November 3, 2014

Of toleration; and the duty of the magistrate about religion (Owen)

By In Brandon Adams

John Owen’s “Of toleration; and the duty of the magistrate about religion” was an appendix attached to a sermon that was preached before the House of Commons on January 31, 1648, which had been appointed as a day of solemn humiliation in connection with the event of the preceding day, — the decapitation of Charles I.

The end of this post includes an outline of Owen’s essay. It’s always easy to create outlines from Owen because he writes everything in outline form. Just follow the numbers.

The purpose of his essay was to demonstrate that the bloodshed caused by religion in England by religious persecution had no basis in Scripture. Owen did believe it was legitimate for England to enforce some of the Mosaic judicial laws (via general equity). He did believe that idolatry and blasphemy, for example, warranted punishment and he specifically approves of Servetus’ death. However, he very narrowly defined idolatry and blasphemy according to the Mosaic texts, and concluded that heresy was not sufficient grounds for punishment by the civil magistrate.

that whereunto the sanction under debate [idolatry] was added, as the bond of the law against it (which was the bottom of the commendable proceedings of divers kings of Judah against such), was a voluntary relinquishment of Jehovah revealed unto them, to give the honour due unto him to dunghill idols. Now, though error and ignorance ofttimes lie at the bottom of this abomination, yet error, properly so called, and which under the name of heresy is opposed, is sufficiently differenced therefrom. That common definition of heresy — that it is an error, or errors, in or about the fundamentals of religion, maintained with stubbornness and pertinacy after conviction (for the main received by most Protestant divines) — will be no way suited unto that which was before given of idolatry

Owen’s thesis was that “Non-toleration is in no way warranted in the gospel; nor can any sound proof for such a course be taken from the Old Testament”.

Which Table?

He also makes an important correction. Tolerationists were discounted for only wanting to enforce the second table of the law. Owen responded that it is not a matter of the first table vs the second table, because not every offense of the second table should be punished, nor of the first. The criteria, instead, is an offense that “perverts the course of public quiet and society.”

Errors, though never so impious, are yet distinguished from peace-disturbing enormities. If opinions in their own nature tend to the disturbance of the public peace, either that public tranquility is not of God, or God alloweth a penal restraint of those opinions. It is a mistake, to affirm that those who plead for toleration do allow of punishment for offences against the second table — not against the first. The case is the same both in respect of the one and the other. What offences against the second table are punishable? Doubtless not all, but only such as, by a disorderly eruption, pervert the course of public quiet and society; yea, none but such fall under human cognizance. The warrant of exercising vindictive power amongst men is from the reference of offences to their common tranquillity. “Delicta puniri publicè interest.” Where punishment is the debt, “Bonum totius” the creditor to exact it. And this is allowed as to the offences against the first table. If any of them in their own nature (not some men’s apprehensions) are disturbances of public peace, they also are punishable. Only, let not this be measured by disputable consequences, no more than the other are. Let the evidence be in the things themselves, and “Actum est,” let who will plead for them.

This is a very important point. The civil magistrate is not to punish sin qua sin, but sin qua public disturbance. In this regard, he notes

From the asserting of the authority and description of the duty of the magistrate, Rom. xiii., the argument is very easy that is produced for the suppressing by external force of erroneous persons. The paralogism is so foul and notorious in this arguing — “He is to suppress evil deeds; heresy is an evil deed: therefore that also” that it needs no confutation. That he is to punish all evil deeds was never yet affirmed. Unbelief is a work of the flesh — so is coveting; one, the root-sin, against the first, the other against the second table: yet in themselves both exempted from the magistrate’s cognizance and jurisdiction. The evil-doers, doubtless, for whose terror and punishment he is appointed, are such as by their deeds disturb that human society the defence and protection whereof is to him committed. That among the number of these are errors, the depravations of men’s understandings [theological errors], hath not yet been proved.

Lessons from History

Owen makes several observations from history. First,

No false religion ever yet in the world did enthrone itself in the minds of men enjoying a civil sovereignty over the persons of others, but it therewithal commanded them, under pain of neglect and contempt of itself, to crush any underling worship that would perk up in inferior consciences.

He recounts the history of the Roman Empire in regards to religious persecution and concludes

This was the old Roman way, and I thought it not amiss to cautionate those enjoying truth and authority, that, if it be possible, they may not walk in their steps and method. The course accounted so sovereign for the extirpation of error was, as you see, first invented for the extirpation of truth.

He then moves on to the history of the church and notes that “arbitrary” persecution for conscience’ sake “hath been pernicious, fatal, and dreadful to the profession and professors of the gospel – little or not at all serviceable to the truth.” Adding that “we had need be cautious what use we make (as one terms it well) of the broom of Antichrist, to sweep the church of Christ”.

What is to be Done

Owen asks, what is to be done by a regenerate, humble Christian magistrate? And answers:

  1. The providing or granting of places requisite for the performance of that worship which in the gospel is instituted, is the duty of the Christian magistrate.
  2. Protection, as to peace and quietness in the use of the ordinances of the Lord Jesus Christ, from violent disturbers, either from without or within, is also incumbent on him.
  3. Supportment and provision, as to earthly things, where regularly failing, is of him required.

What is to be done towards those who are civilly obedient, yet dissent from true religion?

I am bold positively to assert, that, saving and reserving the rules and qualifications set down under the second head, the magistrate hath no warrant from the word of God, nor command, rule, or precept, to enable him to force such persons to submit unto the truth as by him established, in those things wherein they express a conscientious dissent, or to molest them with any civil penalty in case of refusal or non-submission; nor yet did I ever in my life meet with any thing in the shape of reason to prove it…

[A]s the magistrate is not bound by any rule or precept to assist and maintain them in the practice of those things wherein they dissent from the truth; so he is bound to protect them in peace and quietness in the enjoyment of all civil rights and liberties; — nor hath he either warrant or allowance to proceed against them, as to the least penalty, for their dissent in those things they cannot receive. Attempts for uniformity among saints, or such as, for aught we can conclude either from their opinions or practices, may be so, by external force, are purely antichristian…

What, then, shall be done? they will say. They have been admonished, rebuked, convinced, — must they now be let alone?…

“Let controversies (saith he) be determined how you please, — until the conscience be quieted by the Holy Spirit, there will be little peace.” [Whitaker]…

Admonitions, and excommunication upon rejection of admonition, are the highest constitutions (I suppose) against such persons: “Waiting with all patience upon them that oppose themselves, if at any time God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.” Imprisoning, banishing, slaying, is scarcely a patient waiting. God doth not so wait upon unbelievers. Perhaps those who call for the sword on earth are as unacquainted with their own spirits as those that called for fire from heaven, Luke ix. 54. And perhaps the parable of the tares gives in a positive rule as to this whole business

Outline

[I’m trying to find a way to use jQuery to make this an expandable tree. If any coders out there can help, please let me know.]

  1. Arguments brought from Scripture
    1. Weight is on non-tolerationists to prove their affirmative case (tolerationists take the negative; can’t prove a negative)
    2. Some things commanded are beyond human cognizance (i.e. faith itself)
    3. Not a matter of first table vs second table. Tolerationists believe some offenses from both tables warrant punishment. Criteria is an offense that “perverts the course of public quiet and society”
    4. OT penal sanction against idolatry no warrant for non-toleration because heresy (error) is not the same thing as idolatry
    5. OT penal sanction against blasphemy likewise narrowly defined
      1. “The penal sanctions of the laws of God are not in England esteemed of moral equity, and perpetually indispensable; for if so, why do adulterers unmolested behold the violent death of stealers?”
      2. OT penal sanction provides no room for repentance/recantation
    6. Zech 13:3 and John 10:1 irrelevant
    7. Romans 13 does not say all evil is to be punished, only “deeds that disturb human society”
    8. Case of the seducer Deut 13
      1. this seducer exempts himself from regular trial (claiming divine revelation)
      2.  seducer entices away from Jehovah; heretics pretend the fear of Jehova
      3. seducer worshiped an idol; heretics worship name of God (though in error)
      4. seducer was to die without mercy
      5. “Obstinacy after conviction, turbulency, etc., which are now laid down as the main weights that turn the scale on the side of severity, are here not once mentioned, nor by any thing in the least intimated.”
      6. No allowance for repentance. “Repent or not repent, recant or not recant, he hath no sacrifice of expiation provided for him — die he must.”
      7. OT law contains sanctions against third commandment, which are ignored in England
      8. formal reason of this law is trying to turn a man from Jehova
        1. only in force in this situation: strange gods
        2. this does not include backsliding, but turning from God as object of worship
  2. Arguments brought from some other observations
    1. Toleration/non-toleration either civil or spiritual
      1. Spiritual
        1. personal
          1. we must oppose all error with spiritual weapons
        2. ecclesiastical
          1. spiritual sword of discipline must be used
      2. Civil
        1. Question itself: should magistrates enforce that truth and way of worship which is revealed by God?
          1. assume magistrate is a Christian
          2. assume they are just in their rule
          3. non-toleration necessarily means positive infliction of punishment
        2. Manner of handling question
          1. no question causes more mutual animosity
            1. ” in itself it is a thing wherein the gospel is exceedingly sparing, if not altogether silent, certainly there must be a farther interest than of judgment alone, or else that very much prejudicated with corrupt affections, or men could not possibly be carried out with so much violence upon supposed self-created consequences, wherewith in this cause they urge one another.”
          2. one’s opinion changes depending on whether their side is in power
        3. Thesis: “Non-toleration is in no way warranted in the gospel; nor can any sound proof for such a course be taken from the Old Testament”
        4. Considerations
          1. “No false religion ever yet in the world did enthrone itself in the minds of men enjoying a civil sovereignty over the persons of others, but it therewithal commanded them, under pain of neglect and contempt of itself, to crush any underling worship that would perk up in inferior consciences.”
            1. Rome
              1. No worship permitted without approval from senate
                1. “this power of the dragon was given over to the beast and false prophet. The anti-christian power succeeding in the room of the paganish”
                  1. “I cannot but refer very many of those following imperial constitutions, which were made at first against the opposers of the church’s orthodoxism, but were turned against the witnesses of Jesus in the close.”
              2. Reasons
                1. toleration of sundry ways of worship and religions tends to the disturbance of the commonwealth
                2. toleration provoked their gods to plague them
              3. They always slandered unapproved religions as inherently disturbing the peace (just as is done today)
              4. ” This was the old Roman way, and I thought it not amiss to cautionate those enjoying truth and authority, that, if it be possible, they may not walk in their steps and method. The course accounted so sovereign for the extirpation of error was, as you see, first invented for the extirpation of truth.”
          2. Arbitrary persecution for conscience’ sake “hath been pernicious, fatal, and dreadful to the profession and professors of the gospel – little or not at all serviceable to the truth” (recounts history of church)
            1. “we had need be cautious what use we make (as one terms it well) of the broom of Antichrist, to sweep the church of Christ”
            2. ”  the attempt to suppress any opinions whatsoever by force hath been for the most part fruitless.”
          3. Same arguments for non-toleration are used by opponents
            1. ” We use no other arguments, cite no other texts, press no other consequences for the punishing of other heretics, than the Papists, the wisest heretics breathing, do for the punishment of us.”
            2. “I desire that to this point the declaration of the Netherlands, at the beginning of their troubles may be seriously considered”
          4. Non-toleration is unnecessary to preserve the truth
            1. ” For three hundred years the church had no assistance from any magistrate against heretics; and yet in all that space there was not one long-lived or far-spreading heresy, in comparison of those that followed. As the disease is spiritual, so was the remedy which in those days was applied; and the Lord Jesus Christ made it effectual”
          5. ” Lastly, add unto all that hath been said, “Vice coronidis,” for the use of such as, enjoying authority, may have misapprehensions of some truths of Christ, — a sad consideration concerning the end and issue which the Lord, in his righteous judgment, hath in all ages given to persecutors and persecution.”
  3. Positive Truth: What is to be done
    1. What is the magistrate’s duty as to the truth, and persons professing it?
      1. ” As all men in general, so magistrates, even as such, are bound to know the mind and will of God in the things which concern his honour and worship. They are bound, I say, to know it.”
        1. 2 Sam 23:3; Deut 27:18-19 (by analogy)
      2. If the magistrate humbles himself, the Lord will teach him
      3. As a regenerate Christian, he must:
        1. “take care that the truth of the gospel be preached to all the people of that nation, according to the way appointed, either ordinary or extraordinary.”
        2. “The gospel being preached and declared, as of right it ought to be, it is the duty of the magistrate, by the power wherewith he is intrusted, to protect and defend it against all or any persons that, by force or violence, shall seek to hinder the progress or stop the passage of it, under what pretence soever.”
        3. “The protecting, assisting, and supporting of all the professors of it in that profession, and in ways of truth’s appointment, for the practice of that which is embraced, and the furtherance of it towards them who as yet embrace it not, is also required”
          1. ” he either provide, or grant being provided, the use of such places under his protection as may, in all or any kind, be suited and fitted for worship”
            1. Because of ” the right which the gospel of Christ hath to be received amongst men”
            2. Because the magistrate hath sole power of all public places, a protection in the use of those places and all things exercised in them, answerable to that which he doth and is bound to grant unto men in their own private dwellings and families…   therefore, if any shall invade, disturb, or trouble them in their rights and liberties, he is bound, “ex officio,” to give them a protection, “not bearing the sword in vain.”
              1. if anyone physically disturbs places of worship, the magistrate should defend the worship
              2. if anyone excommunicated physically disturbs worship or uses force to take communion, the magistrate should intervene
              3. magistrate must provide gospel preachers with wages if churches do not
        4. Reasons
          1. Because the gospel has a right to be preached to all nations, in light of Christ being made “heir of all things” (Heb 1:2; Ps 2:8)
          2. All this tends toward the good of the citizens… “This is directly intended; all other things come in by accident, and upon suppositions”
          3. No one can be harmed by this. None is deprived. None wronged.
          4. “They are commanded as kings and judges to serve the Lord, in promoting the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ps 2:10-11; Isa 49:23; Isa 9:16-17)
        5. Summary of Position
          1. The providing or granting of places requisite for the performance of that worship which in the gospel is instituted, is the duty of the Christian magistrate.
          2. Protection, as to peace and quietness in the use of the ordinances of the Lord Jesus Christ, from violent disturbers, either from without or within, is also incumbent on him.
          3. Supportment and provision, as to earthly things, where regularly failing, is of him required.
        6. Consectaries
          1. Error hath neither right nor promise for equal support/protection
          2. Protecting erring persons from violence and injury is not supporting error, but protecting the individuals’ rights (“a mere dealing for the preservation of human society”)
          3. Magistrate’s authority does not extend to every particular minute difference among the professors of truth
            1. Must equally perform duties to both parties (Presbyterians and Independents)
              1. “The things wherein they are agreed are clearly as broad as the magistrate’s duty can be stretched to cover them”
              2. the Lord does not reject their worship
              3. No example in Scripture or history of forcible decision of such minute differences
            2. “All the plea of persons erring in doctrine or worship is not from what the magistrate must do, but from what he may not do.”
    2. What in reference to the opposers and revilers of it?
      1. things
        1. “It is the duty of the magistrate not to allow any public places for (in his judgment) false and abominable worship; as also, to demolish all outward appearances and demonstrations of such superstitious, idolatrous, and unacceptable service.”
      2. persons
        1. actual disturbance of civil society (stirring up revolt)
        2. anyone who offers violence or disturbance to the professors of the true worship of God
        3. those who insult God (Servetus)
        4. homeless vagabonds
        5. cult leaders who draw others into known sin
    3. What in respect of dissenters from it?
      1. ”  it is generally affirmed, that persons maintaining any error in or against any fundamental article of faith or religion, and that with obstinacy or pertinacy after conviction, ought to be proceeded against by the authority of the civil magistrate, whether unto death or banishment, imprisonment or confiscation of goods.”
        1. sundry things assumed
          1. that known what is considered fundamental; but no one thing among Christians is more questionable
          2. that the person holding the error are convinced of their error after debate, when perhaps they have been only confuted (response to Cotton’s argument)
          3. that we may judge if others are obstinate or not, but “no such qualifications being anywhere in the book of God urged in persons deserving punishment”
        2. Aside from these assumptions
          1. That the same persons must determine of the cause and appoint the punishment is clear
            1. Ministers of the gospel most competent to judge, but not authorized to punish with carnal weapons
            2. Should the magistrate judge the spiritual questions?
              1. where is this found in Scripture?
              2. judging truth is a church power, thus magistrate must be a church officer (Erastianism)
              3. If two different judges (civil & church), then for two different offenses (civil & church)
              4. would created unlimited arbitrariness without warrant
              5. strange that the Lord would give this authority to those most prone to corruption
          2. Admonitions and excommunication upon rejection of admonition are the highest constitutions against such persons
      2. What is the duty of the magistrate towards those who are civilly obedient (per above), but will not consent to sound doctrine?
        1. Would be easier to answer if nation’s churches were more properly established
        2. Would require a national confession of faith
        3. Some may then refuse communion
          1. because of things of no great concernment
            1. magistrate has no warrant from the word of God to force submission
            2. What then shall be done? Must they now be let alone?
              1. Yes. There will be no peace until the Holy Spirit changes their mind
                1. ” Attempts for uniformity among saints, or such as, for aught we can conclude either from their opinions or practices, may be so, by external force, are purely antichristian.”
          2. because of things of great concernment
            1. follow rules laid out in second head above

Written by Brandon Adams

Husband, Father, Son, Saint, Sinner http://contrast2.wordpress.com