J. Brown on Toleration: Biblical Warrant, Part 3

J. Brown on Toleration: Biblical Warrant, Part 3

From On the Absurdity of Authoritative Toleration of Gross Heresy, Blasphemy or Idolatry

John Brown of Haddington continues his review concerning authorities.  The author makes the following points:

  • It is beneficial for different authorities to act in harmony, and harmful when they do not. Magistrates therefore help the Church when they curb crimes and promote obedience to Christ.
  • A person may be an inferior and a superior, in a given relation, at the same time. In those situations, the person must fulfill his responsibilities for each role. For example, a church minister must be subject to the rule of the magistrate’s laws, but that same minister must require magistrates, as church members, to promote the welfare of the church.
  • There are some areas of responsibility, for a given authority, in which no other authority may exercise. (For example, it is always unlawful for a magistrate to administer the sacraments.)  However, when an authority neglects its responsibilities, other authorities should take on some of those neglected areas to properly exercise their own area of responsibility.  For example, if church rulers are wicked, it may be necessary for magistrates to take on some area of neglected church responsibility. 


  1. All these powers of conscience, husbands, parents, masters, magistrates, church-rulers, and of Christ as mediator, proceeding from an infinitely wise, powerful and good God, are each of them, in [their] own place, altogether sufficient to gain [their] own end. Nevertheless, it mightily tends to the advantage of each that all of them be rightly exercised at once, and [conversely] to the hurt of all the rest if any of them be not. 
    • If [one’s] conscience acts faithfully, this promotes the regular and comfortable exercise of the power of husbands, parents, masters, magistrates or ministers, etc. And it is to the advantage of [one’s] conscience, if [those authorities] regularly exercise their power, and especially if Christ exercise his in a remarkable manner.
    • It is much to the advantage of Church and State, if husbands, parents, and masters faithfully exercise their power in their respective departments; and much to their hurt if they do not. Conversely, if the rulers in Church and State faithfully discharge their trust, it will tend much to promote the welfare of families.
    • The more faithfully ministers labour in winning souls to Christ and teaching men to live soberly, righteously and godly in view of Christ’s second coming, the more easy will the work of magistrates, and the greater the happiness of the commonwealth be; [so] the more faithfully magistrates act in curbing of crimes and promoting obedience to God, the King of nations, as a means of securing His felicitating blessing to the commonwealth, the more delightfully will church-power be exercised, and the more abundantly it will tend to the welfare of the Church.
    • Nay, though the mediatorial power of Christ be infinitely sufficient in its own place, to answer its own ends, yet the delightful exercise and success of it is not a little promoted by the faithful exercise of the powers of conscience, husbands, parents, masters, magistrates and church-rulers.

Acts 24:16, 1st Tim 1:5, Eph 4 – 6, Col 3- 4, 1 & 2 Tim, Titus 1-3. 1 Pet 2-5, Ps 2:10-12, Rev 2:15, Rev 17:14, 16, Rev 21:24, Isa 49:23, Isa 60: 3, 4, 10, 16.

  1. Though the marital, parental, magisterial, and ministerial powers be altogether distinct from, and independent of one another, and each of them have its own particular exercises pertaining to it alone, yet the same person, in respect of different relations, may be at once [be] superior or inferior to another person, and so may be required to fulfil the particular duties of his station by one who hath not any lawful right to perform them himself. Thus magistrates and ministers as such may require husbands to perform their duties to their wives; parents to perform theirs to their children; or masters theirs to their servants, as a means of promoting the welfare of the commonwealth and of the church, in obedience to God, and aiming at his glory.
    • An uncrowned husband of a queen may command her faithfully to exercise her magisterial power as a means of honour and happiness to his family; and she as queen may command him in every thing relating to the welfare of the state, as her officer or subject.
    • A parent may require his son, as such, faithfully to exercise his ministerial or magisterial power as a means of honour and happiness to his family. A son may command his father, who is his servant, in every thing pertaining to the service due from him, and even to order his family aright, in so far as it tends to promote that service.
    • Ministers, as the ambassadors of Christ, have power to require magistrates, as church members, faithfully to exercise their magisterial power, so as may best promote the honour of Christ and the welfare of his church. And on the other hand, magistrates have power to require ministers as their subjects, faithfully to exercise their ministerial power, as a mean of rendering the nation pious and virtuous, in order to promote its happiness, and all this in subordination to the law, and to promote the glory of God as the supreme governor of families, churches, or nations.
  1. Though the marital, parental, magisterial, and ministerial powers, have, each of them, something for its peculiar and distinguishing object, in which no other power can interfere with it (for example, it is always unlawful for husbands, parents, masters or ministers, as such, to assume the power of civil magistrates in levying taxes and adjudging criminals to death; and it is always unlawful for parents, masters, or magistrates, as such, to preach the gospel, dispense sacraments or church-censures) yet if the exercise of some of these powers be fearfully neglected or abused, the other powers may be exercised, in order to rectify the disorders occasioned, further than would be proper if there were no such neglect, abuse, or disorder.
    • Thus if husbands, parents, or masters, fearfully abuse their power, relative to wives, children, or servants, the rulers of church or state, for the benefit of these societies, may interfere more with their family-concerns, than would be proper in other circumstances.
    • If church-rulers be notoriously negligent or wicked, magistrates, as church-members, called to promote the welfare of the state, may do more in the reformation of the church than would be proper for them if church rulers were diligent and faithful. And [conversely], if through the indolence or wickedness of magistrates, the affairs of the nation be thrown into terrible confusion, ministers as members of the commonwealth, and to promote the welfare of the church, may do more in the rectification of affairs, than would be proper, if the magistrates were faithful.

2 Kgs 11, 2 Chr 23