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to honor their persons, to pay them tribute and other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience' sake. Infidelity or indifference in religion, doth not make void the magistrate's just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to him: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted.' " CHAP. 20.-OF CHRISTIAN LIBERTY, AND LIBERTY OF CON
* * * II. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his word. * * * IV. And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve, one another; they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. And for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity, whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation; or to the power of godli. ness; or such erroneous opinions or practices, as, either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing or maintaining them, destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the church; they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the church.”—(See, also, chaps. 21, 24, 25, and 31, of the Confession.)
It thus appears that this Confession defines some of the most important powers, and assigns limits to the jurisdiction, of civil rulers; declares what they may do, and what they may not do; what belongs to their authority, what is their duty, and what would be a violation of each. It also announces wherein, -and under what conditions, their behests must be obeyed by the people. All this we should expect in any Confession which pretended to set forth the teachings of Scripture; and all this we find. But besides these general principles, the framers of this Confession descend to specifications on several subjects, with considerable minuteness, in regard to which they say, it is proper, or the contrary, for civil rulers to legislate; and in the light of what history shows that the civil powers have often done, and what they are still doing, day by day, the Confession announces what are proper and what improper principles of such legislation; as, for example, when speaking of the laws which should regulate marriage and divorce; when declaring that the law of the Sabbath is “a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages,” and naming the first day of the week” as the time obligatory upon “ all men” for its observance, and in specifying what is essential to its proper sanctification and what is a violation of the ordinance; when declaring that civil rulers may not assume “the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, or in the least interfere in matters of faith," which some of them have ever been doing from the beginning till now; when pronouncing explicitly against religious establishments, or the union of church and state; when asserting that the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions are entirely distinct, while certain civil rulers in one direction, and certain ecclesiastics in the opposite, have assumed to combine both jurisdictions in one; and, finally, with much more to the same effect, when telling the civil authorities, with unmistakable plainness, what is their positive, executive duty, toward all classes of their people, touching their strictly civil and social rights and immunities, affecting reputation, person, and property, to wit: “ It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner, as that no person be suffered, either upon pretence of religion or infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury, to any other person whatsoever." *
These may serve as a specimen of the subjects on which this Confession speaks authoritatively, in the name of Christ, and upon all of which the civil power has frequently legislated. Now, verily, on what ground is all this so elaborately set forth in one of the most noted Confessions extant, unless the church may rightfully examine into, determine, and declare, in the fear of God and from his word, the duties of all men, in all conditions and stations of life, governments, rulers, and ruled ? - unless, indeed, touching all the moral aspects of these subjects, the church is placed by her Divine Head above all other powers on earth, in the sense that her authority, as derived from Christ the Ruler of all worlds and all people, warrants her, and her fidelity to Him under the demands of her commission, obliged her to speak thus explicitly in the hearing of all mankind, for their guidance and warning? This, in truth, is her express command and mission from God. The fathers of the Westminster Assembly, one of the most learned and pious bodies ever convened, never supposed they were, in these enactments, trenching on ground secular and political. And yet, according to the principles laid down by some in our day, the church, either in her courts or her pulpits, has not a particle of authority to say a word on such subjects; for what, indeed, is it, “after the way which they call heresy,” but the most arrogant presumption-running, the spiritual plowshare deep into the soil of secularism-for the church thus to lay down, in great principles of ecclesiastical law, to endure for all time and for the instruction of all people, rules for the “civil magistrate,” and to tell the state, in terms, to its face, what it may and what it may not do by its legislative and executive authority, even to bound and limit that authority, and to hold up the vengeance of the God of Nations as the penalty for disobedience ?
* In Robert Shaw's “Exposition of the Confession of Faith," the American editor, in his notes on this section, sustains the view we have taken, that it is to man's strictly secular rights that the Confession here refers when pointing out to the state its duty. “The legitimate design of the latter (civil governments), is to secure to men their social rights, and to defend them in the enjoyment of life and property."
When we claim for the church what is here contended for, and cite this Confession to sustain the claim, we are triumphantly pointed to another chapter of the Confession, already referred to, which says: “Synods and councils are to handle or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth,” ete. To this we say, Amen. Matters of purely political economy or policy, as banks, tariffs, railways, the extent of suffrage, partisan politics--questions which involve no essential moral principle, and which all agree are strictly secular-may not be introduced into the pulpit or church courts, for the reason that the Scriptures reveal nothing on these subjects for the church or the world. It is plainly to subjects of this nature that these prohibitory clauses refer. But the matters immediately under consideration, as we have shown (Review, December, 1862), are the very matters which these clauses except; they are strictly and eminently “ ecclesiastical,” and the word of God speaks with great clearness and
fullness upon them. The framers of the Confession so regarded them, and shaped these standards accordingly, by laying down the law of God on these very topies. The fathers who adopted this Confession as modified for the church in the United States are to be understood in the same way; while they unquestionably meant by these prohibitory clauses, subjects of the nature stated-political and secular, strictly so-called—and nothing more. To put the forced construction upon them contended for by some, would be to make these fathers stultify themselves by destroying completely the explicit teaching of all the other chapters of this same Confession, where the subjects in controversy are dwelt upon as coming within the authority of the church, and on which she is enjoined to make known the divine will.
But if it still be insisted that these clauses cover the subjects in issue, and were intended to shut them out entirely, then we reply that this very section gives full authority to the church to do all we contend for, in the words immediately following the passage quoted : “unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary.” Even, therefore, admitting that the prohibition covers the topics in dispute, it is only a qualified prohibition; for this language states that they may be considered, and specifies the form, manner, and circumstances, under which it may be done. This is undeniable. Our posi. tion, therefore, so far from being in the least endangered, is even strengthened, by the only passage in the entire Confession which is brought forward to destroy it, taking the construction elaimed by our opponents to be correct. Here they at least ought to be willing to rest. But this is an unwarranted construction. That neither of the prohibitory clauses, nor even this permissive one, refers to the matters in controversy, but all relate to subjects which by universal concession are secular, will be plainly seen when they are read together, giving the entire section, with the punctuation found in the authorized copies of the Confession printed by the Board of Publication of the Presbyterian Church, viz.: “Synods and councils are to handle or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or by way of advice for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.” Now, what does this language mean? The last clause refers simply to what is due to the civil magistrate. If he ask “advice for satisfaction of conscience,” it would be quite unbecoming in “synods and councils” not to give it, if they were able.* The first clause is equally clear. We have already shown what its prohibitory part can not mean, from other portions of the Confession, where the language covers all the special subjects in debate, and therefore brings them all within the term “ecclesiastical.” What the prohibitory part of the first clause and the prohibitory and permissive parts of the middle clause do mean, is also clear. They must refer to matters which all agree are strictly “civil,” and to them exclusively. And what is said about them ?—that they must not be touched at all by the church ? By no means. On the contrary, the very language employed says they may be even they !—and tells how it may be done. It says, in the clearest terms, that “synods and councils may entertain even “civil affairs which concern the commonwealth," in the “way of humble petition in cases extraordinary;” or, to state it in another form, as permission is here given to do a particular thing in a particular way and under particular circumstances, all which are pointed out, the prohibition can not refer to the subject matter of the thing, but only to a violation of the conditions stated. If this construction be objected to, all we need to say, is, that it is not merely the only one which the language grammatically admits, but the only possible one of which the case itself is susceptible, from its own nature, as here presented. Taking, however, any other construction, if there should be any other which is admissible or even possible—any conceivable one which will preserve the authors of this document from the most direct and positive self-stultification-and still, the Confession sustains the main proposition on which the whole discussion proceeds; and what is not to
$ Here is an illustration: “Ministers may be present at Parliaments with the Book of God in their hands, if they be required to answer any doubt; nor ought the Estates make any act concerning religion, or the affairs of the kirk, without the advice and consent of her representative body, the National Assembly."Scot's Apologetical Narration of the State and Government of the Kirk of Scotland since the Reformation (1597).