The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws,
changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.
—Isa. 24.5

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David Dickson’s

Truth’s Victory Over Error

Chapter XXIII.

Of the Civil Magistrate.


HATH GOD armed the Civil Magistrate with the power of the Sword, for the defence, and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers?

Yes.  Rom. 13.1-4; 1 Peter 2.13,14.

Well then, do not the Socinians err, who maintain, that it is not the duty of the Civil Magistrate, to punish the guilty with death?


By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because GOD hath expressly commanded, that transgressing Idolaters be put to death; Deut. 17.7; Deut. 19.21.  (2) Because, it appertains to the office and duty of the Magistrate, to punish the guilty with death, Rom. 13.4. 1 Pet. 2.14.  (3) Because, the capital punishment of evil doers makes others stand in awe, and fear to offend; Deut. 13.11.  Deut. 19.20.  (4) Because, if the Magistrate shall neglect to inflict due punishment, the Lord himself will be avenged on that Magistrate, 1 Kings 20.42.  Num. 25.4.  (5) Because, he that smiteth a man so that he die, shall surely be put to death; Exod. 21.12.  (6) Because, all that take the sword, shall perish by the sword, Matth. 26.52. Namely, without a lawful call, or order for it.  They shall perish, by order and command of the Magistrate, to whom the Lord hath given the sword, for this same very end to punish evil doers with death; Gen. 9.6, Rom. 13.4.

Quest. II. “Is it the duty of the Civil Magistrate, to take order, that all Blasphemies and Heresies be suppressed, all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed; all abuses in worship and discipline reformed, all Idolaters, Gainsayers, and other obstinate dissenters, being obliged and forced to quit their tenets and opinions, and conform themselves to the true worship and service of God, according to his Law?”

Yes. Isa 49.23; 2 Chron. 15.12,13.  2 Chron. 34.33;  2 Kings 18.4;  2 Kings 23.1-26; Ezra 7.23,25,26,27,28; Lev. 24.16.

Well then, do not the Quakers and other Sectaries err, who judge it Antichristian, and the practice of the Church of Rome, that the Civil and Supreme Magistrate, with the assistance of the Church and her Censures, should by his coactive power, force and oblige all his subjects, to a Reformation of Religion, and to a conformity to the true worship, sound doctrine, and discipline of the Church?


By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because it is foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, that in the days of the Gospel, Kings shall be nursing Fathers and Queens nursing Mothers to the Church of God, chapter 49, verse 23.  (2) Because Artaxerxes, who was but a Heathen King, was very careful to make a decree, that whatsoever was commanded by the God of Heaven, should be diligently done for the house of the God of Heaven.  And that whosoever would not obey the Law of GOD, and the King, judgment was to be executed speedily upon him, whether by death, banishment, confiscation of goods, or imprisonment.  For which singular mercy, Ezra blessed the Lord GOD of his fathers, who had put such a thing in the King’s heart, chapter 7.23, 25-28.  So did Nebuchadnezzar make a decree, that if any People, Nation, or Language should speak any thing amiss against the GOD of Heaven, they should be cut in pieces, and their houses made a dunghill, Dan. 3.29.  The like we read of Darius, who made a Decree, that all men should tremble and fear before the GOD of Daniel, chap. 6, v. 23.  (3) From the example of Hezekiah, who removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen Serpent, to which the Israelites did burn incense; 2 Kings 18.4.  (4) From the example of Josiah, who made a thorough reformation; and made all Israel to serve the LORD their GOD.  The word in the Original importeth, that he in a manner forced, and compelled them to the pure worship, and service of God, as a servant is forced, and compelled to his work.  He by his Royal Power, and Authority kept them in order, forbidding Idolatry, and commanding them to serve God no otherwise, than according to his Word; 2 Chron. 34.33, and [the example of Asa in] 2 Chron. 15.12,13.  They entered into a Covenant, to seek the Lord of their Fathers, with all their heart, and with all their soul: that whosoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death whether great or small, man or woman.  (5) Because, whosoever blasphemed the name of the Lord, was surely put to death; Lev. 24.16.  This blaspheming, was a piercing through, or stabbing the name of the Lord, as the original word properly signifies: which may be done not only after this manner, but by maintaining blasphemous errors and heresies.  (6) Because, the supreme Magistrate is Custos utriusque Tabulæ, a Keeper of both Tables of the Law of God: as well of the first Table, which relates to Religion, as our duty to God, as of the second which relates to righteousness, and our duty to our neighbour.  If then, he may punish evil doers, who offend against the second Table, and force and compel them to obedience, by the sword of justice, which God hath put into his hand, much more may he punish Idolaters, and blasphemers, who offend against the first Table, and force and compel them to obedience: seeing there are many sins against the first Table, which are more heinous, and odious, than the sins against the second Table.  And though it be the sinful practice of the Church of Rome, to force men, and women, to be of their Religion, which is superstitious, and Idolatrous, yet it is not so to others, who have the true religion among them.  And though our blessed Saviour, and his Apostles, did not use such means for propagating the Gospel, reserving the Glory of conquering of souls, to himself, and the power of his Spirit; yet he has taught nothing to the contrary, but that Kings and Magistrates, whom he has made nursing Fathers to his Church, may according to the laudable examples of the good Kings of Judah, improve their power for Reformation, and maintenance of his own Religion.  And though Religion, hath been much advanced by suffering, yet it will not infer, that a Christian Prince has not power to reform his own subjects, or extirpate blasphemers, and Hereticks.

Quest. III. “Is it lawful for a Christian, to accept and execute the office of a Magistrate, when called thereunto?”

Yes. Prov. 8.15,16.  Rom. 13.1,2,4.

Well then, do not the Anabaptists err, who maintain, that it is not lawful for Christians to carry the office of a Magistrate?


By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because, there is no power but of God, and the powers, which are, are ordained of GOD; Rom. 13.1.  (2) Because, Solomon says, by me (that is by the Lord) Kings reign, and Princes decree justice; Prov. 8.15.  (3) Because, the Magistrate exercises and executes God’s judgments; Deut. 1.17.  (4) Because, the Magistrate receiveth all things from GOD, which are necessary, for the performance of his office; Numb. 11.17.  (5) Because, the Lord hath promised, that Magistrates under the Gospel, shall be nursing Fathers to his Church; Isaiah 49.23, And shall make the Whore desolate, naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire; Rev. 17.16.

Quest. IV. “May the Civil Magistrate, now under the New Testament wage war upon just and necessary occasion?”

Yes. Luke 3.14.  Matt. 8.9,10.  Rev. 17.14,16.  Acts 10.1,2.

Well then, do not the Quakers, Anabaptists, and Socinians err, Who maintain, that it is altogether unlawful, now under the New Testament, to wage war?


By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because, GOD appointed, and commanded lawful war; Numb. 31.2.  For it is said, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, when he was to fight the battles of the Lord, against the Midianites, and Amalekites; Judges 6.34.  Nay, the Lord himself, prescribeth the manner, and way of making of War; Numb. 10.9. Numb. 31.27. Deut. 20.2.  And giveth knowledge, and skill, to his Generals, and Heros, to fight his own battles; Psalm 18.34. Psalm 144.1. All which are in no wise abrogated, and taken away, under the New Testament.  (2) Because, the Centurion, that was converted to the Faith, did not lay down his office of a Captain of a hundred; which surely, he would have done, if to war under the New Testament, had been unlawful; Acts 10.1,2,47.  The same may be said of the believing Centurion; Matthew 8.8-10.  (3) Because, the office of a Soldier, is not reprehended, and reproved, by John the Baptist, but rather approven; Luke 3.14.  (4) Because, opposition, and defence, against unjust violence, which often times cannot be done without war, is the very law of nature.  (5) Because, it is foretold, that the kings of the Earth, shall make war against the Beast, Rev. 17.14,16.

Quest. V. “May the Civil Magistrate, assume to himself, the Administration of the Word and Sacraments, or the power of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven?”

No. 2 Chron. 26.18. Matth. 18.17.  Matth. 16.19.  1 Cor. 12.28,29.  Rom. 10.15.  Hebr. 5.4.

Well then, do not the Erastians err, who maintain, that the Civil Magistrate hath in himself all Church power; and so may administer the Sacraments, and preach the Word, and may exercise the power of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven?


By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because, Christ hath given no such power to Magistrates: as evidentaly appears, from all those places of Scripture, where mention is made of the keys.  There is not in them, one syllable of the Civil Magistrate; Matth. 18.17. Matth. 16.19.  (2) If the power of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, agree to the Magistrate, as a Magistrate, then ought it to agree to every Magistrate, though the Magistrate were an Infidel, or a Woman, which is absurd.  (3) A Magistrate, as a Magistrate, is not a Minister of the Church, as is evident from all the Catalogues of the Ministers of the Church. For in them you will not find any mention of the Magistrate, Eph. 4.11. Rom. 12.7,8.  1 Cor. 12.8-10.  (4) Because, before ever there was a Christian Magistrate in the World, the Church exercised all Acts of Church Jurisdiction, and Government. The Church ordained Ministers and Pastors, 1 Tim. 4.14; And inflicted the Censure of Excommunication, 1 Cor. 5.5; And Relaxed the Penitent from this Censure; Called a Synod, and stigmatized Hereticks, Acts 15.  (5) Because, GOD hath put a difference between the Church Government and the Civil, and hath appointed distinct Governours to them, 2 Chron. 19.8-11.  (6) Because, God did severely punish Saul and Uzziah for presuming to offer sacrifice, which was proper to the Priests only, 1 Sam. 13.9,10,13.  2 Chron. 26.16,19.

Quest. VI. “Hath the Civil Magistrate power to call Synods, to be present at them, and to provide, that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of GOD?”

Yes. 2 Chron. 19.8-11, and Chron. chapters 29, 30; Matth. 2.4,5.

Well then, do not the Papists err, who maintain, that the judgment and care of Religion doth not belong to the civil Magistrate?


By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because, the custody and keeping of the divine law, is committed by GOD to the Civil Magistrate; Deut. 17.18.  (2) Because, it was foretold, that Kings should be nursing Fathers to the Church, Isaiah 49.23.  (3) Because, it is the duty of the Magistrate, to take care, that subjects may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness, and honesty, 1 Tim. 2.2.  (4) From the commendable examples of the good kings of Judah, 2 Chron. 29 & 30 chapters.

Quest. VII. “Doth infidelity, or difference in Religion make void the Magistrate’s just and legal authority?”


Doth it free the people from their due obedience to him?

No. 1 Peter 2.13; Rom. 13.1-4; Titus 3.1.

Well then, do not the Papists, Anabaptists, and others err, who maintain, that subjects ought not to suffer a King that’s an infidel, or obey that King in his just commands, that differs from them in Religion?


By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because, we are commanded to submit ourselves to every ordinance of man, 1 Peter 2.13; Namely in all that they command us, if it be not contrary to God and his command; otherwise, (according to Acts 4.19,) it is better to obey GOD than man.  And it is said, for the Lord’s sake, that is, because it is GOD’s will to govern us by them.  (2) Because, the Christians which were at Rome were commanded by the Apostle to subject themselves to the higher powers, and that without exception of Religion and Piety, and even to that heathen the Roman Emperor, Rom. 13.1.[1]  (3) Because, the same Apostle writing to Titus, bids him exhort the Cretians his hearers, to obey Magistrates, what manner of ones soever they be, not only believing ones, but also those, that are unbelieving, as then, they were yet most of them, Titus 3.1.  (4) Because, when the Apostle Paul was pursued for his life, and charged with matters criminal, he appealed unto Cæsar, Acts 25.10,11.  (5) Because, the Prophet Jeremiah did own the power of Zedekiah, who had turned aside to a false worship, and had despised the oath, which he had made to the King of Babylon, Ezek. 17.16,18.  Now hear I pray thee, (says the Prophet) O my Lord the King, let my Supplication I pray thee be accepted before thee; Jerem. 27.20.  (6) Because, Christ himself paid tribute to Cæsar, though he was free, being both the Son of GOD by nature, and the Son of David by birth, Matth. 17.26.  And he commanded and allowed others to pay, Matth. 22.21. Rom. 13.7.  (7) Because, Paul did own and acknowledge the power of King Agrippa; Acts 26.2.[2]

Quest. VIII. “Is it the duty of the people to pray for Magistrates and honour their persons?”

Yes.  1 Tim. 2.1,2, and 1 Peter 2.17.

Well then, do not some err, who deny this?


By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because, Samuel at the request of Saul, whom he knew the Lord had rejected, returned again after him, and honoured him before the people, 1 Sam. 15.31.  (2) Because, the Lord having appointed Magistrates to administer justice and judgment in his name, is so far pleased to honour them, as to call them Gods, and the Children of the most high, Psalm 82.1,6.  (3) Because, the Apostle Peter says, fear God and honour the King, parallel to what Paul says, render to all men their dues; honour to whom honour is due; 1 Peter 2.17, Romans 13.7.

(4) Because, even heathen Magistrates, are called the Lord’s anointed, Isaiah 45.1; And the Lord calls Nebuchadnezzar, his servant, Jerem. 27.6.  If then such Magistrates ought to be honoured upon that account, much more Christian Magistrates.  (5) Because, if we be obliged not to speak evil of dignities, 2 Peter 2.10-11, nor revile the Gods, Exod. 22.28, we are obliged to honour dignities, for where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded.  (6) Because, God commanded his people the Jews to seek the peace of the City (that is, the welfare and prosperity of Babylon) whither he had caused them to be carried away captives; Jerem. 29.7.  (7) Because, the Prophet, the man of God, besought the Lord in behalf of Jeroboam, and prayed for him, a man that had made Apostacy from the true worship of God, and had made Israel to sin, 1 Kings 13.3-6.  (8) Because, our blessed Saviour says, render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, Matth. 22.21.  But prayers and supplications are as due to Cæsar as custom and tribute, 1 Tim. 2.1,2.  (9) Because, the Apostle commands us to pray for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life; which is the cause wherefore we must pray for Magistrates.  For in the Apostle’s times, and long after, Magistrates were persecutors of the Church of GOD, and hindered the members of Christ to live in peace and godliness, 1 Tim. 2.1,2.  (10) Because, Moses cried unto the Lord in behalf of Pharoah, Exod. 8.12; Abraham prayed unto God for Abimelech, Gen. 20.17; Jacob blessed Pharoah, Gen. 47.7,10.  (11) Because, many blessed Martyrs going to death have prayed for their persecuting Magistrates, following the example and command of our blessed Saviour, Luke 23.34, Matth. 5.44.

Quest. IX. “Ought any man at his own hand, or at the instigation of other men, to assassinate or kill a Magistrate, or any private or publick person, under the pretence, they are Hereticks, and Persecutors of the truth?”

No.  Exod. 20.13; Prov. 1.10,11.

Well then, do not those men of the Romish-Church err, and others too, who own this dangerous Tenet?


By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because, all sort of murder is expressly forbidden in the sixth command, thou shalt not kill; Exod 20.13.  Where there is a clear distinction made by Thou, between a private man and a publick Magistrate, that doth it by divine authority.  (2) Because, though Saul was a man rejected of God (1 Sam. 15.26.) yet David says to the Amalekite, how wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand, to destroy the Lord’s anointed, 2 Sam. 1.14; see 1 Sam. 24.5; 1 Sam. 26.9.  (3) Because, whatever may be alleged from Phinehas his fact, Num. 25.8, from Ehud’s fact in stabbing Eglon, Judges 3.21, from Samuel’s fact in killing Agag, 1 Sam. 15.33, and from Elijah’s fact in killing the Priests of Baal, 1 Kings 18.40, they will not by any means favour private men’s assassinations; for certainly Phinehas had a divine motion, as Ehud had, stirring him up, which was evident by the Lord’s approving the fact, and rewarding it.  Samuel (no doubt) was moved hereunto by an inward motion and instinct of God, and the conduct of his Spirit, as was Elijah; so that their facts, and such like were altogether particular, and cannot be abused by imitation, and followed by every one, as rules, whose calling is not properly to use the sword of justice.  (4) Because, it would bring a Mass of confusion, to the utter ruin of all Societies, if every man at his own hand might execute vindictive justice upon offenders, who deserve it, or upon pretence they do deserve it, which is to fight against God, who is the God of order politick, as well as Ecclesiastick, and not of confusion.[3]  (5) Because, the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; James 1.20.  (6) Because, it is a contempt of publick laws, and publick order.  It is an usurpation of the Magistrate’s sword, which God hath put into his hand for punishing and protecting, It is an invasion of God’s right and prerogative of executing vengeance, which he hath so expressly reserved to himself; Psalm 94.1, Rom. 12.19, Deut. 32.35, Prov. 25.21,22.  (7) Because, Solomon says, my son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not, if they say come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent, walk not thou in the way with them.  Prov. 1.10,11.  (8) Because, a righteous man regardeth the life of his beast, much more ought a righteous man to regard the life of his neighbour; Prov. 12.10.  The sin of murder may be many ways aggravated.  First, by the quality of the person murdered, whether he be a superiour, as a Magistrate or Minister, or parent, or whether he be of a near relation, as a brother, or near kinsman.  Secondly, from the manner, extreme cruelty being used, or sudden and unexpected death, putting a man into eternity in the twinkling of an eye.  To which we may add deliberation and premeditate murder, of which Solomon speaks in the forecited place.

Quest. X. “Are Ecclesiastic Persons exempted from due obedience to the Magistrate?”

No.  Rom. 13.1; 1 Kings 2.26; Acts 25.9-11; 2 Peter 2.1,10,11; Jude verse 8-11.

Well then, do not the Papists err, who maintain, that the Clergy (as they call them) and their goods are altogether free, by the Law of God from Secular Powers?


By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because, the command of obedience is general, and universal: let every soul be subject; Rom. 13.1.  (2) Because, Christ commanded the Pharisees, who were of the Clergy, to render unto Cæsar, the things which are Cæsar’s; Matth. 22.21.  Nay Christ himself, paid tribute money, to wit, a Stater, in value two shillings, and three pence, which Peter found in the fish’s mouth, when he opened it; Matth. 17.27.  (3) Because, Paul did acknowledge himself subject to the Magistrate, when he appealed unto Cæsar; Acts 25.11.  (4) From the example of the Priests who were subject to their Kings.  Did not Abiathar at Solomon’s command, go to Anathoth?Kings 2.26.

Quest. XI. “Hath the Pope any Power, or Jurisdiction over Magistrates, in their dominions, or over any of their people?”

No.  Rev. 13.15-17; 2 Thes. 2.4.

Well then, do not the Papists err, who maintain, that the Pope of Rome, as Pope, hath full power by divine right, over the whole World, as well in matters Civil as Ecclesiastical?


By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because, Christ expressly discharges his Disciples from taking to themselves any such power or dominion, Matth. 20.25; Mark 10.42.  (2) Because, the Kingdom of Christ is not of this World, John 18.36.  Neither ought the Pope’s Kingdom to be of this World who calls himself the Vicar of Christ.  That is, one who supplieth Christ’s room, and taketh pains for him, his Depute here on Earth.  (3) Because, when the people would have made Christ a King, he departed again into a mountain himself alone, John 6.15.  (4) Because, the Apostle Peter discharged this Dominion; 1 Peter 5.1-3.  (5) Because, it’s never heard, that any of the Apostles did ever use any civil power, or command; or sat as judges in civil matters, but stood always to be judged, by Civil powers, as is evident from the History of the Acts.  (6) Because, GOD hath put a difference, between the Government of the Church, and the Civil Government;[4] and hath given to each, their own proper, and distinct Officers.  Neither can the one invade the other without very great sin, 2 Chron. 19.8-11.  (7) Because, it is the mark of Antichrist, to exalt himself above all, that is called God, 2 Thes. 2.4.


1. For an explanation of Romans 13 that presents “powers” as limited by the definition given in that chapter, see the various Covenanter testimonies from 1685 to 1807, and the treatises published to defend Reformed Presbyterian principles against writings of the Associate Presbyterians.  For example, William Steven’s “Answers to Twelve Queries” published 1794, especially in discussing Query 5, where Romans 13 is presented in harmony with the rest of Scripture, and several authors of various backgrounds are also quoted.  Or, for a reference pre-dating such discussions among Presbyterians, see the Magdeburg Confession of 1550, written by Nicolaus Amsdorff, part 2, first argument.

2. On the other hand, we do also have precedents for sometimes regarding providential rulers as having no moral authority or right to be honored as magistrates, in specific circumstances.  For example, consider 2 Kings 3.14, Hosea 8.4, Luke 13.32, and the response of the entire Church of Scotland to Oliver Cromwell as a Usurper to whom honor was not due.  As we have one type of precedent in Paul’s recognition of “king Agrippa,” so we also have another type of precedent in Mordecai’s refusal to reverence Haman, as a prince promoted “above all the princes that were with him.”

3. This reason (as it is worded) serves also to determine the point at which such “assassinations,” or at least some of more general concurrence and orderliness, become warrantable slayings or executions: when the criminals and persecutors themselves, possessing the reins of society, and controlling the seats of government, use these things contrary to their purposes, tending by their lawless efforts to bring society into a “mass of confusion” and “utter ruin,” the above reason then brings the reverse conclusion.  See Alexander Shield’s “Hind Let Loose” Head 6 on “extraordinary executing of Judgment, etc.” and an article from the January 1860 Reformed Presbyterian magazine (RPCNA) titled, “Was the Bishop’s Death Murder?”

4. The distinct institution of Church Government and Civil Government can be found more fully demonstrated by George Gillespie in his book Aaron’s Rod Blossoming; or, The Divine Ordinance of Church Government Vindicated, 1646; and by Samuel Rutherford in his book The Divine Right of Church-Government and Excommunication, 1646.  Both of these works refute the Church-State blending ideas of the Erastians.  It is important for Christians to be aware of the Bible’s clear distinction between Church and State, because enemies of the Bible often labor to impugn its authority based on false claims that the Holy Scriptures present us with a system of laws and directions designed and intended for nations where Church and State are a single institution.  On the contrary, the Bible assumes a clear distinction between these institutions, and teaches us that both are the Lord’s, and required to serve him according to his own good instructions.  The Holy Scriptures are useful in every context, and with Paul we readily declare, we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully. (1 Tim. 1.8.)