens to execute upon a people who deprave his worship, particularly by idolatry, with the special promise made to those who preserve it, urges strongly upon magistrates the duty of providing that the ordinances of heaven be kept pure and entire among those over whom they rule. This not only excited the godly kings of Judah to remove the monuments of idolatry, and to provide for the restoration of the worship of God (2 Kings 22:9-17 and 22:1-8); but it also had a powerful influence upon the Persian monarchs, in disposing them to exert their authority for rebuilding the temple, and advancing the worship of God at Jerusalem. “I (Darius) make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the kings goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered. And that which they have need of, both young bullocks,” etc, “for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven . . . let it be given them day by day without fail: that they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and PRAY FOR THE LIFE OF THE KING, AND OF HIS SONS” (Ezra 6:8-10).
And again, “I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, unto an hundred talents of silver,” etc. “Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: ÿFOR WHY SHOULD THERE BE WRATH AGAINST THE REALM OF THE KING AND HIS SONS?” (Ezra 7:21-23). Is God less jealous about the observance of his worship now, than he was of old? Or shall Christian rulers have less concern with it, in their official character and administrations, than the Persian kings? Read Isa. 60:9-12 and Zech. 14:17-19.
“He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3), not merely by acting religiously himself, but by promoting religion among those over whom he rules; (( “They (magistrates) must rule in the fear of God, i. e. they must themselves be possessed with a fear of God, by which they will be effectually restrained from all acts of injustice and oppression. They must also endeavor to promote the fear of God, i. e. the practice of religion, among those over whom they rule. The magistrate is to be the keeper of both tables, and to protect both godliness and honesty.” (Henry on 2 Sam. 23:3.) )) “scattering away all evil,” and “cutting off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord.” (( Prov. 20:8, 26; Psal. 101:8; Psal. 75:4, 10. )) “The fear of God” disposed Nehemiah, the governor, to “seek the welfare of the children of Israel,” not only by generously sacrificing the emoluments of his office, but by exerting his authority for preventing the profanation of the Sabbath, and issuing commands and threatenings to those who persisted in its violation (Neh. 13:17-18). In the same religious manner did he act in repairing the house of God, purging it from the defilement which the priest had suffered, and in providing for the regular performance of divine ordinances: “And I perceived,” says he, “that the portions of the Levites had not been given them; for the Levites and singers that did the work, were fled every one to his field. Then contended I with the nobles,” etc. “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and the offices thereof” (chap. 13:9-14).
It was formerly stated that one way in which a divine right, or the warrant of any duty is established, is by approved examples in Scripture. The word of God contains examples to persons in every character and station of life. In particular, it exhibits examples of godly magistrates. But where do we read, in all the book of God, of approved magistrates who confined themselves, in their official capacity, to civil matters, and the secular interests of mankind, and who did not employ their authority for the advancement of religion? We have a large account of the conduct of Moses and Joshua, David and Solomon, Asa and Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah. Who will deny that their actions are recorded as an example to rulers? But they are commended chiefly for the warm zeal and activity, which they displayed in their station, in settling or reforming religion, providing for the instruction of their subjects, and the due administration of divine ordinances. No magistrate, who consults the Bible, will ever imagine that religious matters are excluded from his province. This notion must have been imbibed from some very different source.
At those times in which God was about to effect an establishment of religion, or a general reformation of its interests, among his ancient people, he raised up and employed magistrates, to cooperate in this work with those to whom the immediate charge of religious administrations was committed. When he first established his ordinances among Israel as a nation, he not only employed Aaron the priest, but Moses the King in Jeshurun; and afterwards Joshua and Eleazer, David and Abaithar, Solomon and Zadok, Hezekiah and Azariah, Zerubbabel and Joshua. When deprived of their native princes, and under the dominion of a foreign power, the Lord stirred up the Persian monarchs to favor the cause of his people, and not merely to tolerate, but to encourage them by public edicts, and by granting them positive assistance for building the house of God, and maintaining his worship. And although, for special and wise reasons (which we may afterwards notice), he was pleased at first to spread the gospel among the nations, not only without the assistance of civil rulers, but in the face of their most determined opposition; yet, among the blessings promised to the church in the New Testament times, as a testimony of his distinguished favor, are the countenance and aid of earthly powers, expressed with evident allusion to what had formerly taken place. “The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee . . . . Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breast of kings” (Isa. 60:10-16).
It is not pleaded, that all the actions of rulers among the Jews are imitable by Christian magistrates, or that the latter have exactly the same power which was allotted to and exercised by the former. Even in ascertaining the power which belonged to Jewish magistrates as such, we must distinguish what they did in the proper exercise of their magisterial office, from those things which they performed in a different character. For example, Moses acted not only as an ordinary magistrate, but also as a prophet, and extraordinary messenger, in the establishment of religion in the wilderness. David, too, sustained the character, and discharged the office not only of a king, but also of a prophet and inspired penman, in the composition of the psalmody, and in the arrangement of the public worship of God in the sanctuary.
The power which was exercised by Jewish rulers was also warranted, in many cases, by judicial laws, which were peculiar to the nation of Israel; founded upon that singular constitution given unto them by God, and bearing a necessary reference to the system of ceremonial and sacrificial worship which was erected among them, but, now abolished. Presbyterians, who have defended the power of Christian magistrates from these examples, have not pleaded an absolute parity, and have made more accurate distinctions on this head than are to be found in the writings of the advocates of the modern scheme, who usually confound the characters in which Jewish rulers acted, represent their power as wholly ecclesiastical, and extending to almost every thing, with the view of making it appear totally inapplicable to the Christian dispensation.
But it will not follow from this, that we can draw no argument from the conduct of Jewish rulers, to establish the warrantableness and duty of the Christian magistrates employing their power in support of religion. Some are ready to conclude that the argument is entirely set aside, when it is allowed that there is not an absolute sameness between the two cases. Nothing can, however, be more unfounded than this conclusion. Such a mode of reasoning is of the most dangerous tendency, and, if applied in all the extent to which it will lead, it would cut off the practical use of the greater part of the Old Testament. According to it, no argument could be drawn from the approved examples which it records, of persons of any rank, or in any station, of parents or children, husbands or wives, masters or servants, because many of their actions were peculiar, or clothed with extraordinary circumstances.
Upon the same principle, a great part of the New Testament may also be set aside, as to any ordinary or current application. For many things recorded in it were peculiar, and in some respects extraordinary. Persons possessed of apostolical powers, and extraordinary gifts, were employed in all important ecclesiastical transactions — in founding churches, ordaining office-bearers, inflicting censures, pronouncing decrees, and administering all ordinances. It is sometimes difficult to discriminate between what was extraordinary and peculiar to that period, and what belongs to the ordinary power of office-bearers.
Besides those actions of Old Testament rulers, which proceeded upon moral grounds, and which had for their object things which are substantially immutable, such as the support of public worship, and the prevention of blasphemy, profanation of the name of God, and Sabbath-breaking; there is an application of their example in the way of analogy, which, while it makes all allowances for the diversity of circumstances, and change of dispensation, proceeds upon a general resemblance in certain common principles and ends. Although there is a great difference between the government of the church under the Old and the New Testament, yet the writers in defense of Presbyterian government do argue from the Old Testament in behalf of courts of judicature, with their subordination. Even as to positive institutions of worship, this mode of reasoning must be admitted, unless we become wholly Anabaptistical. There is a difference in various respects between circumcision and baptism; yet we reason from the circumcision of infants under the Old Testament to the baptism of them under the New, although we have no explicit command or example for the practice in the New Testament.
The apostle argues for the support of a gospel ministry from that which was given to the Levitical priesthood; but his argument did not imply that they should be supported exactly in the same way (1 Cor. 9:13-14). The priestly and prophetical offices were extraordinary and typical, in a sense in which the regal among the Jews was not; yet we do not scruple to illustrate the office, and enforce the duties of ministers of the gospel, from those of the priests and prophets, especially in their actions with reference to the public state of religion, and in advancing reformation. The judgments inflicted upon the Israelites in the wilderness were in many respects peculiar, yet the apostle holds them out as monitory ensamples to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10). The prayer of Elijah was extraordinary, yet the apostle James urges it as exemplary to Christians (chap. 5:16-18). And shall we suppose that the actions of Jewish magistrates form a single exception, and that they were so peculiar, that we cannot reason from them in the way of example or analogy?
We cannot propose here to enter particularly upon the consideration of the Jewish constitution. Extremes on both hands are to be guarded against. Those who maintain that it was altogether peculiar and inimitable do err, as well as those who hold that it is in all respects a model for Christian nations. The golden mean is to be studied on this, as in many other subjects, although the discovery of it may cost more trouble than the readier expedient of an extreme.
It was a constitution immediately framed by God, adapted to the state of that nation, to the system of religious ordinances established among them, and to the designs of providence in preserving them as a separate people. But, although taken as a whole, it was certainly singular, and not to be paralleled or exemplified in any other nation, several of the consideration mentioned serve to show, that it is entitled to the particular regard of all nations who are favored with divine revelation. In it we have the example of a system of legislation, adapted to the state of a people who were favored with the true religion. Every thing in it was subordinated to this important concern. The laws expressly recognized religion, provided for the maintenance of its ordinances, and the rulers were taken solemnly bound to support them in their station. Thus, those principles which are founded in the light of nature, and by which all nations are obligated to regulate themselves, in framing their constitution and conducting their administrations — so as to promote the honor of God, and to accord with, secure, and advance religion, the highest of all interests — were recognized and sanctioned by Jehovah himself, and applied to the true religion revealed from heaven. In this respect the Jewish constitution is exemplary to Christian nations. (( “As it was once a peculiar duty of the Jewish nation, so it is peculiarly incumbent upon every civil state whereinto Christianity is introduced, to study and bring to pass — that civil government among them, in all the appurtenances of its constitution and administration, run in an agreeableness to the word of God; be subservient unto the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ, and to the interests of the true religion and reformation of the Church: As otherwise they cannot truly prosper in their civil concerns, nor be enriched by the blessings of the gospel. This duty, so incumbent upon the civil state, doth generally fall under these two heads: First, the whole people, adjoining themselves to the true Church, should approve themselves to be true members thereof; by serious, several and mutual endeavors to promote the true religion and reformation of the Church — privately, publicly, and universally, in their several places and callings. Secondly, this people, considered in their cojunct and politic capacity (as thus only the matter is competent unto them) should, by their deed of civil constitution, provide, that their Magistrates be obliged to concur in the same true religion and reformation; and to rule them by laws no way prejudicial, but serviceable thereunto: As, moreover, they ought to obey, encourage and support their Magistrates in that way; and effectually to endeavor their information and reformation, where deficient or corrupt.” (Display, vol. 1, p. 280.) ))
With respect to the particular laws by which the Jews were governed, the common sentiment of sound divines, and the best writers on the laws of nations, is, that although the judicial law is not binding as such upon Christian nations, so that they should be bound to regulate all their laws according unto it, yet it demands distinguished attention, and is to be regarded as a pattern, in those laws which proceeded upon moral grounds. In it there was nothing inconsistent with the principles of equity and religion.
God gave unto Israel “right judgments and true laws, good statutes and commandments.” All just laws among men are deductions from the moral law, applied to human affairs. But in the judicial law, the conclusions were deduced and applied, not only by the fallible and corrupt reason of man (as in ordinary laws), but by unerring wisdom. These respected either the first or second table of the moral law, duties which immediately related to God or man. It is a radical mistake, on this subject, to suppose that the peculiarity of the judicial law did lie solely and properly in its reference to matters of religion, or the first table. It is to be observed also in those laws which related to things civil, or the duties of the second table. There is no more propriety in representing all the judicial laws respecting the first table as peculiar, than there is in representing all those which related to the second table as peculiar. Peculiarities there were in both; but after allowances are made for these, there remain moral grounds for both; and whatever proceeded upon moral grounds in the judicial law, whether it respected things immediately connected with religion, or with justice and civil order, is exemplary, and must be obligatory. (( “Although (says Dr Owen) the institutions and examples of the Old Testament of the duty of magistrates, in the things and about the worship of God — are not in their whole latitude and extent to be drawn into rules, that should be obligatory on all magistrates, now under the administration of the gospel; and that because the magistrates, were then custos vindez and administrator legis Judicalis and polit‘ Mosaic‘, from which, as most think, we are freed; yet doubtless there is something in those institutions, which being unclothed of their Judaical form, is still binding to all in the like kind, as to some analogy and proportion. Subtract from those administrations what was proper to, and lies upon the account of the nation and church of the Jews; and what remains upon the general notion of a church and nation must be everlastingly binding; and this amounts thus far at least, That Judges, Rulers, and Magistrates, which are promised under the New Testament to be given in mercy, and to be singular in usefulness, as the Judges were under the Old, are to take care that the gospel church may, in all its concernments as such, be supported and promoted, and the truth propagated, wherewith they are intrusted.” Owen’s Sermon on Dan. 7:15, 16. P. 52, 53. ))
If this consideration be attended to, it will set aside the force of those arguments which are usually adduced, to prove that Jewish rulers can be no example to Christian magistrates in the exercise of their power about religion. Is it urged that the office of Jewish rulers was sacred? This sanctity must have extended to all their official conduct; and if it proves that their acts about religion are in no respect exemplary, it must prove the same as to their acts about civil matters. Is it urged that the office was typical? A similar answer may be returned. The Jewish rulers were types of Christ in acts which respected civil matters as well as religious. Is it pleaded that the laws respecting religion, which the Jewish rulers executed, were immediately given by God? This was the case also with those which respected the administration of common justice.
In fine, is it pleaded that the punishments inflicted by the Jewish law, on account of offenses against the first table of the law, were severe, and enacted on some grounds which were peculiar to the Jewish people? The same thing is true with respect to offenses against the second table. If he that blasphemed God, or profaned the Sabbath was to be stoned to death; the person who smote, or cursed his father or mother, or who proved a stubborn or rebellious son, was to be put to death (Ex. 21:15-17, Deut. 21:18-21). Christian nations are not bound in all cases to inflict the same penalties which were appointed by the judicial law, for offenses against the second table, any more than for such as were committed against the first table. But this does not say that persons guilty of offenses of both kinds are not still proper objects of punishment, to a certain degree, by human laws, or even that they may not, in certain circumstances, become justly obnoxious to the same punishments.
Persons may affect to talk of the difficulty of ascertaining what is moral and exemplary in this matter, from what was peculiar; and, by dwelling on the more intricate cases, may endeavor to lead away the attention of the subject altogether. But why should it be magnified, and represented as insurmountable, any more than others of a similar kind? The peculiarity of the divine government of Israel, or, as it is commonly called the Theocracy, consisted in general in two things: in a system of laws which was immediately given unto that people from heaven; and in the exercise of a peculiar providence in supporting and sanctioning that system, by conferring national mercies and inflicting national judgments, often in an immediate and extraordinary way. Now, why are not the difficulties which are started, as to the application of the first of these, urged also as to the application of the last? If we cannot apply what is said in the Old Testament, concerning the duty of the rulers and nation of Israel respecting religion, unto Christian nations and rulers, because the former were under a peculiar law; then we cannot apply what is said in the Old Testament, respecting the judgments denounced against the nation and rulers of Israel, unto Christian nations and their rulers, because the Israelites, as a people, were under a peculiar providence, which constituted a part of their Theocracy. The same distinctions will remove the difficulty in both cases.
The plea that the Jewish rulers were types of Christ, will not prove that the power which they exercised about religion was altogether peculiar, and in no way exemplary. It will not be easily proved that they were all types of Christ, or that the magistratical, or even regal office among that people was typical. Besides, they were types of Christ in acting about civil as well as religious matters. David has usually been considered as a type of Christ in subduing the Philistines, as well as in bringing the ark to Zion; and Solomon, in the wise administration of justice among his people, and in the peace which he granted to them, as well as in building the temple.
This suggests another remark, which is commonly overlooked in declamations respecting a typical nation and church. The circumstance of actions being, in one view typical, is not inconsistent with their being, in another view, moral and exemplary. Joseph may be viewed as a type of Christ, in feeding his father and brethren; but did he not, by the same act, give an eminent example of filial and fraternal affection and duty? While David is viewed as a type of Christ in subduing the enemies of Israel, did he not also discharge a moral duty in defending his subjects? and may not his example be used, to prove that all wars are not unlawful?
Our argument is confirmed, by the consideration that the scripture records approved examples of magistrates who were not Jewish, who exercised their authority for the advancement of religion and the ordinances of God. We find Nebuchadnezzar and Darius publishing decrees to promote the knowledge and worship of the true God among their subjects, and prohibiting them from “speaking any thing amiss against” him (Dan. 3:29; 4; 6:26). In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we have an account of the edicts which several of the Persian monarchs published, in which they not only give permission to rebuild the house of God, and restore his worship in it, but positively favored and publicly countenanced the work, and supported those who were engaged in it. These were not typical kings, nor did they exercise their power in virtue of the Jewish constitution. But we proceed to take notice of some things which refer immediately to the state of religion and the church, under the New Testament.
The true religion is substantially the same in every age; and notwithstanding accidental changes in outward situation and particular ordinances, the church of God has been essentially the same in every period since her erection. For a long time she appeared principally in the domestic and patriarchal state, afterwards she was advanced to the national state, and since the coming of Christ her boundaries have been enlarged to receive all nations. When here members were “a few men in number, yea very few, when they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another,” God “reproved kings for their sakes,” and inclined their hearts to protect and favor them. When he had “increased them with men like a flock,” and settled them “in the lands of the heathen,” he “raised up judges who delivered them,” and rulers, whom he “commanded to feed them.”
And, with reference to the times of the New Testament, when “the abundance of the sea shall be converted, and their forces come unto” her, he hath promised, that “kings shall be her nursing fathers . . . her officers peace, and her exactors righteousness.” This is connected with “the advancement of the interests of the mediatorial kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is in, but not of this world, and as subservient to which the kingdom of providence is committed unto him.” (( The words of the Old Acknowledgement of Sins which have been erased from the new one, now adopted by the Synod. )) The kingdom of Christ is erected in an external form in this world; and in this respect, as it is subject to injury, restraint, and persecution from the men and powers of the earth, so it is capable of receiving, and stands in need of protection, encouragement, and countenance from them. To these it has a divine claim. Though the institution of civil magistrates is from God “as the supreme Lord and king of all the world,” and “not properly from Christ as Mediator;” yet, “a right to have the kingdoms of this world rendered subservient and tributary to his spiritual kingdom, in the visible church, belongs to him as Mediator.” (( Display, vol. i. p. 333. )) And as he, by his power, in the management of the kingdom of providence committed to him, will bring them into this state; so it is the duty of these kingdoms, and their rulers, to be actively “subservient and tributary” unto his kingdom, by advancing its interests. “The shields of the earth belong unto God,” who “is gone up with a shout,” and who “reigneth over the heathen,” and he has a right to their service (Ps. 47:9).
In Psalm 2 we have the Father’s solemn introduction of Christ, as his King whom he had “set upon his holy hill of Zion,” unto the kings and rulers of the earth, with injunctions to them to serve him in this character. “Be wise, therefore O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way” (vs. 10-12). This is an exhortation and command to rulers, to lay aside that enmity and opposition which they had managed against Christ and his kingdom, and to do homage and service unto him.
If the question be asked, “In what character are they to serve Christ?” It may be answered by proposing another: “In what character did they oppose him?” Was it not in their public character, as rulers? “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (vs. 2-3). “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings,” etc. Shall we suppose, when they are reprehended in their public character for opposing Christ, that the exhortation to “serve” him respects merely their private character as individuals? Shall not the honor and homage to be paid God’s own King, be as conspicuous and decided as the ignominy which was poured upon him was?
The words of a father of the church have been generally quoted upon this subject: “As a man he serves God in one way, but as a king in another. As a man he serves him by a faithful life, as a king by laws commanding what is right, and forbidding the contrary. In this therefore do kings serve the Lord, as kings, when they do those things for his service which none but kings can do.” (( Augustin, Epist. 50. ad Bonif. conmit. circa med. ))
“It is the unanimous opinion of divines,” says Wal‘us (in a treatise against Erastian tenets), “that the declaration of the Royal prophet (Ps. 2) is applicable to kings under the New Testament: `now therefore, kings be wise,’ etc.; that is, yield obedience, and that not merely as other members of the church, but chiefly as kings and supreme judges.” (( Wall‘i Oper. Tom. ii. p. 35. ))
“Judges and rulers, AS SUCH, must `kiss the son,'” says Dr. Owen (in his sermon preached before the Parliament of England), “and own his sceptre, and advance his ways. Some think, if you were well settled, you ought not, as rulers of the nation, to put forth your power for the interest of Christ. The good Lord keep your hearts from that apprehension!” As this view of the words is agreeable to the concurrent judgment of the most judicious interpreters, so it is necessarily suggested by the scope of the whole psalm, which relates to the public state of the kingdom of Christ; by the characters addressed, their being in the same station with those mentioned in the beginning; and by the judgments threatened for non-compliance with the injunction. Indeed, the exposition which confines this, and similar texts, to the private character and conduct of rulers, would not be borne with, if applied unto any other persons in authority, as ministers, parents, etc.
What is enjoined upon rulers by divine precept, God promises they shall perform, in the way of homage to the Redeemer, and service to his church. In Psalm 72 we have a remarkable prophecy relative to the extent and glory of the kingdom of Christ. Among other things, the subjection and service of the nations, and their rulers, are particularly mentioned. “The kings of Tarshish and the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him” (vs. 10-11). The “presents and gifts,” here mentioned, refer to the custom of princes who paid tribute to those kings who had conquered them, or to whose authority they owned subjection, while they reigned as princes over their own subjects. Solomon had many kings and kingdoms who were tributary to him, and who sent presents, and performed services to him in this view.
Read 1 Kings 4:21, 2 Chron. 9:26. These strikingly illustrate the promises here made to Christ. Whether, with some, we shall suppose that this psalm refers in the first place to Solomon as the type, and ultimately to Christ as the antitype; or rather, with others, that it refers immediately to Christ, but describes the glory and extent of his kingdom in the way of continued allusion to that of Solomon; the illustration is in either view the same. It shows that kings, in their kingly state, should fall down before him, that nations, in their national state, should serve him; (( Display, vol. ii. p. 405. )) and exposes the foolish, not to say “wicked import of the new scheme,” which would limit the whole meaning to individual conduct, and the character of church members. (( “The fruit which arises from the conversion of kings and princes to the church, does not consist in this only, that they provoke others by their example to embrace the gospel of Christ; but also, because they bring their subjects to Christ; afford a hospitable abode to the church in their dominions, and, by their authority, promote the propagation of the gospel. (Gerhardi [Johannis] Loc. Theolog. Tom. vii. p. 578.) ))
We have the additional promise to this purpose in Isa. 49:23. “And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.” To which may be added, chapter 60:10, 12, 16. “And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee: for in thy wrath I smote thee, but in my favor have I had mercy on thee . . . . For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted . . . . Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breast of kings; and thou shalt know that I the Lord am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.”
Concerning these promises it may be briefly remarked: 1. That they have a place among the most precious promises, which are made to the church as testimonies of the singular favor of God unto her, in comforting and honoring her after her afflictions and disgrace to which she had been subjected; and they are connected with her great increase and prosperity, external and spiritual. This will appear from a perusal of the context in both chapters, and ought to prevent any from looking upon the subject as of little importance.
2. While the promises refer to the period of the New Testament, there is an allusion to what took place under the Old, particularly in the countenance and aid that were afforded by the Persian kings, in the restoration of the temple and its worship. “The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minster unto them.” Some, indeed, view the prophecy as accomplished in what took place at the return from the Babylonian captivity; but upon better grounds, the most judicious interpreters consider it as referring to the church under the New Testament, as receiving a begun accomplishment in the time of Constantine, when the Christian church first obtained the countenance and support of the civil powers, and a more full accomplishment in the Protestant churches after the reformation from Antichristianism, and in the glory yet to be expected. (( Vitringa in loca. ))
3. These promises secure unto the church the public countenance of kings and kingdoms as such. Kings shall be her nursing fathers; nations and kingdoms shall serve her. The authority and means competent unto them as such shall be employed on the side of the church, as for the advancement of the true religion; whereas they had formerly been employed against her, and for the support of a false religion. To limit the sense of the words to that common protection which is given to all subjects, and to any society, is to explain away the promises of God. (( “The protection of their civil peace is not sufficient to give them such a denomination of nursing fathers and mothers.” Burroughs on Heart-divisions, p. 25. )) Kings shall act as nursing fathers, as curators, or tutors (as some render the words), who exercise a special care and oversight over the orphans who are committed to them; or, as the metaphor is elsewhere illustrated, “carrying them in their bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child” (Num. 11:12).
It is equally unreasonable to confine the meaning of the promise to the private or personal conduct of the rulers, and of their subjects. This would never suggest itself to any who, in reading the passage, had not formed the notion that the church cannot be benefitted by civil power. It offers violence to the plain meaning of the words. It does not accord with the context, which speaks of the public state of the church, and those means which tend to advance its interests in this view. It entirely sets aside the analogy between what is predicted and what had formerly taken place, which is suggested by the description. It does not correspond to what God actually did for his church at the period to which the promises refer. It gives an improper sense to the words, in opposition to what is intimated in the divine threatening against those who shall refuse service to his church: for “the nation and kingdom” (as such, and not merely individuals of them), “that will not serve” her “shall perish . . . shall be utterly wasted” (chap. 60:12).
In fine, this view is contrary to that of the most judicious interpreters. “The Hebrew word,” says Wall‘us (in the treatise formerly mentioned), “which is rendered nurse is from the root aman, and properly signifies to strengthen, to establish. Therefore the breasts of kings and queens, which the church sucks, are nothing else than the authority and power of magistrates, by which the church of Christ is strengthened; as the child is by the milk of the nurse.” (( Wal‘i Oper. Tom. ii. 36. ))
“The Church is compared,” says Rivet, “to orphans and pupils, whose tutelage and guardianship it is the magistrate’s duty to undertake, which certainly he cannot do, if, in his administration, he is excluded from all care of religion.” (( Riveti Oper. Tom. i. p. 1374. ))
“These promises,” says Dr. Owen, “assert, that magistrates shall put forth their power for the welfare of the church. Kingdoms are said to serve the church: and how can a kingdom, as a kingdom, serve the church, but as putting forth its power and strength in her behalf? What God hath promised, kings, magistrates, rulers, nations shall do, that is their duty to do . . . . Surely these promises will scarcely be accomplished in bringing commonwealths to be of Gallio’s frame, to take care for none of these things.” (( Owen’s Sermons, ut supra. ))
The same is the opinion of that celebrated commentator on Isaiah, Vitringa, whose judgment ought to have the greater weight, as he is allowed to be sufficiently attentive to evangelical and spiritual interpretations of the Old Testament. His views of these promises, as far as they respect the present subject, we shall therefore give more largely in the note. (( The hand of God, and the standard which he is said to lift up to the Gentiles, (49:22). Vitringa explains as referring to “the EDICTS of the Emperor, particularly of Constantine, after the removal of Licinius, by which EDICTS, the people were obliged to supply the necessities of the church, and to promote her interests.” And he quotes the words of Eusebius, to prove the effect which these had in gathering persons to the church. The promise in verse 23, “teaches (he says) that about this time, 1. Kings and queens should take care of, nourish and cherish the church, and promote her increase, which those who do, are said to act as ÿnurses to the church. For milk is the means of increase. 2. That the same persons should treat in a kind and loving manner, and supply the necessities of the church, both in her ministers and members, and among the rest those who were poor, needy, and helpless. 3. That, in addition to this, the kings themselves, princes, queens and illustrious matrons should demonstrate and explain the salutary doctrine of truth to others, exhorting and comforting them, etc. If you turn to the time of Constantine, and those which followed (adds he) all is clear. We ourselves, and Christians who live under the government of pious princes of both sexes, or of either sex, do, by the grace of God, see and experience what is here said. It appears that Kings and illustrious Ladies, not those mentioned only, but many others, from the time of Constantine, began to nourish and cherish the church, promoted her increase, advanced her interests by the Edicts as well as their example; builded places of worship for her use; granted immunities to her ministers from public burdens; appointed stipends to them from the public treasury,” etc. He is still more express on the corresponding passage in chapter 60:10. “Such as are Princes and Nobles (says he), shall protect and promote religion; shall honor and cherish her ministers; procure necessary support for her schools and seminaries; defend and agent the cause of the church; and without offering violence to consciences, shall, according to the rule of the gospel, employ their AUTHORITY and means for the increase and enlargement of the church.” And on verse 16, “thou shalt suck the breasts of kings,” he says, “The simple meaning is, that Kings shall convert their power, authority, wealth, care, to the cherishing, nourishing, and guarding of the church. Milk here denotes everything belonging to kings which is fitted to cherish, nourish, support, and comfort the church.” ))
We might have urged here, that the whole tenor of the declarations, promises, and predictions of the Old Testament, lead to the conclusion that Christianity shall be owned, countenanced, and supported in a national way. God addresses the nations in a collective capacity, reproves them for their idolatry, and calls them to his worship (Isa. 34:1; 41:1, 21-29). He proposes Christ, as his anointed servant, to them (chap. 42:1); declares that he has given him the nations as his inheritance, and that he shall inherit them all (Ps. 2:8; 82:8; Isa. 52:15; 55:5). Christ addresses himself not only to individuals, but to the whole islands (Isa. 49:1); nations join themselves to him, own and worship him (Isa. 2:2; Mic. 4:1-2; Zech. 2:11; 8:20-22); bless themselves, and glory in him (Jer. 4:2); all nations and dominions serve him (Dan. 7:14, 27); they consecrate all things in them, and employ them in his service (Isa. 60:6-12; Zech. 14:20-21); he owns these nations as his, and blesses them, while he breaks in pieces and wastes others (Ps. 33:12; 145:15; Isa. 19:25; Ps. 2:9, 12; Isa. 60:12). (( The force of the argument arising from these and similar promises and predictions is such that Mr. Edward Williams, although an Independent, acknowledges that they imply a national profession and establishment of Christianity. In answer to the objection, “If the above prophecies refer to national conversions, does that not lead to national churches,” he replies, “that a national establishment, if WELL ORDERED, appears more agreeable to the prophetic passages we have been considering than the Anti-p‘dobaptist plan; nay, more agreeable to the general tenor of revelation.” Williams, Anti-p‘dobaptist Examined, vol. i, p. 273. ))
It is commonly pleaded that there is nothing in the New Testament which countenances a national religion and the church of Christ; and those who maintain this are often triumphantly asked to produce a proof of it from the New Testament. This plea is neither relevant nor well founded. For if the Old Testament is a rule of faith and manners to us, as well as the New, it is sufficient that what we plead for is warranted by the former, although it should not be expressly mentioned in the latter. (( The magistrate’s power and duty respecting religion is not pleaded for by Presbyterians as a positive institution of Christ, or of the Christian church. That there are duties and rights, religious as well as moral, which are not explicitly commanded or exemplified in the New Testament, is proved by the writers in defense of the morality of the Sabbath, Infant Baptism, and Covenanting. Walker’s Sermon, p. 67, and Examination of Hutchison’s Animadversions, p. 27, 82. Caudrey and Palmer’s Sabbatum Redivivum, Chap. ii. )) We have shown that the power in question is warranted by the Old Testament, and that it records approved examples of its exercise which proceeded on moral grounds. Those who affirm that it is abrogated, or has ceased, under the New Testament, must produce proof of this. “We deny that it is, our adversaries in this matter must affirm that it is; otherwise, they do not so much as enter in the question in controversy. And it is incumbent on those who take the affirmative side of the question to prove their assertion (Affirmanti incumbit probatio). It is contrary to the rules of just reasoning to tell us, that we cannot instruct the warrantableness of” the magistrates power about religion, “unless we produce a positive institution of it in the New Testament, if the whole word of God be the rule of our faith and practice.” (( Morison’s Present Duty, p. 50. The author uses this reasoning with reference to Covenanting; but it is equally applicable to the present subject. There were peculiarities as to Covenanting under the Old Testament, as well as the magistrate’s power. See New Testimony, p. 196 at the top. ))
The apostle declares that “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.” Both by the law of nature and the law revealed in the Old Testament, magistrates had power to restrain and punish evil works, against the first as well as the second table of the law. Let those who affirm, that the magistrate’s power is, under the gospel, restricted to the second, prove their assertion. The same apostle asserts, that the magistrate is “the minister of God . . . for good.” We have seen, that by the law of nature and the Old Testament, he is bound, as such, to maintain the honor of God, and to countenance religious isntitutions for the good of his subjects. Let it be proved that this has been abrogated, or is inconsistent with the gospel dispensation. “Besides we have already shown that there are manifold passages to this purpose in the Old Testament, evidently respecting New Testament times. If any will not believe the Old Testament to be obligatory upon us, even wherein it has a declared respect to the New Testament times, they may with equal reason deny both.” (( Present Duty, p. 58. ))
But neither is the plea well founded. It is true that the New Testament does not give express commands or directions to Magistrates as such, either as to civil or religious matters; the apostles, in their epistles, inculcating chiefly the duties incumbent upon Christians in those stations in which they were at that time placed. Any thing this way is to be found connected with the duties incumbent upon Christian rulers. The apostle (2 Tim. 2:1) exhorts, that prayers be made by Christians “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” What Christians are here to pray for, that magistrates must be bound to promote as their end; and this is not simply “a quiet and peaceable life,” but “in all godliness and honesty.” Rulers are not, in their official capacity, to be indifferent to godliness, any more than to honesty; both are to be countenanced and promoted by them (Ezra, 6:8-10).
The New Testament also contains, as well as the Old, predictions and promises which confirm what we maintain. When the seventh angel sounded, “there were great voices in heaven, saying The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:15). This refers to the period of the Reformation from Popery, and includes, besides other things, the public state and actings of these kingdoms with reference to the religion of Jesus Christ. “On the accomplishment of the promises formerly mentioned,” says Dr. Owen, kingdoms “are said to become the kingdoms of the Lord Christ” (Rev. 11:15) “because, as kingdoms, they serve him with their power and authority . . . . There is not the least color left for turning off and rejecting these promises,” as if they were “merely metaphorical, shadowing forth spiritual glories; neither their beginning nor ending will bear any such corrupting interpretation.” (( Owen’s Sermon, ut supra. )) They had formerly been the kingdoms of Antichrist, not merely by having his ordinances set up in them, by the greater part of the people submitting to these, but by a public and national acknowledgment of his authority, and subjection to him. But they should now acknowledge, and submit to the Lord. Their kings had formerly given their power to the beast; but now they should withdraw it, and employ it on the side of the Lamb. (( It imports their becoming Christ’s, as formerly they had been Antichrist’s. As the Nations, under Antichrist, did acknowledge and submit to Antichrist in a National way; so shall they as solemnly reject Antichrist, and take Christ in his room, and become his people in a National capacity.” Willison’s Defence, p. 53. See also Durham on the Revelation, p. 527 (Glasgow, 1788). ))
Again, in describing the glory of the church in the latter days, it is said, “the kings of the earth did bring their glory and honour into it . . . . And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it” (Rev. 21:24, 26). The following is the explication of that passage by a commentator formerly quoted: “Then also Princes, Kings, Emperors, shall serve Christ and his church, shall bring their glory, majesty, and power into it; that is, shall convert them to her use and advantage: They shall publicly celebrate the true religion, honor its ministers, and by their authority and power maintain and defend the same; which the church hath already experienced in part from the time of Constantine, and lately from the period of the Reformation; and partly has yet to look for. There is a reference here to Isa. 60:10-11, and 49:22, 25. It appears very clearly from this place that this vision refers to the state of the church on earth. . . .
“Pious princes and kings, in the state of perfection, shall not bring their glory to her, but shall receive it. The titles and external prerogatives, which distinguish men in civil and sacred societies, shall be there abolished.” And on verse 16 he says, “The meaning is, that whatever is eminent, beautiful, splendid, or praise-worthy among the nations, shall be consecrated to the use of the church of Christ. The command of wealth and of earthly prerogatives, the gifts of erudition, prudence, eloquence; the dignity of Nobles, the majesty of Kings and Princes, shall promote the interests of the church.” (( Vitringa in Apocalypsin, p. 1215-16. ))
It is readily granted that many specious objections may be started against this, as well as every other truth and duty. And when great industry is used to misrepresent it, and these objections are urged by multitudes from different quarters, and by those to whom persons look up as teachers, they may gain an easy and general belief. But, if we are to be staggered in our belief of every thing, against which difficulties may be raised, upon which persons can declaim with great ease, assurance, and plausibility, we may reject the most important articles of religion and revelation. It is only a very short and general answer to the most popular objections on this subject that we can overtake at present.
It is objected, that the power in question is very liable to be abused, has been abused in all ages; and that, if we give power to magistrates about religion, they will employ it for the support of a false religion as well as the true. This is an objection which has the greatest influence upon the ignorant, and is accordingly most frequently urged, and represented with all possible aggravations. It will not however bear examination. Ab abusu usum non valet consequntia. It is not just reasoning, to argue from the ABUSE of any thing, against its USE. What power is there among fallible and corrupt men which is not liable to be abused, greatly abused, which has not been abused in every age, which is not daily abused by many. Some kinds of power may be more liable to be abused than others, or when abused, may be productive of worse consequences. (( Such an objection must come with a bad grace from those who have said, respecting a right which they are afraid to plead for as moral; ÿ”They may and OFTEN do err and offend the most high God, by substituting a false worship in the place of that which he requires; but no power on earth may take their right from them.” New Testimony, p. 195. What we plead for is a moral right, which gives no countenance to abuses, and leaves unimpaired all those means which are proper for correcting or restraining these, as committed against the law of God and the good of society. )) Corruptio optimi, pessima, is a common maxim; the corruption of the best is the worst. Shall we therefore abolish and reject these altogether, on account of their abuse?
It is well known that the power committed by Christ to the office-bearers of his church has been very grossly abused. Great and highly culpable as the encraochments of civil rulers upon the prerogatives of Christ and the consciences of men have been and are, let us not forget that the greatest enemy on earth that ever the church of Christ saw, or will see, was a power not civil, but spiritual or ecclesiastical, “sitting in the temple of God,” which principally by claims to a spiritual kind, rose to such a surprising ascendancy, as to “exalt himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped,” and during so many ages usurped the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the prerogatives of princes, and the rights of mankind. It is not uncommon with many, from this abuse, to declaim and decry all church power, and Presbyterian courts in particular, as proceeding upon the same principles, and liable to similar abuses. This is unreasonable.
And it is equally unreasonable to confound the power allotted by Presbyterians to Magistrates, with that which has been claimed or excercised by persecuting, tyrannical, Popish or Erastian governments; or to discard the exercise of civil auithority about relgion, when daily committed by the rage of tyranny, bigotry, or fanaticism. There is no more affinity between these, than there is between the legitimate principles of government or of necessary defense, and the numerous unjust wars, massacres, rapine, and oppression, which have been practiced in all ages by nations and their rulers.
The misapplication of civil power to the support of a false religion, is common to it with all other power among men. The true religion must still continue to have the only just claim to support, although its rivals may often supplant it; nor are we to go over to the camp of skepticism, by representing it as impossible to distinguish between truth and falsehood in the matter. The objection drawn from abuse was as strong against the power of the Jewish kings. (( “We do not deny (says Dr. Rivet) that by the abuse of this power, the church may be disturbed, and the true worship of God overturned; which also happens from the abuse of ecclesiastical power. In the kingdom of Judah, within a very short space, King Ahaz burned incense in the high-places; what his son Hezekiah abolished, Manasseh restored which Josiah his grandson again destroyed. But these changes did not derogate from the Regal power in matters of religion; nor do we ever hear that the prophets contended against this power, although they, in the name of God, severely reproved the abuses of it. Oper. Tom. i. p. 1375. ))
But it is objected, that the principle involves, or necessarily leads to persecution. For if magistrates have a power about religion, they must also have a right to punish those who do not comply with what they enact, command, or prohibit, in these matters. When they make laws ratifying a particular profession of faith, form of worship, etc., does it not follow that they have a right to secure obedience to these by civil penalties, in the way of making their subjects to profess and worship accordingly?
To this we answer, that there are many things here confounded which are essentially distinct, both as to religion and the operation of laws. There are various actions of men about religion, respecting which magisterial authority may be justly employed in the way of restraint and punishment: such as blasphemy, the open contempt of religion, or even of Christianity and the Bible, in Christian states, the profanation of the Sabbath. These and similar practices, we are of the opinion, magistrates, in virtue of their office, may restrain or punish, according as the nature of the offense and the good of society may require, without being chargeable with any persecution.
But it will not follow from this, or from any regulations and restrictions which may be necessary in the reformation or settlement of religion in a nation, that magistrates are warranted forcibly to impose a profession of faith upon their subjects, or to oblige them to worship God in a certain mode, under civil penalties to be inflicted upon all who dissent or refuse compliance. Nor is any thing of this kind necessarily implied in laws which recognize, establish, and support, a particular profession of Christianity and church-state.
It is of no avail to plead here, that the magistrate’s power is compulsory, and that, if it be interposed at all about religion, it must ultimately force it, as a compulsory power must always be supposed at hand to secure respect to the law. We readily grant that the magistrate’s power is employed about religion. But the question is, “How is this power employed, and upon whom does the penalty fall?” Is it employed in compelling men to believe, profess, worship, etc., and in punishing those who may think, profess, or act in any way different from the national establishment? This is what we deny, and what ought to be proved as a necessary consequent. It is so, indeed, with those laws which are intended to gain the end, directly and immediately, by their own influence. But it is quite otherwise with those laws which are intended to accomplish the ends by the intervention of institutions, and means adapted unto them. In this case, the law is directly employed in sanctioning, securing, providing for the public support and maintenance of these institutions; and the penalty falls upon those who shall attempt, in a factious, disorderly, or turbulent manner, to prevent their being carried into execution, or to interrupt, hinder, disturb, or overturn them.
This is the case with many of those laws which are calculated to promote religion, morality, education, arts and sciences, with other things connected with the public good of a nation. Those must be strangers to the operation of government, who do not know how many laws are enacted, and carried into execution from time to time, for promoting public improvements and institutions, where neither the private judgment nor public conduct of men are controlled, with respect to any thing necessarily connected with true liberty. When laws are enacted for promoting certain acts and sciences, a compulsory power is employed about them. But are men forced to become artisans and philosophers? or are these things promoted by fines and imprisonments?
When laws are enacted for promoting education, and for erecting schools and colleges, as seminaries of national instruction, sanctioning their internal regulations, endowing them, and granting them certain immunities and privileges, a compulsory power is in like manner employed. It is the same as to an establishment of religion. A compulsory power is exercised in various ways about the established church of Scotland; but is it by compelling all to become members of that church, or inflicting penalties upon those who dissent?
When a particular profession, or confession of faith, form of worship and ecclesiastical government, obtain the formal sanction of civil authority, they are recognized by the legislature, as declaratory of that religion which obtains the national countenance and support, and according unto which the legal privileges and emoluments appropriated for this purpose are to be conferred and enjoyed. But this by no means implies that all shall be obliged, under civil pains, to conform unto this establishment, or be punished for dissenting from it
There is a wide and essential distinction between the exercise of compulsive power about religion, and compulsion in religion. Yet there are Masters in Israel, who can magisterially decide this controversy, without having learned its first principles, or attending to the most necessary distinctions on the subject!
It is further objected, that magistrates, by sanctioning the laws of Christ, or by enacting laws respecting religion, encroach upon his prerogatives, as the sole King and legislator of his church, and the rights of his independent kingdom. We answer, that rulers, both civil and ecclesiastical, may invade, and have invaded the prerogatives of Christ. But that this is necessarily implied in the exercise of civil authority, in advancing the interests of religion and the kingdom of Christ, we deny. The objection proceeds upon a confounding of those authorities which are of the same kind, with that which is subordinate. When the subordinate authority recognizes the laws of the supreme, and is employed within its own sphere in setting them forward, and making provision for their being carried into execution, instead of invading it acknowledges and does homage unto that authority.
When magistrates make laws for preventing the profanation, and promoting the observance and sanctification of the Sabbath, they do not pretend to give additional authority to the divine command, nor do they usurp the prerogatives of him who is “Lord of the Sabbath.” The Lord was the lawgiver and king of his church under the Old Testament as well as under the New, and he was as jealous of his honor then as now. It was his royal will and command that the temple should be rebuilt, and he claims this as his prerogative: “Thus saith the Lord thy Redeemer . . . that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, thou shalt be built” (Isa. 44:24, 26).
But was it inconsistent with this for Cyrus to issue his royal mandate to the same purpose? Let the following words declare: “That saith of Cyrus, he is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (v. 28). In such cases, the law of God, and the law of the king, are not inconsistent with each other, the one is subordinate to the other; and a respect is due to both. “We will build,” said the Jews, “unto the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us . . . . And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artzxerxes king of Persia” (Ezra 4:3; 6:14).
But it is objected, that the kingdom of Christ is wholly of a spiritual and heavenly nature; and cannot be promoted by secular power. In proof of this we are referred to our Lord’s declaration, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
Those must surely have read or thought superficially upon this subject, who imagine that this declaration determines the present controversy. The kingdom of Christ, though spiritual and heavenly, and different from the kingdoms of this world, in its origin, laws, immediate objects and ends, has still, in various respects, a connection with the things of this world, as visibly erected in it, and is capable of standing in a friendly relation with earthly kingdoms, and of receiving benefit from them. Has not the church external privileges, which are capable of being secured? Has she not external ordinances, assemblies, courts, etc., which are needed to be celebrated and held? Are there not various means and encouragements of an external and worldly nature, which she needs, and is capable of receiving, by which religious knowledge may be more extensively diffused, and the dispensation of all divine ordinances maintained? And may she not receive the countenance and aid of civil government in all these, and similar respects? (( “There will be still something earthly in the church (says Mr. Willison of Dundee), as long as she is upon the earth. Seeing then there is still something earthly, and which needeth earthly supports, even in the gospel church, I would fain know, why she is not capable of receiving favor and assistance from the Magistrate, with respect to that earthly part, as well as the church of Israel? Have not her ministers bodies and families, which need meat, drink, sleep, clothing, lodging, and protection, as well as the Jewish priests? Hath she not external ordinances, which need outward accommodations, communion elements and utensils, with houses, tables and seats for her assemblies? Does she not need schools for educating the youth, with maintenance to these schools? Now, if the magistrate, as a kind nursing-father, shall contribute his assistance to provide these necessaries for the gospel church; is it not a strange imagination, to fancy that this doth change her nature, or turn her to an earthly church, or kingdom of this world? — Will any man say, that this kind assistance doth lessen her spirituality? Nay, doth it not rather add thereto, in regard that spiritual instruction and gospel preaching is hereby increased and spread over all the land. — Again, is not a stipend contributed by private hands as much a worldly encouragement as one appointed by the Magistrate? Nay, sometimes the one may be a far greater worldly encouragement than the other.” Willison’s Defence of National Churches, p. 225-227. ))
But it is objected, that the Christian church did not enjoy the assistance of the civil power during the first three centuries. If this had been such a benefit, God would certainly have conferred it upon her. Besides, she flourished as long as she was without it, but became corrupt as soon as she received it.
We answer, that it does not become us to prescribe to God, with respect to “the times and the seasons” at which he shall confer any blessing which he has promised. He discovers his sovereignty in this matter, and has wise reasons for his conduct, of which we may be left in ignorance, or which we may overlook. The possession of the land of Canaan was promised, as an eminent blessing, to the seed of Abraham; but it was hundreds of years before he actually bestowed it upon them. They “sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country dwelling in tabernacles.” Even when “the time of the promise drew nigh, and the people multiplied,” they were kept under the iron rod of persecution, and were made to pass through the waste and howling wilderness; nor did they fail to abuse the pleasant land and quiet habitation, after they were put in possession of it.
Besides, it is easy to perceive, that, if there is any force in the objection, it may be retorted. It cannot be denied that their are promises given to the church respecting the godly kings and magistrates. Now, in whatever sense these are explained, it may be asked, “If these were to be of so great advantage to the church, why did not God give them at the beginning of Christianity?” There were other means besides civil power, which God declined to employ in the propagation of the gospel. Human learning, though lawful in itself, and capable of being improved for the advancement of Christianity, was overlooked. God did choose “the foolish things of the world to confound the wise,” as well as the “weak things of the world to confound the mighty;” and he adopted this method, to give a signal demonstration that the gospel was from heaven, and that its propagation throughout the world, not only without the aid of, but in spite of the most determined opposition from the united efforts of human wit and power, was the work of his own hand.
Because the persons whom Christ chose at first to propagate the gospel among the nations, and the greater part of the pastors of the primitive church, were “unlearned men;” because religion flourished greatly at that time; or because the introduction of human learning into the church brought along with it many corruptions — shall we adopt another sectarian error, maintain that human learning is altogether useless, if not pernicious to the church, and abolish our colleges and halls of divinity? The one is not more unreasonable than the other.
Nor is it a fact that the church continued to flourish always until she obtained the support of the civil powers; or that this was the first and sole cause of her corruption. The spirit of Antichrist did long before work; numerous errors prevailed; superstitions of different kinds had crept in; a spirit of pride and ambition had discovered itself among the governors of the church; bishops had exalted themselves above the presbyters; and the government of the church was, previously to this, much altered from what it had been in the days of the apostles.
That the enjoyment of external peace and prosperity, and the countenance of the civil powers among other things contributed, or were abused to the increase of these evils, who can doubt? That the Christian Emperors, in the favors which they conferred on the church, acted in many instances injudiciously, we readily grant; their donations to the bishops were excessive, and tended to cherish a spirit of secular ambition and grandeur; and the alterations which were soon introduced into the external form and government of the church, raised that hierarchy by which the “man of sin” attained his great ascendancy.
But we must not confound the abuse of this power with its due use, as far as it took place; not only in granting freedom from persecution (which the Christians had enjoyed at intervals under Pagan emperors), but in the public sentiment of the laws on the side of Christianity, the decided countenance given unto it by government, with the encouragements conducive to the spread of the gospel, and the maintenance of the institutions of Jesus Christ, which it bestowed. This distinction is carefully observed in the intimations of prophecy, with reference to this even. The overthrow of the pagan form of the Roman Empire, with the conversion of its authority to the support of Christianity, is there celebrated as the triumph of the gospel, the coming of “the kingdom of God,” the casting down of Satan from heaven, and the exaltation of the church to that place which he had occupied (Rev. 12:5, 8-10). (( “This shortly, is fulfilled (says Mr. Durham) when, after heathenish persecution for three hundred years had prevailed, Christians were advanced, Constantine being made emperor, and Christianity was established by a law. — It is as the witnesses were taken to heaven (11:12). That was by a public authorized church condition and state, after Antichrist’s persecution; so here, religion authoritatively is established, which never was before, and Christians countenanced after heathen persecution is over.” Durham on the Revelation, chapter xii, lect. i. “The collective body of church members (says Mr. Gib), brought forth by the woman, the church, at the time here referred to, — is said, in metaphorical terms, to have been caught up unto God and his throne; which is evidently the same with the heaven from which the great dragon and his angels are said to have been cast out: and this can only be applied to the exaltation of professing Christians, their being raised up to the enjoyment of the laws and authority of the Roman empire on their side; a privilege which had dreadfully belonged to the great dragon, called the Devil and Satan, for about three hundred years before. This happy exaltation, took place under Constantine the Great, etc. Mr. Gib’s Memorial, etc., p. 9. ))
Although Satan, enraged at being deprived of his authority, attacked the church in another way, and employed the very privileges now conferred upon her, to her corruption and injury, this did not prevent the church from rejoicing at the command of God in these privileges; and we should suspect those sentiments which lead us to opposite exercise. “And I heard,” says John, “a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10). If the kings of the earth “gave their kingdom to the beast,” it was also predicted, that they should “hate the whore and make her desolate;” and the word of God contains promises of the countenance of civil authority to the church, subsequent to the reign of Antichrist; so that this is not necessarily connected either with Antichristianism, or with the corruption of religion.
There are also some texts which are commonly urged, as unfavorable to the employment of civil power in the support of religion. One of these is Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” From these words it is inferred that civil power ought not to be employed in promoting religion. Let us inquire if this is a just or a forced inference.
These words were spoken to Zerubbabel, the governor of the Jews, and primarily referred to the building of the second temple. The people engaged in the work were few, destitute of might and power, and despised by their numerous and powerful enemies, who scoffingly said, “What do these feeble Jews? Will they sacrifice? Will they make an end in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burnt.” The Jews themselves were greatly discouraged, and had repeatedly desisted from the work saying, “The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” But amidst these discouragements, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit;” i. e., although ye are destitute of might and power for this work, the success of it does not depend upon these; my Spirit remaineth among ye, fear ye not, he will carry on and consummate the work.
But was this declaration made to Zerubbabel to cause him to drop the scepter from his hands, and take no direction in the work, lest there should be an appearance of human authority about it? Or, was it any contradiction of it when the Spirit of the Lord “turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to STRENGTHEN THEIR HANDS in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel?” (Ezra 6:22).
We do not mean that the application of this passage is confined to the rebuilding of the temple. We consider it as applicable to the advancement of the work of God under the New Testament. All that we plead is, that the proper import of the words, as ascertained by the circumstances in which they were spoken, be preserved; and that a sense inconsistent with this be not imposed upon them. In this view, the words contain a glorious and comfortable truth, particularly encouraging to the friends of religion, when its interests are low, and they may be destitute of means for supporting or reviving them. The work is the Lord’s; the success of it depends upon his Spirit; he has engaged to carry it on, and he will do it (as he has formerly done), not only without, but in opposition to the power of authority, numbers, wealth, learning, eloquence, etc. But what God does is one thing, what men ought to do is another; nor, because he may proceed in one way at one time, are we to limit him to the same mode of operation at all times: “For who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or, being his counsellor, hath taught him.”
Another passage of Scripture, often quoted on this subject is (2 Cor. 10:4), “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” That the weapons which belong to the church, her ministers and members, as such, are not carnal, what Presbyterian does not allow? If we pleaded for the substitution of carnal weapons in the place of these, or for the employment of them by magistrates for the same purposes and ends; if we pleaded for their being used adapted to the conversion of sinners, or spiritual edification, and that the gospel ought to be propagated, and religion imposed upon men by force — there would be a propriety in urging such texts. (( “These texts (says Mr. Willison) are grossly perverted by some beyond their scope; for seeing our Lord in other plain texts approves of the Magistrate’s using his power for the good of the church, it was not his design to condemn it in these texts in the least. Nor can any just inference be made from them to this purpose, seeing the Magistrate’s acting in his sphere for the Church’s good, is no ways inconsistent with the spirituality of Christ’s kingdom. For we do not at all plead for the Magistrate’s power to be employed by methods of force and violence to set up Christ’s spiritual and internal kingdom in men’s hearts, or to oblige men’s consciences to receive his laws, as the kings of this world do force their conquered subjects to receive and obey theirs. No, this spiritual kingdom of Christ is set up in the souls and consciences of men by means and weapons of a spiritual nature, as the apostle tells us (2 Cor. 10), viz: by the preaching of the gospel, and working of the Spirit of God therewith.” Defence of National Churches, p. 210 ))