Reformed Confessions on the Magistrate Enforcing the First Table

“Since every magistrate is from God, his principal duty (unless he prefers to exercise tyranny) is to defend and look after religion by curbing all blasphemy, and just as the prophet teaches from the Word of God, to perform it vigorously. By which to be sure in part especially these keep watch that the clear Word of God may be preached purely and sincerely, and truly to the people, not shutting any man out from gospel truth. Afterwards he will pay attention that all the youth and teens among the citizens may be guided with a correct and proper foundation and discipline, the ministers of the church may have a just provision, and the poor solicitous care. For to this end ecclesiastical authorities watch.”

— The First Helvetic Confession (1536)

“…princes and magistrates must think of Him whom they serve in their office, and do nothing unworthy of ministers and lieutenants of God. All their solicitude must be in this: to keep in true purity the public form of religion, to establish and to guide the life of the people by very good laws, and to procure the welfare and the tranquillity of their subjects, both in public and in private.”

— Calvin’s Catechism (1537)

“…it is the task of princes and magistrates to ponder who it is they are serving in their office and not to commit anything unworthy of God’s ministers and vicars. Moreover, nearly all their care ought to be exerted to keep the public form of religion uncorrupted, to form the people’s life by the best of laws, and publicly and privately to look after the welfare and tranquillity of their realm.”

— Calvin’s Catechism (1538)

“And besides this ecclesiastical discipline, I acknowledge to belong to His church, a political magistrate, that ministers to every man justice, defending the good and punishing the evil. To whom we must render honor and obedience in all things which are not contrary to the Word of God. And as Moses, Hezekiah, Josiah, and other good rulers, purged the church of God from superstition and idolatry, so the defense of Christ’s church appertains to Christian magistrates against all idolaters and heretics, as papists, Anabaptists, with such like limbs of Antichrist, to root out all doctrine of devils and men, as the Mass, purgatory, Limbus patrum, prayers to saints and for the dead, free will, distinction of meats, apparel, and days, vows of single life, presence at idol service, man’s merits with such like, which draw us from the society of Christ’s church, wherein stands only remission of sins purchased by Christ’s blood to all them that believe, be they Jew or Gentiles, and lead us to vain confidence in creatures and trust in our own imaginations, the punishment whereof although God oftentimes defers in this life…”

— The Confession of Faith in the Geneva Bible (1560)

“We further confess and acknowledge that such persons as are placed in authority are to be loved, honored, feared and held in most reverent estimation (Rom. 13; 1 Peter 2; Ps. 81) because they are the lieutenants of God, in whose sessions God Himself does sit and judge (yes, even the judges and princes themselves), to whom by God is given the sword to the praise and defense of good men, and to revenge and punish all open malefactors. To kings moreover, princes, rulers, and magistrates, we affirm that chiefly and most principally the conversation and purgation of religion appertains. So that not only are they appointed for civil policy, but also for maintenance of the true religion and for suppressing of idolatry and superstition whatsoever, as in David, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, and others highly commended for their zeal in that case may be espied.”

— The Scottish Confession (1560)

“…it belongs to the magistrate that the laws which he uses and executes may be conformable to the will of God; and principally to order that religion be perfect and holy, and that the whole church be ordered according to the Word of God, forbidding and punishing as the case requires all those who trouble the church or concerning the discipline of it. David also described the estate of a faithful prince (Ps. 82 and many other texts). He himself did so with all those who have willingly done their duty, such as Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, and other faithful kings and emperors.”

— Theodore’s Beza Confession (1560)

“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 antichrist may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted. They must, therefore, countenance the preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere, that God may be honored and worshipped by every one, as He commands in His Word.”

— The Belgic Confession (1561)

“As all authority is the ordinance of God, the magistrates must perform their duties in accordance with the laws of God and nature; do everything in an orderly manner and nothing otherwise, depending on the Word of God and keeping the laws of God and nature as a norm of action. Let it, therefore, be their prime duty to conform their actions to the standards of the Law, and do nothing contrary to the laws and rights. Then let them be keepers of both tables of the commandments. Let them take care that the Word of God is rightly proclaimed under their jurisdiction; that they punish the blasphemer and him that swears falsely; destroy idols; the brothels of religious orders, monks, and cloister-virgins, as it were whores (as did Jehoshaphat, Jehu, Asa, Joash, Josiah, Hezekiah, and the other kings). Let them bring in heavenly doctrine, perform judgment and justice, defend the good and punish the wicked (Rom. 12; Pss. 2, 24, 82; Isa. 1, 3, 5, 8; Deut. 17). The king has read the books of the Law (1 Kings 10; Prov. 20, 21, 29; 1 Sam. 8). Let them fight for their country and arrange for the defense of their kingdom. Let them care for universities and schools (which are the fertile gardens of the Word) from the public revenue of the country. Evildoers and thieves should be executed; bands of robbers be broken up; and obstinate heretics that will not yield to truth suffer corporal punishment (Lev. 19; Deut. 13, 17, 18; Zech. 13; Ezek. 12, 13, 19; Jerome on these passages; Nicephorus, Book 7, chap. 42; decrees, chap. 23, 9). The councils, Augustine, and Ambrose teach that it is the duty of princes to compel unbelievers to believe and to destroy wicked and idolatrous worship (Decrees, ca. 22, Q. 4; Matt. 22). ‘Compel them to come in’ (cf. Luke 14: 23; see Jerome and Chrysostom on these passages; Augustine, letter 204; on Psalm 23, 71; decree of Pope Anastasius; Ambrose, Book 1, on Duty; Jerome, on Zephaniah 1, 3; Popes Damasus and Calixtus). The prince practices justice if he defends the good; acts unjustly if he does not defend the country and the good. Let them not destroy or steal by force and unlawfully, contrary to the commandment of God (‘You shall not steal,’ plunder, ravish), the goods, inheritance, and property of subjects, as did Ahab, but let them be content with their own payments, taxes, and other dues. For just as a private person may not seize the goods of others, contrary to the law of God, so it is not permissible for the magistrates. Nothing should be extorted in excess of lawful taxation (Luke 3; 1 Kings 22; Isa. 1, 3, 5, 28; Zeph. 3; Mic. 7). The Lord reproves the princes who strip the skin from the poor and devour their subjects like bread (the fathers on Romans 13 and Luke 3). Augustine and the constitutions of the saints forbid the magistrates to waste the revenue of the country on nuns, stage players, clowns and useless games (Dist. 86; Augustine, 100, on John 16). Rather let them apply it to necessary uses, as did David, Solomon and Josiah to the profit of the temple and the kingdom. The councils teach likewise. Let the magistrates not forbid their subjects heavenly food and nourishment; indeed, let them order them to avoid idolatrous Masses and listen to the Word of God. Let slothful bishops and archbishops not distribute the revenue of the kingdom, but apply it to the building up of the Lord’s church, and show favor to pious and holy ministers. Let them give just pay to the defenders of the frontiers of the kingdom. The councils command that princes abolish idols, immoral celebrants of the Mass—that wicked form of service of the Antichrist—and take care that the Word of God is correctly proclaimed and human traditions destroyed.”

— The Hungarian Confessio Catholica (1562)

“Furthermore, it must be known that this authority to govern does not relate to earthly and transitory things, and is quite different from that among the citizenry at large (as Christ showed and after Him St. Paul, Luke 12: 14; 22: 26; John 18: 36; Acts 6: 2; 2 Cor. 10: 14), although each encompasses all believers individually without exception. For even all those who, in their estimation, have the highest authority are under the authority of the civil magistrate, as attention must be paid to peace and order, especially in those things which regard the first table (Ps. 101: 8; 2 Tim. 2: 1; Josh. 1: 8; Ps. 2: 10–12; Jer. 1: 10. And likewise, there is no one that is not subject to the Word of God and the discipline of the church. Nevertheless, the apostle wishes that for the avoidance of scandal, Christians judge problems arising between themselves without the civil magistrate. Yet it is clear enough that St. Paul (who followed in the footsteps of Christ and all the saints) meant by that no disregard for civil jurisdiction, nor did he disturb those whom the Lord had set apart; but he prayed for the time when believers might not have to plead their suits before unbelieving judges, so that they should not fall into all manner of quarrels and insults. For this reason, he warns the Corinthians that such disputes either be set aside at once or decided by private judgment. St. Paul’s exhortation, therefore, is not at all partial to the mindless and demented Anabaptists who give no place in the Christian church to civil magistrates. To return to the subject, therefore, we must seek governance in accordance with ecclesiastical jurisdiction, but must become completely distinct from the civil.”

— The Confession of Tarcal (1562)

“The magistracy, of whatever sort it is, is ordained of God Himself for the peace and quietness of mankind; and so he ought to have the chiefest place in the world. If he is an adversary to the church, he may hinder and disturb it very much, but if he is a friend and so a member of the church, he is a most useful and excellent member thereof, which may profit it very much, and finally may help and further it very excellently. His chief duty is to procure and maintain peace and public tranquility, which doubtless he shall never do more happily than when he shall be truly seasoned with the fear of God and true religion; namely, when he shall, after the example of the most holy kings and princes of the people of the Lord, advance the preaching of the truth and the pure and sincere faith, and shall root out lies and all superstition, with all impiety and idolatry, and shall defend the church of God. For indeed we teach that the care of religion chiefly pertains to the holy magistrate. Let him, therefore, hold the Word of God in his hands and see to it that nothing is taught contrary thereunto. In like manner let him govern the people committed to him of God with good laws, made according to the Word of God. Let him hold them in discipline and in duty and in obedience: let him exercise judgment by judging uprightly: let him not accept any man’s person or receive bribes: let him deliver widows, fatherless children, and those that are afflicted from wrong: let him repress, yes, and cut off such as are unjust, whether in deceit or by violence. ‘For he hath not received the sword of God in vain’ (Rom. 13: 4). Therefore, let him draw forth this sword of God against all malefactors, seditious persons, thieves or murderers, oppressors, blasphemers, perjured persons, and all those whom God has commanded him to punish or even to execute. Let him suppress stubborn heretics (which are heretics indeed), who cease not to blaspheme the majesty of God, and to trouble the church, yes, and finally to destroy it.”

— The Second Helvetic Confession (1566)

“The sins which, in the judgment of Scripture, must be punished by death are homicide, fornication, perjury, idolatry, marital infidelity, incest, whoring, and vile abomination with males and animals (as in Lev. 18–20), also that which is mentioned in the general commandment concerning fornication (Lev. 18–19).”

— Documents of the Debrecen Synod (1567)

“…God has put the sword into the hands of the magistrates to suppress the sins committed not only against the second table of the commandments of God, but also against the first.”

— The Confession of La Rochelle (1571)

“However, where idols are in public places, that is, and on sites and at spots where large numbers are found coming together for scandal and offence, they are by public authority to be abolished by the magistrate. This should be carried out by the magistrate on three grounds: the first of which is the command of God by which He orders that all idols and false worship should be taken away and rooted out. For God says, Ex. 23[: 24]: You shall not do as the Canaanites and the other heathen do, ‘but you shall overthrow their gods and break them up.’ This command is reiterated in Ex. 24 [sic 34: 13], Num. 23 [sic 33: 52], Deut. 7[: 5] and 12[: 3]. The second ground is that a confession by the maintenance of the pure service of worship and an active demonstration that one has aversion and horror for a false service of worship and for all idolatry are actions which are highly necessary. Thus, each individual Christian is bound by the demand of his calling. For confession does not stand in words only and the utterances of the mouth, but is also demonstrated outwardly by works and manifested in deeds so that others see and notice that we are properly serious about fleeing from idolatry in conformity to the words of the apostle, 1 John 5[: 21]: ‘Children, keep yourselves from idols.’”

— The Bremen Consensus (1595)

“That it is the office and duty of princes and magistrates, who by the ordinance of God are supreme governors under Him over all persons and causes within their realms and dominions (Rom. 13: 3–4; 1 Peter 2: 3, 14; 2 Chron. 19: 4; 29, 34; Judg. 17: 5–6; Matt. 22: 21; Titus 3: 1), to suppress and root out by their authority all false ministries, voluntary religions, and counterfeit worship of God, to abolish and destroy the idol temples, images, altars, vestments, and all other monuments of idolatry and superstition, and to take and convert to their own civil uses not only the benefit of all such idolatrous buildings and monuments, but also the revenues, demesnes, lordships, possessions, glebes, and maintenance of any false ministries and unlawful ecclesiastical functions whatsoever within their dominions (2 Kings 23: 5; Ps. 110; Deut. 12: 2–3; 17: 14, 18–20; 2 Kings 10: 26–28; 2 Chron. 17: 6; Prov. 16: 12; 25: 2–5; Acts 19: 27; Rev. 17: 16); and on the other hand, to establish and maintain by their laws every part of God’s Word (His pure religion and true ministry), to cherish and protect all such as are careful to worship God according to His Word, and to lead a godly life in all peace and loyalty—yea, to enforce all their subjects, whether ecclesiastical or civil, to do their duties to God and men, protecting and maintaining the good, punishing and restraining the evil according as God has commanded, whose lieutenants they are here on earth (Deut. 17: 14, 18–20; Josh. 1: 7–8; 2 Chron. 17: 4, 7–9; 19: 4; 29, 30; Dan. 6: 25–26; Pss. 2: 10–12; 72: 1; Isa. 49: 23; Rev. 21: 24; Ezra 7: 26).”

— The Second Confession of the London-Amsterdam Church (1596)

“The magistrate is the custodian of both tables of God’s law. Thus, the elders in Israel were everywhere commanded by Moses that they ought to demolish the idol pillars, altars, and idolatrous groves; and this belongs to the Christian magistrate no less than to the Jewish kings in former times.”

— The Bremen Consensus (1595)

“We believe and confess that God has ordained kings, princes, and magistrates for the good of the commonwealth, for the better governing in the kirk, and to be nursing fathers of the same.”

— Scottish Confession (1616)

“The magistrates are nursing fathers and nursing mothers and stand charged with the custody of both tables (Isa. 49: 23); because it is better to prevent a scandal that it may not come and easier also than to remove it when it is given.”

— The Cambridge Platform (1648)

“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 (2 Chron. 26: 18; Matt. 18: 17; 16: 19; 1 Cor. 12: 28–29; Eph. 4: 11–12; 1 Cor. 4: 1–2; Rom. 10: 15; Heb. 5: 4): yet he hath 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 (Isa. 49: 23; Ps. 122: 9; Ezra 7: 23, 25–28; Lev. 24: 16; Deut. 13: 5–6, 12; 2 Kings 18: 4; 1 Chron. 13: 1–9; 2 Kings 24: 1–26; 2 Chron. 34: 33; 15: 12–13). For the better effecting whereof, he hath 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 (2 Chron. 19: 8–11; 2 Chron. 29–30; Matt. 2: 4–5).”

— The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

“Q. 191. What do we pray for in the second petition?

A. In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come, [Matt. 6: 10]) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan (Eph. 2: 2–3), we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed (Ps. 67: 1, 18; Rev. 12: 10–11), the gospel propagated throughout the world (2 Thess. 3: 1), the Jews called (Rom. 10: 1), the fullness of the Gentiles brought in (John 17: 9, 20; Rom. 11: 25–26; Ps. 67); the church furnished with all gospel officers and ordinances (Matt. 9: 38; 2 Thess. 3: 1), purged from corruption (Mal. 1: 11; Zeph. 3: 9), countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate (1 Tim. 2: 1–2): that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted (Acts 4: 29–30; Eph. 6: 18–20; Rom. 15: 29–30, 32; 2 Thess. 1: 11; 2: 16–17): that Christ would rule in our hearts here (Eph. 3: 14–20), and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him for ever (Rev. 22: 20): and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends (Isa. 64: 1–2; Rev. 4: 8–11).”

— The Westminster Larger Catechism (1647)

“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’ (Ps. 82: 6). 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 (1 Tim. 2: 1–2). Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah are much commended by the Holy Ghost for 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 such objection), are commended in the book of God for exercising their authority this way (1 Kings 15: 14; 22: 43; 2 Kings 12: 3; 14: 4; 15: 35; 1 Kings 20: 42; Job 29: 25; 31: 26, 28; Neh. 13; Jonah 3: 7; Ezra 7; Dan. 3: 29).

…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. 13; 1 Kings 20: 28, 42; Dan. 3: 29; Zech. 13: 3; Neh. 13: 21; 1 Tim. 2: 2; Rom. 13: 4).”

— The Cambridge Platform (1648)

“Although the magistrate is bound to encourage, promote, and protect the professor and profession of the gospel and to manage and order civil administrations in a due subserviency to the interest of Christ in the world, and to that end to take care that men of corrupt minds and conversations do not licentiously publish and divulge blasphemy and errors in their own nature, subverting the faith, and inevitably destroying the souls of them that receive them: yet in such differences about the doctrines of the gospel, or ways of the worship of God, as may befall men exercising a good conscience, manifesting it in their conversation, and holding the foundation, not disturbing others in their ways or worship that differ from them, there is no warrant for the magistrate under the gospel to abridge them of their liberty.”

— The Savoy Declaration (1658)

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