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The Duty of the Magistrate, Burroughs, Jeremiah, 1599-1646.

Irenicum, to the lovers of truth and peace heart-divisions opened in the causes and evils of them: with cautions that we may not be hurt by them, and endeavours to heal them. Burroughs, Jeremiah, 1599-1646.


The second dividing principle: All Religions are to be tolerated.

This is a divider indeed. There is a great outcry of this but what is the scope of it? it is to exasperate men’s spirits against the toleration of any thing. Some think there must needs be a necessary dependance between tolerating some things conceived errors, and tolerating all things; and if it were not for the fear of the one, there would not be such ado about the other. But I hope I shall clearly show there is no such dependence; but as this is a dividing principle, that all things should be tolerated, so the other is as truly dividing and false, that nothing should be tolerated. There is nothing makes more stir amongst us at this day, than this principle of absolute liberty in matters of Religion. Conscience presses me to speak what I shall find to be the mind of God in this thing: the wantonness of men’s spirits, their extreme boldness about the matters of God, and Christ, is such, as should cause our hearts to tremble; such horrid blasphemous things are amongst us, owned and professed with so much impudence, and their practice strengthened by this principle, That there is to be an absolute liberty in the things of Religion, that our duty to God, our love to, and care of the preservation of Religion, calls us to set ourselves against such a false, sinful, dangerous disturbing principle as this is.

This principle is strengthened by two positions; both which are dividing as well as the principle itself. First, that Magistrates have nothing to do with men in the matters of Religion. Secondly, conscience is a tender thing, and must have liberty; nothing must be done to men, who plead their consciences for what they do.

First, we shall show the principle itself to be a dividing principle; then the mistakes in those two assertions, that uphold this principle: as they strengthen the principle, so they strengthen division. The principle is dividing; For,

1. It is an abhorring to nature. Is it not an abhorring thing to any man’s heart in the world, that men should suffer that God to be blasphemed, whom they honour? and that nothing should be done for the restraining any, but to ask them why they do so, and to persuade them to do otherwise? There hath ever been as great a contestation amongst people about Religion, as about any thing, Exod. 8. 25, 26. Pharaoh bade Moses sacrifice in the land: But Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abominations of the Egyptians: Lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us? Though they had leave of the King, yet the people would not endure it.

2. It is against the light of Scripture, Deut. 13. 6. If thy brother the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, nor thy fathers, thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken to him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare him, nor conceal him: but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.

Let not any put of this Scripture, saying, this is in the Old Testament, but we find no such thing in the Gospel; for we find the same thing, almost the same words, used in a prophecy of the times of the Gospel, Zech. 13. 3. In the latter end of the 12th Chapter, it is prophesied that those who pierced Christ, should look upon him, and mourn, &c having a spirit of grace and supplication poured upon them. Chap. 13. 1 There shall now be opened a fountain for sin and for uncleanness. Vers. 3 It shall come to pass, that he that takes upon him to prophesy that his father and his mother that begat him, shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live, for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord: And his father and his mother that begat him, shall thrust him through when he prophesieth.

You must understand this by that in Deuteronomy the meaning is not, that his father or mother should presently run a knife into him, but that though they begat him, yet they should be the means to bring him to condign punishment, even the taking away his life; those who were the instruments of his life, should now be the instruments of his death.

3. It is a dividing principle, because by it the reins are let loose to all kind of wantonness, and spirit of opposition, in the matters of Religion. Men naturally are wanton in nothing more than in the things of Religion; and corrupt spirits are bent upon, and pleased with opposition in these things, above any other: for being things supposed to have an excellency in them, and above reason, and so liable to contradiction from men of corrupt minds, if there be nothing to restrain men from opposing one another in them; the wantonness and pride of men’s hearts will carry them forth to infinite jarrings, contentions, and divisions.

If it be said, Christ hath left spiritual means to help this. It is answered, Christ’s spiritual means are to work in a spiritual way upon the heart to change it, and secondarily upon the outward man; while Christ’s means are working thus, external means may keep evil from breaking forth in the outward man; Christ hath not left the outward man at absolute liberty to do what it will, till spiritual means be made effectual to the heart, especially considering if you grant this liberty, men may choose whether any of those spiritual means of Christ should at all come at them.

The first position that upholds this dividing principle: Magistrates have nothing to do in the matters of Religion. It must be granted, that a Magistrate is not an officer of Jesus Christ the Mediator in his Mediatory Kingdom.

There is a two-fold government that Christ hath:

1. One as he is God equal with the Father, together with the Father, ruling heaven and earth.

2. Another, as he is God and man, Mediator, in a peculiar Kingdom of his that he hath by way of dispensation from the Father.

Now the Magistrate is an officer of God, both the Father and the Son, in the general government of the world. But he is not the officer of Christ, in that Kingdom of his that he hath by way of dispensation from the Father, that Regnum Mediatorum, as Divines call it: no, though he be a Christian Magistrate there are no officers of that, but such as are by divine institution set down in the Word; his Christianity doth only add unto him further ability to execute the work of his office in a better manner, it adds no new authority to him: an Infidel Magistrate converted to Christian Religion, is thereby better enabled to perform the duty of his place than before, but he had the same authority before; it was his sin, he did not use his authority now as he is able to do; though he be a Christian who is a Magistrate, yet the power of his Magistracy belongs to another Kingdom, different from that the second person hath as he is Christ the Mediator.

But doth not this then exclude him from the exercise of any power in the matters of Christian Religion? No, for God in the exercise of his power governing the world, hath a special aim at the promoting the Kingdom of his Son Christ the Mediator: therefore Magistrates exercising this power of God, ought to aim at these ends, that God himself aims at in the exercise of his own power, that is, to be useful to Christ’s Government in his Church, and for the good of his Church: God in all his ways, from the beginning of the world, hath aimed at the setting up his Son to be King upon his holy hill, at the promoting of the glory of him who is God-man: and if his Ministers do not make use of their power to this end, when this Kingdom of his Son comes to be revealed to them, he will require it at their hands.

The power that God invested Magistrates withal in matters of Religion in the Old Testament, is so full and clear in that which God gave to the Kings of Judah and Israel, that to name particulars would almost make a volume; I find many who write about this subject, spend most of their strength here, but I wholly forbear mentioning instances in this, because it is granted by all that they had power; but the argument from thence to the power of Magistrates in the times of the Gospel, prevails little with those who hold this dividing principle we are now speaking of. For they tell us that their power was typical, they in the exercise of such a power were types of the kingly power of Christ, for we find glorious promises of dominion and stability made to Christ in the persons of many of those Kings.

2. They tell us, that it is no argument, because Priests and Levites had in time of the Law power in temporal things, in ordering the affairs of the State; therefore Ministers should have civil authority now: so neither is it an argument, because Magistrates had power then in spiritual things, therefore our Magistrates should have the like now.

3. They tell us that the Church and Commonwealth of the Jews were mixed in one; hence to be a stranger from the Church is expressed by being a stranger from the Commonwealth of Israel, Eph. 2. 12, and therefore their Magistrates were Church-officers as well as civil.

4. That the people of the Jews were brought up in a more servile way than Christ would have his Church, in the times of the Gospel, brought up in: compulsion therefore in matters of Religion was more suitable to their condition, than it is to our Jerusalem which is free.

5. The whole Church was then bound to be under the same State Government; the laws of their State were by divine appointment; their Kings were chosen by God; but now Christ choses his Church out of all Nations of the earth, and leaves them to the several Governments, Laws, Officers of several Nations for their Civil State.

1. I confess were there nothing but merely examples or laws from the Old Testament to confute this dividing position, to an examining eye the argument would hardly be cogent or satisfactory, only so far as there is a common reason and equity in them, and so all the judicial bind now as well as they did then.

2. So far as the New Testament approves of for the times of it, what was formerly done in the Old. The strength of the argument from the power of Magistrates in the Old Testament, lies in these two:

First, there is a common reason and equity, what ever the strength of such kind of arguing be from one spiritual ordinances to prove another, yet without all question, it is strong enough from one civil ordinance to prove another, though it be conversant about spiritual things. It is the dictate of nature, that Magistrates should have some power in matters of Religion. The generality of all people have ever thought it equal. It hath been ever challenged in all Nations and Common-wealths. The Heathens would never suffer their gods to be blasphemed, but punish such as were guilty thereof by the power of the Magistrates. Socrates was put to death for blaspheming their multiplicity of gods.

Secondly, surely there is a common equity, for there is a necessity of it as truly now as there was then. I cannot argue the being of spiritual ordinances from our need of them, not thus there is such an institution, for the Church hath need of it; but rather thus, I find it in the Word to be an institution, and therefore the Church hath need of it. But in natural or civil things this way of arguing is strong enough; there is need of such a help, and therefore we should seek to have it. Now sure the need we have of such a power, is exceeding great, we were in a most miserable condition if we had no external civil power to restrain from any kinds of blasphemies and seducements. The condition of the Jews, O how happy was it in comparison of ours, if this were denied us! for if any one of theirs did blaspheme God, or seek to seduce any from him, they knew what to do with him, besides persuading him to the contrary; but if any should seek to seduce the wives of our bosoms, children of our bodies, friends as dear to us as our own lives, into those ways that we think in our consciences will undo their souls to all eternity, yet we must only desire them they would not do so, we must only admonish, and seek to convince them, or reprove them, but restrain them we cannot: if the deliverance of us from the pedagogy of the Law hath brought us into this condition, our burden is greater in this thing than any that the Law laid upon our fore-fathers. Hath Christ delivered us from one burden to lay a greater upon us? Must we now see those who are dearest to us drawn into the ways of eternal destruction, and stand and look on, but no way left to help them, or ourselves, unless we can persuade to the contrary? surely our condition is very sad: have we not cause to say, Lord let any burthen of the Ceremonial Law be laid upon our necks rather then this? If there were a company of mad men running up and down the streets with knives and swords in their hands, endeavouring to mischief and kill all they met with, and we must do nothing to restrain them; if we could persuade them to do otherwise, well and good: but that is all we can do for help; what a dangerous thing were this? The case is the same, when those who are mad with damnable heresies, run from place to place, seeking to draw all they can from the truth; if we have no means of help but arguments, it is ill with us: surely God hath not put his people into such a sad condition as this is, he hath provided better for his people then thus.

Thirdly, we find in the record of Scripture mention of Heathen Magistrates, who had nothing but the light of nature to guide them, interesting themselves in matters of Religion, and this the Holy Ghost relates in way of commendation of them for this thing. The argument from these examples cannot be avoided, as that which is taken from the practice of the Kings of Judah. We read Ezra 7. 26. Artaxerxes interposes his power in matters of Religion, and Ezra blesses God for it, Whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the King, let judgement be executed speedily upon him. And in the next words, Ezra blessed God, who put it in the heart of the King by these and other means, to beautify his house. The making such a law was one notable means whereby the House of the Lord came to be beautified.

Thus also Nebuchadnezzar, Dan. 3. 29. I make a decree that every people, nation and language, who speak any thing against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dung-hill, &c. This the Scripture records as a work of the King’s repentance.

The King of Nineveh, Jonah 3, by the decree of his Princes and Nobles, proclaims a fast, and commands every one to cry mightily to God, and to turn from his evil way.

Further, let us see how the Holy Ghost justifies this power of the Magistrate in the times of the Gospel: First, in the prophesies of the times of the Gospel: Secondly, in divers places in the New Testament. For prophesies, the fore-named place, Zech. 13. 3, cannot be put off: Isa. 49. 23. Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and Queens thy nursing mothers. The protection of their civil peace is not sufficient to give them such a denomination of nursing fathers and mothers. Isa 60. 10, The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their Kings shall minister unto thee: They shall not only be favourers of them, but as Kings they shall minister to them, even by their power: So Rev. 21. 24 The Kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honour to the Church: there is such a time coming. This surely is more then merely to protect their outward peace.

In the New Testament, Rom. 13. 4, He is thy Minister for thy good. 1 Pet. 2. 13, 14. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the King as to the supreme, or unto Governors, which are sent for the punishment of evil doers, and the praise of them that do well. Now seeing the Scripture speaks thus generally, for thy good, and for the punishment of evil doers, and praise of them that do well, Non distinguendum ubi Scriptura non distinguit, Except the nature of the thing require, why should we distinguish where the Scripture doth not? You will say, the nature of the thing spoken of will require that it must be restrained to those things that belong to his cognisance. Such a limitation must of necessity be granted; therefore it is true that the Magistrate cannot command every good thing, nor punish every evil; the abstruse controversies in Religion come not under the cognisance of a Magistrate, as a Magistrate; only such things as are against the rules of common justice and equity, and the common light of Christianity, where he is to govern Christians, for he is to enjoin and punish such things only as if he were not; the community of people which sets him up, ought to enjoin and punish, for he hath his power from them: but of this more in the next principle.

If you shall say, But those Scriptures speaking of Civil Magistrates, we must understand them to be meant only of civil things. The Magistrate hath his appellation civil, because the power that he exercises is civil, the things that he do are civil; he cannot do the works of a Church-officer, by all the power he hath, as administer Sacraments, and the like; but this hinders not the use of his civil power, and the doing of external acts upon the outward man, subservient to spiritual good; indeed what he doth, hath not any spiritual efficacy in it, for then it were worship. Though he cannot work in a spiritual way upon man’s soul, by his power, it is not an ordinance set apart by God to that end, yet he may by the exercise of his power upon the outward man, restrain it from the external act of evil, or bring it to an external good; his power still that he exercises is civil, yet ordered to the help of spiritual good, either removendo prohibentia, or applicando media externa, or cohibenda a malo externo; removing outward things that hindered, applying outward means, or keeping from outward evils. Whatsoever commandment requires any duty, requires us to make use of all things that may help us to the performance of that duty; if there be any civil, natural, spiritual helps, we are bound to make use of all. Only here lies the great doubt, whether hath God appointed the use of the Magistrates power to be a help to the things of Religion? Hath God made this to be an ordinance for the spiritual good of people? That it is by God an ordinance for their civil good, is plain out of those Scripture before mentioned; but how doth it appear that ever God intended it to be an ordinance for their spiritual good? What naturalness there is in any thing, it hath it from God, for nature is God’s work, if there be a naturalness in it to work upon the outward man, for the furtherance of spiritual good; this is from God: if I should use it to work upon the inward man expecting a spiritual efficacy, then I make it an ordinance to myself, and sin against God, presuming to put more in a creature of his, then it was appointed to. In this consisted the evil of ceremonies, they were used in a spiritual way, to work upon the heart of man, by virtue of that institution that man put upon them, beyond what God in their natural power ever put into them. But how can natural and external things be helps to things spiritual and divine? Any man’s reason, yea sense may tell him, that the taking away external hindrances, and the putting upon external use of divers things, may keep from much evil, and further much good that is spiritual and divine; though it cannot reach to the spiritualness and divineness of that good, yet it reaches to the external action, without which that divine and spiritual good cannot be. Wherefore seeing the New Testament sets out the power of Magistrates, and requires submission to them in such general terms; from this we may draw such a conclusion, therefore the Lord intended to leave Christians for their subjection to Magistrates, to the light of nature, and to the equity of the general rules that were in Scripture before time; if God should say, Ye are Christians, see you part not with that liberty Christ hath purchased for you; we may give this account, Lord we found in thy word that once thou didst make use of the power of Magistrates in matters of Religion, and in the New Testament there was nothing revealed to forbid their power in them; nay Lord, Thou toldst us there, that thou hast appointed them for our good, and to be a terror to evil works in the general. From thence we gathered, that in our yielding to their power, it was thy will we should make use of those general rules in Scripture we found before the times of the Gospel, and of the light of nature. Being also persuaded it was thy mind we should make use of all the natural helps we could for our spiritual advantage, and we found it recorded in thy Word that thou didst allow of the exercise of such power in the things of Religion, even to those who had only the light of nature to guide them and being the use of it reached only to the outward man, we did not see a necessity of a special institution for this, knowing what naturalness it had in it, to be an external help was put into it by thyself, therefore we made use of it. God will accept of this account. Add yet a consideration or two.

1. When the Apostles were convented before civil authority about matters of Religion, we never find that they pleaded for themselves, You have no power to meddle with us in the things of Religion, they belong to Jesus Christ only who is our King, and to that government he hath set in his Church; No, their plea was only the justness of their cause, that what they professed and preached was the truth of God, they did it in obedience to God.

2. If all men be bound to improve all the abilities, gifts, talents they have for the propagation of the Gospel, the Magistrates are bound to improve those which are peculiar to them; if a man hath more wisdom than others, or a greater estate, or more friends, he is to make use of all these for helps to the furtherance of Religion; if then a man hath more power than others, he is to improve that likewise, not only by countenancing what he conceives to be right, but by all other means according to the dictates of reason, not forbad by Scripture.

But we have often heard that of Tertullian urged; If it be therefore said it is lawful because the Scripture doth not forbid, it is therefore unlawful because the Scripture doth not command.

Ans. In the matters of God’s worship this rule is to be urged, but not in matters civil or natural, though in their way subservient to worship, their reason may guide very far.

But you will say, What? will you then make the Magistrate a Judge in all causes of Religion? he may be a wicked man, a Heathen, and yet a true Magistrate.

Ans. Whatsoever he be, yet he may be a Judge in matters of fact, and so far as reason may go in matters of right, he may judge whether you do not go against your own principles, either in your profession, acts of worship, or in the wrong you do to your brother; yea, he may judge whether your very principles be not contrary to the common light of the knowledge of God, that God hath given to men, and to the rules of human justice. A Magistrate who is not skilful in Physics or Navigation, yet he may judge Physicians and Mariners, if they wrong others in their way.


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