Church and State
Most Christians would argue that no King, Parliament, or President may justly punish or suppress heresy, blasphemy or idolatry. I would imagine that if an amendment to the U.S. Constitution were proposed, which declared Christianity to be the only true religion, and the God of the Bible to be the only true God, and that all nations owe Christ obedience, that Christians would overwhelmingly oppose it.
One of the primary reasons given (amongst Christians) against suppressing false religion, is that since no man is infallible in matters of faith, no man may punish another man for his beliefs. But if the true religion is so murky and indistinguishable from the false, then how are we to hold fast and continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which we have heard... (Colossians 1:23)? If we are so impaired, as to not be able to determine who is sound and who is heretical, with sufficient clarity to justly and safely punish the wolves and protect the sheep, then how can we be expected to reject a heretic after the first and second admonition (Titus 3:9)? This and many other arguments are addressed quite masterfully by Mr. Rutherford in this work.
Originally written in 1649, the entire book has been transcribed and uploaded. The page continuity has been preserved from the original. (Original page numbers are in parenthesis.) The margin notes and some of the longer Latin quotes have been omitted, along with some of the Hebrew and Greek text. A photocopy version of the original 1649 edition is available at www.swrb.com
If a civil government makes it its policy to bridle and restrain the true religion of the Bible, to ban and remove God’s Law from public places and monuments, to prevent public money from being used in the propagation of the Gospel, to forbid the mentioning of God in the classrooms of the public schools, if it is the policy of this same government to defend and protect Christ’s enemies and their alleged right to publish and spread heretical teachings that seduce and eternally destroy souls, if that government permits what God forbids and forbids what God commands, then is it truly a lawful magistrate that the Christian owes conscientious subjection to? Is this what Paul describes in Romans 13:4 “...he is the minister of God to thee for good ... he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil...” ?
Reverend Samuel B. Wylie gives us a very clear and biblical explanation of what responsibilities the lawful Magistrate is charged with by the Lord. He then explains what responsibilities the Christian has or does not have under a lawful or unlawful Magistrate. Also available at www.swrb.com
In this contemporary work, Pastor Price demonstrates that the Reformed Churches of ages past viewed Church and State relations much differently than our modern Reformed denominations. For example, the Westminster Confession originally said of the Magistrate “...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, administrated, and observed...” Chapter 23 sect 3. The Belgic Confession agrees concerning the Magistrate “…their office is, not only to have regard unto, and watch for the welfare of the civil state; but also that they protect the sacred ministry; and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship; that the kingdom of anti-Christ may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted…” Chapter 36. I could go on to quote Calvin, Beza, Knox, Turretin and many other worthy men, but Pastor Price does all this and more in this very fine book on Biblical Civil Government. Also available at www.swrb.com
Civil Government an Exposition of Romans 13: 1-7 by James M. Willson, A.M. 1853.
What makes a Civil Government a legitimate authority that we must obey? Is it the power of its army, the will of the ruled, or is something else required? If a magistrate is tyrannical does the Christian owe him conscientious subjection? If a wicked King oppresses the land, may the godly revolt as Ehud did (Judges 3: 16) against King Eglon? Throughout history, the text Romans 13: 1-7 has been much abused by despots and tyrants in order to wield an unjust power over Christian subjects. Mr. Wilson shows that God has indeed ordained civil government, but that a government approved of by Him is more than simply an armed power, or even the product of a popular vote.