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Chapter 23: Of the Civil Magistrate

The 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith

1. God, the Supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good, and to this end hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil-doers.a

a. Rom 13:1-4; 1 Pet 2:13-14.

2. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate when called thereunto;a in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth,b so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the New Testament, wage war upon just and necessary occasion.c

a. Prov 8:15-16; Rom 13:1-2, 4. • b. 2 Sam 23:3; Psa 2:10-12; 82:3-4; 1 Tim 2:2; 1 Pet 2:13. • c. Mat 8:9-10; Luke 3:14; Acts 10:1-2; Rom 13:4; Rev 17:14, 16.

3. The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven:a yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed.b For the better effecting whereof, he hath 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.c

a. 2 Chron 2:8 • b. Isa 49:23 • c. 2 Chron 19:8

4. It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates,a to honor their persons,b to pay them tribute and other dues,c to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake.d Infidelity or difference in religion doth not make void the magistrate’s just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to him:e from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted;f much less hath the Pope any power or jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and least of all to deprive them of their dominions or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretense whatsoever.g

a. 1 Tim 2:1-2. • b. 1 Pet 2:17. • c. Rom 13:6-7. • d. Rom 13:5; Titus 1:3. • e. 1 Pet 2:13-14, 16. • f. 1 Kings 2:35; Acts 25:9-11; Rom 13:1; 2 Pet 2:1, 10-11; Jude 1:8-11. • g. 2 Thes 2:4; Rev 13:15-17.


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