Henry Bullinger on Lawful versus Unlawful Magistrates

“Now many there are which will have the magistrate to be of two sorts, to wit, either good or bad. The good magistrate is he who, being lawfully ordained, doth lawfully execute his office and duty. The evil magistrate is he which, when he hath by evil means got the authority, doth turn and dispose it as himself lusteth. And hereupon the question wont to be demanded: Whether an evil, that is, a tyrannical, magistrate, be of God or no? To this I answer, that God is the author of Good, and not of evil. For God by nature is good, and all his purposes are good, being directed to the health, and preservation, not to the destruction of us men. Therefore the good and healthful ordaining of the magistrate, without all doubt, is of God himself, who is the author of all goodness. But here is it requisite, that we make a difference betwixt the office which is the good ordinance of God, and the evil person that doth not rightly execute that good office. If therefore in the magistrate evil be found, and not the good for which he was ordained, that cometh of other causes, and the fault thereof is in the men and person, which neglect God and corrupt the ordinance of God, and not in God, nor in his ordinance.: for either the evil prince, seduced by the devil, corrupteth the ways of God, and by his own fault and naughtiness transgresseth God’s ordinance, so far, that he both worthily deserve the name of devilish power, and not divine authority; – (we have an example hereof in the magistrate of Jerusalem: for although he were able to refer the beginning of his power by degrees unto Moses, and so unto God himself who did ordain it; yet, for because he taketh the Saviour in the garden and bindeth him, to his servants it is said, “Ye are come out as it were to a thief with swords and staves; when I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched not forth your hands against me; but this is even your hour, and the power of darkness.” Lo, here he calleth the ordinary magistrate the power of the devil, when he abuseth his power. What could be more evidently spoken?

So the, verily, we ought not at any time to defend the tyrannical power, and say that it is of God: for tyranny is not a divine but a devilish, kind of government; and tyrants themselves are properly the servants of the devil, and not of God. ”

Pg. 314 The decades by Henry Bullinger


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