John Brown: The establishment principle proved from the fourth commandment and public fasting

John Brown: The establishment principle proved from the fourth commandment and public fasting

From On the Absurdity of Authoritative Toleration of Gross Heresy, Blasphemy or Idolatry by John Brown of Haddington

If magistrates are to ensure that normal, lawful works are not exercised during the Sabbath, then surely they must even more so restrain unlawful practices on the Sabbath such as heresies and idolatry.

The fourth commandment, the obligation of which is certainly moral and perpetually binding on magistrates as well as on heads of families, commands them [i.e., those in authority] to cause the weekly Sabbath to be sanctified by all within their gates, Exod 20:10; Jer 17:20-25.  And to this [fact], the approved example of Nehemiah corresponds, Neh 13:15-22. Now, if magistrates cannot [i.e., will not] answer to [i.e., obey] God by encouraging or protecting their subjects in their civil business [i.e., on a Sabbath], which is of itself lawful and useful [i.e., on other days], how will they account to Him for protecting and encouraging men in teaching blasphemous errors or practising abominable idolatries on that day? How can this [fourth] commandment bind them to restrain what is in itself lawful and useful [on other days], yet not bind them to restrain, but [rather] allow, encourage, and protect that which is in itself infinitely dishonourable to God, [who is] their superior, and [also] ruinous to His and their subjects, in both temporal and eternal interests?  Or dare any pretend that the observance of the weekly Sabbath depends one whit less on revelation than the doctrine of the Trinity of persons in the Godhead does?

If magistrates have the power to appoint religious fasts to avert God’s wrath, then surely they must have power to avert God’s wrath in suppressing heresies.

If magistrates have power, on proper occasions, to appoint religious fasts as means of turning away God’s wrath, and of procuring or obtaining his blessings to their commonwealth (Jonah 3:6-10; 1 Sam 7:9; 2 Chron 20:3-15, Ezra 8:21-33; Neh 9:1; Jer 36:6), they [i.e., magistrates] cannot but [also] have power to establish that religion, and only that religion which answers to those ends, and to restrain that damnable heresy, blasphemy, and idolatry which provoke God’s wrath against his subjects. To command their subjects to mourn over the grounds of His anger and supplicate His favour, while at the same time encourage and protect them in gross heresy, public blasphemy and idolatry, which nothing more can provoke His indignation, would be fearful dissimulation with the Most High, Psa 66:18; Ezek 14:3-8. If magistrates have power to appoint a Christian fast, and to punish the public contemners [i.e., despisers] of it [i.e., a public fast], or of their authority in appointing it, how can they but [not] have power to establish the true Christian religion, and to punish, if seasonable, the public and insolent contemners and corrupters of it, and despisers of their authority in establishing it?

  • Dare any pretend that the upright profession and practice of the Christian religion is less calculated to promote the happiness of a nation in subordination to the honour of God, than an occasional fast?
  • Or that a Christian fast can be observed without entering into the very marrow of the doctrines of revelation?
  • Or that magistrates ought merely to require the day to be observed in fasting, leaving the manner and object of the worship wholly to the choice of their subjects, [and instead] recommending the worship of devils as much as that of Jehovah; and supposing the one as able and ready to avert calamities, and bestow necessary blessings, as the other?

If [liberal teachers] pretend that God rewarded Ahab or the Ninevites for worshipping their idols, they must [first] prove that God is so far from being highly displeased with idolatry, as He often declares, Deut 32:16, 17, 21-26; Judg 2:14; 2 Kgs 17:10-18; Psa 106:19-40; Jer 48:7, 35; Jer 50:38; etc. –  that He is ready to accept and reward the worship of idols, devils, bulls, dogs, cats, saints, leeks, onions, consecrated wafers, etc., [as long as] men be sincere in it.  Rare doctrine is this, from Presbyterian clergymen of this enlightened age!