Custos Utriusque Tabulæ – Keeper of Both Tables of the Law

two tables of the law


The magistrate is ‘Custos Utriusque Tabulæ’, the keeper of both Tables of the law as George Gillespie and many other Reformed theologians have declared. Civil magistrates are ordained vice-gerents of God to enforce both tables of the law including open blasphemy, idolatry, heresy, etc. The State is to protect the church and be a nursing father to it.

There is a new growing danger afoot within the Reconstructionist movement that removes the magistrates ability to enforce the First Table of the Law. It is a form of Libertarianism and has been within the Reconstructionist camp in small ways but now that Dr. Joel McDurmon of American Vision has written a book on the subject and has come out as such a Libertarian this movement is going to grow by the mile. We must keep in mind that this idea and theory is not orthodox and is contrary to the Reformed Confessions of Faith and it must be fully rejected. It is my deepest prayer that this man will come to see that his view is in major error and repents of his ways and come back to the Orthodox position.

§Custos Utriusque Tabulæ in Reformed Thought

John Calvin (1509 – 1564)

“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

Theodore Beza (1519-1605)

“Therefore, in regard to this very subject of which we here treat, since we have the clear word and command of God, by which magistrates are ordered to punish blasphemy. And in addition this is particularly the duty of the Magistrate, to take care that sins against the first Table are avenged” -Theodore Beza

John Knox (1514-1572)

“No man denies, but that the sword is committed to the magistrate, to the end that he should punish vice and maintain virtue. To punish vice, I say: not only that which troubles the tranquillity and quiet estate of the commonwealth (by adultery, theft, or murder committed), but also such vices as openly impugn the glory of God, as idolatry, blasphemy, and manifest heresy, taught and obstinately maintained, as the histories and notable acts of Hezekiah, Jehoshaphat, and Josiah do plainly teach us; whose study and care was not only to glorify God in their own life and conversation, but also they unfeignedly did travail to bring their subjects to the true worshipping and honoring of God; and did destroy all monuments of idolatry, did punish to death the teachers of it, and removed from office and honors such as were maintainers of those abominations. Whereby, I suppose, that it is evident, that the office of the king, or supreme magistrate, has respect to the moral law, and to the conservation of both the tables.” – John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment [government] of Women (1558).

John Knox on the Magistrates Duty in the reformation of religion,

“But the facts of Hezekiah, and of Josiah, do more clearly prove the power and duty of the civil magistrate in the reformation of religion. Before the reign of Hezekiah, so corrupt was the religion that the doors of the house of the Lord were shut up, the lamps were extinguished, no orderly sacrifice was made. But in the first year of his reign, the first month of the same, did the king open the doors of the temple, bring in the priests and the Levites, and assembling them together, did speak unto them as follows: “Hear me, O ye Levites, and be sanctified now, and sanctify also the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry forth from the sanctuary all filthiness”­ he means all monuments and vessels of idolatry (1 Chron. 29). “For our fathers have transgressed, and have committed wickedness in the eyes of the Eternal, our God; they have left him, and have turned their faces from the tabernacle of the Lord, and therefore is the wrath of the Lord come upon Judah and Jerusalem. Behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, our sons, daughters, and wives are led in captivity. But now have I purposed in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that he may turn the wrath of his fury from us. And therefore, my sons” ‘he sweetly exhorts’ “be not faint: for the Lord hath chosen you to stand in his presence, and to serve him.”

Such as be not more than blind, clearly may perceive that the king does acknowledge, that it appertained to his charge to reform the religion, to appoint the Levites to their charges, and to admonish them of their duty and office, which thing he more evidently declares, writing his letters to all Israel, to Ephraim, and Manasseh, and sent the same by the hands of messengers, having this tenor: “You sons of Israel, return to the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he shall return to the residue that resteth from the hands of Assyria. Be not as your fathers, and as your brethren were, who have transgressed against the Lord God of their fathers, who hath made them desolate, as you see. Hold not your heart therefore, but give your hand unto the Lord; return unto his sanctuary; serve him and he shall show mercy unto you, to your sons, and daughters, that be in bondage: for he is pitiful and easy to be entreated” (2 Chron. 30:6-9).

Thus far did Hezekiah by letters and messengers provoke the people declined from God to repentance, not only in Judah where he reigned lawful king, but also in Israel, subject to another king. And albeit that by some wicked men his messengers were mocked, yet as they lacked not their just punishment (for within six years after Samaria was destroyed and Israel led captive by Shalmanesar), so did not the zealous King Hezekiah desist to prosecute his duty in restoring the religion to God’s perfect ordinance, removing all abominations.

The same is to be read of Josiah, who did not only restore the religion, but did further destroy all monuments of idolatry, which of long time had remained (2 Chron. 34). For it is written of him, that after the book of the law was found, and that he had asked counsel at the prophetess Huldah, he sent and gathered all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem; and standing in the temple of the Lord, he made a covenant that all the people, from the great to the small, should walk after the Lord, should observe his law, statutes, and testimonies, with all their heart and all their soul, and that they should ratify and confirm whatsoever was written in the book of God. He further commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the inferior order, that they should carry forth of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made to Baal, which he burnt, and did carry their powder to Bethel. He did further destroy all monuments of idolatry, yea, even those that had remained from the days of Solomon. He did burn them, stamp them to powder; whereof one part he scattered in the brook Kidron, and the other upon the sepulchres and graves of the idolaters, whose bones he did burn upon the altars, where before they made sacrifice, not only in Judah, but also in Bethel, where Jeroboam had erected his idolatry (2 Kings 23). Yea, he further proceeded, and did kill the priests of the high places, who were idolaters and had deceived the people; he did kill them, I say, and did burn their bones upon their own altars, and so returned to Jerusalem. This reformation made Josiah, and for the same obtained this testimony of the Holy Ghost, that neither before him, neither after him, was there any such king, who returned to God with his whole soul, and with all his strength, according to the law of Moses. ” -John Knox, The Appellation, 1558

Thomas Cranmer (1489 – 1556)

“Your majesty is God’s vicegerent, and Christ’s vicar within your own dominions, and to see, with your predecessor Josiah, God truly worshipped, and idolatry destroyed; the tyranny of the bishops of Rome banished from your subjects, and images removed. These acts are signs of a second Josiah, who reformed the church of God in his days. You are to reward virtue, to revenge sin, to justify the innocent, to relieve the poor, to procure peace, to repress violence, and to execute justice throughout your realms. For precedents on those kings who performed not these things, the old law shows how the Lord revenged his quarrel; and on those kings who fulfilled these things, he poured forth his blessings in abundance. For example, it is written of Josiah, in the book of the Kings, thus: ‘[And] Like unto him there was no king [before him], that turned to the Lord with all his heart, [and with all his soul, and with all his might,] according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.’ This was to that prince a perpetual fame of dignity, to remain to the end of days.” Unknown author, Writings of Edward the Sixth, William Hugh, Queen Catherine Parr, Anne Askew, Lady Jane Grey, Hamilton, and Balnaves: Volume 3: of British reformers (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1836), 5, 6.

Henry Bullinger (1504 -1575)

Writing to John Calvin on the execution of Michael Servetus

“I know that many have wished that you had not defended this principle; but many also thank you, and among others our church. Urbanus Regius has long ago proved, in a work of his own, and all the ministers of Luneberg agree with him, that heretics, when they are blasphemers, ought to be punished. There are also many other pious men who think the same, and consider that such offenders ought not only to be silenced, but to be put to death. Do not repent therefore of what you have done: the Lord will uphold your righteous efforts. I know that your disposition is not cruel, and that you will favour no barbarity. Who knows not, that a boundary must be set to things of this kind? But how it could be possible to spare such a man as Servetus, that serpent of all heresies, that most obdurate of men, I see not.” Cited in Paul Henry, The Life and Times of John Calvin, the Great Reformer: Volume II, trans. Henry Stebbing (London: Whittaker and Co., 1849), 234.

Wilhelmus A’ Brakel (1636- 1711)

“It is the duty of the civil government to uphold not only the second table of the law, but also the first. It must see to it that God is honored. It may not tolerate any idolatry, worship of images, or any false religion within her jurisdiction, but must rather eradicate these. It must prevent the vain use of God’s Name practiced by cursing, swearing, and blasphemy. It must prevent the desecration of the Sabbath, punish violators of this commandment, and see to it that the gospel is proclaimed everywhere within its jurisdiction. It must see to it that the church as the darling of the Lord Jesus is protected and preserved and that neither internal dissension no any external oppression disturb or destroy the church, but that instead she be safely preserved in the use of the privileges and liberties which her King Jesus has given her.” -From Vol. 2, Chapter 29, page 179

Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647

“God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers. … Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; yet he has 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 ordainances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he has 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.”

George Gillespie (1613 – 1648)

“Now that the Christian Magistrate is bound to observe these Judicial laws of Moses which appoint the punishments of sins against the Moral law, .. by these reasons.1. If it were not so, then it is free and arbitrary to the Magistrate to appoint what punishments himself pleaseth. But this is not arbitrary to him, for he is the Minister of God, Rom. 13.4. and the judgment is the Lord’s, Deut. 1.7; 2 Chron. 19.6. And if the Magistrate be Keeper of both Tables, he must keep them in such manner as God hath delivered them to him. ” -Wholesome Severity Reconciled, George Gillespie

“ that appertains to the civil Magistrate to punish, who is for this cause called Custos utriusque Tabulæ, the keeper of both Tables: for this he citeth Rom. 13.3,4, and addeth: So as we see here what is the object of civil power, to wit, actions good or bad, not bare opinions, not thoughts, not conscience, but actions.” -George Gillespie, Wholesome Severity Reconciled With Christian Liberty, 1644

Overture in Synod, 1834 by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America

“We cannot comprehend, why the magistrate should be allowed to restrain men from violating the second table of the decalogue; and that it should be considered an outrage upon conscience and the liberties of men, that they be restrained as it respects the first table of the decalogue: the moral power which the magistrate possesses to enforce obedience to the former, gives him a right to enforce obedience to the latter. If his power of restraint in the one be invalidated, it will be impossible to defend him in the possession of the other. Holding, as we do, that “all power is of God,” we hold also, that the civil magistrate is bound by the law of God to maintain its integrity by punishing all known violations of it, as it respects the first, as well as the second table.” -Argument for Jury Law, Published in Overture in Synod, 1834 by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA)

Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, 1839

“All the subjects of Jehovah’s moral government, in their relations to each other, are bound to act according to the will of God. In the first four of the Ten Commandments, or in the first table of the law, God has ordained what duties men shall perform to himself; and in the other six, or second table, those which they shall perform to one another. The social, as well as the personal actings of men are equally to be regulated by the law of God. The rectitude or the sinfulness of every individual and of every social act, is determined by its conformity or disconformity to the will of the supreme lawgiver. “He that doeth righteousness is righteous.” 1 John 3.7. “Whosoever committeth sin, transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3.4. The actions of civil rulers and of subjects are good, when they accord with the law of God, and evil, when they violate its provisions. This maxim is agreeable to the common conscience of men in all nations, that know and acknowledge the being of a God. Were it not so, conscience would impose no restraint on the evil propensities of magistrates or subjects; conscience could neither accuse nor excuse them as to their civil actions; for that faculty exercises the office of a judge in applying the law of God. Hence all legitimate civil rule is from God, as Creator, and in its constitution and administration must be conformed to the will of its Author. To maintain that it was instituted of God, and then left entirely to the will of the creature, is no better than the doctrine of Epicurus, that God having created the universe, at once and forever abandoned all care of it as to its sustentation or government. Indeed, many of the popular maxims of civil government are neither more nor less than a partial revival of that Epicurean tenet. “They say unto God, depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty that we should serve him?” Job 21.14,15. All such notions are essentially atheistical, offering the highest indignity to the Lawgiver, and doing violence to the natural conscience.” -Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, 1839

§First Table Importance Versus Second Table Importance

Another scary theory that is attached to such false theory above is the idea that the Second Table of the Law is much more important then the First Table of the Law. Sometimes this is explicit in someones mind and sometimes it is implicit.

It amazes me how man-centered we are in modern christianity. We are horrified by murder including fetus murder, sodomy, and a whole host of second table of the law issues (and rightfully so) but when it comes to the first table of the law issues we just wink at it! In fact we just do not wink at it but many professing christians will violate the second, third and fourth commandments. Where is God’s glory? Christ declared the first table of the law the most important followed by the second table of the law. I am not trying to lessen the issues with the second table of the law (we should stand for them) but we must also do the same with the first table of the law!

The glory of God is way more important then the honor of man. That is not to belittle the Second Table of the Law. But the Honor and Glory of God must come first above all else. Even the Westminster Larger Catechism tells us there are more heinous and less heinous sins and not all sins are equal (contrary to the modern Evangelical view of it).

People tend to freak out more on the Second Table issues. Why? Because we have gone so far in our humanism and the importance of man in our culture as well as our Church Culture. That is why the majority of the American church is predominately man-centered and not God centered and on the Sovereignty of God. BUT I have seen others (Covenanters) over the years (including myself) who have posted about the honor and glory of the First Table above the Second Table and how we have a distorted view. We yelp and wail against Abortion, Sodomy, etc, but we barely say anything about Sabbath breaking or heresy.. We aren’t saying we shouldn’t yelp about abortion, Sodomy, etc.. We absolutely should but not at the stake of the First Table of the Law commandments or in place of them.

Overture in Synod, 1834 by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America

“We cannot comprehend, why the magistrate should be allowed to restrain men from violating the second table of the decalogue; and that it should be considered an outrage upon conscience and the liberties of men, that they be restrained as it respects the first table of the decalogue: the moral power which the magistrate possesses to enforce obedience to the former, gives him a right to enforce obedience to the latter. If his power of restraint in the one be invalidated, it will be impossible to defend him in the possession of the other. Holding, as we do, that “all power is of God,” we hold also, that the civil magistrate is bound by the law of God to maintain its integrity by punishing all known violations of it, as it respects the first, as well as the second table.” -Argument for Jury Law, Published in Overture in Synod, 1834 by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA)


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