John Calvin on Principles of Magistracy

Election Day is approaching at a quick rate. There are many misunderstandings of the Christian and Reformed principles when it comes to Civil Magistracy. There will be false statements circulating claiming “We are not electing a Pastor in Chief” or “Christians should not be involved in politics”, even worse “We should vote for the one person who has a chance of winning even if he is not a Christian or qualified by Scripture.” In other words, we should vote for the lesser of two evils.. None of this is biblical or Reformed. Of course I am a Covenanter dissenter and will not be voting because of the wickedness of our current system but if you are going to vote, hear at least John Calvin on the subject of whom we as Christians are morally responsible for in placing in the seat of civil authority.



§Speaking of New Testament Times Isaiah says,

Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me. (Isaiah 49:22-23)

§John Calvin speaking on Psalm 2 and Isaiah 49:23,

“…without a doubt he is speaking of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus. He admonishes all kings and authorities to be wise and to take heed to themselves. What is this wisdom? What is the lesson He gives them? To abdicate it all? Hardly! But to fear God and give homage to His Son…Furthermore, Isaiah prophesies that the kings will become the foster fathers of the Christian church and that queens will nurse it with their breasts (Isa. 49:23). I beg of you, how do you reconcile the fact that kings will be protectors of the Christian Church if their vocation is inconsistent with Christianity?” -Calvin, Treatises Against the Anabaptists and Libertines, p. 79 Libertines, p. 79

§John Calvin again speaking on Psalm 2,

“When David says, ‘Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth;” “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry’ (Psalm 2:10, 12), he does not order them to lay aside their authority and return to private life, but to make the power with which they are invested subject to Christ, that he may rule over all.” John Calvin

§John Calvin States on the Second Use of the Law of God,

“The second office of the Law is, by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice. Such persons are curbed not because their mind is inwardly moved and affected, but because, as if a bridle were laid upon them, they refrain their hands from external acts, and internally check the depravity which would otherwise petulantly burst forth. It is true, they are not on this account either better or more righteous in the sight of God. For although restrained by terror or shame, they dare not proceed to what their mind has conceived, nor give full license to their raging lust, their heart is by no means trained to fear and obedience. Nay, the more they restrain themselves, the more they are inflamed, the more they rage and boil, prepared for any act or outbreak whatsoever were it not for the terror of the law. And not only so, but they thoroughly detest the law itself, and execrate the Lawgiver; so that if they could, they would most willingly annihilate him, because they cannot bear either his ordering what is right, or his avenging the despisers of his Majesty. The feeling of all who are not yet regenerate, though in some more, in others less lively, is, that in regard to the observance of the law, they are not led by voluntary submission, but dragged by the force of fear. Nevertheless, this forced and extorted righteousness is necessary for the good of society, its peace being secured by a provision but for which all things would be thrown into tumult and confusion. Nay, this tuition is not without its use, even to the children of God, who, previous to their effectual calling, being destitute of the Spirit of holiness, freely indulge the lusts of the flesh. When, by the fear of Divine vengeance, they are deterred from open outbreakings, though, from not being subdued in mind, they profit little at present, still they are in some measure trained to bear the yoke of righteousness, so that when they are called, they are not like mere novices, studying a discipline of which previously they had no knowledge. This office seems to be especially in the view of the Apostle, when he says, “That the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for men-stealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine,” (1 Tim. 1:9, 10). He thus indicates that it is a restraint on unruly lusts that would otherwise burst all bonds.” – John Calvin, Institutes 2.7.10

§John Calvin on Choosing our Magistrates,

“And ye peoples, to whom God gave the liberty to choose your own magistrates, see to it, that ye do not forfeit this favor, by electing to the positions of highest honor, rascals and enemies of God.” -John Calvin

“In this especially consists the best condition of the people, when they can choose, by common consent, their own shepherds [i.e. civil rulers]: for when any one by force usurps the supreme power, it is tyranny; and when men become kings by hereditary right, it seems not consistent with liberty.” Calvin on Micah 5:5

§John Calvin states with regard to Magistrates as ministers of God,

“This consideration makes a true king: to recognize himself a minister of God in governing his kingdom. Now, that king who in ruling over his realm does not serve God’s glory exercises not kingly rule but brigandage.” – John Calvin

§John Calvin on Magistrates called Pastors,

“And moreover, under this word ‘pastor’, the office of a good king is expressed to us in this reign of David; namely, that he must care for his subjects as a shepherd for his flock.  Now two things are required of a shepherd.  The first is that he provide his animals with good pasture, and then that he keep them safe from all thieves and wolves and trouble.  Now that (I say) is what princes must do.  If they think that they will render an account to God for the charge that is committed to them, they must see to it that their subjects live in peace and that they are maintained; and then, in the second place, that they defend them against all troubles.  How far from that are those who call themselves pastors but who ask for nothing but the wool – and are not even content with that.  They must fleece their poor subjects; they cut their throats to suck up their blood.

One sees today that princes have neither regard nor consideration for their duty, which is to keep their subjects in good pasture.  They are supposed to care for them but, on the contrary, they are like lions.  Puffed up with pride, they think the world is created for them alone, and hence they have no scruples about swallowing up and eating the substance of poor people.  And after they have thus consumed their poor subjects, ambition also pushes them to wage war.  It does not matter to them that people burn and kill, and that the earth is full of orphans and widows.  And why?  Because they are princes, they say, and have power to do this.  Indeed, but as the psalmist says, ‘God is seated in the midst of them and has ordained them with this charge for which they must give account’ (Psa. 47:8-9).  And they will be judged like the very smallest.  For ‘this world will pass’ with its ‘fashion’ (1 Cor. 7:31).  But those who hold a slightly higher rank and dominion over the people must carefully note this – that they are pastors.  That was known even by the pagans, for when they spoke of kings and princes, they by the pagans, for when they spoke of kings and princes, they called them pastors, as their writings demonstrate.  And who taught them such language?  God, who imprinted it in their hearts, so as to render inexcusable those who employ tyranny.” John Calvin, Sermons on 2 Samuel: chapters 1-13, trans. D. F. Kelly (Edinburgh, 1992), pp 177-8.

§John Calvin on the Duty of Magistrates and it being Extended to Both Tables of the Law,

“Of the duty of Magistrates. Their first care the preservation of the Christian religion and true piety. This proved.

The duty of magistrates, its nature, as described by the word of God, and the things in which it consists, I will here indicate in passing. That it extends to both tables of the law, did Scripture not teach, we might learn from profane writers; for no man has discoursed of the duty of magistrates, the enacting of laws, and the common weal, without beginning with religion and divine worship. Thus all have confessed that no polity can be successfully established unless piety be its first care, and that those laws are absurd which disregard the rights of God, and consult only for men. Seeing then that among philosophers religion holds the first place, and that the same thing has always been observed with the universal consent of nations, Christian princes and magistrates may be ashamed of their heartlessness if they make it not their care. We have already shown that this office is specially assigned them by God, and indeed it is right that they exert themselves in asserting and defending the honour of him whose vicegerents they are, and by whose favour they rule. Hence in Scripture holy kings are especially praised for restoring the worship of God when corrupted or overthrown, or for taking care that religion flourished under them in purity and safety. On the other hand, the sacred history sets down anarchy among the vices, when it states that there was no king in Israel, and, therefore, every one did as he pleased (Judges 21:25). This rebukes the folly of those who would neglect the care of divine things, and devote themselves merely to the administration of justice among men; as if God had appointed rulers in his own name to decide earthly controversies, and omitted what was of far greater moment, his own pure worship as prescribed by his law. Such views are adopted by turbulent men, who, in their eagerness to make all kinds of innovations with impunity, would fain get rid of all the vindicators of violated piety. In regard to the second table of the law, Jeremiah addresses rulers, “Thus saith the Lord, Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood” (Jer. 22:3). To the same effect is the exhortation in the Psalm, “Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; rid them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3, 4). Moses also declared to the princes whom he had substituted for himself, “Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great: ye shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God’s” (Deut. 1:16). I say nothing as to such passages as these, “He shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt;” “neither shall he multiply wives to himself; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold;” “he shall write him a copy of this law in a book;” “and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God;” “that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren” (Deut. 17:16-20). In here explaining the duties of magistrates, my exposition is intended not so much for the instruction of magistrates themselves, as to teach others why there are magistrates, and to what end they have been appointed by God. We say, therefore, that they are the ordained guardians and vindicators of public innocence, modesty, honour, and tranquillity, so that it should be their only study to provide for the common peace and safety. Of these things David declares that he will set an example when he shall have ascended the throne. “A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me” (Psalm 101:4-6). But as rulers cannot do this unless they protect the good against the injuries of the bad, and give aid and protection to the oppressed, they are armed with power to curb manifest evil-doers and criminals, by whose misconduct the public tranquillity is disturbed or harassed. For we have full experience of the truth of Solon’s saying, that all public matters depend on reward and punishment; that where these are wanting, the whole discipline of states totters and falls to pieces. For in the minds of many the love of equity and justice grows cold, if due honour be not paid to virtue, and the licentiousness of the wicked cannot be restrained, without strict discipline and the infliction of punishment. The two things are comprehended by the prophet when he enjoins kings and other rulers to execute “judgment and righteousness” (Jer. 21:12; 22:3). It is righteousness (justice) to take charge of the innocent, to defend and avenge them, and set them free: it is judgment to withstand the audacity of the wicked, to repress their violence, and punish their faults. -Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.20.9

§John Calvin on Christ Forgiveness of Sins of Men do Not Overturn Political Order or Reverse the Punishments,

“But let us remember that, while Christ forgives the sins of men, he does not overturn political order, or reverse the sentences and punishments appointed by the laws.” –John Calvin

§John Calvin on the Limits of Civil Government,

“And herewith let us note that they who are ordained and appointed by God to execute justice, ought to keep themselves in the high beaten path, in which God wants them to go without taking to themselves any new lesson. For it is not for earthly Judges to make laws at their pleasure, and to say every day, I will do this, and I will do otherwise, but they must have a careful eye to their office and duty. See how it is God who speaks, we must execute that which he commands, and therefore let men hold themselves to it, and not presume to alter his commandment in any way, for otherwise a man may pretend many good excuses, but God likes better of the obedience which men yield to him than of all that ever they can allege in reason. (1Samuel 15:22), although it has never such great likelihood.” -John Calvin, Sermon on Deut. 25: 13-19

“Moreover, touching civil order, God had an eye to that which the weakness of the world might bear and conformed himself to it, and therefore there were many things which were not punished by the Law of Moses. Nevertheless we are taught that even though our faults are not judged by men, we must not therefore fall asleep in our sins. For we will gain little, though earthly judges let us alone, and we escape without punishment before them, if in the meantime the wrath of God increases on us and because he has patiently awaited our amendment, it grows more and more against us, and we put that into use which St. Paul says, that is namely that we hoard up to ourselves a treasure of greater condemnation. (Romans 2:3-6) Let us therefore learn to not have such regard for men, that if they do not complain of our faults or accuse us, or frame no indictment against us, that we think we are therefore acquitted.” John Calvin, Sermon on Deut. 22: 25-30

§John Calvin on the Establishment Principle,

“Hence it ought to be observed that something remarkable is here demanded from princes, besides an ordinary profession of faith; for the Lord has bestowed on them authority and power to defend the Church and to promote the glory of God. This is indeed the duty of all; but kings, in proportion as their power is greater, ought to devote themselves to it more earnestly, and to labor in it more diligently.”—John Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah (1550).

§John Calvin on Magistrates dealing with Heretics and Blasphemers,

“Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church. It is not in vain that he banishes all those human affections which soften our hearts; that he commands paternal love and all the benevolent feelings between brothers, relations, and friends to cease; in a word, that he almost deprives men of their nature in order that nothing may hinder their holy zeal. Why is so implacable a severity exacted but that we may know that God is defrauded of his honour, unless the piety that is due to him be preferred to all human duties, and that when his glory is to be asserted, humanity must be almost obliterated from our memories? Many people have accused me of such ferocious cruelty that I would like to kill again the man I have destroyed. Not only am I indifferent to their comments, but I rejoice in the fact that they spit in my face.” John Calvin, Defense of Orthodox Faith against the Prodigious Errors of the Spaniard Michael Servetus, published in early 1554

“God makes plain that the false prophet is to be stoned without mercy. We are to crush beneath our heel all affections of nature when his honor is involved” John Calvin Commentary on Deuteronomy 13, Bainton 1951:70

“Moreover, God Himself has explicitly instructed us to kill heretics, to smite with the sword any city that abandons the worship of the true faith revealed by Him.” John Calvin, Comments on Ex. 22:20, Lev. 24:16, Deut. 13:5-15, 17:2-5.

“But when I perceived that the fury of certain bad men had risen to such a height in your realm, that there was no place in it for sound doctrine, I thought it might be of service if I were in the same work both to give instruction to my countrymen, and also lay before your Majesty a Confession, from which you may learn what the doctrine is that so inflames the rage of those madmen who are this day, with fire and sword, troubling your kingdom. For I fear not to declare, that what I have here given may be regarded as a summary of the very doctrine which, they vociferate, ought to be punished with confiscation, exile, imprisonment, and flames, as well as exterminated by land and sea. This, I allow, is a fearful punishment which God sends on the earth; but if the wickedness of men so deserves, why do we strive to oppose the just vengeance of God?” John Calvin, Prefatory Address in his Institutes to Francis, King of the French, 1536.

“[They] well deserve to be repressed by the sword which is committed to you, seeing that they attack not the King only, but God who has seated him upon the throne, and has entrusted to you the protection as well of His person as of His majesty.” John Calvin, Letter to the Lord Protector of Somerset, adviser to King Edward VI, October 22, 1548

“Honour, glory, and riches shall be the reward of your pains; but above all, do not fail to rid the country of those scoundrels [Anabaptists and others], who stir up the people to revolt against us. Such monsters should be exterminated, as I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard.” Letter to the Marquis Paet, chamberlain to the King of Navarre, 1561.

§John Calvin on Women in the Role of Magistrates or Any other Governing Affairs,

John Calvin commenting on 1 Corinthians 14:34 said that women should never be in any position of governing authority. He wrote: “And unquestionably, wherever even natural propriety has been maintained, women have in all ages been excluded from the public management of affairs. It is the dictate of common sense, that female government is improper and unseemly.”

§John Calvin on when Magistrates despoil their honor,

“If a king, or ruler, or magistrate, do become so lofty that he diminishes the honor and authority of God, he is but a man. We must thus think also of pastors. For he which goeth beyond his bounds in his office, (because he setteth himself against God:) must be despoiled of his honor, lest, under a color or visor, he deceive.” — John Calvin on Acts 5:29

§John Calvin on Obeying Wicked Rulers being a Pretext of Due Submission,

“Many … under pretext of due submission, obey the wicked will of kings in opposition to justice and right…. To gratify the transitory kings of earth, they take no account of God… They plead the frivolous excuse that they obey their princes according to the word of God.” -John Calvin on Exodus 1:17

§John Calvin on not obeying Earthly Princes when they lay aside their Power and Rise up against God,

“For earthly princes lay aside their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy to be reckoned among the number of mankind. We ought, rather, to spit upon their heads than to obey them.” -Commentary on Daniel


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