Front Page Titles (by Subject) Christian Obedience and its Limits From Calvin's Institution of Christian Religion (Thomas Norton's translation) a - Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents
Return to Title Page for Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Christian Obedience and its Limits From Calvin’s Institution of Christian Religion (Thomas Norton’s translation) a - Arthur Sutherland Pigott Woodhouse, Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents 
Puritanism and Liberty, being the Army Debates (1647-9) from the Clarke Manuscripts with Supplementary Documents, selected and edited with an Introduction A.S.P. Woodhouse, foreword by A.D. Lindsay (University of Chicago Press, 1951).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Christian Obedience and its Limits
For when they hear that liberty is promised by the Gospel, which acknowledgeth among men no king and no magistrate but hath regard to Christ alone, they think that they can take no fruit of their liberty so long as they see any power to have pre-eminence over them. Therefore they think that nothing shall be safe, unless the whole world be reformed into a new fashion, where may neither be judgments nor laws nor magistrates, nor any such thing which they think to withstand their liberty. But whosoever can put difference between the body and the soul, between this present and transitory life and that life to come and eternal, he shall not hardly understand that the spiritual kingdom of Christ and the civil government are things far asunder. Since therefore that is a Jewish vanity, to seek and enclose the kingdom of Christ under the elements of the world, let us rather (thinking, as the scripture plainly teacheth, that it is a spiritual fruit which is gathered of the benefit of Christ) remember to keep within the bonds thereof this whole liberty which is promised and offered us in him (Gal. 5. 1; 1 Cor. 7. 21). For what is the cause why the same Apostle which biddeth us to stand, and not to be made subject to the yoke of bondage, in another place forbiddeth bondservants to be careful of their state, but because spiritual liberty may very well agree with civil bondage? * * *
But as we have even now given warning that this kind of government is several from that spiritual and inward kingdom of Christ, so it is also to be known that they nothing disagree together. For the civil government doth now begin in us upon earth certain beginnings of the heavenly kingdom, and in this mortal and vanishing life doth, as it were, enter upon an immortal and incorruptible blessedness. But the intent of his spiritual government is, so long as we shall live among men, to cherish and maintain the outward worshipping of God, to defend the sound doctrine of godliness and the state of the Church, to frame our life to the fellowship of men, to fashion our manners to civil righteousness, to procure us into friendship one with another, to nourish common peace and quietness. All which I grant to be superfluous if the kingdom of God, such as it is now among us, do destroy this present life. But if the will of God be so that we, while we long toward the heavenly country, should be wayfaring from home upon the earth, and sith the use of such wayfaring needeth such helps, they which take them from man do take from him his very nature of man. For whereas they allege that there is so great perfection in the Church of God that her own moderate government sufficeth it for a law, they themselves do foolishly imagine that perfection which can never be found in the common fellowship of men. * * *
[The civil state] tendeth not only hereunto, . . . that men may breathe, eat, drink, and be cherished . . ., but also that idolatry, sacrilege against the name of God, blasphemies against his truth, and other offences of religion, may not rise up and be scattered among the people, that common quiet be not troubled, that every man may keep his own safe and unappaired, that men may use their affairs together without hurt, that honesty and modesty be kept among them; finally that among Christians may be a common show of religion, and among men may be manlike civility. Neither let any man be moved, for that I do now refer the care of stablishing of religion to the policy of men, which I seemed before to have set without the judgment of men. For I do no more here than I did before give men leave after their own will to make laws concerning religion and the worshipping of God, when I allow the ordinance of policy which endeavoureth hereunto, that the true religion which is contained in the Law of God, be not openly and with public sacrileges freely broken and defiled. * * *
The Lord hath not only testified that the office of magistrates is allowed and acceptable to him, but also setting out the dignity thereof with most honourable titles, he hath marvellously commended it unto us. * * * Wherefore none ought now to doubt that the civil power is a vocation not only holy and lawful before God, but also the most holy, and the most honest, of all other in the whole life of men. * * *
And . . . it were very vain that it should be disputed of private men which should be the best state of policy in the place where they live; for whom it is not lawful to consult of the framing of any commonweal. And also the same could not be simply determined without rashness, forasmuch as a great part of the order of this question consisteth in circumstances. * * * Truly, if those three forms of governments which the philosophers set out, be considered in themselves, I will not deny that either the government of the chiefest men or a state tempered of it and common government far excelleth all other. Not of itself, but because it most seldom chanceth that kings so temper themselves that their will never swerveth from that which is just and right; again, that they be furnished with so great sharpness of judgment and wisdom that every one of them seeth so much as is sufficient. Therefore the fault or default of men maketh that it is safer and more tolerable that many should have the government, that they may mutually one help another, one teach and admonish another, and if any advance himself higher than is meet, there may be overseers and masters to restrain his wilfulness. This both hath alway been approved by experience, and the Lord also hath confirmed it with his authority, when he ordained among the Israelites a government of the best men, very near unto common government, at such time as he minded to have them in best estate, till he brought forth an image of Christ in David. And as I willingly grant that no kind of government is more blessed than this, where liberty is framed to such moderation as it ought to be, and is orderly stablished to continuance, so I count them also most blessed, that may enjoy this estate. And if they stoutly and constantly travail in preserving and retaining it, I grant that they do nothing against their duty. Yea, and the magistrates ought with most great diligence to bend themselves hereunto, that they suffer not the liberty of the people of which they are appointed governors, to be in any part minished, much less to be dissolved. If they be negligent and little careful therein, they are false faith-breakers in their office, and betrayers of their country. But if they would bring this kind to themselves, to whom the Lord hath appointed another form of government, so that thereby they be moved to desire a change, the very thinking thereof shall not only be foolish and superfluous, but also hurtful. * * *
Now the office of magistrates is in this place to be declared by the way, of what sort it is described by the word of God, and in what things it consisteth. If the scripture did not teach that it extendeth to both the Tables of the Law, we might learn it out of the profane writers. For none hath entreated of the duty of magistrates, of making of laws and of public weal, that hath not begun at religion and the worshipping of God. And so have they all confessed that no policy can be happily framed unless the first care be of godliness, and that those laws be preposterous which, neglecting the right of God, do provide only for men. * * * And we have already showed that this duty is specially enjoined them of God; as it is meet that they should employ their travail to defend and maintain his honour, whose vicegerents they be, and by whose benefit they govern. For this cause also chiefly are the holy kings praised in scripture, for that they restored the worship of God, being corrupted or overthrown, or took care of religion, that it might flourish pure and safe under them. * * *
Next to the magistrate in civil states are laws the most strong sinews of commonwealths. * * * There be some that deny that a commonweal is well ordered, which, neglecting the civil laws of Moses, is governed by the common laws of nations. How dangerous and troublesome this sentence is, let other men consider; it shall be enough for me to have showed that it is false and foolish. That common division is to be kept, which divideth the whole Law of God published, into Moral, Ceremonial, and Judicial Laws; and all the parts are to be severally considered, that we may know what of them pertaineth to us, and what not. Neither in the meantime let any man be cumbered with this doubt, that judicials and ceremonials also pertain to the moral laws. For although the old writers which have taught this division were not ignorant that these two latter parts had their use about manners, yet because they might be changed and abrogate, the morals remaining safe, they did not call them morals. They called that first part peculiarly by that name, without which cannot stand the true holiness of manners and the unchangeable rule of living rightly.
Therefore the Moral Law . . ., sith it is contained in two chief points, of which the one commandeth simply to worship God with pure faith and godliness, and the other to embrace men with unfeigned love, is the true and eternal rule of righteousness prescribed to the men of all ages and times that will . . . frame their life to the will of God. For this is his eternal and unchangeable will, that he himself should be worshipped of us all, and that we should mutually love one another. The Ceremonial Law was the schooling of the Jews, wherewith it pleased the Lord to exercise the certain childhood of that people, till that time of fulness came, wherein he would to the full manifestly show his wisdom to the earth, and deliver the truth of those things which then were shadowed with figures. The Judicial Law, given to them for an order of civil state, gave certain rules of equity and righteousness, by which they might behave themselves harmlessly and quietly together. And as that exercise of ceremonies properly pertained indeed to the doctrine of godliness (namely which kept the church of the Jews in the worship and religion of God), yet it might be distinguished from godliness itself, so this form of judicial orders (although it tended to no other end but how the self-same charity might be best kept which is commanded by the eternal Law of God), yet had a certain thing differing from the very commandment of loving. As therefore the ceremonies might be abrogate, godliness remaining safe and undestroyed, so these judicial ordinances also being taken away, the perpetual duties and commandments of charity may continue. If this be true, verily there is liberty left to every nation to make such laws as they shall foresee to be profitable for them; which yet must be framed after the perpetual rule of charity, that they may indeed vary in form, but have the same reason. * * *
This which I have said shall be plain, if in all laws we behold these two things as we ought, the making and the equity of the law, upon the reason whereof the making itself is founded and stayeth. Equity, because it is natural, can be but one, of all laws. And therefore one law, according to the kind of matter, ought to be the propounded end to all laws. * * * Now sith it is certain that the Law of God which we call moral is nothing else but a testimony of the natural law, and of that conscience which is engraven of God in the minds of men, the whole rule of this equity whereof we now speak is set forth therein. Therefore it alone also must be both the mark and rule and end of all laws. Whatsoever laws shall be framed after that rule, directed to that mark, and limited in that end, there is no cause why we should disallow them, however they otherwise differ from the Jewish law or one from another. * * *
The first duty of subjects toward their magistrates is to think most honourably of their office, namely, which they acknowledge to be a jurisdiction committed of God, and therefore to esteem them and reverence them as the ministers and deputies of God. * * * Of this then also followeth another thing: that with minds bent to the honouring of them, they declare their obedience in proof to them; whether it be to obey their proclamations, or to pay tribute, or to take in hand public offices and charges that serve for common defence, or to do any other of their commandments. Let every soul (saith Paul) be subject to the higher powers (Rom. 13. 1). For he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. * * *
But if we look to the word of God, it will lead us further, that we be subject not only to the government of those princes which execute their office toward us well, and with such faithfulness as they ought, but also of all them which (by what means soever it be) have the dominion in possession, although they perform nothing less than that which pertaineth to the duty of princes. For though the Lord testifieth that the magistrate’s is a special great gift of his liberality for preserving of the safety of men, and appointeth to magistrates themselves their bounds, yet he doth therewithal declare that, of what sort soever they be, they have not their authority but from him; that those indeed which rule for benefit of the commonweal are true exemplars and patterns of his bountifulness; that they that rule unjustly and wilfully are raised up by him to punish the wickedness of the people; that all equally have that majesty wherewith he hath furnished a lawful power. * * *
But (thou wilt say) rulers owe mutual duties to their subjects. That I have already confessed. But if thou thereupon conclude that obediences ought to be rendered to none but just governors, thou art a foolish reasoner. For husbands are also bound to their wives, and parents to their children, with mutual duties. Let parents and husbands depart from their duty . . .; shall yet therefore either children be less obedient to their parents, or wives to their husbands? But they are subjects both to evil parents and husbands and such as do not their duty. * * * Wherefore, if we be unmercifully tormented of a cruel prince, if we be ravenously spoiled of a covetous or riotous prince, if we be neglected of a slothful prince, finally if we be vexed for godliness’ sake of a wicked and ungodly prince, let us first call to mind the remembrance of our sins, which undoubtedly are chastised with such scourges of the Lord. Thereby our humility shall bridle our impatience. Let us then also call to mind this thought: that it pertaineth not to us to remedy such evils; but this only is left for us, that we crave the help of the Lord, in whose hands are the hearts of kings and the bowings of kingdoms. * * *
And here both his marvellous goodness and power and providence showeth itself; for sometime of his servants he raiseth up open avengers and furnisheth them with his commandment to take vengeance of their unjust government, and to deliver his people, many ways oppressed, out of miserable distress; sometime he directeth to the same end the rage of men that intend and go about another thing. * * * For the first sort of men, when they were by the lawful calling of God sent to do such acts in taking armour against kings, they did not violate that majesty which is planted in kings by the ordinance of God; but, being armed from heaven, they subdued the lesser power with the greater, like as it is lawful for kings to punish their lords under them. But these latter sort, although they were directed by the hand of God whither it pleased him, and they unwittingly did work, yet proposed in their mind nothing but mischief. * * *
Though the correcting of unbridled government be the revengement of the Lord, let us not by and by think that it is committed to us to whom there is given no other commandment but to obey and suffer. I speak alway of private men. For if there be at this time any magistrates for the behalf of the people (such as in old time were the Ephori that were set against the kings of Lacedemonia, or the Tribunes of the people against the Roman consuls, or the Demarchi against the senate of Athens, and the same power also which peradventure, as things are now, the three estates have in every realm when they hold their principal assemblies), I do so not forbid them, according to their office, to withstand the outraging licentiousness of kings, that I affirm that if they wink at kings’ wilfully ranging over and treading down the poor commonalty, their dissembling is not without wicked breach of faith because they deceitfully betray the liberty of the people where they know themselves to be appointed protectors by the ordinance of God.
But in that obedience which we have determined to be due to the authorities of governors, that is always to be excepted, yea chiefly to be observed, that it do not lead us away from obeying of him to whose will the desires of all kings ought to be subject, to whose decrees all their commandments ought to yield, to whose majesty their maces ought to be submitted. And truly how unorderly were it, for the satisfying of men, to run into his displeasure for whom men themselves are obeyed? The Lord therefore is the King of Kings, who, when he hath opened his holy mouth, is to be heard alone for all together and above all. Next to him we be subject to those men that are set over us; but no otherwise than in him. If they command anything against him, let it have no place and let no account be made of it. Neither let us herein anything stay upon all that dignity wherewith the magistrates excel, to which there is no wrong done when it is brought into order of subjection in comparison of that singular and truly sovereign power of God. After this reason Daniel denieth (Dan. 6. 22) that he had anything offended against the king, when he obeyed not his wicked proclamation; because the king had passed his bounds, and had not only been a wrong-doer to men, but in lifting up his horns against God he had taken away power from himself. On the other side the Israelites are condemned because they were too much obedient to the wicked commandment of the king (Hos. 5. 13). For when Jeroboam had made golden calves, they, forsaking the Temple of God, did for his pleasure turn to new superstitions (1 Kings 12. 30). * * * I know how great and how present peril hangeth over this constancy, because kings do most displeasantly suffer themselves to be despised, whose displeasure (saith Solomon) is the messenger of death. But sith this decree is proclaimed by the heavenly herald Peter, that we ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5. 29), let us comfort ourselves with this thought, that we then perform that obedience which the Lord requireth, when we suffer anything rather, whatsoever it be, than swerve from godliness. And that our courage should not faint, Paul putteth also another spur to us: that we were therefore redeemed of Christ with so great a price as our redemption cost him (1 Cor. 7. 13), that we should not yield ourselves in thraldom to obey the perverse desires of men, but much less should be bound to ungodliness.
[191. (a)]The Institution of Christian Religion. Written in Latine by M. Iohn Calvin. Translated into English * * * By Thomas Norton. Imprinted at London by Anne Griffin for Ioyce Norton and R. Whitaker, 1634. Book 4, chap. 20. Section numbers omitted; marginal scripture references incorporated, in brackets.