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LETTER VI.-Of Magistrates Power in the Church.


LETTER VI.-Of Magistrates Power in the Church.

James Dodson

THAT the civil magistrate is the vicegerent of God, in the government of everything civil, inspiration affirms: that he should be the slave of church-rulers, obliged implicitly to ratify their decisions, antichrist, not scripture or reason, allows. Whatever authority, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah, exercised towards the Jewish; the same may he, in every age, exercise, with respect to the Christian church. As a nursing father, a minister of God, he is empowered to protect, patronize, and encourage her; that her members may live quietly, in all godliness and honesty. By the exercise of his civil power in her favour, he is to prevent, or abolish, persecution, profaneness, idolatry, superstition, heresy; and whatever else tends to the external hindrance of the pure worship of God (Isa. 49:23 and 60:10, 16; Rom. 13:3, 4; 1 Tim. 2:2; 2 Chron. 15:8, 16 and 17:3-10 and 31:1 and 33:15; 2 Kings 18:4 and 23). He is to maintain for her, her fullness and spiritual privileges granted by Christ: is to promote the public administration of, and proper attendance on, every ordinance of the glorious gospel. He is to supply with PLACES, for that end; and with maintenance, for pastors and teachers (2 Chron. 15:9-16 and 20:7-9 and 29, 30, 31, 34, 35, chap.; Deut. 17:18-20; 1 Chron. 22 to 26 chap.; 2 Chron. 31:4-8 and 34:8-13; Neh. 13:10-14). To regulate the external affairs of the church, in a political or civil manner, is his undoubted province. In this method, he is empowered to reform her corruptions in doctrine, worship, discipline, or government: for this end he may indict and call synods of church-officers, to settle, and govern her matters, according to the word of God (Exod. 32; Josh. 24; 2 Kings 18 and 23; 2 Chron. 15, 17, 19 &c. chap.). As head of a civil family, he may appoint public fasts and thanksgiving, as the circumstances of his dominions require (1 Sam. 7:6; 2 Chron. 20:3; Ezra 8:21; Jer. 36:6; Jon. 3:7). With his civil authority, he ought to enforce the laws of Christ; and such ecclesiastic statutes of church-officers, as he finds warranted thereby. By it he may compel her rulers and members, to an external performance of their duty: and is to punish every gross and open violation of the divine law, unto death, or to banishment, or to imprisonment, or to confiscation of goods, &c (2 Chron. 15. 34 and 35 chap.; Neh. 13; Dan. 3:28, 29 and 6:26, 27; 2 Chron. 29:5, 24 and 30:1; 2 Kings 18:6; Deut. 17:18-20; 1 Kings 2:26, 27; Ezra 7:26, 27; Deut. 21:18-21; Gen. 9:6; Numb. 35:30-34; Job 31:9, 11; Lev. 20:11-25; Exod. 22:1-15; Deut. 19:16 and 13:1-6 and 17:1-8; Lev. 17:2-8; 2 Chron. 15:13, 16; Job 31:26-28; Lev. 24:15, 16; Dan. 3:29; Numb. 15:30-36; Rom. 13:3, 4; 1 Pet. 2:13, 14; Heb. 10:28). This power of the magistrate, about the affairs of the Christian church, is that of a nursing father, to help; not to hurt her, to add to, or confirm, her privileges disponed to her by Christ; not to entrench on, or bereave her thereof. It is to be exercised in a civil manner over church-members, as belonging to the state; not in a spiritual, or over them as they are members of the mystical body of Christ. (Isa. 49:23; 2 Tim. 2:2; Rom. 13:4)

That no magistrate, as such, has any spiritual power or authority, over the Christian church, shines with abundant evidence in the sacred word. Not to the magistrate; but to his apostles, and their successors, Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven; the power of ecclesiastic order and government (Mat. 16:19 and 18:18 and 28:18-20; John 20:21, 23). Nor was then, any civil prince, to whom they could be given. Not to the Jewish; who were violent persecutors of Christ and his cause; and from whom the sceptre was just departing: not to the Heathen; who were not members of his church; but open enemies to him and his interest: not to the Christian; who had no existence, till hundreds of years after.

For various ages, while magistrates continued heathens and bloody persecutors, was the whole power of the Christian church exercised. The word was publicly read and preached; the sacraments dispensed; the unruly admonished; the scandalous rebuked; the obstinate transgressors excommunicate; the penitent absolved; presbyters and deacons ordained; synods convened; and ecclesiastic decrees enacted (Acts 4:2; 1 Tim. 3:16; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-28; Acts 2:41, 42 and 8:12; Acts 13:1-3 and 14:23; 1 Tim. 4:14; Tit. 1:5; Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 5;20; 1 Cor. 5; 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Cor. 2:6-8; Acts 15 and 16:4). Can my Amelius instruct, that the apostles, evangelists, and primitive presbyters, herein usurped the magistratical power? Or can he document, that, since their death, the power they divinely received, was transferred to the magistrate? No, it is too absurd to attempt.

As such, the magistrate is no church-officer at all. Nowhere I find him in the sacred list of her rulers (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:1). Being a woman or child, he may be incapable of ecclesiastic authority (Eph. 2:12). Being an Heathen, he may not be so much as a member: without God, without Christ, and without hope in the world; not subject to our Mediator as such, not interested in his kingdom, which is not of this world (1 Cor. 14:34). Is this, my friend, a proper HEAD for the Christian church?

Nor is church government dependent on, but co-ordinate with the civil; the church having as full power in herself to regulate her affairs, as the state has to regulate hers, independent of the church. The officers of the church are set over her, not by the state; but by the Holy Ghost; they are the ministers, not of the state; but of Christ; and are over private Christians in the Lord (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 4:1, 2; 1 Thes. 5:12). They are appointed to preach; dispense sacraments and censures, &c. Which kings themselves have no warrant to perform (Rom. 10:15; 2 Chron. 26:18, 19). They are divinely commanded to execute their office, without waiting the magistrate’s consent; nay, suppose he forbid, threaten, and punish for the same (Acts 4:19, 20; 1 Cor. 5:5; Mat. 18:17; Tit. 3:10). To appeal from them, to him, as superior judge, there is no shadow of warrant: the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and we are to receive the law at his mouth; in his sentence, next to that of Jesus himself, we must acquiesce: the spirits, even of the prophets must be subject to the prophets (Mal. 2:7; Deut. 17:8-10; 1 Cor. 14:32; Acts 15 and 16:4). Nay, if the highest magistrate prove a disorderly member of the church; her officers may withstand and censure him. If he is obstinate in wickedness; they may deliver him to Satan (2 Thes. 3:6; Mat. 18:15-18).

In many respects, church power and authority is altogether different, from the civil vested in the magistrate: they differ in their object; their source; their matter; their manner; their end. The church, the object of the former, is very different from the commonwealth, the object of the latter. She is Christ’s body and spouse; not that of the magistrate (Eph. 1:22 and 5:25). Her officers are appointed, chosen, and ordained by direction, and are the stewards and ambassadors, of Christ, not of the magistrate (Eph. 4:8-11; 1 Cor. 12:28; Acts 6:3, 4 and 13:1-4 and 14:23; 1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Cor. 4:1; 2 Cor. 5:20): and set up, not for civil; but spiritual ends, of preaching, praying, giving and receiving the sacraments, &c. To confound the church and state, is to give Jesus the lie, who said, My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), as every state is. It is to infer, that where is no church, there can be no commonwealth: that every member of a commonwealth, Mahometan, or Pagan, is a member of the Christian church, and a disciple of Christ: that every officer of the church, by virtue of his office, is an officer of the state. How glaring the absurdity, the contradiction to scripture (Jer. 27:12; Rom. 13:1-3; Eph. 2:12; 2 Tim. 2:4 and 4:2; 1 Tim. 4:13-15; 2 Cor. 2:16; Acts 6:2, 4; Luke 12:13, 14)! In its general nature, civil government flows from, and is ordained of God, as the FORMER, the RULER of men; and the particular frame and offices thereof, are an ordinance of men (Rom. 13:1, 2, 4). In its whole form and offices, the ecclesiastic flows from, and is appointed by Jesus Christ, as the mediatorial head of his church (Mat. 16:19 and 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11, 12; 1 Cor. 12:28). The authority of the magistrate is that of making civil statutes; of rewarding with temporal rewards; and of inflicting even on penitent transgressors, corporeal punishments; fines, imprisonment, exile, death, &c.; and it may lawfully reside in the people; or in one person, man, woman, child, Heathen: and extends to Jews, Mahometans, Heathens. Church-power is that of preaching the gospel; dispensing the sacraments; infliction of spiritual and medicinal censures; always absolving the penitent. It cannot be lodged, in the people; in a single person; in a woman; a child, or Heathen: and respects only such as are within the church (2 Cor. 10:4, 5; Heb. 13:17, 22; 2 Thes. 2:3, 4; 3 John 9, 10; 1 Tim. 3:5; 1 Cor. 14:34, 35 and 12:28 and 5:13; 2 Cor. 10:8). In the exercise of civil power, we judge according to laws human, as well as divine; can enact new statutes; employ only temporal rewards and punishments; act as, or in the name of, supreme magistrates; and often by delegates. In the exercise of church-power, we must judge only according to the spiritual rule of God’s word; can enact no new laws; must employ only such encouragements and discipline as affect the conscience; must act solely in the name of Christ; cannot delegate our power to another (Mat. 28:18-20; Acts 4:17; 1 Cor. 5:4). Nor, witness rejection of Saul, and leprosy of Uzziah, can the augustest monarch on earth, without infinite hazard, usurp the exercise thereof (1 Sam. 13:9-15; 2 Chron. 26:16-22). The immediate end of civil government, is the outward welfare of all the members of the commonwealth. The immediate end of the ecclesiastic, is the spiritual advantage of human souls; chiefly these who belong to Christ’s body the church. The powers being so different, it cannot but follow, that the magistrate, as such, is invested with no spiritual power, far less with a supremacy in the Christian church: and to claim it, must be as truly Antichristian, as that of the Romish pope.

Imagine not, Amelius, that these sentiments detract from the civil authority. No; every minister of Christ is charged to teach his hearers to obey the magistrate, in everything lawful; not for fear of external punishment; but for conscience sake. These instructions he must enforce with the authority of God; the example and love of Christ: the horrors of damnation to the disobedient: the joys of heaven to these who conscientiously comply. He is charged to inflict discipline to the highest on these, who despise dominions, and speak evil of dignities (Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Tim. 2:1, 2; Jude 8-14). None of Jesus’ ordinances interfere with the civil interests of men. They are calculate to make us live soberly, righteously, and godly: to instigate us to fear God: honour the king; give honour to whom honour is due; custom to whom custom; owing no man anything, but to love one another; to love our neighbor as ourselves; and to do good to them that hate us (Tit. 2:11, 12; 1 Pet. 2:17; Rom. 13:8; Mat. 5). How effectual this, to promote the peace, wealth, and honour of a nation! Even the censures of the church, affect nothing, which falls under the cognizance of human law. The person admonished or excommunicate, is thereby not a whit poorer, weaker, idler, unrulier, &c. respecting the affairs of this world, than before. Where, my friend, can you mark more faithful subjects, than these, who believed Christ to be the only head of the church; who hath therein appointed a government distinct from the civil magistrate? Amid the rebellious and disorders unnumbered in the Romish empire, from Tiberius to Constantine the Great, for about 300 years, did ever the Christians grievously provoked, cruelly oppressed, raise one? Did ever the Waldenses, the Bohemian brethren, the French Protestants, or British Presbyterians, take arms against their sovereign, except outrageous tyranny obliged them in self-defense? No; that some of an opposite sentiment, have done otherwise, the annuals of our British sovereigns attest.