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James Dodson

THAT civil and religious society, and where revelation is enjoyed, church and state, with their respective authorities, are distinct and mutually independent, in their proper line and employment, will readily be granted by all who have just notions on the subject. But societies and powers which are distinct and independent, may have common objects about which they are employed, and may promote these with harmony and co-operation. Religion is an object of common interest to mankind, and as it enters into, and deeply affects the various relations in which they stand connected with one another, becomes an object of attention and care to all. Magistrates, Ministers, Masters, and Parents have all a distinct and peculiar concern with it; and the authority of each may be employed about it, without encroaching on the business, or usurping the powers of the others. Inattention to this general view of religion, and the connection which it necessarily has with the various relations of life, lies at the foundation of many of the modern errors which prevail on this subject.

That more special concern which certain persons have with religion, particularly in consequence of their being placed, according to divine institution, in offices properly religious and ecclesiastical, in which the immediate administration of religious ordinances is committed unto them, and unto which they are to ‘give themselves wholly,’—does not set aside the more general concern which other persons have with it as connected with their office and station, and those powers and duties which are founded in nature and more clearly unfolded by revelation. When masters and parents employ their authority for promoting religion, they do not interfere with the office of ministers of the gospel, nor does their power thereby become ecclesiastical, but still remain herile [relating to a master] and parental. In like manner, when civil rulers employ their authority for the same purpose, they do not encroach upon the proper business of church courts; their power remains civil and political, and does not become ecclesiastical or spiritual, although it be exercised about objects religious and ecclesiastical. To set aside or deny the powers belonging unto any of these, because we may not be able exactly to define their limits, or because they may interfere with, and encroach upon one another (which, in real life, and among erring and corrupt men, may be expected), would be unreasonable and absurd. In large and extensive societies, in particular, which coordinate, such as a kingdom, and a church of equal or nearly equal extent, and consisting chiefly of the same individuals, there must he more danger of such interferences, with the jealousies consequent upon them; yet as these do not arise from any formal or particular alliance, but from circumstances resulting from their co-existence and actings, so far from being an objection against every connection and alliance, they, on the contrary, demonstrate the propriety of agreeing to and establishing such rules as may bid fairest for preventing these evils, and for conducting matters so as that both societies may gain their ends more fully to their mutual benefit.

The brethren who protested against the late deeds of Synod, have had no difference with them as to the necessary distinction between church and state, or the independence of the former upon the latter in all her intrinsic jurisdiction and administrations. This has been an eminent part of the testimony and contendings of the church of Scotland, and to it they cordially adhere, in opposition to all Erastian tenets, and the sinful encroachments of civil powers, which have long prevailed, and do still continue to prevail in some protestant countries. To the general propositions of the Synod on this head, in their late Testimonies, (chap. 23. of that which was enacted in 1801, and chap. 24. of the one enacted in 1804), they do not object, in as far as they state the common doctrine respecting the essential distinction between church and state, and their mutual independence; although they consider many of their explications and inferences as false and misapplied. That Christ is the sole Head of the church; that he has an exclusive right to appoint all her laws and ordinances of worship and service; that all administrations in his house are to be performed in his name and by his authority, and that his servants, in the proper line of their office, do not act by the authority of, or by delegation from any earthly prince or legislature, so as to receive and execute their mandates, or be responsible to them for their ministrations;—are precious articles of testimony which these brethren hold as dear as any in the Synod, and which, it is hoped, they shall not be left to relinquish or forget. To charge them with making the civil magistrate the Head of the church, investing him with an ecclesiastical power and supremacy over her, or ascribing to him a lordship over the faith and consciences of men, they regard as the language of ignorance, gross inattention, or perverse misrepresentation.

But, in full consistency with these principles, they think they can maintain, that civil authority may be lawfully and beneficially employed in the advancement of religion and the kingdom of Christ. The care of religion, in the general view of it (in which respect the consideration of it is previous to that of the form which it assumes in consequence of supernatural revelation and the erection of a church state), belongs to the magistrate’s office; and it is his duty to watch over its external interests, and to exert himself in his station to preserve upon the minds of his subjects an impression of its obligations, and sanctions, and to suppress irreligion, impiety, profanity, and blasphemy. It is also the duty of civil rulers, and must be their interest, to exert themselves to introduce the gospel into their dominions when it may be but partially enjoyed; and by salutary laws and encouragements to provide them with the means of instruction, and a settled dispensation of ordinances; especially in poor and desolate, or in ignorant and irreligious parts of the country;—all which they may do without propagating Christianity by the sword, or forcing a profession of religion on their subjects by penal laws. When religion has become corrupt, after it has been received and established in a nation, and has degenerated into a system of falsehood, superstition, idolatry, and tyranny, carried on by churchmen, aided by the civil powers; and where various abuses of this kind are interwoven with the civil constitution and administration,—an eminent exercise of civil authority is requisite for the reformation of these; not by the abolition of all laws respecting religion, as a matter which civil government has no concern with, and by leaving every thing to individual exertion or voluntary associations, which would only breed anarchy and endless disorder; but by magistrates taking an active part in prosecuting a public reformation, removing external hindrances, correcting public and established abuses, allowing, and in some cases calling together and supporting ecclesiastical assemblies for settling the internal affairs of the church and of religion, "that unity and peace may be preserved, &c.;" as was done by the rulers of different countries at the period of the Reformation from Popery, and in Britain at the time of the Westminster Assembly. In an ordinary state of matters, they also judge, that it is the duty of civil rulers to maintain and support the interests of religion, and the kingdom of Christ, by publicly recognising and countenancing its institutions, giving the legal sanction to a public profession, or confession of its faith, a particular form of worship and ecclesiastical discipline, which are ratified as national; and by making public and permanent provision for the religious instruction of their subjects, and the maintenance of divine ordinances among them. These with other things of a similar kind agreeable to the principles of presbyterians, civil rulers may do in the exercise of their authority, without encroaching upon. the office or business of the church and its office-bearers, without compelling their subjects to believe or practise what they do not believe or judge sinful, and without punishing persons who may conscientiously dissent from the authorised and established religion, or depriving them of their natural rights merely on this ground; while at the same time, by using their authority in this way, magistrates do act for the honour of him by whom they rule, for the promotion of religion, the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, and the public good of their subjects.

When these things are considered, it will appear, that many of those propositions which are usually brought forward to set aside the exercise of magistratical authority about religion are impertinent and inconclusive, being founded upon a mistake of the principles upon which it proceeds, and a confounding of things totally distinct. We may also see, that several of the assertions of the Synod, in illustration of their propositions, are so general and vague that they can give no satisfaction to those who seek for distinct ideas upon the subject, It is true, as asserted by them that ‘the Christian religion—annexes no new powers to any office or relation founded in nature;’ but it is also true, that it does more than ‘lay every one who professes it, under the strongest obligations to the faithful discharge of the duties of his station.’[1] It gives new and higher qualifications to them for the discharge of duties, and also presents new objects about which they are to be employed. The Christian religion does not properly add any new powers to masters, parents, husbands; but it not only lays them under stronger obligations to the discharge of their respective duties, and give them greater fitness for this, it also widens the sphere of their operation, and brings new objects within their reach. It is the same as to magistrates. The Synod say, Christian magistrates ‘have no power to give laws to the church.’ But, without doing this they can make laws, in that civil society of which they are the organs, for the good of the church, and the advancement of the interests of religion. The Synod say further, ‘they have no power to prescribe a confession of faith, or form of worship to the church, or their subjects in general.’ But may not ecclesiastical as well as civil rulers be guilty, by assuming the power of prescribing a confession of faith and form of worship? The original and proper appointment of articles of faith and the mode of worship belongs to Christ, and he hath prescribed these in his word. But if, by prescribing, be meant recognising and settling forward these then this may be competent to both, when they act in subordination to the divine authority, and in their direct line and order. When the body of a nation are agreed in the profession of the true religion, and a particular confession of faith, form of worship, &c. have been drawn from the scriptures by those to whom this work immediately belongs, the adding of the civil sanction to them (though this does not give them any spiritual authority, nor make them more binding as ecclesiastical deeds), and their being thus considered as national, may be justified as lawful, expedient, and, in many cases, highly necessary. Nor does this ascribe to magistrates any juridical powers incompatible with the nature of their office, or which encroach upon the province of ecclesiastical courts.

The testimony now adopted by the Synod is not only very defective, as it does not contain or exhibit any principles upon which the civil reformation in this land, formerly witnessed for, can be vindicated; but it also advances doctrine eversive of this, and directly opposite to that which is contained in the word of God, in the standards of the church of Scotland, and in the public papers of the Secession, respecting the authority and duty of civil rulers.—It denies that the authority of magistrates extends to religion or matters ecclesiastical, limiting its exercise to the civil or secular concerns of mankind. ‘The power (say the Synod) competent to worldly kingdoms is wholly temporal, respecting only the secular interests of society.’[2] This is still more apparent from the 6th section of the same chapter, in which they profess to state the duty of civil magistrates with respect to the church, and the interests of religion. The whole of what is said to be incumbent upon them in their official character is contained in one sentence, and is confined to protection, and the securing of an universal liberty of worship. ‘It is their duty, in their official character, to protect her (the church) in the peaceable possession of her rights as a society, and to secure all her members the full enjoyment of liberty of conscience, so long as they act as peaceable members of the civil state.’[3] This protection, it is evident, is no more than what the Synod must consider as due to every society calling itself a church, however heretical and corrupt, yea, to every society erected for the most common purposes; and the securing of liberty of conscience, of which they speak, cannot be confined to those who are members of the Church of Christ; for the Synod had before declared, that ‘a liberty of worshipping God in the way which they judge’ agreeable to his will, is a right common to all men;’[4] and this must be the right which magistrates are to secure. So that, in their official character, according to the Synod’s doctrine, magistrates are to do no more for a true church than a false, and no more for Christians, than for Jews, Deists, Mahometans, or Pagans. All that follows, after the sentence above quoted, to the end of the section, it is carefully to be observed, respects magistrates solely in their private character. For it is immediately added; ‘But there are many other things incumbent upon the magistrate in his private character, for the glory of Him by whom kings reign, and for the prosperity of his interest in the world.’ He is ‘as well’ as ‘all other men to acquaint himself with the divine word,’ &c. It is his duty, like every ‘subject of God’s government,’ to use his ‘own advice and example’ for promoting and preserving religious worship. And like other church members, he is to contribute ‘according to his ability, for the spread of the gospel, and the support of a gospel ministry;’ only it is allowed that his private purse is heavier than that of other church members, and that his advice and example may have more influence. And this is all that is specially allotted and allowed to magistrates in the word of God! all that is meant in such passages of scripture as Isa. 49:23. Psalm 72:10. to which the Synod refer at the foot of the page! This is all the sense and meaning in which the Synod adhere to the passages of the Confession, which teach the duty of civil rulers as to religion.

The reference to the Confession of Faith, and the use of its words, with the explication and limitation added, deserve particular notice. The following are the Synod’s words, and the manner in which they are printed: ‘It is his duty as a subject of God’s government, in obedience to the second commandment, to use his endeavours that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; that all corruptions in the worship of God and discipline of the church be prevented or reformed; and that all the ordinances of God be duly administered and observed. The endeavours for accomplishing these ends, must all be such as are consistent with the spirit of the gospel, not by the interposition of the civil sword, but by his own advice and example.’[5] The things about which it is here said the magistrate must use his endeavours, include the whole of the public worship and ordinances of God, whether natural or revealed, moral as well as positive. This is evident from their being arranged under the second commandment of the moral law, said to be the duty of the magistrate as a subject of God’s government, and from the particulars enumerated. What then are the endeavours which the magistrate is to use, what are the means which he is to employ for gaining these ends or any of them? That they ‘must all be such as are consistent with the spirit of the gospel,’ none will doubt, as all that the magistrate does ought to be so. But the Synod add, ‘not by the interposition of the civil sword, but by his own advice and example.’ Although it is not improbable that the phrase the ‘civil sword’ is here introduced in terrorem, yet as contrasted with ‘advice and example,’ it must refer to the authority of the magistrate in general; as the expression ‘the sword’ is used by divines, agreeably to scripture, to express civil authority, in like manner as ‘the keys’ is used as the denomination of that authority which is ecclesiastical.[6] Accordingly, the Synod exclude all exercise of civil authority about divine worship and ordinances, confining him to the use of ‘advice and example’ in suppressing all blasphemies and errors, preventing or reforming all corruptions and abuses in worship or discipline, and in taking order to have all the ordinances of God administered and observed.—The abuse which is committed upon the Confession of Faith is not less glaring than the departure from its doctrine. The evident tendency of condescending upon these particulars, of using the words of the Confession, and of fixing the readers attention upon them by printing them in Italics, is to make him believe that the Synod is still adhering to the doctrine of that book upon the article in question. Yet there cannot be a more glaring contradiction of the doctrine laid down in that part of the Confession of Faith than what is taught by the Synod. For the limited sense imposed upon the words is not only what the compilers of the Confession would have rejected, but it is a sense which it was the express design of that paragraph to condemn. This must be apparent to any one who will take the trouble to examine it as it stands in Conf. Chap. 23 sect. 3. The design of that section is to explain the power and authority of the civil magistrate respecting religion. In the first part of it they mention some things to which his authority does not extend; they then go on in the latter part to state some things to which his authority reaches, in opposition to those who denied the magistrate’s power about religion; and they say, ‘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,’ &c. But the Synod cut off the words he hath authority which give meaning to all that follows, and teach that he hath no authority in those matters, but is limited to the use of ‘his own advice and example.’ After having thus excluded all exercise of civil authority from the settlement of religious worship and ordinances, after having restricted magistrates from disposing of the nation’s property—for the spread of the gospel, and ‘the support of a gospel-ministry;’ it is surety a farce, it is something worse than a farce, to pretend that the Synod do not enter into the question respecting the lawfulness or unlawfulness of civil establishments of religion.

Let us now contrast these sentiments of the Synod, with the doctrine maintained on this head by the Protestant and Reformed churches. These harmoniously agree in declaring, as with one mouth, that civil authority is not limited to the secular affairs of men, and that the public care and advancement of religion is a principal part of the official duty of magistrates. A few extracts from their public Confessions will clearly establish this. The first Confession of Helvetia or Switzerland, says, ‘Seeing that every magistrate is of God, his chief duty (except it please him to exercise tyranny) consisteth in this, to defend religion from all blasphemy, to promote it, and, as the prophet teacheth out of the word of the Lord, to see it put in practice, as far as lies in him. In this matter the first place is given to the pure and free preaching of the word of God, the instructing of the youth of citizens, right and diligent teaching in schools, lawful, discipline, a liberal provision for the ministers of the church, and an attentive care of the poor.’—The latter Confession of Helvetia (which was expressly approved by the church of Scotland and most of the reformed churches), teaches, that ‘magistracy, of whatsoever sort it be, is ordained of God himself, for the peace and tranquillity of mankind; so that the magistracy ought to have the chief place in the world. If he be an adversary to the church, he may greatly hinder and disturb it; but if he be a friend and member of the church, he is a most profitable member, and may excellently aid and advance it. His principal duty is to procure and maintain peace and public tranquility; which, doubtless, he will never do more happily than when he is seasoned with the fear of God and true religion, particularly 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 unadulterated faith, shall extirpate falsehood and all superstition, impiety, and idolatry, and shall defend the church of God. For, indeed, we teach that the care of religion doth chiefly appertain to the holy magistrate.’

The Confession of Bohemia, called also the Confession of the Waldenses, says, ‘The Christian magistrate ought also to be a partaker, and, as it were, a minister of the power of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, whom God hath, in our nature, made Lord and King of kings, that kings of the earth, who in times past had been heathen, might come under the power of the Lamb, give their glory unto the church, and become nurses of it, which began to be fulfilled when they received the Christian religion. The Christian magistrate is peculiarly taught, by this authority of his, to promote the truth of the holy gospel, &c. Whereunto the second Psalm doth exhort magistrates: And now, ye kings, understand,& c.’ The Confession of Saxony declares, that ‘the word of God doth, in general, teach this concerning the power of the magistrate; First, that God wills that the magistrate, without all doubt, should sound forth the voice of the moral law among men, according to the ten commandments, or law natural, by laws forbidding idolatry and blasphemies, as well as murders, theft, &c. For well has it been said of old, The magistrate is a keeper of the law, i.e. of the first and second table, as concerning discipline and good order.—This ought to be their special care (of kingdoms and their rulers), to hear and embrace the true doctrine of the Son of God, and to cherish the churches, according to Psal. 2, and 24. and Isaiah 49. And kings and queens shall be thy nurses, i.e. let commonwealths be nurses of the church, let them give entertainment to the church, and to godly studies.’ The Dutch Confession (approved also by the French church) teaches, that it ‘is the duty of magistrates not only to be careful to preserve the civil government, but also to endeavour that the ministry be preserved, that all idolatry and counterfeit worship be abolished, the kingdom of antichrist brought down, and that the kingdom of Christ be enlarged: In fine, that it is their duty to bring it to pass that the holy word of the gospel be preached every where, that all men may serve God purely and freely, according to the prescribed will of his word.’ And the French Confession declares, that God hath ‘delivered the sword into the magistrate’s hand, that so sins committed against both tables of God’s law, not only against the second but the first also, may be suppressed.’

In the Confession of the English Congregation in Geneva (which was approved and used in Scotland before the establishment of the Reformation here), it is said, ‘Besides this ecclesiastical discipline, I acknowledge to belong to this church a politic magistrate, who ministereth to every man justice, defending the good and punishing the evil. To whom we must render honour and obedience in all things which are not contrary to the word of God. And as Moses, Ezechias, Josias, and other godly rulers, purged the church of God from superstition and idolatry, so the defence of Christ’s church appertaineth to the Christian magistrates, against all idolaters and heretics, as Papists, Anabaptists, with such like limmes [i.e., limbs] of Antichrist.’ The Scot’s Confession says, ‘Moreover, to kings, princes, rulers, and magistrates, we affirm, that, chiefly and most principally the conservation and purgation of the religion doth appertain; so that not only they are appointed for civil policy, but also for maintainance of the true religion, and for suppressing of idolatry and superstition whatsoever, as in David, Josaphat, Ezekias, Josias, and others, highly commended for their zeal in that case, may be espied.’—The Second Book of Discipline declares that, ‘Although all the members of the kirk be holden every one in their vocation, and according thereto, to advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ, so far as lieth in their power, yet chiefly Christian princes, and other magistrates, are holden to do the same. For they are called in the scriptures nourishers of the kirk, for so much as by them it is, or at least ought to be maintained, fostered, upholden, and defended against all that would procure the hurt thereof. So it pertains to the office of a Christian magistrate,—to make laws and constitutions agreeable to God’s word, for advancement of the kirk, and policy thereof, without usurping any thing that pertains not to the civil sword, but belongs to the offices that are merely ecclesiastical, as is the ministry of the word and sacraments, using of ecclesiastical discipline, and the spiritual execution thereof, or any part of the power of the spiritual keys, which our Master gave to the apostles, and their true successors.’

The Westminster Confession teaches, that Christian magistrates, ‘in the managing’ of their office, ‘ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace;’ that ‘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; 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. 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.’ The Larger Catechism teaches that ‘the charge of keeping the Sabbath is more especially directed to governors of families and other superiors, because they are bound not only to keep it themselves, but to see that it be observed by all those that are under their charge;’ also, that in the second petition we pray, among other blessings, connected with the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, that ‘the church’ may be ‘furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate.’

Such is the harmony of doctrine in the Protestant churches on this head, expressed in their Confessions and public formularies drawn from the word of God: a harmony which deserves great attention, and from which none should rashly depart.[7] From this doctrine there was no deviation in the original Testimony and public papers of the Secession. In adopting the Confession of Faith and other standards of the church of Scotland no exception was ever stated on this subject. This appears from the second and third questions in the old formula, and from the I. II. and VI. articles of the assertory part of the Testimony, concerning worship, government, and discipline.[8] On the contrary, the whole doctrine contained in the confession of Faith and Larger Catechism, as received by the church of Scotland, is expressly approved and homologated. In the Declaration and Defence of the Associate Presbytery’s principles respecting the present Civil Government, or Answers to Mr. Nairn, after laying down the principles upon which the magistrates power is founded and can be defended, it is added, ‘there is noticing especially allotted and allowed unto magistrates by the word of God and the Confessions of the Reformed Churches, but what can be so’ argued for and defended.[9]

If we have recourse to the writings of those who were concerned in the compilation of the public papers of the Secession, or who have vindicated them, we will find that they maintain the common Presbyterian doctrine respecting the magistrate’s power about religion, and condemn the opposite doctrine as a hurtful error. Mr. William Wilson, of Perth, in his Defence pronounces ‘the legal or civil establishment’ enjoyed by the church of Scotland, ‘good in itself,’ although it was at that time abused by the judicatories. ‘We will readily agree (says he) that the countenance of civil authority is not necessary to the being of the church, though it is very profitable and useful to her outward peaceable being: As also, that the countenance and protection of the civil magistrate, given unto the judicatories of the church, in the faithful discharge of their duty, is a great outward blessing, promised unto her in New Testament times, Isa. 49:23. and 60:5. 10. Rev. 17:16.’[10] Having mentioned a number of the peculiar and distinguishing ‘principles’ of the Anabaptists and Brownists, among which is the following, ‘they affirmed, that the Christian magistrate had no right to meddle at all with any matters of religion; and they plead for a universal toleration, under the specious pretence of liberty of conscience.’ Mr. Wilson adds, ‘Against the above extravagant principles our reformed divines employed their pens, and discovered the contrariety of them to the holy scriptures, and their affinity to several of the gross principles of the ancient Donatists and Novatians. The above are the principles that the most part of our divines, cited by the author of the Essay, do reason against; and the principles of the Seceding ministers are as far distant from them as east from west.’[11] Again, ‘The greatest deceits have been brought into the world under the name or notion of new lights. It is to be regretted (continues he) that such new lights have of late appeared in our horizon, who plead against the establishment of confessions of faith, &c., by the laws of the land: If our author had employed his pen against such new lights, providing he had done it to purpose, he had thereby done more service to our Reformation rights and our Presbyterian interest than he has done by his Essay on Separation.’[12] His antagonist, Mr. Currie, having charged Seceders with one of the principles held by one Roger Williams, Mr. Wilson answers; ‘But, how comes our author to conceal his other principle mentioned by Mr. Mather in the place quoted by him, viz. His violent urging, that the civil magistrate might not punish breaches of the first table in the laws of the ten commandments? Our author has, no doubt, his reasons for not mentioning this Sectarian principle, mentioned by Mr. Williams; however, according to Mr. Mather, in his history, the above principles bred as much disturbance in New England as that which our author mentions.’[13]

Mr. Alexander Moncrieff, of Abernethy, inculcates the same doctrine in his writings. ‘Christian magistrates (says he), in their characters, are to maintain and defend the faith in Christ. We do not mean that they are to propagate the religion of Jesus by sword, fire, and faggot, but that Christian states are to employ their power and authority for support of the worship and service of God, as well as for regulating our behaviour to our fellow-creatures.—Both precepts and examples under the Old Testament are strong and clear to this purpose; and these were not temporary laws, but founded upon perpetual and moral grounds, such as the peace of societies; the good of men's souls; the duty of all dependent beings to pay homage to their Creator, in the manner himself has prescribed; and the duty of all magistrates, the ministers and delegates of the great God, to vindicate and maintain his honour among men. No doubt magistrates have mistaken error for truth, and made a bad use of their power upon many occasions; but if the abuse of a power take away the lawful use of it, mankind will be in a strange and unheard of situation!’[14] The same learned and pious author, in another part of his works, gives a very perspicuous and succinct statement of the difference between civil and ecclesiastical authority, and of the power which Presbyterians allow to magistrates respecting synods and matters ecclesiastical, in opposition both to Erastian and Sectarian extremes.[15] With this doctrine, his son, Mr. William Moncrieff of Alloa, agrees; ‘It has been proved (says he) by such divines as have wrote against the Erastians—that, though the Christian magistrate has a power circa sacra (about holy things); yet he has no power in sacris (in holy things); that it belongs to the church in her judicatures to judge of religious matters; and the magistrate is to strengthen the church’s hands by giving the civil sanction (so far as proper) to their determinations.’[16]

Mr. William Campbell of Ceres, after quoting chap. 23, sect. 3. of the Confession of Faith, adds the following explication: ‘From this quotation of our Confession, we may notice what power the magistrate hath about the church, both negatively and positively. (1.) Negatively, he hath not a power in sacred things, viz. the power of dispensing the word and sacraments, nor the keys of the kingdom of heaven. (2.) Positively, he hath a power about sacred things; he is to be nursing father to the church, to use that power given him of God in her defence; nevertheless he is not to use this power of himself, but that he may employ it for the good of the church, he is to call her judicatories that they may go about their work, at which he may be present; and so his proper work is to ratify, by civil sanction, what they determine and conclude.’[17] Mr. David Wilson of London says, ‘It is not strange that those who are of opinion that there can be no such thing as a national church under the New Testament, should deny the warrantableness of national covenanting; but if the rulers, or representatives of any nation or kingdom, with the concurrence of the .greater part of the people, shall embrace the Christian faith, authorize the profession of the true religion, and agree to promote the same to the utmost of their power, subordinating all their civil and secular interests to the glory of God, may not this be called a national church? And can it be said that it is unwarrantable for any nation to do so, or that such a thing can never be expected to take place under the Christian dispensation? If this were true, I do not see how the following prophecies could ever have an accomplishment; Isa. 45:5. Jer. 4:2. Rev. 11:15.’[18] ‘Open breaches of the law of God (says the same author), when they are not punished by magistrates and men in authority, but are either patronized and encouraged, or tolerated and connived at by them, become national sins; and it is just that God should punish them by national judgments. The open violation of the law of God shews a daring contempt of his authority, and when no proper check is given to it by rulers and magistrates, the guilt of it is imputable to them. The guilt of sins committed by a people is chargeable upon rulers and magistrates when they do not take care to have the people subject to their authority instructed in the principles of religion, that they may know what is sin, and what is duty, the danger of committing the former, and the many advantages that attend, and follow upon a conscientious performance of the latter.’[19]

Mr. Adam Gib of Edinburgh, in his Examination of a late Survey, vindicates the Confession of Faith, Chap. 23 Sec. 3. As to the charge of Erastianism brought against it by the Surveyor, he says, ‘he might as well have charged’ it ‘with Mahometanism;’ and his allegation that it is inconsistent with itself, he asserts, ‘he will never be able’ to prove.[20] ‘For clearing the principles of the Associate Synod, and of all the reformed churches, with regard to civil establishments of religion,’ Mr. Gib lays down a number of propositions, in which he guards, on the one hand, the natural rights of men, and the independence of the church, in respect of all her peculiar and intrinsic concerns, and on the other, the propriety of an established profession of religion, with public provision for the officers and ordinances of the church. ‘Is there no difference (say he) betwixt these two; an establishing a national profession of religion, and a compelling all the subjects to embrace it by the terror of civil penalties?—The establishment now spoken of is to be considered as a bestowing of additional privileges upon some; not as a detracting from the natural and common privileges of any.—And though the bestowing of temporal encouragements or advantages upon the church has been carried too far—unto a corrupting of her officers and ordinances; yet this says nothing against such a measure thereof, as is truly serviceable to the interests of religion: While the civil power can also refuse or withdraw these, as they appear undeserved; without any encroachment on their natural privileges.’[21]—‘The wicked import and effect of this new scheme is—to be considered. And, 1. It means an abolishing of all scripture-precepts, promises, and prophecies, about the state of the gospel-church with regard to civil powers. For, according to this scheme, kings are not to be wise now, nor are the judges of the earth to be instructed that they should serve the Lord, the King upon the holy hill of Zion!—No kings, in their kingly state, should fall down before him; no nations in their national state, should serve him! It is to be of no consequence to the church, that the Lord hath said, Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers; nor is it to be admitted of, according to any intelligible use of the words, that the kingdoms of this world should become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ! 2. This new scheme is for abolishing all obligation upon Christians to manage their secular callings and advantages in a way of homage to the Lord Christ.—Whatever opportunity and power any Christian man has, from his civil station—for favouring or promoting the interests of Christ in the gospel-church, so as may be still agreeable to her nature, he should reckon it his chief business thus to improve the same, in opposition to a heathenish way of managing the concerns of that station; and this must be principally incumbent on civil rulers, from the principal measure of their opportunity and power. To imagine that civil rulers, professing religion, should not use their power and influence in behalf of the religion which they profess—or that they can otherwise put a due value upon it, and be truly in earnest about it, this is one of the Surveyor’s chimerical notions—which never can be, nor ought to be exemplified in the world!’[22]

‘Some people (says Mr. Morison of Norham) may perhaps be shocked at hearing of a legal establishment of religion, as if it were an antichristian abomination. But there is no manner of ground for the heinous charge, provided always the establishment be not formed on the antichristian plan. Nor are we to be presently alarmed, as if all that must needs be antichristian, which is boldly opposed under that odious character. It is no unusual thing for Satan to transform himself into a angel of light; and under the cover of appearing to condemn a thing, to seek to establish it in another shape.’[23] Considering the Christian Magistrate as a Magistrate, the same author asserts, that ‘there is no doubt, but particularly in this capacity it is incumbent on him to do whatever is here (i.e. in the Confession, Chap. 23 sect. 3.) said to be his duty to do.’ And among other things, ‘it is competent to, and consequently incumbent on the magistrate, to provide the church in an honourable patrimony, and to protect her in the possession and enjoyment of it, against all invaders whatsoever, for the support of schools and colleges, in order to the training up of young men for the work of the ministry, and for the maintenance of those who are employed in the ministry of the church.—It is further competent to, and consequently incumbent on the magistrate, to see and provide that his subjects be not left destitute of a faithful gospel ministry.—That the time shall come when the kings of the earth shall thus honour the Lord Christ, is secured to the church by manifold promises. See Psal. 72:10, 11; Isa. 49:23; Rev. 11:15.’[24]

Such is the doctrine which was taught in the Secession, both in public acts and private writings, in conformity to, and vindication of the principles contained in the word of God, and the Confessions of the Reformed churches. And it is easy to see that they must have maintained such sentiments, to be consistent with their subscriptions and the Testimony to which they avow an adherence. If it were not to avoid tediousness, we might have contrasted these, with the sentiments advanced of late by Seceders in different publications, in which the doctrine of the Confession on this head is yielded up as unjustifiable, and condemned; the civil establishment of any particular profession of religion is represented as incompatible with the genius and constitution of the Christian church, and Antichristian;[25] the divine promises and providence about the church are urged as superseding all necessity of human securities;[26] the conduct of the church, in seeking to be secured in her collective capacity by the sanction of human laws, is compared to the sin of the people of Israel in desiring a king, that they might be like the rest of the nations; religious tests in general, as qualifying men for civil offices, are condemned, as evidently inconsistent with the natural rights of men[27]; and the abolition of the public funds for supporting religion is recommended.[28] These are sentiments which are now not only current among Seceders, and avowed in private writings, but introduced, in all their leading articles, into the new deeds of Synod.

Some may be ready to enquire here, how the Synod can pretend that they are still of the same profession, or deny the change of principle which is so obvious. Upon what principle do they attempt to vindicate themselves in this? In general, they have done so by taking shelter under some general principle or expressions contained in the former standards and public papers, and alleging that they approved of and agreed to other things in them, only in so far as they were consistent with these. Nothing, however, can be more untenable and dangerous than such a mode of defence. It contradicts every rule of just reasoning and interpretation, as to the declarations both of God and of men. Certainly, general declarations are to be explained and limited by those which are particular and more specific; and not the latter by the former. If an opposite practice is adopted, the writings of no man, or body of men, can ever be understood as expressing any definite set of principles, nor can they be free from perversion. This would overturn all use of tests of orthodoxy. A person has only to lay hold of some general declaration or expression, and explaining it in his own way, and drawing inferences from it directly contradictory to those allowed in the public standard, to say, that he agrees to all other things in that standard, only in so far as they are consistent with this; that is, only in so far as they are consistent with his private construction of it There are certain general propositions in which Socinians and Arminians may agree with the Orthodox, while, in the sense which they affix to them, and the inferences which they draw from them, they essentially differ. Take for an example the 5th question in the Shorter Catechism: Are there more Gods than one? A. There is but one only, the living and true God. To this the Socinian assents; but could he conscientiously and honestly approve of and adopt the Shorter Catechism, with this salvo, that he understood other parts of it in consistency with this fundamental principle? Or, if he should revise and throw into a new mould this Catechism, expunging the 6th question, with every thing that implied the doctrine of the Trinity, could he defend himself, by saying that he had advanced no new principle, no principle that was not taught in some part of that book, and that he had only rendered it more consistent with itself? The answer would be easy, that it was only his private construction of that question, in direct opposition to the meaning of the compilers, as appears from what they immediately add. Another example may be taken from the first question in the formula: Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old ad New Testament to be the word of God, and the only rule of faith and manners? The opposers of subordinate standards and tests of orthodoxy agree with the affirmative of this, and they think that it completely sets aside all use of any other standard or rule. What then? This is only their particular construction of the question; that the compilers of the formula thought otherwise is plain, because, in the following question, they proceed to put a subordinate test to the candidate, to try his orthodoxy by a subordinate rule. They think there is a glaring inconsistency here; the compilers certainly saw none: and we do not allow that there is any. The same reasoning is applicable to those passages in the Confession, and other public papers, under which the Synod attempt to screen themselves; as will appear from a very little attention to them.

One passage to which they refer is Conf. Chap. 20. sect. 2. ‘God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship; so that to believe such doctrine, or obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.’ From this the Synod infer that civil authority is wholly inapplicable to matters of religion. Nothing, however, can be farther from the design of the Confession than to countenance this notion, which they expressly guard against in the following paragraph; in which they state, that ‘the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended to destroy, but mutually to uphold one another;’ that ‘they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God.’ And that there is a lawful exercise of civil power about religious matters, they declare, both in that passage, and in Chap. 23. But further, as it was not the design of the Confession, in the above quotation, to condemn this exercise of civil authority, so no such doctrine can justly be inferred from the words. For,

1. If they condemn all exercise of civil authority, then they condemn also all exercise of every other species of human authority about these things, whether ecclesiastical, parental, &c. Is it not equally true, that God hath left the conscience ‘free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship,’ whether these be the doctrines and commandments of ministers or magistrates, of masters or parents? Is not ‘an implicit faith, or an absolute and blind obedience,’ unreasonable and sinful, whether it be yielded to synods or parliaments? The design of the words is, to teach the subordination of all human power to the sovereignty and laws of God, particularly in matters of faith and worship. Nay, they seem in that passage to be more immediately levelled against invasions by church-authority, which have been fully as frequent and pernicious in religion as those of civil rulers; such as the assumed lordship of popes, councils, prelates and convocations, in devising new articles of faith, decreeing, and imposing unscriptural rites and ceremonies, canons, &c., here called ‘the doctrines and commandments of men,’ in contradistinction from divine institutions; as the traditions and superstitions of the Scribes and Pharisees, superadded to the divine law, are called by our Lord. If civil rulers concur in these impositions, or if they shall attempt the like by their own sole authority, and the claim of an ecclesiastical supremacy, this doctrine equally condemns their tyranny, and teaches, that no error, will-worship, or any species of false religion, by whomsoever commanded in churches or states, can lay any obligation on conscience, which is immediately subject to God alone. But no such thing is taught, as that men’s consciences are set free from obedience to any human authority, when acting in entire consistency with the word of God, and enjoining nothing beside it, or beyond its own proper limits; which authority of any kind may certainly do.

2. The lordship of God over the conscience, here asserted, extends to morality, as well as religious worship; and, if it sets aside all exercise of human authority about the latter, it must do so also as to the former. Persons often speak of conscience as if it were confined to the worship of God, whereas it extends to all duty. The lordship of God and liberty of conscience may be invaded by rulers in the one as well as the other; and if they shall command any thing which is contrary to the second table of the law, or prohibit what it requires, they are not to be obeyed any more than if their commands contradicted the first. "We ought to obey God rather than man," is a sufficient answer in both cases. ‘God has left the conscience free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to his word,’ as well as in those which are ‘beside it in matters of faith and worship.’ But shall we infer from this, that there can be no exercise of civil authority respecting matters of morality, and of the duties of the second table? Certainly not.

Another general principle, to which recourse is had to vindicate the new sentiments adopted by the Synod, is contained in the Associate Presbytery’s Declaration and Defence of principles respecting Civil Government, commonly called the Answers to Nairn, in which they state, that ‘the whole institution and end’ of the office of magistrates ‘are cut out by, and lie within the compass of natural principles.’[29] The inference which is drawn from this is, that the power of magistrates does not extend to religion, particularly to matters of revelation; and it is pleaded, that this declaration of the Associate Presbytery, did limit and set aside that power in religious matters, which is ascribed to civil rulers by the Confession and other public papers of the Secession. The answer to this is similar to what was given to the preceding plea. This never was, it could not be the design of this paragraph, or of the Associate Presbytery. On the contrary, what is there taught in regard to the origin, object, and extent of the office of civil magistrates is an introduction to the fullest approbation, of what is ascribed to them in the Confessions of the Reformed churches, which, it is asserted, may be vindicated upon the same principles. By withholding this concluding part of the sentence and paragraph, in their quotations of it in their new deeds, the Synod have given a mangled view of its meaning, and limit their adherence to a part of the doctrine taught in that Declaration. After having done this, they hold forth this part of a paragraph, dismembered and detached from its connection, and understood in a sense contradictory to it, as exhibiting a just and adequate representation of the doctrine of the Associate Presbytery in their Declaration; although all office-bearers were hitherto taken bound to the whole doctrine contained in that paper! Further, in the same Declaration the Presbytery expressly approve of the application of civil power to religion, in what they say respecting the former Reformation of this land, and in the doctrine which they lay down, as to the duty of a nation and its rulers in settling their constitution, and conducting its administrations, as we have formerly shewn.[30] The general principle, above referred to, must be understood in a sense consistent with these express and particular specifications. But it is in a sense inconsistent with them that it is now explained and applied by the Synod.

Nor is this imposed meaning less inconsistent with the proper import of the words, than it is with the intention of the Associate Presbytery, and the whole scope of their Declaration. For, 1. Natural principles include religion, as one of their most important branches. This, however, is entirely overlooked by the Synod in their new deeds, as well as in the defences of them read in the Synod. Although they affect to make the difference to turn chiefly upon matters of revelation, yet they have preserved a deep silence respecting religion, as founded in natural principles, and forming, in this view, a great object of magistratical concern and duty. They have taught nothing respecting the duty of civil rulers to preserve these principles; but, on the contrary, have excluded all interference of authority about them, as well as matters of supernatural revelation, by confining it to things merely civil, and the secular interests of mankind, and by proclaiming an universal liberty in matters of religion and the worship of God. Thus they have, in so far, gone over to the principles, and patronized the designs of those modern philosophers and politicians, who have made a total separation between religion and civil government; a scheme, which, considering its extensive spread of late times, and its pernicious tendency (as formerly hinted, HERE), there was a louder call to testify and guard against, than as to many things which the Synod have condemned in their new Testimony.

2. The right which magistrates have to interfere with religion, and to employ their power for its support is founded in natural principles; and is not pleaded for as originating from the Mediator’s office, or as of supernatural institution, any more than other parts of his official power and duty.

3. Natural principles teach, that if God be pleased to grant a supernatural revelation of his will, declaring in what manner he will be worshipped (as he has done in the Scriptures), it is the duty of all, magistrates and people, to whom it is made known, to embrace, and, in their several stations, to promote and support this. The form which religion assumes in consequence of supernatural revelation is the only true one, and has a divine claim upon all that countenance and support which human laws can give it; and the application of the common principles of magistracy to the support of the true religion, and of the kingdom of Christ, as visibly erected in the world, does not remove it from its proper foundation, or ascribe new powers to the office.

4. Much error is also occasioned by an improper limitation of the end of the magistratical office. This is indeed ‘the public good of outward and common order,’ in distinction from ‘the disorders of men’s hearts,’ about which the gospel ministry is versant.[31] But, instead of excluding, this must comprehend the care of religion, which (as we shall see) is necessarily connected with the welfare of society; and particularly the true religion, as eminently calculated to promote this.

5. What belongs to magistracy in general, and to all magistrates, is not to be confounded with those things which belong to and are incumbent upon those who enjoy the benefit of divine revelation, and who rule over a people who make a profession of Christianity. Such a people have peculiar interests and privileges to secure and advance; and as it is their duty to provide for these in their constitution, so it is the duty of their rulers to attend to the same great object. Without this they cannot ‘exercise their office for promoting the church’s public good,’ and the public good of that society over which they are placed in all its circumstances.[32]—Another distinction, connected with the above, may be also here mentioned: What the magistrate owes to all his subjects in common, in the administration of justice, and the preservation of order and peace among them, is not to be confounded with what is competent to and incumbent upon him, in promoting and countenancing, by his authority, such institutions as contribute materially to the prosperity of the people over whom he rules; among which religion and pure Christianity must hold an important place. This distinction is laid down and illustrated by Mr. Gib. After stating that, ‘as to all temporal jurisdiction about men’s natural rights and privileges,—the civil power is to proceed only upon natural, not upon revealed principles,’ he adds: ‘In all PUBLIC or MAGISTRATICAL administrations, which do not affect men’s natural rights or privileges, the civil power when Christian is to proceed upon revealed as well as natural principles. He is to exercise his Christian judgment of discretion as to his countenancing or discountenancing of any in the matter of their religious principles and profession; as to what particular Church-state should be favoured with legal securities and privileges; and as to what persons should be entrusted with places of power under him, for the public good of ecclesiastical as well as of civil society. In all which he encroaches upon no man’s birth-right; but only maintains a good conscience about a proper subserviency of his power to the kingdom of JESUS CHRIST.’[33]

Before leaving this part of the subject, it may be proper to advert, very briefly, to another pretext for departing from the principles of the church of Scotland on this head, which is taken from the Act of Assembly receiving the Westminster Confession of Faith. This Act may be seen prefixed to the Confession, and any person who gives it an attentive perusal may be convinced, that, instead of giving any countenance to the proceedings of the Synod, it condemns them. The explication which it contains does not refer to the general doctrine which the Confession teaches respecting the Magistrates’ power about religion, which the Assembly approved, as well as its other doctrines, as ‘most orthodox, and grounded upon the word of God.’ It bears no reference whatever to Chapters 20. sect. 4.; [chap.] 23. sect. 3. against which the Synod except. It refers exclusively to some parts of the second article of the thirty-first chapter, and to the single point of the calling of ecclesiastical assemblies. It does not condemn the doctrine there taught, but simply declares, that ‘the Assembly understandeth’ it ‘only of kirks not settled or constituted in point of government.’ It asserts the intrinsic right of the church to hold her own assemblies as often as necessary, although the magistrate, after proper representation, should with-hold or deny his consent; which had always been the avowed principle and right of the church of Scotland. When we consider the faithfulness of that church in asserting and holding fast what she had always professed, and had sworn to maintain, at the time she was receiving a new Confession, it is certainly preposterous to urge this as a vindication of the conduct of a Synod who have departed from a doctrine which they had received, and excepted and set aside articles contained in that Confession, the whole doctrine of which they had avouched and sworn to maintain and defend against all contrary errors.—Besides, the Act of Assembly expressly allows to Magistrates a power of calling assemblies occasionally; ‘it being always free to the magistrate to advise with Synods of ministers and ruling elders, meeting upon delegation from their churches, either ordinarily, or, being indicted by his authority, occasionally and pro re nata.’ This allowance is also expressly made by the Associate Presbytery in the Judicial Testimony, in the very place in which they assert the spirituality, freedom, and independence of the church, and the intrinsic warrant which her office-bearers have from the Lord Jesus to hold ecclesiastical assemblies; so far were they from thinking that the exercise of civil power about ecclesiastical concerns, when duly limited, was inconsistent with these important truths.[34] So that, in every point of view, the plea from this Act is untenable, and only serves to involve those who urge it in contradiction and inconsistency.

By the preceding statement of the doctrine of the Reformed churches and the Secession, it is far from our design to rest the truth of the doctrine, or our adherence to it, upon the opinions of men, or the authority of churches. We have been necessitated to state these things so particularly, by the bold and unaccountable allegations of men, who, in order to cover the introduction of a new scheme of principles, and the imposition of it upon others, have denied all change, and attempted to fix principles upon men and churches opposite to those which they have publicly avowed; and who, by such conduct, have struck at the foundation of all certainty as to any knowledge of sentiments conveyed by the plainest and most unequivocal expressions, and thus, in so far, frustrated the great end for which subordinate standards were composed and received. As we have no hesitation respecting the agreeableness of the sentiments which we maintain to reason and revelation, it would have been a more grateful task to us to have confined ourselves to this part of the subject, and to have begun with what we now proceed to state. To use the words of one who formerly pleaded the same cause; ‘though we have such a noble cloud of witnesses to lead us in this contest, let none of our adversaries think that we fly to their great names for shelter to a weak cause; no, we are willing it be tried at the bar of scripture or reason, as they please. Though indeed they may know how oft it hath been tried there already, and come off with triumph; and we are persuaded will still do so.’[35]

[go to SECTION VII.]


[1] New Testimony, p. 194.

[2] Nar. and Test. p. 193.

[3] Ibid. p. 197.

[4] Ibid. p. 195.

[5] Nar. and Test. p. 198.

[6] ‘The civil power is called the power of the sword, and the other (the ecclesiastical) the power of the keys.’ Second Book of Discipline, chap. i.

[7] ‘That harmony is beautiful which we may observe amongst the several Confessions of the Reformed Churches. and an evidence that there was a special presence of God with them, and also of a plentiful effusion of the holy Spirit upon them; it is likewise a hopeful presage, that when the Lord turns again the captivity of Zion, and when his holy arm shall give the blow unto the throne of the beast, the several churches and their watchmen shall see eye to eye, and in the voice together they shall sing.’ Wilson’s Defence, p. 37.

[8] Display, vol. i. p. 157. 161.

[9] Ibid. p. 311.

[10] Defence, p.417. 530. comp. 167.

[11] Defence, p. 189. 190.

[12] Ibid. p. 196.

[13] Defence, p. 201. 202.

[14] Moncrieff’s Practical Works, vol. i. p.27. 28.

[15] Ibid. vol. ii. p. 91-93.

[16] Observations on an Essay on National Covenanting, p. 2, 8.

[17] Campbell’s Vindication of the Judicial Testimony, p. 43. See also p.44-47.

[18] A Modest apology for the conduct of Seceders, p. 41.

[19] Wilson’s Discourses on National Calamities procured by National Sins, p. 41. 43, 44.

[20] Display, vol. ii, p. 336. 401.

[21] Display, vol. ii. Append. iii. p. 403, 406, 407.

[22] Display, vol. ii. Append. iii. p. 405-6.

[23] The Secession-Testimony abundantly consistent with Liberty of Conscience, apud Present Duty, p. 368.

[24] Present Duty, p. 351 373, 375 377.

[25] Graham’s Review of Ecclesiastical Establishments, Chap. iv. Sect. 1.

[26] Young’s Sermons, vol. iii. p. 179, 181.

[27] Jamieson’s Use of Sacred History, vol i. p. 316. and his alarm to Britain, p. 89. 188. 194.

[28] Overture by Mr. James Robertson, p. 94.

[29] The public good of outward and common order in all reasonable society, unto the glory of God, is the great and only end which these invested with Magistracy can propose, in a sole respect unto that office. And as, in prosecuting this end civilly, according to their office, it is only over men’s good and evil works that they can have any inspection; so it is only over these which they must needs take cognizance of, for the said public good; while, at the same time, their doing so must be in such a manner, and proceed so far allenarly, as is requisite for that end; without assuming say Lordship immediately over men’s consciences, or making any encroachment upon the special privileges and business of the church. And moreover, as the whole institution and end of their office are cut out by, and lie within the compass of natural principles; it were absurd to suppose, that there could or ought to be any exercise thereof towards its end, in the foresaid circumstances, but what can be argued for and defended from natural principles: as indeed there is nothing especially allotted and allowed unto Magistrates, by the word of God and the Confessions of the Reformed Churches, but what can be so. Now, it must be agreeably to all THIS, that the apostle signifies Magistrates to be God’s Ministers for good; concerning themselves with good and evil works,—in a way of terror, praise, or revenge; for he does so in a sole respect unto their civil office. Display, vol. i. p. 311.

[30] See HERE.

[31] Display, vol. i. p. 312.

[32] When we speak of what is incumbent upon a person as a Magistrate, there is often an ambiguity in the use of the phrase. It sometimes means what is incumbent upon him in his official capacity, in distinction from what belongs to him in his private character, as a man or a Christian. But at other times, it signifies what is essential to the office, and belongs to all Magistrates, in every place and situation, in distinction from those things which belong to certain rulers, as placed in certain circumstances. In the latter sense there are duties and acts of rulers, in their official capacity, which cannot be said to belong to them simply as Magistrates, but as clothed with some additional consideration. For example, there are many things incumbent upon the British Monarch, which are not incumbent upon him simply as a king or magistrate, but as a British king and magistrate. These arise from the particular constitution and laws, which in their turn (as far as they are proper) are rendered necessary by the peculiar interests and advantages of the nation, which need to be secured or advanced; such as their being a Christian and Protestant nation, a commercial nation, &c. As religious privileges and interests are of vastly more importance than those which are merely temporal, it is incumbent upon such a people to provide principally for their security and advancement, and a similar obligation must lie upon their rulers in the discharge of their office.

But all this respects the duty of the nation and its rulers, and is carefully to be distinguished from the duty of individuals, in acknowledging and submitting, in all lawful things, to a constitution and rulers, where there may be sinful negligence and deficiency in this matter, both as to qualifications and conduct. This constitutes an essential difference between the present controversy and that which the Associate Presbytery formerly managed with Mr. Nairn. The question then was ‘not—what Magistrates ought to be or do. There is nothing this way incumbent upon them, by the word of God or our Covenants, which the Presbytery do not acknowledge and plead for.’ But the question was, whether, while ‘inviolably bound in our several capacities to confess, oppose, and testify against all the corruptions and evils of the present civil government over these nations; whereby the reformation once established therein has been departed from, opposed, and overthrown: OUGHT we not at the same time to acknowledge the civil authority of the said government, in the administration and commands thereof that are lawful, and to yield subjection thereunto in these circumstances?’ Display, vol. i. p. 291. 292. The question presently agitated between the Synod and the brethren who have protested against their late acts, does not at all respect the point of subjection in the foresaid circumstances, on which these brethren hold the affirmative with the Associate Presbytery. But the present question is, What Magistrates OUGHT to BE and DO.

[33] Display, vol. ii. p. 408.

[34] Display, vol. i. p. 157.

[35] Willison’s Defence of National Churches, p. 6.