Articles

God and Government

The Westminster Confession of 1648 speaks of Government as "Of the Civil Magistrate"

 

I. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates to be under him over the people, for his own glory, and the public good; and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil-doers. -
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to them- selves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of
God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." (Romans 13:1) -
"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well." (1 Peter 2:13)


II. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate.
"By me (the Triune God) kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth." (Prov 8:15-16)
... They ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth. "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son (Christ), lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." (Ps. 2:10-12) - Pray "for kings and for
all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (1 Tim. 2:2) - "Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; rid them out of the hand of the wicked." (Ps.82:3) - "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God." (2 Sam.23:3)
... For that end, they may lawfully, now under the New Testament, wage war upon just and necessary occasions.
"And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages." (Luke 3:14) - "I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." (Matt. 8:9-10; Acts 10:1-2)
"These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them; for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful." (Rev. 17:14-16)


III. The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.* "They withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth
not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests, the sons of Aaron... go out of the sactuary; for thou hast trespassed: neither shall it be for thine honour from the Lord God." (2 Chron. 26:18) - "I will give unto thee (the Church) the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 16:19; Matt. 18:18) - "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." (Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Cor.12: 28) - "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful." (1 Cor. 4:1-2) - "How shall they preach except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of
good things!" (Rom. 10:15) - "No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God..." (Heb. 5:4)
... Yet he has authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed.
"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 Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me." (Isa. 49:23) - "Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good." (Ps. 122:9) - "Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? And thou, Ezra... set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him... Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the LORD..." (Ezra 7:23-28) - "He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him..." (Lev. 24:16) - "That prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in; so shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee. If thy brother... or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend... entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers, thou shalt not consent." (Deut. 13:5-12) - "He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut
down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it." (2 Kings 18:4; 23:1-26; 1 Chron.13:1-9) - "Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries... of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve... the Lord their God. And all his days they departed not from following the Lord, the God of their fathers." (2 Chron. 34:33) - "They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart, and with all their soul; that whosoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman." (2 Chron. 15:12-13)
... In order to effect the above, the civil magistrate has power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.
"Ye shall warn them that they trespass not against the Lord, and so wrath come upon you, and upon your brethren: this do, and ye shall not trespass. And behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah..., the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king's matters: also the Levites shall be officers before you. Deal courageously, and the Lord shall be with the good." (2 Chron. 19:8-11; also chapters 29 &30) - "When (Herod) had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for this it is written by the prophet." (Matt. 2:4-5)


IV. It is the duty of the people to pray for magistrates.
"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority: that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
.... to honour their persons. "Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." (1 Pet. 2:17)
.... to pay them tribute and other dues; "For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour." (Rom. 13:6-7)
.... to obey their lawful commands and to be subject to their authority for conscience' sake. "Ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake." (Rom. 13:5) - "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work." (Tit. 3:1)
... Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrate's just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to him. "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake; whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well. As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God." (1 Pet. 2:13-16)
... Ecclesiastical persons are not exempted. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God." (Rom. 13:1; 1 Kings 2:35) - "Festus... answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me? Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar's judgment-seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong as thou well knowest. For if I... have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar." (Acts 25:9-11) - "There were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities." (2 Pet. 2:1,10,11; Jude 8)
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* This Paragraph III was revised, and the following text was adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936 and by the Presbyterian Church in America in 1973: "Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacra-ments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretence of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiatical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance.



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