Samuel Rutherford on Magistrate as Defensive

(c) University of St Andrews; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationNote: The following is an excerpt from Samuel Rutherford’s A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience. It is important to understand that the magisterial reformers, including the Westminster Divines, believed the civil magistrate should enforce both tables of the law only after a nation had professed the true religion, entering covenant with God. According to Rutherford, they “thereby became an Ecclesiastic body… a visible church” and “the nurse-fathers and civil tutors must do something for the defense of the truth from errors” by rebuking sinners for the “peaceableness of Christ’s Kingdom.” And for this he appeals to the actions of “Constantine the great” among others.

But what if a nation is not in covenant with God, professing the true religion? Well then things are entirely different, “for there is a vast difference between a people never receiving true religion and a people who have embraced and submitted to laws that have enacted the profession of the true religion.” “Pagans must be allured, and not compelled by wars to the faith… Western Indians being capable of life eternal, were true Lords of their possessions, and could not be justly deprived thereof.” Rutherford explains that in dealing with a pagan nation, war is only just when it “is some way defensive” because “this is the intrinsic end of Magistracy, to hold off unjust violence, by just and harmless violence.” Which means that “to offend a nation or person that hath not offended us, must be unjust violence, and unlawful war: and to make war against a nation that hath worshipped a strange God, and injured God, and not us, supposeth that we must instruct them of a wrong done to God, by teaching them, and instructing them in the true religion.”

Now, what happens when one rejects Rutherford’s sacral assumption that a nation can be an Ecclesiastic body (the kingdom of Christ) in favor of the biblical reality that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (two kingdom theology) and Christians must live amongst Pagans like wheat among the tares? Well then the Magistrate may only hold off “unjust violence by just and harmless violence” for to “offend a person that hath not offended us, must be unjust violence and unlawful.” The Magistrate may not punish someone who has “worshipped a strange God, and injured God, and not us.” In other words, libertarianism.


Rutherford_ADisputationYet let not us go on with Egid-Coninck to say, that if it was lawful to make war with any nation for wrongs done to men, how much more for injuries done to God? for making of war is an act of magistracy, and so suppose some jus, some power and authority, that we have either by the law of nature, to defend our life, peace, liberties, or for avenging of such heinous injuries done to the Nation as cannot in justice be decided, but by the sword. So that sin, as sin, or as greatest sins, are not the just cause of war, but sins as most destructive to human society, for which by the principles of the Law of nature, they may be convinced of fearful breaches; now these that are Idolaters, the nations that worship God in Idolatrous way, and being of a strange Religion, worship a strange God, though they do the greatest injury to God that can be, yet in regard they being other nations as independent on us, as we are on them; and do it not in order to the destruction of our of our peace, liberty, and lives, we have not jus over them, nor authority to make War with them, except God gave us a command to destroy them, nor is this a good consequence, we may by war revenge injuries done to men, ergo, far more, by war, me we revenge injuries done to God: for war is an act of revenging justice: that supposeth some authority given of God, over such a nation as we come out against in war.

2. Every just war is some way defensive, in regard every act of Magistracy, is an act of defending of the peace, life, and liberty of the society, or the members thereof, and a propulsion of violence, by violence; and this is the intrinsic end of Magistracy, to hold off unjust violence, by just and harmless violence; for if the life of a murderer be not taken away by the sword of a Magistrate, he will still take the life of another man, qui semel malus, semper malus presumitur, he that is once wicked, is still presumed to be wicked, except his wickedness be restrained, and to offend a nation or person that hath not offended us, must be unjust violence, and unlawful war: and to make war against a nation that hath worshipped a strange God, and injured God, and not us, supposeth that we must instruct them of a wrong done to God, by teaching them, and instructing them in the true religion: for suppose they worship the works in the men’s hands, and worship Satan as some Indians do and so by their own conscience may be convinced, and so are inexcusable in soro Dei, before Gods tribunal, yet are they not so inexcusable, in soro humano, before mans tribunal, as we can make war against them, till we inform and instruct them positively of the true Religion. But they that shed our blood, and invade our peace and liberties, are by the Law of nature convinced, and by demands of reparation made to them, quickly silenced, and need not to be instructed in their hearts. But it may be said, what if that Nation will not be informed of the true Religion, and will go on contumaciously to dishonor God, and reproach the true God? shall we not upon a mere quarrel for Religion, make war against them, and avenge the injuries done to God, and defend his truth, no less than with the sword,we defend our own lives and liberties?

I answer there is not the like reason: for God and nature given to the strongest, a jus and authority over oppressors, to repel unjust violence, with innocent violence but that we should force the true religion on Idolaters, we have not the like ground, except they did attempt to obtrude their false ways upon us, and injure our souls: for there is a vast difference between a people never receiving the true Religion, and a people who have embraced, and submitted to laws, that have enacted the profession of the true Religion: those that never professed the true Religion, cannot be compelled to receive it by the Sword of another Nation, except they first subdue them in a just war, and be masters of them, and they may educate the posterity of the subdued people, and discharge the duty of parents to them, and impose laws on themselves, to cast away the Idols of their fathers house, and to learn the knowledge of the true God: but they cannot make the not receiving of the true Religion the ground of a war: for we read not of any such cause of war in the Scripture. It is true, God did command his people to destroy the Canaanites, but idolatry was not the quarrel, Josh. 11.19. There was not a nation that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hittites the inhabitants of Gibe on all (other) they took in battle, 20. For it was of the Lord to harden their heart, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favor ,but that he might destroy them as the Lord commanded Moses. And those that they subdued in the Wilderness, denied them harmless passage through their land.

It is true, some Popish writers, as Masius, Cornelius a lapide, Abulensis say, if the Canaanites would have sought peace, and embraced the worship of the true God, the Israelites would not have destroyed them, but the Text, Calvin and famous Papists, as Cajetanus, Swarez. Gamacheus, and Augustine before them, say plainly, Israel made war against them, and Israel but defended themselves against the Canaanites. Libertines say the teaching of the Gospel, Mat. 28. and not the sword, is a means to spread the Gospel, so say we, I see no warrant we have to obtrude the Gospel in the purity thereof, upon Papists in France and Ireland: but we may lawfully avenge the blood of the people of God on Irish Murderers, who exercise extreme cruelty and Tyranny over persons and the consciences of the Martyrs, and the oppressed people of God amongst the Papists.

The question seems harder, when these of a false Religion, in regard of their nearness, and vicinity to a Kingdom professing the true religion, when as they may infect them, or if they be in one National Covenant, and under the oath of God, to endeavor, the extirpation of all false religions and what is contrary to sound doctrine. It is certain, the kingdom of Judah might justly have avenged the Apostasy of the ten Tribes from David’s house, and from Jerusalem where the Lord had set his name, for the worshipping of the Golden Calves, if the Lord by his Prophet had not expressly forbidden them to fight against their brethren 1 Kings 12. And the children of Israel did justly attempt War against the two Tribes and the half, because they erected a new altar for worship, as they conceived, which was Apostasy from the Covenant of God, and the true Religion which they were to maintain by the Oath of Joshua. 22. 12,13,15,16. and to bring the wrath of God on all the Tribes as Achan did, Ver. 20, No doubt, saith Calvin on the place, They were angry with an holy Zeal, for saith he on Ver. 12. The sword is not given to every man in his hand, but every one according to his calling ought (by this place) manifestly and constantly to defend the true Religion. And if the wrath of God came on all the people (saith Calvin) for the secret sin of one man, much more the people shall not go unpunished, if they dissemble the manifest idolatry of many. Piscator saith, It was piety in the Tribes that they resolve to make war with the two Tribes and the half, for their defection from the true God. Such was their Zeal (say the Divines of England) that they would rather hazard their lives, then suffer God’s true Religion to be corrupted; for God had ordained there should be but one place for public service, and sacrifices, and but one Altar Leviticus 17.8, 9. Deut. 12. 5. 7. 13. 27. Exodus 20.24. Deut. 27. 5. For they were all in Covenant with one God, and this was a Schism and an Apostasy from the Church, (saith Diodat.) in which alone is the true service of God and the participation of his grace, and Covenant. So also the Geneva Notes approves the lawfulness of the War, and the Dutch annotations.

To this accord also, Popish Writers on the place, as Vatablus, Cajetanus, Cornelius a lapide, who commend this zeal, and say all the twelve Tribes made but one State and one Church, and Tostatus saith, there was a necessary of making War with the two Tribes, because the Law commanded it. Deut. 13. Therefore they took not counsel whither they should make War, but they consulted touching the manner. So agreeth Hugo Cardinalis, So Masius. So Serrarius. Lyra saith, War should not be undertaken, but upon a certain and just cause, especially against friends, therefore they send Messengers to the two Tribes, to try the cause of the new Altar. Menochius, Out of zeal they sent Messengers to try the crime of Idolatry, and to bring them to repentance, if not, to make destructive War against them. And Ferus, They were ready, if the two Tribes obeyed not,armis dicernere, to decide the matter by war. Would God (saith he) there were such zeal in us, and we see not one Altar erected, but a number of superstitious Altars.

From this place it is clear, when a Kingdom, or two Kingdoms are united together, and confederate by the Oath of God in one Religious Covenant, they become an Ecclesiastic body, so as the whole may challenge any part that maketh defection, and labour to gain them, and if they contumaciously resist, they are with the sword to decide the matter, lest wrath from the Lord break out on the whole confederate body; as for the sin of one Achan, wrath came upon all Israel: nor can I well see what can be answered on the contrary, except that that war for the new Altar, was undertaken upon judicial and temporary warrants, which do not bind us under the New Testament.

But this is said, not proved, that new Altar was not a heap of stones; but if it had been made upon Religious grounds, and for the service of God, it had been no less than an Apostasy from that true Religion once delivered by God. Then if the third part of Scotland and England should turn Apostates from the religion once sworn, after they had bound themselves in Covenant: the question remaineth, what should the State and Parliament do in that case? should they be indifferent beholders, and not use the sword against such Apostates? Swarez and others, not without reason, thinks that Infidels that are not Subjects, and not Apostates, cannot be compelled to embrace the true faith, even though it be sufficiently proposed to them, his reasons are, there is no lawful power given to the Church by Jesus Christ to compel such. 2. It is no tradition of the Church. 3. Those that are without cannot be judged; but the truth is, the sword is not given to the Church, as the Church; and in the spreading of the Gospel, the Lord forbids the use of the sword. It is true, a Christian Prince may deny to infidels liberty to dwell in his bounds. See Weemes, vo. 3. Expos. of the judicial law, cap. 15. And subjects may be compelled not to blaspheme Christ, not to dishonor the true God with manifestly professed impieties; for if Asa made a law, 2 Chron. 15. that they that would not seek the true God, should be put to death: if that be temporary and judicial, then the Christian Magistrate is not as a Christian Magistrate, or as a nurse-father, Isa. 49.23. so much as to command any to serve Christ, nor to rebuke any for blasphemies. Sure this can be no part of the peaceableness of Christ’s Kingdom, not to rebuke sinners: but nurse-fathers and civil Tutors must do something for the defense of the truth from errors; for Constantine the great closed the Temples of Heathen Gods, to the end that heathenish Idolatry might be abolished, as Eusebius saith; see also Ruffinus, Jovianus, and Nicepharus, Justinian made many Laws against Idolators. Before Constantine the great would pardon Arius, <Greek> he exacted an oath of him, that he should stand to the Nicene faith, and he sware, but dissembled. So Socrates; then Arius was punishable by the Emperor. So Timotheus Colon, Bishop of Constantinople, under Anastius first Emperor, was an Eutychen, and cursed such as rejected the Synod of Chalcedon, and before the Emperor cursed such as approved the Synod of Chalcedon; so Theod. Anagnostes, Petrus Mongus, Bishop of Alexandria under Zonon the Emperor, was an Eutichen, then again Orthodox, a little after he rejected the Council of Chalcedon; a little after in an Epistle to Anacius Bishop of Alexandria, he professed the sound faith, and denied that he rejected the council of Chalcedon; again he rejects that council, and the sound faith; therefore Evagrius tells him, <Greek> A shoe, for every foot, a turn-coat, and a time-server. Ergo, such heretics, beside that they have not been innocent and godly (as Arminians say) they feared the sword of the Magistrate. But as touching the practice of Emperors, and the Imperial Laws for ratifying Church constitutions, there be but too many of them: as also for gathering Councils; which proveth the coactive power of Princes, Kings, and Emperors, over heretics and seducing teachers. Constantius, I grant, made a law, that some godly men should be tolerated, ut parem cum fidelibus ij qui errant (he saith not heretics) pacis est quietis fruitonem gaudentes accipiant. Esuebius in vitaConstan. and though the Emperor Grotian decreed, Vi quam quisq; vellet Religionem sequerentur, That all Religions should be free, he had much ado in wars with the Goths, who wasted Thracia, and was therefore careful that Ambrose should draw up a short confession, yet did he except from the Toleration the Manichees, the Phocinians, the Eunomians. But see, codice prima lege. Cunctos popu’os de sum. trinit. Martianus ibid lege. 4. Synod Chalcedo, Leo imperator, cons. 15. C Const. 17. Heracleus Imperator, const. 1. de fide Justinianus Novellus 123. c. 32. Novell 137. c. 6. Honorius, 1.4. c. 55. Eccle. Valentinianus, 1. 9 const. 87. Novell. 131. c. 4. Eusebius Pamphil de vita, Constan. 1.3. c. 13. Surius otm. 2. Concil. c. 20. p. 362. Codic. 1.1. Tit. de heret. lex 2. 1,6. Justinian codex l.1. Tit. 4. de sum. Trint lex 2. Suriusconcil. tom. 2. p. 469. 421, 494. & tom. 2. p. 668, 669, 670. Socra Scholastic. his. l.a.c 37. Nicepher hist. l.9.c.4. Contur. Magdeburq; 4. col. 558.

So for his power to convene Councels, as the Nicen, by Constani, Euseb. 1.3. c.6. Sozom, l.1.c.17. Soorat. l.1.c.6. Russ. l. 10. c. 1. Theodor. 1.1. c. 4. 1. Sozom.l. 1. c. 9. Theodosius elder, made a Law of death against the Anabaptists, and banished Eunomius Socrat. 1. 7. c. 12. It is true, Constantinus and Licinius, as Eusebius tells us,. 10. c. 5. say in a law, now therefore we freely will and command, That every man have a free liberty to observe the Christian Religion, and that without any grief or molestation, he may be suffered to do the same. But the practice of heathen Emperors, is no rule.

2. God opened their hearts to make these Laws in favor of Christians.

3. They had experience of the favor of God by the prayers of Christians.

4. The heathen Law in the letter would prove that none should be rebuked, or argued against, whatever Religion he chose; Maximius proclaimed, That all men should use what Religion they like best, Eus. 1. 9. c. 10. But 1. Maximius, out of natural pity, because he had before persecuted Christians, did this. 2. Dioclesian and Maximianus took Churches from them, he restored them; hence followed peace till an. 130. The counsel of Constantinople, 1. by Theodosius senior, Theodoret, 1. 5 c. 7. Socrates, 1. 5. c.8. The counsel of Ephesus, 1. by Theodos. junior. Evagrius, l.I.c.2. So imperator Justinus.1. 44. ad Menans Patriarcham de Monachis & Monasteriis separandis & de Epise. & cler. Eusebius de vita cons. 1. 3. c. 25. Epistolam libella ad Synoda constituionem. The Bishops of the second general Counsel (if there was any of them general) wrote to the Emperor Theodosius, We desire your clemency, that you by your Letters would confirm the Decrees of the Counsel (of Chalcedon) and command that it be ratified and established: which he did. See also Constantius his power, prescribing to the Counsels of Ariminum and Selucea the subject matter they should treat upon, and commanded ten of each Counsel to come and give him an account of their proceedings. Sozomen, 1.4. c. 6. Theodosius and Valentine command the Counsel of Ephesus to send them some Bishops to acquaint them with the causes and motives of their deliberations. Relatio Synodi Ephesine, que est tom. 1. concil. The second Counsel of Nice, which some call the seventh General Counsel, relate the like to the Emperor at Constantinople, Theodoret, 1. 5. c. 8. Zonoraus, tom. 3. anat. There be two edicts of the Emperors, Valentinian and Martian, confirming the Counsel of Chalcedon, so act. 3. Chalc. to 1. Conc. all which say, the Emperors, de facto. commanded as Magistrates, Church-men to determine according to the word, and corrected such as contravened. And though Picus Mirandula saith well, No man hath power of opinions so, as if he will, he may have another opinion, which though it may bear, that opinions fall not under free-will, yet the venting of them to others, is to Mirandula, a free act and punishable. We know the Edict of Valentinian and Martian, of capital punishment against Such as shall attempt to teach things unlawful. Let false teachers according to Justinian, have no leave to live and dwell in Roman bounds, saith Pametius. Augustine saith, Heretics kill souls, let them be afflicted in body, they bring on men death eternal, and they complain that they suffer temporal deaths. And why (saithAugustine) should Sorcerers find the rigor of the Law from Emperors, and Heretics and Schismatics go free? Constantius gave out Edicts against Heretics, as Eusebius saith. b. 2. c. 27. And also made laws of pecuniary sins, and mulcts against them.

1. To prove, that forcing of men to Religion, is not to the way of God, which also I teach; for the preaching of the Word; not the using of the sword, is the means of conversion of sinners. 2. That killing is not to be practiced on all heretics. 3. That the Law and the sword, are not to go without convincing of the conscience by the Word of God. 4. That to deliver up godly men to persecuting Tyrants, because of some errors, hath more scandal to cause men to stumble at truth, than to make truth victorious. 5. That neither Church nor State can judge heart-opinions, nor punish them, but only professed and taught opinions, that are both unnecessary and unsound. 6. That Pastors have not the Sword to compel to Religion. 7. That nations of another Religion are not gained to Christ by the Sword; nor can we make war against them, because they are Idolaters, and follow a false Religion; nor was Idolatry the ground of the war that Israel raised against the Canaanites and other Nations. To all which I add the words of Jer. Taylor, The best and ablest Doctors in Christendom have been deceived actually in matters of Religion, in that all sorts of Christians dissent from the errors of Papias, Ireneus, Lactantius, Justin Martyr, Cyprian, Firmilian, etc… Ergo, by Taylor’s sentence, we are not to rest much upon the Fathers, whether they be for or against liberty of conscience.

For course to be taken with Pagans (to speak by the way) all that Lactantius, 1. 5. c. 20. Tertulli ad Scapulam, c. 2. Augustine, ser. 6. de verb. dom. c. 7. cont. lite. Petitian. lib. 2. c. 83. we approve, and what famous Schoolmen, Cajetan, Thomas, Bannes, Durandus, Paludan, Richardus, Tannerus. Gamacheus, Paluda, and that of Augustine, ser. 6. de verb. Dom. c. 7. Glandiendum est Paganis, ut audiant veritatem, in Christianis vero secanda putredo. Pagans must be allured, and not compelled by wars to the faith. Because the just cause of War must either be an open breach of Nations against the Law of nature; for it must be a sin, of which a multitude may easily be, or are convinced of; as is clear in the Amalekites, and all the Nations who invaded Israel, Josh. 11. v. 19, 20. or then in a visible Church, it must be for manifest Apostasy from the Covenant of God, and true Religion, as the new Altar supposed to be erected by the two Tribes and the half against the only one Altar commanded by God. See Cavarruvias in Regnum paccatum part 2. sect. 4. Sotus in 4. distin. 5. 4. 1 art. 10. Molina de Justitia disp. 106, and Bannes 11. g. 10. art. 11. saith, that Paul the third defined well, that the Western Indians being capable of life eternal, were true Lords of their possessions, and could not be justly deprived thereof.

To tolerate Jews openly blaspheming Christ, or to receive them in the Common-Wealth, cannot be allowed, or to suffer them to have Synagogues, in regard they blaspheme the God we are in Covenant with, and do no less deny him, than Goliah and Senacharib did, 2. But simply seduced Jews are to be instructed, for there is a peculiar prophecy touching the Jews, Rom. 11. Jer. 50. 5 ,6. That they shall be brought in to know Christ, and believe in him.

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience p. 267 (300) – 283 (316)

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