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Civil Government

James Dodson

Moses, the Lawgiver.

Moses, the Lawgiver.


“I lay down this maxime of Divinitie; Tyranny being a worke of Sathan, is not from God, because sinne either habituall or actuall, is not from God; the power that is, must be from God; the Magistrate as Magistrate, is good, in nature of office, and the intrinsecall end of his office, Rom. 13:4. for he is the Minister of God for thy good; and therefore a power ethicall, politick, or morall, to oppresse, is not from God, and is not a power, but a licentious deviation of a power, and is no more from God, but from sinfull nature, and the old serpent, then a license to sinne.”—Samuel Rutherfurd, Lex Rex (1644).

“When I consider the point more exactly, I see not how Kings, who reign by the wisdom of God Jesus Christ, (Prov. 8:14-16) have not their kingly power from Christ, who hath all power given to him in Heaven and in Earth, (Matt. 28:18) for they are Nurse-fathers of the Church as Kings, (Isa. 49:23) they are to Kiss the Son, and exalt his Throne, as Kings, (Ps. 2:11) they bring presents and kingly gifts to Christ as Kings, (Ps. 72:10, 11) and they serve Christ not only as men, but also as Kings, as Augustine saith [Epist. ad Boniface com. 50.]: therefore are they ordained, as means, by Christ the Mediator, to promote his kingly Throne. Some of our Divines [i.e., Reformed theologians] will have the kingly power to come from God as Creator, in respect God giveth Kings, who are his Vicegerents, to those who are not redeemed, and to Nations who never heard of Christ; and others hold that the kingly power floweth from Christ-Mediator, in respect he accomplishes his purposes of saving of his redeemed people, by Kings authority, and by the influence of their kingly government, procureth a feeding ministry; and by their princely tutory, the edification of his body the Church, which possibly both aim at truth.”—Samuel Rutherfurd, The Due Right of Presbyteries. (1644).

Works on Civil Government:


The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women.-1558-John Knox.-This is one of the best and most forward strikes against the right of women to exercise political office written by a notable Reformer. This is not for the weak minded and should make many who think of themselves as Reformed ask themselves so fundamental questions. Knox was no proponent of a sad passive obedience and, as witnessed in this writing, he thought women should wear veils but not crowns.

The Appellation,-1558-John Knox.-In this letter, Knox speaks to the lesser magistrates and encourages them to be very forward in the cause of the Reformation. The so-called doctrine of lesser magistrates teaches that they have a right to interpose themselves when high magistrates exceed the bounds of legitimate exercise of authority.

A Letter Addressed to the Commonalty of Scotland. M.D.LVIII.-1558-John Knox.-A letter to the commons which explains their duty toward the furtherance of true religion and their rights to resist unlawful and tyrannous impositions.

Romans XIII.1-5.-1601-Andrew Melville (1545-1622).-An extract from Melville’s commentary on Romans, translated from the Latin by J.M. Willson, showing his agreement with the Reformed Presbyterian stance on this passage.

A Sermon Preached To the Honorable House of Commons, At their late solemn Fast, Wednesday, December 27. 1643.-1644-Alexander Henderson.-A sermon detailing the great need and method of reforming both the church and the nation together with a dire warning to magistrates that will not be reformed.

Wholesome Severity reconciled with Christian Liberty.-1644-George Gillespie.-A tract concerning the extent and application of the laws of the Bible in the civil affairs of nations with a discussion of how this comports with liberty of conscience.

Ruler’s Sins the Cause of National Judgments.-1650-Patrick Gillespie.-A sermon warning about the dangers posed to a people by the wickedness of their rulers with some explanation of the covenantal solidarity of the moral person of nations.

The Mystery of Magistracy Unvailed.-1663-Anonymous.-This piece presents a clear exposition of the doctrine of the civil magistracy. It addresses the duties of both rulers and subjects. Most importantly, it explains how to know when magistrates degenerate into tyrants and what the proper response of Christians should be when magistrates become illegitimate.

The Sanquhar Declaration.-1680-Richard Cameron (1648-1680).-A short and terse casting off of any allegiance to the unlawful magistracy of Charles II. and his courtiers and dragoons with some reasons why on behalf of the Societies.

Thirty-Fourth Question: The Political Government of the Church.-1685-Francis Turretin (1623-1687).-In this section, there is a comprehensive overview of the issues, limits and duties of the civil magistrate in all matters circa sacra together with a defense of punishing obstinate heretics.

A Hind let loose; or An Historical Representation of the Testimonies of the Church of Scotland, -1687-Alexander Shields.-A thorough survey of the history of the Scottish church which contains many hints on church communion together with several chapters devoted to Covenanter controversies.

HEAD II.-The Sufferings of many for Refusing to own the Tyrant’s Authority vindicated.-1687-Alexander Shields.-In this chapter, examines the claims of those who exercise a providential civil rule contrary to the perceptive will of God. He explains the duties of magistrates and limits of obedience due to those who fail in their pactional duties.

HEAD. V. The Principle of & Testimony for Defensive Arms Vindicated.-1687-Alexander Shields.-This chapter contains a very spirited defense of the practice adopted by the Covenanters of bringing defensive arms to their conventicles. This consists of a very ample survey of history and Scripture for the warrant for defensive use of arms for the protection of a persecuted Gospel.

HEAD. VI. - The Sufferings of Some, upon the account of Extraordinary executing of Judgment upon Notorious Incendiaries & Murdering public Enemies by private persons in the circumstances wherein they were stated, vindicated.-1687-Alexander Shields.-This is a chapter in a book already quite controversial addressing a topic extremely controversial-the right of executing private judgment, in certain cases, when there is a failure of public authorities. Mr. Shields brings history, Scripture and the statements of a number of reputable orthodox Reformed divines to bear on this question.

HEAD. VII. The Sufferings of many, for Refusing to pay the wicked Exactions of the Cess, Locality, Fines &c. Vindicated.-1687-Alexander Shields.-In this chapter, Shields discusses the payment of wicked taxations, those enacted by unlawful magistrates or those enacted for ungodly purposes, and explains why Christians should not yield voluntarily to such impositions.

A Letter on the Civil Magistrate.-1781-John McMillan III.-This letter defends the Reformed Presbyterian position on civil magistracy in opposition to the various misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Seceders.

Answers to Twelve Queries, Proposed to the serious Consideration of the Reformed Presbytery, and their Followers.-1794-William Steven.-A spirited defense of John McMillan’s Letter on Civil Magistracy wherein a number of often asked questions are reviewed and answered in explanation of the Covenanter position.

A View of the Rights of God and Man.-1797-James McKinney.-This sermon seeks to expound the proper limits and duties surrounding civil liberties in order to avoid both tyranny and infidelity.

Letter Second to the Reverend William Fletcher, Author of a Late Publication, Intitled, The Scripture Loyalist.-1798-William Steven.-This Second Letter was published posthumously. Mr. Steven once more takes up the cause of the Reformed Presbytery against the accusations of the Secession church on the matter of civil magistracy. His first concern is to vindicate the position of Reformed Presbyterians on matter of paying of tribute, or taxations. The second section of the Letter contains an elaborate account of several important differences between the nature of the Reformation Church of Scotland and the Revolution Church of Scotland.

Truth No Enemy to Peace.-1799-John Reid II.-In this pamphlet, Reid enters the controversy between the Seceders and Covenanters over the issue of civil magistracy. Reid provides both a compend of the arguments of the Covenanters together with a closely reasoned defense of Covenanter principles with respect to magistracy.

Messiah, Governor of the Nations of the Earth:-1803-Alexander McLeod.-A discourse on the Mediatorial character of Christ and the importance of this doctrine with respect to the duty of nations favored with the light of the Gospel.

The Two Sons of Oil; or, The Faithful Witness for Magistracy and Ministry Upon a Scriptural Basis.-1803-Samuel Brown Wylie.-This small treatise constitutes one of the most readable and comprehensive expositions of the Reformed Presbyterian position with respect to the application of its principles on civil magistracy in the United States. Written in the early days of the republic, it shows that godless principles were incorporated into the U.S. Constitution.

The Subjection of Kings and Nations to Messiah.-1820-James Renwick Willson.-An excellent presentation of the doctrine of the Mediatorial reign of Christ and its implications for all nations and kingdoms. This is the Covenanter postmillennial vision.

Sermon on Civil Government.-1821-James Renwick Willson.-A sermon showing that the obligation to civil government as well as the obligations of the civil magistrate are founded and grounded in the Moral Law particularly as it is to be discovered in the Fifth Commandment.

An Essay Detecting some of the Errors concerning God’s Ordinance of Civil Magistracy.-1821-James Douglas (1779-1857).-A helpful examination of the various common errors professing Christians make regarding the ordinance of civil magistracy with some correctives offered.

A Vindication of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, from Various Charges Preferred Against Her on the Subject of Civil Government.-1830-Peter Macindoe.-In the extended essay, Macindoe sets forth a series of objections and accusations which have been leveled against the Reformed Presbyterian Church on the subject of its doctrine of civil magistracy and provides clear and convincing answers, both historical and theological. 

Prince Messiah’s Claims to Dominion Over All Governments: and the Disregard of his Authority by the United States, in the Federal Constitution.-1832-James Renwick Willson.-Two essays: the first, examining the claims of Christ over the nations; and, the second, the application of these claims to the present constitution of the civil government in the United States.

The Christian Magistrate: A Discourse.-1832-Thomas Houston.-An excellent survey of the qualifications and duties of the civil magistrate. Houston is particularly helpful to explain how a Christian magistrate is responsible to establish the true religion and his power circa sacra. His discussion of punishing heretics and idolaters required a full length defense which he issued the following year. This is a strong indictment of theological liberalism and its tendencies.

The Reviewer Reviewed, and The Covenanter and Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church Vindicated, from the Perversions and Groundless Allegations of the Rev. John Paul, in a Pamphlet, Entitled, “The Covenanter Reviewed & Persecution Condemned.”-1833-Thomas Houston.-A vigorous defense of his discourse on the Christian Magistrate from charges of being contrary to the received doctrine of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. Mr. Houston demonstrates the depth of historical support for this doctrine. This pamphlet also has much to teach about historical testimony and the engagement to walk in the footsteps of the flock.

Argument On The Magistrate’s Power Circa-Sacra. [Published as an Overture.]-1834-Reformed Presbyterian Church, in America.-This Overture, written by Rev. William Sloane, who was a member of the Synod, defends the Reformed position the power of the magistrate circa sacra. It does so contrasting this view against that of Erastians and those who hold to religious toleration.

Bible Magistracy: or Christ’s Dominion Over the Nations with an Examination of the Civil Institutions of the United States.-1842-James M. Willson.-This represents Willson’s early work on the mediatorial kingdom of Christ and its implications in the realm of civil government particularly that of the United States.

Letter on “The Higher Powers.”-1845-Thomas Sproull.-This letter explains why by “higher powers” Paul did not mean the Roman powers of his day and why “higher powers” does refer to any legitimate civil government constituted according to the will of God.

A Review of the Views of Seceders on the Mediatorial Headship of Christ and George Gillespie.-1846-Anonymous.-Probably written by the editor of The Covenanter magazine (James M. Willson), this is the third article critiquing a union movement amongst Reformed churches at that time. In this installment, the author addresses sentiments expressed in their union document called the Basis respecting the Mediatorial dominion of Christ with important comments on George Gillespie’s statements on Mediatorial headship of Christ.

Dominion of Christ.-1846-Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland.-A short article containing a statement from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland on the duty of the magistrate with respect to Popery.

A Review of the Errors of Seceders upon the Head of Civil Magistracy.-1847-Anonymous.-This review, probably written by the editor of The Covenanter (James M. Willson), seeks to show Seceders, and those of their persuasion, that many of the best ministers of the Secession have not shared the extreme views of Adam Gib on the doctrine of magistracy. There are also some comments on why Seceders are wrong to claim George Gillespie.

Christ’s Headship.-1847-John McAuley.-In this first of three articles, McAuley discusses the identity of natural moral law with the Ten Commandments and why he understands magistrates to be deputies under Christ even though he admits the office itself flows from God as Creator.

Dominion of Christ: Part 1.-1848-John McAuley.-This second article of three defends McAuley’s position from charges of deriving civil magistracy from grace. In it, he also discusses and defends the idea of Christian magistracy and its relation to grace. His discussion of the two forms of the law (and the two covenants) and man's relation to each is of particular note and quite helpful to remember.

The Dominion of Christ: Part 2.-1848-John McAuley.-In this third article of his series, McAuley argues closely for Christian magistracy and shows that no magistrate can rule as the ordinance of God apart from Christ the Mediator. He also explains why this is true.

An Essay on Submission to the Powers That Be.-1850-James M. Willson.-In this essay, Willson explores the kinds of civil governments unto which Christians owe a conscientious submission in the Lord. He demonstrates that this only pertains to governments possessing certain characteristics, particularly a profession of Christianity.

An Essay on Civil Government.-1851-Josiah Dodds (1819-1896).-This is very easy to read essay setting forth the doctrine of the Mediatorial reign of Christ and its implications for civil magistracy.

Civil Government: An Exposition of Romans XIII. 1-7.-1853-James M. Willson.-This volume contains a very careful and nuanced exposition of a portion of Scripture that has often been put to ill use by those who are not the friends of the rights of God or man.

The Reformed Presbyterian Catechism.-1853-William L. Roberts.-An excellent overview of Reformed Presbyterian principles set in a catechetical form. Roberts covers many forgotten and neglected topics which are of important to the life and identity of the Covenanter church.

Argumentative Testimony. According to the Resolution of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod.-1855-James McLeod Willson.-Two chapters for the proposed “Argumentative” portion of the RP Testimony; the first, discussing Testimony Bearing; the second, the Right of Dissent from Immoral Civil Constitutions.

The Duty of Nations to the Church.-1860-David Steele.-An article explaining that nations must serve the Mediator Christ in their national capacity by giving their support to national establishments of religion.

“Was the Bishop’s Death Murder?”-1860-Anonymous.-An essay the examines the question of whether or not extraordinary judgments are justified when civil rulers fail to prevent the murder of innocents. It is a case study based upon the events surrounding the killing of archbishop James Sharp, a notorious apostate and persecutor of the Covenanters.

Our Political Protest.-1872-John Haslett Boggs (1837-1928).-A sermon that gives a number of reasons why Covenanters do not vote under the present political administration and outlining other reasons for concern in the political system which are not in themselves reasons for not voting.

The Honor to which Legitimate Civil Government is Entitled.-1873-William Milroy.-This excellent sermon on the doctrine of civil magistracy was spread over four installments in the Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter magazine. Milroy presents a tightly reasoned and biblically grounded exposition of the position of Reformed Presbyterians on the subject.

Why Not Voters?-1874-Anonymous.-This article gives a short explanation of why Covenanters will not and cannot vote under an immoral constitution of government or for candidates not possessed of Scriptural qualifications.

A Covenanter’s Reply to a Jury Summons.-1875-Robert Alexander (ca. 1828-1898).-Here is a brief outline of several reasons why Covenanters cannot serve on juries and why their consciences should be respected by those possessing civil power.

The Loyal Archite; or the Attributes of Legitimate Civil Government.-1875-Thomas Sproull.-A sermon addressing three chief requirements for a legitimate constitution of civil government.

The New Constitution of Pennsylvania.-1875-Anonymous.-Here is a critique of the latest Constitution of Pennsylvania written from a Covenanter perspective shortly after it was adopted, in 1874. It contains many remarks applicable to other civil constitutions.

Reformed Presbyterians and the Oath of Allegiance.-1877-Josias Alexander Chancellor (1824-1895).-An Irish Covenanter explains the problem with the oath of allegiance and why Reformed Presbyterians are political dissenters.

A Case of Conscience.-1878-David Steele.-An short article on the question of Covenanters and taxation.

CIRCULAR No. 2.-1885-David Steele.-On Covenanter identity, the American “civil” war and matters of taxation.

Christ’s; or, Separation from Godless Governments.-1893-Robert James George (1844-1911).-A tract explaining why political dissent is necessary for Covenanters and why it is a term of communion in the Reformed Presbyterian church.

Richard Cameron and the Sanquhar Declaration.-1896-John Herkless (1855-1920).-Some observations on Richard Cameron and his attitude towards civil magistrates who are so in name but not according to the ordinance of God.

Why Reformed Presbyterians Cannot Vote.-1908-Finley Milligan Foster (1853-1948).-A tract based upon a sermon given during the presidential election of 1908 explaining why Reformed Presbyterians should not avail themselves of the elective franchise under the present constitution of government in the united States. 

Why Covenanters Do Not Vote.-1912-Thomas Houston Acheson (1861-1925).-An American R.P. minister explains why Covenanters do not vote, during the U.S. presidential election season of 1912, and addresses several objections to political dissent.

A Brief Critique of the “Explanatory Declaration” Used by the RPCNA to Avoid the Necessity of Political Dissent and by which they Nullify any Testimony Against the Immorality of the US Constitution.-2018-Anonymous.-A brief exposure of the anti-confessional theology and mental contortions which characterize the “Explanatory Declaration” which was framed by the RPCNA in order to allow its members to participate in civil services requiring oaths to the US Constitution. It is an example of treachery in covenant and is a violation of the Third Commandment.