Objection answered concerning Establismentarianism ( a Nation’s acknowledgement of Christ’s rule)


Noted an observation that my buddy Josh Hicks blogged about and thought I would pass it along.  I am also adding something that Austin Williamson directed attention to on the Puritanboard.com from Robert Shaw’s commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 20. 

Just two excellent points I will note here quickly….

“And pray would you have all thieves, robbers, murderers, &c. to have full liberty in their courses, till their wickedness can be got rooted out of their heart?” John Brown of Haddington

This is an excellent point. When Jesus cleansed the temple he didn’t first change the hearts of evil men. He did cleanse it and give report of the Temple’s purpose. The Law must first be expounded in the first place for the word and incorruptible seed to take root. The Law of the Lord converts the soul as Psalm 19:7 states. When it is neglected we end up with the money changers even in the temple.

“…yet they are to repress these evils, not formally as sins, which is the prerogative of God, nor as scandals, in which light they come under the cognisance of the Church, but as crimes and injuries done to society.” Robert Shaw

And this is the issue. When the Law is neglected and relegated to naught men have no place to grow in their understanding that they are offensive and odious to God and harmful to their neighbors and life. It is for the community’s good that the Law of God be established, promoted, understood, and heeded. It is a wonderful thing that punishment for harming society is performed according to God’s law. It also reflects the judgment of God as it is supposed to do.

Here is the blog post Josh posted.

Usually, the first, most common, and least substantial objection -which is a straw man- that I have received when it comes to pressing the duties of the magistrate a la Westminster (unrevised, unabridged, unobjected to by external denominational documents) Establishmentarianism, is that we shouldn’t look to change the hearts of people by way of the government. Of course, no WCF Establishmentarian would ever rightly assert such, as that is no function of the Magistrate in the first place. Here is what Mr. John Brown of Haddington has to say pertaining to aforementioned objection:


Objection XI. “Men ought to be persuaded, not forced into faith and holiness. It is in vain to attempt rooting out corruptions, especially in religion, out of men’s outward behaviour unless they be first rooted out of their hearts.”

ANSW. (1.) It requires no small share of ignorance, impudence and fraud, to insinuate that the many thousands of Protestant advocates for the magistrates power to restrain gross heresy, blasphemy or idolatry, plead for the FORCING of men to faith and holiness, when they so harmoniously plead for the contrary. (2) None ought to be forced into the faith and profession of the true religion, as hath been repeatedly declared, but all proper methods taken to render their compliance judicious and voluntary. Yet that will not infer, that no man ought to be restrained from, or even suitably and seasonably punished for, open and gross heresy, blasphemy or idolatry, which, while they publicly oppose, insult, and undermine the true religion,—produce terrible immoralities and disorders in churches and nations, and draw upon them the ruinous vengeance of God;—and far less will it infer, that magistrates, as vicegerents of God, ought, in his name and authority, to license a false religion, and promise men protection and encouragement in it. No magistrate hath power to force me to esteem, love, delight in, sympathize with, maintain, or even commend my neighbour. But he hath power to refuse me a warrant to calumniate, rob or murder him, and even to restrain or punish me for so doing. It would be absurd to attempt forcing of the British Jacobites, to believe and solemnly profess, that [King] George, not the Pretender is rightful Sovereign of this kingdom. But would it therefore be absurd, to restrain and punish them for publicly and insolently reviling him as an usurper,—or seducing their fellow subjects to dethrone him,—or for taking arms against him, or paying his just revenues to the Pretender? (3) It is certain, that Christ, who hath power over the hearts of all men, curbed the external corruptions of the Jewish buyers and sellers in the temple, without first casting the corruptions out of their heart. And pray would you have all thieves, robbers, murderers, &c. to have full liberty in their courses, till their wickedness can be got rooted out of their heart?

Robert Shaw Commentary on Chapter 20 sections 3 and 4.



“…Although civil rulers may restrain, and, when occasion requires, may punish the more flagrant violations of the first table of the moral law, such as blasphemy, the publishing of blasphemous opinions, and the open and gross profanation of the Sabbath; yet they are to repress these evils, not formally as sins, which is the prerogative of God, nor as scandals, in which light they come under the cognisance of the Church, but as crimes and injuries done to society.

All sound Presbyterians disclaim all intolerant or compulsory measures with regard to matters purely religious. They maintain that no man should be punished or molested on account of his religious opinions or observances, provided there is nothing in these hurtful to the general interests of society, or dangerous to the lawful institutions of the country in which he lives. The section now under consideration, however, has sometimes been represented as arming the civil magistrate with a power to punish good and peaceable subjects purely on account of their religious opinions and practices, or as favourable to persecution for conscience’ sake. In vindicating the Confession from this serious charge, we shall avail ourselves of the judicious remarks of Dr M’Crie. “The design of section fourth,” says that eminent author, “is to guard against the abuse of the doctrine” of liberty of conscience “in reference to public authority. “And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God 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.’ He who is the Lord of the conscience has also instituted the authorities in Church and State; and it would be in the highest degree absurd to suppose that he has planted in the breast of every individual a power to resist, counteract, and nullify his own ordinances. When public and private claims interfere and clash, the latter must give way to the former; and when any lawful authority is proceeding lawfully within its line of duty, it must be understood as possessing a rightful power to remove out of the way everything which necessarily obstructs its progress. The Confession proceeds, accordingly, to state: “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 godliness; or such erroneous opinions or practices as, either in their own nature or in the manner of publishing and maintaining them, are 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, and by the power of the civil magistrate.’ Now, this does not say that all who publish such opinions, and maintain such practices as are mentioned may be proceeded against, or punished (if the substitution of this word shall be insisted for) by the civil magistrate; nor does it say that any good and peaceable subject shall be made liable to this process simply on the ground of religious opinions published, and practices maintained by him. For, in the first place, persons of a particular character are spoken of in this paragraph, and these are very different from good and peaceable subjects. They are described in the former sentence as “they who oppose lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it,’ and “resist the ordinance of God.’ The same persons are spoken of in the sentence under consideration, as appears from the copulative and the relative. It is not said, “Any one for publishing,’ &c., but, “they who oppose any lawful power,’ &c., “for their publishing,’ &c. In the second place, this sentence specifies some of the ways in which these persons may become chargeable with the opposition mentioned, and consequently “may be called to account;’ but it does not assert that even they must or ought to be prosecuted for every avowed opinion or practice of the kind referred to. All that it necessarily implies is, that they may be found opposing lawful powers, or the lawful exercise of them in the things specified; and that they are not entitled to plead a general irresponsibility in matters of that kind. Notwithstanding such a plea, “they may be called to account, and proceeded against.’ For, be it observed, it is not the design of this paragraph to state the objects of Church censure or civil prosecution; its proper and professed object is to interpose a check on the abuse of liberty of conscience, as operating to the prejudice of just and lawful authority. It is not sin as sin, but as scandal, or injurious to the spiritual interests of Christians, that is the proper object of Church censure; and it is not for sins as such, but for crimes, that persons become liable to punishment by magistrates. The compilers of the Confession were quite aware of these distinctions, which were then common. Some think that if the process of the magistrate had been limited to offences “contrary to the light of nature,’ it would have been perfectly justifiable; but the truth is, that it would have been so only on the interpretation now given. To render an action the proper object of magistratic punishment, it is not enough that it be contra to the law of God, whether natural or revealed; it must, in one way or another, strike against the public good of society. He who “provides not for his own, especially those of his own house,’ sins against ” the light of nature,’ as also does he who is “a lover of pleasures more than of God;’ there are few who will plead that magistrates are bound to proceed against, and punish every idler and belly-god. On the other hand, there are opinions and practices “contrary to the known principles of Christianity; or grafted upon them, which, either in their own nature, or from the circumstances with which they may be clothed, may prove so injurious to the welfare of society in general, or of particular nations, or of their just proceedings, or of lawful institutions established in them, as to subject their publishers and maintainers to warrantable coercion and punishment. As one point to which these may relate, I may mention the external observance and sanctification of the Lord’s day, which can be known only from “the principles of Christianity,’ and is connected with all the particulars specified by the Confession, “faith, worship, conversation, the power of godliness, and the external order and peace of the Church.’ That many other instances of a similar description can be produced, will be denied by no sober thinking person who is well acquainted with Popish tenets and practices, and with those which prevailed among the English sectaries during the sitting of the Westminster Assembly, and he who does not deny this, cannot be entitled, I should think, upon any principles of fair construction, to fix the stigma of persecution on the passage in question.”


2 thoughts on “Objection answered concerning Establismentarianism ( a Nation’s acknowledgement of Christ’s rule)

  1. Hey Randy,
    This is Jacob A. I finally got around to bookmarking your blog (since google reader died all my blogs-to-read have been in limbo). THanks for your stuff on Establishmentarianism.

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