The Reformers’ View on the Requirement That Both the Civil Magistrates and the Ecclesiastical Leaders Fear and Serve the Lord in their Respective Offices
Editor’s Note: In 2 Samuel 23:3, King David declared: “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” The Reformers believed that this principle applied not only to ecclesiastical rulers, but to civil magistrates as well. The following article is an excerpt from Scottish reformer George Gillespie’s landmark work, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming (pg. 85-90), wherein Gillespie articulates this position.
OF THE AGREEMENTS AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE NATURE OF THE CIVIL AND OF THE ECCLESIASTICAL POWERS OR GOVERNMENTS...
The difference between them is great. They differ in their causes, effects, objects, adjuncts, correlations, executions, and ultimate terminations.
1. In the efficient cause. The King of nations hath instituted the civil power; the King of saints hath instituted the ecclesiastical power; I mean, the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth, who exerciseth sovereignty over the workmanship of his own hands, and so over all mankind, hath instituted magistrates to be in his stead as gods upon earth. But Jesus Christ, as Mediator and King of the church, whom his Father hath “set upon his holy hill of Zion,” Psal. ii. 6, “to reign over the house of Jacob for ever,” Luke i. 33, ” who hath the key of the house of David laid upon his shoulder,” Isa. xxii. 22, hath instituted an ecclesiastical power and government in the hands of church-officers, whom, in his name, he sendeth forth.
2. In the matter. Magistracy, or civil power, hath, for the matter of it, the earthly sceptre and the temporal sword, that is, it is monarchial and legislative; it is also punitive or coercive of those that do evil. Understand, upon the like reason, remunerative of those that do well. The ecclesiastical power hath, for the matter of it, the keys of the kingdom of heaven. 1. The key of knowledge or doctrine, and that to be administered not only severally by each minister concionaliter, but also consistorially and synodically, in determining controversies of faith, and that only according to the rule of holy Scripture, which is clavis [dogmatike]... 2. The key of order and decency, so to speak, by which the circumstances of God’s worship, and all such particulars in ecclesiastical affairs as are not determined in Scripture, are determined by the ministers and ruling officers of the church, so as may best agree to the general rules of the Word concerning order and decency, avoiding of scandal, doing all to the glory of God, and to the edifying of one another. And this is clavis [diataktike]... 3.The key of corrective discipline, or censures to be exercised upon the scandalous and obstinate, which is clavis [kritike]... 4. Add also the key of ordination or mission of church-officers, which I may call clavis [exiousiastike], the authorising or power-giving key; others call it missio potestativa.
3. They differ in their forms. The power of magistracy is... an authority or dominion exercised in the particulars above mentioned, and that in an immediate subordination to God; for which reason magistrates are called gods. The ecclesiastical power...is merely ministerial and steward-like, and exercised in an immediate subordination to Jesus Christ as King of the church, and in his name and authority.
4. They differ in their ends. The supreme end of magistracy is only the glory of God as King of nations, and as exercising dominion over the inhabitants of the earth; and in that respect the magistrate is appointed to keep his subjects within the bounds of external obedience to the moral law, the obligation whereof lieth upon all nations and all men. The supreme end of the ecclesiastical power is either proximus or remotus. The nearest and immediate end is the glory of Jesus Christ, as Mediator and King of the church. The more remote end is the glory of God, as having all power and authority in heaven and earth. You will say, Must not then the Christian magistrate intend the glory of Jesus Christ, and to be subservient to him, as he is Mediator and King of the church? Certainly he ought and must; and God forbid but that he should do so. But how? Not qua magistrate, but qua Christian. If you say to me again, Must not the Christian magistrate intend to be otherwise subservient to the kingdom of Jesus Christ as Mediator, than by personal or private Christian duties, which are incumbent on every Christian? I answer, No doubt he ought to intend more, even to glorify Jesus Christ in the administration of magistracy; which that you may rightly apprehend, and that I be not misunderstood, take this distinction: It is altogether incumbent on the ruling officers of the church to intend the glory of Christ as Mediator, even ex natura rei, in regard of the very nature of ecclesiastical power and government, which hath no other end and use for which it was intended and instituted, but to be subservient to the kingly office of Jesus Christ in the governing of his church upon earth (and therefore... take away the church out of a nation, and you take away all ecclesiastical power of government, which makes another difference from magistracy, as we shall see anon). But the magistrate, though Christian and godly, doth not ex natura rei, in regard of the nature of his particular vocation, intend the glory of Jesus Christ as Mediator and King of the church; but in regard of the common principles of Christian religion, which do oblige every Christian, in his particular vocation and station (and so the magistrate in his), to intend that end. All Christians are commanded, that whatever they do in word or deed, they do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, Col. iii. 17, that is, according to the will of Christ, and for the glory of Christ; and so a merchant, a mariner, a tradesman, a schoolmaster, a captain, a soldier, a printer, and, in a word, every Christian, in his own place and station, ought to intend the glory of Christ, and the good of his church and kingdom. Upon which ground and principle, if the magistrate be Christian, it is incumbent to him so to administer that high and eminent vocation of his, that Christ may be glorified as King of the church, and that this kingdom of Christ may flourish in his dominions (which would God every magistrate called Christian did really intend). So then the glory of Christ, as Mediator and King of the church, is to the ministry both finis operis, and finis operantis. To the magistrate, though Christian, it is only finis operantis, that is, it is the end of the godly magistrate, but not the end of magistracy; whereas it is not only the end of the godly minister, but the end of the ministry itself. The ministers’ intendment of this end flows from the nature of their particular vocation; the magistrates’ intendment of the same end flows from the nature of their particular vocation of Christianity, acting, guiding, and having influence into their particular vocation. So much of the supreme ends.
Now, the subordinate end of all ecclesiastical power is, that all who are of the church, whether officers or members, may live godly, righteously, and soberly, in this present world, be kept within the bounds of obedience to the gospel, void of all known offence toward God and toward man, and be made to walk according to the rules delivered to us by Christ and his apostles. The subordinate end of the civil power is, that all public sins committed presumptuously against the moral law, may be exemplarily punished, and that peace, justice, and good order, may be preserved and maintained in the commonwealth, which doth greatly redound to the comfort and good of the church, and to the promoting of the course of the gospel. For this end the Apostle bids us pray for kings and all who are in authority (though they be pagans, much more if they be Christians), “that we may live under them a peaceable and quiet life, in all godliness and honesty,” 1 Tim. ii. 2. He saith not simply, “that we may live in godliness and honesty,” but that we may both live peaceably and quietly, and also live godly and honestly, which is the very same that we commonly say of the magistrate...He is to take special care that all his subjects be made to observe the law of God, and live not only in moral honesty, but in godliness, and that so living they may also enjoy peace and quietness. More particularly, the end of church censures is, that men may be ashamed, humbled, reduced to repentance, that their spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord; the end of civil punishments inflicted by the magistrate is, that justice may be done according to law, and that peace and good order may be maintained in the commonwealth, as hath been said. The end of delivering Hymeneus and Alexander to Satan was, “that they may learn not to blaspheme,” 1 Tim. i. 20. Erastus yields to Beza, p. 239, that the apostle doth not say, Ut non possint blasphemare, “that henceforth they may not be able to sin as they did before (which yet he acknowledgeth to be the end of civil punishments), but that they may learn not to blaspheme.” Wherefore, when he expounds...that the Apostle had delivered those two to be killed by Satan...that they may not be able to blaspheme so any more, just as a magistrate delivers a thief to the gallows, that he may not be able to steal any more, and (as he tells us some speak) that he may learn to steal no more,—he is herein confuted not only out of the text, but out of himself. So then, the end of church censures is...that the offenders may learn, or be instructed, to do so no more, which belongeth to the inward man or soul. The end of civil punishments is... (as Erastus tells us), that the offenders may not be able, or at least (being alive and some way free) may not dare to do the like, the sword being appointed for a terror to them who do evil, to restrain them from public and punishable offences—not to work upon the spirit of their minds, nor to effect the destroying of the flesh by mortification, that the spirit may be safe in the day of the Lord.
The fifth difference between the civil and ecclesiastical powers is in respect of the effects. The effects of the civil power are civil laws, civil punishments, civil rewards; the effects of the ecclesiastical power are determinations of controversies of faith, canons concerning order and decency in the church, ordination or deposition of church officers, suspension from the sacrament, and excommunication. The powers being distinct in their nature and causes, the effects must needs be distinct which flow from the actuating and putting in execution of the powers. I do not here speak of the effects of the ecclesiastical power of order, the dispensing of the word and sacraments, but of the effects of the power of jurisdiction or government, of which only the controversy is.
Sixthly, The civil power hath for the object of it To... the things of this life, matters of peace, war, justice, the king’s matters, and the country matters—those things that belong to the external man; but the ecclesiastical power hath for its object, things pertaining to God, the Lord’s matters, as they are distinct from civil matters, and things belonging to the inward man, distinct from the things belonging to the outward man. This difference Protestant writers do put between the civil and ecclesiastical powers. Fr. Junius, Ecclesiast., lib. 3, cap. 4, saith thus: “We have put into our definition human things to be the subject of civil administration; but the subject of ecclesiastical administration we have taught to be things divine and sacred. Things divine and sacred we call both those which God commandeth for the sanctification of our mind and conscience as things necessary, and also those which the decency and order of the church requireth to be ordained and observed, for the profitable and convenient use of the things which are necessary. For example, prayers, the administration of the word and sacraments, ecclesiastical censures, are things necessary and essentially belonging to the communion of saints; but set days, set hours, set places, fasts, and the like, belong to the decency and order of the church, &c. But human things we call such as touch the life, the body, goods, and good name, as they are expounded in the second table of the Decalogue; for these are the things in which the whole civil administration standeth...
If it be objected, how can these things agree with that which hath been before by us acknowledged, that the civil magistrate ought to take special care of religion, of the conservation and purgation thereof, of the abolishing idolatry and superstition; and ought to be...of the first as well as second table? I answer, that magistrates are appointed not only for civil policy, but for the conservation and purgation of religion, as is expressed in the Confession of Faith of the Church of Scotland, before cited, we firmly believe as a most undoubted truth. But when divines make the object of magistracy to be only such things as belong to this life and to human society, they do not mean the object of the magistrate’s care (as if he were not to take care of religion), but the object of his operation. The magistrate himself may not assume the administration of the keys, nor the dispensing of church censures; he can but punish the external man with external punishments. Of which more afterwards.
The seventh difference stands in the adjuncts; For,1. The ecclesiastical power in presbyterial or synodical assemblies ought not to be exercised without prayer and calling upon the name of the Lord, Matt. xviii. 19: there is no such obligation upon the civil power, as that there may be no civil court of justice without prayer. 2. In divers cases civil jurisdiction hath been, and is, in the person of one man; but no ecclesiastical jurisdiction is committed to one man, but to an assembly, in which two at least must agree in the thing, as is gathered from the text last cited. 3. No private or secret offence ought to be brought before an ecclesiastical court, except in the case of contumacy and impenitency after previous admonitions. This is the ordinary rule, not to dispute now extraordinary exceptions from that rule, but the civil power is not bound up by any such ordinary rule; for I suppose our opposites will hardly say (at least hardly make it good) that no civil injury or breach of law and justice, being privately committed, may be brought before a civil court, except first there be previous admonitions, and the party admonished prove obstinate and impenitent.
The eighth difference stands in the correlations. The correlatum of magistracy is people embodied in a commonwealth, or a civil corporation. The correlatum of the ecclesiastical power is people embodied in a church, or spiritual corporation. The commonwealth is not in the church, but the church is in the commonwealth; that is, one is not therefore in or of the church, because he is in or of the commonwealth, of which the church is a part; but yet every one that is a member of the church is also a member of the commonwealth, of which that church is a part. The Apostle distinguisheth those that are without and those that are within in reference to the church, who were notwithstanding both sorts within in reference to the ‘commonwealth, 1 Cor. v. 12, 13. The correlatum of the ecclesiastical power may be quite taken away by persecution, or by defection, when the correlatum of the civil power may remain, and therefore the ecclesiastical and the civil power do not se mutuo ponere et tollere.
Ninthly, There is a great difference in the ultimate termination. The ecclesiastical power can go no further than excommunication, or (in case of extraordinary warrants, and when one is known to have blasphemed against the Holy Ghost) to anathema maranatha. If one be not humbled and reduced by excommunication, the church can do no more but leave him to the judgment of God, who hath promised to ratify in heaven what his servants, in his name and according to his will, do upon earth. Salmasius spends a whole chapter in confuting the point of the coactive and magistratical jurisdiction of bishops, see Walo Messal. cap. 6. He acknowledgeth in that very place, p. 455, 456, 459, 462, that the elders of the church have, in common, the power of ecclesiastical discipline, to suspend from the sacrament and to excommunicate, and to receive the offender again upon the evidence of his repentance. But the point he asserteth is, that bishops or elders have no such power as the magistrate hath, and that if he that is excommunicate do not care for it, nor submit himself, the elders cannot compel him; but the termination or quo usque of the civil power is quite different from this, “It is unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment,” Ezra vii. 26.
Tenthly, They differ in a divided execution; that is, the ecclesiastical power ought to censure sometime one whom the magistrate thinks not fit to punish with temporal or civil punishments; and again, the magistrate ought to punish with the temporal sword, one whom the church ought not to cut off by the spiritual sword. This difference Pareus gives, Explic. Catech. quest. 85, art. 4, and it cannot be denied; for those that plead most for liberty of conscience, and argue against all civil or temporal punishments of heretics, do notwithstanding acknowledge, that the church whereof they are members ought to censure and excommunicate them, and doth not her duty except she do so. The church may have reason to esteem one as an heathen and a publican that is no church member, whom yet the magistrate, in prudence and policy, doth permit to live in the commonwealth. Again, the most notorious and scandalous sinners, blasphemers, murderers, adulterers, incestuous persons, robbers, &c., when God gives them repentance, and the signs thereof do appear, the church doth not bind but loose them, doth not retain but remit their sins, I mean ministerially and declaratively; notwithstanding the magistrate may and ought to do justice according to law, even upon those penitent sinners.”