The Magistrate’s Duty
To Hunt the Little Foxes.
By Theodore Beza.
(Excerpted from Sermon 22 on Canticles.)
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines:
for our vines have tender grapes.—Canticles 2:15.
Commenting on this passage, Theodore Beza in his 22nd sermon on Canticles first discusses the responsibility of pastors and church leaders to protect God’s church from the false teachers and trouble-makers who invade his vineyard. Afterwards, he makes observations about the responsibility of civil rulers, who must also exercise themselves in a Christian and dutiful “taking” of the “foxes.”
“But besides these unto whom properly this charge appertaineth, there are yet other hunters in the vineyard of the Lord, who ought to travail no less in this hunting, to wit, the magistrates, as well sovereign as others, called also the servants of God, established in authority, and girded by him with a girdle, Job 12.18, Romans 13.1, to the end they should maintain, not only honesty of life opposed unto all violence and dissolution, but to the end that God may be known and obeyed by the establishment and maintenance of the true service of God, which is called Piety or Godliness in 1 Tim. 2.2, [where we are told to pray “for kings and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”] These are they therefore who should with all their power which God hath given them, uphold and maintain the holy ministry and service of God, as well in the purity of doctrine, as also in the discipline of the Church, each conformably unto the word of the Lord, witnessed by the writings of his Prophets, without either adding any thing thereto, or diminishing ought therefrom, and consequently bridle as much as in them lieth, and also punish according unto the exigence of the case, the open and convicted wicked and incorrigible perturbers of that which is the true Arch-pillar and foundation of human society, namely the purity and exercise of true religion. And all this they should do by the order which God himself hath established, not meddling with that which appertaineth unto the pastors and ancients of the Church and the holy ministry.” (pp. 293-294.)
And so, Mr. Beza continues to describe the Biblical doctrine of the separation which must be between Church and State, without wandering into the principles of these later times, or Antichristian notions of heretics in other ages, which, in effect, make Church and State institutions accountable to different gods in upholding conflicting moralities.
In the end of the sermon, Mr. Beza reflects on the blessing of living in our present New Testament era in contrast to the Old Testament dispensation, and reminds us that as we ought to be thankful for the more clearly revealed light of salvation, so we should long for and pray for the further advancing of Christ’s cause:
“The nearer we draw unto [Christ’s latter coming], the more fervently and earnestly [we ought to] pray that his kingdom come quickly, and that in the mean time he kindle more and more in our hearts a true and ardent desire of yielding him all manner of obedience, inspiring most especially with his Holy Spirit, both the Magistrates and the ministers, courageously to proceed in that business which is committed unto them, to purge the vineyard of the Lord, and to rid it of all them who may in general or particular waste and destroy it, — blessing us all more and more from on high to his honor and glory, — Amen.”
Readers may consult Theodore Beza’s other writings, including chapter 78 of the Propositions and Principles of Divinity published as an English translation in 1591, for further details on this second-generation reformer’s principles concerning the magistrate’s duty in matters of religion. Biblical beliefs on this subject, once considered essential to the Protestant and Reformed faith, have been increasingly abandoned since the end of the Reformation era. For several generations they were maintained among Reformed Presbyterians, as may be seen in their publications and testimonies about the Magistrate’s Duty Circa-Sacra. It is the duty of the Church to affirm all of Christ’s truth, including what his word tells us about the institution, roles, and responsibilities of civil rulers. Asserting their accountability to God, and duty to favour and promote true religion, as opposed to false religion and irreligion, may seem concerning to Atheists and those under their influence. But it amounts to nothing more nor less than the acknowledgment that God is God, in relation to nations and their rulers, as well as private individuals. If the churches of a city or nation will not publicly confess this doctrine, we have no reason to be surprised that their surrounding communities exhibit a lack of persuasion that they owe obedience to the God of Holy Scripture. Their rulers will neither repress the public promotion of heresy and idolatry, nor frown upon rebellion against parents, the murder of the weak, the works of sensuality, or the free-speaking of lies. For rulers must regard themselves as either below the Laws of the God of Heaven, and obliged to enforce them, or else free from and immune to this authority.
If your pastor has not preached the truth on this topic, pray that the Lord will open his mouth, and do your part to assure him that it is his duty to teach the same doctrine that our reformers preached in their sermons, as above. But if the ministry of your church prefers to cast in their lot with the conspirators who choose to suppress and “hold the truth in unrighteousness,” (Rom. 1.18,) take heed that you have no part in the conspiracy. The Lord Jesus has no desire that his flock should be leavened with the Bible-subverting political philosophies of the world. Mark 8.15.—JTKer.