J. Brown: Confessional Standards Relating to the Magistrate

J. Brown: Confessional Standards Relating to the Magistrate

Brown highlights portions of the Church of Scotland and Westminster standards relating to the civil magistrate’s role in religious affairs.

From On the absurdity of Authoritative Toleration of gross Heresy, Blasphemy or Idolatry


In her public standards, the Church of Scotland has renounced, and in her solemn covenants has abjured, both these extremes [i.e., of total rule of magistrates over the church versus no rule at all]. In her old Confession of Faith, which was expressly sworn to in the National Covenant of 1581, as in all points the undoubted truth of God, article 24, [the Church] asserts, that:

“The power and authority of magistrates is God’s holy ordinance, ordained for manifestation of his own glory, and for the singular profit of mankind…

“They [magistrates] are lieutenants of God, in whole sessions God himself does fit and judge…

“to whom by God is given this sword to the praise and defense of good men, and to punish all malefactors. To kings, princes, rulers and magistrates chiefly, and most principally, the conservation and purgation [purification or cleansing] of religion appertains; so that not only are they appointed for civil policy, but also for maintenance of the true religion, and for suppression of all idolatry and superstition whatsoever.”

This doctrine is further asserted and explained in her second book of discipline, chapter 1, article 10. [Also] the doctrine of her Westminster Confession of Faith (the whole of which is soundly espoused and engaged to by every Presbyterian minister and elder in Scotland in his ordination vows) is that:

“For their publishing opinions or maintaining practices, [as are] contrary to the light of nature and the known principles of Christianity, whether concerning faith, worship or conversation; or to the power of godliness; or, such erroneous opinions or practices, as either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing and maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the Church, they may be lawfully called to account, and proceeded against by… the power of the civil magistrate.”

WCF 20:4

Also that:

“God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory and the public good” …

They are especially (in managing their office) “to maintain piety, justice and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each Commonwealth. …”

WCF 23:1&2

And also that:

The magistrate “hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, and 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 and reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting of which, he has 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,”

WCF 23:3


“The duties required in the second commandment are… the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.”

Westminster Larger Catechism question 108

“The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and in any wise proving any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion…”

Westminster Larger Catechism question 109.

These declarations are an authentic explication of the power of the magistrate in maintaining and preserving the true religion, the defense of which is expressly sworn in their solemn covenants with God. If therefore, Sir, you discredit this doctrine, and cleave the toleration of idolatry, blasphemy, [and] heresy, and that magistrates ought to meddle with nothing in religion, be so honest as openly to renounce your ordination vows and the Confession of Faith and Catechisms, as well as the National Covenant and Solemn League.