CHAPTER XVII. Of the civil magistrate’s power in matters ecclesiastical.


Of the civil magistrate’s power in matters ecclesiastical.

It is lawful, profitable, and necessary for Christians to gather themselves into church estate, and thereinto exercise all the ordinances of Christ, according unto the word, although the consent of the magistrate could not be had thereunto; because the apostles and Christians in their time did frequently thus practice, when the magistrates being all of them Jewish or pagan, and most persecuting enemies, would give no countenance or consent to such matters. Acts, ii. 41, 47, & vi. 1—3.

2. Church government stands in no opposition to civil government of commonwealths, nor any way intrencheth upon the authority of civil magistrates in their jurisdiction; nor any whit weakeneth their hands in governing, but rather strengtheneth them, and furthereth the people in yielding more hearty and conscionable obedience unto them, whatsoever some ill affected persons to the ways of Christ have suggested, to alienate the affections of kings and princes from the ordinances of Christ; as if the kingdom of Christ in his church could not rise and stand, without the falling and weakening of their government, which is also of Christ : whereas the contrary is most true, that they may both stand together and flourish, the one being helpful unto the other, in their distinct and due administrations. John, xviii. 36. Acts, xxv. 8. Isa. xlix. 23.

3. The power and authority of magistrates is not for the restraining of churches, or any other good works, but for helping in and furthering thereof; and therefore the consent and countenance of magistrates, when it may be had, is not to be slighted, or lightly esteemed; but on the contrary, it is part of that honour due to Christian magistrates, to desire and crave their consent and approbation therein ; which being obtained, the churches may then proceed in their way with much more encouragement and comfort. Rom. xiii. 4. 1 Tim. ii. 2.

4. It is not in the power of magistrates to compel their subjects to become church members, and to partake at the Lord’s Table; for the priests are reproved that brought unworthy ones into the sanctuary: Then as it was unlawful for the priest, so it is as unlawful to be done by civil magistrates. Those whom the church is to cast out if they 84 were in, the magistrate ought not to thrust them into the church, nor to hold them therein. Ezek. xliv. 7, 9. 1 Cor. v. 11.

5. As it is unlawful for church officers to meddle with the sword of the magistrate, so it is unlawful for the magistrate to meddle with the work proper to church officers. The acts of Moses and David, who were not only princes, but prophets, were extraordinary, therefore not imitable. Against such usurpation, the Lord witnessed, by smiting Uzziah with leprosy, for presuming to offer incense. Matt. ii. 25, 2G. 2 Chron. xxvi. 16, 17.

6. It is the duty of the magistrate to take care of matters of religion, and to improve his civil authority for the observing of the duties commanded in the first, as well as for observing of the duties commanded in the second table. They are called gods. The end of the magistrate’s office, is not only the quiet and peaceable life of the subject in matters of righteousness and honesty, but also in matters of godliness, yea, of all godliness. Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, are much commended by the Holy Ghost, for the putting forth their authority in matters of religion : on the contrary, such kings as have been failing this way, are frequently taxed and reproved by the Lord. And not only the kings of Judah, but also Job, Nehemiah, the king of Nineveh, Darius, Artaxerxes, Nebuchadnezzar, whom none looked at as types of Christ, (though were it so, there were no place for any just objection,) are com-mended in the book of God, for exercising their authority this way. Psalm Ixxxii. 2. 1 Tim. ii. 1,2. 1 Kings, xv. 14, and xxii. 43. 2 Kings,xii. 3, and xiv. 4, and xv. 35. 1 Kings, xx. 42. Job, xxix. 25, and xxxi. 26, 28. Neh. xiii. Jonah, iii.7. Ezra, vii. Dan. iii. 29.

7. The object of the power of the magistrate are not things merely inward, and so not subject to his cognizance and view, as unbelief, hardness of heart, erroneous opinions not vented, but only such things as are acted by the outward man ; neither is their power to be exercised in commanding such acts of the outward man, and punishing the neglect thereof, as are but mere inventions and 85 devices of men ; but about such acts as are commanded and forbidden in the word ; yea, such as the word doth clearly determine, though not always clearly to the judgment of the magistrate or others, yet clearly in itself. In these he of right ought to put forth his authority, though oft-times actually he doth it not. 1 Kings, XX. 28, 42.

8. Idolatry, blasphemy, heresy, venting corrupt and pernicious opinions that destroy the foundation, open contempt of the word preached, profanation of the Lord’s Day, disturbing the peaceable administration and exercise of the worship and holy things of God, and the like, are to be restrained and punished by civil authority. Deut. xiii. 1 Kings, xx. 28, 42. Dan. iii. 29. Zech. xiii, 3, Neh. xiii.31. 1 Tim. ii. 2. Rom. xiii. 4.

9. If any church, one or more, shall grow schismatical, rending itself from the communion of other churches, or shall walk incorrigibly or obstinately in any corrupt way of their own, contrary to the rule of the word ; in such case the magistrate is to put forth his coercive power, as the matter shall require. The tribes on this side Jordan intended to make war against the other tribes, for building the altar of witness, whom they suspected to have turned away therein from following of the Lord. Josh. xxii.