This excerpt from Bullinger’s Decades appeared in AD FONTES II.8. Click here to subscribe.
Whether the care of religion appertain to him or no, and whether he may make laws and ordinances in cases of religion.
The first and greatest thing that chiefly ought to be in a magistrate is easily perceived by the declaration of his office and duty. In my yesterday’s sermon I shewed you what the magistrate is, how many kinds of magistrates there are, of whom the magistrate had his beginning, for what causes he was ordained, the manner and order how to choose peers, and what kind of men should be called to be magistrates. To this let us now add what the office and duty of a magistrate properly is.
The whole office of a magistrate seemeth to consist in these three points: to order, to judge, and to punish, of every one whereof I mean to speak severally in order as they lie. The ordinance of the magistrate is a decree made by him for maintaining of religion, honesty, justice, and public peace: and it consisteth on two points: in ordering rightly matters of religion, and making good laws for the preservation of honesty, justice, and common peace. But before I come to the determining and ordering of religion, I will briefly, and in few words, handle their question which demand whether the care of religion do appertain to the magistrate as part of his office or no? For I see many that are of opinion that the care and ordering of religion doth belong to bishops alone, and that kings, princes, and senators ought not to meddle therewith.
But the catholic verity teacheth that the care of religion doth especially belong to the magistrate, and that it is not in his power only, but his office and duty also to dispose and advance religion. For among them of old their kings were priests, I mean, masters and overseers of religion. Melchizedek, that holy and wise prince of the Canaanite people, who bare the type or figure of Christ our Lord, is wonderfully commended in the holy scriptures; now he was both king and priest together. Moreover, in the book of Numbers, to Joshua, newly ordained and lately consecrated, are the laws belonging to religion given up and delivered. The kings of Judah also, and the elect people of God, have for the well ordering of religion (as I will by examples anon declare unto you) obtained very great praise, and again, as many as were slack in looking to religion are noted with the mark of perpetual reproach. Who is ignorant that the magistrate’s especial care ought to be to keep the commonweal in safeguard and prosperity? Which undoubtedly he cannot do unless he provide to have the word of God preached to his people and cause them to be taught the true worship of God, by that means making himself, as it were, the minister of true religion. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy the Lord doth largely set down the good prepared for men that are religious and zealous indeed, and reckoneth up on the other side the evil appointed for the condemners of true religion (Lev. 26, Deut. 28). But the good magistrate is commanded to retain and keep prosperity among his people, and to repel all kind of adversity. Let us hear also what the wise man, Solomon, saith in his Proverbs: “Godliness and truth preserve the king, and in godliness his seat is holden up.” “When the just are multiplied, the people rejoice, and when the wicked ruleth, the people lamenteth. The king by judgment stablisheth his dominion, but a tyrant overthroweth it. When the wicked increase, iniquity is multiplied, and the just shall see their decay. Where the word of God is not preached, the people decay, but happy is he that keepeth the law” (Prov. 20:28, 29:2, 4, 16, 18). Whereby we gather, that they which would not have the care of religion to appertain to princes do seek and bring in the confusion of all things, the dissolution of princes and their people, and lastly, the neglecting and oppression of the poor.
Furthermore, the Lord commandeth the magistrate to make trial of doctrines, and to kill those that do stubbornly teach against the scriptures, and draw the people from the true God. The place is to be seen in the thirteenth of Deuteronomy God also forbade the magistrate to plant groves or erect images, as is to be seen in the seventeenth of Deuteronomy. And by those particularities he did insinuate things general, forbidding to ordain, to nourish, and set forth superstition or idolatry, wherefore he commanded to advance true religion, and so consequently it followeth that the care of religion belongeth to the magistrate. What may be thought of that moreover that the most excellent princes and friends of God among God’s people did challenge to themselves the care of religion as belonging to themselves, insomuch that they exercised and took the charge thereof, even as if they had been ministers of the holy things? Joshua in the mount Ebal caused an altar to be builded, and fulfilled all the worship of God, as it was commanded of God by the mouth of Moses (Josh. 8:30). David, in bringing in and bestowing the ark of God in his place, and in ordering the worship of God, was so diligent that it is wonder to tell. So likewise was Solomon, David’s son. Neither do I think that any man knoweth not how much Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah labored in the reformation of religion, which in their times was corrupted and utterly defaced. The very heathen kings and princes are praised, because, when they knew the truth, they gave out edicts for the confirmation of true religion against blasphemous mouths…
And yet I know that everything doth not consequently follow upon the gathering of examples. But here we have, for the making good of our argument, an evident prophecy of Isaiah, who foretelleth that kings and princes, after the times of Christ and the revealing of the gospel, should have a diligent care of the church and should by that means become the feeders and nurses of the faithful. Now it is evident what it is to feed and to nourish, for it is all one as if he should have said that they should be the fathers and mothers of the church. But he could not have said that rightly, if the care of religion did not belong to princes, but to bishops alone. The words of Isaiah are these: “Behold, I will stretch out my hand unto the Gentiles, and set up my token to the people, and they shall bring thee thy sons in their laps, and thy daughters on their shoulders. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and queens thy nursing mothers, they shall fall before thee with their faces flat upon the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet,” &c. Shall not we say, that all this is fully performed in some Christian princes? Among whom the first was the holy emperor Constantine, who, by calling a general council, did determine to establish true and sincere doctrine in the church of Christ, with a settled purpose utterly to root out all false and heretical phantasies and opinions…After him again, the holy emperors, Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius, make a decree and give out the edict in these very words: “We will and command all people that are subject to our gracious empire to be of that religion, which the very religion, taught and conveyed from Peter till now, doth declare that the holy apostle Peter did teach to the Romans.” And so forward.
By this, dearly beloved, ye perceive how kings and princes among the people of the new Testament have been the foster-fathers and nourishers of the church, being persuaded that the care of religion did first of all and especially belong to themselves…
But, that we may have such a magistrate and such a life, the apostle commanded us earnestly to pray, where he saith: “I exhort you that, first of all, prayers, supplications, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men, for kings and for all that are in authority, that we may live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:1, 2).
I am now again compelled to end my Sermon before the matter be finished. That which remaineth I will add tomorrow. Make ye your earnest prayers, with your minds lift up into heaven, &c.