John Brown: Magistrates are to be “Ministers of God”

John Brown: Magistrates are to be “Ministers of God”

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

Magistrates are to promote God’s will upon earth

If magistracy, conscience, and human rights, [both] natural and civil, be all derived from God, as all but atheists must allow, magistrates can have no more power, authoritatively, to tolerate sin than God Himself can command it. If God, by virtue of the infinite perfection of his nature, has no [prescriptive] will, no power, authoritatively, to proclaim liberty to commit sin, He cannot communicate any such power to a magistrate. Nor can a magistrate account to God for exceeding his power in licensing that which is infinitely injurious to Him more than the British king’s lion-keeper has power, or could be accountable for, loosing and hunting out the lions in the Tower upon his Majesty. If conscience derive all its power from God, it can have no more power to enjoin anything sinful, than Lord North has to hire ruffians [i.e., violent persons] to assassinate his sovereign. If all human rights be derived from God, the primary and supreme proprietor of all things, it is impossible they [i.e., magistrates] can authorize men to contrive or commit anything sinful, or can protect them in it.

There is a close connection between men’s estate upon earth and their eternal state

Men’s state in this world is neither separated nor separable from, but closely connected with, their eternal state. And magistracy is an ordinance of God, appointed by Him for his own glory, to promote the chief end of mankind glorifying Him (Rom 13:2, Prov 16:4, 1st Cor 10:31 & 1 Pet 4:11). But how, Sir, do magistrates promote this end,

  • if they give the same degree of protection, though perhaps not of encouragement, to the soul-ruining and practice-corrupting delusions and abominations of Satan, as they do the eternally-saving religion of God and his Christ; and
  • if they give the same countenance to them, who, to the corruption of men’s moral behaviour, and their eternal damnation, defame Jehovah to them (as mere matter, a mere man, a mere creature, a worker of contradiction and nonsense) as they do to those who faithfully proclaim his infinite excellencies, and glorious works of redemption, publish his truths, and promote the present and future holiness and happiness of mankind?

If God chiefly aim at the glorifying of Himself, in the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, how can magistrates, who are appointed by Him, as His vicegerents [i.e., earthly representatives] for promoting his glory on earth, be allowed, far less obliged by Him, to exert their power, as much for protecting or promoting the kingdom of the devil, as for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ? Indeed, magistrates are not the deputies of Christ as mediator, but they are of God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  And all their administrations are by Him subjected to Christ, as “Head over all things to his church” (Prov 8:15-16, Matt 28:18, & Eph 1:22). Why then ought they not to concur with God, in advancing the kingdom of Christ, especially as this mightily promotes the temporal, as well as the eternal, welfare of their subjects (Prov 14:34, Isa 1:19, Isa 3:10, Psa 112, Psa 127 & 128)?

How can magistrates be “ministers of God” without having the power to restrain and (where necessary) punish in spiritual matters?

Magistrates are expressly represented in Scripture as ministers of God for good to men – rulers deputed [appointed] by, and under him, Rom 13:4. But how can they be ministers, deputies, or vicegerents of God, without having power to restrain, and, if proper and seasonable, to punish, that which openly affronts and horridly insults Him? This blasphemously gives Him the lie [i.e., makes God a liar], basely misrepresents Him, [and as a consequence] devotes the worship due to Him to His adversary the devil, [along with] any other crimes which immediately strike against Him.

If they be God’s ministers, they must transact all their magisterial managements in His name.

  • And how can God empower his own ministers as such, acting in His name, to promote His highest dishonour, licensing, encouraging, and protecting gross heresy, blasphemy, and idolatry, and giving as much encouragement to the vilest delusions of Satan as to the New Testament in Jesus’ blood?
  • How can they be ministers of God for good to men without having power to restrain such as those who, like wolves and murderers, go about corrupting the principles and practices, and destroying the sons of His and their subjects?
  • How can they be ministers of God, the Father of spirits, for good, universal good, to men, who are not brutes but endowed with precious and immortal souls, which are more beneficial in commonwealths than their bodies, without having power to promote the cultivation and welfare of souls as a means of promoting the happiness of that state?
  • How can they be ministers of God for good to men if they have power only to punish those crimes which strike immediately against their bodies or external property, but [have] no power to punish crimes, as [while] they provoke God’s wrath against the nation?
  • How can they be ministers of God if they [only] have power to restrain the petty thief, robber, or other less hurtful things, but none to prevent the kindling of God’s wrath against the nation, and the debauching of men’s consciences and morals, by blasphemy, heresy, idolatry, etc.?

[When magistrates do not exercise their powers where those can affect men’s souls, they] quickly do more real mischief to a nation than ten thousand thieves or robbers could do.  [And this damage is being done after] God has expressly commanded to punish murderers as destroyers of His image (Gen 9:6).

Have His ministers no power to punish murder, as a destruction of his rational creatures, or a sacrificing them to devils (Psa 106:37)? If murder ought to be punished as an injury and dishonour to God, why not also public blasphemy, idolatry, and heresy, obstinately continued in?

Magistrates are appointed to be a terror to evil doers, including those promoting heresies and idolatry

Magistrates are appointed of God for the terror and punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well (Rom 13:3-4 & 1 Pet 2:14).   And, therefore:

  • idolaters, blasphemers, profaners of the Sabbath, by teaching of damnable errors or practising of abominable idolatries on it, are evil doers in God’s account, as well as revilers of men, thieves, traitors, murderers;
  • [persons promoting] heresies and idolatries, expressly declared by Him as damning works of the flesh, and are evil doers (Gal 5:14-21, 2nd Thess 2:9-12, & Rev 14:9-11); and
  • heretical teachers are declared evil workers (Phil 3:2 &Titus 1:10-11).

It must therefore necessarily follow, that magistrates are appointed by God – not to be licensers, protectors, and encouragers – but to be terrors to, and punishers of them, as is suitable and seasonable.